Category Archives: memoirs

Setting An Intention For 2017

memoirs, Uncategorized

I stepped into 2017 as gingerly as I could manage. Usually, I’m the one bursting with optimism and hope for the year ahead, but as 2016 drew down, I spent New Year’s Eve day on the verge of tears, feeling that we’ve all been duped this holiday.

Regardless of my – or anyone’s – trepidation, we gathered with friends, ate spicy capsicum dip on crackers, even the 3 year old made it to the midnight fireworks (just), and we ticked over into 2017 with all the pyrotechnics, hysterical tantrums, and low level heartburn I am imagining that we can expect from the world in the months ahead.

It’s not my intention, however, to sit passively in brooding mode, crippled by my own fear for the year ahead. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been contemplating whether I wanted to make any resolutions this year, and after some soul searching about where I am and where I’d like to move towards, I decided, instead on setting in intention for the year. Setting an intention is a technique that always served me well in my yoga practice, and even on days when I just wake up feeling out of sorts, so why not an intention for the entire year?

My word for 2017: CREATE.

The idea started with some thinking about my kid, the burgeoning and enthusiastic stick figure/flower/rainbow artist. I really encourage her artistic invention, and it brings her so much joy, but when she asks me to draw with her, I tend to think (though, never say out loud!), “Nup, I’m rubbish at drawing,” and then find some other extremely pressing task I need to complete, while she creates. But, the thing I’ve noticed when I do sit down with her is: 1. She is delighted that I’m spending time with her, 2. She commits more time and puts more effort into her drawings, and 3. She thinks that my scribblings are grand works of art, worth emulating and learning from. So, why do I nearly always skip out on this  experience with my kid? Because I don’t think I’m “good” at drawing. Geez, lady, who actually cares? As someone with a theatre background, I believe so much in the act of creation, just for creation’s sake, regardless of the end result, yet I’ve let pride and fear stand in the way of doing just that, even in my own home.

I drew this. My kid thought it was so good that she put a stick on it and turned it into a puppet. Collaborative art!

I want to create silly things, things that only exist for a moment, things that are ugly-but-who-cares.: jokes, and essays, and paintings, and sand castles, and cakes, and songs.

I want to create on my blogs. I want to write things that scare me to hit publish. I want to build collaborations and nurture fresh ideas. I want to dance on these pages.

I hope to carve out space in my life for creating things that I haven’t begun to envision, yet – things to do with social justice, with helping the people for whom I’m feeling the weight as we enter this year, with speaking up for what is right. I’m heavy with worry this year, and I can either sit with that and do nothing, or I can be an architect for the change I want to see.

And, as I thought about my plans and goals for the year ahead, I realized that I’d need to keep my expectations in check, as I have this massive creative project I’m already working on – a new little girl entering our family in just four month’s time. It’s a humbling honor to be able to create such a thing in and for this world.

The beautiful and frightening thing about creation is that, if you’re doing it right, it will lead you places physically and mentally which you never envisioned. In fact, I’d say that’s the whole point. I recognize in myself so many walls and barriers to break down in order to create – the need to be in control, the concern about what others think, the fear that there’s actually nothing creative inside me, and the summoning of the energy required to make.

Creation doesn’t just happen. I have work to do, and I’m the only one who can do it.


Tell me, do you have an intention or word for 2017? Are you a resolution maker? How are you feeling as we start a new year? 

 

The Bag That Voyaged a Million Miles

memoirs

This bag was an embarrassment. Long past its sprightly years, it hadn’t gotten a compliment in over a decade. It probably shouldn’t have even made the trip home in its condition; but there I was, tearing up in front of a garage wheelie bin, marking the demise of a literal sad sack in the most unstately funeral possible for such a well-traveled and loyal partner.

My sturdy Jansport backpack and I were coping fine when this bag came into my life. I was a senior in college, and something unexpected had happened: I’d been asked to Stage Manage my college’s production of A Christmas Carol. This Christmas Carol was a beast – a beautiful musical with dozens of cast members, children, and hundreds of light and fly cues. A professor, rather than a student, had Stage Managed the inaugural production the year previous because it was such a behemoth. I was no Stage Manager, so I agreed with trepidation, knowing this would be one of the most challenging projects I’d ever undertaken. I was in over my head.

To begin my transformation into Stage Manager/honor student, I made two purchases – my first ever mobile phone (this was 1999, and I was rolling with my new pocket flip phone) and a large, blue backpack. Having been overlooked for the entire back-to-school season, it was now on final offer, tucked away on the clearance rack with a $7.99 sticker. There was nothing particularly stylish or even hardy about this bag, but I liked it because it was big enough to carry my massive Stage Manager’s prompt book, along with the books and supplies I carried for the classes I’d more or less be ignoring for the next few weeks. Like it or not, it was going on this ride with me, that optimistic orphan bag.

It was never far from me as I shuttled between my overload of classes, jobs, clubs, production meetings, and rehearsals. It waited patiently as I said good night to cast and crew and closed up tight, carrying on to my shared apartment where I’d attempt some reading and work for the next day. It surely was nearby when, during tech week, I finally cracked and had a hysterical cry to my patient roommates. It sat at my feet in the booth, as I took the helm on headset, night after night, instructing tech cues and hoping everything would run smoothly. That bag knows the truth. I was not amazing, but I survived, and the show certainly did go on. I came out a little bit more confident. That bag held me together. 

A year and a half later, it boarded my first international flight with me, bound for Germany to visit one of the dear roommates who’d let me cry (it was college – we all cried). On that trip, it carried my copy of 100 Years of Solitude, which I’d devour in air, and would change my understanding of how a story could be told. It saw the Cologne Cathedral, the remains of the Berlin Wall, and the canals of Amsterdam.

