Body Awareness delivers laughs with heart

I saw an absolutely brilliant play last night at the Aurora Theater, Body Awareness, by Annie Baker. It had many tender moments and certainly a lot of heart, but above all, it made me laugh out loud. One line had me still guffawing as they switched the set around between scenes.

The setting is Shirley State College in Vermont where it’s Body Awareness Week. It opens with Phyllis, the enthusiastic professor in charge of the week’s activities, giving her spiel to what one assumes is a half-filled auditorium of faculty and students who feel obliged to be there for the scheduled events that are only minimally connected to the topic at hand. With each day, Phyllis tries more earnestly to get students and faculty excited about a subject she has great passion for, even as she feels she is losing her battles at home on that very topic.

Actress Amy Resnick plays Phyllis with great humor while still staying true to her character’s core values. We’ve all been on the receiving end of that desperation that leaks through presenters’ hopeful introductions, recognizing even before the event coordinator does that this week that had such great potential is not going as planned.

Mirrored at home is Phyl’s partner of three years, Joyce (played by Jeri Lynn Cohen), who is trying gracefully to  convince her socially challenged grown son that he has Asperger’s syndrome. The son Jared is played with dead-on accuracy by Patrick Russell, who has excellent comic timing. Jared is in denial of his condition and has some anger issues. A self-proclaimed autodidact who views most of those around him as imbeciles, Jared is the source of great frustration to Joyce and Phyllis.

Enter the delightful Howard Swain, who represents everything slimy in the art world—in the most charming way—as photographer Frank, who is a guest artist at the college for Body Awareness Week and staying at Phyllis’s and Joyce’s home. Although Phyl comes to see him as the very embodiment of “the male gaze” that she’s spent her life battling, Frank makes himself a part of the family, instating a Jewish ritual at dinner and dispensing advice on women to a sexually frustrated Jared. In a particularly funny but poignant scene, Jared finally confesses that he’s worried that he’s a “retard.” To which, Frank astutely replies, “You’re not retarded–you’re living with two women!”

Poking fun at the painfully narrow line walked by the politically correct, Baker shows great affection for her characters and respect for their beliefs while still offering up their situation for laughs.

And isn’t that the best way to approach life–with generosity and a sense of humor?

To buy tickets to this fabulous show, contact http://www.auroratheatre.org/.

Maybe a rose by another name is sweeter after all…

The publishing world is all atwitter.  Author Kate Alcott got a five-figure deal for her novel The Dressmaker while author Patricia O’Brian’s sixth novel was turned down by her longtime editor at Simon & Schuster and subsequently by a dozen other houses.

You say, well, The Dressmaker is probably a better book, and Alcott is probably a better writer. After all, publishing is a competitive industry. Not all books are equal.

Except that the two manuscripts in question were the exact same book, and Kate Alcott is really Patricia O’Brian.

Now it gets interesting…

O’Brian’s most recent novel, Harriet and Isabella, had underperformed in Simon & Schuster’s eyes, causing the editor to pass on The Dressmaker. But as Kate Alcott, she created the opportunity to sell the story without the baggage of previous low sales numbers. As an unknown commodity, she was actually in a better position because publishers were more willing to take a chance on her than they would on someone who has published but isn’t a big moneymaker.

And here I thought that if I could just get my first novel published, I would have overcome the biggest obstacle that came between me and publication—no name recognition. Now I find out that, unless you’re a big name, having previously published can hurt you more than help.

How is this possible? Some see Nielsen’s BookScan as the culprit. Every editor is only a click away from finding out how any book has sold by accessing this service that keeps track of such numbers. The publishing industry today is in transition, trying to keep a hold of readers with proven favorites like John Grisham or Nicholas Sparks; and they’re also hoping to find the next big writer before the other houses do. The writers they’re not so interested in are the steady mid-list performers who sell books, but not by the millions.

So O’Brian was able to trick the publishing world by actually selling the story on its own merits without publishers referring to the less-than-exciting stats on her last book. Brava, Ms. O’Brian aka Ms. Alcott for your persistence and ingenuity. Apparently a rose by another name is indeed sweeter to some publishers.

For more on this story, see the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/23/books/patricia-obrien-as-kate-alcott-sells-the-dressmaker.html

Short but not necessarily sweet

I’ve shared before how I love nanoisms because I can read a whole story in a few seconds, giving me that feeling of satisfaction without investing so many hours of my life. Now I’ve found another source of extremely short stories—the winners of the free flash fiction competition sponsored by Global Short Stories. Here are some winners:

Here lies Marigold Tyler. Born 1 November 2011. Died 1 November 2011.

