Summer Daze in DTLA

We’ve officially reached the shank of the summer. After the Fourth of July, just before the All-Star Game. Heat advisories in the Valley thankfully don’t seem to pertain in the downtown park where Jimmie takes his respite from the cable news talking heads before the afternoon baseball game begins, before I come home from work.

At work, the ordering of the next seasons’ plays is almost done, final strands coming together in a complex artistic and literary calculus. Design and stage management assignments formulating, the students now aware that we have bypassed our self-proclaimed deadline. Faculty are now aware that the students anxiously await the news.  A last minute delay in one title keeps us all waiting for the shared excitement that is the next season’s announcement. I anticipate the rush of questions.

When will we know our assignments, Els?

Patience is required in these summer days. Patience and presence of mind and heart.

Today on my way back from the YAS DTLA gym, Hector’s rigorous and entertaining “Fiesta Friday” workout, I passed a woman walking a black plastic milk crate on a string. From behind, she looked like any dog walker in the early morning pre-work hours. She carried herself with a regal, straight-backed air of confidence, her gait unhurried. The crate glided easily along the pavement just behind her right flank. It wasn’t too full and followed her at the companionable pace of a small dachshund. She wore black leggings and a tunic fringed with what looked like a fashionable purple sweater tied around her waist. Her hair, shoulder-length was tidy looking. Abruptly she turned, and began walking back toward me shattering the illusion. As I drew closer, I could see her dirt-smudged, tanned face, her hair in ratty unintentional dreadlocks, her eyes filled with the nervous preoccupation of one who likely hears many voices. Her black plastic crate suddenly looked less like company and more like the onus of homelessness that it was.

I suddenly felt so lucky.

I continued my walk home, passing the young sycamore tree, rescued earlier in the week by a maintenance worker at the restaurant next door. The Conservation Corps folks planted the sapling about six months ago at my request. A ranting homeless man had recently kicked away the wooden splints that held it erect. The tree, bowed from the weight of its leafy branches, bobbed over the curb into the oncoming bus traffic. When I walked by, the restaurant worker was retying the rubber stays around the trunk. I held the tree in place, two strangers collaborating on the rescue of a young life. The tree secured, I asked him what his name was, and introduced myself. This morning, he sprayed the sidewalk with soapy water and I greeted him like an old comrade in arms.

At home, in gratitude, I watered all the plants on the patio, all the orchids on hiatus from blooming, the neon-green shoots sprung from the wildflower seeds I planted in the planter late last week. The seeds, in brown packets with our names emblazoned on them had marked the seating at our son’s recent wedding. Elsbeth’s seeds are doing quite well. If they fail, you can be sure James’ seeds will be planted next.

I sat down to contemplate my good fortune. IMG_8419The early morning sunlight streamed into the living room, highlighting the carved mahogany legs of a table. A precocious orchid I had ignored,  its stem lurching out to capture the sun, is now inside, granted access for its one louche bloom. I promise myself I will pay closer attention to the other orchids to guide them straighter in their fruition. These are the things we promise ourselves in the lazy lucky days of July.IMG_8421

Today we get our car back from the body shop, newly painted hopefully with no evidence of its recent trauma on the 101. I will return the white Jeep Cherokee I’ve been driving for the past week or so, a bigger and thirstier car than I would ever choose.

We had been able to make a hellish drive to Redlands last Friday to see dear friends there in the Jeep Cherokee, a comfortable, slightly higher ride than usual. Foolishly, we drove there on the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend, leaving LA at 3:00, and arriving just after our 5:30 reservation. Our reunion was sweet, and after catching up on the last 10 years at dinner at Caprice Cafe, we walked them to the nearby Redlands Bowl where they were attending a trombone concert. Together, we posed for a snapshot near the patinated statue of William McKinley before heading home.

Audrey, our friend depicted above, is now a successful writer of children’s non-fiction. We discussed Jimmie’s recent book, A View from the Wings, a signed copy of which he delivered to her when we sat down in the restaurant, and Audrey recommended a book about writing: Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing, The Perils and Pleasures of A Creative Life.  I immediately went home and devoured it over the next two days. She has a lot to say that is extremely encouraging for the novice writer. It’s again ironic that reading books about writing is really just another procrastination from writing, but in spite of that, I felt re-energized about the process of telling my story and am grateful to Audrey for the infusion of creative energy.

