Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eye of the Beholder

Last week, Ross and I spent a day in Washington, D.C. I had been there four times previously, but never as a sightseer.  Once, I went for a debate tournament and ended up in the hospital with a severe allergic reaction (thanks, dude at Ben & Jerry's who didn't clean the scoop between uses).  Another time, I went as the wardrobe mistress for Songs for a New World, which Clarion University had the honor of performing at the Kennedy Center.  Another time, my sister and I joined the March for Life, held in a particuarly bitter January (we did end up with our pictures in a news article).  And once, I was just passing through, catchinhg a connecting flight back to Pittsburgh.  I got to fly over the Potomac at sunset.  It was beautiful.

But this time, Ross and I were the touristy sort.  I shamelessly flashed my camera everywhere, including places it was prohibited (I got three clean shots before being shut down but the polite but stern security guard).  I was surprised, though, at how many of the Smithsonian Institute Museums actually DO allow photography.  It was a sightseer's dream come true.

There was a particularly cool exhibit about the government's influence on America's eating habits, including rationing and government-sponsored food campaigns.  One was about eating more carp.  It was awesome.  I also noticed no apologies issued for America's over-consumption of simple carbohydrates, but then, you can't have it all.  To my delight, there was a small patch, much like a Boy or Girl Scout badge, that advertized "Heinz's Ketchup".  How charming!  Representin' the Steel City, baby!

In addition, Ross and I meandered over to the public archives to do a little digging about our respective family histories.  I've always been  fascinated about my unusual maiden name, and why it was so hard to trace my lineage back to my family's native Belgium.  Well, I found out why when I saw a copy of my great-grand-uncle's marriage certificate.  Louise Paulette married a Geroges Henri TILLIETTE on June 8, 1890.  The spelling of my family's name had, in fact, been changed when they came to America!  I was enraptured!  Finally, I might be able to trace my history further back than Ellis Island records indicate!  Still, there are some "holes" in my history that are proving more difficult than delightful.  For example, there's no record of Georges Henri actually coming to America, nor his brother Joseph, who was my great-grandfather.  In addition, there were three seperate women named Pauline in the family tree, making things even more twisted.  I learned more about both my grandfathers' service records, and that there is no birth record of my mother, my aunt, or myself.  Still, those records are being updated all the time, and since there aren't a lot of people searching for Thielets and Kuskils, I don't imagine they're being worked on too hastily.

We ate a quick but delicious lunch at Taqeria Nacional, a tiny Mexican joint wedged behind and incredibly classy seafood house.  We joyfully clutched our greasy bag of delicious tacos and our bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola and squeezed past the huge sea of "regulars" - almost all middle-class power-suited whites - and sat down against the building across the street.  With Ross's huge backpack and our scrubby jeans, people must have thought we were homeless.  I didn't care.  My fish taco was awesome. 

As fun as everything was, the best part, for me, came when we stopped at a Sheetz in Maryland.  There was a trio of noisy pre-teen girls jabbering about a boy or something, in front of us as we waited for my sandwich (turkey on wheat with veggies, no dressing) and Ross's smoothie (epic strawberry banana masterpiece).  The employee called out Ross's drink, and the littlest girl looked towards us, saying, "Is this yours?" Immediately, we had all their attention.  "Are you really in the army?" one girl asked, indicating Ross's shirt.  "No," I apologized, feeling his muscles. "But he looks like he could be, doesn't he?" "Are you boyfriend-girlfriend?" the other girl asked.  "We're married," Ross replied, showing them his wedding ring.  "We're from Pittsburgh," I offered.  "Oooh, I bet you're Steelers fans!  I'm sorry about that last game, but you guys have the whole season to make it up!"  I laughed.  Were these the girls who had irritated me only minutes before because they were being too noisy?  How unfair of me.  The ringleader of the group turned to me. "You're really pretty!" she said.  I melted.  Me?  Pretty?  A few moments before, in the car, I had been mercilessly picking at a pimple on my chin, complaining to Ross that I still had to lose the few pounds I had put on during my pregnancy.  I was in a shapeless black dress and dumpy sweater.  But this little girl thought I was pretty?

"Thank you, sweetie," I said humbly.  Ross came back from paying for our food, and the girls beamed.  "I wish you a happy marriage!" one said.

"God bless you girls," I said, silently thanking the Lord that he had arranged for that chance meeting.

"God bless you, too!" they replied proudly.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Almost Famous

Like nearly everyone in my current circle of aquaintances, I am, alas, coming down with what appears to be a cold.  My first of the year.  Right before I start a new job.  Now, I ask you - is that fair?

No, it is not.  But there's little I can do these days, I feel, but brace myself for the storms of life.  So I will slurp my chicken soup and slather on the Vapo-Rub and get on with my writing.

And my contemplating.

