Monday, July 31, 2006


Since Lisa died, Heinemann, the company she worked for, has been incredibly supportive and helpful, but I think they may have surpassed themselves this time.

Lisa was editor of Heinemann’s theatre books, which covered a wide range of topics: books for professionals and books for classroom teachers who were stuck doing the class play; monologue collections and essays on musical theatre; books on improv and books on playwriting; acting for animators and acting as a profession and so very much more. The books she published on theatre and education were particularly well received, and she was very proud that her authors had won the American Alliance for Theatre and Education’s Distinguished Book Award 10 times. The first one was for Gerald Chapman’s Teaching Young Playwrights; Lisa received an almost-completed manuscript after Chapman’s death, and saw it through to publication. Her books won again in 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005. Under her leadership, Heinemann also received a Lin Wright Special Recognition Award in 2001.

This year, another book she edited, Spaces of Creation, by Suzan Zeder and Jim Hancock, won the Distinguished Book Award. (I had the privilege of reading it in manuscript, and it’s wonderful! But that’s another blog entry.) AATE presents its awards at its annual conference, usually held at the end of July or the beginning of August.

This year, along with honoring Suzan and Jim’s book, AATE honored Lisa, too. She was voted a Lin Wright Special Recognition Award, which, according to the website, is for “persons who have established special programs, developed experimental works, made distinctive educational contributions or provided meritorious service thus furthering theatre and drama for young people.”

Heinemann brought me to AATE so that I could be there to hear the tributes. More than that, they asked me to accept the Lin Wright Award on Lisa’s behalf. They also co-hosted, with NYU, a reception in Lisa’s honor, for all the folks who valued her as a friend as well as an editor.

It was a wonderful, profoundly moving experience. The Lin Wright Award presentation was so funny and true and warm (one of the people who nominated her was quoted as saying Lisa combined the best features of a dramaturge and a mother — yep, that’s a Lisa I recognize!), and she received the longest standing ovation of the day, which would have delighted her! At the reception, I met literally dozens of her authors, and every one of them said, in essence, "she changed my life." (One even added, "She got me tenure!") It was wonderful and exhausting and incredibly moving - but not surprising. Lisa never did quite realize just how special she was.

Nor is it surprising that Heinemann would do something like this — the folks there are a class act — but I’m still deeply grateful. Thanks, guys. This was something extra special.

Monday, July 24, 2006

And The Answer Is...

Three. That’s how many pairs of socks I can knit while watching the Tour de France. One pair in plain stockinette, one in twisted rib (sort of fake cables, really), and a third in’s RPM pattern ( Lisa got me hooked on the Tour four or five years ago, and of course as she was fighting her cancer seeing Lance Armstrong winning again and again was a continual inspiration. (She joked after she got her intrathecal port that she had similar scalp scars — and a similar hair style.) This year was really different: no Lisa, no Lance (except in interview); no Ullrich, either, or Iban Mayo. Bobby Jullich crashed out early, the Discovery guys and Levi Leipheimer messed up (Leipheimer was Lisa’s pick, and she had the Gerolsteiner cap to prove it), and Floyd Landis had two of the most unbelievable days of cycling I’ve ever seen and won the Tour. Watching him lose and regain 8 minutes over those two days, I’m amazed the last sock has a coherent pattern at all.

I wasn’t sure I was going to watch, except that I did want to see what happened. I’m a sucker for long sporting events, ones in which your choices at the very beginning have a profound impact 3 hours or 3 weeks later, but still, watching it without Lisa.... Not the same, particularly with Lance Armstrong still very much present in the commentary. Her heart, her attitude was just as determined — but cancer is like that. Sometimes you don’t win.

And maybe that’s the other part of why I watched, and why I’ve been watching sports a lot this summer. You can fight your hardest, do everything right, and still lose. In sports, mostly, you get to get up and do it again, next week, next day, though the Tour had its share of broken bones that would put riders out for months. I’m not big on the notion that sports is a metaphor for life (though, being a southerner, I haven’t been able to escape the idea, particularly in regard to football). But it has been oddly consoling to see that message spelled out: sometimes the best people don’t win. Sometimes they do, and you treasure those moments, but it’s not a given. When they don’t, you curse and you cry, and you knit ridiculous numbers of socks — and you cheer even harder for the victories.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Summer Reading

