Parts Unknown

Ode to Old Tom Joad, my son


All alone
In parts unknown
Smoke billows from the fire
I lay my head
The ground my bed
Rock pillows and quilted briar

Look for me
I’m hard to see
Nothing but a ghost
I’m all around
Spirit unbound
On my way to heaven almost

One more thing
My last hymn to sing
“I’ll fly away…” from here
Don’t forget
I have no regret
Remember and I’ll be near

Too strong to kill
Tougher than will
You cannot snuff this fire
Noble and fierce
My heart will pierce
The darkness that makes Devil a liar


I love you, my boy. You’re my blood.

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Ma

I open tonight in Grapes of Wrath. I’m nervous, excited and filled with emotion. All the things you should feel right before a debut. Except. I miss my mommy.

I chose to move to Florida. I chose to risk everything and make a new life, here in paradise. But I left behind a few things to come this far. Not possessions or a home. Friends. Most of all, my mother.

We had a beautiful day before we left. It was Mother’s Day 2017. We went to her hometown and drove around for the day. It was really special. Had lunch in a small cafe. The whole day was relaxed, yet compelling. Exciting and at the same time, comfortable. Familiar.

Perfect day for pictures. Sunny, cool and countrified. I snapped a pic of my mom and daughter at the restaurant in a very comfortable moment.

belarussian two lillies
Love those smiles. My two Lillis.

I put my own mother’s picture, the picture above in black and white, in my memory box on stage. That’s the one that gets me.

I have a box of pictures and a pair of earrings. I take the earrings and leave the pictures to burn. There’s no room on the journey for papers and keepsakes. I have to summon emotion to hold back tears to leave this precious box. So the one picture that always gets me? The one of my mother and daughter.

I ask myself, when I see the long, lonely road, “Will I travel this way again?”

I ask myself, when I look at her childhood home back in Missouri, “Will I see this place again?”

I ask myself, when I look at her picture, “Will I see you again?”

And I don’t have to do anything but that.

It’s a real concern, when you stray far from home, will I see these faces? Will I return to these places?

I’m homesick. Terribly so. But honestly. I feel like I’ve found a home at theatre again.

Whenever I have been lonely. In need of care. In need of laughter. Tears. Emotion. Connection. I have found that home on stage.

It’s bizarre. I know. Most people would chalk acting up to the pinnacle of emotional cutting. It is. But I have connected with people in audiences from all walks of life.

I met a downright Marlboro Man from western Nebraska who shared his tragic life story with me after I shared my story with him on stage. He waited at the end of the receiving line after the performance of my original play Fat. He waited to be last in line, hung back, so that when everyone had left, this chiseled-and-hewn rail of a man could cry in my arms. That would have never happened without theatre.

The breeze was blowing over my legs last night as I sat on my front porch. I was relaxed and happy at the work we put in yesterday to prepare for opening night. I’ve felt the same feeling before.

Sitting outside my community college, just starting back to school in 2009, waiting for my husband to pick me up. Late at night. I looked up at the trees. The wind was swirling through the shuddering leaves. The night was cool. I was happy with my effort. And I just felt God’s overwhelming presence as I sat and meditated. It brought a smile to my face and warmness to my heart. I didn’t know where God or my feet would take me, but I had hope for what was to come. I was right to have hope.

Whenever I feel those same cool breezes, I know God is with me. I just wish my mommy was, too. Love you, Mom. This isn’t for me or for you, I’m telling this story to share God’s grace and mercy for those who have hard times and continue to rise up and labor for goodness. For simple souls who need a voice.


Thank you, God. For such an amazing opportunity to share this story. Thank you for reminding me–God is with us. Even when our loved ones are not.

My Jewels

In the play that I’m in right now, Grapes of Wrath (sorry, lots of blogs about Grapes, that’s at the top of my thinking right now), I take a pair of earrings with me from the house as we make way for California from Oklahoma.

We don’t have much room on the truck, but a pair of earrings has value and fit neatly in my pocket. I give the earrings to Rosasharon later.

