We Live, and Then We Die

I was lucky this summer to get to go home for almost two whole weeks. I’ve always been grateful to be able to go back home in a way that few of my friends can.  My mother still lives in my childhood home, and when I arrive, I carry my suitcase up the stairs and put it in my childhood bedroom, where the same bedroom furniture set remains.

When I have just a few days, it can be hard to mentally pull myself away from my big city life. But when I have a little longer, home is the place that grounds me, that provides distance from my day-to-day battles, and a vantage point from which to view my life.

This summer’s trip was more emotionally packed than usual. For one thing, I attended a high school reunion — which was predictably disorienting.  Some acquaintances looked so different from high school that I only recognized them because of their name tags. Others seemed to look exactly like they did in high school. We spent a lot of time exclaiming to each other how we looked just the same, but then someone played a slideshow of pictures and it became abundantly clear that no one looks like they did in high school, because we looked like children.

There was a table in the back dedicated to the pictures of fellow classmates who will never look as old as we do. Military service, suicide, cancer.

I also met people at the reunion for the first time. These weren’t spouses or partners, they were people who’d gone to my school for the same three years I did, and I had never met. What was I so involved with that I never once noticed this person? I wondered.

At the beginning of the first night, I felt distant and awkward. Conversations with my old classmates felt painfully  like conversations I have all the time with strangers.  By the end of the second night however, I was feeling nostalgic and close to my old friends and acquaintances. This person is so cool! I thought, as we had drunken conversations in the finished basement of a couple who married after high school and have a kid looking at colleges.  If I just led a different life, lived in a different city –we would still be friends who hang out all the time! 

But the reunion was just a start to my jaunt down memory lane. Because on the first night of the reunion, as I wandered around outside the American Legion hall  trying to move past the awkward phase, I checked my phone and found a message from an old boyfriend who I hadn’t heard from in years. He was writing because a mutual friend — someone we’d worked with — even shared a house with for a short while — had suffered a stroke. A day later the friend died. My old boyfriend sent me a photo of the three of us at some bar that neither of us could identify. In the photo we looked so fresh-faced and innocent, I wanted to reach out and pet us. But I couldn’t remember the evening at all, or even guess what we might have talked about that night.

A few days later,  a writing partner called to that a fellow writer — who had been a mentor and helper on our project– had also died of a sudden stroke.

On Sunday, I looked in the local paper and saw that there was memorial service for the former artistic director of the local theatre company where I’d interned the summers after my last year of high school and first year of college, so I went. I entered another room full of round tables and chairs occupied by people with faces and names I hadn’t seen for years. As with my first meeting of my high school friends, I felt happy to see them, and at the same time separated by glass.

To hammer home any themes that might be emerging, for the two weeks I was home, I stayed up late each night and binged episodes of Six Feet Under (which I recommend if, like me, you missed it when it aired). It’s about a family who runs a funeral home. Each episode begins with somebody dying, but for the most part, the people who die are not main characters so the show is not as depressing as it sounds. Although also, it is, because it is about people yearning for connection and never quite finding it. And then, before they have finished looking — they die.

 

Who Ya Gonna Call? Gumbusters

I just got back from my summer travels. First stop was New York City. I got to see some family and friends I hadn’t seen since my last trip five years ago. I stayed in Manhattan but traveled almost every day to Brooklyn, which gave me a chance to check out some day-to-day action in the city.

One day I saw this guy; IMG_4440

Once I saw it, I became aware of the myriad dark blotches on the sidewalks and streets and realized they were old gum. Kind of crazy. I’ve never noticed that in LA — maybe because we have less pedestrians? Though now I need to look more closely the next time I’m in a neighborhood with more foot traffic.

Who pays this guy?  The sidewalk in this picture doesn’t seem to be associated with any private business. Maybe he has  contract with the city. I found this video online, but it doesn’t address that question.

Switzerland

Have I mentioned that Lovers in Their Right Mind is going to Switzerland? Janice and I submitted out script to a program called Pen & Pellicule (that means Pen and Film in French), and it was one of the ten scripts selected to attend a week-long program in Sierre, Switzerland.

castillo-sin-dreamago

The program happen in this castle!

Ours was the only script in English. The other nine are written in either French or Spanish. Right now, every script is being translated into the other two languages, and they will be sending them to us to read before we arrive in Switzerland.

