2020 Voting Retro-Nostalgia

Today, I went to one of Los Angeles’ 2020 re-invented voting centers. Up until this election, we’d always been sent to the same place, as instructed on the back of our sample ballot. My husband and I usually went to the Jobs Center on Hill Street in South Park. We would also be directed to a specific table – the orange table, or the green table. It was a ritual that was familiar and comforting. Today’s experience was new and disconcertingly futuristic.

Almost two decades ago, I decided that I would do my civic duty and become a poll worker. I dragged my husband along under the auspices of his getting to spend a sixteen-hour day unfettered with me. What an enticement!

We got ourselves trained (I feel like it was at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City) about the finer points of being a poll worker. We would greet each voter respectfully, then check them in first using the alphabetical listing, a huge 22″ x 34″ book with tidy lettered tabs to help you find the first letter of their last name. You’d have them sign the roster upside down next to their street address. Meanwhile, another poll worker checked for their name in the street index, running a little red pencil along the ruler through each voter’s name. We checked them off on a second street address roster which on the hour we would take outside and post so that poll checkers could see who had voted and who had not. We learned how to hand the voters their long slender pristine ballots full of promise, and watched as they walked away to the Votomatic booth. Over the few years we worked the polls, they changed from these briefcase style contraptions to more easily assembled cardboard booths.

There, they inserted their narrow paper ballot into the voting machine, fitting the holes at the ballot’s top over little red spindles. Next they would perforate the ballot with the pointed stylus. After 2000, and the hanging chad debacle, we were re-trained how to ink our selections on the ballots using the same stylus, now flattened with a tiny stamp on it.

Invariably, a voter would make a mistake, and we would take back their spoiled ballot and give them a fresh one. Once completed, they would uncouple the ballot from the spindles, then walk it over to the poll worker who’s job it was to tear off their receipt and hand it to them then have them insert the ballot into the machine where it would stay until the end of the day.

The old ballot counter. When this was introduced, there was a great deal of consternation among poll workers who worried that it was not going to be accurate in its count.

Then, and only then, the voter received the coveted “I voted” sticker.

Being a poll worker is monotonous and thankless work. Especially if you are the polling place supervisor, or Poll Inspector, responsible for picking up the materials from the distribution center. Jimmie and I would get in the car and drive to the high school parking lot on the Saturday before the Tuesday election, to pick up the ballots, zip tied in their container, along with all the signs, and voting machines, and would take them home and load them into the garage until the morning of the election. Waiting in the parking lot in a long snake of cars filled with other civically minded poll workers made us both feel proud to be important cogs in the democratic voting system.

The day of the election, we rose really early, because the polls opened at 7:00AM. This was always the hardest part; I would stop and get coffee and donuts for my co-volunteers. It felt inhumane to not have something to offer them, and I don’t think I could have gotten my husband there without some enticement. (other than the aforementioned time with Els). Frequently we would drag our middle school aged son along with us and then Jimmie would drop him at school while I got the polls open.

There is a No Exit feel to being a poll worker. You’re there from 6:30AM until the polls close at 8:00PM. Breakdown usually takes until about 9:30PM. You can get away for a break every five hours, but sometimes you don’t have enough poll workers to leave, or those who were there had not demonstrated a level of self- confidence that made you comfortable leaving them there to deal with complicated things like the dreaded provisional ballots.

Provisional ballots, or pink ballots, were offered to those people whose names did not appear in the alphabetical list of names for whatever reason- they’d recently moved, or they hadn’t voted in a while, or were voting out of their regular precinct. Filling out the provisional ballot was lengthy and frustrating for the voter, who may already have felt resentful that they were not included on the regular list, and were told that their provisional vote would be counted after the fact, so didn’t feel really invested in the lengthy process.

You had to have your eagle eyes on those people with outstanding pink sleeves around their ballots so they wouldn’t slip them into the regular machine, but instead inserted them into the big pink envelopes with so much information to be counted later. There was a special box for collecting those provisional ballots at the end of the day.

I think so much of the appeal of being the Polling Inspector had to do with the well-organized arrangement of office supplies.

