It’s International Dance Day. Who decides that? Well it’s a good excuse, not that I needed one, to watch a few of my favorite clips of people dancing. There are a million of them from old MGM musicals, but here’s a short one I love.

Broadway performers are demigods to me. I live in awe of what they do. Literally nothing brings me more joy than a stage full of people tap dancing.

And finally Agnes DeMille's dream ballet from Oklahoma! I've been thinking about this show a ton this season -- well I'm kind of always thinking about it if I'm honest -- but now especially with this new revival on Broadway and the fact that the Tony best musical category looks to be a contest between dark and experimental vs. classic-style musical comedy. Which is funny because Oklahoma! is the original dark and experimental but now it's the show everyone mentions when they want to share their misconceptions of classic-style musical comedy.

Everything's All Right.

I love the spring holidays. All of them. Renewal, fertility, resurrection, turning. I know a bit more about the Christian holidays and the pagan holidays because of the culture I grew up in and have traveled in. Holy week fascinates me, in the same way that Advent fascinates me, the ritual marking of days passing. It feels cosmic.

I wouldn’t say I’m not a believer. I don’t like the label “agnostic” because there are things I do know. And I don’t like the way most atheists talk about faith vs. reason, and I don’t like the way a lot of Christians equate their beliefs with faith. I don’t believe in “God” per se, but I have faith. I am a person of faith. Why would I get up in the morning if I didn’t have faith? I go to bed every night full of faith that tomorrow will come, that there will be love and beauty in the world, still.

My own beliefs regarding the nature and meaning of existence are somewhere in the sort of Emersonian Universalist camp. I believe that everything is one and is immanent within us, that our moral code comes from within, that every moment contains the universe, that intelligence, beauty, poetry, metaphor, art point to our connectedness, but that the whole project is essentially mysterious. I believe that love is all.

Anyway. It’s Holy Wednesday, for those who observe.

To use Pete's favorite word: tectonic.

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It’s hard to put words to how moving it is watching this. It literally took my breath away.

Most straight people have no idea what the closet is and what it does. The experience of negotiating withholding or disclosing a secret that carries such a high social risk — and not just the one big coming out, but the multitude of little daily comings out — will always be a marginal experience. It’s just math. We will always be explaining ourselves. It will always be a fact about us that we will have to, at some point, at many points, decide whether to accept the risks (of suspicion, pity, disgust, distraction, violence, etc.) and disclose (the upside being to live as a whole, integrated person in the world) or keep hidden (and remain fragmented, superficial, false, afraid). The constant vigilance is exhausting. The psychological and emotional toll of the closet shapes every relationship, every encounter, shapes our lives.

To watch, on a mainstream TV show, a viable popular candidate for president, speak so candidly and thoughtfully about this experience changes everything. Especially a candidate who is exceptional for so many reasons having nothing to do with his sexuality.

My White Knight.

The last few days’ conversations about, one, Pete Buttigieg and whether or not he’s too well-read to be elected, two, the primary candidates’ visits to Iowa, and, three, the new Broadway revival of The Music Man coming next year have distilled, in my brain, into this song.

That’s the late, great Barbara Cook singing. Hers is my favorite recording to listen to, though I’m much more familiar with Shirley Jones in the role since it’s the movie version of the show that I grew up. Also, I was a fan of hers from the Partridge Family before I connected her with these earlier classic movie musical performances.

Speaking of those performances, it’s difficult for me, even all these years later and having seen several other women in the roles, to separate my idea of Laurie in Oklahoma, or Julie in Carousel or Marian in The Music Man from Shirley Jones. Even after discovering years later that the films so bowdlerized the R&H musicals, especially in the case of Carousel, which hardly even makes sense in the film. (Not as bad as what MGM did to Babes in Arms, the film of which didn’t even retain any of the Rogers and Hart songs, or maybe one or two, I can’t remember.) Anyway, I still see Shirley Jones’s sunny face and bright soprano when I think of those characters.

