Monday, August 19, 2019

The weekend of Dayton's mass shooting, I was playing in the pit orchestra for a production of Sweeney Todd. This is one of my favorite musicals; the first half full of dark humor and evil omens, and the second half full-out horror. The music absolutely makes the show. In the second act, Sweeney Todd sings a beautiful, sad song of goodbye to his daughter. It's full of pathos that is made grotesque by the fact that the daughter is alive and he should be searching for her. Instead, he sings his song, all the while killing innocent victim after victim by slitting their throats.

I noticed people laughing. In the pit, I can't see any of the action on stage, but there is nothing funny about this song. In my mind, there is more anguish at this moment than any other in the whole show. This is the moment he gives up his soul. Every act he does in future is because of his decision to let Johanna go so he can fully take up his razor. How could anyone laugh?

Out of fairness, some of the actors were being funny, begging Sweeney, in pantomime, not to kill them. Sometimes the barber chair malfunctioned, threatening to spill the "corpses" out the side of the chair, rather than down the ramp. I can see how it would be funny to see the dead startle and grab the sides of the chair when it tipped them over sideways. We all know the violence and blood aren't real. There's no harm in laughing.

But then, the shooting happened between Saturday night and Sunday morning. I was home safe in my bed by 11:30 and the cast was too, I'm sure. I waited all Sunday morning, wondering if they would cancel the show. After all, finding entertainment watching a couple of serial killers' antics the morning after an event like that could be seen as inappropriate. The show went on, though, and I would have been disappointed if it hadn't, though I would have understood.

There is value in looking at Sweeney Todd in these circumstances. As Mrs. Lovett says, life is hard. Sweeney Todd had been horribly mistreated. His family had been damaged, if not utterly destroyed. He responded to these triggers with homicidal mania. It's not appropriate, but it happens. Art imitates life.

Before the show Sunday, nobody compared Sweeney Todd to the shooter. They didn't mention the possibility that the show could be viewed as inappropriate, or make an argument that it was entirely appropriate. They mentioned that there was an incidence of gun violence in the show. It was a trigger warning, if you don't mind my pun.

Eight people die by razor in this show. Johanna shoots the gun in self defense. Everyone knows there are razor killings, but who remembers the gun? Why even mention it? The problem in this show is the absolute disregard for life. The absence of feeling for other people.

The gunshot on Sunday was more disturbing than it had been on the other nights. I have to admit that. But this is the kicker. During Sweeney's song of goodbye to Johanna, the audience still laughed.

It was an  honor for me to play this show and I have nothing but respect for the people who took part. I thank the audience for being there. But as a nation, we have tunnel vision, like a bullet speeding down the bore of a rifle. We don't look around. We don't think.

I have to say this loudly. The gun violence in Sweeney Todd doesn't matter. The idea matters, that a man can do terrible things if he puts his skills to evil instead of good. And I don't just mean men, I mean everybody. To paraphrase Toby, you shouldn't harm people.

We're laughing at things that should bother us; things that are supposed to bother us. We're hardening ourselves where we should be soft. Life is precious. Don't anybody forget it. When a man chooses murder over his loved ones, how could we think of laughing?

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Miscellaneous Parenting Tip: Toilet water is not delicious

Both my babies were raised among dogs. Certain rules were established about human versus canine behavior. We don't eat the dog's food. We don't pee in the back yard. We don't chew one another's toys. These rules were received (sometimes) with a certain amount of acceptance. For example: my son, more than once, tried to see how many pieces of kibble he could cram into his mouth before I caught him and emptied his mouth of their semi-dissolved contents.

My daughter asked me once why the dogs drank out of the toilet. It was a good question and I didn't know the answer. I suppose I should have told her the water refreshed itself multiple times a day, whenever someone flushed, and the dogs preferred fresh water. I chose to tell her they drank from the toilet because it was the most delicious water in the house. These two answers were essentially the same, in my opinion, and the second was merely simpler for a 2 1/2 year old to understand.

