Saturday, May 20, 2017

Middle Schoolers Who Mock

That term doesn't mean what you might think. If you’re imagining middle-school aged students making fun of each other, their teachers, or their curricula—you’re wrong! 

When a young teenage living in Greater Minneapolis says to her mother, “I’m going mocking with friends,” the mother is probably going to smile. She might ask, “Where,” but she doesn’t have to know more.

Mock is short for hammock, and probably should be spelled ‘mock. Take a look at friends of one of my granddaughters in a park near the home of my son and his family. Doesn’t this look fun?  Mentally, just contemplating this scene, I’m settling in for breeze as I snuggle down comfortably—breeze, as in ‘shooting the . . .’ and what happens when gently rocking between trees. 


I understand that the thrill of mocking fades once the mocker is obtains a driver’s license. But when you’re fourteen, that’s a long way off and mocking is NOW.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Curtain Call

     My recent trip to NYC was gratifying, to put it mildly. I’d received a flyer about the excursion in January, but because of health concerns knew I couldn’t commit to something five months out. The flyer was sent out through the auspices of ACT Theatre in Seattle and advertised four Broadway plays, several theatrically oriented tours, and visits to several tourist attractions I hadn’t seen, such as the 911 Museum and the Lower Eastside Tenement Museum. It sounded perfect, but I tossed away the brochure and told myself I’d look for a similar trip next year.
     Then in April I received an email from ACT telling me there were still a few spots available for this year. The timing was perfect—I was feeling optimistic about a healthy future and my body-parts that frequently slow me down, such as my knees and feet, were feeling pretty darn good, too. On impulse I called the number on the brochure and within the hour, I’d signed up for the trip.
     Not without some trepidation, I will admit. Age can be a stickler in a group where others are younger or more agile. I worried that I’d be exhausted by the time I’d done all the activities included. But something much more troubling lay underneath my concern—one so personal and egotistical, I was embarrassed to share it. As the widow of Jay Glerum, this would be my first trip to NYC in which I wasn’t riding on his coattails. Indeed, I had only to take my husband’s arm to be instantly an insider in the theatre district . . . the wife of a man whom stagehands revered, a man who was routinely invited backstage so stage crews could show off  their expertise to ‘the man who wrote the book.” The thought of going to Broadway shows as an ordinary audience member—not one who got to see the stuff and meet the people that made the shows so spectacular—made me sad. I’d be a nobody in the audience, when only a few years before I’d been a ‘somebody’ just because of my marriage.
     To my delight, the tour was wonderful!  I loved my six days in the city and successfully overrode sentimental memories about being there without Jay. I got up early every morning to roam the West
Unlike most productions where photos are strictly forbidden,
an announcement was made before "Natasha, Pierre, and
The Great Comet of 1812" began saying photos
BEFORE the show started were OK. Thus, this picture
of The Imperial Theatre with its fabulous, immersive set.
40s, marveling at the hustle and bustle of commuters amidst the stumbling gawkiness of tourists like me who were taking pictures, watching Good Morning America through the street-level windows, sipping Starbucks, or munching bagels, as we all walked through Times Square and its environs. 
     On the last morning before breakfast I walked back to my hotel along West 43rd  between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, passing the Lyric Theatre where I noticed its stage door was wide open. I peered in as I walked by, then paused and turned around and approached the entrance to the stage. I could see multiple stagehands loading out equipment. One hand stood by the door. “Can I just watch a minute?” I asked.
     “Yup, look all you like. But  you can’t come in.”
     “Oh, I only want to look,” I responded, feeling a surge of nostalgia. After a minute, I couldn’t resist and asked, “Does the name Jay Glerum mean anything to you? I’m his widow.”
      “Nah.”
     Immediately another stagehand appeared. "Jay Glerum? JAY O. GLERUM? Yeah, it does—it means a lot!” then chided the man standing at the door. “You do too know that name!” he scolded. “Jay O. Glerum wrote the book! He wrote Stage Rigging Handbook!”
     “Oh, yeah . . .  I shouda known . . . I have that book,” said the first stagehand seeming somewhat embarrassed, while the other one extended his hand to me for a firm and enthusiastic handshake. “Jay was great—GREAT—he taught me in two classes. I’ll never forget him!”
      We chatted for a couple of minutes, and even though I was invited inside, I declined. The spark of recognition for Jay and his work was like frosting on the cake for me. I felt immeasurably happy as I headed back to the hotel to finish packing for the trip home later that day. And I felt emancipated from what had been my crippling concern. I wasn’t in New York without Jay; he is there—backstage with stagehands who are maybe just a little more careful because of his legacy. I could almost feel him walking beside me.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Canadian generosity toward ordinary people


