Some Solstice Haiku

Hi Everyone,

We’re at the midpoint of the year today and I’m alone at home, while my wife is in London at a symposium and my son is visiting his grandparents. It’s been an interesting year so far to say the least, and that has me thinking about what I may or may not have accomplished, and also waxing somewhat poetic on this long day of light. While I think up what to say about my own life and progress in a subsequent post, here’s some haiku to chew on, meditate on, or just plain read, digest, and pass along. I hope your year is bringing you the Light of Truth, Love, and Abundance that you both need and deserve.

Namaste,

Jason

4644
You are a hero.
Your life’s a great adventure.
You’re up to the task.

4645
When God is ready
That which He has planned for you
Will be made quite clear.

4646
I believe that God
Is both the source of all things,
And lives within us.

4652
This student’s ready.
Pray, let the master appear.
Guidance is needed.

4653
May all souls in need
Find most what they seek tonight –
Food, Rest, Peace, Joy, Love.

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Bink and I contemplating the future.

 

4654
Keep your goals in mind.
When daily problems arise
Know why you’re fighting.

4655
Do not be afraid.
The Source of All is with you,
Offering you strength.

4656
Find your still, small, place.
Search both within and outside.
Visit it often.

4663
The world’s faith in you
Means absolutely nothing
If you don’t share it.

4665
Be compassionate
Towards those less fortunate.
You could be them soon.

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Happy Solstice, Everyone!!!

Hi Ho the Glamorous Life (Celebrating 40 “Happy” Years in the Theatre)

This weekend, as I sat in rehearsal for Shrek, the musical that I am currently music directing for Christian Youth Theatre of Fredericksburg, it occurred to me that, with the opening of this production, I will be celebrating forty years of involvement in show business. My first play was at the age of six around Christmastime. I played Santa Claus, and the play revolved around Santa considering putting jet packs on his sleigh to replace the reindeer. I remember almost nothing of the experience, save for the fact that it ended with me (pack over back) walking off the stage, stage left, to the cafeteria door and uttering before I exited, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.” A star was born. Oh, well, that and throwing up all over my beard once, due to only having eaten a mayonnaise sandwich for lunch before rehearsal.

Me as Santa

Me as Santa, with Karen Zimmerman as Mrs. Claus, in our first-grade play.

Forty years later, I’m on “the opposite side of the table,” just as much as acting, i.e. directing, music directing, composing, and the like, but after forty years I can honestly say that I still love the grand old pursuit or the Fabulous Invalid, but it goes without saying that there are lengthy periods where I hate the business just as much, wish I’d never gotten involved in the first place, and, without question, strongly dislike many of the negative and narcissistic personality types the business attracts. But with that aside, I want to focus on the good times, the special memories, and the unique experiences that being involved in Theatre has given me.

So in celebration of forty years of memories, here are a few of the most…uh…memorable. Almost every one of the following anecdotes is a blog post unto itself, but needless to say, after a forty year run, I’ve seen a few things. Here are a few selected highlights from the long strange trip, all good. I’ll save the not so good, bad, and bitchy memories for another day.

