I flunked out of virtual camp

29 Jul

camp nanowrimo

I know myself well enough to understand that I’m more productive when I have a deadline, so I decided to give myself a goal to light a fire under my creative process. It began almost on a whim when I read about Camp Nanowrimo, a summer offshoot of the phenomenon known as National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November.

The idea behind the virtual camp is to work on a project for the month of July and keep track of your word count. Throughout July the good folks at Camp Nanowrimo send you daily tips, lots of encouragement, and even set you up with virtual tent mates. I was assigned to a cabin of twelve writers, who are there to provide moral support for each other during the camp experience and also serve as proof that you are not alone even though writing is usually a solitary activity.

My plan was to finish my full-length play, A Wilder Woman. I had already written about 7000 words before camp started, so I figured another 30,000 would finish it off. I was doing great on my goal of 1000 words a day for the first six days. But on July 6, I realized that my play probably didn’t need to be 37,000 words. It was probably going to be a shorter play. I kept writing anyway, but I fizzled out because I knew that at that point I was padding it just to reach my word count goal, which is not terribly productive.  Then I couldn’t figure out how best to end it, which stalled me out completely. Sigh. So much for making that self-imposed deadline.

Last weekend at the ATLAS (Advanced Training Leading Artists to Success)Playwrights Showcase, I ran into Anthony Clarvoe, a playwright whose class I’d taken, who asked how my writing was going (because, of course, that’s what writers ask each other). I admitted that I hadn’t gotten much further on my play despite my foray into virtual camp. He sympathized and said that strict word counts often fail as inspiration. I asked about his progress, and he mentioned that he definitely had to be careful that his teaching responsibilities didn’t keep him from writing.

And it occurred to me that this is going to be a lifelong challenge. Anthony has been writing far longer than I have and still has to be conscious of balancing it with other parts of his life. It may get easier, but writing a play is never something I’ll be able to do on auto-pilot. And it shouldn’t be. (That’s probably how so many awful TV shows get written.)

I love to write. But it takes dedication. And I get distracted.

Well, I may not yet have found the most efficient way to write a play. But I do know that writing something–whether it’s a play, a song, or a blog post–is better than writing nothing at all. man writing

And if I want an audience to see my play, I have to keep at it. It seems obvious, I know. But maybe a slight shift in perspective is all I need to get back on the right track.

So I may be a lousy camper, but I’m still a writer, dammit.




22 Jul


This entertaining account of a first-time award-winning YA author brought a big smile to my face. I don’t even know her, but after reading this, I feel like I do. Of course, I’m the teensiest bit jealous, but it’s so great to hear success stories.

I Would Buy That Book!

16 Jul


Parents PressWalking back from my Zumba Gold class–which makes me officially old–I passed a newsstand piled high with that free monthly from years of yore: Parents’ Press. I don’t mean to imply that Parents’ Press is no longer being published; I just don’t read it anymore, so it blends into that invisible backdrop of Things For Other People. In it, inquiring minds can read about the safest playground equipment, the optimal number of guests to invite to a seven-year-old’s birthday party, and how to get your kid to eat broccoli. I’d forgotten that such issues were ever relevant to me.

I’m still a parent. But Parents’ Press doesn’t provide much guidance beyond school-aged kids. There’s the occasional article about college admissions or high school sports, but its primary readership is parents of younger children–that period of parenthood when you have more influence and presumably more control.

When my daughter was a baby, bookstores were teeming with titles promising to help me do everything from writing a birthing plan to getting my child into college. I believe in the power of information, so I bought a book to help me navigate those early desperate, sleep-deprived months: Your One-Year-Old by Dr. Louise Ames Bates. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the same author had written Your Two-Year Old, which I snatched up the following year, eager to mine her knowledge of toddlers. Your Three-Year Old was an automatic purchase, especially because I had erroneously thought that the legend of the “terrible twos” implied that three-year-olds were easy peasy by comparison. Which, in fact, was not the case. I think whoever came up with the concept of the terrible twos just liked the way it sounded. But because I failed to get the memo on the threatening threes, I was blindsided. Your 2-year-old

Anyhoo…the point is that someone had very thoughtfully written user manuals for parents. Just owning such volumes provided a certain amount of security. Only later did I realize their inherent danger: because I’d read an expert on child-rearing, I was deluded into thinking I was in control. (“This has to work because it was in the book!”) Indeed I looked forward to each new year of my daughter’s life so that I could read the next in the series, certain that at one point the book would tell me that I’d arrived at the sweet spot and it was smooth sailing from then on.

