The One Year Mark

One year. The Big Pause.

It was one year ago today, March 21st, that we finished our quick week of pivoting from “rehearsing a play” to “filming a play”, and we turned Tech Day into a long day of filming the show we’d been preparing for live audiences. These Mortal Hosts became a hybrid – a piece of theatre, performed in a theatre with no audience, and filmed for online release. At the end of the long day of careful filming, filled with lots of hand sanitizer and as much social distancing as we could, we sent the skeleton crew of people we had left in the building home and said “Hopefully we’ll see you in a couple weeks. Be safe.” Little did we know. A couple days later the state went into lockdown.

And here we are, a year later. We’re all hoping that we can reopen before the calendar turns to 2022.

This last week, though, has been fun – we’re working on a new audio project for Williamston Theatre, and it’s been nice to get to work on something creative with folks. I’ll be honest, the last few months have been tough. I’ve struggled personally with motivation, energy, and purpose. Part of that has been pandemic weariness, isolation and loneliness, and some of it has been physical – my kidney disease has progressed a lot over this year, and that’s taken a toll on my energy levels. Right now the expectation is that we’ll go through the transplant procedure in the next few months, and the kidney that my wonderful wife is donating to me will make a huge difference in our lives. I’m looking forward to having that energy back!

In the meantime, like everyone, we’re riding out the pandemic. I’m halfway vaccinated, I’ll get my second shot in about 10 days. Jeanne gets her shot soon. The theatre is taking this time to do some building renovations, and planning on our eventual reopen while we work on a couple audio projects to share with our audiences. You can see the ones we’ve already done on our website HERE!

And so here we are. It’s hard to believe that a year has passed and our theatre is sitting, empty and waiting. I miss the work, the stories, the audiences, the collaboration with artists. I miss being in a room with a bunch of people and working on a moment together until we HIT IT and everything clicks and the whole room buzzes with the energy of a moment that works – and we take that energy and excitement and try to infuse it into all the other moments of the play, because we know that’s why we’re there – to work together, to share these stories that move people, and make a difference in their world.

I miss that. So much of this past year has been horrible – the loss of life, the economic challenges, and for me personally (especially over the last few months), the feeling of being purposeless. We tell stories to try and make the world a better place, to try and make a difference – however small – in our little part of the universe. There’s nothing like hearing an audience laugh at a bit you hoped would work, or seeing them weeping with emotion at a story you helped shape. After nearly 30 years, I feel like that was my contribution to the world. And at first I took The Big Pause as a time to rest – to process everything going on – but now I’m really ready for that pause to end. I miss the work.

I hope we can get back to it soon.

Gratitude Entry

Looking around at the world around me, I can feel myself getting frustrated.

Is frustrated the right word? Maybe not. Listless? Looking that up right now: “Lacking energy or enthusiasm”. That feels closer than frustrated. In March we closed down the Williamston Theatre building to public performances, hoping for a few week hiatus while the world sorted out the virus.

That, of course, hasn’t happened.

And as the months have dragged on, I’ve found myself having a hard time maintaining my energy, my drive to create or produce or explore. There are some things I’ve done, like worked on being more fit (I’ve been walking between 3 and 5 miles a day since Spring), and I’ve been using a couple of apps and podcasts to work on learning the Italian language. But my frustration with the virus, the poor national response to it, the inability to produce live theatre, the question of HOW and WHEN to re-open the theatre… it’s been energy draining. (I know this is not a phenomenon unique to me, also!) I know that this whole year is an anomaly, and that we have to allow ourselves a little slack, but as someone who runs a small institution devoted to “making the world a better place through storytelling”, I am frustrated by my inability to do that, as well as by the fact that over the last few months I just can’t muster the energy to do much. Listless is probably the better word. I feel like I should be doing MORE. But I have no interest in re-inventing theatre for online consumption… maybe that will change in the future, but honestly one of the things I love about theatre as an art form is the presence of a bunch of people in a room breathing together with the performers. Anyway, that’s a whole topic that I could ramble about…. but instead I’m going to change the topic. Listless and frustrated is not something I want to be.