When we arrive (we’ve been told), everyone will introduce themselves, and then, instead of talking about their own projects, each filmmaker will draw the name of another person’s film from a hat and talk about that film. The goal being, that for the entire week, whenever you sit down with someone at lunch or enter a random conversation, you will have read each others scripts and you can talk about it. This is something I’m excited about. One of my least favorite things is going to a bar or “networking event” and trying to describe what I’m writing, and then having the other person do the same. It’s a bit tedious and forgettable for the most part. I do, however, like to talk craft in a productive way—collaboratively figuring out solutions to problems. I’m looking forward to this. I’m also waiting for the other nine scripts to show up in my inbox soon!

Here’s a page I found that gives a more detailed picture of the Dream Ago experience.

And here’s a video for this year’s program:

March 8, San Jose: International Day of the Woman

The plan, extracted from H during the long dinner last night, is for him to come by the hotel on his way to CENAC around 11 or 12. There, I will calmly work with technology and rehearse in the space for a couple hours before the start of the workshop. I’m still translating like crazy—a process which requires internet, so not only am I not surprised when H doesn’t appear at 11 or 12, I’m not disappointed either. But I know I’ll have to get myself there by 2PM, so at 1:15 I print my notes in the hotel lobby and ask for directions to CENAC.

Once there, I realize it is the same cultural center I came to with Tattiana and Micheala the other day—I just hadn’t known the acronym. I find H racing around an open lobby, A few of Megan’s pictures have been propped along a piece of molding on the wall, and Megan and Michaela are standing near them looking perplexed.

“Ah Indy!” H says, and before I can ask any questions he pushes me to Vali and a woman I hadn’t yet met, who seems to work for the center. “You need to listen to what she says,” he tells me, and runs off in the direction of the attached theatre.

The woman then tearfully tells Vali how much she enjoyed the last night’s performance, and how much it meant to her. It is touching, rather personal, and completely awkward for me to be listening to, as it has nothing to do with me.

I sidle away and find Horacio again. “Where should I be?”

“I have a situation, he says, stressing the last word.”

He speaks to another woman, who leads me out of the lobby and up some stairs. She show me my “room”—an open air area lunch area with round cement tables and benches. No projector. No whiteboard. Either would be difficult, understandably, since there are no walls.

I explain to the woman about the DVD player and the whiteboard. She sees another woman and talks to her. The three of us wander and end up at an office called “VideoTeca.” That sound promising, but it is locked and empty. We go to another office to enquire, and are informed that the lady who works there has just returned. I don’t know how the person in the second office knows this, but we go back, and indeed the employee is in her little office.

Upon hearing what I need, she turns and pulls open a sliding door behind her, revealing a room with rows of chair, and a projector hanging from the ceiling. Perfect.

“Whiteboard?” I ask hopefully.

She thinks then points to a stack of boards in the office, one of which is a white board.

It has no mounting or stand, so I pull a table over the wall, prop it up and start playing with the AV equipment. Only one of the remote controls has batteries, so it takes some swapping, but both my DVD’s play. Things are definitely looking up.

I arrange my notes, and write the title of the lecture and my name on the board, and wait for my participants to arrive.

No one.

At 2:30, I wonder if my location has been passed back to Horacio and Amber. I’d heard H tell Amber she should announce to the incoming people where the workshops were, but the area below is rather chaotic—how will they know to approach her? Does she have a sign of some sort?

I go down to investigate and found H on stage talking to the half-shell amphitheatre about international day of the woman. He sees me and calls me to the stage. He made a big deal of introducing me, says something about workshops and then says some other things in Spanish as I stand awkwardly on the stage. Blah blah Spanish blah. Then he shoves the microphone in my face. I have no idea what would make sense to say since I’m not sure what he’s just said, but figure it can’t help to tell people where the workshop is,

En la oficina de videoteca en Segundo piso.” I supply. I hand the microphone back. If he expects me to say anything inspirational about the spirit of the wild woman, it’s not going to happen.

He adds “En vente minutos.” Twenty minutes.

So we’re starting at three, now. That’s not bad.

I’m trying to figure out the best way to sneak off stage when he turns to me and asks in English… “Do you want to do a workshop on auto-care?”

He has mentioned this before—and I thinks he means self-care. But I’m not exactly sure what that means. He had at one point asked if if I would have coffee with two other cancer survivors while I was here, to which I of course said, yes, but I haven’t prepared in any way to give a workshop—and I haven’t translated any statements about nutrition, juicing and exercise. Plus, at this moment, I’m supposed to be giving the workshop I have been preparing for over a month. My eyes narrow. “When and where would that be?”

He shakes his head. “Nevermind.”

He resumes talking to the audience and I stalk off the stage, not caring if it’s timed with anything he’s saying. I find Amber. She’s too busy rushing around doing multiple tasks to be announcing anything to anyone. I ran into Runcel, the production designer. He is from Costa Rica, but has lived for ten years in German, and has traveled from Germany for the festival. He tells me that this morning he traveled to a distant suburb for one of his workshops only to have H call him after he had already arrived to say that there were no participants.

