Thursday, December 20, 2012

GOD GIRL -The History Theatre

Opens February 7, 015
God Girl
by Kristine Holmgren
directed by Ron Peluso

Princeton Theological Seminary, 1975. The war in Vietnam is over, the women’s liberation movement is in full swing, and idealistic Kris Holmgren joins the first large population of women seeking ordination into the Presbyterian ministry. Will she survive the cynical, sinister secrets of her new career?

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Following tragedy - What NOT to say to your children

The phone rang at 3 A.M.

I jumped because I know the truth.

Only tragedy phones after midnight.

"Pastor Kristine," the anxious mother cried, "Henry won't come out of the closet.  And he has a knife."

Four days prior, six-year-old Henry attended his grandfather's funeral.


I remembered - the little boy seem odd -  he smiled too much - giggled too much - and although he held fast to his mother's hand, Henry seemed disconnected from the tragedy of the death experience.

Something, I thought at the time, was not right with little Henry.

"He wants to die." 


"He wants to die," his mother said through the phone.  "He says he wants to be with his grandfather."

Moments later, when I knocked on the closet door, Henry told me the same thing.  If gramps was living now with Jesus, he said - and heaven was a wonderful place - a better place than this place -  why couldn't he be there?

Why did he have to live far away from Jesus and without his grandfather?

Adjusting reality 


The night ended well.

Henry's mother and I coached him out of the closet, took away his knife - and tucked him into his large, comfortable bed with assurances that heaven can wait.

In the weeks and months to follow, I sat with Henry's family as together we sorted through his odd and innocent view of death and dying.

Following the shooting spree at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, I remembered Henry and his family.

This week, across the nation, millions of American parents will face their children's awful, innocent questions about death, dying, violence and evil.

Here are a few things not to say as we construct our answers. 

Don't say - "God needed that little child in heaven."

 

Portraying God as someone who arbitrarily kills children to meet a heavenly quota is a  terrifying idea to a child.

Your little child wants to know why things like this happen.  To lay the cause of it on God's random desire to snatch a life is frightening to anyone.  And you don't believe that - do you?

Consider instead, a more truthful, honest way to support their tiny worlds with comfort.

Say - "Your daddy and I do everything we can to keep you and all of us safe." 

Don't tell lies and believe them to be words of comfort.




Don't say - "You're too young to understand."

 

Children get it.

They know about evil.  They believe in boogie men, dragons, monsters under the bed.

They know there are forces out there, bigger than they, meaner than they, with the strict intention to do them harm.

And you're the grown up.

Tell them you know about those forces as well.  Remind your child that you are big, strong, capable and able to protect your family. 

Remind your child that your job is to take good care of your children.

And you're good at your job. 

Don't say - "Go to sleep.  Everything will be all right tomorrow." 

 

This is the biggest lie.

If everything will be all right tomorrow, grief has no meaning.  If grief has no meaning, the loss of a child is insignificant. And if a loss of a child is insignificant, what value is the life of your own child?

Of course - our children are precious to each of us - and so this is a teaching moment for an important lesson; death is a natural part of our experience as creatures.

When a person dies,  our sadness is deep and sometimes hard to bear.  The reason for that is this - when someone dies, there is nothing more that can be done to help, save or recover the relationship.

Tell your child that one of the most important things we learn in life is the necessary lesson of saying goodbye and letting go.

Remind your child that you are there to help in the learning.

Don't say -  "God doesn't give anyone more than they can handle."

 

This phrase demonizes those of us who are dealt a terrible hand in life.

The truth is - many, many people face circumstances we cannot handle.

Many of us fall to pieces under the challenge we face.  Life is not easy for many of us.  We stagger under the burdens of our difficult lives, we fall into irretrievable pain, suffer and fail.


Don't teach your child to trivialize grief with the old "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" mentality.

Instead, teach your child compassion.  Teach your child that bad things happen to all of us - and when they do, good people must step forward and be of use.

Teach your child to comfort others.



The best way to do this is to be of real, serious, honest comfort to your family - especially your children.

And please, don't say - "All of this is God's will."

 

Last time I checked, no one but God knows the truth about divine will.

Don't teach your child that God, or anyone, "wills" the killing of innocent children.

True, there are holy scriptures to support that kind of craziness, but that's a discussion for another time.

Now, in the midst of immediate tragedy, find words of hope, power, and comfort for your child.

Remember - you're the parent in this situation; with obligation and responsibility to protect the heart, soul, and spirit of your little one.

Show your confidence, compassion and concern in the way you respond to death and violence.

What ever happened to Henry? 

 

Today, Henry is a grown man, with two children of his own.

But I can't sugar-coat his story; as a child he was sensitive and imaginative.

Although the death of our grandparents and our parents are natural life-events, Henry was changed by the loss of his grandfather. 

As a consequence, even as a grown man, he faces challenges that many of us don't always understand.

I expect the elementary school population of Newtown, CT will carry the same burden.

Our children however, will look at the tragedies of the world through the windows we provide them. The leadership of parenting is a deep source of comfort to our little ones.

And a clear, truthful understanding of the deep meaning of tragedy and death is the greatest resource we can provide.

.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Heartbreak at the holidays - Five ways to cope


Trust me - I know.

Heartbreak over the holidays is worse than a Lake Superior swim in October.

One big difference - a cold dunk in Gitchie Goomie numbs the senses.

Being dumped in December is a "feeling" frenzy. Hallmark commercials break your heart.  The question - "What are your plans for New Year's eve?" makes you tear-up.

And "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is enough to make you reach for the cyanide.

Even so, you can do this thing.

Here are the top five tactics for making it through the holiday with a broken heart.

1. Face up.  Grow up.  Man up.
Pain can make us misbehave.  Drink too much, drive too fast, fall asleep at work.

You might be tempted to inhale four dozen krum kakke in one sitting.  You might find yourself attracted to that awful woman in the cubicle next to you - the one who keeps asking you to go to a Scientology lecture.

Or, you might develop an addiction to Drambuie over vanilla ice cream.

None of those things will crack the case.  Truth be told, it takes a lot of courage to be sad.  But sadness helps us find out who we are; whom we love; who loves us.