This steady backpack was awarded a break, but roared back into service in 2004, when I employed it to be the bag I’d take to graduate school with me. It was a workhorse on those long days when I’d leave home in the morning, and not return until after an evening rehearsal or night of seeing shows in the city. It’s been stuffed under seats at Broadway theatres, it’s trekked through Brooklyn and Manhattan in every weather, and it has carried the words of Shakespeare, Brecht, Churchill, Peter Brook, Kenneth Tynan, William Hazlitt, and so many other geniuses whose words would blow my mind. It was on my desk when I wrote out a pros/cons list about staying in grad school when I felt so unmoored in my first semester, and it was in my lap on the subway headed over the Manhattan Bridge a year later, when I wondered to myself if I would ever in my life be happier.

I wouldn’t be, at least not for the next couple of years, when I carried handbags, and the weight of a job that consumed me and made me feel less than.

On one of the saddest days of my life, it was there when I decided that I wanted to do something that would have made my Dad proud. I hiked to the top of the “M,” a mountain landmark in Bozeman, Montana, the town where my Dad grew up and where we’d scattered his ashes the day before.

I’d use that bag again when I boarded a plane for Australia. It must have been stuffed to the brim, as I had a 2 suitcase allowance for moving my entire life. It was on my back when I stepped into Arrivals and blinked at the Australian sun for the first time.

That $7.99 backpack never could have dreamed that it would one day see the Opera House, climb the Harbour Bridge, drive up and down the Pacific coast, or meet a wallaby in Tasmania. 

Or, that it would again see the friends who already knew me well when I first bought it – this time not in a college in the American South, but on an island in Greece. And, that we’d all know each other in a way that only closeness over time permits.

In my stressed out college student days, neither of us would have been able to see far enough into its future to guess that it would one day carry diapers, bottles and baby wipes for this person who I’m sure I traveled all these miles for.

Sitting in the passenger seat on the way to Jervis Bay last year, I gave my bag’s holes a shoddy repair job with a sewing kit I’d stashed in one of its pockets from a long ago hotel that I don’t even remember. That bought it another few months of hard scrabble service, and I silently dared anyone to laugh at its appearance.

As its disheveled state worsened, I made a plan for honoring its final days. I’d bring it back to the States with me on one last flight, to retire it in the same town where I first employed it 16 years ago.

It made that now familiar trip over the ocean with me, once again tucked under my airplane seat, and at the end of our vacation, I gave it one final outing. My college roommate – the one who really was a gifted Stage Manager and had given me all of her wisdom –  our three small daughters holding hands, the bag, and I wandered a wildlife park, not far from where we’d gone to school. It carried waters, snacks, hats, and sunscreen. It carried them well.

It went into the bin the next day. You can’t really bury a backpack or scatter its remains, but the least you can do is thank it for many years of hard service over thousands of miles, and conditions far beyond the call of duty for which it originally enlisted. In an era where we are quick to replace things at the first sign of wear, I saluted every single rip, tear, mark, and scratch that bag earned. It got them the hard way, and I am humbled by its devotion.

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


 

Devil May Care: A Summer of Travel

memoirs, usa travels

In my last post, I wrote about my internship and eventual job for a theatre in Florida. I was offered the job during my internship, and I accepted it on the condition that I could leave for the summer before beginning work. I had a season of travel planned, and I didn’t consider it optional to not go. I had been gifted a bit of money and I had a dream of getting out and about. In hindsight, asking for three months off before I even started work was a pretty bold move, and such a 22 year old thing to do. Thank goodness for being 22 once in your life.

My first adventure was a long weekend trip to Raleigh, North Carolina to visit my best friend from high school. I don’t have any pictures or mementos from that trip, and that’s mostly because we had a pretty lousy time. We didn’t fight or have a dramatic scene, we just didn’t do much of anything or have a lot to say to each other. It was on this trip that it became evident how far apart our lives had drifted, and that we no longer had almost anything in common. I couldn’t wait to go home.

My summer of travel was off to a particularly inauspicious start.

photo 1 (16)

Been there. Done that. Got the mug.

I followed this trip with a wild hare. I was besotted with Andy Warhol since doing a project on him in my Art History class in college, so I decided to fly to Pittsburgh to visit the Andy Warhol Museum. As I didn’t know a soul there, and the museum was the only item on my itinerary, I booked the first and last flight of the day to do the whole trip in less than 24 hours.

I loved my day at the museum, in part because of the art which I simply melted into, and another part because it was the first time in my life when I was completely anonymous and beholden to no one. I’d get a sense of this feeling again years later when I started my expat journey and I had days and days on my own to just wander Sydney while Partner-in-Crime was a work, and before I knew a soul. For a vacation, it’s an empowering feeling, but as a lifestyle choice, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Later that summer, I met my recent Yellow House roommate Julie in New York for a few days. This was my first time back to New York since my high school trip, and certainly a new experience as we were on our own, and this time I actually knew a number of people who lived there. I was lucky enough to have an old friend who was working in theatrical marketing who gifted us comp tickets to several shows, as well as gave me a whole bunch of swag, which made me feel terribly swanky. Most memorable was the Steppenwolf Theatre production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Gary Sinese and the Off Broadway bio of Janis Joplin, Love, Janis.

photo 4 (10)I’d planned the trip to coincide with Madonna’s concert at Madison Square Garden. At one point I’d been such a huge Madonna fan, and my love for her carried on enough at this point in my life that I was willing to drop a princely sum on tickets off Ebay. Honestly, I remember the concert being OK, not everything I’d hoped and dreamed. But, it was a tick off my must-do list. photo 2 (16)

Julie and I visited friends we knew from Florida, lunching, brunching, dining, and museum-ing our days away. I made my first ever trip to the Museum of Modern Art, the only visit I’d make in the old building before it moved to its new and current digs. Julie and I struggled our way through picking subway lines and hailing taxis, imagining what it would be like to be full time residents like our friends.