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, for what are probably obvious reasons. Some of it is work-related, like Shirley Abbott’s Bookmaker’s Daughter and Miranda Seymour’s Bugatti Queen — both of which I recommend highly, by the way. Some have been popcorn books, and I’m not going to admit to those titles! Some were really good: Elizabeth’s Bear’s Blood and Iron, which is one of the most interesting takes on the conflict between this world and Faerie that I’ve read in a long time. She starts with traditional stories, derives familiar rules from them, and weaves that package into a truly original novel. Yes, it’s the first book in a series, but it’s complete enough to be satisfying, and the second book is already sold, to come out next year. Definitely worth your time and money. My father recommended Jason Goodwin’s The Janissary Tree, a mystery novel set in Istanbul in 1836. He said he thought I’d be fascinated (as he was) by the history, and he was right. The mystery itself is a little light, with a protagonist who spends more time reacting to events than acting to stop them, but the situations are interesting enough to carry the book along. It, too, is planned to be the first in a series, and I’ll look forward to the next book.

I’ve also been reading a whole stack of Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion mysteries, which has been a bittersweet pleasure. A few days before she died, Lisa ordered them for me, well over a dozen books, mostly paperbacks, all cheap (we’re not collectors, all I needed was reading copies), and for several weeks after she died, the packages continued to arrive: book after book, gift after gift, reminder after reminder. I’ve been enjoying the excursion into different periods — the Campion mysteries seem to divide pretty neatly into pre-WWII and post-WWII, the latter being especially interesting to me. The world of postwar rationing, Cold War fear, and frightening science (a huge feature not only in Allingham but in Nicholas Blake’s books of the same period) is new to me — it’s interesting to compare the characters’ attitudes toward the future to those in the American sci-fi/alien invasion movies of the ‘50s. But mostly it’s been another, final present, one more thing to get me through this summer, and beyond.

Friday, July 07, 2006

A Happy Fourth of July

I enjoy the neighborhood where I live. It’s a nice, reasonably quiet place less than ten minutes’ walk from downtown, inhabited by an interesting bunch of people, dogs, cats, and lots and lots of squirrels. Because I’m now the morning dog-walker, I’ve gotten to know a lot of these folks at least by sight (and many of the dogs by name), and I’ve started to notice little things.

Like the fact that the goth girl down the street has broken her arm. (Yes, I know I should call her a goth woman. But she is 20 years younger than I am, and anyway the alliteration is better.) The first time I saw this, she was coming home from the doctor wearing a bright blue sling. The following morning, the sling was black. She rocks.

The neighborhood is also close enough to the park where the town fireworks are set off that I can watch all the displays from the front porch. This was actually something Lisa and I jokingly told our realtor when we were looking for a house: we wanted to be able to walk to a bank and a grocery store, and we wanted to see the fireworks. Amazingly, we got all of what we wanted.

So for the last fourteen years, we’ve spent the Third of July (when our town has its fireworks for the Fourth) sitting on the front steps swatting mosquitoes, oohing and ahhing at the colored lights while the dog barks insanely inside, and once in a while making our presence known to a drunk who thinks the rhododendron provides enough privacy for him to relieve himself. Usually there are more mosquitoes than drunks, but not this year. For some reason, there seemed to be a lot more tipsy people — fewer families, even though the display was at the same time as in previous years, and more young adults who were visibly unsteady. I even wondered if I was just more aware of them because I was by myself this year (and not drinking) but the neighbors on either side agreed: it was a heavy-drinking kind of night.

But not a bad humored one. There weren’t any fights on the street, no shouting (except cheers for the fireworks), not even anybody peeing in the shrubbery. No, this year’s drunks had a sense of humor. I took the dog out on the morning of the Fourth and, as usual, we passed the house of the Neighbors Who Decorate. They decorate their porches for every season and holiday, and this Fourth they’d outdone themselves. They had bunting and flags and sprays of red-white-and-blue tinsel that looked like fireworks, and to top it all off they had a gigantic stuffed Scooby-Doo attached to the top porch, with red-white-and-blue leis around his neck and an Uncle Sam top hat. However, as the dog and I approached, it was obvious Scooby had gone missing. I looked up, saw the Neighbors Who Decorate standing on their upper porch giggling, and before I could ask, they pointed to the driveway.

Someone had very carefully untied Scooby from the porch and set him — unharmed, though his top hat was somewhat askew — on top of another neighbor’s SUV.

Nothing else was touched, not a stitch of bunting or a strand of tinsel.

The Neighbors Who Decorate were going to leave him there until the SUV’s owner had a chance to see.

I like my neighborhood.