08 Nov

Baggage…Or not.

2017-11-08 22.09.39

I have been carrying around the New York City Ballet’s brochure for their 2017/2018 season for weeks now. The edges of the pages have become purse-worn. The cover page has come out of the stapled binding. I have brought it to Florida and back. Maybe even twice. And all because I thought it was one of the most beautiful brochures I had seen in a long time. Perhaps ever. As I perused it the first time, I was captivated! And I wanted to write about it and how beautiful it was and how happy I felt just looking at the photographs and reading the text that someone in marketing had worked very hard to come up with. I also thought, as I was perusing that first time, what a shame it was that it was only a brochure for one season. A  shame because one, it was already demoted down from “real” art simply by existing as a marketing brochure and two because it was for only one season. This brochure would go exist for one season and then everyone would forget about it and how beautiful it was.

So I saved it because I thought it was beautiful and I wanted to write about it.

My writing, as it turns out, has gone to the wayside since May 3 when I picked up my 7-wk old daughter. And let’s face facts. My writing had pretty much already gone to the wayside even before I had picked up my daughter. Yes! Essentially I was not writing.

I carried the brochure with me for wks with the hopes that I would write about it, about all of it. About how it inspired me. About how I would take it out at various and random times and look at the beautiful pictures of the dancers. The front insert page invited the peruser to “ESCAPE…EXPLORE…EMBRACE…” And that’s what I did. The photography was compelling. How much more exquisite eloquence could those bodies express? And that was just from the photos. My goodness, how much better would it be in person?

I don’t know because I never subscribed or bought a ticket. Acquiring an infant, becoming a mother, turned out to be a little bit of a hindrance to attending a NYCB performance in NYC (or anything in NYC other than taking care of an infant, for that matter).

But here I am, I swear at least two months later, picking out the worn brochure from my tote bag. Lkng at it again and loving it as much as I did the first time I opened it. But this is different because this is the final time that I will take it out. This time I am really writing about it and once I am done I will put it into the recycling bin. This time I am finally saying goodbye to it.

It has been my baggage for the past two months (who knows, maybe even longer…). Albeit it is my beautiful baggage of exquisite dancers. But it is still my baggage: sitting on my to-do list; weighing down on me both in my tote bag and my psyche. Oh! I would remind myself every time I picked up the bag – I need to write about it! Or I need to subscribe! Or I need to purchase at least one ticket! Of course I walked around for over two months with it and did nothing but have it weigh on my mind.

Until now. I turn the front page insert and see the picture and caption: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Ballet,” and am reminded of why this brochure initially appealed to me. Someone in the marketing department was also a reader and lover of Wallace Stevens and had found a way to derive that poem into the NYCB’s 2017/2018 brochure. I have no idea who that person was but whomever it was I love. V and XI are my favorites, but VI haunts me.

V. Inflections and innuendos. A ballet performance happens to us twice. First, the dancing pours out in front of us. Then the afterimages appear, staying with us for days — or forever — moments embraced in a mental glow, like rooms in the paintings of La Tour. Explore these rooms and why they’re now a part of you.

VI. Dance doesn’t have words. It has moods, shapes, shadows, people going to and fro. Sometimes it’s like looking through a distant window into another world. Sometimes it’s like losing out your own window into darkness and desire.

XI. Fairies, sulphate, birds, insects, angels, Mercury’s winged feet and Time’s winged chariot. Dance moves as the crow flies, straight to the heart of things.”

Earlier today I took out the brochure and the cover fell off since it was not longer attached to the stapled binding. I picked it up and felt sad because I wanted to have it forever but realized it was already gone. I gently put the cover into the trash can next to me.

And now here I am writing a blog post for the first time in god knows how long. It has been a lifetime ago (that I can say with conviction). And though I don’t feel emotionally ready to get rid of this beautiful baggage, it is time. So here is my last tribute to this beautiful piece. I am sorry to be get rid of this baggage, even as it feels good to lighten my tote bag and free my mind of that overhand.

But isn’t that what ballet is? An ephemeral hopefully beautifully exquisite existence that will settle into your bones and be with you forever. Even though the performance is long gone. (That, incidentally, is also what I experienced at my first visit to the NYCB, watching the curtain go up on Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. It was a magical moment and even though it is passed and gone it has become a part of my existence.)

For that matter, isn’t that what art is, or even life? And yes, even a beautiful brochure for one season of the NYCB. So here is to baggage. And getting rid of it and keeping it at the same time. Not good riddance, but simply good.

* * *

I cannot sign off without mentioning Douglas Taurel who wrote and acted in the one-man play, The American Soldier. He is performing this as well as another one-man show, An American Soldier’s journey Home: The Diary of Irving Greenwald at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on November 11. I reviewed The American Soldier over a year ago and found it an honest and moving tribute to our soldiers and veterans and am so glad to see it continue to live on. (For more details, please go to: http://www.theamericansoldiersoloshow.com.)

For anyone in DC this wkend and lkng for something to do, it is well worth the visit. Especially on a Veteran’s Day wkend.

ELM. 11/8/17

18 Sep

Thank you Ian Frazier!

Once upon a time (a time, btw, before I worked at an investment bank), I fell in love with Ian Frazier. Not physically in the sort of way that I would fall in love with a man who I was hoping to be my husband, but in a career/aspiration sort of way. Ian Frazier is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of some very great books (at least in my opinion).

I still love Ian Frazier but he seems to have written less frequently for the magazine in the past fifteen years. A period of time which coincides with the period of time in my job that has seen a great increase in responsibilities. Thus, I still love Ian Frazier, but have seen much less of him over the years. In many ways, he is very much like my best friend from business school: someone with whom I spent copious amounts of time with 20 years ago and will love always, but over the past twenty years have come to accept that we will only connect live possibly once or twice every two or three years. This is neither good or bad. It is, simply put, life. You make friends (in fact you make very good friends!) but then life moves on, and the relationships morph and change. Not for worse, not for better. They just change.