On that note, even though I think this film adaptation is very good, inexplicably they rewrote this song, using parts of My White Knight but creating an entirely new swingy refrain. I like it, but I think the original is far superior.

And then there’s the much later TV movie adaptation with Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth. It’s not great, though I do like Broderick’s performance quite a bit, which is sort of slyer, drier, than Preston’s. Though he’s more youthful and cuter than Preston in the role, somehow he reads as more cynical, a more convincing criminal. I also love Chenoweth in this one. Her conception of Marian is more adult, less petulant, less prickly than Jones. But I think because her face and voice are so preternaturally pretty, the more knowing quality she brings to the performance gets a bit lost in the film’s overall too-sweet tone.

Support Community Theater!

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The flurry of press about LIZZIE yesterday, and it being World Theater Day, has me reflecting. This photo is ground zero — not that my theater career is a nuclear bomb. But there is a sense that it is about to explode.

My mantra for a long time — I’ll call it my post-disillusionment period — has been, “Relax. It’s always more likely NOT to happen than to happen.” Because that is true. My favorite Buddhist lo jong mind-training slogan is, “Abandon any hope of fruition.” Pretty often people read this slogan on my arm and think it means that everything is awful so just expect the worst. It means something more like, “You don’t know how things will turn out, so don’t base your happiness and sense of well-being on a particular outcome.”

Anyway, that’s me in my first play! It was a production of The Emperor’s New Clothes, produced by Putnam County Playhouse, in the Indiana town where my family moved when I was 13. They did — and still do! — a season of 3 or 4 plays every summer: a musical, one or two straight plays, and a children’s show. I had I think one line, maybe two, and I was SERIOUS about it, and I loved that costume, which I think my mother made but I’m not sure of that.

Something I remember, more clearly than I remember anything I did in the play, is this very short scene where a “herald” comes in and announces something and the director, Nancy McFarland, set his lines to music, so he sang them instead of just speaking them. It blew my mind that one could just … do that.


Some Stuff About Memory.

Shades of Black Mirror and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind aside, do we really need to remember everything our minds insist on remembering? It’s hard to imagine not; our memories seem so essentially us, so inextricably a component of “self.” This article in the New York Times today, about the wisdom of intentionally forgetting is, to me, chilling, dystopian.

I think a lot, since my mother died, about that platitude that says grief keeps your loved ones close to you after they die. Usually I think it refers to good memories, because even and maybe especially the sweet memories are the ones that hurt the most, and it’s a neat way to manage the pain they cause.

But I also, and more often, think about that idea in terms of my memories of the last week and especially the last full day before my mother died, because that period of time was — I always use this word — harrowing. It was many things, but mostly it was harrowing.

Sometimes — those times being whenever a memory from that week pops into my head and forces me to go like a slideshow through the sequence of events — I wish I could un-remember it.

Because it hurts, but also because it’s disruptive. Almost anything can trigger recall — exiting a highway in a car on a hot sunny day, seeing a bandaid over a wound or a scrap of 1/4” plastic tubing, my father’s face, anything to do with hospitals, even just walking by one — but once a fragment of memory is in my head I’m on a runaway train that will stop when it crashes. I have to mentally recite the whole sequence at least to the point of arriving at the hospital where the nurse put Mom on a fentanyl IV which quickly transformed her from rigid and terror-stricken back to some loopy semblance of my mother 

The process takes a while and takes me away from whatever I’m doing. If I’m alone, it literally stops me in my tracks. If I’m not, then I’m compelled to run two mental tracks at once, the present and the past. But what about that word “disruptive”? It’s only disruptive if I consider it to be less important than whatever else I’m doing. Or unimportant. How do I know?

I don’t have any desire to erase those memories. The thing, the thing where grief keeps our lost loved ones close — is holistic. The feeling is experienced holistically. I remember Mom and feel her with me when I eat chicken noodle soup because she taught me how to make chicken soup when I was a teenager. I remember her when I see an office chair on wheels because that’s how we got her from her bed to the car when she was immobilized with pain.

