Thursday, August 30, 2012

Exotic Basement Living, Part 1: I'm a Commuter Now

Note: I haven't blogged for nearly two weeks. School started two weeks ago for me. The learning curve is straight up right now. I DID however, write a blog about Rock Center's special hour-long broadcast on the Mormons...but when it was finished, or when I thought it was finished...the Lord didn't. So I didn't post it. Not sure what was wrong with it yet...just felt wrong at the time. Maybe later. 

August 28th, 2012

Every morning at 4:42 or 4:43, I get up automatically. My brand new alarm clock is set to go off at 4:45. But...I have never heard it go off because at 4:42, or three, one eye pops open, one arm staggers off the pillow and I am able to click it to the off position before Andy has to hear it too.

I'm not able to hit the snooze. I'm terrified that if I don't sit up immediately, I will not ever get up...ever like two-weeks-of-sleep ever. Like coma ever. One morning I tried to just lay there for three more minutes...but I almost had a heart attack. I imagined that I had gone back to sleep, slept until noon, 2014, and when I woke up I was skinny (because I hadn't eaten since 2012)...or maybe I was skinny because I lost my job and we could no longer afford to eat. Probably the latter.

I had a sleep test in 2010. It was interesting. Andy encouraged me to do it right after we got married because he didn't understand why, even if I went to bed at five in the morning, that I got up and moving sometime around 8. It concerned him that I could exist on so little sleep over long periods of time. I think he just wanted a doctor to tell me that I needed to sleep more, so that he didn't feel guilty about sleeping til ten. Right? But once the light of day's over for me. There are things to do. Never mind that I can't focus, have been known to fall asleep at the computer like a narcoleptic and  can't keep my eyes open if I sit down. The logic defies gravity, I know.

The sleep test revealed that I don't have sleep apnea, but I do have a very active mind. In fact, the doctor said, "what kinds of things are you planning all night?" And Andy laughed right out loud. He said, "do you wake up with good ideas and have to write them down?" I was amazed! "YES!" I said. "Do you wake up with anxiety or guilt that you slept, when you could have been doing things on your lists." I said "what lists?" He said "the ones you write in your sleep. "Yessssss....." Sleep makes you feel guilty? "Yessssssssssssssssssssssss." I hung my head in shame.

That was when I was introduced to Ambien.

Half an Ambien is all it takes to get me to sleep. But three hours of sleep means that the five hours after I wake up... I walk through an Ambien fog reminiscent of Season One of The Walking Dead. Do not say anything important to me during this time. This strange habit created what my friends like to call the SEVEN DOLLAR NAP  I blogged about it so long ago, that the price of the nap has gone up to $8.50.

We left two full time jobs in exchange for one full time job and three part-time jobs. W.o.r.t.h. i.t. But now Andy works at Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts in the morning, Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts in the afternoon and Olympus High School in the afternoon doing an acting gig for our good friend Robin. American Fork AM, Salt Lake PM. I work at SLSPA from 7:30AM to whatever PM daily. I'm very lucky and the people we work with are such stellar artists that we felt it was worth it to get our toes in the door, hoping one day it would be full time for both of us.


Because gas costs more now than tickets to Wicked, we decided that I would take public transportation to Sugarhouse each morning and Andy would drive up later from Pioneer, teach at SPA, and take me home. It's working out really well. Except for the fact that I now have to take two buses and a train to work which I haven't had to do...well...I've never had to do it. I also have to wake up at the butt crack of dawn...4:45(2) in order to get to work at 7:30. Still, we don't feel that we should move to Sugarhouse quite yet...I feel like something is in the hopper for us. We are blessed to be able to live in my mom's basement until the planets align, I guess. We really have no idea how much money we will be making with this hodge podge of jobs, so until we do...exotic basement living it is!

Public transportation in Utah is relatively new compared with most states. But I think we're catching up. We have a really fast train now called the "Front Runner" and it's an express that runs along the Wasatch Front (hence the name) and only stops three times from Provo to Ogden. It's similar to Japan's Shinkansen (the bullet train) which I used to ride once a month to go into Tokyo when I lived there. Fun, fun!

Let me tell you what happened this morning on my "commute." Cuz' I'm a commuter now.

I woke up at 5:03! The alarm was ringing but it was a pleasant sound I didn't recognize. Oh wait! Because I had never heard it before!!!! I need to change that sound to something more akin to a jet landing, or someone being run over by a train. Something more urgent than the cheerful default bells. Don't the alarm clock people know about Ambien? I had wrestled with the Rock Center Blog until...far too late the night before. Like...2:30 late. My fault. So my heart was racing when I got up to shower. Blow dryer, teeth, underwear, work clothes, bus pass, bag, wake up Andy, cereal, Andy drives me to the first bus stop where I catch the 5:50 to the Sandy Trax station.

We raced to the bus stop just in time to see it pull away. I wanted to throw up. I contemplated just going home and getting in my car and driving up, but I was a danger to the public at that point. Andy knew that too so he followed closely behind the bus until it stopped again two miles down the road. I got out of the car while it was still moving and waved my arms at the bus like I had just walked across the Sahara without water. I'm ridiculous like that. Andy was probably crouched down in the seat with embarrassment. But I got on  just before the doors shut. Relief! My blood pressure was probably sky high but I felt like a Charlie's Angel.

Since I had skipped the cereal step to make the bus, I sat down and fished through my giant bag to see what I had floating around in there that would save my bus buddies from my stomach acid breath. I had three or four Jolly Ranchers left over from an object lesson I had given the week before at Teacher Inservice. Hurray, an all candy breakfast! Mmmmm...Jolly Ranchers.

In about 10 seconds I was fast asleep with my head bobbing up and down over my bag and still very conscious of the fact that if I didn't hold myself up, I would C.R.U.S.H. the small college student next to me. I call this horrible sleep state "bus napping." Miserable self-torture. How do you know when to wake up?

