Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The end of the beginning

I think I'm done with the office now. I now have a website that has many of my writing and editing clips, as well as samples of my newsletters. I have PDFs and color copies of many of my Wondertime stories and other clips. (I also have a scanner at home, if need be.) Today when I left I took the last of my files and clips and I think I don't have to return. Oh, I do have to give back my parking and building passes, of course, but I think we can keep those until the end of March.

Today the former WTers spent a couple of hours at the local bowling alley throwing some balls and eating pizza. It will surprise no one to hear I am a terrible bowler. It took me a few times to realize that the balls come in different weights and that the lighter ones are easier to throw. With my typical beginner's luck I got some strikes and spares, but mostly I bowled gutter balls, or knocked down one or two pins. I like seeing everyone but I have to admit it feels a bit different from LIFE, where I grew up. I worked there for eight years and here it was just two. Still, the Wondertimers are a fine bunch of folks.

Oh, I have several blue fleece vests with the Wondertime logo. I want to send some to my regular writers, but I am happy to give away the rest, and there's lots more at the office. Let me know if you happen to want one, for old time's sake.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

unemployment disorientation

This is an odd time. It's been a month now since I lost my job. I have been all over the map, emotionally. Sometimes I am charged and excited about all the opportunities this open-ended time offers. Other times I'm overwhelmed, and want to curl up with a book. Blogging is a middle ground: It's somewhat justifiable -- at least I'm writing, accomplishing something -- and it's fun. But here's what I really think I should be doing:

--adding another solutions-oriented bullet to my resume
--making two new versions, theater and community development
--finishing making PDFs of my editing clips
--finishing my website -- and do I want to design my own, and not use the google version?
--making color copies of some of my clips
--writing some scenes I've been thinking about
--contacting everyone I know in the Valley with my new resume and telling them I'm on the market again
--mucking with my new computer --revising contacts, reorganizing my documents, learning inDesign, stuff like that.
And there's perpetual housework and grocery shopping and cooking dinner. Plus I'm only a few chapters into the book group book and we're meeting in two weeks.

My day is truncated by needing to get Lily at school. I look forward to her being at JFK next fall! I just had a great lunch with the parent of a current classmate, and I am coming to the conclusion that Bement is simply too old-fashioned for me and has different values. There's a lot there that I really like, but I believe in addressing difficult feelings and, with the help of trained adults, helping kids work them out. My goal is not for her to get into a private high school, and certainly not Deerfield Academy, Actually, at this point I would rather she not go there; from what I hear, the teachers and academics are great but the families who send their kids there are mostly about success defined by money and power. Why would anyone want their kid to go to boarding school, anyway? I want Lily to go to the Northampton High School. I am excited about that, in fact.

And see how easy it is for me to get distracted from my real purpose? It's so hard to stay in the moment with my life right now. Here are the good things about not working at Wondertime: Well, nothing about Wondertime, specifically. But the good parts about not working in general are:

--It's lovely to sit in a cafe typing on my new computer, with people laughing and talking nearby.

--I have more time for Lily. I pick her up every day and I am more present when we are home.

--I am going to the Y almost every morning these days. I am starting to run again, just 14-minute miles, and just for two to four minutes at a time; then I walk a minute or so. But I do this for a half hour and I feel better when I get off. I've been worried about hurting my hips and knees and ankles, but I'm following the advice of my chiropractor, who says to warm up and then stretch, and to stretch afterward. And I am seeing her regularly, and paying close attention to what hurts, and when, and what makes it feel better. I would love to be able to run a couple of miles several times a week. Maybe some day. Easy does it.

-- I have more time to see friends for coffees and lunches. Had one yesterday, and one today, and tomorrow I'm visiting my friend Helene in Brattleboro. Nice!

-- I started a writers' group with two other ex-pats from parts southerly, and we are all mothers as well as writers, and I really look forward to seeing them every week.

-- I have more time to meditate and do other spiritual things. And I am doing those things, because I've seen what I'm like if I don't. Yuck.

-- Freedom from the nine-to-five grind. It was wearing on me, and it hadn't even been two years since I was back in it. It is very stressful, that daily grind.

-- Developing new routines: meditate, the Y, the office to job hunt, a cafe to write, get Lily, home for dinner, etc.

Here's what I miss about Wondertime, and working in general:

-- The people. Hands down. The community, the feeling I got when I went into the office every day. Arguing over whether it's a comma or a semi-colon, and how wonderful it was to work with people who know how important the answer is.

