I want to tell you a story.
It’s kind of a sad story.
Maybe you heard (I’m sure that you did; I’ve been going on and on about) that last night was the Footlights People’s Choice Awards and Dancing With Hamlet was nominated for Outstanding Nonprofessional Play. Long story short…we won. It was amazing. As a writer (as an artist!) you spend so much time wondering if you’re any good or if you have anything noteworthy to say, and then something like this happens and suddenly all the hard work pays off. Suddenly, you’re looking back and saying, “I’m so glad that I didn’t give up!” or “I’m so glad that I didn’t listen when those people told me no!” It’s so encouraging. It’s so uplifting. I love to write. I feel alive when I write so the fact that something that I love to do can combine with something that other people enjoy is mind-blowing. Who is this lucky? I am so blessed.
So why am I sad?
Well, in the midst of all the fun I had last night, all the amazing people I got to hug, and the incredible honor that was bestowed upon me…there were lots of pictures taken. Lots. Cameras on phones. Cameras carted around by professionals. Cameras carted around by people who just like cameras. And not-so-slowly, those pictures made it to Facebook. And all I could think when I saw them was, “Holy shit. Am I really that big?” “Holy shit. I look huge.” “Holy shit. Look at my arms. They’re so flabby.” “Holy shit. Look me standing next to Marti Gobel. I loom over her. I tower like a fat brick wall.” “Holy shit. I spent a lot of money on that dress, and I thought it was flattering but it doesn’t look flattering. I must be really bad at picking out clothes. Why did no one tell me that this dress is not flattering? Maybe it’s not the dress, Deanna. Maybe you’re just fat and ugly and unworthy of love!”
And that’s the sad part.
I had fun. I had so much fun last night, but this morning as I sat in bed and looked at the numerous photos, my anxiety took over and every good feeling about last night vanished. So many remarkable things happened last night, but I’m hung up on how I looked. The fact that my dreams seem to be coming true was pale in comparison to the fact that my body mass index says I should be 150 pounds, and I am nowhere near that. Instead of thinking about the joys in my life, I was thinking about my double chin. Instead of thinking, “Holy crap! I’m standing next to Marti Gobel! THE Marti Gobel! THE REAL MARTI GOBEL!”, I was thinking about my legs.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I like to call bullshit. Because I know that I’m not the only one who lets physical appearances suck happiness out of everything. So please, people of the world, take this as your daily reminder that you are brilliant, you are great, there is no such thing as perfect, and appearances mean nothing compared to the soul inside you. While I sat in bed, I kept thinking, “I need to make some changes. No more alcohol. No more carbs. Go to the gym SIX TIMES A WEEK.” And, you know what, Deanna? You’re right. I do need to make some changes, but they don’t involve changing my body but, rather, changing my perception.
I am doing great things. I am living a great life. I am so blessed and so lucky and I refuse to let a narrow definition of beauty define my life.
“If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business.”
― Gail Dines
SCENE: A coffee shop. By a lake. In a city. The lake may or may not be Lake Michigan. The city may or may not be Milwaukee. It’s open to interpretation. Deanna sits at a small table, drinking an iced latte and eating a veggie sandwich, complete with potato chips. She’s typing away on her laptop when a women carrying two plastic cups of water approaches her table.
WOMAN: Would you like some water?
DEANNA: (Looking up) Huh? Oh…uh…thanks, but no thanks. (She holds up her yellow water cup) I have some water already, but thanks for the offer.
WOMAN: Okay. (The woman exits)
(A man enters now, carrying two cups of coffee)
MAN: Excuse me, miss? Would you like a cup of coffee?
DEANNA: Uh…thank you, but I’m okay. (Holding up her latte) I’m good. Thank you, though.
MAN: Okay. (He exits)
(A little girl enters, carrying two ice cream cones)
GIRL: I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t mean to bother you but--
DEANNA: You’re going to offer me one of your ice cream cones, huh?
GIRL: Well, yes. Would you like one?
DEANNA: Thank you for the offer, but I’m quite alright.
GIRL: Okay. (The girl turns to go)
DEANNA: Wait! Do you have any idea why everyone keeps offering me things?
GIRL: Well…I don’t know if I should say…
DEANNA: Please. Say. Everyone seems to know something that I don’t, but that’s kind of frustrating. I mean…all I want to do is sit here and work.
GIRL: Okay. I guess I could…say a little…(She approaches the table again) You’re working?
GIRL: What are you working on?
DEANNA: I guess I’m trying to write a play.
GIRL: Well, there you go. That’s what people want.
DEANNA: They want to read my play?
GIRL: No. They want to be in your play.
DEANNA: I’m confused.
GIRL: Honestly, I think all of us are just looking for any excuse to talk to you.
DEANNA: Why me?
GIRL: Because you’re a writer.
DEANNA: Writer’s are a dime a dozen. Especially in this town.
GIRL: Oh, don’t get me wrong. You’re not the only one. There’s a novelist upstairs, another playwright right over there, and I think that lady over there is a poet.
DEANNA: I’m still confused.
GIRL: May I sit?
(The girl sits)
DEANNA: What’s your name?
GIRL: Oh no. That I won’t tell you. It’s best to remain an archetype. My name may bring up painful memories from you past or give you a preconceived notion about who I am. It’s better for me to be a blank slate. Anything you want me to be. I’m simply the girl.
