Story Value

random musings and episodes from the life of a 40 something comidienne/corporate refugee/mom - since whatever doesn't kill you provides excellent story value.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Best In Show

I just attended a very cool museum show that featured the work of one of my very talented friends, Katherine Glover Kathleen is an absolute inspiration. At 58 she has already led the lives of pre-med student, wife, mother, Harvard MBA, management consultant and finally ... in the last five years ... as the artist she was meant to be all along. She fought her creativity her whole life and now she embraces it 211%. Better a late bloomer than not a bloomer at all!
I am working with Kathleen to develop and communicate her continually evolving brand. This is one of the most engaging, thrilling and terrifying projects I've ever tackled. I have branded software, financial products, and companies -- but never a person and never something as enormous, intangible and amorphous as art. It is almost ovewhelming. I know our work together has been sent to me as a step in discovering and communicating my own creativity and voice. For this, I am grateful.

As Kath and I walk the exhibit together, she tells me about the artists', 'backstories and the incredible, painstaking processes they have for creating their pieces. I am in awe and I am completely intimidated. While I love the pieces, I always feel like there's some big cosmic joke I just don't get. I nod and contemplate the descriptions of each piece while feeling utterly simple-minded.
Some descriptions are unassuming and straight-forward -- others are fantastical, dripping with symbolisym, irony and layered context. "This vessel symbolizes the eternal struggle of good and evil, of all that is male and female and highlights the identity masks we all wear in our lives." Acutally, I paraphrase, since the actual description used many more 75 cent words. As I stood there contemplating the work -- all I could think was, "Gee, it looks like a basket made from clay and glass beads ...I'm not sure where good and evil come in, but I guess that's just me. "
I began to worry, that without a good Thesauras and a cosmic joke translation guide, I may not be cut out for this branding.

Then I remembered ... I can do this. I have branded art before!

As a student, I took several art classes. Since the college I attended could best be decribed as a business trade school -- it was amazing there were any art classes to be had. I guess Bentley's art program provided all those future accountants, economists and investment managers a brief shining moment to flex their right brain muscles before they were to be forever atrophied under a pile of Excel spreadsheets.

At the end of the semester, there was a big gallery showing in the student union. I remember attempting a challenging acrylic triptych which left me thankful for all those left-brain day-job skills. I was feeling badly until I walked the show preview with my best friend Violet. We were immediately struck by a really awful, dopey piece painted by a colossal jerk we both had the misfortune of being involved with at one point.

Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder - but this particular painting was obviously thrown together by a dumb Frat boy who only took art to bolster his Accounting GPA. There was no effort whatsoever in either the work, or the title, "My Room". Since this particular frat boy had crossed us both, Violet and I decided to bestow a little art-show payback.

The next day, the show would be open to the public and the professors would tour the gallery to judge the work and assign grades. Since our imagination-challenged fraternity boy had struggled so mightily with a name, we decided to help -- swapping the original card for an upgrade of our making.

At the opening, we followed the judges as they moved from work-to-work interviewing each artist about their technique and their intent. Soon we came to "My Room" Which had been helpfully renamed "An angry young Rastafarian rebells against the inequities of daily life in Post Modern Jamaica." The professors looked at the painting of a triangle, a gym sock and a beer can and tried to find the deep symbolism promised by the title.
"Have you ever been to Jamaica?" they asked.

"Uh - no, why?" asked Frat boy.

"Well, you seem to feel strongly about the plight of the Rastafarians," they replied.

At this point, Frat boy looked at the picture and title card and then spied us in the group -- winking at one another as if in a Disney teen movie (picture Hillary Duff and Lindsey Lohan (when they were cute) high-fiving each other and skipping away).

Since Frat boy's only connection with Jamaica came in a ziplock bag, he was at a total loss. The best part was - rather than out us - he tried to play it out.

"Uh, I have never been to Jamaica ... but there is so much poverty there ... I felt it was important to show what they face every day."

"What is the significance of the gym sock?"

"They are so poor ... they don't even have socks?"

"Ok, thanks ... let's move on to the next piece."

That was my art branding finest far. Rule #1 ... no bullshit and make sure your audience gets the cosmic joke. Who better to brand art than a comedienne?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Girl Power

OK ... the pity party has endeth. A huge shout out to all of you supportive friends (in the flesh and in cyberspace). The support and parallel tales of woe made me feel 211% better ... that and tequila. Better living through tequila! That's what I always say. Besides ... who wants to be around a big sack of sad? Not me, that's who!

Well ... before I even had chance to finish a good sulk (or a Fifth of Cuervo) ... I received a Myspace message from my friend Amy G asking me to do a comedy show on what was, now, last night.

