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Action Bob Markle

Music, theater, and my personal life, not always in that order. I try to keep it interesting, I rarely hold back, because one thing I truly believe in is the shared experience of this reality we call life. We're all in this together, people. More than we even know.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bountiful Gardens

Weekends make it hard to write. The thoughts still swirl around my head, but Sue's not working and we get caught up in weekend chores and events, and just reveling in the time we can spend together. She's my best friend, pure and simple, and I love that I can write those words. Just like I always sign my email to her or to Allison and Kathryn with the word, love, because for me, it's such a gift that I have people who I deeply love and can say that.

Maybe that's what's on my mind this weekend. Gifts, and things that we should be thankful for.

Tomatoes from our garden becoming pasta sauce. 
Kathryn and I were talking about food and cooking yesterday. I was making sauce from the tons of tomatoes our garden has been yielding this summer. Enough for big batches of sauce, while at the same time we can give some more away. Amazing what the earth will give you. But at the same time I thought what a privilege it is that we can talk about food in the way we do, what we like, how we like to cook it, and the intricacies of cooking and eating. Like Eskimos have all those names for snow, which I don't know if that's true or not, but it's like that. That is the privilege of a privileged society, and while I don't have any money, I do have that in my life. I have food and plenty of it; so much of it, in fact, that it is no longer simply sustenance, but it's some higher thing. I was telling Kathryn about a professor I had at Ohio University. The university, when I was there, had a program where the students could vote for their favorite professor, and that professor could teach a course in whatever they wanted. David Hostetler, who probably has no idea the impact he had on me or my growth, taught a course called, Art And Your Life. All it was about was making art everyday in your life. We studied motorcycle gas tanks and bread, and he said that in everything we do we should think about elevating it to art. Yes, if you think I'm crazy, you have David to thank for it. I mentioned how much I love grocery shopping, and that when I do, I consider every food item closely (another extraordinary privilege that we should all be aware of) to the point where I will pick up an onion, look at it, and think, this is going inside Sue or Kathryn, and does it measure up. Trust me, when you view ingredients in this way, you will look at them differently.

I wasn't around much when Kathryn and Allison were little. Their mother and I divorced when they were little, and I wasn't around to pass down things like the wisdom of David Hostetler to them. That happens to a lot of men in our society. Now, when I can sit with Kathryn and talk, talk about making everything in the world a work of art, or talk about our individual paths, comparing and contrasting them, she being gracious and listening to and taking in what I pass along as wisdom, is another great gift in my life. It's a second chance and while I don't have the memories of a traditional family life with them, I have this life with them now, and to me it is as bountiful as any garden.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

What To Write About

I want to write something but I can't think what I should write.

I want to write about Jon Mouradian, and how I drove all the way to Winchester today to go to his shop, getting lost along the way, of course, because I always get lost when I drive anywhere but in the actual city. How I sat in traffic--and sitting in Boston traffic is the worst; it goes for miles and just creeps along--with Alice, one of our guitars in the back seat. I was going to sell her on Craigslist, but something stopped me. I knew she could sound better than she did, all it would take is Jon laying his healing hands on her. And it worked. Don't sell this guitar, he said. He lowered the bridge, taking out a shim he himself had put in a couple of years ago. And she suddenly did sound so much better.

I want to write about all the people in my neighborhood, but that will take way more space and time than I have here. And I've been wanting to do this for awhile, but what stopped me was that I kept thinking of the story in the form of a play, but I thought, that would be so futile, because nowhere in the American theater could you cast the multitude of races who live around me. The American theater, and especially here in Boston, is too white. So, I felt blocked, when I should have just written it, and see how it evolved, whether a short story or anything else. A song.

For starters, there's Lisa, the Chinese owner of the farang Chinese restaurant, Great Chow, who speaks with an English accent. There's Jimmy Abdon, the mechanic who is Syrian and who keeps all the poor people's cars running, and Steve and John, who are also Syrian. Tom and Neddy are two of my neighbors, but one is Mandarin and the other is Cantonese, but I can't remember which is which, but I know the difference means a lot to them. There is Bill and Lorena, a young couple who we are friends with who are American and Columbian, with their little baby, Athena. Debbie used to live across the street. She was pure South Shore, calling you hon and offering you a beerah, while she sunbathed in her front yard. She was out there frying herself under the sun so much, for that requisite South Shore crispy tan, that she was on Google view for awhile. She had to move away. There's Wayne across the street, and his four kids, and his wife who you never see because she stays inside the house. Bly and Judy just moved to Switzerland with their two kids, but they used to live next door. Judy was from Nigeria and Bly was bi-racial from California.
This is what came out of our garden today.
Just about every day is like this.
Sheer joy to pick this.

