Episode 258: Welcome to the Monkey House


My mom’s house is very chaotic! It is making it very difficult to concentrate on my own work. Not ideal. But I did get back to my story of the past, so get ready because there are some juicy tales ahead.

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Hello, good morning. I am relearning a lesson that I seem to get so many times, and I don’t know why I don’t listen, which is to record much earlier in the day, because there’s a lot of noise now. My mom’s cleaning lady is here. Somebody’s mowing their lawn. Oy. So I apologize in advance for all of the things that might intrude upon our time together this morning. 

But I’m happy to say that I’m feeling better and so I won’t cough through this episode, I hope. And, yeah, it’s a beautiful day. It’s a gorgeous fall day. And I’m so grateful to see the leaves and the birds and all outside my window. But mom’s house is, you know, it’s an unbelievable pit of chaos. Everywhere I turn, there’s something to fix or to clean or to organize for greater efficiency. And it always takes longer than whoever is asking me for help claims it’s going to take. Then there are events that somehow require the attention of every single human body in the house. Like when the guy was coming to deliver the firewood yesterday, there was a general alarm sounded so that we would all mobilize to make sure that the various animals didn’t escape via one door or another. And then to more devastating freedom by dashing through the open fence that was open to the back yard. 

My mother had a very unfortunate incident that happened one time, where a guy who was coming to cut the lawn, left the fence untethered, and two dachshunds got out and ran away and in their happy frolic had no idea how to find their way home. So they never did. And it became this terrible, tragic event that she was devastated by. She put up posters, she offered gigantic, exorbitant rewards for the return of these dogs, but they never found them. And she got all kinds of disgusting messages from people that were really horrible and mean. So I understand the trauma, but boy, it becomes really so dramatic. And then the dogs pick up on this anxiety. So we had one dog who was just screeching and howling and barking through the entire time that the guys were stacking wood up outside, and I was like, Oh my God! There’s so much stuff happening every minute here. 

And then there’s so much waste happening every day in every way. We somehow make four or five bags of trash per pickup day, whereas when I lived with Dakota, we barely made one. I don’t know if that’s normal for them here, or if it’s just that I’ve been throwing out so many broken things and rotten food and moldy towels. I don’t know. It’s probably me. Yeah. But even when I woke up yesterday saying to myself, “Okay, no housework today,” random things just fall in my path as if they’re trying to trip me up, like the trees in Snow White’s forest, you know, you will not pass here without paying attention!” Like trying to write at the kitchen table and lamp starts flickering, so I have to replace the bulb. And then a screw falls out of the lamp out of nowhere. Why? And so I compromise on my resolve, I attend to something other than my objective. I say to myself, “It’s okay. It’s just for now,” everything being temporary. I’ll compromise my own wishes and desires, because it’s just for a little while. 

But what if time runs out? I know that’s bleak. But really, the world at large is so chaotic. And my own small world here is so chaotic. What if I spend my last days in half measures, and never really get the things done that I want to get done, that give me joy, that excite me, that feel creative and wonderful? What will I regret in those final moments? This is not nihilism. This is just being practical. This is the impulse that led to my travel adventures and will again. My friend Joe, who runs the Farmers Market nearby, sold his house and moved into an Airstream with his partner on much the same impulse that I had. Seize the day! And now he wants to take that Airstream out into the country see the southwest. He said that I inspired him. That makes me happy. One bold step can lead to another. We do not have to be ruled by the prescriptions of capitalism. What if this is our one and only trip to this planet and we let guys in suits tell us how to spend this precious time? EFF that. 

Okay, wow, I climbed up on that soapbox pretty quickly. Okay, I’ll get down now. But… But… can I say one more thing about the weird environment in which I find myself? And then I’ll go back to my story because that will keep me sane. My mom has a cuckoo clock – the real deal with the bird that pops out to tell you the hour, followed by a little song with dancing country people for every hour. Sometimes you’ll get something classical like a snippet of Beethoven’s Fur Elise. But sometimes it might be a tune that’s more insidious, like [sings] “Be it ever so humble. There’s no place like home….” 

Oh my god! I mean I like the idea of that – there’s no place like home – but the pictures that it brings to my mind are of the last scene of Act One of Cabaret with all the Nazis singing [sings] “Tomorrow belongs to me…” I know that was a dark too, but it feels like this forced image of the ideal that, on a larger scale, translates into uber-patriotism that gets a little dangerous. Okay. And these little songs go round and round in my head, and my brain keeps trying to form a reasonable thought like, “hey, wouldn’t it be cool to–” [sing tune of Fur Elise] “do a little doodle doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo…” Or, “Oh, wow, I just had a great idea–” [sings Clementine] “On my darlin’, oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’ Clementine…” It’s like being in Harrison Bergeron! Do you remember that story from Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House? That’s it! This is the monkey house!

