Thursday, November 15, 2018

Our Practice Cruise

This is countdown I see when I log into the Carnival Cruise app on my phone, which I've been doing every day for a week. Right now, I have just over three days before my cruise. Yes, you read that right, my cruise.

We're going on a cruise, Angela and I.

It's such an odd thing to say, and I almost feel guilty admitting it. I tell people I'm going on vacation next week and I hang my head and my voice is almost sheepish, embarrassed. And I shouldn't be. I know that. Logically. But I also know vacations are extravagant and they're for people with money and well...

But when I get past all that, I think about how much fun we're going to have (fingers crossed). Most of our vacations over the years are trips back home to Michigan, which we love. But this time we're doing something different.

We're taking a practice cruise!

What's to practice? Well, cruising for one. And being on a cruise ship as well. See this summer, my parents told us they'd like to take a family trip to Alaska. We got all excited and then we realized that the best way to see Alaska, according to anyone and everyone, is via cruise ship, from the coast, from the water. And well, one member of our family gets horrible motion sickness.

That member is Angela. Angela has had motion sickness her entire life. In cars (she sleeps to fight it off). On trains (she sleeps to fight it off). On boats (she refuses to get on pontoons now, after one summer family trip on a friend's pontoon where she begged to get off and swim back to shore). On swings (do not sit with her in the driveway swing in the summer, she will not let you swing even a little). At the kitchen table (this is totally a real thing, this summer she got motion sickness while sitting still).

The first time we went whale watching as a family, Angela didn't see any whales. She slept in the bottom of the boat, on a bench, until we made it back to shore, just a couple of hours later. The second time we went whale watching, we sent her golfing instead.

So...we come to the practice cruise. Everyone we talk to says this will be different. This ship is huge. This ship barely moves (though it moves enough to take us to Mexico or Alaska so...). But we want to see Alaska, we want to have fun and enjoy the extravagance and excitement the cruising life offers (at least that's how it looks in all of their shiny brochures). So this summer, when we poured over Alaska tour guides and websites, we decide to do a practice run first.

Angela has all next week off of school for the Thanksgiving holiday so it seemed like the perfect time. And we found a cruise, on the Carnival Imagination, that goes for just four nights -- from Long Beach to Catalina Island, then to Ensenada, Mexico, and back to Long Beach. And there's apparently a clause where if you aren't having fun you can get off within 24 hours of setting sail, so if the motion sickness sets in...

But we're hopeful it won't. We're planning to have an amazing adventure. We've never been to Catalina Island though we've heard wonderful things. A friend who goes twice a year has told us exactly what bus tour to take and where to wander. We're planning to stay on the ship in Mexico, because basically, been there done that with Mexican tourist towns, and we really want to experience the ship life. We're hoping to see some fun shows, swim a lot, eat some good food, read books, and relax!

We haven't made reservations for Alaska yet, we're going to wait and see how the practice cruise goes first, but we're excited for this first step! And grateful for a bit of extravagance in the middle of regular life. In fact, we're deep in the list making and planning for packing on Saturday and leaving on Sunday! Oh, and we got our nails done for the trip! (My first time with a gel manicure, I think the manicurist was more excited than I was!)

So I'll report back once we're safely back in Los Angeles (hopefully next Thursday, not before!). We're pretty excited to be off the grid while we're on the ship too! So happy week of Thanksgiving everyone, I'll eat a little extra at the buffet for you and I'll try to win at the penny slots! Bon Voyage!

Thursday, October 04, 2018

We will miss you Joe

Tuesday afternoon at one o'clock our merry band of Homeless Lunch volunteers boxed up the leftover clothing, crated the lonely shoes, and rolled in the carts of sack lunches we would save for next week. And then we all stayed. Normally at one o'clock we all hustle to clean up and be on our way, having spent the last four hours or so working together. But not this past Tuesday.

Instead, this past Tuesday we finished cleaning up and then gathered in the parlor in a circle, all sixteen of us. Pastor Denyse led us in prayer and then we took a moment. See, most of us aren't there all together, at the same time, on a Tuesday at one o'clock. And we weren't even all there.

But Tuesday we gathered. In community. In love. In grief. Because we had lost our friend.

Joe Abdo.

