Tag Archives: Children

Toast! to the Characters Who Never Leave- “Rootbeer Barrels”

Screenshot 2015-02-02 09.11.43

When you’re a storyteller, your head, soul and heart can fill with the songs, mumblings, cries and laughter of your characters. Some are faint, hanging out in corners, or moving in a slow dance towards the light when they will reveal themselves. Others come charging at you, demanding to be heard. Now, Damnit!

And some…they come on in and pull a chair and keep spinning yarns so you tell bits and pieces of them in different clothing, in different towns, at different eras.

On such character is Stella.   I discovered her years ago when I wrote a play called Shipside. She would be that older, (age-not-determined due to that “Black don’t crack” thing), wise, sassy yet have more heart than she can handle, more heart to give away and get stomped, but feeling her survival was for a reason, she’s a mainstay in the world. She certainly became one in my life.

At one point I gave her space to tell a story about herself. About her childhood and this is what she told me. About Rootbeer Barrels.

I knew this man. Well, hell, I knew a lot of men.

This one.I met when I was nearly seven.

Seven just like heaven, he’d say.

He lived up the street from us. You know the house. Peeling white paint. Like picked at scabs. Fitting. Except I didn’t know that then.

We thought it was kinda cool how he didn’t mind that us kids would scratch off, peel off big ole chunks of paint. We’d take chipped cups from our own kitchens and put those flecks in them, mix them with water from his hose and call it tea. We’d have parties on his porch.

This ole man was thick sweaters in July Straight press pleats down the front of his pants. And Pockets filled with candy.

Now, not just any candy. But root beer barrels. Each in its own crinkling plastic,A little hard nub of sweetness.That’s what he’d call them.

We’d play in his yard and eventually he’d come out on his porch and give us that. Little pieces of candy. Nubs of sweetness

One afternoon, I was playing around back near his garage. I was checking on the rhubarb. Seeing if stocks were ripe for picking. And he came out. Pleated pants. Long sleeve sweater.

Bulging pockets.

He took a piece of candy, had it in his palm and he told me,

Standing this close,

“do you know that one day when you’re all grown up and you become a woman, your nipples could look like this?”

I think I nodded no. Or maybe I said I knew that.

See. Sweat ran up my spine. My stomach squeezed and turned itself around inside of me. My bladder, I didn’t know that was what it was called then, I always pictured a baggie filled with pee. It swelled, and then squeezed itself, too. It hurt so much, hurt my legs and my thighs…

They got…hot

I tightened my muscles and watched the sun beat down on his nearly bald head. The beads of sweat. Were big like mulberries, fat and wet.

He unwrapped the root beer barrel while I watched his hands.

They were large and worn with cracks like old gnarly leather.

He took that piece of candy and handed it to me. I reached for it and he said

“uh uh. Open your mouth, Stella.”

He had never called me by my name. I didn’t know he knew it. So I did what he said.

“Wider, child”

So I did.

He stuck that candy in, pushing it with his thumb.

I saw myself biting down. Cleanly. Smoothly. Biting through that bone. At the edge of his finger nail. His skin tasted salty, even though, it was slick with sweet sweat

He said, “Don’t do it. Stella.”

I froze, feeling that barrel up against my teeth. In the back of my mouth.

He said “You bite me, girl, I’m gonna take all your front teeth out when I pull my hand out. And then in that hole, I’m gonna stick my dick in.”

That’s when I noticed his other hand was down his pants.

I released. He backed up.Stuck his thumb in his own mouth.

I turned and walked away, Sucking so hard on that piece of candy, I tore a hole in it

Then cut my tongue but I didn’t spit.

I let it bleed.

– Stella, over a bourbon, fanning her face

Stella is hanging out more those days because she’s Sweets in Shipside, she’s the many great grand daughter of a beautiful Nigerian Queen who has never lost her royal blood. She just needs writers like me to stop crying for her and tell the story.


