Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Time for a reboot.

This blog is now closed. Find archives and new posts at jessthinksthoughts.wordpress.com

Friday, September 9, 2016

in which the writer reflects on home, and also her heart

I had a beautiful gift of a Labor Day weekend. 

I was fortunate enough that I had the time and the money to go home over the long weekend. My darling girl Molly put a bug in my ear two-ish weeks ago that an event I was sorely sorry to miss had been planned for the long weekend. And while I have the work ethic of a draft mule, my workload remains light at the beginning of this semester, so I was able to take four days off from my reading schedule and hie thee hence to home.

I had wondered idly if, after only being gone four weeks, I would have the same reaction as when I return to Oregon—tears the second I cross the border. Well, dear reader, I did. Yes, I had been driving for twelve hours, yes, I was tired and a bit cranky, yes, it was very late at night. But the second I got off at my exit, I burst into tears. Big, heaving sobs of happiness and gratitude. Staunton is the first place that's ever been mine, and I built a life there that I love among people that I love. I was home, home where I wanted to be, and that was dandy.

This is a lot of preamble to a weekend of love that I don't have adequate words for. I saw my dearest loves in ones and twos, feeding my soul and filling my heart. Wine with the girls, dinner with the boys, love and communion at every turn. I remain unconvinced that Alabama is the best or right place for me, and I loathe the climate/ecosystem, but things here are good. There's plenty to like, and some things even to love. But home, as they say, is where the heart is, and my heart is firmly rooted in dear old Staunton.

It's been a year of transition for me. Some of those transitions have been bitterly hard. Others, though, have been joyous. Quietly, kindly, I've been able to shift a handful of important relationships from teacher/student to colleagues to friends, and I am just so.damn.grateful. There are four beautiful people in Staunton who I value as colleagues and collaborators, but also as friends, and I feel desperately lucky that they have taken me into their hearts. We had a long Saturday night of pizza and wine together, in a new home surrounded by unpacked boxes and half-furnished rooms. There were pups and laughter, and I felt just as at home as I do anywhere else in that town. I was not concerned about appearing intelligent, or contributing meaningfully to the conversation, or being so intimidated that I said nothing at all. We laughed and we loved and we ate much and drank deeply. These people, who will modestly demur it if I say it out loud, have more or less handed my career to me. Most everything I have, I owe to them in some measure. My PhD placement, my first publishing contract, my most recent article, my certainty that I am in the field where I belong—all thanks to them. I love them, both for their brains and their hearts, and as they were showing me their new home, they pointed out the guest room as being "Jess's quarters". My poor little heart could just burst with love. Seamlessly and graciously, we've moved from colleagues to friends, and I'm so grateful.

It's become clear to me, from my summer at home and upon my triumphant return this weekend, that I am part of an incredible community of women. Men too, of course, some who are very dear to me and who are 1000% supportive of my life and ambitions. But the women are the reason my soul sings. In particular, Staunton is home to five women, a mix of academics and practitioners, who are my biggest fans. They love me, first and foremost, and they challenge me and support me. I'm always trying to be better—for them. They are smart, talented, capable, and beautiful inside and out, and I want to keep up with them and be worthy of their time and company. They are champions of my soul, they don't shy away from my intimacies, they accept my foibles and my fortes. They are the best friends a girl could ask for. Some are old, some are new, all are dearly, dearly loved. They will listen to me talk myself from one end of a decision to the other and back, they read my work and make it better, they share my stories, they cheer my successes and comfort my failures. 

After a long drive back to the Deep South on Monday, I sent a quick email thanking my Saturday night host for making time for me in the midst of a busy weekend, expressing my gratitude for the friendship extended to me, and querying a term used over dinner that I wasn't remembering (because wine). The email I got back, though brief, was enough to set my soul on fire. Two sentences, one answering my question, the other: "We love youcome back soon and often."

Oh, my heart.

It's early days in Alabama and the weather is still terrible. But if my home and my friends are so wonderful, how can my life be anything but good? I am so lucky, so loved, and so happy.

