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Kids in the new kitchen. That’s Tara in the middle.

I did not expect that when I spent this summer jobless I would be busier than ever, but it’s true! I thought that those hours when I used to be glued to the computer I would now spend more time in the garden, or just relax on the deck with my kitty. What happened is that I just filled up all the rest of the spaces. Looking back, I realize my 10-hour work days might have been the closest thing to physical rest I got, other than when I was sleeping.

One of the most fun things I did this summer was to finally show off my new kitchen. You remember my whining about the remodel woes earlier this year. It took 10 months instead of the projected 2-4 months. The Project Manager TRIED to charge me double the estimated price, but he didn’t realize that the person he assumed was a dumb girl, that he had been ignoring and disrespecting the whole year is actually a wildcat. I got advice from a lawyer and submitted a letter to the PM with a corrected invoice, and a check for what – in my opinion – was the correct balance. …and then I sent a copy to his boss at the parent company. A month later I received a response accepting all my corrections except one. No apology. But whatever. It saved me over $10,000!! Gold star for Crystal.

Now it was time to have people over. First let me show you a before and after:

This photo is from last spring. I’m standing in the front room, facing a wall that holds a utility closet and a pantry. Behind all that (you can see the stove and microwave) is the tiny galley kitchen.

A photo of what it looks like now, while standing in the same place.

Tara wanted to have a big 22nd birthday party at my place in July, and said it was ok if I invited a bunch of my friends (since most of them know Tara anyway) and had a kitchen-warming party at the same time. Tara’s partner, Brynnen (orange hair), came over, and Tara’s best friend also came over the night before, and they insisted on making dinner. I unhesitatingly agreed.

We had the party on a Friday, and I told people it would go from 3pm to 8pm. That way, people could come and go all day long. A few of my friends stayed the night too, and so obviously the party really went till 1am or so. We had a fire in the fire pit and talked and laughed till we were finally spent.

While the photos of the perfectly clean kitchen are lovely, I like the following pictures better because this is the whole point of a kitchen: to gather and eat and drink and laugh.

The kids filling their plates after they finished making dinner.

Friends in the kitchen. My front room is still dark, but believe me it is so much lighter now after the remodel.

Three of my best friends and former co-workers.

Hosting parties is not typically my thing, and this part where people just break off and talk to each other without my help is magical to me.

Tara’s friends rigged up the TV to play video games and spent their time in that room.

Tara and a couple of my friends.

Here are the same two friends, who are also newly married, and took the opportunity to go for a long walk.

Speaking of friends… earlier in July I had the chance to spend a day with a blogger friend, Marlene, and help with her yard sale. I am fortunate to call several of you friends, and I lucked out when one of you bloggers turned out to be a neighbor (she’s an hour and a half away, but that’s pretty close). Anyway, I spent one of the best days of my whole summer with Marlene and a few of her beautiful family members. If any of you follow her at insearchofitall, please let me assure you that she is even more sincere, generous, and wise in person than she seems on her blog. Marlene wrote a great post about the yard sale. She also handed over some bowl cozies that she made specifically for Tara and Brynnen. These are bowl-shaped hot pads that you set your bowl into before you put it into the microwave. When your soup is hot, you can just wrap your hands around the cozy and pull it directly from the microwave without burning your hands. Brilliant! Tara and Brynnen are huge fans of soup, and use the cozies constantly.

Marlene wears a great apron that of course she made for herself.

Customers survey the treasures for sale when two homes get merged into one.

Blue and green leaf pattern chosen specifically for Tara’s cozies.

Another thing I did with Tara and Brynnen in honor of Tara’s birthday, is take them to see the Broadway show Wicked, a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman. Tara is a huge fan of Broadway. They listen to the Broadway Pandora channel and know most of the songs for most Broadway shows by heart, despite only having seen a few of them. Tara has been dying to see Wicked for years, but it took a very (very) long time to come to Portland, then it sold out the first two years before I could get tickets, then we were busy, but finally it all came together. I read the original book by Gregory Maguire (based on the original original by L. Frank Baum) and couldn’t imagine a Broadway show of that book. However, the performance takes only some of the key ideas of the book, and to my delight, keeps a lot of the creepiness of the uncomfortably strange world, while also showing a way to connect with that world.

