Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Agog over the blog

When I first set up my blog in 2009, struggling through the design tutorial of the hosting Web site, little did I imagine the pleasures I would derive from it. Not only has it given me a forum to express my opinions, it’s provided much fulfillment as I write about a meaningful moment or a happy encounter. Likewise, it helps reduce frustration to write about something annoying or disturbing.

Initially I thought it would be a great means of publishing the bevy of personal essays I’d written over several decades, and, yes, it’s been useful for that, too. These days, though, I’m more likely to muse spontaneously about whatever is currently happening in my life.

My blog cannot be considered a huge success by objective standards. In the eight-plus years I’ve been writing it, there have been only 100,332 views (as of today at 4:30 p.m.). On the 364 individual posts, a total of 288 comments have been received. It’s hardly one of those Web sites that goes viral. Many topics I’ve written have generated zero response. It was just one old woman rattling on--"let her rip." I hope my kids will read it, but sometimes it's too convoluted or time consuming, even for them. The outpouring of multiple loving and heartfelt comments when I wrote about Jay's death on the blog are still a treasure for me.

Once in a great while, Beats Talking To Myself provides a thrill for me. Not just a happy moment, but a feeling that transcends whatever rough spots or unpleasantness the week may have held. A feeling that makes my old woman's heart leap with joy. Today I’m going to recount the two most recent thrilling episodes springing from comments left by readers. These two most recent occurrences still make me so-o-o happy—just thinking about them—that I can barely contain myself in this narrative.

A little more than two months ago the director of the MacArthur Memorial in Virginia, James Zobel, left a comment on the June 29, 2013, post, “Along the Way—My Great-uncle’s Memoir." James already was aware of Col. William Neill Hughes, Jr.'s  relationship with Douglas MacArthur during WWI and became eager to obtain a copy of the memoir. His inquiry made through the blog resulted in two wonderful events: a copy of  Uncle Billy's memoir being made available for the MacArthur archives, and a closer connection between me and my second-cousin, Allene. She is Great-uncle Billy’s granddaughter and beneficiary of the original memoir. We have enjoyed a Christmas-card relationship for years, and regularly e-mail. Lately, because of the request for the memoir, we have had reason to chat on the phone. Both of us agree this re-connection through phone conversations has been a lovely gift.   

And then . . . last week I heard from the man who helped a group of curious (and somewhat apprehensive) readers tackle James Joyce’s Ulysses. That triumphant feat began in 1999 (just think, last century!) and the group, led by the recent college grad, Barry Devine, met every other week for almost nine months. Five years ago, on July 16, 2012, I wrote a piece about this man and my literary life-time achievement he had facilitated. By the time I wrote the blog post, it was more than a dozen years after the fact, and I had completely lost track of him. Barry somehow found the essay on Beats Talking To Myself and left a comment on it, identifying himself and promising follow-up offline, which proved easier said than done. He persevered and found a way to contact me—literally making my day this morning when I opened email. We have begun a detailed exchange of what’s occurred in the intervening years, and I'm not surprised to learn that he's become a James Joyce scholar with a PhD and university appointment to prove it.

It’s moments like this that make me determined to continue blogging. That word—blogging(or "blog" in any verb form) may not yet be in the dictionary, but it has lots of meaning for me.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Lesson of the Stuffed Bear

Postcard rendering
from early '00s
Once upon a time (OK, it was Christmas of 1984), the oldest son in a family of four siblings was Christmas shopping in Minneapolis. As a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, he was headed home to Milwaukee for the holiday, and hoped to impress his family with gifts purchased at a store unavailable to them in Wisconsin. While at Hudson's Department store, he spied an adorable teddy bear dressed in a bow tie, tweed trousers, and a knitted blue cardigan. No question about it. He snapped it up for his mother who had a teddy bear collection.

The mother's collection had started just a few years earlier when the youngest son in the family purchased a trendy 'pot-bellied' bear in a desperate attempt to buy a memorable gift for his mom, notorious for her "I'd love some note cards" answer to the question of what she wanted for Christmas. When the mother opened the package with the bear, she hugged it immediately, effusing over its cuteness, and named her Deedee. "How do you know it's a girl? asked the giver of the gift. "I just do!" replied the mother.

Jules always sat still
when being painted
There was no doubt about the gender of this newest bear, Jules, on account of his being dressed as a boy. Because he was so smartly attired, she promptly dubbed him Jules, because she had just seen Francois Truffaut's 1962 film classic, Jules and Jim, for the first time. Jules remained a kingpin in the collection.

Fast forward several decades, and the bear collection was overtaking needed space. So . . . the mother sadly weeded all but ten, keeping her favorite bears, the ones with strong sentimental value. Jules was one of the ten (yes, of course, Deedee was too), and eventually made his way into the now-deceased Father's office, a room so empty without its thriving business being operated from its confines that the Mother began calling it the Bare Den. When it occurred to the Mother to set out the remains of her bear collection on the empty shelves in the Bare Den, the name of the room morphed into the Bare Bear Den.