Tuesday night, the Fourth of July, Jimmie and I drove to the campus to watch the Coliseum’s fireworks from the roof of Parking Structure A. My colleague, Duncan had told me about his excellent viewing spot for years, but until this year, I had eschewed it. This year, we were in the mood to see some explosions. It was a scene. When we first arrived, Duncan and his wife sat on a utility cart facing the south wall of the Parking Structure, a stool perched on the back of the cart for higher viewing. Sheepishly, I pulled up next to them in my Jeep Cherokee and we positioned ourselves parallel to them. For the next hour and a half, through the windshield, we watched as the skyline filled with ebullient fireworks, both those sanctioned and entrepreneurial in nature. By the time we left at about 9:30PM, there were at least twenty cars, and the parking roof was chock full of families enjoying the now smoky aftermath of the display. When we got home, the new Intercontinental Hotel displayed her patriotic colors.

So that’s what we’re doing in the summer days in DTLA. You could say that we are all pulling our crate, literally and metaphorically, and I am well aware of the precious cargo in mine.

 

 

Writing with Me: Stories Just For Us

Just checking in to report that the book is underway. I’m spending a few hours each week to write (not nearly enough), and it’s unfolding as planned. I’m reading a book recommended to me by my friend Bob, entitled If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, by Brenda Ueland. I highly recommend it, a balm for those get queasy at the thought of writing a book. So today, I’m digressing to write about things that probably won’t appear in the book, as they aren’t flattering things about my practice as a stage manager. I can see you all leaning in.

Oh good – here comes the dish….

This past Saturday, I had the privilege of Festival Supervising USC School of Dramatic Arts’ New Works Festival at the Pasadena Playhouse, two concert readings of plays written by the graduating writers from the USC School of Dramatic Arts Dramatic Writing Program. These play readings are cast with professional actors, directed by professional directors, an SDA offering in the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse.

My participation in the past few years has been one step removed; on behalf of the school I’ve hired someone else to supervise the festivals, and due to the timing, have been unable to even attend the readings at the Playhouse. This year, I was pleased to be able to do both – supervise and attend the readings, which were highly entertaining and festive. I recommend you seek them out next year. They happen in the middle of May, this year landing on a weekend of cultural wealth in Pasadena, opposite the Lit Fest, the Directors’ Lab, an open house at JPL, two U2 Concerts at the Rose Bowl, and an AMGEN bike ride, all of which brought 200,000 visitors to spend a sweaty Saturday in Pasadena, where temperatures hovered at 92 degrees midday. I’d warrant a guess that anyone who braved the traffic to see Rebin Zangana’s Everybody’s Moving to Fiji, and Inda Craig-Galván’s award winning Black Super Hero Magic Mama was happy that they had made the trip.

I had spent about six years working on and off at the Pasadena Playhouse, back in the early nineties, and have several credits at the State Theatre of California, including a production of “On Borrowed Time” in 1992, where I met Wren Brown for the first time. You can read about that in the post linked above; the production was noteworthy for many reasons, most important of which was that I survived the opening night ride home. Other highlights included productions of “Camping with Henry and Tom” which began with a model-T Ford, entering upstage left,  rolling down a sharp incline, where it banged into a tree, the tree fell over, smoke came out of the car and the denizens of the car, Henry Ford, Warren Harding, and Thomas Edison emerged. The show had been done in New York the previous year, so our rehearsal period was fairly brief, our tech table still in the center of the house, and the house quite well-filled for an invited dress. I made the standard invited dress disclaimer over the god mic about perhaps having to stop the show then cued the top of the show. Nothing happened. The car refused to budge. We tried to start again, and still no movement from the car. From the tech table, using the god mic, I said,

Well, I think this is going rather well, don’t you?

Big laugh. Fortunately, the next attempt at the car starting went as planned, and the dress rehearsal began.

I gave a ride home the other night to two of our three junior stage managers who stage managed the readings at the Carrie Hamilton, and I told them a few stories about my time at the Playhouse back in the nineties – before they were born, I noted, wryly.

A lot of crazy things happened in those years, many that taught me how to manage crises in a live theatre situation and a few how not to handle them.

Late during the previews of A Lion in Winter, actress Carole Cook, playing Eleanor of Aquitaine to her husband Tom Troupe’s King Henry, lost her voice and arrived at the theatre willing but unable to go on. The Playhouse, a LORT B theatre, had no understudies, and I along with the director, and artistic staff, and with Carole’s rather surprising agreement, decided that rather than cancel the performance that night and send six hundred people and Ms. Cook home, I’d set up a music stand on the apron down stage right with a script, and I would read the lines while Carole acted the part. Crazy, right? But I’d been listening to her deliver the lines for the previous five weeks, and knew where she took breaths, etc. My assistant, Ando, called the show that night.

Maybe it was like watching a car accident, but I was told afterwards that no patrons went to the box office to get their money back. Audiences love that stuff, right? It’s live theatre. In this case, I am not sure where I got the gumption to perform, and I’m quite sure that it would not be considered best practice, but I received two calls the next day – one from the artistic director, Lars Hansen, thanking me for “saving the performance,” and one from the Equity Rep, letting me know that I’d be receiving an additional 1/8th pay for “going on” as Eleanor of Aquitaine. I wouldn’t recommend this as a course of action, but just as an example of thinking really far outside the box.