The big trip of the summer was my three week trip to Germany to visit my best friend from college, V, which I’ve already written about in my post about catching the “travel bug.” In that post, I mentioned that I’d love to find the pictures from the trip, and lo and behold, here and my Mom’s house, I laid hands on them. I thought I’d share just a few (I’m sparing V and myself from splashing on the world wide web photos of our nearly 14 years ago selves).

We were based in Cologne, whose most prominent landmark is the towering and grand Cathedral.

photo 4 (11)

We spent a couple of days in Berlin, a city that I loved (does anyone go to Berlin and not love it?). V’s aunt worked in the Reichstag, so we got a personal tour. photo 2 (17)

 

We also took the train to Amsterdam. I could write pages about our shenanigans, none of the involving drugs. Our tour of the Anne Frank House was a somber and memorable affair, of course, no shenanigans there.

photo 3 (9)This was also the summer that I bought my car, which I memorialized during the Expat Blog Challenge – shinier here than when I sold her.photo 5 (1)

In September, I returned to Florida. The day after I started work, the New York I’d visited six weeks earlier ceased to exist forever in an act of terrorism no one ever saw coming.

On the homefront, it wouldn’t be long before my friendship with the person I’d visited in Raleigh would be over, ending with a silence when both of us just stopped calling.

I’m happy to report that V and I remain dear friends to this day. We’d see each other again – in New York, as it happened – and again in Paris, and at now at least weekly on Facebook messenger. And as far as I know, the Andy Warhol Museum is still alive and well and living in Pittsburgh, enjoying its ongoing fifteen minutes of fame.

So, some things remain, some grow stronger, some change, and some perish altogether. We never know until time reveals it what will befall which fate. I can see from many years on from these travels I embarked on for no other reason than to fill my soul that there can be no greater argument for following whatever part of your 22 year old spirit exists and visit the people and places you long for whenever you are able.

 

 

Sarasota Dreaming

memoirs, usa travels

Back to the “throwback” posts inspired by all the memorabilia I have stored here in the nooks and crannies of my Mom’s house, I thought I’d make a nod to my dear adopted home of Sarasota, Florida.

Right after college, I was on a quest to figure out how to actually use the education I’d just gotten, and on a hunch that dramaturgy might be my path, I accepted an internship in the literary department of a theatre in Sarasota that produced contemporary plays. I eventually took a job there and stayed for three years, and when I finished grad school, I returned for another three years to run the literary department before moving to Australia. As you can imagine, with so much history at such pivotal points in my life, I can’t begin to say everything I want about Sarasota, and I certainly can’t mention all of the people I met there who have impacted my life in a profound way … mostly for the better.

Instead, I’ll scratch the surface with a few pieces of evidence I’ve unearthed in boxes, most of them relating to my early days in the old SRQ.

The most important place in my early Sarasota life was the Yellow House. I’ve talked before about the Pink House, and across the street, is a big yellow house that’s divided into four apartments known as the Intern House or the Yellow House. I actually have no idea if the house still stands, but for many classes of interns, it was the most important landmark of our time in Sarasota. One member of the intern group after mine even wrote a song that we can all hum to this day … “In our little yellow house/barely big enough for a mouse…”

photo 4 (9)

This picture is cut straight out of my beloved scrapbook, as you can probably tell.

I lived in the top left apartment. We shared a phone with the apartment across the hall. Luckily, I had a cell phone, but in 2000, that wasn’t a given. My roommates were Kristin, Kara, and Julie, all interns in various departments at the theatre. We usually kept the door open and wandered back and forth between the apartment across the hall and ours. We were silly, noisy, liked to stay up extremely late, and had occasional personal dramas amongst ourselves, which were usually resolved by having one-on-one time out at one of the downtown restaurants, or Perkins if it was late. For awhile before Kara moved in, we had a male roommate from Brazil. He was a terrible misogynist and hated us in particular (can’t exactly blame him – see above). He cooked rice and chicken breasts at every single meal and designated himself one pan, plate, fork, knife, and glass, which was necessary as we girls almost never did our own dishes.

My room was great because it opened up onto little balcony that went out onto a very sketchy alley, and it also had a built-in ironing board that folded out from the wall. The back porch was where we kept the contraband neighborhood cat and her kittens that we fostered until we adopted all the babies out.photo 2 (13)

The house had a front porch, which we used for endless parties almost every night of the week. Or, we’d have “classy” parties in our apartment where we’d drink sangria or boxed wine and eat brie. Always with the brie. We were so broke, living on $75 per week stipends, yet somehow we always had brie money.

Class.

Class.

There were several of us in my intern year and the following year who shared an abiding love for folk singer Dar Williams. When she came to town, my friend Kristin and I went to the show and stayed afterwards to meet her. Because we were the only ones who didn’t have to work that night, given the theatre schedule, we had her sign a poster for “the Yellow House kids.” We made copies, and I found what I believe is the original in my photo album.

photo 3 (7)

It’s true that my early years in Sarasota centered around the theatre’s communal housing, and all of my favorite people who came and went from there, but Sarasota is such a special town, I have to devote some space to talking about it. It’s located on the Gulf Coast about an hour south of Tampa. It’s one of those towns that is large enough to have amenities, but small enough that I was always running into people I knew at the weekend farmer’s market or at The Sports Page sports bar (a moment of silence for the demise of The Sports Page a couple of years ago … thank you). It has this amazing quality of being both a beach town and an arts destination. When I lived there, Sarasota had three professional theatres, as well as professional opera, ballet, and symphony, and a performing arts touring house. When I would do stints in the box office, people would come up with their calendars and say, “I can’t go that night, I have the symphony. No, not that night. I have the opera.” There are two colleges that keep it funky, the determinedly offbeat New College and Ringling College of Art and Design where I would eventually do three years of adjunct teaching. The Ringling Museum stands on the waterfront on property once owned by circus magnate John Ringling. There is an art museum, a circus museum, and the Ca’ D’Zan (“House of John” home). When I arrived, the Ca’D’Zan was actually closed because it was undergoing reconstruction after being used as the degrading mansion in the Great Expectations film. A circus town, Sarasota is also home to a lot of circus legacy, including the incredible Nik Wallenda. One day, we watched him from our office windows tightrope walk between two buildings, just a humble warm up to his Niagara Falls and other feats ahead.