I think that's part of the what I was saying in a previous post about making a mistake by focusing on the theater. Just the theater. Not every story can be told in the theater, like a story about the people in my neighborhood. And I was limiting myself, and I was really feeling it. Limiting myself by the art form, and also by some of the people who I've been hanging out with.

I wanted to write about this and so much more. And I guess I sort of did.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I Wrote A Poem Today

I wrote a poem today.

And I made squash fritters for Sue and Kathryn for breakfast.

Both gave me the same kind of happiness and enjoyment because I put something of myself in something else--a little pancake, a little poem. And now there is just a little less of me.

Sorry, all of the squash fritters were eaten. Here, you can eat the poem:

The Hand Grenade

I am a hand grenade
I will explode
I will detonate in a sudden burst of passion 
and love and joyous shrapnel and sweet 
generous jags of searing metal. 

I am a hand grenade
I will explode
When my pin is pulled
my splatter zone will be smeared red with the carnage of
anger and hate and irrationality
with the offal of fear and fragility and distrust
packed into my hard pineapple core
consuming me in the welcome release of an expanding shock wave.

I am a hand grenade
I will explode
Amputating your dismissive hand mid-wave
The surprise on your face as you gaze at your spurting stump is hilarious
because hands were never meant for dismissal
in the first place
my explosion silencing your know-it-all ignorance
rearranging your entitlement in topsy-turvy fashion
upsetting you onto your big fat ass with a whomp
while you ask yourself, what just happened?

I am a hand grenade
I will explode
as surely as a rattlesnake will strike.
And so I know I am doomed
(for loneliness, either imposed or self-induced)
for who wants to pet the rattlesnake or play hot potato
with a hand grenade but still that’s not what grenades are for
in the first place.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Play With Your Food

I spent most of the day working on setting up the box office for Turtles, scheduling a meeting of the designers for Turtles, and cooking and working in the garden.

Setting up the box office for a play is almost as much fun as setting up a database for a theater company. Whoo-hoo. So many details. So many phone calls and forms to fill out and emails. 

I cleaned out the squash and zucchini patch of old leaves, and harvested a few, plus some tomatoes. The garden has been giving us so much great food this summer. Just about everything except the onions are doing great. 

I made a pot of chicken soup and a pan of cucumber salad, I guess that's what it's called. It's just cucumbers, vinegar, water, and sugar. A great summer side dish. You pour the liquid over the cucumbers and let them soak in it in the refrigerator. We still have more cucumbers in the fridge. 

Sue asked for turkey burgers tonight for dinner. It's the one night both of us are free, so we try to have a nice meal together. 

I'll go out in the garden and cut some dahlias for the table tonight. Sue likes fresh flowers. I do, too. She says it's because I'm a Libra. 

I went to the store twice today, because I had forgotten some ingredients. Twice, I forgot. I actually like grocery shopping. I think it's a throwback to hunting and gathering. I'm still a hunter and gatherer. 

Here's my dream: A theater on a farm with the productions in a big barn. Dinner is served before, meals prepared there in the farmhouse everyday fresh, made with ingredients from the farm. Fresh vegetables and homemade pasta and bread and cheese. Good wine and beer. No, I would not call it Play With Your Food. 

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sophie's Choice

Let it be known that, if given the choice between a book and a glass of water, I will choose the book.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Little Voices Inside My Head

I know it's safe to write here. No one visits this blog to read my words except perverts who have Googled Miley Cyrus's crotch. Yep, that post keeps bringing them in. It's my moneymaker.

Yes, I hear voices. I hear them all of the time. Mostly they're just running dialogue, and if I were any kind of established, driven writer I'd record them somehow--write them down at my scheduled time at my writing desk or record them on this little digital recorder that I have that I think is so neat but my younger friends think is so old-school. I guess because it doesn't have an i in front of it.

But there is one little voice that, if I hear it, I know I'm in trouble. It's this little disembodied voice that wonders how I'm doing. "Are you ok?" it will ask. "Are you all right?" It's a gentle voice, like caring stranger at a bus stop or a well-meaning nurse who has broken through the crust her job has layered on her and is truly worried about me.