I don’t want to forget that last week, that last day. I never felt closer to my mother than I did those days and hours, never felt more intimately connected to her than when I was helping her (I think I was some help, I tell myself that I was some help) through that grueling (grueling? all the words seem quaint compared to what they try to describe) episode.

I don’t feel guilt or regret, not too much anyway, about anything I did on that day, any decisions I made, so as bad as it feels I don’t necessarily want to forget that in fact, I think, I functioned pretty well under a kind of emotional and physical and spiritual strain I’d never felt anything remotely close to in my life. Because those memories are still with me, intense, vivid, maybe next time I will be more focused and clear. I have no idea. But this will happen again. It’s not like you’re tested once and you pass or fail. If anything is certain, it is that there will be no end to the suffering of people we love. 

The Baby And The Bathwater.


I can't wait for this one!

But I have to push back a bit on this: "Broadway has been reckoning, slowly, imperfectly, with the idea that musical comedies need to offer female characters full interiority." I know there's a ton of sexism and misogyny in the musical theater canon, and I'm all for addressing that OF COURSE, but can I point out that every single Rogers & Hammerstein "golden age" musical, and a whole bunch of others as well (My Fair Lady? Gypsy? West Side Story?...), have female protagonists? And not just female, but fully realized women characters who are grappling with big, complex problems and are the authors of their own lives (Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific, The King & I, The Sound of Music, etc.).

I completely support this moment of reckoning in the theater, but I want to give credit where credit is due. American musical theater has often been way out front on this stuff.

I Just Want To Sleep.

Monday night I went to bed at about 10, as usual. By midnight, I hadn’t fallen asleep, so I got up and read for an hour and a half. I went back to bed, lay there till about 3, fell asleep, woke up at 3:30. I wasn’t completely awake the whole period from 3:30 until my alarm went off at 6, but I wouldn’t say that I really slept. I dozed off a few times for a few minutes.

That was a particularly bad night. Here’s a good night:

I go to bed at 10 and fall asleep within 20 or 30 minutes. I wake up around 2 or 3 for maybe 20 minutes, and then again every hour until 5 when I wake up completely and wait impatiently for my alarm to go off at 6 so I can get out of bed. That’s a good night. Most nights are somewhere in between, maybe I wake up 2 or 3 times an hour, and I almost always wake up around 5 and don’t fall asleep again no matter how much or little sleep I got before that.

When I was young, I had night terrors, lots of recurring dreams and intense nightmares, sleepwalking, waking dreams, through my 20s, but never difficulty sleeping. Used to be, if I didn’t set an alarm I was in danger of sleeping all day. It used to be, in fact, difficult to wake up. Now even when I take a nap I wake up every few minutes.

I’m fairly certain I started having trouble sleeping a few years before my mother died, but that’s when I remember it getting bad enough that I felt like it was an “issue.” That was also when I started having difficulty reading, or concentrating on anything for more than a few minutes. Those problems have abated somewhat, though not disappeared. I can read for long periods again, but I still have a hard time with the sort of dense non-fiction that used to make up most of my reading. 

I also connect this change to the 2016 election — I am without doubt more constantly anxious than I ever remember being since adolescence — but, again, the trouble sleeping started before that.

Somehow related, though I’m not sure how much or in what way, is my sleep apnea. For as long as I can remember I have from time to time woken up abruptly, feeling like I was being choked. It’s terrifying. At some point I read about sleep apnea and thought “yeah that’s exactly what I have.” I figured out that it always happened when I fell asleep on my back, so I started sleeping on my stomach. Some time later I realized that the chronic neck and shoulder pain I’d been feeling, which I’d assumed was due to playing guitar, was actually a result of sleeping on my stomach, so I started sleeping on my side. It’s not the most comfortable way to sleep, but it’s better than worrying about whether I’ll die in my sleep.

For years I felt like I was managing. Until this insomnia thing.

