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Just A Quick Update, Random Stuff, and Things

Well hello out there, readers of the Internet.

It’s been so long since I’ve blogged that I feel like I don’t even know where to start anymore.

What I’m not going to start with is my life right now; it’s kind of chaotic and stressful. Even though I’ve got a relatively fun and exciting summer planned, it’s going to be a summer full of work. Work on my writing, work on my reading, work on…finding work. Basically, more work than Rihanna can sing about.

As I look around my apartment right now (I guess I’m staying in and getting real, in a way, even though I was out until about an hour ago), I see remnants of my semester, just strewn around. A pile of papers on the floor, along with some books from sales and the dollar store. Some plastic bags, my green scarf, and my red jacket. Folded clothes, folded towels, unfolded clothes, unfolded towels. All my winter gear, lying in a heap on the futon, like a coat room at a party. A small air conditioner blowing lightly because it’s really hot in here. Receipts, dryer sheets, bandanas, dust. Stuff that belongs to me and stuff that does not belong to me.

What’s great about life? Hard to say in certain moments, but as I think about it, the answer is time. I have now and I have later. This random thought might not make sense in the morning, but basically, I’m just feeling like the last line of Memoirs of a Geisha, “even a stone can be worn down with enough rain.”

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And The Twelve Points Go To…

So, one of my secret/not-so-secret obsessions (secret in the fact that no one in America knows what it is or cares about it, but not so secret in the fact that if you ask me about I can go on and on until the cows come home) is the Eurovision Song Contest, or simply, Eurovision. It’s cross between reality competition and musical train wreck, treasured by few and despised by most, unless their country is in the final.

Today, for the first time ever, I watched it live on YouTube from Lisbon, in the hopes that Israel would pull off its first win in twenty years. I turned it on about midway through the performances, but it was the voting that made me literally shake. The jury voting came in, and Israel, despite being labeled as a contender this year with a genuinely catchy and unique song, was in a distant third behind Austria and Sweden. I was feeling pretty meh, but then the popular vote came in, and unlike the American election, it actually mattered in crowning the winner. I held my breath as one by one, the front-running countries got their votes. Once Austria, Sweden, and Germany were knocked out, I was feeling hopeful for Israel. It wasn’t until the final 4 countries’ popular votes were coming in that I realized that statistically, it was highly unlikely that Israel would come anything but first. And then, it happened…the winner of the fan vote was announced to be Israelpropelling its representative, Netta Barzilai and her song “Toy” to the top, and subsequently, the winner of the whole shebang. She tried not to try as she went up to the stage to accept her trophy, make a short speech, and perform a reprise. Oh, and this also means that Israel (most likely Jerusalem) will host the contest next spring.

What does this mean? Well, not a whole lot, but it does mean that music won out over politics this year, and of course, that my prediction (and hope) came first. The second placer, Cyprus, kind of grew on me, and I wouldn’t have minded if Eleni Foureira bagged Cyprus their first win.

Now that the competition is over, here are the rest of my top five favorites: Czech Republic had a sick sax beat with a hook and a fun music video, and coming in sixth was very respectable. I was also partial to Spain, which is perfect for a Viennese waltz, and, unpopular opinion: Moldova. The Latin-esque rhythm really got me going. Songs that I tolerated but wouldn’t write home about (if one wrote home about a song competition across the Atlantic) included DenmarkFinlandFranceNorway, and Sweden. These would probably actually round out my top ten.

Of course, with 40+ countries, not all songs make it, and about half of them fall by the wayside. Last year, Macedonia (The Former Yugoslav Republic of) submitted “Dance Alone,” and as soon as I heard it, I replayed it about a hundred times and then downloaded it onto my iTunes. I was sure it would at least make it out of the semi-finals. I was shell-shocked that “Dance Alone” ended at the semi-finals. This year, my “Dance Alone” Award went to…Belarus. Their song, “Forever,” would have probably been in my top five had it made the final.

In any event, congratulations Netta, and Israel. Next year in Jerusalem!