So it was with great anticipation that I saw Ian Frazier on deck in this wk’s New Yorker, writing about the “elusive, flickering, familiar, sea-polished shade of copper-green” of the Statue of Liberty (click here for the article). And reading it was similar to the time that I reconnected with my best friend from business school earlier this year. It seemed like ages and ages had passed, but then we were there and everything was the same, except that instead of catching up on a day’s worth of news we had to catch up on three year’s worth of news. And in the catching up, you see the same things that remembered from twenty years ago but aged by twenty years.

So it was with Ian Frazier. Here he was writing about the green sheen of the Statue of Liberty. The essay topic was completely Ian Frazier. The language was Ian Frazier. But somehow, I understood in reading it, that it was also an Ian Frazier who had aged the same amount of years that I have since I first met him back in 1997.

This wkend, thinking about all that, made me want to go back and read that first essay I had read of his some sixteen years ago. And I did. In so many ways, I was a latecomer to Frazier (I would argue in fact that I was a late comer to writers and writing, but that is another essay…) and found him through the Best American Essay Series in 1997. As the editor that year, he selected the essays and wrote the Introduction.

It is that introductory essay that remains one of my favorite essays. It combines humor, instruction, compassion, and purpose all in one. And in such great writing! But like all great essay writing, it gives you a window of understanding into the writer. When I read it sixteen years ago, it became my call to writing. For a long time, I have maintained a notebook of favorite writings. That essay is at the front of that notebook.

I went on to build a career at an investment bank in equity research management, not a career as a writer (either for the New Yorker or any other magazine for that matter). And I have done well in this career. Not spectacularly well by Wall Street standards, but pretty well by the average American standard. I do not regret that decision, though I often question whether it was the right decision. The central paradox that always comes to mind when I think about this is that I feel that I have become a better writer by having hadmy career at the bank. Yet that career has also limited my possibilities as a writer, if only because of the time and emotional demands of being a manager.

What a pleasure it was this wkend to travel back in time and re-read that essay. In fact, it wasn’t only a pleasure, it was a reminder!  A reminder that once upon a time I wanted to be a writer. A writer like Ian Frazier. A writer who could be eloquent and compassionate and at the same time humorous.

Timing is everything right? I am only reflecting on Ian Frazier because he happened to have an essay in the New Yorker this wk. At the same time, I am getting ready to announce (finally after over 10 years!) the publication of my first book. Stay tuned here for more details shortly!

So I am in so many ways both honored and grateful to be reflecting on Ian Frazier and my call to writing this wkend. I am so happy to be able to re-read his essay. And I am definitely looking forward to whatever he writes next in the New Yorker…or wherever. Thank you Ian Frazier!

09 Sep

Empathizing with the American Soldier: A Conversation with Doug Taurel

doug-620x330

by Erica L Moffett (first published at www.womanaroundtown.com on 9/7/16). 

Douglas Taurel has never served in the military but he possesses deep empathy for the soldier and the families of the soldiers. It is not an inactive empathy. Though a successful actor in his own right (he got into acting because he wanted to impress a girl!), seven years ago he felt compelled to begin working on a project which eventually turned into The American Soldier, a one-man play which he has been performing at theaters and festivals over the past year. Residents of the tri-state area who were unable to see the play previously will have another opportunity to see it at Mile Square Theater in Hoboken from September 9 -11.

I reviewed the play last year at 59E59 Theaters when it debuted (click here for the review) and had the opportunity last week to talk with Taurel about the play as he gets ready for the Hoboken run.

bluesubtitle_notext300

There were a few catalysts that drove Taurel create The American Soldier. First, he has always been fascinated with American history and has always spent time trying to understand history through characters. Second, as an avid reader, he read stories of veterans with PTSD and he was very troubled by them. And finally, as a husband and a father and an actor, he could really empathize with the pain of losing a child or a spouse. At a certain point, he wanted to do something. He wanted to give back. The American Soldier is the result of all that active empathy and intellect. “What I really wanted to do was to give a sincere thank-you to our soldiers and to their families,” said Taurel.

In The American Soldier, Taurel wanted to represent the war from all perspectives and the play provides a kaleidoscope of experiences. Soldiers are obviously represented, but there are also mothers, fathers, children, and siblings of soldiers. Not surprisingly, PTSD is a theme that comes up and seems to have resonated the most with audience members, but that is only one layer of the experience that Taurel was trying to convey. “I find it heartbreaking and moving to know that a son is not going to play with his father again,” said Taurel. “Or how a wife can get into bed without her husband for the rest of her life.”

Doug2

These are experiences that can resonate with everyone, but it is the power of Taurel’s writing and acting that allows everyone to access those traumatic and heartbreaking experiences. It is because of this that the play has had a much longer life than he anticipated, something that is especially gratifying to Taurel. “It’s like the show that won’t die,” he told me. After an initial run at 59E59 Theaters, he took it to the Edinburgh Fringe where it won a 4-star rating and was nominated for the UK Amnesty International Award for Theatre excellence. The show started to sell out and people urged him to continue to take the show elsewhere. So from Edinburgh to Houston, and then later to the Midtown International Theater Festival in New York. Now it is Mile Square Theater in Hoboken, and he is also scheduled to reprise it in November in upstate New York in performances solely for veterans. To cap things off, he is also in discussions with the Kennedy Center to perform it there early next year.

Of course Taurel is pleased with the success of the show, but he is more pleased with how the show has been able to reach people and open up conversations that were closed down beforehand. He shared with me the letter of one veteran whose wife had never understood the military and held harsh views on it and the soldiers who joined. After seeing the show though, she apologized to her husband for their previous fights about the military, started to express an interest in his military experience, and then told him that she was proud of him. This is just one of many individual testimonials that Taurel has received.