At the end of the night, in this long-ago poll process, you would have some of your team of pollworkers break down the votomatic booths, and stack them to be picked up the next day, while others would open the seal on the ballot box and stack the ballots neatly before putting them back into the container and zip tying the container with the official marker to certify that the box had not been tampered with. Then Jimmie and I, exhausted after 16 hours of out unfettered time together would get back into the car and snake our way through the parking lot to watch as our trunk was unloaded and the ballot box was put into the back of a truck and taken away to be counted. It felt similar to how you feel at the end of a 10 out of 12 technical rehearsal. It was grueling, but very satisfying.

However, after about five years of civic duty, we were done. I did miss our fellow poll workers; the same neighbors frequently participated, and we’d grown into a community. They weren’t people I would ever see anywhere besides the polls, but the stultifying periods of time between voters in a non-presidential primary afforded us with a lot of time to get to know each other. I’ve always been effusive in my praise for poll workers when I go to vote, because I know what a thankless job it is and how difficult those long days can be.

Cut to this Presidential primary of 2020. I first knew that something was different when I received my sample ballot which was a much larger size, and a pamphlet about Voting Centers. Instead of instructions about going to the Jobs Center and looking for a green tablecloth, there were listed about eight different locations where for a period of 11 days, I could go and vote. Unheard of! I decided this morning that I would go to the voting center at the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall, on Figueroa and Washington Blvd.

I’d been curious about the hall, which had been closed for several years while being renovated, so used this time to check out the lobby as well as the dining room in the basement, where the voting center was set up. As I entered the room, the same friendly cast of poll workers were there, but there was entirely new equipment everywhere. I handed them my sample ballot, and they scanned the bar code on the back. Instead of the bulky alphabetical listing of all the voters in the neighborhood, and the awkward voter-by-street directory, these poll workers had ipads with styluses up on stands so they were at eye level. Clearly, I was one of their first customers, because the Poll inspector talked the workers through how to scan my booklet, then have me verify my address, before turning the ipad to me and handing me the stylus to sign my name. Once I’d done that, they inserted a large blank 8 1/2″ x 11″ ballot with the upper right hand corner missing to print my ballot. Once it was printed, they handed it to me and pointed at the very futuristic voting booths in front of the table. There were banks and banks of them with cheery mustard colored walls around them, a far cry from the cheesy cardboard flag stands of an earlier day. Or, for that matter, from the curtained booths where I voted for the first time in 1982 for soon-to-be-elected President Jimmy Carter.

After I’d voted the twenty items on the ballot, the printer printed out a beautiful copy of my ballot. Used to the former protocol, I turned and said to the room at large,

Who takes this now?

No, no, no! The polling inspector rushed over to me. You put it back into the printer and submit it.

And so I did. Feeling enormously accomplished, I turned and crossed to the familiar parting table, where a poll worker beamed at me and encouraged me to come back in November! Which I know is poll worker speak for:

I see you, you Democrat! We need you! Be sure and come back!

But of course, one would never say that or even hint at that because that wouldn’t be appropriate.

Back out in the sun, I marched to my bus stop to continue onto work, wearing my sticker and feeling a little nostalgic for my long ago days as a Poll Inspector with my loving husband.

I guess it would be ridiculous to say “Don’t forget to vote.” With this beautiful new system, you can go before the polls get crowded and you can learn early how to work the new voting machines. Take your sample ballot. Vote early. Vote with your heart.

Year of the Stage Manager 2020

I received what I considered a writer’s prompt just a minute ago when I opened my email from AEA Vice President and Stage Manager Ira Mont. He encouraged us to share a story in celebration of February 16, 1920, when Stage Managers and Assistant Stage Managers were first recognized as members of Actors Equity Association and thereafter written into the various contracts which we still follow today. Why? Because an ASM squawked after his show closed and he argued successfully that the producers owed him two week’s pay.