I stage managed “Lettice and Lovage,” a satire by Peter Shaffer, directed by David Galligan, starring Jane CarrJane Carr as the dotty and overly-inventive tour guide at a large English manor house, and Mary Jo Catlett as her officious boss. The play called for an ensemble of tourists, and the Playhouse, ever conscious of the costs of large casts, decided they would partner with the large volunteer organization, Friends of the Pasadena Playhouse, who manage the ushering needs and support the Playhouse. The idea was quickly embraced that the ten to fifteen ensemble of tourists would be played by Friends on a rotating basis. Every night, we had a different group of volunteers whom we trained to follow Jane around the stage and hear her inventive history of the house.  Logistics were tough, but my assistant, Ando and I enjoyed their great energy and their commitment to the show. There’s no doubt that they were critical to the success of the play. It helped to boost ticket sales as well, since they all lived in Pasadena and had lots of friends to invite. Win win.

Last weekend, I became reacquainted with Patrick Corbin, a current house manager, who had just begun ushering around the time of Lettice and Lovage, and he dryly noted that he met a new usher one night and the next night had seen her on stage and thought, what a meteoric rise! He had no idea about the arrangement of the Friends as ensemble.

Managing the rotating handful of volunteers was a challenge, and their attendance was sometimes sporadic. One night we were down two volunteers, and so the director, David, and I decided we would don the running suits of these two tourists and head out for the first scene, which took place at the foot of a large staircase from the top of which Jane addressed the masses. Yes, we were being extremely naughty, and unprofessional, because we didn’t tell Jane that we were going on for the tourists. Lights up, Els and David facing upstage to hide our hysterics, our shoulders shaking like jello jewels in our garishly colored track suits.

Jane entered at the top of the stairs, took one look down at us and went into kill mode. She put a bead on the two of us and addressed the entire speech down at us, never breaking for a moment with a death grip of concentration. Trust me, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of Jane’s onstage ire. The two of us were falling apart, and ashamed of our poor performance as the tourists. Jane never let us forget that one.

Those were critically important years for me in my development as a stage manager. I know that the examples cited above lead you to believe that the development was not in a positive or professional direction, but they tell the story of the types of things that stage managers deal with routinely.  Creative solutions are needed. The ones we come up with may or may not be effective. So we’ll just let these be our little secret, eh?

Writing with Me: Declaration of Intention

I’ve been a derelict blogger of late; April is the cruelest month and certainly in academic theatre, where we had seven shows opening and running their brief allotted four to ten performances, barely longer than the lifecycle of a mayfly.

Mayfly Life Cycle

I will leave you to ponder that metaphor for just a few moments.

Moving on.

I’ve been such a poor blogger of late because I have turned my sights to a book project. In addition, there’s been some affectionate razzing by a colleague about “blogging”. Not discouraging exactly, but making me self-conscious (isn’t that what blogging is about you ask?) If I’m honest, I can’t really lay the blame on this colleague, who shall remain nameless, but whose initials are M.E. I also can’t really lay the blame on the book, because, truth be told, the progress on that is slow as well.

Anyone who has written a book can tell you that it is an extremely hostile environment. I’m speaking about mentally, in the writer’s own head. All sorts of questions assault your writerly core:

  1. Who will read it?

  2. What is new about your approach to this topic?

  3. How long will this take to complete?

  4. What am I going to make Jimmie for lunch?

  5. When do I need to take the dry cleaning in to be ready for my departure on June 11th?

  6. Who can I ask to go with me tonight to the theatre?

You get the picture. There are an infinity of tough questions that barrage one’s mind every day. How could I possibly fit the writing of a book or a blog for that matter into the folds of my  active neocortex? Note how I’m now inserting scientific terms into my blog to broaden my readership. So that could be added as #7 above.

If you know nothing else from reading my previous blogs, you should know that I am fundamentally competitive. My son still teases me about our blood sport tennis matches when he was ten and I was forty on the Studio City Tennis courts. Add to the mix my husband’s completing his memoir this year, the fact that I filled in the first eyeball on the Dharma Doll that my colleague Natsuko gave Jimmie at his book party in December knowing it wasn’t for a second book he’d write, but for a first book I’d write. It’s all a big tsunami of expectation eddying just off the shores of my brain, right behind the upturned face of my laptop.

That and the fact that I’ve never begun the process of writing a book before.