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Flip the Script Friday: Tim Kelly, The Uninvited

And after a month way too busy for words (as evidenced by the lack of entries), I’m back. I don’t know how much I’ll be posting, but it’s Friday the 13th, so I thought it would be appropriate to bring back Flip the Script Friday with a selection from 13 Plays of the Ghosts and the Supernatural. Today’s selection? The Uninvited by Tim Kelly.

The Uninvited Logo

Photo credit: Somerset Valley Players

The Basics

The Uninvited is based on a novel by Dorothy Macardle. It was made into a movie in 1944. Interesting facts (about the movie): the screenplay was written in part by Dodie Smith, and it was apparently “the first movie to deal with ghosts as entities rather than illusions or misunderstandings.”

Characters

  • Stella Meredith, an 18-year-old who owns a country house, for some reason.
  • Commander Brooke, her grandfather.
  • Pam, a woman who, along with her brother, looks at Stella’s house and eventually buys it.
  • Roddy, Pam’s brother
  • Lizzie Flynn, their maid. She’s Irish, but for some reason I pictured her as a sassy black lady like Leslie Jones. She has the best lines.
  • Wendy, an actress and medium who is a friend of Pam and Roddy’s.
  • Max, a painter and friend of Pam and Roddy’s.
  • Mrs. Jessup, a nosy neighbor.
  • Dr. Scott, a doctor of some sort.
  • Miss Holloway, Stella’s nurse who is incredibly creepy.

Setting/Plot

A house on a cliff in Cliff End (western England), “the present.” Keep in mind that this play was written in the 1940s. The entire play takes place in the drawing room of a country house. Stella is selling the house, against her grandfather’s wishes, to Pam and Roddy, who come with their sassy maid, Lizzie Flynn, AKA the true star of the show. Weird things happen right from the start, when Pam feels a chill in a random part of the room. Strange goings-on at their housewarming prompt the four friends (Pam, Roddy, Max, and Wendy) to investigate the mysterious deaths of Stella’s parents, Llewellyn (a painter), and Mary (whose portrait hangs above the fireplace), at the possible hands of Carmel, a Spanish woman who lived with them as well, when Stella was a baby. Wendy leads the group in a seance, which brings some spiritual activity, eventually revealing some truths about the Meredith family. Oh, and in the end, Pam suggests that Roddy write a play about everything that’s happened, which is a major eye-roll moment.

Major Themes

Lights, Smells and Sounds

A creepy old house wouldn’t be complete without flickering lights, odd smells, and random noises. In this case, the light is a night-light that comes from the nursery where Stella was raised, in addition to a weird glow around the portrait of Mary; the smell is that of a distinctive mimosa; and the sounds of crying, and a music box. The spirits are very much present, possibly linked through their artifacts, despite no one in the Meredith family currently residing in the house.

Art and Soul

The centerpiece of the play is a painting of Mary Meredith, the former matriarch of the Meredith family who died mysteriously, and whose painting Pam desperately wants to give Stella. Commander Brooke, for some reason, staunchly refuses that it be moved, to which I’m like…wow, it’s not even your house so stop micromanaging. Many of the arts are represented, including theatre (Wendy, an actress); literary (Roddy, a writer), and visual arts (Max is a painter. We never really find out what Pam does for a living). Wendy, Roddy, and Max have the most in common with the spirits. Although it’s Wendy who leads the seance and gets possessed, and Max who recognizes the woman in the mysterious sketch Roddy and Pam find in the house, it’s Roddy who eventually faces the spirits head-on.

How I’d Flip It

It seems like a pretty interesting living room drama, akin to Blithe Spirit. It would need some retooling in order to see it in “the present,” but it might work. The special effects would be fun to work with, especially with the color blue, and the very descriptive scene where Stella sneaks into the house and communicates with the spirits of the dead, in a very Poltergeist “they’re here” moment.

The Last Word

Of course, Lizzie Flynn has the best line of the play:

LIZZIE: What sort of heathen mischief are you up to now?