-- The feeling of accomplishment at the end of a day, week, issue.

-- working with writers, from looking at pitches to asking for pitches to assignment letters to working with the actual manuscripts. One of my last stories was going to be a spread about tree forts and the writer had answered all my questions and we were working collaboratively on making this a small but useful and fun piece, not to mention attractive. It's a pity, and very hard to stop that creative process cold, in the middle.

-- The nine-to-five grind. Or in my case, the eight-to-four. I really, really, really, need structure, and I miss it more than I can say. I miss getting in the office, turning on my computer, getting tea, maybe eating breakfast if I hadn't already had it, seeing folks drift in, getting things accomplished.

--Lily's enjoyment of my office. When she came in she'd check out the free table in the basement, get herself a hot chocolate, play with the Playmobile hospital, then curl up with a book or some drawing paper. She liked it there.

-- Offering leftover toys and games to non-profits who really needed them for the kids they serviced.

--The money. Oh yeah, the money.

-- The security, such as it was. I had a job in these uncertain times,

--Being able to say I worked for Wondertime, a fabulous magazine that I was very proud of and that most people really liked. Having this as part of my identity, part of the structure to my life. I wasn't my job, but it was a big part of who I was.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mary Oliver is a god.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
but little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do
determined to save
the only life you could save

by Mary Oliver
from Dream Work
Beacon Press 1992

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Four weeks later

I'm sitting in a cafe again, Cup and Top in Florence. I'm sitting by the window looking out onto Main Street, aka route 9, and the sky is a stormy gray with patches of blue. The clouds are moving very fast. The iPod is playing my song mix again--Bonnie Raitt, Helen Reddy, Gordon Lightfoot, Karla Bonoff, plus about 900 more singers and groups. What a mix.

I went to my chiropractor this afternoon--I slipped on the ice the day after I lost my job and fell flat on my butt--and feel better. But otherwise I've done nothing but play with my new Macbook. Sure is good to be back on a Mac again, and even though I'm importing all my old files and music, there's something about having a new computer that feels like a clean slate, a chance to reorganize my life and prioritize myself.

The trick for me is trying to make sure my days are structured, and that I meditate and do some writing every day. All week I've been spending my days going to the Y, then to the office, then trying to get some writing done. Today was a blow-off, as I get sort through my music, pitching stuff I don't listen to and cleaning things up. I am eager to be listening to podcasts again, and maybe put some TV shows (can you say West Wing?) or movies up here.

And those days in the office have been productive. I've set up my new website--www.sashanyary .com, and the live link is to the right of this post--and scanned up all my writing clips and posted them to that site. It's still under construction, but I hope it'll be useful in the future. All I have to do now is make PDFs of my Wondertime editing clips and get them up there too.

It's odd being in the office. We're allowed to be there until the end of March, and some people are there all the time. Most people seem to have disappeared, though, but maybe they're just on a different schedule from me. I think this must be particularly hard for those folks who've worked here a long time. I was there just two years, and while I wasn't ready to leave, it hadn't become my life and my identity quite the way I know it can--at least, that's what I went through at LIFE. I couldn't believe I wasn't a LIFE magazine editor any more. But life went on, even though LIFE didn't, and I have had many new identities and ways to define myself since then.

It's also odd being out on the streets--I feel like I spend a ton of time in the car, driving to the Y, to the office, to get Lily in Old Deerfield. But's much better than two years ago. I know people now. I know the streets and the cafes, and I have a life here now. I asked Dave a couple of weeks ago if he wanted to move back to Brooklyn (outside of Lily's hearing) and he said no, he didn't. So we're here, and that feels good.

Looking forward to the warmer weather but I have to say transitions freak me out, and it's essential that I stay in the day, every day. Or even in the moment. In a few minutes I have to get Lily at her theater improv class. And we'll go home and see her dad and have dinner and hear how everyone's day went. Lily has had a ton of homework lately and it just got away from her these last couple of days. She had a test on ancient Egypt today that she wasn't really prepared for. She's barely practiced her flute this week. She has an essay due tomorrow, and something for science. I think there's a spelling test tomorrow too. Jeesh! She has a lot to do and it just can't all happen. Oh well.

It does leave me wondering what next year will be like. Will there be much less work? Will it be less challenging? Will she be bored? I think that'll be okay, if she is. She can take an art class, or get into a theater production, which she's dying to do. Maybe I'll get her to join the swim team. Maybe she'll meet some great kids who live nearby and she'll finally have some regular playdates.