 Listen to your misery.  Let it lead you to your truth.

2. Don't mess with your mind.
 This is not the time to "take stock" of your life - your past - your future.  Instead, this is a time to turn off all "evaluation" of your sweet, lovely life.  Don't let this awful moment be the focus of your holiday.  Remember - there are worse things than losing your honey.

 When you feel the blues coming at you with a sledge hammer, take a walk or call someone in trouble too - think of others rather than yourself.

Don't fall into the trap of believing you'll never love again, never be happy again, never find your mate.  Instead, accept your feelings of hopelessness, despair, fear - and take away the power they might otherwise have.  Draw no conclusions. Wait.  Everything looks better after January first.

3. Boogie on down to Broadway.
I don't know about you - but music lightens my life.  Crank up the tunes, and dance in the kitchen.  Sing at the top of your lungs. Rock on with your bad self, and let the endorphins have sway over this grim moment in time.  Music, dance and song lift your spirits - and fight back the nasty stress of loneliness.

4. Remember how normal all of this is. 
 True - sometimes a severe heartbreak can lead a person into full-blown depression.  That's not going to happen to you this holiday.

When a person is depressed, nothing matters - no one can help, nothing can save him or her.   But you?  Everything matters to you.  Your pain is your body's way of telling you you're a healthy, loving person.

Don't worry.  You're okay, and you'll get over all this.

5. Let yourself "love" the one you still love.
You might think it impossible - but the process of extending your heart to someone whom you have no intention of loving ever again builds your own stability.

Because the relationship is over does not mean life has ended.  Your loved one is still alive - you're still here.  You can love that person and let him (or her) go.

 You don't need to forgive or forget - - you don't need to stay in touch.

But there's nothing wrong with spending a few holiday minutes alone - remembering the one you lost - and wishing the two of you a happy New Year.  No matter how badly he or she treated you, you both deserve compassion.

And no matter how hard it is to move forward - take time to live in the "now," and to honor all these experiences.

Finally - breathe!

And remember the words of the old holiday tune; "Next year, all our troubles will be miles away."

Or - as my mother always used to say - "This too, shall pass."

Happy holidays! 


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Beyond frostbite - or, how to survive a Minnesota winter


Come a little closer Bunky, and I'll tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

There are secrets to living well on the tundra.

Secrets known only the wise, the withered and the wistful.

And global warming has sheltered you, my darling twenty-something, from the truth about Minnesota winter.

Because, my little Bunkster, your childhood was snowless.  As a consequence, you've grown up expecting that a flannel shirt alone will provide - that long underwear is only for the sick, old, crazy or stupid.

It's not your fault, snoogie.

Even so, I cannot allow you to wallow in stupidity.

And so, my little punkin' - it's time you faced the truth about Minnesota.

Lean in, Bunky - as your mommy shares the top five skills necessary for surviving an Old Fashioned Minnesota Winter.

# 5 -  Accept.

 

 The first step is acknowledging you are powerless over snow.

Snow like this - snow that blocks the door to the deck and freezes shut the garage - snow that damages the roof and frightens the house pets -  honey; this kind of snow has an axe to grind. This kind of snow needs someone to put it in its place.

I don't want you to grow up to be the kind of man who chooses to smoke dope in the hot tub rather than shovel the drive way or rake the roof. 

I want more for you, Bunky. And so does your father.

So - get out there.  Shovel.  Shovel until you don't think you can shovel another shovel full.

And accept it, sugar.

It's  winter.  It's bigger than both of us.

#4  - Respect. 

 

Remember last Christmas?  There was no snow - and Grandma tried to sun bathe in the nude.  You thought it was funny - but the police had another opinion.

Promise me, Bunky.  Promise me you'll be smarter than your father's people.

Respect winter.  No matter how whimpy it may be.  

#3 - Enjoy! 

 

When you were a little bink, you loved to make snow forts, snow men, snow bunnies.

I promise - no one will call the Carleton College dean and report what you do here, at home,  on your Christmas vacation.

So, have at it, Bunkster!!  Build your Mommy a snowman.  Deck him out with your Daddy's fedora, madras scarf and hookah.

Don't let the snow get you down, sugar.

 #2- Exploit! 

 

When I was your age, the young men who wanted to take advantage of me used this weather to the hilt.

Tobogganing the Town and Country golf course after dark - tubing Buck Hill on a bright Sunday morning - snow-shoeing around Lake Josephine in the bright, awful December moonlight - - -

Oh, Bunkster, Bunkster - my darling boy.

Take one of your girls out for one of those activities - and I guarantee you won't be sorry!

Go!  Have fun in the snow!  Make this a winter to remember.

#1 Defend. 

 

When you grow up and leave this frozen wasteland behind, you will encounter those who - because of their limited exposure to frostbite - fail to appreciate the magic of God's country.

Bunky - wherever you go  - don't let anyone trash-talk Minnesota.

A long time ago, before you were a twinkle in your chemically dependent daddy's eye - his ancestors moved here - on purpose.

Those undereducated, desperate Swedes  chose Minnesota because the land is so like Sweden; frozen, flat, desolate and cold.

I know, I know.

But Bunky, that's who we are.

So, shoulders back - stand tall!  Wear water-wick socks under your Sorrels and keep your goose-down dry.

Be proud, my boy!

You're Swede, you're Minnesotan, you're stubborn and you're a little stupid.

But you know how to survive and thrive in a part of the country everyone else is happy to fly over.

And that's something.

Isn't it?

 




Sunday, December 2, 2012

The amnesia of Christmas

When I was a little girl, no one suffered in our house during Christmas.

My mom was a member of the Grand Avenue State Bank's  "Christmas Club."

If you were lucky enough to belong, the bank took your Christmas Club account money every week and refused to give it back to you -  until December 1st. 

Housewives in my neighborhood loved this - because it ensured they had enough to buy their families a wonderful holiday.

My mom loved it best.  Without the club, she knew she would forget to save.

"It's amnesia," she said.  "I forget Christmas is coming!"

My mom managed to deposit a dollar each week into her Christmas Club account - and let me tell you - when I was a little girl, $52 bought a lot of Christmas for our little family. 

My own personal, private "elf" 

 

And Christmas in our house needed every penny.