My Canadian daughter-in-law, Denise Kenney, was involved in the creation of a film interviewing several Syrian Refugee families living in Kelowna, British Columbia, where she and her (also my) family live.

I found this film to be immensely interesting, as well as heartbreaking. Being able to sit vicariously in a living room with people whose lives have completely turned upside down is something most of us don't have the opportunity to do. If you have forty minutes, this is a way to discover information not just about refugees, but about yourself, too. I guarantee one thing: watching this film will have you assessing your own capacity for compassion and that of your government, as well.

 Hover over, or click on, this title to access the link:  Interviews with Syrian Refugees

Denise has given me permission to put the link on my blog and encourages anyone who wants to share it to do so.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What the Smithsonian and I have in common

Even though I still miss my husband enormously and sometimes even get maudlin because he's gone, occasionally there is a reason to smile about his absence. Imagine me opening my e-mail this morning on my iPad and seeing this message from the Smithsonian Magazine (it's been at least five years since he stopped subscribing to it, by the way).

My response, shouted across the room, was "ME, TOO!" and then I had to smile . . . I am not alone in missing him.

During the past two (almost three) years, Jay has received periodic junk mail based on some very old lists. During the past election cycle, he was invited many times over to cast his vote for particular candidates. Of course, he didn't receive a ballot, despite some of the recent accusations about deceased people being on the voting roles. Not in my county! In fact, to King County's credit, even the very first election after his June 2014 death, which was held in August that year, no ballot was sent to him. (All Washington voting is done mail-in only.)

It's unfortunate that list-sellers get paid for providing seriously out-of-date data. I was really shocked when Jay was called for King County Jury Duty a year after his death! Obviously, King County doesn't update all of its divisions about the permanent departure of its residents. However, a quick phone call elicited an apology and assurance he would never be summoned again.

I have to keep Jay's e-mail account open because mine is a sub-account and I don't want to lose it. As a consequence, he continues to get junk mail. I have unsubscribed his account from a lot of e-mail ads and industry lists. When I have the opportunity to comment (I love the question "Tell us why you're leaving") I write "I'm dead!" or something equally bratty. It's perverse, but true; I smile about that, too.

Back to the Smithsonian Magazine. I'm glad I got the e-mail today because it was fun writing this post.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Enrichment that comes from travel

Lesser known pyramid
Today I am going to toot my own horn. Having been made aware of an acquaintance's eagerly anticipated first trip to Egypt, I couldn't help but recall the thrill of visiting Egypt and, in particular, being for the first time in a country whose predominant religion was not Christianity. When I re-read my two articles written in reflection of that trip, I was impressed. I want to boast a little, so I have included links to those articles at the end of this post.

Sphinx of Memphis
Ostensibly we were visiting to ooh and ah over the ancient sites of Egypt, and it was a bucket-list trip for Jay. He had wanted to see the pyramids ever since I met him in 1961. Just three years into my retirement (2008), the serendipitous arrival of a brochure for travel there with University of Washington Alumni brought everything together for us. Although Jay was still working, he had the flexibility as the sole proprietor of Jay O. Glerum & Associates to be gone for a three-week trip. But it was impression of current-day Egypt that has stayed with me all these years.

