Category Archives: media

Optimism and Waffles: Goodbye to Parks and Recreation

media

parks2Leslie Knope would have had a banner made for the occasion, but my survival pack was simply a plate of waffles covered in whipped cream and a box of tissues. After seven years, I was shedding a lot of tears saying goodbye to the enchanting experience I’ve had with Parks and Recreation.

It was a rocky start, Parks and Rec and me. I don’t watch a lot of television and hadn’t owned a TV in years. I turned on a couple of episodes from the first season on an airplane, based entirely on the massive girl-crush I’d been harboring for Amy Poehler ever since the weird and wonderful Upright Citizen’s Brigade TV show, which I’d loved in that proud way that you only can with cultural piece that hardly anyone else seems to get. So, I had high hopes for her post-Saturday Night Live endeavor.  The first few episodes were shaky, they hadn’t found their voice or internal logic, and I wrote it off until, probably, my next flight when I saw some episodes from the vastly more confident second season. I was in with fervor, and it became the only show I waited every week to watch.

parks5There are so many things that make this show special, but the heart is Leslie Knope. She begins the series as an Assistant Director of the Parks Department in a Southern Indiana town, bursting with ambition and bravado – not for herself, though she is confident, but rather because she believes wholly in the transforming power of good government and the worth of good people. She is full of big dreams which seem entirely accomplishable to her (building a neighborhood park, becoming President of the United States, that kind of thing), yet there is no job too small for her to do – and do perfectly (someone should do a count of the number of “planning binders” Leslie Knope has created during the series run). Her trajectory has been upward, with some notable bumps along the way, but her overriding characteristic has never wavered – optimism. One person can make the world a nicer place without ever compromising her ideals, and she can do it while forever boosting up her loved ones, her beloved (though you sometimes wonder why) hometown, and eating a never-ending supply of waffles along the way.

The most important relationship in the series, even more than the adorable romantic relationship between Leslie and Ben, is the one between Leslie and her Parks boss, Ron Swanson. Ron is Leslie’s opposite in every way, particularly politically, in that he is a staunch Libertarian who thinks nothing good comes from government and prefers solitude. Yet, he and Leslie love and respect each other, despite philosophical differences, something we I wish we could see exemplified more. parks4

This all may sound saccharine, but it’s not. Leslie Knope lives in the real world, and the writers take every opportunity to make social commentary with the steady stream of obstacles she runs into. Pawnee is rarely so besotted with Leslie as we are, and her attempts to do things like build her little park, get the town’s population of obese residents to eat just a tiny bit better, get rid of the racoon population, or get anything done on city council are forever thwarted by forces of political opposition, personal egos, fad mentality, or just plain apathy. Yet, the rule of Parks and Rec is that Leslie Knope always wins the war, even if she loses a fair number of battles along the way.

parksrec1Over the years, Parks and Rec has grown immensely as an ensemble piece. When Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones left in the middle of last season, taking with them Leslie’s adorable best friend Ann and Chris Traeger’s ever enthusiastic “LIT-e-rally,” I worried the show would suffer, but to the contrary, some of the secondary characters have been given the opportunity to shine and show off their individual talents. The beauty of the final season has been that everyone has had the chance to follow a dream or achieve something that reflects the best part of them. Everyone gets a happy ending on Parks and Rec. Leslie Knope would settle for nothing less for her team.parks3

Leslie Knope’s idealism, optimism, and heart make us love her unabashedly because she is the best of us on our least jaded, most energetic and open-hearted days. Thank you, Parks and Recreation, for being your shining, wonderful self, you beautiful tropical fish. I love you and I like you.

On Growing Up to be Me: The Rosanne Cash Fan Letter

media, memoirs

 

thewheelWhen I was in my early years of high school, I began to discover a cadre of female singer-songwriters whose music and presence undeniably helped me to grow into the woman I am today.  At that impressionable age, I was looking for role models. I was quiet, cerebral, desperate to work out how to come out of my shell and express myself. I’d been enamored with Madonna through middle school. She represented all of the ballsiness and bravada I didn’t feel I had. But, her brashness, harsh edge, and public displays just didn’t speak to my soul. Then, I found Mary Chapin Carpenter, and my world changed. She was smart, energetic yet quiet, charming, and expressed herself through beautiful words and music. I related to her in that I felt like my best self might one day look a little like her. From there, I started listening to other artists in the same genre. It took me some time to appreciate the genius of Lucinda Williams (chronicled here), but when I picked up Rosanne Cash’s The Wheel (On cassette. From a store at the mall. Different era!), I was in love.

I mean, seriously, how good is this song?