My dad was a Linotype operator for the Pioneer Press. It was  good job, a decent job, a well-paid job.  But Christmas was a magical time, and required more from each of us.

And so it came to pass that each year, my father joined-up as one of Santa's elves.

I knew it.  My brother knew it.  My mom told us so.

"Santa needs people like your dad," she said, "to get all his work done.  Look at the beautiful things Santa makes in his shop.  Without your father, how could he do it?"

That's how, throughout my childhood, I knew that the meticulously carved, hand-crafted wood-worked gifts I received every year on Christmas morning were made in my own house.  By my own dad.

Unique, collectable, wonderful toys - like,  a doll-sized bed with real, turned bed posts, painted blue and white; a stool with my name painted in Scandinavian rosemaling; a wagon for my baby doll, with real, rubber wheels painted baby-doll white.

Made for me - by own personal, private "elf."

The disappearing Tiny Tears

My mother too, was in cahoots with Kris Kringle.

Before Thanksgiving, my Tiny Tears doll would disappear.  Her name was Grace - she was always with me - and when she went missing, I was lost.

Every year I'd hunt for her, worry for her, cry for her - beg my mother to help me find her.  To no avail.

"Maybe Grace went home to visit Santa," she said.
"Maybe Grace went home to visit Santa," she would say. "Maybe she got homesick for the North Pole."
My Christmas amnesia; I never remembered that the identical problem occurred at the identical time the prior year.
And of course - every year - on Christmas morning, there she was; my little Grace - under the tree, decked in a brand new, hand sewn dress, surrounded by mounds of freshly sewn play clothes, home-made sweaters and caps, blankets and shoes.

All of this, because of my mother's Christmas Club - and her holiday budget of $52.

Trying to recreate the impossible

 

When I started my own family,   I wanted to give my girls the same magic my parents provided.

And so, every year,  I set aside my own "Christmas Club" fund.

To this day, I stash a dollar here, a fifty there - and hope that the end of the year I'll have enough to lavish a grand and unforgettable holiday upon my own children.

But something always gets in the way.

One year, the car broke down.  I had to use the holiday cash to repair the transmission and rebuild the carburator.

Another year, the downstairs bathroom pipes burst, and all my "Christmas Club" cash went out the door with the clean-up crew.

This year, I have to use the Christmas Club money to replace damaged, dangerous carpet in my basement.

And so it happens  - every year, about this time - I apologize again to my children.  I'm sorry the holiday won't be grand.  I'm sorry I don't have the money to make it lavish.  I want it to be magical- I want it to be remembered.

And every year they say the same thing.

Christmas all ready is magical.  Every Christmas day memorable.
My gifts are special, and every moment precious.

Their words shake away my amnesia.  I remember what two simple people did with $52 and a lot of imagination. 

If my parents could be Santa's elves, so can I.

And so - this year - no apologies.  I'm going to remember what my amnesia seduces me to forget.

The blessings of the holiday are bigger than the limits of our wallets. It doesn't take a grand bank account to make a grand Christmas memory!

From my little house to yours - Merry Christmas, and happy, happy New Year!



Thursday, November 22, 2012

What happened to Kristine??

Hang in there!  Don't forget me!  The playwright schedule is a bit overwhelming right now. . but I expect to post new insights soon.

Have a fabulous holiday season!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The hard sell on marriage

 Off I went last night - excited to phone "undecided" voters and persuade them to vote NO on the marriage amendment.

Unless you've been under a rock for the past six months, you know what I'm talking about.

This past year, the Minnesota State Legislature passed the following amendment to the state Constitution.  The voters, however, are the ones who must pull the trigger to give it power.


"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?" 

I say "no."

Not because I think gays and lesbians should marry if they choose - although I do.

Not because I believe in polygamy or bestiality or whatever other weirdness the Religious Right promises will ensue - although I don't.

I say "no" because I don't want my constitution messing with this part of the social contract between men and women.  I like things the way they are - flexible, free, and  open to the nuance of history.

I learned last night, however, that my reasons for supporting the defeat of this amendment are impotent.

The campaign has its own reasons.  And they have little to do with freedom, societal contracts or the legitimate construction of constitutional content.
We were, in the main, Baby Boomers - all. 

 

Messing with my head


Of course, the ten of us who showed up to phone filled the little office, unaware.

We were leftie Baby Boomers - all.  Balding, greying, plumping, daring-to-drive-at-night Social Security recipients;  traveling with satchels of organic produce and water, bottled to our own containers - to help us make it through the night. 

We were promised a "training," and we got it, all right.

Our trainers were two overly-pierced and hipster attired youngsters.  The girl was tall, thin, mini-skirted and grim.  She wore black tights (of course), black boots, and gloves with the fingers torn free to expose black fingernail polish, nibbled to the raw.

Her partner was an eggheadian guy, wearing Dave Letterman glasses, oversized black tennie-bumpers and a grim, flannel shirt.

They were the first to break the bad news to us.

We needed, they said, to put away our preconceived reasons for opposing the amendment.  Hearts and minds are not moved, they said, by concern for civil liberties - individual freedom - the protection of the constitution.

Using a tactic that works with the undecided


Instead of talking about "rights" and "laws," we needed to talk about our personal relationship with marriage. 

"Think of your own relationships," the young male hipster instructed.  "Think of all the good things it brings you. Think how sad it would be if only heterosexual couples could experience what you've experienced."

"We want you to - you know - say good things."

A gray, bearded old guy in the back of the room coughed and raised his hand.

"I ain't never been married," he said, "and I ain't never seen a good one neither."

The hipster smiled.

"What about your own parents?"

"Assholes," the man coughed again, and we all laughed.

Sitting beside him, a straight-backed, elegant bottle-brunette in a Chico's silk top and Ecco shoes shook her head and waved at the girl hipster.

"You married?" she asked.

The young girl shook her head.  No - she wasn't married.

"Well, I don't recommend it." the old woman said.  "I've been married three times.  How am I supposed to get on the phone and tell anyone marriage is a good thing?"

"Who's idea is all this?" the man in the back barked. 

"None of us is here to 'recommend marriage,'" said a gentleman in tweed trousers, a corduroy jacket with leather patches on the elbows.  "We're here to support the Constitution."