Taurel called the show The American Soldier because it was based on actual letters by and to American soldiers. (He would build characters based on actual people, but fictionalize the stories since he didn’t have licensing rights.) But he believes that the themes and experiences he explores are universal to soldiers, regardless of country. He experienced this directly when he brought the play to Edinburgh. He admits that he was a little worried about bringing this play, blatantly titled The American Soldier to another country. He worried, rightly, that it would smack of American arrogance. Instead he found that the play was able to transcend the American boundary, and give cause for the stiff British upper lip to quaver a little. In England, he told me, no one was talking about these issues. Once the play started to sell out in Edinburgh, he would start to see mothers of U.K. veterans in the audience. And after the play, they would come up to him and thank him for doing the play and bringing these issues to light. Taurel believes that he would receive this reaction in any country.

Doug3

If the soldier’s experience is universal across nations, it is also universal across time. Taurel was amazed once he started doing his research how he would find almost the same phrases and descriptions in letters from the 1700s to letters of today. The biggest pattern he found across all wars was the inability to sleep after killing innocent people. But this was just one of many, the others including loss and anger and post-traumatic stress.

And that is the power of the play. The ability to take military experiences across time and wars and countries and weave them together—through characters—in a way that resonates with both soldiers and non-soldiers, and more importantly, allows people to grieve or understand or simply be a little more at peace and able to move on with life.

If the shows moves on to the Kennedy Center next year, Taurel feels that would be a fitting way to end the great run. But when I asked him what is next, he almost sighed and said, “Oh, there are so many…” The two that are most important to him outside of the military are race and immigration. If Taurel is able to take on those issues as well as he has the military one, then I will eagerly be on the look out for those. For now though, he is busy enough with the final productions of The American Soldier as well as his regular acting work to even think about the next big project. However, I can’t help but think that Taurel, with as much active empathy as he has, will be back at some point to tackle another big issue. And that one will be worth waiting for. In the meantime, there are still another few productions of The American Soldier to savor before we see his next big project.

“The American Soldier” will be playing at the Mile Square Theater in Hoboken from September 9-11. For more information, visit: www.milesquaretheatre.org

14 Aug

Review: Men in Boats…Laughing & Having a Great Time!

2016-08-14 14.31.19

The scenery for Men in Boats consists of floor to ceiling, grainy black and wide photos of massive rock formations, leaving little questions that this play is about the American West. Ah, the American West! That great place that has inspired countless dreaming and wanderlust and fostered the American spirit of adventure and exploration. I hadn’t read any background material on Men in Boats prior to arriving to the theater, and I sat back and waited to see where this American Western adventure would lead me.

On the surface, Men in Boats is a zany, goofball spoof about men in boats. Specifically a group of men commissioned by the U.S. government, led by John Wesley Powell, and headed down the Colorado River to chart the river’s path. However, in this re-telling, the men in boats were all played by women in boats. Which is probably the easiest way to spoof on a group of men, venturing down the Colorado River in the mid-1800s. Each man of the expedition inhabits a fairly common stereotype (the dumb brother who gets drunks and sings silly songs too long after each meal; the second-in-command who thinks he is better than the leader; the European dilettante; the sturdy cook who keeps the peace, etc.) and they bicker and complain much as one would expect a group of eleven men who are stuck together for months on end in an inhospitable environment. But hearing women bicker as the men did only highlighted the silliness and pettiness of the bickering. The actors are all great, and they do an even better job getting laughs at lines that would seem completely plausible if uttered by the original men in the expedition. (The humor was also helped by 21st century vernacular.) One wonders, just for a moment, how much American history would have been different had all our expeditions been led and manned by women. Would we have evolved to be a much funnier country?

The comedy eventually gives way to a more serious note. This is, after all the American West and exploration into new territory was not a walk in the park. As the English dilettant exlaims before leaving the group, “No one risks death in Provence!” The comic aspect continues, but the audience is brought up to speed on the dangers and fears that they faced as they continued the expedition.

There is automatic tension built into the story, the main question being whether the group will survive. There is a subplot between the expedition leader and the second in command. But the play appeals more as a series of episodes and vignettes that reveal character rather than a tight storyline. And even with minimal props (half boats), crisp lines, strong verbal imagery, and well-timed sound effects make the action fun and easy to follow.

In the end, the group makes it out alive. They are greeted by a local who explains to them that everyone had taken them for dead. He delivers the final monologue and the men are spellbound and reduced to listening to him recap their story. The local man has the last comic, philosophical word and in the end, the audience is left pondering who ever will have the last word. Or for that matter, the last laugh.

23 Jul

Saturday Night at Crave Fishbar

2016-07-23 20.13.59

Saturday evening at Crave Fishbar. Every writer (I like to think anyway) needs a bar to write in. A friendly, neighborhood bar that is not too loud or crowded. Where you know the staff and they know you and they know what wine you like and what food you want and most of all, they know that you write. They make it easy for you to come in, set up shop at one end of the bar, and write, undisturbed. Crave Fishbar is that place for me. It is where I can be found most Saturday evenings when I am in NYC and tonight it is where I have set up shop to get a few thoughts down before they slip away into some subterranean place in my mind.

* * *

First up. We are in the midst of a heat wave here in NYC. This is the topic du jour: the expected high temperature (95 degrees), the expected high temperature with the heat index (over 100 degrees); how disgusting this is (gross is the other word that people are using); how awful it feels (pretty awful); how to stay cool (movies and malls); and how else to beat the heat (drink lots of water, eat lots of bananas, stay indoors in air-conditioning etc etc etc…).