The Keller Auditorium in Portland, with crowds of people who want to see Wicked.

Merchandise for sale in the lobby. I’ve always liked the artwork and design for this show.

Though not allowed to photograph performances, I always try to get a shot of the stage before shows that I see. This one is one of my favourites ever because…. Yes! the DRAGON! (It’s eyes lit up and its head moved, too)

If you don’t know, Wicked is about the days when Glinda (The Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz) and Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) were college students together. How they started out as friends, but how politics and society told them that in order to pursue their dreams they had to present as enemies. In a way, one ended up on the right, and one on the left, and society didn’t allow them space to respect each other (sound familiar anyone?). Though they always cared about each other, publicly they were forced to denounce each other, and privately they didn’t really understand each other. There was also a very strong story line about discrimination of a group of citizens that the people of Oz felt were too different to be welcomed into society. And a third strong story line about how Elphaba didn’t fit stereotype of a pretty and desirable woman (her skin was green after all), and how handsome party boy Prince Fiyero not only falls in love with who she is, but is also motivated to become a better man after watching her example. The show makes us reconsider everything that the beloved television special The Wizard of Oz taught us, and makes us realize that the “truth” of history is a function of who gets to tell the story.

A whole string of good advice, wise warnings, biting criticism, intentful introspection, and positivity with tolerance. Great songs, great actors, and all of us went home very happy to have seen it.

We were, however, curious about the strange sights in the parking garage as we entered and left.

This sight on the wall near where we parked inside the parking garage. So creepy we actually laughed out loud!

On the way down the stairs to street level, we laughed again. It’s a play on a famous line from the 1977 film Star Wars.

The Genie (Major Attaway) from the lamp sings his own praises. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

My ticket for Aladdin

{Note: None of the performance images are mine, I have used media photos provided.}

When we’re talking about live shows, performance and production can be words to describe the same thing. I recently saw two shows and for one I declared “That was a production!” and for the other, I was moved by the performance. They were equally wonderful and nothing alike. I’ll try to explain.

Tara, my 21-year-old-offspring, loves all things Disney and Broadway. Thus, tickets to Aladdin were an obvious choice for a Christmas present. I did not know anything about the show and did not take the time to look it up.

Consequently, I was totally blown away on Thursday when I saw this show. The creators pulled out all the stops for entertainment. This was the sparkliest, loudest, flashiest, most-colorful, most frequently jaw-dropping, silliest, gaudiest show I have ever seen. The costume changes were constant, and every costume was layered in mesmerizing colours and more rhinestones and sequins than I thought possible to fit on fabric. There were scarves and bangles and turbans and feathers and every single, every single male character wore pointed shoes. At one point, cannons shot metallic glistening streamers over the audience and we sat transfixed, watching them spiral down onto us.

Leaping, turbaned dancers

Golden cave of treasures, where Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan) finds the lamp.

Back up dancers and singers, male and female, supported nearly every scene, and these were the fittest performers I’ve seen in a Broadway show. I could tell because most of them were only about 50% covered in clothing. It was nice to see men objectified for a change. All those glistening six-packs….sigh. They leapt, spun in the air, spun on the ground, flipped and skidded and cartwheeled back and forth.

Aladdin as the Prince, with Jasmine (in Portland played by Lissa deGuzman)

The sets were incredible, in the literal definition of the word. At one point the whole back of the theatre dropped away into a convincing starry night sky…WITH a legit flying carpet that Aladdin and Jasmine sat on and sang A Whole New World to us. The scene inside the cave of treasures, where Aladdin found the lamp, looked like it was made of solid gold. Indeed, every surface shone like metal. This made it particularly splendiferous when the fireworks went off. YES!! Real fireworks inside the theatre!

Genie explains to Aladdin how the three wishes work.

Genie was hilarious, Jasmine was convincingly strong, Aladdin convincingly vulnerable, and Jafar sufficiently evil. We were all glad to see him change from one costume to another in a blink before our eyes like magic, and then just as quickly disappear leaving only a lamp behind, when Jafar foolishly wished to be an all-powerful genie (and therefore had to live in a lamp).