Now it's January 2017 and the Mother has just had surgery. She needs a little pillow to put under her arm to remind her not to fully turn over on that side until healing has taken place. Searching for the right-sized pillow, she enters the Bare Bear Den and picks up Jules. "Ah, maybe you could help me, Jules," she says. She then strips him of his clothing . . . and tucks him under her armpit. Jules turns out to be the perfect size and softness-quotient for the task at hand. Before too many days go by, she begins thinking of Jules as "Baby Bear," a gender-free name reassignment.

As the months of 2017 tick by, the Mother decides that Baby Bear has a place in her life, filling the need of Listener from time to time (and Baby Bear never talks back, a good thing.) She realizes that she doesn't think of Jules as a male anymore. Without clothing, there is no profiling of gender . . . a Jules could be a Julie and, in fact, is known now simply as "Baby Bear."  And this gives her pause. She doesn't want to be flippant about this matter (a stuffed animal most accurately would be described as gender neutral) because she is deeply understanding and compassionate about issues surrounding transgender people. But she realizes how much of our expectation about behavior and propriety has to do with clothing and its encompassing assumptions. Absence of male clothing has completely negated the assignment of a male name.

Underneath that surface judgement we all make is what doesn't meet the eye--the essence of each being, which really has nothing to do with assignment of sex. Even this dear stuffed animal, now a steady bedtime companion for the Mother (who almost never goes to sleep without tucking it under her arm, even though not required for medicinal healing) can teach us that lesson.She wonders what she would have named the bear if it had arrived without it's handsome outfit. Of course, she'll never know, but she loves Baby Bear for this insight.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Choosing Sides

The phrase, “choose your side” has many meanings and ramifications. When I learned yesterday, as an audience member at the outdoor production of Romeo and Juliet staged by Off-Road Shakespeare, that I would be choosing whose family I was rooting for— whose ‘side I was on’— I was surprised and even a little taken aback. Not only have I seen several full blown productions of this classic Shakespeare, but I acted in a University of Washington production of it (more than fifty years ago). When the director passed a hat with folded papers in it, I hoped I’d be a Capulet—biased, of course, by having played the part of Juliet’s nurse. But I pulled a piece of paper with MONTAGUE written on it and was told to gather with other Montague supporters in the wide circle of audience surrounding the players. So I did . . . and I will never regret it. Instead of seeing the world from Juliet's perspective, I got to see it from Romeo's.
Romeo and friends hanging out and bored

During the show, all the scenes at the Capulet household not having Romeo in them were played in another part of Red Square from where the Montague scenes were playing out. That meant I was seeing the play unfold from a bias. Of course, when there were scenes with family and/or friends of both families—we all came together. I didn’t hear a lot of the dialogue most familiar to me, but it made me pay attention in an entirely different way to the play. I’m not sure the hatred between the two families has ever struck me as this pervasive before. The hatred isn’t just about idle teenagers in Verona with raging hormones—it's a hatred rooted in generations of animosity.

What an amazing production it was! The sky was blue; the sun was bright; and the actors had the enormous Red Square at University of Washington for their stage. When Romeo was banished to Mantua, the audience supporting the Montagues followed Romeo along the brick walkway all the way to the picturesque Quadrangle at UW—the equivalent of several blocks—all the while being accompanied by melancholy and haunting guitar music as a guitarist and a box-beating-drummer walked with us.

The Balcony Scene setting
Guiding the audience was carefully and expertly carried out by banner carriers—crew members of the Off-Road Shakespeare Company—as efficiently as if they were tour guides leading disparate travelers to interesting sights in a city. Various parts of Red Square lent themselves beautifully to the narrative requirements, such as Friar Lawrence’s cell, which was a cranny below a stairway wall. It allowed both Capulet and Montague audience members to lean over to see and hear the conversations between Romeo and the Friar. And the balcony? It was fabulous!

Not only could I hear every word spoken by the competent actors, I was wowed by their dexterity. Most have learned several parts and don’t know which one they’ll play until character parts are drawn from a hat just before the show starts. Gender doesn’t matter; race doesn’t matter; yes, blind casting works! I was utterly enchanted by this amazing and free production.

Mourning of the four needless deaths
Of course, being in a public square, lots of people wandered by . . . some stopping, some staying, some asking what was happening. In the latter case, a business card announcing the endeavor was handed by a crew member (usually the family-banner carrier) without breaking character or talking.