I did however get up when the lights came on at the Sandy Trax station. My next stop. I tapped my pass at the kiosk, transferred to the nearly empty train, and was asleep again in about 15 seconds. That train stops about nine times before I have to get off again and transfer buses, yet again. But I was so tired, I don't even remember if anyone sat next to me. I was OUT. When I woke up the train was packed and stopped at 21st South. MY STOP. I saw the doors shutting as I lunged for them and missed the bottom step, throwing my bag toward the platform and just barely missing a full swan dive into the path of the oncoming train. My blood pressure was so high, no sleep, no food, I was in that state where your teeth feel like tin foil and your creating a lot of saliva for no reason. That state.

The near fall really woke me up though.

I blinked a couple of times and started staggering toward the next bus station. Because SPA (Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts - my new school) has open enrollment, a lot of the kids also ride the Trax trains getting on at various points from all over the valley. We all meet up eventually at this last stop where our school bus picks us up and takes us 20 blocks East to our final destination. It's tricky, right!? Better the three transfers than falling asleep in morning traffic.

I made it over to the crowd of kids. I've only known them two weeks but it feels like a year. They are great kids. Everyone says "Hi Jan!" and I close the gap hoping I can lean up against the Best Buy wall and keep myself upright. A few kids are talking about me I think. Too tired to focus on what they are saying. Probably auditions, I think. One sweet girl looks at me. Then looks back. She looks at me a few more times and then comes over to me. I thought she might need to ask the millionth question about auditions (Legally Blonde auditions are next week) and was trying to get up the nerve. I said, "Hi," and she said "Hi. Um....Um..." I wish I knew her name. "Do you have a question about auditions?" I asked. "Noooo, " she says.

Pausing... more pausing...hmmm... I wonder. Well, what then?.....

"You, you have a Jolly Rancher stuck to"

I look down.

Oh hell. There it was. A sticky, green apple Jolly Rancher was stuck to my upper left breast. Luckily, it wasn't two inches lower. I thought back over the morning...when did I eat a Jolly Rancher? Today? I vaguely remember popping it into my mouth clear back in Lehi. It must have been wearing it all morning.

I slapped my hand over it and laughed. "Oh my heck! Thanks for telling me!" I said as I pulled it loose. She smiled and melted into the crowd. One kid was playing the guitar, several were singing, a girl was warming up for her first period dance class. No one cared that I was wearing a Jolly Rancher.

New trend?

The point is, and I do have one....

I was missing the Tuacahn kids terribly yesterday because they were all reacting to their Shakespeare Company cast list on Facebook. I was not going to be their coach this year. I am no one's coach this year. First time in 23 years. I didn't know I would miss it so much. Or maybe, I didn't know I would miss the Tuacahn kids so much. I thought about the individual kids as they posted, and I knew what they each needed, I knew what struggles certain kids would have with that language and I felt an heart-broken...but I'm so busy I didn't even think about it until I saw the kids posting and reality finally hit. I didn't know how it would feel when they started getting cast in another coach's shows, no matter how much I like that coach. It tore me up all day and all night. I hope they remember everything I taught them.


There I stood, being held up by the wall at the Best Buy on 21st South waiting for the school bus, holding a slobbery piece of candy in my hand, when it hit me....

Kids that attend arts high schools don't care if you wear Jolly Ranchers, but they cared that I might care. So someone was nominated to come over and tell me...but no one even noticed how mortified I was about it. I just stood looking at those great kids and the girl that was brave enough to quietly tell me...she was talking up a storm to someone else. I stood there with a Jolly Rancher in my grip and no place to throw it.

I looked around. No one was even looking at me. No one laughed. There was no pointing. The song was still going strong. Two girls were now warming up together. A girl was confidently wearing a flower in her hair, bigger than her head. One kid was reciting his audition piece just loud enough for me to hear it, on purpose. Yep. These were my people. I found my people, again. Thank you Heavenly Father, for these kids. And thank you for this job. And thank you for letting me really sleep on the train. I needed that. 

I'm going to be okay here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

It Is What It Is

It's tough to be an educator. You knew that going in. So...quit your belly-achin'. (My dad, 1991)

Every teacher is in their classroom padding the nest with disclosure documents, colorful butcher paper and a mini-fridge full of Diet Coke. Can you feel it in the air? The chickies are about to come back to the nest for a nine-month visit. Not sure while I've always called my kids "chickies" but that what they have always been. It makes me feel like a bird? No... It makes me feel like eating worms? Closer....

I have a friend that has been working on her classroom for the last two weeks without any air conditioning. The school district can't afford to turn it on until the kids arrive. She's working to set up her nest like she's back in a Bronx sweatshop, circa 1898. There are laws, aren't there?

I would be molting...stripping off my clothes as I entered the school every morning. PSHT! Add a hot flash to the mix and I would march right down to the front office to sit in the privileged front office, where they actually have loads of cold conditioned air. Those secretaries would understand. Not sure if the parents and kids waiting to register would get it, butt...too bad. You would see how fast the air could actually be turned on, just to get me back in clothes.

We're not so bad off at my school. We have swamp coolers...but the actual invention of "central air" has not quite made it to our school, so I have been taking extra shirts to work so that I can change half-way through. Learned that from my friend Mic.

We've been enrolling kids in a steady stream for two weeks now. The eggs are just hatching right and left as if Horton flew the coop.

Let me digress...

For those of you gleefully entering your kids back in education this week, can I just plead...if you know you will be in a new school, register your kids sooner than the night before. I know its impossible sometimes, but the day before school starts, is like getting ready for a huge party you are going to give all year. You don't know how many guests will arrive and no one gave you any money to throw the party in the first place. People keep inviting themselves, the numbers go from 210 last Friday to 257 on Monday. You may end up with 400 people at your party. Where will they all sit? How will we get them all in the room? Who's going to bring the special purple punch?

