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In this journal I share a lot of the recipes I find online or develop myself. Since people often ask me for pointers to those, here's an index, dated to stay at the top of the page:

Click for Links to Recipe Entries )
lillibet: (Default)
In this journal I share a lot of the recipes I find online or develop myself. Since people often ask me for pointers to those, here's an index, dated to stay at the top of the page:

Click for Links to Recipe Entries )
lillibet: (Default)
I had a unique theatrical experience tonight.

What role does fear play in your life? )

I think this is the purpose of theatre, distilled: to enter a dark room not knowing what to expect and to find yourself there on the stage.

The Fear Project runs until May 13th.

*That story...content notes: drug abuse, violence, suicide. )
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This year Alice requested that we not undertake a major trip for her Spring Break. She's been very busy and feeling the lack of downtime, so despite my regretting not getting a real vacation, we agreed we would stay home. But then I suggested that perhaps we could pop down to New York for a couple of days, which we haven't done with Alice in a couple of years and she thought that might be ok.

Trip, trap, trot. )

On the way home I asked Alice how she thought Spring Break is going and she said "Mama, it's amazing," so I'm counting this trip as a win.

Easter Day

Apr. 17th, 2017 12:13 am
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Lately, Sundays have become especially busy. If I only have two or three events on my calendar for a Sunday, that's a pretty easy-going day--sometimes there are five. Perhaps because of that, today felt only moderately busy.

I was surprised to find, as Easter approached, that I was thinking of my mother more than usual. It felt so strange to be planning for the day without figuring out how to include her. Perhaps it's because for her it was still a very religious holiday, or just because I have so many memories, so many pictures of us all gathered in the sunshine in our Sunday best, with her tucked between her giant girls.

This year I actually wondered if we had to celebrate Easter as a family. And then I thought sure, keeping the tradition of getting the family together a few times a year is no bad thing. I wondered if I might turn to my sisters and ask what plan they might come up with that didn't involve my house, or me cooking. And I thought about hiring a chef, which I've done a few times, or going to a restaurant. But in the end I decided that I did want to cook and to gather family and friends around the table.

The day started early, getting to First Parish by 8am so we would have time to eat breakfast there and practice our skit before the choir gathered at 8:30. Jo and I were performing a piece based on The Yellow Tutu, with narration by our fabulous DRE and some mean-girl assistance from members of the choir. It was short and sweet and involved the indelible image of the two of us dancing in front of the congregation wearing tutus on our heads.

Our minister had asked us to wear silly hats and I'd decided to get this blue fascinator, which was an utter hoot to wear. The adult and children's choirs collaborated on "Easter Bonnet" and we sang lots of joyful hymns. We also did a responsive reading that I found really moving, adapted from a sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber:

Some Modern Beatitudes )

During her invocation for communion, Marta also gave us a chance to speak the names of the dead who were in our thoughts today and I was so grateful for the chance to say my mother's name, to invoke the presence that has been hovering over me this week.

Alice had a grand time in the Easter Egg Hunt--her first year in the graveyard with the big kids. We stayed for the first part of the second service, in which Alice was one of the readers, while Jason and I reprised our performances, and then snuck out. The car said it was 82F as we pulled out and I was dreading turning on the oven for dinner. But while I took a nap, Jason turned on the AC and it was actually pleasant inside throughout the day. Alice found her Easter basket and seemed to enjoy the various treats and toys I'd included in it.

While Jason de-cluttered and got the dining room set for dinner, I roasted the lamb that had been marinating since yesterday, on top of potatoes, onions, mushrooms and garlic, which I seved with a very tasty demi-glace. I made way too many deviled eggs, with the help of Lisa, Paulo, and George at various points. Beckie & Neil brought the traditional too-much-nosh (shrimps and cheeses and summer sausage and pate and olives, oh my!). Anne & G. brought Greek-style braised green beans and I made a chopped Greek salad and heated up some Hawaiian rolls that miraculously survived several months in the freezer to be wonderfully soft and tasty. Dave and Jo collaborated to decorate the spiced carrot chiffon cake I had made yesterday with honey-cream cheese ice cream and pecans. By the time Hatem got out of work and could join us, we were just about ready to put it all on the table.

The food was reasonably good (not the best I've ever managed, but no one complained) and it seemed like an especially good group of people and conversations. Jo and Beckie helped enormously with the clean-up and by the time everyone had left around 5:30, another half hour got the kitchen to a state where I felt I could leave it. So I took another short nap, rising in time to be awake when the Mourning Becomes Electra arrived for a line-thru of the whole show.

I was able to do the whole thing without my script, though I did get confused and have to call "line" a couple of times. I felt pretty good about it and most other people are also in pretty good shape. This is going to be a really powerful show and there are a lot of dark moments, but we had fun together and it was really nice to be in a room with most of the cast, since that hasn't happened much yet. Jason got Alice to bed during one of the stretches when he's not on stage, but I was able to pop up and kiss her goodnight.

The cast and crew took off and after a break, it was time to finish up the kitchen and get the garbage, recycling, and compost to the curb. And now, I think I can say that I am well and truly done. I'm very excited that Alice doesn't have school in the morning.
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• Mike Doughty
• Robyn Hitchcock
• Tartuffe
• Precious Little
• Lines in the Sand
• Edward II
• The Witch of Edmonton
• Parable of the Sower
• Springtime for Haman (x2)
• Silent Sky

I am hoping to come back and write more about each of these, but decided it was better to make a list than forget them entirely.
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This morning, between snoozes, I had a strange dream that felt like several different dreams layered on top of one another.

Cut for those who find other people's dreams tedious )
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While I was in Northern Ireland this summer, I started making a list of all the stories I tell that I'd like to write down. This is one of them.

Last year, Alice had a bit of a crisis. She told me that she didn't know what she wanted to be when she grew up. This was news to me--the last time I'd checked in, granted a few years ago, she'd wanted to be a ballerina/astronaut/chef. But now she didn't know.

When I was six years old there was a special on TV called "Really Rosie". Based on various stories by Maurice Sendak, set to music by Carole King, it was the story of a girl named Rosie keeping the kids on her block entertained on a boring summer day by convincing them all to be in her movie. I loved that show. I convinced my parents to buy me the album, which included a bunch of songs not in the show. I knew every word, I acted them out in front of the mirror, I was Rosie. The following year my elementary school did "Really Rosie" as our annual pageant and I was the only first-grader recruited for a speaking role, as the Narrator.

The first time this came up, I told her that nine is a great time to not know, that there are many more things to do in the world than she can really fathom at this point, and it's hard to choose when you're a smart kid who's interested in a lot of different things, and it's completely ok not to be sure. "OK, Mama, thanks," she said.

When I was eight years old I decided that what the world needed was a modern adaptation of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," so I wrote one. I reserved the hall at our church and recruited everyone in my third grade class to be in it and my mom to provide punch and cookies. We had a single performance, to a standing ovation of our parents. When it was over my mother asked what my next project would be and I said "Directing is too much work! I'm not going to do it again until I'm...nineteen!"

The second time this came up, a few weeks later, I tried to explain the timeline for making this decision: a sense of whether and what kind of college by junior year of high school, a major a couple of years later, whether or not to go to grad school in that field or something else a couple of years after that... "OK, Mama, thanks," she said.

When I was nineteen I somehow ended up directing "A Little Night Music" for the Tech Random Music Ensemble at MIT. That was the second of four fledgling theatre groups I was involved in, at four different schools, during my college years. When I graduated I had this idea about going out to Minneapolis and trying to become a stage manager, but never really figured out how I would do that. By the time I was 25 I was tired of theatre, tired of Boston, tired of a lot of things about my life, so I moved out to California and didn't do theatre for ten years.