She was classy, worldly, and bright. I loved her songs. Unlike most of what I heard on the radio, she sounded like an adult. I couldn’t have told you at the time, but that appealed to me so much, as I was yearning to grow into my own adult voice. Most of all, I loved the lyrics. I’ve always had a literary bent, and the lyrics on The Wheel were like a revelation to me. Her words were empowering, yet she was vulnerable, at the same time. I was so afraid of being vulnerable, that this was an act of courage. And, in three minutes worth of lyrics, she could create a story about a time, place, and feeling that I didn’t actually know, but could still somehow understand.

Around my junior year, I built up my courage to write Rosanne Cash a fan letter. I worked on it for ages. It was handwritten – teens didn’t have personal computers back then- many drafts were scrawled and scratched through in a spiral notebook before I finally copied the real thing on proper stationary. I don’t remember what I said, though I’m sure I expressed how much her music meant to me, and I told her that she inspired me because I wrote poetry. My poetry was truly terrible, cliche and lacking much in the way of truth. I didn’t know anything about my truth then, that would come so much later. But, it was a way to at least stab wildly at figuring it out and to channel some of the big feelings that my shy, awkward, nervous self had no other outlet for.

I don’t think I expected any reply to my letter, but some weeks later, I received in the mail an autographed photo from Rosanne Cash. On it, she’d written, “Keep writing your poetry.”

I get a little a  teary just writing that here. It was so profound for me. I framed it and looked at endlessly as a piece of validation. I had worth. I needed to keep writing, which really meant that I needed to keep working towards creating something that reflected the real me, the best me.

That, alone, was something special, but the story continues. During my senior year, Rosanne Cash published a book of short stories called Bodies of Water (it’s lovely, you should read it). As part of her book promotion tour, she stopped at a bookstore in Atlanta for a reading and signing. I had to go. Never mind that I didn’t yet drive and, moreover, that I had rehearsal that afternoon. My Mom, in an uncharacteristic moment of deviousness (or probably in an entirely characteristic act of love), gave me permission to make up a story to get out of rehearsal (sorry, Pev!), and agreed to drive me to the bookstore. I sat stunned while The Remarkable Ms Cash read from her book, disbelieving that I was actually seeing her in the flesh. Then, I waited my turn in line to have my copy signed. When I stepped up to her desk, my heart was racing. I wasn’t sure if I’d say it or not, but she seemed so warm when I approached, that I greeted her and said sheepishly, “I wrote you a letter.” What I meant by that was, “your words and music are so important to me that I wrote you a letter.” I certainly didn’t expect that she’d remember. But, she looked up at me, thought for a second, and said, “you write poetry?”

I don’t remember anything about the short encounter beyond that moment, but the depth of her kindness and my respect for her as a human being, as well as artist, has never left me. I felt like, by remembering my letter, she was telling me, “I remembered you because you’re an artist, too, and that’s worth nurturing.”

I am not too terribly sorry to report that I didn’t keep writing my poetry much after high school. But, I did remain in the arts, following the path that literature and theatre paved for me to become a dramaturg. This gave me the honor of nurturing and, I hope, giving my deep respect to the work of other writers. And, I’ve never stopped writing – essays, articles, and now this blog where I try to say things as truthfully as I can. I don’t write like Rosanne Cash or Mary Chapin Carpenter, nor do I live just like they do. But, on my path to becoming a woman and a writer, I learned more than I can say from them about how to be both. Crossing paths with Rosanne Cash the way I did gave me confidence to follow the barely audible whisper inside my young mind that said the person I was growing into could, indeed, be mature, brave, smart, creative, lyrical, sensitive, and ever generous. It’s a voice I keep following.

 

Coda: After I posted and promoted this blog post yesterday, the story got a new and absolutely perfect ending.rctweet


 

The Surprising Lesson Joan Rivers Left Me With

media

joan riversI’m typically the last person to take note of or comment on celebrity passings. Celebrities aren’t my guilty pleasure of choice, and so it’s curious that I’d feel so taken with the news of the death of Joan Rivers, a comedian who, for most of my life, I associated primarily with red carpet “who are you wearings?,” a question for which it’s hard to imagine an answer that could possibly interest me.

But, last year when I had many, many hours of newborn feeding and sleeping on me time to watch documentary after documentary on Netflix, I turned on Piece of Work, the 2010 movie about Rivers. I was so moved by this film, and awed by her. She wasn’t someone that I could relate to – her persona in the movie was brash, driven, compelled to work, critical, and always on – pretty much the opposite of me! But, there was something so real in her character, fearless to tell the truth as she saw it and wearing honestly the vulnerability that most of us feel inwardly and try to suppress. I respected everything about her, even the unflattering bits (much credit to the filmmakers for evoking that response in me, and to Ms Rivers, who undoubtedly took a very calculated risk in letting the movie be made).