You know I'm kidding about the punch.

I have three documents to write tonight, a poster to design and email that needs answering before the Freshmen and new transfer students arrive tomorrow in their hip new clothes and backpacks that still zip shut. I'll be wearing a skirt from 2007 and, if I can get them glued back together, my black sandals...the ones I bought when I played M'Lynn in Steel Magnolias in 19...something. I'll have microwave mac 'n cheese for lunch and I'll make sure to have a fire extinguisher near and ready because there will be 12 to 257 fires to put out tomorrow. No biggie. To coin an Effie-ism from one of my dear friends in the Washington 8th Ward "IT IS WHAT IT IS."

Here I sit...writing a blog about being naked at school and drinking special punch.

I am not going to be able to solve the world's education problems tonight. I am not going to be able to find a pair of shoes that fit tonight nor do I have the energy to make punch for 400 tonight. It is what it is.

I didn't always think this. I remember working "free of charge" 12 hours a day the weeks before the kids arrived and put up bulletin boards with hand-glittered lettering and a glue gun. What I found out is that glitter can cut your eyeball and hot glue can take your fingerprints right off. Well anyway if you were the punch server, no one would be able to trace it back to you, right?

See...see how something like third-degree burns can be turned into a positive?

I was brought up by two optimists. You'd have to be optimistic to have eight kids on a teacher's salary. I was also brought up on the phrase "well, with that attitude..." which is another mighty quick way to shut down negativity. I've caught myself wanting to say both "it is what it is," and "well, with that attitude" about a thousand times this week. It's hard what we do. But we need to be more positive about the fact that what we do is a sacred calling! Let me say it yet again...It is no small thing when a child is placed in your path!!!! We chose this profession. We knew.

Yet, we blog. We complain. We go to our Negative Nellie place. We sat through four hours of "policies and procedures" or as I like to call it "How to Keep Yourself From Being Sued." I am very conscious of my non-verbal language. Several times in the meeting I had to remind myself to smile and think about presenting my energy in a more positive way. I should know better.

Mormons, as a general rule, are optimistic. We consider both work and tribulation to be a blessing. We have that pioneering attitude that when the wheels fall off your cart, you pick yourself up and move down the trail Minerva. We are the "CAN DO" people. (I think there's a state that claims that motto, but I'm just borrowing it for the blog, don't kill me) Think of the sacrifice, the fear..."walk this handcart full of your stuff 1500 miles west...stop when you feel like it," they said. "Can do," we said right back. And we did. Did we always smile? No. No, we didn't. But we rejoiced when it was over...what am I saying? It's not over till I get my air conditioning!

I'm a generation or two from the actual Utah pioneers but their blood and sweat is what developed this part of the country and I am forever grateful for their sacrifice. So what if the air conditioning isn't on yet and 50 kids we've never seen, signed up to be taught by us! Awesome bonus! There are worse things...

Like pulling a float in a summer parade in 100 degree weather. Think about that sewing job my mom had to do while you look at this picture of me, as a 12 year-old girl forced to wear a polyester caterpillar costume while pulling a plastic pom-pom nest down the street, full of crepe paper blue birds.

It was what it was! We weren't pulling a hand cart but the elasticized crotch in that costume might as well have been woolen underwear. At least they didn't put an extra pair of pom poms on the top 1/7th of the costume. There's that! We didn't have to do our hair. See?! Didn't have to shave our legs! We had a lot of help too! (The next year the float was pulled by just my brother and me and we wore Clydesdale horse costumes. Not kidding. Nothing says sexy like the world's biggest horses. Still looking for the pictures.)

Still I feel like that smile is genuine. I was happy with my assignment despite the fact that my antennae wouldn't stand up and with every step we took the legs of the costume would creep up into our promised valley. (Incidentally, the blue-bird that is smiling and looking toward the camera is my sister Penny. Nothing cuter than that. She has five kids now.)

The truth is, whether your birds are leaving the nest this week (parents) or coming back to it, we all build our nest, now we have to pull it around. No...that's not it...You built your nest, now you have to wear the costume...No....

I know....We'll build the nest, we'll sit on those eggs until they hatch, and eventually, they will slowly peck us to death, or eat us.

Kidding! It is what it is. Happy 2012 - 2013 everybody. We might survive it.

(Not with that attitude!)

Monday, August 13, 2012

That's My Olympics

Note:  Anni Rogers - this one's for you.

My dad's DVR is full. Full of the Olympics. "Just in case I want to go back and watch something." He had seven channels earmarked for recording every sport, 24/7 for two and a half weeks. Occasionally, I would wander in to see what he was watching, comment on the uniform or lack-thereof, the eight-pack, or the questionable gender and move down to my exotic basement living situation and pass out from the stress of the new job. 

I stopped to watch diving yesterday. A guy stood on his hands on the very edge of the diving platform. I simply could not believe that a human being could do something like that. Then after what seemed like an eternity, he jumped, tucked himself in half, did about 27 turns then disappeared into the water leaving three little drops of water in the air behind him. A.H.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

I said to Andy, "you could do that, hon. I'll work while you train for the Olympics." The only response: "Meh...its pretty hard to fold an orange." Then off we went to cut out the rest of the costumes we're going to need for our next show.

I'm dumbfounded by the training and the sacrifice that an Olympian puts in to breaking a world-record or the minuscule chance that they might stand on the medals platform for their 15 minutes of fame. It's incredible. I wonder, however, do they ever look around and see the lighting, or wonder how many years it took that costumer to learn how to work with Lycra? I'm typing this as I watch the closing ceremonies and the reunion of the Spice Girls. w.o.o.t. There are probably 300 Df-30 diffusion hazers being used in the stadium. Know what those do? I do.

The point is...everyone is an Olympian in their world. Over the course of our lifetime we gain the skills we need and make the sacrifices we have to make on our painstaking journey toward breaking our own world records every day. Not everybody has to learn how to fold their orange, thank goodness. But can you aspire to be the best ___________ on the earth?

