Othello Explains It All For You

Not a Cheeto in sight.

It’s not so much that I thought she was cheating. Even though, okay, I guess I kind of thought that. But I do realize that I didn’t know it in that way where you feel sure enough to just come out and ask someone. Even though sometimes, when it’s that moment where you’re about to ask, and you can feel them willing you not to ask, you can feel in that space between you, the silent pushing back of the question, doesn’t that usually tell you something?

But it wasn’t that so much, because that on its own we could have overcome. No, it was the knowing that even if she hadn’t actually cheated, even if she hadn’t, there was this whole universe of not going on beside me. And would be for eternity, and it drove me insane. It’s not fair. It’s like a game the whole world is playing on me and I will not have it. I just won’t. So there.

You might think that’s petulance, contrariness, but it was the rawest of pain. I felt so alone, dropped on this earth a loner instead of point man in a family, a team, a cluster. I’m jealous of sisters who cuddle on the couch, or friends who cuddle like sisters, easy with each other in the way of puppies. I’m jealous of easy loves and sloppy families ambling down the street from the 7-Eleven, sucking Big Gulps and passing a bag of Cheetos back and forth. Unhealthy yes, but together in their orange fingers and idle crunching. 

I did it because of the fingers. I did it because of the space.  

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Food is weird

 

Breakfast, on the other hand, was much easier.

 
I’m sitting on the deck watching the horizon. Watching my pen mostly but sometimes I look up. Birds in flight. Green grasses. Gold and white beach. Silver blue water, some white mists coming off it. Dust probably, but to me it looks like evaporating salt. Beyond that is another strip of gold, the far side of the playa. And then gray green hills beyond, stretching in both peripheral directions. 

I shouldn’t mention any colors at all since each band is full of so many. By gold, for instance, I mean tan and brown and sage green and spring green and cream and velvet black and forest green.

I love the big sunglasses I got at the Paisley Mercantile. They shade my whole eyes, not like my small prescription shades. One of the two Yelp reviews for the Paisley Mercantile noted that no one says hi when you walk in, but I didn’t find that to be true. Also, I wouldn’t care if it was. The glasses were under ten bucks, and the guy voluntarily cut off the tag for me. The other reviewer was upset about not being allowed to throw out a coffee cup. 

Yesterday I had a hard time eating dinner. I’d had yogurt and granola for breakfast, and an apple and peanut butter for lunch, and at seven I still wasn’t hungry. But I told myself, it’s dinnertime, and you get to eat what you want here. No one is watching. You get to overeat. No one will know. There’s no dog begging for bites, and no human to have to share with.  really wanted to get the most out of this, except for I just wasn’t hungry. I reviewed again what I had eaten so far and concluded that I deserved minestrone and my leftover quesadillas from the Paisley Saloon.  

I sat and ate, and listened to Jackie Mitchard’s Still Summer, which I savored, and continued inserting spoonfuls, which I did not savor. I finished two mugfuls. The rest I poured into a piece of foil (I have no storage containers) to bring to the main house for Snickers. Snickers is Barbara the cook’s pig, and there’s a bin for scraps under the sink. 

I could have chosen to leave more for Snickers. But no, I ate as much as  possibly could. Then I had some chocolate chips and dried cranberries. I really don’t understand why I do this. Looked at on paper, it’s very odd. 

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Thank you, Russ

 Most of the years I knew Russ were spent hoping he’d remember who I was. We were introduced several times, first by a friend who was in town to see Ballad Hunter and took me. Russ was in the lobby, greeting a long line of people with his raised eyebrows and deep voice. A couple years later I signed up for a class, and when I walked into the office Russ was in there alone, somehow stranded among long tables. “Downstairs,” he said. The look on his face suggested that he couldn’t believe I had just done something as idiotic as his eyebrows had just witnessed, even if it was just walking through a door. I didn’t understand then that that’s just how his eyebrows were shaped. 

Over the years, I took more classes, and joined the network, and people continued to introduce us — Arlene, Trina, sometimes even me, not always sure it was necessary but seeing no sign that it wasn’t. His eyebrows would go up in surprise or dismay or maybe, in retrospect, because that’s just what they did.

Then I took a class from Russ, Marketing Your Play, and he took me to task for including both my first name and my first initials on my resume and cover letter. “You have to pick one or the other,” he said. I’d heard this before, in other classes with guru-like teachers who’d prodded us toward the just-be-yourself thing, but something about Russ’s eyebrows convinced me. I went with MT. In class next time, Russ seemed to find this no better or worse than going with Mary-Terese, though he said something about initials being a bit of trend with female playwrights. 

