(Why am I naming days?)
10/12/15, Day 14,404 (Mercena Day 424): My First Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Yesterday was my first Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Now, I’d been aware before yesterday that a national holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus was absurd. I knew his record of personal cruelty and exploitation, and the enormity of suffering and loss that his arrival set in motion, but that didn’t translate into any action on my part. What could I possibly do? This is the United States, where we absurdly celebrate many cruel people and painful tragedies. Our country’s nostalgic amnesia is so powerful that even when I learned to see it, I didn’t recognize that could be changed. My privilege gave me that indignant passivity, that outrage without action, that ability to look without seeing, listen without hearing, touch without feeling.

That all changed thanks to my friend and colleague Ty Defoe, who catalyzed a movement at Theatre Communications Group to reclaim Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Thanks to his courage and generosity, I began to understand and feel myself the sheer depth of pain caused by this day; how it contributes to the erasure of Indigenous peoples living now, and how that invisibility empowers the systemic oppressions our government and culture continue to commit; how the open wound of the American Holocaust will only heal through truth, reconciliation, reparation, and the commitment of non-native peoples to wrestle with the full complexity and complicity of our histories on this land.

Most of all, Ty helped me to see that it could be changed.

After all, we were only asking for the sign in our hallways to change, along with our Outlook calendars and away messages. Such a small act, and yet from such small acts, the gristly machine of colonialism and capitalism that we continue to feed can be interrupted, and in those moment of interruption, we can breathe; and then we can work together to dismantle the whole damn thing.

Such a small thing ended up taking a surprising amount of work, and the process was not always easy. But, our process needed to take the time it took, because the process was just as important as the outcome. We needed this victory of reclaiming Indigenous Peoples’ Day to belong to the whole organization, and I think we came as close to that goal as possible. That’s thanks to the work of a great many people, including TCG’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion workgroup, and I’ll name a few here that feel particularly important to thank: Ty, Dafina McMillan, Chloe Brown, JP Smith (Beto O’Byrne), Laurie Baskin, Ilana Rose, Teresa Eyring, Kevin Moore, Annabel Guevara, and Carmen Morgan.

Such a small thing, but from such small victories movements are made. A little change makes you hungry for more. And I spent the late night of my Indigenous Peoples’ Day working on a project with Ty, Anna Rahn, and Madeline Sayet that wrestles with that more famous cousin of Columbus Day, Thanksgiving. Stay tuned for more on that shortly, but here’s a cute picture of our recent #NETdate:

NET Date

Yesterday was also a day of personal remembrance, as it’s the day Heather’s father left this world. It’s a pain that is renewed through the joys of Mercena. If only, if only. He can’t help but be in her life, living through Heather, through Cathy and Sandra, through all the ways we’ll find to connect her to his memory, but if only…

Life is so precious, and love and art are the ways I remember that. Yesterday was a day of love, art, and memory, and I hope it was for you, too.

Mercena becomes a kid

(Heather took this photo of Mercena yesterday at the zoo’s playground. This was the first photo that ever made me feel like Mercena was a kid, and not a baby. It’s a strange feeling.)

(Why am I naming days?)
10/11/15, Day 14,403 (Mercena Day 423): Builder of Towers

This day is so named for Mercena’s skill in stacking and balancing towers of blocks, one of her new favorite activities. This video really says it all:

Mercena and the Blocks from August Schulenburg on Vimeo.

Coupled with the picture above, it’s hard to shake the feeling that she’s becoming more of a kid than a baby. Of course, she can be both, in the way we each hold all of our past selves within us like nesting dolls, but it’s still quite a shock of mixed emotions to witness.

I was away for part of the day hosting Flux Sunday, which had been causing me a solid dose of worry because of a time shift and a jigsaw puzzle of participation. Though not perfect, it ended up being one of our better Sundays, in part because so many Creative Partner participated, and in part because my contribution, For Her–a radio play for an upcoming podcast event–played better than I expected. I’m still feeling disconnected from my playwriting life, but yesterday gave me some hope I’ll find my way back.

Three Steps

Heathers Baby Shirt

(Photos of Mercena have become trickier now that my iPhone is her favorite toy. Grace note: the shirt she’s wearing was once worn by her mother.)

(Why am I naming days?)
10/10/15, Day 14,402 (Mercena Day 422): Three Steps

While my plate is somehow busier than ever with all sorts of exciting projects, making it feel like difficult to keep up here, I have to make time to acknowledge that yesterday Mercena took three steps on her own!

The day before was actually her first two solo steps, but I wasn’t there (I did get a thrilled text from Heather). But then yesterday, as she was digging things out from her toy chest, she turned and after a moment of thought, took three confident solo steps toward Heather. We both cheered exuberantly, and she grinned, knowing she’d just done something pretty amazing.

It’s hard to express just how amazing; that this creature that once could barely open her eyes is now confidently toddling forward. She’s a physically-daring 13 month old kid, and after her feet of toddling earlier in the day, she spent our afternoon trip to the playground race-crawling up jungle gyms and careening down slides.