I know, because I’m a fairly rational and methodical planner, that any long piece of writing needs an outline and then a series of goals to hit. My outline consists of three pages in a small brown leather notebook that my Dad gave us a few of at Christmas time – episodes in my work as a stage manager where I learned something valuable or painful and valuable, or just something painful. This is one of the sticking points because as I’ve written so much about the necessity for stage managers to be discreet. Disclosing the secrets of painful learning about stage management necessitates pulling back the curtain to reveal the Wizard, and sometimes, the Wizard is someone we recognize.  I think about the Julia Phillips book, You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again and my resolve pales. I already know that my book lacks the sizzle of her rogue’s gallery of players. Certainly the drug history.

I do have a title. I’m withholding the title because this blog makes the writing of the book inevitable – my competitive soul has now committed me to doing it because the alternative would be too embarrassing. My followers, small in number, but mighty in support; you know who you are and thank you for sticking with me through the fallow periods like every April, now know that I have declared the game on with regard to this book.

And now, gentle reader, please do not judge too much. Here’s a bit from the introduction to dare I say it? My book:

Introduction

One of the consequences of marrying someone thirty-three years older than you is you develop the habit of looking over your shoulder with dreadful anticipation of the future without them. I can safely say that even when I was in my forties, I was attempting to reconcile myself to the moment when I would need to give up my work to care for my husband. This quotidian awareness of the finality of life seems unusual for someone in her forties, but even then, I knew that every day spent with him was precious. Perhaps that’s why we don’t quarrel, and greet each other with giddy relief at the end of the long days I spend at the university. As I turn the key in the door each evening, my eyes sweep the path to the couch to see him eagerly welcoming me as I enter our home.

It’s always been that way. Friends used to comment that when Jimmie would see me coming, he would begin to wiggle like an eager pup, his face breaking out into a grin, his hands outstretched, calling me into his arms. My wish is for everyone to have such a love in their life, and that it might last at least as long as our love has lasted. That is true prosperity.

Recently I flashed on the phrase “My heart in my mouth” in the contexts of the finiteness of our love, but also with regard to stage management, my life’s work. I have been a stage manager since I was in college, and professionally for over thirty years. I have learned my artistry from many mentors whom I assisted, watching as they called complex sequences, dealt with artists of difficult and different temperaments, handled intricate personal and political relationships and institutions.

Stage Management requires the facility to call complex and nerve-inducing cue sequences, often engendering the feeling of having your heart in your mouth. In addition, we must speak kindly to our constituents, whether they be cast or crew, or designers, or producers. Our hearts must be literally in our mouths because it is the truth and respect we convey through our words and actions that make us good or not so good at our jobs.

 

Writing with my best friend -Black and White

This is the coda to an earlier blog entitled Writing with my best friend – Royalties? Er….No.

After disengaging from the process thinking that we’d never be able to recoup on the book, another writer in our family, Jen, encouraged me, saying that according to her writer friends, publishing the book again in black and white shouldn’t be too hard. So back into Createspace I went, and began what I hoped would be a simple process.

Continue reading

Writing with my best friend – Royalties? Er….No.

The honeymoon’s over. After launching the book, creating the book’s FB page and asking everyone to review the book, we received the first royalties statement and practically had kittens. Seventy-three books had been sold, but no royalties were actually accrued.  Zero, zip, nada. I logged into our createspace account and then contacted them to talk with a human being, something I should have done earlier in the process. These were the disheartening reasons why there were no royalties accrued:

  1. Our book is 206 pages long, printed in full color on white paper. To the novice in self-publishing, what this means is that the three pictures in the book which are color are in full color. It also means that the rest of the book is produced using color printing, including all the black and white images and all the text. This makes for a very expensive book.
  2. Pricing –  I selected the minimum cost for the book, meaning that while it still is too expensive (see 1 above), we still get no royalties, because each book sold breaks even (after shipping and the percentage taken by Amazon.

So, what can we do about this?

  1. We could raise the price of the book, at the risk of not selling it.
  2. Had we printed the book in black and white on white paper, the manufacturing cost would have been something like $3.50 per book, versus the $15.27 it costs now. This would have resulted in much better returns for the author. Again, this knowledge would have been very useful earlier in the process.
  3. And, the worst news – we can’t simply reprint the book in black and white because  it has a ISBN number associated with it, and those people buying the book will expect it to be full color on white paper. (with its three color photos)
  4. To do that, we’d have to create a new project, get a different ISBN number and start over. This, at the moment, defeats me.

At a time when we should’ve been elated about publishing the book in time for Christmas, this news was not cheering. Ironically, the book seems to be selling pretty well, and to be frank, we didn’t publish it to make a fortune.

Having said that, read the great reviews on Amazon, but if you buy the book at the Createspace store, directly, you will be sending a little money to the author. Royalties accrue on every book sold there. So, we encourage you instead to buy the book at the Createspace store instead of on Amazon.com.