  1. Thanks to the now defunct American Family Theatre, I had the chance to tour parts of our grand country four times. I was to New Orleans before and after Mardi Gras in 1999, put my feet in the Gulf of Mexico, saw Addams Family in Chicago, visited lots of the southern Midwest, and went up and down the East Coast numerous times. With several cast mates from these tours I’m celebrating almost twenty years of friendship. How time flies.
  1. I have performed alongside or worked with a few Broadway veterans, some as acquaintances, others as friends. I have been blessed to work with Sally Struthers, Jonathan Groff, James Lane, Forrest McClendon, Milton Craig Nealy, and Celeste Holm, as well as a few lesser known luminaries. All have taught me something, and I couldn’t be prouder of my time spent with them. And I promise no more name-dropping.
  1. During my high school’s rehearsal period and run of Oklahoma! in 1986, both myself (playing Curly), and the boy playing Jud carried real guns to school in our backpacks, loaded with blanks made in our basement by our parents. The principal knew, and trusted us, and it was a non-issue. My how times have changed.
  1. I have played a Jewish father (Tevye in Fiddler), a woman (Edna in Hairspray), several priests, a movie mogul, a major-general, and lots of “loud-mouthed little guys.” I have been in not one but two productions of Dreamgirls, The Wiz, and Purlie, all with amazingly talented African-American casts. I was the youngest pit conductor to ever make his debut at the Fulton Opera House in Lancaster, PA and once had a production of Annie I directed reviewed favorably by Greenwich Village’s newspaper, The Village Voice.
  1. I choked once on stage while drinking and stopped the show for nearly five minutes while I recovered my voice. Another time, while shooting trap onstage the gun fell apart in my hands. On another occasion my cast of pranksters Vaseline-d all my props so that I couldn’t pick any of them up. Theatre is unpredictable.
  1. When my father played in the onstage pit for Cabaret, a pit done entirely in drag, I had to take him shopping! I can still remember his ugly black sack dress, old lady earrings, and gray wig, all worn while playing his sax. Somewhere there’s a picture. Someday I’ll find it and post it.
  1. I have been in productions where “showmances” escalated into both on and offstage public displays of affection that skirted the boundaries of propriety and decency. And that said, I’m not telling you about any of them, but at the time they were scandalous and fun.
  1. I’ve had a song I wrote sung back to me with affection ten years later by an actor who didn’t realize I was the composer of the song he was singing. That led to my contributing songs to a New York fringe festival musical.
  1. I can name all the Signers of the Declaration of Independence thanks to my love of the musical 1776, and I know the names of more passengers on the Titanic than most people. My general knowledge of world history, cultures and customs, dates and events, has been greatly enhanced by all the plays and theatre history I’ve had to read over many years.
  1. Lastly, and most importantly, my wife Nancy and I met in an acting class at Villanova University. We were paired up for a scene from David Mamet’s Oleanna. I threw a chair at her, and said some horrible things I would never otherwise say to anyone…and she fell in love with me! Life is funny and wonderful that way.

So for all the above reasons and more I say, “Thanks, World of Theatre, for forty wonderful, terrible, illuminating, frustrating years. Here’s to many more together.”

Namaste,

Jason

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The next project – come see it!

Seeing America

I drove fourteen hours one way, each way, to Orlando, FL this week. I left from Fredericksburg, VA in a little Hertz rental on Weds around noon to arrive at the Quality Inn, where I was staying, on International Drive around 4 AM. On Saturday, I left the Doubletree Hilton, where the conference was held, in Orlando and arrived back to my wife and my bed around 4 AM Sunday morning. I went to the Comparative Drama Conference to present a paper on tracing the tragic rhythm in the major musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. And, no, that is not the subject of this blog. No worries.

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After the conference, getting ready to drive home.

Driving alone gives you lots of time to think, to listen, to observe. I’m an avid podcast listener and almost never put on music in the car; it puts me to sleep. My business is often music, so listening to music can sometimes feel like work. No, I like the spoken word: podcasts, NPR, even talk radio in a pinch. Down and back I listened to several episodes of The Thomas Jefferson Hour (my favorite podcast) as well as podcast episodes of The Charged Life, Star Talk, Zig Ziglar, Wayne Dyer, The Tolkien Professor, Ben Franklin’s World, Back Story and NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t tell Me. I like to listen, I like to learn, I like to engage my mind. I recommend them all.

Most of my time was spent on I-95. It was congested in the southern middle states. It was often calm and clear from South Carolina downward. I was struck by how beautiful America’s landscape truly is; the trees changed, their beauty didn’t. I was dismayed by how many chain restaurants and fast food stops absorb the horizon. Mom and Pop stores, restaurants and the like, make up a very small percentage of the advertised businesses, and their signs often seem old, weathered, or downright archaic compared to the slickness that is the Whopper, the Arches, the Wal-Whathaveyou. I ate at a struggling Mom and Pop buffet called the Robbin’s Nest in mid-North Carolina. The food was amazing, and the price was dirt cheap: $8.75. The place was 9/10s empty, and the wait staff polite if rurally despairing. Once I got to Orlando, the prospects of eating simply and outside of chains practically dried up, and those that were there were largely out of my price range.