Children, however, tend to take things literally.

Not until she was sixteen years old, did my child tell me that toilet water is not delicious. I had warned her that, despite its smell, play-doh is disgusting, but it never occurred to me to give her a public service warning about drinking from the toilet.

"You said it was delicious, so I gave it a try," she said.

I wonder if she knew, even at 2 1/2, that this was a dubious experiment. After all, why else would she have waited so long to confess, and blame me for the debacle?

"I can't believe you did that," I said, and swatted her with a rolled-up newspaper.

Monday, August 20, 2018

This year, my family went on a repeat vacation. Now, I think a lot of families go to the same beloved  location each year as a matter of course. We've never visited the same place twice before. This year, we returned to upstate New York. We got a picture of my daughter by the same stalactite in Howe's Cavern that we did when she was four. My son refused to recreate the picture of himself hugging Taughannock Falls. I wanted to recreate the picture of my daughter falling asleep on my husband's shoulders, but he refused to let her climb up on there, and I have to admit, the whole exercise probably would have injured them both.

Moms generally end up carrying everybody's stuff. Historically, we have carried a bulky purse or a diaper bag, so it's a no-brainer. I don't carry a purse on vacation. When the kids were small, I carried them for large chunks of every day. After all, if you plan to sightsee for miles every day, the wee ones will need a little help. Or a lot of help. I think of it as an exercise regimen, and it was a point of pride with me that I could carry them as long as they needed. By my son's twelfth birthday, I called a halt to it.  He weighed almost as much as I did by that time, and he had the physical wherewithal to keep up on his own.

Oh, nostalgia, you pernicious beast! At Fort Ticonderoga, my boy waxed melodramatic. His feet were tired. Wouldn't I carry him? He didn't expect I would. Or did he? So far, he had refused to recreate a single moment. Did he know I wouldn't be able to resist picking him up like I had done so many times before? Did he understand I would rise to the challenge?

And so, I crouched and held my hands out to grab his legs. He hesitated a little, but then he climbed onto my back like a possum (or a moose, but they don't carry their young that way) and I walked half a dozen steps before he started to sag and I feared we'd tip over backward. When I tried to put him down, he didn't let go, and we had a screaming moment--I screamed, he laughed--before he relented and let his feet down.

Immediately after, the little one had to be carried, too. She has to do everything he does, and she's still smaller than me, so I carried her quite a ways.

I have a 16-year old and an 18-year old. I can still pick them up and carry them around, and since it's a joke, it's okay. They're my babies. I don't ever want to let them go, and I consider it a blessing that they don't want to leave me. Someday, though, they'll go. I can't carry them forever, and though I'm sure they'll check in if they need something, they'll develop separate lives. It's the way things are supposed to be.

How many more family vacations will happen with the four of us? I'll carry on as long as I can.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A lot of writers say it's important to arrange a schedule and keep to it. Whether you write at the same time of day, commit to a certain number of words a day, or just grab ten minutes whenever you can--writing becomes a daily commitment. Habitual behaviors keep us well practiced in any field. I keep a schedule for myself that includes at least a couple of hours each weekday morning.

Life gets busier every year, it seems. Afternoons and evenings pile full of activities and commitments. I have two teenage children, three dogs, and an inability to choose between writing and music. Therefore, music gets the evening and writing gets the morning.

Problem: the Plot Sisters (my writing group) meet in the evening on the same night as I sometimes sub for a regional orchestra. This year, I have missed more than two straight months of Plot Sisters meetings. I haven't written much of anything. Sure, I keep up with their manuscripts, sending comments digitally in time for meetings I can't attend. During my writing mornings, I shuffle words around on my manuscript and make no progress.

I've been reading books, watching movies--even viewing Breaking Bad in its entirety because so many writers recommended it. These things distract, rather than inspire me. I have nothing to say. My manuscripts bore me, which is distressing. If I'm not interested, why would anyone else be?

