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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Holy, holy, holy

Once upon a time, I was a professional religious person.

When strangers gathered for banquets and learned I was among them, I was asked to bless the meal.

At Thanksgiving gatherings, Christmas, Mother's Day brunch, everyone turned to me for prayer.

I've buried every aunt and uncle in my clan.  My own mother asked me to do her funeral.  Years later, when she died and I asked to sit in the congregation with the rest of my family, my siblings were baffled.  It took them years to recover from my betrayal.  Such is the life of a cleric.

Now, I'm a playwright.

I rise early, make the coffee and open my notebook.  My mind and imagination are filled with the voices and mannerisms of the thousands of characters I left behind when I left the church.

The story flows; no interruption, no judgment.  If I am lucky, my stuff will one day emerge before crowds of critics. People who have never laid eyes on me, never asked me to baptize or bury, will hear my holy words.

Oh, yes. .  . I published while I was preaching.  The Star Tribune ran my work every other week.  But the church was not amused when I wrote about alcoholism, child abuse, dead-beat dads or abortion.

These, I learned later in life, are topics loathed by the church and welcomed by the theatre.

And so, my ministry continues.  My sanctuary however, is changed to a stage of thespians, audiences rather than congregations. No more benedictions - only overtures, intermissions and applause. 

Curtain up!

Many paths - one destination

I've splattered blogs all over the internet.  For the past two years, I've posted my advice column "Dear Kristine" on both my FACEBOOK and my TWITTER pages.

This blog, however, has my attention these days.  Writing about the theatre inspires me to write for the theatre - so my blog feeds my art.  Can't think of a better way to use my time!

I'm writing a play about the 1970s, and the difficulties behind breaking into a male-dominated profession.  My first work was as a Presbyterian pastor.  I met some strange, strange clergy in those days - and many wonderful church-going believers.  Not one of the former group encouraged me - not one of the latter said anything other than wonderful praise.

I suppose that's why there is a city-wide interest in the completion of this play.  When finished it will contribute to history.

Once upon a time, women who sought work, opened the Pioneer Press to "Help Wanted - Girls," and "Help Wanted - Men" section.

Those words signaled a serious reality.  Men and women were not equal in the workplace.

I remember how unequal we were.  For example, during my first professional interview, I was asked if and when I expected to be pregnant.  In my first position, my supervisor routinely asked me to go to the storage room with him so he could rub my bottom and confirm I was not wearing a girdle; something he had to clarify to concentrate on his work. This, my friend - is gospel. When I resisted, he told me he would fire me.  Reminding me who signed his pay check, he dragged me to the storage room.

In those days, I lived at home with my aging mother.  I grew up in a home without a father.  From the time I was able to work, my little paycheck helped my struggling mother make our monthly mortgage payment. Work was important then, and has remained important to me throughout my life.

I remember coming home from that horrendous work place and telling my mother how my boss was handling me.  She told me to accommodate as much as I could.  "Remember," she said, "the way he treats you has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with him."

Her kind words never made life easier.  Nor, I'm afraid, did the passing of years and the changing faces of my harassing supervisors.

In seminary, I grew to understand that the treatment I received in the workplace was not unique to the secular world.  With the exception of the profoundly unattractive, every woman I encountered was harassed in seminary.

Of course, becoming professional - working beside and sometimes in front of men - created a shift in power.  When women began to grow in numbers and authority, laws changed.  The culture followed.  Never forget - it is not only possible, but often necessary to legislate morality.

These days, it's difficult to remember a time when women were not welcomed into leadership positions.  And my play hits hard on this topic that needs serious revisiting.

Several years ago I started a salon in the Twin Cities.  "The Dead Feminists Society of Minnesota," is open it to anyone interested in discussing gender equity and feminist principles.

Today, the group has almost 300 members - and our gatherings have been as large as 70.  The discussion is always lively - and I remain impressed by the many 50-something and older in attendance who recall, with fond memory, their good work for feminism.

Here, there and everywhere - everything I do is for the advancement of my sex.  I hope that what I write for theatre will be as evocative and inspiring as were my newspaper columns.

Theatre, journalism, salons that focus on equity - - - I guess my many blogs make sense. Sometimes the only way to move forward is to follow many paths.

The journey may vary.  The destination is always the same.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sliding down the razor blade of writing . . .

My new play is titled "The God Girl." When I started it, it looked like a serious, important drama; a little slice of personal history with a message for the masses thrown in for sport.

Now, after four months writing - the play has morphed from drama to comedy, from light musical to mystery, and finally to drama again.

Few people could tolerate this kind of ambiguity with their craft. Consider how frustrating it would be to knit a sweater without a pattern; only a vague, unformed idea about how it will appear when finished.

That's how this process feels - - I know the message I want to convey. I know that, in the end, I will communicate what I believe to be important. Along the way, however, I have discovered a wide variety of vehicles.

When I taught writing, I had many students to complained to me that writing was "painful." I remember one student in particular - a sad, unhappy, overweight woman who walked with the use of a cane; a young woman who long ago gave up on herself and any hope of joy and liberation in her life.

"I hate writing," she told me, "But I must do it. It's the most painful, most awful thing in the world. Like sliding down a razor blade. But I must do it."

I was stunned.

Why? Because I love writing. If I could spend all day, every day writing, I would do so. I love writing plays more than fiction, poetry, social commentary. Play writing allows me the freedom to invite all the people in my head to come out to play with each other. I love giving them voices, form, a setting and a great plot. I am aware that I'm probably crazy - and I don't mind. I'm mad about this stuff. Wild and crazy about writing.

So no. I don't find any pain in this life - none at all. I am not frustrated by the many forms taken thus far by God Girls - nor will I punish my characters or myself as this delightful play morphs into a new shape in the days to come.

Writing like this is a privilege. Never before, never in my life have I been so free, so happy and so able to express what I believe, think and feel.

No razor blade here. No blood. Only enthusiastic appreciation for an audience, a talent, and the time to cultivate both.