The balcony of the Ca'D'Zan was always a favorite spot.

The balcony of the Ca’D’Zan was always a favorite spot.

The water, of course, is a vital part of Sarasota life and we were never very far from it. Downtown where we lived, we were literally one block from the water, but it was about a 10 minute drive to Lido Beach (or a 40 minute walk that took you over the beautiful Ringling Causeway bridge, which was one of Partner-in-Crime and my favorite weekend activities). During my intern days, the second most important spot in our social lives was Azure Tides, a little tiki bar right on the beach where big groups of us would go after work to drink rum runners and sit in Adirondack chairs to watch the sunset. It was a heartbreaker when Azure Tides closed down. It’s also a 15 minute drive to Siesta Key, which is often voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. During my intern days, we used to spend the day on Siesta and then go to the nearby oyster bar where we’d eat raw oysters and drink cheap beer. Ah, to be young again.

Sarasota sunset.

Sarasota sunset.

Given how delightful Sarasota is, it’s no wonder that a number of celebrities have homes there. Like Jerry Springer, who came to one of our shows when I was an intern, and was an exceptionally good sport.jerryjerry

I realize that I haven’t yet said anything about the work that I did in Sarasota, which was obviously the most important part of my life there. However, because it was so consuming and large, I’m at a loss as to where to even begin talking about it. Instead, in the continuing spirit of “just scratching the surface,” let me share three things I found in a box.

photo 1 (15)This picture I found in a frame, and I hope my friends and colleagues will forgive me for posting it here, as I don’t usually post photos of other people. It was taken at the opening night party for Brassy Broads, which was the first show I helped to develop at the theatre. The theatre’s Cabaret space features musical reviews developed in-house, and over the years, I would go on to work on a number of them. For Brassy Broads, I was a research assistant, and also got to sit in the development meetings, even having the chance to offer my opinion now and again. For someone who aspired to work on the development of new plays, it was a thrilling moment in my young career.

I could write pages about every person in that picture, but to get us to the next found item, let me just mention the gorgeous woman in the white jacket on the left, Rhonda. Now, she deserves to have not just pages but novels written about her and her life, but I’ll just say that in the ensuing years, she became my collaborator on another Cabaret showed called Guitar Girls. That show was my first baby, and Rhonda and I worked on it passionately for months, becoming unlikely and dear friends in the process. I was so proud of what it became after the full treatment with a whole development team and some incredible cast members. We dubbed the show “Chicks With Picks” and Rhonda designed a little unofficial logo. The cast was kind enough to adopt me as an honorary guitar girl, even though I couldn’t play a chord, and this is the gift that I handmade for everyone for opening night.gg mug

The other person from the photo I’ll mention is the white haired gentleman in the back, Jimmy Hoskins. I’d been thinking about Jimmy this week when I found this piece.

photo 3 (8)While Guitar Girls had been “my” music, one of the most interesting things about working on Cabaret shows was that I got to learn about music I didn’t know, otherwise, and none more so than with A Vaudeville Cabaret. We dug deep to unearth a trove of songs and sketches from the Vaudeville era, and I think it was a gem. Jimmy was the choreographer, and another character about whom volumes could be written. For each show he worked on, he’d create an art piece like this one and give a copy to each member of the creative team. The theatre is full of framed copies, and with A Vaudeville Cabaret, I finally got one of my own.

Jimmy Hoskins passed away this week. You can read a tribute to him here. I am reminded of how many dear, creative, wonderful people passed through my life during my time in Sarasota. I may not have kept in touch with all of them, and admittedly, I didn’t know Jimmy well enough to keep in touch with him after I left, but I love so many of them regardless of how fleeting our time together was. I carry their indomitable artistic spirits and bravery with me, along with the feel of the Sarasota sand that will always be between my toes.

The Young Traveler: My High School Trip to New York

memoirs, usa travels

It’s been a busy time being back on the ol’ homefront, visiting friends and family, celebrating holidays, and keeping the child occupied. There’s a lot to process in being home and, honestly, I’m not ready to unpack on these pages, yet. I have, however, also been unearthing boxes from storage at my Mom’s house. These things have made it through my numerous moves and purges, so if it still exists at this stage, I know that there’s some value in it for me. To honor these things I see so rarely, I thought I’d do some “throwback” posts here featuring a few of the pieces from the past that are normally tucked in boxes, collecting dust and time.

photo 1 (10)Today, I went back to my hometown to visit a friend from high school. So, let me remain on that theme and “throw” all the way back to (I think) 1995 when my high school drama department took a Spring Break trip to New York City. This trip exists for me in these loose scrapbook pages, which must have been tucked in a notebook, at some point.