The third time this came up, a few weeks later, I finally figured out that this was a real crisis, so it was a longer conversation and I asked more questions until I finally understood what was bothering her: not that she didn't know what she wants to be, but that she didn't know how to answer grown-ups when they ask her what she wants to be. OH! I explained that it's not a test--what they are really asking is what they might talk to her about. I suggested that she reframe the question in her own mind to "What are you really interested in at the moment?" Instantly she said "Interior design."

When it looked as though I might not be able to conceive, I felt a deep need to create something. Jason and I had talked for years about doing a show together and other opportunities emerged that led to the creation of Theatre@First. And then Alice was born. When she was four years old, we introduced her to "Really Rosie" and at dinner one evening she asked me if I knew who Really Rosie was. I told her yes, that when I was six years old I wanted to be Really Rosie. And as I said that I realized that's exactly who I am.

Six months later, Alice wants to be a fashion designer. We'll see.

Othello

Feb. 2nd, 2017 12:33 am
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Before I've totally forgotten, I want to reflect on the production of Othello that we saw over my birthday weekend in New York. Starring David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig, it is a phenomenally muscular production and one of the best directed pieces of theatre I have ever seen.

The surroundings are very spare: an unpainted plywood box makes up the performance space--walls, ceiling, floor, with tiers of benches for the audience built along three sides of the long, narrow stage. There is no other set, just mattresses strewn on the floor. The lighting is provided by worklights and practicals--at one point a cellphone--and one panel of LEDs to provide occasional washes of color, but several scenes are played in the dark. Rather than shutting us out, the darkness draws us in, forcing us to listen in a box that reflects every breath, every whisper. When we can see the cast, they can see us, and they can never be more than ten feet from some part of the audience. We are in the scene, we are helpless witnesses to Iago's perfidy, we are complicit in Desdemona's murder.

While the two stars shine darkly, the whole ensemble of twelve is beautifully woven together. The men who play the minor roles are soldiers--hanging out in a room inspired by forward operating bases used in Afghanistan and Iraq, carrying modern weapons, playing Guitar Hero in their downtime. One of the actors has a prosthetic leg. We are constantly reminded that Othello is a story of wartime.

The characters are very specific. Desdemona, often treated more like a plot device, is a real character here, with her own motivation and arc. Jason found Roderigo oddly effeminate--on reflection I think that was intended as a contrast with the soliders. Emilia is a toned military wife, able to give as good as she gets. Her race is one of the most interesting choices of this show--if Iago is married to a black woman, what spin does that give his slurs of Othello's skin color, and his fears of being cuckolded by his commander. Bianca, who is very sketchily drawn in the script, is played as a Turkish woman--a local woman accepting flirtation and gifts from the soldiers occupying her home and with the simple detail of a headscarf becomes suddenly very real.

But this is Othello and Iago's show. They are like wrestlers, constantly vying with each other, the one always testing the strength of the better man, looking to turn his own virtues against him. Both completely at home within the language and able to make it feel spontaneous, immediate, vital. The one odd inconsistency was both actors' accents--while I could almost justify Craig's slippage as wily code-switching, Oyelowo's intermittent Nigerian accent was harder to rationalize, but the rolling tones of it were beautiful and underscored his story of an outsider and former slave. Both actors have enough charisma to fill a much larger space and the constant challenge of each other's presence kept the energy driving throughout the three hour show.

Sam Gold's cut of the script was phenomenal. He pared it down to the point that we could feel Iago's barbs stabbing one by one into Othello's mind, cut away the unnecessary, and kept the whole thing moving from start to inevitable finish. I do not love Othello as I do some of Shakespeare's work--it is too tragic, too evil for me to truly enjoy--but this production was glorious. The tension was powerful, rather than torturous, and I was riveted throughout. Every moment was thought out and directed with a singular vision, without ever feeling over-controlled. An amazing feat of directorial skill, this easily leapt into the top five shows I have ever seen, and vies for the best production of Shakespeare's work I have ever witnessed. What a privilege.
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On Sunday morning I attended services at First Parish, as usual. The sermon was given by Aisha Ansano, a young woman of color who is a member of our congregation, as well as a staff member working with our Youth Group, and also a candidate we're sponsoring for ordination as a minister. Her sermon was excellent: it shared some of her personal history, her excitement at discovering Unitarian Universalism, her deep call to the UU ministry...and how hard it is to be a UU of color. She was very honest, though she did pull some punches (talking about "sitting in UU congregations," rather than specifying ours, for example) but also encouraged us to think more deeply about how our race impacts our relationship with our religion. I hope we will hear her voice from our pulpit often.

On Sunday afternoon I attended the CAIR Massachusetts Rally to protest the new Muslim ban and immigration restrictions. I hadn't thought I could go, but then I was reminded that someone else was spending the afternoon with my daughter, so I could go, but having previously passed on joining various friends and groups, and still having fairly tight timing, I went alone. I ran into a couple of people I know coming out of the T and we marched up Boylston together before splitting up, at which point I immediately ran into my next door neighbor (not the one I saw at the Women's March, the one in the other direction) and we chatted for a few moments before I decided to wade deeper into the crowd, where I quickly found an old friend from MIT and stood with him and his daughter until they had to leave. I kept moving slowly, but steadily toward the center, where I could hear the speakers more clearly. I got to be part of the People's Microphone for the first time and was moved by the inspiring words passing through my voice. I especially loved the MC, Rana Abdelhamid, leading us in various chants, but always returning to "What do we do? STAND UP. FIGHT BACK." While friends on the outskirts reported a majority white crowd, there at the center I found myself surrounded by a sea of different shades of people. The sense of connection and community and common purpose was palpable. When the speeches ended I made a beeline for the street and walking toward the bus passed the Boston Marathon Finish Line, site of the bombing, and thought how beautiful it was that we could gather near that fateful marker without fear of each other, strangers though we are in so many ways.

On Sunday evening I attended an Active Bystander Training workshop hosted by Theatre@First and run by Cassie Luna, a young Asian-American representative from the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. They and their partner, Nate, led eighteen of us in a discussion of ways to intervene in situations of harassment and attack, laying out a framework for thinking about responses, and putting us through some scenarios. It was great to hear so many people's perspectives and ideas and to get more training on appropriate and useful intervention tools. One of the response categories ("Dedicate") involved thinking of ways to make personal and systemic changes to address the culture of sexual violence around us and one of our participants shared that she has made a commitment this year to attend at least six events led by women of color and I suddenly realized that I had attended three that day.

I feel really fortunate that I live where this is possible, pleased that the spaces where I am putting myself are bringing me these opportunities, and grateful to these people for stepping up and speaking out. At a time when so much feels terrifying, I am lifted by their voices, excited to learn from them and to follow where they lead.
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In case you've missed it, tonight is Opening Night. This is a fun and amazing show and I hope to see all you locals there!

Theatre@First is excited to present

LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST (IN SPACE)!
written by William Shakespeare
directed by Hatem Adell

Ferdinand of Space Station Navarre and his friends vow to avoid all terrestrial pleasures to pursue a life of study for the next three years, but when the Princess of Aquitaine and her ladies arrive at Space Station Navarre the previously made oaths prove impossible to keep.

Come drown your sorrows in synthehol and let the Bard's delightful comedy carry you to another world!

PERFORMANCES AT 8PM
Fri 11 Nov
Sat 12 Nov
Sun 13 Nov
Thu 17 Nov
Fri 18 Nov
AND Sat 19 Nov AT 4PM!