When I heard of her passing earlier this week, I paused, and said to Partner-in-Crime, “Wow. She was amazing.” And then I kept thinking of her. She was such a fixture and so seemingly ageless – not just because of all the plastic surgery, but because of her boundless energy – that it’s hard to imagine she actually could have died. I read a few thoughtful remembrances – this one by a writer who worked with Rivers on a couple of TV projects, this one by Kathy Griffin, a protege of River’s and a performer who I quite love, and this one from the L.A. Times, which happens to be by my grad school advisor and one of the best theatre critics around. There’s a common theme in all of these articles, which is Joan Rivers’ ceaseless generosity. Watches taken off her wrist and given to near strangers, restaurant tabs obsessively paid, honest compliments handed around. How easy it would seem she was with her generosity. If I understand her character, she was tough, hard-edged, demanding, and yet forever giving to others.

I’ve been thinking about this in terms of myself. Like Joan Rivers, and everyone else, I have many flaws. My flaws are my own, my personality nothing like hers, but whatever they are, there is nothing stopping me from showing a spirit of generosity with the same ease as she did. No, I don’t have furs, limos, and QVC bucks, but I have a lot. I have more than enough food, clothing, time, and mental capacity. My needs are met, which means I have plenty to give. I don’t want to give just because it’s Christmas or give because I think it will reflect well on me, I want to just give quietly, with ease. I want to give in a way that the receiver hardly notices, but goes away a little bit happier. I want to give without thinking, like it’s the most natural act in the world. I think that’s what Joan Rivers did.

***

If you haven’t seen it, this is one of the most powerful scenes in the Piece of Work documentary, where Joan Rivers takes on a heckler. I think it sums up the complexity of her brilliant, tough, generous character that the movies captures. (Not safe for work or the easily offended!)

Day 18: Blog Love

blogging, media

Prompt: Another blog I admire.

You may guess, and rightly so, that from working in the theatre for most of my life, I have become acquainted with some marvelous characters. Theatre people, by and large, are not a batch of insecure divas with weird dressing room requests and a martini always at the ready to toss in some offender’s face. Rather, in my experience, they are intellectually curious people who thrive on collaboration and build communities wherever they land.

One person who embodies this model is an actor who I’ve had the pleasure of sharing space with, professionally, on two or three occasions. His “day job” (in quotes because I am quite certain that it is far, far more than a “day” job. Or, even just a “job” job) is working as a tour guide in New York City. I’ve never been on one of his tours, but I feel absolutely certain that he’s very, very good at this calling, and we should all be so lucky to tour with him. Of course, one meets all sorts in that line of work, doesn’t one? And so, he has quite a lot of stories. He also has an incredible gift of storytelling, and I do not exaggerate when I tell you he is one of the best writers I know. The fact that he is not regularly featured on NPR is an oversight on the part of our National Public Radio.

He often posts the stories privately, and people constantly encourage him to write a book, but as he wisely notes, how can he share stories of the tourists he encounters and still work another day. Thankfully, he found a compromise, and writes anonymously at The Necessary Cruelty.

His writing is colorful, surprising, and full of unabashed snark. You know his characters, and you can laugh along, secure in the knowledge that you would never be that tourist! For instance, from one of my favorites,”Slaughtering Marie“:

Marie is rather tall, made taller by a tuft of blondish loose curls that float above her head like the marabou feathers on a muppet. She makes the mistake of lining her lips with a darker shade of the pinkish red she uses as a lipstick. This makes her moving mouth even more animated and brash. I imagine she was a very lovely woman in her youth, but decided to claw on to that memory with her painted fingernails rather than slide into ‘handsome,’ as is certainly her prerogative. But she doesn’t quite pull it off. Her smeary foundation and spackled eyeshadow give her the desperate look of the unwilling.

I really suggest you read the whole thing, as Marie comes to a pretty brilliant fate.

We also get dispatches from life in New York City. The “Real ads as I search for an apartment-mate” are so good that you have to believe that they cannot be made up:

“I am looking to move back to NY! And now is the time to just jump in
and begin to live the dream. I am a theatre person; however, my life doesn’t necessarily revolve around that. I love meeting and co-existing with all types of people. Sort of like the Bohemian lifestyle in RENT (Haven’t seen RENT? Check it out at New World Stages Off-Broadway)”
My thought: And what, ‘Maureen,’ would you say your life DOES revolve around?
********
“Nice man. non-smoker, non-pet guy, guest house worker, occasional nudist, chill dude, home type guy.”
My thought: Uh, UMM, I’m sorry. Go back two?
********
“I am a married father of a 2 year old. I’m moving because I am sick of constant complaints about the baby being noisy.”
My thought: Oh for God’s sake then, come on OVER!

And then, sometimes, he surprises you with something downright sweet, like this piece.

Of all the blogs I read, I’m most excited to read something new from NC. I know that it will be full of life, vivid, brilliantly naughty, and completely truthful in the Big T “Truth” sort of way. Read him at The Necessary Cruelty, and if any of you work for NPR, get him on the air!