WENDY: We’re hoping to make contact. (LIZZIE looks grim).

LIZZIE: With whom, may I ask?

MAX: Mary Meredith, we think.

LIZZIE: (Dubious) She’s going to come out from wherever she is and talk to you, is that it?

WENDY: It doesn’t happen that way…

LIZZIE: I wouldn’t know.

WENDY: The spirit will spell out things with the glass.

LIZZIE: What if the spirit don’t know how to spell? (Knock at the front door. LIZZIE is cynical about WENDY’s efforts.) Maybe that’s Mary Meredith. (she exits)

Image result for leslie jones ronda banks

Photo credit: Bella Bronson/Getty Images

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Carry On, My Wayward Daughter

A minor spoiler, but then again, wasn’t everything about this book a minor spoiler? I finally finished a book after a long time of reading bits and pieces, and this one was Don’t You Cry, a contemporary thriller by Mary Kubica.

Cover photo: Amazon.com

So this book starts with a small mystery – the mystery of how I got a copy.

Well, I know how I got it – in the mail from paperbackswap.com a few weeks ago – but why I had to have a copy right away? No idea. And why I read it right away? Again, no idea. But I read it anyway.

Don’t You Cry is a contemporary thriller told from two points of view. In Chicago, Quinn Collins wakes up one morning to find that her roommate Esther is missing, and in Michigan, recent high school graduate Alex Gallo works a dead-end food service job to support himself and his alcoholic father in a small lakeside town where nothing happens, which changes one day when a mysterious woman shows up at the cafe where he works. She becomes the object of his fantasy, and he calls her “Pearl” because of a pearl bracelet she wears. While Quinn discovers that Esther may not have been who she said she was, and possibly even a murderer, Alex gets closer to the strange but attractive Pearl, who squats in an abandoned house across the street from Alex’s. Revealing much more would spoil the book for you, but the big reveal brings up almost as many questions as it answers.

I had mixed feelings about this book. It definitely wasn’t your typical mystery. I thought it might end up veering towards chick-lit, but it surprisingly didn’t; one of the two main points of view was male. I did want to keep reading, if only to find out how Quinn’s and Alex’s stories intersected, which doesn’t happen until the last chapter or so, but at least something about it kept me interested. The language was interesting; it seemed like Kubica got quite a lot of use out of her thesaurus, and some of the words the characters used didn’t seem to fit with what a twenty-something and a teenager’s vocabulary would be like. In addition, there were so many things brought up that turned out to be dead-ends/red herrings, and it seemed like some of the answers to the clues were awfully arbitrary, like the Kelsey Bellamy storyline and the Ben storyline. Finally, the end. I don’t think I’ve ever been as annoyed by a character’s death as I was at Carmen’s at the end of Bel Canto, but suffice it to say that one of the main characters dies for no reason at all. Overall, while I don’t think I’ll read another Mary Kubica book anytime soon, I’ll put her remaining books on the maybe pile for now.

If anyone can figure out what website or book blog or list suggested this to me, let me know.

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Take Care Of You

This past weekend was exhausting, but so much fun; I decided to head to Iowa City, IA for the APO Section 21 Conference, hosted by the University of Iowa. I had offered to do my theatre workshop, or do one on a different topic. The conference coordinator sent me a list of topics, and the very first one was self-care at service projects, so I decided to switch gears for once and present a workshop session about a completely new subject to me.

At first, I was going to just tell my own stories and strategies. Then, I thought about just turning it into a session where the participants shared their own experiences.

And then, it came to me.

Well, after having lunch on Friday afternoon on the way to the conference, with my friend Brooke, in Muscatine. Brooke is also a Ph.D. candidate in theatre. She does a lot with applied theatre, and I’ve been to several of her workshops at past ATHE conferences. So, I decided to take my experiences, infuse them with applied theatre techniques (with thanks to Brooke, Augusto Boal, and Viola Spolin) and see what would happen.

