More Poems From “The Place Where You Started”

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Hannah Consenz stars as Meredith in the Portland State University production of The Place Where You Started.

Director Kristine McIntyre asked me to write some poetry, for the opera The Place Where You Started, in Meredith’s voice. Kristine then displayed the poetry in a projection on the back wall of the stage for Meredith’s final aria. In the aria (think monologue in a play) Meredith discovers her passion for writing again.  In this poem Meredith addresses her frustration with screenwriting, a career she chose for all the wrong reasons. She describes it as a barren house.

1
Words reflect the place
where you live
screenwriting
for example
very little in this house
chair
computer
mouse
I once thought it elegant
an interconnected series of
entertaining scenes
held together by three *brads
and an agent
dizzying
spell-binding
but the dazzling wheel cracked
caked with dirt of a million dead dreams
the rain never comes here to renew
broken yearnings stretch back 100 years
deep into the orange grove
soil
now paved with cement and sorrow
Los Angeles

*Brads are the brass prongs that hold screenplays together.

In this next one, Meredith writes to her boyfriend Steve who takes her for granted.  The screenplay she writes during the opera, a vampire romance, features Roland, a brooding teenage vampire. It makes sense then that she calls Steve, Roland. Both are emotionally stunted. This poem is somewhat of a “Dear John” letter to Steve and to screenwriting.

2
Goodbye
Roland
I cannot stay
a wind blows
my obsession
away
Goodbye and
Good luck
Sorry for the mess
The dirt
The dust
I could not clean up
after you
you’re stunted
eighteen
playing video games
sitting in the last chair
Vampires might live forever
But I do not

Here Meredith reflects on the unique beauty that exists in Southern California. Her relationship with her friend Macario, a genius in the garden, has connected her to the earth. The falling rain is, in a way, a symbol for Macario, but it’s also simply rain doing what rain is supposed to do.

3
The rain falls
It soaks the dust and stirs it to soil
At dusk the jasmine bloom
their night shade fragrance thick
over the garden
A brown house spider spins her web over our door
If I leave the light on
she will feast

Cat Forum Interview with Chloe and Charlie

Hello dear Readers, Chloe and Charlie had the honor of an interview with Snoops and Commando, two very witty cats from Michigan. Take a look to get to know them better. They’ll be featured in the continuing series, Kiss The Kitties. Also, read Snoops and Commandos’ blog. It’s edited by mice. Can you imagine?

Adventures in Cheeseland

Today we are here with Chloe and Charlie from Insights from the Edge  (We are not sure what it is the edge of; it must be a human thing.) It is written by their mom Amy. She does not write about cats, but it’s pretty interesting anyway. Apparently she writes for a living, so that’s probably why it’s pretty good. It would be better if she wrote about cats.

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Tell us a little bit about each of you.
Chloe: My lady told me other humans found me under a dumpster at three weeks old. I was the only girl. I had many brothers. One was blind. He was a good guy. The rest were annoying. I met my lady when I was eight weeks old. She ignored me, so I liked her. All the other humans who came were so annoying. They picked me up and tried to…

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Fiction Friday-Kiss The Kitties Resumes In a Week

IMG_0174I’ve started a story called Kiss The Kitties. Each entry will go up on Friday and will be about 1000 words. If readers tell me they want more, I will definitely comply. I just find that 1000 is about as much as anyone, including myself, has time to commit to at any given moment of the day.

These last two weeks have been a whirlwind of excitement and sadness. Last week our opera, The Place Where You Started, premiered in Portland on November 12th. The first night of dress rehearsal was November 8th. My husband and I barely stayed focused. We barely slept and by the next morning found the ground beneath us gone. It felt as if we floated into unchartered and terrifying territory holding on only to each other.

Protests vibrated in the streets and strained the already taught space between my family and I, half of whom voted for the other party.  I can only imagine what the election results will do to families across this nation as they gather for Thanksgiving. Maybe people should lay off the libations a bit. Spirits already run high. But then, how does one manage that kind of strain for an entire day sober?

Anyway, last week was intense. I’m sick now. I haven’t been able to get myself to the keyboard. Additionally, and sadly, I must drag myself to a day job that frustrates and drains me.