Ira encouraged us to share a story about stage managers in honor of this Centennial celebration. Nineteen of us gathered for a Centennial Photo of Los Angeles Stage Managers at the urging and organization of Pat Loeb (top row, third from left). It was a beautiful day in Griffith Park, and when I arrived (at 9:30 for the 10:00AM photo), I noted wryly that I was not the first to arrive. Are we surprised? Stage Managers tend to be at least thirty minutes early. Amy Pell, Zoya Kachadurian and Mary K Klinger had beat me there. Soon, there were 19 of us accompanied by three husbands, a baby and a dog (not people-friendly, we were warned, but baby-obsessed).

Have you ever watched a group of stage managers organize themselves for a picture? There we were, half of us up on benches around the picnic table (I noted that all of us who climbed up were over 50 or maybe even 60 – see? Risking life and limb for glory and recognition!) when two more stage managers arrived, one sporting a wheelchair, when there arose a cry – NOT ACCESSIBLE! And off across the grass we gamboled, to a more appropriate spot.

In honor of Ira’s query and our Centennial, I wanted to #credityourstagemanagers specifically some of the people enshrined in the photo above taken this morning at Griffith Park.

Jimmie McDermott (red shirt) and Mary K Klinger (blue floral print, silver mane of hair) were my mentors when I started as a PA at the Taper thirty odd years ago. From the two of them, I learned that though the work we do as Stage Managers is important, it is only one facet of a rich and fulfilling life – it is also play; Jimmie taught me to laugh and to be wicked. Mary taught me first my place as a PA and then many many years later, that stage management could be taught in a classroom and taught well and individually. Mary Michele Miner, top row, second from left, in the green shirt and sunglasses taught me candor and expediency. Once, I ASMed for her for a gala event at the Taper during which, Founding Artistic Director Gordon Davidson rode onto the stage on an elephant. At one point, I went up to her while she was juggling metaphorical balls of fire as one does during a gala, and I asked, “What would you like me to do?” She turned and said brusquely, “Run the deck.” This meant making sure the elephant had done its business outside before coming onstage with the Artistic Director on its back. Not every job we do as stage managers is glamorous. We do shovel some shit along the way. And learn to do so autonomously. It is probably the skill that is most marketable for stage managers. I’ve got it printed on my business card: “I shovel, then wash my hands and am ready for the next job.”

Many of my family of stage managers from about 30 years ago. L to R. Front Row, Tami Toon, Lisa Jo Snodgrass, Robin Veith, me, Mary Michele Miner. Second Row L. to R., Jonathan Barlow Lee, Mary K Klinger, Gordon Davidson, Susie Walsh, Jimmie McDermott, Rear Row, L. to R. Frank Bayer, David Franklin
Twenty or so years later at Mary K’s Teaching Retirement Party, L. to. R. Jonathan Barlow Lee, Mary K Klinger, Neila Lee, Mary Michele Miner, Jimmie McDermott

There are some others in today’s picture I don’t know well, so can’t speak to their skills or practices, but there are a few that I can. Jennifer Sarvas, 2nd row far left, green shirt, was a student at USC when I began working there in Spring 2005. At the time that I arrived, Dean Madeline Puzo had arranged for about 14 acting students to be a part of CTG’s Ahmanson production of Dead End. We realized the value of a PA assignment for one of our stage management students, when Jennifer, a senior approached me about whether I could help arrange that. She went on to PA at the Taper the following year, and has had strong career since then, while taking stints on various other production and stage management roles around Los Angeles.

Taylor Anne Cullen (top row 2nd from right) graduated more recently and has worked steadily since graduating, most recently with the Antaeus Company. She has a buoyant personality and an exuberance combined with a level of organization which makes directors hunger to have her in the room.

I’m sure that every one of those stage managers in the picture have equally rich histories to those I’ve recounted. I met Christina, fourth from the left on the bottom row, a recent graduate of Yale’s graduate program, currently in Los Angeles to do an internship at Disney. Jake Perri, top row, far left, stage managing for Parson’s Nose Theatre Company in Pasadena for the past two years. Pat Loeb, top row, three from the left, currently overseeing Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill, directed by Wren Brown and currently playing at Ebony Repertory Company.