A few more years went by of seeing Russ at readings and plays, and hearing Arlene say, “it’s great you’re directing this, Russ will notice that.” And maybe he did. He always looked at me in just the same way, like he had no idea who I was, and I’d mumble “MT,” and his eyebrows would go up like I’d said something very strange or maybe he was simply acknowledging me, it was just so hard to tell with those eyebrows. 

At one table reading of a play of mine that Rich Perez had kindly organized, Russ said only, “I almost didn’t notice that nothing happened.” I’d been hoping for “brilliant, luminous,” those shiny words that writers long for. What I got was a specific opinion that was easy to dismiss. “He just didn’t see it,” I defended myself to my husband later, and included my best imitation of Russ’s eyebrows. 

But as I came to see after I put the play away for a while, disappointed that it wouldn’t be winning the Tony that year, what it needed was for stuff to happen. Not because of the stuff, necessarily, but in order to explode it from tone and texture into living drama.

Then, a few years later, I got to Will Dunne’s class and sat down, and Russ popped his head in the door. “Come see me after class,” he said, furrowing his eyebrows, and I wondered what I’d done wrong. Then, in the same tone, he added, “I want to talk to you about your wonderful play.”

I sat through class in a fog. Afterward I knocked on his door. He was eating lunch, and he waved me to sit down, and set his food aside, and told me in detail what he’d found special about the new play I’d written. His eyebrows were the same but somehow they looked different. Kindly. Engaged. I couldn’t seem to hear what he was saying, and kept telling myself, “Listen, listen,” because I knew they were the words I’d wanted, but I couldn’t experience them. All I could think was, “He’s so kind. How did I not see how kind he is?” 

He told me he wanted to help me in any way he could, and to call him at any time of the day or night. I quipped, “I’ll try not to call at two a.m.,” and those eyebrows went up, like either I’d made a bad joke or not a joke at all, or maybe like it was a fine joke and he was in on it too, and he said, “Absolutely any time at all.” 

Today I’m sitting in a cabin in Oregon, far from Chicago and the reality of Russ’s being gone. I’m working on a new play, something I get to do more of now because Russ believed in me and made good things happen for me, and I’m remembering to let action in, because without it I know just what his eyebrows would do. And those eyebrows would be right. 

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But is he a singer or a crooner?

Dad pondered this question many a time.

Dad could be pondering this question right now.

As I drove home in the snow yesterday, a review of Bob Dylan’s new album on NPR reminded me that every evaluation of everything is contextual, including my opinion of the review.

The road conditions were suddenly terrible, meaning I couldn’t make it to Russ’s house as planned, so maybe I was grumpy, making all kinds of right-turn detours just to get back to my neighborhood. I’ll admit my hackles went up for no apparent reason when the reviewer dismissed Rod Stewart as a “standards hack.” I don’t listen to Rod Stewart, whereas I do have some Dylan albums and just spent a bunch of money to hear him in concert. But I scoffed audibly when the reviewer claimed how because Dylan recorded live in-studio the old-fashioned way, in the same room with his musicians, his renditions were truer to the “smoke-filled rooms” where the songs were first heard. Was there smoke in the studio? And also, Rod Stewart’s voice sounds like he’s smoked a bunch, doesn’t he get any points for that?

Why does Dylan deserve the automatic assumption that there’s deep emotion to his voice just because he switches up the melody line in “What’ll I do”? Maybe if I listen to the song ten times, I’ll be able to tell for sure that it’s a deliberate interp and not just a casual evasion of the notes, but I don’t know that my ear could take it. A deep knowledge of the American Songbook doesn’t mean your singing is any more in tune.

It was like the reviewer needed to give us all this evidence of Dylan’s creds so we wouldn’t laugh when we heard the clips. But I laughed anyway, or would have had I not been gripping the steering wheel like a clamp, praying not to get rear-ended or rear-end someone else. I smiled and gave at least one “Oh my God” to Dylan’s voice wobbling and wavering its way through “Autumn Leaves.”

Dylan’s got great taste, I give him equal points to Rod Stewart’s cigarette nodes for that. Dad had a cassette with seventeen versions of “Autumn Leaves” on it. It is one of the most perfectly beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Who wouldn’t want to sing it? I started singing it on my dog walk after safely thank God making it home and getting the dog around the block. And singing it made me think of my dad and his seventeen versions, and suddenly I wanted to call my brother and sob, “I miss Dad, I miss Dad,” but didn’t because I didn’t want him thinking I’m emotionally unstable due to childlessness or hormones.

Luckily I saw Lake and her owner coming up the sidewalk, and pulled it together in time to talk about the weather and our shoulders and the shoveling. And by the time they passed, the dad sadness was gone.

