Sunday, January 11, 2015

My All the World!


I was asked by our beloved BFF Joshua Stavros, to write this blog for the Utah Shakespeare Festival (USF). I've had a blast doing it - thanks for asking Josh, it was a privilege!

I was born and raised as an actor/teacher/director at SUU/USF and this is the least I could do. I'm indebted to the careful training that I received at Southern Utah University under the tutelage of Doug Baker, Scott Phillips, Gary MacIntyre and Fred Adams. It was Gary Mac that actually said the words "you are a gifted director," to my face and I never turned back. (The power of a teacher!!!! I'll never forget it. )Those were the Golden Years for sure! SUU is still blessed with an amazing theatre department. I love that place so much. 

There was another student there with me at the time and he continues to create and produce the largest high school Shakespeare competition in the nation. 


Michael Bahr doing what he does best - giving
away scholarships!

This is for you Michael Bahr. 


***

I am following a bus to Cedar City today. I’m riding behind in my car because the bus is full. Full of “classically trained actors” they will tell you, though more than half of them have only been speaking Shakespeare for about a month. But if you looked at the rehearsal calendar you might bestow that title on them…they have worked as hard on these competition pieces as they have on a full-length musical.

Because there is a casket, two columns, 8 acting blocks and 45 pieces of luggage under the bus, my car is full of costumes. 45 Greek himations, 80 fibulae, 40 tunics and dresses. When we are fully dressed we look like were about to go to a toga party but really we’re about to go to a funeral for Julius Caesar. We didn’t get permission from the district to put weapons on the bus. So I have one broadsword, one rapier, two daggers, a quart of fake blood and a glue gun (just in case someone ask) in a box behind me somewhere. I’m totally prepared in case I get car-jacked along the way. Not only could I defend myself in a Medieval kind of way, I could really make it look good post fight. The police would be so confused.

I am recording this blog into the memo app on my phone as I drive. There are R.V.’s passing us. A billboard announcing the fall season at Tuacahn. Las Vegas shows we could go and see. Instead, what are we doing? We are chaperoning 55 kids at a Shakespeare competition. Who does that? I mean, who gives up a prime fall weekend to go watch teenagers do some 500 year-old Shakespeare and why is it my favorite weekend of the year? I need to get out more.

How did this madness begin?

Back in 2001, I had the rare opportunity to take a group of Lehi High School students to Edinburgh, Scotland to perform a play. We chose to do Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors set in our home town circa 1840: the Wild West. The American High School Theatre Festival (the company that had given us the honor of performing at the Fringe Festival) wasn’t quite sure a bunch of American high school kids should be bringing Shakespeare “back to the motherland.”

“The American kids usually do musicals,” they told me, “or devised pieces. We’ve seen some brilliant original pieces.” But didn’t we have to bring in an audience, I asked? I was pretty sure, that a Shakespearean Shootout on the Royal Mile would be more diverse than the overload of mimes and more entertaining than the musical version of The Crucible I had seen the summer before.

We carried on with our plan: A Wild west Comedy of Errors – every word of it beautifully delivered Shakespeare (without mics), complete with non-sensical saloon girls, 100+ Hanna- Barberra cartoon sound effects, and a hang man’s platform and noose that one of our dad’s concocted to fit in a piece of luggage made of a 4 X 4 and hinges. That was a heavy piece of luggage. We paid extra for that.

It cost us $4000 per kid/adult to go on this trip and raising that money was tough. But putting the show together might have been tougher. We rehearsed at six o’clock every morning in the summer so that the kids could go to work after rehearsal to earn money. Once the show was ready we toured it to earn more money.
The highlight of the entire trip for me came on the very first day. We were on a river cruise down the Thames in London. We had each been given a set of headphones and a box lunch. I could not keep my eyes open. I had not slept in months. As we cruised down the Thames the voice in the headphones was enlightening us about the magnificent city of London, which to me, looked a lot like New York, a giant canyon of concrete with its financial fury and business hubbub. Our heads would turn simultaneously left, then right, wherever the voice directed our attention. We had been traveling for about 16 hours and we were facing a soggy, gray cruise ride with an egg salad sandwich when what we really needed was a bed.

Then, the voice said “To your right you will see the famed Shakespearean Globe Theatre…” and I don’t know what else it said after that. We all turned our heads to the right and nobody turned left after that until it was out of sight. Nearly all of us started crying “straightaway” as the Brits would say. I sobbed long and hard. It was the first time in months that I felt fully awake. 

The Globe Theatre from the Thames, 2001
Because the tour company was afraid that a little high school from the American West had stubbornly brought Shakespeare back to his people, we had been “given the opportunity” to perform a few pieces of our show for some of the actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company the next day at the Globe itself. (I think it was a last ditch effort to save us in case we were horrible. I cried when we walked into the building. Then shaking their hands…then watching my kids perform, I was still crying.) These RSC actors were astonished at the talent. They couldn’t believe it. They sent us off with a laugh. “You sound like seasoned professionals,” they said. “How is it done at such an early age, and with Americans?” they asked me.

“Well,” I said confidently, “there’s this annual competition...”

Each October, more than a 100 keen drama teachers from several states make a pilgrimage to Cedar City, Utah to participate in The Utah Shakespeare Festival / Southern Utah University Shakespeare Competition. It has been happening since 1977, just 15 years into the Festival itself, when Provo High School’s drama teacher at the time, Ray Jones, convinced USF founder Fred Adams to hold a Shakespeare competition. At least that’s how I remember the story as it was told to me.

I am writing this blog as a tribute to the Festival for what it has done for me and my student these past 30 (ah, hem!) plus years that I have participated in this unique experience first as a high school student myself, then helping to run it as a college student and finally 23 times as a coach.

For the past 30 years I have watched the last of the vacationing R.V.’s race past us toward the majestic canyons of Southern Utah as our team wobbles South down Interstate 15 in an old familiar “yellow dog” full of 12 to 18 year-olds repeating pieces of Shakespeare in preparation for this, their “favorite weekend of the year.” My husband and I are not spending the last warm weekend in Utah vacationing! Bah! We can vacation anytime. This weekend we have the honor of watching thousands of kids grab hold of Shakespeare to spend the rest of their lives seeking him out. We get the privilege of witnessing the finale of the grand transformation – from Shakespearean scaredy cats to Kings and Queens of the Canon. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Hey, is that Lewis from King John drinking a
Coke in the Sharwan Smith Center?
Nope...just Matt Nott between rounds.

It’s an expensive, time intensive and all-consuming event. But I would not be anywhere else. In fact, in 2011, I had emergency retina surgery the day before we performed on the Adams stage and was under strict doctor’s orders not to lift my head for more than 15 minutes a day. The next day, I bribed my in-laws to drive me to Cedar City and I used my fifteen minutes to watch our scene compete. If you have been involved in this competition for any number of years you know why I did it. I’ve gone from bringing 20 students a year to well over 100. For actors, technicians, dancers and musicians, it’s a magical weekend (and somehow they don’t even know how much they are learning.)

