Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Top Ten Events of 2017

Washington D.C., January 21, 2017.
So, you thought 2016 was some kind of horrorshow. That was nothing.

Our national government has embraced kleptocracy, sciatica has had me entirely sidelined from running, and in spring, my father-in-law was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. He passed away last Wednesday. My beautiful wife has spent several weeks out of town this fall, caring for him and for my mother-in-law, our children managing to keep their chins up through fall semester.

Twenty-seventeen has not been my favorite year, either.

And yet, it was worth it, and it is necessary to take stock, and remember those moments which make life worth living and keep me moving forward. In chronological order, my top ten events of 2017.

1. The Women’s March

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose … and "feminist" was not a word my (then) thirteen year-old daughter threw around until the evening of November 8, 2016 when she was surprised and shocked to learn she lives in a country where an admitted sexual predator could be elected by enough people in enough states to become president.

Holding down the fort Inauguration weekend while the xx contingent of our nuclear family caravanned with thousands of others to Washington D.C. for this event was the first in many salvos against the current administration -- and for something greater. My daughter's penchant to be outspoken and artistic will be tried in the months and years to come, but how much more proud could I be?

The company of Red Onion, White Garlic
2. Red Onion, White Garlic

Five American women in hijab told a simple Indonesian story of sisters and womenhood in Red Onion, White Garlic, which I wrote for Talespinner Children's Theatre. Like so many other stories of basic decency this year, it is remarkable that just their telling stands out as a protest against the status quo. What does that say about the status quo?

3. Reception

Recent events have made it necessary to put our weekly salon on hiatus. However, most Sundays this year we have opened our doors for friends to join us for two hours to share and talk. It is a simple social event which has brought people into our home in a way unique to this time and place in history.

4. Artists’ Rehabilitation Coalition

Experiencing the women of the Northeast Reintegration Center perform a one-hour adaptation of Macbeth was an inspiring evening, demonstrating the transformative power of art and language. Anyone can interpret the work of Shakespeare, tell their story through it, and own it.

5. Weddings

The father with the bride.
It had been five years since I had performed a wedding. This summer, I had the opportunity to conduct two. We also attended a third. All Millennials (and one Gen Xer) cousins and friends in their thirties (and Doug) all stylish and smart. Nick and Tara in Aurora, IL. Doug and Carrie at the 78th Street Studios. And Nick & Adrienne in Athens.

When Chris, my father-in-law, took a serious turn in August, the great, unspoken fear was that he would not be alive to attend his daughter Adrienne’s wedding on September 9. But he did. He rallied. And the father danced with the bride, which may be been the greatest moment of the entire year, or any year.

6. Road Trips

The wedding in Chicagoland invited an extended stay in the City of Big Shoulders. We also decided not only to stop in Salem on our way to Friendship, MA, but to stay for a while, and really take in the history. My wife and I have always felt intensely grateful that our children really do like to be with us and do things with us, even now as they slouch in adolescence.

Aware that these road trips, along with events unfolding in Athens, would necessitate hours upon hours in her car, the wife got a satellite radio subscription. The fact that most commercial music stations in America are now all owned by the same corporation, there is no longer any joy or interest in picking up local radio stations.

One late evening, as we were passing through Indiana on our way home from Chicago, we caught Billy Idol’s SiriusXM program Live Transmission. That evening was his tribute to women rockers and it was all about the strength of the music. It was awesome and also touching. Thanks, man.

7. Heights High

Old friends, new school.
Watching my own daughter step into the beautifully restored and expanded Cleveland Heights High School was a moment of personal and civic pride. In the days and weeks since we have had many opportunities to enter, experience and share with our community all of the amazing and outstanding work our students have to offer.

8. A walk with Julie

It was a surprise to discover how popular folks would find my blog post account of one night, walking, talking, and drinking with an former college girlfriend. Hundreds read it within the first day it was posted. Reflecting upon that evening was a sweet reminder of simple gifts in difficult times.

9. Lydia’s Graduation

My niece graduated from the University of Winchester this October. It has been a long time since I have traveled to Britain. Ten years, actually. It’s become so expensive to travel. My eighty-two year-old mother was planning to go, and we have agreed to disagree whether I invited myself along for the journey, or if I offered to escort her there, which are two very different ways of looking at it.

My brother in Minnesota also met up with us in London, before the long drive to Kent. My brother Henrik’s family now reside in Yalding, the kind of rural English town that gets sent up so much in old BBC situation comedies and the works of Alan Ayckbourn. Folks at work asked if I was going to take in any theater when I was in England and I told them I was not going to England, I was going to Yalding.

Yet, it was a marvelous time, in spite of the fact that I missed my own wife and children terribly. It was not the year to be away from them like this, but when is? I was very happy to see Lydia receive her degree in Winchester Cathedral, where Jane Austen is lain to rest, and we all had some marvelous evenings talking about every little thing.

The best part, I think was all the travel I got to do with my own mother, who really is a wonderful person, and one that I have to admit I have gotten to know a lot better since my father died.

Photo: Steve Wagner
10. The Santaland Diaries

I do not take the opportunity to perform very often. I prefer to write, but I miss being onstage sometimes and there are those who say I am good at it. When Cleveland Public Theatre asked me to take a turn as Crumpet in David Sedaris’s least favorite play (look it up) I knew would regret saying no.

As it turned out, during this time of holiday cheer and personal sorrow, walking on stage to interpret this classic American monologue -- and doing it my way -- was a great relief, distraction, and challenge. It was also fun.

Happy holidays to you and yours, however you spend them, and best wishes for a new year of great events worth sharing.

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