AKA, true “Jacob style.” (a term I coined back in 2009 in Israel.)

I had 25 participants, according to the sign-in sheet, representing all 4 chapters with members at the conference (Iowa, Iowa State, Coe, and Drake) and I quickly looked over the sheet, taking note of names of people in the room. I started off by nervously introducing myself, then went into a group warm-up to “Sax” by Fleur East, one of my favorite warm-up songs of all time. Then, I started off with some classic misdirection, announcing that I would be talking about self care, but first, tell you about this awesome service project I did as an undergrad. Which led me to:

Scenario 1: Oh, God.

I called for a volunteer from the audience, and got someone from Iowa State to join me in the front of the room. We shook hands, and then I said, “Nice to meet you, [real name of person]. How about I call you Valerie?” which got a lot of laughs. She acquiesced and sat down in the chair next to me. I reintroduced myself to the group as “Craig,” and then broke down the service project to the group: it was Halloween, 10 years ago, before Uber and Lyft existed. “Valerie” and I (“Craig”) handed out business cards to students the day before Halloween with the phone number of a local church (which I called “Sacred Heart”), and instructions to call on Halloween night between the hours of 7 PM and 2 AM, if you were drunk or felt unsafe, and a car would be dispatched to take you safely wherever in town you needed to go, for free. “Valerie” and I were excited to be volunteering as dispatchers on the switchboard.

I set the scene: 6 PM, October 31st, a Friday, the meeting room of Sacred Heart Church, and immediately thrust the two of us into character. I said that Father O’Malley just stood up, and is now asking everyone to stand in a circle, join hands, and pray to Jesus Christ for the safety of our drivers and passengers. As “Craig,” I told “Valerie” that maybe we should leave, because this is strange; not only did I introduce “Craig” as a Jewish student, but also one who didn’t really believe in God, and just felt like getting up and leaving. I asked “Valerie” what she thought, and she said that she’d probably join the circle, but if I didn’t want to, I could just go to the bathroom and come back in a few minutes, and so I did that. I rejoined “Valerie,” thanking her for helping me deal with the situation, ending the scenario.

After a round of applause, I polled the audience on the situation, how “Valerie” handled it, and if she did a good job. There was a general consensus that she did. Several students responded with their own examples; one, who was raised Catholic but is no longer religious, had that same exact experience, and said that “no one even noticed [she] was gone for 5 minutes.” Someone else offered her experience working on mission trips with diverse groups of volunteers with varying relationships with religion. I asked the group what we could learn from this scenario, and the responses I got were: take care of yourself, take care of your brothers, be true to yourself, trust your feelings, and don’t feel pressured to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Which led to:

Scenario 2: Fingers Pointing Every Which Way

This example was a little trickier, but I gave a pretty extreme example just to set the scene. I became “Michael,” and I invited up a volunteer from Iowa, who I dubbed “Sam,” the “president of the [fictional] chapter.” As “Michael,” I called “Sam” to have a one-on-one about yesterday’s service project, which was gardening at an elementary school. At first, I just described what happened, but then I went full-on: it was too hot, I got sweaty, my clothes got dirty, it was boring, I hate lifting heavy things. Then, I went on to say that I asked “Suzanne” for some water, and she just said “grab that shovel and start digging,” and that it was like slave labor, and our Service VP, “Kris” shouldn’t plan projects like this anymore because I can’t do them. As “Sam,” my volunteer responded well to my exceedingly outlandish claims, and even put a twist (and an excellent one) on it, by revealing that he was there too, and it was not that hot outside, nor was it that difficult of a task. “Sam” then went on to politely explain that I should sign up for different events in the future that don’t involve physical labor or being outside, like sorting cans at the food pantry, and that it wasn’t his fault, nor “Suzanne,” nor “Kris,” that all these miserable things happened to me. Problem solved, end of scenario.