That’s a good thing about longterm grief. It’s just as intense when it hits, all images of Dad and his gentle smile and excellent taste and the longing to just be in a room with him, asking what he thinks of the new Dylan album, but it’s more polite than new grief. Dad and Uncle Ralph used to debate whether certain vocalists were singers or crooners. Singer meant a serious artist, whereas a crooner, like Dean Martin, was just someone who sold a song with style. I think they used to argue over which one Sinatra was.

I think Dylan must fall into the singer category, whereas someone like Stewart only gets to be a crooner. But also, and I’ll bet this never happened in Dad and Ralph’s day, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen someone get the singer tag just because I couldn’t bear listening to his music long enough to decide for sure.

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Secrets of a Super Chill Thanksgiving

Culled from 3 or 4 stuffing recipes, including my old one.

Culled from 3 or 4 stuffing recipes, including my old one. What could go wrong?

Here’s what I used to do, back when I was stupid. Troll the web for the best and yet easiest recipes for things like stuffing, sweet potatoes, and this year green bean casserole though we’ve never had that at Thanksgiving before. Apparently it’s a big deal, green bean casserole. But this year it’s my idea for a good vegan dish. Anyway, I find all these recipes, multiple versions of each and also things like salads, desserts, apps, etc. Then I grocery-shop at like five stores, buying ingredients for vaguely-all-but-not-exactly-any of them, because I don’t know which I will actually make and I’m pretty sure I have some of this stuff at home but maybe not so I buy more of the stuff I always think I’m out of and not enough of the stuff I never realize I don’t have. (Oregano. Bread crumbs.)

Then Thanksgiving comes and I haven’t figured out the oven and cooking times, and the house is spotless but I am dithering, literally pacing back and forth with hands flapping, between many different possible recipes that I have almost all the ingredients for, and I realize none of that shit matters and why didn’t I just figure it out ahead of time and plan the oven time and ingredients and not end up with too much of what I don’t need, and everyone arrives and it’s loud and I’m panicking and cousin Liz says This is so great, and I say quietly though there’s no need to whisper everyone else is talking so loudly, No it is a disaster, I’ve never been this unprepared, and she says, Really? Everything looks so nice, and I say No you don’t understand half the stuff is not even cooked yet, and she says There’s no rush, everyone’s having fun, and I get angry that she doesn’t understand how disastrous this holiday is.

Then eventually we all eat, after Jimmy or Rick or Marty says grace, ironic about it only until the moment where they actually start, and we eat, and everything is great. And then we have dessert, and there is way too much of it, and it’s all delicious, I realize that all the dinner food didn’t matter that much, because it’s all kinda cold by the time people are eating it anyway, and it all tastes pretty much the same, I mean it’s all good but it’s not like going to change the world, you know? You don’t have to go to Whole Foods just for nutritional yeast for the vegan casserole, fuck it, it’s good with some cashews added. And then I vow to be way more relaxed next year and not worry about it.

SO. This year I am sitting here forcing myself to decide on one recipe for each thing. Which means I’m creating some new recipes that combine different things I think I’d probably combine if I were in the kitchen. Then I’ll look in the cupboards and fridge to actually see what I actually still need. For each thing I will do that. Then I will go to Harvestime for them. And later today, when we pick up the turducken and the turkey breast and have those actual cooking times, I will sit down and figure out exactly what will be made when, and cooked when, and cooked where — oven, crockpot, etc. There will be a chart. The chart will have times and instructions, and will account for the awesome stuff everyone else is bringing that has to be warmed up at the last minute.

And I might think this chart is ridiculous, way too planned-out for a meal that shouldn’t really be that big a deal, it’s not that different from other meals, but I won’t be swayed by that this year.  I will just look at my chart and do what it says to do next, and it will be the chillest Thanksgiving ever.

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How to not toot your own horn

It's all about the journey.

It’s all about the journey.

“Hi, I had a book on hold?”

“Ma’am, the hold books are out there now.”

“I know. I just wondered if it might be back there.”

“We had to move them, Ma’am. We do so many holds now, because of the Internet.”

“Okay. It doesn’t matter.”

“Can I help you, Ma’am?”

“I think I just missed the window.”

“Last name, Ma’am?”

“C-o-z-z–”

“So we go by the C’s. Right on this ticket. We hold them for ten days.”

“Yeah, that’s where I screwed up.”

“Cashen. Corrigan. Crawford. Hm. Was it a new hold?”

“No.”

“Those are over in this case, if we haven’t sorted them yet. Title?”

“No, it’s alright.”