Well, it's February. Sixth grade is a long time away. She's planning her summer now and in March we're going to visit DeeAnn and Steve and their kids, our closest friends from Brooklyn who moved to Phoenix the year before we moved here. We'll hit the Grand Canyon for a night, and I hope to see a long-lost cousin who lives in New Mexico, and my friends Rosemary and Harry from Oklahoma City. It's going to be great.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"The Producers" in Easthampton

So if it's February or March in the Happy Valley, it's not just sugaring season, it's high school musical time. This is when all those hardworking teenagers put on the shows they've been slaving over for the last three or four months. Last Saturday we were lucky enough to be able to get tickets to the went to the Easthampton High School's production of The Producers.

Now first of all, can I just say, how cool is that, that a local high school puts on The Producers? It's a risky piece in many ways, not to mention risque. The themes are sex and the Nazis and it pokes fun at just about every single group you can imagine, from gays to Jews to women to men to fat people to nerds to Germans to New Yorkers to theater people. Especially theater people.

And if you missed this production, all I can say is, poor you. It was fabulous. With the exception of one major character whose acting was hilarious but singing was often laughably flat, every actor was spot on. I wasn't thrilled with some of the changes, like making Roger DeVries a woman, Rhonda, but I understood why: There aren't many parts for women in this show.

Other changes were pretty understandable, like in Bialystock's I Used to Be the King song, the original shouts, "Who do you have to fuck to get a break in this town?!" and they changed it to "shtup." I get that. But they left in the line, after Ulla sings "When You Got It, Flaunt It" (god she was fabulous), when Bialy says, "Ulla, even though we're sitting down we've giving you a standing ovation" and then he and Bloom cross their legs. Got a big laugh.

I was a bit apprehensive; for this show to succeed it really needs a strong Bialystock to carry it. And their guy was great. Right from the beginning. Strong voice, strong character, lots of energy. Bialystock is basically on stage for the entire show, almost, and he's in almost every number except about three, Bloom's, Ulla's, and Bloom and Ulla's. This actor was a pretty big guy but he moved smoothly and fast. He didn't drop a line in a song or spoken, that I could tell. Before the show I thought, okay, Bialy has to be good or else this show is going down. And he knocked me out in the first song.

The other remarkable actor was Ulla. Again, I was waiting for her line, "Now, Ulla belts." She's gotta belt. This kid belted. She was awesome.

More than most musicals I hold The Producers close to my heart. And when its unbelievable reviews came out, in April 2001, I remembered the lesson I learned from my father when I was 13, and got tickets. The lesson was that he opened up the paper one morning and saw that "A Moon For the Misbegotten" had opened and the reviews were astounding. This was the 1974 Colleen Dewhurst/Jason Robards production, and we went down to the theater that morning and stood in line. And it was, indeed, incredible. They filmed it later and you can get it on Netflix, I think.

In 2001 I didn't go into town to get Producers tickets, I picked up the phone, and I didn't do it immediately; I waited a couple of weeks. The next available was for mid-August, and I still regret getting the $75 seats under the balcony, and not springing for the $100 ones on the floor. We offered them to my father and step-mother, who to my surprise immediately said yes. Don't know why I was surprised, because it all makes sense now.

We went to our favorite Times Square restaurant, a Japanese place in a brownstone right off Broadway at about 43rd Street. It's not there any more, unfortunately. The owner was Japanese and had trained as a French pastry chef, so desserts were outstanding. The place was decorated like someone's living room, with books lining shelves and framed pictures on the walls. Her son played the cello and if we were lucky he'd be there the night we were eating, serenading the diners.

We loved the show, of course; I remember not getting some jokes that everyone else did, like during Bialystock's first song, when he says, "I used to be the king" and someone responds, "It's good to be the king." I didn't know this was a standard Mel Brooks joke in all his movies. But then I got the theater jokes like, during Roger deVries' song where he introduces his creative team, and everyone has been really gay, his partner, Carmen Ghia, Shabu, the house boy, and his stage and costume designers. Until he calls out for his lighting designer, who is a butch dyke with a deep voice and a bundle of cable over her shoulder. I went to theater design school with a butch dyke lighting designer, and I burst out laughing and it felt like everyone around me was looking at me.

We were lucky to see the entire original cast, not just Nathan Lane, who was increasingly absent as the run went on, and Matthew Broderick, but also Gary Beach and Roger Hart and Cady Huffman. Really great cast, some of the best working today, and most have won Tonys, either for this or other shows.