When I came to Florida, we didn’t have much. Some household items: couch, TV, everyday odds and ends, enough crap to fill a U-haul, but not many valuables. More than some folks. Enough to be eternally grateful.

But. It could have all burned up in a fiery crash, fell down a cliff in a runaway U-haul, or ended up in the Gulf for all I cared.

My earrings were/are my husband and child. They are my precious jewels. The treasure I slip into my pocket when all is lost. The value I take with me. The items I can’t do without. The adornment God has dripped from my ears and hung around my neck. They make me feel beautiful.


Thank you for a wonderful birthday, Guy. It was so fulfilling.

Throwing it out there

In Grapes of Wrath, I have a scene where I sit around the fire in the first act. I’m getting rid of some things I don’t want to pack on the truck. There isn’t room for my washtub, so there isn’t room for sentimentality or mementos. I’m supposed to have a small box, probably an old cigar box or something, with papers inside and a pair of earrings.

I take the earrings, but I trash the rest. Throw it on the fire.

I made myself some papers to look at this morning. Stuff to burn. Stuff that has emotion in it. Stuff to stuff in that box. I can’t be sentimental about fake pictures, so I put my own pictures in a small box.

It’s hard for Ma to toss out the scraps of her life. This is the first time she’s confronted with leaving everything behind. I remember leaving everything behind 4 years ago.

Up until 4 years ago, I had to let go of very little. My mom stored some small stuff for me, but I had been carting around all my belongings, accumulating more and more stuff every place I went after I got married.

We took much, but we left much, 4 years ago.

4 years ago, I had a house. 4 years ago, I had medical debt. 4 years ago, I had cancer and didn’t know it. 4 years ago, I had hope that by leaving everything I had built, by walking away from crippling debt, I would know peace. At the very least.

I was right.

4 years ago, we had a small house in Kansas City. We were trying to make payments on the house, trying to fix ‘er up, trying to remodel and repair an aging older home. Gas was $4 a gallon. I was so sick, I couldn’t hold down a job. I was mentally and physically ill.

I had heart failure, undiagnosed thyroid cancer, failing gallbladder and out-of-control obesity. Of course I couldn’t work. I also had undiagnosed complex PTSD. Some days, I remember, it’s a miracle I’m still here. That I didn’t kill myself with food or by some other means.

I’m here.

When we realized that we would never pay off my medical debt, that we were sinking in a hole of a house, we quit paying on the house and filed bankruptcy. It was the hardest thing to walk away from debt and our house. I felt like a failure. A worthless piece of shit who deserved to go to jail for failing at adulthood.

I just thank God that our country offers a second chance. That you don’t go to prison for being irresponsible financially. (If that were true, our president would be in jail. LOL) Even Walt Disney claimed bankruptcy. KC represent! (He’s a KC boy, originally.)

There was so much pain. Guilt. Shame. But, at the end, relief. I could sleep again at night.

Bankruptcy is one of those things you never want to go through twice. For me anyway. I never want to go through the hassle or terror again. Stay out of debt. If you can. If your organs don’t fail. Also, keep insurance! (America’s medical safety net should not be bankruptcy.)

When we filed bankruptcy, we planned to move before they made us move. We started furiously working toward the goal of downsizing our entire house. I had a basement and a garage full of shit. Hand-me-downs. Arts and crafts. Tables. Chairs. Bookcases. Books. Thrift store finds. Theatre costumes. Bullshit. I had to start letting go of all those projects I told myself I’d do. I even had a friggin’ old, dusty upright piano. What was I thinking?

What I really wanted to do was start a house fire. Burn it to the ground. Emerge from the smoking hull. Start completely over. But I’m not a law breaker. So, we worked. For hours. With one vision in mind. Think of how nice it will be when this is all over. We will be free of these things. We won’t be slaves to objects. And we wanted to move to an apartment with a pool! Having a pool goal is a good motivator.