Richard III, the living and the dead, Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts, 2013


Mistress Quickly with a mouth full of braces!
Turned out to be a very successful coach of her own
teams years later.

Some of my dearest friends are tournament officials that I have loved 30 years since I was a student there myself. I get the opportunity to throw my arms around Fred Adams and Scott Phillips who brought me up in the theatre and are still there and are now throwing their arms around my students. I’m like a homing pigeon to this place. They will be too someday.

I get to see my theatre teacher colleagues. They are some of my closest friends. I understand exactly what they are going through. We chose this profession but we still do it! Some of the people I respect most in the world are teachers and artists from other schools who also follow

Mindy Young and I (2005?)
their kids around with a bag of safety pins in their pocket (pretty sure it's required.) I know their spouses; I've been to their children's weddings. We've commiserated and communed as coaches behind the Adams Shakespearean Theatre now for more than 20 years. This weekend in October is all hallowed and marks the beginning of the theatre school year for us. We wouldn’t think of doing anything else. I love these people so much. I feel somehow that Shakespeare himself wanders around back here and knows us and is proud of us for teaching. (“Wish he was teaching a master class…” I often say to myself.)
For me the love of all things Shakespeare started when I was a Senior in high school in 1982 when I first attended the competition as Lady Macbeth. My mom made me and my scene partner long matching green capes. I still have them (of course I do.) They had arm holes so I could thrust my arms out and call upon the dark and scream “Come thick night! And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell…” Words I hardly understood then. Words I have coached a dozen times since. 


Jan as Lady M and
Gary Wilson as Macbeth, 1983!!!
I love that we had our name tags on
in this picture.

I instantly fell in love with SUU that year though I had been on its campus many times for debate competitions, it was the “magic” of the Shakespeare Competition that brought me to my knees pleading to God to help me find scholarship money at “SUSC” (and not have to debate at BYU!)

What is the magic, exactly? I mean it isn’t Disneyland but there’s something about this experience that has 3000 students and teachers cracking open a 500 year-old collection of plays and traveling to remote Cedar City, eating fast food for three days and getting boys to wear tights year after year. I believe we keep doing it for several reasons.

The works of Wm. Shakespeare have become so important to the
teachers of Utah, that the year USF didn't hold the competition
the teachers pooled their free time to organize it
and Tuacahn graciously hosted. The boy on the far right is
Joshua Long, who has since coached many
award-winning teams of his own. The girl with the gold
vest has a Shakespeare degree and lives in London!

First and foremost, it happens at the top of the year and an overnight trip binds the kids together in a team. And this is not a team for sissies. NO! There is no Neil Simon spoken here. “You must learn to elongate your vowels, throw your voice to the balcony, develop your belly muscles for breathing, remember your word endings, open your throat, your eyes, your brain and your body all at the same time while understanding ancient vocabulary and in a completely new order. Sometimes. But it means the same thing so just talk to us.” Yeah, right.

So I changed my mind. First and foremost, great Shakespeare training changes our kids into conquerors of the English language and authorities over the text, masters over their body and disciples of the stage. And they do it ON A TEAM. All for one. After the Shakespeare experience, they are mine, and he is theirs. The rest of the year is easy.

So apart from teaching a kid how to conquer and analyze the Shakespearean text…the next thing I love is that it teaches a kid how to work hard at the beginning of the year. It sets a standard early on. That means so much to me as a teacher!!! They go to greater lengths to choose a piece with a greater level of difficulty, read the entire play and dig for character and motivations, they project the levels and layers of the character very carefully, all of those things paint a picture of a student that goes above and beyond what they would do in class work. Let’s be real! I don’t get that kind of work on a monologue in class…ever! I never get that pay off in class, not even for region or state competitions! BUT, I do for the Shakespeare competition and then I have a reference point by which they can judge their work ethic for the rest of the year.


Robert Axson as Gobbo - 9th grade!
He took First Place. Now he works for
Senator Mike Lee.
I also love this competition because it’s the best judging the kids will hear all year. I still remember the words of actress Liisa Ivary who was my judge in the Thorley Recital Hall all those years ago. She said “When you have two identical words back to back, you have to make each of them sound differently.” Those two words were “Hold, hold!” I can’t remember what I ate yesterday, but I can remember what the brilliant Liisa Ivary said to me in 1982. I’ve used that piece of advice on my own students ever since.

Hold, HOLD! I firmly believe it was because of that Shakespeare competition in 1982 that I returned to campus and got my degree in theatre there. I believe that’s why the trophies have so much value…AND YET…we haven’t always won…still I feel every year we return victorious. It’s the magic! Does that mean we return with the plastic trophies on our bus? NO. No, no, nhho. noooo..nope….no! (I’m trying to vary them, as I type.)

No.

But would they if the competition didn’t exist?

NO.

Every year my kids have conquered a thing otherwise unconquerable without the platform of the competition to push and challenge them. They return with an admiration of the Bard I cannot explain. They come home wearing his face on their 
There's even a contest for the techies! (2002)
clothing, his words in their heart. They have somehow given him a “high five” across the perpetuities. They are no longer afraid of his words, they are peer and patrician. They have participated in the time honored ritual that brings them into the brotherhood of the highest of all Shakespeare fraternities. Whether or not they have a trophy in hand, there are never tears, and this the strangest thing of all…because there are never losers at this competition (I’m not sure how they do it but I think it has to do with the fact that it so darn difficult!) but every kid leaves having had the time of their life and trying to figure out what monologue they are going to do for auditions next year so they can come back. 
Cole Adams...now a lighting professor and professional designer

Next year!!! Ah! I must remember to reserve my hotel rooms for next year!

I digress…

I guess I can say that the last things I love about the competition is that they offer a great number of scholarships to actors and technicians. I have personally witnessed my students shaking their way back up the stairs, grinning from ear to ear as their dream of going to SUU has become a reality.

I love that the Shakespeare Festival honors one of their former actors, Larry Lott, by giving a scholarship to an exceptional high school student actor. My favorite memory of all Shakespeare Competitions happened in 1996 and again in 1999. My own brother, Brad, won the Larry Lott award first as a 9th Grader when we were at Mt. Ridge Jr. High together and then as Henry V at Lehi High School after I was transferred there. It was hard to cast Brad politically, but he was a very capable and gifted classical actor; he just got it (and he could grow a full beard in about three minutes.)