I-95, when you get away from the exit ramps, is littered with barns, silos, busted-up car garages, impound lots, go go bars, and lots of flat space in between. Don’t get me wrong, the landscaping is pretty and often custom-tailored to the weary traveler ‘just passing through’, but I was struck by how, well, poor hundreds and hundreds of miles of our great country looks, and along the scenic route no less! To see America, away from the clusters of chain shops by the exits, is to see a country wrestling with poverty, poor wages, and limited opportunities. It reminded me of the almost euphoric fervor people seemed to have around King George when the Wal-Mart started to go up. Now, five years later, over half of the existing family businesses pre-Wal-Mart have closed around town. What have we gained? What have we lost? I can’t imagine how I would feel if my highest aspiration for my son would be as a cashier at KFC, but I could sense that for many folks as I passed through, that would be ‘living the dream.’ Not really.

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At South of the Border, in South Carolina, just off I-95

I don’t mean to be dour or a downer in my post this week, but I do mean to suggest that as a country we need to do better…by everyone. State legislatures across the country over the last several weeks have announced plans to fund education or healthcare or both for their in-state residents. This is in response to what they see as a national government not tending to the needs of all citizens. If this trend continues, I predict we’ll see a flight from states that don’t adopt similar policies to aid their constituents, effectively making some of the poorest states even poorer and the richer states richer. As one Virginia friend said to me this week, after the announcement that New York was going to start offering free tuition to its state universities for residents, “It’s time to move home.” I understand and sympathize with her position. But in a larger sense, the problem is contained within the statement. Too many Americans (not my friend) have been weaned on state’s rights rhetoric – the kind that nearly destroyed our country 150 years ago and is verged to do so again – and it’s time to put that failed ideology behind us. We are all Americans and together, not separate, we can all do better: better healthcare, better education, better opportunities, better infrastructure, better as human beings.

We just have to start caring about each other, and start seeing America both for what it has become, and what it can be.

Respectfully Submitted,

Jason

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Bink and I (I’m on the left) poolside at the Quality Inn

Haiku in Bloom

A busy week, a trip to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D. C., and the first day of spring made for good memories and the necessity of sharing some more haiku this month. Whatever your needs are, I hope they are being met. Whatever ails you – mental, physical, spiritual – I hope it is being managed. Know that you are not alone. Know that you are loved. Know that whatever your present state, it can be bettered.

Peace, Love, Spring, and Cherry Blossoms to You,

Jason

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The Jefferson Memorial across the Tidal Basin in D.C.

4627
Your authentic voice
Is what people want to hear.
Let them hear your heart

4628
Your priorities
Must be kept in order if
You wish to succeed.

4629
When others succeed,
That doesn’t mean you have failed.
Stop comparing lives.

4630
It is your duty
To give your life to the world,
Serving its best needs.

4635
Focus heavenward.
The sun is beaming brightly
Above the storm clouds

At the Cherry Blossom Festival

Me and My Gal in the Blossoms

4637
How should you respond
To the hatred in the world?
Why, with love, of course.

4639
Give up all judgment.
Be a Citizen of Peace,
Enemy to none.

4640
You are on the verge
Of an explosion of Art,
Thought, and Abundance.

4641
Believe in yourself
And your ability to
Make a difference.

4642
Be the example
You want your children to love,
Follow, and become.

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Our own backyard.

Bicycles, Bridges, and Bulbs. Oh, my!

This past Saturday, March 11, Nancy and I went to the Philadelphia Flower Show for the 14th consecutive time. Our first date was at the 2004 Flower Show on March 8. I proposed at the 2011 Flower Show (it was Paris year after all). It has become a long-running beloved tradition for us. It’s hard to believe next year we will celebrate our 15th time going together. How time flies.

Enter the Haggis

The night before the show, we arrived in Upper Darby, dropped off the little man, and then continued on to Bethlehem, PA’s beautiful arts complex down by the renovated “steel stack” district to see our favorite Celtic band, Enter the Haggis, perform. From 8 to 10:30 PM ETH played in the third floor lounge while we drank Woodchuck and sampled bleu cheese chips and bread pudding. Their two sets – consisting entirely of up tempo familiar songs – were rousing and fun. John Adams listens relentlessly to a lot of their new music, so we got a lot of laughs out of hearing live many songs that we are bombarded with daily by him. We had a great experience, drove home to Nancy’s parents’ house, and went to bed sometime after midnight.