Publishing is complex and tough to make sense of as a newcomer. My advice, always read the fine print.

In the meantime, special thanks to those of you who have taken the time to write reviews on Amazon! It means the world to us! Merry Christmas to all.

 

Animal Migration

We have a large collection of wooden animals in our apartment, each of them about the size of a four-year-old’s clenched fist. They are arrayed all about, three on top of the piano, one in the bathroom next to the sink, two more on the dining room table. There they sit, patiently, watching as we rush around with our days. They get dusted about every two weeks, and returned not exactly to their original spots because that is a feature of having a person who cleans. She keeps us on our toes.

I have a small fascination with…er…water buffalos which manifested in 1993 during a fact-finding trip to Vietnam with my father. I think I returned with two small soapstone water buffalos, and a larimg_7218ger papier mâché one; then my dad and his wife gave me with about three more. Never express fondness for things to your loved ones. Before long, you will have received a herd of water buffalos, or an endless array of hummingbird videos, for example, and when you look in the bathroom mirror one morning, you’ve got a hummingbird tattooed on your shoulder. Be careful what you wish for, friends.

No, don’t worry, I won’t be adorning the other shoulder with a water buffalo…

Other members of the wooden animal menagerie came from the shelf in my grandfather’s study, where they sat and gazed out at the Pennsylvania countryside. They consisted of a small elephant, a seal, a small stone Buddha, a giraffe, and a boar. img_7217In addition to my grandfather’s collection of animals, there were some human figures, too, a teak carved eskimo, and several flute-playing boys on the backs of the water buffalos. In addition, there was a small beanbag lizard which was Chris’ favorite talisman when he was about 7. I think we got it at SeaWorld or the Los Angeles Zoo. After that, he carried it everywhere.

This weekend, our great niece Jen, and her daughter S visited us. They came to help us keep our heads above water against the tide of maladies Jimmie has faced recently. They arrived on Wednesday, and as soon as they walked in the door, S began talking to Jimmie about her friends. She is such a sweet girl, and several years ago when we were at a family member’s memorial, she took a fancy to Jimmie. When she walked in, it was as though they picked up right where they had left off. Shortly after they arrived, I showed S where there was a small wooden truck to play with and she immediately started scavenging for toys to put in the truck.

Uh oh, I thought. We don’t really have any toys here. But never underestimate the creative genius of a four year old like S. That’s when she discovered the animals. After the three of us walked to Whole Foods to do some shopping, S and Jimmie sat in the living room and chatted while Jen made dinner, and I went and collapsed into a deep power nap in the bedroom.

When I emerged, at about 6:00, (so much for the fifteen-minute power nap),  Jimmie was sitting in his usual spot on the couch, and three of the wooden animals were lying on the left arm of the sofa, all on their sides. On S’s right chair arm another three animals rested on their sides. As I came over to talk to them, both Jimmie and S looked up at me with great seriousness, raising their index fingers to their lips and shushed me. I sat down and watched the most charming interchange between them, while they patted the wooden carved animals ceremoniously, whispering softly in trancelike tandem tones,

Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.

I instantly recognized the parental re-emergence of the who-can-keep-quietest-game. I sat down to watch the two of them play. Any talking that “slipped out by accident” caused a cascade of giggles from S, and broad smiles from Jimmie and me. My loud snuffling snoring made her fall out, which in turn set us all laughing. Jen, peeling asparagus in the kitchen, looked curiously out into the living room. It was such a joyful moment. I felt my tensions melting away.

Over the weekend, the animals migrated through the apartment, piling up on the floor in the guest bedroom, taking turns riding in the colorful Guatemalan toy truck. Finally, at the end of their visit, they all assembled on the coffee table for a family photo. img_7225

 

Writing with my best Friend-Foreword and Indexing

When we embarked on the publication of Jimmie’s book, we began by sending the manuscript out to several publishers, and at the same time, we thought about who might be able to write the foreword to the book, as well as some blurbs for the back of the book.

I’m not ashamed to admit that we aimed high.

Hal HolbrookI wrote a brief note to actor Hal Holbrook, asking permission to mail him a copy of the manuscript, with the express hope that he would consider writing the foreword to the book. After all, Hal was a member of the Lincoln Center Repertory Company with Jimmie at the same time, for about two years, back in the 60s. We had had a beautiful dinner and trip down memory lane with Hal about a year ago, which I had posted about before. We are huge fans of Hal’s. In fact, a few nights ago, when we turned on the TV, All the President’s Men was playing, and being in the hellish election cycle that we’re in, we watched it. I’m so glad we did, because Hal’s shadowy, performance as Deep Throat in the parking garage was well worth the time spent. In addition, Jason Robards gives a killer performance as Ben Bradlee, the reluctant Washington Post editor. Anyway, with my heart in my mouth, I packed the manuscript and the return SASE into its envelope, printed out Hal’s address, drove to the post office and sent it off.

