Thursday, June 29, 2006

Returning to the motherland

What I'm listening to: "Left Me a Fool" (Indigo Girls)

This weekend, I'm traveling to PA to spend some time with the fam. My parents bought a new house about six months ago, so they're having an open house.

Over Christmas, we helped them pack and move everything, and I was a lot less nostalgic than I'd expected. Part of this is because we'd already gone through the process of packing up my grandparents' house in 2000, which was extremely difficult. THAT was the house I associated with my childhood, and still do; I often find myself dreaming about that house. The yellow curtains in the kitchen window, my blackboard and chalk in the basement, the strangely comforting smell of Camel cigarettes, iced tea with mint picked from Grandmom's backyard, the big orange pillow I'd sprawl on with Pop to watch "Lawrence Welk" (while we ate Breyer's peach ice cream), the blue flowered blanket I'd snuggle under in the back bedroom, the drawer full of dress-up clothes (which Grandmom would always stuff with fabulous scarves)'s amazing how clear and vivid those images are, whereas the memories of 117 Drexel are quickly fading.

I think this is healthy. For so long, I clung to old plans and expectations. How couldn't I, when every time I visited my parents' house, the entire street was rife with memories of my childhood and young adulthood? I moved away from home when I was 21; yet whenever I'd come back for a visit, I was immediately a kid again. And this was not necessarily a good thing.

Now, it's a whole new start for everyone. My mom is finally away from the street she grew up on; my dad finally has a flat lawn to fuss over. My sister is finally moving on to campus next year. And as I keep telling my parents, this new home is a PERFECT "grandparents' house." (Here's hoping!)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"So no one told me life was gonna be this way..." (clap clap clap clap clap)

...or, "why watching Friends makes me philosophical."

Back in high school, I was convinced I'd made the best friends of my life. Jenn, Erin, Dan, Tom, Jim, Pauly, Trish, Joey Freds...we loved and supported each other through break-ups, first dates, parental pressures, disappointments, driving tests, the works. Every morning, we'd gather in front of the auditorium to greet each other dramatically (my specialty was jumping into the arms of a waiting boy--we WERE theater geeks, after all), dish about the weekend, whine about our latest rehearsal, flirt, cry, cram, and laugh at the underclassmen who would desparately try to infiltrate our group. (Our favorite target was Angela--a poor soul whose facial mole would mysteriously migrate from day to day.)

Then college hit. We all scattered to different colleges, and even though nobody went very far (Dan was the brave soul who went to NYU--a whole two and a half hours away!), things changed. I tried valiantly to keep the home fires burning, but things were just never the same. This was before the time of email, so communication was limited. Yet I began to wonder--how valid was our friendship in the first place? Was it just circumstantial? Out of sight, out of mind?

Since then, I've approached friendships with a big ol' yield sign. I'll make the first "move," but you need to reciprocate. Friendships need to be nurtured; they can't be accessed simply when you're going through a rough time, or lonely.

I've also realized the value of cultivating a friendship with one person, instead of toting around a whole passel of peeps. Granted, passels are fun, but as I get older, I cherish a glass of wine with a girlfriend infinitely more than screaming in a bar with a bunch of quasi-friends.

Luckily, I have found some friends up here who follow the same policy. Most of them are through the "Jesuit Mafia" (Nick and I both work at Jesuit schools, which are rife with young, interesting, intelligent people--not to toot my own horn!), but I think that common bond is a valid one. We've known each other long enough now that we're starting to push past the politeness phase. I can be open and honest with them, warts and all. We're all starting to realize that we are flawed, weird, difficult individuals...and that's okay.

It's tough to find real friends. Yet once you make them, the real work begins--keeping them.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Weekend Cheers & Jeers

To Hal Sparks, Chuck Nice & Judah Friedlander at Caroline's Comedy Club on Saturday night!

To "A History of Violence" ($3.00 and 96 minutes of my life I'll never get, Viggo Mortenson, BOO!)

Gelatinous Grey Matter

Yup...that's pretty much the state of my brain these days. Every summer of my life has been occupied with SOMETHING--camp, work, wedding planning, grad classes, SOMETHING to keep my brain active and nurtured--but so far, my 29th summer has been largely uneventful. I'm starting to feel bored and boring. During dinner last night, I actually asked Nick what his favorite kind of pasta was. Really? REALLY? This is what my conversational skills have devolved into?