Plus, we had a huge garage sale. Sold a bunch on Craigslist. Made some fat stacks of cash. That was also a good motivator. I became quite a Craigslist savant. Never murdered! Woot!

One of the last days at our house, we had a bonfire. We had some folks over and had some food. We sat in our backyard to use it for the last time with friends. Something we rarely did and said we always wanted to do. It was a fun day. We bought hay bales for seats. We made burgers and dogs. We made a huge fire pit out of a decorative well. We cut the top of the well off (the roof and bucket) and used the brick oval base to make a fire pit. Done.

Threw old lumber, sticks and as many pieces of wood we could find (we had alot of scrap wood for some reason, we were hoarders, I guess) on the fire and lit the whole thing at once. Whoosh! It was a fireball. It was pretty cool.

We had just mowed the day before for company and the yard was full of dried grass clippings. We had an acre of land and plenty of dried grass. The kids at the party went around picking up the dried grass and throwing it on the fire. They had a blast. And the yard looked pretty nice, too. New party game. LOL

It was nice to use the yard finally. To enjoy the day. But it was far too late. Made me want to stay. But we would have never had the party if we weren’t going away. Such is life. Things are the sweetest, love is fiercest, when the end is near. Just enjoy it. Just do it before it’s too late.

When I do the scene as Ma, I’ve been around that fire before. I’ve left behind some precious things to come to where I am. But they are just things. I saved the best or most important parts from the fire. OR

Everything gets burnt. But the best things come out of the fire still intact. Refined. Like me.

When I think as Ma

Photo credit: Sean Priest


Any scene that I do lately, when I’m playing Ma Joad, I think of the long line of strong women in my family before me.

The way I stand. The way I stare. The way I clench my jaw in contemplation. Tired, somewhat relaxed, but chewing on tomorrow.

These two women saw the 20th century in color.

gmas
Both of my grandmothers at my mother’s wedding in 1954.

They saw the blood. And the babies. And the dust.
They saw the first car in their town.
The first TV.
The first washing machine.
They watched tears roll down their children’s faces.
Wiped those tears.
Watched rivers rise and fall.
Husbands come and go.

I think of them as I play Ma. How they would hold themselves? Carry themselves? Present themselves to the world? What did they have to do for their families during the Depression?

I know that deep down, they were both scared for their families, wanted the best for their kids. Loved God. Wanted all the things good people want for their descendants. And they just went on. Did what they needed. Hoped they made the right decisions. Cried their own tears.

They are Ma.
I am Ma.
All women are Ma.

Alt Grapes of Wrath

I’m playing Ma Joad in our local community theatre right now. Loving it.


My husband gave me an idea. I was telling him how Ma Joad kills everyone and he said, “What if you’re a serial killer?” LOL

She left the gate open, let the pig get out and it ate the “baby”. The baby human? Our pig ate the neighbor’s baby?? Or the pig ate an animal baby? Either way. Yikes.

Then, she gives Granpa soothin’ sirrup. He promptly dies.

Noah says he’s leaving the family and is never seen again.

Granma has a fever and I won’t let the family stop. Granma dies.

Connie, that good-for-nothing son-in-law of mine, disappears suddenly.

The preacher dies in the dark and then Ma is found on the bench, in the dark, immediately after. Hm.

I tell Tom to go away and I’m the last person who sees him.

I’m with Rosasharon when her baby dies.

OH. MY. GOD! I’m a serial killer.

What if I poisoned Uncle John’s wife?? I’m the cook. Gah!