This is my ALL TIME favorite picture, even though it is blurry and pixilated. THIS IS THE MOMENT! Gloucester (Brad) getting stabbed by Clifford (Davy)! These boys became best of friends through this process. Between them they have at least 8 children - I'm not sure who is standing behind Davy, was it Patrick?
When they called his name for the award I almost passed out. Both times. When he came back up to the crowd he came straight to me and hugged me and thanked me for making him work so hard. He treated me like his respected teacher and not his sister. Brad didn’t end up studying classical acting, but Brad will tell you that the first weekend of October is STILL his favorite weekend of the year and he wishes with all his heart that he could still compete even though, Brad actually works at Disneyland! They can’t even compete with the magic of Cedar City.
1999.  Waiting for the awards ceremony to begin.
Brad Shelton, (left) builds Disneyland at Disneyland,
Beth Sharon (center) now a full-time mom
Dr. Nathan Miller (right) a medical doctor in the U.S. Navy

When recently polled, my former students agreed without 

hesitation, that “Shakepeare Weekend” changed their lives. No matter what they ended up doing with their lives, they have an unfailing love for Shakespeare to this day because of their connection to this event.



When trying to bring Shakespeare to the masses, change
it upa bit, I always say! You knew there were three diner
waitresses in Coriolanus, didn't you?
(Wendy is center)

Another significant human contribution that came to the competition through one of my teams was Wendy Milam Penrod. Wendy now runs one of the largest Improvisation Festivals during the Shakespeare weekend in the nation for high school kids. Wendy was “one of mine.” Uh huh. Really though, she is one of Shakespeare’s. I take no credit, it’s the magic.

Andy Hunsaker now hosts our annual
department fundraiser "Feaste!" to showcase
the Shakespeare pieces, songs and dances
that will travel to compete. 
I should also mention my husband, Andy Hunsaker, who competed at the Shakespeare Festival when he was a Senior at American Fork High School and immediately fell in love with SUU. He performed a monologue from Merchant of Venice: “…Hath not a Jew eyes, hands…?” Andy went on to go to school at SUU, he spent six summers as an actor with the Shakespeare Festival and they eventually grandfathered him into the Actors Equity Association. He now teaches high school where he coaches award-winning Shakespeare teams and sends his best students back to SUU by the DOZEN. It’s only right. 


Fortune telling at a party hosted by Steve Wynn in Vegas.
The creator was Doug Baker (standing next to me, second from
left. I had forgotten that the Queen was there too. ;-)

I stole the Feaste idea from Doug Baker who is a beloved friend and was my acting professor at SUU. He used to create these huge Feastes for Las Vegas casino high rollers parties. The money was used for scholarships. I wish they still did this! (They need to give out more scholarships!) Andy also played Henry VIII at USF and between the two of us, we combined our past knowledge of the two and created something that can easily be done with a high school Shakespeare company. I'm writing the script and instructions for my TeachersPayTeachers website right now at Jan's Store - Get Your Shakespeare Cuttings Here . Should be up and running shortly.

So, I’ve just about said it all. Except that one last thing; that ONE all-encompassing thing that I will never be able to repay the Utah Shakespeare Festival for all it has done for my students. I want them to know this one simple story before I close. This is the reason I will never be able to stop bringing kids to the USF/SUU Shakespeare Competition and this is why they can never stop holding it. (I’ve had to change the names for privacy purposes.)

Matthew was a student of ours (Andy and I) that had pretty severe autism. His mom warned us when he came in as a Ninth grader that he wanted to be in drama so badly but his contribution would be small. “Not to worry,” she said, “you are making a difference, but you might never know it. It will be hard. Please persevere.” Of course we did.

Well, we always cast a kid if he has the grades to compete. So Matthew always got cast. Besides that, he was a boy. A TALL boy. His mom said he would never be able to memorize anything and his Freshman audition was the definition of tragedy. He read every word off the paper. Still, we didn’t understand a word of it. He cried when it was over and we hugged him until he stopped. Drama One. Two. Passed every class with flying colors. Because he was a tall boy, he got some kind of role in every play and he started memorizing out of necessity, after all he was at a school where the boy to girl ratio was 5:1. Late in Matthew’s junior year we needed him to take a big role. He wanted it so badly. When he wasn’t working on stage with Andy he would be sent backstage to me. His mother and sister worked with him day and night. He paced backstage with his sister and his script every performance and one day it just…clicked. She walked away and said “he doesn’t need me back there anymore.” Over the summer between his junior and senior year, he worked to prepare his Shakespeare audition. On the third day of school he walked into that audition and took the stage but there was no paper in his hands, no shaking, no apologies. It was breath-taking.

          “I have almost forgot the taste of fears;
          The time has been, my senses would have cool’d
          To hear a night-shriek…
          …out, out, brief candle!
          Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
          That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
          And then is heard no more; it is a tale
          Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
          Signifying nothing.


I burst into tears. I was instantly swept back into the memory of Matthew’s journey. I cried all night. Matt now studies acting at SUU and will one day teach drama to individuals with learning challenges. Preparing kids to do well at the annual Shakespeare Competition is a joy and they will all tell you that it changed their lives. It brought bonded them together and set the tone for their high school experience.

Coaching is my only real skill. It’s the only thing I have 100% confidence in, passion for. I give that to my kids I think. They in turn use that their whole lives and pass it on in turn. The time I spend working out the vowels, consonants and motivations, the meaning of the text, breaking vocal habits, breaking down walls...I would not have discovered this if it wasn’t for the Shakespeare Competition every October. That time I spend with kids is my joy, my work, "my all the world."



It's purely selfish...I really just do it for the hugs!
Well, I’m about to pull into Cedar City. I just passed a billboard that said the casinos in Mesquite are open for business and that I can still get tickets for the musicals at Tuacahn where it is still 90 degrees and wouldn’t that be fun? Not as fun as watching my kids kill a Shakespeare scene. Not as fun as that!


***************


A FEW MORE PICS DOWN MEMORY LANE!

My first team as a coach. The girl holding the placard is Christie Gardner who played Charity Barnum for me last summer! Every face has a thousand memories connected to it!! I LOVED this team. I love them all! I dream of going back to a junior high program. After 24 years I can truly say, "that was my bliss."

This is my brother Brad as Henry or
Gloucester - I forget - but we always
costume the kids full out because I
believe the costume really pushes them
to know who the characters are. Kids need the
costume. And I want to thank MAMA KAY
(to the right of this pic) for the YEARS of
sewing she has done to put the kids in top
form!

My mom (MAMA KAY!) sitting (and freezing in the
Adams Theatre) next to Stewart Shelley before he became an
award-winning coach himself and was just chaperoning for me.
I have asked my parents to chaperone more times that they
actually wanted to.
PAPA JOE! (My dad) I think he may have loved the trophy more than
I did. Because he chaperoned so much, he knows how much
work it is.