Friday, August 26, 2016

UPDATED Irving "Fatboy" Hambutt

Part of getting settled in Alabama means finally buying myself a filing cabinet and finally sorting through the enormous box of my mother's medical records and funeral records that I inherited some years ago and have been carting around ever since. I'm happy to report that they are now out of their decrepit cardboard boxes, and properly sorted for shredding/recycling/storing. About half of it is insurance paperwork destined for the shredder. Most of the rest of it is treatment/diagnosis information and general medical history; all good things that I should definitely save.

And buried within all this paperwork of varying degrees of depressivity, were a few precious pieces of paper that clearly displayed my mother's completely wacko sense of humour, one that I inherited in its entirety. Now nestled safely inside a folder titled, simply, "Funny" is a collection of documents to make me—and you—chuckle.

A document titled "10 Ways to Cope with Stress" contains such useful suggestions as "Fill out your tax forms using Roman Numerals" and "When someone says 'have a nice day', tell them you have other plans". 

An early draft of a parody newsletter she wrote for the hospital she worked for in my youth contains the note "This is only a parody. If this were an actual newsletter you would have been instructed not to laugh". The newsletter contains an item on new area healthcare services that reads thusly: "Psychiatrist M.T. Head and Dr. Lou Spowels, a proctologist, have recently opened the North Coast Odds and Ends Clinic. According to a spokesperson for the clinic, they offer top-to-bottom medical care." The Staff Development Calendar contains upcoming seminars and trainings, including "Diagnosis and treatment of excessive nose hair", "Forty fun things to do with a stethoscope", "Conversational Pig Latin", and "Change: What It Is and How To Avoid It".

Another piece of paper offers vocabulary words and tips for healthy living: "Momentum: What you give a person when they are going away."  "Vacuum: A large, empty space where the pope lives." "To remove dust from the eye, pull the eye down over the nose." "For fainting: Rub the person's chest or, if a lady, rub her arms above the hand instead. Or put the head between the knees of the nearest medical doctor." "To keep milk from turning sour: Keep it in the cow."

January 5, 1996: Nasal Polyp Swap Meet in Great Schnaz, NV
July 12: Birthday of Dr. Louis Pasteur, Inventor of the Cow Pasteur
August 8, 1996: Annual Colonoscopy Inservice in Bender, NV

Weird Science
Artificial insemination is when the farmer does it to the cow instead of the bull.
Mushrooms always grow in damp places and so they look like umbrellas.
Water is composed of two gins, Oxygin and Hydrogin. Oxygin is pure gin. Hydrogin is gin and water.

The best thing in this folder, however, the thing that had me calling my father to ask questions, was this 8x10 glossy photo. In case you can't read the inscription it says, "For Nancy—With fond remembrances of our many nights together. Irving "Fatboy" Hambutt"

I don't know who this man is, though he looks vaguely familiar. The name and description didn't ring a bell for my dad, so I emailed the picture to him. I can't wait to find out if he knows who this is and what it's about.

It's things like this that make me, as an adult, acutely aware of the relationship I've missed out on. My mom seems cool as hell, and I never got to know her, not even a little bit. I think I really would have liked her. I think she would have liked me.

UPDATE: My friend's husband, who is amazing, knowledgable, and very well connected, says that "the tape around his wrists almost certainly means he's a wrestler…his name is 'gimmicky', which means he was probably a bad guy." He's going to ask his wrestling communities if anyone's ever heard of him. I can't wait to find out what comes of this.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

On swimming

Like most children in the small town where I grew up, I took swimming lessons at Tapiola pool every summer. The pool was outdoors, in the northernmost tip of Oregon, in the continental United States' coldest, wettest region. An outdoor pool was a silly idea except for those two or three days in July and August when the temperature finally got above seventy-five degrees.  I learned backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle; I worked up the courage to jump off the diving board at the very end of the summer I was eight, and that's about it. I do not know how to dive, I never learned a flip-turn, and I can't do a dolphin kick. 

And then they shut Tapiola and built the new indoor aquatic center with a twenty-five meter lap pool, a lazy river, a water park, a hot tub, a weight room, conference centers, and more. The aquatic center opened the summer I was twelve and was done with my sporting years.  I spent some time there, sure, but not much. Swimming faded from my life in favor of theatre, friends, boys, and driving.