So, often, I find myself taking note of the things I have that I am lucky to have in an effort to make sure I’m not just being whiny and petulant. Here are a few of the things I’m grateful for this afternoon:

My wife will be donating a kidney to me! We find out recently that Jeanne and I are a match, and she can donate a kidney directly to me. She decided a long time ago to get tested and be one of the people to see if she was eligible to donate, but we never expected that she’d be able to give one directly TO me. Turns out that only happens about 5% of the time. I’m just overwhelmed with her generosity! It probably won’t happen for many months, because they’ll wait until my kidneys have given up the ghost, so hopefully the pandemic will be cleared up before the big event.

This past Tuesday, on December 1st, we had a wonderful “pandemic version” of our annual Giving Tuesday Play-a-Thon at Williamston Theatre. It was terrific, the plays were great, the performances were great, Zoom was mostly adequate with only a few challenging lag issues. The most wonderful part was seeing faces of people I hadn’t seen in months, chatting with them about the plays, stories, and seeing people who were looking forward to the theatre coming back in person.

Ted Lasso. YES – if you haven’t yet watched the tv show Ted Lasso, please do. It did not originally seem like anything I would be interested in (American football coach gets hired to coach soccer in England?), but after having many people give strong recommendations, I sat down to give it a try, and was HOOKED. I watched the whole series with Maggie, and then we convinced Jeanne to watch it and she fell in love so we rewatched it with her! Go watch it. It’s just one of the most hopeful, funny, heartfelt things and is a great remedy for the current…. world.

Decaf Chai Tea with Honey. Yeah, everything in my life is decaf now, and I’ve been enjoying tea more than ever. Even peppermint tea, which I expected to hate. But lately the decaf chai with a bit of honey has been a go-to favorite.

Today, I’m doing a couple of Zoom chats with people, and then I’ll be taking my walk. Then I’ve got a date with the couch and a good book. How do you fight off “listless”? Not sure, but I’m going to try!

Baseball!!

I know, I know – pandemics, politics, there is a LOT going on in the world more important than baseball.

I have so enjoyed the craziness of this 60 game Covid season of baseball, with the cardboard cutouts of fans and the 7-inning doubleheaders and crazy schedule changes based on coronavirus testing and runners starting on second base in extra innings. Just the “will they really be able to complete it?!” drama (and yes I was skeptical) but it’s been so therapeutic and exciting to watch, and the final game of the American League Playoff Series tonight was excellent.

But.

Yes. More important stuff in the world. And those deserve attention. But sometimes I need to… not pay attention. I run a theatre. We, like most of the industry, haven’t really been able to work since March and don’t know when the hell we’ll be able to. So, between not knowing when my company will re-open, and not knowing when I’ll get another paycheck, life is stressful. My kids are back in college and away from home during the worst pandemic in our lifetime. The country is a politically divided nightmare. And the solid, normal action of watching baseball is such a grounding thing, that it’s incredibly easy to add it to the list of things that I’m grateful for, that are helping me get through the craziness of NOW.

It’s way too easy to fall into getting locked into watching the news 24/7, building anxiety inducing scenarios in your head as you avoid big crowds, and sit doomscrolling Facebook for hours… but tonight, watching the Tampa Bay Rays win the ALCS was such a moment: the joy on those faces. The excitement, love, hope and JOY on that field moved me tonight in ways I didn’t expect it to. With the state of the world, I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen that much happiness. It choked me up. It was such a RELIEF – just seeing the emotion, the celebration – I’m so grateful to have been able to watch it, to have been reminded that those feelings can still happen, and to be unexpectedly overcome.

I can’t wait to watch the final National League Championship game tomorrow night. And then next week the World Series starts, and I will be watching every game.

And I’ll be so grateful.

What are you diving into?