Amy is a fellow comic I met in Maine a few weeks back. She is the butchiest McButchy of lesbian comics and, of this, I know she is proud. She's also cute as a button and funny as hell. Amy invited me to play my first lesbian club date. This particular lesbian club is located in my hometown and that gave the gig a whole prodigal daughter "Circle of Life" completing itself feeling after last week's parental fiasco.

Since, at the time, I was a big jelly donut filled with hate for all things related to testosterone -- those being my father, nasty boy comics and the crowds who love them ... I said YES, YES, YES Amy ... take me to the girl club promised land.

Perhaps having not completely learned my lesson the week before, I decided to up the ante on this particular performance by inviting some High School girlfriends I had not seen in 15 years. These girls didn't even know I did comedy, and I am betting the only girl clubs they frequent involve scrap-booking and elementary school governance.

But I said ... "what the hell ... there's no chance they'll be able to come on five days notice. Besides, there's no way they will want to go to a lesbian comedy show ..."

Well shut my mouth -- They could and they did. And thanks to all of them ... I got my groove back!

We all met for dinner before the show and I have to say it felt like maybe 15 months had passed, maybe ... but certainly not a decade and a half. We instantly slipped into a comfortable groove -- catching up on kids, jobs and relationships and laughing over funny memories. Suddenly I remembered that these were the gals who saw me through many hilarious episodes of High School drama and hi-jinx that are now mentally set to a horrible sound track featuring REO SpeedWagon, Journey ... and George Michael. I still get a little misty over Careless Whispers. Its like he was singing to me all those years ago ... guilty feet having no rhythm and all that. But I digress.

After dinner we hit the show. A room full of about 80 women who could bench press me while slurping a Zima with the other hand. Not my regular crowd.

Amy opened the show I took the stage with my set and more than a little stage fright ... and the gals ... they laughed! They laughed in the "with me" vs. "at me" way I so needed. I had an absolute blast.

At the end of my set - Amy called me a MILF ... and who doesn't like to hear that?!!! I consider it my seal of lesbo approval!

The other comics were hilarious and I had a great time laughing until my face hurt with the only girls in the room carrying purses and wearing heels and eye shadow.

It was a great night -- everything came together perfectly and I remembered why I do comedy after all these years. As it says on Amy G's Myspace page ... "The shortest distance between two people is laughter." And so it is.

There is nothing more that I love more than laughing together with friends ... both new and old. Friends are the family of your choosing and in so many ways, they can compensate for the shortcomings of your birth families. Because you've chosen each other, you know far better how to nurture and lift one another up when its most needed.

I am really, really grateful for all the wonderful friends in my life ... particularly all the great women I count in my circle of chosen family.

As the great philosopher Sister Sledge once said ... "We are family ... I got all my sisters and me ... "

And thanks to all the sisters ... I got my groove back ;) And, as the Fonz might say ... Ayyyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeee

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I really should know better

At 38, I no longer pick my scabs, I am learning to control my chronic stage whisper, and I haven't drunk-dialed in I don't know how long ... I probably cannot remember because I was drunk. Like a moth to a blue light I am, however, occassionally drawn to self-destructive behavior that can only be explained as a primal urge. I can think of no other rationale for my incredibly dumbass decision to invite MY parents to see me perform stand-up comedy. I am an Augustus Gloop for punishment.

There are lots of ways to describe my parents -- supportive doesn't even make the hot 100. They are not child beaters, alcoholics or anything specific enough to warrant a chat with Dr. Phil. They are, however, insidious in their ability to undermine any shred of self worth or confidence.

A dime store psychologist could explain that seeking the approval and validation I never received at home is exactly WHY I perform stand-up comedy in the first place ... but sometimes we still need to touch the fire to see if its still hot.

Its hard to explain the full genius of their crazy-making skill, but I'll throw out a few hall of famers.

* Their walking out of my High School graduation without congratulating me or saying good-bye because it was too crowded and their feet hurt.

* Their dereliction of duty when asked to babysit their only grandchild while we gave birth to their second. (They turned off their ringer on the day they were on call to avoid pesky telemarketers)

*The time they did not call me for my 30th birthday. Calling a few days later when they remembered only when they saw the date on some expired lunch meat. (OK, this last one technically happened to my sister -- but its classic)

So why would I put myself out on the high-wire without a net? I have no idea. I guess I hoped if they saw a room full of people laughing and applauding me, the peer pressure would be so great that they would have to say ... "Wow, what a fabulous, funny, smart daughter we have. We are so lucky. We have been utter clods - we will change our ways, become demonstrative and kind ... Hooray for you" cue schmaltzy Mary Tyler Moore music and we skip off into the sunset.

In reality, even if I had killed at the show -- I would have been lucky to get a head nod.

