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Life as Participatory Performance Art

I am not a card player. As a team-building exercise at work some years ago, I had to play a card game in which I was given a sheet of rules and told to play with the others at my table. Each table’s loser was moved to the next table. Already anxious because I seldom play cards, my anxiety level rose as the game became more chaotic and confusing. I told the facilitator I was having an anxiety attack and had to quit.

Afterwards I learned that everyone had been given different rules. Essentially nobody was playing the same game–thus the chaos.

In a recent dream, I entered a sort of amusement park made up of different people doing performance art. As I proceeded from group to group with the expectation of interacting, I realized there seemed to be no standards or rules. I quickly played along, just enjoying the interactions, moving on when I was ready. One tall, rather imposing man (British–as was everyone else) was having trouble with his sleeves and his cuffs. I sorted it out for him, fixed his cuff-links and helped him on with his jacket. He then kissed me gently on the lips. It was neither sexy nor romantic, just very sweet. He looked like Michael Caine.

In other scenes there were babies and little children. Everyone was having a good time, and I just flowed with it.

What an empowering dream! Unlike the card game, either because of maturity (or Prozac) I was at ease with not knowing the rules or expectations.

As I awoke I thought about applying this to my waking life. I realized that everybody is operating on a slightly different set of standards and rules, and we have no idea exactly what they are.

As long as I act with a good heart, humor and integrity, it will be all right.

We are getting ready to move, and the process is overwhelming after 18 years in this house. This dream was so freeing because I contemplate the zillion tasks that need to be done–getting this house ready to sell, finding a new home, making the actual move–and it seems impossible.

So I remind myself to follow my own rules with a good heart, integrity and (this is hard) humor. Our agent tells us to do certain things to make the house sell quickly, and I’ll do my best with the resources I have.

In the meantime, we took a spring break trip to Jefferson, in East Texas, a historic Victorian town near Caddo Lake. Everything was blooming: azaleas, wisteria, dogwood, wildflowers, and we stayed at a beautiful B&B, the Azalea Inn, along with a couple of dear friends, so I’ll leave you with a few shots from the trip.

Our B&B, with its namesake azaleas in full bloom.

 

Wisteria in the Azalea Inn side yard.

 

Us in a park with the wisteria, which grows crazy wild in East Texas. It was actually cool enough for jackets!

 

A quilt in the Jefferson historical museum.

Watch for an upcoming post with details of our moving plans.

 

 

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New Year’s: Peaking at Nine?

Technically I was 8 1/2. We had been in the U.S. for about six weeks and it was the first New Year’s I remember, the first one I stayed up to greet, 1954.

My mother had quickly become friends with another English woman, who invited us to their party. I remember almost nothing of the evening but it remains a treasured New Year’s memory.

The other “best” was 1995, when my husband and I had been dating about three months. He had a murder mystery gig at a hotel in Fort Worth. Afterwards the manager sent a bottle of champagne to the cast table. I wore a borrowed black cocktail dress, there was a band, and we danced. Later, I did my first (and only) karaoke, “Leader of the Pack” with two other women. It was terrible, but great fun, both of which I attribute to the champagne.

The absolute worst New Year’s was 2001, when Gary had another gig, this time a private party that I attended with him. We left before midnight “to beat the drunks,” but we were hit by a pickup running a red light, totaling our car and sending us both to the ER, where we greeted the millennium on side-by-side gurneys. We got home at 5 a.m., lucky to be only slightly injured, but the repercussions (physical, psychological and financial) continued for months. We ultimately had to get an attorney to reach a settlement from, yes, I’ll name the insurance company: USAA.

The year before, with the Y2K “scare,” a friend joined us to celebrate in the condo hot tub with a bottle of bubbly.

I’ve missed many New Year’s celebrations, including a couple (1990 and 2008) when I was deathly ill, once with the flu and the other with a violent stomach virus. The best “miss” was Savannah in 2012. After dinner and a bottle of wine at Paula Deen’s restaurant we went back to our b&b to rest, intending to go back out. I awoke with the clock reading 12:00, wondering why it was so quiet, then the fireworks and horns began. We didn’t get up.

Lately we stay home and don’t even last till midnight. This year we’ll have Chloe overnight. I’ll let her stay up, but at age seven she probably won’t make it till midnight. We’ll go to a couple of New Year’s Day parties.

Saying goodbye to a mostly very good year, I am putting my blog on hiatus for a short while. I have some deadline projects, including the print publicity for the next Paradox Players show, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks; I am about six months late in getting out a condo newsletter (not that anyone but me is counting); and being OCD I am desperate to do a massive cleaning and reorganization of the house. We are coming up on 15 years in the condo, the longest I’ve ever lived in one house. I believe God intended us to move every five years, so it’s time to pretend we’re moving and do a major purge. I even have a sage-sweetgrass bundle to smudge and purify afterwards. I’m hoping for a year of music, poetry, travel, good health and new experiences.

I also plan to refresh and redesign my blog. In the meantime, thank you for reading the ups and downs (mostly ups) of “Radical Retirement.” I wish everyone a healthy, happy and blessed 2014.

A spiritual practice of mindfulness and meditation will be part of my 2014.

A spiritual practice of mindfulness and meditation will be part of my 2014.

 

 

The Alchemy of the Critique

For my “poem of the fortnight” (which, if you’re keeping track, isn’t an exact term because my critiquing group meets only twice a month, and sometimes I don’t even take anything), I’m including a look at the process by which this poem was finalized.

Here is the finished poem:

Millstone

How do you know you are bearing

a load you have borne every day?

 

Then suddenly, by sleight of pharmaceutical magic

you are lightened, relieved,

find yourself facing obstacles calmly, fearlessly,

swimming from the deep of dreams each morning,

diving back again at night,

living fully in between.

 

After a half-century

fighting for every scrap of joy,

you have let go of the load,

and never want to bear it again.

Here is a mashup of the first two hand-written drafts:

Millstone drafts

I took a typed version–a third or fourth draft–to my critiquing group, where I got oral and written suggestions. Here are samples of some jotted comments:

Millstone critiques

Next I reviewed it all and incorporated many of the ideas into a final version. But the magic is that I went beyond the suggestions in the critiques, pushing the poem even further. We joke in our group that someone who brings a two-page poem might leave with a haiku, but the hewing process usually removes dead wood. I often hear or read a poem that’s so-so and think, “That poem would be so much better if it was submitted to a critiquing group.”

I recommend to any poet who isn’t working with a group, whether in person or online, to get involved. Not only do you meet and make friends with other poets, you will learn ways to improve your work that you can’t see working away in isolation.

Thanks to my Writers’ League of Texas Monday night group, of which I have been a part (and one-time leader) since 1990!

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