Thursday, March 17, 2011

Word Nreds

I teased Dane the other day, so he turned to me and tried to make a menacing face as he said, "Do you want to feel the warth of Dane?"

"What was that?"

He cracked a smile and said, "Um, do you want to feel the, um, warth? of Dane?"

"You got that from a book, didn't you?"

"Um, yeah..."

"Nice try, buddy, but it's wrath!" I said, and we had a good laugh.

Later that day, I brought Aubrey home from softball practice and told her the story. She laughed, too. Then she said, "What a trud."

Oh my gosh. That gril kills me.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Dane Gets Fit

Dane: Today at recess, me and Nic ran around the playground 2 times and then did 15 pushups. Then we ran around it again and did 15 more pushups. Then we ran around it 2 more times and did knuckle pushups. We're going to do that every day.

Me: Wow. That's impressive. What made you decide to do all that?

Dane: Zoe P. beat me at arm wrestling.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Class Writing Prompt Gets Personal -- Warning: This Ends with an Obituary

Today I subbed for my friend Beth. I met with her Writing 115 class and started by reading them "The Masked Marvel's Last Toe-hold" by Richard Selzer.

It's a narrative essay depicting Dr. Richard Selzer's experience of amputating former wrestler Elihu Koontz's legs. It's an excellent story of power and the loss or exchange of it, of shifted roles, of love and compassion. It's one of my favorite essays ever and Beth's students analyzed it beautifully.

They analyzed for structure, use of details, language, repetition, and thesis.

Then I asked them to write. I asked them to take risks they might not usually take, but were inspired to by Selzer's piece. I asked them to think about their details, possible repetitions, the use of memories. Here's what we came up with as a prompt: Describe someone you knew in their prime and where they are now.

After 20 minutes of writing, here are some of the essay topics students wrote about:

*One man wrote about the uncle he adored throughout childhood. He wrote of following his uncle around as he fixed cars, played guitar, drew cartoons. He wrote of how his uncle joined the Air Force and came back in his uniform. The writer was a teenager by then, but still followed him around admiring every aspect of him. Then his uncle was diagnosed with cancer and ultimately succumbed to it. This writer tried not to show emotion as he shared his writing, but his words showed it. When he finished, he told me he'd be saving that piece of writing, as he's never written it out before.

*Another writer took another approach. She wrote about "The High School Slut," which we all laughed about. However, what she wrote was poignant. She wrote that this girl had had two babies in high school, one at 15 and one at 17. A medical emergency led to the removal of her uterus at age 20, though, and the "slut" realized she never would have had those children had she not had babies in her teens. She became grateful. In turn, she's now a grandmother of 12 and is a happy, solid family woman, and is one of the writer's dearest friends.

Those are just a couple examples.

I love how good writing inspires us to go deep, to push ourselves beyond what we would normally sit down to focus on in writing.

I wrote along with them. I didn't know this prompt was going to lead me to write about this, but it did. It's rough; it could use better details and imagery; it could show more and tell less. But I'll share it anyway. It makes me quite sad.


My friend Kevin S. killed himself last week. This has brought me great sadness.

In high school, Kevin was this vibrant, chatty, smiling, busy person. He used to ski with his pals and tease my friend Tracy that she was the only skier he knew who wore perfume and hair spray on the slopes. He also used to hug everybody. In fact, every time he came over to my house, my step-dad would say, "Why's that guy always hugging you?" We used to laugh about this, but the truth was it was fabulous to get hugs from Kevin. There was no threatening undercurrent of a sexual come-on. Really, it was just that Kevin had a lot of love to share and his hugs meant he really liked you. I don't think it got any simpler than that.

After high school, Kevin went on to college at WWU as did a lot of his high school friends. There, he kept close tabs on all his friends, bicycling, skiing, going to the movies, arranging crazy group events like In-N-Out runs to California or U2 concerts in Canada. He even drummed up The Rosebud Society, a weekly poetry-reading event by candlelight on his living room floor.

After Kevin and all his friends eventually graduated from college, he continued to live an interesting life. He bicycled across America. He took a long-awaited trip to Ireland with his mother, who was in the early stages of Alzheimer's. He got a job as a high school math teacher.

Somewhere in there, though, he started to isolate himself from friends and family and colleagues. For the next ten years, I hear he essentially stayed in his basement, stepping out rarely. It's said he used his computer round the clock, but without any interactions with his old friends. Old friends saw him occasionally. Mick and I even saw him 5 years ago right before we left for San Francisco and dental school. Kevin crawled out of his cave briefly, overweight and quieter, to join us in a little barbecue. We'd hoped his re-surfacing had meant he'd be engaging in a physical social life again. But that didn't happen.

A few weeks ago, some of his other good pals stopped by to see him. They said Kevin was obese, pizza boxes lay strewn everywhere, and his ankles and feet were ashen gray. One friend says, "I'm a counselor. Why didn't I see what was coming?"

Later that month, news spread over the phone and Facebook that Kevin S. was dead. I learned he had taken his own life.

You should've seen all the posts of sadness, of sweet memories, of mourning the loss of a person so special to so many.

In the aftermath of such news, I can't help but reflect on the joy and zest Kevin held for life in the years I was close to him. I can't help but wonder why he cut himself off from his friends and chose to live in seclusion. But I am sure intuitively that the mere fact that he lived in solitude in a basement meant he was no longer giving out hugs -- and that alone might have just made his heart shrivel up and ache to be done with it all.

Rest in peace, Kevin. Rosebud...

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

"Tree" Reviewed at THE NARRATIVE DRIVE

What a treat to come across this today.

Misty over Mockingbird

OSF's production of "To Kill A Mockingbird" was so good. The three child actors who played Scout, Jem, and Dill were outstanding, even if Dill's voice wasn't always carefully projected. I was impressed by how well they handled the show resting on their small shoulders. They were almost always on stage, with lots of lines and actions.