DEANNA: So…what? You all have a story to tell or something?
GIRL: Yes. Of course.
DEANNA: And you want me to listen?
DEANNA: Um…okay. Tell me your story.
GIRL: Wait. What? It’s that easy?
DEANNA: I guess. Your ice cream is dripping all over your hands.
GIRL: Oh. Geeze. Here. Please. Take one.
DEANNA: I really shouldn’t.
GIRL: You’re not fat.
DEANNA: I didn’t say that I was fat. I’m trying to be a vegan.
GIRL: Well, I can’t eat two. (She smashes one of the cones onto Deanna’s plate where her sandwich and potato chips sit) I just need it to sit there for a minute, okay? I’ll take it back.
DEANNA: (Looking sadly at her sandwich) My poor hummus.
GIRL: So…my story. It’s funny, isn’t it?
DEANNA: (Half listening, still staring sadly at her sandwich) What is?
GIRL: My story. My life. The moral I’ve got hiding in my back pocket. The set up and the punchline. Everything I’ve thought so long and hard about. You know? I’ve gone along and have been collecting my truths and my experiences. And I’ve cultivated them in my brain. And I’m bursting at the seams, ready to share it with anyone who will listen. It’s the thing that I’ll say when my grandchildren ask me what the meaning of life is or what sage advice I have for them.
DEANNA: Aren’t you like nine?
GIRL: It’s there. I know the words. But now that I’m about to say them…what if they aren’t as clever as I’d imagined? It’s my story, but what if the story isn’t worth telling?
DEANNA: Welcome to my world.
(They share a look)
DEANNA: Why don’t you start at the beginning? Give me some sage advice.
(A Short Play)
SCENE: Deanna enters from her bedroom, walks to the kitchen area of her apartment and begins making herself a cup of tea, trying to be quiet as not to wake her roommate Melody. Deanna doesn't own a tea kettle so she puts water into a mug and then places it into the microwave. Some people would say this is weird. Deanna says if you think this is weird, you should buy her a tea kettle...otherwise SHOOSH. Anyway, Deanna digresses. As she's watching the microwave spin, Deanna realizes that she's not alone. She looks into the living room.
DEANNA; Hello? Please don't be a murderer.
(We hear a friendly voice call out in the darkness)
VOICE: No. I'm not a murderer.
(Someone turns on a light in the living room. It's Santa. Deanna is surprised to say the least)
DEANNA: Oh. Hey. Santa. This is...awkward.
SANTA: Merry Christmas, Deanna.
DEANNA: Merry, Christmas, Santa. I...uh...honestly wasn't expecting you.
SANTA: Why not?
DEANNA: Well, first off, Melody and I don't really have a tree...or a chimney.
SANTA: (Eyeing the tiny tree sitting by the record player) You didn't have a chimney in your childhood home, either, but I still managed to get in, didn't I?
DEANNA: I'm going to ignore how creepy that sounded.
SANTA: Now that I've said it aloud, that is probably a good idea. Why else weren't you expecting me?
DEANNA: Well, I mean...I guess I know you haven't brought me anything. I haven't been exactly nice this year.
SANTA: (Laughing) Ho ho ho.
DEANNA: No, not like that.
DEANNA: I thought--
SANTA: You thought what?
DEANNA: I thought you were making an...I thought you were assuming something--
DEANNA: Never mind. It doesn't matter. Sorry. I'm awkward. Anyway, I expect all you've got for me is coal, which, in this day and age, is actually kind of good to have so I guess I'll take some. (She holds out her hands)
SANTA: Your tea is done.
DEANNA: Oh. Yeah. (She fetches her mug from the microwave) Would you like a cup of tea?
SANTA: Do you have a kettle?
SANTA: Then no thank you.
DEANNA: Suit yourself. (She opens a tea bag an puts it into the mug) Please sit down. It's been a while. Let's catch up.
SANTA: I'm sorry, Deanna, but I can't stay long. It's my busy time of the year, you know.
DEANNA: Oh. Yeah. Of course. Duh. Sorry.
SANTA: Stop apologizing for everything.
DEANNA: Right. Okay.
SANTA: You not being so nice...as you put it...is exactly why I came here tonight. Truth be told, I don't have a present for you, Deanna.
DEANNA: Look, I know I've made some mistakes. I don't to be rude, but you don't need to rub it in my face. I know. I'm trying to change. I know I've been, well, naughty and...and...I just know.
SANTA: I want to talk to you about something, Deanna. Something you know and love.
SANTA: I want to talk to you about Doctor Who.
DEANNA: I can do that.
SANTA: I want to talk to you about one of your favorite Doctors.
DEANNA: Peter Capaldi?
SANTA: Yes. Personally, I think he's too grumpy for my taste. Ten will always be my Doctor.
DEANNA: Look, I know that 12 didn't get the best story lines all the time, but I like the direction he was taking the character. Very matter-of-fact. Less crying drama. Less kissing women. Just chasing aliens and saying sassy lines.
SANTA: But Rose! Gosh, the story line with 10 and Rose?!? I can't just forget that.
DEANNA: Yeah, but once Rose left, I didn't like 10 as much. I get that Martha is a sassy, independent woman and I didn't like her unrequited love drama, and the same really goes for the Ponds. "Who is Amy going to pick? The Doctor? Rory? Who will it be?!" Goodness me, how many times can we ask this question?!