–Dave Clark

 

I am comatose, but see and hear everything. Help me!

– Jeff Taylor

Dance with me, one last time.

–Clinton Bell

Whoda thunk one could communicate so much with so few words. 

If you’re interested in poetry contests, Global Short Stories is sponsoring one now that’s free to enter and has a £50 first prize. Deadline is April 16.  Word limit is 200 words per poem, but there is no limit on the number of poems submitted per writer. See www.globalwriters.net.

Humor in another unexpected place: old age

In my quest to find humor in unexpected places, I was tickled to read a recent post on my friend’s blog that focused on his swing through the state of Florida. Al, quick-witted and clever guy that he is, made these observations:

Northern cold weather signals the migration of two kinds of people to Florida: Snowbirds, who come for the season, and Frogs, who come to croak.

I visited The Villages, an over-55 community, where the women are too old to get pregnant and the men look like they are.

I am informed among the Villagers over 70, women out-number men 15-1. Of course, when the odds are good, the goods can be quite odd.

Now one could say that outsiders shouldn’t laugh at the expense of our elders. But that one needs to lighten up because one needs to find humor wherever one can. And it’s not like Al is a teenager making fun of his grandparents. As an RV-driving, card-carrying AARP member, he fits the demographic (if not the body type) of those he gently lampoons.

And let’s face it: we’re all going there. If not to Florida, at least to old age. And of course that’s if we’re lucky. (Consider the alternative.)

So we might as well get some laughs out of it.

For more pithy observations and bon mots, read Al’s blog A Year on the Road, which, by the way, is stretching into year two, and therefore begs to be renamed (or at least given a subtitle).

 http://allevenson.wordpress.com/

More nanoisms

I’ve shared this website before, but I just wanted to share some more. Here are a few recent nanoisms I like:

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The doctor said he had the heart of a much younger man. He stood outside the home of the donor’s family, trying to think of the right words.

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God sighed. Lego was more fun in the old days. He still had the complete Garden of Eden set in a shoebox under his bed.

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Perhaps they would have felt differently had they known the lone photo she carried around was the same one that had come with the wallet.

Read more at http://nanoism.net/.

Sandwich generation not the right metaphor

I don’t know who came up with that term—the sandwich generation. It’s supposed to describe the state of being stuck in the middle of your school-age children and your retired parents, and having to take care of them both.

But the meat and cheese in a sandwich are not caretakers of the bread.  I would argue, in fact, that if anything, the bread is protecting the meat and cheese, and is indeed holding the lettuce, tomato, and mustard inside to create a working whole. I mean a sandwich isn’t a sandwich without bread.

Perhaps the sandwich moniker refers more to the squeezing of what’s in the middle by virtue of the bread being on top and bottom, but the more time I spend thinking about it, the whole sandwich metaphor just doesn’t work.

For the Chinese, it’s tradition, a way of life. One generation raises the next who brings up a third generation, and they all live together in harmony.  The older ones care for the young until they need care themselves, at which point they become wise elders dispensing advice and reaping the honor they are promised because they did the same for their parents. Or I think that’s the gist of it.

For me, I just feel that it’s the right thing to do—your parents raised you, and when they’re not capable of living on their own, you take care of your parents, if you’re able to. My mother took care of lots of relatives on both sides of the family. Because she could and it was the right thing to do. My siblings took care of my parents when they needed care because they all lived in the same area, so neither one ever had to go to an old folks’ home.

Technically I don’t fit the sandwich generation template because our daughter left for college in August and my father-in-law didn’t move in until November. So it’s more of filling a still-warm nest situation. Although for five weeks over winter break we housed three generations. (And for a few of those days we had several visitors of the Gen-Y variety and only one toilet, but that’s a different story.)

And I should be clear, I am not a caretaker for my father-in-law because he is not physically incapacitated. His balance isn’t good since he broke his hip several years ago, and he suffers from a mild form of arthritis, but he can still walk to the gym around the corner, make it to 7-11 to buy candy, and feed himself while my husband and I are at work during the day.

Note: I did not write fix himself lunch because that would imply some forethought, maybe a plate, and consuming something of nutritional value. Despite my efforts to leave easy-to-reheat leftovers from dinner or ready-made sandwiches, his midday meal usually consists of peanuts or salami and beer when he remembers to eat. Plus a few cookies or a candy bar. Apparently he doesn’t really like sandwiches. When my husband fixed him a BLT, he took it apart and ate the B, leaving behind the L, the T, as well as the all-important bread that makes it a sandwich in the first place.

