Saturday, August 18, 2018

MY SPIRIT GUIDE

"Oh, you're so brave!"

That's what everyone keeps telling me. But it's not true, not remotely. I just have my meltdowns in private, when nobody's looking.

It doesn't take bravery to keep forging ahead, especially when you have no choice. Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the Future —whether we want to go there or not. There's no "reverse" switch; believe me, I've looked! There's no "pause" button. There's only Fast Forward.

One friend told me if she were in my place, she's stop washing her hair and stay in bed for a month. And my first thought was, Wait! That's an option? I never got the memo!

But I do have one secret weapon standing between me and complete emotional chaos — as tempting as it would be to give in to it.

James.

My Art Boy was all about positive energy. He didn't do angst in his paintings, and he didn't do drama in real life. He was the problem-solver, and no problem was insurmountable. If his plans hit a roadblock, he'd study the situation and figure out a way around it. He could rise to any challenge, and he always did it with a smile on his face. (And usually, a flute of champagne in his hand!)

So how does it serve his legacy if I'm the first one who cracks up and falls apart?

As James saw it, his mission was to keep things upbeat, laugh at everything, and keep spirits buoyed up so we could all get on with the business of life. And even though he may be gone, physically, he's now become my Spirit Guide!

It's Art Boy's voice in my heart that reminds me when it's time to take my pills. He advises me in the kitchen when I'm trying to replicate our favorite dishes for one. ("Watch the pan, so the garlic doesn't burn!") He's the one suggesting I shut down for the evening, come downstairs, pour a glass of bubbly, and enjoy some quality time out on the deck with Bella the Cat. That's what he'd be doing!


It hurt so much at first to not have him actually there beside me. But gradually, even though I'm alone (with Bella purring happily in my lap — kitties love it when you visit their turf!), I find that as I'm sitting there, surrounded by all the things he loved — our blooming succulents and ripening figs; the industrious humming of bees in the pear tree, the soft, late-afternoon light — some of his exuberant attitude toward life begins to steal back into my heart.

This is exactly the same life he loved with such passion. He's just not here to enjoy it any more.

But I am.

So whenever I get too despondent, when that renegade thought surfaces that I just don't want to do this any more, the voice of my Spirit Guide reasons with me. This is our life, he reminds me, that we worked so hard to create. Don't give up on it yet!

And he's right, of course. James embraced this life with gusto, and now that he can't be part of it himself, it's up to me to do the same. For his sake, and my own.

I may be eating for one these days, but I'm living for two.

(Above: Navigating Life's Obstacles, by James Aschbacher, 2018)

Monday, August 13, 2018

ROUSING CLOSER

Desire, power, sex converge in frisky, seductive Venus In Fur

The final mainstage offering from Santa Cruz Shakespeare concludes the season with a bang — and a crash and a boom. Outstanding thunder and lightning effects punctuate the action in Venus In Fur, an often scorchingly funny contemporary drama written by David Ives.

It's a rousing closer to a season that has trained its sights on the politics of desire, gender, and power in many diverse, unruly forms.

Playwright Ives will be familiar to SCS audiences as the author of The Liar, adapted from a 17th Century French farce. The SCS production of The Liar (back when it was still called Shakespeare Santa Cruz) was one of the most uproarious in the company's history.

Gonzalez and Ibsen: who's auditioning whom?
In addition to his own original plays, Ives' specialty is adapting the work of comic authors of previous centuries, like Moliere and Mark Twain.
   
But  Venus In Fur is something completely different. This time, Ives' source material is an 1870 novella by Austrian literary figure Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (the man who put the "M" in S&M). And instead of simply adapting Masoch's story for the stage, Ives whips up (sorry), a clever bracketing device about a frazzled theatrical director (Brian Ibsen) and a ditzy actress late for an audition (the riotously entertaining Maria Gabriela Rosado Gonzalez) reading through a modern play based on the Masoch story — and confronting all the sexual/political issues it raises.

Directed with sharp-witted aplomb by Raelle Myrick-Hodges, it's a seductive chamber piece for two actors and four voices as the actress and director go in and out of character, the lines between reality and fantasy blur, and simmering, centuries-old tensions between the sexes bubble to the surface.
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Friday, August 10, 2018

THE GIFT of TIME

Waiting Up For You by James Aschbacher
You know how couples often have "our song?"

James and I had a song: "Tired of Waiting For You," by the Kinks.

James was known to actually slip this CD in the player and blast it all over the house when he was dressed and ready to go someplace and I was still in the bedroom, trying to drag some clothes together and fooling with my hair.

It seemed like I could never quite get out the door on time.

On yoga mornings, despite his reminders ("Wrap it up!" "Shut 'er down!" "Time to go!") I was still upstairs, trying to write that last sentence, or answer one more email, while he cooled his heels at the door, rattling the car keys, afraid interlopers would take our spots on the floor if we weren't there to claim them.