One day in 1992, while I was directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Davis High, I didn’t feel well at all. I felt clammy and nauseous. Thought I was going to throw up all day, but never did.  I felt hot. Then cold. I needed to pee, but never could.  I had a side ache that I couldn’t shake. I kept twisting right and left, trying to pop my back. At one point a kid said to me “Are you okay?” And that was strange because, kids rarely notice a teacher, rarely really even look at a teacher. Their teacher is there to give them assignments, grade them, clean the room they sit in and make copies of the next day’s assignments. They exist merely as an obstacle to be gotten over. You too shall pass, kind of thing.

It’s quite a feat we’ve done. We’ve created an entire race of human machines. The expectation never changes from student to teacher…okay in rare cases you will find an occasional kid really listening to you as if you were given them their wi-fi password for the day. But let’s face it…the education machine does not change. It might look a little different from teacher to teacher but…the roles, the functions…same. Same in America. Same in Japan. Same in Zimbabwe. The ratio of giver to give-ee is almost always about 36 to 1 (though you know I don’t believe that ratio works worth squat.) There are books, writing utensils, worksheets to finish, problems to solve, papers to write all over the world. You can write a paper on Dickens in Thai too. Same old, same old.

Whoever started this tradition, Eve to Cain and Abel probably, was setting us up pretty good. Except for the teacher/student ratio, nothing has changed in…about that long. Cain was distracted all the time and needed an IEP (Individual Education Plan) and Abel was…well, able. He was the Sterling Scholar in History, hm…not much to study…let’s say botany.

I digress....

But still, while Eve was teaching them the name of all those plants and animals surely she had her days when she didn’t feel well? Days when she said to herself “I should have gotten a sub.” But did you see the guy that broke his leg in his race, keep running? I did too. Damn him!

Nevertheless, that day in 1992 I should have gotten a sub. 

But it’s so hard to prepare for a sub. Much easier to come in and slosh through the day. Sick You, is way better than the 80 year-old deaf lady with Herbie Goes Bananas in her purse.

So I was surprised when my student said “You look like you’re going to throw up. Maybe you should go home.” That’s nice of her. Thinking about my welfare.  Or did she just not want me to throw up on her? Or cancel rehearsal. Either way.

I made it through the day, but my back was killing me and a strange white ring had appeared around my mouth. Then after the last bell rang and the second half of my day was beginning, rehearsal, I actually thought about cancelling it. The kids would be thrilled. WAHOO! They would all scream. Thaaaaank yeeewwww!  And the room would clear faster than Michael Phelps can swim the 200 meter butterfly.

Why did they always feel like it was easy to skip rehearsal? Because they had yet to realize the sacrifice it takes to put on a gold medal performance. Was it my responsibility to teach them that? Probably. Besides that, when would we catch up? We didn’t have extra time built in. We had two more shows to do after this.  WHAT KIND OF MARTYRS ARE WE?! I could call in the choreographer to work dance, but I'd have to pay her. It was so close to opening, and today, TODAY, the play was going to go from a stinky poop show to a gold medal show and I could make that happen in one rehearsal. (Uh huh...keep telling yourself that.) Sacrifices must be made.

As the kids were filing by me, someone said “maybe we should cancel rehearsal you look terrible.” And that made me furious. You’re welcome for the sacred opportunity to be in a play at my expense you little ingrates…and (since it was their idea), I said instead “you think YOU should miss rehearsal? I’m against cleaning up rotten vegetables after the show. Let’s go take the 'suck' out of the show.”

About an hour into rehearsal I sat down. Two hours later I almost called it quits again, but there was a WHOLE HOUR we’d be missing…. waste not want not.  Three hours of “I love thee not therefore pursue me not,” murmured by a 15 year-old actor, later…. And I was sweating like I’d just run a marathon. We had met some goals and that was important. But I could barely talk at that point. 

I stood up to leave the auditorium and carefully put one foot in front of the other, grabbing the chairs one at a time for balance as I inched up the aisle.  I didn’t think I was going to make it but all the kids were outta there. Why didn't I just cancel rehearsal? I would be home already. It seemed to take an hour to get to my car.

I said a prayer for the drivers that would be on I-15 with me for the next twenty minutes. I prayed that I would be able to get to an emergency room without causing other emergencies. So stupid. But right before my apartment exit, I pulled over, popped open the car door and threw up. Finally! WHEW! I felt better! So instead of going to the emergency room I went home. I was feeling gooooood. (In comparison, I guess.)  I was so close to home, I decided the emergency was over. I told my sister (who was my roommate) that I should probably go to the hospital but I was going to wait and see if I died first…just kidding.

She was running out the door to get her boyfriend from the airport. She said she would take me to the hospital when she got back. So na├»ve. We lived about 15 minutes from the airport, but many things create airport chaos and an hour later I was in so much pain I thought I was dying for sure. I pulled my cheek off the cold bathroom tile and tried to stand. 

I didn’t have a cell phone in 1992 and I could not walk at this point. I could pull myself up to a crawling position and I crawled from my apartment, outside to the apartment next door. No one home. Next door. No one home. I went down the stairs, on my hands and knees, to the apartment below us and a young married girl, Carrie, who had been in our ward before she got married, was home.  Thank you, God. 

I imagine standing in her shoes right then…seeing the girl from upstairs on her knees sweating and slobbering all over her nice new door mat. “Can you take me to the hospital?” What faith this girl had! I was drenched in sweat. I looked like I'd just been thrown in a swimming pool. I was very literally foaming at the mouth. She could have gotten rabies for all she knew! 

But, she didn’t have any gas. She had to stop for gas. Ah, newlyweds. She had also left the house without her purse. Can’t blame her. She was freaking out. And I was twice her size, so getting me into her Datsun was an olympic event in itself.  

