It’s not just the Tale, it’s how you tell it!

Sondheim’s musical “Merrily We Roll Along” is currently enjoying a revival in New York and I couldn’t be happier that it’s back. The show has an unforgettable score and a legendary history of being a brilliant, beloved failure. Well, “failure”‘s not a really fair description. Merrily challenges audiences and casts because of the way they tell the story: it’s backward.

The Story

It’s a pretty simple story told the traditional way. Two young guys and a girl are best friends and colleagues, all working to break into show business. They hang out together, brainstorm ideas and cheer each other on while the rest of the world ignores them. Eventually, they each catch that all-important break but success does what years of failure couldn’t do; it splits up the team. Like I said, a simple story and a sad one when you tell it that way.

But tell it back to front and watch what happens! Right out the door, there’s the climactic fight that murders a friendship that existed for decades! Then back up a bit and you watch the information bomb drop that makes that last fight inevitable. Back it up again and you see the same characters again, a bit younger and nicer but making mistakes you know they’re going to regret. And on and on it goes, each layer revealing more of what makes you care about the people and hate the disastrous choices you know they’re making. It’s a brilliant, difficult technique and that’s why I love it. Because it’s not what story you tell, but how you tell it.

…and how its told

If each story is a raw diamond, the way its told cuts it, like the jeweler. Each choice brings out different facets. For example, let’s take perspective. Change the perspective in a story and you go from Wizard of Oz to Wicked. Or from Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead to Hamlet. Now make your narrator unreliable and you have stories with twist endings like “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” or “The Haunting of Hill House“. Or show that the story is bigger than anyone imagines by showing the same event from lots of different, limited perspectives (Rashomon). These are all literary techniques authors use to make a story sparkle.

Long-running TV shows love messing around with storytelling techniques. They keep the show interesting and give watchers new and layered insights into the characters. The point is how the story is told is at least as important as important as the story itself. And smart writers (and readers) know that.

So, welcome back, Merrily We Roll Along. I hope you enjoy a successful production. After what you’ve been through, you deserve something good. And thank you for your clever story-telling device. It’s a crazy, brilliant idea.

Keeping a Weather Eye on the Weather

It’s January, a good month in many ways, but one that makes me (and lots of folks around here) watchful. Maybe, even a bit paranoid. Not because we’re still feeling the effects from the excesses of December (though some of us are) and not due to the tax returns looming in our future. We’re worried because the weather is unpredictable in January and it can be extreme. And our history with schizoid temperatures around here makes amateur meteorologists (and curmudgeons) out of many of us.

Dressing for the weather

Let me give you an example. Monday, the temp outdoors went into the 60’s or higher. How much higher, I’m not really sure. Because I was inside, sweltering in a chin-to-knees sweater I’d worn because, hello, it’s January. Then the temp dropped like a rock, indoors and out, and I spent Thursday and Friday curled up in layers of clothing and huddled around reheated cups of coffee. No wonder everyone seems to have a case of the sniffles! January temps rise and drop like a roller coaster.

This ain’t supposed to happen in the South!

And that’s a problem when you live with Southern Architecture. Officially, this is a humid, subtropical region and our houses are built for that. I’m talking heat pumps, lots of windows, and outdoor living. This makes sense ten months of the year. But this place ain’t the tropics in January! And our buildings, so climate controlled in July, can feel downright chilly at this end of the year. Even cold, when we get some (gasp!) Snow.

…then there’s that old devil, Snow

Seriously, if you want to scare a group of Southern women, tell them there’s snow in the forecast, but do it at a distance of at least five feet, because those ladies are going to hit DEFCON 1. And then they will run you over getting out the door. See, S-N-O-W is code for Apocalypse down here, and those women are going to save their families. Because the white stuff hits this place like a bomb.

Schools shut down before the first flakes can fall, so kids need to be taken back home. Few people here have winter driving skills so the highways get turned into parking lots of fender-benders. And nobody has enough supplies on hand, so a blizzard warning means a run on the stores. And all that happens before it snows. Once that starts, this place is as helpless as a turtle on its back. And everyone who lives here, knows it.

When the Snow hits the South in January

So that’s why we’re all obsessed with James Spann and watching cold fronts like they were first downs. Because it’s January in Alabama. And anything can happen.

