Letters to Holly

Friday, July 3

Out Here in the Fields

I'm writing this in the middle of the afternoon. I'm off from work for July 4, and I've spent much of the day in fourth gear.

I got home yesterday to find Your Sister grilling veggies. She asked me to get more, and I strolled the 30 yards to the garden, found a squash and cucumber, plucked them the vines, and handed them over. And we ate them. That will never get old. She grilled the squash, and the cucumber went in a salad. They were good. Framer Greg has had a good year so far.

Got up this morning and went straight back to the garden. I planted two more rows of corn with the now-regular ritual: hoe, manure, seed, compost, dirt, water. It's the opposite of toil. It's work, sure; my Cubs hat is a ratbag mess. But it's a calming ceremony. I've found a method of serenity punctuated by cursing the weeds and chopping the dirt. The iPod helps too. It helps everything. I pulverized the charcoal from last night's dinner and added the dust to the compost bin. It's alive with worms. Fat, pale worms joyous with our dirt. If crane to listen, you can hear them sing the American Bandstand theme.

I washed off my sneakers and decided I wasn't enervated enough. That's what farming does to me; it gives me enough of a high to run 3 miles on whimsy. I chucked off the dirty clothes, threw on the running togs, whispered bye to Your Sleeping Sister, and ran a 5k course. I'm willing to admit I may be stupid. I encountered high-school track girls and felt decrepit, like a running numeral 6. See that number? Just give it feet. That's me, I'm sure they thought.

I got home, cleaned up, and bought Your Not-Sleeping Sister Starbucks tea. I found the rare and treasured free bag of coffee grounds and snatched it up with an audible gasp. They had two bags. I got one. No need to be greedy. That stuff will go on the veggies tomorrow. She worked on the front yard weeds while I started the mini-comic. I type this having the entire thing penciled already, and now I hope to ink it before I go back to bed and rest my sore bones. We stopped for Mexican lunch, and she's on the couch reading some math textbooks.

Picture of the Day
Might as well jump. Go ahead and jump.

Thursday, July 2

One Rehearsal This Week

This week's only rehearsal gave plenty of time in the days before and after for the actors to work on memorization. And they did. I was impressed with what they brought to the warehouse and patted them on the heads for their effort. We did one runthrough, as as the habit now, and the play is starting to take flight.

The biggest difference is the mom actress. She wants to develop the character more than the script calls for, and I may have to rein in her anger. I didn't worry about delivery so much this week. As I told them nay times, we'll start tightening next week. We'll work with props, get the lines exactly right, and adjust the moments between characters. Not this week.

With scripts out of hands (and a walker in Mom's), new things emerge. For instance, when the suitor of the responsible daughter offers flowers, the mother didn't take them in hand. She stared at them with suspicion. The script doesn't say she takes them (there are so few stage directions), and her refusal to touch them cracked us all up. I don't think it was a conscious choice; the mom wanted to keep her hands on her walker at all times. But it worked so well, I want to keep it. Things like this happened all through the practice.

I adjusted the rehearsal space to mirror the stage set-up, and that required us to alter our entrances and exits. Nothing big. It does allow the responsible daughter to kiss the mom goodbye as she leaves. It also lets the irresponsible daughter indulge in more comic acting as she follows mom out the kitchen door at the play's end. The actors say they like where we're headed. We've got two weeks from tomorrow before we hit the stage, and I think we'll be just fine.

I like directing, I have to say. This show probably will ruin me for any future assignments. I have a simple set, a small cast, and a short script. We collaborate and compromise and try new things. They've learned to work with me as I have with them. I'm glad to have had the chance. Not so glad to do this two times in a row, mind you, but I do get essentially an immediate do-over for which I'm grateful.

Your Sister is a weeding machine, and she was out in the yard with gloves and wheelbarrow as I left for work. I didn't run today; I did arm and stomach exercises instead. She made a curry dish last night using a recipe you brought back from South Africa, and it was good -- baby corn, rice, cilantro, and chicken thighs. I couldn't finish it before rehearsal but did as soon as I got back.

Alexander McCall Smith is announced to read from his works next April in Greenville, and I think she wants to go. The same venue is presenting Wicked, and I'd gladly see it if I could wear thick earplugs. I want to see how they move the stage pieces, but that music is a curse on humanity. The big song, Defying Gravity, was made famous by the original actress's ability to hit a money note, and I bet many a ticket-goer will be disappointed when the touring actress misses the mark. One of the NY Times reviewers lamented that modern productions demand such vocal acrobatics that performers burn out and shorten their careers. I believe it.