“Here is Costa Rica, I know the chances for anything are only fifty-fifty,” he gesture with his hands to show the uncertainty, “Still, it is disappointing… Maybe you could make some signs.” I corral poor Amber and we make a couple of signs, to put at the CENAC entrance and the door of the Videoteca office, but in my heart, I’ve already given up.

But then, at 3 o clock, a woman actually showed up! Thrilling. I chat with her and Amber—whom Horacio has sent to be my translator, more because she’s here than because she’s equipped for the job—but that’s okay. Her presence is comforting. I’m ready. My video clips are cued, my translation is passable, and now apparently, I will have a class as well.

Fifteen minutes pass. No one else arrives.

Feeling sorry for the woman who has been waiting, I get started. I ask my first question: “Why do we go to the movies?”

My one woman audience blows me away with her thoughtful answer. She talks about seeing other worlds, and other people’s lives and learning about humanity. When I launched into structure, she is super-intelligent. Amber seems interested too. After another fifteen minutes, another three women wander in, as well as a photographer who seems to be listening. I show them the first sequence of Legally Blonde, and everyone laughs and seems to be enjoying themselves. For a few, brief, shining moments, it’s like a real workshop. But after half and hour, the three women have to go—we’d given no indication how long this workshop would be. I talk until after 4:30 with my remaining two participants until the woman had to go, and then it’s over.

March 7, 2011 – San Jose

Monday morning–the day of the “big gala,” I wake early to make a trip to the nearest ICE office. Pronounced “ee-say,” the letters are an acronym for I’m not sure what, but they are the people who handle both telecommunications and electricity. The address I’ve found on the internet turns out to be outdated, but the new location is also within in walking distance. My research has indicated it will be fairly simple to buy a sim card with pre-paid minutes if I have an unlocked GSM phone, and this happily turns out to be true. By nine-thirty I have a local phone number and a hundred minutes, and am feeling very productive and super-satisfied with myself for having bought the phone on E-bay before I left the states.

I make my way to the theatre–which is a gorgeous old building.

I walk back past the stage, where lights are being focused, and downstairs to find the production office –a printer and a lap-top computer set up in one of the dressing rooms. I’m introduced to Silvia—who does indeed speak very good English.

“So I hear you are my translator for my workshop.”

She looks at me blankly. “When is it?”

“Tomorrow at two.”

“I thought I had to do something else then, I’ll check with Horacio.”

She runs out—she’s carrying a clipboard and seems to have a lot on her plate. Although I’ve been a little worried before, this is the point at which I start to suspect for real—that the whole idea of translator might fall through. That’s too heavy to think about so I turn my attention to Michaela, who H has assigned to make signs for each of the dressing rooms. He wants each one to have a little phrase that speaks to the performer, like “you ride the spirit of woman.” He waves his hands around as he says this, and people nod. I wonder if I’m just conservative or not in tune with my feminine side that these things sound rather vacant, but I nod too and say I’ll help with the English speaking groups from from Norway and Nashville.

Before noon, H and I walk to my hotel, where I pick up my bag and take it to Hotel Presidente. The lobby is full of women and girls who have just arrived on the bus from the CaribbeanI see my friend Rachel, who I know from L.A. and ask if I can put my bags in their room—which is fine with her, except that the rooms aren’t ready yet.

The various groups of women who were traveling together scatter to eat and rehearse. I decide to hang out in the lobby. I have a feeling if I go back to the theatre I’ll get swept up in whatever project needed doing—which normally I’d be happy about, but I think I need to try an experiment: I take my first set of bullet points for my lecture and type full paragraphs. Then I translate the document with Google Translate and take a look.

Not too bad!

Not great though either—pronouns are wrong and “plot” is translated to parcelo. On intuition I looked the word up in my battered 20-year old dictionary. It refers to a plot of land, not a story plot.

I have my work cut out for me. But I can tell that it’s much superior to anything I’ll be able to say on my own if I walk into the lecture room and there is no one to translate. If there is a translator however, this will be a huge waste of time, and doing this will take all the time I was hoping to use to rehearse the English version. Sigh. Am I making the right decision? I never know. But my fear of debaucle is greater than aspirations for greatness. I start typing.

Another woman waits with me in the lobby. Megan is a photographer from Canada. Like me, she’s come as an individual, and since she doesn’t belong with any group and H is so busy, seems a little lost in the shuffle. I ask if she’s staying at the hotel, and she says she doesn’t know. She stayed at H’s house when she first arrive, and her clothes are there. She mentions that H had said that she wouldn’t have to pay for anything in Costa Rica—a familiar story!—and that she is already running short of funds. I say that Tattiana had said something about all the women going to her place that night, so maybe she’s with us.