Joe was a volunteer from way back, from before we can remember. He would always be there before me and I tend to get there early. He'd be there with his name tag on already bagging lunches, counting the items off to make sure nothing was missed. And I'd stand there in the kitchen chatting until I knew I'd better go get busy. I'd move out into the parlor and work on organizing the toiletries or the clothing and eventually Joe would move out near me and start bagging cookies or crackers. And we'd chat some more.

He'd ask me what I was writing, or how my last trip was. He had amazing stories. He'd lived abroad for dozens of years. He'd written books and acted in plays and been a hospital administrator. He'd tell Andrew and I how hand sanitizer was bunk science and we'd use it only in secret when Joe wasn't looking. And I'd wash my hands more in the actual sink with actual soap and water like he recommended. Because he was Joe and he knew stuff and I listened to him.

And then a few weeks ago, he got a cold. And it turned into bronchitis. And he stopped by just long enough to say he shouldn't stay. And he'd be off. He couldn't read to his kindergarteners or help us out until he was better he said. And we all took him at his word. He often missed weeks, mostly because he was out traveling the world or off on an audition, but we knew we'd see him again soon.

Until we didn't.

Our leader, Linda, had tried to get a hold of her friend for a few days. She was getting anxious. Her anxiety wore off on me. And then two weeks ago Joe's photo popped up on my Facebook feed. I smiled. And then my face fell.

Joe's brother was letting all of us know Joe had passed away. That bronchitis had likely turned into something else or was something else and that was it. And my heart sank.

Joe was just always there. He could be cranky. He could be funny. He was intelligent and kind-hearted and a very good friend. And as we stood in that circle on Tuesday afternoon we shared all of these things. We told stories. We thanked him for his service. We bemoaned his too quick departure from our community. We surprised each other with stories of him. And we loved him. And we loved one another.

Funerals are for the living is something my mother taught me very early in life. Growing up as a member of a family with a history in the funeral business, this was not a sentiment shared lightly. It was a sentiment shared with reverence. And the reminder that people grieve in different ways. And even if you don't see the need for a funeral, or want to attend, or even want to have one for yourself once you've passed, it's not what you want that matters. It's what your loved ones want. Because they are the ones still living. They are the ones still dealing with death. They are the ones who need to process what has happened and how to go on.

Last week I woke up several mornings thinking about Joe. I never saw him outside of the context of Homeless Lunch. But I had seen him most Tuesdays for over ten years. That's a lot of time spent together. And spent together well -- serving others, conversing, sharing our stories, living out our faith. And his loss was acute. Immediate. When I walked into the parlor Tuesday morning I expected to see his face, to hear him say my name. And when I didn't? I was heartbroken all over again.

So we stood in that circle. We shared our stories of Joe. And then we ate muffins and cake and cookies. And we spent a little extra time with one another. Because ultimately, that's what we all want. More time together.

I'm sad I don't get any more time with Joe. But I'm so thankful for the time I did have with him. And that our time spent together was spent so well. We will miss you Joe.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

My smile and my new pants

On Friday night Angela and I went to Culver City to see the play SCHOOL GIRLS, OR THE AFRICAN MEAN GIRLS. It was in a theater we've never been in but have driven by at least a thousand times. (Seriously, it's across the street from our dentist and if you know us, you know we go to the dentist a lot...)

When we first entered the theater we were greeted by a woman who asked us if we'd like to write on the mirror. In lipstick.

Um, yes!

I've never written on a mirror in lipstick like I'm the scorned heroine of a fancy story! But there was a catch -- we had to write what makes us beautiful.

So Angela and I both took a lipstick and we moved to opposite sides of the mirror and we thought and we wrote.

I wrote, "My smile."

Angela wrote, "My smile."

I love that. I love that we both see our happiness, or our trying to be happy, as beautiful. Smiles do as much for me as they do for others. They help me to remember that life is mostly good. That life is happy. That I want to be happy. That life is beautiful. That I am beautiful.

But as we walked around the lobby of the theater we were inundated with information that would be touched on in the play's subject matter -- the ideas of bullying, of racism, of colorism, of beauty pageants, and the messages we are sending to our world's girls, boys, men, and women.

SCHOOL GIRLS is about high schoolers who are vying to be Ms. Ghana and eventually Ms. World Universe. It's set in the 1980s and it's fascinating to realize not so much has changed since then -- since before I was in high school.