Since I have been spending more and more time in Florida especially in the summer, I have developed the view that 95 degrees in NYC is not the same as 95 degrees in Florida. In spite of the fact that the thermometer reads 95 degrees in both places, 95 degrees in Florida is much, much hotter than 95 degrees in NY. I can’t explain it to my NY friends because they can’t stop talking about how hot it is. And how disgusting it feels.

I, on the other hand, feel great! It’s 95 degrees but it’s not really 95 degrees. I love this weather! Yes, I know I am biased. I hate the cold. I love the sun. I’d take this any day over a cold wind and 25 degrees. But still, I ask my New Yorker friends, it is necessary to complain this much about the heat?

It has occurred to me that the Mason-Dixon boundary line is still alive and intact, and remains the great dividing line, certainly in weather temperament (if not everything else!). If anyone south of the Mason Dixon line can’t deal with snow, then it seems that anyone north of it can’t deal with heat. So there you have it: North and South are even. Though I don’t think that is of any comfort to my northern friends who are sweltering and melting and feeling like they are being gypped out of precious summer days because all they can do to beat the heat is to stay indoors. To this I would respond: head south, go way down south below the Mason Dixon line. In fact, head to south Florida, or Miami at 25 degrees latitude to be precise. Spend a few days there, and then head back north to NYC at 41 degrees latitude and revel in our glorious summer!

* * *

Speaking of summer, one of the things that I love about summer is the switch to crazily fun nail polish colors, colors that can hold their own against a brash, hot, summer sun. This summer I found a delicious sparkly blue-green teal. Essie makes it and what I love about it is that it immediately transports me to some paradisal tropical island. (On this island, btw, it also really hot. Maybe even 15 degrees latitude hot!) I am lying on a white sand beach and being lulled by the gentle waves of the clear, blue-green sparkling waters, the same color as the color on my nails. For a nail polish color to do that. Wow!

Of course nothing is perfect. What I don’t love about the color is its name: Trophy Wife.

I didn’t notice it when I bought it because I was buying for the color. I only took note later because a friend of mine saw it and loved it and then when we both figured out that Essie had decided to call it “Trophy Wife,” we were horrified. I guess that there are women out there who want to be trophy wives, but it is a repugnant idea to me. Certainly and definitively, she and I are not among them. Neither of us could imagine wearing anything promoting the idea of a trophy wife.

So I am happy to report that we have taken the initiative and re-named it “Mermaid Goddess.” We can’t yet report that we have triumphed over Trophy Wife, but we are very hopeful, working with Mermaid Goddess, to turn any Trophy Wife into a real, thinking, and strong woman. Now that is  and would truly be a very powerful nail polish color!

* * *

Speaking of strong women, can we move to strong girls? I am so excited to report that my children’s book, Erica from America: Swimming from Europe to Africa is close to being finished! (For a sneak peak at the cover, visit the tab The Children’s Book on my website.) I have been working with my illustrator and designer and publisher very intensely for the past two months and we think, we hope, that Erica from America will be ready for sale before the Olympics!

I am terrifically excited because this has been a project long in the making. The manuscript has been sitting on my bookshelf for over eleven years. The little girls and boys I read it to eleven years ago are now in college! I suspect they won’t remember me reading it to them or remember the story, but it is my hope that some good memory of the book broke off and has remained in them, even if only in their subconscious. And even if not, then I am still excited to finally bring this story out, with its beautiful illustrations, to a whole new group of children. These children, after all, are our legacy. These are the people who will be here after we are gone. May we give them great stories to remember and worthy goals to aspire to.

* * *

And on the topic of good stories, I am proud to say that I have finished all four of the Neapolitan novels by the elusive and anonymous Elena Ferrante. All 1,716 pages on my iPad Apple books. It was an interesting read, but it started out slowly. So slowly, in fact, that it took me three wks to read the first 250 pages and I was dubious that I was ever going to finish it. But boy, did I underestimate Elena Ferrante. By Saturday evening of last wkend, I had gotten up to page seven hundred and change, and I was trying to figure out whether I could finish the remaining two and a half books before I had to go back to work on Monday.

This was the calculation that was going through the the back of my mind: with 1,000 pages left, if I read 100 pages an hour, then I can finish this in 10 hours. But I need to allow for some slower reading to savor the books, the language, the story, and, most of all, the friendship between Lenu and Lila. So let’s allow 12-14 hours. So yes, I can finish it all before Monday. But in order to do so, the rest of wkend has to be dedicated to reading it. No eating, no working out, no working (which I did need to do), no swimming, no errands, no cleaning up the apartment, no doing laundry, and no watching the last open of the British Open (which was universally acknowledged to be one of the greatest last rounds in a major ever).

In the end, I was ok with all of that. I was completely mesmerized with Lenu and Lila and their little Italy. I read until I fell asleep on Saturday. I woke up at 6:30a on Sunday and immediately started to read, in bed. I read all day. Mostly in bed and on the sofa. I didn’t get dressed. I didn’t even go out to get my coffee from Starbucks! As I expected, I did nothing of the things that I had planned or needed to do. But I was successful. I finished the quartet of novels around five o’clock on Sunday. Thank god, enough time to get to the gym and get a run in.

I felt a great sense of satisfaction when done. And not just from finishing the books. But mainly because Elena Ferrante drew me in. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Lenu and Lila and Nino and Rino and Enzo and the lost child and all the other great characters in the story. About Naples and Italy and growing up in a poor Italian family. Afterwards I felt (as is typical of the way I feel after binging on a book or a TV series) completely spent and empty and wondering how I was going to build a bridge back from their wonderful, fantastical world to my own reality. I have never done drugs, but now I wonder if it isn’t a similar feeling: having to come down from an intense high and realizing that your own life is still going on and you’ve now got to figure out a way to jump back in and get back to normal.