Becky! Bless her heart she was the only one
that volunteered to learn how to tie knots
for tech Olympics. This girl saved my
life for four years. Now she's a famous
stage manager in NYC!
Lacy and Ben - two of the best high school actors that I have
ever known. Literally. This is the Merry Wives scene we
did one month after we got home from Scotland! (First Place!)
We were very tired of Shakespeare needless to say. 

Winters Tale! Lehi High, HyeSoo and Caleb. I will never be able to repeat that combination. It was perfect!
Ammon and Emilie from Othello. Scarrrrrrry and perfect.
Look at the intensity on those two faces! First Place!
THANKS KYLE COOK for the throne in the background!
Emilie is now a coach herself!
One look at Crystal's face (chaperone front right corner) and I can tell this is the bus ride HOME.
Is that 14 year-old Josh Long on that bus?


WAY TO GO - SHAKES TEAMS 1992 - 2014!
2015 HERE WE COME!

IF YOU HAVE ANY PICTURES YOU THINK I MIGHT LIKE,  I WOULD BE INDEBTED FOR A COPY! JANHUNSAKER23@GMAIL.COM











































Saturday, January 3, 2015

That's "Celibate" not Celebrate.


Spoiler alert: I just came back from seeing the historical thriller, The Imagination Game. Instead of being moved by this man that invented the first computer during World War II, consequently cracking the enigma code and saving 14 million lives, I was sobbing because of the way this war hero had been treated in 1945 after he had obviously helped the allies win the war. At the end of the film, they flashed the information that this brilliant scientist had committed suicide; undoubtedly, it was implied, because in Britain at the time homosexuality was against the law and he had been convicted of gross indecency for it and sentenced to prison. However, he opted for chemical castration rather than imprisonment. While suffering this indignity, he could not think, could not focus on his cutting-edge computer science work and consequently died just a year into his sentence – at his own hand.

I guess I’m writing today to the 76+ countries in the world where homosexuality is still against their laws. I guess I’m also writing to the people I was standing behind on our way out of the movie that I overheard say “it was such a good movie, except why did they have to put in all that crap about him being gay?” I wondered why the postlude at the end of the movie didn’t make you cry too.

I obviously belong to a religion that struggles with these “modern sensibilities” (a phrase I have been using lately.) I was asked by one of my beloved children (a student) one day “Do you hate me because I’m gay? To which I responded “Do you hate me because I’m Mormon?” He helped me understand that he would always be gay, and I helped him understand that I would always be Mormon. We both decided we loved each other and maintain a priceless relationship to this day.

So here goes…






One of the hardest things about being single in the Mormon church is that we are asked to be celibate until we're married.  

That's right. Celibate. I said. Not Celebrate. Contrary to what some people think about us we celebrate everything. This is c.e.l.i.b.a.t.e. until we are married legally. 

Usually the word celibate is connected to Catholic priests and nuns and followed by "those poor men and women...what a sacrifice they make, their whole lives." And there is some kind of revered holiness surrounding that decision that we feel for them. Some kind of pedestal. Right?

Except when I think of Catholic nuns I think of the Nunsense series of musicals by Dan Goggin and I instantly crave donning my habit to "sing out Louise!" I've got the best memories of playing “Sister Robert Anne” about four or five times, I've forgotten. All those feather boas, the tap shoes, the Bingo games with the audience and the CTR ring prizes (Catholics Totally Rule). Obviously it was musical theatre for me and not a convent.

But from age 18 to age 41 it felt like it none the less. 

It was lonely. Some crying...no...a lot of crying. Usually at night and anytime the bed felt larger or colder than it was. I got into a habit of falling asleep in my Laz-y-boy in front of the T.V. at night to avoid the vacant bed. That way, if I staggered to the bed later I wouldn’t have time to think about how empty it was before I had collapsed into my coma. If I got into the bed too soon the loneliness would wrap its creepy, cold arms around me and shake me all night keeping me awake with questions...wondering what was going to happen to me if I didn't find someone to share my life with? Who was going to help me out in my old age? Should I put more money into my retirement so I could afford to hire someone to take care of me? Should I build a house with just one bedroom or three, why three, maybe just one big one…okay two, I should have hope at least. Should I have my eggs frozen now? (Just kidding, I never thought that. BECAUSE I WAS D.U.M.B. and should have thought that but I was an idiot. I SOOO wish I had thought about that then. I digress.) The dialogue I had with myself never stopped.

When you are single you don’t have anyone to talk to on a regular basis and as you ask yourself all these questions all the time, the REALLY big question started to haunt me: what will happen when I started talking back out loud to the voices in my head? Will someone commit me to a psychiatric hospital? Should I just do that now to prevent the inevitable and at the very least save my family from having to do it?

Here’s my really big idea.

God did not intend for us to be alone.

Okay. It’s not a really big idea, nor is it even new or innovative in any way.

In His wisdom He said “celibacy sucks.” It sure does. Why not make two puzzle pieces that fit perfectly together, give them the desire to seek out that union and from that union, we’ll surprise them with children. Surprise! Or in Andy’s and my case, just someone to talk to, go to movies with and prevent my being checked into a rubber room.

Let me say this before I go on, this is something I truly believe:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” 
 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

So many of my spiritual brothers and sisters are struggling to live in the Mormon church as single celibate Latter-day Saints. My single friends that are holding to the iron rod of the gospel come in several categories. (All of them, future Gods and Goddesses.) I speak from my life experiences only! The celibate singles in MY life are: women out of their twenties who have never married and are still actively (or not) seeking a partner, divorced women who have lost their loyal husbands to adultery in various forms and finally, gay men. You heard me. I haven’t had a single male friend that is straight, that hasn’t endured his celibacy for longer than a year or two after a difficult divorce. I’ve known female friends (and acquaintances) divorce their husbands because they themselves have left the church, or they’ve had affairs themselves but their ex-husbands have been married within one or two years after the divorce. The same is true for the men I’ve known that leave their wives or get thrown out of their houses…I see their wedding invitations in the mail less than a year later. Always. We got one today! I don’t renounce their opportunity to be in a loving relationship, but I gotta wonder… is celibacy really harder on men or are women just more cautious learners? ;-)

See, I can name two dozen female Facebook friends over 30, and a hundred more over 20, off the top of my head that are living celibate lives as they believe to be commanded by God to do so. The only celibate male friends I have are gay Mormons “fighting the fight” as we straight Mormons like to say. Heaven bless them. I pray for them every day because I remember how hard it was for me all those years and YET… I used to be SOOOO BUGGED that we always tended to have more empathy for them than we do for the single sisters in our church that are celibate as well and have been for decades and decades (ode to a beloved Mormon friend who has played Mother Superior to my Robert Anne many times and is ten years my senior and still not married. We’ve had this conversation many times). I just couldn’t figure out why we felt so badly for the gays and kept telling the single ladies “in due time…in due time.”