The actors who played Atticus, Calpernia, and Tom Robinson were lovely, amazing, well-cast. I loved trusting them in their roles in this tried and true story. (Below: Tom Robinson and Atticus with Sheriff Tate. Calpernia not shown.)

I'm not sure what I thought of Boo Radley's actor, but the character of Boo Radley is set up so perfectly in the story, climaxing with such perfection, that perhaps anyone could've played him and tugged so fully at my heart. Which is what happened last night.

I tried to tell Dane and Aubrey about the story on our walk to school today. I described the setting, the characters, the racial tension. I tried to tell them how it's about doing the right thing even if people hate you or threaten you, and how it's about understanding who you are in the world -- and I didn't even get to the subplot of Boo Radley. I think the best way to give them all that stuff is to just dive into the book with them.

I told them that if they're interested, I'd read it out loud with them this summer. I read it to myself in 7th grade. They'll only be entering 4th and 5th, but this is a different world, and they're different kids. If they're interested, I'll walk alongside them.

I think Atticus might do that, too.


This is interesting: After I wrote the above thoughts, I found a review published in today's Ashland Tidings about last night's performance. So, before you read it, let me add three more thoughts I had that I didn't articulate above:

1 - I thought the courtroom scene was long. Mr. Ewell, was played by a deaf man. I've seen this actor in other shows and have adored his presence. In the courtroom, though, to have his daughter Mayella have to sign everything to him and interpret everything was cumbersome. I felt like it slowed the pace too much. I told Mick this morning that I probably wasn't tolerant enough, that I'm not very p.c. or evolved -- but it slowed the story too much for me. And it really didn't make sense when his testimony said he heard Mayella screaming. Huh?

2 - I thought the simple stagework was spot on. I focused on the acting and words.

3 - I thought the narration at the end of the play seemed trite and cliche. I told Mick I wanted to re-read Harper Lee's book ending, because I thought the play's ending had the wrong tone and didn't seem right.

So, given my three opinions here and my many opinions in the first section, read the following and see how our reviews compare. That writer's the professional reviewer, and I don't claim to be an expert, but we have some obvious differences of opinion (and some surprising similarities).

 Posted: 2:00 AM March 02, 2011

I am a bit at a loss as to why OSF chose to present this theatrical adaptation of Harper Lee's iconic novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird." Yes, it examines the themes of truth, justice and compassion and is a good counterbalance to "Measure for Measure." But, unfortunately, the playwright, Christopher Sergel, has not given us a very well-written play.

There is always a danger when the playwright, the director, the actors and the audience are in awe of the material. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is mythic in American literature and culture and an adaptor of Harper Lee's iconic 1960 novel does so at his peril.

This production is directed by Marion McClinton, an award-winning director new to OSF this season. His artistic conception is flawless and he really does make the best of this weak adaptation. I look forward to seeing what he can do with material worthy of his skill.

Sergel's script consists of well-known anecdotes from the novel strung together by narration that quotes verbatim great swaths of Harper Lee's prose. Neither the characters nor the action propel the story. It is painstakingly explained to us by the adult Jean Louise Finch (Scout), played by Festival veteran Dee Maaske as she meanders around the stage while the actors fill in her narration with little bits of dialogue.

To be sure, Mark Murphey does a smooth job as Atticus Finch. With his unruly forelock and wire-rimmed glasses, Murphey evokes the look and the spirit of Gregory Peck from the movie version. But this play never allows him to truly come alive as Atticus. He says all the right things, has all the right moves and is a predictable two-dimensional figure.

The same can be said for Isabell Monk O'Connor playing the housekeeper/nanny Calpurnia. She does a fine workmanlike job with a stereotyped role.

Unfortunately, the children playing the key roles of Scout (Kaya Van Dyke), her brother Jem (Braden Day) and their friend Dill (Leo Pierotti) are merely adequate. They avoid being too cute and remember their lines — even if they don't project them very well. A lot of their key banter about the elusive Boo Radley is completely lost to the audience.

If the rest of "To Kill a Mockingbird" was as good as its courtroom scene, it would be a powerful piece of theater, indeed. Michael Hume's dry, no-nonsense Judge Taylor, Howie Seago as Bob Ewell with his inexpressible rage against Finch, Susannah Flood as his diffident daughter and Peter Macon as the falsely accused Tom Robinson light up the stage. It is the only time that actual dramatic events drive the play.

It's been said about badly written material that sometimes you come out of the theater humming the scenery. This is the case with "To Kill a Mockingbird." Designer David Gallo has given us a stark proscenium arch with marvelous projections (courtesy of Lynn Jeffries) and spare props to evoke the small-town Southern milieu. Likewise, Deborah M. Dryden's costumes, Dawn Chiang's spectacular lighting and original music by Michael Bodeen and Rob Milburn take this production above and beyond its flaws.

Sergel was the president of Dramatic Publishing from 1970 to his death in 1993. It's a company known for publishing adaptations of classics from other mediums and licensing them to community theaters and schools. It is telling that he wrote this adaptation in 1970 and it wasn't produced by any theater until 1990. It is my guess that Dramatic Publishing has the rights to the Harper Lee novel and there are no other adaptations out there. Pity.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" runs through July 8 in the Bowmer Theatre.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Love in the Time of Rejection

For the record, I've had FOUR rejections since December 7th and NO acceptances. Three were for essays and one was for flash fiction.

Here's who I was trying to get a date with:
Edge, a Tahoe publication
The Pedastal, an online magazine
Catholic Digest
Apple Valley Review 

NINE other potential loves still have my number.

I'll just be waiting here by the phone -- oh, and trying to line up other dates.