What. A. Show. What a production!!

The set for Tiny Beautiful Things was a cross-section view into a beautiful home that is clearly lived in. (Left to Right: Lisa Renee Pitts, Brian Michael Smith, Dana Green, and Leif Norby)

My ticket for Tiny Beautiful Things

Storytelling took center stage in Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. This play is based on the book, which is about an advice columnist named Sugar, and the letter-writers who contact her and sometimes get responses.

The set was great!! So perfect and beautiful. I wish we were allowed to take photos during performances, so I could have captured just one shot that showed the whole thing. Multiple times during the show I thought how nice it would be to live there. If you look at the kitchen shot above, imagine a small dining table to the right, with a door off stage on the right to the laundry room. On the far left of the photo, you can see two steps leading to a playroom in the back. Imagine that farther to the left, there is a living room with a couch and table, and behind the couch is the front door leading off stage on the left, and at the very back a staircase upstairs, and a door to the basement? beneath the stairs.

Sugar “listens to” one of her letter-writers.

We watched Sugar, a busy mom, as she carried her laptop with her around the house, answering mail (outloud) all day long as she does the laundry, folds clothes, picks up toys, straightens the living room. We also watch as three other actors perform the words of the letter-writers, who are children, people with cancer, or people who are pregnant. Letter writers told their secrets, exposed their fantasies, regretted their choices. Gender, age, and background aren’t visually reflected by the actors, so we had to listen carefully to the words to find out who was speaking.

Sugar didn’t answer everyone. She wore yoga pants and a cardigan, and at one point pulled her long hair back into a sloppy bun while she read the letters. One writer kept submitting the same letter over and over, that said, “WTF. WTF. WTF?” She didn’t answer that one, obviously. Until…. the end.

The way Sugar answered the questions was to tell a story from her own life (taken from true stories of Strayed’s actual life) filled with pain and tragedy, joy and fear and bravery and hope. She connected to the letter-writers by telling what got her through her own similar challenges, and recommended that we be more compassionate, kind, and generous – particularly to ourselves. It was thirty stories told, hers and theirs, linked by the advice column, and a thousand stories told, linked by all the people laughing and crying in the audience. Proof that we were all feeling these stories as our own.

Sugar answers a letter at night, after the day’s chores are done.

Sugar dispenses advice to a letter-writer.

Sugar would usually speak to her laptop as she answered letters, even while the letter-writer was sitting beside her on the couch, speaking to his phone as he typed his question. But when the topic or the connection got more intense, they would turn and face each other, and have a conversation. During one wonderful scene, she brought all the letter-writers into the kitchen with her to help pack school lunches for her kids while she answered a letter.

Live performances get to me more than TV or the movies (and all of these actors have been on TV or in the movies). This show was deeply personal, designed to make the audience reflect, or identify, or consider. Ultimately, this play took up all the parts of us that are dark, acknowledged them, and then made us feel good anyway. It is wonderfully done.


Before the show starts is often the only time we are allowed to take photos.

Somehow, the culture people of Portland got my email address, and now I’m at their mercy. I get periodic emails that show up with special price offers at irritatingly convenient times, like Just In Time For Christmas Gifts!

I’ve mentioned before that Tara is crazy about Broadway shows. I sent them a text last Fall. “Hey, Finding Neverland or RENT?” The response was 19-year-old appropriate: “Duh.” I should have guessed that they would want the classic show inspired by La Boheme.

“Classic” sounds kind of funny, because I actually saw RENT not too long after it came out, and that wasn’t terribly long ago. Right? Ahem, the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour is what we went to see. Apparently, I’m old enough to be classic.

The first time I saw the show was in rural Arcata, California, in the late 90s. I remembered that the storyline addresses AIDS, which was still a national scare in those days. And racy for the time and location were the homosexual relationships on stage. Most of all, I remember Angel, the dynamic cross-dresser who was the voice of love and reason for the group of young, desperately poor New York singles.

