Friday, October 29, 2010

Big Leaf

We hiked up Medusa Flat today. The cattle ranchers have blocked their irrigation ditch for the winter and Mill Creek is flowing as god intended. It was a beautiful sight but the high water complicated our crossing; talk about a hop, skip and a jump. It's the height of the season and the big leaf maples are turning from green to gold to rust to brown. There's very little red in the mix out here on the Siskiyou ridge and leaf peepers would probably find it boring, but the color always catches my breath.

I bowed my head to old grandfather fir as we passed and gave him my greeting. 200 years old, he was supremely unconcerned with my ant-like attentions. He's old enough to remember the Klamath braves hunting in his shade, but I'm sure he doesn't, just as he won't remember me 100 years from now.

The woods smelled of autumn, the rich scent of rotting leaves and humus. As we broke out from under the canopy and into the flat, there were the flanks of Mt Ashland towering over us, white for the first time this season. The snow's in the high country and winter draws near.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Season in Hell

by Arthur Rimbaud
translated by Bertrand Mathieu

A while back, if I remember right, my life was one long party where all hearts were open wide, where all wines kept flowing.

One night, I sat Beauty down on my lap.—And I found her galling.—And I roughed her up.

I armed myself against justice.

I ran away. O witches, O misery, O hatred, my treasure's been turned over to you!

I managed to make every trace of human hope vanish from my mind. I pounced on every joy like a ferocious animal eager to strangle it.

I called for executioners so that, while dying, I could bite the butts of their rifles. I called for plagues to choke me with sand, with blood. Bad luck was my god. I stretched out in the muck. I dried myself in the air of crime. And I played tricks on insanity.

And Spring brought me the frightening laugh of the idiot.

So, just recently, when I found myself on the brink of the final squawk! it dawned on me to look again for the key to that ancient party where I might find my appetite once more.

Charity is that key.—This inspiration proves I was dreaming!

"You'll always be a hyena etc. . . ," yells the devil, who'd crowned me with such pretty poppies. "Deserve death with all your appetites, your selfishness, and all the capital sins!"

Ah! I've been through too much:-But, sweet Satan, I beg of you, a less blazing eye! and while waiting for the new little cowardly gestures yet to come, since you like an absence of descriptive or didactic skills in a writer, let me rip out these few ghastly pages from my notebook of the damned.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Stephany's Senior Prom

I was madder than a wet hen about something.

Don't know what I had to be mad about; nothing actually. Gary took my to Sally Stanford's in Sausalito and they served me wine. The dance was at the Hilton in San Francisco. Afterwards, we cruised out to Ocean Beach and drank till dawn. Ah, those were the days.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


It's no secret that I work for a very old, large, well-established theatre company (although many would be surprised to know just how large; we're talking a budget of almost $30 million per year.) On more than one occasion, I’ve heard members of the artistic leadership state unequivocally, "Theater is always a political act." They say it as if it is an accepted, undisputable fact. I once asked, what exactly do you mean by that? I never got an answer.

If theater is a “political act,” can we define what we mean by the term “political”? (What this organization needs is a linguist.) When in doubt, I always return to the Oxford English Dictionary. Perhaps that is another symptom of my racial exclusivity and elitism; I let old white guys define my words.

1. A. Of, belonging, or pertaining to the state or body of citizens, its government and policy, especially in civil and secular affairs; public, civil; of or pertaining to the science or art of politics. B. of persons: engaged in civil administration; civil as distinct from military.
2. Having an organized government or polity.
3. Relating to, concerned, or dealing with politics or the science of government
4. Belonging to or taking a side in politics or in connection with the party system or government; in a bad sense, partisan, factious. (emphasis mine.)

Despite receiving negligible government funding, I don't think anyone would say that this theatre "belongs" to the state. As a 501(c)3 we are specifically forbidden from participating in electoral campaigns or party advocacy. I don't think they use the term "political" to refer to the internal politics of this organization (as Byzantine and fraught as they may be.) I don't think they mean to imply that the work we do directly relates to the science of government. Therefore, when they say "all theater is political" I assume they mean it in the sense of definition #4: taking sides in connection with the party system or government.

Is it the mission of this theatre to belong to, or take sides, in a party system or government? Is it our mission as theatre practitioners to advocate a political point of view?

I believe that theater aspires to something greater, something that transcends parties, systems of government and political points of view. It seems I always return to King Lear: regardless of whether the actor playing Lear, is black, white, male, female, young, old, right wing or left wing, audiences (be they black, white, male, female, young, old, right wing or left wing) can relate to his universal journey. We are all going to get old (if we’re lucky), our mental and physical powers will decline and we’ll die. August Wilson roots his stories in a very specific African-American experience portrayed by African-American actors, but he uses that specificity to talk about disappointment, injustice, exploitation, deferred dreams, and other universal themes that even a middle class white woman can relate to.

