Attraversiamo

“I crossed the street to walk in the sunshine.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

(I wrote this nine years ago and never showed anyone. It has been on my mind lately and I decided it was time to share it.)

***

“Attraversiamo.”

With this last printed word, meaning “let’s cross over” in Italian, I close the book and stare through the tears at the wood-paneled wall before me. Sitting alone on a Friday night in my small newly acquired two-bedroom mobile home, my thoughts are consumed with the book I have just read.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Just a random bookstore purchase, like so many before, yet this one has changed everything.

I am 30 years old and my second marriage has just ended.

My children from my first marriage—two adorable, bubbly redheads who are the only lights in my life—are at their dad’s for the weekend. I have no distractions, no bedtime baths or tuck-ins to take my mind off the nagging lessons that Eat Pray Love has instilled into my brain.

I’ve messed up. This thought bursts forth before all others and refuses to be ignored. I look down at the closed book on my lap and those three words are all I see.

I’ve messed up.

In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert documents leaving her life to travel for a full year. Could I do that? Could I travel the world in search of the “me” that got lost in those last two marriages? Would a plate of Italian spaghetti or an Indonesian medicine man fix everything for me like it did for Liz?

Of course not. I’m a mother. A broke, divorced mother. I can’t leave.

So what then?

Prior to my second marriage, I was what some would call a fireball. A fiery, spirited gal, with red hair to seal the deal, nothing could get me down. Even my first failed marriage, painful though it was, did nothing to stop my headstrong determination. The same spunk that entered that marriage with me trailed along after me as I left. I was still the same, just a little broken-hearted and slightly off course. But that would soon ease and, with a little time and forgiveness, both my kids’ dad and I would see the split for what it was: necessary. We would soon learn to co-parent and eventually even call each other friend. I was going to be okay.

And then I met my second husband.

I wonder what it was that had drawn me to him. Although my feisty personality gave off the aura of independence, the truth was that I wanted someone to take care of me. I didn’t want to be worrying about bills and packing school lunches alone. I wanted a partner. Then suddenly, there he was.

Hindsight is always 20/20 as they say. In retrospect, I see the red flags I overlooked then. A controller can easily be disguised as a caregiver. He wanted to do things for me. For a tired, overworked single mom, this was a welcome turn of events. Little by little, he began to take care of it all, making decisions for me to help clear my heavy load.

Then came the other changes. What clothes I wore, how I kept my hair, what friends I could keep. Others seemed to notice what was happening, but not me. It just felt so good to be loved. To be noticed.

This couldn’t go on forever though. One morning as I sat in my doctor’s office trying out yet another depression medication, my doctor said something I would never forget. She pulled her chair right over to me, sat down and looked me straight in the eyes. “Melissa,” she said, “I do not have a medication that is going to fix your marriage.”

Fix my marriage?

Armed with that old redheaded stubbornness, I marched out of that doctor’s office with the certainty that she was a quack. If she wouldn’t give me a different medicine, I’d find another doctor who would. Something was wrong. It was chemical, I was sure of it. My life was great.

Really.

But later that night, lying in bed beside my snoring husband, the doctor’s words kept running through my mind. I needed to talk to someone. But who? The only friends I had now were my husband’s friends. I used to have friends from work, but my husband had convinced me to take a job in a smaller office where there weren’t so many annoying office functions and parties to attend. I cut contact with all of them at his suggestion – moving on was easier if you would just forget.

Maybe one of my old theatre friends? I once loved community theatre so much. It had once been such a huge part of my existence…where had it gone? Ah yes. My husband didn’t like the time that it consumed. My place was at home with him and the kids, not out doing God knows what with God knows who. It was time to grow up and be a wife and mother. Isn’t that what he had said? So no, the theatre friends were out. I hadn’t talked to them in so long, I couldn’t call them up now in the middle of the night.

I had some friends from a women’s church group that my husband allowed me to go to on Monday nights. Maybe I could call one of them? No, I couldn’t. He told me that talking about my problems in that group was only asking for trouble. He made it clear to me that our business needed to remain private and was not to be shared with a bunch of busybodies who wanted nothing more than to spread the news throughout the church.

So, who could I call?

Mom.

I snuck out of bed and walked into the living room. I pulled out my cell phone and just as I had her number keyed in, my husband walked into the room. Of course, making a phone call in the middle of the night could only mean one thing. I was cheating on him. I attempted to show him the number I was dialing, tried to prove that it was only my mother, but he wouldn’t listen.

I had to be stopped from making that call.

And I was.

I packed my bags the next day.

Now, here I am only a few short weeks later (many bruises healed, many to remain), closing the last page of Eat, Pray, Love and sobbing like a toddler.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s words fill my mind.

“If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting – which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments – and set forth on a truth-seeking journey… then the Truth will not be withheld from you.”

Where is my Truth, Liz? Where is it?

“If you’re brave enough…” Is that what I was? Was I brave to leave my husband?

Just like that, I receive my answer. Somewhere deep inside me, a fiery redheaded community theatre actress screams, YES!

Yes.

This is it. This is why this book has gotten to me. Today is the start of my journey. It may look like a little rented, singlewide mobile home, but to this lonely, lost sojourner, it is the first step towards the journey of freedom.

Attraversiamo.

I head to the telephone to call my mom.

***

gilbert.jpg

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The Resistance: Naomi’s Story

As a writer, sometimes I see words from others that are so much more powerful than anything I could’ve come up with myself. This is one of those times. Read Naomi Johnson’s words below, and ask yourself: what will you do today to change the world?

***

“Did you ever think as a child that you would have helped Jesus carry his cross? Did you ever pretend you would have taken in a Jewish family and shelter them at your own peril? When I read “The Diary of Ann Frank” as a child, I fantasized I would do just that. I was young during the Civil Rights era. I saw my mom and dad stand up to racism in the 50’s and 60’s, but I was too young to register to vote or stand in solidarity. But I was certain I would have.

The ensuing years were spent rearing a family, working, and being caught up in life. There wasn’t much opportunity to be brave. But now we are here, and a defining moral decision is facing us, each and every one.

As a financial advisor, you are ill-advised to discuss religion and politics and many other personal topics with clients and prospects. In the Spring of 2016, I made a decision. I was going to become as authentic as I could be in my life, and share my journey and my truth.

I decided to speak out about my past sexual abuse, in the context of Donald Trump and his mis-treatment of women. I began up speak openly about my struggle to rebuild my life after being filled with guilt, fear and shame as a result. I shared my struggle with using food to stuff emotions and hide my damaged sexuality under a layer of fat. No one is more invisible in society than a fat woman.

I spoke honestly about the effects of my issues on my children, and how I was trying to be a better mother to my adult children than I was when they were young. When it seemed appropriate, I would ask clients about their tender spots, their struggles, what kept them up at night, their regrets, their hopes and dreams.

Here is the truth, it was the bravest thing I have ever done. I began to speak out about what I saw happening. Those who have been my Facebook friends know that all to well! I shared my feelings of horror about many of the evangelical leaders supporting Donald Trump. I shared how disheartened I was when Franklin Graham got behind Donald Trump, and that is not a popular stance here in Boone, North Carolina, the home of Samaritan’s Purse.

I shared how my family was so split over the election and the pain that caused. I talked about racism, and other hot button issues, including gender issues. When a client ridiculed Caitlin Jenner, I asked him point blank, “Have you ever thought about how much emotional pain a man would have to be in to have the gender reassignment surgery? (Truth alert, I was a bit cruder than that). He flinched, but there was a long pause as he admitted that he had not thought about that.

I lost some clients. I knew I would when I made the decision. I will probably lose more. And I am okay with that. Because doing the hard thing is worth it. To be open and not have to hide what I believe is worth it. To integrate my work and my life is worth it. And I have learned so much more about my clients’ hopes and fears, for when I became more open, so did they.

I do not have the answers to the divisive issues of our day. But I know this, the issues are hard and the solutions are complex. I know this: There is no “secret plan to defeat ISIS in 30 days”; I know that health care is complex; I know that normalizing racism is wrong; I know that name calling and mocking people is unworthy of a president; I know that a lie is a lie; I know that The Bible says that even the very elect will be deceived.

When I decided to embrace a more authentic life, I believe that, in some mystical way, I am helping Jesus carry the cross, I am housing the refugees, I am more openly standing against racism. These blessings more than make up for some lost revenue. And I believe that there are people who will find me and my partner Seth because we will take a stand.

I know this. It may get much worse, much faster than we can imagine. There are Nazis marching openly in the street. My dad and mom served in WWII to stop this evil. There are white supremacists marching openly with assault rifles, in front of the police, beating and kicking those in the resistance. Imagine if those young men were black, carrying assault rifles and jostling the police? Resisting the rising tyranny will be the defining moral issue of this time.

Here is my challenge to each of you: do what is right. It is as simple as that. You intuitively knew as a child what that was. You know you dreamed of being brave. You know how hard it is to stand against a bully. You have the chance today to take a morally courageous stand against what is being normalized in America. Become the adult your child dreamed you would be. Be brave. Like my mom, who left Ashe County, North Carolina, to fight Hitler. Like my dad, who left high school in Vermont to enlist and fight Hitler.

Welcome to the resistance!”

– Naomi Johnson

Naomi Johnson’s brave and courageous mother who served her country in WWII.

***

  “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights.
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight.”
– Bob Marley

 

Typical Runner

“You know, you don’t have the body of a typical runner.”

I heard those words a few days ago from an acquaintance I bumped into at a grocery store. There was no preamble – no previous talk of running or anything of that nature. He’s just someone on my facebook who sees my running posts and I guess it was fresh on his mind so he decided to let me know his thoughts.

Alrighty then.

So…I don’t have the body of a typical runner.  Got it.

When I later mentioned this to my husband, he insisted that the guy couldn’t have meant it *that* way. You know: that way. As in, the way I took it. And how did I take it? He was saying that I was too fat to fit the stereotypical mold of a runner.

And as hard as I try, I can’t think of anything else he could’ve meant. But you know what?  That’s okay.

Because he’s right.

In fact, if we want to go with stereotypes, I don’t have the body of a “typical” woman either. I’m not a size zero with monstrous boobs and a tiny waist. (Okay, I might have one of those but without the other two, it doesn’t really count.)

But, back to the point.  Let’s just go ahead and get this out there. I’m a fat runner.

Finishing The Bear. A 5 mile climb up Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina.

Now, I’m not obese by any means. Sometimes not even considered “overweight” on some charts. I’m 5’6″ and I weigh 152 as of the writing of this blog.  But as far as runners go? Yep. I’m a chubster.

If you’re not a runner, you may not be familiar with the fact that some races have what they call a “Clydesdale division.” Yes, you read that right. Clydesdale. As in a big, fat horse. One local race I run annually has this very division. And guess what?  I qualify. Yep. A 5’6″ and 152 pound woman falls into the big and fat category. I’ve always been terrified to sign up for it though. I don’t know why – it”s almost a guaranteed trophy because no one else ever signs up for it either. Last year, I watched the “winning” (only) woman in the category walk up to get her award and she looked even smaller than me. I couldn’t help but wonder how she felt walking up there. “And the chubby runner award goes to…!”

But you know what? After this random comment in the grocery store from this guy, I’ve given this a lot of thought. And I wonder if maybe I’ve been looking at this the wrong way.

Let me tell you what it’s like to not be a tiny runner.

First, my legs are strong as crap. No joke. These things have to lug 152 pounds around – not 110. They have had to work hard for these past five running years and, therefore, I have massive muscles. In fact, one day last week I had to put down a new rug that needed to be scooted under a couch. Rather than waiting for help, I put out the foot stools on the recliner end of the sofa, lied down on the floor, positioned my feet under the reclined foot stool, and used the strength in my legs to lift the couch while I scooted the rug underneath.

How about that?

I’m sure it wasn’t pretty, but by granny, it got done.

1995 – my first hospitalization for lymphoma treatment. (That’s my adorable little brother)

Also, fitness does not come naturally to me. I’ve never been an especially “active” person. In fact, I was pretty sick my senior year of high school and that left me weak and lazy for years after. Before my lymphoma diagnosis, I weighed over 200 pounds. Of course, I lost some weight during the treatments but it didn’t stay away long after I started improving. I’ve always been a “bigger” girl. After I started running five years ago, I dropped a bit of weight but not a ton. It wasn’t a quick weight loss, and it wasn’t a total weight loss. But it did happen.  And the funny thing about it?

I didn’t even care.

I had attempted running sooo many times in the past for that very purpose – I just had to lose weight. But it never worked, because I didn’t stick with it. And I didn’t stick with it because my heart was not in it. Once I made the decision to run to strengthen myself – body and mind – that’s when I started noticing changes.

Another thing about being a not-so-small runner? I’m pretty slow. Now, I know – “slow” is relative. To some people, my 11/12:00ish mile pace might seem fast. But trust me, in the racing community (especially the smaller races I do locally), that’s not fast. In fact I finished last in a local race once. Dead last. (Which kinda sucked at the time, but now is just a funny memory. And now that it’s happened, I’m not scared of it happening again. I finished last. So what?)

So, yeah, I’m a chubby runner. But should I have been offended by what that guy said to me in the grocery store?

Hell, no.

You know why? Because I still do it. Knowing that some days, I’d rather sit on the couch and drink Coke and eat ice cream instead of running, I still get my fat ass up and go do it. Knowing that my “stats” that show up on Facebook when I post my runs could be laughable to the more fit runners that see them, I just go on and post them anyway. Knowing that I have fat rolls that show up in running pics from races, I post the hell out of them anyway.

I am not trying to be skinny. I’m not trying to be perfect. I’m trying to be strong. I’m trying to be a motivator, both to others and to myself. I’m trying to show others that finding something you love as much as I love running can change you. And you don’t have to fit a certain mold or look a certain way or be a certain speed to get out there and do it anyway.

This morning, I lost a running friend. She was the brightest ray of sunshine you’d ever meet in your life. In February of this year Tammy was still running half marathons and signing up for full marathons later in the year. And then today, August 14, six short months later, she’s just gone. Just like that. She lost her battle to a cancer she hadn’t even known she’d had until just recently.

I keep thinking about her. I keep thinking about her spunk. Her smile. Her laugh. I keep thinking about how much she adored running. I keep thinking about the last race we ran together. It was an unseasonably hot half marathon at the end of October. She was well ahead of me for most of the race, as usual. But with only about two miles to go, my heart just gave up. I couldn’t run a step longer. I stopped and started walking. And, to my surprise, I saw Tammy just ahead of me as I rounded a corner. She was walking too. Once she saw that I was behind her, she stopped dead still in the road, not caring about her time, and waited for me to catch up. We walked the last two miles together. She smiled and laughed and chatted the whole way, knowing that neither of us would have any kind of finishing time to brag about, yet not letting it bother her a bit. We were going to finish and that’s all that mattered to her.

That is what I’m going to carry forward with me. That determination and strength and knowledge that I may not be the best, but I am there. I am moving forward. Every step I take is taking me closer to the person I want to be. Like Tammy, I am learning to be happy to just be there. To just be a part of the process. To be a participant in this game of life and to enjoy every single second of it so that I leave behind a legacy like she did.

Am I going to let a snarky comment from some guy in a grocery store change that? No, sir, I am NOT. And I hope you won’t either. Don’t ever – EVER – let someone else determine who or what you should be. Get out there and do whatever you want to do and do it proudly. Live your life out loud. Do what you think you can’t do and shout it out from the mountaintops.

And when you run into the grocery store acquaintances of the world? Just tell them to get back on the sidelines of life and continue to watch you shine.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have my 9th half and second full marathons to train for.

***

“Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see.”
– Jimmy Buffet

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart of the Matter

“There are people in your life who’ve come and gone
They’ve let you down, you know they’ve hurt your pride
You better put those behind ya, baby, ’cause life goes on
You keep carrying that anger, it’ll eat you up inside…”
– lyrics from Heart of the Matter by Don Henley

This past weekend, I sat outside at a local restaurant listening to my sexy husband sing those lyrics up there from the song Heart of the Matter by Don Henley. Listening to him sing, being so proud to be his wife, and glancing at my surroundings, suddenly my memories started getting the best of me.

I started remembering our past with this song.

Photo of drummer, Richard Edmondson, of the band Restless. Photo credit: friend and fan, Jim Maloney

When I first started dating my husband, about five years ago, we had a pretty rocky start.  I don’t think he minds that I tell you this (and I’ve probably referenced it in previous blogs anyway), but when I met Richard he was still in love with someone else.  He was fresh out of a long-term relationship and the cut still stung, so to speak.

Now that I know him so well, I know this about him – when he loves, he loves hard. And a strong love like that doesn’t just go away overnight because a blunt, pushy redhead has entered your life and said it had to.

It took a while. Even longer than he admitted to me.

So, basically, for the first year of our relationship I had to share him with a memory that he couldn’t get past. But see – here’s the thing about those “memories” in a small town: THEY DON’T GO AWAY.

Oh no, those memories are everywhere. You run into Miss Memory at Walmart, at the bank, at get-togethers. And, the thing that used to sting the worst? We’d run into her at his music gigs.

Yep. There I’d sit falling even harder in love with my music man, all the while knowing that the woman who still had a piece of his heart was sitting there watching him too. And boy did I HATE that. Sure, she was innocent in this whole thing – what did she ever do to me?  (Besides existing. And being gorgeous. Grrrrrrr.) But why did she have to be there? I didn’t want her there.

But, ha. Try not wanting to run into someone in a small town. As my bonus dad used to say to me growing up, “You can want in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up fastest.” In other words, want all you want – it’s not going to happen. (Okay, actually, I’m not sure at all what that particular saying means. But when I picture a handful of shit, it kinda makes me not want to hold out my hand at all, you know? Oh, okay. So maybe that is the point…)

Anyway.

Back to the song.

I specifically remember the first time I heard him sing it. Of course, it was a time that she was there. There my boyfriend sat singing “I’m learning to live without you now, but I miss you baby…” and my blood was boiling. I just knew he was thinking of her. (Knowing this man who is now my husband as well as I do, he was not thinking of her – at least not while singing that song. He wasn’t thinking about me either. Or any human for that matter. He was thinking, “dear God, don’t let me forget these words. Are my drums too loud? I think the sound is a little off, I need to push some buttons. Boy, I’d love another beer. Oh crap, what’s the next line? I need to mow the yard…”)

[I interrupt here for the disclaimer that “I need to push some buttons” was my own words. My husband, the sound man extraordinaire would never call them “some buttons.” But you get my drift…]

I’m sure we fought about the song later that night.  We fought about a lot of things back then (all pretty much having to do with the same subject…) In fact, we even broke up once over it. (Well, once officially. We broke up a million times in our heads.)

Basically, life was pretty hard back then. I was the poor little victim of circumstance. And Richard was the poor victim of my tirades about that circumstance. There were many times that we both just thought we weren’t going to make it. And as far as I was concerned, if we didn’t make it – he’d know whose fault it was.

His.

So now that I’ve set the scene for what life used to be like for us, I’m going to switch gears here for a minute. In what will seem like a random and drastic change of subject, I want to tell you about an argument I got into recently with a friend.

[Hang in here with me – I promise there’s a method to my madness and I’ll come back to the other “Melissa is a jealous crazy woman” story in a minute.]

I was very involved and very stressed out by the last theatre performance I took part in. Not only was I an actor in the production, I was also the producer. It was my first time producing, and I had no idea what I was doing. On the night before opening night, things were still not ready – and I pretty much went off. Coming from my place as the producer, but also from my place as an actor and a perfectionist, I threw a fit over things not being ready as they should be. What started as a quiet, yet firm, talk with the director, turned into a frustrated yell fest with anyone who would listen. And one such person who not only listened, but participated, was someone who was a friend of mine. We both let out our frustrations by raising our voices. At one point, she started talking about something that was happening with her personal life and I retorted with, “I don’t care!”

Now, of course, I didn’t mean I don’t care at all. Or that I won’t care ever. What I meant was that I didn’t care at that moment because that’s not what was being discussed. But…as it goes sometimes…what I ‘meant’ doesn’t seem to matter. What I said did.

Cue the “breakup.”

I got deleted on Facebook. I got a gift to her returned to me. Etc.

Someone close to us told me that I hurt her deeply and this was the final straw for her with being involved in our theatre.

*sigh*

Okay. Here’s something that has always infuriated me…people playing the ‘victim.’ I mean, come on, people. If you have any interactions with people ever in your life – you’re going to get disappointed. You’re going to get hurt and you’re going to get mad. We’re all humans – we suck. But to let something someone else does affect you in such a deep way? To make you shut them out – to turn your back on your passions? To give them that much power?

How ridiculous!

Right??

Oh.

Wait a minute…

So. Back to the song.

There I sat this past weekend listening to my husband sing The Heart of the Matter. And though it has been over five years now since the first time I heard him sing it, there I was….still thinking those same old silly thoughts. (And incidentally – she was there listening too.  Yes, the she of our past. Right there in the gorgeous flesh. Small town, remember?  We still find ourselves in the same places at the same times, and probably always will…)

I’ve always been fascinated with the phenomenon that the things that irritate you the most about other people – tend to be things that you do yourself. Have you ever noticed that? It drives my husband nuts when people leave a room and don’t turn off the lights. And what does he do sometimes? Leaves rooms and doesn’t turn off the lights. He doesn’t even realize he does it! Really – think about it sometime. Think about something that really aggravates you that other people do, and then ask yourself honestly if you do it too. You might be surprised.

People playing the victim and making too much out of something has always infuriated me. Using some small thing as leverage to paint yourself in a victim light so that others see you as the “good guy” and the other one as the “bad guy” – when you know that’s not the case – drives me up a nut tree.

And yet…

What have I been doing? Exactly the same thing.

As all of this went through my head sitting there at that restaurant this past weekend, I had a brilliant discovery. I don’t want to be the victim anymore. Everyone in our situation has moved on. They moved on a long time ago. The only one still stuck in the past is myself.

The only person making me the victim…is me.

So, therefore, who would be the only person who could remove that victim cloak? You guessed it.  Also me.