With a little schedule tweaking, I make it back to the Plot Sisters. I'll have to skip one rehearsal a month in two different musical groups, but it's more than worth it. I've met with these women for five years now, and our relationship is important. At my computer, I write very little. Maybe it's a slump. I begin to wonder if I have the determination needed to continue.

Then, my turn comes. I have to share something. I scrape up a chapter here, a chapter there. They hang together somewhat. I felt inspired when I wrote them, but that feeling faded months ago.

We meet. They critique. Positive comments come in a generous and honest spirit. But the magic happens when they tell me what they don't understand, what doesn't work. They even tell me I've spent a whole chapter in a character's head and no action happens.

The light snaps on. Brilliant, lively, captivating. I know now what to do. I can fix all these problems. I feel glee--I've never spent a whole chapter in a character's head. If I could jump up and click my heels together, I would do it. This is progress!

And so, with thanks to my Plot Sisters, I have found inspiration again.

This post is a reminder: The screen gives us nothing. The schedule has no soul. We need our people.

P.S. Thanks to all five of you. I wouldn't have made it this far alone.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

My first go at writing with an outline

It usually takes me several years to finish a first draft. When I get caught in the middle, I change the beginning again and again, until the beginning is a whole new story. Then I tackle the middle. Don't even talk to me about the climax. Don't even think about talking to me about the end.

I recently finished a manuscript. Then I went through and changed some stuff. I removed some scenes, changed the order of some others. I already removed a bunch of characters while I was wrestling with the beginning. I've thrown out more setting and plot ideas than even exist in the book.

Instead of starting over with an idea and muddling through, like I always do, I decided to try something new. My finished manuscript is a fantasy. Fantasies always run in packs. I need a sequel. But I can't write it the way I usually do. The world is mostly built. The characters are set. I can't change them. I can't just wade in and see what happens.

And so, I try my hand at writing an outline. Now, I've heard a lot of people write outlines chapter by chapter. I'm not nearly that organized. I write notes about character development. I meander along, dragging paragraphs down the page. How will these characters react to this? What will the villain be doing about that? Where should the manuscript start? Whose should be the first voice to speak? Do I need new voices?

I'm telling you, I'll have to edit the outline for a month before it's an outline.

But I am more focused. I know what each character has to do. I know what the climax will be (wow!). I've even found a plot for the next book. But I still don't know where to start. I'm blogging about it, did you notice? Instead of writing the manuscript, I'm blogging about it.

Time to stop consulting my notes. Time to stop blogging. Time to write. In another several years, I'll let you know what I've come up with.

My Dachshund Friday

At first, I decided not to run with Levi. He only weighs 8 pounds. He's afraid of everything. His feet are tender and I'm pretty sure his vision is terrible. But it's not fair that the other guys got to try. I sneak Levi out of the house and get his leash on. His tail whips the air, but he keeps quieter than Theodore ever could. I don't understand how two dogs of the same breed can be so different.

Levi empties his bowels in the neighbor's yard. I'm thinking it's panic, but I'm still grateful he got it out of the way early enough for me to leave the bag at home. Levi runs alongside me, but he drags almost immediately. His ears are pinned behind his head like they always are when he's scared.

"Don't worry," I tell him. "I'll keep you safe."

He doesn't believe me. The ears stay back.

I wish he trusted me, but I can't really blame him for feeling insecure. Levi would never see danger coming. He won't recognize familiar people coming until they're standing right in front of him. Even then, it may be the sound of voices that clues him in. Levi jumps when leaves blow past and other dogs put him into a tailspin. He almost runs in front of a car when he sees a mailbox on the corner. Who knows what the mailbox wanted to do to him?

It's easy to be patient with him, though. After all, I never expected he'd be able to do this. At home, sometimes his toenails break off and he leaves bloody paw prints on the floor. Running four miles could wreak havoc with his manicure. I might have to carry him home.