SANTA: I do agree with you on that. The Ponds outstayed their welcome if you ask me. And the River story just kind of ended.
DEANNA: I know!
SANTA: Maybe it's because I like Rose so much, but I never got on the River bandwagon. Maybe if I rewatch her seasons. But wait! I digress! We're talking about Peter Capaldi.
DEANNA: Right. Sorry.
SANTA: Stop apologizing.
SANTA: Okay. Season 8. Episode 2. Into The Dalek. What question does The Doctor ask Clara in regards to himself?
DEANNA: "Am I a good man?"
SANTA: And what was her response?
DEANNA: Something like, "I don't know, but you try, and that's what matters."
SANTA: (Smiles) Well, there you are. (He turns to go)
DEANNA: Wait! What was that all about?
SANTA: "I don't know, but you try, and that's what matters."
DEANNA: But what if I don't try? What if I think I'm trying but really I'm just selfish? I watched a documentary the other day on psychopaths, and it left me wondering if maybe I'm a psychopath. What if I just don't care about anybody else? We think we're being selfless, but aren't we always just doing selfless things because it makes us feel better about ourselves? I do nice things, but what if I do them for the wrong reasons? Psychopaths are really good at making people believe in them and maybe I'm so good at lying, that I've even lied to myself!!
SANTA: Deanna, you're not a psychopath, but you do have high-functioning anxiety.
DEANNA: I guess you're right.
SANTA: Take my advice: drink your tea and go to bed.
DEANNA: I can't sleep.
SANTA: Well, watch a couple episodes of "Downton Abbey", then. Or "Doctor Who'. Watch Into the Dalek until my words really click with you. Though, I daresay, that season 10 was Peter Capaldi's best season.
DEANNA: I would agree with you on that one.
(The two share a smile)
SANTA: Merry Christmas, Deanna.
DEANNA: Merry Christmas, Santa.
(Santa exits. Deanna sits and drinks her tea, thinking. THE END)
Christmas. Such a magical time. Just look at the Hallmark channel and you'll realize that December is the month where all your dreams come true and long-feuding families put their differences aside and everyone loves Jesus. Everyone knows this.
If only it were true. Like Elvis, you may find yourself with a deep, deep blue Christmas for a variety of reasons. Looking around and seeing everyone else so merry doesn't help. Whether you're going through money troubles, love life troubles, mother-in-law troubles, midlife crisis troubles, quarter life crisis troubles, end of life crisis troubles or anything else, take comfort in knowing that you're not alone. Someone close to you is probably going through a healthy load of you-know-what, too, and sticking it out together will be better than going it alone. For those times when all seems for naught, take time to take care of yourself and here's a happy list of things you can do. Enjoy!
1) Re-read a favorite book
2) Re-watch a favorite movie
3) Re-watch a favorite TV show
4) Start a new TV show (like "Downton Abbey")
5) On second thought, don't start "Downton Abbey". It will just make you sadder.
6) Go to the park
7) Go to the park at night
8) Go to the park at night naked
9) Scratch 8
10) Visit your favorite restaurant
11) Enjoy time with your pet(s)
12) Call your mother
13) Call your father
14) Call your sister
15) Call your brother
16) Call your grandma
17) I'm so sorry. I forgot that you're Grandma is dead.
18) Call your grandpa.
19) Oh darn. Him, too? I'm really sorry
20) Try cooking
21) Try cooking meth
22) Go skydiving
23) Go make a snow angel
24) Take a nice, relaxing drive
25) But not in the city. That won't be relaxing
26) And not in the country, either. If your car breaks down, you'll be stranded in the middle of nowhere
27) I guess you really can't go driving through subdivisions, either. People will think you're creepy.
28) Go drive on the expressway.
29) And keep driving
30) Keep driving
31) Go to Disney World
32) Seek out Dug (the dog from "Up")
33) Pet Dug
34) Go to the Haunted Mansion
35) Hide in the Haunted Mansion
37) Sleep in the Haunted Mansion
38) Run wild in Disney World at night
39) Be crowned supreme ruler of all Disney World
40) Drive to Disney Land
41) Go back and notice that I skipped #36
42) But you already noticed that because you're very smart
43) Plant a flower
44) Go to www.lulu.com and buy a copy of one of Deanna Strasse's scripts
45) I'm sorry. I shouldn't advertise like that. I'm such a sell out
46) Don't be a sell out
47) Go watch silly videos on YouTube (may I suggest Very MaryKate or Sam and Mickey Barbie videos)
48) Turn on the TV. Hit mute. Fill in the dialogue yourself.
49) Go to the theatre. Hit mute. Realize that you can't hit mute on a theatre performance because theatre is live and raw and beautiful and don't stop for nobody
50) Respect theatre for being a strong, independent woman who don't need no man
51) Respect yourself because you are a strong, independent woman who don't need no man
52) Learn a new language
53) Invent a new language
54) Drink coffee
55) Drink lots of coffee
56) Call a friend
57) Have a nice adult beverage
58) Have you been drinking enough water?
59) Go for a walk
60) Go for a run
61) Scratch 60. Unless you're into that sort of thing.
62) Yell random women's names (i.e. "STELLA!")
63) Kindly remind yourself that that person who didn't want to go on a date with you all those years ago...yeah that person...he/she is a loser and it's totally their loss.
64) Kindly remind yourself that you are enough.
65) Seriously. Are you drinking enough water?