UNITY SOMERVILLE
6 William Street at College Ave

TICKETS
Adults $15
Students/Seniors $12
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When I lived in California I fell in love with the roast chicken and bread salad at Zuni. I found the recipe and have tried to replicate it a few times over the years, but I don't love dealing with whole chickens and somehow it's just never quite right. Recently I was intrigued by Bon Appetit's recipe for Fennel-Rubbed Chicketta and when I asked Jason and Alice for input on what to serve it with, we agreed that bread salad sounded good. So I ended up making a Frankenstein's dinner by combining the two ideas, along with what I've learned from making my variation on Jamie Oliver's Proper Chicken Caesar Salad, one of Jason's favorite things in the world. This is what we ended up with:

Ingredients
2 tsp of fennel seeds*
4 full chicken legs (thigh and drumstick)**
8 oz. bacon, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves
1 cup coarsely chopped parsley
1/4 cup olive oil***
2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest****
1 tsp. finely chopped thyme*****
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes******
1/2 loaf of day-old *******ciabatta
5 oz. of mixed greens
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
salt & pepper

Directions
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- Cut the bread into 1" cubes and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt & pepper and place in oven for 10 minutes or until firm and golden brown.********
- While the bread is toasting, toast the fennel seeds in a small dry skillet over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer from pan and let cool. Grind in a spice mill or with mortar and pestle. Don't forget the toast in the oven.
- Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until bacon is crisp, 8-10 minutes.
- Pat chicken dry and sprinkle with half of fennel******** and season generously with salt & pepper*********.
- When bacon is crisp, transfer with a slotted spoon to a medium bowl. Pour off all but 3 Tbsp. bacon fat.
- Increase heat to medium-high and place the chicken, skin side down, in skillet, pressing down so skin makes good contact with surface of pan. Cook until skin is golden brown and starting to crisp, about 5 minutes.**********
- While the chicken is browning, prepare garlic, parsley, lemon zest, and thyme.
- When the chicken is browned, place it on top of the toasted bread and pop the tray back in the oven for 35-40 minutes. The target temperature is 165F, if you're into that. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes.
- While the chicken is roasting, fry the pine nuts in the remaining bacon fat until they are a rich brown. Seriously. Do it.
- While the chicken is resting, add garlic, parsley, oil, lemon zest, thyme, red pepper flakes, and remaining fennel to the bowl of bacon. Mix well and season with salt & pepper.
- Transfer the toasted bread to a large serving bowl. Add the mixed greens and the bacon mixture and toss together. Add more olive oil if it seems dry.
- When the chicken is ready, serve on top of piles of the bread salad and garnish with the fried pine nuts.

Conclusion
The whole thing took about 90 minutes, though I think I can cut that down with practice. It was really delicious--definitely will do it again, paying attention to the footnotes.

Notes
*I happened to have whole fennel seeds on hand, so I did the whole toasting and grinding bit, which always makes me feel like Baba Yaga. Next time I think I'll see if it's notably different with pre-ground, non-toasted fennel seed, which I also have thanks to a conveniently located Penzey's shop, and would save both time and effort.

**I think I'll try this with just thighs next time--less hassle on the plate.

***I was dubious that it would need this much, so I eyeballed it and I think it was at least this much. Will measure next time and find out.

****I would use more lemon zest next time.

*****Our market has been out of most fresh herbs lately, so I used dried, but would like to try fresh and see if that makes any difference. Either that, or just more.

******I forgot the red pepper flakes, but I think they would be nice.

*******Or older. I had about 1/3 loaf in the fridge from last week, so I started with that, then added another 1/3 loaf of fresh bread to fill up the pan.

********Next time I'm going to try rubbing them with a little olive oil. They got surprisingly little moisture from the chicken--that may change if I go to only-thighs.

********I goofed here and used all the fennel--and I'd been generous to start with, so it was probably more like a tablespoon of fennel and that wasn't too much, so the overall message is: go heavy on the fennel seed.

********I went ahead and rubbed under the skin and on the bottom, as well as on top of the skin. I think that gives the chicken more flavor.

**********I had to do the chicken in two batches and because I was putting it over bread, instead of roasting it in the skillet, I went ahead and browned both sides. That adds a not-insignificant amount of time to the process, which might be gained back by switching to more wieldy chicken pieces.
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Back in September my uncle died. His daughters had been really marvelous in coming to Mom's memorial service in June so my sisters and all felt that we should go and I thought would be a good chance for Alice to spend time with the cousins on that side of the family, one of whom she hasn't even met, and to see some of the further-flung members of our extended family. Since I do more travel planning than either of my sisters, I went ahead and booked tickets through Expedia for the five of us to fly JetBlue to Raleigh and drive to Lumberton, the ancestral home.

You may have heard of Lumberton--it's the place where Hurricane Matthew flooded the river to 24 feet, closing both I-40 and I-95, trapping people in their homes, leaving the whole place without power or running water. So the memorial service was postponed and there was no reason for us to fly to Raleigh on October 15th.

As soon as I realized this, I called Expedia to cancel the tickets. JetBlue had a special policy in place for people who were affected by the hurricane, but it only applied to travel through October 12th. But, the agent assured me, the airline would give me vouchers for the five tickets, minus a $90 change fee per ticket, and the vouchers would be in my name and I could use them to book flights for whomever I liked, one voucher per ticket. Since we were likely to have to go to Raleigh whenever the memorial service was rescheduled and if not, we fly JetBlue fairly often, this seemed fine to me, although I was bummed about the change fee that would end up costing me $450. But since I knew the tickets were initially non-refundable and I hadn't bought travel insurance, I was pleased with this outcome.

In the meantime, Jason had booked one-way tickets for himself and Alice to fly to Utah right after Christmas (one way because their return travel plans weren't set yet, but last year they lost out on the flight they wanted because Utah is a big skiing destination and by the time he made their arrangements the most convenient flight was sold out). We hadn't heard back from his parents about when Alice should fly home, but we knew when he needed to be back, so I figured I'd use one of the JetBlue vouchers to book his return flight.

On Tuesday, I called Expedia to figure out how to do that. The ticketing agent couldn't figure out how to make it work, so she put me on hold for about 20 minutes and eventually transferred me to her supervisor, who put me on hold a while longer while she called JetBlue, and eventually explained that there had been "agent error" when I cancelled the tickets to Raleigh. Those tickets were non-refundable, so I should not have been told I would qualify for flight credit. But since those were the terms under which I had cancelled our flight and since I'm an Expedia Gold member, they would refund me the full price of the ticket I was rebooking. Why not, I asked, refund me the full amount, so that I wouldn't have to go through this again for each of the other four tickets. No, no, she assured me, she was putting a note in the file and the other tickets would be honored as if I had flight credit, as long as I wasn't changing the names of the travellers. I explained that I was actually very likely to want to do that and asked again if she couldn't just refund the full amount then and she said no, that she was only concerned with the one ticket and it would all be ok the next time, when I should use the special Expedia Gold customer service line to call them. So they refunded me the full price of that ticket and I booked a new ticket for Jason.

Today we got the info we needed to book Alice's return from Seattle at New Year's. So at about 3pm today I called Expedia--the Expedia Gold line this time--and after explaining all of this and sitting on hold while Christina, the agent, consulted first the JetBlue policy and her supervisor was told that their system would not allow them to book an unaccompanied minor ticket using a flight credit and I would need to call JetBlue to see if their system would let them do it. I was dubious, but figured that I would be in a stronger position if I did that, so I called JetBlue and talked with the nicest, friendliest ticketing agent I've gotten in a long time, who apologized for leaving me on hold for so long while she talked to her supervisor and explained that while it did show that I had credit for these flights from Expedia, there was no dollar amount in the system, so they wouldn't be able to use it to rebook Alice's flight, but Expedia totally should be able to. She guessed that what was bollixing up the works was that flight credits can't be applied to fees such as the one for unaccompanied minors, so they'd have to book the ticket with the credit and charge me for the fee. She also gave me a direct Customer Service number that she suggested I use to call Expedia back.