Arcata is a college town, but most of the audience was made up of patrons of the arts in their 40s or older, who didn’t know the story. And don’t forget that I said “rural.” The audience first sees Angel dressed in masculine clothing, when he meets and falls in love with Tom Collins. But soon comes the big entrance as *Angel!* with glitz and glitter and makeup. Angel pranced out on stage in a white and silver skin-tight costume, ruffles, high heels, red lips, and a dazzling smile that lit up the theatre. She came right up to the edge of the stage – so close I had to tilt my head – and struck a pose.

You could hear a pin drop.

I think I could actually hear people snapping their mouths back shut when they realized they were gaping. There was no cheer, no laughter. Total paralyzed silence. Maybe a muffled sneeze in the back. I had been just about to give a “whoop!” but then realized something was wrong and held it in.

This time the show was different for a few reasons. Notably, I’m in Portland, which is like a baby San Francisco, for all the tolerance we’ve got. And furthermore (it’s apparently 20 years later, and) concepts like homosexual love, drug use, diseases that kill you, and breaking into empty buildings because you’re homeless are not as shocking to find on the stage anymore.

This audience was fully on board. No, not just on board, but cult followers or something. The scene when Angel comes out in drag was preceded by raucous cheers before I even knew what was happening. The outfit was different this time, but the people went crazy for it!

The production still uses telephone answering machines to bring in missing characters (like parents) and to make connections in the story line. And it still works. The difference is that the first time I didn’t pay it any mind, and this time, it caught my attention every time. Answering machines! I remember those!

The first time I saw RENT, there was one relationship that carried it for me. The interactions between Angel and Collins are lovely at every stage, from the joy in the beginning, to their successful negotiations to unite their friends in times of trouble, to the heartbreaking hospital scenes when Collins takes care of Angel. Their love is pure and immense – big enough for all of us.

This time the relationship that carried it for me was between Roger and Mimi. He’s a musician struggling to be true to his art. However, his bigger struggle is with self-worth. He doesn’t really believe he’s good enough to be a musician, so he never finishes a song. And then he and Mimi fall in love and he suspects he’s not deserving of her either, so they break up. She’s an addict and really really wants to quit, but just can’t admit to herself or to Roger that she is weak, and she wants to be loved and forgiven despite that. They wrench apart, and fall together, and wrench apart again.

It was just awful, watching their pain, and knowing we so often bring our pain upon ourselves like that. We are happy or satisfied or loved purely based on our perception of who we are. Arggh, humans!

The ending is sad and hopeful, and Tara and I were still wiping the backs of our hands across our cheeks when the actors bowed. I wonder if art is supposed to make its audience find a truth? Maybe that’s why the same story hit me two different ways at two times in my life. When the artists don’t use direct words, we have to give it our own meaning, and then, it has a distinctly personal message for the most dramatic impact. Oooh, those artists. So clever.

Tara and me at the Keller Auditorium during intermission for Once.

Tara and me at the Keller Auditorium during intermission for Once.

It’s time to catch you up on many little things I have neglected to blog about in the past month. It’s summer time and I have had a lot going on!  Please do not feel obliged to go through the whole thing unless you’ve got an easy morning to fill, while accompanied by a large cup of coffee. It’s not only for you that I write, of course. My blog is my journal, and its alternate purpose is to entertain me on days when I want to reminisce and to be used as a reference when I’m trying to get my facts right (harder and harder as the years go by…).

My kid had her last short haircut at age 4. She has had long, flowing, cascades of blonde hair down her back ever since. That is, until the beginning of June when she made up her mind to get it cut short, and dye it dark brown. We were both in shock for 36 hours or so (she didn’t want to go to school the next day), and then we fell in love with the look.

At least a decade ago, I found some to-die-for Cat Eye glasses in a bin of old glasses at Goodwill. I was looking for an accessory to a Halloween costume. I pushed out the coke bottle lenses and have used them now and then for  years. As I told blogger friend Boomdee a little while ago, I finally did what I’ve been wanting to do all that time, and had my own prescription put into them. The optometrist who checked them out for me confirmed they are legitimate antique frames, possibly 60 years old. I have been having a blast wearing them.

Pre-show performance of Once, with audience members onstage enjoying live music from the actors.

Pre-show performance of Once, with audience members onstage enjoying live music from the actors.