The touring performers are quite good, and many come direct from the Broadway version of their traveling shows. But that slog has to affect their skills, and I don't fault them for staying in a lower gear onstage at times to maintain their energy. The same house is offering South Pacific, and I want to see that again for a a technical stunt: When the lead sings I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair, she actually showers onstage. When the show debut on Broadway, that piece of stagecraft alone got a standing ovation. Yes, many a stage version of Singin' in the Rain has a piped-in rainstorm, but the other show's actress has to sing while lathering her head.

+ + +
The news over here is the same. Jackson rumors fly around about his will, his kids, his estate, his ex-wife. It smothers all other events. The healthcare debate continues. California and New York are in budgetary standstills. Mark Sanford seems to have finally decided to stop talking about his loves.

Another round of Tea Party protests is scheduled for Saturday's holiday. A local representative was interviews by the NPR station and asserted that the founding fathers guaranteed "the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness." That third one sounds new. I mean, I get the idea, especially for the entrepreneurial minded, but it's not an inalienable right as enumerated and can't be casually lumped in. Not if you're arguing for strict interpretation of the Constitution as conservatives profess. Most important, that inalienable rights bit isn't in the Constitution. It's in the Declaration, a document that asserts rights but has no strength to establish them. These details are important if you want to win people to your side.

Picture of the Day
The attendees of the annual Glastonbury Music Festival in Scotland. I stopped counting at three.

Wednesday, July 1

A New Project

There's a 5k race this weekend, the traditional Firecracker Run. It's one of a handful that go downtown. I considered entering it; I am running all the time now, and this would be a good test of my progress. But I received this email from the race organizers:
This year there will be a little congestion problem. It seems that the Tail Gate Market will be set up adjacent to the FINISH Line and will be taking up most of the parking lot along S Gaston St and Varsity St. There is still ample parking in the area. You will be given further instructions about the problem on Varsity St as you are coming into the FINISH Line.
Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but it seems to say that runners will be told of the course's end only after they've started the race. Screw that. We've seen this exact cock-up a few years back, and runners turned the wrong direction about a quarter-mile from the finish. I'm amused that no one thought to schedule this against the tailgate farmers. They practically predate the streetlights.

The races were recently taken over by the local rotarians, and this kind of confusion is the new norm. The first race they organized featured a drink station that consisted of a six-inch-tall cardboard box and a woman who hadn't made any drinks beforehand. I saw a runner do laps around her while she poured his drink. I'm not encouraged to give them my registration money, not when I can simply run through downtown before the shops open.

We'll host Mom this weekend, and I'll do some prop shopping for the show. I also have a new sudden deadline. The comic publisher is slapping together a Michael Jackson-themed comic for the nation's biggest convention, ComicCon in San Diego. I agreed to do two pages at mini-comic size for July 6. It's to be b/w with no mention of his kid trouble. I'll probably write about my summer camp/Thriller story.


I just took a break to jot down a first draft. It came easy, and this should be a feasible assignment. I wanted to do a memoir comic again, and I'm flattered to be asked by the publisher.

Your Sister thought I had rehearsal yesterday and made an appropriate light dinner. This is despite the fridge calendar screaming the rehearsal date for today. She couldn't get it right even after we ate.

"So, you're leaving soon, right?"
"Rehearsal? 7:30."
"That's still tomorrow."
"Oh. Okay."
"Do I need to go? Is Mark Sanford coming over?"
"No, no."

Speaking of, this guy's a schmo. He now admits to seeing his mistress more than he confessed in his mea cupla conference. Also, he says he's "crossed the line" with other women without, he says, "crossing the ultimate line." Now that's a loaded phrase for a Christian adult. The realm of activities that may not constitute his notion of sex could be crowded. It's an ambiguous term. For him, "does the ultimate line" mean full-hearted love?

He's obviously tomcatting around. We don't know what his wife knew, and I don't want to see her grilled. She's made it clear she won't tolerate adultery. But we don't know if their relationship is harmed more by his affairs of the pants or the heart. Seems clear that he stayed married for his career; he's on the record as saying this other woman is his soulmate, but he's trying to fall back in love with his wife. His words. That's sad. It's downright brutal for his kids, and for that forced ignominy, he should be launched into space.

But to treat Your Wife this way, to say things best not plastered in papers and on cable news, it sounds mindless. Or completely calculated. If he pretends to want reconciliation, he wants pity after she inevitably and rightfully drops his lying ass. "I wanted it to work," he'll say. "But she wanted something else." Sanford, was wronged, he hopes we'll say. He 's no longer working to earn our respect for Doing the Right Thing. He wants sympathy for a plight he wholly created.