I could do a number of things, I suppose. Finish that book I started writing last summer. Yet the few times I've returned to it in the past week, I find that I've stumbled across a huge writer's block. I could read all those books I assigned for summer reading. But after starting two of them, I grew bored and turned to "Entertainment Weekly." I'm kind of "literatured out" after the school year. I could take yoga, wander the city, take a class, go to a museum. Jesus, I live right across the river from one of the most exciting places in the world! Yet I long for someone to DO those things with. And pretty much everyone is working.

It's times like these I start romanticizing about moving back to Philly. But really, what would I be doing there? Probably the same thing.

The problem is, we're going on a cruise at the end of July. Which will be an AMAZING experience, I'm sure. But it's cutting into any sort of plan I could have made--any job, class, play I could have done. (It's a family cruise, so I didn't have much say in the planning.) Just last night, I got an offer from a playwright I've worked with before to do something in the Strawberry Festival. But it opens in early August, so I'm sure I won't be able to do it since I'll be away.

Waaah, waaah, waaah, right? All I long for during the school year is a little free time to myself. Now I have gobs of it, and I'm getting antsy.

Part of this is because the last time I had so much free time was the summer of 2000. I was finishing up my second year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps--a pretty stressful year, in many respects--and once summer hit, the depression I'd kept under wraps all year had plenty of room to take over my life. I was overcome with a terrible, prevailing sense of sadness, just wanting to sleep my days away.

After that year, I've been sure to keep myself extremely busy. As Joan Baez states, "Action is the antidote to despair." My friend Gwen recently complimented me on how full my life seems to be, and how she envies my involvement in so many things. Really, it's all selfish--it's just to keep myself occupied and alive.

Nick has been very understanding--humoring my need to go out and do stuff at the end of the day, when all he really wants to do is play X-box. ;)

On Saturday, we saw a fantastic production of "Antigone" by the Urban Youth Theater at Henry Street Settlement (one of Nick's students played Eteocles). As I was watching these incredibly talented young people, I kept thinking of my own summer theater experience, and how GOOD it was for so many kids. (It truly amazes me that while music and art are pretty much a given in the curriculum, as they should be, theater ALWAYS takes a backseat. I blame the thousands of BAD drama teachers out there who give theater a bad name!) Then I started toying with the idea of creating a summer children's theater in tandem with the Attic. (Don't you love ideas that come JUST a few months too late?)

So I'm going to explore this little project over the summer, since I know squat about grant-writing or fundraising or any of that hoo-ha. Maybe next summer...who knows? I'll have found the antidote to my despair.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Lord, what fools these actors be...

What I'm listening to right now: "Sweet and Lovely" (Bing Crosby)

So last night, I was invited to a reading of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." I got to read Helena, which was a happy surprise--I was all set to read Snout and call it a night.

The concept was great--gather a bunch of actors together in the gazebo at Van Vorst Park, nosh on strawberries and chocolate, and just read Shakespeare aloud for the fun of it. Yet every time we took a break to stretch our legs, I was reminded of how frighteningly neurotic actors can be.

There was no conversation to speak of. Rather, everyone just kind of talked AT each other. Loudly. And nothing of substance, really--just lots of quoting movies and fake British accents and quasi-naughty double entendres.

Immediately I was transported back to the Bluett Theatre at St. Joe's (my alma mater), where drama geeks ran rampant under the tutelage of the late Dr. Olley. Tears, lust, jealousy, backstabbing, and diva fits abounded. Once, this guy playing Jud in "Oklahoma" threw a spoon offstage because the chorus members were breaking his concentration.

I am NOT excusing myself from the equation. I certainly did my share of diva damage--storming off many a set strike because the tech director demanded that I actually pick up a power tool, when all I wanted to do was sweep sawdust half-heartedly and flirt with the lone straight boy in the cast.

This is why I love the Attic Ensemble, a little gem of a theater company nestled in the heart of Jersey City. They are good peeps. Most of them have day jobs, and real lives, and just have a passion to create good theater. One night, I got to the theater early (we were doing "The Exonerated", see above), and ran into Mark--lawyer by day, set designer/actor by night, husband/father all the time. He was still dressed in his suit for work, and was just wandering around the theater, alone, with a little grin on his face. When I came in, I said, "Wow, you're early!" To which he quietly replied, "Oh you bet. This is my therapy."

My free time is scarce during the school year, so my theatrical exploits are usually limited to one or two a year (with the occasional staged reading thrown in here and there). But there is nothing better, after teaching all day, to just sit on a stage and have someone boss me around for an hour or two.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Suddenly, it's summer...