So much going on, the world is crazy. One of the benefits of trying to quarantine from the pandemic, and socially distance from most folks, is that I’ve been enjoying a lot of books, music, tv, films and poetry. Anyone else find themselves doing this during the pandemic?

I’ve read more “non-theatre” books in the last 6 months than I have in years. Recently I’m on a kick of reading Anthologies of short stories. Right now I am going back and forth between Jim Harrison’s Just Before Dark and N.K. Jemisin’s excellent collection of stories called How Long ’til Black Future Month? It’s fun, going back and forth between these two, they’re so different at first glance: Harrison – white guy, celebrated the life we have – wrote so much about savoring the world around him, whether it was food, drink, nature, all the pleasures of the flesh, gluttonous grounded and earthy. Jemisin, a black woman who writes (largely) science fiction and fantasy that’s brilliant, she tackles identity and culture, oppression and civilization with wonderful energy and insight into why and how people tick. As I go back and forth between reading a couple of her stories, and then a couple of his stories, I’m loving the juxtaposition of his exploration of what we have now, and her fantastic explorations of the future, or alternate worlds. I keep finding myself thinking “This is the world we have – what are we going to do with it? Because the choice really is ours.”

I’m also watching TV:
Maggie and I are about to finish the entire series of Star Trek: Voyager which we started watching in early quarantine. It’s a rewatch for me, but it’s the first time I’ve gotten one of the kids to watch a Trek show beginning to end with me, and I have to say I’m excited at how much she loves it, and I can’t wait to move on to one of the other series with her!

And since I ran out of seasons of The Good Place, I’ve been watching Broadchurch with Jeanne (ugh, David Tennant and Olivia Coleman are so damned good), but I just started The Boys on Amazon Prime (after having a bunch of people yell at me for not watching it) and WOW I’m so hooked now.

Also, listening to a few things: The new “Super Deluxe” edition of Prince’s Sign o’ The Times was released a couple weeks ago, and I can’t stop listening to it. First off, the remaster of the original double album sounds fantastic (if someone FORCED me to pick my favorite Prince album, Sign o’ The Times would win, but it’s tough to choose). But, because he had SO MUCH material for this album (and in the years surrounding it), they’ve released a ton of new/unreleased stuff along with it, and it’s been amazing to listen to all the stuff I haven’t heard, or the alternate versions of songs he recorded while he was still experimenting with them. Originally he wanted to release the album as a triple album, but Warner Bros. said “Nope, it won’t sell, trim it to two albums” and because of that and other projects he was working on there’s just a ton of material from this era in his life that is so damned good. Here are a couple of reviews of the new release, if you’re interested. Or just run to iTunes and buy it!

And, when I’m not listening to that collection of music, I’ve been enjoying a group new to me, named Haim, and their album called Women In Music, Pt. III. They have a great sound, I love the lyrics, and am really enjoying this group made up of three sisters.

Oh, and I’m still working on my Italian, slowly but surely. Using a couple of the standard apps, like Duolingo and Italiano, as well as a couple useful podcasts like “5 Minute Italian”, which also has a series of YouTube videos from Joy Of Languages. Il mio Italiano non è buono, ma vorrei imparare!

What about you? What have you found yourself listening to, reading or watching? Let me know in the comments, and make suggestions for what I should dive into next!

Saturday Thankfulness

Things are tough. Pandemic, economy, political divisiveness, the list goes on and for everyone I know it gets more and more personal.

So today I needed a break. Spent the day with Maggie. We took a nice walk, about 4.5 miles. Made a nice dinner, did a few things around the house. And now I’m thinking about a lot of the things I’m grateful for right now:

The text thread between my siblings and I.

Watching baseball on tv. I know the whole thing is fraught and ridiculous because of Covid, but it does something good to me, even when the Tigers are losing. (Which is a lot right now 😂).

Bobby Flay’s technique for cooking a steak in cast iron skillet. I love using my skillet, but this was the first time I’ve ever cooked a steak in it and man oh man that was maybe the best one I’ve ever cooked.