Tara’s recently been keen to experience Broadway, so we went to see the show Once. I didn’t like it, but I think she did. The music was wonderful, inspiring, impressively played live on stage in every scene. But the story was so very sad. Like Fiddler on the Roof, it began heartbreaking and just got miserable. I had broken up with Arno only one month earlier. In fact, these tickets were my birthday gift to him, but he couldn’t go because of his son’s graduation ceremony. So seeing a love story where nothing works out was lemon juice on a cut. Many people have said “Oh, just like the movie!” But I had never heard of the movie, and I can’t say if they are the same. Nothing can compare to seeing people on stage though, or to the effect of raw emotions washing over you when you’re in the same room with people battling through their own agonies.

Movie poster for the Cherokee Word for Water

Movie poster for the Cherokee Word for Water

We went to see a great documentary called The Cherokee Word for Water. From the website: “The Cherokee Word For Water is a feature-length motion picture inspired by the true story of the struggle for, opposition to, and ultimate success of a rural Cherokee community to bring running water to their families by using the traditional concept of “gadugi” working together to solve a problem.” And it was a love story of when Wilma Mankiller (future Cherokee Chief) and Charlie Soap met and teamed up to make this project happen. Mankiller died in 2010, but Charlie Soap was able to attend the showing of the film. It was humbling to be present and to experience his passion and hear his words, when he participated in the question and answer session afterward. Go see this film if you get the chance!

Seeing Disneyland this spring put Tara in a mood for theme parks, so I agreed to take her and her friend to Enchanted Forest; Oregon’s home grown Disneyland. I won’t say a ton about it, because Enchanted Forest deserves its own post for the real estate of all the photos. Enchanted Forest was created by a man with a dream to create a theme park based on children’s storybook tales and nursery rhymes. We saw representations of Hansel & Gretel to Alice in Wonderland to Rip Van Winkle and Pinocchio. All the original versions before Disney got ahold of them and morphed them into cartoon characters. There are a few rides that were actually pretty fun.  And no lines!

Wicked witch at Enchanted Forest

Wicked witch at Enchanted Forest

The very next day I drove Tara to California to spend some time with her dad. Dennis is a Harley man, and unfortunately wrecked his bike pretty seriously and is laid up for a time. Even more unfortunate is the fact that it’s his second bad wreck in two years. This time he broke his hip, so he was not able to drive up to Oregon to get Tara.

On the way, something strange happened with my Saturn Dragon Wagon. It’s been the Dragon Wagon ever since I lived in California and forecasted weather at the National Weather Service office in Eureka. I had personalized plates that said “DRAGNZ” because I love (and collect!) dragons. The boss’s husband gave the car her nickname and it stuck. I love, love, love my Saturn. Dennis and I purchased it brand new in 1998 because Tara’s car seat wouldn’t fit into my Mustang anymore. Like so many parents, I had to give up my sports car for the kid. Anyway, with and without embedded car seats, I’ve taken that car to surf beaches, to alpine trailheads, on no less than 4 coast-to-coast moves, and many shorter moves in between. She’s started up without fail every morning in Vermont’s below-zero winters, and never ever died in Nevada’s 110 degree summers. As we climbed a hill outside Grants Pass, Oregon, she gave a great shudder and the Service Engine light came on.

Earlier, the metal band holding the muffler had rusted through and the whole apparatus rattled whenever the car vibrated, so as the shuddering continued up the hill and down into Grants Pass, it made a metallic rattling that sounded much worse than it was. It was nerve wracking. Long story short, we made it to California. I was staying the night with my longtime friend Margaret whose boyfriend works at a dealership with a great service department. Sam insisted that I bring it over first thing in the morning. After awesome personalized attention, Sam began listing all the things that needed to be repaired. He estimated it would cost $3000-$4000. “Crystal. I’m sorry, your car is just not worth it.”

New Jeep with the Saturn Dragon Wagon humbly in the background.

New Jeep with the Saturn Dragon Wagon humbly in the background.