I called back on that number and after the required few minutes on hold, reached Christine, a different ticketing agent who listened to my story, pulled up the file, put me on hold so she could talk to her supervisor, and then told me that the Expedia Gold desk were the ones who could help me, so she transferred me to the Elite Desk. I explained my situation for the fourth time and Matt assured me that he would get it straightened out. He took some more details, tutted over my having been told to call JetBlue, when Christina should have done that herself, and then put me on hold while he talked to his supervisor. When he came back on the line he assured me that it was all worked out and he was putting me through to a ticketing agent who would be able to help me.

When this new agent came on the line, his accent was so thick I could not understand him when he introduced himself. It was so thick, in fact, that I could not track what he was telling me beyond the first few words of each sentence which were "I can't," repeatedly. At this point, dear reader, I confess I lost my temper a bit. He was very patient with me and eventually explained that he was going to call JetBlue and his supervisor and figure out what could be done. With reluctance, but determination to see this through, I agreed to stay on hold and noted the time: 5:42pm.

I sat on hold, during which time I cleaned my desk and caught up on some bookkeeping tasks. Eventually Jason went out to get pizza (we'd been planning to attend the dinner at church for which I had spent two hours earlier in the day chopping nine heads of cauliflower, a dozen cucumbers, and a handful of radishes, but Alice had developed a fever that kept us home for the evening) and I made salad and we were most of the way through dinner when, at 6:39pm, the Expedia guy picked the line back up to say that he was almost done, just had to check one more thing and he'd get back to me. We finished dinner and were in the midst of unloading and reloading the dishwasher when he picked up again to explain that my tickets were non-refundable and I never actually had flight credit from JetBlue, but due to acknowledged agent error, Expedia was willing to refund me the entire amount of the original itinerary, minus the one ticket that had previously been refunded. Why, I asked, didn't they do that on Tuesday and he said, with an expressive sigh, that he was equally mystified and had written stern notes to require additional coaching for both the original ticketing agent and the supervisor from Tuesday, so that they could avoid this type of mistake in the future. He verified my email address for the refund notification, asked if there were anything else he could do to help me today and wished me a pleasant evening at 7:11pm.

Five agents, plus various supervisors and uber-bosses and JetBlue agents and supervisors, and four hours of my time (not counting the time when I cancelled the tickets, or the time I put in on Tuesday) and in the end...I have exactly what I wanted, which was not to go to Raleigh on October 15th and to have every penny I had paid refunded to me.

So, y'know, ok.
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Theatre@First's exciting fall season continues with STOP KISS, one of my favorite contemporary scripts. [livejournal.com profile] desireearmfeldt is directing a cast of newcomers and it's a sweet and lovely show--yes, there's a hate crime in the middle of it, but it's really much more about the relationship between these two young women. Come see what I mean!

Theatre@First is proud to present

STOP KISS
written by Diana Son
directed by Andrea Humez

It's the 1990's in New York City. Sara is starting a new life while Callie is stuck in a rut. Their friendship leads them to explore new possibilities and ultimately to romance. But when their first date is interrupted by tragedy, Callie must decide how big a commitment she's willing to make.

PERFORMANCES
Friday, September 23 - 8 PM
Saturday, September 24 - 8 PM (Special Event!)
Sunday, September 25 - 8 PM
Thursday, September 29 - 8 PM
Friday, September 30 - 8 PM
Saturday, October 1 - 4 PM (Matinee Show)

UNITY SOMERVILLE
6 William St, Somerville 02144

BUY OR RESERVE YOUR TICKETS TODAY!
$15 Adults/$12 Students & Seniors

SPECIAL EVENT - Saturday, Sept 24th - Post-Show Q&A
Kareem Khubchandani, the Mellon Bridge Assistant Professor of Drama, Dance, and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Tufts University, will be leading a Q&A session after the performance. Khubchandani holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University, and previously served as the inaugural Embrey Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His research and teaching interests include dance studies, queer nightlife, South Asian diaspora, global queer politics, performance ethnography, critical race studies, masculinity and femininity, and drag. Join us for a thought-provoking and wide-ranging conversation!
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Here is the song that David Wilcox created for me at Hanna's Close on the misty morning of August 19th.

Caught here
Caught in this idea
That I'm catching myself
I see you with your newfound good fortune
And I'm left up on the shelf

I looked at that blessing
I looked at your easy windfall
And I said, like that second-grade teacher,
Did you bring enough to share with all?

How dare you taste the sweetness while I'm bitter?
How dare you taste the life when I'm ashamed?
How dare you find a shortcut when I'm walking alone and feeling estranged?
How dare you find your way home?
How dare you find your way home?

So I feel this politeness
And I feel it in the air
And I feel the way you were frozen
For pretending we don't care
And I feel the way we hold ourselves separate
As if there's no chance for this
To open to the bounty and the beauty of the endless bliss

So I catch myself frozen
I catch myself reacting in fear
There's a bounty happening right over there
But I'm left way over here

And I know it's the same trap
When I'm afraid to say what I've found
Cause I sense there may be anger
That there's not enough to go around

But both of these are fictions
And I know it at the end of my day
When I suddenly have this wisdom
And I hear someone what someone is always saying, saying...

Open if you can
Ally-ally in-free
You're not all alone
Open if you can
The way that leads you home

Home inside of your own story
In the language of your native tongue
Maybe not all can understand it
But it whispers the secrets that you've known
And it silently opens the way that brings you home.

So I know when I'm feeling this jealousy
For the blessing you found yourself in
I know it's just the shadow of the same trap
I so willingly step in.

And I'm ashamed to share my wonder
Cause I'm afraid of those who may hurt
And I know eventually that same trap will slowly turn
And offer me that same deadend
Offer me that same cul-de-sac
Offer me that same way of thinking
That always is the same old trap.

So now I know that my only way through
Is to celebrate the things you do
That the only way to get there is to untie that knot
That keeps me from feeling that I have it, too
I have my own way through.
lillibet: (Default)
In May I attended a David Wilcox show. I've been a big fan since 1990, but hadn't seen him for a while. But when I heard he was playing at a pub two blocks from my house it seemed churlish not to show up. B. and I had a great time and I got to stand on stage holding my phone where he could see the lyrics for one of his older songs. He mentioned that he would be co-leading a retreat in Northern Ireland in August and in the rush of excitement after the show, I checked it out. It was surprisingly cheap for what was offered and the dates happened to perfectly fit into the time that Alice was already scheduled to be in Seattle. Participation is not guaranteed--there's an application process so that they can assemble a group they think will work well together. I emailed the main facilitator, Gareth Higgins, and learned that yes, there was still room, so after remarkably little conversation, I submitted an application for Jason and myself. And suddenly we were going to Northern Ireland. You can see all of our photos on Flickr, if you're interested.

We flew over on Monday, via Newark. Unsurprisingly, there are no direct flights from Boston to Belfast, still. We were able to check in early to the Europa Belfast, gorgeous and conveniently adjoining the central bus station where we were to meet our group the next day. We napped, then dragged ourselves out for a walk that included a quick hour's tour of the Ulster Museum before it closed for the day.

The Ulster Museum

It was a lovely evening and we strolled for quite a while in the Botanic Gardens, which has one of the most beautiful rose gardens I've ever encountered, as well as a lovely glasshouse.

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Back at the hotel I managed to stay awake by showering and then we headed out to Mourne Seafood, where we had a delightful meal in a casual atmosphere--their pickled fish was a particular highlight.

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We fell into bed and slept for ten hours, which gave us just time to pack up and grab our favorite pizza (pepperoni & rocket) at Pizza Express before it was time to meet our bus.

Waiting outside the Caffe Nero was Ruthanne, recognizable by her pile of luggage and American je ne sais quoi. Inside the shop we found other fellow travellers, exchanging the password "Are you waiting for Gareth?" At last our driver, Niall, arrived and took us around the corner to a 25-passenger "people carrier" that was to take us down the coast to Kilkeel in County Down. Our accommodations for the first half of the retreat were in Hanna's Close, a group of cottages a mile or so outside of town.