This collection is so earnest you can almost feel the teenage sense of importance radiating from the photocopied flyers, ticket stubs, and dreadful photographs I deemed worthy of saving and carefully preserving under plastic cover. Nowadays, I save nothing. These pages make me feel a little like I’ve lost something, my enthusiasm for absolutely nothing in this world is so high as to be preserved in 3-hole punch.

photo 4 (5)The pink page on top is the itinerary, and so I know that our week in New York included tours of all the biggies, including NBC Studios, Radio City Music Hall, Ellis Island, and stops at Rockefeller Center, St Patricks Cathedral, Trump Tower, F.A.O. Schwartz, Hard Rock Cafe (I’m sure I got the t-shirt), Greenwich Village and SOHO, the Met, South Street Seaport, Chinatown (I still remember the instruction to not buy any watches that “just needed a battery), and Little Italy. We saw Broadway shows almost every night – Tommy (that will blow a high school kid’s mind quick smart), Phantom of the Opera, Crazy for You, and Miss Saigon, and we did a musical theatre workshop where we learned a dance to “Magic to You” from Pippin. On an off night, I remember getting tickets to the Radio City Easter show and watching the Rockettes from the very last row.

The photos in this scrapbook are so painfully terrible, which I adore because they say so much about a different time in the world and in my life. The focus of almost all of the photos is uncertain, at best. I was a young high school student – what a metaphor for someone who didn’t know where to put my attention or make a bold statement. The only photos with a clear subject are the ones of my friends and me. And, some of the things I chose to photograph now just seem such arbitrary and funny things to select. I’m also reminded that this was an era when digital photography was ages from coming into common usage, so you got one shot, and you didn’t know if it worked until you picked up that packet of 3×5 magic from Eckerd drug store a week later. You certainly didn’t have Instagram to help you make works of art from your every snap. The page below is the perfect example of my 1995 photos. The top two pictures are me, and then my two best friends standing in front of the Plaza Hotel. Because the Plaza Hotel is, you know, fancy, am I right? The third picture is the marquee for the David Letterman show. Or, rather, about 2/3 of the marquee and the head of one of my classmates.

photo 3 (4)

 

This picture is my favorite one in the book:

photo 2 (11)I don’t love it because I think I look smashing, but because I remember that it’s the night we went to see Phantom of the Opera, and I’m wearing my Homecoming dress because going to a Broadway show was that special. This was also the night that our teacher, Ms Pev (what we all called her) loaded us all into taxis after the show (taxis!) and took us to Tavern on the Green where she treated us to dessert, which we thought was the most decadent extravagance. It was my first taxi, first coat check, and my first taste of creme brulee. Years later when I lived in New York City and I’d often decide on a whim to get rush tickets for a Broadway show, where I’d end up post- library studies in my jeans and stuffing my big backpack under my seat, I’d remember this trip, going to my first Broadway shows in the fanciest things I owned, and I’d give myself a little scolding for having lost some of that etiquette.

photo 4 (7)We had a couple of other experiences with Broadway that made that New York City trip very special for a group of young theatre students. First, as part of our tour, we had an afternoon seminar with a performer from Crazy For You. I know now that this is something that is pretty commonplace for Broadway performers, especially those who are in the supporting roles, but then it did seem otherworldly to be sharing space with the street clothed performer we’d seen tapping, singing and otherwise all shimmery and huge the night before. Our cast member was Beth Leavel, which didn’t mean a lot to me, at the time, other than having just seen her on stage, and that she was really nice to us, but the lovely Ms Leavel has gone on to an illustrious career, including winning a Tony for The Drowsy Chaperone in 2006. Here I am with her and her castmate Jill Matson, who she’d invited to join her for the talk.

The other special Broadway experience we had was after seeing Miss Saigon, which we were so blown away by (the flying helicopter, I mean come… on…). Someone in our group had the idea to stand outside the stage door to greet the cast as they came out. They were wonderful sports, especially as we told them that we were drama students. They signed autographs and gave encouragements. One of the cast members, however, went above and beyond, and invited our little group to come backstage for a tour. She took us around and introduced us to any straggling cast members who hadn’t left yet. She took us on stage and showed us the car and the helicopter, and we all got to see the view that Broadway performers had looking out into the audience. She even showed us her dressing room. I’ll never forget how dear that experience was to me. I had to do a bit of Googling to remember which cast member it had been, but found her name is Emy Baysic, and she played Kim three shows a week. Here she is in the blue sweatshirt in the middle with our group. Her kindness elevated the entire trip for me.

photo 4 (8)Aside from the theatre adventures, I remember everything about New York City being eye opening. This was pre-Giuliani days, and I vividly recall all the porn theatres and homeless on the streets of Times Square outside our Howard Johnson hotel, which is an experience of Time Square I’d never have again in subsequent visits. I remember being overwhelmed by the $14 pastrami sandwich at Carnegie Deli, which was very rich for my blood, as well as larger than any food I’d ever seen (and I was coming from the South, so that’s not for nothing). I recall being terrified when a panhandler asked us for money on the Subway. I remember finding every familiar site from movies and television something almost too astounding to behold.

I remember the first sight of this view (and there’s Ms Pev scolding someone in the front):

photo 2 (12)

 

And, I remember this view:photo 3 (6)

photo 1 (12)I also recall how silly we were, such typical high school girls, missing things that we should have paid attention to. My friends and I developed a crush our our amiable tour guide, whose name I still recall was Terry. We absolutely wasted a trip to Ellis Island by trying to chat up Terry and gain favor with him, which in hindsight, was probably barking up the wrong tree in more ways than one. We spent the whole trip to the South Street Sea Port following some guy who we thought was cute from one shop to another. On Wall Street, Terry surely told us important things that might have come in handy in the ensuing decades, but we were mostly interested in the attractive traders in fancy suits. Oh Terry, may I humbly apologize that you had to put up with us.

This high school trip to New York City was one of the first trips I took without my parents, and would prove an eye opening look at a place I’d previously only known in my mythology. It would be at least five years before I came back to visit, and more than a decade until I moved there, by then my viewpoint was far more jaded and worldly. I’d never see New York City or, in fact, any place with the big eyes and wide open heart I had on this trip. I love this loose leaf scrapbook with the off-focus pictures, typewritered itinerary, and treasured playbills for the story it tells about my grandNew York adventure.