At the 2017 Flower Show

The next day we got up late, had breakfast, and went downtown to the Flower Show by early afternoon. This year’s theme, Holland, truly was a breath of spring as compared to the last few years’ themes, which were good unto themselves, but executed with sometimes mixed results. This year it seemed every exhibitor took the theme to heart, but also had the same impressions in mind. That might sound like a dig, but it’s not. The resulting displays were largely all gorgeous. They were almost all decorated with bulbs, bridges over water features, and lots and lots of bicycles. There were big bridges and small foot paths. There were functioning bicycles, rusted bicycles, bicycles as fountains, artsy bicycle sculptures, and whatever else you can think of. And the bulbs were every color of the rainbow and everywhere. One stunning blue tulip was actually a white one that had been fed water with blue dye. The dye travels through the petals and colors the flower. Gorgeous. In addition to the floral displays, there were themed food vendors, both a Legoland and a butterfly pavilion (neither of which we did this year), and lots of shopping. We brought back a few herbs for John Adams to plant and Nancy bought a dandelion seed necklace that she’s been eyeing for several years.

The plaque at our table.

We capped our downtown experience off with a visit to the incomparable 4th and Bainbridge Deli for soup and a pastrami cheese steak. Their meats (and portions) are out of this world, and we could only eat so much, as we were heading back to Nancy’s parents’ house for cheeseburgers with the family that evening. After we were seated at the deli, we noticed a plaque indicating that President Obama and Senator Bob Casey Jr. had dined at our same table back in 2010 when they visited; just one more fun little memory to commemorate our experience.

The next day we all gathered at Wron and Sara’s for a mega-ham dinner with lots of delicious sides before heading back to King George, VA. We were full and tired, happy and wired. It had been a beautiful event-filled weekend to celebrate our “dating anniversary.”  If you are so inclined, I highly recommend the Philly Flower Show. Every year is different and it’s always worth seeing. And eating at the 4th Street Deli is like nothing else. Both events are pricey, but ultimately worth it. Enter the Haggis is a rollicking good time and not expensive. I also recommend eating at Nancy’s parents’ house, but call ahead in case my in-laws have plans. 🙂

I wish you all a little bit of winter joy as well.

Namaste,

Jason

Blue tulips

March Into Haiku

It has been awhile since I’ve done a purely haiku post. But spring is around the corner, and I’m feeling like I need a real dose of inspiration to get me through the last of the winter woes.Whatever you may be struggling with, I hope you find some measure of assistance, uplift, guidance, or what have you in the next 10 poems. Hang in there, keep the faith, assist, resist, persist, and God bless.

Namaste,

Jason

4610
Whatever happens
You must never surrender
To hatred and fear.

4612
While you sit around
Complaining about the job,
Someone’s doing it.

4613
Rise with the dawn and
Offer sincere gratitude
For the day ahead.

4614
You cannot give thanks,
Too sincerely or too much,
But be one who tries.

4615
Put yourself out there.
Without risk there is no life,
Only stagnation.

4617
When you’ve been knocked down,
Look for anything to grab
That will help you up.

4618
You want my advice?
Whatever you want from life
Go out and get it!

4619
If you have a dream,
You can acquire the skill set
To make it happen.

4625
How can you improve
The lives of those around you
Just by showing up?

4626
Look for ways in which
You can make someone happy.
Seek joy for others.

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Two Contemplative Cats

A Juicy Week

This past week, 1/30 to 2/4, Nancy and I tried something we haven’t attempted in years…and it was very successful. We wanted to do a juice fast, or juice cleanse if you will, of five or six days, while the little guy was up north visiting his grandparents. We agreed that the week would be vegetarian and consist of fresh juice, smoothies, and soups. As background to this, Nancy and I attempted a stricter juice fast a few years ago and, though it was successful, it was also very nerve-wracking for me. Last time we dove in, only drank juice and smoothies, didn’t really account for the lack of protein or my mind’s psychological desire to chew something, and by midweek I was feeling healthy, energized, and manically nervous and cranky. We cut that fast short by a day; I overate the next day and got violently sick. We wanted to avoid at all costs a repeat of that experience.