I had some cash in my pocket, but I had to crack myself open to get a hand in there. We finally got out enough sweaty change to get to the HMO on Redwood Road. Apologies to the employees at the Flying J gas station in North Salt Lake in March of 1992. That pile of bubbles and tuna? Just vomit. Not nuclear. Sorry.

At this point I thought I might be trying to pass a kidney stone, because I had experienced that on my mission in Thailand, several years earlier. Sure enough, I was suffering from the #1 teacher ailment in the USA, kidney stones. We don't get to pee when we need to because we'd have to leave 36 kids alone to trek to the nearest faculty bathroom!

Anyway, it took them several hours to get the pain under control...that's another story. My good dad came from a meeting he was at in Salt Lake and held my hand through the night. The only thing I could think about, after waking up in intensive care the next day, was “I didn’t leave a sub packet.”

I pictured a deaf lady pulling out Herbie Goes Bananas and the kids sliding down off their seats like Dali’s melting clocks: "Brrrgrgaaaaahhhhhhh...why did I come to schoollllllllllllll????????? I wonder if rehearsal is cancelled?"

I don’t remember much about Midsummer. I'm sure the kids pulled it off. I still have the t-shirt. But the kidney stones and that poor girl that had to check me in, God bless her, I'll never forget her act of kindness. She had, without a doubt, set a record that day for "Best Neighbor." Give her a gold medal.

I didn’t have to terrorize her like that. I should have called in sick when I felt the first stabbing pain, the day before. But I was afraid to waste the time. I was afraid someone would think I was just sluffing. I was afraid someone would say I was lazy. I was afraid someone would say I didn't care what my show looked like. I was afraid someone would say I didn't know what I was doing. I was afraid someone would fire me for my inability what? Take care of myself? 

SO dumb.

We interviewed someone for a piano teaching job at the school last week. As we were listening to him talk about his skills, he mentioned that he earned $50 an hour teaching private lessons.  I thought “WOW, this guy has skills. I wish I had some skills.” I don’t think I meant that I don’t have skills. I just don't have "pageant skills" as I like to call them. Skills you could show off in a beauty pageant. I have skills that aren’t really named…like “the ability to shut down a group of teenagers just by staring at them,” and “the ability to fix a fog machine, with some spit and a paper clip in the dark.” Oh yeah. Those drama teacher skills - not exactly Tchaikovsky. NEVER worth $50 an hour.

But...aren't they?
  • I am a producer, contract specialist, artistic director, team manager, casting director, concept designer, dramaturg, certified acting teacher, people mover and arranger...
  • I am a music director, accompanist, voice teacher...
  • I am a choreographer, stage combat designer...
  • I am a costume designer, fabric buyer, cutter, stitcher, milliner, finisher...I can set a grommet in 9 seconds.
  • I am a set designer, builder, lumber buyer, hardware expert, painter, mover, safety controller...I actually know how to weld. Yep.
  • I am a sound designer, i-tunes specialist, sound board mixer, microphone repairer, cable runner, battery changer...
  • I am a lighting designer, buyer, colorist, special effects creator, light board operator, mood maker, electrician, circuitry mathematician, follow spot expert.
  • I am a props master, pyrotechnician, historical decor professional, craft innovator, spray painter, glue gun queen.
  • I am a public relations diva, graphic designer, press release writer, professional photographer, advertising mogel, poster printing expert, post master, radio ad maker, poster hanger, ticket seller, house manager....
  • I am an accountant.
  • I am a teacher, nurse, psychiatrist, custodian, mediator, psychic, wailing wall. 
If there were an Olympic event for eclectic skill accumulation, theatre professionals would have a desk full of gold medals. But just because you CAN do it all, doesn't mean you always SHOULD. So when someone offers you $250 to produce their musical, the first thing you should say is..."per hour?" But do we? No. We say "that sounds like fun!" or "maybe they'll see what I'm worth and pay me more next time." No. They won't. You worked so cheaply last time, they'll never offer you more money. You have to stand up for yourself. For your Olympic-sized skill set! Will a Principal like me more if I stay at school until 3 in the morning? No. He won't even notice. Will my peers think more of me, if I do 7 shows a years? No. They'll think you're dumb. What if I don't win the Shakespeare trophy?..d'oh!... never mind, that's a bad example. ;-)

Many of us are going back to school this week. (As if we haven't been working all summer) I'm starting a new job at Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts. Andy is starting at TWO schools, SLSPA and Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts. I'm excited to use my skills at a new school. But this time, I'm going to try to accumulate a new skill...taking care of me. 

My new mantra this year is this: 

I am a theatre Olympian! I change lives. I save lives. But in order to do that, I must keep my head in the game and my feet on the floor. I must fill my brain with creativity by watching theatre, being in theatre, studying theatre, joining with other theatre professionals. I must be abreast of the innovations, opportunities and evolutions in theatre that will make my life easier, my students more competitive. I must work harder and more efficiently (and not past 6:00 (PM!) But this pressure is not meant to dissolve me into a pile of kidney stones. No teacher can light a flame without one themselves. Since I get paid the same for two, I will not direct seven shows a year. I will not be angry when my most talented students choose to go to the local college. I will smile at fuming parents and not take their emotions personally. I will read a book that I want to read. I will eat at normal times during the day. I will pee when I need to pee! I will get more help. I will not fundraise for shows. I will protect the kids that are the true future of the art but I will not double cast a show. I will lock my door if I've had enough. I will not take the health of the drama world upon my shoulders! I will have a social life! I will reclaim my life as MINE. I'm T.H.A.T. I.M.P.O.R.T.A.N.T.'s a pretty big mantra. Definitely too long to chant while sitting in the lotus position. Let's face it, I'd never get out of the lotus position if I said all that. But remind me, when you call me at midnight and Andy and I are still at school painting...remind me that I wrote this blog in my last free moments before hitting my 23d school year.