Spoiler alert: that moment never came.

I diligently read the whole series, which also covers children who are four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine, but ends with Your Ten-to-Fourteen-Year Old. I can only imagine that by the time Ms. Ames had published her advice for how to deal with tweens, she grew too disinterested to devote a separate volume to each year. And then, afraid to tackle those tricky teen years, she probably mixed herself a martini and left parents to face their destinies alone and without her guidance.

All of this leads me to wonder where the parenting articles and books are for me, the mother of a 22-year-old? Who is writing on important subjects such as which questions are appropriate to ask the young adult in your life? What can I read that will help me offer just the right amount of support that will neither enable her nor cripple her? Where are the instructions that tell me how often I should call? And why hasn’t someone published what should be a must-read for all parents of young adults: Navigating Social Media for Parents of Twenty-Somethings? (Is it OK to accept a friend request from your daughter’s ex-girlfriend whom you’ve never met?) And wouldn’t it be so helpful to have a pocket glossary so you could keep track of words that joined the lexicon long after you graduated from college? (By the way, “non-binary” is no longer just a math term.)

tongues out

In simpler times

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It is a lifelong endeavor that is constantly assessed for quality control and it must adapt to the ebb and flow of the one being parented. And that’s how it should be. I’m reminded of my favorite title ever of a parenting book: Anthony Wolf’s Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?  We walk a delicate tightrope in order to provide the right amount of space and support. Parenting looks different at twenty-two than it did during the threatening threes. For one thing, my only child is thousands of miles away. But it’s not only the geographic distance that looms; new ideas and beliefs create their own kind of distance. Which is part of growing up, right?  After all, if we do our job well, then our confident, resourceful children eventually don’t need us. Talk about a disconnect between job performance and job security…

So my challenge is to parents who have already survived those tricky twenties: write a guide book! I’d buy Your Twenty-Two-Year Old in a heartbeat. And I’m telling you, the person who writes Navigating Social Media for Parents of Twenty-Somethings will make a million.




The Hills are alive with the Sound of Music at CCCT

29 Jun
photo by mellopix.com Joe Metheny as Rolf and Grace Lilette Lorenzana as Liesl in CCCT’s production of "The Sound of Music," directed by Marilyn Langbehn.

photo by mellopix.com
Joe Metheny as Rolf and Grace Lilette Lorenzana as Liesl in CCCT’’s
production of “The Sound of Music,” directed by Marilyn Langbehn.

I used to be a regular audience member at Contra Costa Civic Theatre productions back when I taught in El Cerrito and lived in Richmond. But I’d sort of forgotten about it since moving to Berkeley ten years ago. It was always a charming production with a range of talents, which is de rigeur for community theater.

But last night I was treated to a professionalism that I didn’t quite recognize. CCCT’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music was top notch, featuring talented actors and singers. Except for the fact that the two elderly and hard-of-hearing ladies seated next to me talked fairly frequently throughout the show, I felt like I was attending a professional theater production in a major city. And heck, I’ve heard similar conversations at the Aurora, which is far from community theater.

The opening number sung by the nun chorus was breathtaking and set the tone for the rest of the show. Leading them was the Mother Abbess, Marie Plette, who actually had a long career in the opera and is still hitting notes with gusto. Interesting side note: the last time she performed in musical theater was when she was in high school playing none other than the Mother Abbess.

nun chorusBut the rest of the ladies in wimples were no slouches. Notable among them was Berkeley Broadway Singer Mary Coleston, who has also been in her fair share of productions. I had never seen this play on stage, but I probably watched the film twenty times, and I remember wanting to get through the nun parts to get to what I thought was the good stuff with the Von Trapp children. But I could have listened to the nun chorus all night!

