Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Oh, the Pressure!

I need a special T-shirt to wear on August 29. The front should say, “Contents under pressure.”

I didn’t think of it that way when I applied to participate in an eight-hour play-writing competition taking place this Friday. In fact, I booked the day off work just in case I got picked. A few weeks later, an early morning email arrived and I wondered if I dare open it before heading off to City Hall.

First glance told me I’d been rejected: “On behalf of Sarasvati Productions I would like to thank you for your submission…blah was difficult to choose our finalists…blah blah blah.”  

But the second paragraph sent me off to my day job with a bounce in my step:  “FemFest is happy to inform you that you have been selected to be one of five participants…”

It’s part of the 2014 FemFest taking place September 13-20 at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film, an annual festival featuring female theatre artists from Winnipeg, Canada, and the world. It’s put on by Sarasvati Productions, which is dedicated to using theatre to promote human understanding.

I haven’t met the other four playwrights, but the five of us are to show up at 10:00 a.m. when we’ll be given three “ingredients” our scripts must incorporate. Then we each write a short play using those ingredients and submit it by 7:00 p.m.

Then, on September 15, a team of ensemble players will perform the five mini plays before a live audience who will vote for the script they would most like to see developed into a one-act play. The winner will have nearly a year to expand the piece and it will be showcased at FemFest 2015.

When I told some fellow writers what I’d signed up for, my friend Clarice’s comment was, “I couldn’t handle the pressure.”

Gee thanks, Clarice. Now I’m nervous. Gulp. 

I reminded Clarice that God changes caterpillars into butterflies and coal into diamonds using time and PRESSURE.

Some people claim to work better under pressure, but I don’t believe it. They just work faster. I don’t think any of us enjoys pressure, but there’s a big difference between the kind you choose to subject yourself to and the kind thrust upon you uninvited.

The kind of pressure I hate is when I am interrupted from one thing and must make a rapid-fire decision about another. Like when I’m writing the next best seller and the children want to know what’s for lunch. Or how to light the barbecue. Or what’s the number for the fire department. I need time to think. 

But staying focused on one activity I enjoy for eight hours straight is another story. So going into this contest, I figure if I can hammer out a rough draft in the first four to five hours, that gives me three or four hours of tweaking before I must surrender it.

What’s the worst that can happen? There’s a good chance it’ll turn out horrible, but I have to be okay with that from the beginning. Gordon Drizschilo said, “If you do something that turns out wrong, you can almost always put it right, get over it, learn from it, or at least deny it. But once you’ve missed out on something, it’s gone. There will be the [person] you never got to say the right words to, the band you never got to see live, the winning streak you never got to cheer on, the brilliant retiring professor whose class you never took, the relative you never got very close with. It’s a long list no matter what. Try to keep it as short as possible.”

I like to think that by jumping into this challenge, I’m shortening my list by a smidge. What sort of pressure are you choosing to subject yourself to?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Please Don't Play It Again, Sam

In June, I attended a wind-up party where fellow Prairie Players members were discussing the old movie Casablanca. When I admitted I’d never seen it, my friend Terry promised to bring me a copy on VHS tape. When he delivered it, six others were in the bag: The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, Kind Hearts and Coronets, We’re No Angels, My Girl Friday, and The Lady Killers. I guess Terry figured I have no life, and he must be right because I can now say I’ve watched all of these classics from the 1940’s and 50’s. And now I’m subjecting you to my opinion.

First of all, for the life of me I can’t find the appeal of Humphrey Bogart. The only attractive thing about the man was the double-breasted suit like my dad’s 1948 wedding suit. That weird thing he does with his mouth, the nasal voice, the ever-present cigarette, and the incessant sexist and racist lines might be given to the villain in one of today’s movies, but never to the leading man. Yuck.

As for the movies themselves, either the plots are awfully slow and simple or I am. Endless dialogue expresses every thought the characters ever had, in case the viewer is too dumb to figure out what’s going on. And in case you missed a thought, you can read their minds by the over-acted facial expressions interrupted only by occasional interludes of cheesy music. Clearly, the actors were more familiar with stage performance where the audience members might be 50 feet away as opposed to a camera lens smack in the face.