How we are still fighting these ideas that being different is bad. That you must be white, or at least very light, that you must be thin, that you must have a handsome or well-off boyfriend, that you must fit into this norm someone came up with long ago, to be considered popular or beautiful.

I don't know many women who haven't struggled with these things at some point in their lives. I have been on some form of a diet since I can remember. Literally. (I'm talking middle school or possibly before.) And it's exhausting. It's exhausting to count points, to calculate calories, to do sit-ups, to buy the merchandise and the books, to look in the mirror and not see the results. Or worse, to see the results. Because sometimes, succeeding feels even worse.

I lost eighty pounds after grad school. It was a lot. I felt amazing. I ran down hills and around blocks and didn't feel out of breath. But I also devoted so much time to Weight Watchers and exercise that I had to sacrifice other things. I know this is true because I lived it. And it was my choice. And I was happy with it.

But slowly the weight crept back. How do I know? Because I kept track in my journal. I wrote down every pound that I lost or gained. Oh that's sad, you might think. True. But it's also reality. It's reality for SO MANY WOMEN. And probably so many men. It was reality that life changed, I got a new job, a different schedule, and I had to sacrifice something else this time.

I never thought I was beautiful though, not out loud. I'm sure others told me I was. I'm sure I heard it and maybe even thought it. But what stuck with me most was a comment made to my father, by a friend of his. He wondered if I was sick. Like really sick. Because I looked so thin, too thin.

Even eighty pounds lighter (and still a size sixteen, mind you), I wasn't right. I wasn't beautiful. I still looked wrong.

And at forty years old, I'm at a loss. I love walking. And I do a lot of it. Some days over my 10,000 step goal. I'm happy if I get 30 active minutes. But I hate the treadmill. I hate the idea of going to the gym and doing some reps on some machines and not knowing if it's worth it or not. I'm very goal-oriented, if you didn't notice. But I love that I am strong, and I want to stay that way. I love that I can hit a golf ball two hundred yards and that is mostly in part to my very large arms. But most days I do not love those very large arms.

And yet, I quit Weight Watchers, again, last week. I hadn't been on plan for months. Even though every time I put something in my mouth I think of the point value. After more than sixteen years on WW, I can't help but continue with those point value thoughts.

And right after I quit WW, I bought pants, new pants. Pants that fit. Pants that are one size up from some of my pants from several years ago. Because those old pants, while perfectly fine and cute and acceptable, are TIGHT. VERY TIGHT. They look fine but I feel so uncomfortable in them I can't focus on anything else. So I practiced some radical self-care and I bought new pants. And I love them.

Do they make me feel beautiful though? Like my smile?

Yes. They do.

Also? They make me not think about pants. Or my weight. Or being beautiful on the outside for a while. Because I've got so much other shit to do.

I've got movies and television shows to write. I've got a web series to promote. I've got people to feed and a God to worship and books to read. I've got Christmas presents to craft and an InstaPot to figure out and a couch to lie on in front of a television. I've got miles to walk while listening to my audiobooks and beloved podcasts. I've got puzzles to put together and money to raise for robot shirts. I don't have time to think about my pants.

I'm not giving up though. I have to make that clear, to myself, every day. I still choose the things that are good for me. And when I don't, I try not to beat myself up. I eat popsicles instead of cartons of ice cream. I decline the candy I tolerate but don't love. I take the stairs even though I end up winded at the top. I get up early to walk even though I'd rather a few more minutes under the quilt. I eat boneless, skinless chicken for almost every meal. I can't help it. Even if it won't change how I look drastically, I still hold out hope...

Because I want to be beautiful. The way beautiful matters to me. I want to be beautiful through my smile, under my smile, because of my smile.

I want the beauty that I want for girls and women all over the world. I want to feel strong and capable and smart and successful and most of all -- beautiful.

What makes me beautiful?

My smile.

And my new pants.

Monday, September 17, 2018

We Are Celebrating!