Next week, thankfully, I’ll resume my writing. Thanksgiving Day I’ll be at home, in Southern California, with my husband and my two glorious, magical, majestic cats. We will cook a turkey, the cats will allow us the scraps, and all will be well on that little day. Chloe will hold court on the state of the nation. Fortunately, William won’t be here to argue.

Kiss the Kitties will resume next week. I have lots in store for Chloe, Charlie, and William. You’ll also meet Helen the Siamese, Jack the Mancoon, and Akihla the Abyssinian. There are many adventures ahead. I hope you stay tuned. Thank you for indulging me this break.

A Cactus Named Tom

This is a poem I wrote for the opera, The Place Where You Started. It was projected onto the walls during Meredith’s aria. In it she sings of how she has found renewal in the garden, with her friend the gardener Macario, as her guide. This is a sample from her journal. cactus-1546068_1280
The cacti grow slow
Their voices nearly imperceptible
Take this little one
He’s very unassuming
Squat and covered in razor sharp spines
A perfect little dome, no bigger than a fist
Macario says he’ll grow
With care he’ll be as big as a bush
That’s cacti for you
They’re in no rush
They do not worry
They have their plan
Each day they do just enough
Like Tom here
He never tires
demands little
seeks only to live
When he’s happy a pink flower blooms on his head
A gift
Macario says he’s thanking us
Well thank you, Tom
The pleasure is all mine

Opera and Activism

Monday, November 14th,  Paul Mason, of the Guardian, wrote that the films that have topped the box office in recent years, superhero films and expensive cartoons, have been escapist and culturally blind. They’ve created an ever widening gap between average American viewers and liberal Hollywood elites.  His solution?  Hollywood must create films featuring modern themes and characters to articulate a response to real issues facing the country.  Hollywood might then have the ability to use their influence to better the country. Instead, Hollywood drags us deeper into the sense of powerlessness that inspired voters to support Trump. It offers no solutions, no expression, no release from despair. Hollywood won’t change. There are too many millions at stake. They will continue to take on the tone and promote the prejudices of the producers who make them.

But to the artists and storytellers accustomed to working for little to no money, toiling away at day jobs and wondering if it’s worth it, I say this: you’re free. Free to be creative visionaries. You have permission to tell stories that illuminate as well as entertain. Prince once said that an artist who creates all the time is not going to have a hit every time.  A lot might not be very good, but the hits will be even better. I propose that we create more than we ever have. If not now, when?

In April my husband and I started a five month creative journey that culminated in our opera, The Place Where You Started.  It premiered Saturday, November 12th at Portland State University. It’s not agenda driven. It’s not about immigration. But the main character, Meredith, meets an undocumented gardener. Their friendship illuminates the complexity and tragedy that drives illegal immigration. My husband and I did not anticipate a Trump presidency, but that our piece opened November 12th felt more timely than we ever imagined. A few of the performers said they felt that they could offer audiences comfort and hope via their characters. The main character can’t save her friend from his fate, but she can do something. That is ultimately the message. That we must do something, even if we don’t know what it is. We must start.

Portland held some of the biggest and most violent protests in the days following the election. As my husband and I walked to rehearsals we heard the sirens. As we sat at dinner we saw paddy wagons careening down streets filled with people. Walking back from dinner one night we were caught in a stampede as protestors fled flash cannons. The last dress rehearsal I came into the bathroom to find a girl weeping. She’d just ridden her bike from the protests. Her friends had been arrested. She’d gotten away.

I’m not exactly sure how activism and art connect, or where they connect. But this past week was the most organic coming together of the two I’ve seen. I’m thrilled to have been a part of that. Let’s do more, together. Let’s keep doing more, of both.

If you’d like to see more, here is another clip featuring the two lead characters, with a brief introduction by our A-list stage director, Kristine McIntyre.

Fiction Friday-Kiss The Kitties

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Chapter 1–Santa Cruz, CA Present Day

I kiss kitties for a living. I once wanted to write, but found I was much better at kissing kitties. I have a large home and an even larger backyard with trees and kitty tree houses. All cats are neutered and spayed and their vaccines up to date. Over a hundred live here. I know each by name. If a cat is ill, I can sense it right away and herd her to the the vet, my sister, Lisa, who hates cats, which makes her brilliant when it comes to putting them to sleep and cutting them open. Cats hate her too.