Now if I were his mother, I would feel guilty and inadequate, allowing him to eat like that all the time. After all, I never packed candy bars or beer in my daughter’s lunchbox.

And therein lies the rub. I’m not his mother, so I don’t feel I have the right to dictate what he eats when I’m not around. I fix him a normal dinner with one protein, one starch, and one vegetable. He only eats enough of the vegetable to say he had some, but at least my conscience is clear, right?

So I’ve decided to pick my battles. Because taking his meds is vital, that’s non-negotiable.  I tried opening his pill box and placing it prominently at his table setting in the dining room,  but he still didn’t take his pills until my husband or I reminded him. But I figure for lunch he can eat anything he wants. I just try to remember to do a sweep of the living room when I come home at night to collect the peanut can from the floor, the half-drunk Corona bottle from the bookshelf, and the package of salami from the magazine rack. (It was sheer luck that I found the toast in the closet.)

We’re still working out the laundry details. To encourage him to put away his own laundry, I left the bin of his clean clothes in the middle of his bed, thinking he’d have to put his underwear, socks, T-shirts, and handkerchiefs away in their proper drawers in order to lie down. He’d just move the bin to the chest at the foot of his bed and leave it there until I needed the bin to put in more clean clothes the following weekend. So now I put away his laundry so I can get the bin back. It’s not a big deal. I’m adjusting.

But today something hit me the wrong way, and I felt the need to push back.

He knows he’s supposed to throw his used Depends in the trash, but he keeps putting them in his laundry hamper, where I find them when I’m sorting laundry. Previously my husband has handled speaking to him when issues arise where he might be embarrassed discussing them with me. But today I decided that if a little embarrassment would help him remember where to put his soiled diapers, that would not necessarily be a bad thing.

So I brought his laundry hamper into his room with the offending object still in the bottom.  I told him in calm, even tones that he had thrown his diaper in the laundry hamper, and that it didn’t belong there. He looked at me with no visible discomfort and instructed me to throw it away. I explained without raising my voice that this was not something I did.

He replied,”Well, just leave it there and I’ll deal with it.”

So I left his hamper sitting between his bed and the French doors to the back yard, not its usual spot in hopes that its odd placement will jog his memory.

I keep thinking about it there in his room while he reads or watches television. I hope he does throw it away. I need to stop dwelling on it…

Instead of the sandwich generation, or empty nester, I think the phrase that most accurately describes me at this point is back to diapers.

Wolff makes lemonade that goes down easy and isn’t too sweet

Virginia Euwer Wolff gave Make Lemonade a 14-year-old narrator who is engaging and believable.Written in short chapters of verse, with the cadence of a girl’s spoken language, the text feels authentic and fresh. Published in 1993, this book is not new, but it certainly has plenty of themes that are just as relevant as they were 20 years ago. Some kids aspire to go to college, and others just try to survive their circumstances. And sometimes those kids meet and change each other’s lives.

LaVaughn decided in fifth grade that she was going to study hard and get into college, so she could “live in a nice place with no gangs writing all over the walls.” Part of that plan is to earn and save money toward that purpose. Enter 17-year-old Jolly, who is the mother of two kids trying to make ends meet with her factory job. She needs a babysitter in the evenings, and LaVaughn needs the cash. But what begins as a mutually beneficial financial arrangement turns into a sort of makeshift family of four.

When Jolly loses her job, LaVaughn feels sorry for the kids and watches them even when she knows she won’t get paid. Knowing that her own mother wouldn’t approve of the teenage mom whose apartment is a mess—the mirror is smeared with toothpaste and the high chair corners hide rotting banana—LaVaughn doesn’t share too many details of her job. But the four of them manage to get by and even learn from each other.

The book draws its title from the central metaphor of the book, provided by the lemon seeds that LaVaughn plants for two-year-old Jeremy at Jolly’s.

Jeremy didn’t know what I meant “Wait a while.”

He didn’t know

the lemon blossoms wouldn’t come by Thursday.

I explained.

If you want something to grow so beautiful you could have a nice day just from looking at it,

you have to wait.

Meanwhile you keep watering it

and it has to have sunshine

and also

you talk to it.

Wolff respects her characters, who aren’t perfect but endearing. Though there are several poignant moments in the book, Wolff doesn’t stoop to manipulative plot twists or try to evoke easy tears. Humor mixes with compassion to address the serious issues, and the author never implies that getting out of poverty is an easy fix. But through persistence and personal growth, her characters make a better life for themselves and make lemonade when they can.