I am normally an organized person, right on top of things. I outline my plays, have to-do lists, keep a list of movies I plan to see, make my bed as soon as I get out of it in the morning. If you've checked your calendar, you'll note that National Procrastination Week doesn't begin until the second week in March. I don't have time for an entire week of procrastination every year. And I really can't wait until March to procrastinate, so I'm doing it today. I have a mystery novel that I've revised that needs those revisions uploaded on the computer, and formatted for amazon.com so I can sell more books. I have revisions to make to "Asylum No More" now that the show is over. I have a new play to finish the first draft on -- it is outlined, and the first 5 pages are written. I've had two days off to rest up, and I could be working today. However, I saw on my calendar that Procrastination Week was coming up and I'd need to find time for it somewhere, so I thought I might as well get it out of the way, particularly as it is already 4 in the afternoon. So, there ya go. All done with that. I'm not one to tell you what to do, but you might want to look at your own March calendar. Isn't that around the time you're usually getting your tax information together and taking it to your tax person? Or better yet, doing your own taxes and getting them out of the way? You're welcome.
The cast was really on last night, an even tighter ensemble than the night before. We had a smaller audience, and this time we had an audience who laughed on the inside. Ouch. I always remember that line from an old sitcome "I'm laughing on the inside -- where it counts!" No it doesn't. Not at all. It does make for a shorter show though.
Feedback still says they want to see a full production. Love the show, love the cast. One feedback sheet I haven't read yet because it is definitely for the playwright: covered front and back. I'm not quite ready for that this morning, but I know it is well-intentioned and meant for a playwright who is open-hearted and ready to rewrite.
It was delightful to watch the relationships develop between the characters onstage, even though these were staged readings, and the actors had scripts in hand. They rehearsed enough to be able to look up from their lines and deliver them face to face with feeling, they stepped out of each other's way at particularly heated times, their body language was beautiful to watch. This is one of those memories I feel so lucky to have, one of the reasons I am primarily a playwright instead of a novelist. It is the playing that brings me to the stage. Let's pretend. As the playwright I get to watch the players.
Live theater is a gift to the world and one we must remember to give to ourselves and friends and families. I bring my friends out to see live theater at every opportunity, proselytize constantly. Theater doesn't exist without an audience, it is a living, breathing thing, and the audience makes that so. Opening night, closing night, every night is new and different. There are moments when the world stands still inside the theater building and you can feel the oneness that we all are. You want to be there when that happens. I've been there, more than once. It's why I keep going back.
We had a decent house, sold more than half the seats. Not bad when the show doesn't start until 11PM, and it is POURING down rain on a Friday night in January. We handed out feedback forms and writing utensils before the show and almost everyone took the time afterward to complete the three questions. This after a lots of laughter, lots of applause for the actors who really delivered. I saw more places to cut, places I want to change, and the actors helped to illuminate the script so I could see and hear what I needed to see and hear. All feedback for the actors was glowing. As it should be! The director, well I can't say enough about Brian Demar Jones. He was a gift. I found him because I needed a new director after mine bailed, and Sven Bonnichsen sent me his headshot because Brian had applied to audition and Sven noticed that Brian also directs. Lucky me, Brian was brand new to Portland and hadn't yet been snapped up. By now, he is overloaded with projects, and I will not likely ever get to work with him again as he will be employed by all the big theaters from now on. So, I'm celebrating the fact that we are working together now, and he has been a tremendous help to me on Asylum No More.
We do it again tonight, for our second and last time in this run. It's a festival, we have only two nights. Maybe we will get to do a full production later in the year. I will do my best to raise the funds. All but one person who turned in feedback said they wanted to see the show in full production. The one negative person was negative in every way -- except toward the cast. When I read that feedback (so out of step with everyone else) I suddenly heard my NYC friend speaking in my ear "remember, when playwrights give negative feedback, they are telling you the problems they have in their own plays. It is not about you." So, I took it like that. Because seriously, it didn't seem to be about my play. After tonight, I will write about what I plan to change in the play, based on feedback, based on my own observations. Because it is, of course, still a work in progress.