The hipsters glanced at each other; a furtive, calculating glance.

Three people in the front row stood - gathered their bottles and bananas and exited.

No one called them back.

"Here's the script," scrambled the anxious girl hipster, as she hustled to pass-out a paper covering the evening's talking points.

"You can study it," she said.  "It's only a suggestion.  You're free, you know.  You can talk about the constitution - whatever -  if you want."

"But we want you to - you know," said the boy, "say good things about - you know - about, well - about marriage."

No - she wasn't married.
The poor guy.  We could see it.  He was so disappointed in us. 

I felt the mood in the room shift.

Disapproval from young people is hard for any Boomer to accommodate. 

"It's okay," the brunette leaned forward in her chair."We can do this, honey.  We're cranky, that's all.  Pay no mind to us."

"That's right, that's right," the others chimed.

"We'll follow your little script" the brunette confirmed. "No biggie."

So it came to pass that last night, a room full of cynical elders,  phoned several hundred strangers and lied to them - bold faced - about their affection for the proverbial tie-that-binds.

I heard them as they dialed and chatted.

Marriage, they said, is a beautiful thing.

Do you know someone gay or lesbian?  Do you think that one day they might want to be as happy in their relationship as you are in yours?

Why deny them the elegant bliss of matrimonial heaven?

Why, indeed, I thought.

Everyone deserves the right to experience the raw disappointment, gut wrenching disillusionment and hard, cold misery that only married love can bring.

Gay, lesbian or straight. 












Thursday, October 25, 2012

Imaginary worlds are the best


A new play is a new planet - populated by the strange and the ordinary.

Pulling a story to stage draws down the abstract and concrete parts of the creative process.

A tale cannot be told without a decent setting.

A character cannot initiate or respond without good, strong motivation.  And a plot cannot develop without an underlying lesson.

I love writing plays.

More than critical, social commentary, writing for the theatre offers an opportunity to review, revise and revisit reality.

For over ten years,  I paid serious, important attention to media - listening for inspiration, seeking a hook upon which to hang a critical view of my world.

Writing a play is the direct opposite.

Now, instead of paying attention, I ignore the news.  Instead of seeking to criticize, I yearn to inspire.

It's a loftier calling.

Granted - it makes a woman a little crazy.  Imagine, if you can, what my day is like.

I rise early, walk my adorable dog, do what must be done around my house.

I pack a bag and travel to my coffee shop.  For the next four hours, I no longer live in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I have no children, no responsibilities, no obligations, no bills, no worries, no fear.

For the next four hours, I live in la-la-land.

Sometimes, sitting there alone, I speak aloud the lines my characters bring to life.

"Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit."

Or -

"You don't have the good sense god gave a gopher."

I know.  My stuff ain't Shakespeare.

It's Holmgren. 



"

The one who got away

All the leaves are brown - and the sky is grey.

You know the drill - and I've got the funky chicken woman blues. 

My old boy friend Jim Anderson, was the first to call them out for what they are.

Jim was a University of Minnesota summa cum laude graduate and a fabulous pick-up hockey player.

I loved him for almost a decade. 

He was a classic Minnesota boy - blond and blue eyed.  Everyone thought we were brother and sister.  And honey, the man knew how to call-out a funky mood when he met one.

I remember one particular October afternoon as the blues began to overwhelm me - Jim took my face in his powerful hands,  looked me in the eye and said -

"You are as funky as an old chicken woman."

He, of course, was right.

 He was always right. I was too young to understand how rare it was to meet a man so right.

He was so right I had to walk away from him  - and marry someone wrong.

Funky chicken woman blues

I have the funky chicken woman blues. 
When a woman gets to my age (old enough for Social Security and young enough to still be able to make a living), autumn is a tough season.

Old ghosts come to call.

Women of my generation don't need Halloween to visit the living-dead.



The first, raw chill of October, the unforgiving slap of freezing rain, the impossible pile of unmovable, wet oak, elm and maple leaves - everything seems to conspire to the land of the funky chicken.

And let's be frank - living alone makes a woman peculiar. I know this. Being a playwright doesn't help. I spend my afternoons in coffee shops, documenting the conversations of imaginary people and calling it art.

For cryin' out loud.

Wherever he is, I'm sure Jim Anderson sighs in relief when he thinks of me. His days are probably filled with gratitude for his narrow escape.

Even so, when the birch tree sheds her last, dead leaf - and when the robins begin to dwindle at the bird feeder, I think of Jim Anderson.

He hated pretense. He loved ideas.

And once upon a long time ago - he loved me.














Sunday, October 14, 2012

Those who can, can't help themselves.

Maybe it's the changing of the light - the coming of winter.  Maybe it's Obama - maybe it's my hunger for his extinguished fire.

Maybe it's because Sheila Shanley has been dead for ten years - and my mother has been dead for almost twenty.

Whatever the reason, during this past week, I've been miserable. 

No.  Not miserable.  The word miserable is too strong.

During this past week, I've been creatively challenged.

What we don't know CAN hurt us. 

Of course - like most funky times - I suffered in ignorance.  I had no idea what was troubling me -  perhaps something material, mechanical or maniacal.  

I thought I could fix it by raking leaves.  Mopping the kitchen floor.  Throwing on four loads of laundry.  Reading a good book.

I began to think the root of the funk was financial.  I thought I should get a part time job - pull down some cash.

I did all that.  The funk hung fast. 

Until today.  Today, I went back to work.  I'm working on my new play, GROWING UP GOODRICH.

Like magic, the fog lifted.  The sunniness of my disposition returned.  Coffee tasted better.  My bank account no longer freaked me.

To hell with sex, drugs, rock'n'roll. 

Writing is my Kick-a-Poo Joy Juice.

 

Taking my own good advice.  

 

 I once taught a class at THE LOFT LITERARY CENTER entitled, "Monday Morning Blues Buster."
(The title, I believe, became the inspiration for the name of the Northfield coffee shop - one of my legacies to Rice County!) 
The course was designed to jump-start stymied, stuck, bored and burned-out writers into a new frame of mind.  I taught it because I'm the only writer I know who is never, ever "blocked."  I always, always have something to write, something to say.