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Colonial Williamsburg Cream of Peanut Soup

This time, we agreed to do vegetarian soups in the evening, but keep them fairly pureed, so as to honor the basic idea of it being a juicing week. On Sunday, I made a batch of apple/carrot/strawberry juice that served as a base for different smoothie recipes over the course of the week. Nancy made all the smoothies. I made the evening’s soup course with the exception of Monday. Here were the soups:

Monday – Butternut Squash Soup
Tuesday – Colonial Williamsburg Cream of Peanut Soup
Wednesday – Split Pea
Thursday – Roasted Red Pepper Bisque
Friday – Autumn Carrot Bisque

Here’s a sampling of some of the smoothies:

Green Dream Smoothie
Jet Lag Juice
Oh Berry Smoothie
Raspberry Coconut Smoothie
Chia Pina Colada Smoothie

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Roasted Red Pepper Bisque

As we wrapped the fast up Saturday afternoon by driving to Williamsburg to eat and celebrate with cheese steaks at Rick’s Cheese Steak Shop (because it’s still me after all and they are delicious. Check them out: http://rickscheesesteakshop.webs.com/), we both agreed that the week had been very successful, that we felt we could fold more vegetarian cooking into our diets, and that we might try to do a week every quarter, so Jan., April, July, and Oct., or something like that. We felt healthier and more energetic, while not experiencing the deprivation that I felt with the first experience. We agreed to try Meatless Mondays again, so this past Monday I made a vegetarian gumbo, also out of the Colonial Williamsburg cookbook we own. Next week we plan on doing something with portabella mushrooms. I would be happy to share any of the recipes we used. All were either found online, in the CW cookbook, or in Nancy’s Tara Stiles cookbook. Just ask.

If I can do it, you can do it. This was a successful and delicious step toward a healthier lifestyle.

Good eating and  namaste,

Jason

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At Colonial Williamsburg, Feb. 4 AC, that’s After Cheese Steaks!

A Toddler’s Guide to Manifesting

Some time ago John Adams was given a green balloon. He loved his balloon and kept it on his bed every night for safe keeping. He and I would bat it back and forth as a preliminary way to learn how to play catch. A helium-filled balloon is not going to move fast through the air, a slowly deflating one even less so. But its slow speed was just right for a three-year old learning how to catch a ball, or throw. We spent literally hours batting the deflating green balloon back and forth while sitting on his bed while he giggled ecstatically at his ability to catch his green, airborne, slo-mo ball.

When the green balloon finally deflated beyond repair he insisted on keeping it on his bed for several weeks thereafter. He openly wept several times over its inability to fly, or our inability to play with it anymore (although he refused to allow either of us to reinflate it). A long piece of ribbon with a deflated bulbous husk, he would pull it off the bed, twirl the ribbon, but the balloon didn’t refill. It would plop unsatisfying-ly onto the bed, and a frustrated toddler would well up, and a daddy would have to console the survivor that a new balloon could be found and order would be restored again to the galaxy.

A few weeks went by, and the green death was finally forgotten. Nancy and I seized the opportunity to discard the corpse. Then out of the blue – or wherever toddlers get their notions – John Adams looked at us one Sunday and stated that he wanted another balloon. He was earnest. We were going to church, but promised him we would try to find him one thereafter. We did the church thing, and then decided on a whim to go to IHO P for breakfast. Our young waitress, Jamie, was taken with the little guy, and they exchanged more than a few playful moments. He did his “bag of tricks” for her; she was enchanted, and headed off to do her work. She then returned quite abruptly and looked at us semi-seriously and said, “Don’t forget to get him his balloon on the way out.” In hindsight, I was less stunned than I should have been.

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John Adams and I manifesting silliness.

Behind the front counter where we paid the check was a cache of variously colored balloons from a previous promotion. They were giving them away to children upon request, and John Adams was requesting. It took him only a moment to blurt out that his new friend was to be “Yellow, please!” The well-meaning host tried unsuccessfully to tie it several times to his wrist, but he likes to “hoed it,” so with Mommy’s guidance his new yellow friend made it safely to our car and home to his bed for batting practice where it presently, lovingly resides.

The late Dr. Wayne Dyer repeatedly said a few things about the art of manifesting. 1) You have to let go of the past. 2) You have to leave your ego and insecurities behind and know that you are worthy of abundance. 3) You have to have a “knowing” of what you want, and hold that vision without fear of failure. 4) You have to detach yourself from outcome. Many of these lessons resonated with me over the incident of the balloons. Only when John Adams had made peace with the loss of the green balloon was he ready to receive a new one. Like most toddlers, he doesn’t know what an ego is yet, but he knows he is the Center of the Universe and worthy of his heart’s desire. He knew exactly what he wanted and was prepared for its arrival in his world. And he didn’t know the manner of its arrival, but he knew it would show up. And show up it did.