Fast-forward 70 years. Hubby and I recently saw two brand new movies: Lucy, and Guardians of the Galaxy. In today’s movies, real dialogue has been replaced with fast-paced one-liners you’d need to watch several times over in order to catch them all. Violence abounds. Slashing, bashing, smashing destruction is the order of the day. Explosions, high-speed chases, and high crime are requirements. Plot lines are completely out of this world. Computer animation makes it impossible to tell what’s real. (Did they paint that actor green or just colour him in later?)

I prefer to leave both the oldest and the newest movies for someone else. Give me a good romantic comedy for laughs or a based-on-a-true-story drama for inspiration.

Here’s an exercise for you. Without thinking too hard, list your five all-time favourite movies. After you’ve listed them, look for a common thread tying then together. When you can identify a theme, chances are it’s a clue to your passion in life.

My top five all carried the theme of people overcoming some kind of mental or physical challenge, most based on true stories: Rain Man, A Beautiful Mind, I am Sam, Door to Door, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? What that says about me, I’m still trying to figure out. I certainly can’t pretend to understand what it’s like to live with autism, schizophrenia, developmental challenges, cerebral palsy, morbid obesity, or depression as depicted in these stories.

Speaking of movies and depression, everyone seems to feel the need to express an opinion about the death of Robin Williams. Other than feeling bummed because we’ve lost a brilliant humourist, there’s not much I can say. Never met the man. Pretending I understand mental illness would be stupid and wrong. Speculating on his eternal destination would be even more stupid and wrong.

Wikipedia credits Williams with 81 movies, and a quick glance at the list tells me I’ve seen about half of them. I enjoyed most of those, especially Patch Adams. The real Patch Adams practiced medicine around his philosophy of treating patients using humor and compassion. Hmm. My blog banner features the following words from scripture: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine...” (Proverbs 17:22) Perhaps therein lies the key to how the theme of my favourite movies lines up with what I’m passionate about.

What are your favourite flicks?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Kindness of a Stranger

It happened in a gas station restroom in Dunseith, North Dakota. 

In August of 1978, we’d been married for ten months and were driving from Manitoba to Texas to resume another school year. The Dunseith restroom offered those flat, dry soap leaves you may remember. The soap got caught under my wedding rings, so I took the rings off and laid them on a shelf above the sink. When I turned around to grab a towel, someone was knocking on the door, so I quickly dried my hands and left the washroom. Had no one been knocking, I’d have turned around again and seen my rings. A teenage girl went in as I left. 

I returned to the car and waited for Jon to finish filling the tank. Before he even climbed back into the car, I noticed my unadorned hand and ran back inside. The washroom was occupied, and I waited for the person to come out. But it wasn’t the same person, and this one had not seen any rings. The gas station attendant hadn’t either. The girl had vanished. We gave the manager (and the police) our name and address in case some honest stranger turned in the rings. Eventually, we needed to carry on our journey. 

I cried for a month. I felt guilty and irresponsible, but I also believed nothing was too hard for God and begged him to convict the stranger who had my rings. I prayed they’d feel so guilty they’d turn them in. 

The following Valentine’s Day, Jon bought me a small, plain wedding ring, discounted because someone else had purchased the matching engagement ring. Years later, after my father passed away, Mom divvied her rings among her daughters and I received her diamond engagement ring. I’ve managed to hang on to this replacement “set” ever since. I stopped praying for the return of my original rings a long time ago, but I would recognize them in an instant.

Nine years ago, Teresa Stanley lost hers as well. Of course she and Dave searched high and low and I’m sure many tears were shed (because Dave’s just that sort of a guy). They later sold their home to a family by the name of Stranger.

This year, the Strangers needed to do some plumbing work in preparation for selling the home again. And there, in the pipes, they found a wedding and engagement ring, still soldered together but black with grime.

Aimee Stranger cleaned the ring enough to discover the diamonds still intact and knew she must do something. She first contacted her realtor in order to contact Dave, who verified the ring was Teresa’s. Aimee then took it to a jeweler who sent it away for cleaning. Dave and their boys kept it all a secret until the ring arrived last week. 