And suddenly, I was twenty, and swimming was back in my life in a major way. I met my husband, a swim coach, fell in love, got married, and spent lots of my time in and around pools. I relearned the vocabulary of the sport; I learned the major players both in and out of the water. I remember names now that most others don't, like Gary Hall, Jr., and Cullen Jones. I know the big names from other countries, I know times, I know stats, I could (poorly) write a workout if I needed to. 

My marriage is over now, and has been for more than a year. But like the 1500, or Michael Phelps's career, it still keeps going. So while Tim and I are separated, and the divorce is impending but not imminent, the Olympics are on, and I am alone in my new apartment, in my new city, shouting at the TV while Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel and Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin kick ass and take names. Tim is home in Oregon this week, which means he's two hours behind me and I have to wait until the next day to talk over the races with him. That's a drag, but I'm thankful that until I find someone else who cares and knows about swimming, I can still text him excitedly about that 100 FLY and that 200 BK and that 800 FR.

This Olympics has been emotional for me. It's the last time (probably) we'll see the great Micahel Phelps, the dopey Ryan Lochte, the adorable Missy Franklin, the precious Nathan Adrian. There will be no further tense rivalry with Laszlo Cseh and Chad Le Clos. These names, which have marked much of the last twelve or sixteen years of swimming, have also marked the span of my courtship and marriage. And now, like my marriage, it's over.

If I've heard Tim say it once, I've heard him say it a thousand times—swimming is a lifetime sport. That's why Michael Phelps is so great, and why Anthony Ervin is such a beast. That's why swimming has been around for so much of my life, and that's why I've taken it with me from one part of my life to the next.

I start PhD coursework on Wednesday this week. I worked every damn day this summer, and I could do with a bit of a break, but I'm ready to get to work. I'm ready to crush the coursework, to learn as much as I can, and to get down to business on my dissertation. I'm ready to move forward with my life and my career. I'm ready to learn again, I'm ready to love again, I'm ready to live again. I'm ready to dive in and swim on. #justkeepswimming

Monday, May 23, 2016

So yesterday I graduated with my second master's degree in as many years. I have lots of thoughts and feelings to discuss at another time, but I wanted to share these four photos.  I'm 30, and the past year has been incredibly difficult—but it's also been incredibly rewarding, and so full of joy.

And one of the best parts of being 30 has been the unyielding self-confidence I've found. I feel so good about my brain and my body. I am smart and fabulous and beautiful, and I fucking know it.

I am also hilarious. And my best friend is adorable. (She's also wearing my dress. And she looks super cute in it.)

This is a girl with blue hair, who has had the best three years of her life, who just got her second master's degree, who loves the girl who took this picture, and who is WORKING that dress and those heels.  This is a girl who is going to start working on her PhD in August.  This is a girl on fire.

Monday, April 25, 2016

#Shakespeare400 #alwaysbewagging

As you may have heard, if you live anywhere near people who speak, Saturday was the 400th/452nd anniversary of Shakespeare's death/birth. That's kind of a big deal for a person like me, whose first name is a character from Merchant and maiden name is a character from Macbeth (though a variant spelling) and married name is a character from Hamlet and who has two master's degrees in Shakespeare and who is trying to get a PhD in Shakespeare and who has eight copies of the complete works in her apartment and who lives in Shakespeareland and who basically eats, sleeps, and breathes Shakespeare all day, every day, for the last three years of her life.  Shakespeare is my one true love, and that's a fact, Jack.

Saturday also happened to be the final day of coursework for my MFA degree, which means it was the last day Sweet Wag Shakespeare was an active company and the last day I could say with any certainty where any of my friends would be at a given moment.  It feels appropriate that our drop-dead date was the same day as Shakespeare's drop-dead date.  My heart is full and I feel complicated about both #Shakespeare400 and the end of the Wags.