I used to say “I’m celibate too! I’ve been celibate for 40 years and I’m probably going to be celibate for 40 more and they’re not the only ones that have been asked to be lonely!!” Have you ever said that? Yeah, I used to say that and only that. It used to seem like that was the answer. Don’t stop reading the blog now…there is a moment of enlightenment coming up.

In my mind, the issue of whether or not the Mormon church would allow gay Latter-day Saints in its doors has never been an issue for me. Half the men that sang at my mission farewell were gay returned missionaries. I know a few openly gay men that still go to church, still paid their tithing, still prayed for the answers like we all do. Before my enlightenment, the issue was only about celibacy.

And patience.

Isn’t it always about patience and waiting for further light and knowledge from the Lord?

I have a few gay male friends that are living celibate lives. I have a few thousand female friends that are living celibate lives. I exaggerate…for effect…but not much. I now realize that their search for happiness is certainly different and that’s what all the hullaballoo is about. And that is my newest really big idea:

          My female friends search with hope which increases faith and my male friends just…w.a.i.t. for further light and knowledge. The single, female Latter-day Saint uses her hope to be sealed in the temple and have children one day. But the single, gay, male latter-day saint must wait for…for Christ to come? The gay Latter-day Saint certainly doesn’t wait for his/her homosexual feelings to go away as some LDS people still think is possible. I’m pretty sure that that isn’t possible in this life. I’m not sure about the next one. (I’m waiting patiently and praying for further light and knowledge.) Searching and waiting…two very different things.

Can you see why there are tears of a different kind, patience to a different extent, sorrow on a different level, and the need for faith of a different magnitude? Can you see why the numbers of faithful single gay men in the church are so small?

Can you see why they need our love and support more than ever and not our shunning and banishment? They aren’t building faith on the same level as the rest of us. We are asking them to be a.l.o.n.e. for the rest of their lives in order to demonstrate their obedience. I laud them for their strength of heart and conviction.

Though I have been friends and have taught dozens of amazing men that struggle with their decision to come out, I still have no idea the depth of that loneliness.

As a faithful Latter-day Saint who lives and works in a world populated heavily with homosexual men, I have been asked to write this blog more than once. I have always said apathetically “it’s none of my business.” How could I do it without offending my beloved gay friends or broaching my own testimony of the living prophets who have said that homosexuality is a trial and a temptation that must be endured and not acted upon?  

What would Jesus do?

Because that’s what I should do.

In one of Thomas S. Monson’s April Conference talks entitled “Love-the Essence of the Gospel,” he says:

My beloved brothers and sisters, when our Savior ministered among men, He was asked by the inquiring lawyer, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Matthew records that Jesus responded:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Mark concludes the account with the Savior’s statement: “There is none other commandment greater than these.”

We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey. Likewise, we cannot fully love our fellowmen if we do not love God, the Father of us all. The Apostle John tells us, “This commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” We are all spirit children of our Heavenly Father and, as such, are brothers and sisters. As we keep this truth in mind, loving all of God’s children will become easier.

I would hope that we would strive always to be considerate and to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings and circumstances of those around us. Let us not demean or belittle. Rather, let us be compassionate and encouraging. We must be careful that we do not destroy another person’s confidence through careless words or actions.


Forgiveness should go hand in hand with love. In our families, as well as with our friends, there can be hurt feelings and disagreements. Again, it doesn’t really matter how small the issue was. It cannot and should not be left to canker, to fester, and ultimately to destroy. Blame keeps wounds open. Only forgiveness heals." [end quote]

My brothers (and sisters) that feel isolated from the church you love…I’m sorry that is your experience and you have obviously been treated badly by bad Mormons. Stupid Mormons. They act in a way not organically born of the gospel principles because they obviously don’t embrace the gospel principles. They aren’t listening to President Monson. I don’t know where they get their information. Case in point, my mother-in-law is from Australia and she converted when she was 19. She married a Mormon boy and his very Mormon mother told her that she (Andy’s mom) would never have the opportunity to reach the highest degree of heaven because that was only reserved for those that grew up in Utah. WHAAAT?!?! I nearly died when I first heard that. In my naiveté I guess I thought everyone in the church was on the same track. I hope someone is teaching her the truth right now, God rest her soul.

You see, when you hear the stories of families that are kicking their gay children out of the house, or stories of people that won’t take the sacrament from certain young priesthood holders…that stuff isn’t right. 

It's just not right.


But I hear and read Facebook posts all the time from bitter former members of the church that are absolutely vitriolic about the LDS Church’s stance on…whatever it is…homosexuality, women holding the Priesthood, etc… Both camps that are waving the flags of these issues must remember LOVE. Love is the very essence of Godliness.


Please know that we aren’t all like that. Please know that we don’t all live in that little bubble. Also know, from my point of view, you won’t convince the LDS church to change its policies with your badgering or your civil disobedience and negative posts on Facebook. The people reading your Facebook posts already love you. We just wonder why you would try to offend us, when we are trying so hard to love you? (I speak only to a few of you – just as there are a few ridiculous Mormons out there too.) I get really tired of the posts that begin “Mormon church..blah, blah, blah… hates the gays….hates women…blah, blah, blah…

Can’t we all just be like Jesus? And if you aren’t a Christian anymore, you can still be like Jesus. He was a good guy. Ethics exist even if they aren’t religiously based. Right? That’s what you always tell me.

So let’s review what Jesus would do…are you with me?!

1. Don’t judge.

We all have but one “judge in Israel.” If we open our hearts to someone different than ourselves, we will begin to feel the kind of Christ-like love the Savior has for us. He doesn’t choose who to love. We must strive to remember the mote in our own eyes.

We are in no position to say who has God-like potential and who doesn’t. We all do. By shutting off our superiority complex we can be a force for good. We do the opposite and all we’re doing is shattering the first and second great commandments.

2. Be sincerely understanding. Open your heart.

I’ve heard a few of us say “If I was that kid’s parent…” We don’t know that those parents aren’t trying to keep that kid from harming himself/herself every day. We all choose our battles.

I read an article on Facebook about a member of a congregation that would not take the sacrament from a teenage boy that professed to be gay. Wow. If I was that boy, I would run so far and so fast. The fact that he is in church at all should be what we are celebrating.

3. Be patient. Time will tell.

The longer we are patient the more our understanding will increase. Take a deep breath and leave this hard stuff to God. Quit worrying about it out loud (I’m talking to you, lady at the theatre) and use your energy to serve, love and learn. I’ve no doubt that one day the windows of heaven will open and we will all know the great and glorious plan of God in its entirety.