Well, since I was trapped with an old, broken dragon at a dealership, you can guess how the story ended. I’ve known Sam for years, which eased my worries about being forced to buy a car in the spur of the moment. I wasn’t able to get my perfect choice of vehicle, since I needed something available right there, right then. I think I’m going to end up loving the new Jeep Cherokee though. Especially if it gives me 16 years like the Saturn did. In honor of my old girl, I shelled out the clams to get personalized plates, and I think I can even spell DRAGNS with an “s” this time.  I’ll post a photo when I get the plates. If my first choice doesn’t work, I want UKTENA, the Cherokee winged serpent.

I haven’t mentioned the Jeep online yet, because I’m embarrassed of my conspicuous consumption. I’m never the kind of person who purchases to just to look good or have the newest thing, but you wouldn’t guess it from seeing me in the Jeep. Aside from the great cargo capacity and hatchback which will be so useful with all our camping, the technology makes my inner Geek Girl so happy. It’s from a different planet than cars in 1998. This one has a ginormous touch screen in the center of the console, to control radio, separate driver’s and passenger’s climate, apps (yes, apps) and whatever else. I can answer my cell phone through the steering wheel – built in hands-free! It’s got a back-up camera, how brilliant is that? I start the dang car by pushing a button as if I’m Jane Jetson. All the ISB and SD card ports are built in. And BEST of all, at the credit union the other day, I tried to lock my keys in the car, but after I closed the door, it went “beep beep beep!” and I was able to open up the door and grab my keys before it locked. Whew!

Summertime is beer season! I sampled the latest local microbrews.

Summertime is beer season! I sampled the latest local microbrews.

At the orthodontist, Dr. Angle (great name for a teeth guy, huh?) decided my teeth are organized enough to finally switch to Invisalign. So off came the braces. Yay! Yay! I’m not done with my orthodontia, of course, because I still need tweaking by the Invisalign appliances. But now I get to take them off to eat and to brush my teeth. No more torn up mouth, no more avoiding carrots and apples and corn. No more picking nuts out of the metal for two hours.

Part two of very cool orthodontia story: Invisalign are clear plastic shells that fit around teeth and hold them in place or move them. The shells are built on a plaster cast of my teeth. I asked Dr. Angle how Invisalign can move my teeth if they are built on where my teeth already are? He said the original cast is made into a digital image in a computer which he can then manipulate by a millimeter here or a millimeter there. Then a new cast of teeth is built in a 3D printer, and the next set of clear plastic shells is created off that. Wow! Technology in my face!

View across the Snake River from Pa & Chelle's house.

View across the Snake River from Pa & Chelle’s house.

On the 4th of July long weekend I drove to see my Pa and Michelle on their place on the Snake, south of Boise. It may very well be the last time I visit the Trulove River Rat Rest & Relaxation Ranch. They have decided to sell it because it’s just too much neverending work and money to maintain. Pa & Michelle have worked hard to be able to retire, and they should have the chance to enjoy it now, not spend most of their time saving every penny for the next catastrophe, or spending their free time doing repairs. Much as they love their oasis in the Owyhee desert, they have decided to give it up.

The visit was a good one. Pa’s health is much better than last time I visited, which was good for my soul to see. My visit was long enough to really spend some good time with them, talking, joking, sharing recipes and talking about the future. Pa showed me his winged archer avatar in his online gaming world – a truly fascinating place. It reminds me of the incredible depths of story and artistry of the world my friend Vlad spends time in. I joined Michelle on a morning walk and we talked about some common history, which makes me understand better why I love her so much. Michelle also joined me again on a trip to Map Rock, the Shoshone petroglyphs I wrote about in 2010. I was hoping that in sunset light I could get the images to show up better this time, but bright sunny skies aren’t conducive to displaying the basalt carvings. I’ll probably make this a separate post too.

Saturday afternoon I managed to squeeze in a quick trip across the river to Boise to visit my brother Eli and his wife Addie, and get another good look at my growing nephews, Parker and Paxton. I am crazy about this family. Salt of the earth people, I’m telling you. In my next life I want to come back as them.

Brand new rings signalling a brand new chapter in life!

Brand new rings signalling a brand new chapter in life!