A year or two ago, I mentioned this problem, the insomnia and the self-diagnosed apnea, to my former G.P., and he referred me to an ear, nose, and throat doctor who sent me to the Cornell sleep center for a sleep test, which did in fact show mild obstructive sleep apnea, for which they prescribed a CPAP machine. I guess most people are familiar with those now, they’re pretty common. You sleep with a hose connected to your face through which a machine pushes air into your mouth to keep your passages open.

I had resisted the CPAP for a hundred reasons (I happen to like falling asleep with my arms around my husband, for one) but the sleeplessness was obviously untenable, so eventually I gave in. I thought, finally, I will sleep! I really thought it was going to change my life.

It was a nightmare. Not only did it not help me sleep, I couldn’t take a deep breath on my own so it made me feel like I was suffocating, and after about 3 hours of meditating, telling myself “it’s okay, you can breathe, you’re okay, just relax,” I would start to panic and rip it off. But I persisted, assuming it could take a while to get accustomed to. After two weeks it was still the same scenario every night, no sleep, no increase in the time I could tolerate the machine. I got a phone call from the vendor who leases the machine telling me I was noncompliant and my insurance company would cease paying for the machine rental if I didn’t wear it at least 4 hours a night. I sent it back. (That’s something you might not know about CPAP machines. The vendor is monitoring in real time when you go to bed, your breathing patterns, when you put on and take off the mask, when you wake up. Not your doctor, but the pharmaceutical vendor.)

My old G.P. moved away and now we have a new primary whatever they call it. (He’s a N.P., so I never know what to call him.) At my first visit, he asked if there was anything else I wanted to address so I reluctantly brought up this sleep issue. I say reluctantly because I feel a little shame about not being able to use the CPAP. I got the feeling he thought I was trying to score some oxycontin or something. I didn’t ask for sleeping pills. If I thought it would help and not just cause more problems, I’d take them in a heartbeat, but I’m a Judy Garland fan. I know where that road goes. (I think it’s a bugaboo of this nurse: a few months later he was strangely adamant about not prescribing pain meds for my broken toe, meds which I hadn’t asked for and didn’t want anyway because it didn’t hurt that bad.)

So he said, well, if the CPAP didn’t do it, then “we need to talk about sleep hygiene,” and he gave me that litany — the weight of your blanket, temperature of the room, no alcohol, turn off the TV and computer for a while before you go to bed, yada yada. I know it all, have tried it all, it has no effect.

(My apprehension about drugs notwithstanding, I was for the last few years occasionally taking Benadryl on particularly difficult nights. It seemed to help a bit. I could go from waking up a dozen times a night to waking up 4 or 5 times. But in the last few months — I think only on those nights I’ve taken Benadryl — I’ve woken up a few times feeling the beginning of a panic attack, so I stopped taking Benadryl.)

So that’s where I am. I read and work in the morning until I can’t keep my eyes open, then I take a 1/2 hour nap, which often will at least keep me awake for the rest of the day. But if I start dozing again later, I take another 1/2 hour nap. It’ s not ideal, obviously. Those half hours are disruptive and they add up. I get less done. And even with the naps, I am always tired, always sleepy, always a bit dull-headed.

As long as I can remember, my father has talked about waking up for an hour or two in the middle of the night. He says that he used to use that time productively, that he felt extra lucid and would lie in bed and solve problems that vexed him in daylight hours. (He worked as an engineer for an electronics company, so solving problems was, I think, his job.) Now, 85 and retired, he says his mind is not as clear and he doesn’t have pressing problems to solve, so those middle of the night vigils are just frustrating.

Super Worm Equinox Moon.

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I think of the sun as a necessary evil, but the moon I am in love with. I love that we name them now, like Hindus name manifestations of a God. I love all the moons, but I think my favorite is the Super Worm Equinox Moon.

I have a thing for the Spring Equinox because I love the balance of it, of two equal parts, and because it falls on the most auspicious cusp, between Pisces and Aries, the end and the beginning of the astrological calendar, the cusp on which I was born.