Sarah Sloane made her CCCT debut as the show’s star, the headstrong and will o’ the wisp Maria, and she carried her scenes with great poise and sparkle.

Of the twenty-seven roles played (quite an ambitious feat in itself), all but four were making their CCCT debut, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of performing experience. In  fact, arrive early for the show if you want to be able to read their extensive bios before curtain time. The cast represents a well of singing and acting talent.

Of course the children were adorable. In community theater, one doesn’t necessarily expect to get such young performers who can also sing, dance, and act, but this cast did a wonderful job and never relied solely on being cute. Liesl was not played by a teenager but by Grace Lilette Lorenzana, a junior high school teacher with a lovely voice who played sixteen quite convincingly. I freely admit that my eyes teared up in sheer joy during “So Long, Farewell,” which was my favorite tune from this musical when I listened to the record as a child.

All the children remembered their lines, sang beautifully, and kept up with their adult cast mates, but I was particularly charmed by the luminous sixth-grader Maya Marinez-Krams, who played Brigitta.

I was surprised to discover that the play is not the same as the film and had three songs I’d never heard before. And I learned only after the show that the music was live, accompanied by two pianists hidden in the eaves.

If you’re a fan of this moving and popular musical, you must go see this production. It’s playing through July 19. For more info, go to www.ccct.org or call at 510.524.9132.

Mortified mines those embarrassing teen years

28 Jun

mortified logo

Mortified founder David Nadelberg had a stroke of genius, and we are the lucky recipients.

Twice now I’ve gone to the New Parish in Oakland to see people get on stage and reveal intimate details of their younger selves. And it is hysterical. It’s called “Mortified,” and you can see it either in San Francisco or Oakland every month. It’s also periodically in Chicago, L.A., and other cities, but we have two opportunities to see it here in the Bay Area.

I first heard an excerpt of the show on “This American Life” some years ago, but I didn’t realize it was something I could see live right in my own backyard. It’s been going for eight years and seems to be picking up steam.

According to the program, “All excerpts shared on stage are 100% real.” However these are not just people reading straight from their high school diaries without any focus or practice. The Mortified crew works with the brave souls ahead of time to mine the best stuff. And they do a good job. Both nights that I saw the show, the readers represented a nice variety of teen angst, from the young boy who had no friends and loved the TV character Mr. Belvedere to the girl who recounted her early sexual experiences.

mortified bookTo add to the hilarity, a clever comedic improv band picks up on the funniest parts and turns them into songs on the spot.

Apparently there is also a book, a documentary, and a podcast, so there are many ways to be Mortified.

I highly recommend this unique form of entertainment. I just wish I’d thought it up.

Sometimes things don’t go from bad to worse…

27 Jun

phone walletI’d gone to see a sad movie by myself downtown and opted for the handy garage next to the theater. Afterward I walked my red-rimmed-eyed self down to the garage and drove to the exit where I searched for my phone/wallet combo to produce the credit card that would allow me to go home. It was not in my little backpack of a purse. It was not in my pocket. I frantically searched the passenger seat and the floor, thinking it must have fallen out of my purse. There was a car patiently waiting behind me who couldn’t exit with me in the way. I turned and yelled out my window in what I thought was an apologetic way that I couldn’t find my wallet and would have to back up. Rather than being annoyed, the driver of the car behind me offered to let me go through with him, dashing through the gate before it went down. I declined, but I thought it was a kind gesture.

I re-parked and made a more thorough search. It was not anywhere in my car or on my body. I did not panic. Instead I reasoned that it must be at the movie theater, so I trundled off to look for it there. The lights were up, and I went back to my seat. It was wedged between the seat and the armrest. A few bystanders congratulated me on finding it, and one of them even suggested I buy a lottery ticket (I assume because finding my phone constituted the kind of minor miracle that suggests further opportunities). But I figured I’d used up all my good luck, and I was happy to stop while I was ahead.