Are you all right? The answer is always, no. She always seems to know when it's the right time to ask.

Here's the other kicker. Sometimes she--and the voice is female of undetermined age--asks, "How bad did he die?" She's not talking to me. Who? Who is she talking to? There are obviously others in the know about me and she doesn't have all the facts about me, yet still she's concerned. That somehow relieves me, gives me comfort. But it's the question that throws me.

How badly did he die?

Is she asking, what was his death like? How much did he suffer? It seems this voice and her compatriots from the beyond know about dying. It seems as if they have intimate knowledge of it.

But then, the voices and the question seem to prove that there is "something else." That dying isn't the end, just something that has degrees of badness.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

I Need A Change In My Life

Something is very wrong in my life. Changes need to be made. It was one week ago today that Sue and I returned from a wonderful adventure in Nova Scotia, but I didn't know it was a week ago until I checked a calendar. I thought it was about a month, maybe three weeks ago. When the life we returned to here in Boston, with all of its "challenges,"  can overwhelm the feelings of peace and serenity, of being, that we felt there, some drastic changes need to be made.

We started out just heading north from Boston, not knowing where we'd end up in two weeks. We had a tent and a car, and some camping gear. That's about it. But Acadia National Park proved too crowded. Too loud. Americans are loud people. So are French-Canadians who cross over to see the sights on this side of the border. And it's all family-oriented there, it's a safe little national park that Edward Abbey would have hated, and we realized it's us who didn't belong there with the parents with the wee ones who couldn't keep their voices down and the parents who were so stressed from their own life choices to not realize that they and their wee ones who pushed and shoved were rude. Sue and I looked at a map and headed for Cape Breton.

We realized when we got home that something had changed in us there. Something deep, like an earthquake that rumbles deep inside the earth, but it's barely felt on the surface yet a real, significant change occurred.

For me, my soul, that thing captured in this container called my body, began to make itself known again. I began acting and thinking like a writer. And just like I used to be when I lived away from the ocean and didn't know how much I missed the sea until I saw it again, I realized how long it's been since I acted like a writer. These internal dialogues between made-up characters, snatches of words, phrases, descriptions, exposition, all floated around in my head like dust mites in a sunbeam. All I could think about doing was finding a dilapidated old house set in the fog, heated by a wood stove, and get up every morning and put on my favorite old flannel shirt and worn baggy jeans, and write. And the creative spark burst into a creative flame that unfortunately seems to have been extinguished now that I'm back here in Boston.

I'm seriously questioning if the choice I made in 2008 to work in the theater was the right one. I co-founded Boston Public Works because of the hassles of getting a full-length new work produced in Boston, especially if you're a white man like I am. Especially if you're an older white man like I am. Boston is an extremely young, white city. The fringe theater scene, where a new playwright like me would get first produced, is populated for the most part by young, white theater graduates who came from families who could afford the expensive universities like Boston University and Emerson. They graduated, stayed, and formed theaters, and they pretty much cater to the younger population. I actually had the artistic director of a theater--a young man who I like and respect very much--tell me he likes my plays, but they can't cast them because of the actors in the ensemble they pull from, the oldest is about thirty years old. They don't understand the themes that I write about, don't understand older characters, don't understand people who live on the fringes of society, don't understand life events like death and adultery and loneliness. (If any of you are reading this, don't argue: You don't. You think you do on a surface level, but live the life you've lived one more time, commit a few sins, and you'll see what I'm talking about.) Anyway, Boston continues to be the most racist place I've ever lived in, and I grew up where the KKK was evident and real. Boston theater is as white as rice, all the way down through the production teams. I don't want to go so far as to say that the theater community in Boston is racist. I don't think it is. But I do think it acts in a racist manner. For example, gender parity is a topic the leaders in the local community is always promoting, but what they're really promoting are white, female playwrights. I've been to the meetings where all but three or four in room of about 40 to 50 playwrights are white women. If you're not young and white of either gender in this city, you might as well stay home.