Shakespeare, the man, is easier to deal with.  I owe him for absolutely everything my life is and is not.  He is both the reason I got married and the reason I'm getting divorced.  He is my first love, my longest love, my one true love (apparently).  He is responsible for my greatest professional triumphs and also my greatest failures.  Above all, Shakespeare is home for me.  I've been living and working here long enough to know that Shakespeare is but one bright star in the sky that is early modern English drama (1580-1642), and that there's so much else before, after. and around him that is magnificent, but Shakespeare is my home.  He's the one I'll return to, again and again, when things are good, bad, or just okay.  He's the one whose words cover my walls, my heart, my body, and my soul.  Put simply, Shakespeare is the higher power that I believe in, and he has shaped me into the woman I am today.  "The bright day is done and we are for the dark" got me through last spring; "be bloody, bold, and resolute" got me through this one.

The end of the Wags is harder to grapple with. Above all, I think I'm relieved. This year was a battle, and the last four weeks were basically hell.  The work was never easy and often unpleasant, interpersonal relationships strained and broke, and I've come out the other side struggling to determine what I have to show for it besides another very expensive piece of paper.  But I am also desperately sad to have to say goodbye to some of my forever friends. I never expected to be the one who got left—I always thought I'd be doing the leaving as well.  This is hard, as life so often is.

Today was my first real day of post-MFA life. I got up at 6:00, did my three-mile loop of Staunton, did my push ups and my sit ups for the first time in months, got groceries, took my recycling out, dropped off my defense draft, cooked, applied for jobs, took another walk.  Tomorrow I jump back into academia with my defense prep and article prep and PhD prep for round two, but I have the freedom to be disciplined with myself again.  Up at 6:00, bed at 10:00, morning and evening walks.  It's time to rebuild, refocus, and move forward.

The readiness is all.  Let be.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

in which I reflect.

Sunday night was the annual benefit concert at the ASC to celebrate the closing of the Ren Season and raise money for musical instruments.  It was the third year in a row I'd attended, and for me, it was an evening of profound joy and sadness and reflection—like usual.

The first year I went, I was just about done with my first year of grad school—a year of triumph and joy and love.  Nearly all of my friends went with me, and we danced the night away.  I came home from the concert and wrote a love letter to the ASC for being a big part of my joy.

Last year the concert was held on my sixth wedding anniversary…five days after my husband asked for a divorce.  I excused myself mid-concert to cry in the bathroom.  Two days later, I defended my thesis and passed without revisions.  My greatest failure followed hard on by my greatest success.

The concert was different this year.  For one thing, I counted among the actors onstage a couple of legitimate friends, one of whom I am very sad to be saying goodbye to.  Almost none of my friends came.  And while I always expected this to be my final concert, the end of my time in Staunton, it wasn't.  Because I failed to get into a PhD program, so I'm not going anywhere anytime soon.  In the span of twelve months, I failed at the two things no one ever expected me to fail at—my marriage is over and I'm not getting a PhD.  What madness is this?

I've spent the last year learning to live without my husband, and the last two months learning to live with the idea that I'm not getting a PhD this year.  I've learned to deal with the shame and embarrassment and anger and move toward healthful productivity. I've been dating a little, which is a strange thing.  The last time I dated someone who wasn't my husband, I was a damn teenager.  I've made a satisfactory plan to get me through the next year in Staunton, until I can reapply for PhD programs and (I very much hope) matriculate next fall.  In short, I've been learning to be a real person, reliant on only myself.

The long and the short of everything is that Staunton is the first place that's ever been mine. I've grown and changed so much here.  I'm proud of the things I've accomplished, the person I've become. I'm even proud of the ways in which I've failed—because each failure has led to new, beautiful things.

The last song the Ren troupe played before leaving the stage is a new one to me, part of the Love for Love set list, but it's come to be extraordinarily dear to me.  It's called "Rivers and Roads", and it starts with these lyrics:

A year from now we'll all be gone
All our friends will move away
And they're going to better places
But our friends will be gone away
Nothing is as it has been
And I miss your face like Hell
And I guess it's just as well
But I miss your face like Hell

As Chris began singing this plaintive, beautiful song, I caught eyes with my very best Marshall, sitting on the other side of the balcony, directly across from me.  He won't be gone in a year. He'll be gone in three months. Same with Aubrey and Merlyn.  My friends are leaving, for bigger and better things, and I'm staying here, in this place I love, in my shitty shoebox apartment, with an impending case of ennui.

