Enter Actor

Yesterday, in one of my alt-personalities, I spent the day being an actor. While seldom a topic in my writing, this gig deserved a post. However, unlike my younger friends, it didn’t occur to me to snap any photos on my cell phone; 1. because I was playing a senior; and 2. because I am a senior.

But truth is, I’ve rarely shot photos when I’m on a film shoot: there are cameras in so many directions, front, side, several movie cameras rolling and still shots shooting, it hardly seems necessary for more.

The coolest thing, (besides being able to work as a professional actor, which I have been since 1979, professional in that’s when I joined the Screen Actors Guild although I’d been a nonprofessional since grade school), was I learned about a really cool program being developed in Kansas.

My role was that of a rural Kansas woman with two morbidity diseases (meaning, I learned, two diseases that could lead to sudden death i.e. cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease) and who was some distance away from health care practitioners. She wasn’t Ma Kettle if that’s what you’re thinking. Rather, one of many people in Kansas, especially seniors, who often still live on their farms or in small towns with no hospital.

Here’s the program, developed by KU Med Center on the Kansas side of Kansas City: it teaches rural people how to use a digital tablet to contact a health care practitioner for regular, live checkups, including checking their medications, a nurse-practitioner trained in remote care to listen to complaints, address concerns, give dietary and exercise information, and a way to get help immediately. The company setting up this program with KU Med even provides a portable receiver and trains the seniors how to use the remarkably simple tablet.

The representative of the company told me they have also partnered with several smaller hospitals throughout Kansas.

With all the who-ha about the Affordable Health Care debate, this is a valuable digital outreach. I’m probably somewhat biased because K.U. Med is our health care provider and I appreciate their Complementary Medicine department (I don’t take meds and rely on complementary medicine).

Okay. Enough about them. Now about me :). As always, I had a great time. While I’ve worked on stage and did for many years, I much prefer working in film. There’s less drama. No one yells, you’re a team, everyone says thank you often, and voices are calm. I realize there are difficult film directors and crazy film actors, but I’ve not had that experience.

The other cool thing about yesterday was I learned they chose me for this woman struggling with her health for another reason: they’d seen my reel on my agent’s site. A reel, for those who don’t know, is a short film with clips from several of an actor’s projects.

So, since this is an intro to a piece of my life you probably know little about, here’s a link to my most recent reel on Talent Unlimited, my acting agency for years. When you click on that link, you’ll arrive at my home page; in the middle of the page, there’s a link that says DEMO REELS. Click on that. There’s four scenes from four different projects. You’ll notice I play old women often… or rather, always. One of my most favorite ever roles is the last one on this clip. Still makes me laugh.

And I’m still working. I will be the Judy Dench nobody’s ever heard of. Except you. And at the end of the day, like all working seniors, I was plumb tuckered out.

.

 

An Untimely Death

Last weekend, I presided at a friend’s memorial service. Ten years ago, I presided at their wedding. A second marriage for both and a happy marriage. They were out bicycling on a sunny day; an undetected blood clot; a heart attack; sudden death.

This isn’t a post I particularly wanted to write, and yet, it kept digging at me. In part, because I’m still in dismay and sadness as I was all last week. In part, because I, too, am in a second and happy marriage; in part, because of the truth I spoke at the memorial service and which lingers.

None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

At some level or another, we all know that. We just don’t want to recognize it or think about it.

None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

It’s a very old idea: Benjamin Franklin said, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”; from the Book of Proverbs, much older than Ben Franklin and said to contain the sayings of King Solomon, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”

I think I’m wandering in the land of meaning to avoid the reality: it sucks. It really sucks. But I didn’t say that.

What I said to the some 200 friends gathered was to live as our friend lived: kind, generous, loving, laughing. I said, take a moment to slow down in traffic; let someone in who’s trying to change lanes; take time to laugh with your family, to be generous to others in need.

All of which I believe. All of which I endeavor to do, even from my isolated perch at my desk at home.

I guess I thought writing might ease some of the sorrow I’m feeling, both for life and for my other friend in that marriage. A few months ago, my husband and I did both a marriage and two months later, a memorial service for a different couple.

Baby christenings are happier, as are weddings, usually, but the same rules apply. We do not know what tomorrow will bring.

Impermanence, the Buddhists teach: all things are in a constant state of flux.

We’ve had rain the past few days, finally, after a winter of drought with very little snow. The bluebonnets are thrusting little blue heads through the cold dirt and leftover oak leaves. That’s courage.

Perhaps that’s what I’m struggling with: the courage to accept impermanence. And yet, I know when the sun and warm days return, the bluebonnets will fade quickly as they do every year, leaving a mat of green leaves…as one thing transforms to another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Dust and Rain

Nothing smells clean. Outside my window, the willow struggles into a fragile green sheen; the redbud is millimetering into tiny sharp arrow tips.

In the storms racing through Missouri this week, we missed being in a tornado, tornadoes being lazy creatures, all in all, in spite of their fierceness, and don’t like battling through a city for the most part. Their preference is for flat land. We did get a half inch of rain, which brings our grand total of moisture since the beginning of the year to about an inch and a half. We’ve had one mild snowfall.

Last evening, I cleaned the back porch, screened on two sides, buttressed into the house on two sides. We carried out the leftover firewood and stacked it back outside. I began sweeping up shovelfuls of dust and dry leaves, nose twitching at the reminder of drought creeping in from the west. Everything has a powdery coat.

I feel like one of the women Gordon Parks photographed during the dust bowl days: hand shading eyes, watching for locust or a rolling dust storm. But I’m probably being over-dramatic. It’s not quite that dry although dry enough.