And I try to fight the segregation and racism that I've seen for the 34 years I've lived in Boston, but even that--the formation of Boston Public Works--has been wearing me out. The cast and design team of Turtles is diverse, but within Boston Public Works, internal disagreements, members who feel they should have a vote in the way the company operates (if you want to run a company, then start one of your own; really, how do people grow up thinking they get a say in everything?) members who feel their productions should be supported but they don't feel they should have to support the other members, makes me feel as if it isn't all worth it and makes me want to throw up my hands and yes, pull a J.D. Salinger to Nova Scotia. We literally would drive for an hour and see maybe three cars. Heaven! No one preached about gender parity while tabling the racial side of the issue (just for the time being, they say) or cultural appropriation (another popular cause) because there were real issues to deal with, like feeding your family. Friendly, quiet-spoken, polite. Yet keeping just the right amount of distance, giving space to an individual because space was one thing they had plenty of.

Get away. It's always been my modus operandi. (Is that the correct usage of that term?) Sue and I have a short trip to an undisclosed location next week for a couple of days. After Turtles closes in November, we're leaving for London and Paris.  In the spring, more travel. Sue and I are wanderers. Seekers. We know that. Traveling allows us to take the souls entrapped in these human containers out for a spin. We find our American culture humorous, but in small doses. Americans are always trying to tell people how to live, how to think, how to behave, and after awhile we both reach the point where we say, enough is enough, it's time for a change.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Forced Sex: Chevrolet's 2014 Super Bowl Ad and Caleb Meyer by Gillian Welch

Here are two very different takes on the same subject.

It's pretty amazing that the Chevy ad made it through all the approvals, but by God, they know their demographics, and if it sells, that's all that matters.

By the way, the Chevy ad is titled, Romance. They just don't quit, do they. Forced sex is called romance?

Chevrolet called the ad "A charming story about a man, his truck, and a new bachelor in town."

By the way, I drive a Ford pickup.

I'll take Gillian's version, thank you.

Anybody care to discuss this?

"Caleb Meyer"

Caleb Meyer, he lived alone
In them hollarin' pines
He made a little whiskey for himself
Said it helped to pass the time

On one evening in back of my house,
Caleb came around
And he called my name 'til I came out
with no one else around

Caleb Meyer, your ghost is gonna
wear them rattlin' chains.
but when I go to sleep at night,
Don't you call my name

Where's your husband, Nellie Kane
Where's your darling gone?
Did he go on down the mountain side
and leave you all alone?

Yes, my husband's gone to Bowlin' Green
to do some business there.
Then Caleb threw that bottle down 
and grabbed me by my hair.

Caleb Meyer, your ghost is gonna
wear them rattlin' chains.
but when I go to sleep at night,
Don't you call my name

He threw me on the needle bed,
and on my dress he lay
he held my hands above my head
and I commenced to pray.

I cried My God, I am your child
send your angels down
Then feelin' with my fingertips,
the bottle neck I found

I pulled that glass across his neck
as fine as any blade,
and I felt his blood run fast and hot
around me where I laid.

Caleb Meyer, your ghost is gonna
wear them rattlin' chains.
But when I go to sleep at night,
Don't you call my name

Caleb Meyer, your ghost is gonna
wear them rattlin' chains.
But when I go to sleep at night,
Don't you call my name

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Miley Cyrus's Crotch: Take Two

File this under, you can run but you can't hide. Take note, teens, tweens, and the like: If you put it on the Internet, it's there forever.

About three years ago I blogged right here on ABM about a picture of Miley Cyrus's crotch that was making the rounds on the Internet. I was writing for at the time, a joyless, ridiculous gig that was set in a hamster wheel and fueled by SEO and Google hits. And I wrote that the people who were writing the Entertainment sections were getting huge hits, while the News and Politics writers like myself, in comparison, were getting pittance in the hit department. That meant if you were blogging about Miley Cyrus and her crotch, your family was getting fed, and if you were writing about the BP oil spill or the economy, you were starving. Such was the whims of the American public.

And just because I didn't want anyone to feel cheated, I included the picture of Miley Cyrus's crotch.

So this week, I pull up the analytics for old Action Bob, and what do I see? A huge spike. I figure it's some bot in India trying to hack into my account, which is usually what that means. But further investigation showed that all the activity came from people Googling some derivative of "miley cyrus's crotch."

Mostly, my analytics will tell me the ISP of the visitor, but sometimes it tells me the organization. Included in this round were the European Patent Office and, whoo-boy, the United States Homeland Security. So either there's someone on the first line of defense for our nation's security surfing for porn while on duty, or else I'm being watched for my un-American ways.