Just about a wk has passed since I finished the books. Today I did all the errands that I meant to do last wkend. I am back, thoroughly, into my life.

* * *

And so I come around to my life. That means that I am back in the pool again. Finally.

It is hard to believe, but it has been over a month since I have been in the pool. Most of it was due to being away and vacation and then being busy. However, procrastination also contributed. I was going to swim on Monday, but had to stay late at work, so no go. Tuesday I was meeting a friend for drinks, so that was out. Wednesday, I was going to go but I was tired and just wanted to go home after work. And I did. Thursday I was late at work and also another friend had come into town so I met him for drinks instead of the pool. I thought about going on Friday, but I never swim on Friday in NYC, so that didn’t happen. And finally it was Saturday. Five whole days of procrastination and no swimming. I told myself I had to get into the pool.

I was out most of the afternoon running the errands that I hadn’t done last wk. When I was done, I looked at my watch and it was 3:30p. I thought about how easy it would be to go home and take a nap. Or slip into a restaurant and sit at the bar and have a glass of wine and write. Or to head to the nearest Starbucks and order one of their delicious cold brews and read the article about Martha Nussbaum in last wk’s New Yorker. But some little, and silent, but also very powerful, voice, deep inside me, urged me go to the pool before doing anything else. I wondered where this little, silent, powerful voice emanated from. Was it from within me? Or was it instead some higher order voice simply lodged within me? And if so, was its only purpose in life to get me to the pool? I didn’t have the answer, but wherever it came from, I couldn’t quiet it. In a concession to myself and to the voice, I hailed a cab and told the driver to take me to 91st and York, to Asphalt Green. To the pool.

This is the longest period of time I have been out of the water in a very long time. At least in the past five years. In fact, I think the last time I was out of the water for this long of a time was when I was training for Comrades in 2009. Back then, when people asked me if I was swimming, I had the perfectly reasonable excuse of saying, “No. I am not swimming because I am training for a 56-mile run.” But this time, I don’t feel like I have any excuse at all. All I can say this time is that I got busy at work and that I was on vacation and then I came back and was busy at work again. So no, I haven’t been swimming. And wow, would you look at that? Already a month has gone by!

I have mellowed though in the past five years. Because today, all this sounds so reasonable. So normal. Whereas five years ago, I would have felt lazy and incompetent if I had to admit that I hadn’t been swimming month without any Herculean explanation. But now, the answer is, “No, I haven’t been swimming.” And it’s not because I have been training for a 100-mile trail race or that I’m training for another Ironman triathlon. It’s simply that I’ve been busy. I think, for once in my life, I am beginning to understand that that is life.

Nevertheless, I was happy to be back in the water. I miss swimming when I’m not swimming. I miss the horizontal-ness. I miss the weightlessness. I miss the rotation of the body. I miss the dedicated effort to breathing. I miss the feeling of gliding in the water. The feeling of stretching out and the ability to participate in a 3-D world. I miss, so much, the water itself.

I definitely felt the effect of not swimming for over 30 days. That was not such a happy feeling. But I was happy, even if I was slow.

Outside it was hot. It was summer! I was back in the water, wearing my Mermaid Goddess nail polish, and, if not quite mermaid or goddess, definitely swimming and well on my way to being normal.

26 Jun

Summer Sporting Season Is Here!

13528807_10153763508352183_2083318610697495419_n

13438838_10153763506277183_7394456432051238323_nIt is late June. The summer solstice has come and gone this wk and we are in the thick of summer sports: the NHL finals finished up early in June; the NBA finals concluded last wk (delivering Cleveland its first championship since a loaf of bread costs 20 cents!); the French Open concluded in early June and we are preparing for Wimbledon (the v exciting news is that Djokovic is in the hunt for a calendar year Grand Slam and I have the odds on him doing exactly that so definitely worth watching); the U.S. Open is done (congratulations to Dustin Johnson who closeted some disappointing ghosts of his past lost championships) and it will be the British Open in two weeks; and then of course there is the Tour de France, arguably the most underrated grueling of athletic events. This year we are not only in the thick of it, but we are literally wading through the thickest of the thick. In addition to the normal summer thick, there is the Copa America (which I had no idea was even going to happen until it was suddenly happening on U.S. soil); the Euro Cup (probably the second biggest soccer—sorry football—tournament next to the World Cup); and then the most exciting of them all: the Summer Olympics in Rio.

If I was always a little bit of a summer sports junkie, this soccer and Olympic plus year are just deadly. If I was already glued to the TV watching tennis and golf and the peleton as well as the occasional baseball game, now it’s soccer and the Olympics. But the Olympics aren’t just the 17 days in early August. The Olympics means Olympic trials plus the Olympics in August. So today, off-sports junkies (by that I mean, non-baseball fanatics) can watch the final of the Copa America, quarterfinal matches for the Euro cup, the U.S. Women gymnastics championships (Go Simone Biles!!), and Olympic trials for diving, along with the first day of the swimming trials. Btw, the swimming trials end Sunday, two days after the Track and Field trials begin, which also overlap with the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Trials. Oh lord! So many great sporting events to watch. What to do?!!

(And let’s, btw, not forget about that all critical and important political race that is also occurring this summer…I, for one, am trying to keep as much distance as possible from all those unfortunate political shenanigans.)

NBC is broadcasting the swimming, diving, and gymnastics in prime time this wk. I suspect the track and field trials will be broadcast prime time as well next wk. It seems appropriate that I spent all of yesterday at a swim meet here in Florida yesterday. But now that we enter swimming, gymnastic, and track and field trials and head into Wimbledon, the tour de France, and the British Open and then the Olympics, I wonder how in the world I am going to have the time to fit in my own training amidst this steady stream of great sporting events.