66) Cuddle with a favorite pet
67) Cuddle with the other pets so they don't feel rejected
68) Look at the stars
69) Feel your own heartbeat
70) When in doubt, eat ice cream.
THE CARDS READ: "SMOKER", "PERSON WHO SHOULD NOT BE IN CHARGE", "DEBT", "INVITATION FROM A STRANGER"
SUCH AS THESE
SCENE: A living room. Victor is seated on the couch with phone in hand, busying himself absentmindedly. Suddenly, the door bursts open and Char, his wife, walks in. She stands there, staring athim.
VICTOR: (Still looking at his phone) Hi, Honey. How was work?
(Char doesn't respond. Victor continues to play on his phone. Char holds up the purse and laptop chase she's carrying and promptly drops them on the ground. Victor jumps and finally turns around to look at her0
VICTOR: What the...what's...what's wrong?
(Char just stares at him)
VICTOR: Oh god. Not this again.
CHAR: Not what again?
VICTOR: What did I do? I did it wrong, didn't I? What did I do wrong?
CHAR: (Arms folded, walking towards Victor) Are you talking about getting the kids ready for school?
VICTOR: Yeah. I did something wrong, didn't I?
CHAR: Yes, Victor. You did something wrong.
VICTOR: (Standing up and walking towards her discarded bags) That's a really nice laptop. You shouldn't just toss it. (He picks it up and assesses Char) Well, it is. (A pause) What did I do? Did the pack the wrong thing for lunch? Did I put Ethan in Wednesday's pants instead of Thursday's? What? What did I do that was so wrong?
CHAR: They were dressed just fine. They said that their lunches were fine.
VICTOR: Where are they?
CHAR: (Ignoring that question) You got them on a school bus. You mostly did what I asked you to do.
VICTOR: Where are the kids?
CHAR: It's Thursday, Victor. Every Thursday after school, Josh and Ethan go to your mom and dad's house.
CHAR: Every Thursday. Ever since Ethan started Kindergarten. Every Thursday--
VICTOR: Would you cut the bullshit and just tell me once and for all what I did? I followed your notes. The boys went to school. I had to fight with them. Everything was going well until we got out to the bus stop. The bus was coming down the road and I said, "Okay. Here ya go." And they started throwing a huge hissy fit. Both of them. They kept whining about how they didn't want to get on the bus, and I said some words, but they got on the bus. It's fine.
CHAR: No, Victor. It's not. It's not that they didn't want to get on the bus. It's that they didn't want to get on that bus. That wasn't their bus!
VICTOR: What do you mean it's not their bus? It's a school bus! It takes them to school!
CHAR: I told you...I specifically told you...one bus will stop...if that little blonde haired girl is there, she'll get on that bus. And then you'll wait ten minutes and then Ethan and Josh's bus will come. That bus was for a different school district! They went to the wrong school, Victor!
VICTOR: Hell, you're telling me now I have to know what school district they go to?
CHAR: (Stunned) I can't...I can't talk to you...I can't...I can't talk to you.
VICTOR: Oh, come on, Char!
CHAR: You are impossible! You are a child!
VICTOR: How the hell was I supposed to know that it was the wrong bus?
CHAR: Because I told you! I told you, Victor! And, what's more, your children told you. They were whining and complaining and throwing a hissy fit because they were trying to tell you that it was the wrong bus! And I texted you, Victor! I texted you the bus number, Victor! I told you what the bus driver looked like, Victor!
VICTOR: Stop saying my name!
CHAR: I want you to really think about something, Victor. Do you remember when Josh and Ethan were born?
VICTOR: What the hell?
CHAR: Do you remember butting the umbilical cord and holding them and crying and...openly weeping...at the sight of your child? You were so excited and joyful and over the moon and in love. I want you to think back and ask yourself if you're still that person. If you really are doing right by those kids--
VICTOR: I'm doing the best I can!
CHAR: How? How are you doing the best you can?
VICTOR: I work! I work day and night to put food on the table--
CHAR: You work until five. Five thirty at the latest. And then you go and sit on the couch and play on your phone. Half the time you don't even sit and have dinner with us. Even though we've been waiting for you.
VICTOR: I have a stressful job--
CHAR: I have a stressful job, Victor! And sometimes I don't want to give my full attention to those kids! And sometimes I yell and complain and we bicker. Sometimes I don't even want to pick them up from daycare because I am so tired and stressed out. But I do because I love them and they are my kids and they deserve my attention. Maybe it's not always my undivided attention or my perfect attention, but it's my attention!
VICTOR: I am doing the best that I can.
CHAR: I don't believe that.
(They stare at one another)
VICTOR: What do you want me to say?
CHAR: Do you honestly thing that you're doing the best you could possibly do?
CHAR: Okay. Josh has a dance recital tomorrow night. Come.
VICTOR: You know that I hate that he dances--
CHAR: And you know that I don't give a flying fuck if you hate that he dances. Come. Support your son. It's his life. Not yours. This makes him happy.
VICTOR: He's the only boy in the class, right?
CHAR: (Is about to get angry but takes a breath) No, he's not. There's another boy. Marcos. That's Josh's best friend. Marcos.