Stage Managers are fiercely loyal, achingly discrete, hard-working, optimistic organizers of people, props, information and time. We are entrusted with maintaining the artistic intentions of the entire creative team once they’ve left the building, and our work is part scout leader, disciplinarian, therapist and magician. If you don’t remember or retain what my mentors have taught me about humor, appropriateness and autonomy, it can become a brutal path or profession. In order to be a stage manager, you must love it all.

You can’t forget the life part. So, after our photo op this morning, Michele and I walked up the hill and began our hike, passing first, this happy Clown effecting her character transformation in her car. We stepped carefully past a rattlesnake on the trail, and paused in the shade of a tree to admire the downhill path ahead of us.

I always loved being a stage manager until I knew that it was time to do something else. I’ve always loved and appreciated knowing stage managers. On this 100th birthday for us, I raise a glass to the stage managers here in Los Angeles who were doing other things to mark the anniversary and to stage managers everywhere.

RIP Lynn Cohen

I’ve had the privilege through the yeoman actor who was my husband to meet so many talented actors. We lost one of them yesterday, dear Lynn Cohen. I met Lynn back in the mid 1980s when I married James Greene and inherited his friends, who were a spectacular group of people. Lynn and Ron were among my favorites. I remember visiting them in their upper West Side apartment which had a kitchen large enough to dine in. I remember many dinners there; Lynn was a phenomenal cook. An intimate dinner with Lynn and Ron, Marsha Mason and Brian Murray before I appreciated the rarified theatrical aristocracy with whom I was dining. Lynn and Ron were warm and Midwestern, products of their Kansas City, Missouri past. They loved to laugh, and often invited Jimmie to regale them with his stories, asking for them by punch line, and then laughing with rigorous, infectious enjoyment. I attended my first seders at Lynn and Ron’s, sitting next to Steven Hack, who was, at the time, performing in Cats at the Wintergarden Theatre and who had been a student of Lynn’s long before. Later, when Jimmie and I moved to Los Angeles, Steven remained in our lives, a member of the same company of actors that Jimmie belonged to, Interact. It was Steven who’s call punctuated a Friday morning meeting with the terrible news.

We’d last seen Lynn and Ron in summer of 2016, when, after our annual trip to the Cape, we ventured down to New York City for a visit with my Dad and his wife, and my talented Aunt Irene and her husband. We stayed at the Algonquin, one of our favorite spots, and only briefly met with Lynn and Ron in the lobby for lunch. Lynn and Ron had become increasingly busy with their acting careers. Lynn was humble about her successes in major films and television roles, speaking instead about the times when she and Ron were able to do things together on stage. They frequented the Cape May Playhouse on the Jersey Shore, and according to this article, were honored there in 2010.

I remember at that last meeting at the Algonquin, Lynn expressed a wistful desire to go on a cruise. I offered to get the cruise brochures and let them know when I found one, but alas, Jimmie’s health was not up to such an adventure, and I’m still receiving those cruise brochures occasionally. I can’t imagine a couple I’d rather have gone on a cruise with than Lynn and Ron.

Lynn and Ron didn’t frequently get to Los Angeles, nor did we get to New York that often, but when we did we’d bond over a good meal somewhere with them and sometimes others, like our dinner at LA Live a few years ago, populated by many friends of Lynn’s from all periods of her life. We stuffed ourselves into a booth at one of the restaurants long-since expired at LA Live. Our server coincidentally, was one of the graduate students from the MFA Program at USC, and I think we asked her to snap the picture below.

L. to R. Els, Jimmie, Clare O’Callaghan, Jay Willick, Lynn, Steven Hack, Ron Cohen

For the gourmand that she was, Lynn was a hoot to eat out with. She had a meticulous diet that she followed scrupulously, and waiters would do poodle turns as she ordered in her universally charming way. There was no request that was unrequited. Probably by anyone, waiters or otherwise. She was a siren, generous with her attention, and loving with her friendship.

Ironically, I don’t think I ever got to see Lynn on stage. She and Jimmie had done a play years before we met, the name of which escapes me, but they became fast friends. I feel so fortunate to have had Lynn in my life, however briefly.

