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Doctor Zhivago Revisited

Don't let it happen to you again. Hire someone to get up there, remove that damn snow, and install one of these "Roof Deicer" puppies. When the icicles started to form on the ceiling of my front porch, I cried "uncle" and bit the bullet. I'm paying five strong men to remove the ton of snow on my roof.  Honest to Pete - they sound like Santa's reindeer up there. . . but at least my roof will not go the way of the Metrodome. Stay warm.  Stay dry. Stay in Texas.

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

I was sixteen the year my father left.  That Christmas there was no tree for decorating, no turkey ready for roasting. My mother took a job as a cleaning lady at a near-by college.  I was only a sophomore in high school, but I could work too. There was never enough money for our mortgage, our gas and electric bills. And so it came to pass that I sold hats at the Emporium in downtown St. Paul. I signed every pay check to my mother. I knew my father had taken up residence in a hotel somewhere in the center of the city.  Both my mother and I knew he kept company with a woman he met in a bar on 7th Street. In those days, men didn't leave their families.  Children who came from divorced families like mine were considered the product of a "broken home."  I lost friends when my father ran off with another woman. I was a child but, even so, I knew that what my father had done was impossible for my mother to accept.  Raised by Swedes, she refused to forgive a man who b

Gentle ripping and kind repair

"I got plenty of nuthin', And nuthin's plenty for me. I got the sun, got the stars, Got the deep blue sea. . . " -Gershwin Someone  ran off with all my stuff. A stranger broke into my home and stole my history.  Every thing of material value is gone. My computer. All my fine jewelry; most of it original to my Swedish grandmother.  A beautiful opal ring I purchased after the death of my mother.  All my pearls; a life-time collection. Losing valuables is like losing a piece of one's heart. At first I thought the loss was my fault.  I misplaced them, I thought.  Hid them under the bed, behind the couch.  Why would anyone target me?  The goods, I thought, had to be stashed right under my nose, and it was I alone who did the shashing. Anything else was unthinkable. The police confirmed the robbery.  My friends fussed over my vulnerability.  I clucked at their concern, and assured them I changed the locks, secured the windows. But when the shadows fell and

Not sweating the little things and other lies

I know. It's been a tough month. The Tea Party mopped up.  Sara P. seems in charge.  Obama and the boys want to play nicey-nicey and the other team is insane. And everywhere we turn the message is the same.  The recession is over, good times are coming, and the unemployment rate is the highest since the Great Depression. Crazy, huh?  So, what's a mother to do? I'm trying to keep my eyes on the prize. In times like this, my sanity is my first priority. When I was a younger woman, easily swayed by the tides of political prejudiced, I was often discouraged. No more.  I remember the words of my mentor, The Reverend Calvin Didier.  Cal once said, "Kristine, I'd worry about this calamity if I hadn't lived through the same thing three decades past." With age comes this kind of tender wisdom. So, if you're younger than fifty, take heed.  In the next decade you will begin to observe the following; Repetition of phrases you heard in your youth

Baby wants a new pair of boots, mom!

They cost more than a day's wages for most of us. Still - if your kid wants them, you'll go in the hole for UGG boots this winter. Boots are a big deal to a kid.  Trust me.  I'm old enough to remember the "Kickerenno" boots of the 1950's.  This ground-breaking, earth-shaking style was radical for one reason only.  A girl had to take off her shoes before she put on her boot. That's right. Prior to the Kickerenno, we were life-sentenced to galoshes. Those of you too young to remember the boots that slid over your shoes are too young to remember Kennedy and have no business voting against my Social Security benefits. When the Kickerenno came along, the galoshes were  tacky, tacky, tacky. I remember begging my mother for a pair. "Have you lost your mind?" she asked. "If anyone's getting a pair of fifteen dollar boots in this family, it sure isn't going to be the eight-year-old." So much for child-centered parenting

Just when you thought no one was watching. . .

Get over yourself! I know you've thought about it. You knew last year what you were going to do.  You promised yourself that this year you would not make a damned fool of yourself trick-or-treating throughout the neighborhood with human beings half you size and one decimal your age. But here you are, sneaking through the costumes at the Halloween Super Store, hoping no one notices the Baby Boomer trying on the Hilary Clinton mask. It's okay, bunky.  No one will turn you in. Remember when your mom and dad dressed up as ghouls on October 31st and handed out caramel apples to their favorite little kids?  You weren't embarrassed.  Okay  - maybe that's not a good example. How about this - remember when your big brother kept carousing for candy, long after his beard came in and his voice changed?  No one made fun of him, did they? I know - I know.  You're sixty three years old.  And yes, I agree - there is a difference. But lighten up, toots.  When all el

Elementary, my dear Watson

In his latest incarnation, Holmes inhabits the 21st Century An exhibition is on display in St. Paul - a new PBS program begins this Sunday and Sherlock Holmes, the totally cool Robert Downey Junior film is now available on DVD. So - what's the deal? Think about our economy.  Think about our relationship to law and order.  Do you see any similarities with  these early days of the 21st Century and the 19th? And why this fictional character now? As you consider the above, think of this as well.  The popularizing of the vampire myths and the elevation of ghouls to glamor.  What do you think?  Is there a relationship between our love of Sherlock and our love of pure schlock? If you're a Holmes fan, tell us why.  If you're a vampire lover, share your opinions. Something's happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear.