CHAR: Come to the recital, Victor. Support your son. Support your family. (She exits)
(The scene shifts to a kind of limbo. Victor stands center stage, addressing the audience. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He lights one up)
VICTOR: Don't tell Char. I gave these up. When Josh was born, I gave them up. (He sighs) Things dull after a while. Things become monotonous. First there was this girl and she was the most beautiful thing you'd ever seen. And the idea that you get to wake up to that every day...you can't believe it. But then you start waking up to that every day. And it just becomes expected. Until it's like the wallpaper or the couch. Only after you've been married for a while do you really start to wonder, "Is love meant to last a lifetime?" Is it really healthy for us to do the same thing every day? Our kids are five and seven. The other day i woke up and I counted it in my head...Ethan will be six next month and then it's only twelve more years until he's a legal adult. And when he's moved out, Char and I can call it quits. We can't now. We can't ruin the boys' lives like that. You see, Char? I do think of the kids. That was the first time I had actually thought about what life would be without her. And I haven't stopped thinking about it. It's one thing if you want to divorce your wife. It's a completely different thing if you want to divorce your children. A marriage? (Shrug) You tried. It didn't work. But there's no way you can say to your kids, "I don't want to be your dad anymore. Hopefully, we can still be friends." You divorce your wife and it's understandable at times. You might even have a party to celebrate the fact that you've broken away from that woman. But your kids? That's unholy territory. That's unimaginable. Even if you're abandoning them with a woman who makes five times what you make in a four day workweek and who actually knows the names of their best friends. Even then. You can't walk away from you kids. You have to try. But what happens when I don't want to try anymore? There's this little boy and he's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen and the idea that I get to wake up every morning and see that face...I can't believe it. And then I wake up every morning and I see that face. And I wonder, "Is this really what I want?" What if I'm just a normal person who is simply saying what everyone else is thinking? What if I'm the only sane one left who dares to ask?
(The scene shifts. In the darkness we see a troupe of seven-year-old girls (and two boys) enter the stage and stand in a line. Music begins and they (rather awkwardly but diligently enough) begin to dance. On the sidelines we see Char, seated with a five-year-old boy on one side of her and Victor on the other. Char smiles proudly at the dancers and Victor simply stares on, staring and looking as if he's seeing his son for the first time. The dance finishes. It's quite beautiful. Char begins to applaud and then looks over at Victor. He's openly weeping.)
VICTOR: That's...my son...
CHAR: Yes, that's your son.
(The scene shifts again. The soft music from the recital still hangs distantly in the air. Victor, Char and Ethan are waiting in a hallway for Josh who suddenly comes bounding towards them. Char hugs him and congratulates him. Ethan hands Josh a flower. Josh looks to his father who has only now begun to control his tears. Victor hugs Josh very. As the lights fade on everything but the father and the son, Victor looks to the audience)
VICTOR: It seems I am not the only sane one left. I am still, very, very much insane.
I had a conversation with my thirteen-year-old self the other day
She smiled politely, but I could tell
She had questions
Thirteen-year-old me is not a very good liar
"Okay," I said, "What do you think?"
She was quiet for a moment and then,
"You're very pretty"
Thirteen-year-old me is not a very good liar
"No, really. What do you think?"
She was about to open her mouth when I added
"And you can tell me the truth
I don't care too much for bullshit"
Her eyes widened
Thirteen-year-old me can't believe I just said bullshit
Not making eye contact
Wiggling too much
Uncomfortable in her own skin
"It's just...you're not...very..."
The words drip out of her like molasses
She finally says
"You're kind of...fat"
Twenty-seven-year-old me is not a very good liar
That remark stings
But I don't let her know
She continues to stumble on her words,
"I just thought. Maybe
By now you'd have figured the whole fat thing out"
I almost laughed
But I knew what a fragile doll she is
Thirteen-year-old me eyed my left hand
I definitely laughed
"Nope. Still fat. Still single."
"Do you live on Broadway?" She asked
I shook my head
"Oh! Do you work at the Rep?"
I laughed again
I've worked at some theatres
Had some plays produced
Directed a little"
I wanted to explain that the Rep gets their actors from New York
Or Chicago these days
But I didn't think that will help the situation
"And you're...how old are you again?"
I may as well have told her I was a hundred and two
She wanted to ask so badly
She wanted to ask the same question I've asked myself
The difference between twenty-four and twenty-five
Was day and night
One day I was a college graduate trying to figure it out
And then I was an adult with nothing figured out
She wanted to ask so badly
And finally she did
"So...what exactly have you done with your life?"
Like I said...
I've worked at a couple theatres
Nothing too fancy
But I'm trying
I'm trying really hard"
Before I could say more, she began to cry
She'd held it in so long
She'd taken deep breaths and blinked
Trying to push back the feelings
But she couldn't do that forever
And here they are
She began to cry
And just like that, the grief tuned to anger
At bone-crushing speed, she jumped from one to the other,
A telltale sign of a diagnosis
She won't get for another five years
"What have you done with your life?!"