The “Five Minute Italian” podcast. The last couple months of quarantine I’ve been working slowly on my Italian, and this podcast is terrific.

The patrons of Williamston Theatre. Months after we had to shut down, they’re still with us. We’ve sold a bunch of WT FaceMasks in just a couple weeks, and still get regular feedback from them. I’m excited to reveal to them a couple things we’ve been working on pretty soon.

Being able to sit on our front porch in the evening, listening to the summer night sounds of the crickets, katydids, and cicadas, while reading, or writing in my journal.

That Jeanne was able to retire from teaching, and start a new job that she’s enjoying with less hours, less homework and less stress!

My doctors. With my medical challenges, I’m so grateful for the meds and science and medical know-how that is available to me.

Living in a neighborhood that’s great to walk around in. Trying to keep in shape (well, GET in better shape) and I’ve been walking 4 or 5 miles a day, and very glad for the ability to do it. And I’m down around 15 lbs!

There are more things, but that’s enough for now. Time to enjoy some baseball and relax a little. 😁 Hang in there everyone.

A night to be thankful

Absolutely beautiful night for sitting on the porch, listening to the Tigers and doing some journaling. The frogs and crickets are serenading me. It’s early August, not too hot, and I’d be happy to sit here for many, many days.

A beautiful night on the porch

The house behind me is pretty quiet – I can hear Max and Maggie playing a game together in the basement, laughing quietly and enjoying time together. Another few weeks and they’ll be heading out, back to college, and I’ll miss the sounds of them laughing…. or fighting, or singing, or all of the sounds I’ve gotten used to hearing again since they moved back in waaaaay back in March, when the pandemic was just starting and we weren’t sure how long the interruptions would be. Of course I’ll be worried about them, and I still hate that they’re going, but they have leases on apartments, and most of their classes will be online, and so I have to trust they’ll be okay. Ugh.

Jeanne went to sleep a little early, she had a long, busy day. Some exciting things happening for her that’ll be announced soon enough. Yesterday evening the four of us took the dogs for a nice walk as the sun was setting, walking around the neighborhood. We were laughing, watching FlipFlop pull Max on his skateboard (which he LOVES to do!), and Sneakers was pulling on Maggie because she wanted to chase them… as we followed behind Jeanne said “Aw man… we aren’t going to get many more nights like these” and I knew she was right. The kids will be moving out soon, and who knows when or even if they’ll move back in. Sneakers is not doing well – she’s almost 16 and had a good life, but probably won’t be with us much longer, so we’re really trying to enjoy the time we have with her now. Even if you take the pandemic out of the equation, the constant shifting of sand beneath our feet will be bringing us to a new place again soon.

Can we take the pandemic out of the equation? I mean, all we can do is be as careful as possible, and wait. Wear our masks, wash our hands, Hope people do their best, and hope for a vaccine. And do our best to manage the change that keeps coming as time drifts on, gently dragging us along (and sometimes not gently at all).

Thing is, every time I can remember thinking “Aw man, this is the end of an era” in our family, or with friends, later I also found myself having nights like last night, or tonight, once again, where I wound up thinking “This is beautiful. I’m a lucky, lucky man.” So, even though everything is so up in the air right now, I have faith that as much as I love tonight, I’ll have more moments like this again in the future. Hopefully I’ll remember to take the time to recognize them.

For now, though, I’m going to enjoy the back-and-forth of this ridiculous ball game as the Tigers keep finding ways to give away the lead, and listen to the frogs and crickets reminding me to just breathe, and savor.

That is our challenge

That is our challenge: To cultivate lives of reflection, love, and joy and still somehow manage to do our share for this beautiful broken planet of ours.

– Mary Pipher

One of the chief privileges of man is to speak up for the universe.

– Norman Maclean

We have to look deeply at things in order to see. When a swimmer enjoys the clear water of the river, he or she should also be able to be the river.