Life continued and I was subsumed by the work of producing the fall plays at USC. We didn’t hear for a while, but then I received a call from Hal’s assistant, Joyce. She apologized for the time that had elapsed since they received the manuscript, but of course, Hal had been touring his Mark Twain one-man show. He is amazing, at 90, to still be touring and performing all over the country. In addition to Jimmie’s relationship with Hal, I had had the privilege of touring for six weeks back in 1995 with Hal on a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Joyce’s call was an apologetic refusal for Hal to write the foreword, but she reported that he’d offered to write a blurb for the back cover of the book. While this was disappointing, we certainly understood, and were delighted to have him participate in any way. After we received the news, Jimmie and I discussed a few other possibilities for foreword writers, but decided to press on without one.

Life scurried forward, three productions unfurling like the battered American flag described in Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind,  and as we were teching George F. Walker’s Escape from Happiness ,  my phone again lit up with a text message from Joyce.

Can you please call me when you get a chance?

I stepped outside the Scene Dock theatre into the gloam to give Joyce a call. She was calling from Michigan, where Hal was performing Mark Twain, Tonight. Her voice was sheepish and again she apologized for the delay in communication. She explained that they’d left town without the manuscript but had had it sent overnight and that Hal had begun to read it and was really enjoying it. This made me so happy, and I knew it would please Jimmie, too.

Then she dropped the bombshell.

Hal thinks he would like to write the foreword after all.

Her words hung in the limnal space between the iphone and my ear as I processed what she was saying. My heart started pounding in my chest.

Really? That would be amazing!

What followed was a brief discussion about how much time he would need (two weeks) and whether we could delay the finalization of the manuscript to accommodate the inclusion of the foreword. (Duh!)  I promised to check with the CreateSpace folks to see what the timeline would do if we waited until Nov. 3 to send in the final copy, and said I’d call her in the morning.

The next morning, from the doctor’s office waiting room (we spend a lot of time in doctors’ office waiting rooms these days), I discovered that I could set up an almost instantaneous chat with a representative from CreateSpace and I stepped outside to take the call from the unfamiliar phone number. After providing the project’s ID number and title, the rep was able to look at the folder and counseled me on how to approach the successful inclusion of the foreword on November 3 and still meet our December 1 deadline. When I told her who was going to write the foreword, she said,

You mean the actor Hal Holbrook? Oh yes, you should definitely wait to include that!

Overjoyed, I dialed Joyce to give her the good news and she promised she would send me the foreword as soon as Hal had finished it.

Imagine my surprise and delight on October 25 to open my email and find an email from Joyce with the subject line: Foreword. It went on to say that Hal had finished the book and stayed up half the night writing the foreword. More than a week early! I was so excited to read it, and printed out a copy to take home for Jimmie to read as soon as I walked through the apartment door that night.

Suffice it to say that Hal’s foreword is a loving, enthusiastic endorsement not only of the book, but of Jimmie’s longevity in the business. A subject close to Hal’s heart because it is his story as well, albeit with a much greater degree of celebrity attached. When I showed it to Jimmie that night, after reading the first paragraph, Jimmie took a sharp intake of breath and burst into tears, turning to look at me with the most gratitude I think I’ve ever seen. It was worth waiting for. Of course when I opened the email I had been at work, and had to quell the desire to call home and read it to Jimmie immediately. I knew I wanted to see him experience the foreword first hand. Also, Jimmie’s hearing aids had crapped out that morning, and I’d had to take them to the audiologist’s office, so knew a call home would not be satisfying for either of us.

So that was this week’s high point. The more difficult job was the checking of the index, and retyping it as a word document, another item that the CreateSpace rep had told me would be needed. In a book such as Jimmie’s with over three pages of names in his index, this was no small task.

Then a sort of funny thing happened. As I checked the index, I realized I hadn’t indexed myself in the book, and when Jimmie’s ex-wives both had page numbers next to their names, I started to get jealous. Really, Els? So just for the fun of it, and really, for my Dad, who I figured would turn to the index to see if I’d been mentioned, I indexed myself. One reference with my full name, and about 30 as Els. Seeing them all written out in the index I felt like a queen, but not really in a good sense, more like an ego-maniacal idiot, as I went through and edited them all out, a bruising lesson in checking your ego before you make the stupid decision to index yourself in your husband’s book.

Last night we received the digital proof of the book and I slapped the cushion of the couch next to me inviting Jimmie to come see his book! We scrolled through and discovered a rather major error in a title chapter, which we will be able to correct, in addition to adding the heartfelt foreword of our dear friend Hal.