Anyway, I still think the whole thing--her crotch three years ago, or what she did the other night at the VMAs--is ridiculous. Poor little Miley (you read that right) was simply a sacrificial lamb for some corporation. People are criticizing and yelling at and about Miley, without realizing that that entire show the other night was given the green light by some pretty powerful MTV execs. Do people honestly think they said to Miley, Hey, just get up there and do what you want? No! That entire production was orchestrated. MTV could have pulled Miley and her handlers aside and said, Uh, we really don't think this is a very good idea.

My friend Jennifer Pierce, who is really smart and says some really smart things, yesterday said to me over Facebook, "The ancient practice of sending children and virgins into volcanoes is alive and well. Somewhere, in the back of our minds we believe that we need to feed the money machine innocence in order to keep the prosperity coming.  The beast must be fed or the wealth of the land dries up, you see."

Doesn't that seem to be the case? Starting with Britney Spears and then Amy Winehouse and who knows who else I'm missing because I really don't follow this stuff, our society seems to thirst for grand displays of public humiliation and degradation by young women in the entertainment field. Is this to make ourselves feel better about ourselves? If it it, I certainly don't. I get thoroughly depressed. 

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Mickey Mouse in Vietnam

Short and sweet. But not produced by Uncle Walt.

No, this interesting piece of copyright infringement is brought to you by Lee Savage and Milton Glaser.

You can see it here. (For some reason Blogger and YouTube are playing nice today, and I can't post it directly to this here blog.)

It aired one time for The Angry Arts Festival (Google it; I can't do everything for you), and then the Sarejevo Arts Festival.

More Mickey Goes to War can be seen here.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Divided Loyalties with Arts Fwd: Howlround and Kennedy Heights Arts Center

Whoa, it's weird when worlds collide. Or when they merge in places you never in your life suspected.

Innocent me: Today I logged on to Facebook. I've been keeping away from Facebook for about a week now. The noise, noise, noise, noise was getting to me. But then I saw this post from HowlRound, about voting for them:

HowlRound is a semi-finalist for the ArtsFwd Business Unusual National Challenge! it read. Our idea, Culture Coin, aims to put the equity back into sweat equity! Vote and read more here!

I'm behind HowlRound's work, so sure I'll vote for them, I thought. So I follow the link to here, and I see this link to another organization, Kennedy Heights Arts Center. Whaaat? It can't be the same Kennedy Heights, next to where I grew up? But yep, click on the link, and it's an arts center on Montgomery Road, in Kennedy Heights.

I grew up in Pleasant Ridge. P-Ridge. The Heights is just one neighborhood north, right up Montgomery Road. I went to school for a year at Schroder Junior High. I know none of this is important to anyone else, but lately I've been having strange little things like this tear me from today and put me way back there, maybe not necessarily Pleasant Ridge and Kennedy Heights, but way in my past.

There was that dream I had about one of my best friends in high school, and then I learned he had died about a month before. I found a tape my father sent me, making it about thirty years since I had heard his voice. Thanks to social media and the Internet, in the past year I've had three people from long ago contact me. It's always jarring at first, because it's so unexpected. But it always does bring a little smile to my face, just like this did today.

Who to vote for? HowlRound, who is doing some ground-breaking research and work in the American theater? Or Kennedy Heights Arts Center?

You can vote everyday until May 31. If you're reading this blog and have some roots back in Cincinnati, I'm giving you a heads up about the arts center. Good things are happening back there.

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Friday, May 3, 2013

2013 48-Hour Boston Film Project

Starting tonight, we're going to make a movie.

I've never made a movie before. Or, maybe it's a film we're making, not a movie. I'm not sure if there's a difference. I imagine there are lots of people who could fight the live-long day about the difference between a movie and a film, just like in theater people fight about the spellings, theatre vs. theater.

When I was an undergrad studying photography we had to say we were making images. We couldn't say we were taking pictures.

Making images.

Making film.

Lots of people in theater say they're making theatre. I know I do.

I guess maybe it's all about intent? Is it? Film, theatre, images is about intending to make something, oh, I don't know, something lofty. Something...more?

But I've never done this before, though as a playwright I have worked on a couple of 24-hour theater events. In 24 hours, we--the playwright, director, and cast--met, and in 24 hours we wrote, rehearsed, and performed a new play.

As you can imagine, it's scary stuff for the writer, because it all starts with the writer. You have to make something--a script, a screenplay--out of nothing. Well, not really nothing, because there is a whole lot of somethings that writers pull from. You just have to remember that.