July 7th I was able to join two dear friends of mine as they were married in a hot air balloon! I got to meet their parents (and a niece and a brother), and all of us shared a blissful morning ride soaring over the Willamette Valley packed with vineyards, hops fields, and acres of Hazelnut trees. Oregon’s state nut is the Hazelnut (and I thought I was the state nut…). My friends are both enormously sweet, shy, thoughtful, gentle, hardworking people. It must be so hard to find a match when you’re a quiet and shy person, and thinking that makes me so glad they found each other. I am tickled to death that they are married, and so very deeply honored to have shared the morning with them.

That’s it! You made it to the end! I am planning a late start to my next adventure for the sole purpose of getting this blog posted (and putting some cards into the mail) because it’s about dang time I join my Internet community again. I love and miss you guys. In a few hours I’ll hit the road for California again, this time to one of my favourite places on the planet: the Trinity Alps. I’ll spend all week on the trails, battling poison oak and mosquitoes and sharp elevation gains, then I’ll head down to the valley again, good and stinky. I’ll go pick up my kiddo (prolly beg Dennis for use of his shower) and bring her back to Portland in time for her birthday, and her birthday present: another Broadway show. This time, the Book of Mormon. I am dying to see it!!

To my blogger friends: all your new posts are in my inbox, waiting for me to go read. I’ll find some time soon to discover what’s been happening in your worlds too. Till then, happy Solstice, happy Ramadan, Happy Independence Day, and Bastille Day, and… well, you get the idea.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is playing Willy Loman on Broadway right now. I know in my very marrow that the performance would wreck me if I saw it. I would have to be carried out at the end.

I hated the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller when I read it for the first time. Hated the misery of it. Willy Loman is a shit. I freaking despise that guy. The whole damned dysfunctional family sucks.

But wow, when I disengage from those hateful feelings, I am in awe of Arthur Miller. Can you imagine what it might feel like to be the author of a play that makes somebody react so strongly? I can think of one other piece of writing in which I hated the main character so much, and that is Ignatious Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Miller and Toole have achieved my powerful emotional response through the mere application of ink to paper. This is a skill I have held as a life’s goal for as long as I can remember. These two writers and their wretched characters have my deepest respect.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favourite actors. Some actors can pull my emotion out of my gut the way Miller and Toole did with their writing. Hoffman’s characters can be wretched, pathetic, funny, fiercely strong, and always always achingly beautiful because they show us unflinching glimpses of what it’s like to be a person. Hoffman finds a core human soul in his character and translates it for us. He first got to me as Scotty in Boogie Nights. Didn’t your heart just break for Scotty? I know him, that Scotty. He’s been in my life in many scenes, and –as I felt when watching the movie- I just have no idea what to do with him. PSH was the perfect kiss-ass in The Big Lebowski. Watching him I simultaneously wanted to smack him, and knew I would be the same person in that job.

The two roles that friggin’ killed me were Phil in Magnolia and Rusty in Flawless, both 1999. As the empathic hospice care provider, I was utterly convinced of him. “Oh, there’s no asshole like you,” he said. And it was not an insult, but an easy statement of fact, honesty, almost respect (but no respect really), that showed Phil had the courage and compassion to meet –at his level – the jerk who was dying.

See, it’s not just the writing; it’s the actor who can make it come true.

In Flawless… WHY doesn’t everyone love this movie? No one I talk to remembers it. In Flawless, Rusty was the real thing. Pain, love, anger, hunger, tenderness, bitchiness, mothering, beauty and ugliness all came together as clumsily and real as it does in life. PSH’s insecure drag queen playing off Robert De Niro as the epitome of a wounded arrogant asshole, gave me a reason to fall in love with humanity again. And since I saw parts of myself in Rusty – particularly the way a tenderhearted insecure person is willing to take abuse because of the faith that maybe the abuser can one day be reformed – I had a reason to love myself, too.

I haven’t seen all of Hoffman’s work. But after Rusty, I have been a devoted, unconditional fan. It doesn’t matter what he shows me on the screen: I’m all in. Every time.

So put that together with Death of a Salesman, and I throw my hands in the air. I would have no resistance whatsoever. Take me, art. Take me and use me, I am yours.

One of my many guises

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