Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Family resemblances

Last week I went to a festival where I didn't perform. Not even a storytelling festival: the William Inge Theatre Festival in Independence, KS, home of the late playwright William Inge.

My sister Mary and our friend Joyce Slater went down for a specific reason: we wanted to meet the featured playwright, Tina Howe and see her current work-in-process, "Luncheon on the grass." The reading was great--I can't wait to see the play when it's done! Tina is our second cousin (our grandfathers were brothers), but we'd never met. Our extended family is huge, so that's not uncommon. It was big fun to meet Tina, even briefly.

Every time I meet a long-lost relative, I'm amazed at the power of our genes and our family culture. We look related! On this side of the family, many of us have this big rectangular smile and deepset eyes. On the other side, we look Dutch. The resemblances transcend the physical. We often seem to have a similar outlook on life, similar sense of humor, similar ways of speaking. In our family, on both sides, literature and arts are valued. Many of us dwell in the impractical world of ideas. We're able to make our livings, and our lives, from those ideas. Daydreaming is in our job descriptions.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Prairie fires, miniatures, misc.

Last week I had a treat: I drove out to McPherson, KS to tell stories at the library, and on the trip I got to see the fields burning. They do this on purpose to promote growth, to simulate the fires started by lightning. Best of all, I drove back in the dark and could see the lines of orange flame stretching for miles. The car smelled just like Girl Scout camp. I love watching these fires. Back in 1994, I drove home from Topeka on a back road. One of the fires had come down into the ditch by the road.

I just found a site for Flint Hills Adventures, a company that takes people out to "range burning parties." Could be interesting.

Then on Saturday, I had another treat: I told stories at the Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City. They have storytellers there every Saturday, booked through the River and Prairie Storyweavers, the local storytelling guild. It's not much pay, but the museum is incredibly fun. Room after room of toys, games and miniatures, all laid out wonderfully. There's a temporary exhibit of boat models, fancy square riggers. I went through an entire room of Russian laquer boxes. I looked at all the peep shows (nothing risque that I noticed). There's a big new exhibit of marbles of every type and description. My favorite part in that room was a three-sided Rube Goldberg contraption/sculpture involving marbles, pulleys, ramps, bells, hoists and gravity. Very fun!

The performance was small, appropriately for the Miniature Museum. That is, I had only four children: a three-year-old, a two-year-old and twin babies. There were also five adults. I think they had a good time with the gentle stories for tinies. The babies gave me lovely gummy smiles from time to time. I learned early on as a storyteller not to mind if I had a small audience, or none at all, especially in a library or museum. You never know who will turn up.

I loved examining the miniatures. Tiny, tiny furnishings for houses, complete with petit (extremement petit) point embroidery, eensy little apples in a bowl, a display of weapons designed to slay the largest beetle. My friend Chris, who came along for the ride, found out that in the true miniatures, all mechanical items work, as the miniature camera does. I'm fairly sure that the printing press was functional, though I couldn't read the print it produced.

These miniatures reminded me of a book a friend recommended: Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Corrine May Botz. It's about the dollhouses created by Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy woman in Chicago in the 1940s who had a fascination for crime and investigation. She made dollhouses of crime scenes specifically to train investigators. These dollhouses included all details, including bloodstains and overturned chairs. Creepy and fascinating. Bruce Goldfarb wrote an article about this in 1992 in American Medical News.

Back to the museum. I didn't get to all the rooms. I know I missed the dolls, the trains, most of the games, the teddy bears. I missed some of the dollhouses. I'm planning to go back, possibly many times, just to take it all in.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Driving, driving, driving

I did the last three of the Kansas library system workshops last week, in Russell, Wichita and Iola, KS. Big fun, as I'd expected. Lots of driving, as I also expected.

As I drove to Russell, I could see a thunderstorm coming in from the Southwest. It's not like Vermont, where I grew up and where the mountains create a more immediate horizon. In Kansas sometimes you can see a storm coming for miles and then THWACK! it hits the windshield. Good thing, too, because my car was filthy with road dust and needed a good wash. No hail, whew. I got to Russell just after the storm began, and was able to get into the hotel without getting too wet.

Usually I listen to NPR (especially the talk shows) or books on tape when I drive. This helps me concentrate on the road. A librarian at the workshop on Friday mentioned that ADD kids need to divide their attention so they can concentrate--she must have meant me. Anyway, in the past few months I've had a problem: my car tape deck has been reluctant to spit tapes out. It can take days before it decides it will relinquish a cassette, and then it does slowly. It doesn't even play the one in the deck while it's considering letting go. I've tried begging, pleading, poking, even prying with needle nosed pliers, but the machine has its own timetable.

For a while, I used a walkman-ish cassette deck in the car, but somehow, it's not the same. I find myself listening to oldies music stations, appalled that I know the words to a lot of really crappy songs from my youth.

I'm wondering if I should invest in a new car stereo. My Toyota has 181,000 miles on it, a new timing belt, new water pump, new brake rotors and fresh oil. I've got close to 60 performances booked for June and July. Is it worth it? Can I survive without recorded books?

Monday, April 04, 2005

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program...

...for this important news:
Making Fiends, episode 17, is in my favorite Slavic language! If you haven't seen these yet, I'd recommend starting with the first episodes, just to get the flavor (gack!). Lovely and twisted.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Sometimes when I don't have a lot of performances or workshops in a week, I forget what I'm supposed to be doing. I forget what projects are coming up, I forget the things I've been putting off, I forget to look at that big list of things I'm working on I made a few months ago. I've been self-employed since 1993, so you'd think I'd have the hang of it by now. It looks like it from the outside. People compliment me on my self-discipline, and yet, here I am, wondering what to do.

I pick up projects in my mind, turn them over in my hand like pebbles at the beach, look them over carefully, and put them back down.

I could work on "Blood, Guts and Fat Naked Ladies: The Bulgarian Cycle" in case I get to tell it at the Fringe Festival at the National Storytelling Conference (I'm #3 on the waiting list). Nah, I'm not ready.

I could start work on the puppet show of Rapunzel. I need to add a little piece to the stage, so I should go to the hardware store to play tinkertoys with the PVC pipes and fittings. Too much trouble. I need to make a couple of puppets, but the floor of my office is littered with workshop stuff for next week. It will be easier to do the puppets when that stuff is out of the way.

I could work on the stalled novel I wrote in National Novel Writing Month a year and a half ago. I wish I'd read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers before I began writing. Too daunting.

I could go out and work in the yard or the garden on this sunny day. I could look for new stories to tell in the pile of books by my desk. I could make a list of other blog topics. I could go for a walk on the levee. I could pot up that Swedish ivy on the kitchen counter. I could watch the rest of the Bill Moyers/Joseph Campbell Power of Myth DVD that I began last night (I never saw this when it first came out).

Ah, never mind. I think I'll go shopping with my sister. I can always do some work tomorrow.