Write, write, and when you're finished, write some more

<p>W</p> Like the fool I am and I'll always be, I once taught a class at the Loft titled, "Free the Horses; Overcoming Writer's Block." I hate to brag, but I've never been "blocked" as a writer in my life.  So, what the Sam Hill was I was thinking when I offered that damn class? You can imagine the folks who enrolled. Okay - now before I go any further, if you are one of the unfortunates who took this class from me, my sincere apologies for what I am about to reveal about your sorry-self. But come on now - - I mean. . . There was the earnest, middle aged banker who never had time to write the novel that was screaming to escape his sad, vacant life. He sat beside the young woman so filled with rage over her husband's infidelity that her cramped soul yearned to break loose and slam all men in one glorious sashay through creative non-fiction. And then there was the one woman in the class who said she couldn't

Why I will not run for public office

There are many reasons why I would enjoy a run at the school board, a county commissioner seat or city council. Most days I'm certain I would be a better Governor than Pawlenty, especially concerning decisions affecting the poor, civil rights, the critical separation of church and state and of course, reproductive freedom. And I've been asked. When I lived in Rice County, the local DFL leadership frequently sought me as a candidate against the notorious John Tuma, anti-choice, pro-gun legislator turned lobbyist . But I had a real life in those days. I had children to raise, sermons to write, a man who was always in the way. There was no time for political posturing. Now, my children are grown, my church turned Republican, and my former husband is working on his fourth marriage. My real life disappeared long ago. Even so, I cannot run. The reasons are simple. After almost sixty years of speaking, writing, working for the poor and advocating for women, I have something m

PAPER DADDY based on truth

What role does a father have in this new, devastated economy? Kristine Holmgren set about to answer that question by writing her new stage play, PAPER DADDY. When it was complete, PAPER DADDY enjoyed a successful staged reading at THEATRE IN THE ROUND PLAYERS (TRP) on Saturday, September 26, 2009. According to the Executive Director of TRP, the audience was largest stage reading ever hosted at the theatre (more than 120 participants). Within days following, PAPER DADDY is under consideration for production on several stages in Minnesota. The Northfield Arts Guild will host the premier of Holmgren's first play in the spring of 2012. What is it about this play that causes an audience to resonate? The connection is simple; Kristine Holmgren has always been able to tell a good story, and tell it well. In PAPER DADDY, she brings us tells a narrative that exposes the real-life consequences of our current economic downturn. She tags these times, "The Great Recession of the

Dancing in the Dark

The frame of the story is clear.  The beginning flows like long-learned choreography. An exquisite tango of dialogue and action, tension and comedy, your play moves from scene to scene, driven by imagination and magnificent plot. Then, like a flash of brilliance on a darkened stage, the great notion vanishes. Without warning, the generous idea is gone and the writer feels like a naked fool, dancing in the dark. Nothing exposes a fraud more than a poorly constructed stage play. Flopping in the middle of Act II is punishment, stepping onto the hardwood floor in great tap shoes with no dance step in our repertoire.  How to avoid pain and failure?  Three things - prepare, proceed and pray. Prepare As with any other form of writing, every good play is first inspired.  The first blush of art is always a brilliant flash, an insight to an eternal truth. My best ideas come when I'm swimming.  Half-way through my twenty-minute routine, I feel my new story unfold.  I feel it

Sometimes it's hard to be a . . . well, you know. . .

Admit it.  We don't get no respect. I used to think we were overlooked because we couldn't write about sex the way the boys do. We don't seem free enough with violent images.  Our prose is, a little (how shall I put this?) wimpy. We write like girls.  That's what I used to think. Then came Dominique Adair , Denise Agnew and of course, Anne Rice . Overnight, all bets were off. Back in the 1980's, when I was studying the craft, writing my fanny off and getting published one-in-three times, the rule of the jungle was this; successful women writers wrote about small animals, little children and the agony of living without a man. There were no vampire slayers in those days.  Mary Tyler Moore was about as liberated as the media and the publishing industry wanted their chicks.  Those of us who had anything to say were careful how we said it. When my marriage fell apart and I wrote an essay about the consequences of male depression on the American family,

Weeping in the playtime of others

It all started in the cheap seats. Once upon a time admission to the movies (we called them "movies") was a dime.  Disney movies?  Twenty five cents. And for that little piece of silver, a girl got a few decent cartoons (featuring anyone from Mickey to Buggs), a newsreel (the equivalent of a contemporary "public service announcement") and a few hours in the dark with a box of Dotts and a bag of popcorn. Movie stars were more beautiful than anyone else; the men were stronger, the women blonder than anyone we knew.  Even so - we came for the stories. The struggle of virtue over seduction, valor over greed - we loved to watch the good guys win. When one of our heroes was slapped back by despair or discouragement, we held fast to our arm rests, knowing that, if all were as it is supposed to be, everything would be all right in the end. Somewhere, lost in the magic, I began to write my own stories. The hero was always a woman - - no, let me state that ag

Hanging with my homies. . .