I did not kill at the show. I was so addled and keyed up, that I had a crummy set. My timing was off, my tension was palpapble and an audience can sense fear. I swear I could hear crickets chirping several times during my set. It was the set I had always feared in front of the audience I least wanted to see it.

My parents left the show early, demanding I show them the way back to the highway. In the parking lot they just walked away from me towards their car. I felt odd saying nothing - so I just said, "Thanks for coming tonite. I hope you have a safe trip home." They just looked awkwardly at each other and my father said to me. "Thanks for inviting us ... it was interesting." My mom looked at me and said "Yeah, it was interesting."

OY - It was precicely my fear of THIS set that drove me out of stand-up comedy the first time after one great performance 13 years ago.

I won't let that happen again. I learned two important things tonite. I really and truly am not a bar-room comic. My silly, irreverant observations on the absurdities of parenting and cube life don't belong on the same stage with people telling incest and masturbation jokes.

I will NEVER, NEVER invite my parents to one of my shows again. They can watch me on Leno with everyone else and I will not call them to hear what they thought.

Live and learn ... I think I may go play with some matches in traffic now.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Foot Loose

There's not much in this life that is more fabulous than new shoes -- new stylin' shoes that you pick out yourself.

These little honeys belong to my four year old son. He negotiated for them by picking out a pair of butch sneakers for school in return for these babies at home. Smart kid.

These shoes don't really see any outdoor action, not because he's embarrassed, but because they must remain PRISTINE. I have washed them gently with Dove soap ... 3X the first day. They hold a nightly position of honor on the steps of his bunk bed so he can gaze at their loveliness. When he gets quiet and has a dreamy look in his eyes ... I know he's just thinking about them.

I remember that look. Its the one I had the first time I conned my mother into buying a sassy pair of shoes of my own choosing. These were actually cowboy boots made of genuine, rich, Corinithian Pleather. I thought they were the absolute bomb. I wore them so much my mom was worried my feet might shrink from sweating off a few sizes inside the plastic sauna. One of the heels melted a little bit from being too close to my baseboard heater one night ... but I didn't care.

Those boots were made for everything my six year old mind could imagine. I could spend an hour just thinking of what I would wear them with, the feats of derring-do I would be capable of, the adventures I would surely have ... wearing my boots.

Footwear can be life-changing, and soul affirming.

The only foot-related item I may have loved more than those boots were my genuine trademarked "Fonzie" knee socks, featuring a great big picture of Arthur Fonzarelli in his trademark Ayyyyyyeeee pose. His two thumbs were way up -- way before Siskel and Ebert ripped him off.

Ahh, the Fonz - he was the epitome of coolness. Sure, later I found out he was just some nebishy Jewish guy in a courderoy blaser with suede elbow patches, but then -- he was mojo personified and I was the lucky girl sporting him on both my shins as I skipped off to Brownie camp. I loved those socks so much, I kept the cardboard insert they were packaged with and taped it to my bedroom door.

The image of Fonzie had bled through onto the white cardboard, leaving a very visible impression ... kind of the kneesock Shroud of Turin. I knew Fonzie wanted to be with me always. You don't find that kind of love every day.

Its nice to see that look again. I may have to go shoe shopping myself .. Here's wishing all your footwear fantasies come true ....

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mucha Lucha Parenting

My tag team parenting Luchador -- wrestling name: "Daddy" is away this week, leaving me to fend for myself in the ring. Ayeeeeee, the jump from the top rope, she is not working so good for me anymore. Even in sparkly stretch pants, I cannot really keep up in the ring.

Round #1
My ordeal began just hours after his departure with a call from my youngest's daycare. The director was first overly calm, imploring me to come pick up my son immediately because he had a bump on his head. I hestitated, apparently a minute too long, as I tried to process the mental calculus that was going to get me across town to pick up my other son from camp and also take a conference call from my biggest client. I could tackle two, but probably not three in the same ten minute allotment.

Sensing my hesitation, the day care director came back with "He's bleeding and very, very lethargic -- should we send him to the hospital in an ambulance?"

"Well, why didn't you come out & say blood and hospital in the first place?! That changes everything.

After scrambling to reschedule a call and get a friend to pick up my older son, I sped over to the daycare and set a land-speed record for getting him to the ER, adrenaline coursing through my veins the whole time.

Fortunately, the little guy perked up once he saw the hospital aquarium and what first looked to be a very scary eye/head injury was a cut minor enough to warrant glue vs. stitches. He had such a shiner though that I took to calling him the Cinderella Man. About this, he was mucho pleased.

Round #2
An evening filled with brotherly love. Both boys celebrated their father's absence by giving each other full-body massages. Unwanted full body massages punctuated my me yelling "That's It" "Time Out!" and "For the Love of Pete - Knock It Off!"
The last causing the obvious question -- who's Pete? I don't know, but he needs your love so get your hands off your brother's neck!