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Built in the 17th century, they were restored in 1997, so they have electricity and indoor plumbing and fairly modern kitchens. But they also have stone floors and plastered stone walls and fireplaces and a cozy, rustic feel. We were assigned housemates based mostly on how the rooms were configured; our house (Johnny's Cottage) included ourselves, a woman from Colorado, a mom from Richmond, VA and her daughter from Portland, who is also a theatre director, so we had lots to talk about.

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Each morning we made our own breakfasts from supplies provided. On two of the mornings one of the other leaders, Karen Moore, led a contemplative session for anyone who wanted to join her. Jason was a little concerned that something I'd said might make people think he was just along for the ride and I encouraged him to attend the first of these alone in order to counteract that idea. On the other morning I joined him. Karen had a selection of quotations on slips of paper and we each pulled one, sat with it for a while, and then read it aloud and spoke about what it evoked for us. Karen has a marvelously calm and centered air--one of the other participants said that she got from Karen the best hug she had ever received from a stranger. At the same time she's happy to giggle at a good joke, or at herself and I really enjoyed spending time with her.

In the later morning we'd have a full group session, led by Gareth or Dave. Gareth would tell us a story and then give us exercises around one of its themes. We talked about stopping negative self-talk, being our own best friend, and learning to tell ourselves better stories. I loved Gareth's stories and his way of telling them and it was lovely connecting with the other participants, getting to know them and their perspectives and concerns. In some ways this was the least satisfying part of the retreat for me, because the issues that Gareth was focusing on don't happen to be challenges for me these days. But I got a lot out of these sessions anyway. I particularly liked Gareth's framing of the "better stories" idea: focusing on stories of abundance, ease, and acceptance, rather than scarcity, struggle, and judgment.

When it was Dave's turn he would play for us and talk about the experience of crafting songs, of sitting "in the empty room with the blank page." He explores some very interesting ideas through his songs and talked at length about using the observer within yourself to deepen emotional experiences by remembering that you have choices. He also talked about the challenge of realizing that the biggest obstacles in your life may be behind you--and what do you do then? A couple of times he performed what he calls Medicine Music, when he listens to someone speak about what's in their hearts, or on their minds, and then creates a song that connects to the issues raised. He did this for me one cool, rainy morning, sitting together in Tommy's Cottage, under an amazing thatched roof in front of a peat fire warming the stone floor. He said a friend once marveled at how he does this, making up the chords, the melody and the words on the spot, like he has two brains. Dave said "Yeah...or none." I'll share the song in a separate post--it's not at all polished, but it has some lovely turns of phrase. The experience of having someone whose work I love create something beautiful for me was an incredible gift and there is part of myself that will live in that moment always.

We piled back on the bus in the afternoons, heading to nearby towns for lunch on our own before reconvening to explore together. One day Gareth took us to his favorite place, Silent Valley.

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We climbed the dam at Ben Crom and then walked the three miles back down to where the bus met us. It was grey day, but the valley is beautiful and it was lovely to walk along in shifting groups, chatting with the other participants. There were twenty-three people in the group, including four leaders, two family members, and seventeen visitors. They came from all over the US--Cincinnati, Minnesota, Colorado, California, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, the Carolinas--and one gentleman from up near Thunder Bay in Canada. We were couples and singles and two mother-daughter pairs.

One of the more awkward aspects of the whole retreat was the relationship between the different categories. I think part of the problem was that two of the four facilitators had family members with them--Dave brought his wife, Nance, and Laurel brought her daughter, Sabby (short for Isabella, which is not a nickname I'd heard before). One of the other participants was also a personal friend of Dave's, who is developing a tv show about the Troubles. They were all lovely people, interesting to talk with, but it pulled Dave and Laurel's focus to them, created a slightly weird dynamic, and I think added to the stress that Gareth was under. He was having a lot of trouble sleeping--two of the group were Reiki practitioners and did at least one session with him that he said helped him. It seemed that at least some of our time on our own was occasioned by Gareth not having it together to deal with leading us, though it's hard to say without being able to compare it to other trips (this was their sixth).

Our second outing in County Down was to the St. Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, which has a very interesting exhibit about Patrick, his writings, his life, and how it's been interpreted. One of the most interesting tidbits I hadn't known was that the Catholic church made it a requirement that every altar have a relic in order to be consecrated, creating the reliquary market. We also got to see a movie tour of various other sites in Northern Ireland connected with St. Patrick that included some beautiful swooping footage of the area as viewed from a helicopter. From there we went on to Saul, where it is said that Patrick erected his first church. The church that's there now is much more modern and is a simple, quiet place in the midst of a graveyard with views of the surrounding area.

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Gareth told us the story of Bayard Rustin, an important, but little-known figure in the Civil Rights Movement, tying his commitment to non-violence into the peacemaking theme of the week, and to Gareth's own position about St. Patrick, which is that regardless of what one thinks of the Catholic message that he brought, he was the first outsider to treat the Irish as if they were fully human and worthy of the gift that he had to give.

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In the evenings after our outings we had simple dinners together in the largest of the cottages at Hanna's Close and then gathered to meet and talk with guest speakers. The first was Gail McConnell, a lecturer on poetry at Queen's University in Belfast. Gareth interviewed her, drawing out the story of her father--a policeman in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, like Gareth's--who was shot in front of her when she was three, and of her search and work for peace and understanding. "Forgiveness," she said "can make horror bearable." Gail read to us several poems, including Belfast Confetti and Least Action, which sparked a lot of conversation.

The second guest was Philip Orr, a historian and playwright. He brought some artifacts with him--a button jar, a vase made from a World War I shell casing, flags and emblems from the Loyal Orange Lodge--and discussed their provenance and historical significance. One of my favorite things he said was that "death is not lovely, but there are lovely moments in it." Gareth interviewed Philip about his work helping various groups to create plays from oral histories of their experiences during the Troubles. I'm interested in reading his play Halfway House, about two women living in a house divided by the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. He talked about his work as part of the storytelling tradition of the seanchaí, a word that quite intrigued me. The conversation ended in a discussion of Brexit and its potential impact on Northern Ireland.

During the morning session on our last day in Hanna's Close, Gareth explained that after lunch and until after breakfast the next day we were requested to be silent. I wondered if I would find that hard, or if I might find it deeply meaningful. The answer was no, not really, in either direction. It was a bit of a hassle communicating when necessary through gesture, but I didn't feel any pressure to speak. I took a nap and then Jason and I went for a long walk along the accessible section of the Kilkeel River, just below Hanna's Close, and out around the sheep pasture and along the road that led through a couple of other farms.

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We've spent a lot of time walking together all over the world, so that was comfortable, though I missed being able to talk with him about what we were seeing. I also had a glancing encounter with stinging nettle that might have been avoided with a verbal warning, but that faded by the next day. Back at Johnny's Cottage, Jason heated up the frozen pizzas we'd been given for our supper and in the evening we sat in the living room with our housemates. I sketched out a rough plan for a play I'm thinking of directing next fall and then colored for a while in the book I'd brought with me. Overall I found myself thinking that there's not a lot of need for silence in my relationships--though I'm always looking for ways to listen more deeply, I'd rather use my time in communication--but then I thought of a friend who was on my mind a lot through the week, with whom I have such high bandwidth communication that our conversation has been described as a spectator sport for others in the room, but with whom I think it could be good to spend more time in mindful appreciation of simply being together. I was glad to have spent the time in silence, simply to have experienced that and seen what I might glean from it.

We gathered after breakfast in the morning, broke our silence, and some of the others talked about their experiences. Then we packed up and got on the bus to head back to Belfast. We stopped for lunch in Newcastle, where Jason and I had a nice Sunday lunch at the Percy French, and then drove on to The Strand Arts Centre. This was the movie house where Gareth's love for film was inspired--he is, among other things, a film critic--and he had arranged for them to show us The Dam Keeper, a short animated work, and then an Icelandic film, Rams, about two brother sheepfarmers who haven't spoken to each other in decades. They were each beautiful and meaningful--Rams was a bit of a slog, but the final scene was a great payoff.