Writers don't affiliate like other people. Normally, I don't consider myself a "family" person.  Writers don't affiliate like other people.  Many of us try - - we marry, have children.  But in the end, the merging is difficult.  Writers have a difficult time following through with commitments when something creative is brewing.  We have a hard time staying loyal and true when inconsistencies interfere with our relationships.   With the possible exception of love for off-spring, writers are conditional friends.  Mess with a writer and you might never see her/him again.  Treat a writer badly and he/she will go away.  Every writer I know goes to the fair. The one exception is the great Minnesota get-together; the state fair. No matter how you treat us, every writer I know goes to the fair.  Wouldn't miss it. Maybe that's because we know we won't be noticed at the fair.  Our conspicuous "people watching" is a common past time at the fa

Suffering - but still faithful

What happens when the play is finished,  the theatre has signed the contract, but the play won't premiere for another year?  What does the playwright do with all the voices in the head - the imagined interactions - the premeditated emotions? Life can get sticky if a writer isn't writing.  I'm walking through the valley of that shadow these days.  The script is in the hands of the theatre; I know we'll be in the revision process soon.  A "dramaturge" has been notified that my work is ready to move forward.  And I'm crawling along,  losing my mind.  I've tried starting a new play.  It is not impossible to do so; the writing is sound.  But somewhere, out there, beyond the clear blue sky - - -someone is reading my work and thinking of me.  Until I know what that means, life is a little stuck.  Last week, fooling myself, I returned to my favorite cafe to write. The wait staff were thrilled to see me.  They gave me my favorite table in the corner. 

Love in the time of diminishing expectations

I bought this little cottage almost ten years ago, never dreaming I would love it as I do.  It was a homely little house, neglected and ignored for several decades when I found it.  After moving in I added  a front porch, new roof, air conditioning and all the other raw comforts required for Minnesota living.  And I've lived here nearly a decade - alone. It hasn't been easy.   For almost twenty years I lived at the center of a solid, American family.  I raised two wonderful daughters,  lived through the end of my ugly marriage and the rebirth of my personality, sold our family home and moved to another city, all by myself.  At first, the house was not enough for me.  I yearned for a husband.  Not a lover - no.  I had opportunities for affection and turned them down.  I wanted a husband; someone I could care for, cook for, provide for and entertain.  As the years passed it became clear to me that I would not meet a man who would love me the way I want; a love t

Change the world? Nah. Change Act One.

Isn't it odd how role-models find us? I never thought, for example, that I would grow up to be a playwright. I wanted to be the first woman Pope.   Never mind that Presbyterians don't believe in the Holy See.  I thought I had the personality to break through all that nonsense. Although I've been writing for the theatre since I was an adolescent, I always considered my playwright activity a hobby - never a calling. In my mind, I saw myself more of an Eleanor Roosevelt type than a Beth Henley.  You know who Eleanor is, don't you?  And Henley?  That's what I thought. Let me help . . . Beth Henley wrote the wonderful play, "Crimes of the Heart" and then essentially, retired. Don't be embarrassed.  I never heard of Beth either.  Not until I started writing plays and paying attention to the ones I admire.  Before then, I considered myself a social reformer. Most of my professional life has been slapping back the powers-that-be, and educating the r

So little to make me happy

The kids were almost grown when I bought my first new refrigerator. I remember the day it arrived.  It was huge.  The door alone held the entire contents of the refrigerator it replaced. Two days after it settled into my kitchen, my friend Mary stopped by for a visit.  I ushered her to meet my new appliance and she smiled at the introduction. "You're happy about this, aren't you?" she asked.  "It takes so little." Mary was right. Writers thrive on simplicity; when our basic needs are met, we're in heaven. A bathroom with pipes that don't leak, a functioning furnace in winter and a well stocked refrigerator give the writer security, confidence and inspiration. I used to think I needed more - someone by my side to cheer me on, a band of jolly friends to applaud every effort and approve of every accomplishment. Now, I think and feel differently. The psychologist Maslov posited that human beings cannot function unless basic needs are met.

Hearing voices

I write my plays at W.A. Frost, an elegant Saint Paul bar in the heart of the city. August Wilson used to write here.  Last week the bartender showed me the bar stool where he used to sit.  Scruffy, distant, caught up in the crafting of his dialogue, Wilson drew quiet attention while he wrote.  "He talked to himself ," the bartender said.  "Got real animated too.  Like you." When I write my plays,  I record what the characters in my head say to each other.  In my imagination, I see their posture, watch their gestures, and write stage directions to replicate their attitudes and emotions. I didn't realize, however, that I'm mouthing their words.  Not until the Frost bartender told me so. "Must go with the territory," he winked as he poured me another glass of pinot grigio.  "You're all a little flaky, huh?" Writing plays is like writing fiction - only more so. The fiction writer creates the scene.  Pulling from a repertoi

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.