4. Stopping trying to change to each other.
I have heard all of the following things more than once:

a. “I’ll bet if they married a woman (or man if they are a Lesbian), they would eventually learn to love her/him.” And eventually destroy their spouses life. Yep. I’ve seen that scenario so many times that it hurts.

b. “Isn’t there some kind of therapy that will take the gay away?” No. I’m betting the Church and all those countries in which homosexuality is still illegal, have tried every degrading, inhumane therapy there is to “solve” the problem.

c. “They don’t know what they’re missing!” GAH! They would probably say the same thing to us.

d. “If they pray hard and long enough, their temptations will go away.” Sexuality itself isn’t a temptation. It’s part of your hormonal makeup. What I have learned from my students is that they didn’t learn it or contract it. It was always there. Case in point – I once had a student that was cast as a leading man in a musical I was directing. He was distraught and pulled me into my office to ask me if I could re-block the kiss somehow. He was having such anxiety about kissing a woman in public. He asked me simply, “what if I asked you to kiss a woman on stage?” I couldn’t deny I would be fraught with anxiety as well. But his plight made it real for me. I answered him with a question in return “why did you audition if you knew what was ahead?” He said he hoped he could talk me out of it when it was too late to re-cast it. Stupid kid. We both learned a lot that day.

5. Love anyway. We all know better!


1 John 4: 18 – 21; The Holy Bible

18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

19 We love him, because he first loved us.

20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

But I am willing to bet my life that Heavenly Father will soon bring us a multitude of answers and exquisite blessings as a reward of our patience.

I survived my celibacy because I knew my relationship with God was more important. I knew I had made promises to Him and I wanted to honor those covenants. Could I do that my whole life? Let’s pretend I didn’t marry the world’s greatest man. I’m sure I could. I have many examples to follow and I’m very competitive with myself. I would want to meet that challenge considering the things I have been promised that lie ahead of me if I can endure to the end. I love a big trophy, after all. 

Addendum...
For those sweet sisters out there that also have same-sex attraction...I have read your comments and I understand you are wondering why I haven't addressed you specifically. I apologize...my blog is about my life and experiences in the church and that's it. Its a very small perspective, and I'm no expert. Ever. I write about what I know. Because of the nature of my life and my job, I have had an overwhelming opportunity to get to know and love the male gay community. I can assume that your trials are equally difficult. I'm sorry and I pray every day that we as a nation, and a religion will honor your challenge with love and understanding. 


Monday, December 29, 2014

50

Written on November 23, 2014

I always like to dedicate these to someone…but this one is just for me. WARNING: Read at your risk. It’s heavy and I don’t want your pity. I just want to record, for my own benefit, the things that have made me who I am today on my 50th birthday. Be warned…despite this being the season of Thanksgiving, I’m not taking it well.

WHERE DID THE TIME GO?

My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Bone, (oh, how I loved her) made us figure out what year it would be when we turned 25, 50, 80, etc... I very clearly recall saying "in 2014, I will turn 50 years old!" As if the world would come to a full stop. The horror of it! I shook it off with a Lucy van Pelt "BLECH!" then recess or lunch or something and I moved on as if time didn't matter, because in 4th grade, time is relative and moves like cold tar down a low hill.
Good times, 4th grade.

Forward 40 years...My official papers say I'm 50 years old today. I'm not dead yet, however, every time I ascend a set of stairs and listen to my carbonated knees or empty a brush full of the hair I used to have, I feel that death is walking slowly down the hall toward me.

When did that happen? There I was sitting at the feet of my beloved Mrs. Bone and in a blink I’m still sitting in school (there’s half my problem right there)…but I’m the teacher and I’m signing up for classes about my impending retirement!

While shopping for props for a show, I saw a black balloon with a big “50” on it and it said “Over the hill!” When did I finish climbing the hill? I know I must have, because I have a very distinctive feeling that I am skidding down the other side of it now. When did I reach the top? Did I not pause to look out and appreciate the moment? I must have been in rehearsal when that happened. Damn plays, they rule my life.

I guess I should be grateful I can still see the trail before me and I can still remember the 4th grade, so that's pretty good.

But what did I do with all those years and what do I have to show for it? I feel, today, like I showed up at the bank to withdraw $1000 for a trip and all I had in the account was $87.50. Where did the rest of it go? What did I spend it on?

THE DEFINING MOMENTS

SEASON ONE AND TWO – The Classical Period

When I was a kid, every minute that I wasn’t in school I was putting on little plays, spook alleys, creating parties and fun. I have always liked to entertain people and I recognized early on, that that might be my only skilled contribution to the world. I was not a beauty queen. I learned that almost the first day I stepped into public school. I would never play Juliet. I would never be a famous scientist or lawyer because I was not the sharpest pencil in the box (I learned that on the second day.) But I could move people. I mean physically get them to do what I said and despite the early bullying era before I figured out how best to use my powers, people kept me around because I made them laugh, and gave them stories that made them forget about themselves for a minute. I would then pushed them into some kind of action. So I figured out how to catapult these skills into a career and I went about getting some papers proving that I could do it and teach others how to do it too.


SEASON THREE – The Medieval Times
I call this the Middle Ages, not because I was starting into my middle ages, but because it was dark. Like the Dark Ages. Almost Gothic in tone and style really. It was this time in my life that I was figuring out who I was. I didn’t do it in the teenage years like most people, I guess. In my early thirties I lost a man, a best friend, whom I thought I couldn’t live without. I gave a diamond back and burned a wedding dress. For about a year after it happened, I wasted time on hate. Then as time passed, I clung onto the idea that he might realize his mistake and return.

What I didn’t have the courage to do was to empty my heart of him. I became a person I didn’t like. I was scared to go into a grocery store for fear I would run into him. I became a kind of agoraphobic and stuck to my school and bedroom. I buried myself in my work until I was a recluse. I ate every meal in my car. In 1998 I produced 8 plays. One every six weeks. No human should do that. I thought – if he didn’t like me enough to marry me, there must be something very wrong with me

…as I suspected.

I spent this season of my life wrestling with my conscience, my self-image, my natural man. I fought my religion, even my art was stale and canned…I fought everything and everyone that tried to tell me what I needed to do to be happy. I was so lonely and I could see my siblings little families taking off like wild fire which normally would make me so happy! But soon enough I had a dozen nieces and nephews and I was livid about it. Not with them, but with God. I built up a wall of bitterness that could be seen from the moon. I built a house to manifest my singular power. I thought that house would say “I can have anything a married couple has!”  But the house engulfed me in loneliness further magnifying what I didn’t have.


In answer to the “stale and canned” art I was turning out, I went back to school and got a Master’s Degree in directing to further prove my prowess as a single person and I thought it would help restart the creative juices. It might boost my self-worth at least. When I was finished, with a 4.0, I was a top candidate for a theatre position at BYU. In the final interview, I was summoned to the church office building in SLC for my final interview with a General Authority.  It was a polite interview, more of the same questions and then…he asked me why I wasn’t married.