Things haven't stopped rapidly changing for Ross and me since I last updated you all, gentle readers.  I was hoping that September was going to be a calmer month, with less drama.  Not so!  The month started out with good news: the doctor gave me the thumbs-up that my  surgery went well and I should be "ready to go" when Ross and I decide to try to start a family again.  Of course, we're not planning that anytime soon.  We're still dealing with our loss and a number of other changes in our lives, making this a particularly bad time to think about babies.  More good news followed, however; we learned that, despite a doctor's fears, my father did not, in fact, have skin cancer!  Hallelujah!

Then, we had to cancel our vacation (the first since our honeymoon almost two years ago) because Ross's truck needed repairs.

Look.  I try to be optimistic.  I have tried, with every job I've had, to be the friendly one.  The cheerful one.  The one who tries to see the good in people.  I wasn't always successful, but I tried.  I am still trying.  But I genuinely don't know how much more I can take!  Lord, help me bear this burden, because I feel like it's crushing my spirit!

Amid all this, two more huge changes occurred in my life.  The first was my accepting a new job.  Now, I hope I made it clear to everyone involved, and everyone who has asked, that I had no problems with Dollar Bank.  I enjoyed my job; I feel like I had good relationships with my co-workers, and I believed in the company.  I am just entering a time in my life where my personal responsibilities are becoming increasingly important to me, and I needed a work schedule that made those other responsibilities possible.  Although the manager who created the weekly schedules was more than fair in granting my schedule requests, I knew they would soon be too many to be fair to the rest of the team.  With rehearsal times, I would need every Thursday night off.  Tuesday nights would be nice, too.  And I really couldn't work Saturdays anymore.  I had to be available for church events.  For me, that was more important than a career I already understood, a swanky title, and job security.

Plus, I was tired of the pantyhose.

But that's neither here nor there.

The second big change actually occurred only a few days ago.  At Ross's urging, I auditioned for a company called AMTC (Actors, Models, and Talent for Christ).   The process is fairly simple: you audition.  If you get a callback, you take some online courses, meet with coaches, and prepare for a weeklong series of workshops and classes, culminating in auditions before some of the best in the industry - representatives from VH1, MGM, and plenty of other well-known companies.  It like finishing school for performers.  The difference is, the focus is on how not to compromise what you believe in an industry that is well-known for its questionable - or at least unpredictable - morals.

At any rate, I auditioned.  I spent little time preparing.  I had a lot of other things on my plate.  When I was 13, I had stored in a little but very cultured corner of my brain Margaret's monologue from Richard III.  It has served me well these past 17 years, rising up whenever an audition piece is needed.  I chose "God Bless the Child", a blues piece I had sung for a concert in college.  Neither piece was anything exemplary, but I owned them entirely.  They had become signature pieces.  So, armed with little more than my husband's encouragement, I auditioned.

On my audition form, I had been entirely honest.  I stated that I had performed in some shows in college that no longer reflect my values and beliefs.  I didn't want to return to the stage unless it was in a way that would glorify God.  Seems narrow-minded, maybe, yes, but it is what I want.  I listed my previous experience, including lead roles in college and the fact that I had continued writing and directing after college.

"Ah," said the elegant-looking German lady for whom I was auditioning.  "Ah, I see you played Fraulein Schneider!"

"Yes, I did," I said proudly.  It had been one of my favorite roles.

"I did, too!"

Her accent was better, of course,  but I gave it a go anyway.  I chatted briefly with her, in my best German accent, about the particulars of learning dialects.  She seemed charmed - I couldn't quite tell.

Then I performed my monologue and my song.  She asked me to perform a few more pieces, read a few lines, then thanked me.  She kindly asked what I would do if I were to get a callback.  I looked back at Ross and assured her that we would strongly consider moving forward.

I got a phone call the next day.  I had been prepared.  My answer was "no thank you."
Well...to be honest, it really wasn't a "no".  It was more of a "not right now."  I had prayed long and hard about my acting career the night before, and I had been in conflict all day about it.  It would involve a lot of hard work, time and money...not all of which I have in abundance right now.  I still believe completely that God has called me to use my talents on a larger scale...but I also believe that this isn't yet the time for me to move into that arena.

I sincerely thanked her, and let her know that my experience had been wonderful.  I told her that it meant the world to me for a total stranger to believe that I had potential.  Of course your parents think you're great, and teachers are supposed to build you up and encourage you...but for someone who doesn't know you from Adam (or, in my case, Eve), to say, "Yes, there is something here we can work with"...man, that means a lot.  She encouraged me to audition again when they were in town.  I believe that I will.

For now, I have a youth group to support, a theatrical group to co-lead, skits to write, a new job to learn, a husband to encourage, a family to love, a kitten to photograph, and disasters to avert.  My life is pretty full right now.

The stage can wait.  Maybe I'll be a star in my golden years...who's to say?  Only God knows. And I'm trusting that his timing is perfect.