I take her to a corner soda and show her the magic of the cheap and plentiful casado. Toward we walk to theatre so she can organize how to get her things at H’s house. Michaela is still struggling at the computer—she’s now been tasked formatting the programs for the evening’s show—even as the guy from the print shop waits at the door! A side skill that comes with learning to write for years on end, is some facility with Microsoft Word. I manage to quickly make two sloppy columns so that the sponsor logos will fit—which of course is the main concern, and we print it up.

For reasons I don’t understand, even though she’s been staying with Tattiana, Michaela’s clothes are also at H’s, so she and Megan are going there to change. I walk them back as far as the hotel, trying to understand the plans for the evening. I know that Michaela and a woman named Coral have to be back in town early in the next morning, and the evening will end late, and with luggage in two different places and nobody with a car—how are we all going to Tattiana’s and getting back in the morning? She laughs and says she thinks that probably no one will be at Tattiana’s that night, that she and Megan will probably stay with H again, and maybe I can too.

This all seems very hypothetical, so when I get to the hotel room, I offer to pay Rachel and her roommate Gabrielle, to share with them, and they generously agree.

As we dress for the evening, Rachel gives me a brief overview of the weekend. Apparently many of the scheduled workshops that were supposed to happen in the Caribbean never occurred. The women and their charges—fourteen teenage girls– had waited around through multiple schedule changes instead of enjoying the beach, only to have many of the events disappear entirely. The glamorous Caribbean Feast that had been promised turned out to be more chicken and rice and beans, and the intercultural exchange between the girls and the girls of the village was attended by only the two daughters of the hotel owner, rather sullen and sulking—forced into it at the last minute. H had been supposed accompany them, but since he was busy at the last minute he had put Coral—a girl from Spain, who spoke both Spanish and English, but who had only been in the country for a few days, in charge of the expedition, which had put her in the awkward position of having to deal with money issues for the group that were supposed to have been worked out previously. Thus there was some question as to whether they wanted to return to the same place after the festival. Rachel and Gabi rush out, as their girls were performing, and I stay behind to dress more leisurely and, of course, add a few pages to my lecture for the next day.

That night the show somehow actually begins at 8:10, a reasonable start time for theatre anywhere. There are a series of little speeches by community figures and politicians of which I understand little, but the performances are all entertaining and well received by the audience. Although the all 900 seats are by no means filled, the attendance is reasonable. The performance is a success.

Afterwards there is no talk of a gala party on the stage, but H invites me to go with the performers went to a restaurant. I sit upstairs with the dancers from Norway, and get to know them a little. Tine is a red-head who splits her time between New York and Oslo. Nina is sharp-tongued and attractive, and gives me the impression that she has things she would rather be doing than hanging out with me, but I like her nonetheless. H arrives and beneficently announces that our meals were paid for, although alcoholic drinks. For the moment, after the long evening, our large table is more concerned with just having glasses of water. After 20 minutes for water, Nina says she would like to go get the water herself. This is something I often feel, but rarely am brave enough to do on my own, so I offer to help, and we go down the kitchen and demand glasses of water from the bemused workers, which we carry to the dozen people table upstairs. The restaurant seems not prepared for our party, and it takes an hour for the food to arrive. By the time it does we are exhausted, and have exhausted our conversation as well. When we’ve eaten, we don’t wait for a bill, but descend the stairs, and check in with the cashier as we exit. I hadn’t had alcohol, but thought I should offer to pay for food since the offer might just have been for the performers. The man at the register waves his arm, and says it applies to everyone. Great. I ‘m on my way to bed and sleep. But as we stand on the street, looking for a taxi at 1a.m. We see Megan and Micheala looking despondent. H has just told them they could not stay at his place after all, and they would need to get a hotel. I’m stunned. Since I’m already staying on the hospitality of others, I can’t invite them to our room myself—but I tell them to talk to Rachel and Gabi, who I’m sure will say yes. The others are waiting in the cab, so I go with them, feeling bad for the two women.

Rachel returns to our room later and says that the three women had decided to get a room, so that’s good. But she has another shocking report. After the meal, Horacio told Vali, who is in charge of Rachel’s group, that she was expected to pay for herself and the girls. “But I had heard the meals were paid for,” she’d said.

“No, you have a budget, you pay what is in your budget.”

Since Vali had already bought dinner for the girls before the show, and had only come to the restaurant because she thought it was a celebration, this put her over budget, and made everyone feel weird to boot.