Sunday, September 14, 2014

Building a boat

What I like most about a quiet little drama, such as "The Boatwright" at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, is that it starts the wheels turning in your head. Days later, I find myself thinking about ideas the play has planted.

Written by Virginia playwright Bo Wilson, the script won a national play writing contest sponsored by the American Association of Community Theatres and is receiving its world premier production this month at Civic. It's the story of a retired widower who combats loneliness by building a boat in his garage.

It sounds like a ridiculous project for someone in the middle of Kansas with practically no sailing experience. But it got me thinking about the "boats" all of us build as a means of coping. One person might take up golf.  Someone else might plant a garden. I usually take on more projects than I can possibly accomplish. Like buying a pottery wheel and turning out bowls and mugs for Christmas presents. Or getting a dulcimer and never taking time to practice. Or writing a series of mysteries. Ah, yes. That's like building a yacht.

Is building a boat -- or whatever project a person chooses -- a healthy coping mechanism? Or is it "tilting at windmills" like Don Quixote?  Does the way we spend our time need to be logical? Should our hours be meted out to activities that will accomplish the most good, be that financial gain or health improvement or world reform? Or is it okay to build a boat that will never make it out of the garage? And who decides what's okay and what's a waste of our precious time?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mooning over the Moon

Isn't the moon beautiful tonight? Thin wisps of clouds streak across the face, like a bridal veil. Oh, yes, this is a lady moon. Peeking through shyly. You can only imagine the beauty, the shape, with the edges blurred by clouds. And then all and once the clouds part. She is beaming boldly, round and full. A woman, unafraid. Disarming. Dangerous.
     Tonight is the romantic moon poets write about, not that insidious evil moon that drives people to do crazy things. That beckons the werewolf out of hiding. That bedevils emergency rooms and  police dispatchers. Not the kind of moon I wrote about in Full Moon Friday. No, not this moon. Surely not this moon.
      And yet, here am I.  Sitting on the deck admiring the moon. Wishing I had some wine in the house to open. Forgetting the cookies in the oven. It's just so beautiful. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Are you listening?

           "Don't hang up! This may be the most important call of your life!"
             I'll bet most of you have received a recorded call that began just like that. But was anyone listening beyond that point?  Anybody?
             I don't think so. Most of us can barely be polite to telemarketers. And if a recording is calling, we don't have to be polite. We can't hang up fast enough.
           I can't imagine anyone actually listens to a recorded call. And if you did, would you actually purchase a product that was advertised in such an irritating manner? Would you actually vote for a candidate who had such low regard for your intelligence that he/she would invade your personal phone with a recording? . I doubt it.
            Which begs the question: Why do so many marketers use recorded phone calls? Sure they are cheap, but if no one listens to them, why bother? Somebody must be listening. Marketers must have some statistic that shows some degree of effectiveness. Not only is somebody listening, somebody is taking the desired action.
         Okay, fess up! Which one of you is actually listening to recorded phone messages? Did one of you actually buy a product advertised on a recorded phone call? Did somebody actually vote for a candidate who insulted you with a recorded message?
         Step forward, whoever you are. Explain yourself!
         Oh, I know we are supposed to be able to avoid nuisance calls by signing up on a do not call list. Maybe I should give it a try. But I tend not to trust such lists any more than I trust recorded phone messages.
          What I want to know is : Who is listening and why?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Show off what you're reading

           Summertime and the reading is ...public!
           That's right. Whether you are on a jet plane headed to Europe or lying on a sandy beach in Pentwater, Mi., chances are good you've got your nose in a book. And holding in front of your face the best advertisement any author can get.
           Nothing like a satisfied customer to attract new readers. Haven't you ever noticed what the stranger next to you is reading? If you ask, they'll definitely give you an honest opinion and the next thing you know, it's on your reading list. Isn't that right?
           A few weeks after Full Moon Friday was released in June, I had to get some work done on my car. Two hours of work. I took a copy of Full Moon Friday. Of course, I didn't need to read my own book so I tucked another novel inside the cover -- a trick I learned back in high school when I wanted to read fiction instead of chemistry.  While I waited in the service center and a nearby McDonalds, dozens of people passed by. No one stopped to ask about the book, but they saw what I was reading.
          My good friend Cheryl Currier had her picture taken reading my previous book, One Shoe Off, and used it for her Facebook profile for a couple of years. She got all sorts of comments.
          I hope you are headed someplace a lot more fun than the dentist's office or the automobile service center. But wherever you're going, I invite you to take along a copy of Full Moon Friday, or One Shoe Off or Great News Town. Read my books in public!  Money can't buy better advertisement.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Rocky Road Reject