 

 

 

Writing with my Best Friend – The Cover and Recovery

One of the most enjoyable phases of putting Jimmie’s book together has been abusing my long friendship with my college pal, Bob Stern, now a graphic designer in New York City. We had the pleasure of seeing Bob and his partner Mitchell when we were in New York this summer, and there, in the dining room of the Yale Club, the years melted away and we reconnected after a mere whisper of time since graduating from college. 34 years gone in a flash!

While we were in college, I used to visit Bob in the printmaking shop, and watched him as he designed, then laid the heavy block letters in the press,then printed out posters for our theatre shows and theatre department. The printmaking shop was housed in the same building where we had all our theatre classes; Bob and I also shared a love of theatre. We spent two summers running a theatre on the campus, traveled with about 10 of our college friends to Edinburgh, Scotland after graduating, under the guidance of our teacher and mentor, Carol MacVey. There we all re-mounted 5 productions before disbanding across the continent to broaden ourselves. I spent thirteen months living in Venice, Italy, several of them over the last summer while Bob visited, doing graduate studies from Yale, and  we cavorted among the canals with our misfit American and Australian expat friends. I wrote a series of posts, Letters from Venice,  three years ago about that time. It is easy to fall into silliness when I am with Bob.

When I got up the gumption to publish Jimmie’s book, I asked Bob if he’d consider designing the cover, and he graciously said yes. We had initial conversations about what it would entail. No slouch when I knew him in college, Bob now has an important job in New York, and is the father to a teen. Our initial book cover conversation was a Skype call at almost midnight his time. I had sent him the book a few days before, which he had read. After adjusting the lights so that we could see each other on our respective screens, we talked about the title, A View From The Wings, and how to convey the double meaning of the word wings, discussed in a previous post.

Bob came away from the Skype session with more than one interesting idea about the design of the book’s cover. He had an idea about using Jimmie’s silhouette as a window/curtain split through which one could also see him performing on stage. Trippy, right? I have a little trouble even now describing the concept, and at midnight, after strenuous days for both of us, Bob’s description wasn’t really sinking in. But I have enormous faith in his artistry, and after almost an hour of conversation, we ended the call.

Several weeks later, Bob apologized for his computer’s “crapping out.” We would have to wait to see the sketches of his idea, but in the mean time, could I find a simple full figure photo of Jimmie that we might use as the silhouette?

I don’t know about you, but my computer photo organization is in shambles. I have the photos in  my Iphotos folder, and in my photos folder, in a large box under my bureau, and in about 5 or 6 assorted old style family picture albums. I have another hard drive where I saved all the photos and I think obliterated all the dates associated with them in the process of saving them. I probably will need to spend about a month and hire a professional to figure out how to access and organize them. I suspect my inability to see and retrieve them all has more to do with the remaining size of my memory. How apt.

I mean my computer’s memory.

thumb_s6300111_1024I went back and looked at all the photos of Jimmie I have in all my photo programs, and came across this photo of him backstage during the national tour of 12 Angry Men, wearing his natty white linen suit, in whichever city it was that I joined him in. I wasn’t sure that this photo would work for what Bob wanted, but it turned out it was exactly what he was looking for.

So weeks went by, and we had the man plumbing issues to contend with and then the teeth. We spent a few days in various ERs; I have great appreciation for the nursing staff and doctors who attend ERs. They are unfailingly kind and considerate. I have also observed that 56-year-olds don’t get in to be seen as quickly as 89-year-olds. So it was Wednesday morning at about 1:00AM, after the Tuesday tooth extraction, when out of the mists of my slumber, I heard someone calling. I don’t remember what I was dreaming about -actually think I was not dreaming, but suddenly awoke to see Jimmie standing next to the bed, and his pillow looked like something out of the horse-head-in-the-bed scene from The Godfather.

And off we went, this time to the County Medical/USC Hospital. Their ER made Good Samaritan’s ER look like a kindergarten. The size of the waiting room at County General was really imposing, but once again, we went to the head of the line. (Yes, yes, I distinctly hear my privilege.) In we went, and for the next few hours we waited as they tried about three different techniques for staunching the bleeding from Jimmie’s gums.

We spend a lot of time these days seeking medical care, but it’s time we get to spend together, and for that, however unfortunate the circumstances, I am grateful. We took turns sitting on the bed and the plastic chair in the ER bay#3 and took turns napping. It was during those hellish ER limbo hours between 4:30AM and Jimmie’s 9:00AM discharge that Bob’s email arrived with ten sketches of the book cover. 10! We looked at Bob’s creative ideas, any one of which would have worked just fine. I can’t tell you how much their arrival buoyed our spirits.