I know this will come as a surprise to people who know me but I am normally an obsessive person. I have been known to watch a movie over and over in a couple of weeks, or a TV show, or, in this case, a CD. I listened to it constantly the rest of the summer. This was a particularly hard summer--my father-in-law was dying of ALS, my family was very stressed, I was miserable for many reasons, and I didn't know how to cope with my feelings and I was making everyone else miserable around me.

And on top of all that, 9/11 happened, and I truly felt like I was going to break into little pieces. I had almost no resources, and I didn't recognize the ones I had. I was trying to keep it together but really felt like I was about to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. One outlet was the Producers CD, which I listened to over and over and over. Lily came to know it very well. I gravitated to the line in the song "Springtime for Hitler," where Hilter sings, "you know we'll be going to war." Also the line, "the thing you gotta know is, everything is show biz." Those two lines rang in my head over and over.

Eventually I stopped listening to the CD, and I found some resources and learned to cope with my feelings a bit better. But I still love that musical, it still resonates for me, and I was thrilled that this production could pull it off so well. Kudos!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

You must read this

A wonderful piece by Maira Kalman about the inauguration.

I Lego N.Y.
by Christoph Niemann.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Chance again

So today I was typing something terribly important and here comes Chance, leaps up on Dave's desk next to me, then leaps onto the meeting rail (is that the right word? the top part of the frame on the lower piece of glass) but it's really too thin even for her to stand on, and she's clawing desperately at the very top of the window, trying to get some bird or animal just out of reach. And then BAM she comes crashing down on the desk.

Need I add that the new window frame is all scratched up? And the glass in several windows, especially the glass doors onto the back deck off the kitchen, and the window closest to the bird feeder outside our bedroom, are covered with cat slobber. Yuck.

She's desperate for them birds. They're oblivious, of course, the stupid little things. We'll throw seed until it thaws and the paper starts to warn everyone to stop feeding the birds because they bears are waking up. We can start up again in the late fall. I can't wait to see what she does about the bears, once they start walking around. I am a bit concerned she'll claw her way up the screens, which will be ruined.

She still loves the water. She hears us start to brush our teeth or wash our faces and she comes bombing into the bathroom and leaps into the sink, staring up at us adoringly, pawing the sleek sides of the porcelain. It's really odd. I like to turn the water on a trickle and soak her a bit. She climbs out, then turns back and bats at the stream and sucks it up. There's hair all over the sink.

No cat baths lately, but she sure likes it when we're running the bath in the Japanese tub. And she likes to pace the edge of the upstairs tub in between the two shower curtains. She likes to crawl into every little nook and cranny she can find, pushing out books and bowls and whatever else is in her way, to get back into the dark spot.

Two other favorite things she does. I'm happy that she likes to sleep on the end of our bed, and I love that at around 8 or 9 pm, she starts looking for us to go to sleep. If we're watching TV she comes in there to snooze. Then when we go up to bed she climbs on the end of our bed and washes herself and curls up.

Unfortunately, this is also the time she, and all cats, apparently, is the most frisky, and we often have to dump her very impolitely on the floor to avoid being bit and scratched. She's torn between really wanting to hunt and really wanting to sleep. Eventually, sleep wins.

And then at about 5am she wakes up and stretches and makes her way up to me. She puts her head under the covers -- always on my left side; Dave hates her in bed and she seems to know that, she always comes to my left side and not in the middle of us--and curls up in there for another nap, purring and washing me. (I know I am supposed to pat her because she pats me and nudges my hand. Same thing she does when I come home at night and she wants some attention, and not just dinner.) About an hour later she wakes up and tries to wake me up to feed her. Grrr. Sometimes it works, however, and I do get up and feed her and then go meditate.

The second favorite thing is that she likes to talk to Lily when Lily is in the balcony looking into the living room. She says, Hi, Chance! and the cat just meows back with a very intense, almost anxious whiny tone. Not sure if she likes Lily up there or not.

That's all for now. More TK, as they say in the publishing trade. More To Kome.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Peter Sellers doing Laurence Olivier as Richard III doing A Hard Day's Night

You must watch this. This means you too, Mum:

This is Peter Sellers doing his version of Laurence Olivier doing Richard III's "Now is the winter of our discontent" speech through The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night." The TV program was the "Music of Lennon and McCartney" from 1964.

And okay, here is the Olivier speech he's riffing on:

And this, Peter Sellers doing an Irish version of She Loves You: