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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Waiting Games

Pop quiz:

Q: What takes forever no matter how short it's supposed to be?

A: Waiting.

It's part of life, and it's everywhere, and of course in some countries much, much worse than others. The lines in Eastern European countries like Poland and Russia, for example, are said to be legendarily long.

But there are other ways of waiting that don't involve lines, and they drive us crazy, too. Waiting for a test to come back from the doctor. Waiting for someone you like to call you or respond to a call or text. Waiting on a job offer, or to find out whether you got into a college or not.

How do YOU deal with waiting? I was always better at giving my son advice about it than at doing it myself. Because waiting is awful, no matter what your situation may be.

You can tell yourself (or your kid) to be patient, that a watched pot never boils, think of something else, all that good stuff... but in the end, your question still hangs in your mind and you have to deal with your anxiety/anger/impatience all the same.

Waiting is the last thing most of us want to do, yet we spend a ton of time doing it.

The only possible, sort of solution I've come up with is to think of what you'll do if you don't get what you're waiting for.

But then, impatience was always my strong suit.

 If you have any ideas, please! I'll be waiting to hear from you.

Child and dog waiting: Valentina Powers

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Sick Child Plus Working Parent Should Not = Panic

The first time my son got sick he was barely a few months old, and it threw me into a panic. My curious, active, babbling infant was listless, feverish and clearly uncomfortable. Of course, it was a weekend, so our pediatrician's office wasn't open. I had no idea what to do.

I ended up calling a friend who was kind enough to accompany me to urgent care. The nurses and doctor were great, explaining that my son had a mild flu and just needed rest and fluids. I didn't know it then, but this first flu was actually the first of several childhood illnesses we'd encounter together.

As any mother will tell you, childhood illnesses are no fun, but they do get easier when you learn to navigate them. It's best if you can expect them, but we very rarely do, especially if we're working. I was lucky in a lot of ways, because I pretty much got to be a stay-at-home mother until my son was three and a half and his dad and I divorced. At that point I went to work part time and had a very understanding boss.

Which brings me to the dilemma of what parents do when they don't have support at work or help from relatives and their kids get sick. I feel like we've been punting too long about this issue and need to have more than just "Paid Time Off" for parents who have to tend to their children's illnesses. Chicken pox, measles and other childhood diseases often last at least a week, and sometimes the flu does, too. We need to give parents the time to take care of their children.

This doesn't even touch the dilemmas faced by parents whose children have chronic illnesses and who are therefore severely limited in their choices for work and just about everything. Talk about heroes. Talk about ignored.

What I learned when I went back to work was that I had to build a support system of people I truly trusted, so when my son was ill, I had some help. I did not have parents or siblings nearby who could be there, but I did find some really amazing people - friends and professionals -- who got me and my kid through illnesses when I had to travel or work.

One thing I found comforting was knowing there was a child care group that looked after sick children that wasn't too far from our neighborhood. (I think it was called Chicken Soup or something like that). I never used it, but just being aware it was around always made me panic less when my son came down with something.

Meanwhile, I started out by looking for help at a college just a few blocks from our house. My son's father also found someone who loved children and was absolutely amazing with them, and I can honestly say I don't know what I would have done without her.

Because there are times when you have to work, and when your kid is ill, and you are absolutely dependent on people who are not related to you. So if I have any advice, it is to start looking for them as soon as your child is born (or maybe even before that)?

Because, trust me, those childhood illnesses will come. And you want to be ready for them.

Here's what I found on this topic that might be interesting, too:

How to Handle Work When Your Child is Sick

The Working Parent's Guide to Dealing with Sick Kids

How to Juggle Work and a Sick Child

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Chickens for a City Mouse

Today I want to tell you about my block--or street, or whatever you call it. My house is about in the middle, so I have a good vantage point looking at either side.

One side is "city" or at least "city-like," with a gas station, chiropractic office, ski store and other businesses lining the street perpendicular to ours. I do love having the chiropractic/massage office, which looks like a large log cabin with a fireplace. I especially appreciate being able to walk there at the end of a writing day when my back is all kinked up -- and be able to get unkinked.

The other side is somehow rural -- and yes, maybe that's a stretch. It's mostly houses, and they're fairly close together for the most part, so maybe rural isn't the right word. But what countrifies it is the chickens - as you can see, there are lots of them -- either penned or walking around the yard of our neighbor on this corner.

The chicken spill out sometimes onto the road when I am driving to or from my tiny garage into the alleyway, and I wait for them. Brown or white (never both), roosters and hens, they seem happy to roam around and check out the neighborhood. I like them, and I love watching them.

I think my neighbors eat them, and that kind of makes me sad, though I have no standing, because I buy and eat store-bought chicken. But still.