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Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book, Manifest Your Destiny

Dr. Dyer and his family reportedly used the art of manifesting with great success. I believe – in this instance at least – my son did too. I believe we’re all capable of bringing that which we desire into our lives through letting go of the past, ego-less love, detachment, and persistence of vision. So whatever green husk of hot air has blustered into your life today, know that it will deflate and, once released and forgotten, it can be replaced by something even better. Through the powers of a selfless knowing love, detachment, and persistence, peace can be restored to your galaxy too.

You just gotta believe.

Namaste,

Jason

2016 – A Personal Review

I haven’t done a retrospective on the year that just happened yet, and now more than a week into the New Year that is 2017 I’m not sure how much I care. Life is about living forward and for the moment. My eyes are focused on what this year will bring, not what was left behind. Still, I’m grateful for what 2016 brought to me and my family, and I feel that it’s important to honor the past, so here goes.

For many, 2016 is remembered as not a good year. This assessment is made mostly on two criteria: the number of celebrity deaths, and a very divisive presidential election. I can mourn (and have) for the many celebs that touched my life, but I must still go on. The effects of the election are soon to be felt, so we’ll save those feelings – bad, good, indifferent – for another day. What is left, then, is my life and my family’s, our accomplishments, sorrows, and successes. That is what I must focus on. Viewed thus, 2016 was a good year for the Michaels overall, and I will remember it so for the here and now.

Most importantly, our beautiful boy, John Adams Tiberius enjoyed excellent health throughout the year. We lost no furred family this year, and though I experienced bouts of ill health that linger and Nancy’s autoimmune disorder was upgraded from “okay” to “moderately severe”, we are still kicking. John Adams came into 2016 with three grandparents, and left with the same. That’s a success right there.

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Nancy and i, Christmas 2016

At the beginning of the year we self-published A Haiku a Day. At the end of the year we did the same for Mommy Made a Beastie. That’s not likely to happen again for a while anyway, so that’s something. My choral piece, “We’re Gonna Shovel the Snow” was premiered by the sixth grade chorus at Freedom Middle School under the direction of Ms. Susan Dane. They were wonderful and I was so proud. Another composition, “The Colors of Christmas” was premiered by my own Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg Adult Choir, and was submitted and accepted for radio airplay on 95.9 Hometown Holiday Spotlight. Simultaneously, our other two UU music groups – UUth Choir and Hand Bells – were also accepted for air time, so all three groups received regular listening locally throughout the holiday season. Very cool. Another piece, “God Rest Ye Jazzy Gentlemen,” scheduled for premiere by the community chorus The Spotsylvanians was back benched until next December, but that just gives me something to look forward to at the end of this year, right? And my UU Adult Choir premiered it on Christmas Eve anyway, and did a superb job with it.

I did four book signings through the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, thanks to friend and goat enthusiast Lee C., and sold something at each signing.  I participated in the First Annual Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival and shared a spiritually uplifting table with dear friend and author, Lynda A. Her book, The Rules of Creation, is beautiful. Check it out at:http://therulesofcreation.com/

Together Nancy and I attended the 40th Annual Comparative Drama Conference in Baltimore and both presented papers. I‘m happy to report I have another paper accepted to present this April in Orlando, so I’ll be going again. Nancy is too busy with that pesky dissertation thingy. Locally, we were also both accepted for inclusion in the Fall 2016 Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review. Nancy was profiled for her work in costume design. My poem, “The Greatest Treasure” was accepted for publication. Nancy’s biggest success was receiving a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship to one of their Summer Institutes so she could go study Beowulf in Kalamazoo, MI through June/July. For one month she studied with notable scholars in her field while living in the home of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Dusti. They got to know one another and become friends in ways geography never would have otherwise allowed, so this proved a double-blessing.