It’s not for lack of discipline. After many ultra-distance events, I know how to get out and train. And it’s not for lack of motivation. After all, watching these elite athletes is inspirational and motivational. In fact, all I want to do after watching the trials is to jump back into training.

But it’s the time! I can handle one or two sporting events. That would certainly motivate me and give me the time to get back out and train. But it’s not just one of two. This summer it’s swimming and diving and gymnastics and tennis and cycling and track and field and golf…it’s a full time job just watching all of these great athletes.

And for that matter, forget about the question of how am I going to find to time to do my own training. There’s the larger question of how in the world I am going to have the time to doing everything else on my plate outside of training. Oh lord is right!

Btw – just a little aside for the swimming – this is the first year that the Olympic Swimming Trials have been completely sold out for every night. That’s 14,000 tickets for tonight and the next six nights. Wow! These trials are in Omaha, Nebraska, not exactly the most bustling metropolitan center, so that means that people actually made a conscious decision to travel to Omaha to watch the swimmer. This suggests an increasing popularity of swimming, which is great and which makes sense. I’ve seen it at the USMS meets as the rosters have only grown in the past few years and the competition has gotten very stiff.

What is one to make of this increased attention to swimming? Certainly, Michael Phelps, and then later Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin, had a large part in this. I would love to think that Katie Ledecky also had some part in this, but her name brand outside of swimmers is right now far less than Phelps, Lochte, or Franklin (I am hoping that changes significantly after the Olympics because she is truly will go down as one of the great swimmers of all time). I also have to think that the increased popularity of triathlon has also helped. Which is somewhat ironic since a little bit of a rift has developed between triathletes and swimmers. But for now, I’ll leave that for later contemplation.

I would note that the swimming boards have been buzzing recently about the difficulty of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials. If the Tour de France is the most underestimated grueling sporting event, the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials could be argued is the most underrated competitive event, simply because of the strength of U.S. swimming. This could just be dismissed as self-serving commentary. Even Rowdy Gaines noted in his commentary today that the NCAA swimming championships produce more Olympic caliber athletes than the Olympics themselves. But if that really is the case, then it is worth noting. It’s certainly puts a lot of pressure on all the swimmers, and much more so for the top 10 or 15. Especially since their glory days only come around every four years. So in all, and regardless of whether they are the most underrated competitive event, the fact that Trials are sold out is great news. And great news a long time in coming.

All this is a long way of saying that I am hereby officially checking out of training and of any other responsibility until after the Olympics and the U.S. Open (tennis, that is) officially closes the summer season of sports on September 11. (Ok – maybe not completely checked out, but you get the picture.)

It’s going to be a great summer. Go out and revel in the games wherever you are and whatever they are!

19 Jun

Review: Indian Summer…Gentle Host to Young Love

IMG_2713

IMG_2713Ah, to be 17 and in love in the summer at the beach! Gregory Moss said he “wanted to write a play about love and the ocean and the summertime,” and he has done that and more with Indian Summer, currently playing at Playwright’s Horizons through June 26. Though I must admit that the jury was out for much of the first half of the play. The first act meandered and dragged on and I did honestly consider jumping ship after Act 1.

What kept me there was one of the last scenes in the first act, where the two main characters go into a role playing exercise about what they would say to each other if they met ten years into the future. That was a wonderful scene, and ultimately what catapulted the play into more than love, the ocean, and the summertime. In the end, I am glad that I stayed for whatever unevenness exists in the first act is more than made up for in the second act.

Indian Summer takes place in Rhode Island and brings together two teenagers: Izzy, a townie from the wrong side of the tracks and Daniel, a visiting resident for the summer. Izzy has a big, beefy, much older, and to be expected, not too bright, boyfriend named Jeremy who is first assigned to beat up Daniel by Izzy because he has taken her brother’s sand bucket. Daniel is staying with his townie grandfather, George, who is bereaved with the loss of his wife, and also seems to be one of those slightly crazy characters you see on the beach with a metal detector and who talks to himself. In this play, George talks not to himself, but to the audience. Normally I can’t stand instances where the fourth wall is broken, but in this case, it works well enough to be considered a good exception to the rule.

The play revolves around Izzy and Daniel and their shifting relationship as they fall into that tender, tentative summer love, interspersed with other scenes between Izzy and Jeremy, Daniel and Jeremy, George and Daniel, and George and Izzy. But it is Izzy who is the most fascinating character. She stands out among the three men as the one most willing to experiment with her potential and her ability to change. If at first her character seems inconsistent (an unfeeling, unintellectual bully), that view is softened as we see her spend more time with Daniel and become more curious intellectually and philosophically. Daniel pushes her to this point (though perhaps it is she who pushes herself) and ultimately Daniel seems the lesser of the two, the more emotionally timid and one wishes that he were a more robust leading man. It is hard to tell if this is the fault of the character or the casting of the actor, though it is probably a function of both.

The play is more episodic and impressionistic rather than plot-driven, which is partly why the first act drags a little. But there are four wonderful role-playing scenes that are almost dreamlike, that form the emotional heart of the play. They lead into the final scene with George, the old curmudgeonly grandfather who is the only one left on-stage and who delivers the final poignant soliloquy.

Indian Summer has its flaws. Daniel’s backstory ends up being a distraction rather than an addition and George’s bereavement seems too glossed over (is he crazy simply because he is a crazy old seaman or because he is grieving for his wife?). Jeremy is a hilarious character in the first few scenes, but after that seems to become more one-dimensional. And two hours and ten minutes is a lot of time to watch these four characters develop.

Indian Summer closes this season for Playwrights Horizons (a terrific season all around), and it is fitting to begin the summer with a play that allows us to remember our first love—whether it be at the beach or the pool or the lake—and to think about all the other possibilities that could have occurred had we just allowed ourselves to let them happen.