In our brief reflection, I told the group that while “Michael” was an extreme case, accessibility is important and not all of us are able to do certain physical tasks, and that’s okay, and while we need to take care of our brothers (for example, if someone gets injured, someone should take that person to get medical care), and as a takeaway, we are all college students who should be able to take care of ourselves in normal everyday situations, and also shouldn’t be so quick to whine, point fingers, and place blame on others. In hindsight, “Michael” was not in a place where he needed actual medical help, and it would not have been feasible or appropriate to take “Michael” home at this point, so “Michael” should have either changed his behavior, or reevaluated the situation. I did a bit more talking than listening at this point, mostly because I wanted to get my point about accessibility across, and that just because someone is struggling does not mean that they are a “Michael.” Someone in the audience pointed out that maybe “Michael” had a personal vendetta against “Sam” or “Kris” or “Suzanne,” or that he might have other emotional/academic issues outside of school. And finally:

Scenario 3: Heavy Metal

At this point, I took my yellow bandana from my wrist, put it on my head, and morphed into “Morton” (I was tired and couldn’t think of a decent sounding male name, sorry), the president of another fictional chapter. I arranged eight seats around me in a circle, and called for an “emergency meeting,” and for 8 people from the audience to come and fill the seats. It ended up being 4 guys and 4 ladies, the latter of whom I greeted with a “good of you to show up, Penelope, thanks for coming.” (again, wtf, Jacob?)

As President “Morton,” I told the group that I got a call from “Doris” from Campus Security. I explained that our chapter earned both service hours and a little extra money by stamping hands and guarding fire exits at campus events. However, “Doris” told me that next week, a much bigger event was occurring, and they wanted us to use metal-detecting wands on people as they came in. I voiced that this might not quite be what our organization is all about, and asked the group what they thought we should do.

“Penelope” spoke up first, saying that she had no problem at all with it, and it could be a new skill for us to learn as a group. I thanked her for her perspective, and then said that, in “my” opinion, this was sort of a risky event because what would happen if someone had a weapon, and how could we know that we weren’t going to get shot? I looked around the circle for an agreeing face, and upon making eye contact with another girl, said “Jennifer, what are your thoughts?” The girl I called “Jennifer” said that she agreed with me, and that this prospect scared her a little, and if we were to decide to do it, she wouldn’t feel safe and didn’t want to do the project. Before we could get too much into details, I took a poll: 4 (including myself) did not want to do it, and the other 5 did. So, I told the group that campus security needed a minimum of 10 committed volunteers, and that we are a very small chapter, with only 15 members total. “Jennifer” suggested calling the other six and asking them, but I revealed that it was a weekend, and some of them had gone to visit their families at home, so we might not be able to reach them right away. Doing some quick math, I told the group that we had potentially eleven people, but that would mean that 5 out of 6 people not currently in the room would need to do the event in order for it to happen, and that “Doris” needed to know right away. So I put it to the group, should we do it, or say “thanks but no thanks?” In response, “Penelope” offered up the perfect solution, pointing out that it’s not fair to make decisions for people who aren’t in the room and don’t have a voice, and since we don’t have the numbers in the room currently, we should politely pass on this opportunity as a group, which solved the problem.

This was probably my favorite scenario, because it got super intense and involved, super quickly. In reflection “Penelope” pointed out that while in real life, she had done that before, it’s not for everyone. “Jennifer” revealed that in real life, she, as her character, would absolutely not do it, and no one would convince her otherwise, so it was not a hard stretch to object in this scenario. We quickly wrapped up the reflection, and the workshop as a whole, by talking about how important group self-care is, that it’s important to take peoples’ needs and feelings into consideration when making big decisions, to let people have a say/talk out big things like this, to not make decisions for people who are not in the room, and to look for the big picture of group safety vis a vis things like volunteering and making money.

With that, I concluded the workshop, thanked all my participants and volunteers, and got a hearty round of applause. I’d definitely want to do this again, and I think that it went off without a hitch; the scenarios were bullet-proof, diverse, and provided the students with a lot to think about.

So what do you think? Let me know in the comments below.