At one point a Campus Police van skirted the players . . . and squealing seagulls occasionally did their best to obliterate the Bard’s words . . . but they didn’t. I heard it all and cried at the end. The pitiful tally of corpses at the conclusion of the play had a more devastating effect on me because of where they were--out in the open under a blue sky, additional testimony to the horrific loss of young life all because of hatred and misunderstanding. Choosing sides can be deadly.

But I am glad I chose to go to this particular play, pulled "Montague" from the hat, and had the opportunity to think about a well-worn play differently. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

And the Best Musical 2017 TONY AWARD goes to . . . (my take)

Why do I think the natasha, pierre, and the great comet of 1812 should have won a TONY for the best Musical OF 2017?  I can sum it up in two words: DAVE MALLOY.

OK, I only saw three musicals in May when I was in NYC. But one stood out as a unique and breathtaking production for these reasons:
  • Imaginative adaptation of a tiny section War and Peace conceived of by Dave Malloy
  • Entertaining, touching, and quirky script written by Dave Malloy
  • Lilting music that gets the adrenaline flowing and makes you want to get up and move (or cry) by Dave Malloy
  • Delightful and anachronistic lyrics by Dave Malloy
  • Quirky and haunting orchestrations by Dave Malloy

plus
  • Phenomenal and sometimes breathtaking lighting designed by Bradley King
  • Innovative staging involving the audience by director Rachel Chavkin.

As I told someone the next day, I could have sat in the Imperial Theatre for twelve hours if the production had lasted that long. I felt like I was inside the most exciting world I could imagine—better than being in the middle of a Cirque de Soleil performance, because the story was so ingratiating.

As an audience member, I (and all the rest of the 1400 ticket holders) saw it from the inside out— the immersive experience put performers all around me in the mezzanine—and with wonderfully costumed precision, they played their instruments, danced, and sang. Sometimes they interacted with the audience, but never in a squirmy kind of way—a way that was fresh but not embarrassing.

The star draw of  the great comet was Josh Groban. The night I saw it, he was off—but in his place as Pierre was Dave Malloy, himself! Some audience-goers complained bitterly; they wanted to see Groban! It’s written into the script that Pierre plays the piano in some of the numbers, so we saw Malloy—the man who totally conceived of the work—not just acting and singing, but also playing the piano! I loved seeing the creator of this extraordinary work take on a role and perform it with the ensemble. It was as if I got to see Wolfgang Mozart singing the part of Figaro in “The Marriage of Figaro,” while playing the cello! And, by the way, I have no doubt that DenĂ©e Benton’s Natasha would have won Best Actress in a Musical if she hadn’t been up against Bette Middler for the award.

The 2017 Best Musical TONY went to dear evan hansen. Don’t get me wrong; I loved dear evan hansen, and if anyone else had won the top award for best actor in a musical, I never would have watched the TONYs again, ever! Ben Platt was phenomenal in the role of Evan Hansen, and the work itself is exquisite. But in this woman’s opinion, natasha, pierre, and the great comet of 1812 represented the best of the best in 2017.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Model Citizen

 At the risk to tooting my own horn (what's new?), I'd like to announce that I am a model citizen! I have the passport to prove it.

When I was in New York a few weeks ago, I treated myself to a visit to the newly opened Gulliver's Gate Museum in the theater district. It was every bit as fun as I'd hoped, and I succumbed to the lure of ordering a souvenir of the visit--a model of me, based on a 360 degree photo and created by a 3-D printer! The result arrived yesterday, to my delight. I promptly placed the likeness of myself on the top of furniture and snapped photos to send to my granddaughters. Of course, the pictures received immediate reactions. No one else (they know, anyway) has a grandma who can daintily stand atop her own mantel.

This little reminder of my trip to NYC wouldn't have come about if I hadn't told Rebecca, a neighbor friend, all about Gulliver's Gate, which I was hoping to visit on the last day of my visit. (It seemed like the perfect way to fill the two hours between checking out of the hotel and leaving for the airport.) As she heard me describe the museum, which I'd read about a few weeks earlier, Rebecca became even more enthusiastic than I about the prospect of seeing some of the world's greatest buildings and monuments miniaturized. When I explained how visitors could purchase a tiny-scale model of themselves to be placed in an exhibit and even bring home a model of themselves, she  shrieked. "You HAVE to do that, Sallie! It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!"

Later, as I thought about it, I had to agree. I might never be back to New York, and certainly there will never be a statue of me in a city park. However, I could be a six-or-seven-inch figurine on my own dresser top. By the time I was halfway through the museum, I'd decided to go for it. I chose where the tiny replica of me would be standing in the museum exhibits, as well. The 1:87 model of Sara Glerum will be found at Stonehenge.

Gulliver's Gate had been open for "preview" for several weeks prior to its official opening May 9. My visit there on May 10, was a highlight of my week in New York, and is memorialized in the passport I received along with my mini-me.


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.