She demanded it now
The fury in her eyes comes from sorrow
Sorrow and fear
That we all end up the same way
Not at the Rep
She goes home every day to complacency
It's another member of the family
Who sits at the dinner table
And follows her to bed
Who goes out to dinner with her
And orders the same thing over and over again
Always saying, "This time...something new"
But something new never comes
She wanted to know so badly that somewhere along the line
I knew this
I knew she was speaking in anger
But we're so much alike
I couldn't help but speak in anger, too
"Let's get a few things straight here, little miss,"
"You don't know anything
I don't know anything, but you
You know even less
You know a hundredth of what I know
And I know a thousandth of what everyone else knows
That's how far off track you are
That is how stupid you are"
The two of us were crying
For even though time separates us
One facet of our beings has never changed:
The need to be self destructive
We were crying
On the verge of hyperventilating
We were so upset with ourselves
And then we took a breath
Age (and drugs)
Have helped me come up from the lows faster than she does
She was sobbing still when I finally said,
"This life is not that bad
This life is truthful
You wanted to walk out of high school
And marry a movie star
You walked out of high school
And got educated
You took a road trip
You threatened to leave
You did leave
You wrote terrible plays
That people will always remember
You wrote incredible plays
That people somehow forget
You stood at the bow of the catamaran
And chased whales across the Pacific
There's a dog
And several men
And an angel
And everything in between
This is not the life you wanted
But it is a life"
I wanted to tell her to ask Grandma more questions
I wanted to warn her about the car accidents
I wanted to suggest a thousand things
But the future is hers
And no one likes spoilers
Nineties cartoons were pretty rad. I’m sure, though, that baby boomers will say their childhood television was the best and products of the 80’s will talk your ear off about MTV. (Legend has it they once actually played music on that channel.) Everyone has their opinion, but I’m here to tell you that your opinion was wrong. Nineties kids television. That’s where it was at.
Hey, Arnold. Run Rats. Magic School Bus. Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Are You Afraid of the Dark? This is the era that produced It Takes Two and Space Jam for crying outside.
And then there’s Rocko’s Modern Life. Perhaps you remember being a child and overhearing adults discussing adult like things, and you didn’t understand the adult talk but you could definitely identify it was adult talk. This was basically how I felt about all of Rocko’s Modern Life. It was one big adult joke that I was pretty sure was naughty but I couldn’t explain. Years later after discovering what terms like “choke the chicken” or “slap the monkey” meant, I knew my youthful intuition was not unfounded.
For those of you who don’t know, Rocko’s Modern Life follows the adventures of a wallaby (named Rocko) who doesn’t like to cause a scene and often gets stepped on (literally and metaphorically; there’s a whole episode about how short he is). His best friend is a cow who was raised by wolves and a hypochondriac turtle who is married to a cat with a hook for a hand. Kapeesh? Okay.
Because of this dirty feeling one usually got after watching an episode, I tended to shy away from Rocko; remember that I was a good Lutheran kid and shied away from terms such as “shut up” or “crotch” as well. I do, however, have some quotes tucked away in my memory: “Run! Run like the wind! Run for the bowl that screams out your name: Stinky!”
Is it possible, though, to find something a little deeper than poorly hidden adult humor and a child’s ration of fart jokes in the confines of Rocko’s Modern Life? I think so. Maybe.
One of the major themes in the show (like any sitcom really) is that you can’t control your surroundings. The standard storyline would play out where Rocko and his friends discover something, want to use the newfound thing to change their lives, work hard but humorously always end up right back where they started. This was also one of the major thorns in my side about the show because I was (still am) a sensitive little thing and couldn’t help but feel bad for Rocko every time (and it happened every time) something went awry for him. He just could never seem to win. (I’m also the person who feels bad for Tom the cat, but let’s be honest Jerry can be an asshole.)
In one particular episode, Rocko goes to a baseball game in the hope of catching a flyaway ball. Tirelessly and humorous, the group try to enjoy the event, meet their heroes and survive. By the end of the episode, Rocko somehow does come into possession of a ball and is leaving the stadium with pride at having finally achieved something (he’s a wallaby who works in the sex industry. Good times are few and far between.) And then a child appears. And the child gives Rocko big puppy dog eyes and, for whatever reason, Rocko feels compelled to give the child his prized possession. (What? Only kids can have balls? A child enters and we suddenly just have to give him everything. Here’s my kidney. Here’s my watch. Here’s my hologram Charizard. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. I’m an adult. Life has ended for me anyway.)
Later on, Rocko is at home and patting himself on the back for “doing the right thing” (again, I don’t know) and helping to make the kid’s day special. He begins to muse about the stories the child will tell one day…about the nice stranger who gave him the flyaway ball from the big game. The kid will grow up to play baseball and it will all have begun with Rocko’s good deed.
We then cut to a scene of the kid sitting on his bedroom floor, tearing the ball to shreds and eyeing the audience evilly. Credits roll. Another prime example of how modern life just sucks for Rocko. Eight-year-old Deanna begins to get upset. “That’s not fair! The little kid doesn’t even appreciate the ball! He should be more grateful! I’ve had enough of this! This stinks! I’m going to watch Wishbone!”
And, of course, it’s all true. And, of course, it’s a stupid cartoon, and we’re meant to watch it, laugh and then carry on. But moving on after devoting the past fifteen minutes of my life just didn’t sit well with me…even at that age. There had to be a reason. It never occurred to me that sometimes cartoons don’t have morals; sometimes they’re just poorly hidden adult humor and a child’s ration of fart jokes.
Perhaps I’m just really bad at letting things go, but I think, after years of careful consideration, I’ve found a lesson within the confines of this terrible, terrible show.