We are in re-cover-y. Thanks to Bob and the kindness of local ERs.

 

 

 

Writing with My Best Friend-Publishing From a Solid Foundation

With our self-inflicted publishing/90th Birthday party too close on the horizon (81 Days, 11 hours, 5 minutes and a rapid descent of seconds, according to the count down website I found), it has become necessary to press ahead (groan) with a self-publishing option. First, a word about the kindness of strangers regarding the manuscript I had sent out.

Yes, they were rejections, but such lovely rejections. I embraced dearly departed Caroline See’s advice and wrote thank you emails to the publisher at one publishing house who had responded that they didn’t publish memoirs or biographies, and yet took the time to read the book, responding with some editorial comments. Wow. Didn’t expect that kind of compassionate contribution to the process. It really buoyed my faith in humanity.

She also recommended with our impending deadline, that we look into self-publishing, and recommended CreateSpace, an Amazon off-shoot company that provides editing and publishing services from soup to nuts. Having been through the template-learning process with Lulu.com, the re-formatting to the new template was pretty painless, and yesterday, we had a conversation with an editor to choose the publishing features we’ll use.

It was extremely helpful and instructive to learn how the process will go moving forward. We are on an aggressive timeline so will need to make decisions about photos and editing to be ready 8 weeks before Dec. 1st. So we will be rocking it from now until the first week in October.

There are discussions we are still having about the arc of the book, how to keep the narrative uncluttered, and ways to make the title of the book A View From The Wings tie to another image Jimmie had come across in the mid 90s by a professor from Harvard.  Last night at the end of a long week at work, I tried to listen and hear the importance of this imagery to him and understand how to make the connection tighter. We had a basic disagreement about how to do it, and anyone who knows us knows that disagreements are pretty far outside the boundaries of our experience. I think we’ve had one flat out fight back in the early 80s, consisting of irritation, not even harsh words. Our friend ,John Rubinstein, jokes that we are the most irritating people:

You two probably never fight because you are both so nice. (said with a slight exaggerated sibilancy on the word nice)

Jimmie and I have always agreed on things political, though this presidential election cycle has taxed our relationship a bit, Jimmie staunchly insisting on candidates other than the “I’m with her” candidate. It’s happened before when he voted for Ralph Nader. In fact it’s not the least bit unusual for him to be much further left than me. It’s something I’ve actually always loved about him. He keeps me politically honest.

We agree about the theatre. Usually our reviews of shows (of which we have seen hundreds together over the course of our married lives) are usually pretty aligned. Our taste in television rarely sparks discomfort. We look at each other when there’s too much blood, we reach for the mute button when there’s anything like torture on, or food porn, and we look at each other. So we’ve spent a lot of time looking at each other over recent years. Carl’s Junior commercials result in absolute facial fascination. And let me be clear, I’ve got no problem at all doing that; Jimmie  seems quite contented to gaze at me as necessary.

But an aesthetic difference about imagery was tougher for me to accept, and I found myself feeling worn down and a bit saddened last night, that as we headed into the publishing process that (gasp) we were at odds. I chalked it up to being overly tired and we kissed and made up before going to bed because, well, you know the adage…

This morning’s light brought the “big pour” of concrete in the building site across the street from us, and while I spun at the DTLA YAS class, my pal Ellen and I watched the relentless cement trucks lining up on Hope Street to empty their contents into the big hole. The cement cranes arched over each other like the graceful necks of dinosaurs grazing on the savanna, and when I returned from my class, I ran to the balcony to watch as their necks dipped and pecked, filling the spaces between the rebar grid. To the northwest corner of the pour, I could see men smoothing the pavement at ground level.

I am such a construction geek. I come to it legitimately. It’s a blood relationship to concrete, my grandfather having owned the largest concrete company in Northeastern PA. This morning, when I was walking home, I passed two construction workers, both Dads, with their four children under 8 in tow, walking eagerly down to where they could show them the activity across the street. It is magical to see the beginning of the process, to the end, so clearly demonstrated north west of us, with the now lighted spire of the tallest building on the west coast. I (of course) attended that big pour as well, which was probably four times the size of our little pour going on in the neighborhood.

So what does all this have to do with self-publishing a book? I am well aware that our process of publishing this book has as much to do with the foundation of our marriage, our trust and respect of each other, the history of our dipping and pecking in the savannas together. As much if not more than the content or caliber of the actual book. I know that our foundation is solid, well-cured and will withstand whatever small editorial disagreements we have. We are both energized by the process, looking through pictures to include in the book, and examining the structure of the book.  It is an accelerated process by virtue of the construction deadlines I’ve imposed on it. But I promise there won’t be any pictures of concrete pours in the final product!img_6943