And I'm not in this alone. There's a whole crew of people, and just like with a good bunch of theater artists, you work together. Wendy, the person on my team (we're Red Dirt Productions, just so you know, named for the production company that we're with) and I met on a 24-hour play fest, with me as the playwright and she was the director. At our initial meeting, I was in that state of shock where I was wondering, what did I get myself into? What am I going to write? And all Wendy said was, you know, the characters don't have to be people. From that, I wrote A Meating of the Mind, from about 11:00 that night to 2:30 a.m. So, I'm sure we're going to do a bit of brain-storming tonight before we all go our separate ways for the night and I camp out on my couch with a pot of coffee and a bowl of popcorn, because for some reason I like to snack while I write.

The first time I did a 24-hour play fest I tried to think of scenarios, things to put in my pocket. That doesn't work. You just have to give yourself up to the process. The best thing I've learned to do is view the things that inspire me, no matter what it is. Things when I look at them or read them or experience them in some way, make me go/say/think, damn, I wish I had done that.

I've been looking at a few short films, just to get my head around it.

And when it comes to intent, what I'd love to do is make a film that has maybe one line of dialogue, and is filled with visuals that tell the story, and a soundtrack that supplements the telling of the story. Sometimes the clink of a coffee cup in silence conveys so much, you know what I mean?

That's where I stand now, about five and a half hours before we do our kickoff meeting.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Blue Eyes

Gram Parsons. Uncle Tupelo.

This is how I feel the majority of the time. The world, most of the time, is just too complicated. Too noisy. Too hard to figure out.

Sometimes, all I want to do is ditch everything except Sue, Vida, and that old pickup that's just about on its last legs. I wish we had a cabin somewhere and a long, tree-shaded dirt lane that led up to it. A garden out back. A big old barn. A few animals. Definitely a dog, or two. Aussies. And chickens. Maybe a couple of goats. A horse for Sue.

Gram Parsons wrote it. Uncle Tupelo sang it later. Because they realized what a great song it is.

Blue Eyes by Uncle Tupelo

G                                                    D
Sometimes I get upset when people treat me bad
C                                                      G
I don't have time to think and so I get real mad
And I pull my hair and find somewhere where I can be alone
D                                                                                         G
And when I do I think of you and head myself back home

C                                        D   G
Where I got chores to keep me busy, a clock to keep my time
C                                          G                                                     D
A pretty girl to love me, with the same last name as mine
C                                                                                           G
When the flowers wilt, a big old quilt to keep us warm
I got the sun to see your blue eyes, and tonight you're in my

G                                                D
Sometimes I get unwound when fancy cars drive past
C                                                G
Money don't get me down, I can't make it last
And I bite my nails and if that fails I go get myself stoned
D                                                                                         G
And when I do I think of you and head myself back home


| G | G | D | D |

| D | C | C | G |




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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Crazy Thoughts Brought on by a Crazy World

Yesterday was the first day I was in Boston after the bombing. A beautiful day. I had to return a ton of library books we had that were overdue. Yesterday was the first day the library was open after the bombing.

The stack of books measured about two feet high, and the fine was only thirty cents since they didn't charge for the time the library was closed.

I got off a Park since it was such a nice day, and walked through the Common and Public Gardens, then up Boylston. I saw it as quietly taking back my city. My home now, after living here for more than thirty years, longer than I've ever lived anywhere else. So yes, Boston is my home, unless I move tomorrow and live to be ninety or so.

I had all the books in a backpack. It made me nervous, made me feel like I was standing out, being watched, walking through the city with a backpack, which is ridiculous because so many people carry backpacks. But I couldn't help but wonder if I looked suspicious, a lone man carrying a backpack. I was wearing a straw fedora, and thought to myself, I'd stand out in the surveillance cameras. No terrorist would wear such a gaudy hat, I thought.

There were ceremonies on Copley Square, and the two bomb sites on Boylston as I made my way to the library. Standing in line in the library, I opened the top of the backpack for all the world to see that all I had were books. I was careful to always keep it near me.

I don't know if guilt is the right word. I didn't want to be responsible for anyone feeling scared or anxious. Some people were traumatized by what happened, and I wanted those people to know there were only books--not bombs--in my backpack.