This would make a good story, no? LOL

To Battle

I’m in The Grapes of Wrath right now and I wanted to look at this old song, Battle Hymn of the Republic. I mixed in some of my photography as well. Pictures from my home state, Missouri, and one from Amarillo, Texas! I’ll let you guess which one. 🙂


Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.church
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
windmill-cropped
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps,
His day is marching on.
bw truck
I have read His fiery gospel writ in rows of burnished steel!
“As ye deal with my condemners, so with you My grace shall deal!
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel, ”
Since God is marching on.
silo
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
country road
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free!
While God is marching on.flowers
This song so perfectly sums up what Tom and the Joads are going through. I feel so honored, humbled and thankful to be able to tell this story. It truly is one of the most amazing experiences in theatre I’ve had. Already! We’re only one week into blocking.
The last show I did in Missouri, Women of Lockerbie, was amazing as well. I feel so lucky to be blessed with great actors, great direction and so much love and support. I don’t deserve such grace, but I’m over-the-moon to have it.trees fencetexassmall-e-cross

bw house
My mother’s Depression era home in Aullville, MO. The place she lived as a child. Still standing!
I don’t know that being in a play and being self-indulgent with acting is helping anyone. It certainly spurs me on to find ways to help others. It inspires me to keep going. It puts me in touch with my roots. It puts me in a caring community of strangers who have more love than I’ve seen in a while. Isn’t that a God thing?
I want to honor this very selfish, enjoyable experience by finding the depths of this character. It’s such a special opportunity. Plus, I want to take care of the people around me. Just like Ma. I want to be as generous as she was on and off stage.
I feel like I did when I used to act at church. Like I have a purpose and God-given usable talent. As sad as this play is, I’m having the time of my life.

Rock of Ages

The featured photo is the Baptist church in Aullville, my mom’s hometown. I played with the levels in Photoshop.


I was looking up old hymns last night. Mainly because I’m in Grapes of Wrath right now and I wanted to re-familiarize myself with old hymns. Ma Joad has got religion, but she ain’t lousy with it. She is happy in the Lord. 🙂 I hate to use the word religion or religious because it has such a negative connotation. And. She is more than that. She is spiritual. Like me.

One of my favorites, and I think a favorite of my mom, is In the Garden. <<—this version by Johnny Cash (one of my favorite country artists)

But I also looked up Rock of Ages. Not a big one when I was kid. But the words are touching.

Rock of ages (Jesus)
Cleft for me (Broken)
Let me hide
Myself in Thee (Let me cover my sin with your blood, or let your sacrifice cover my shortcomings, or let people see you, perfect, instead of me, flawed)

Good stuff.

Then I found this! AH! Bruce and Rage Against the Machine’s singer Tom Morello?? How have I not heard this?

The Ghost of Tom Joad

Good stuff.

bw truck
A picture I took from my mom’s hometown before we left for Florida. Same town she lived in during the 30s. Very Grapes of Wrath-ish. 🙂

 

Roundabout Okie

Hey y’all! I’s done did it now! I was cast in Grapes of Wrath here in Venice. I get to play Ma Joad. I can’t tell you how excited I am. I’m fit to be tied, I tell ya.

Grapes of Wrath is epic. Christian-themed, full of religion and tragic as hell. You could tell me it’s based on an ancient Greek play and I’d swaller that whole. I can’t wait to get started.

Hear tell, I’m an Okie. Sorta. Little bit. My kin come from all over, but my granddaddy’s daddy married a full-blooded Native American down in Oklahoma and had hisself a brood with her’n. My dad’s dad was 1/2 Chickasaw, came up from Oklahomie and put hisself thru Chiropracty schoolin’ in KC. He was a farmer, doctor of sorts and fishing lure inventor. He even patented a complicated, new-fangled, unsuccessful lure design, had a couple made, and sold a very few. My ma still has one. Ugly thing made to impress with multiple hooks, shiny plastic housing, and bright, fake insect-like bait, but in all probability, totally useless.

I am particularly proud of my tangential Okie connection. My Native American heritage. My own Missouri family history through the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. I am proud to come from a long line of working class folks. The people who work hard and do what it takes. I’m not sure how or why they (we) made it through such a terrible time, but it tells me even this minute detail:

“…we’re the people that live.” (Ma, Grapes of Wrath)

I’ve overcome terrible sickness/surgery, my own personal depression, and raging food addiction for the last 5+ years, but I am the person that lives. 🙂 I come from a long line of hellers. 😉