I'm not bothered by his affairs. That's between him and his wife to deal with. I'm bothered by his public packaging of the matter. I don't like his proud humility. He wants very much for us to see him gladly burdened by consequence and remorse. A hairshirt happily donned isn't the punishment it's meant to be. His comparison to King David is a sly way of saying he's as much a sinner but also as prominent a ruler.

An interesting proposal was made last week that the Democrats should now push for a national gay-marriage law. The Republicans have lost the moral high ground with the Nevada and South Carolina governor affairs. Gingrich and Limbaugh can't talk about the sanctity of marriage to the mainstream, not with their six combined marriages. What argument is left? These prominent disregards for the vaunted institution undercut the common objection to gay marriage. They can't possibly taint matrimony any more than these hypocritical finger-waggers.

I never understood the logic of gay marriage harming straight marriages. It will take more than gay married neighbors to affect what Your Sis and I have. Bunches more. Maybe alligator ninjas.

She spent much of yesterday rearranging the garage and workshed. She says she can't bear to sleep in while I get up and run. I think she needs to muddle through chores so she can allow herself to play online later. That's fine. I work the same way.

Picture of the Day
I miss new Lost.

Monday, June 29

Lots of Much.

Setting up a laptop is serious business. Your Sister's has a fingerprint scanner for security and provides a touch screen similar to that of an iPhone. But it does not simply turn on and get rolling. It's a Vista Windows machine too and, she's learning why Vista has its reputation. She learned she can watch some Netflix movies on her laptop via the new modem, and she's interested in the Tudors series from Showtime.

I used the magic modem to try an online superhero game, and it's a blast. You make a costume, assign the powers, and immediately get to beat up thugs. The game has a tutorial -- unlike World of Warcraft -- and it's right up my alley. I now have to pry myself out of the workshop.

Our Saturday morning theatre meeting was sparsely attended and accomplished little. The crunch of shows is evident as we look for show runners, stage crew, tech crew, and street festival volunteers. This is just what I feared would happen. No one wants to raise his hand; everyone is burned out. I got to see the stage and measure our movement space. It's not as bad as I thought, but the limited curtain options restricts our entrance choices. I also learned how to set up a sound board from the Scrooge actor. He knows his stuff.

I learned last week that all theatre positions are volunteer. No one gets paid. Here lies a fundamental problem. There's is no incentive to do the best work consistently, and there is no penalty for failure. The theatre can't dismiss people; they need the warm bodies. Every theatre needs, at least, people on retainer for such positions. Now I know why the posters all use clip art. Why should a publicity director spend hours on artwork if he's paid the same amount to find something online?

We bought ourselves a ventless gas stove as part of our master plan for the living room. Instead of my mural idea, Your Sister prefers a wall of bookshelves. We talked to a local cabinet company for designs, and the stove will anchor the structure. We also need to stamp our books with our hyphenated library name.

I staked the tomatoes in the morning. The garden is that time period when the plants explode with food. I mowed the yard and weeded the borders, and the flying grass turned me into a green Wookie. Ares of sod washed down the shower drain. That much yardwork replaces a run as far as this correspondent is concerned.

We watched much sport this weekend. The National track and field championships were held at the University of Oregon, and we watched the US-Brazil soccer game from South Africa. The constant horns in the audience are infuriating, and I might not last the whole World Cup if they're blaring every game.

Sunday night, we returned from an outdoor dinner to survey the mowed and weeded yard. We plucked our first produce: two yellow squash and a cucumber. This squash has fuzzy hair on it unlike last year's butternuts and acorns. They will be grilled later in the week. We decided that there was no need to wait to pluck and gobble as we'll be up to our belts in squash and cucumbers, judging by the vines.

I stood in the backyard with my bride, holding my meager garden harvest, in a summer day with light breeze and fading light. It was a good moment. The night got better when I signed and stamped the last check for my student loans. I'm all paid up. It's done. We cracked open Smirnoff Ice and toasted the memories of school and career, and I drank too much to run the next morning. I can live with that.

In the News
Michael Jackson is all over the radio. This American Life used song titles for their segments, and the NPR money show uses his songs for bumper music. We heard Thriller as we drove home last night. I downloaded Scream for running music. The BET Awards was dedicated to his legacy.

Sunday, we lost Billy Mays, the bearded TV pitchman who liked to yell. He entertained me and had a good sense of humor about his place in TV culture.

Picture of the Day
A volcano eruption seen from the space station.