The next time you find yourself the ‘victim’ of a situation, let this blog cross your mind. Ask yourself who really has the power to keep you there.

I’m betting it’s not who you think.

***

“What are all these voices outside love’s open door
Make us throw off our contentment and beg for something more?….
I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness…”

 

Crazy

cra·zy [ˈkrāzē]
  1. full of cracks or flaws

  2. not mentally sound – marked by thought or action that lacks reason

  3. distracted with desire or excitement; absurdly fond; passionately preoccupied

Once upon a time there was a girl who was batshit crazy. And that girl’s name was Melissa.

Granted, some days were crazier than others. But even on the days that didn’t seem so crazy, there was still plenty of crazy lying dormant. The crazy fountain never ran dry for that girl.

Never.

Oddly enough, though, she sort of owned it.

Even when people in her life called her condition to her attention (“Hey Melissa – you are CRAZY!”) or spread the news of her condition around to others (“Oh, there’s Melissa – that girl is CRAZY!”)  – she never really took it as an insult.  It seemed kind of silly to her really…why state the obvious? Did they think they were hurting her in some way? That they were telling her or others something that she/they didn’t already know? Something she should be ashamed of?

Finally, one day – one of her craziest by far – Melissa decided to figure out why being called crazy didn’t seem to bother her all that much. These people were going to so much trouble to hurt her with that word, that she thought the least she could do was look it up and attempt to find what they were trying so hard to convey with those five little letters.

Thanks to this new world of instant gratification via internet, Melissa quickly found Webster’s definition of the word. It was broken down into three separate definitions, so she decided to explore each.

1. Full of cracks or flaws.

The first definition was “full of cracks or flaws.” Well, duh! Melissa knew that already. Did anyone think she didn’t? She could list them all for everyone, but it didn’t really seem necessary. She was sure that most of hers probably matched most that everyone else had too – if they were honest with themselves. Melissa was definitely full of cracks – some she created herself and some others helped to chisel for her – and she was well-aware of her flaws. She was loud when it was time to be quiet; she never backed down from a fight (even when it was neither the time nor the place); and everything she needed to say, she said it, with no regard to taking a break to consider whether the words needed to wait until a better time. She figured in the grand scheme of things, compared to all of the good qualities she had about herself, if she had to have flaws (which she did – everyone did), then these weren’t all that bad to have. There definitely could be worse. And until she found the magic potion that made her perfect, she figured she’d just have to get used to these and embrace them. Which is exactly what she did. So, yeah, according to Webster, Melissa definitely fit the first definition of crazy. So, what was the big deal?

2. Not mentally sound – marked by thought or action that lacks reason.

Definition #2? Oh boy – she totally fit that one! As she had already observed with the first definition – one of those flaws was not thinking before she speaks. When it crosses her brain, it slips straight out of her mouth. If she’d take the time to think or reason as the definition implies, she’d probably be a little more “mentally sound.” But good grief – who is mentally sound? She didn’t know anyone in her life that was – why should she be? Her mental processes were all over the place. Especially in the heat of the moment. Sure, there were times that she said things she wished she could take back, or found herself in situations that her emotions had led her to rather than allowing her “sound mind” to lead the way – but didn’t everyone? Melissa was pretty aware of herself (she’d had 38 years to get to know her by that point) so nothing in definition #2 was a shock to her. She still couldn’t find the insult that the people were trying so hard to aim at her. Having no luck thus far, she felt the answer had to lie somewhere within the third definition.  She owed it to the naysayers to at least try, and maybe this would be answer.

3. Distracted with desire or excitement; absurdly fond; passionately preoccupied.

Oh man. Really?! They think this is an insult? Of course she was distracted with desire or excitement – about a lot of things!  She had taken a long time to finally find herself and become who she knew she was. Part of that process involved finding the things that brought about the feelings of desire and excitement. She had done that on purpose! Not only did this not insult her, she was proud of it! Being “absurdly fond”? “Passionately preoccupied”? YES! Of course she was!  And it was marvelous. After so many years of negativity and roadblocks, she had finally learned to navigate the rough waters and row towards the things that brought her this profound feeling of “fondness” and “preoccupation.” She was thrilled about that! Some people never find anything that makes them feel that way – and she had found many. Books! Art! Theatre! Running! Writing! There were so many things that got her juices flowing and kicked her passion into high gear.

That was the definition of crazy? Well, hell yeah, she was crazy!