That’s where I come in. I have no husband, or wife. Who wants to kiss a woman who kisses cats for a living? It’s pretty gross even when I think about it. Yet, kissing kitties is akin to kissing love itself, but better. Kittens are the easiest. I kiss their pink paws, their fuzzy bellies, their silken heads. I kiss and I kiss and I kiss and it’s never too much for them. I could charge a lot less than I do for them, but I charge more because of higher demand. Its supply side economics. After I’m done with them, you’ll have yourself quite a smashing kitty. Someone who loves you, greets you at the door, follows you from room to room, and will even sleep on your head. Most people don’t like that last bit. It’s a joke between the cats and I. I tell their humans it’s just part of their new kitty’s nature, but we both know better.

The older cats, the ones who’ve been abused, abandoned, ignored, and even never loved, well, they’re my specialty. I don’t charge much for them. They’ll be dumped again, or killed if someone doesn’t like my price. My sister would like nothing better.

That’s how I met William, an irascible orange fellow who’d lost an eye and part of his ear in a barroom brawl. William was mean. My sister was about to kill him, but because she enjoys it when I fail said, “Here, take him. Just try kissing him. He’ll scratch your damn face off. You’ll probably end up killing him sooner than I. I’ve got a backlog. Cancer. Incurable. They’re dropping like flies.” Then she laughed like the villain she was.

I took his cage and looked at him. What to do with William? We squared off. Don’t you dare, he said.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” I said. Kissing kitties meant getting them to want to be kissed. And their psychology wasn’t too hard to pin down. Make them think you don’t want them. But William was used to that. I had to think about this one.


“I think you care more than you say you do.” I said. Lisa stood in the kitchen cutting steak into cubes.

“I think you care less than you say you do.” She said. She lifted a glass of expensive merlot to her lips. Johnson, her new whatever, was coming over. Both of them were meat eaters. Fresh blood dripped down her hand and dribbled down the glass.

“Blech,” I turned my head. “Prove it.”

“William,” she snarled

“What about William?” I spat.

“Exactly.”

“We love each other.” I paused. “He just doesn’t know it yet.”

“Hah! Ridiculous. Admit it. He’s just not that into you.”

“You’re cruel.”

“That’s correct.” She pierced a chunk of bloody flesh with a skewer.

“Has William told you something? Have you been talking to him?”

“He talks to me.”

“Why is he talking to you and not to me?”

“He’s begging me to put him down.”

“What? He’s suicidal and you didn’t tell me?”

“Don’t be dramatic.”

“You’re such a witch!”

“And you’re so boring.”

Tears streamed hot down my cheeks. “Why? Why do you hate me?”

She raised an eyebrow. “I don’t hate you, dear girl. Now go. Johnson is coming and he needs to think I’m a good person. I can’t be good when you’re around. You’re too irritating.”

“Where’s William? What have you done with him?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you kill him?”

“Absurd. I don’t do anything for free.”

“You would if it hurt me.”

“True. But no. I actually haven’t seen him since last Tuesday.”

“That’s when I last saw him.”

“So go. Find him.”

“Do you think he’s dead?”

“You’d know.”

She was right. I would know. I always knew when one of my own died. I don’t know how I knew. I just knew. I ran from the house and let the screen door slam. Dear William, don’t give up on us, you jerk.

Chapter 2 Los Angeles, five years earlier. 

 

“I believe in you.” Chloe said. She was my first cat, a tiny calico with enormous grass green eyes. “I believe you can do anything because you’ve always done everything. You saved my life lots of times.”

“I did, didn’t I?” I was sobbing, again, because of all of the failures.

“I love you, mom. You always figure it out.” She stared at me. Charlie, her brother, an orange domestic, said nothing. Like most guys, he was useless in a crisis.

Chloe had three chronic illnesses. I’d been keeping her alive with love, the right food, and prescription medication. Now that I’d lost my car and my job, we were all about to be homeless. She’s right. We’d been destitute before, but I’d had hope. I’d always had my eye on the next thing. Always had one foot out the door. Always had the resources to get there. Credit. A car. A winning smile. My youth.