Gah! My heart stopped.

(This next part is real. It was a defining moment in my life and that’s why I include it.)

He said “We prefer to hire married women because we’ve had some trouble with our single faculty members…you understand.”  I did not, but I could assume some things based on his eye-rolling. He asked me if I was dating anyone and I was, sort of, dating a man I didn’t have romantic feelings for. But I sure appreciated him. I had dated a lot of men but did not feel the Spirit push me to pursue any of them romantically. I wanted to say “Do you know what’s out there?” but decided not to.

He then explained to me “perhaps you have the mentality of the high school students you teach. Love isn’t about the bells and whistles. You can fall in love with anyone over time…” This poor man that had been asked to interview me…he didn’t know how bitter I was, and how I was about to run screaming out of his office and out of the church. My head was swimming and then the nail went shattering into the coffin: “Sister Shelton, are you a Lesbian?” For the record I didn’t scream and go running out of the church office building or the church. I held it together until I got to my car in the parking garage and then I cried for two hours before I could even raise my hand to turn the ignition. In hindsight I wish I’d have said to him “being a Lesbian might be easier” just to see the look on his face. But I didn’t.

And for five more years it just got darker and darker. 

As the years went on I told people “I don’t need a man to complete me.” I started writing a book about this time of my life called “Ladies in Waiting.” It’s about patience. I hope someday I can finish that book and share it with other single women that feel lonely and left out of their very culture. However, getting married didn’t solve the problem. I still have that feeling today…only the category is different…but…

…I digress.

SEASON FOUR – The Renaissance
It took me nearly a decade to apply the old Buddhist adage “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” I was positively poisonous when I turned 40. It was no wonder I was still single. I think I was addicted to bitterness at that point.

The fact is, despite my catastrophic attempt at trying to get into BYU, I kept going to church – for one reason: I needed a companion in my life and I could not deny that Jesus Christ was that person for me during that time. I leaned on Him. I felt His presence in my life. He was in my home, in my classroom and His Spirit was all around me. I had no one else. Inadvertently, through those murky years, I was developing a concrete relationship with my deity that would prepare me for a Renaissance.

One Sunday, I saw a young family sitting on a church pew ahead of me with three little kids sandwiched between them and my heart leapt into my throat. I remained in my seat. I was determined to “grow up” and quit belly-aching about what I didn’t have and think about my blessings. I have always been blessed with a great amount of hope and faith. I just kept adjusting my grip to the proverbial iron rod because I could not deny the testimony I have that I am a daughter of God and that I am continually sustained by His angels around me.

So, after getting all of their kids settled into coloring books and Cheerios, the dad leaned over with his arm along the back of the bench and rubbed his thumb over his wife’s shoulder blade. They turned, smiled at each other and locked eyes for a long time, their eternal bond effortlessly projected. I will never forget that moment as long as I live.
 
I lost it.

I stood up and left the building.

I drove immediately to the nearest LDS temple parking lot and just sat in my car. I promised God that if he would take away my feelings of bitterness, I would serve him all the days of my life. But I was not going to keep searching for a man. I was done. He was going to have to give me one on His own. I was going to have to be okay with myself first. I was going to have to be able to see myself as a whole person and not some “Lady in Waiting.” Waiting for what?

So for birthday number 40 I reacquainted myself with myself. I let go of all of the feelings of guilt I had for not going to all those singles dances, I got rid of my account on LDSsingles.com, I buried myself in my work and I started consciously trying to expunge myself of the bitterness. BUT…I found out you can’t do it alone. You have to trust God and stay near your family.

A week after my 40th birthday, Hyrum Smith, not the brother of Joseph, but the guy that invented the Franklin Day Planner, came to my work and shook my hand. He said “come to work for me.” And I picked up and left my students, my hometown, my parents, and my bitterness.

And I started over by myself.   

What a person doesn’t realize is that you can do nothing by yourself. Working for Tuacahn was difficult because of the way I was hired. Nobody knew what to do with me. ( Chim Chim Cheree blog) I fought to be of value to them by staying at work for 18 hours a day. But on the weekends I visited my friends in Cedar City. One of those friends was Andy Hunsaker:  August 9th

Within one year of working down under I had married the “The Renaissance Man” as I like to call him. He was able to take me through a Mormon temple to be sealed to him for “time and all eternity.” Poor sucker. He could have had anyone. But we are like Harold and Maude – completely addicted to each other and living a kind of secret love affair every day. He is everything any woman could ask for. I was, after 41 years of waiting, rewarded with a spouse that sent me 50 roses for my birthday and has accepted the fact, that because he married someone with 50 year-old eggs, he will not raise children in this life. And he’s okay with that. Or so he says. I’m not okay with it. So I still wrestle with those feelings in my heart every single day.  But every time we attempt to go to an adoption conference or we secretly look into the foster care system, we have positively sick feelings about it. And if you’ve never felt the Spirit yell “NO” at you, then you don’t understand. Take my word for it. I want the kids on the church bench, the coloring books and the cheerios but God wants us to do something else with our time.

So…we do.

We raise other people’s kids.

But we are together…I am not alone.

SEASON FIVE…The Modern “Us.”
For the sacrifice of marrying me and putting up with my antics, God has blessed Andy with a new group of kids that are incredible in every way. He loves them so much and I believe it is a mutual admiration society. They are bright, well-adjusted, and crazy passionate about what they do. He works his butt off creating his Kingdom. From the looks of it, and of him (since he’s now 300 pounds lighter than he was 18 months ago) he has the amazing ability to look at each day and take what comes with humor, love and energy. He just goes and goes. I’m so proud of his first musical here – The Drowsy Chaperone. The audiences never stopped laughing. I didn’t go into one rehearsal. I felt…well I won’t say I felt good about it, but I felt good about leaving him to do what I know he is so good at himself…and it was amazing…without me lording over him…and that’s good. He’s getting a taste of what it was like to be me at 26 and he could easily spend 24/7 in his theatre classroom and directing his season, but he doesn’t have to, because…

…he has me backstage. I’ll own that role. It’s just a little bit painful.

Because I, on the other hand, am still fat. I’m still living in someone else’s house and I’m not teaching the thing I know and love, theatre, but I am teaching English (in a theatrical kind of way…the only way I know.) My kingdom has four walls and a couple of bulletin boards that I haven’t committed to yet. This is the first time I’ve dealt with kids that don’t take my class for fun. I try to read To Kill a Mockingbird in a way that will make them say “My English teacher rocks! I love that class!” SAID NO SOPHOMORE EVER. I am not used to that. I stay in the wings in Andy’s world because it’s his Kingdom. He deserves it. He is the ruler over his dominion at last and I am not his boss anymore, but just another faculty member in another building somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love giving that last part away. I hated administration and everyone knew it. It was me that wanted to get back in the classroom where I belong. But I am a stranger to this classroom and this curriculum.