Finding herself exhausted of definitions of that silly little word, she sat back and contemplated the meaning of it all. Something people were calling her as an insult, was actually a compliment to her!  Isn’t it odd how just throwing a negative attitude behind a word can make someone think it means something completely different? Words have so much power, but we get to decide what that power is. See? Someone calls us something and they think they’re going to hurt us, but we can turn that around and actually strengthen ourselves with it.

Was Melissa crazy? Of course she was! And she was proud of that. A life lived any other way would be boring and passionless and there was no way she was going to let herself fall back into that rut again. She had lived that life once and promised herself she’d never return to it. She tried “crazy-less” for years. Sure, no one called her “crazy,” (no need to when she was doing whatever they wanted), but oh she was so miserable! She lived her life the way others expected her to and never stood up for herself or her beliefs. It was a calm existence, but boy was it lonely. She felt dead inside.

And that sure was no way to live.

So, that was that. Bless her heart, she tried. She tried to give the naysayers what they wanted and allow their words to sting from their intended venom. But in the end, she just couldn’t. She got to decide who and what she was – no one else did. She was even a little proud of the fact that they had noticed who she had become. A fearless woman who stood her ground and would not back down from her truth. She only gets one life to live, why not make it an authentic one?

So, with that, Crazy Melissa curled into bed with the novel she had just started, pulled the covers up to her chin, and began to read – escaping into the world where other crazies lived and loved and worked and played. Sighing with contentment as her eyes started drooping from the strain of the words, she slipped in her bookmark, set the book on her nightstand, switched off her lamp, and buried down deep into the covers and allowed herself to drift off into the land of sleep. She knew she’d need it.

Tomorrow was a whole new day – and she intended to let her crazy light shine.

***

“You have to go on and be crazy. Crazy is like Heaven.”
– Jimi Hendrix

crazy

The Transformative Power of Theatre – A Patron’s Perspective

“To enter a theatre for a performance is to be inducted into a magical space, to be ushered into the sacred arena of the imagination.”
– Simon Callow

I had to take some time to share an audience member’s thoughts after watching our latest performance of Proof by David Auburn at our little theatre in Ashe County, North Carolina.  If you’ve ever been a part of the theatre in any fashion — or even if you’ve ever found yourself sitting in an audience — these words are for you.  We are all storytellers, each and every one of us.

Thank you, David, for these magical words.

Ashe County Little Theatre’s Proof by David Auburn / Photo by: Bobbi Jo Scott

ASHE COUNTY LITTLE THEATER
by David Desautels

Since seeing the most excellent latest production by the Ashe County Little Theater on opening night this past Friday, I’ve been wondering about why I like going to plays so much.

Growing up in our household money was scarce. But we always had books. And books meant travel, if only in my mind.

My mother and I journeyed down the Mighty Mississippi River visiting Tom Sawyer and even stopping by Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A bout of strep throat and missing school for a week set me on my journey without even leaving my Jefferson bedroom.

I remember begging Mom to read “just one more chapter” and next thing you know I was in Missouri with an eye on Tom conning his buddies into whitewashing a fence.

She read to me after a long day at work and fixing dinner for the remaining four (of seven) kids. She read till she could hardly talk, her voice barely above a whisper at times.

Her reading to me was the highlight of my day. That is until she suggested that, while she was gone, I might pick up the book myself.

I did. And that led to a lifetime of adventure. Marco Polo took me along with him from Italy to China. George Washington let me take a swing at the cherry tree with his axe. Zane Grey allowed me to shoot up the Old West.

Helen Keller won me over with her triumph over tragedy. Abe Lincoln encouraged me to keep the kerosene lantern burning. And George Washington Carver elevated the lowly peanut to a place of honor practically making it an obligation to eat peanut butter.

Louis Pasteur made milk drinkable. Henry Mortin Stanley’s “Dr. Livingston I presume” made Africa accessible. And Thomas Edison made discoveries believable.

Which leads me back to the Ashe County Little Theater by way of The Parkway Theatre. A 6th grade outing there to see Gone With the Wind made Margaret Mitchell’s classic come to life in full color.

Friday night at the play I, once again, traveled to another place. I do it with books, movies and, especially, plays. For two hours my normal world stands still and I am in an alternate reality.

I BECAME THE CHARACTERS. ALL OF THEM.

Over the years, our Little Theater has taken me places.
All with ordinary people putting in extraordinary performances.

I’ve seen a pharmacist become a lawyer. A teacher become a Steel Magnolia. A radio repairman become a radio announcer. A paralegal become a director.

Ordinary people–a shopkeeper conducting an orchestra, a local funny guy putting on a robe and being a judge, a kid becoming an Orphan. A barista becoming transformed into a math wiz.