23 first days of school. 7 schools. It used to give me butterflies about a week before. I would be up cutting out bulletin board pieces until three in the morning the night before. Tonight I’m blogging. Hehehehe. 23 years. 

It’s not that I don't care as much as I used to. But I've become very good at the seven minute bulletin board. My mental and physical health is most important. Would Carrie Walsh spend the night before a game hitting volleyballs over a net until the game starts the next morning? No. She’d eat a small animal and then go to bed.  So tonight, I’m eeeeeeking out the last moments of freedom…they are mine!  

Tomorrow I will take my Olympic-sized butt back to my new office and I will passionately run my race for the next eleven months. Marathon runners got nothing on me! I will keep up with the competition. I will pace myself. I will push through the injuries. I will hydrate! I will bring home the gold. Cuz that’s my Olympics (bitches.).

Saturday, August 4, 2012

To the Storm Cellar Kresdane!!

Note: This is a big one. Worth the read, if it takes two days, I promise.

Uncle Henry: Come on, everybody to the storm cellar! 

It sure would be nice to have someone that could predict the future and prevent us from running into the things that might bring us grief or sadness. And it sure would be nice to have a place that you could hide while life's tempestuous weather swirls above us. 


(and there's always a butt)

We have to go right through life. We have choices sometimes, but we can't avoid the occasional tornado that picks us up, swirls us around and tosses us down into some unknown land. We know this land, it's just different because we're different. We've gained something from the tornado. We've gotten courage. Or heart. Or knowledge. 

There was a girl. 

Ernestine and Lloyd
She was growing up in Adelaide, Australia, with her mum and dad. She was an only child. Which is a certain dream of mine sometimes and sometimes I feel really bad for kids that don't have a sister to call or a brother to play cards with. She always longed to have siblings, to be part of a big family network.  She craved it. But we know that the great and powerful protector cannot always give us what we want. He has rules he must keep. would just be a big magic trick, wouldn't it? A dream, perhaps. And... it's not. 

She was born to a mum and dad that didn't know God. They were Agnostics. Even though they had embedded Christ in their daughter's very name. 

But from an early age, she had a feeling that there was someone watching over her that she couldn't see all the time. But, strangely, sometimes she could. In fact, one night she was laying down with her mum (who didn't feel well most of the time) when her dad was working late shifts. She said "Mum, do you see all those people on the ceiling?" Mum was concerned. This was not the first time her daughter had pointed out beings she could not see herself. Why did she constantly want to know about Jesus Christ and God?  Why did she beg to have family prayers and go to church?

One night, her grandmother was complaining that her pet crow, Blackie had flown away for good. They had not seen Blackie in days. The little girl suggested, to the room full of Agnostics, that they have a prayer and they burst into laughter, but because she was a child, they were smart enough to remain tight-lipped while she prayed. 

The next day Blackie was back. 

Ernestine "Mum"
When the little girl was six or seven, her mum started getting headaches and things around the house "got tense." Her mum spent a lot of time in hospital and with dad working, the little girl began searching for a family in earnest. She surmised that the key to peace in their house was within the bible. So she asked her mum to give her a bible for her birthday. 

As her mum spent more time in the hospital, the girl was farmed off to neighbors and distant relatives that didn’t really want her. She started reading her bible from page one. A neighbor took her to the Assembly of God and she witnessed a visiting Pastor from America, exorcise a woman "full of demons."  The Pastor warned the audience, "if you have sin, when these spirits leave this woman, they will try to enter your body. All they want is a body. So if you have unresolved sin, leave now.” To the little girl’s surprise, no one left. She was terrified, because she knew she had told at least one fib that week. Surely the evil spirits were going to come straight for her. The Pastor waited for someone to leave, but when no one did, they put large wooden boards on the doors to prevent people from leaving once the spirits were loosed. The little girl started to pray "please don't come into me, please, please don't come into me." Her faith was strong and she survived the demons.  ;-) But her curiosity had peaked.

When she got home she refused to sleep with the light off and her dad refused to let her go to church anymore because of it. But dad was either at work or at the hospital and soon enough, the Assembly of God was her refuge. There she could pray for her mum to get well hour after hour. She would go to school and walk home in prayer, "please don't let her die today, not today. Please, God, don't let today be the day." Over and over again. 

The girl heard that Billy Graham was proselyting in Adelaide and she begged her parents to attend. Mum was home and wearing a real hair wig. There was an air of hope in the house and they decided to attend the mass conference with their little religious fanatic.  Thousands of people gathered to hear the young and dynamic preacher. He said...and she quotes "We all have shortcomings in the sight of God. But it doesn't matter what you've done. If you come to Him right now, if you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, you will be with Him in Paradise."

It was the only thing she needed to hear.

Her dad was sitting there smoking a cigarette, waiting for it to be over, when she stood up and headed for the saving. Both parents leapt forward to stop her getting lost in the multitude. She begged. She promised to stay visible in the line. And because they had nothing to lose, as Agnostics are bound to feel, they let her go. She knew her dad was following her at a distance and would rather be at home, but he sacrificed his precious time off for her. This sacrifice, was a lesson she internalized and applied the rest of her life.

She had, at last, formally, publicly, accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior!  Every month, all the years she was growing up, she received a little plastic set of scripture cards that she memorized. They are still there in her head when she needs them, which is something not many of us can say. 

Despite her constant and abiding prayer, when she was 11, her mother lost the war she fought with her brain tumor. But by then, the little girl was sure her mother had finally been introduced to God, and she smiled at the thought of it. God would take care of her, and her mother. 

Through her years of physical growth and change, she was raised by her good father who was deaf. One child. One deaf father. Imagine the quiet. Imagine the solitude. With only the occasional yelp of a terrier named Binky to help them through pre-teenage misery. 

So God set the girl on her yellow brick road. I’m sure He cried a little, knowing, what was ahead for her. But she had to go through it to get “home.” There's no place like home. 