Only a portion of it is worthy of consumption, of course - but nonetheless, I'm a frickin' font of wisdom.

I remember my dismay - my surprise - my genuine shock - at how many writers complained about the pain of writing.

"I hate to start," one person said, "because I hate to re-write.  And everything is so terrible, I know I'll have to re-write."

"What if I fail?" asked another.  "What if I'm no good at it?"

"I experience physical pain," one compained, "in my soul, my heart.  And of course - my back! Writing gives me SUCH a back ache!"

After six hours of this, I cracked.

"Look," I said.  "No one is holding a gun to your head.  No one is forcing you to write.  If you hate it, stop.  If it makes you suffer, don't write.  Give it up.  Try water colors." 

Needless to say - I offered the course only once.   I had so little to offer. 

 Rockin' on with my bad self.  

 

My play GOD GIRL is ready for the next step.
GOD GIRL is ready for the next step at The History Theatre - where it was selected for RAW STAGES production, January 7, 2013.

PAPER DADDY, while  dormant, is tighter, leaner, better than when it premiered in Northfield. 

SWEET TRUTH awaits my revising review - The Berlin Theatre expects a rewrite in February.

But right now, GROWING UP GOODRICH has my undivided attention.

 The story of the 1957 Midwest printers' strike; the hardship imposed on Minnesota families - the violence, the anger, the fear and the dread that visited my optimistic Swede parents - is a story that will resonate with Baby Boomers and the children who struggle to understand our idealism.


Write to bring to the light. 

 

Of course - that's not why I'm writing it.

This play, like all the others, has a life of its own.  The characters scream for release - push and strain for freedom.  The plot shapes as my mind swims in detail.

Damn, I love this life!

A pen, a great pad of paper, a clear mind and the time to write -
There is no angst in my wonderland. 





Friday, October 12, 2012

An Election Day of "NO" When We Mean "YES" - Same Sex Marriage and Voter Freedom

Unless you're intellectually challenged, educationally stunted, emotionally vague or dispositionally stupid, you understand the positive message behind the negative word.


Peppered around Minnesota, orange and blue signs encourage you to vote "no" on two constitutional initiatives.

Counter intuitive - yes?  (Or - do I mean, "Counter intuitive - no?")

One might think "YES" is a positive thing.  Think again.  Sometimes (in this case!) your YES shuts down your freedoms - and mine.

Two initiatives - one to limit the freedom to "marry" to one man and one woman.

The other - to insist that everyone who casts a ballot in Minnesota carry photo identification. 

I'm not a lesbian (although, if you GOOGLE my name, you'll see how many times I am labeled such!) and I'm carry a photo I.D.  So - technically, I have no dog in this fight.

I am, however, free.  And I hope to stay free as long as possible.
(Granted - one day my adorable children might choose to confine me to a facility where I'm strapped into a wheel chair and fed three meals of pureed beets and chicken vomit. Until then, I'm hanging tough to the little freedoms I own!)

Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose. 

A big part of my freedom (and yours!) is the freedom to engage in normal, acceptable loving relationships - where the world joins you - and calls you "good."  ( I lose nothing.  You lose nothing.)

Another part of my freedom (and the freedom we all share in this great land!) is the ease, comfort and accessibility of our most treasured franchise - the vote.  (I lose nothing.  You lose nothing.  Get it?)

Many elderly people no longer have photo identification.  Many African Americans and new immigrants do not own cars - and do not carry photo identification.

Until recently, I did not know that the Department of Motor Vehicles issues photo identification to all citizens - for a small fee.  And if I did not know this simple fact, I'm certain - dead certain - that a majority of underprivileged, undereducated, under-represented Minnesotans do not know it either.

You may not like the fact that all Minnesotans are welcomed at the voting booth.   Stupid people - poor people - handicapped people - illiterates - incompetents - the blind - the deaf - the amputee;  the many miscreants you don't like and don't want your daughter dating.

But hey, Bunky.  This is American.  Land of the free - home of the imperfect.

And last time I checked, when all Minnesotans vote - we all win.

Even when we vote in the negative.

This time - two "NO" votes - and the "yes" wins!








Wednesday, October 10, 2012

THE PLAYWRIGHT AS MURDERER





Audiences are not stupid.  They buy a ticket, go to the theater with one purpose in mind; entertainment.

As the playwright, your first (and only) job is to entertain.  If you write well, your work might also inspire and educate.

But do not be confused; if your audience is not first entertained, your play is dead.

Playwrights are clever little murders.

We, unknowing, kill our characters, our plot-lines, our scripts as casually as you slop together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for your five-year-old.

FIRST RULE - LET YOUR PLAY LIVE!


Below are three writing devices that feel like script writing. They're not.  Instead, they're cheap, easy ways to murder your script. 

Any time you find yourself “writing” any of the following devices into your work, stop.  Replace them with actual writing, and your script will live.
 
We don't need no stinkin' narrator.

 

1.  A SCHLOCKY NARRATOR  – 

Hey, we don’t need no stinkin' narrator.

True - a monologue is easy to write, easy to stage.  But for your audience, a monologue is cheap and boring.

Ask any Artistic Director what he or she thinks of monologue.

Instead of telling us how your actors reached your dramatic moment, show us.

Show us how they feel about each other through actual behavior in a scene. Make them individuals, not narrations.

2.  THE BREAKDOWN

 I don’t know how this one got started, but I see it everywhere.

It begins about halfway through ACT I - a secondary character has some kind of an irrational, ridiculous, physical and/or emotional breakdown.  Some playwrights place it before intermission, thinking the audience cares.

The audience, however, is not stupid.  The audience knows when you are sinking to cheap manipulation.  And emotional breakdown is not a common, human experience  - and so, to your audience, it has no meaning.

Breaking down is not actual behavior.
Why?  Because most of us cope with our lives.  To the majority of us, breaking down is not actual behavior.  Instead of throwing one of your characters into a crazy-ass breakdown, meet your audience where they live

Show them the nuanced, internal dynamics that lead to existential despair, confusion, pain or sadness. In doing so, you'll challenge your actors, inspire your director and move your audience. 

Yup.  Show.  Don't throw!  