It's almost fall. It doesn't feel like it in Los Angeles (or in Howell either, as I look at the weather report and see photos of my parents in shorts). But alas, it's mid-September and summer has been over for Angela and I for months. We spent six weeks in Howell, and they were wonderful. We swam three times a week with my parents and their friends. We ate and drank and laughed on the patio for hours on end. We saw family and friends and caught up with everyone we miss while we're on the other side of the country. We put together jigsaw puzzles and played cards and watched baseball and played Giant Jenga. We went through old photos, we cleaned out closets, we walked and we napped and we shared milestones.

And we also celebrated.

We celebrated that the web series I wrote, and that we filmed last year, won not one but two awards at the Oniros Film Awards. The Couch won for best web series and for best screenplay. And I was beyond stunned. I was so excited just to hear that we'd been nominated! What a surprise! Honestly. I've spent over ten years applying to writing contests. Submitting for fellowships. Sending in script after script, check after check, keeping a list, crossing out those contests when I find out I've lost. It's not a big deal. Rejection is par for the course in Hollywood. I know this. I expect this. So when I found out we'd won...

Well, that was something.

We had to submit three finished episodes of our series to be considered (we'll have seven episodes total) and the complete script. They liked what they saw, and read, and so, we won. Really, quite unexpected. This is not the norm.

But it is amazing. It's amazing because the words that I wrote, several years ago now, the stories I created, are being shared. Not just between Angela and myself. Not just between my best writer friends and myself. Not just between the cast and crew of The Couch and myself. But the stories I created are going out into the world. Literally. The Oniros Film Awards are in Italy!

Also, I love that while my words are being heard and my stories are being told, our entire Couch Team is being recognized because without them, my stories are just files on my MacBook, maybe pages I print out to run my hand across. And in particular that another female is being recognized for being behind the camera.

In August, right after we got back from Michigan, we headed off to church to hear Mark Stephenson preach on the film Wonder Woman. (Yep, if you go to Hollywood UMC you get sermons about movies all summer long!) And during his sermon he mentioned some statistics I'd recently highlighted on social media -- that of the top 100 movies in 2017, only 7.3% were directed by women. That's it, 7.3%. So I am super proud of The Couch for adding to the percentage of film and television being directed by women!

Also, it was so sweet of Mark to shout me out during the sermon. He mentioned my awards and The Couch and I love how supportive the Hollywood UMC community has been and continues to be of me and all females in this business.

So we won a couple of awards -- that's great! Everyone was so happy for us! BUT...they wanted to know when the series would premiere.

Well, last week we made a big announcement! We invited the world to the premiere of The Couch! On October 25th! We are so excited!

We're going to have a big, dress up affair! We're going to have a red carpet! We're going to have a screening! We're going to have live music! We're going to have a Q & A afterwards!

My parents are coming into town for the event! My friends, even those of them who go to bed super early because they kick butt at super early morning jobs, are going to come! I've already tried on my dress! I am EXCITED!

Because something I made is going to be shared. Again.

See this isn't the first time I've shown the world The Couch. Well, technically I've shown it to my world. In July, I got my hands on some almost finished drafts of the seven episodes and was able to show them to my parents and Angela. I was so excited. And so nervous. Because that was the premiere I'd been waiting for forever. These three people - Angela, Chris, and Tom, have made this possible. Without their love and support (SUPPORT, again, for the people in the back! THIS DID NOT HAPPEN WITHOUT ALL OF THEM) The Couch doesn't happen. These people, my people, my world, encouraged me. They saw that this was the most important thing I could do professionally with my life and they let me do it. They made me do it. They didn't let me have any excuses. They made the space in this world for an artist, a writer, to write. And that's a VERY RARE gift. I know that. We all know that. And I am so grateful for that gift. (P.S. - They loved it. They are biased but they still told me they loved it. They said it looked like a TV show (yay!). They wanted to know what happens next! I said well we'll have to see if season 2 is a go...)

But now we are ready for everyone to see our show! If you're in Los Angeles, RSVP, put on your best frock, and come on over! If you're elsewhere in the world? Well, don't worry -- you're going to see it in October too! Please watch. Please share. Please enjoy. Because we made this for you. We made this to share women's stories. And we made this to entertain.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

I Will Vote Yes, signed Angela

A guest post from Angela -- 

#utlastrong #red4ed #schoolbeutner 

If you have been paying attention to any national news in the past year chances are you have seen stories about teacher strikes. All across the country educators are taking to the streets to demand fair wages, good healthcare, smaller class sizes, funding for programs and much, much more. The fight for these things and more is currently ramping up in the country’s second largest school district. This week the 30,000 plus members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the Los Angeles public school teachers’ union, will vote to authorize a strike. While I can’t tell you with certainty that the members will overwhelmingly vote to leave the safety of our classrooms and schools, I know that I will vote yes. 