Rocko gave the ball away as a gift (for whatever reason). But it wasn’t really a gift. It was a paycheck. Rocko gave the ball away with the expectation that the child would grow up to love the ball as much as he had and appreciate Rocko as the hero who started it all. You give me something, and I’ll give you something is payment or quid pro quo at least. When the child refuses to live up to the expectations, who is at fault? The child? Well, no. The kid was a kid. No one had probably explained to him how important the ball was. The kid saw the ball, got a little misty eyed and Rocko caved. The fault is on Rocko for putting expectations on the kid.
Oh my gosh. Isn’t this relevant to everyday life?
How often do we as friends, spouses or neighbors give something away as a paycheck disguised as a gift? How often do we get dressed up in our best suits, smile nicely and wait to be told how good we are? I do it. Way too often. Santa doesn’t give out gifts. Santa gives out paychecks. Mr. Webster defines the term “gift” as “something that is given away to somebody in order to provide pleasure or to show gratitude.” When you give a gift, you give something away only with the hope that the receiver will enjoy it.
You are owed nothing else.
Their happiness is the reason why you give the gift in the first place.
Imagine for a minute how this misconception has led to so much unhappiness around us. Imagine how often we get worked up over our expectations of someone’s response to our good deep…how disappointed we are when they don’t do what we wanted them to do. It’s the whole back rub vs. full on sex issue.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t do any nice things for others obviously. Any good deed we do for a fellow living thing (begrudgingly or otherwise) is noble. And there will certainly be times where paychecks and quid pro quos have their place. We get into trouble when we assume that every good action we do has to be rewarded.
The thing about love is that you find someone or are given someone and you want them in your life so you try to make them happy. Likewise, they will support you and love you and want to see you happy. That’s love. It’s as complicated and as simple as that.
So the moral of the story is…don’t be a Rocko. Be stupid. Give your heart away. Care about people truthfully. Stop expecting paychecks when it’s a gift. Be kind to one another.
I don’t know. Maybe I want to validate all the hours spent watching Rocko. I am a theatre person so I know that I read into stuff too much. (“They specifically chose the lamp to be blue. Why? What was the director trying to say.” Probably that we had a blue lamp in the prop storage.) I suppose pulling good lessons out of art…or “art” is better than pulling bad lessons out. (“Rocko told me to hail Hitler.”) But then where do you draw the line. Alas, that’s a conversation for another day.
(This is the part of the story where everyone who loved the show as a child tells me how wrong I am. Bring it on.)
For those of you who don't know, I have a day job. I'm a barista at (without argument) the most popular and famous coffee chain known to man: Starbucks. This coming June marks one year of employment at this establishment, and this anniversary means more to me than a typical employee.
Fair warning: what I'm about to write is cheesier than a Bacon Gouda Breakfast Sandwich and sweeter than a Single Grande Caramel White Chocolate Mocha in Venti cup with extra whipped cream and mocha drizzle.
I legitimately always told myself that if there was one job I could never do...it was barista. Prostitute really sounded promising at times, but making coffee? God no. The lingo was strange, the pace too fast, the atmosphere too crazy. High stress levels. Big fancy people in big fancy suits throwing coffee in your face because you put in two packets of Splenda instead of demanded three. Uh-uh. Not for me. Frankly, I wasn't smart enough to do that.
It was my sister, Dana, though, who pushed me. Her favorite Starbucks (in Muskego of all places) was hiring, and I was in desperate need of a job. Did I mention desperate? I had quit QuadGraphics after a mere two weeks (but that's a story for another day) and the shifts at the daycare simply weren't cutting it...plus, I was seriously considering becoming an alcoholic. Because of the daycare. Not just for kicks and giggles. So I applied, got an interview and was hired. Woo-whoo.
Now the fun part began. I don't mean to be dramatic (who am I kidding?) but last summer was probably one of the hardest times of my life. Most of 2015 read like a bad country song. My lover left me, my dog died and my truck broke down. Well, my Escape broke down so I bought a Taurus and that broke down so I drove my brother's truck and then that broke down. Maybe you should just keep your cars away from me. Anyway, last summer I was fresh off the breakup, directing a show ("Taming of the Shrew") that I believed with all my heart I was totally unqualified to do and was training at Starbucks.
The way training goes down over there is two weeks of watching videos, watching other baristas and learning how to make most of the drinks at a leisurely pace during the afternoon lull on a Monday. After the two weeks are up, they throw you to the lions and pray to God that you last. It's sink or swim.
And for a long time...I sank. Everything that I dreamed would happen happened. My first month there, a woman SCREAMED at me for accidentally making her drink a Venti (the big one) instead of a Grande (the medium one). I was called stupid more than once (to my face) by people going through the drive-thru. I dropped things. I messed up the mocha. I go the black tea confused with the green tea. I asked stupid questions, like "Do you want the classic syrup in addition to the caramel or is that substituting it?" I was slow. And I couldn't shake this thought that everyone who looked at the schedule and saw that they shared a shift with DEANNA let out an audible moan and considered becoming a prostitute.
One shift in particular, Malayna, terrified me to no end. I remember distinctly one time, she came up to me and simply asked which coffee I had just brewed and I froze in my tracks. I mumbled and stammered and then finally blurted out, “You really intimidate me! It was Blonde! I brewed Blonde!”
I hated going in to be perfectly honest and had it not been for that stupid need for money in order to survive, I may have quit. Starbucks for the first months seemed to only strengthen in me the idea I’d had from the beginning: I’m not smart enough for this.