 

3. GAY, LESBIAN, TRANSGENDER PLOTS

Oh, my god.

Once - - once! - - - I'd like to go to a "festival of plays" and exit without (once again) being lectured, taught, trained, informed, on the many, many, many struggles faced by our gay, lesbian, transgender and queer brothers and sisters.

Lest I sound intolerant - - read on!

Writing a play about the GLBT community (even if you are a member of the community!) is now, officially, overdone.

We're all on the side of the angels!
We'ver heard it all - and listen to me. . . WE ALL AGREE!!  We're all on the side of the angels on this one!

Theatre-going audiences are among the most accepting, educated, sophisticated audiences in our communities.

If you, as a playwright, hope to reach them, it is important you step outside the cliche of our time and into the unexplored, dangerous world of original story telling. Try to shock your audience by not trying to - well - shock your audience. 

Time, my friend, to integrate GLBT characters into your scripts as the accepted individuals they are in our communities.

Aren't you tired of putting all our "weird" stuff on GLBT folks?  In my experience, some of the strangest people I've known are so heterosexual, they should be in prison!

Let some of them share the weirdness of our collective tales of challenge, decay, glory and redemption.

Stories that expose our GLBT friends as uniquely perverse bore your audience.

I know, I know. . . there are stories to tell about the GLBT struggle.  Bullying in schools, discrimination at work, equality in marriage - blah, blah, blah.

Sorry, bunky.  We've heard them all.

This is not to say - if you have an original take on this theme - bring it!

Beware, however - the choir has been preached to, one too many times.    Your plot must contain a real story - - not another sermon to the all-ready-converted.

Speaking of which. . . 

Do you have any idea how hungry your audience is for a real story?  A real plot - with real conflict?  Something that reflects our real, common humanity?

Struggle with this one, kids. You'll be happy you did.

Your audience will rise up - and call you blessed!


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why I continue to dream

Fear is a liar.  Running from fear gives power to lies.  

We needn't run.  All we need do is believe in our dreams, and the lie is defeated.   We are Americans.  Our dreams are our destiny.  

When we believe something - firm and clear - we live as though our beliefs were common reality.  And of course - they soon become so. 

This process is not as simple as many believe - because "the liar" is ever-present. 

The past two weeks, our nation has been over-exposed to the political agendas (or lack, therein) of those who wish to be our national leaders.

Our trickle-down economy has failed; our financial institutions have turned against us and our Capitalism has matured to mediocre meanness.  

During awful times  it is often comforting to be lied to - to blame the stranger, the immigrant, the African American, the women,  the irresponsible young, the lazy, the poor. 

But blame leads to fear - and fear is a liar.  Living with lies makes us shallow people. 

Once again, I choose hope.  I choose the dreams of my generation; the people stuffed into overcrowded elementary schools in the 1950's - crammed into Sunday Schools and Hebrew Lessons and Catechism throughout our childhood - called to action by an unjust war, racism and the horrific pain of our emotionally unavailable WWII dads and their lonely wives.  

I choose the hope we carved out of the conformity of an industrial age.  I choose our poets, our actors and our scientist - who opened the universe to our imagination and our energy.  I choose the future my generation has always chosen; laced with joy and pride - messages of courage and the challenge of being a real human being. 

Don't be afraid.  If fear were the truth, we'd know it by now. 

You know what's right.  You know what's true.  Go.  Live in the sunshine. 

Be like a Baby Boomer. 

Dream.

Friday, August 10, 2012

First, you bite your nails

Hey - let's get something straight.

I'm not all that excited about telling my own, true story - on these pages, or anywhere else.  I'm a playwright.  I don't do memoir.  I do comedy.

So when the Minnesota History Theatre first approached me with the idea of writing about the horrendous sexism I faced during my early years as one of the first women in the Master of Divinity program at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS), I demured.

We were normal.

 I could write it funny.  I could write it wild.  But could I write it true?

I'm sure going to try.

My new play - GOD GIRL- is a comedy/drama stroll down memory lane. 

The play explores my experiences as a member of the PTS class of 1979.  We were the first with a large population of women; thirty one percent. 

Prior to our class, only a handful of odd, crazy female pioneers were admitted. 

Those poor things; imagine classrooms where you are the only woman in a cloud of men.  Now, imagine all the men are professionally religious.  Get it?

When we were admitted, those poor women were so happy to see us they offered to clean our dorm rooms to make certain we would stay.

They loved us, I think, because we were so normal.  We were happy women - great friends to each other.  Few of us - only a few - were crazy, right wing-nuts.  None of my friends were fundamentalists.   Some were agnostic - attractive, critical thinkers. 

We dressed in cool, groovy clothes and jogged in the afternoon.   We practiced yoga and formed "consciousness raising groups."

We decided, as a group, we would not have sex with any man at Princeton. 

Princeton SEMINARY, that is.

But who wants to hear about those good old, bad old days?

Hard story to tell - harder to live through

As tough as it was to live through those awful times, they are excruciating to remember.

These days, I'm writing (what I hope to be) the final version of this play - and for the first time, I'm revealing that I attended PTS as a divorced woman.

Yup.

A divorced woman, in 1975, seeking a credential to be a Presbyterian pastor.

I thought long and hard.

In those days,  I thought long and hard before I revealed the awful secret about myself.

A divorced woman might not have a place at the table.  Churches were known to release, shame and humiliate men who went through divorces.  What would they do to a woman, all ready tainted?

The truth, and nothing but the truth - so help me You Know Who. 

I've been working on this play for over three years.

The first version was a full-tilt-boogie musical; book and lyrics by Yours Truly.

The GOD GIRLS were a kick line of female seminarians.  Each had a story to tell.

Think; A Chorus Line - set at Princeton.

The second version was a free-wheeling drama; telling the ugly story of the dark, underbelly of the seminary leadership.  A tale of child abuse, incest, corruption and greed so ugly, the History Theatre pleaded with me to change directions.
 
 My final version is so close to the bone it hurts.  The truth.  Nothing but the truth.  With a little humor to help the medicine go down.

I hope you will like it. 








Sunday, August 5, 2012

The last homecoming queen


I worshiped her for her hair.