After the movies we were taken to Lorne House, our home for the rest of our trip. The headquarters of the Girl Guides of Northern Ireland, it's set up for groups of girls, so the rooms were all single beds in various configurations--ours had five. The public spaces were very elegant, including a beautiful conservatory that made me long for a lead pipe and wonder about secret passages.

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The grounds are lovely, with fairy doors built into several of the trees.

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It's just up the hill from the sea and on our first morning we made the beautiful walk along the shoreline to Holywood, where Gareth grew up. My favorite meal of the whole trip was a bowl of smoky seafood chowder at Johnny the Jig. After lunch we strolled the Holywood high street and then headed back, enjoying the weather and the view.

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That evening we gathered back at Lorne House to meet the Rev. Dr. Lesley Carroll, a Presbyterian minister (though she's recently decided to leave the congregation she's served since 1998 and is under heresy charges from her bishop at the moment, though she doesn't think that will come to anything) who was part of the secret conversations between Sinn Fein and Ulster Unionists that eventually led to the 1994 ceasefire that was the beginning of the end of the Troubles.

Laurel and Sabby had to leave us at this point and Gareth thought he had recruited both his mother and sister to come and help Karen with food and other logistics, but in the end only his sister, Caryll, made it. Gareth had asked each of the women in the group to try to find an opportunity to talk with her and she and I ended up spending over an hour sitting under one of the trees near the house, talking about life and love. She's going through a very rough patch, but has a wicked sense of humor that I believe will get her through.

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The next day we took the train into East Belfast, the Protestant section of town. We met with Jim Wilson, a former Red Hand Commando who is now involved in community development and bridge-building. He talked some about how he became involved in the violent struggles in the 1960s and what inspired his commitment to peace--his grandchildren. He led us around the neighborhood, showing us some of the many murals, including one just by his home that features his grandson and the granddaughter of a Catholic activist, with a poem that Jim wrote.
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After a break for lunch in Belfast Center, where we introduced one of our fellow travelers to Yo! Sushi, we met up again at City Hall. From there we walked to West Belfast, the very Catholic neighborhood, and up the Falls Road. Gareth described this as "the walk that no one makes," and how even the name "Falls Road" has a slightly sinister feeling to him, even though he never really felt comfortable in Protestant Belfast, either. At the top of the hill we reached Clonnard Monastery, where we met Ed.

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Ed is originally from New Jersey and has lived in Belfast for fourteen years, where he is married and has four children. He led us into the monastery, offered us tea and cookies, and then talked about the peacemaking work of the Redemptorists at Clonnard, which is known as the Cradle of the Good Friday Agreement. It was fascinating stuff with a very different energy and perspective than we'd found in East Belfast. One of the things I really noticed was how Ed's face would light up whenever he said "Pope Francis." After our conversation Ed took us to Parlor 4 (which happens to be Room 007, a fact that amuses Gareth) where the Secret Conversations took place and Gareth reflected on its humble nature: it's just a room.

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Most of the participants left at that point, but a few of us stayed talking with Ed and he took us several flights up to a window where we could see the "Peace Wall" that divides their Catholic neighborhood from the adjacent Protestant streets.

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Once we were done there, we were on our own for the rest of the evening. I was really sorry in retrospect that they scheduled it this way--I think could have all used a chance to decompress and share our impressions from the day and get more of the story from Gareth. Several of the others headed off for a pub, but we decided to have dinner on our own at Deane's Vin Cafe. They had a special for three tapas and a carafe of wine, so we took two of those and it ended up being a lot of wine, but very tasty. Jason had checked out what was happening in Belfast on a Tuesday night in August--not much--and suggested that we catch a showing of Bobby Sands: 66 Days. I was a bit over-Troubled by that point, but glad in the end that we saw it. It was less graphic and disturbing than I'd feared, but very interesting. I remember when it was happening, but didn't really have much context at the time. Jason felt that the ending voiceover argued that the eventual success of the hunger strike--after the death of ten strikers--demonstrated that non-violent resistance was more effective than armed struggle. I thought the message was more that the side that managed to create a better story won.

Perhaps the most surprising thing was the crowd--this was the film's third weekend and the cinema was more than half full and not with an art-house or activist crowd. The other thing that we noticed--here and on the rare occasions that we watched a bit of television--was how brutal Northern Irish advertising is. You can check out some of the ads we saw here and here, but don't say I didn't warn you.

We were on our own for the entire last day of the retreat. I had really wanted to get up to the Giant's Causeway and it turned out that there were several tours that included stops at some of the filming locations for Game of Thrones. We picked one and eleven of us ended up going. The places we visited were marvelous. I'll insert a few photos, but I encourage you to check out the whole set on Flickr--that day's photos start here. We visited Carrickfergus (no connection, just a cool castle and a convenient bathroom stop) and drove slowly past Magheramorne Quarry, where Hardhome and Castle Black are filmed. We had a short stop in Carnlough, which doubled for one key location in Braavos (though most of those scenes are filmed in Morocco), and then a spectacular visit to the caves at Cushendun.

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After a pre-ordered lunch at a pub in Ballycastle, we headed to Carrick-a-Rede, where we were given an hour to make our way down to and over the famous rope bridge. The descriptions of it stress how scary the bridge is, but unless you're super afraid of heights, it's really not bad at all and the views are amazing.

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From there we went straight on to the Giant's Causeway, which is an astounding geological feature, exposed columnar basalt from Ireland's volcanic past, marching into the sea like stepping stones.

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Our last stop was at the Dark Hedges, a lovely avenue of beeches that was planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century.

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As you can see, the places were amazing. Unfortunately, the logistics of the tour were...not. Our bus advertised five amenities on it's rear window: AC, TV, WiFi, Fridge, and Toilets. None of those were working. Without being able to show us clips from Game of Thrones our guide had very little to say about any of the places we visited, or the countryside we were driving through. The transmission and shocks were shot--I was very surprised that we made it back up the hill at Carrick-a-Rede and we only did so in a cloud of smoke that left us choking for about ten minutes. It was a gorgeous day outside, but the sun made for an extremely hot ride, especially where we were sitting at the back. We stripped down as far as modestly possible, but it wasn't until Jason went up and found the button for the rear fan that we got some relief, after asking at every stop if there were any way to get more air back there. Our guide was incapable of communicating the timing clearly, or shepherding his charges, with the result that we ran later and later. He said there was roadwork in Ballintoy that would prevent our bus from getting down to see where Pyke Harbor is filmed, but we suspect he just didn't want to get any further off schedule. Our time at the Giant's Causeway was much shorter than advertised and he tried to talk us into skipping the Dark Hedges entirely. Our veto made us an hour late getting back to Belfast. We all agreed that the sites and the company had made the outing an overall pleasant one, and that the bus had been so bad as to be easily laughed over--as Jason put it, there was plenty of material for a story of abundance--but if you're ever there, I recommend picking a different company than Brit Movie Tours.

For our last dinner together we gathered over a goodly spread in the conservatory and Gareth put on music so we could have a dance party as we enjoyed the spectacular sunset.

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Afterwards we had one last session of music and storytelling and a chance to say any last words about the trip. It was fairly low key and many of us had to be up early, so we broke up early and headed up to pack. I had another short conversation with Caryll, wished her well and promised to connect online, and then it was time for bed. A taxi picked us up for the ride back to Belfast International, we connected through Newark, and made it back to Somerville in time to see that evening's performance of The Spanish Tragedy before we keeled over.

