Refreshing my Core

This blog has been a bit quiet lately because I’ve been busy with other things, life things. My mind has been full of task lists and schedules. My mind and soul have not been relaxed or exercised in creativity. The other day my agent called and said “Who are some of your actor friends about the same age as you?” My mind went blank. Oy.

Superior HorizonOne lesson learned: planning your own wedding is lot like producing your own play, and sadly you only get one performance and no real rehearsals. That was my show this summer. After the ceremony I had mental notes as to what we could do differently and then realized it didn’t matter – that moment was never going to happen again.

This week is the Minnesota Fringe Festival. I’m not done seeing shows yet, but a part of me wishes I were because the last thing I saw last night was the kind of uplifting, funny, touching show on which I always like to end my festival. (More about that at another time.)

Finishing that big summer project (which was memorable for the whole family) and seeing some inspirational theater the past few days, along with the fact that I now have my rehearsal schedule—which begins in only a few weeks for a fall play—has all been refreshing.

I feel lighter. More open. More relaxed.

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Chekhov and Vomiting

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

Image via Wikipedia

The other night I went and saw some Chekhov. That’s right, the Russian master dramatist who either doesn’t get done often enough or doesn’t often get done well.

When I think of Chekhov I always first think of the head of the acting program back in college. For Jean Scharfenberg Anton Chekhov was in a constant battle for top dog playwright, but always won, no matter how much she loved Shakespeare or Albee or Williams.  And thinking of Chekhov this way makes me think of the incredibly strenuous, fear producing projects she put students through.

“Ok,” she’d say, “At the end of the scene you have to be able to walk out that door and kill yourself. Now begin!”

No pressure.

When it was my turn we had barely begun when I was interrupted, and she began stressing the depth of the stakes for these characters, how infused the fears and desires were, and before we could start the scene again we ran out of time. “There’s not enough time to do it now. We’ll start with you two tomorrow.”

Relief and anxiety hit me at the same instant, and then one of my classmates whispered as we left the room, “She’s going to eat you alive.” I’m pretty sure I returned to my dorm and immediately threw up.

The next day, I survived.

I remember years later watching birds trying to fly over a very gusty Lake Superior early one morning, and suddenly feeling as if I truly understood Nina for the first time and could, perhaps should, play her.

But those are about Seagull, my favorite Chekhov.

What we saw the other night was Uncle Vanya, perhaps the origin of the stereotyped idea that Chekhov works exist solely of sad people sitting around the room talking about how miserable their lives are. This, pretty much, is the story. After all, in the end almost nothing changed.

Almost nothing. That’s the brilliance of his writing.

It’s not the individual parts, the different acts or even French scenes within. It’s the culmination of the whole experience. It’s the gathering storm and pressure of time that creates the lives of his characters. It’s the subtle yet profound effect life has on us. The pay off with Chekhov is in the end.

Almost nothing changed for so many, and yet everything changed for Sonja. Vanya fought the good fight, and still in the end, “we’ll send the same amount as before” and returns to his pauper life. Changed if only slightly in the realization of his fate.

And yet: “You’ve never known a day of happiness in your life” is one of the most hopeful lines in the play.

Only a genius like Chekhov could make that work.

Autumn hits the north shore


North Shore Lake Superior, October 2010

This was taken standing out on the rocks along the shore near Grand Marais, Minn. I was facing the sun, experimenting with shadows and direct light. Then I adjusted the sharpness, boosted and removed some color, eliminating the sun flare but turning it all silver and black, which is how the lake really looked. And using a multi-frame shooting mode I was able to capture one of the big sprays.

Recharging my batteries

Sometimes getting out of town can be a peaceful and relaxing way to be get re-energized, and being in a beautiful natural setting can be really refreshing. We’ve left town for a few days and headed up to the north shore of Lake Superior – one of my favorite places. I grew up alongside another great lake, and as a child we vacationed in fishing country, and I’ve always been drawn to lakes.

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This lake, Lake Superior, is amazingly beautiful at times. Right now, it’s a picture perfect shade of blue, and mostly

calm with just a few little whitecaps appearing here and there in various places. The sky is clear of any clouds, and there’s a slight breeze.

Earlier this afternoon we went for a short hike in the woods, alongside a creek. I brought my camera along and snapped various pics of the little falls, the rapids, a moss covered bench. Just different things that I thought might make an interesting picture. They’re ok. Unfortunately I discovered my batteries were going low, and only about half the pictures turned out to be on the card when finally looked at them.

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This is an old shed-like structure we spotted as we returned to the lodge’s grounds. It’s actually still in use. That’s why the door’s open. I love old, decrepit buildings like this, and try to snap pictures of such places when I can. They have their own history and value. I imagine how excited or proud the person who built it was when it was finished, and what a great addition it was to the property or business.

Being up here in the north woods is its own kind of inspiring locale. I always feel compelled to write some fiction novel, full of the people I meet in the shops and restaurants in these small towns. I always wonder about some of them – like the guy who stopped off at the general store to buy bait, and left his truck running and his baby daughter in the cab. I was waiting in the car (ironically, because we weren’t going to leave our dog alone in the car while shopping) and I wasn’t even aware there was something there until he spoke baby talk about the minnows and worms and said, “I’ll be right back” and went in to the liquor store for a case of beer. There are tourists coming through town, people you don’t know, and you leave your truck running and the kid inside? Guess we’re not in the city anymore. Then there’s the waiter at Angry Trout, a dockside restaurant. I’ve been coming here long enough to know he’s no townie just by listening to him talk. What’s he doing here? What’s his story? And there’s the guy who just this moment walked past my window. Probably mid-50s, wearing hiking boots, khaki shorts, and a bright green, long-sleeve dress shirt.

I’m sure any story I could write about these people would be horrible, boring, trite stuff, like some horror flick. And I’m no Stephen King. Of course, the only way it would work would be if I could live up here for about six months straight—not really an option.

So I’ll settle for coming up a few times a year to be recharged, and re-inspired by nature.