I have come to the conclusion that, for me, theater is a spiritual act. As cynical, suspicious and cranky as I am, I still hold the irrational belief that a handful of universal truths transcend race, class, gender and can be expressed in story form. The stories we tell have the potential to connect us to universal human truths. From what I've observed of politics, it breaks us down into smaller and smaller units and drives us further and further apart. Theater is the opposite; it has the potential to unite us in communal catharsis. That's why I do this work.

You can't change minds until you touch hearts.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

All is Vanity Saith the Preacher

"Hey, aren't you in that band Hamfist? I love you guys!" said the 20-something girl behind the counter at a sandwich shop. I fluttered, I demurred, I ate it up with a spoon. I fully admit it: I'm shallow, vain and self-obsessed, but I absolutely love it when some stranger recognizes me as a musician.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Stand Up and Sing

Stand up and sing for the sisters in the kitchen
Mopping floors, frying chicken
For the mothers and their babies
Sweet young things and tough old ladies
Plain and simple, big and loud
Small and frightened, shy or proud
Stand up for my sisters and sing

Stand up and sing for the sisters in the office
Behind the scenes, below the surface
For the doctors and mechanics
The depressives and the manics
Mothers sisters daughters wives
Leading unheralded lives
I stand up for my sisters and sing

With our hands we make the world
We create each day anew
With our hearts we heal the world
We raise up our voices and lift up our spirits and sing
We sing

Stand up and sing for the hag who rides the hedges
Hecate’s child living wild out on the edges
For the rocker and the punker
For the farmer and the hunter
For the priestess standing tall
All for one and one for all
We stand up for our sisters and sing

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Darkness

Sunday dawned cold and damp at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park, but the sun broke through during the performance of Shelby Lynn & Alison Moorer. It was the first warmth of the weekend and mirrored the sweet, sunny sound of these two sisters from Alabama who call each other "sissy." Marty Stuart (of all people) once commented on the kind of harmony that can only be achieved by people who are related by blood - "blood harmony" he called it, an apt description. I heard it in my family and I hear it in others - the Boswell sisters, the Louvin brothers, the Delmore brothers. Perhaps there is a genetic component to the timbre of the voice, the frequency of vibration.

I bopped through the park all day like a summer of love hippie, shimmying through the congenial throngs. The thing that strikes me about this festival is how half a million people squeeze together in one location and coexist cheerfully, peacefully, non-violently. I saw some seriously drunk ass people, lots of them, but not a single fight, not even a dog fight. It's a utopian vision of how the world might work.

But it doesn't, does it?

Patti Smith came out late in the day and drew a shroud of fog around her. She called down the darkness and bore witness to its power. A middle aged woman, her face lined, her teeth yellow, no fashion, no make up, no pretense of youth, no need to be anything other than herself, she stood before us with authority and power and in a deep, rich voice, she sang her uncompromised truth. As she called on the dead to release the world and cross over, she reminded the living that we too must release our vain attachments and false gods. Emotionally naked and unafraid, she spoke and I responded.

I was in the first generation of feminists to embrace that label, to claim our power and speak out against our systematic subjugation. Somewhere in the day to day work of marriage and children, I abdicated my voice and strove instead to be "nice." I had a responsibility to love and nurture my daughters and I did it the only way I knew how, the way my mother taught me, through denial, abnegation and sacrifice. I don't regret it; it was a necessary lesson in how most women live in the world. Rich, poor, first world or third, women everywhere put their dreams aside to nurture the next generation. But, what do we do when the next generation is grown and gone? Fade away into oblivion? Seek our lost youth through hedonism and self-absorption? Or, do we embrace our power, stand tall and speak out?

The world is a beautiful place. I've drunk deep from her wonders and am grateful for her many gifts. But, here's my truth: I have no beauty, no youth, no comfort left within me to give. For more than 30 years I sought to nurture, to soothe, to protect. I tried to shine a light that drew people in. I tried to make people happy. Optimism never came naturally to me and it was generated at great cost. I had to pump like mad to keep that balloon inflated.

I'm done with false facades. It's time to release my power and reveal the darkness at my core. It's a risky move. It will make many of those I love uncomfortable; it will drive some away. So be it. It's time to stand witness for those for those who were used and discarded, for those who fought and fell. It's time to speak truth and let the chips fall where they may.