That story made a deep impression on me when I was a teenager. Perhaps my house was similar while I was growing up, but I don’t remember. Teenagers are chaos incarnate after all. But, just quickly, if you don’t know the story, it is a dystopia about the equalizing of human beings so that no one can be better than others. Beautiful people are forced to wear grotesque masks. Strong and athletic people are encumbered by weights so they won’t be graceful. And intelligent people have hindering devices planted in their brains that interrupt their thoughts with snippets of songs, so they won’t be smarter than anyone else. There’s an overseer for all of this torture, who’s called the Handicapper General, who is named Diana Moon Glampers. So there was also that name to tie me to the story. Anyway, read it. It’s an amazing and very disturbing story, but also humorous and fun, in some dark way. I kind of liked the dark humor. I guess that’s where I’m going with this. Okay, enough of this diversion. The one spot of calm to be had is a precious grey cat called Aphrodite, Didy for short. She comes to find me with a cute, tiny question. [cat noice] Like that. She’s sitting on my lap now, and petting her quiets my nerves for a few vital moments. But she has also learned to be on alert. And she jumps down at any strange sound. So she’s gone again. Oh, well. 

I’ll jump too, but back to the past. I started to tell you about my costume making process. And I know I’ve mentioned the sweatshop where a group of women got together to sew the costumes for the shows. This group had a core of three consistent seamstresses, and then others who floated in and out when they were available. This gathering came to serve equally as group therapy. I have often found that when people congregate to work with their hands on some project, be it costumes or construction or painting of backdrops and scenery, their minds open up to explore the issues they’ve been grappling with and sometimes they pour their questions and deliberations out to the group. Other perspectives can get us to view a problem in a new way that might lend to a solution where we were arriving at dead ends alone. 

When I was painting backdrops with the kids, I welcomed this opportunity to let them talk about other things that interested them besides Shakespeare. It gave me a fuller picture of them, and this information was very helpful to put them in touch with Shakespeare’s characters by tying some piece of text back to a personal experience. I’ll never forget one of the most startling conversations that happened between two teenagers I was working with. One was laying out her plans for her next decade, saying how she was bound for Harvard or Yale and then on to law school so as to be making her first million dollars by age 30. I smiled and wished her Godspeed. But then her fellow painter and friend said, “Well, I plan to spend a good deal of my time homeless.” The contrast was fantastic, and eye opening for both of them I think. 

The topic uppermost in the discussions among the adult women was husbands and divorce, of course. Of the core three who joined me regularly, one was divorced like me, although her husband had been having an affair for years and had caused her terrible pain and shame as a result. Another was in the midst of separating from her husband and we had helped her reason out the steps which she was taking to extricate herself from that relationship. Her husband had been emotionally abusive for too many years, and she was ready to call an end to that. She had two young teenagers, one of them who was in Children’s Shakespeare Theatre, and when she finally told her husband she wanted a divorce I was privy to that timing, and I was prepared to support her child as best I could within the warm embrace of our little theatre company. I remember the day when the girl came to rehearsal with that great sadness of knowing that her family would be breaking up. The kids rallied around her with infinite kindness, compassion and love, especially Savannah, who had so recently come through that same tunnel of darkness. I was very moved by the depths to which these kids cared about each other, and had the courage to show it. 

In the sweatshop we also bolstered our friend and her resolve and just tried to be good listeners. The fourth woman in our core group was married at the time, unaware as yet of the bitter and angry divorce that was coming her way another five years down the road. Perhaps some of the council we gave in that sacred space came back to her then when she needed it. Who’s to know? I remember that Bonnie Raitt had just come out with her album Nick of Time. I remember because as the newly separated friend processed her feelings about her daily struggles, she often asked for that album to be put into the CD player, and she danced through the space singing while the rest of us sewed and cut fabric. [sings] “I can’t help you now. Maybe there was a time, but sometimes time runs out… You know, that was a lovely song. Some days it was not about getting a costume done, but just about seeking solace. 

For my part, I was finding much joy in creating theater with my growing community of kids and adults, but I was still lacking a new love interest. I was still surrounded by dads, and none of them single. And I definitely didn’t want the cast off husbands from my sweatshop group. I had heard too much about their foibles. I was fine not being in a couple because I couldn’t conceive of bringing some unknown man into my kids’ lives. Dave had chosen someone they knew well, so he was finding it easy and natural to incorporate his new partner into the routines of their life. But I couldn’t envision how that would happen with a stranger. So I was still only interested in short term solutions. I wrote in my journal, “what I am lacking is a fuck buddy. A bit of tension release when needed so that I would not harbor desirous thoughts about married men.” I was very attracted to one in particular, who was my scene partner. Yes, I was falling into that same trap as I was watching happen all around me. I remember saying aloud in the sweatshop, “Yeah, where do I find the tree where that guy grew on?” But I resisted. I only had rehearsals with him in group settings. One day he told me I looked beautiful, right there in the middle of a party of people. I blushed and I thanked him. He took my hand. There were people all around. I panicked. I resisted. I went to talk to someone else. Before he left, he said he wanted to come and talk to me about our scene one day. Geez, he was making resistance very hard. And I’ll tell you more about that oh, next time. I’ll see you then. Bye.

Published by dianathebard

Podcasting about growing up in the Hudson Valley in the 60s and 70s, falling in love, raising kids, getting divorced and being a free and creative world traveler!

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