Friday, July 17, 2020

a moment in the day: anxiety

I'm working upstairs when Stephen calls up from the foot of the steps. "Hey. I'm going to take a walk."

I get up to hear him better. Look down the stairwell. He's smiling but his eyebrows are tweaked at the center. "I'm just feeling," he says, but I already know. "Anxious," he says. 

"Because of something specific?" I ask, but I already know. "Or just things in general?" 

He says things in general, he says the world, but then he says Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

"I thought she got out yesterday," I say. Of the hospital. An infection. 

"She's got cancer again," he says. 

That same old sinking feeling. It hits me in my center. Just another sinking feeling among many these days. Anxiety upon anxiety. Until you never know what to be worried about, when. 

Stephen goes to take his walk and I go back to my desk to get back to work, but as I sit down, there's a sound like a gun shot. 

Eleven o'clock in the morning nearly two weeks after the Fourth of July, and someone's setting off firecrackers. God bless freaking America. 

Curled up on the little bed across the room, Nicholas jumps up, his eyes on me, frozen for a moment, then leaps down onto the floor and runs for the bathroom. I follow and turn on the ceiling fan, his safety sound. He pants and shakes. I sit down next to him on his pillow and pet him, trying to give him a little comfort. 

Anxiety upon anxiety and even a dog, who knows nothing about any of it, can't catch a break.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

a moment in the day: baking

I'm baking Stephen a cake for his birthday. I'm done with the measuring, the combining, the stirring, the orange-zesting, the egg-cracking, the cake is in the (toaster) oven, and now I'm working on the frosting.

Combine butter and cream cheese and mix.

Add powdered sugar one cup at a time and mix.

Add orange juice and mix.

My hands hurt from all the effing zesting. I'll never be able to be on the British Baking Show because I just couldn't handle it if I had to do any zesting.

Also not British.

All of the sudden I start to smell it. Just a hint at first and then the whole kitchen starts to fill with it. It's the Everything-Will-Be-Alright smell. I never thought of it that way before, but that's what it is, isn't it?

It's warm and sweet and safety and childhood and Mom.

I wonder if this is why so many people are baking during this pandemic.

That, and I realize that for a good long time, all I've been thinking about is, will this cake come out right, and how in the world do they make powdered sugar?

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Play at Home at Portland Center Stage

During this time when packing into a theater isn't a smart and safe option, Portland Center Stage has been finding creative ways to keep the theatrical arts alive. One cool thing they've gotten involved in is Play At Home. Here's what they say on their website about the program:

Play at Home was developed to inspire joy and connection during this period of social isolation. More than 100 playwrights have been commissioned nationwide, resulting in $50,000 paid to playwrights during this difficult time when we can't gather together in theaters. The plays are all available for FREE at

I love this idea. Not only is it a way for playwrights to continue working their craft, but anyone who wants can read the play scripts or even put on a show in their living room or stage a reading across Zoom screens with these brand new short plays.

If you're missing the theater, check these out: four short plays up on Portland Center Stage's website. There are even a couple performance videos you can watch. I took them all in and it was a really interesting experience. Each of these short plays was written during social isolation and they all reflect our times in different ways. Since it's been a while since I've had a chance to see and share my thoughts about theater, I thought I'd say a little about each of these.

Three Love Songs by Anya Pearson is as much poetry as play, an anthem to survival and to silence and to voice. Although it was written before the current rise in awareness and action surrounding Black Lives Matter, it speaks to this moment:

In some houses, children are taught that lack/fear/loss/less is their birthright 
The way some children are taught that privilege is theirs.

And farther down:

If you are feeling hopeless or enraged 
because you are a person of color and you are tired of having to explain WHY our lives should matter, 

or because this all could have been handled better so that people didn’t have to die, 

or because you are a survivor and you live each day waging war on silence and stillness and the night
and this whole thing feels so fucking familiar, and yet 
the outcome is already assured, 
and sometimes you just feel a bit hollow where faith should rest...

(I know I didn't let the author finish her thought, but I just love that last bit of language: a bit of hollow where faith should rest.)

Pearson packs many important topics into her examination of quarantine lifeincluding a focus on the way our stresses dampen the creative spirit and, conversely, the way the creative spirit can save the soul during these stressful times.

A Wing and a Prayer by Josie Seid is a modern feminist fairy tale that turns the Cinderella story on its head as a group of women on their way out to a lecture get sidelined by an unexpected visit from a behind-the-times fairy godmother harboring a wish of her own.

It's a bubbly story full of humorand by god, we need humor right now. Along with the play script, this entry has a video you can watch with a cast of characters performing via Zoom. It's a good example of what you could do if you got a group of friends together (together in air quotes) to put on some theater of your own.

There's a very interesting shared element between A Wing and a Prayer and The Third Prisoner by E. M. Lewis. I'm not going to disclose it because spoilers, but reading these plays back to back, I loved discovering the serendipitous overlaps, and this one in particular.

The Third Prisoner takes our anxieties about pandemic life and places them in a literal prison where two, and then three, prisoners are held captive together. I loved the surreal tone of this play, and the dialogue is snappy and smart and funny.

PRISONER #8836729 Wake up. 
PRISONER #4588930 I don’t want to wake up. 
PRISONER #8836729 I don’t want to be alone anymore. 
PRISONER #4588930 You can talk to me while I sleep. Quietly. Very quietly. 
PRISONER #8836729 I want you to talk back. 
PRISONER #4588930 I hate you. 
PRISONER #8836729 I know. 
PRISONER #4588930 I was trying to have a dream. 
PRISONER #8836729 Was it working?

In the middle of the witty back-and-forth and the wonderfully quiet surreality of the situation, The Third Prisoner explores topics of anxiety and identity and asks the question what would be worse: being stuck together forever or always being alone.

Joy Frickin’ Hates Her Dumb Stupid Room: A Trapped Little Play for Trapped Little Times by Sara Jean Accuardi examines quarantine life in a different way: through the interactions between a thirteen-year-old girl and her hamster who may or may not also be the fifteenth century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch.

I loved the inventiveness of this play, and it's funny throughout, even down to the stage directions, like this description of the character Joy:

Can be played by absolutely anyone who sorta feels like they're 13 and really over this whole thing.

Show of hands of people who could play this one?

Within the deadpan humor and the wackiness of the premise, Joy Frickin’ Hates Her Dumb Stupid Room gives us lots to think about, and deftly allows us to share our frustrations and our stress surrounding these strange shelter-in-place times while at the same time reminding us of our privilege. 

With humor and poetry and smarts and lots of different kinds of magic, the four plays that have come out of PCS's partnering with Play at Home are a great way to get a little bit of theater back into your life. Reading these scripts reminded me of what a particular experience it is to read, rather than see and hear, theater. I like that the writers put personality into even their stage directions, and I like that sets and casts started to materialize in my mind as I read. Side note: my husband and I have been binge watching the show Pose, and somehow as I was reading A Wing and a Prayer, the lines started to come out in my head as recited by characters in that show, and I think Dominique Jackson would make a great Begonia, just saying.

If you want to check it out, links to all the play scripts and playwright bios and more info on Play at Home is up on Portland Center Stage's website here.