What I'm listening to right now: "Pick Yer Nose" (Ani DiFranco)

And to celebrate, my darling Nicky (thank you, Prince) and I packed up Rocco, camping chairs, a bottle of wine and headed to Hoboken's "Movies Under The Stars." Every Wednesday in summer, they show a movie in Frank Sinatra Park, overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Fantastic way to ring in summer (and a little less crowded than the movies in Bryant Park).

Okay, can I tell you how much I love Pandora? The new music site, not the myth (although it is a great story--be it Pandora or Eve, gotta love that the evils of the world are all blamed on a woman!) Anyway, with, you just type in a band or song that you like, and they'll customize a radio station for you. And it's FREE! As much as I love my ipod, I do get sick of listening to "my" music all the time. (Yes, I know I sound like a commercial--I tend to appoint myself unofficial spokeswoman when I get excited about a product.)

My big plan for the day is to watch "Twelfth Night" (the '96 version, with Helena Bonham Carter). I'm 99% sure that's going to be our fall play, so I want to start preparing for our production meeting in July. I was toying with the idea of setting it in a modern-day high school, but I'm always wary of being too "gimmicky" with Shakespeare. If there's a rhyme and reason for a specific design concept, great, but if you're doing it just to be "conceptual," it can be wacky-tacky. I was in a production of "Joseph" once, set in modern-day Philly. As you can didn't quite work. In fact, it was pretty craptastic. :p

So we shall see. As I'm reading the script, the idea of a college campus in the 1920s keeps coming to mind--sort of during a reunion weekend, with Sirs Toby and Andrew as rich old college alums. Then there's the whole question of the shipwreck...I might bite the bullet and rent that stupid Amanda Bynes movie "She's the Man" just to see how they approached it.

But I might feel dirty afterwards.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Belize it or Not!

What I'm listening to right now: "Box of Rain" (Grateful Dead)

Here's a pic of me (I'm in the doorway, on the right) and my students in front of the house we built in Belize City! We spent 10 days (June 6-16) building a house for Erna, a 33-year-old mother of 7.

A sampling of memories, too countless to recall:
-fabulous breakfasts of fryjacks, tortillas, beans, and pineapple on the terrace
-visiting the children at Lucky Strike School (yes, named after the cigarettes...)
-evening reflection under the stars
-doing the punta with the Garifuna Dancers
-stew chicken with rice & beans
-playing with Erna's beautiful baby girl, Ashira
-singing "Lord of the Dance" at St. Martin's Parish
-snorkeling in the Caribbean (and swimming with sharks and stingrays!)
-blessing Erna's house (with Mark on the bongos and Abel on the guitar)

This photo was taken after the last event. In the sweltering heat, we gathered in Erna's new home, sang songs, listened to readings, and presented her with her very own keys. Afterwards, we spilled out into the front yard and kept singing--everything from Bob Marley to Lone Star.

Traveling changes you, irrevocably. Compound that with service, and you're permanently marked. As the JVC slogan goes, "ruined for life." Even though I'm back in my air-conditioned living room, settling into the lazy routine of summer (yoga, writing, walking Rocco, catching up on T.V.), I can't stop thinking about the incredible people I met in Belize, the sounds, the smells, the FOOD, the spirit.

This whole trip was affirming in so many ways. The students kept asking me why I did JVC (Jesuit Volunteer Corps), and although I've given various answers over the years, I think I finally got it. Yes, I wanted to help people. Yes, I wanted to be praised for something other than theater. But quite simply, I wanted to meet new people, to be associated with a certain type of person--altruistic, grounded, REAL. And nothing but good has come of that.

Sure, my life has taken a detour. I always had a vague vision of moving back to Philly, joining some theater company (perhaps even starting my own), and becoming some sort of local stage celebrity who had dabbled in doing good for a year. But when I think of the numerous blessings I've enjoyed because I stayed up here...I can't imagine my life any other way. And this trip to Belize was yet another wonderful affirmation of that.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A space of my own

A blog of my own! After politely reading and commenting on friends' blogs for years, I've decided to take the plunge. Why, might you ask? Well, the writing bug has come back full force. Yet, much like exercise, the hardest part is actually getting off the couch and making it to the gym. The hardest part for me is turning off "E!" and making it to the computer (for something other than checking my email or googling someone I did a play with in 7th grade).

So we'll see where this shall take us. The summer stretches out ahead of me like an open road, but I'm just sitting at the intersection biding my time. Hopefully this will spur me in the right direction.