He made sure we always got to the movies on time, where scheduled showtimes waited for no critic.

(The same could not be said about our friend, Morton Marcus; at press screenings at the Nick, he habitually snuck into the theatre 10 minutes after the movie had started.

James teased him about it unmercifully, that Mort never saw this often crucial set-up to the story. "Mort, you missed the murder!" he'd say, as we critics thronged back out into the lobby.)

But when James and I were going out to visit friends, despite my best intentions, I never allowed myself enough time to get ready. Even my sunny willingness to claim all the blame ("So sorry! Totally my fault!") could never quite counter-balance the fact that I'd kept him waiting. Again.

We never fought over it. We never fought over anything. But in retrospect, I find myself thinking, geez, would it have killed me to be on time, once in awhile?

I'm never late now. I get rides to yoga and the movies from different people every week, and I'm always ready and waiting by the door. It's too bad I didn't show my Art Boy the same courtesy when he was still here to appreciate it.

Actually, I did. Once. On a Valentine's Day, when time had slipped away, and I had neither card nor gift for my sweetie, I folded a 3x5 card in half, drew a clock face on the front, and turned it into a "gift certificate" for The Gift of Time  — my pledge that I would not be late for one entire year.

His eyes lit up. "This is the best present you could ever give me!" he said.

And I managed to keep my pledge!

Too bad it was only good for a year.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

JAMES LOVES KIDS' ART!


Friends, it is with extreme delight that I announce the establishment of the James Aschbacher SPECTRA Fund, supporting art education in the schools!

(I especially love this image they picked for the James Fund page on the ACSCC website. Believe it or not, those marvelous paper cut-out self-portraits were made by 5- and 6-year olds! Could they be any more cool?)

Artist and legendary Cabrillo College art instructor Howard Ikemoto once told a story about the time his seven-year-old daughter asked him what he did when he went to work. "I teach people how to draw," he told her. She looked back at him in wide-eyed surprise. "You mean they forget?"

James loved that story.
Cat Support Group, by James Aschbacher

My Art Boy believed that every child possesses an instinctive ability to create art. All they need is opportunity and encouragement. And although he never took an art class in his life, he was an avid supporter of arts education in the schools, not to teach children "how" to make art, but to provide a nurturing atmosphere to explore their own creativity.

James spent 10 years working with mostly 4th and 5th-graders creating murals at elementary schools countywide. And the students weren't there to color in the muralist's image; James tasked every child with the responsibility of creating his or her own creature or character within the larger framework, and painting it on the wall.

And he was always astonished and delighted to discover what the kids came up with, not from any conscious desire to make "good art," but out of the wild splendor of their own imaginations.

"Kid art" was James' favorite kind! He would be thrilled to have his name associated with a fund to support art in the schools, and encourage children to discover their own inner artists.

Visit the page if you'd like to join the support group!

Friday, August 3, 2018

UNLUCKY 13

Wry humor, poignant insights, fuel Eighth Grade

Once upon a time, they called it Junior High School, that fraught and fretful gateway into the teenage years. These days, it's known as Middle School.

But even though the name has changed, and the advent of personal technology has altered the landscape even more, the excruciating angst of being 13 is the same for every generation — an experience captured to poignant comic perfection in Eighth Grade.

It's the first feature film from writer-director Bo Burnham, an actor and stand-up comedian best known for directing comedy specials.

What's most remarkable is Burnham's insight into young female psychology, and the eggshell-strewn minefield of parent-child relationships.

Working closely with his muse and co-conspirator, Elsie Fisher, turning in a galvanizing performance as a eighth grade girl enduring her last week of Middle School, Burnham zeroes in with tender precision on the special awkwardness of this in-between, unavoidable phase of life.

Fisher and Hamilton: hopes and dreams
For those of us who have spent our entire adult lives trying to forget our 13-year-old selves (which would be, roughly, everybody alive), this movie brings it all flooding back — every yearning, every perceived slight, every desperately game attempt to at least appear, you know, normal.

Burnham never misses a beat of emotional truth, from the way loud metal music hammers in Kayla's head every time she sees the sloe-eyed lout she has a secret crush on, to her dependence on You Tube to explain the world to her.

One clever device is having the eighth-graders open shoebox "time capsules" they put together for their future selves way back in the sixth grade, revealing the nature of their earlier hopes and dreams. As dorky as Kayla finds hers (it contains, among other mementoes, a USB plug shaped like SpongeBob), its effect is to reintroduce Kayla to herself.

A late-inning scene when her well-meaning single dad (Josh Hamilton) haltingly reveals his own hopes and dreams for his daughter, and the young woman she's becoming, is wonderfully effective. Finally, Kayla's understanding of who she is, and her decision to stay true to her emerging self, no matter what, wins our hearts.
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