She turned to pop-culture and music as teenagers do. It was 1964 after all, a veritable candy land of music. The Beatles had just toured Australia and she was in love. With them. She got to see them live in concert, which is something, again, not many of us can claim. Australia's population had just exceeded 11 million. The Aborigines had just been counted and added to the census for the first time. In America, a baby was born that would become her future daughter-in-law. Time they were a changin'.

Then one day her Aunty Nelda "threw an apple" at her. She said "Oh what a pity, you look just like your father and your mother was so beautiful." And it stuck. She never forgot it. It never morphed into a back-handed compliment, never got lost in the filing cabinet of memories. It polluted everything, as those kinds of off-hand observations do. And she was an only child, so sarcasm was probably lost on her, if it was meant to be sarcastic, as opposed to those of us that grow up throwing apples at each other and learning how to catch and throw back. 

She never learned to throw back. Not because she couldn't, but because she wouldn't dream of it. It wasn't in her character. She absorbed it. She collected the apples in her basket and they made her stronger, but eventually it erased her smile. 

Aunty Mona
The major female influence in her life was her mum's sister Mona. Aunty Mo adored the little girl and it was a mutual admiration society. Mo was very ill and bed-ridden one time when she felt her spirit leave her body. She was keenly aware that she was leaving the room, but her body, still lay on the bed. When she got to the door, she said "what will happen to this little girl if I leave her," and her spirit rejoined her body and she lived to help the little girl buy her wedding dress 7 years later.

Gorgeous! Mod!
Dorothy: Do you suppose we'll meet any wild animals?
Tin Man: Mm, we might.
Scarecrow: Animals that eat... s-traw?
Tin Man: Some, but mostly lions, and tigers, and bears.
Dorothy: Lions?
Scarecrow: And tigers?
Tin Man: And bears.

With her teenage awareness of pop-culture and the vocabulary and smarts of an only child, she learned to accentuate her assets. She was gorgeous; dark hair and massive blue eyes that could speak volumes on their own (and still do). Many older men were in love with her and she could have married any of them, but she was still carrying her basket of apples and her insecurities trapped her in love with a young American man who was in Australia helping his father build Mormon churches in the area. (I imagine he was very tall and handsome at the time because I know his sons.) 

In 1967, in her desperate search for a family, she believes The Great and Powerful led her to the wife of the church builder. It had been 6 years since she'd had a mother's influence and this young American man's mother entranced her. "She was so amazing, she slept with her lipstick on." (warning!) . They told her about the Mormons, what they knew anyway. The girl felt God had put this family in her path. Of course she grabbed hold of her church and her son.

We'll call her son...John.

John was drafted to Vietnam and they wrote to each other. Things happened to soldiers in Vietnam. I'm sure he came home with his own basket of apples. He had changed. But she would absorb that too. She dreamt of getting married in a Mormon temple, the reward for keeping herself chaste and focused. He promised they would, as soon as they returned to America. But when they returned, he did not qualify to enter that sacred place and his family, with their pride to protect, his mother staged a wedding reception for the good people in town complete with pictures and stories about how beautiful the Manti Temple sealing was. Just far enough away that no one would know, it didn't actually happen in the temple at all. 

It was the ultimate act of hypocrisy. And the first time she realized she had given up her freedom to this family. But she was blessed with good instincts and she already knew there was something very wrong with the church builder’s family.

She felt, she knew, that all Mormons were not like these Mormons.

Dorothy: Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more.

John threw a big rotten apple at her one day by asking her not to smile anymore because he thought she had “buck teeth.” If you look at the pictures of her life, you can almost tell when that happened. It makes me so sad to think a man had the power to take her smile away.

Family vacation with John at Disneyland
About a year into her marriage, her beloved father died in Australia and she went home to bury him. She already knew her marriage was a mistake, but how could she tell them she'd been wrong? Now she had no one. No father, mother or sibling to speak speak to. So she continued to speak to God. 

Professor Marvel: Better get under cover, Sylvester. There's a storm blowin' up - a whopper, to speak in the vernacular of the peasantry. Poor little kid, I hope she gets home all right.

She was not old enough to live on her own in a country she barely knew. So she fought to survive. Her Mormon family, it turns out, really didn't know much about the religion they'd grown up in. And because she was a scriptorian, the contradictions drove her crazy. They also told her that because she was not born in America, it was a sign that she had not been as faithful in the pre-earth life and would not be eligible for the highest degree of heaven…as they were.

She suspected that wasn't right. Remember, God had been protecting her since she saw the angels hovering over her when she was a child. She just knew...somehow...that what they said, was the evolution of truth that happens in the Mormon church when you… stop attending. But there were so many of them, and their circle of influence prevented her from making a single friend outside the family. They told her she spoke "too well" and she should speak like a "normal person speaks." So she tried to toss the Australian accent and dummy down her vocabulary. She didn't know who she was anymore. She surely didn't know her husband, whom she suspected, was having trouble keeping his promises and vows. But...

She was pregnant with his child. You might think this is just one more tragedy for her, But NO. At last, she had created H.E.R. O.W.N. family.Woot! And because she was a child of God, He did not let her down in the natural instincts department. She was an incredible mother. 

Having a child strengthened her in a way that gave her enough courage to threaten d.i.v.o.r.c.e. But when he turned their baby upside down, swinging him over a staircase by his feet, and said, "if you walk out that door, I will drop him." she realized she was…still…officially I.N. P.R.I.S.O.N. 

With no family to speak of in Australia, she had no place to go.

Four more years of affairs, abuse, emotional terrorism ensued. He told her he didn’t love her. He brought his other woman home to meet her. But she was stuck. And in a rare good moment, she had him tested for disease before she bore him another son. Her second joy. Her insurance policy. The heir and the spare. I'm sure he was a gorgeous baby! ;-) He still has the bluest dang eyes you've ever seen. His mother's rare eyes. But his birth did not stop the tomcat from tomcattin'.