All in all, it was only a slight setback, and I encountered positive, friendly, helpful people along the way. I consider how my evening might have gone, and I am grateful. I lost my phone, but I found it again. Things didn’t go terribly wrong. Murphy’s law got a reprieve. I will try to remember this small victory when life doesn’t proceed so smoothly…

My name is Tanya, and I’m a foster fail…

18 Jun

2015-05-01 22.18.54 (2)

Several weeks ago I was extolling the benefits of fostering dogs. After all, it’s noble to house poor homeless creatures while they await adoption; and it’s fun getting to know lots of different types of dogs. It’s a win-win, right?

Many friends asked how I could invest time and love into puppies when I knew they would be going to live with other families. I simply smiled and said I was lucky because I got to enjoy their company for the time they were with us and I knew that because they were all going to loving homes, I didn’t mind giving them up. That worked well for Chappie, Fitz, and Lola.

But then I cast my eyes on Ruby, and all that was thrown out the window.

I picked up this tiny furball at Hopalong in Oakland and placed her in the carrier for the ride home. You wouldn’t believe how much sound can be produced from such a tiny creature. All the  way to Berkeley, it sounded like parrots being strangled. I was frankly surprised that she was actually in one piece when I let her out. Immediately upon release, she romped around with no apparent memory of the screeching horror of the previous half hour.

Ruby wasn’t always Ruby. She came to us as Frida, probably because of her tell-tale Rottweiler eyebrows that suggested Frida Kahlo. But after a week of living with her, she never felt like a Frida to me. After week two, her pictures were going up on the Hopalong site to introduce her to the world. I had no doubt that hordes of people would see those eyes and want to take her home with them, so I knew she’d be placed quickly.

So that wasn’t the reason we decided to keep her.

Because she was the youngest foster we’d cared for, she was the most work. Not yet housebroken, Ruby has peed and pooped in every room of our house except the downstairs bathroom. She’s also chewed up the bill of Dave’s favorite cap. And our skin is covered with teeny bite marks where we have become her personal chew toys.

So we didn’t decide to keep her because she was the easiest pet to care for.

Our old hound dog Rufus is less than thrilled that we brought a slobbering pooping machine into his territory, especially when she tries to play with him or share his food. And as chill as our cat Cartwheel is, he was not exactly welcoming of this new addition to the family.

2015-05-05 12.42.12 (2)

Ruby at rest

So our decision to keep Ruby had nothing to do with her potential as a companion for our other pets.

So why did we keep Ruby? Well, one reason for me is that I never got to see any of our other dogs as young puppies, and I always wished we had. Because we got Ruby when she was only 8 weeks old–and pups aren’t adopted out until they’re at least three months old–we would have had her for at least a month before we’d have to give her away. That’s a lot of time to get attached. And to tell the truth, it doesn’t take any time at all to get attached to Ruby.

The other reason? We fell in love. And who can explain why we fall in love?  So we are now officially among those dubbed as “foster fails.” There are worse things we could be…

GCR’s Much Ado is really something!

6 Jun

gcr logo

My friend William knows I’m a theater buff and had heard about Gritty City Rep’s production of Much Ado about Nothing, so while my hubby was cycling down the coast of California, I accompanied William to the Flight Deck to check out this enterprising youth group’s take on the Bard.

It was the best production of Much Ado I’ve ever seen! The young cast was stellar, the set was inspired, and the direction brought out aspects of the script in fresh ways. This production is set in the soulful 70s, and the  clothes and hairstyles were authentically vintage. The array of musical selections had me moving with the beat and wanting to dance. When is the last time you could say that of a Shakespeare performance?

I’ve always considered this comedy rather dark in its slut-shaming wedding scene, but the melodramatic tears from both mother and daughter made it easier to laugh, especially when the last laugh was on those who maligned innocent Hero. A particularly funny scene involved the comically cast small female as the chief of police, who is able to capture Don John’s evil minions in a slapstick fight scene that drew guffaws from the crowd. But one of my favorite scenes is when the whole cast breaks out into the Hustle, a dance move that was popular long before any of the actors was born.