She was a tall woman - taller than most of us.

And beautiful. Naturally beautiful.

Her name was Sandy.  

She was a senior at Macalester College, and I was only a freshman; a chubby-cheeked, trying-too-hard freshman.

Those were tough days for me.  My mother was a single parent and we didn't  have money for dorm life.  So, like a few other geeky nerd girls at Macalester,  I attended classes during the day  - and lived at home.

That wasn't the end of my suffering.  I had other problems; chin acne, front teeth too big for my adolescent jaw.

And I still hadn't found the right bra to arrest my jiggle when I walked across campus. 

It was 1969, and I was working hard on figuring out who I was and what I would do with my life.

Even then, even with all the silly post-adolescent distractions, I knew I wanted to die leaving behind something better.  I wanted my college years to count - I wanted to become some one, some thing, some how.

And I wanted to do it looking more like Candace Bergen than Zelda Gilroy.

Surrounded by hair - and admirers

I grew up in corn-fed Minnesota, where girls with heavy, round faces and thin, floppy blond hair was the norm.

There was nothing heavy, round or floppy about Sandy. She was lean and lanky, a marvel of nature.

The rest of us lugged our back packs across campus, on our way to important lessons in political science and the history of civil unrest.

Sandy had a boyfriend.

Sandy didn't schlep text books like the rest of us. She was too smart for lecture notes - too cool for that kind of action.

I didn't worship her, however, for her smarts. I worshiped her for her hair.

The most striking thing about Sandy was her long straight, glistening curtain of gold.  Parted in the middle, it fell down her back in a clear, unencumbered cascade of beauty.

It was the longest, most beautiful head of hair I've ever seen.

The first time I saw her was at the off campus student's hangout - the Grill at Macalester College. When she walked into the room the coolest guys dropped their cheese sandwiches - turned - and stared.

Wide, floppy bell bottoms, slung low on her narrow hips, arms free, moving in graceful cadence with each stride, Sandy was the quintessential flower child.

She strode to the center of the cafe, and sat on the floor.  Within minutes, five, six other girls followed her lead.   And so Sandy sat on the floor, surrounded by a few other girls, the boys who loved her  - and her hair.

Six, eight, ten inches of steaming, flaxen silk lay around her.  As she talked, laughed, listened, I watched her pick up a handful here, untangle the ends there, brush the dust from these golden strands and toss her hair back on the ground.

All of this - and a man too.  

Wherever Sandy was, I couldn't look away.  Something there was about her that fascinated me.  How long did it take to grow her hair to her butt?  And how did she keep it so glistening? So free?  My hair landed on my shoulders and refused to grow further.  What did she eat?  Did she take vitamins?  what was her secret?

And where did she meet her boyfriend?

Sandy became our homecoming queen.

He was her match; beautiful, intense, dark, brooding, and so hip it hurt.

My friends called him "Jeremy"  - and that might have been his name.

Then again - it might have been Bob, for all I know. Jeremy was a fantasy name for the ideal hippie boy.

And his name didn't matter.  Sandy and Jeremy were together, for all the world to see.

My friends and I were the world - and we were eager to see.

Tough times 

Macalester College - like every other institution of higher learning - went through an identity crisis in 1969.

The students - all of us - resisted traditions that represented the old order.

The cruel war was raging in Vietnam.  When our boys graduated Macalester, if they didn't have decent deferments through marriage or a stint at seminary, they would be cannon fodder for the North Vietnamese.

With such considerations, we didn't take much stock in things like homecoming, football and the rituals of our dying innocence.  We were focused on the weekly, silent, black-shirted protest we created every Wednesday on Grand Avenue; the "Honeywell Project," where we attempted to shut-down Minnesota's link to the arms industry; and the weekly protests throughout the city, shouting, singing and sitting for peace.

Macalester students didn't have time for homecoming. 

I think it was Jeremy who first suggested it.  The rest of us went along, gladly

Sandy became Macalester College's homecoming queen that year;  the last homecoming queen in the history of the college.

I didn't go to the game - I didn't see Sandy crowned and celebrated.  I wasn't a part of the community in those days - I didn't have anyone to sit with - the right poncho to wear.

And I didn't smoke dope.

Like so many other "off campus" students, I stayed home that night with my mom.  We watched Perry Mason on television, made Chef Boyardee pizza and worked on the socks we knit each year for the rest of the family's Christmas.

I heard that Sandy and Jeremy got married.

I heard that Jeremy and Sandy got married.  I like to think it was a hippie wedding, with hippie clothes, hippie jewelry and hippie vows.

"I do my thing - you do your thing - and if we meet each other, it's beautiful."

or -

"For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health - as long as we both shall love."



 Time marches on. . . 

Sandy, wherever she is today - is in her late '60's.

Old enough to be a grandmother.

She probably cut her long hair decades ago.

In my memory, however, she will always be Macalester's flower child;  sitting on the floor, surrounded by the adoration and solicitation of lesser beings.

In my imagination, she is perpetual summer; shimmering and free.

The last of a tradition of women, and the last queen of my alma mater.




Sunday, July 22, 2012

Blood in the aisles - the NRA's shame

 Don't talk to me about guns - I grew up around guns.

My father had a gun shop in our basement where he rebuilt rifles and carved gun stocks.

I shot my first antelope in Wyoming when I was only sixteen-years-old.  Mallards, pheasants - my brothers, my dad and I hunted them all.

My dad belonged to three "gun clubs" in the Twin Cities.  He taught my brother and me skeet and clay shooting.

So, yes.  I know about guns.

And I know the truth about multiple assault weapons.

Assault weapons have one purpose - and one purpose only.

Assault weapons are designed for combat - for killing human beings.

Assault weapons do not belong in our American cities.
They are weapons of war - pure and simple.

Not that long ago, they were illegal. 

A brief history of the assault weapons ban

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) (or Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act) was a subtitle of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a federal law in the United States that included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms, so called "assault weapons". The 10-year ban was passed by Congress on September 13, 1994, and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton the same day. 

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired on September 13, 2004, as part of the law's sunset provision. There have been multiple attempts to renew the ban, but no bill has reached the floor for a vote.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) seeks ban of assault weapons

After the insane slaughter of innocent Colorado movie goers last summer, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) urged the reinstatement of the ban. 