My sister asked me to write something that someone could read at Mom's memorial. This morning I had a dream that I was standing in a field of a wild bird refuge that Mom had created simply by having fed birds out her window all these years of her later life, and hadn't seen because of not being able to get outdoors the past couple of years. There were flocks of herons taking off and coming back, that made me cry.
When I woke up, I was able to finally write something for Mom. Here it is:
Mom’s corner of heaven is filled with birds. And dogs. She is up there with her dogs and birds, feeding them all. Never having to eat a bite herself, she can just feed the dogs and birds as much as they will eat. Forever. She loved throwing out doughnuts and watching birds eat in a circle. She loved walking her dog to the pond and feeding the ducks and geese. Mom rescued more animals in her lifetime than most, beginning way before they called it rescuing and still called it "taking in strays."
Mom had a goat when she was a kid herself. She loved to tell the story of how she about drove her grandma nuts by riding her tricycle with a cow bell on it around and around the outside of their house with the goat following her. The goat came inside the house as well, and jumped on the dresser, among other things.
Mom made sure we always had pets in the house when we were growing up. One Easter we got baby chicks, dyed pink and blue. Mom named them Pink and Blue. They never lived out in the hen house with the other chickens. They roosted on the window sill. Another Easter we got a rabbit. Mom named him Bunny Hop, and he became great friends with our dog Leven. (We rarely got to name our own pets. Mom enjoyed that job.) Another holiday we got two collie puppies: Salt and Pepper. Unfortunately, Mom backed over Pepper, while he was still a pup, but Salt grew up to be a favorite -- until she bit the Sheriff. But strays! There was Neighbor, who came to live with us after his father, Ricky Nelson, a 20 pound yellow tomcat, died. Alberta named Ricky, but Mom named Neighbor because ... he lived next door. Lee, Mom got from the pound. Girl came from the no-kill shelter. And Bird, of course. Everyone knows about Bird. Now they can all be free, out of the cage, off-leash, no more aches or pains, all together, forever, in heaven.
DABDA: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We don't necessarily go through them in order, nor do we necessarily all go through all of them. Sometimes we get stuck. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross introduced these stages to us back in 1969 in her book On Death and Dying. I read the book back in the 70s when a friend my age was dying of leukemia and Kubler-Ross came to interview her. And now here I am experiencing the stages of grief (well one stage: anger) because my 94 year-old Mom has died.
I'm stuck like a moose in the spring thaw. I know it has been only 11 days, but my blood is boiling. Every communication I attempt with my sibling just makes my anger worse. She feels unable to speak with me, and I now feel unable to email her. I cannot go out to Missouri for the memorial service that they were not going to have, and now are having this weekend. I was not invited, but now am invited to write something that someone else could read (not my sister). I cannot. Mom always said when you don't know what to do, do nothing. At the moment, that is all I can do: nothing. And it feels wrong. I stand for peace, and today I am a hypocrite. I cannot make peace with my family.
Maybe tomorrow I will be able to move forward.
Talk about taking things literally. I was thinking about how difficult it is to sever the apron strings, and then remembered that when I received my box of "stuff" from my sister yesterday, the stuff from my Mom's place, the detritus I get to keep now that my 94 year old mother has left the earth, in the box were several aprons. I don't know where the aprons came from. They weren't Mom's. They weren't mine. I expect they came from the "free table" at the senior housing where Mom spent her last 6 years -- the happiest years of her life. She loved to get stuff from the free table and put it in "my" drawer where I left things behind to wear when I visited her. A couple pair of shorts for the summer, a hat for the winter, slippers and p.js., a nightgown that disappeared and was replaced by underpants I've never seen before. Back to severing the apron strings ... do we ever really leave our mothers? Maybe sons do. Daughters become their mothers. I hear Mom's voice come out of my mouth now, even when I catch myself snoring. It's disturbing. Her words talking to my cat. Her voice telling my daughter I didn't mean to bother her. Shut the hell up, Mom. I hated when she said that to me.
I find myself so angry these past few days. Angry at my sister for her lack of communication, because I feel so shut out. Angry at my Mom for not wanting me there at the end. Angry at myself for not going anyway.