 

 

 

 

The Accomplishment

expat blog challege, memoirs

Each month, my fellow Expat Blog Challengers and I take on a new writing prompt. This month we have a photo prompt on the theme “an accomplishment.

I feel like it’s only fair that I mention that I’m the one who writes these monthly blog challenge prompts. It would seem like that gives me an unfair advantage of picking something that I want to write about, but I actually never have an idea in mind. As to the topic I’ve finally settled on for this month’s theme, I’m amazed that I might actually hit “publish” on this post. I’ve written about so many aspects of my life in these pages over the last four years, but I’ve never written about this aspect in more than a passing mention.

This picture was taken in the summer of 2003:

accomplishment1

This picture was taken about 14 months later (I was Nancy Sinatra for Halloween – I didn’t lose my mind, too).

accomplishment2

These pictures represent the most and least I’ve weighed in my adult life. In the months in between, I lost about 2 pounds a week, 100 in total (45kg for the non-Americans). It all started when I moved into my parent’s house in Montana for a year while I was applying for grad school. My mom and sister were following Weight Watchers, so I decided I’d join them. It was a case of being in the exact right place and frame of mind when I took the plunge. I set myself a modest goal, reached that, set another goal that I never thought I’d reach, got to that, and then set a huge goal that I finally achieved. There was no secret pill or guru. Yes, I followed the Weight Watchers plan (just the plan, I never went to meetings), but what it came down to was eating less, moving more, and doing both consciously. It was really that simple … and that complicated.

At the end of my year in Montana, my smaller self, a new wardrobe and I moved to New York to start grad school with people who had never known First Picture me. It was an exhilarating and strange experience, after being the chubby and beyond girl for almost my entire life. I had a newfound confidence that has only grown in the ensuing years. I also had a whole host of other more complicated feelings that it took me a number of years to sort through, but I eventually did and finally felt like myself. My best self.

So, end of story, right? That’s an accomplishment, hey?!

No, that’s not the accomplishment that I want to show you today.

In the years since the second photo was taken, I’ve been any number of sizes between the two pictures. I don’t believe I’ll ever be the size I was in either photo again, but, as you’d imagine, I’d rather be closer to Second Picture me than First Picture. In the year before we started trying to have a baby, I’d managed to creep up to a size that I was not at all happy with, and I couldn’t figure out why. I wasn’t sad or stress eating, as had always been the culprit before. I was discussing it with Partner-in-Crime one day, and he hit the nail on the head, “you’re happy and you like to bake.” He was exactly right. What that really meant was that I’d lost the most important element of my weight loss formula – the consciousness. I’d stopped paying attention.

After that I got back in gear and lost 20 pounds before becoming pregnant. I was in great shape during my pregnancy. I was this annoying pregnant lady who never had aches and pains, did yoga four times a week, walked every day, and in my third trimester, only craved fruit juices. But, after Hushpuppy was born, I lost my mojo again. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, stress eating, and feeling incapable of getting myself to do any more than the most moderate activity. Hushpuppy was a tough baby, and it showed on me. This stretched on for ages, far longer than one can consider it “a little extra baby weight.” As I slowly gained confidence and joy in motherhood, got my sleep and a little me-time back, my weight was the one thing that continued to haunt me daily. I just did not feel like myself. I made a few false starts on tackling it, but it dragged on well past Hushpuppy’s first birthday.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is my accomplishment photo – my ratty old gym shoes. For the past three months, they’ve been in steady use. Thanks to joining a gym with childcare, I go three days a week, doing spin classes twice a week and weight class once a week. On the off days, we go for walks around the park. And, I’ve been eating and drinking more deliberately. I’m not watching the scale, as the numbers are no longer important to me. What is important is maintaining the consciousness, and the accomplishment is again finding that place where I feel like my best self.

 

When I Grow Up Again

memoirs

I’ve been on a brain exercise this week pondering, once again, what I might be when I grow up. It seems ever more like a perpetual question with me.

I’ve had some thoughts about putting Hushpuppy into daycare for one or two days a week starting early next year after she’s two. I think she could benefit from the social interaction and there is a daycare literally steps from our apartment on the property of our complex. It’s just calling her name. Child free days would leave me with more ladies-who-lunch time than I’d know what to do with, so I’ve been wondering if it might be a good opportunity to go back to school. I’ve been particularly thinking about doing some sort of technical degree at TAFE (Technical and Further Education).

I do, indeed, already have a Master’s degree (and the student loan debt to show for it) and little interest in pursuing a PhD, at the moment, so going back to school seems, in a way, like a bit of folly. But, as I’ve talked about here before, I haven’t found my Dramaturgy degree to be overly useful in Sydney. When I arrived four years ago, I quickly discovered that there was exactly one person in the entire country with the full-time job equivalent to the one I had in the States.  Now there are two … maybe even three by now, but honestly, I’ve fallen so far out of the theatre loop that I don’t know. Freelancing was frustrating and pretty fruitless for me. And, even if I could find work, a life in the theatre with its long hours, late nights, and need to be constantly attentive to the industry is not very compatible with my primary focus, which is raising my daughter.

For awhile now, I’ve been seeding a thought about going back to school for library sciences. I have an inkling that field might suit me, though I haven’t gotten to the point of doing enough research to be sure. The other day, however, Partner-in-Crime and I were having a blue sky conversation about this school idea. I want to open up my thinking. More and more, we are considering home schooling Hushpuppy, so it could end up being a number of years before I return to work. With that in mind, I start to entertain the idea of studying something just because it interests me. It’s an exciting proposition to open up the world like that. We knocked around some ideas, but rather than thinking of endless possibilities, I’m having a surprisingly hard time thinking of what I might study just for the love of it. P-i-C suggested something to do with learning theory, as a complement to home schooling, but I thought that sounded like a PhD that someone – someone who isn’t me – might do over the course of many years. I came up with some vague idea of something to do with food or nutrition, easy on the science, thank you, though have no idea what that would translate into in terms of an actual course of study.