There are more stories. But you can let your imagination go...and then double the horror of what you're thinking because it lasted…e.l.e.v.e.n. m.o.r.e. y.e.a.r.s.

Zeke: Listen, kid. Are you gonna try and let that old Gulch heifer try and buffalo ya'? She ain't nothing to be afraid of. Have a little courage, that's all.
Dorothy: I'm not afraid of her.
Zeke: Well then, next time she squawks, walk right up to her and spit in her eye. That's what I'd do.

His mother, the church builder's wife, even sent her son to a psychiatric ward which did him no good. To save the family face, she offered to buy the girl a trailer house until the boys were 18 and then the trailer would return to the family. But the girl had endured the tornado for so long, that she was strong now.

So strong.

And when she packed up the boys and her Pinto for the last time, she did not know where to go, she just drove.

Cowardly Lion: Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage!

They lived in the Pinto for two weeks, on the run and terrified for their lives. They hid in a neighbor’s house until John found them, broke the front door off its hinge and threatened to kill them all. That door allowed them time to call 911 and a judge easily approved restraining order after restraining order, but they never worked.

Eventually, the girl found a basement to live in and went to work. Along her yellow brick road she met many wonderful and diverse people proving that, there are many kinds of families. She fought for her boys and paid $25 a week to the court to pay for John’s supervised visits. He wouldn’t pay it so she paid it. She had no choice.
Never a birthday card. Never a Christmas present. The money that the couple had deposited into savings accounts for the boys college funds was “withdrawn by the account holder” and suddenly, John was stalking their house in a brand new truck. She pulled up her bootstraps and went to work to save her sons.

Andy confronted him about it after his mission when he needed money to go to college and he said "Uh...yeah...I'll have to bring that by." And he's never seen him again.

Over the course of the next few years, many people, including a lady named Dorothy, helped protect them. That’s our job as humans you know? Sometimes you take a casserole over, sometimes you let people hide in your basement.

Andy's Mom and Dad
Knowing the kind of man she did not want anymore, she searched diligently for a man that would be a good example to her boys. She tapped into talents she didn’t know she had and started selling cars. She was good at it. A man name Max pursued her relentlessly. He could take her through the temple, and give her sons the priesthood - everything she ever dreamed. They all fell in love with Max. And I did too, on Thanksgiving day, 2005, when I was sitting at his table for the first time and he wielded The Spirit into that room so fast it made me cry. I knew right then…that I had found the family I would marry into. Max adopted Adam and Andy and we all ended up with his name. I'm so grateful. 

In 2010 (11?), the woman took a new vow.  She raised her arm to the square and promised to be the best American she could be. And I don’t know a better Australian-American citizen on the earth. What an asset! Like a birthday present to America.

Dorothy: Oh, but anyway, Toto, we're home. Home! And this is my room, and you're all here. And I'm not gonna leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all, and - oh, Auntie Em - there's no place like home! 

So today, I am obviously paying tribute to my favorite Aussie - Christine Hunsaker, or as the Aussies would say KRES-DANE HUN-SAKE-AH. Born in Adelaide, Australia directly in the path of the biggest tornado a person could ever imagine.

God gave her a very thin connection to Him through her spiritual gifts. Her son Andy, my husband, inherited those gifts. Her life-long faith has sealed her to a family that includes a priesthood bearing companion, two incredible sons that married two F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S. girls (if I do say so myself) and two adorable grandsons…all sealed together for eternity, just like she dreamed when she was 17. 

On Monday she turned 39 again. I just want to tell her what a huge influence she has been to me in the second half of my life when I have felt the relentless tornado of wanting to give her grandchildren. She is the caretaker of Noah’s grave site and I’m eternally grateful to her for that, and for raising her son Andy into the gentle, lion of a man that he is.

As mother-in-laws go, just be jealous. A few years ago, we took her and my dad (who has Australian roots) to Baz Luhrman's Australia the movie.  I was on a diet (really?) and she found out that I like pears. So she cut a pear up and put it in a plastic bag in her purse. Then when we got to the movie she pulled it out and passed it down to me.  I was so shocked that she would search out a pear that was out of season, peel it, core it and bring it with her, just for me. But I sat it on the seat between my legs to keep me awake later SEVEN DOLLAR NAP and I forgot about it. Well you know what happens to a peeled, warm pear....  but she loved me. And I still know it.

Dorothy: Well, I - I think that it - it wasn't enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em - and it's that - if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard.

She said “God knew that I would need to be able to survive certain things… so I believe my early life in Australia made me strong enough to do that. I always felt connected to God. He watched over me for so many years, and I never felt lonely when I called on Him. He’s allowed me to see my folks since they died and I know we’re all headed in the right direction.”

Can we survive tornadoes like she did and still have a testimony like that?

One thing…Tonight as I was talking to her on the phone I noticed that she is still carrying around that basket full of apples. I wish she would put that down. I hope this blog will help her do that by showing to the world, what a real pioneer, a hero does, when you get caught in a tornado. She said “I might not be as good as some women (referring to her insecurities as a homemaker). I’m not a real pioneer, in the sense of the Mormon genealogy that exists around here, but I kept my sons alive. So, I guess I’m a pioneer, of sorts.”

Bless us all to be that sort of woman.

Wiz of Oz dolls, a Phantom CD and a new jock strap. Happy Birthday!
Dorothy: Oh, you're the best friends anybody ever had. And it's funny, but I feel as if I'd known you all the time, but I couldn't have, could I?

Scarecrow: I don't see how. You weren't around when I was stuffed and sewn together, were you?

Tin Man: And I was standing over there, rusting for the longest time.

Dorothy: Still, I wish I could remember, but I guess it doesn't matter anyway. We know each other now, don't we?

Scarecrow: That's right.

Tin Man: We do.