The end of Ren Season always feels like an ending, because it is. It's right before the end of the semester. This year is more acute—it's the final graduation, and people I love dearly are leaving, maybe forever.  I'm a whirlwind of emotions right now.  But I'm strong and capable, and I know these things to be true: nothing in the last year is enough to sink me. I will get a PhD someday, I will find love again, I will not have to settle, and I'm going to be okay.  So maybe my life isn't Rivers and Roads.  Maybe my life is Wherever Is Your Heart.

Wherever is your heart I call home
Wherever is your heart I call home
Though your feet may take you far from me, I know
Wherever is your heart I call home

This one's for the ones I love most; the ones who have made this year so damn great, even through all the suck: Molly and Haylie and Marfall and PDM and Aubs and, most surprisingly and wonderfully, Holtzy.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

mom's minestrone

I've been working on this post for a couple weeks. I'm still not sure I've found the words I need, but here 'tis.

On Saturday, I got up at 6:15 to head to a 7:00 rehearsal, all on about three hours of sleep. When I came home at 10:30, exhausted and ready for a nap, I found package on my doorstep from my dad.  Not wildly unusual, but since it wasn't around a holiday or my birthday and he hadn't said he was sending anything, this was curious.

Inside was a book.

My mother's best friend, Anita, wrote a memoir. She included seven pages on her relationship with my mom and my mom's battle with cancer.  Already weepy because of the sleep-deprivation, this was not a gift I was prepared for.

But oh, how precious this gift is.  I'm not sure how factual it is, seeing as how these memories are 20-30 years old (she lists me as older than my brother (nope) and my age at the time of mom's death at six (I was eleven)), but even if the diagnoses, treatments, or timelines referenced aren't quite accurate, the way she captured her friendship with my mom and my mom's personality are beautiful.

Being a motherless daughter is such an intrinsic part of who I am and I'm so used to my grief now that most days, I don't notice it.  But as I spend more and more time being an adult, I'm increasingly angry at the incredible unfairness of not getting to know my mother as a person or a friend. Everything I hear suggests that I would have really liked her.  I always think that I get my sense of humour from my dad, but the more I learn, the more I know that mom's in there, too.  Consider this story of how my mom became friends with Anita:

We attended the same church, and it was there, while working at the annual rummage sale, we discovered we shared a spontaneous and somewhat quirky sense of humor.

I was sorting lingerie when I came across a pair of sheer, black, bikini pajama bottoms.
"Look," I said, placing the bikinis around my upper arm. "They fit."

Nancy looked at me from three tables down and said, "Those are mine."

Nancy was a petite size four and you'd have to do some serious multiplying to reach my size.  She continued, "Sam likes the maid outfit better."  While others looked at us in shock and dismay, our laughter echoed throughout the gym.

Looking past the cringe-factor of wondering how much truth there is to the idea that my mom wore a maid outfit for my dad, I find this exchange hilarious. It sounds so like some of the things I say. 

Anita also recounts the beginning of the locally-famous ugly gift exchange tradition, which started with just the two of them and had grown to include fifteen or twenty of my parents' friends by the time mom died.  At some point, my mother gifted Anita with a truly tacky ceramic poodle.  A few days after I got married, I opened a box from Anita to find this poodle front and center.  Tim didn't really get it, but I laughed and cried (much like I'm doing right now) and was just so touched.

This poodle though.

All this just to say that I miss my mom. I wish I'd known her.  I wish my relationship with my dad and my brother were better.  I wish things were different.  But things aren't different, and I've built myself a life I love, a life I'm proud of.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

watching and learning, part two

I'm having a ridiculously busy semester.  Though I don't really have any actual classes anymore, my days start at 6:30 and end around 11:00 (sometimes later) and are full, full, full.  Mostly full of rehearsal, I teach undergrads on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and we do have the occasional seminar to attend. Then there's all the other stuff to do—finish my thesis, prepare my thesis presentation, submit articles to journals, submit papers to conferences, figure out how I'm going to pay for a PhD. My time is extremely valuable and I don't have a whole lot of it to spend how I please.