Maybe my dream job is in here somewhere...

Maybe my dream job is in here somewhere…

I spent last night trying to get inspired. I pulled up the TAFE site and searched for all classes currently offered at the three closest campuses to where I live. There were over a thousand classes I could take, and yet, I finished my perusal with no “aha!” bursts of inspiration.

“Scaffolding!,” I’d shout at P-i-C. He just looked at me quizzically.

“Eyebrow waxing.” I tried. “There ya go,” he muttered.

“Arabic?”. Nothing.

“Maybe I should study bookkeeping,” I ventured with sincerity. That got his attention.
“Why?”
“People everywhere need bookkeepers.” I’m not sure if it’s the fact that this is supposed to be an exercise for fun or the mediocre job I do at handling my own money, but his look suggested that I go ahead and move along from that idea.

I came away from the list uninspired (except for a potential career in scaffolding, obviously). I’m not sure if I’m not creative enough or if TAFE just doesn’t hold the key to my marvelous future. So, the dreaming and scheming continues. I’m open to inspiration. What course of study would you pursue if it were just for your own edification? Or would you?

Watch this space. You’ll be the first to know if I ever grow up.

Inherited Spices

expat issues, memoirs

The other day, my friend A of pop-up dinner party fame sent Partner-in-Crime a message asking him if he’d like to avail himself of the remains of her wine cabinet, as her movers were there and everything must go. This was an offer P-i-C could not turn down, and when he returned from the collection mission, his spoils of the move included the wine, a juicer (lucky me!), and a bag of spices from A’s kitchen.

As I was putting the spices away that night, I started wondering just how many spice containers from how many friends I have inherited over the years. Spices are inevitably the thing that are hanging around in the kitchen when you move that you don’t want to take with you, but you just can’t justify throwing away – that jar of turmeric that you used less than a tablespoon of 1/8 of a teaspoon at a time, the Garam Masala you bought for a recipe that you never got around to making, and the cumin that you just bought three weeks ago, and is still 3/4 full. You need a staying-put friend to take them from you and give them a good home.

Here in Sydney, I’ve helped to offload the spice racks of two other girlfriends who were moving back to the States. Before that, when I lived in Florida, I was the inheritor of an endless supply of spices (spices and, for some reason, bottles of red wine vinegar) from visiting actors who were going back to their real homes in New York after spending three months or so in actor housing. I did a stint – a horrible, thankless stint – as the “Guest Relations Coordinator,” in addition to my regular duties as the Artistic Director’s assistant, which meant that I arranged travel and housing for our guest actors. When they left, I was responsible for getting the houses clean again. Mercifully, I was usually allowed to hire cleaners, but all the stuff left over had to either be trashed, donated or – as was often the case with the spices – put into my personal collection because, really, how else was I going to get rid of a half empty jar of cinnamon?

That job lasted, thankfully, only six months or so, even if it felt like many long years, but for a couple of my years at the theatre, I lived in artist housing, namely a 1920s Florida bungalow with built in bookshelves, a screened porch with white wicker furniture, and wood everything that we called The Pink House. I have almost nothing but fond memories of The Pink House and the revolving cast (literally) of actors, directors, designers and other visiting artists that I called roommates for a few weeks or months.

pink house
The Pink House

We were on a block with several other artist houses and the big intern house, which I also lived in for a year, was across the street. Most of my memories are from the porch, where many of us would congregate to drink beer and pontificate on life until the wee hours. Maybe someone would bust out a guitar or a joint, though I never partook in the latter. Of course, some folks I clicked with more than others, but it seemed like I was constantly in a new community with fascinating people, some of whom I happily remain in touch with and others who I can just barely remember, but pop into memory from time to time. I don’t recall whose spices were whose, except the “excellent” baking powder I ended up with from the roommate who pretentiously told me that my baking powder wasn’t good enough and oh-so-generously replaced it so that he could make pancakes for the household. It became a running joke between the other roomie and I, and if I ran into him today, we’d probably still laugh about it. I do clearly remember our kitchen and the thin shelves I claimed as my “pantry,” which were always overflowing with my collection of spices and other sundries. I’m not sure who I gave my spices to when I moved out of The Pink House. Maybe I just left them for Emily, the massively talented musician/actress who was living there when I left. Several years later when I’d moved back to Sarasota, to my own place this time, and was leaving for Australia, I gave my spices to my friend/Resident Playwright Sarah, who reluctantly took them. She just so happened to be living in The Pink House at the time, and I imagine her reluctance may have had something to do with her own overflowing pantry from all the random dry goods she’d been collecting, as well.

Porch sitting at The Pink House circa about 2002. This picture is just so, so very The Pink House.
In addition to spices, wine, and a juicer, I’ve gotten many more items from transient friends over the years – books, kitchenware, furniture at a friend’s discount, a bike, plants, a beta fish (true story), toys for Hushpuppy, and so on. But, on the frenetic last day of the move, it always seems to be the spices that find their way home with me.
Unpacking A’s spices, I thought for awhile about all these people whose spices I’ve inherited over the years. Then, I started to wonder why it is I’ve set up my life in such a way that people around me always seem to be there just temporarily. I’m not sure that I know the answer. In so many ways, it’s such a sad part of my life. If I had my way, I’d have my 15 or 20 closest friends all living on the same block with me and we’d just sit on our porches drinking adult bevvies and contemplating the world every day (maybe we’d venture out to eat at restaurants and see movies sometimes). Instead, they’re spread all over the U.S. and the world, very few of them in the spot where I met them, which tells me that I’m not the only one who moves around a fair bit. The positive side, though, is that I’m continually forced out of my shell, always on the lookout for great new friends, and that means that I continue to be surprised by the interesting and kind new people that I meet. My fellow mover arounders have, by nature, an inherent bravery, curiosity, and need to continue pushing their boundaries. That guaruntees fascinating friendships that constantly make my life richer, even as my spice rack grows ever fuller.