She’s also begun adventuring in the deep waters of meta-cognition. Yup, she’s thinking about her own thinking, which (according to our research) is typical for this age but just as thrilling as her physical steps to observe. She’s also increasingly interested in simple puzzles and in building things, though her love of destruction has not fully abated. She’ll still tiger through a pop-up book until there’s nothing left to pop.

There’s so much more to share, but like I said, too many projects, not enough hours, blah de blah, the old song. But I hope to catch back up with posting here, so as not to miss recording another step.

Belle On The Scene

Belle re-enters the scene. Don’t let that sweet bow fool you.

(Why am I naming days?)
09/21/15, Day 14,383 (Mercena Day 402): Radio Flyers and Trumbull Victorious

This day is named for two reasons, and the first is entirely celebratory. My dear friend Matthew Trumbull took home a New York Innovative Theatre Award for his role in The Temple. I could not celebrate with him, because I was home with Mercena so that Heather could present the Caffe Cino Fellowship Award, but I rejoiced at seeing my Facebook and Twitter feeds light up with Trumbull-ocity. He is deservedly beloved, not only because of his talent, but because of his kindness, thoughtfulness, and mid-westerly comic brilliance. I think of so many Flux Sunday readings where he’s brought a sudden depth to a barely-rehearsed scene and suddenly we are there, at the heart of the raw mystery; the rest of us stand there, scripts in hand, wondering how he did it. My betters will find funnier ways to honor his victory, but mostly, I’m just grateful to see a truly gifted and good human being deservedly celebrated.

Of course, the day would’ve been even better if Becky Byers had won for Once Upon a Bride There Was a Forest, but since fate is fickle, let me use this little space to honor her work. Becky played Belle Wright like a pink and sparkly lit fuse, creeping  down a frilly wick toward a fierce boom. She caught Belle’s humor and charm while keeping the unstable motor of her anxiety always thrumming. I had the good fortune of seeing her performance evolve over the course of the run, and each show she discovered more nuance and drive. If you’re one of the rare people reading this who haven’t seen her work, get thee to The Honeycomb Trilogyand get on board with the Byersmania.

The other half of today’s name acknowledges Mercena’s obsession with her Radio Flyer toddler bike. Last night, as I was putting her to bed, she noticed the bike in the corner of our room and went from peaceful-sleepy to I-shall-toddle-that-bike-sleep-be-dammed in seconds. Luckily, her outrage over being denied a bedtime biking reprieve disappeared once I started singing her lullaby.

The day also included beginning Chapter Six of After Earth; working late on TCG stuff (and an exciting meeting about publishing some of our EDI work); hunting for a space for some upcoming Flux events, and prepping for NET’s NYC Listening Tour this Saturday. Busy goes the bee; but here’s four days on the blog in a row! Look out.


Playground Climbing

(Why am I naming days?)
09/20/15, Day 14,382 (Mercena Day 401): Reasons

Yesterday is so named because I completed a new short play called Reasons, which is my contribution to the Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) launched by NoPassport, The Arctic Cycle, and Theatre Without Borders. Led by Elaine Avila, Chantal Bilodeau, and one of my favorite collaborators, Caridad Svich, CCTA is a series of worldwide readings and performances intended to bring awareness to, and foster discussion around, climate change during the months of November and December 2015. This action is in support of the United Nations 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) taking place November 30-December 11, 2015.  Learn more here, and learn how your theatre can participate here.

It was fun to be writing a play (albeit a very short play) again. This kind of prompt is exciting because the context of the event is so specific. How to create a theatrical moment within that context that is both aesthetically and ethically transformative? This intersection of ethics, aesthetics, and a live communal event is what’s most interesting to me about theatre at the moment. In the case of Reasons, the play is designed to adapt to the particular of the actors and audience and the emergent moment between them. There’s a hint of ritual, but it’s a light touch. I tried to hold myself accountable—to summon my own best hopes and worst hypocrisies—while also creating space for perspectives different than my own. I look forward to seeing how it plays.

Mercena, Heather, and I journeyed to yet another playground in the afternoon before heading out for Thai food for dinner. Mercena loves eating out, and she made fast friends with your waiter, who gave her a generous helping of hi-fives. She added a new trick to her adorable repertoire, leaning her head down on her high-chair tray in a fake nap, a move that she knows delights us. For better and worse, she is constantly testing out how her behavior impacts us; she likes to drop things and say, “uh oh,” to get our attention. Luckily, whenever she’s pushing our buttons, we can just say the word dance, and that’s just what she’ll do. Dance breaks are the best kind of healing.

One last Mercena moment: when I grind beans for coffee in the morning, I pretend that the whirr of grinder is electrocuting me, which always gets a smile. Comedy is one of the most fascinating things to watch them learn.