 

18 Jun

Making Time for Summer & Time

2016-06-18 13.05.38
Saturday, 18 June 2016. 1:05p
IMG_2690

Lkng south from the lower end of Central Park

Sitting on a large embedded granite rock structure on the Southwest side of Central Park, looking south towards the new thin stick of a skyscraper next to the Essex House. Today can only be described as a beautiful early summer day. Warm, sunny, clear blue skies and it seems as if everyone is outside soaking it all up. Bikers, walkers, runners. People riding in the horse carriages and bike taxis. Strangely there aren’t a lot of dogs though I am sure it is just a lull right now. And tons of babies and children. It seems everywhere I look there is another person pushing a baby carriage or walking with their children. Pictures cannot do the day justice (my pictures anyway, even if I am taking them on the iPhone 6s). And anyway, the pictures won’t capture the faint sweet odor of wisteria or the soft conversations taking place all over.

I cannot remember the last time I was in Central Park—at least a year, possibly even two! So today, sitting here on the rock people-watching and remembering all those runs and bike rides I did around the park, really feels like one luxurious nostalgia trip. I used to know every inch of the 6-mile road, having traversed it over and over and over again on foot and on bike. People often ask me what I think of when I am running for such a long time and it is amazing how mundane those thoughts can be: focusing on the next stretch of pavement and looking for the subtle gradations of the rocks, or the curves in the road, or the white traffic lines and etching those into memory.

On the granite rock, people-watching

On the granite rock, people-watching

It used to be that I could come out to the park and be reasonably assured that I would see someone I would know from the running, biking or triathlon community. I loved that aspect of the park because it made me feel as though I owned the park. Of course I didn’t, but it was as it was supposed to be: one big common back yard for New York City, and we were all out just out for a run, a bike ride, a walk, or a baseball game. Just little pieces of community strung together and suddenly we are all in each other’s back yard. Having fun.

Now I think about all those hours spent training in the park (that one 34-mile training run on a cold spring day in 2009 especially comes to mind) and I can’t help but wonder where I found all the time to do that back then. The corollary question also arises: what am I doing with all of that time now?

I’ve always heard that time seems to collapse with age. Not only does it seem like there are never enough hours in the day, but the years start to go by faster and faster. As I think about where those training hours have gone, that certainly has held true for me. If, at six years old, the summers stretched ahead of me like infinity, at 46-years old, the summers simply bring a changing of the weather, not a glorious euphoria of possibility. For me in the past few years as well, the summers have become my busiest time at work. So now if the summer days stretch out long in front of me, it’s only as a reminder that I have too many things to do and not enough time to get everything done.

Orchid sculpture at Southeast entrance to Central Park

Orchid sculpture at Southeast entrance to Central Park

But today, I force myself not to have any of that on this day, a day that is too beautiful for pictures. Possibly even too beautiful for words. And maybe even too beautiful for time itself, who must certainly also want to stop for just a minute and want to come over and sit down beside me on this hard grey rock and, even if just for a few minutes, let us both remember the good old days of summer stretching out ahead of us.

05 Apr

Review: The Golfer – If You Want Your Normal Life, Don’t Get Hit By Lightning!

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 12.47.19 PM

by Erica L. Moffett, first published at www.womanaroundtown.com on 3/29/16.

I have never spent very much time thinking about what would pass through my mind if I were struck by lightning. I have always been much more concerned about not getting hit by it in the first place. Hence, if I’m say in a pool and the lifeguards are ordering me out because lightning is in the area, I get out. Because I’ve always heard that what follows after getting hit by lightning is not that good.

Flynn, the main character The Golfer, written by Brian Parks, doesn’t have a guardian golfer to get him off the golf course before the storm. Unfortunately, he gets hit by lightning as soon as he gets to the first tee. This is doubly unfortunate, not just because he’s been hit by lightning, but also because his weekly golf outing is his only escape from the drudgery and pettiness of the office.

For Flynn, life after lightning is immediately absurd, non-sensical, illogical, and, to say the least, difficult to grasp. All he wants to do is to get back to his life, especially the golf game. Instead, familiar characters saying and doing very unfamiliar things float through his life and expect him to respond logically to their illogic. Just to name a few: Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, Charlemagne, the Maiden of Bath, the Catholic priest. Then there are the unfamiliar, inanimate things that came to life: the talking gonads, the oracle of the golf club covers, the choir of the eels. The scenes and characters that unfold are completely random, both in terms of who appears as well as what is said and it is as if we are being given a private Thespian tour of Flynn’s unconscious. It is a wildly imaginative and absurdly funny unconscious. Non-sequitors abound and the laughs along with them.

Golfer1_IanHillFlynn’s unconscious rambles along for quite some time (the play’s running time is about 75 minutes) and he is mostly a passive character as all of the other characters come to life and move him through his own unconscious. Sure, he is coerced or implicated into doing or saying things he does not want to, but in general, he is helpless to redirect his own destiny and get back to his dreary life, which seems eminently more attractive to him than the wacky characters who keep moving him into different scenes.

In all, there are 65 wacky characters in the play. Most of them emerge after the lightning strikes, but there are a few that are part of his real life before and after the lightning. The amazing thing is that the 65 characters were played by nine actors over 53 scenes. This is a tall task to ask of a cast in a play dominated by episodic randomness and illogical dialogue. But the cast was terrific. The scene changes are quick and easy. And the whole play fits together well. I would single out the corporate IT guy, the Tooth Fairy and Charlemagne, but really it is unfair to single out these in particular when everyone contributed greatly to the flamboyant craziness.