“I’m happy to help, Ma’am. What’s the title?”

“Um, it’s something like How to Toot Your Own Horn. It’s really not important.”

“It’s no trouble. Shelly! This lady’s looking for a hold.”

“I’ve got a few back here, just came in.”

“She’s looking for How to Blow Your Own Horn.”

“No! It’s actually How to Toot Your Own Horn Without Blowing it. I think.”

“I feel like I just saw that. Is there a horn on the cover?”

“I don’t know. I got the notice a couple of weeks ago.”

“Ma’am, we only hold them for ten days.”

“This was longer than ten days.”

“Oh. Well, why didn’t you say so?”

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10 Things Regarding the Prospect of Worms

Food for worms.

Frozen food for worms.

1. No one has ever reported their escape. At least, not in the reviews.

2. The nicest kit is about $109 on Amazon.

3. They like to call them factories. I can’t decide whether that’s cuter or more disturbing.

4. There’s one for sale on Craigslist but we are agreed that if we’re actually going to do this we’re going to start with an absolutely brand new and pristine…factory.

5. You have your choice of worms. We’re going with Red Wrigglers.

6. You can buy the same ones at bait shops. Does that mean we can then sell them to bait shops?

7. There’s absolutely no problem with fruit flies, but if you want, you can freeze your fruit scraps first. But there’s really no problem with fruit flies or smells or anything like that. But you can freeze the stuff first.

8. One pound is about three handfuls. Handfuls.

9. Sometimes the worms don’t use the ladders (included) and you have to help them.

10. They’ll be here on Monday.

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Outrageous fortune

"Nurse, get me the remote and a dog biscuit, STAT."

“No time to focus, this is a dog Martian collar halter biscuit serious EMERGENCY!”

Yesterday Toots came over to watch “Lovejoy” but we ended up watching “Slings and Arrows.” The temperature in the room changed, as she said, when we learned she’d never seen it. “Lovejoy” is a fun thing to bond over—our mutual adoration of Ian MacShane, our affection for the Lovejoy world where everyone pretty much just cares about antiques, enough to kill for them, but mostly just enough to look menacing and almost kill until Lovejoy ambles along and saves the day—or, at any rate, when the day gets saved by some ramshackle coincidence. Then they all go to the pub for a pint.

I wanted to make a test batch of chili because contrary to Dana’s email I don’t actually like to make chili. I just thought it would be easy and I know I’ve made it before, and it was good. But I don’t know what recipe I used, and browning the turkey always stresses me out. So I picked a recipe and decided to stick with it exactly and I did mostly, but I always pick the easy version in my online search—Easy Turkey Chili! Easy Thanksgiving Stuffing!—and then scoff as I cook because it doesn’t have enough interesting ingredients. So I add some.

I made the chili and set it to slow cook and then drafted our proposal for a new freelance project and corresponded with the shuttle service who might get me from Redmond airport to the middle of rural Oregon for the residency next April. They are willing to stop at a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for only fifteen extra bucks. I feel like I’m walking on bubbles, up on top of bubbles, because so many good things have happened lately and this is not where my heart is used to processing emotion. I’m trying to find a way to be calm and wise about it, so that when the many things are rejections and losses and just plain nothings, to which I am more accustomed, I can be just as calm and wise.

Taking a lunch break to read Pam Houston’s Contents May Have Shifted put me on more familiar ground because it made me wonder, God am I just treading her ground with the small stories I’m sharing, only hers are about surviving an Alaskan mudslide whereas mine are about being afraid of ground turkey?

But I set that aside, because I can’t go down that road or I’ll never get to tell you how desperately important it was that Toots and possibly you, if you haven’t, see “Slings and Arrows.” Standing in the kitchen after she’d arrived, catching up from the week, having a slow drink before the chili, I can’t remember whether it was Dave or me who mentioned something  Slings-and-Arrows-related and Toots said, “What’s that?”

And suddenly it was like an emergency operating theater. “What? You’ve never seen it? I think maybe I’ve heard of it. You. You have to. You can’t go another day. Lovejoy is out. But it’s not on Netflix anymore. We’ll find it. Where’s my phone? How do I? Oh, I’ll try the TV.” And then it was on Acorn, and we fixed our bowls, “Come on come on, we’ve got to fit as many episodes in as possible—there are only 18—does everyone have napkins? Okay, go.”

And this makes sense if you are the sort of person who can appreciate both the charm of one show which is really lovely even when it’s awful and the plot points only sort of connect, and the humor and utter seriousness of another that’s constructed of a thousand truthful details that build so cleverly to reveal what is wonderful and awful about loving something so much that it makes a fool and a hero of you, all at the same time.