Neither Jay nor I would ever be the same again. Not only did we make some wonderful friends on the
Donkeys and cars share the roads
trip and learned an enormous amount of ancient history from Eman, our impressive Egyptologist, but we saw modern-day Egypt as it was crumbling under the control of Mubarak. Subtle and not-so-subtle unrest was recognized by the University of Washington professor, Jere Bacharach, who traveled with us. As a person who had lived six-months of each year in Cairo for more than a decade, he was highly qualified to answer our questions posed 'out-of-earshot' of locals during evenings when we were 'on our own.' Not only was he fluent in Arabic, but he was savvy regarding what was in the hearts and minds of the citizens of Cairo.

Eman was our knowledgable
Egyptologist who accompanied us
for three weeks in 2008
After Arab Spring, Jay and I repeatedly voiced how grateful we were to have seen Egypt when we did. We both knew we would not get back there again, but today I was reminded of its profound impact on me as I re-read these two articles I wrote (and which are still carried on the Web site of the Seattle Times). For that reason, I'm sharing them today with both humility and pride.    
Call to Prayer by S. Glerum published in the Seattle Times
Transcending Differences by S. Glerum published in the S.T.
     




Sunday, February 19, 2017


The question of recognizing quality—whether it be discerned through taste buds, ears, or eyes is always an interesting topic. Yesterday I had reason to think about a radio interview I heard not long ago on NPR about a PhD researcher who studied how people perceive wines in blind taste tests. Although I am remembering only the main conclusions, they were—in a nutshell—both surprising and (from a cynic’s point of view) predictable. When stripped of its label, connoisseur descriptive, and price tag, an expensive wine more often than not ranks lower than one from the same grape but priced affordably and packaged inexpensively. 

I’m not talking of comparing a $12 wine to a $15 one, either. I’m talking a $12 wine compared to one in the neighborhood of $60 to $100 per bottle. The radio interviewer found the research wonderfully ironic, but concluded that it didn’t much matter—if people loved the tasting and describing and uncorking and sniffing and rolling around  the wine in their mouths—who cares, basically. It’s the fun of the ‘knowing,’ the fun of the snob appeal that can, in and of itself, create quality. It’s not that different with music, or art, or anything that involves the senses and a subjective response.

A number of years ago, violinist Joshua Bell played at the entrance to busy metro station in Washington DC. He posed as an ordinary busker, with his violin case open for donations.  I read about it when it happened—the results were surprising, but also predictable. Unrecognized by anyone except one woman, train catchers rushed by him, most without pausing or acknowledging his superior musical talent or his Stradivarius instrument. Just another component of a busy commute. The initial reports mentioned that a ticket to hear Bell in a concert could be upwards of $100, but apparently had little value when unannounced and free. Donations in his violin case amounted to just over $30 in an hour-and-a-half.

The purpose of this post isn’t to debate the question of perceived quality, but to share my discovery of a wonderful children’s book—but there is a Joshua Bell connection. Yesterday I was at our symphony hall to hear Bell—a musician I admire as much for his crossover mastery as his golden tones. I’d seen him play with Edgar Meyer a number of years ago, and was eager to catch his performance of  Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. I had no idea this particular book existed until yesterday when I browsed the Seattle Symphony’s counter of merchandise marked “Artist Will Sign at Intermission.” Generally there’s an assortment of CDs that a visiting artist has recorded, but yesterday there was also a book. I read it over and needed to get my hanky out of my pocket to dab my eyes. It's gorgeous!

The book could well make you teary, too, when you read it (in less than ten minutes, total). Two gifted people have created a retelling of Bell’s busking experiment in Washington D.C. and drawn a timeless message from it. The book is called “The Man with the Violin” by Kathy Stinson and illustrated by Dusan Petricic. Even if you have no children or grandchildren, the book merits attention for its strong, wonderful message and beautifully powerful illustrations. I’m not going to spoil it for you—check it out from your library or sneak a peek at your local bookseller.