Then I remember when my first husband killed himself more than 25 years after I left him, but still soon enough for our son to perhaps have a life. I was suddenly thrown back into my life 25 years earlier, haunted by fear of him, recalling how I left him -- and my son -- remembering how I had feared for my life, wishing he had killed himself before I left so that our son hadn't spent those years with him. Angry that he hadn't. Angry that I hadn't killed him myself after all. Angry that I allowed our son to grow up with him. Angry, then sad, then relieved. Finally, relieved.
I remember ever further back when my Dad died. I was 7 years old. I wasn't angry then. Just scared and horribly sad. That was when I first lost not only my Dad, but also my Mom as she had to go to work at two jobs. We lost our house too. I guess it's time to start letting go.
Phelps, Helen B. 94 July 6, 1917 January 5, 2012 Helen B. Phelps died peacefully in her sleep. She was born in Orornogo, Missouri to Maggie Mae Strawhun Taylor and Virgil E. Taylor. Virgil was in the US Army fighting WWI at the time. She was raised by her grandmother whom she called Mom, and sometimes by Maggie whom she called Mother. Helen married Jim Brown when she was 16 and they had two baby girls who were stillborn. (Margaret Sue and Helen Rosalie). After they divorced, she married Albert Charles McCorkle, the man she called the love of her life. Their first child, John Patrick died a few hours after birth. Their next, Sandra de Helen survives them both, in Portland. Their third, son Howard Allen, also lived only a few hours. Their last child, Alberta lives with her husband Tim Mobley in Jefferson City, Missouri. They were caring for Helen and with her at the time of her death. Albert died in 1951, and Helen remarried. Her last husband was Lloyd Phelps and he also predeceased Helen in 1973. Helen has four living grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandson. She retired from Rawling’s Sporting Goods factory in Newburg, MO, where she was president of her union local for over 20 years. Helen was known for writing poems all her life, often to commemorate special occasions. After Helen moved to Portland, Oregon to live with her daughter Sandra in 1981, she often helped design and build costumes and props including a giant lavender satin hand, and a bat that flew through the audience. Helen led an active life and will be deeply missed by her family and friends, including many in the LGBTQ and theatre community.
I wanted to run this ad in the Oregonian with a photo, but I can't afford to run an obit in the Oregonian. It costs more than NINE HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR ONE DAY. I especially wanted to run the obit in JUST OUT, but Just Out predeceased my Mom by four weeks. So I hope my friends who knew my Mom in the 80's will find her here. Mom always supported my theatre work, came to my plays, entertained my friends with her character. This is for you Mom.
The day is nearly over, and so is the life of my 94 year old mother. I just received an email from my sister that Mom has stopped taking in anything, is doing nothing but resting now. They think it may be a matter of hours before she slips away. Sis will call me to let me know. I will meditate on the life of my mother and write about her in the coming days.
I had the good fortune to have plenty of time with Mom to work through a lot of the hard places in our relationship when she came to live with me for nine years in my 30s and 40s. After that and from then on, we always talked and spent time together. We cried together, we laughed together. There was forgiveness in the mix. We knew that we are human, that we always were just doing the best that we could do at the time. Sometimes that wasn't so great. As Maya Angelou says: When you know better, you do better.
I hope you're resting well tonight, Mom. And when it comes time to breathe your last, I truly hope it is so painless you don't notice it. I know that there was a time when you were afraid of that pain, that you once asked "how do we know a person wasn't in pain when they died in their sleep?" We don't, Mom, so I hope if it happens to you, you find out that it is absolutely painless. And if you're awake when you go, that you are fearless. I love you, Mom.
Blue Roses and Copperheads and Common Women are now available on Amazon.com in book form.
In Kindle-compatible format at Amazon.com are my short story Summer's Over and my mystery novel The Hounding, which is an homage to Sherlock Holmes and has received great reviews. You can also find either of these on my website in pdf format at www.SandradeHelen.com.
A myriad of plays: full length, one act, solo, ten-minute, and monologues. Please hie yourself to my website for excerpts, even some mp3 versions. www.SandradeHelen.com