This is not an easy decision for myself and my colleagues to make. We know that by voting to authorize a strike, we will have to follow through. We will have to walk the picket lines, go without pay, worry about what our students and families will do for child care. And knowing the ramifications, I will still vote yes. 

I come from a long line of union members. I learned early in life that unions help families survive and thrive. When I had knee surgery and when I stayed at an inpatient clinic for migraine sufferers, the union was the reason my parents didn’t have to worry about going broke paying the medical bills. When my dad retired I knew that I wouldn’t have to worry about him and my mom as they grow older because they have pensions and healthcare. I refuse to take the opportunities I have been afforded for granted. I will vote yes. 

Over the next few weeks there will be newspaper articles and stories on the television about the outcome of the vote, the mediation that will take place and whether a deal can be struck between the school district and the union. I ask that you understand the entire story. Yes, we are asking for an increase in wages. That is not the entire story. If you want to know more about educator salaries in Los Angeles I am happy to talk to you and share resources that are unbiased. We are also asking for smaller class sizes. School started this week and I know of kindergarten classes with 29 excited kiddos to one teacher. I know of a third-grade class with 37 students ready to dive into math and reading. I know of a seventh grade English class with 40 students who are eager to start their first novel of the year. And let me be clear, these teachers are not complaining, they are simply asking for help. For all of the children who deserve one-on-one time with their teachers every day, I will vote yes. 

You will be hearing more from me in the weeks to come about this fight. This past Sunday, at Hollywood United Methodist Church, Reverend Kathy Cooper-Ledesma spoke about “Living a life worthy of your calling”. I, like every member of UTLA , was called to be an educator. We work hard for our students. Unless you are close to a teacher you may not know that we don’t leave our jobs at school. We don’t stop thinking about our students who are struggling at three o’clock on Friday. We worry, we plan, we grade, we take classes, and so much more. We do not do all of this for the accolades, we do not do it for the hope that we will get a salary increase, we do not do it for the breaks. We do it because we are called. Because I want to live a life worthy of my calling, I will vote yes.  

I am product of public schools and I am proud to be a public-school teacher. No matter what happens this week or in the coming months I will not stop being proud. I will not stop getting to work early and leaving late. I will not stop worrying. And planning. And taking classes. While I fight for better schools I will ensure that the one I have is the best that it can be. I will vote yes.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Take Care of Yourself, Please

The 1st selfie
Four weeks ago this morning I drove to Glendale Adventist Hospital while the traffic was still relatively light (there is no such thing as no traffic in Los Angeles, I've been on the roads at all hours and there is always, always, always, traffic) and the sun was still burning the grey out of the sky. I parked in a nearly empty parking garage and made my way to the imaging suite in the hospital. There was one other woman in the waiting room and we both were there for our yearly mammograms. She was getting her fifteenth or something, I was getting my second. We were both done before seven-thirty and as we rode the elevator up from the basement she commented that it's good to get that done for another year. I agreed and we parted ways to start the remainder of our Thursdays.

I posted my cute curly-haired selfie from the dressing room just before I went in to get my mammogram and I reminded everyone to practice self-care and get tested when you're supposed to! Done for another year I thought. 

And then five days later I answered the phone on my drive into Hollywood on a Tuesday morning. I was sitting in traffic and was listening to a podcast and figured it would be a robo call when I clicked the speakerphone button. But it was a nurse from my gynecologist's office. 

I wasn't one hundred percent sure what transpired in the next eighty seconds. I heard that there was something wrong with my mammogram, something amiss. I heard that I needed more tests. I heard that she'd deal with insurance and get back to me. And then she hung up. My brain went into overdrive.

I know from my experience with blood clots and my autoimmune disease that I should never Google my own health symptoms. And I didn't. But I sure wanted to. 