Crazy thought, I know, brought on by a crazy world.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Emmylou Harris: Red Dirt Girl

Me and my best friend Lillian 
And her blue tick hound dog Gideon,
Sittin on the front porch cooling in the shade
Singin every song the radio played
Waitin for the Alabama sun to go down
Two red dirt girls in a red dirt town 
Me and Lillian
Just across the line and a little southeast of Meridian.

She loved her brother I remember back when 
He was fixin up a '49 Indian
He told her 'Little sister, gonna ride the wind
Up around the moon and back again"
He never got farther than Vietnam,
I was standin there with her when the telegram come
For Lillian.
Now he's lyin somewhere about a million miles from Meridian.

She said there's not much hope for a red dirt girl 
Somewhere out there is a great big world
Thats where I'm bound
And the stars might fall on Alabama
But one of these days I'm gonna swing 
My hammer down
Away from this red dirt town
I'm gonna make a joyful sound

She grew up tall and she grew up thin
Buried that old dog Gideon
By a crepe myrtle bush in the back of the yard,
Her daddy turned mean and her mama leaned hard
Got in trouble with a boy from town
Figured that she might as well settle down
So she dug right in
Across a red dirt line just a little south east from Meridian

She tried hard to love him but it never did take
It was just another way for the heart to break
So she learned to bend
But one thing they don't tell you about the blues
When you got em
You keep on falling cause there ain't no bottom
There ain't know end. 
At least not for Lillian

Nobody knows when she started her skid,
She was only 27 and she had five kids.
Coulda' been the whiskey,
Coulda been the pills, 
Coulda been the dream she was trying to kill.
But there won't be a mention in the news of the world 
About the life and the death of a red dirt girl
Names Lillian
Who never got any farther across the line than Meridian.

Now the stars still fall on Alabama
Tonight she finally laid 
That hammer down
Without a sound
In the red dirt ground

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston, Post Marathon Attack, Warning: Graphic Pics and Video

I was on a bus bound for New York to go to a rehearsal of a play I wrote when I got a call from my daughter, Allison, who was at work in Manhattan: Call Kathryn; there were explosions at the Boston Marathon.  So began an intense few hours when I tried with limited internet access to figure out what was going on, and if my loved ones were safe. 

I knew Sue and Allison were safe. Sue had the day off and was home in Wollaston, and of course Al was in New York. But Kathryn, our youngest? A student in Boston raised on the Marathon by her runner father, it was very likely she was on Boylston Street with her friends. As a little one, she and her sister would be so excited every time a passing runner would grab a slice of orange out of their hands as they stood and cheered along the course. The problem was her phone kept kicking over to voice mail, a problem we later learned came from overloaded circuits, and not from the cell companies shutting the network down to prevent more bomb detonations. Just one of the many rumors we, as a scattered little family, would deal with.

As it turns out, she was in the library, but not the Boston Public Library, where the explosion took place, but in her school library. I had to smile. Good old, Kathryn. Always studious, Montessori, the Honor student. Safe. 

The next couple of hours I spent trying to deal with very limited wifi on a Peter Pan bus. Life goes from good to bad back to good again, and I've learned to deal. Sue said when I learned the play I was working on in New York was being done there, she couldn't tell the difference between my reaction from when a play gets rejected. In the past decade, I've tried to behave according to Kipling's poem, If:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

While it did go through my head that Peter Pan advertises wifi so they should provide reliable wifi, I knew that getting upset at that particular moment over the bus company's failure to provide a steady signal wasn't going to help one bit. I just forced myself to stay calm, and think and focus. 

The overriding feeling I had for the rest of the trip was that something even bigger was going to happen in Boston or across the country, and we--Sue, Allison, Kathryn, and I--were going to be separated and out of communication. I tried to convince Kathryn to take a cab and spend the night with Sue, just to get her out of the city. She lives in a touristy section of Boston, and I was worried that section of the city may have been targeted, too. In the end, she took a cab to her apartment. 

So I'd succeed in logging on to Facebook for maybe fifteen or twenty seconds, and quickly scroll through the posts of people saying they were fine. That helped calm me down a lot. There were posts from people who I didn't know were in Boston, who were visiting for the Marathon. Again, it was nice to learn this, and that they were okay. 

Through all the status updates one stood out: Realize that what Boston is experiencing is what some people experience every day, sometimes because of the actions of my government. Yes, U.S. drones fall out of the sky. Roadside bombs explode because of unstable governments caused by U.S. military invasion. Yes, correct. But the timing was all wrong. That's a discussion for another day. Two days later, though, the Guardian, a news outlet that I replaced NPR with long ago as a source of what I consider mildly progressive news and thought, ran what I felt was a pretty spot-on article. Maybe now we know what lives are like around the world, and think about the role our government--and therefore all of us--play. Empathy is a powerful emotion.