Day 26: People, People Who Need People

expat blog challege, expat issues, memoirs

Prompt: Recognize someone who has made your expat experience better.

Not long ago, on an Americans in Australia forum, someone posted about what a hard time she’s had making genuine friendships since moving abroad. This led to a long discussion with many other people who agreed, and about some of the problems they’ve experienced. It made me feel so lucky because, for all the cultural adjustment issues I faced when moving here, making genuine friendships was not one of them. It would have been so hard to go this journey alone, and so I have to recognize not one person, but a group of ladies who I’ll group as The Book Club Girls, all fellow Americans Down Under, and some of the loveliest people I know.book club

My first friend in Australia was Mimi. We moved at a similar time, and from reading each other’s blogs, had a feeling we’d get along. We did, like gangbusters. We became inseparable, and I don’t know how I would have weathered my first year in Oz without her. In many ways, we’re so different, but it was always in a complimentary way. No matter what, we could always make each other laugh, which is no small thing when times are confusing and lonely. Mimi moved back to the U.S. in 2012, which was so sad for me, but when I think about the other girls whose friendship I so value, I can see how many connections she forged for me, which is a priceless gift to have left me with.

Mimi quickly introduced us to V and her husband, and we three couples became quite the tight group. I loved having dinners and game nights together or Sister Wives viewing nights with just the ladies. V is a sensible, dry wit, and I think we “got” something deep down about each other, as I have more than a little bit of that in me, as well. V also moved back to Canada, and I still really miss her. We always threaten to plan a trip together – one day, V – one day!

Just a couple months after I moved here, Sydney Smiles (SS) put out a query on an expat forum about starting a book club. Mimi and I agreed to join, and after slogging through the most laughably terrible book, we convened at a restaurant in The Rocks with the three of us, plus N and a girl who we never saw again. (V, of previous paragraph fame, joined up later, in case you’re keeping score at home). We had a great time chatting, and started our monthly tradition. I’m so glad that SS took the initiative to get this group together. I can appreciate now that she was making a real leap of faith by inviting complete strangers to join up like that. She’s an absolute dear heart, one of the most honest and caring people I know. She loves my little girl, and is an ace with her, always finding new ways to entertain her. Plus, you should see what she does with nails!

No lie, Sydney Smiles did these for me. She’s an artist!

Our fellow Book Club original, N, is also an absolute gem. She’s lovely inside and out, completely kind and genuine. She’s been in Australia the longest of all of us, and was always happy to share all her tips with us, which was always a massive help. My first big solo outing after Hushpuppy was born was an afternoon wedding dress shopping with N. She got married to her awesome guy in the States, so I couldn’t be there, but it meant a lot to still share something of her big day with her, as she’s been and continues to be such a sweet friend. Oh, and she’s seriously funny, too!

Along the way, Mimi introduced a few more girls into the Book Club fold. When I was away on a trip to the U.S., she sent me a message, so excited about G, a girl she’d met through a mutual friend. I believe her description was, “she’s from New Jersey, she’s Italian, she’s loud and hilarious. You’re going to love her!” OK, from that description, I had my doubts, given my borderline introvert tendencies, but then I met G when I returned. She marched right up to me and said, “I’ve heard so much about you!” then she proceeded to completely win me over. She’s exactly as Mimi described, and I love her. She organized a surprise baby shower for us, and she brings a thoughtful gift for Hushpuppy pretty much every time she sees her. She livens up every room she enters, and we’re all better for knowing our favorite character.
M and her husband moved over for work after I’d been here maybe a year and a half. Mimi also invited her into the group. I love chatting with her, as she’s bright and witty. She’s super with Hushpuppy, and never had a moment of trepidation with her, even when she was a newborn. She called to offer to take the baby off our hands for a bit while so Partner-in-Crime and I could go get a coffee or something, when Hushpuppy was just a couple weeks old, something I still feel sorry for not taking her up on! She’s one of those people who knows how to make everyone feel comfortable, in a down to earth way.
Finally, Mimi also introduced us to A, who bravely showed up for a big, boisterous Thanksgiving dinner where she didn’t know any of us. It’s hard for me to properly say what a dear friend A has become to us, but as she’s heading back to the States in just a few weeks, I feel particularly keen to try – though, I must tell you, she’s far too humble to care to read gushing things about herself, and is probably going to stop right here. Through our friendship with A, I have learned what it is to really be there for your friends. Everyone says, “let me know if I can do anything,” and we all mean it, but A somehow knows exactly what needs to be done and just quietly makes it happen. After Hushpuppy was born, she said, “I’m bringing dinner on Friday,” and she arrived with a massive plate of sushi from our favorite Japanese place, knowing that I’d not been able to eat sushi for the past 9 months. It was heaven on a plate. When our apartment flooded, I put out a desperate call for help, and she said, “I’ll be right there,” and took Hushpuppy off my hands for a couple of hours. When we were hosting Thanksgiving on a Saturday, she messaged on Friday and said, “I’ll be near your house. I can stop by to help.” I knew she meant it, and I put her to work! She’s like that for all of her friends. We’ve had so many long conversations, meals, divine parties at her place, and on and on. I’m feeling sentimental with her imminent departure, knowing that her presence in all of our lives is going to be dearly missed.

I know I’ve carried on a bit here, and picked far more than one person to recognize, but these girls have made all the difference to my experience living abroad. I would have been lucky to have had just one of them to make life here richer, less lonely, and a lot more fun, yet somehow I was blessed with all of them. Thank you, ladies, you will forever have such a special place in my heart.