"Weapons of war don't belong on the streets," Feinstein said on Fox News. "This is a powerful weapon, it had a 100-round drum; this is a man who planned, who went in, and his purpose was to kill as many people as he could in a sold-out theater. We've got to really sit down and come to grips with what is sold to the average citizen in America.

“I have no problem with people being licensed to buy a firearm, but these are weapons that are only going to be used to kill a lot of people in close combat," she said.

Until they're illegal - my father is rolling in his grave. 

My father taught me to manage firearms.
 Time now - right now - to reinstate the ban against assault weapons in this country.

 The abuse of firearms and the irrational "cowboy" perspective of the National Riflemen Association (NRA)  is a national embarrassment.

My dad, my brothers and sisters were life-long members.

At the close of his life - my father shifted his alliance to Ducks Unlimited.  

When I asked him why, his answer was simple.

"I'm not going to support an organization too stupid to exist," he said. 

Smart man.

Until they stop defending this distribution of this single-purpose firearm, the NRA has blood on its hands.






Friday, July 20, 2012

It never occurred to me. . .

It never occurred to me - never for a moment - that I would be a sixty-three-year-old single woman.

But - here I am - I'm still adorable - still charming. And alone.

Recently I realized I have been single as long as I was married.

I remember when I thought I'd remarry in a hurry. It never occurred to me that I would sleep alone, eat dinner alone, go to the movies alone - for the rest of my life.

No.  Not me.  I was not supposed to fade away - I was born to live smack-dab in the middle of everything -  a deep, strong, important life - with a wonderful man who loves me.

And so it never occurred to me - not for single moment - that I wouldn't marry again.
The realization came slowly.
I dated for five years.  I wrote a book about it -  "AFTER HIS HEART: The Foolish Women's Guide  to Dating After Fifty."

My new play SWEET TRUTH is based on my brief soiree into the wild world of mid-life dating.

And I discovered something along the way.  Men age differently than women.  That should not have been a surprise - but it was.

I was looking for simple things from a man; love, affection, passion and adventure.  Every man I dated wanted only one of the above.  Yup.  You guessed it.
A way out of the confusion
One of the most helpful things anyone said to me, back in the dating days, was said by my old friend Bobby Olson.  Bobby and I met at a Halloween party in 1962.  We were thirteen.  I was dressed as Wee Willie Winkie.  He was in drag.

Every woman needs a gay friend.  Bobby is mine.

And so when  the dating devolved into a series of horror stories - Bobby asked me a question.

"Why you doing this?" he said.

I reminded him I was alone.  I reminded him he has a thirty-year relationship and cannot possibly know what it feels like to face the future - single.  I reminded him I was all by myself - that I needed someone.

"What am I? " he asked.  "Chopped liver?"

For a long time, I considered that to me the title of my play - "CHOPPED LIVER."
Chopped liver ain't all that bad. 
Bobby's question brought me home.  In dating, hunting, chasing, yearning - I had forgotten an important lesson. 

People are precious.  My friendships are irreplaceable.  My ex-husband is irreplaceable too

Will I ever marry again?  Will I ever fall in love?  Heck - will I ever go on another date??

I don't know.  Maybe.  Someday. 

Until that time, I'm fine on my own. Until that time, I'll keep doing what I'm doing.  I'll live deep, strong, and important - right here.

All alone.  All by myself.

Smack-dab in the middle of everything.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

No such thing as "bored"

When I was a kid, there was no such thing as "bored."

"Get out from underfoot" 

When I was a kid "bored" was a four letter word.

In my house, if I used the "b" word, I had to clean the bathrooms for the entire summer.

Nope.  Summertime at the Holmgren house had one rule only.  If you were a kid - you better damn well keep yourself occupied.

That's why, every summer I can remember, I  organized a Summer Day School for the neighborhood kids.  We conducted classes on my mom's front porch.

Art lessons, a little music, a whole bunch of paper crafts - and before the close of each day - we always played their favorite game.

We called it - "Pied Piper."

Every school kid was issues a tonette in 3rd Grade.
And I, of course, was always, always the "piper."

A little bit of terror never hurt anybody.


Tooting "The Star Spangled Banner" on my tonette - the instrument every St. Paul school kid was issued in third grade - I marched my young playmates around our block, pausing in front of random houses where I spun tales of murder, witchcraft, disappearing children and intrigue.

"All the paper boy wanted was to be paid," I said, standing before the elegant, Goodrich Avenue tutor, innocuous and well maintained. "He knocked at the door  -  and was never seen again."

My little charges would shiver in the ninety-degree summer heat - holding tight to the hand I assigned them to grasp.

The buddy system was important to the Pied Piper march.

"We have to watch out for each other," I reminded them in ominous tones.  "This neighborhood isn't what it appears."

Of course - it was all a lie.

The neighborhood was exactly as it appeared.  The houses were populated with respected, delightful, welcoming and loving mommies and daddies.

"This rock," I said, "appeared overnight."
But that, my dears, was simply - boring.

Making the ordinary tolerable.

"This rock," I said as the little children shivered around me, "appeared overnight.  No one knows where it came from or how it arrived.  Try and lift it."

The silly boys would bend, push, strain to move the impossible boulder.

"Imagine the strength, the muscle, the power of the creature who put this rock in this place.  Image what such a creature could do to the human body."

Sometimes, when I went too far, little Mary Foley would start to cry.

The front porch of the cozy cottage
On days like that, the Piper suspended all tales - and led her little charges back to my mom's front porch for home made ice cream and a few rounds of Old Maid, played in the shade - sometimes, with pink lemonade.   I swear this is true.

Yup.

Scratch a writer and you'll find an overactive, sometimes pathological imagination.

Today - my tonette is retired.  Instead of piping the children around the neighborhood, I attract them to the front porch of my cozy cottage in St. Paul's Como Park.

Popsicles in the summer.
The treats are the same.  Popsicles in the summer - apple pie in the fall.  I throw a mean Halloween party every year.

And of course -  the stories.

Theses days, I'm a good listener.  The kids in my neighborhood have big, big imaginations.

There's no such thing as "bored."