I wish the show had a longer run so that I could recommend it to everyone, but sadly, tonight is its last showing, after which they’re having a disco dance party before they have to strike the set tomorrow.

But I await with enthusiasm productions from Gritty City Rep in the future.


Oakland Book Fest Does It Right!

2 Jun
Oakland City Hall in Frank Ogawa Plaza

Oakland City Hall in Frank Ogawa Plaza

I wasn’t sure what to expect at the inaugural Oakland Book Festival. Situated downtown at City Hall and Frank Ogawa Plaza, just steps away from the 12th Street BART station, it was billed as “One Day, Seven Hours, 90 Writers, 40 Events.”

It was my daughter Kylie’s last day home on her short visit from Baltimore, which has claimed her heart as no other city has (though Oakland is probably a close second). I wanted to spend my precious last minutes with her how she wanted to spend them, but I made the suggestion that we check out the book event. To my delight, she was game. And she was even more excited when she discovered who was speaking.

Two people she’d read about in school and admired were among the panelists: former Black Panther leader Elaine Brown and scholar and writer, Frank Wilderson. Since their panels were later, we wandered around Laurel Books in its new digs on Broadway and perused the booksellers’ booths in the plaza. I managed to buy only one book, Bad Indian, which had been recommended by the professor of a recent course I took on Native American Literature, History,  and Politics.

We splurged on frozen custard cookie sandwiches as we listened to a self-professed nerd rap on stage at the amphitheater. Since this was a very public place, all kinds of people were among the crowd, including a woman wearing a wire hat shaped into a spider who told all of us to follow Jesus, and if we didn’t, we’d arrive at judgment day to find that Jesus would not only keep us out, but according to this woman, he would tell us, “Fuck you!” At least she offended Christians and atheists alike…

When we arrived for the first panel we’d chosen, Question Everything, we were turned away because the room where it was meeting was at capacity. Disappointed but not broken, we improvised. Because Kylie wanted to ensure she’d get a seat for the panel called Radical Cities, Radical Lives, where Brown and Wilderson would be speaking, she sat at the head of a line for an hour and a half, where she made friends with two women while they  waited together and talked about racial politics.

I decided to catch the end of a panel on famous Oakland writers that included an expert on California’s first poet laureate Ina Coolbrith, who was also the librarian for the city of Oakland over a hundred years ago. And in the same room afterward I enjoyed readings by Ayelet Waldman and Akhil Sharma, who were quite entertaining.

oakland book festWhile Kylie nabbed a front-row seat watching two of her idols, I dashed across the plaza to Laurel Books to watch a late addition to the program sponsored by Mother Jones magazine on the state of police and their portrayal in media. The presenters were knowledgeable and well spoken, and a lively Q&A session made for interesting conversation.

I applaud the people who put together this amazing program centered around books. Perhaps the most incredible aspect of the festival is that it’s completely free and open to the public. I hope this becomes an annual event because I could easily make this a tradition…

Empty Nesters Has Heart and Humor

20 May


Poet playwright Garret Jon Groenveld has written a gem of a play that focuses on a middle-aged couple who has just dropped off their daughter at college and takes a side trip to the Grand Canyon before returning to their now-empty house. It’s a common situation for many of us, yet I don’t recall seeing it portrayed in the theater before.

Real-life wife and husband Pamela Gaye Walker and John Walker beautifully play the empty nesters who are looking to the future, not quite knowing what it holds for them. The two have a natural connection that works well onstage, and they convincingly portray a couple dealing with life changes. The dialogue was so real that these two felt like people I might have known, and furthermore, people I’d like to know. By the end of the first scene, we’ve gotten rich details of their life that paint a vivid picture of who they are and who they have been without it ever feeling like someone is providing the audience with back story. The set, though simple, provided everything necessary for the three different locales needed for the play, and the transitions from one scene to the next were seamless.

The Empty Nesters has heart, humor, and even a touch of mystery, all of which make for a satisfying evening of theater. Go see it!

A PlayGround and Virago Theatre Company co-production at San Francisco’s Thick House through June 14. http://playground-sf.org/emptynesters/


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