Capping the year off, I got to sing the Susquehanna University 50th Annual Christmas Candlelight Service under the direction of my former professor turned friend and colleague, Cyril Stretansky. I sang, saw Cy and his wife Lee, and many other friends (Meg, Jen, Stacy, Cory, Robb, Eric) I’ve been in only loose touch with since 1993. I also had time for lunch with dear friend, Margaret, and we have rekindled our correspondence. Nancy, John Adams, and I also found time for lunch with old friends Peter, Kelly, Mark, Jane, and their kids over the holiday break. Good laughs, food, fun, and memories.

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Our active son, The Bup

John Adams aka The Bup had a wonderful year. He spent lengthy weeks at Vacation Cottage having bacon every day, ‘ronies and meatballs, and visiting the trains at Strasberg Railroad with Nanny and Pop Pop more times than one can count. He saw Santa several times, and got two drum sets, an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, a kids’ violin, Hungry Hungry Hippos, lots of trains and puzzles and more for Christmas. He got to play with his cousins, Dante and baby Bobby, got invited to his friend Teddy’s birthday party, and was lavishly doted upon by a blonde Dane whenever he played with his very dear friends Miss Susan and Leah. He also tore it up regularly at the YMCA KidZone and at Wiggle Worms at the Towne Center Mall, so he was one active kid.

No lavish vacations or major life changes this year, but on the other hand, no immediate family deaths or major tragedies. 2016 was a “building year,” full of ups and downs, little accomplishments and setbacks. It wasn’t the worst year for us. It wasn’t the best. But it happened, what’s done is done, and it’s time to start focusing on 2017. Whatever didn’t work out for you in 2016 – money, health, accomplishment, the election – I sincerely hope 2017 showers you with love, good health, happiness, prosperity, and opportunity, and, if I may ask, I hope you wish my family the same.

Namaste,

Jason

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The family gathered over the holidays. Wishing you a joyous 2017.

Going Home

On Tuesday, December 6, I made the three hour plus journey from Upper Darby, PA to Selinsgrove, PA to take part in the 50th Annual Christmas Candlelight Service at my primary undergrad institution, Susquehanna University. In the almost 25 years since I graduated in 1993, I have only been back to campus to the best of my knowledge three times, the last of those being more than ten years ago (I think). I did have a brief connection back to SU in 2007 when the University Choir performed in Carnegie Hall and alumni of the choir were offered the opportunity to participate. But we rehearsed (I think) in New York briefly, not on campus. Whatever the case, Susquehanna feels more now like a distant remembrance than anything else, and going back there for a day felt more like a road trip into my happy past, a past that’s more vague impressions than concrete memories.

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The program cover juxtaposed with our listing at the bottom.

That said, when the invitation came to be a part of the alumni choir singing in the candlelight service, once more (perhaps for the last time) under the baton of Maestro Cyril M. Stretansky, I was determined that my RSVP would be a firm nonnegotiable “yes.” For so many of us, Cy was and is more than a conductor.  He is variously a music mentor, friend, mercurial uncle, somewhat distant paternalistic judgmental father figure, and above all a seeker and maintainer of the highest musical standards. To sing under him meant to have no higher commitment than to the choral art. To offer less meant that you didn’t remain in the University Choir.  And believe me, you wanted to be in U. Choir, and working under his baton. To do so allowed you a badge of pride that you could take out and shine when you weren’t too fatigued by sitting straight, silent, and focused for long, long periods of time. I guess I do remember some things, fondly too.

I had driven up to my in-laws on Monday to break up the trip to Central PA, but VA to Upper Darby, PA is 3 ½ hours, and then setting out the following morning for another 3 ½ hour trip through PA’s coal regions in rain and sleet is wearying no matter how you break it up. I drove up the PA turnpike, got off at exit 298 and headed up I-176 to 422 to 61 N, my primary route up to the region. My GPS hated me for taking 61 as there were faster routes, but 61 N had been my route to SU for my entire time there and I wanted the day to be as nostalgic as possible. For much of the next two hours, I drove and gaped at the poverty. Towns like Ashland, St. Clair, and Mt. Carmel, that had been hanging on in the late 80s/early 90s, looked somewhat like post-apocalyptic wastelands. One town (that I won’t name) I came through was almost completely abandoned except for the Wal-Mart and Burger King at the north end, where any and all life seemed to sustain itself. The whole region had an atmosphere of decay and despair, and I couldn’t help feeling saddened by it. Many of these people were the same ones that had desperately opted for a new kind of politics in this most recent presidential election, as was evidenced by numerous lawn signs. This is not a political post and, regardless of one’s point of view, I hope some relief someday comes to this region; it is desperately and obviously needed.