The day my Money went to NY (without me)

I’ve never been to New York, though the rest of my family has. My mother and grandma were both born in the City; my kids went there last fall. My sister goes there so often she can direct the tourists to stops on the Circle Line. But, I’ve never gone to New York. And I’ve been pretty much okay with that. Well, I’m not completely okay, d love to see the place (you can’t be an English Major and not want to see New York; it’s a mecca for readers and writers.) But financially, it’s never been a good time for me to fly to New York.  So I  dreamed and figured someday I would go there.  I just never thought my money would get there first.

aerial architecture blue sky buildings
Photo by Lukas Kloeppel on Pexels.com

It all began…

In that uncertain time between Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent, before the juggernaut of December really takes off. A few friends and I decided to get together for a quiet drink after work. It was great, with everyone talking and laughing together and everything was going well until I decided to pay for a round. And realized my ATM card wasn’t in my wallet. Or my purse.

Now I’ll be the first to admit I occasionally misplace things, so I tried not to panic. I just paid for the drinks (using most of my cash) and excused myself to look for the card.  I still didn’t panic as I researched first my wallet, then my purse, and finally my Jeep for the card. Then, I went home and searched the house while I checked my bank balance.  And that’s when I hit “Red Alert”.

money pink coins pig
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

See, almost all the day-to-day funds in our joint checking account had disappeared.  The Grocery money.  The Light Bill cash.  The payment on my husband’s dental bill.  Entire paychecks worth of cash vanished from sight, like Brigadoon, or Judge Crater.  I killed my cash card with a phone call and cried.

When I showed up, still panicked, at my bank the next day (the minute they unlocked the doors) the bankers there were sympathetic.  Yes, they could make sure my missing ATM card was dead and yes, they’d help me with the identity theft claim.  A teller and I pulled up all the account transactions to figure out which we’d need to dispute and that’s when I saw how my money (literally) took flight.

Where did it go??

First, there was the airline ticket.  “Was that you?” the bank representative asked.  No, I haven’t flown since 2016 and I haven’t bought a ticket since then.  Then there was the charge for the Empire State Building Observation Deck ($102.00!) and something called Statue Cruises.  And then there was an admission to MMA, which turned out to be the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Met? My money went to New York?

I don’t know whether the Bank’s service representative or I was the more stunned.  “Well, on the one hand, these charges obviously weren’t made by you.” the banker lady said.  “You’re here in Alabama, not New York.  Still…”  “I know,” I said, looking at the computer screen.  “Someone’s taking a cool trip through the City.

In fact, if the thief had thrown in theatre tickets, that’s a trip I would have loved to take.  It’s the trip I’ve been dreaming of (and putting off) for decades because I couldn’t afford it. Along with the panic and anger, I felt, I began to get downright envious.  The Empire State Building? The Museum of Modern Art? These were places I’d wanted to see.   Someone out there has lousy morals, but their taste is not all that bad.  The only problem was they were getting their culture with money my husband and I had earned!

I found out some things because of that theft. I learned that banks have to deal with this a lot. And that some bankers are really nice.  I’ve learned that the police are careful about jurisdiction.  I had to drive to four separate stations before I found the one able and willing to take my report. It’s been a royal mess getting the checking account straightened out and protecting the rest of my financial identity.  But this crystallized a resolve in me.

I’m not putting off the chance to see New York anymore; I’m going there myself, and soon.  No longer am I content to imagine being there while by looking at TV or  Google Earth.  It’s time I saw those streets for myself.  There isn’t enough time or money enough to do everything. But I will see something of that fabled place, and listen to that cacophony of sound. See, I don’t mind my money going to New York.  But this time, I’m taking it there.

 

 

 

 

 

The Accessory Liberation Device

Everyone who becomes an Adult goes through some Rite of Passage. It may be a formalized religious ritual (like a Bar Mitzvah) or something secular, like a Driver’s Permit. But there are talismans we gather as we go through life and the world expects us to keep them handy. Well, I just threw one away.

I enjoy being a girl

Yeah, that’s what the song says. Only the lyric didn’t apply to me growing up, not once I saw the accessory list. Have you ever noticed how much extra stuff women are expected to carry? Guys go from grade school, through high school, to life, and the only new thing they get is a razor. Girls get those too but they’re also supposed to start wearing costume jewelry at some point. And make-up. And perfume. Girls are expected to do complicated things with their hair. And finally, girls are given purses so they can tote all of this extra girl-stuff around.