As a child I couldn't decide if I wanted to live in the city or the country, and our one-hundred-and-three-year-old house in the middle of this particular block seems to know that, somehow. I live on the edge of a bigger city, but my little burg is only 6 blocks long and 6 blocks wide, and I actually know the people who work at city hall. That's something I never expected when I moved to the Midwest from New York City.

There are days when I really want to leave the neighborhood for more space and a more rural area. There are other days when I love being in the center of the city, and can't imagine not being able to walk to a bookstore or a restaurant.

Something about the chickens, though.

I know lots of people have them in urban settings, and always have, and that just having chickens in your neighborhood doesn't make it a rural one. But it just feels that way, probably because at heart I will always be more of a city mouse.

Then again, who knows? Maybe living with more space around my house is still in the cards for me. At this point, though, I'm still in the middle. And that's OK.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Smack, Punch, Slap: What the Movies Can't Teach About Reality

Something I realized watching TV last night: people are always hauling off and hitting each other.

Bar fights, food fights, country, city, fights between women, women and men and of course tons of fights between men happen in almost everything we see. They happen in movies, too.

So, yes, Virginia, you are likely saying, you only just noticed this?

Yes and no.

No, because I realize how violent most shows are (even for kids) and grew up seeing violence in movies. Yes, I'm just realizing it because I was ignoring it for so long.

But why, you ask, are you mentioning it now?

The other day I was thinking how easy it is to accept the violence we're seeing every day is normal. But would you seriously hit a co-worker (and knock him down, no less) because he said something that bugged you?

And suppose you do decide to hit that co-worker. Won't there be consequences?

I promise you there will, especially in today's easy-to-sue climate. So is just telling your kids not to hit someone enough?

(Ah, now, she's finally getting to the point).

No it's not, but how do you explain it? I would start by talking about the difference between story, which thrives on conflict, and reality, which eats conflicts and regurgitates them in your face. I just think it's important to talk with kids about this stuff, just as you would when reading a story about a child who meets a stranger in the park and starts talking to him. (And yes, there are still such stories).

Stories will show people doing all sorts of things that don't seem to net many consequences. If there are consequences, chances are they won't happen to everyone, and often not to the "hero" in the story.

Reality, on the other hand, shows us there are often no heroes and LOTS of consequences. So it's wise to keep practicing words with your kids that can be used to reply people who are annoying you. And if some kind of physical outlet is needed, using sports (including boxing) is a good idea too, as long as you can separate the sport from everyday reality too.

Another interesting exercise is to choreograph a fight with your child -- just to show him or her what professional actors and directors have to do to make something look real. I wish my dad or someone had showed me how to fake a fight, because it would have given me a whole new perspective without the preachy tones of "Don't hit. Don't fight."

Would have made a lot more sense, too, in creating a gulf between what we see on the screen and what we actually experience.

For more information on talking to kids about violence on the big and small screens, start here:

How to Talk to Kids About Violence
5 Ways to Talk to Your Child About Violence
Empathy: Teaching Kids to Value Others

Fighting boy: Phillipe Put

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Goethe's Window

This week, I left behind much of the news cycle. I was in Door County, Wisconsin, working on a new musical I am writing which is being developed at Northern Sky Theater. I was on the computer every day, it was mostly to write new lyrics or dialogue.

What a wonderful week. I met people I hadn't known before, connected with people I knew and overall got disconnected from whatever chatter was going on in cyberspace. After a day, I stopped checking my emails and facebook and started seeing what was around me.

I was also fortunate to have a ride to Green Bay Airport from a man whose daughter in law works at Northern Sky. He lives in the county and built a wall (pictures here) on his land. He laid each stone and the archway - and showed it to me before we left.

He said building the wall was therapy in difficult times. I could only think that no matter what kind of times I was living through, I could never build anything half so beautiful. I also thought about growing up in a suburb of New York, and how I always wanted to live either right in the city or out in the country.

Door County would fit the bill. Perfectly.

I just had to share a little bit of that with you, because (a) I didn't have much time to prepare anything in particular for you this week and (b) there really is something about land, sky, trees and writing. I think Goethe said one must always write looking out a window, and never facing away from the world.

I'm not facing the window in my workroom and even if I did, it looks out on the wall of the house next door.

I've just got to fix that. Soon.

Friday, October 13, 2017

My Green Dress: Changing the Story

I was wearing a green dress. You know this.

It was a mini-dress and zipped up in the back. It had long sleeves and a scoop neck.

This is a story you know.

I was in an apartment in New York City, because depending on where you are, auditions are sometimes held in people's apartments or hotel rooms. I was 23 years old and the producers conducting the audition offered me some wine.