I realize with each person who slips away (and couldn’t we take a pause, by the way?) how precious our interchanges are. How important the time we spend together is. That same 2006 trip to New York for Jimmie’s 80th birthday, we gathered in Bryant Park with friends Bob and Mitchell, Lee and Susan, and while we were there huddled around the table in the cold, the most miraculous sight unfolded as a flash mob of unruly Santas suddenly invaded the park cementing in our minds and hearts the events of that day.

RIP, Lynnie. I know that you and Jimmie are having wonderful meals together in heaven.

The Father

Before attending The Father by Florian Zeller at the Pasadena Playhouse, I met my friend Cathy at the Urth Caffe for dinner. It was also the first meeting of our writer’s group of two, formed when I shyly asked her to join me after my un-birthday tea. Saturday I arrived at the restaurant fifteen minutes early, with a typed paper listing my goals for our writer’s group.

If it isn’t already obvious, I’ve never been in a writer’s group. I don’t know from writer group etiquette. That was clear when I created a doodle poll to figure out possible meeting times. For the two of us who were meeting in an hour for dinner…

No doodles, intoned Cathy, in her deadpan delivery that always makes me laugh.

I was fine with that, having spent the entire last week filling in my “empty time” with doodle polls at work. So many meeting seeds planted, few of them surviving.

It will be more organic, Cathy reassured me.

Organic is a terrifying concept to stage/production managers. Doodles we do just fine, organic not so much.

We ordered our food and sat down at a metal cafe table outside near the heaters. I unfurled my pretentious little sheet, which I’d brought two copies of so we could each look at a copy. Thoughtful, eh? When our salads arrived, I looked lustfully at the piles of hearts of palm. Cathy interrogated the waiter about whether that was really what she’d ordered. He smiled shyly, picking up our numbers before walking away.

After dinner, we walked away from the Urth Caffe, down the Playhouse Alley full of so much personal history, to the front courtyard where we entered the State Theatre of California. We climbed the sloping carpeted stairs to the balcony and found our seats in the rear most row. This was the second time in recent history I’d found myself closer to the booth than the stage. Saturday night, fresh inside from the unseasonably cold evening, all the heat of the theatre rose to meet us. We stripped off as many layers of clothing as we legally could, then fanned ourselves with our programs while we talked about Valentine’s Day coming up. Conspiratorially, I leaned into her and confided a secret which made us gasp and burst into uncontrolled laughter. As people started to fill in the seats around us, I became aware that given the topic of the play, our inane giggling was inappropriate, which of course made us giggle more. We riffed on the fact that we should write a scene with two women of a certain age in the week before Valentine’s Day, giggling about the unspeakable in the moments before a play about the dangers of aging.

Soon the play unfolded under the careful direction of Jessica Kubzansky, a thriller of sorts: deft scenic design by David Meyer, immersive sound by John Zalewski, and heart stopping cessations of normalcy that Elizabeth Harper provided in blackouts that punctuate each chapter of the evening. The play delivers a gut-wrenching and unreliable narrative familiar to anyone who has been dementia-adjacent. Costume Designer Denitsa Bliznakova facilitated our confusion with details that called into question who was really narrating the play. Audience members question what we’re seeing as though our own memory has begun to slip. The cleverness of the designers’ work guided by Kubzansky is breathtaking. Alfred Molina, as the titular Father, is by turns charming and reprehensible, confident then lost. He’s supported by a cast of characters with impressive range. The effect is sobering, sometimes funny and ultimately devastating.

I’ve always loved the arc of the phases of enjoyment related to theatre going.

First, there’s the delicious anticipation which begins the moment you select your seats on the theatre’s virtual seating map. Earlier in the week, I’d been warned by one of my colleagues that at the New York production, people were screaming and crying in the theatre. I can’t imagine going to the theatre and having people scream (maybe at a curtain call with positive feedback). So thinking that we might have a moment like that made me want to see it even more. I’d worked with Alfred Molina and was looking forward to seeing performances by Michael Manuel, and Pia Shah. I was looking forward to going to the play with Cathy, all of that return on investment before my ticket was even scanned at the door.