Then, they were ready. They gave Teresa the package, videoed her priceless reaction, and uploaded the video to Facebook. Last time I checked, there were 60 comments from friends—many in tears, all celebrating with her and praising the kindness of the Strangers who were, for all practical purposes, strangers to Dave and Teresa.

Does this renew my hope that I might still be reunited with my rings? Not really. And that’s okay; I’ve experienced enough significant losses in the intervening years to help put it into perspective. But it sure reminds me of a story Jesus told about a lost coin in Luke chapter 15—especially the part about friends and family celebrating over its reappearance and the trouble and expense someone else went to in order to see the rings returned as good as new. Read it for yourself to see who might be celebrating over you. 

And next time you find something that’s not yours, ask yourself whether you’d rather be a stranger or a Stranger.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Battle of the Senses

While I reflected on how much I love our precious, fleeting summers, my five senses entered into a philosophical debate about which has the most to lose once summer bids farewell. 

As usual, my mouth started it. “The rest of you can only hope to fathom the awesomeness of summer,” it said. “You’ll never sink your teeth into cool watermelon or snap into a juicy carrot fresh from the garden or dig into a buttered cob of sweet corn. You can’t imagine the refreshment of a cool drink after a day of work in the sun, or the bliss of sharing a Popsicle with someone you love. And don’t even get me started on ripe strawberries, new potatoes, juicy peaches, or home-grown tomatoes. I’m watering just thinking about it!” 

My eyes begged to differ. “You have no idea,” they said. “You’ve never seen a little girl in a sundress or children making sand castles on the beach. You can’t see the 50 shades of green framed by the picture window, or the vivid reds, oranges, and yellows of nasturtiums, the purples and pinks of pansies and petunias. You can’t imagine the splendor of sailboats on the sparkling lake or the brilliance of a canola field in glorious, golden bloom, or a lady’s bright pink toenails on tanned and sandaled feet. And how do I begin to explain a rainbow? Or fireworks bursting against the black sky?”

That’s when my ears chimed in. “Fireworks? A racket, if you ask me. But then you can’t hear what I hear. From the early morning melodies of hundreds of birds to the late-night chirping of bullfrogs and crickets, summer is kind to me. I wish you could hear the laughter and splashing around a kiddie pool, the delicate buzz of a bee pollinating the hydrangeas, the goofy chatter of squirrels, the crack of a bat against a baseball, rain tapping on the window, or the delights of an open-air concert in the park. You’ll never know the joy an ice-cream truck’s tinny tune offers. Even the roar of a lawn mower and the snap-snap-snapping of flip-flops on feet are music to me.”

At the mention of feet, my nose couldn’t stop twitching. “Are you kidding me? I knows I’ve got the best of it and if you’d ever smelled lilacs in full bloom, you would knows it too. Not to mention the scent of roses, lilies, or freshly cut grass. Of course, all these smells are intensified after a rain. And that’s not all! You can’t imagine the earthy fragrance of fresh garden beets simmering in the kitchen, the tantalizing aroma of steaks grilling in the neighbourhood, or the comforting scent of sheets dried outdoors. Why, I even like the coconutty smell of sun screen!”

My Sense of Touch felt drawn into the discussion, too. “You all make me laugh. The rest of you are limited to one receptor, or two at most. But me! I can feel with hands, feet, everything! You haven’t lived until you’ve felt warm sand or lush grass under bare feet. You can’t possibly understand the soothing warmth of sunshine on skin or the utter relief of a gentle breeze on a hot day. You’ll never experience the refreshing shock of plunging your hot body into a pool of cold water, or be rocked gently to sleep in a hammock, or embrace the heat of a campfire after dark.”

My senses continued to argue, trying to outdo each other, but I tuned them out. I know it’s me who is the lucky one. I’m privileged to enjoy summer using all five senses when even just one would be amazing and worthy of my gratitude. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights...” James 1:17

Hope you’re absorbing summer in every sense of the word!