– Thich Nhat Hahn

I very much enjoyed Mary Pipher’s book Writing to Change the World. Thoughtful, inspiring and practical, it’s been one of my favorite reads of this pandemic “down time” I’m having with the theatre being closed. I love her take on storytelling, and making a difference in the world

THANK YOU

Just a quick word to say THANK YOU to everyone.

After my last post about my kidney disease, and being on the transplant list, I got such an amazing response from so many friends, it was a little overwhelming. Thank you for all the kind messages of support and love.

With all of this crazy Covid19 pandemic happening, take care of yourselves everyone. Wash your hands, be safe. Keep yourselves, and the people around you, as healthy as you can!

I’m trying, like most of you, to just get through this chunk of our history the best I can. With my kidney disease and immunodeficiency I have to be a little extra careful, which is frustrating because, frankly, I don’t like to admit that those weaknesses exist. Still, thanks to my wonderful friends and family reminding me that I should take care of myself, I’ve been working on it. I’m super grateful to those folks who care enough to say “Hey, wash your hands and stay home.”

Adding to the stress, of course, is the fact that I help run a theatre that NEEDS people to show up in groups in order to keep us going. Well, that’s always been the theory, anyway. We may be testing that over the next few months. (And we’ll be joined by theatres all over the country testing it, also, so here’s hoping that all our friends in the industry can weather this storm smoothly.) I’m thankful for all the creativity and compassion being offered from so many areas.

Still, even with all of this craziness happening, I’m grateful: I’ve got wonderful friends and family, people offering to be tested for kidney compatibility, a great job with amazing coworkers, AND a nice tax return coming this year! lol

SO – wash your hands, cover your cough, spend a while in self-isolation and enjoy some downtime. This is the perfect time to binge a series or two, read some books, take up yoga, learn a foreign language, or learn to cook beef wellington. (I’ll take two, thank you.)

Take care of yourselves, and stay in touch.

A big reason to celebrate!

We got word that I AM NOW OFFICIALLY ON THE KIDNEY TRANSPLANT LIST.

This is good news. It means that I’m accruing time on the list, and I am now actively looking for a live donor.

In the next year to two years, my kidneys will fail thanks to kidney disease (acquired from my bout with Bacterial Meningitis 6 years ago). At that point I’ll wind up on dialysis, waiting for a kidney to become available. I’m grateful for the option of dialysis, but it comes with challenges and health risks of its own. So, the sooner I can get a transplant, the better.

The average wait time in Michigan can be 5-7 years for a donated kidney from a deceased donor. However, because of my other health issues left over from that whole incident, my transplant team has said they very strongly recommend a live donor kidney instead.

SO, for these reasons, Jeanne and I are asking for your help in spreading the word. If you’d be willing to share our search for a living donor with your community of family and friends, we’d greatly appreciate it. To learn more, you can go to Explore Transplant and get the information you need.

Finally, if you feel inclined and called to do so, you’re invited to consider becoming a living donor yourself! Thanks to the wonderful Pairing Program, your kidney wouldn’t even have to be a perfect match for me. It could match someone else, and I could get a better matched kidney in return! Of course this is a hugely sensitive and personal issue, and it’s simply not the right choice for many, many people, but if anyone out there thinks it might be something they’d consider, we’d be forever grateful! 🙂

If you’d like more specific info about donating a kidney, I’ll be having mine done at University of Michigan Hospital, and you can see their website about the donation process BY CLICKING HERE. Or, you can call the Living Donor Office at 1-800-333-9013.

And, of course, you can ask me if you have any questions! 🙂
Thanks, everyone, for reading this far and for caring. It means more than we’ll ever be able to express.

EDITED TO ADD: Wow, thanks so much for all the nice responses. For everyone asking, my blood type is A+, so compatible would be blood types A and O. However, with today’s Pairing Donor system, someone doesn’t necessarily have to match my blood type: Their kidney could be donated to someone else on the list, and in return I would get a kidney that best matched me!