Once, my husband, Jimmie, told me about the curtain call for The Changeling at Lincoln Center, where the audience stood and booed and hissed loudly while pointing at the actors in their monstrous codpieces on stage. Have you ever had an experience like that? I haven’t, but live in eternal hope.

Phase two: there’s the play itself, approximately two hours where immersing yourself in the world of the play unpeels all the world’s worries from your brain. I’m amazed every time I go to the theatre by the creative splendors of playwrights’ stories, the artistry of a director’s vision shaping how those stories are told. For me, every theatrical outing is an opportunity to admire and critique other theatre artists’ work; it’s research, a way to expand my personal theatrical canon. From the first moments when we sat down, I admired Meyer’s beautiful Parisian apartment, imagining what I’d be like if I lived in a Parisian apartment, the heady feeling that I’d traveled somewhere wonderful, even magical, a feeling that persisted for those fifteen minutes before the play began and continued to tease me throughout the evening.

Phase three happens as the lights go up we discover and then meet the characters, listening as their relationships unfold; we experience the delicious satisfaction of spying on others, watching their worry and relief. Though they are immersed in a private hell, we have the distance afforded by our overheated balcony seats to reflect how we might have dealt differently with the circumstances unfolding, or in Cathy’s case, how she had dealt with similar circumstances. While we engage with the play, we also feel grateful about returning to our own worlds afterwards.

Then finally, after pushing back from the banquet table, we reach the moment where we digest the play through conversation and reliving specific moments in our minds, a process that goes on for me over the next week. Everything in my quotidien life becomes colored with brushstrokes from the last play that I’ve seen. The last two weeks were really something, with Metamorphoses, Eurydice, Father Comes Home From The Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream all churning around on my canvas.

After the play, Cathy and I retired to a bench in the courtyard to dissect and reflect about The Father. We sat huddled on the bench for fifteen minutes before retrieving our cars from the garage, as she shared details of her guardianship of a loved one embedded in the confusing whirl like what we’d just witnessed on stage. We closed our car doors and made our way home.

Sunday morning, I slept late, waking finally with the beginnings of a head hungry for caffeine, then ate my breakfast and drank my tea before calling my father, as I do every Saturday or Sunday morning via FaceTime. I caught him in his familiar green chair, and we chatted companionably for twenty or thirty minutes, he showing me his wife, sitting over his shoulder on the couch. We waved at each other. They’d been to a memorial service that morning, and he was reflective on life, and aging. I told them about the play, advising them if it ever came to Washington, they should definitely see it. About twenty-five minutes in, I asked him to redirect the camera to his face, because it had drifted to a view of the ceiling. Suddenly Dad said something vague like “I feel like a curtain is coming down sometimes and I’m…being attacked.” It was such an odd statement. I said, “What do you mean, Dad?” And from behind him, his wife said, “Yes, what do you mean, Don?” And I felt like I’d been sucked back into the play through some diabolical theatrical wormhole. I felt hot again, as though the sweaty tendrils of the balcony were reaching for me. As quickly as it happened, it passed, leaving confusion in its wake.

Maybe we should hang up and you should take a nap, Dad? Are you feeling okay?

Writing now, regretfully, I know that he’ll read this and undoubtedly feel terrible that I’ve revealed an unsettling personal detail. My father has always had the best memory of anyone in the family on either side – a penchant for capturing exquisitely detailed aspects of everyone’s story, like a prospector panning for gold and holding the shimmering pieces up for us all to see. In recent years, he’s bemoaned the dulling of his recall, but in fact, I’ve always felt his memory was at least five times better than mine or either of my brothers’. This momentary lapse was so startling, disorienting as much for me as it was for him. For me, as much because it came on the heels of the evening before like that “Aha” Refrigerator moment, or what others call Fridge Logic, when, standing in the light spilling from the fridge you understand what that curious beat in Act II that rendered you confused at the time. At 88, nearly 89, it is to be expected and yet, I found myself reacting dreadfully, in the literal sense of being filled with dread. What can I do?