But Los Angeles had stolen all of that from me. Rent was too high. School loans were in the triple digits. I quit or was fired from every job I’d had in ten years. At the end I  worked, in sales at a for profit screenwriting school, peddling dreams like snake oil. The CEO charged thousands to cash-strapped writers and tacked on interest when they couldn’t pay. One day, because a writer didn’t make her payments, he ran her debit card three times consecutively.  She stood at the grocery store checkout line trying to pay for groceries for her three children and found that he’d emptied her account.  Los Angeles, land of the great con. I first came out to write movies, perhaps direct. Now, I was a cliché like the millions who preceded me and the millions on their way. Exhaustion plagued me day and night, as it does in poverty. He paid us $30,000 annually.

Writing was out of the question when getting out of bed was the major accomplishment everyday. In addition to shattered dreams, disastrous jobs, I’d left a string of empty, useless relationships behind me. I was incompetent in life, career, and love. But not at kissing kitties. Charlie and Chloe were the only reason I didn’t throw myself in front of a bus. Every earth-shatteringly terrible day when I returned from the seventh circle of hell that was my job, both greeted me with enthusiasm with loving eyes, and their little tails tucked around neat paws.

Yet, today was an exception. Today they weren’t at my door when I came home. The apartment echoed. Not soul stirred in the dark, dusty place.

Betrayed

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This piece is not meant to represent any specific person, place, or event. It’s a compilation of conversations and experiences I’ve had in many different places. I’ve written one experience here to represent many. Any similarities to specific people, places, or events is a mere coincidence.

“If you’re so miserable, why don’t you just do something about it? Everyday you come in here and you just complain. Just get another job already,” Sandy said.
It was late. We stood near our counters. The department stood empty. Yellow track lighting glared above us. The chrome counters glistened. Bright shades of lipstick waited in their black heavy plastic units, ready for the next day’s clients. Her counter always looked great. I was in the process of dusting mine with an old powder brush.
“Wow. OK black,” I said.
“What?”
“Pot. Black.”
She gave be a blank stare.
“Pot calling the kettle black.”
“I’m not miserable.”
“You complain as much as I do.”
“I don’t complain everyday. And I don’t complain about my job. I’m working through bigger life goals. And I’m doing something about them.”
“OK. Got it,” I said, a little too loudly and too aggressively. But I was pissed and all I wanted to say was, Fuck you. You absolutely complain as much as I do. And when that’s the only thing you can think of to say, you walk away. Conversation over.
Her voice rose the further away I got. “I’m just not telling you about them.”
My eyes grew wider, in what I can imagine was my mother’s, I’m going to silently punish you face. “OK, I got it, Sandy.”
“Well if you’re so miserable don’t take it out on me,” She turned away.

Which I should’ve seen coming. A few weeks back I told her that a co-worker took some products from her counter. She told a mutual friend of ours. Our mutual friend told me. I did not know she already knew, that she had been the source of the information. I told her, because I thought I was doing her a favor. She flipped out. Completely and totally melted down. I was shocked. It’s not like I had betrayed state secrets. This wasn’t the Pentagon for Christ’s sake.

Sandy seethed. “I told Alison that in confidence. I can’t believe she told anyone. Who else did she tell?”
“No one, I’m sure. She only told me because we’re all friends. Listen, I thought I was doing you a favor. I thought we were friends. I would want to know. Jesus Sandy. What’s the big deal?”
“That’s fine. It’s not you. I just know I can never trust her again.”
“OK, you’re overreacting.”
“I don’t think so.”

I walked away from her counter. Fallout would come. She’d confront Alison and punish us both. I was too chicken to tell Alison I’d told Sandy. I can’t remember if she’d told me not to say anything.

Sandy confronted Alison. Alison, indirectly, communicated to me, she knew I’d told. In the end, it seemed, it blew over. We shared laughs, covered each other’s counters while the other went on break. In general, we enjoyed an ease and camaraderie one needs when working together in about a 500 square foot area.

Until last night. Sandy’s sanctimonious direction to “find another job if you’re so miserable,” revealed she hadn’t let it go. Her barb, “I’m doing something about it. I’m just not telling you,” was a clear message. It was meant to impugn my character. I can’t be trusted and I’m too afraid or too lazy to find another job.

Sandy got me when I least expected it. So yes, she won. I know that revenge can feel sweet in the moment. I hope she enjoyed it because the effects are final. Maybe she just wanted it that way. Alison’s the only ally I have left. I plan on protecting that with my life. No one can survive that floor on her own. You’re bait.