In the end, I think that if I had known more exactly what was in store for us, I probably wouldn't have decided to go. And I'm not sure that I would do it again, although I find myself more willing in thinking back on it than I was when I first arrived home. But at the same time I'm very glad that I went. The opportunity to get to know Dave was worth it and I very much enjoyed meeting Gareth and Karen and all the rest of the group. At the same time, it's not clear to me that I actually made any lasting connection with any of them, although continued online interaction might easily change that. The education on the Troubles from an insider perspective, or rather several, was intense and amazing and something I think will greatly influence my thinking about activism and peacemaking, and it was a unique opportunity. Both the city of Belfast and the countryside of Northern Ireland were lovely to visit and having a local guide to take us off the tourist path and tell us stories of life there was a fantastic travel opportunity.

One of the things the trip emphasized to me was how wealthy I am in terms of community. Several of the group made comments about how special the conversations we were having were for them, how hard it is to find like-minded people willing to talk openly and deeply and to share their authentic selves. And I've had periods of my life when that was true. But at this point I could pretty easily gather a dozen friends for that kind of conversation about important things, and at First Parish I feel that I could turn at any time to the nearest dozen and we'd have it, because that's pretty much what we're about. I am incredibly lucky to have friends that I can talk with and reflect on, who hold me accountable, and push me to evolve. So perhaps, like all truly great trips, the best part of this one was coming home with fresh eyes to appreciate all that waits for me here.
lillibet: (Default)
People often ask me about my church and about why I belong to a religious community and regularly attend services there. It's not a very common practice among my friends and there's certainly been enough evil done by organized religions to make people reasonably wary of them. Some of my reasons apply only to my congregation and to my denomination, but others are more widely applicable. Proselytizing is pretty uncomfortable for me, but I figured it would be useful to have my answers gathered in one place. I'm also interested to come back to this post and see how my answers, or the priority they have for me, change over time.

First, a little background. I'm a Unitarian Universalist of relatively recent vintage. My father was a United Church of Christ minister. The two denominations are closely related, both descending from the Pilgrims and splitting in the early part of the 19th century. Most village greens in New England have a big church that is one or the other, depending on who kept the building after the schism. So while the theology of each have changed significantly since the split, there are still many traditions they hold in common, which is probably part of why the UU feels so comfortable to me. Jason was not raised in a church, but when I said that it was something important to me, he agreed to come along and has been surprised by how meaningful it is for him, particularly singing in the choir.

- A Multi-Generational Community - There are very few opportunities in our society to develop relationships across generations. This is one of the things I value from my upbringing--it was very noticeable in college, when people my age would often tell me they just weren't comfortable with children, or old people. I wanted Alice to have that experience and didn't realize how much I had missed it myself. Having women ten-, fifteen-, twenty-, thirty years older than myself as role models has been a wonderful change in my life. And then there are our amazing youth--more than fifty high school kids bring their experiences to our worship and the life of our community and when people complain about kids today, I can honestly say that I look forward to living in the world that they will create. Seeing a path for my daughter to grow up held and challenged by this community is an incredible gift.

- A Focus for Social Justice - Part of our Mission Statement is "to challenge the excesses and injustices of our time." As a congregation we support a wide variety of other organizations within our local community and around the world that I probably never would have known about. There are opportunities to hear from people impacted by the injustices of our society, who are personally struggling with the challenges of our world in ways that never touch my life directly. There are opportunities to learn about issues and calls to action and pointers to ways to live our faith in the world. Yes, I could do most of this on my own, but the truth is that I didn't and probably wouldn't, and that being part of an organization leverages my own efforts in powerful ways. And social justice is the major focus of our program for youth--each year they are led in organizing and fundraising around a particular issue (which they choose) and going on every-other-year service trips (which they research and organize), learning that saving the world requires a lot of work, but that they are capable of learning those skills and making a difference in their own communities and around the world.

- A Support Network - Our congregation fields a team of six Lay Ministers who take on much of the pastoral care of our congregation--visiting people who are in the hospital or shut in by age and illness, listening to people who are going through life's challenges and helping them to find resources, paying attention to who's struggling and could use the attention of our community. They coordinate a Wider Network of Care of over a hundred people who have volunteered to send cards, do errands, provide meals, knit prayer shawls, etc. for those in need. There are also a variety of small groups that provide opportunities for deeper connections within our large community, people who will notice when things get rough, or when someone stops showing up. Many of us have families who can take on this work and many of us have a good community of friends--and I try to do what I can for my friends and members of my other communities, like Theatre@First--but I know what a huge burden crises can be for the one or two people closest and I take a great deal of comfort from knowing that there is a whole community organized to help us, to help my family if I am incapacitated, to help me when I need it. Very few communities are organized around the major changes in our lives and capable of celebrating and supporting us through them from cradle to grave, and being part of one is a source of great reassurance and security for me.

- A Spiritual Home - This is another thing I didn't know that I was missing until I found it. I do think that it's important to figure out what you think about the world, what you believe, what framework you can use to evaluate the events of your life. One of the arguments I gave Jason for attending services was that I wanted give Alice the example that these questions are worthy of at least an hour a week of one's time. What I found is that it is a source of joy to spend that time with other people tackling the same questions, and to learn what other questions different people wrestle with, to be part of a community that isn't afraid to confront serious topics, without taking themselves too seriously. For me, the UU is a great fit--the Seven Principles are all things that I can whole-heartedly embrace, their openness to finding truth from a wide variety of sources fits my own way of thinking, and their focus on Standing on the Side of Love is one of the best filters I have ever found for approaching the world.

First Parish itself is the single best community of people I have ever experienced--I frequently say and am constantly finding that almost every person there is someone I can connect with deeply, if given the opportunity, someone who has their own amazing story and talents to share. Each week I look through the events organized by and for our congregation and realize that if I stopped doing everything else in my life, I could lead a full and fascinating one right there. I don't agree with every perspective offered, I don't resonate with every ritual we perform, and I don't enjoy every activity that we engage in, but I strongly support the variety of voices that we welcome and the freedom we take for ourselves to disagree and to find meaning in wider contexts than any one person can grasp. When I first started attending services, I found myself in tears almost every week, as my heart was broken open and my mind was stretched to wider horizons. Nowadays that's a rarer experience--I think I've adjusted to the radical trust and transformational experience that we strive to achieve--but I can still be surprised by the emotions that well up at the joy of a hymn, the profound resonance of a prayer, the sadness of shared grief, the excitement of shared love. And having a setting where those reactions are valued and welcome, where the point is to challenge us and comfort us, is invaluable to me.
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Each summer our services are led by members and groups from First Parish, while our staff are on vacation. For the service following the two party conventions, Chris DiMeo asked me, Woody Kay, and Lois Fine to weigh in with our thoughts on how our UU faith influences our view of politics. We were asked not to be explicitly partisan and a disclaimer was added to our Welcome & Announcements explaining that while we welcome many voices to our pulpit, the views expressed are those of the speaker, not the congregation as a whole. That's actually going to be repeated each week until November, because the separation of church and state is important to us and there are often opportunities for people to speak whatever is in their hearts. It was an interesting exercise, figuring out how my UU values and my political values intersect. If you'd rather listen than read, or want to hear what the other speakers had to say, here is a link to the recording. This is what I ended up saying:

When I first started coming to First Parish, back in 2010, I attended the New UU class taught by Andrea Winslow and Cindy Kiburz. They taught me a lot—about Unitarian Universalism, about First Parish, about how the seven principles of the UUA can be the foundation of a faith. One of those principles is that we affirm the inherent dignity and worth of every human being.

At some point, we talked about the process that First Parish had gone through in order to become a Welcoming Congregation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans individuals. I asked if the process had been controversial and she said no, but that it had been a great opportunity for learning within this community. What did you learn, I asked. Cindy said that all her life, LGBT people have been part of every organization she’s been a part of, and she always thought that was fine. What I learned, she told me, is that it’s not fine, it’s better.