At the northern end of bleakest America is Sunbury, PA, and just around the bridge is dear old SU. Between Sunbury and Selinsgrove is “the strip,” a stretch of highway that serves as the commercial hub outside of small town USA. Many familiar businesses were still hanging on: the skating rink and the motel students went to for “privacy.” Many new businesses and a new mall had become the new normal, and SU and environs no longer felt like the sleepy rural expanse with a Perkins and a tiny mall to while away one’s  weekends, but it was still familiar enough nonetheless. I ventured off the bypass and into the heart of Selinsgrove which (to my eyes) looked relatively calm and the same as it had between 1989 and 1993.

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The massed alumni choir onstage at Weber Chapel. If you can see the person up front looking the wrong way, that’s me! (Photo credit: Emily Scaturo)

I pulled up at the Kind Café, a trendy coffee shop on Market St., and spent the next 90 minutes catching up with one of my dearest friends from the area: Margaret W. Margaret and I had probably not seen one another in twenty years, and she just hasn’t changed. We had sung together in the Susquehanna Valley Chorale and become fast friends. We chatted puppies and politics, music and Colonial Williamsburg, and had a grand re-acquaintance. When it was time to depart the café around 4:30 PM, I was heading to the candlelight service, and she was heading to the SVC tech for their weekend holiday concert. Some things wonderfully truly do not change.

I arrived on SU’s campus just before 5 PM and parked behind Weber Chapel (a place now reserved for faculty and staff, but it was dark and I didn’t see the signs) and headed into Degenstein Center. I had helped to dedicate the theatre in 1993 and it still smelled the same: a combination of claustrophobia and cantankerousness. The first face I saw welcoming me was Meg “Boofer” F. P. The second I saw was Cy’s. I really had come home. Over the next several hours I reacquainted with old friends (Jen, Eric, Meg, Stacy, Rob, Cori) and made some new ones (Arissa, Jack, Judy). I dined on bacon-wrapped figs and roast beef, and sat up front to rehearse O God Beyond All Praising, arr. by alumni Wayne Dietterick, who got caught in New Jersey and couldn’t make it in. When we were ushered into Weber Chapel for our 3 minutes of fame, I stood onstage and gaped and smiled at all the happy memories I had had on that stage. Most of the time, from 7 PM till almost 10 PM, we were seated in the audience for the service. Since it was being taped for local PBS, Susquehanna had pulled out all its finest musical groups, and they all took time to assemble, which made the service run long. But when all was said and done, it was beautiful, moving, and very professional, and I can be very proud of the few intimate moments that I and my fellow alums were allowed to partake in from the stage with our beloved Cyril.

SU friends reunited

SU friends reunited (Photo credit: Robb Whitmoyer)

When I got back to the car, gassed up, and headed back to Upper Darby, I was awash in conflicting emotions. I was sad it was over. I was so proud to have participated. I was so grateful to have seen so many old friends. I was fearful that at 81 this was Cy’s musical swansong. Driving back through the desolation of 61, I was awestruck by how beautiful each of the broken coal towns had decorated for the Christmas season. Street lights, full size nativities, seemingly abandoned houses were all aglow in holiday cheer. The grey despair of day had given way to the most beautiful light displays by night. It made me realize how much these people, though feeling abandoned by their country, were still alive in their hope and faith for something better to come. I smiled, I teared up, and I wished them all a Merry Christmas. My time at Susquehanna University had come and gone (again), and while I was saddened by its end, what was most important from my whirlwind experience were the good memories, the rekindled friendships, and the ever-present holding on to hope that somehow SU and its vicinity always seemed to embody and remind me of.  I had gone home; home to SU, home to my past, home to hope.

I wish you all such a place to visit when you need it as well.

Namaste,

Jason

P.S. If you didn’t read my last post, our new book, Mommy Made a Beastie (But I Love Her Anyway) is now available on Amazon! Here’s the link information: https://www.amazon.com/Mommy-Made-Beastie-Love-Anyway/dp/153932723X/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Happy Holidays!