What I ended up needing was a bilateral diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound of both breasts. It took a few days but the insurance paperwork went through and the tests were scheduled. The first available slot open was last Wednesday, the only appointment they had until later in June. And of course this was the one day I had promised to spend with Angela at school scooping ice cream for her 2000 students to celebrate the end of their standardized testing. 

Needless to say, neither of us scooped ice cream last Wednesday. Instead Angela took the day off and we spent the morning running errands, getting regular blood tests (it's a thing for me and her doctor wanted to check her out and this seemed like as good as a day as any to do it), going to the post office, and eating one of the best breakfasts I've ever had (no, seriously -- we went to Porto's in Glendale and had omelettes, which were fine, but the avocado salad and potatoes they serve with the omelettes? Pure bliss, every bite). Then we made our way back to Glendale Adventist Hospital. We searched the busy parking garage for a spot and then made our way back to the imaging suite. 

And within forty-five minutes the tests were complete. And I took another selfie. But this one I didn't post. I didn't have cute curly hair and I wasn't quite as confident with my smile this time. This one I took just for me. Because this one might have marked a completely different kind of day...

And then we waited. We waited and I told the small handful of people in my life I'd told about the tests that I still had no ideas. And we waited. And it's really the waiting that might kill us in the end, right? Because that's when we go to dark, scary places in our minds that Google could never really compete with...

And then this morning it was eight days and still no news. I felt completely powerless. Should I think about the scary things that might soon befall my life? Or should I pretend nothing has changed at all? I needed answers. I needed power. So I called the doctor's office and I was told a nurse would call me with the results. And so I waited some more. And I am so blessed to have amazing people in my corner. People who will talk to me for hours on end to distract me, people who send emails and Facebook messages to check in, people who text silly bitmojis and news stories that keep my mind occupied, even if they have no idea what's going on at that particular moment. And then I got a call shortly after noon today, four weeks from the day of that first mammogram -- everything is fine. 

The 2nd selfie
I am not sure what exactly the nurse said. I heard fine and okay and I think she quickly sensed I was on the verge of losing it because she said something like are you okay and I answered yes through a sob in my throat and we hung up. And I made my calls and sent my messages and sobbed with relief. Because not everyone gets this particular call. 

I know not everyone has the opportunity to have this level of care in the first place. I've had three mammograms in thirteen months. And I am fine. I am sobbing the happiest of tears. But I know women who can't get even one mammogram. Or can't get that second one. Or who don't want to go. Or who are too afraid of what it will mean or what it will feel like. Or what will come next. And trust me, I get that. All of it. And I know there are some people who wouldn't follow up with their doctor's office. They'd assume no news is good news. And sometimes it is. Again, the happiest of sobs! But sometimes it isn't. And KNOWLEDGE is POWER. 

In the past three years one of the biggest lessons I've learned is to be my own advocate. And when I cannot be my own advocate to reach out for help. Because there are always people who will help. But mostly, I have to monitor my own health care. I have to keep track of my own tests and collect all my own paperwork and schedule my own appointments and follow up with busy receptionists and keep copies of everything and write in my health journal in a Word file I keep on my computer and on my phone because you will always need that piece of information you didn't think you would need. 

And that's what I hope to share with others -- Go for the test the doctor recommends. Go for that follow-up appointment. Get that prescription filled. Confide in a person or two or three. Share your fears. Share your joys. Embrace the reality that this is your one life. Your one body. No one else can take care of it for you. No one else will care as much as you do about your own health. And you are loved and we all need you in tip-top shape. I tell you, it's when I'm at my darkest, in those scary places Google will never even imagine, that I am constantly reminded how much I am loved. I'll get a smiley face emoji from a friend via text. I'll get an extra hard hug from someone. I'll hear a song sung on the sidewalk outside of Homeless Lunch from a woman who shouted, "I love you!" as she skipped away this week. I'll hear the relief in a dear friend's voice when she learns that my test results are okay, not her test results, but mine. To know that my life is so intertwined with others lives reminds me of how much I have to take care of. 

There will be more health scares in my life, this is something I rationally realize. I will get sick again. I will have more panic attacks. I will lose people close to me from health problems that could or could not have been prevented. I know this. Life is hard and scary and at the end we all die. I've had forty years on this earth to come to terms with this and on the other hand, I know I never will. 