I’ve made it three updates days in a row here on the blog. One (named) day at a time…

Mercena's Workbench

(Why am I naming days?)
09/19/15, Day 14,381 (Mercena Day 400): Mercena’s Workbench

Yesterday Mercena turned 400 days old! We celebrated her quadriqoudtenial (yes, spellcheck, I know that’s not real) with a classic double-playground day. We’re fortunate to have several great playgrounds nearby, including Russell Sage, which is basically our backyard (and was a big reason why we wound up where we did).

When we were home, however, Mercena was either focused on crawling at alarmingly fast speeds, or getting things done at her workbench, aka, our former coffee table. She’s reached the age where she’s as interested in putting things together as knocking them apart, and so the cups and stacking pyramids you see in the picture above can easily entertain her standing self for extended periods of serious focus.

She’s also increasingly interested in mirrors, with several mirror books her new favorites to page through. I’m hoping this in no way presages any meddling from the Mirror Man.

Her talking has reached such a blue streak that I almost called yesterday Mercena-logues to honor the length of her wind. While Heather was away at a Flux meeting, I took Mercena to the Austin Street playground (my personal favorite), and we decided to take the long way past the tennis courts, only to find everything blocked off for a concert at Forest Hills Stadium. As we navigated our way through a maze of bored cops and crowd control fences, she monologued without much pause for breath. Although I didn’t catch much of it, I have a hunch that 400 days from now, I’ll be catching more of it than I can handle.

Two People I Love

Well, here are two people I love very much.

(Why am I naming days?)
09/18/15, Day 14,380 (Mercena Day 399): Our Fourth Anniversary

I’ve had a hard time keeping up with naming days here, and that’s too bad, because the days have been interesting. It’s been a sometimes satisfying but mostly frantic month, and I’ve been feeling always at least one step behind, which makes reflection here seem like a luxury.

But I do need to stop and acknowledge our fourth anniversary. Our wedding day exceeded all my expectations (which were anxiously high) and really was the best day of my life until Mercena was born (those days are now locked in an amicable tie). Looking back at that day now, it gives me solace and strength, and the reaffirms the deepening love I feel for Heather. It centers our love and my life in the way I think weddings are supposed to do.

Our plan last night was simple. We walked to our favorite Forest Hills restaurant, Jack & Nellie’s, with our wedding officiant Kelly staying at home to watch the sleeping (and still teething) Mercena. We had drinks, appetizers, and dinners like normal people. We remembered favorite moments from the wedding (like when I dropped our vow scripts on my long roundabout walk to my processional entrance, and spotted them in the grass at the last possible second), talked about our daughter, and then, miracle of miracles, made it a good twenty minutes not talking about our daughter. We drank rioja and riesling, appetized on olives (freakishly good) and artichoke dip, and dined on salmon (Heather, not veggie-me) and vegetable risotto (can a risotto be refreshing? Cuz this risotto was like creamy spring (weird)).

Then we took the long walk home through the fancy part of Forest Hills. It was a perfect fourth anniversary, and after a difficult week at work, a night of renewal (hence getting back in the blog saddle).

Two other things to share before I start working on all my overdue projects. Mercena has been a marvel this past month, and a few of her quirky new behaviors must be recorded in the book of life (or at least this blog):

  • Google Search pointing: She now wants to know what everything is, and will point and go “ehh” to be told what different things are. It’s the old school Google Search.
  • Nosies offstage: When she hears a nice for which she can’t trace the source, she points in the general direction and goes, “ooh,” to alert us to the mystery.
  • Shirt stuffing: Her favorite game for about a week was to drop toys down our shirts and then have us shake them out. Why? Who can say? But it really was fun, minus the chest hairs of mine which she inevitably ripped out in the process.
  • Zerbert-ing: I’m not sure anyone else in the world calls body raspberries “zerberts,” but I for some reason do, and Mercena has long delighted in me giving her stomach zerberts. Then, one night while she was breastfeeding during bedtime, she got this mischievous look in her eyes and gave Heather an enormous zerbert on her stomach and then looked up expectantly. Of course, we both burst out laughing and then so did she, and we played that game until we were all laughed out.

Lat thing to share: I’ve completed Chapter Five of After Earth, one morning subway ride at a time. It looks like it takes me around a month to finish a chapter with those half hour  subway bursts on the weekdays, around a half page a day. I wish I had so much more time to give this book but even that little touch makes a difference. It feels like a prayer to me; a little candle of creativity in a sea of obligation. I haven’t worked seriously on a new full-length play in almost a year, and beyond writing short plays in support of various projects, I don’t see myself starting a new full-length play anytime soon. I don’t expect that break from writing plays will be forever, but at the moment, I can’t really see where there is to get to.

Thanks to this book, however, I feel renewed as a writer. There’s an odd voice that’s telling me, “this is what you should’ve been doing all along.” I don’t trust that voice yet, as I’m suspicious of simplicities that makes things the wrong kind of easy. But let me not hold on too tightly to the thing I was and miss the thing I could be.

It looks like I might need to spend more time reflecting here, deadlines and obligations be (momentarily) dammed. But for the moment, I’m just grateful for my amazing wife, and the strength and joy of our marriage. Here’s to four more years, and the forty-four more after that.


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