I was in Manhattan--two hours later--before I could log on long enough to tell people that all of us were fine. And now I'll say it: Peter Pan/Greyhound: get your shit together when it comes to your wifi. I don't know if your on-board server only allows for two or three users or what, but it should allow every passenger to log on. 

Sometimes the wifi hung in there long enough for me to skim a local news report, but the reports were sketchy and contradictory. Was the fire at the JFK museum related to the Marathon bombing? How many unexploded devices were found, if any?

When I got off the bus at Port Authority, I went upstairs and saw police conducting random searches. Here we go, I thought. Knee-jerk response to a crisis. I never understood random searches in the subway. I mean, wouldn't a terrorist--or anyone with something to hide--see the search station and just turn around and go the other way? Or dump what they had and come back for it later, when the search station is taken down? Once again, idiotic responses by our government, intended to simply assuage people's fears and that only limit freedom, and has nothing to do with catching criminals and terrorists. 

Rehearsal was hard. I was working with four truly enthusiastic, dedicated theater artists who weren't connected with Boston or the bombing. To them, it was something that happened far away. And funny, I felt guilty about being upset, since these people had experienced 9/11 and everything that changed in New York. I didn't feel that this disaster matched up to what they experienced so I had no right to feel the way I did. Weird, huh? Still, I had to give it my best. Again, we should never allow acts of terrorism to stop our lives, and there's the adage in theater that the show must go on.

That night, on Al's couch in Brooklyn, I was able to sort out the events, send some messages, see the grisly pictures of victims with their legs blown off, bones exposed. I think we need to see that. I think we need to see more of it: the real effects of these events on people. I just wanted to get home, where I belonged.

If you're up for it, here are some images and video. Close-hand video near the blast. And very graphic images here. 

And crazy thought number two, but I remembered I had some overdue library books, and wondered when Copley Square would be open again so I could return them.

In New York, everything was normal. I wanted people to know I was from Boston. There was a part of me that wanted sympathy. I wondered what they'd say? Should I have been wearing a Sox cap? A Boston t-shirt. Then again, no. I hate calling attention to myself, and worse, I hate American jingoism in all its forms. Flag waving. Nationalism in all the hideous forms it takes in the United States. From traveling abroad, I know if you can't tell I'm from the United States just by looking at me, you're blind. And I wanted to be around my family and friends. Not people who couldn't relate. 

Yesterday, I was so glad to be back in Boston. On the bus ride up (again, crappy wifi) I didn't know what to expect. I wondered if I'd see squads of cami-wearing National Guardsmen in South Station. No, I didn't. I saw two, though I did see two stationed outside Port Authority in New York, one carrying an assault rifle. 

Boston is a tough town, and there were a lot of posts on Facebook talking about how the terrorists (do we even know if the bomber(s) was/were actually terrorist(s), which in my mind brings up a real political agenda, or was this the work of some whack job with a good working knowledge of demolitions?) picked on the wrong city. I saw an image of all the Boston sports teams' logos together, looking tough. I think that's all brave posturing. If it helps you get through this, fine. Just like I don't understand the posts on Facebook like, "hugs." And "sending good thoughts." Again, anything that helps a person get through this is fine by me. I try post news reports and what I consider intelligent analysis. And always humor. Good intelligent humor is what I need. Like this from Stephen Colbert.

When I got to the gate at Port Authority there were two middle-aged women standing in front of me, waiting in line. Besides the fact that the bus was leaving for Boston, you could just tell they were Bostonians. The accents. White, tough-looking, overweight old broads who looked like they'd as soon spit on you as say hello. Two more showed up, and never said excuse me or explained why they were pushing ahead in line to meet with their friends. They just did it. When we boarded the bus, again, two pushed ahead and when I let the other two ahead of me, neither one said excuse me or thank you. That, as much as anything, is Boston.

And I know some readers are thinking: He's going to segue into saying, but they're my fellow Bostonians and I love them anyway. No. That's not it at all. What I'm saying is, after 32 years of living in that city, whether I like it or not, wishing it was one way but accepting it for what it really is, it's my home. When something like this happens, it's where I want to be. 

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