I accepted, trying to be what I thought was adult. We talked a while about the film they were trying to make, or hoping to make, and the kind of character they were looking for.

About half an hour later, I was lying in bed with one of the producers. I had started to feel sick and he brought me to the bed and got me into it. After a little while, I realized he was unzipping my dress.

It took every ounce of strength I had to get out of that bed and get out of there. Whatever was in the wine they gave me made me feel pretty dizzy, but I realized it was either get out or get assaulted, one way or another.

I was lucky. I got out of the door and into the elevator without throwing up and took a taxi to a friend's place. I was also lucky my friend was home.

You know this story because you have lived it, or lived something like it, or you know someone who has. This is only ONE of my stories. I'm sure you know that too, because the entertainment business if full of stories just like this one.

Of course, sexual assault is everywhere and can happen to anyone. But I think the entertainment industry deserves its own special star of distinction for this.

I started out in my career as an actor, and then became a playwright. Part of the reason I did that is because I love writing, and part of the reason is that I wanted to write more interesting roles for women than what I was seeing. And then there is the other reason, which is that I didn't want to be seen anymore as someone's piece of meat.

For nearly two weeks, we have been learning about the predatory habits of one of the most powerful producers in the business--Harvey Weinstein. Celebrities who have mostly been harassed before they became famous are coming forward to say they too have experienced sexual assaults. Our business is sick, and unfortunately, it has gone on for years and years and years--for as long as I can remember.

This is our story, and it belongs to every man and every woman and every child in this business. While woman are the majority of people who are harassed, men are too. Both men and women who experience sexual abuse are often under the age of consent.

If there is a silver lining, it is that young people are speaking up more than anyone has before. When I started working in this profession, I was told there were a lot of predatory people and I had to figure out how to deal with it.

Somehow or other, it was made clear to me that I was on my own if someone was hitting on me. And that's what I believed, and why I was scared for many years just going to auditions. Because people like Harvey Weinstein are not isolated figures. They are everywhere, and entertainment is one of the worst platforms for sexual abuse that I have ever seen.

It is institutionalized. It is rationalized. It is encouraged. Sometimes it is even applauded. Sexism is part of the industry's culture in ways no other profession would tolerate. Example: in casting auditions for the film Dangerous Beauty, women were asked to bare their breasts to determine if they could be selected. I know about this because I read an article in which the film's director talked about how his producers told him to check out each woman's chest before hiring them.

And that's just what we see publicly. The other stuff--groping, drugging, assaulting and raping--goes on behind the scenes all the time.

This is a story we all know, and it is a story we all have known for quite some time. I am not talking years; I am talking generations. I am relieved and pleased and even thrilled that a new generation is saying, "Enough! We want no part of this!"

Actors, hairdressers, makeup artists, technicians, stage managers, playwrights, singers, directors,  screenplay writers and all the talented people who make up this industry  deserve to be treated with dignity. The fact that we have to fight for it as hard as we do is appalling.

But as a playwright who is frequently rewriting,  I can promise you that it's never too late to change the story. If we continue to speak up, we may be able to revise this narrative and create a less dangerous, less humiliating environment for people in our profession.

My thanks also go out to the parents who are teaching their kids to stand up when they see injustice and protest. You did it.

Raised 'em right.

Green dress photo:  Alexandra_s93

Saturday, October 7, 2017

House Adventures: an anniversary tale

This week, I'm celebrating two special occasions: my wedding anniversary and the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, (pronounced Sue-Coat), which means booths and commemorates the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years.

During this holiday, you are supposed to put up a sukkah (booth), (pronounced Sue-Kah), which is a VERY impermanent structure with a roof made of branches and leaves. The idea is to spend as much of your time as possible inside--eating meals there and even sleeping in the sukkah if you can.

The two interesting things about this (to me, anyway) are that my husband is not Jewish - I was originally married to a Jewish man and we have a son together - but my husband Pete jumped in anyway to build a sukkah with us, which always meant a lot to me (and still does).

In a way, the first one I put up with Pete was our first house, because we were living in a rental for the first couple of years of our marriage. This year, we are having HOUSE ADVENTURES, which haven't been great ones, to tell you the truth.

We are now in the process of being reluctant renovators, and praying and hoping our renovation goes well. (You know you're in trouble when big men are coming into your house to do big things.)

At the moment, though, I am a bit nostalgic for those good old, easy-peasy rental days. And in that spirit I'm sharing the blog post I wrote about our first sukkah house, built on a rainy night in October, because it makes me realize (yet again) how happy and how lucky I feel to be married to this wonderful guy.

I wrote this blog for TC Jewfolk, and hope you'll visit the site as there are lots of great writers there. Here's my story, if you're up for it.