Golfer3_IanHillUltimately, the lightning strike and its after-effect come to an end. Flynn is returned to his prior life, but as could easily be imagined, something seems amiss. And rightly so. One is left wondering at the end of the jaunt through his unconscious why his life was so dreary in the first place. If his unconscious imagination was that inventive and funny, wouldn’t it be more natural for Flynn to have had an equally inventive conscious life? But no, for whatever reason, he did not. As the curtain closes and Flynn chooses to go back to that wild unconscious place, the audience can only wonder whether it was the lightning that brought that out or whether it was the job that suppressed it in the first place.

The Golfer, directed by Ian W. Hill, stars Fred Backus, Broderick Ballantyne, Rebecca Gray Davis, Lex Friedman, Michael Karp, Bob Laine, Matthew Napoli, Timothy McCown Reynolds, Alyssa Simon, and Anna Stefanic.  The production features costumes by Kaitlyn Day with overall design by Ian W. Hill, assisted by Berit Johnson.

The Golfer runs March 31-April 2 at 8 p.m.; April 3 at 4 p.m.; April 4, 6, 7, and 8 at 8 p.m.; and April 9 at both 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. The Brick is located at 579 Metropolitan Avenue between Union and Lorimer, Brooklyn, close to the G and L subway lines, as well as the B24, B48, and Q59 buses. Running time is approximately 75 minutes. Tickets are $18, available at bricktheater.com or at 866-811-4111.

– See more at: http://www.womanaroundtown.com/sections/playing-around/the-golfer-if-you-want-your-normal-life-dont-get-hit-by-lightning#sthash.VXLsvtMp.dpuf

 

10 Mar

Review: Familiar, a play by Danai Gurira at Playwrights Horizons

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 5.07.11 PM

First of all, I hadn’t realized that the playwright was Danai Gurira, the same one who wrote Eclipsed which had such a successful run off broadway last year and has now made it to Broadway this year (in fact just opened a week or so ago) and with the star power of Lupita Nyong’o, academy award winner for best supporting actress in 12 Years a Slave. I’m guessing it has longer staying power than Hughie, which showcased the brilliant Forest Whitaker, nominated for best actor for his role in The Butler, but which had mixed reviews and has already announced that it will close (not unsurprisingly to me since I feel that the real fault of that play was not the acting but the actual play itself, yes, I’m sorry Eugene O’Neill). Nevertheless, I have now already gone and bought a ticket to see Eclipsed, simply because I have become a huge fan of Danai Gurira after seeing Familiar.

But digressions! Ok, back to the topic at hand! Familiar is an absolutely wonderful play. It is at times delightful, exasperating, extremely funny, and finally, heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time. In fact, I cannot remember a play in which I have had a 180 degree shift in feeling from the end of the first act to final scene. This is a compliment–actually huge compliment–to the playwright and director.

I happened to forgo a swim practice for it. In my mind, I was having a very tough decision about whether to see the play or go swim. I needed the swim workout because I am trying desperately to get myself into decent swim shape for a big competition meet at the end of April. On the other hand, I had already booked the ticket for that night. And while I could cancel and re-schedule, from my past experiences, I knew that if I skipped the play the chances of my re-booking and seeing it again were virtually nil. So…I chose the play. The swim meet will be what it will be. But goodness! How glad I was to have made that decision!

Familiar is a play about a Zimbabwean family fully transplanted to somewhere in suburban Minnesota on the eve of one of the daughters getting married to a white boy, who is actually referred to by his soon to be mother-in-law, “little white boy from Minnetonka”!

What is surprising about Familiar is that we start with all the familiar stereotypes in a getting ready for a wedding ceremony of a daughter but we end up with something that transcends the entire genre. Let’s start with the stereotypes. We have: 1) the very controlling mother; 2) the deliberately clueless, passive aggressive father; 3) the sub-par aunt who has turned to wine as her salve; 4) the underachieving second daughter who desperately tries to win affection by going back to Zimbabwe; 5) the overachieving, and successful, first daughter who is the one marrying the little white boy from Minnetonka; and 6) the somewhat, not-so-deliberate, but deliberate all the same (if you know what I mean), clueless, very white, and human rights activist groom (yes, to be clear, that is the “little white boy from Minnetonka”).

If these are the stereotypes, the play breaks out of them with a few key things. First of all, there is a second aunt who is brought in from Zimbabwe. Let me clarify that this family and the other aunt have all immigrated to America and absorbed the American culture. So much so that their parents never taught them a word of the Shona language, their Zimbabwean language. But this aunt, who for whatever reason did not immigrate to America, is not going to compromise any tradition just because she is in America and the daughter and family have fully assimilated to American ways (the daughter at one point is determining what should be borrowed).

Second, there is the screw-up military brother of the human rights activist groom who is called in at the last minute to help with the African ceremony. He is ultimately not the center of the play, but wow! Does he certainly play his part so you remember him. Familiar is worth going to see just for his major scenes.

And third, there is the hidden reason for why the mother is so controlling and the father so passive aggressive. I can’t say much more than this without being a spoiler alerter. What I will say is that control freaks and passive-aggressive people tend to be that way for a reason. And what ultimately makes them human–or not human–are the reasons for how they got to be those types of poeple. What makes this play so wonderful is that is provides humanity for both the deliberate control freak and the deliberately clueless, slightly passive-aggressive father.

Familiar is a very funny play in the sense that it has some hugely funny scenes that will keep you laughing days after you have seen the play. But it is not really a funny play. It is really a serious conversation about identity and how to forge an independent identity while at the same time trying to incorporate the natural heritage that we all possess. Humor runs through the play, but it is not a comedy. The wonderful thing about Familiar is that it ultimately presents itself as an comedic drama (very comedic drama!) with a hopeful end game rather than a black comedy with no way out.

Familiar is currently showing at Playwrights Horizons. It has been extended through April 10.