Local people giving their talents as set designers, ticket takers, actors, sound and lighting wizards.

And, to my knowledge, not a single one of them makes a penny for their efforts.

But that’s not to say they don’t get paid. Their currency is the applause they receive from folks like me who, for a couple of hours, travel the world without ever leaving our precious county.

Thanks Ashe County Little Theater for your decades of tireless and selfless giving.

***

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
– Chinese Proverb

 

Proof

“Of course we all come to the theatre with baggage. The baggage of our daily lives, the baggage of our problems, the baggage of our tragedies, the baggage of being tired. It doesn’t matter what age you are. But if our hearts get opened and released — well that is what theatre can do, and does sometimes, and everyone is thankful when that happens.”
– Vanessa Redgrave

Tonight is Ashe County Little Theatre’s opening night of PROOF by David Auburn. I’m the director.

The director.

As someone who has only chosen to be on the stage for 30+ years, this is the first time that I’ve truly seen the “other side” of theatre. I’ve been a part of this process from the very beginning – from the very first day as I sat all curled up on my couch in my pajamas reading this random script that I had found at Goodwill.  (Yes! Goodwill!)  I’m not generally a “script reader.” But this one caught my attention – not only because I found it at Goodwill (I mean, seriously – who finds a theatre script at Goodwill!?), but because of the content. It was amazing. It was funny, dramatic, romantic, sad….real. I was hooked.

I remember gasping during one part and my husband looking over at me asking if I was okay. I looked up at him and my only response was, “I have to direct this show.”  Not, I want to be in this show.  But I want to direct it. I had never directed anything before. But I knew now was the time.

And here I am a few years later. After months of worrying, laughing, crying, rehearsing, rehearsing, and more rehearsing, I will have the privilege and honor of watching my beautiful cast make this story come to life tonight at the Ashe Civic Center.

Photo by Troy Brooks of Ashe Mountain Times

I want you to take a look at this group of people here to your right. These people (including a few more who aren’t pictured) have become my family. While struggling to bring you, the audience, a story about love, life, loss and moving on, each and every one you see sitting on that stage has been going through the exact same things in their personal lives. Bringing you a little two-hour production is not easy. Each of us are real people – we have lives off of the stage. And if you can name it, someone on that stage has probably experienced it in the past few months. Marital problems, job losses, family trouble…even the death of family members (two of us lost our grandmothers and one of us lost our mother, just in the eight weeks of rehearsals for this show). So much life has been happening to us behind the scenes.

But has that stopped us?  Nope.

The love of theatre – the love of art itself – is a hard thing to describe. You know the saying, the show must go on? Well, it must. It’s a pull in our souls that we can’t explain. We have to tell you this story. We just have to. All of us. From the director, to the volunteers who are moving the set around in between scenes – each and every one of us knows that we have to play our part in bringing you this story. Why? Heck, we don’t know. We just know it has to be told. And nothing will stop us from telling it.

I hope you’ll find a way to come see our show. We have poured our heart and soul into telling you a story, and we want you to come hear it. We want you to find yourself in this show – whether it be remembering what a first love felt like, remembering the tragedy of a loss, or finding confidence in yourself to pursue the dreams you know you’re capable of – you are going to see a piece of you in one or more of these characters.

This is theatre.  We have all felt what each other has felt, and we are going to get up on a stage and show you that. You are not alone. None of us are.

Come join our family this weekend, won’t you?

Allow me to leave you with the perfect words to describe our show and why you should be there. This is from one of the four stars of Proof: my dear friend, Ike Smith.

“Proof is a thoughtful, compelling story that at its root is about relationships: parent/child, sibling/sibling, and romantic. It’s about how people connect — or disconnect — when life becomes unexpected and uncertain. It’s about how we deal with conflict, both internal and external.

Is PROOF a comedy? Maybe, -ish. Is it a drama? Sort of. Sometimes it’s funny, and sometimes it’s serious, and that’s life. PROOF is real.

David Auburn wrote a great story, and we’ve got a great cast and crew to tell it for you. If you can, please join us. You won’t regret it.”

See you tonight!


***

“The theater-goer in conventional dramatic theater says: Yes, I’ve felt that way, too. That’s the way I am. That’s life. That’s the way it will always be. The suffering of this or that person grips me because there is no escape for him. That’s great art — Everything is self-evident. I am made to cry with those who cry, and laugh with those who laugh.”
– Bertolt Brecht

All show rehearsal photos by Bobbi Jo Scott, Producer.