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The Art of Dramatic Surprise

Did I really say, "She talks to fairies"?

Did I really say, “She talks to fairies”?

I’d thought the make-it-up-as-you-go drama was on stage at the Annoyance—two powerful performers improvising together. The way they connected and counterpointed. The way they pushed some things and let others go. The way things came back. It was beautiful and surprising in a way that scripted drama never can be. Afterward, I got to talk a while with someone I haven’t seen in a while, and my soul felt better that it has in a while. Oh, and sitting at the bar with a very young friend, waiting for our drinks, after she had said “I feel so old” and I thought wow, my guilty conflicted love of the Annoyance probably dates back to before she was born—is that possible? Potty-trained, anyway.

And then afterward, in my ongoing desire to connect everybody and have them be best friends, I said the fairy thing which was momentarily embarrassing, but who listens to street chat anyway, and I got on the train, and Dave met me at the other end, with Django who was characteristically excited to see me for exactly one second.

And as we walked home, Dave told me about a far stranger drama. He was at a dress rehearsal for an opera, playing in the pit. They started at 7:30, did a straight run-through, then had a half-hour break, union rules.

At 9:50 they went back to the pit for the remaining forty minutes of rehearsal time. With gigs like this you only get three or four rehearsals, so every moment is precious. However, they weren’t allowed to pick up their instruments. Due to some other rules about dress rehearsals at that particular theatre, it wasn’t allowed. Also, most of the lights were turned off. At one point the maestro said something like, “Can I at least have one light so I can see my score?” And he talked through the trouble spots while the musicians followed along, light permitting, in their scores. “Surprisingly,” said Dave, “it was pretty productive.”

Which just goes to show, no matter where your stage in life happens to be, when something confusing happens and you just go with it, you might be surprised at how well it can work out.

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What not to say

Should be posted everywhere.

Should be posted everywhere.

In the afternoon we went to Home Depot, where Dave struggled against his recent overwhelming desire to buy more plants. “Let’s come up with a plan first,” I said, reminding him of his earlier plan to come up with a plan.

By the time we got home with firewood and mulch and landscape bags, I was so hungry I almost didn’t help carry any of it into the yard. But then I saw Dave walk out to the sidewalk to talk to the neighbors, and I didn’t have keys to get inside, so I started hoisting bags from the trunk, hoping it would speed things up once he was done consulting about the bare spot on the parkway that used to be a tree.

“I’ve got a bag of grass seed from last year,” I heard him offer. I lifted out the last bag and tried to slam the trunk in such a way that would make him notice me and want to let me inside. I know I should carry my keys but sometimes I don’t know where they are or I think they’re in my purse but actually they’re in a different purse or sometimes I just don’t feel like it.

The trunk slamming didn’t work. He was still talking with the neighbors, a pleasant woman and man, and gesturing at the bare spot on the parkway. They all seemed to agree that nothing seemed to be growing there. I ventured a few steps toward them and announced, “I’m sorry but I need to get inside.”

“Oh, sorry,” said Dave immediately; and then, “this is why you should have your keys.”

“Yep.” Dave started to follow me inside, but then made the error of saying to the neighbors, “Oh, by the way, I wanted to ask you about these.” He pointed to some flattened plants peeking out from under the tangled coil of the neighbor’s water hose.

“Yes?” They walked up to look.

“These day lilies.”

“Oh, the day lilies,” said the neighbor woman. “Those grow like weeds.”

“Yes, well, I was thinking maybe I could move them.”

“…What?”

“So they can grow,” Dave explained.

“Oh.” Suddenly the temperature seemed to go down. “Well, where would you move them?”

“I’d find a place for them, “ Dave said.

The neighbor couple looked at each other and then back at Dave. “I don’t know about that,” said the neighbor woman.

“I could move them closer to the front of your house,” Dave offered. “I’ve moved a bunch of ours.”

The four of us stood in silence.

“Or not,” said Dave. “I just thought, so they could grow.”

“I’m going to have to think about that one,” said the neighbor.

“Dave, I’ve got to get inside and eat something,” said I.

We got inside and I ate something. Heather stopped by and we went to Gene’s Sausage Shop for a rooftop beer. “Look under that hose,” I said as we exited, “but don’t look like you’re looking.”

“Got it,” she said.

At Gene’s, she told us how her father had planted a whole fence-worth of day lilies, dividing them season after season until they spanned the length of the yard. “But then we got new neighbors,” she said, “and it turned out the day lilies were over their property line. So they dug them up and put in a fence.”

“Oh no,” I said, “your poor dad.”

Heather shrugged, “They grow like weeds.”

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