Round #3
After a Tuesday like that -- How could I possibly turn down an opportunity to chapperone my 4 year old's field trip to the Science Museum. 16 kids, 3 adults, one big, jam-packed museum. I think my jaw nearly snapped it was clenched so tight when trapped in the bathroom with a gaggle of 4 year olds all squeeling over the hand-dryer while one locked herself in the bathroom to enjoy a little self gratification.
I wasn't angry so much as jealous -- I wish I had thought of that move first. She was blissed out on the bus ride home -- Me, not so much.

Round #4
Clearly I thought I was hitting my stride when I decided to mix yet another day of work and solo-parenting. Please, don't try this at home. Camp and pre-school drop-offs went OK, but I pushed my work/home choreography too far when I picked up my 7yr old and took him home with me so I could squeeze in a conference call before picking up his brother.
A wiffle ball game broke out on my front lawn and 4 boys poured into my kitchen all simultaneously hunting for cool-pops, bathrooms, juice boxes and a referee just as my call came through. I yelled "SILENCE" with an imperial finger wave as I fled up the stairs. Two minutes later, I realized the critical piece of paper I needed was downstairs. Just as I pushed mute on the phone, I lost my footing and went ass over teakettle down the whole flight, landing with a thunderous splat in the front hall -- smack dab in front of a freckle-faced cool-pop smacking audience of four.
"Mom, You OK?" asked my son.
"Does it look like I'm OK?" I snapped, my eyes welling.
"Um, no - not really. I'm sorry you fell down" He said, extending his hand.
"Thanks Pal, I'll be OK"

I lose.

Time for the sweet elixer of defeat -- A margarita!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Work That Skirt

Right now my four year old is vamping it up in a mini-skirt. That would be my four-year-old son, and the skirt is actually a dishtowel held together with a chip-clip, but he looks quite fetching. This is because he knows how to accessorize and is working his red carpet moves in such a way that gives Tyra Banks valid concern for her job security.

That’s my boy – he is all that, and some more. Friends ask “Is he gay?” Maybe. “Is he going to be a Metrosexual?” maybe. “Is this just a phase?” … Maybe, but I doubt it.

I have never met anyone who so full-on knew what they wanted and loved since the day they were born.

People also ask me (in concerned tones) “You let him have Hello Kitty sheets?” or “So, you let him wear make up?” These people haven’t met my boy. “Let” doesn’t really come into any equation where he’s concerned.

He is so incredibly charming and adorable and how could anyone deny their sweet, sweet child the things which make them the happiest – especially when your reward is a very loud “Double Te Amo Mommy!!!” and a kiss that makes sailors blush.

That’s not to say that I don’t have fears and doubts. I mostly fear the day when other kids make fun of him and break his little heart. My deepest fear is that he will think he is somehow crazy, weird or becomes ashamed of who he is.

Today, he is – in his own word … Fableous!

There is no one else I know who can look out a window and find the one purple flower in a sea of concrete, find the beautiful butterfly in a grey sky or can almost magically hear the prettiest music or smell the best smells we all would otherwise miss. He is totally switched on. All his senses just vibrate.

The power his convictions hold amazes me. One night at a restaurant, I watched him skip over to his older brother and a group of boys huddled over a video game. He came back and asked me to get him his Cinderella make-up kit from the car and trotted right back over to the circle of boys. These boys had brush cuts and hockey jerseys -- and while only 6 or 7 years old -- they looked like a tough crowd.

My boy immediately began demonstrating his products. “I have Cinderella makeup!” he announced. “I have glittery eye-shadow and lip gloss that smells soooo delicious. Here, I’ll show you what I do …” and he proceeded to demonstrate the makeup on himself with all the conviction and zeal of a Ron Popeil Veg-O-Matic informercial.

Across the room, I winced … waiting for the older boys to say something mean or sarcastic. They didn’t. They stood there completely dumbfounded by the hurricane. Finally one of them turned to my older son and asked “Does he have a lot of Barbie stuff?”

My eldest replied “Oh yeah! He loves Barbie stuff – he has a ton.” With no invitation or opening to snicker or deride, the boys just shrugged & said “Cool” and went back to what they were doing.

My little guy skipped back to the table incredibly pleased with his demonstration and had some pizza.

There’s a lot I could learn from this kid. Its amazing the sphere of protection we have when we have the courage of our convictions. No can really pierce your armor when you are passionately committed to what you love most.

I love my boy’s creative little soul and I respect his mojo, which is considerable. I have lived so many years trying to please others or avoid their derision. “Would it be all right with you if I was just a little creative or different?… I’ll do it over here – you won’t notice it at all …”

Not my youngest – He is full out 200% himself at all times. I only hope I grow up to be more like him.

Work that skirt!