Sometimes I Change My Mind.

I found myself at times having an immediately skeptical reaction to this new thing of coming out as “nonbinary.” But I’m coming to see it differently.

The idioms that queer people use to try to pin down, to name the things that are different about us, that feel different, these idioms evolve, shift, change, but they still describe phenomena that are essentially mysterious. The evolution of the language doesn’t move in a linear progression toward clarity; I think it changes for more ordinary reasons: words get tired, we get tired of using them, labels that were once neutral accumulate negative connotations, words that were negative get reclaimed as expressions of pride, new generations need to set themselves apart, create their own way of speaking, create their own lens to see the world and themselves through, assert their newness.

The current lexicon (transgender/non-binary/genderqueer/pansexual, etc.) is no more accurate or “correct” than the gay/bi/lesbian/butch/femme/transsexual lexicon that I grew up with, or homophile/pederast/invert/trade/fairy/Mary Ann/sodomite/urning/Uranian/Sapphist/third sex/intermediate sex, or all the way back to Plato, a bunch of Greek words that are hard to translate, which is not even to get into the various ways indigenous peoples all over the world have understood and described unconventional sexual and gender expression.

We still have no earthly idea why there are variations in sexual expression and desire. And is “why?” even an interesting question? We know these things are “natural,” or we safely assume they are because we see them echoed in myriad species and persisting in our own over the course of history.  

When a younger generation coins new terms, invents new language and metaphors, paradigms, rubrics (is there a word that includes all these things?), they might think they are offering new information, or believe that they are getting closer to objectively describing queer lives or queerness, and sometimes to their elders it feels like — and this is what I realize I’ve been so defensive about — they are, in imposing this new language (and the set of beliefs it implies), rejecting OUR beliefs about ourselves, our ways of describing ourselves and our experience, telling us we were wrong, that we misunderstand ourselves.

But I think I’ll try to stop being defensive. It is the prerogative of the young, not to mention a longstanding European tradition, for people to give things new names and tell us they’ve just discovered them. I’m okay with that.


Not Really The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

Loss. All the other things that make the holiday season miserable — crowded stores and mobbed airports and bus stations, horrible shrill music everywhere, a dozen competing agendas and expectations and travel schedules that you have to somehow make work together, etc. — all those things are just amplifying factors; the heart of the sadness, the depression people feel, is abandonment. This time of year doesn’t make people feel awful until at some point it has changed. Your grandmother moved too far away and can’t come anymore, your uncle and aunt got divorced, someone had a falling out, you moved, someone died, Santa Claus turned out to be a lie.

The first really sad Christmas I remember was when I was I guess 21, my first year not in school, I made very little money and couldn’t afford the airfare. I don’t remember what I did that year, but it was not sitting around the tree for hours with my family listening to the Nutcracker, drinking egg nog and eating shrimp cocktail, and opening presents. My memory is fading, but I think there were two Christmases around that time in my life when I didn’t go home to Indiana.

“Home for Christmas” is not an expression I use anymore. The house where my parents lived since the mid-80s is not any of the houses I grew up in, but I thought of it in some sense as home, or it was one of the places I thought of as home — there have been many and sometimes none — but now that my mother is gone, every year it’s less home and more the house where my father lives alone. We’ll spend most of our visit at my sister’s family’s home, where I feel very much “at home,” but not “home.”

Not that any of these feelings are inappropriate to the season. The weeks leading up to the end of December are marked in different ways in different traditions, but the common thread is as ancient as humanity: we watch with dread and mourning the days grow shorter, the nights get longer. We are alone, abandoned by the sun, and we hope against hope that it will come back. When it does, we celebrate. Everything turns around. No more sadness. A new beginning. Of course we always knew it would come back, but the world still feels so empty, so bleak, until it does.

The trouble with all the other losses — your childhood house, Santa Claus, my mother — is that they are not so temporary. So the Christmas season has become less a vigil for the return of the sun than a reminder of everything that's gone long gone.