I’ve had a few days to mull it over and process what it means. I’ve come to the realization, in the words of my friend Cathy, not solvable by doodle polls, this, too, will be more organic.

In spite of my unsettling post-dramatic experience, I sincerely recommend a trip to the Pasadena Playhouse to see The Father.

Alfred Molina as The Father, Pasadena Playhouse

Sophrosyne and her Doodles

Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Sophrosyne who lived among the rolling hills of a small midwestern town. She swung her arms wide in the high grasses on the hill behind her parents’ house, singing with abandon, pretending that she was Maria von Trapp, the sun caressing her face until she fell, giggling into the grass, disappearing from the world.

She indeed had everything her heart could want, two parents who loved her, two brothers and a dog who may have as well. The demands on her time were minimal – to care for her things, to help in the rotation of setting the table and doing the dishes. She asked for a piano for Christmas, and sure enough, her parents provided one for her. She would sit at its wide deck of toothy musical possibility finding satisfying chord structures, emulating as best she could the easy playing style of others.

As she grew, Sophrosyne’s simple tastes changed, through exposure to the finer things by her parents; she would listen at the top of the stairs on those rare evenings when the under 15s were exiled to the upper story, as the adults below discussed Shakespeare and literature, while dining on gourmet food. She could hear the clink of their glasses and the tinkle of silverware on the china with the gold edge. She began to dream about a similar life of intellectual fulfillment, surrounded by a loving husband and more or less obedient children.

As time passed, she benefitted from a fulsome education, at private schools where she witnessed again the finer things of the world, sometimes first hand, and sometimes as through a slightly foggy glass frosted with her breath, upon which she doodled “I want” with a longing that left her breathless. She never lost her gratitude for the opportunities that she experienced, just occasionally her perspective wandered about what she wanted or needed. She progressed to university, where she piled her plate with the sweetmeats of close study of literature and fine arts, and immersed herself more wholeheartedly in theatrical pursuits. There she learned to collaborate and about the exquisite satisfaction of long hours of intense and focused review of passages of music and text in the company of like-minded thespians. It filled her mind and her heart.

And yet.

Sophrosyne longed for more. She longed for love, and sometimes for escape from the worry that there was more to have, to master. She traveled far and wide, filling her belly with life experiences and her young and hungry mouth with food and drink and languages that she had studied while at university, utilizing them in her quest for love and a richer life. She missed theatrical pursuits, however, and yearned to find her soulmate.

She returned from her travels and began a life in the theatre, almost instantly meeting the man who became her partner in all things. Their initial theatrical collaboration translated into an easy partnership of similar interests, a mutual appreciation for the arts, for good, simple food, for the company of close friends. Sophrosyne began paring away the external wants like drink, that had served to numb her worry, and instead relied upon her partner for the calming comfort that thoughtful dissection of a problem together could bring. They thrived, knowing that they had everything they needed.

They raised a more or less obedient child together, watched proudly as he went off to begin to make a life, looked for love, while striving to find an avocation that would satisfy him. Sophrosyne returned to university, this time, not as a student, but as a theatrical collaborator. She loved the work there, and the friendships with her colleagues and the satisfying proximity of supporting the next generation of theatre makers as they discovered and explored their passions. And she continued to doodle, this time, more about the happy and fulfilling life she and her partner had created.

But, far too soon, Sophrosyne’s partner began to fail in health, and she watched as the inevitable happened, and she again found herself alone. The aching and ancient yearning returned, and she struggled to remember that what she had was enough, her gratitude sufficient. Now her doodles were darker, more poignant. She cherished the outreach from their son, who checked in with her faithfully to report on his and his family’s life.

And yet.

Life at the university filled the nooks and crannies of loss and desire, doodle polls arriving with a regularity, filling in Sophrosyne’s calendar with activities and meetings, while she continued to examine what she wanted vs. what she needed. She needed to recapture the doodles of her youth, not the breathless longing, but that feeling of endless musical possibility.

Sophrosyne pulled out the bench, listening to its satisfying scrape across the floor. She sat at the keys and began to doodle.