‎"...a little 'trouty', but quite good" ~ Eve Kendall, North By Northwest

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

this post brought to you by abject terror

Yesterday I helped out a friend who had to leave town not completely unexpectedly. I should mention that there was no law enforcement involved in his decision to leave town - which is a refreshing change.

I took over for him as house manager at a children's theater. It seemed pretty straightforward.

I had a moment when all I could picture was unhappy patrons with no place to sit, strangely well-equipped with torches and pitch forks. You'd think if you're prepared enough to pack a torch and pitchfork, you could manage to fit a folding chair in there somewhere. But whatever.

The first night went off relatively hitchless; except my friend forgot to mention there was public speaking involved. In his defense, my idea of public speaking includes "may I help you find your seat?"

My daughter said "you'll be great! Come on, you're a writer."

Which is precisely why I would not be great. Just because you're good with words in a public forum doesn't mean you can make them come out of your mouth at an appropriate time or in an appropriate order. In fact, it seems the opposite is often true.

But I've been hammering into her that she can do anything she puts her mind to. I've been encouraging her to be fearless.

It was time to put up or shut up.

The first time I addressed the audience it was a no-brainer. Ten minutes before curtain, I'm supposed to tell everyone to go use the bathroom. I tell people all day long to go use the bathroom.

The second one was trickier. It's that "turn off your cell phones," "no pictures or Sleeping Beauty will go blind and fall off the stage and die before the evil fairy has a chance to curse her," "stay out of the aisles or you'll be gored by a prince who's a little sword-happy" speech.

That's a lie about Sleeping Beauty falling off the stage before the evil fairy curses her. At that point she has a Cabbage Patch body double covering for her, and everyone knows Cabbage Patch body doubles adore flash photography.

Anyway. The intro music fades and I step onto the stage. House lights go down. Stage lights go up. All eyes are on me. Everyone is listening to what I am about to say.

And I have an epiphany.

It is this:
Parents need lighting and sound designers. Can you imagine if every time you got ready to say something like "go find your shoes" all the lights went off except the one that was on you? And if there was the kind of music swelling in the background that foreshadowed exactly how it was going to go down if the shoes were not found? You would never be ignored again.

I used to think I'd like a personal assistant and a sous chef, but now I'm leaning toward a run crew. They make you disappear when you want to disappear. They put the focus on you when you need people to pay attention. They fix your broken zippers and make sure you are where you are supposed to be.

Can you imagine? My lord, just having someone tell me when it's time to get dressed would be huge. (And then the Peapod delivery guy might agree to start coming to our house again.) It is amazing I've made it this long without one.

I have to tell people about the flash photography and death-by-goring again tonight, but I think I'll be okay.

I can do anything I put my mind to. I am fearless.

And the crew's got my back.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


The first line is five
The second line is seven
The third line is five

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Apple pie recipe not included

"Don't ever get old," my mother-in-law tells me.

I tell her I don't like the alternative.

She says, "well, you're set up pretty well." I start to argue (she's my mother-in-law. It's my job), but she's wandered off so I'm stuck arguing in my head. How is my setup different from hers? I have good kids, but so did/does she. What's so great about what I've got? What's so wrong with what she's got? And is there really a landing pad between growing old and croaking?

I have nothing better to do today - it's very hot and I'm sitting really still, trying not to perish from heat stroke - so I gave it some more thought. And I realized that I am set up pretty well, at least for now. The trick is keeping our balance as everything changes around us.

My best friend, who is also dealing with aging parents, has been noticing what differentiates an annoyed/annoying old person from a pleasant/pie-baking old person. Here are a few things she's come up with:

Be flexible.
Cranky people get stuck in their ways early on. If you want to be happy later, practice flexibility now. Try new food. Guard against dismissing ideas out of hand. Remember that change has always happened and it's not something new that's designed specifically to piss you off.

Be nice.
This comes to some people more naturally than others, but it's never too early to start cultivating your inner nice person. I don't mean to lose your love of taunting your kids with embarrassing childhood stories in front of their friends. File that under "Joie de Vivre" and have at it. It's the taunting that goes on inside your head you have to be careful of. Watch the inner monologue because that stuff is going to come out loud and clear on down the line. Admit it: your filter's going to get clogged and you're just going to chuck it. Start filtering out the crap now so what comes out later is what you really want to be saying.

Start figuring out what's important.
I am not high maintenance. I am not a neat freak. I have not once been mistaken for Miss Manners. But sometimes I flip out. And it's stupid stuff I flip out over.

Nobody likes to be nitpicked, henpecked or micromanaged. It's not a matter of stopping the flow of criticism, it's a matter of not letting stuff get you. My friend gives things the Five Year Test: if it won't matter in five years, let it be.  "Don't sweat the small stuff" is cliche for a reason.

There's stuff that's important now, but won't be later. If by the time my children reach a certain age they are still not putting their underwear in the hamper or are going out with their hair unbrushed, it's their spouse or friend or footman's problem. Not mine. My job of polishing the outside is done. It's time to enjoy what's inside.

Trust people who are trustworthy. 
Figure out who these people are before you start forgetting if you've had lunch or not. This is hard because the person you choose to help you make important decisions may have their own brain eaten by a zombie and start suggesting things that are not in your best interest. Do the best you can.

It's not about you.
Another friend recently told me that people do what they do because over time they become more and more self-centered.  It's like your fingers freezing off when you get stuck in the arctic (work with me here. There's a parallel that made sense when I typed it. See reference to "heat stroke" above).

The trick is to A) not get stuck in the arctic and B) become less self-centered so there's a greater margin for error on down the line.

Remember all this.
Write it down. Mark it on your calendar. Put sticky notes on your head. Write a blog post in which you refer to yourself as "you." Do it until it's easy.

Old is as old does. When my mother-in-law tells me not to get old, I'm pretty sure what she means is to not get to the point where I can't get out of my own way, mentally. I figure I should start practicing now if any of this is supposed to do any good in the future. And if it doesn't? Then I will have been unnecessarily nice and friends will decide that zombies have eaten my brain.