But, slow as he is, scared as he is, Levi keeps running. We turn the corner and head south. The road stretches out in front of us, wide open. On this stretch, there's no sidewalk, so we have to get into the street. Levi picks up speed. His ears relax. He runs into the middle of the lane. I can't believe it. I wonder if he sees the space and realizes nothing will jump out at him like it could in the more enclosed space of the sidewalk--or does he realize we're headed for home and he's running to safety as fast as he can? Either way, this is a much nicer pace.

Levi's doing so well, I don't even cut our loop short. We run the whole route and Levi doesn't show any signs of flagging. Finally, I slow to a walk. "Good boy! You did such a good job."

He ignores me. No tail wagging. No adoring look as he walks with me. Levi's normally affectionate, so I don't understand the cold shoulder. At home, I get the adoring look. He tries to lick my nose and then heads off to play with the others. I realize, with wonder, that this was the smoothest run yet. Go figure.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Running with a Mini-Dachshund

Theodore has a fuse as short as his dachshund legs. When he runs, he doesn't mess around. If I didn't have a leash on him, he'd take off down the sidewalk like a rocket, his sharp nose hissing as it cut the air. But he does wear a leash, so instead, I hear his even breath as his body curls and uncurls with each surging step. Even with the mass of my body holding us back, he cuts nearly a minute off my time in the first mile.

I keep the leash taut and follow him. I can't keep up, but I don't want to gag him, either. Theodore won't keep up the pace much longer than a mile. Every time he sees a dog, he speeds up. Life, for him, is a race he has to win. Sure, his legs are short, but man, does he have a spine.

I would like to have a running companion, rather than a competitor. Before we're done, he'll tire and I'll have to walk with him. If he'd just slow down a little at the start, he'd have the stamina to finish strong. But I can't convince Theodore of that.

We speed up to pass an old Lab who's just out for a tinkle. As we turn the corner the road stretches out ahead of us without a dog in sight. Theodore slows down. I slow with him, not quite to walking. The zipper on my ankle passes Theodore's red collar and he's off again. He darts forward until his tail waves at me.

I don't speed up. No need to push him. We run for a while. He falls in step with me until I pass the red boundary, at which point he always runs ahead. Occasionally, he glances back at me and I wonder what the looks mean. I'd like to think he's saying, "Thanks for bringing me. This is fun!" But I suspect his look means, "Is that all you have, human?"

A car passes us and Theodore tries to keep up with it until it turns the corner at the end of the block. Almost immediately, he sees a squirrel and puts on a furious burst of speed. The squirrel climbs a tree. Theodore looks for it, but can't figure where it went. We continue on our way. He seems calm. I'm a little embarrassed to be seen with him if he doesn't know squirrels can climb. But I should be glad. I'm not sure what I would do if Theodore decided to chase a squirrel up a tree.

In a few blocks, Theodore stops running. I'm happy with it. He's run nearly three miles. Pretty good for a jogging newbie. I tell him what a good job he's done. Instead of turning toward home, I figure we can walk the rest of the route. In a block or two, though, he starts to run again. Not a dog or squirrel in sight. No cars passing. He just decides to run, so I follow. After all, I do this run three times a week.

Our pace is slow. The leash is never taut, so I keep the end bundled in my hand. I don't want him to trip on it. My pant leg passes his collar. Five steps, six, he lets me keep the position. Then he pulls in front of me. I let him pass, but don't slow down. He does slow down, though. My shin brushes the tip of his tail and he goes off like I lit his fuse. Run, run, run. But he's tired now. He doesn't keep up the pace.

We turn toward home. I stay behind the line of his collar. At our street, I pull him to a walk. "Let's cool down."

He walks ahead of me with his head high and a bounce in his step. The meaning is clear. "You stopped running. I win."

We cross into our own yard. Theodore slows down so his collar is even with the zipper at my ankle. We walk side by side down the driveway.