Friday, July 10, 2009

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

I came to NYC for the Broadway Teachers’ Workshop this weekend. I feel very honored to have the opportunity to do this – to do anything, really, that’s about learning something new and being better than I was yesterday. Last night, I was in Café Lalo, which is on 83rd street between Broadway and Amsterdam. I had ordered a martini with a trendy name and a caprese salad, and sat with my journal. My mind was tumbling over a number of things, my ears tuned in to a small drama at the table next to be involving goat cheese and an allergy to honey. The song “Thriller” came on the radio, and I was remembering this girl from my middle school who was completely obsessed with Michael Jackson. Obsessed. Had posters everywhere, wrote “I Heart Michael Jackson” on her scripts and book covers, and memorized the dance steps in his videos. I always thought it was odd, because I just couldn’t see the appeal in him, and I was not much into current pop stars, anyhow. I also did not relate to that level of obsession with someone. Or so I thought.

I thought of her last week when Michael Jackson died, wondering how she had taken the news. It was partly because I was with Lisa who knew this girl as well, and partly because I have come to have empathy for this person. We all have our little pocket of obsession, as it turns out, and some of them are absolutely more embarrassing than others. But I have come to believe, particularly in recent years, that it is a person’s quirks and oddities and obsessions are the things that make them…them.

It’s my birthday today, and I have spent it alone, though surrounded by people in the busiest city in the world. My family called and sang to me first thing this morning. I got a million Facebook messages today that just made me get choked up every time I read one. But still, I was on my own all day. I was worried I’d be a little sad, and I must confess that I just…wasn’t. I needed the brain-space to consider what it means to be 38. I needed to let things happen to me, and things happened. It has been a spectacular day. I have many spectacular days, and I am grateful for them every time, but today has had its own kind of magic. I walked down Broadway this morning in sunglasses and high heels, drinking a latte. I ate lunch at an outdoor café. I had continual little reminders through the day that what I do in the world is relevant and worthwhile. (One presenter today said, “Kids with a complicated home life rely on teachers to be the authority figures that aren’t out to destroy you.”) I unexpectedly met a Boy I Really Liked in College on the street. I wore a pretty dress to see a show on Broadway, and I had a handsome man offer to buy me a martini in a hotel lounge. (I said “No, thank you.” But it was nice to have been asked.) And now, I’m looking out my hotel window onto the lights of Times Square, and Daniel Radcliffe is about to be on the David Letterman Show. Thank you, Universe, for a whole list of blessings in one single day, my birthday - any one of which would have been more than enough to make this a wonderful chapter of the Kelly Chronicles.

This brings me back to where I began this story. I am at the Broadway Teachers’ Workshop in NYC. I saw the musical Shrek tonight. It was much better than I expected, very funny and charming and very modern, and its big “Eleven o’clock number” and finale is called “Let Your Freak Flag Fly.” It was all I could do to keep from leaping out my seat and dancing to that tonight. It was all about being who you are –celebrating, rather than hiding that which makes you a Freak. I have accepted that I have a variety of Freak Flags, and though I tried as a teenager to keep them private, I’ve given that up. And I have discovered, too, that I might not be a great actress. And I might not be a great director. And I might not be a great teacher. I am, however, good at creating communities – the kinds of communities – whether it’s a sixth grade classroom or the cast of Fiddler on the Roof Jr. or a fancy private school drama club – that make people feel involved and connected to something. Where people find their tribe. Where people can figure out that whatever makes their Freak Flag Fly is okay. By doing that, I am useful and industrious in the world. As Kathleen says in You’ve Got Mail, “I lead a small life. Valuable, but small.” I felt that powerfully today. (I felt powerfully about a number of things. That fact alone belongs on the list of blessings.)

My Freak Flags have been pretty apparent to the people I encounter who know me well. But even the people who only know parts of me, like my middle school musical casts or the kids in my summer theatre or the people who did Christmas Carol with me like ten years ago – even those people see some of my Freak Flags. I love Harry Potter. I listen to showtunes. I love 1960’s Disney Live-Action Movies. (Moonspinners? Happiest Millionaire? That Darn Cat. Yeah. I went there.) I’ve kept a diary for 25 years. I took myself on a self-created You’ve Got Mail tour of the Upper West Side Last Night. (Hence the visit to Café Lalo, where Joe goes to meet Kathleen for the first time, when he figures out that she’s the Shopgirl.) I know every line and lyric to an embarrassingly large number of Broadway Musicals. I was graduated in the top ten of my class, and I am far more proud of that than I should be. I love Star Wars and Anne of Green Gables and Barry Manilow and Lawrence Welk. I have had sexual fantasies about a young Dick Van Dyke since the age of 13. I am a Freak. A dorky, card-carrying, geek of a Freak and I am having a Wonderful Life. And so can all of the other Freaks out there, just by letting their Freak Flag Fly.

It’s been a great day.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bursts of Energy

Last night, I stayed up writing till 3:30 in the morning. I didn't start till 11:00 when I got home from my little writers' group, but still...I don't know where the energy came from. It was as combination of journaling - which I desperately needed, and have been neglecting - and working on part of a story for my still hypothetical Book About My Family. I was also watching Sabrina - the remake. Why is Greg Kinnear not a bigger movie star?