When I lived in Hawaii at Kalani Honua down by Volcano, my job, in exchange for free room and board, was garden work (once the memoir is published, you can read all about it). In the nights, rain often pocked through the jungle and across the compound. I’d wake briefly, glance out the screened window beside my bed, think I won’t have to water the garden, and fall asleep in the soft green scent of jungle, leaves rejoicing, earth wafting its gratitude. I wondered, from time to time, how you’d explain the smell of dirt to someone who hadn’t stuck their hands in it: loamy, yes, but that presupposes knowing what loam smells like.

There is a word to explain the smell of rain, petrichor, a combination of bacterial spores and plant oils, but about as useful in terms of scent as describing loam.

We have city water and hoses. I water the yard, taking care to soak the ground close to the house so the old rock basement doesn’t shift and crack walls. You’d think a house this old, built in 1924, with a rock basement, would have gone through all the shifting it was going to do in its close to hundred years. You’d think.

I thought the same thing a few years ago when we had a summer drought. The ceiling in a dining room corner dropped nearly two inches and the stairway wall cracked. We found a company who restores old houses. They restored.

Hence, a pricey lesson in old home management. I learned to no longer think that way. I water the house.

.

Enter Spring (soon we hope!)

The Spirit in Spring

 Redbuds
Redbud

March 21, 28, April 4th: Three one-hour online evening classes.  Contact Me for details.

Treat yourself to renewal. Join me for a quick burst of energy as spring arrives. Write open your heart as you write open your senses to shake off winter doldrums.

The focus on sensory details will help you develop seeing, hearing, touch, smell, and taste and how to incorporate those into your writing. The focus isn’t so much on a finished essay, although I’d be happy to see one if you want to submit it, as on learning how to richly describe the five senses in writing. Each week’s class will build on the previous week, but much of our work will be on finding freedom in writing.

.

Best Writing Workshop Ever!

post-rock
Shot by Tom Parker at Jerry Stump farm

Last weekend, I was part of the best writing workshop I’ve ever attended. Ostensibly, I was the teacher, in Marysville, Kansas for a residency of teaching and reading my work. But the participants and their family stories made the workshop unforgettable.

We have a farm in Marshall County, seventeen miles from Marysville, and while ours is a long history on the land from the late 1800s, the family scattered like cottonseeds. None of us live there. Cliff and I go up and stay for a week every once in a while, but our parents were the last generation to live on and work the land.

The photo is not from our farm. It’s from one of the participants, Jerry Stump. His friend, Tom Parker, shot it on the farm Jerry’s  father bought and worked east of Blue Rapids, Kansas. As you can see, the land is still in production, and the photo is stunning.

On a side note, look up Tom Parker. He’s a remarkable photographer with a precision eye. I met him a few years ago when I did a workshop in Blue Rapids.

Many of the participants had boxes of documents and research, and we talked about ways to shape so many pieces of history. Jerry had the stories in his head. He’d driven one of his daughters around the farm and told her the stories, then a second daughter wanted to hear them, and a third. He came to the workshop to learn how to save those stories and maybe get them written down. He was a mathematician, he said. Not a writer. His experience with the daughters gave us a perfect format to talk about ways to reduce the overwhelming layers of historical documents many others had into a story.

Post Rocks have their own story.

From Jerry: “Post Rock is the proper name, so-called because it was used in fencing, especially where hedge posts from Osage orange trees were not available, such as further west in Kansas.  Hedge posts last forever as do post rocks. This post rock was used as a hitching post, a place to tie up your horse or carriage team.”

We had hedge posts on our farm. They do last forever! I can attest to that. And although some may lean a bit on our farm, they are still there and they do NOT rot. I helped dig holes, by hand, for some of them.

Post rocks come from farther west in Kansas where no Osage Orange trees grow; in fact, few trees in general grew in that western part of the state until settlers began planting them.

From the Kansas Historical Society: The area known as “Post Rock Country” stretches for approximately 200 miles from the Nebraska border on the north to Dodge City on the south. The limestone that is found here comes from the uppermost bed of the Greenhorn Formation. It was out of necessity that settlers in the late 1800s began turning back the sod and cutting posts from the layer of rock that lay underneath. By the mid-1880s limestone fence posts were in general use because of the widespread use of barbed wire.

The first time I saw Post Rock with barbed wire astounded me, growing up in eastern Kansas as I did. Rocks with barbed wire? Around wide stretches of grassland.

People who don’t live in Kansas think of the state as flat, flat, flat. And in Western Kansas, it is that. But the eastern third is the tail end of the Flint Hills with rocky outcroppings and hills. Our farm, for example, sits on a rise that gives us a view of the countryside for ten miles in each direction. Our east pasture sinks down into a rocky gully.

Jerry’s farm is in southern Marshall County lies east of Blue Rapids, named as you might guess, from water: The Big Blue River. And while there are plenty of flat fields, there’s also the outcroppings and springs and hilly gullies that defy farming. And the powerful Big Blue.

Blue Rapids, Kansas – Wikipedia. Among the first projects in 1870 were a stone dam and a wrought iron bridge built on the Big Blue River. A hydroelectric power plant was then added to provide power for manufacturing and for the town. The power plant was destroyed by a flood in 1903. In the late 19th century and early 20th century there were four gypsum mines in the area. The population peaked around 1910 at over 1,750. The public library, built in 1875, is the oldest library west of the Mississippi in continuous operation in the same building.

So much for nothing to see in Kansas except for miles of flat roads.

The next time you’re driving I70 through Kansas and bored, get off the highway, Manhattan is a good place to exit, and drive north. You’ll find some remarkable country, not boring at all. You might even spy a Post Rock if your wander off to the west.

.