Some of the Bags that Ran my Life…

If you can’t tell, I’m not a purse fan. More accurately, I’ve been a purse-hostage. For the past 50 years, wherever I’ve gone, some satchel’s hitched a ride on my shoulder. And instead of helping me (by carrying my stuff) each bag has been a pain.. Going to the movies? Don’t forget the purse. Riding on the roller coaster? Where and how do I store the purse? If I’m out in public, how do I keep Pursey from being snatched? If I’m going on a plane, does it count as luggage? (Believe me, there are times when it could). And if that isn’t enough, I’m not allowed to be ruled by just one satchel. No, I’m expected to keep multiple bags I can match to any season, function and outfit, all while my husband gets by with one wallet. No wonder men have more disposable income! They don’t have to spend it on purses!

What to do?

I was bemoaning all this to my sister last month when she mentioned a smartphone/wallet case. This gadget is a brilliant idea! A simple case with the phone on one side and pockets for cash, ID and cards on the other. It carries everything I really need and (even better) slides into a pocket. Actually it’s more an a fashion choice; it’s an accessory liberation device.

…Replaced by a phone in a case. (Dog not included.)

So, after almost 50 years of suspending leather bags from my shoulder, I’m back to pre-puberty basics. And it’s amazing. No more matching my bag to my shoes or rooting through the closet for a coordinating purse. No more last minute grabs for the bag I forgot while the car door closes on my arm. When it’s time for lunch now, I stand up and leave without rooting in a drawer or the file cabinet. As long as I have pockets, I can run through the world, unencumbered and both hands free.

All hail the Accessory Liberation Device! Now all we need is a law requiring pockets on all clothing….

In search of my New Year’s Day Miracle

Everybody has New Year’s traditions. Some people make and break lots of good resolutions. Some people serve black-eyed peas and greens. But that’s not my thing. While others are nursing hangovers or glue themselves to televised bowl games and parades, I’m outdoors, weather permitting, doing yard work. And I’m looking for my New Year’s Day miracle.

Yard Work?

There’s something so satisfying about clearing the yard, once the last of the leaves have fallen. You can rake and rake without breaking a sweat, and when you’re finished, there’s visible improvement. Actually, this is the small part of the year when I can get ahead on my weeding. Once growing season starts, it’s all I can do to stay even. And I quit once the temp gets too hot. So January and February are the months when I reclaim parts of the yard from the plant invaders, like kudzu. But New Years is not for reclaiming. It’s when I look for a miracle.

In Search of Spring

Now I’ll be the first to admit I don’t get along with Winter. It’s (usually) too wet and cold for my taste and I miss long, sunlit days. And, while I love where I live, we look kind of, well, shabby this time of the year. A little dirty and drab and run down. So I tend to spend the first day of the year in my yard, desperately seeking Signs of Spring. And, today I found them.

Know what these are? They are daffodil leaves and they’re growing in front of my house. On New Year’s Day. When winter’s just settling for 3 months of cold weather, these tough little flowers are sticking their heads above ground. The prospect of ice and snow doesn’t scare them (the way it scares me!). They’re growing, they’re daring to believe in Spring on the very first day of the year. That takes great Instinct…. or Nerve.

So daffodil leaves are my annual New Year’s Miracle and I hunt for them like a kid after Easter Eggs. I’m not ashamed. They’re a promise. A herald. An omen of change. And a great way to start the New Year.

Look like baby leeks, don’t they?

I think it’s Time for a Change

I started this blog years ago because I had a story to tell. A story about how two irreconcilable sisters learned to work together. Somebody told me before I could publish my book, I had to have readers which meant I needed to write a blog. When they asked what I could write a lot about, I replied, “Stories.”

Why Stories?

See, I think stories are the most powerful magic we wield. You can change a person’s future with a story. Think of all those people who started working toward law school once they read about Atticus Finch. The veterinarians who followed James Herriot into the profession. Think of the destruction caused by Mein Kamp.

But stories can change history as well. For centuries, Richard III has been vilified, not from the facts but because the next king spread nasty stories about him. And those stories made it into a great play. Sometimes the fictional story is so engaging, that we forget what really happened. Or a well-told story can rescue the truth from obscurity.

The thing is, stories, good stories, can undermine all our defenses. They let us see connections we were blind to before. They find the fear hiding deep in our hearts and linger in the corners of memory. They won’t let us go. Those are the tales I like to describe as “The Ones that Follow Us Home.

So What Will Change?

Well, I’ve spent 4 years writing (mostly) about stories other people have published and I think it’s time for a change. I still love taking about good books and I’ll continue to talk about some of those. But I want to change things up a bit.

I want to tell you some tales I care about that other folks haven’t written down. Ideas that have meaning for me. Stories that followed me home.

Like the tale of two little girls who believed they had nothing in common beyond a timeline and DNA. That’s a story still waiting to be told…some other day.