Early on (while still training) I was doing some exercise that involved drinking watered down raspberry syrup (I don’t know) with Malayna when she looked me in the eyes and said, “You can’t be a dummie and work here.” She meant it, of course, as encouragement. “Only smart people can work here and you’re here so you’re smart.” But all I heard was, “If you don’t make it here, you’re dumb. Maybe you don’t belong here.”
I don’t’ know where this idea comes from really…that I’m dumb. I have guesses. I’m very quick to respond to things. I grew up in a family of Hamlets (people who know what they should do but can’t bring themselves to do it). Because of that, I guess I kind of turned into a Romeo (someone who makes decisions too hastily). I talk before I think. I do things quickly. I want to prove myself. And that makes me come off as immature and stupid. I can see that. I’m also not very cultured. I’ve never seen Back to the Future, but I’ve read all the Harry Potter books and most of the Chronicles of Narnia books.
Whatever the cause, Starbucks only seemed to make this idea take root and grow into something that was out of control. One day I was in the bathroom on my lunch, sitting on the floor with a triple grande soy latte beside me and bawling my face off. I was stupid. I was dumb. I couldn’t do this job. I would be homeless. I have no useful skills. I can talk to you all day about foil characters in Pride and Prejudice but as far as actual, useful in the real world talents go, I was hopeless. I was stupid. Just like I had always feared.
And then something happened. One day…there I was, minding my own business, trying to keep up with these people who seemed to have been born to make espresso macchiatos while simultaneously dealing with problem customers and ordering extra stir sticks…I turned around and Malayna was there. And she complimented me. She told me that I did a good job. Actually, I think her exact words were, “You kicked ass.”
And that meant the world to me. Because Malayna is scary. Malayna intimidates. Malayna doesn’t sugarcoat anything. And Malayna was suddenly proud of me.
That was the foot hole I needed to begin a climb. It was slow. Believe me. I’m sure that if there were an actual school for baristas, I’d be riding the short bus, but I kept at it. I found a rhythm. I found jobs that I liked more than others and volunteered to do those. I found I was now addicted to espresso and if I wanted to remain pleasant, I should drink copious amounts of it during the course of my shift. One day, a woman came in and ordered some extravagant drink and I plugged that puppy into the computer and onto the cup without batting an eye before stopping dead in my tracks and thinking, “I shouldn’t understand what she just said, but I do.” I really did.
It didn’t start off that way, but Starbucks has become proof to me…proof that I am capable of anything. I know it seems silly to equate making coffee to, well, anything else, but you have to understand how deeply and honestly I believed barista was something I just could never do. You may as well have asked me to run for president. I’m not dumb. I still am too hasty with decisions and often put my foot in my mouth but that goes nicely with the mean flat white I’ve learned to make. There’s still so much to learn, and I’m BY NO MEANS perfect but I’m confident that’s all I need.
I’m so glad that I didn’t give up. My Starbucks family came to see a show I directed last January. We’re friends on Facebook. I consider many of them to be close friends. They’ve seen the worst of me and yet still want to talk of me outside of work. They’ve seen me screw up and ruin everything and drop a pitcher of iced coffee on my head and get so angry that I throw things and get so flustered that I have to excuse myself to the back room, but we kept at it.
Months ago, a bunch of us were standing around talking about our Starbucks journeys; a couple partners turned to Malayna and asked, “Were we bad when we started? Did you think we were lost causes?”
“Of course not,” Malayna replied.
I stepped in then, “Did you think I was a lost cause?”
Over the headset, all I heard Malayna say was, “Oh yeah. But then you proved me wrong.”
Theatre companies be like...
We want your play. Send us your play. We are dying for your play. We'd love to have it as part of our One-Act Festival. We will die if you do not send us your script. We will literally die if we can't use your work.
Good. We've got you hooked. We do accept snail mail submissions but make sure it is postmarked by yesterday and that no signature is required for delivery. We need three copies of your script...one without your name or any identifying factors on it, one with your name and all identifying factors on it, and one with your LAST name and page number on every other page (beginning with page 3). Please check out the Dramatists Guild Modern Play Formatting. Your script should follow these guidelines. Any script that doesn't get the margins just right is subject to automatic disqualification.
We accept any genre and are open to any topics except controversial and naughty stuff like gay marriage, heterosexual marriage, divorce, nuns, sex, politics, where babies come from, how babies come from there, cats, dogs, ferrets, The Duggars, nudity, off-color humor (we define that) or anything else generally unpleasant to talk about. (How about a good kids show?)
Please include a cover letter talking about how much you LOVE our theatre company and what we do. Tell us exactly WHY we should produce your work and what's really in it for us. Please send us pictures from previous produced works (if you don't have any previously produced works, well, sucks to be you, don't it?) Please send us your theatrical resume. Please send us your profession resume. Please send us one of your kidneys. All scripts should be unproduced. We mean it. Like only you and Jesus know that this script exists. No staged reading. No workshopping. Nothing. We mean it.
If you do decide to send us the script via internet, make sure the copies of your script are all PDF's. Any script sent as a Word document is subject to automatic disqualifications.
Our theme this year is "Bad haircuts on steroid-injected sumo wrestlers...in Russia". Good luck with that one.
We say that the deadline for submissions is June 1st and we will have a decision made by June 15th, but who the hell really knows? One of our favorite past times is sitting back and watching you squirm. It's a power trip. We're a theatre company. We don't get a lot of that usually.
Oh, and for the love of God, only send us one script!