Anyway...this particular episode in the story about my family is an imagined one about the marriage of my Uncle Jackie - my grandmother's brother - and his wife, my Aunt Liz, who became my grandmother's best friend. Liz and Jackie had a tempestuous life together, and there's a lot to their story. It's been fun to have some grains of truth to work with, as well as a chance to imagine them as characters instead of people that I actually knew. Who knows what will come of it, but since it's my first real attempt at fiction (well...the type of fiction suitible for potential public consideration), I'm still proud ot have gotten something out of my head and into my computer. Now, to just do that, like, a thousand more times.

I also got a good idea for a play for Thayer next year, one that I can write to suit my kids and make the most of their talents and use as many of them as possible.

All in all, it was a very inspiring night, and though multitudes of coffee must be consumed this afternoon, I wouldn't trade it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Half Blood Prince

And in keeping with my card-carrying geek status, I am counting down the hours till next week's release of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, by far my favorite of the books. Totally can't wait. And this time, I'm bringing my nine-year-old daughter and twelve-year-old niece to see the movie with me at midnight. Who's in???

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Vermont has a very different pace than I’m used to. Whereas I often feel bursting with barely-containable energy and frustrating inability to just sit still, there’s something about Vermont that makes me actually just…breathe. It’s no wonder that Lisa, my oldest friend, has made her home and her life there. We’ve been friends since 10th grade, though we’ve known each other all our lives, having grown up in my Tiny Hometown together where we all are stuck with each other from playpen to graduation cap. We became friends rather by default, when members of our wider group either moved away, or evolved into more popular crowds. We were the Last Ones Standing, and it was very lucky that we finally looked at each other one day and realized, “Hey! I actually really LIKE you!” We went to the same college (mostly by coincidence), and stuck by each other through boyfriends and dramas and my particularly obnoxious college growing pains. We were in each other’s weddings, are godmothers to each other’s children, and even though we live five hours apart, our visits to each other now get to be more like vacations. Well, at least for me.

Lisa has four sons. That fact alone continues to leave me in awe of her. FOUR SONS. How does she do it? How does she manage the brotherly scuffles? The Matchbox cars? The plastic dinosaurs and tiny little hammers and all that sand in their sneakers? That is one tiny piece of her Phenomenal Woman status in my mind. What amazes me most is that she has a very particular way of honoring these four small souls in her care, of recognizing their patterns and their insecurities and their talents and their passions and encouraging them to be, to grow, to become whoever they are destined to be. God is a powerful force in her life, and she relies on her faith to help keep her strong and centered and present for her sons, and for her husband. She moved to Vermont for her husband, because it was his vision to have a home with land and a view. An orchard and a huge garden, a root cellar and a sugar shack. These started as Kevin’s dreams, and she has found them in her heart, too, and has built a life with him based on this shared picture.

We went to visit them for an overnight earlier this week. It was just the girls and me, because it was during the work week, and after a shaky start, we put on Mamma Mia and sang our heads off all the way up to Northern Vermont. The kids got on immediately, running through trails and their wildflower meadow, finding snakes and toads and eating mint and various lettuces from their garden. Lisa and I sat on the front porch looking out at the mountain views, reveling in the sunshine (‘cause there was none in Massachusetts) and loving the sounds of six happy little people adventuring around their yard. Later, we sat in the twilight on her back porch, overlooking the apple tree and the wildflower meadow as the kids all roasted marshmallows in their pajamas. As the night began to deepen and Amelia and the boys became enthralled in Dinotopia, Abby came to join us on the back porch. “Abby, see the fireflies?” Kevin indicated the wildflower meadow behind her. My small curly-headed daughter turned around to look behind her, and the gasp as she turned back to look at us, her eyes alight with pure wonder and delight was the best moment of the entire trip. She was off the porch in an instant, running through the field in her pajamas, hair streaming behind her, off to get a closer look. Lisa went inside to gather the rest of them, and Kevin miraculously produced five covered mason jars, tailor made for catching fireflies on a perfect summer night. Lisa and I sat on the porch and watched all five of them scampering through the yard, and she quietly said, “I am so happy to be able to share this with you.” And I felt just the same way.

Lisa and I will attend our 20th high school reunion next month. Twenty years since we rode together to the prom. Twenty years since we giggled together through “Hava Nagila” in Concert Choir. More than that, even, since we shared details of our first kisses, tried our first cigarette on the way to a high school dance, listened to the fascinating Tiffani Todd, with her New Girl Mystique, explain the specifics of various sexual acts to us in the back of the auditorium during South Pacific rehearsal. (Wealth of knowledge, that girl.) Twenty years since we cried together after saying goodbye to our first loves to head off to UMass. Lisa waited all night in the waiting room while I gave birth to Amelia. She danced me through my pre-wedding jitters to “Don’t Fence Me In” in her basement. She was by my side through my brother’s wake and funeral, and cried with me in only the way that someone who knew him as a freckled ten-year old could. Snickers in church. Margaritas in Provincetown. Ani DeFranco concerts and high-school plays and bridesmaid dresses and wine coolers and late-night poetry readings and ill-advised romances. Family dramas and funerals and weddings and babies…and, most importantly, whatever comes next. I know that whatever comes next will include her, my soul-friend, the one who knew me first and best, who knows exactly where I came from and will celebrate where I’m going, as I will continue to do for and with her. I cherish her, and do not possess enough poetry in my heart to fully capture how essential she is to the balance of my life. I wish many things for my daughters, but second only to my hope that they find a life-mate to make their spirit sing is the hope that they will have a Lisa, a True Blue Friend who will be there to share the journey, start to end. And not just share it, but enhance it, and decorate it with splashy paint and printed scarves and hand-carved jewelry…and fireflies on a summer night.