Today I will know that I am okay. That for today I am healthy and I am smiling because I just can't stop even though I am crying too. I heard voices of loved ones today. I get to write something that I made up today. I watched the Tigers beat the Angels today. I am not just okay but I am great. And I hope and pray everyone else in my life is too. And if not, take care of yourself. Please. For you. For me. For all of us. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Co-creators at the symphony

The Walt Disney Concert Hall
I have driven by the Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown Los Angeles countless times. I have friends who live on the same block. I've been to jury duty across the street and parked below the hall. I've been sightseeing and shopping and to concerts all within spitting distance of the hall. But I had never been inside until Friday morning.

Mary, one of our California grandmothers, had an extra ticket to her usual Friday morning symphony. She's offered me tickets in the past and the timing has never worked out. But this time, I thought, why not? Why not spend a few hours with her, listening to music, experiencing something new? The work would still be there the next day. The world wouldn't miss me too much if I took a little break. And so I did.

Mary arrived early Friday morning, eight-thirty-ish. I drove the rest of the way downtown and we found seats in the third row of the hall for the pre-concert event. I had no idea this was a thing. But it is! Before the symphony someone gives a forty-five minute lecture about what you're about to hear. How cool is that?

Gustavo Dudamel
Friday morning we were treated to a talk by Kristi Brown-Montesano, chair of the music history department at Colburn Conservatory of Music. She was smart and funny and full of so much information! She explained that we'd hear a Schumann Concerto, with a lot of cello, which is apparently a rare experience. She gave us some historical context and told some tales and then set us free to listen.

We climbed to the balcony and settled in. The concert lasted about two hours, with an intermission. We heard short concertos (10 minutes) and long symphonies (50 minutes). We got to experience an Argentine phenom named Sol Gabetta who played an entire concerto from memory and looked like an angel while doing it. Also, she was playing a cello built in 1730 which just blows my mind. We also got to witness the uber-famous conductor Gustavo Dudamel who I had previously only known from his picture on billboards all around town.

What stuck with me throughout the entire two hour concert was something Brown-Montesano said during her talk with us prior to the symphony's start:
We are co-creators of this experience.
I thought about that as I listened. As I processed. As I let my mind wander and then be drawn back in. I don't think I've ever sat still and listened to classical music for that long in my entire life. There was an intermission and a handful of breaks for applause but there was mostly quiet listening. I was a co-creator in that moment.

I sat there and I watched the women and the men. I counted how many people were on the stage (the sexes were pretty evenly represented). I watched as one musician cleaned his clarinet-type instrument countless times in between movements. I watched as musicians sat up straight, almost on the edge of their seats. I watched as musicians settled in more comfortably and awaited their turn to shine. I watched as the sounds blended and became indistinguishable from the piece as a whole. I listened as the songs swept me away.

And I meditated on the music. I thought about my day. I took in the experience of the room. Of the colors. Of the context. I looked around at the people I was sharing space with. I imagined experiencing this more often. I thought about writing and my own creation. I actually rewrote in my head while listening, thinking of a scene I had been playing with and wondering how the music might influence my process.

And I enjoyed myself. I let my self be there. Be with the music. Be a co-creator. Nothing else was being asked of me. I didn't have to take notes or try to solve a mystery or laugh at the right places. I just had to listen. To soak. To be.

I don't know how often I'll get back to the symphony but I do know I am grateful for the experience. I am grateful for the quiet and for the noise. For the co-creation I had Friday morning. I will take that with me into my week, into my creative process. I will listen to some Schumann and think about what I learned about him. About how he tried to do something new, despite being in the shadow of some of the greatest composers of all time. I will think about how when he got sick in his older age, mental illness taking hold, he gathered himself and asked for help, thinking more of his family's well-being than his own comfort. I'll think about how Brown-Montesano urged us not to consider his mental illness when listening to his work because the work should stand on it's own. But I will. I will think about his illness. Because it struck me that he was human, he was a man. A man who created this lovely music that so many people came together to celebrate on Friday morning in Los Angeles, so far away from his German homeland. So long after his death in 1856.

I will think about the music. The music that we celebrate. The music that informs our lives. The music that brightens our world. I will think about that and I will remember that. I will continue to co-create this experience over and over and over for it is now a part of me. A new experience that informs me and I love that.