I thought a lot about that and it went together in my head with research showing that companies whose boards include women and minorities make objectively better decisions. Having more, different voices at the table isn’t fine, it isn’t just nice for them…it’s better.

Starting before I even came to First Parish, I’ve been working on examining my own privileges and raising my awareness of the racism and other forms of bigotry that are built into our society. As a white woman and a descendant of slave-owners, I know that I have personally benefitted from the labor of black workers while having advantages that their descendants have never enjoyed. I’ve never been turned down for a job, or had my honesty suspected, or feared the law, or had any trouble making my voice heard, simply because of the color of my skin.

Since the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, in particular, the Black Lives Matter movement has made me aware of the need to follow—-for white would-be allies to give precedence to the voices and leadership of people of color as we try to join and support their activism around the issues that most severely impact their lives. Current events have brought the work and words of black and other minority voices into greater prominence in my life and while it’s rarely easy reading, it has given me at least the sense that I am paying attention and that is better.

I have read Ta-nehisi Coates’ writing about the idea of reparations, of finding ways to compensate black citizens of our country for the damage that our ancestors inflicted on theirs, for the inequity that we have benefitted from, and the injustice that we have failed to remedy. And I read an intriguing proposal by Theodore R. Johnson, that we give each black voter 5/3 of a vote. I loved this proposal’s echo of one of the most damning compromises in the US Constitution: the decision to count slaves as 3/5 of a person when calculating state population.

Now, I can’t actually imagine this proposal ever being enacted, although I do find it amusing to think of all the people who would suddenly rush to claim African ancestry. But I do like the idea of handing over some of the unequal power that we white people have accrued and continue, all too often, to hoard.

Throughout the primary season, I have been reading posts by a Mexican-American writer named Gabriel Valdez. As state after state voted, Gabriel kept my eyes on how the candidates and their supporters treated black and Hispanic voters: who was actively courting their votes and including their priorities in campaign speeches and policy statements, who was encouraging voter turnout in communities of color, who was supporting the movements started and led by people from those communities—and who was not. These were issues that I had paid only scant attention to in previous election cycles.

And I began to think: maybe I could give them my vote. Now, like any good UU, as soon as I thought that, I began to question it. Wouldn’t that be patronizing? I wouldn’t actually be willing to vote for someone that I couldn’t support for my own reasons, right? And it’s not as if people of color all agree on a single candidate. And isn’t it also important for me to consider other issues—women’s reproductive freedom, for example—that may not align with the priorities of communities of color. And isn’t it awfully convenient that this occurs to me at a point when I think our interests do coincide.

But. But couldn’t it be a starting point for me, as a voter? Back in college I took a course called “Race and Ethnicity in Comparative Politics” by Cynthia Enloe. The main thesis of her class was that whenever we consider a situation, any situation, unless we ask the question “what role do race and ethnicity play” we will not have a real, comprehensive understanding of the situation.

So that’s the commitment that I am making, as a person of faith in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being: to ask, in this election cycle and in all those to come, “what role do race and ethnicity play?” Is there a greater understanding that I can gain by considering how the candidates treat the issues of importance to people of color and how they treat the voters from those communities? What are people of color saying about the candidates and is there a way that I can use my vote to lift up their voices? Because I think that by not only accepting, but amplifying those voices, our whole country will be, not just fine, but better.
lillibet: (Default)
Jason had a meeting in Finland the last week of school, so we decided that Alice and I would meet him in Reykjavik on his way home and spend a week showing her some of the country we fell in love with back in 2005.*

Iceland Day by Day )

Overall, it was a very good trip, despite Alice and I having colds for most of it. We ate lots of tasty food, had marvelous adventures and saw more of the amazing landscape that reminds us so much of Hawaii, only completely different. We're already talking about what we would do on our next trip--Jokulsarlon tops the list, I'm interested in snorkling in the rift, and I'd still like to see more puffins! It was good to have a break and to spend so much time together and now it's lovely to be back.

*There are several journal entries from the 2005 trip, starting here, if you're interested in seeing those.
lillibet: (Default)
I also posted this on FB, if you're interested in reading the comments there.

As you may be able to tell from some of my recent postings, I’ve been thinking a lot about representation in the media lately.
If you are a person of color, or LGBT, you may want to skip this as yet another “white people trying to figure out inclusivity” post. I welcome your comments and perspective and will listen hard to anything you choose to say, but I want to be clear that I don’t expect you to educate me here, unless you feel like it.

Similarly, I ask white men, in particular, to please listen more than you talk, here. Your perspective is welcome, but most of you lack the experience of not seeing yourself unrepresented, or represented only very narrowly.
With those notes out the way, here’s the thing...there has been a lot of discussion lately about various ways of expanding representation in order to make more opportunities for non-white, non-cismale, non-heteronormative actors; to increase the visibility of people in those categories in order to recognize the presence in our society of those they represent; and to address the historic and continuing imbalance of power and opportunity.

There are two basic ways of doing this. One is to examine every role, asking “is there a reason this character is an apparently straight, white, cisgendered man?” And then, whenever the answer is “No, not especially,” to make the effort to change that character and cast someone in another category. This is “colorblind” casting and it addresses the third goal, but usually without addressing the lack of stories about people in under-represented categories. The characters aren’t non-white, etc.--only the actors are--and this is another variation on invisibility.

The other way to do this is to recruit actors from the community represented by the character. So African-American characters are played by African-American actors, Asians by Asians, trans by trans, deaf by deaf, etc. This is great, I love this, we should do this a lot more. It should become the norm.

But--and I here’s where my thinking gets sticky--what decisions are fair game for criticism? I want to make clear that’s what I’m talking about: not censorship, not legislation, just criticism and changing norms. I also recognize that these are issues that we’ve really only begun to address, as a society, and that only on a limited basis as yet. If things were different, things would be different and it’s not up to us to decide on a global policy, but to encourage directors, casting agents, and audiences to think about their choices more deeply, and to be willing to engage with the problematic aspects, even of creations that we love. But how far are we willing to go in identifying these choices as problematic?

Jason points out that the fallacy of “so gay actors shouldn’t play straight roles” has been around as long as we’ve been talking about this--and there the answer is to look at power differentials. Openly LGBT actors have often been stuck in the rare gay roles (though that’s changing, a little) and the representation is still woefully inadequate. I think a similar question is being asked about trans folk playing roles that are not explicitly trans and I think the answer is similar--they should be considered for every role open to actors of their gender and to any role for which they can get a director to consider them, regardless of gender, and their trans identity should be just as much of an issue in that role as they, and the director, choose to make it.

But how deep should this go, and what room are we leaving for, well, acting? Elizabeth Olsen plays the Scarlet Witch in the Marvel movies with a charming vaguely Eastern European accent. Eastern Europeans with accents are definitely under-represented in the movies, and where they get roles, they’re usually villains--which the Scarlet Witch was in Age of Ultron. Would casting an Eastern European actor in that role have been stereotyping them as villains? Similarly--and I know there was some discussion of this when Selma came out--is it fine for the role of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to be played by a British man of Nigerian descent, rather than an African-American actor? Are the answers different for fantastical or historical characters than for characters in mimetic fiction? How about rape survivors? Is that information that actors should list on their resumes and directors should take into account when casting? Are the only appropriate acting challenges those of circumstance, rather than identity? If directors are going to cast big name white cisgendered actors, should they limit themselves to stories of white cisgendered characters and leave the stories of other communities to indie film?

I don’t know the answers. As a director in community theatre, my options are somewhat limited by our audition pool. We continue to recruit a wider pool of actors and to encourage directors to cast diversely, but unless we’re doing original scripts (where I notably screwed this up in the past, by the way) we don’t really have the option to tailor the roles to the actors’ identities. But I am thinking about it, on scales ranging from my own work, to blockbuster cinema. And I wonder what you think, what questions you have, what solutions you suggest, either in case-by-case situations, or more global norms. How do we think about this?

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