I am good at what I do and I’m an actress who pulls off a great act 8 hours a day…but I am miserable. I am not happy when I don’t have goals and vision and right now I have neither one. I have become a Lady in Waiting. Waiting for further light and knowledge…

Again.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t had a funeral (or two) for my identity.

The only thing I can do at this point is keep working. I know I will eventually get comfortable and make this my home. I found this quote – thanks to whoever posted it on Facebook – and it helped me so much. It is e.x.a.c.t.l.y. how I feel.

So I have to accept this change. I sat in God’s holy temple and told him I would be appreciative if he could help me give away this new bitterness and a flood of memories came back to me reminding me of the dark bitterness I traveled though without Andy. As I sat there, it was confirmed to me that I was doing the right thing and exquisite blessings would come my way if I made this sacrifice work for me. So I will watch and wait patiently because patience is my gift.  

but I get to wallow for a while.

THERE ARE SOME GREAT THINGS ABOUT TURNING 50

Just recently, I started to notice that I have completely stopped worrying about what other people think of me. I am 100% comfortable in my skin when it comes to other people’s opinions about what I am doing, wearing, saying, eating, believing… I’m not sure it’s always a good thing (it has gotten me in trouble on this blog for example) but I feel so free from worrying what I am doing, wearing, saying or believing. I just don’t care anymore about so many things.

And I think that’s part of my problem right now. You thought I might say that the aging process frees you from all your cares? No. You just do it with no makeup on. AND you acquire this little passive aggressive smile because you don’t give a $*!&# when someone tells you what you ought to be doing, wearing, saying or believing. You will find out that someday all those supermodels you went to school with will be fat and shopping at Lane Giant with the rest of us. Someday all those wealthy hipsters that celebrate their birthdays with $20,000 bottles of champagne will realize that there are still starving children in Nairobi. Someday, all the naysayers will be wrapped in the arms of God anyway…because that’s how He is. So you just give up worrying about it.

Some things become null and void at 50 at last. The sliver of hope that I might be able to bear my own living child is officially gone. And that’s a good thing, believe it or not. I know what you're thinking. What about that woman in China that had a baby at 62? “Why don't you adopt? There's always foster care…” First: If I end up having a child at 62 you'd better start locking down for Armageddon because that will officially be a sign of the times. I’m not attending any high school graduations at 80. And secondly, see the paragraph where God says “no.” He sometimes says no. And He needs you to be okay with that because He’s probably trying to make something else happen for you. Sometimes, we need to step out of His way. Sometimes it takes 50 years or so for you to be able to look back and say “OH. I didn’t know that’s what you were trying to do. Excuse me for standing in the way…for being the obstacle of my own progression.”

50 takes your nagging hope away for good. I mean, for a while - all the way up until my last miscarriage (at 48) I lived with a little light in my heart that I might deserve the miracle of Elizabeth and one of those babies would live. But no. There were officially ten miscarriages total and ten is nine too many for any person’s heart to survive without some hard core therapy. That is coming.

And so, believe it or not, 50 is a good thing. I need closure there for sure. There is nothing worse than being pregnant when you know you probably won’t carry the baby full term and if you do there might be something terribly wrong with the child, and is that fair to a baby being brought into this nutsy world with aging parents, and what if it’s perfect in every way…shouldn’t we keep trying for that opportunity, he could be the next Abraham Lincoln…oh $*?&*!  SEE WHAT I MEAN?!? Yeah, that tightrope across a river 3000 feet below has been crossed. I did not fall, but my heart still aches when we sit among the young families in our ward during church. I’m told, from others who have been in my situation longer than I have, that it will never go away. But at least the anxiety of “whether or not” has gone. 

SOME NOT SO GREAT THINGS ABOUT 50
My body is literally falling apart. I sleep until 4 or 4:30 every morning and then my shoulders are on fire or my feet, so I have to get up and move. Then I’m wide awake and I spent an hour lying there thinking “Why don’t you just get up and study your scriptures or exercise?” But I don’t. I just lay there and think about what I’m going to teach that day and make lists…so many lists.

When did I go from taking a single multi-vitamin every day to spending 30 minutes a week filling up my pill dispenser? If you saw my bathroom you would think I was addicted to supplements and every time a new trend comes out I think...maybe I should take that. I’m panicking in part because of a decision I made nearly 9 years ago when I married someone so much younger than me.
 
My husband is still in his 30's and now I am in my 50's. I sometimes have the feeling that one day he'll wake up, turn over and say "when did this old lady crawl into my bed? What kind of trick is this?”

WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE
Mormons are blessed in their early Mormondom with a thing called a Patriarchal Blessing. It is given to us by someone that has been given Priesthood authority to channel God’s promises and blessings that I will enjoy throughout my life should I remain faithful and live a good life. It’s the greatest thing about being Mormon! The prayer, on paper, is about 2 pages long single-spaced. When I was on my mission, my mission president suggested that I memorize it. Have the promises in my blessing come to pass? After 50 years I can now look back and say yes, yes, yes. Amazingly, yes. But one promise in particular has not been as literal as I would like it to be.

Here’s the passage that haunts me. It reads: “You will be blessed to be a mother in Zion. Your children, and their children, will sit at your feet, and called you blessed for your honesty and your fairness.”

There was a moment a few years ago after my last miscarriage, when I was wallowing in my depression – I was pretty down – and I went to a rehearsal as usual, and after the rehearsal I said “carpet up!” as usual – which means “come-sit-at-my-feet-because-I’m-not-leaving-this-chair-and-I-will-give-you-notes-about-your-performance.” Everybody knows that after rehearsal, the director gives notes to the cast to fix for next time. They aren’t always positive, but my job as a director is to make them look good, so the notes are always honest. This is the part where I have been known to say “let’s take the suck out of that scene next time.” But over the years I have learned to add a lot of humor so the notes become less chastening and more “you can do it, we’re all in this together!” It was in that moment that I looked around at the setting and remembered my blessing… “your children will sit at your feet…”
And my heart was full.


And the memories flooded back of kids sobbing in my office, asking my advice, preparing for college auditions, hanging out in my classroom at lunch, saying “we heard you laughing in the audience!” hugging me on closing night. All of those memories are mine! All of those blessings –my kids gave me all of those blessings.

I need to slap out of this 50 thing. I need to listen to my own advice! It’s all about patience… and now – even the blessing of being 50 allows me to look back and see how blessed I have been!

And will be.

This I know for sure.