But on Wednesdays we finish our morning session at 12:30 and because of the teaching and class schedules, we don't go back until 7:00.  So for two-ish hours every Wednesday afternoon, I get to sit in the playhouse and watch the actors work. It is unbelievably good fortune that I'm allowed to do this, that I have the time to do this, and that this group of actors are as talented as they are hardworking.  

Today I got to sit in on fight call and music call.  I'm obviously excited about the fighting—Chris moves like a dream, the ASC owns gorgeous swords, and I always love to watch other fighters work.  I was super gratified to see that they work the same way I do—focusing on targets, speed, and intention, reinforcing the good while correcting the bad, etc.  I was also gratified to see that everything the fight captain had to say were all the same notes I would have given. 

I don't know anything about music, but this troupe contains some of the finest musicians I've ever heard in real life.  Chris, John, Chad, Aidan, and Holtz all make magic with each instrument they touch. Listening to RenĂ© sing brings me such profound joy. (I still can't believe I got to learn from him for an entire semester—how did we get so lucky?) For half an hour, I just got to listen to these amazing people create the most delicious sounds, and once again, I'm reminded how unspeakably lucky I am to live here, to be able to watch them work, to be in this program, to have nearly unfettered access to this theatre, to make my home in such a wonderful community.  In six months, I'll be gone, and I so badly don't want to leave.  I find such peace and joy in the playhouse.  I've fallen head over heels in love with the space and also the people who fill it.  That room and the people who work there are one of the biggest reasons my 2015 was so amazing, despite the fact that my marriage fell apart and my cat died.  That room and the people who work there are one of the biggest reasons my 2016 is off to such a thrilling start.  That room and the people who work there are one of the biggest reasons I don't want to leave Staunton.  Scratch that—they are the BIGGEST reason.  The theatre is my house of worship.  I feel about that building the same way I feel about the Columbia River, the Pacific Ocean, Star Wars, U2, The Goonies, and Shakespeare—it is an intrinsic part of my soul, and for the rest of my life, whenever I'm away from it, I'll feel a deep and abiding calling.  The words spoken on that stage are a siren song calling me home.

Because Staunton is my home. It is the first place that has ever been mine. Staunton is the place I became a person. How can I ever leave such a place?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

watching and learning

On Monday, I'm starting the final semester of my final master's degree. The last two and a half years have absolutely flown by, and I can't believe it's almost done.  My lease is up in seven months and I'm going to have to leave this town. (Noooo! Say it ain't so!)

In preparation for the show our company is putting up, I've spent this week observing the ASC actors rehearse for the Actors' Renaissance Season (the troupe puts up a season of five shows, with no director or formal design team, with only about three full days of rehearsal for each show).  Since my company is about to do the same process for the fifth show in our season, I'm spending days in the playhouse watching and learning.

I've talked before about how incredibly lucky I am to be living here, working with people I love, and loving the work I do.  I cannot believe the resources and opportunities available to me here.  The most immediate is the fact that I get to see all the plays at the ASC for free, as many times as I want, as often as I want.  During the fall, I sometimes spent four and five nights a week at the playhouse, listening, watching, and learning.

This is the first time I've ever had the chance to watch these actors rehearse.  I was amazed to see their communication with each other, the way they take care of each other onstage, the way they support and reinforce each other's choices.  I got to listen to two main characters discuss the end of one of the problem plays and try to decide how to handle it.  I got to see the evolution of comedic business and watch the senior actors be surprised at finding unanticipated business and challenges in scenes.  I watched them step in and out of character as they worked through scenes. I got to see familiar faces return, I got to see new faces begin to make an impression on me. Most importantly, I got to see a generative, supportive, fun, collaborative group of people create art right in front of my eyes.  I got to see exactly what a company can do when everyone is working for the same goal at their top capacity. It was so inspiring.

I've also spent a lot of time, especially in the last two years, talking about how I no longer want to be a theatre maker.  That still holds true, but the theatre is my house of worship and Shakespeare is my deity of choice.  Being able to while away my days and nights at the theatre, especially this one, feels like a dream.  In six months, when it's all over, I'll wake up and think I imagined the whole thing.

I am so lucky. How is it possible that I am so lucky?