      Rocky Road is my favorite ice cream flavor. But when it comes to the paths of life, I prefer to avoid rocky roads. That's what I learned about myself at a week-long hiking camp in the Adirondack Mountains. The "adventure" scheduled four hikes but I only made it through two.
     I know discomfort and danger are practically part of the definition of "adventure." I was expecting the week to be challenging. I knew each day's hike would climb the elevation equivalent of walking up the stairs of the Sears Tower. I expected to be out of breath. I purchased hiking poles and a hydrating backpack to help me make it. I prepared for months ahead of time replacing my usual 1-mile daily saunter through the neighborhood with a 3-mile hilly hike at a nearby park. But I didn't realize i should have included a month of training on a military obstacle course.
     The "trail" on both the mountains I climbed was more like a rocky creek bed. I don't mean an occasional rocky patch in a winding trail. I mean half-mile, uninterruped obstacle courses of rocks, rocks and more rocks. Boulders! Patches of normal "trail" in the traditional meaning of the word were the exception.
        I've done some hiking before. I spent a week on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park and walked many steep and winding roads to awesome vistas. But I have never come across stoney stumbling blocks anything like those I encountered in the Adirondacks. 
       Now, I must admit that most of the 24 people in our group handled the rocky road very well. My friend Mary Kay and I were the stragglers. Hikers that were older than us, or heavier, or less experienced passed us by. The more experienced hikers used the rocks like stepping stones, gliding along as gracefully as gazelles. Blame my short legs or my shortsightedness, but I couldn't perceive a possible path in the stumble jumble of rocks. Those stones crushed any bit of fun or satisfaction in my efforts.
        The trip wasn't a total waste from my perspective. I met some nice people. I will keep that 3-mile hilly hike at a local park as part of my regular routine. The equipment I purchased will come in handy  on other hikes I'll take on more navigable terrain. But I won't be returning to the Adirondacks and I won't apologize. I admire those who have accepted the challenge and  enjoy those trails, but I don't envy them.
         You see, the rocky road didn't reject me, I reject the rocky road. I have other ways I prefer to spend my time, other hills to climb. It's one of the advantages to living 65 years. I no longer feel like I'm a failure if I don't enjoy what others enjoy.
         Make this my sermon on the mount: Blessed are they that climb for they will know the satisfaction of the summit. Blessed also are they that decline for they will discover other stars that shine.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Beer for my horses

Thursday night's triple-header concert at Interlochen --with country legend Willie Nelson, Grammy record holder Alison Krauss and Union Station, and rising star Jason Isbell -- was more than we could have hoped. It will probably go down in my memory book as one of the best shows I ever attended. It was as if we had ordered "Whiskey for my Men" and the bartender threw in "Beer for my Horses."

That's the way Willie did his set, singing half the lyrics and waiting for the crowd to fill in the rest. And they did, gladly. At 81, Willie's voice isn't as strong as we fondly remember. He talks more than sings, and not always in rhythm. But his guitar chords make up for any failing in the vocal chords.He blended one hit into the next for a continuous retrospective of his bountiful repertoire.

Alison Krauss and Union Station were in rare form, full of playful quips about each other and the best, most beautiful bluegrass ever, with plenty of clear harmonies and no nasal tones in the bunch. Jason Isbell opened the evening with a selection of his songs, all new but tunefully done, with enough bass to make the speakers reverberate.

The weather was wonderful, cool enough to be comfortable. My only regret is that I had allowed my phone to run out of power so I wasn't able to shoot any photos from our second-row seat. And I'm also regretting that I may never get another chance to see Willie perform. Here's to you, Willie! Thanks for another memorable concert!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Laughing overtime

        What a rough life.
         Wednesday morning I reviewed a new children's show, "The Doll People" at Hope Rep. It's brand new, written and directed by Jahnna Beecham. It's such fun to be on the  ground floor of a good show. I can imagine this  being picked up by all the local theaters. It's fast-paced with some catchy music. I loved the ensemble doing hand jive in a circle on one number. And I really loved the pacing at the climax. Every little kid in the room was looking at those scary cats eyes. But no one was crying. They were too caught up in the story and song. Very well done.
           Then Thursday night I went to Circle Theatre to review "One Man, Two Guvnors." A real tour de force for that One Man...Dylan Harris. Quite a role. He's running around in circles and talking out of both sides of his mouth. Very funny. And so were many other performers.Old man's walking too slow? Just turn up his pacemaker. Hilarious!
           On Friday night it was back to Holland to review "Hot Mikado."  Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta has been adapted to '40s fashions and music, with big band horns, jitterbug, tap dancing and Zoot suits. What fun! The music and dance is so startling that I almost forgot the real humor Gilbert packed into his illogical stories. Making flirting a capital offense! What a crazy idea. And having a Pooh-Bah with all the government titles rolled into one...he makes the laws, enforces the laws, judges the guilt, investigates the crime, ... no disagreements. It's so ridiculously funny.
           This is what I call "Laughing for a Living." Three days in a row. Getting paid to have a great time. And I'm supposed to be retired.
           Tomorrow, I'm headed to Chicago to see the final performance of "The Last Ship," a new musical by British pop rocker Sting. It will open on Broadway in the fall.  I'm not getting paid to see this one. I'll have to buy my ticket, pay for my trip. I'll leave the house about 7:30  in the morning and not get home until 11:30 at night. But a chance to see a new show before it goes to Broadway? Wouldn't miss it for the world.
             It's a rough life, but somebody has to do it!

            P.S. Sting surprised us -- not only by creating a moving stage musical "The Last Ship" but also by showing up at curtain call and singing the title song! Loved the show. More Celtic than rock. Perhaps too dreary for Broadway but says a lot about the relationships between fathers and sons, and a broader statement about workers vs. industry. Maybe because I'm seeing my own life's work on stormy seas now, I can relate to the end of an industry.