Toast! to 10 Things Art Does For My Soul


I’ve been stating to people lately “I”m so grateful I’m an artist.” Which is comes much later than that first statement, “I am an artist.” – which I had to give a lot of thought and contemplation years ago when I did that mid-30’s change of life thing and started writing. But once I embraced that and began to build a life around honoring my writing, I still didn’t feel the gratitude of having this calling. Even when I attended school, working towards my MFA’s, which I know statistically for a COC of a certain age (Chick of Color at 40-something…hee hee) puts me a  small percentage of all people in this country earning degrees at that level, I still didn’t really fully feel the gratitude.

It’s now been 14 years since I started writing. Playwriting, prose, and now screenplays, I’m a storyteller and this is just a short list of what Art Does For My Soul:

1. Art feeds my imagination. Like a child playing make-believe, I get to imagine worlds, people, scenarios, winning wars and creating joy.
2. Art helps me figure shit out. I can give my characters my flaws, my insecurities, my anger, my hurt and let them figure it out on their journey so I can live a life in reality in peace.
3. Art gives me a vital purpose. This is a calling. It is. Just as we all need doctors who love to heal, lawyers who believe justly in the law, teachers who love a student’s mind, I’ve been really blessed to hear this calling, I love writing and knowing what I”m suppose to contribute to this world.
4. Art teaches me about who I want to be. The layers of my complex characters show me what I want to change in myself and what needs nurturing.
5. Art has created a community. For as much as writing is an individual act, in my head, at the page, for the amount of time I spend in my robe with tea by my window in the mornings, I also have an incredible community of writers, filmmakers, poets, novelists, journalists, painters, designers, musicians…the list is long of the creative minds in my life.
6. Art simmers down the prickly past. When old wounds burst open, or an old fear grips onto my heart, hijacking my day, art gives me a way to work it out. I write letters, draw, paint, fill journal pages with stickers and swirls of crayon marks. I write stories of badass women who kick the shit out of the bad guys while they heal their own pains.
7. Art lets me be selfish, in a healthy way. I’m a caregiver. Loyal to a fault and that hasn’t been a healthy trait. Extreme caregiving was about seeking approval and intense need. My art makes me explore what’s happening in my head, what’s making my heart ache, what’s bringing me joy. And helps me balance what’s self-care and what’s for everyone else.
8. Art means daydreaming’s cool! I never got in big trouble in school as a little girl for daydreaming in class. I was a pretty good student. But I do remember times being told to pay attention. I remember being asked where my head was and the shame of that. I never told anyone what I dream of- about my mom, about my family not being so damn poor, about being someone special and important. One of the hardest thing for me when I was a little girl was admitting I even had dreams. How dare I, right?
9. Art sustains my family. Art brought my husband into my life. We met as members of the same theatre company and our friendship grew out of working together with kids, telling stories over beer. And years later, when my daughter chose art school for her education and SFAI chose her, we couldn’t have been prouder. Art is woven into the foundation that holds my family together. And that same art has made us all better for our extended families. And now art, making films, has created Through the Wilderness, LLC, our film company.
10. ART IS PLAY! In this photo the lamp illuminates the little girl spirit who hangs out on my desk in the mornings, waiting for me to show up and play.

I am so grateful for being an artist. So today’s Toast! is to Art And What It Does To My Soul.

What does art do for yours?


Toast! to Art That Heals- Blessed the film

This is my desk on some mornings. Many mornings. Most mornings.

I discovered a long time ago that what I write is good for me, for my heart, for taking on the emotions that sometimes seep into the morning from the nightmare that wrecked havoc with my soul.

I appreciate that about writing. I am so grateful I discovered this for myself. I know that when I create a story about a woman who’s fighting for her family, I’m dealing with what it means to be a mom and what I’d fight for. How I’d fight. I also know that when I create a story about loss and grief, that I’m trying to heal my own wounds.

Right now, I’m in pre-production for a short film called Blessed. It’s a story about a cop who is trying to make herself believe she doesn’t want a baby and what happens when her wall she creates to hide behind comes tumbling down… in the most incredible way. She is forced to deal with her pain, her loss…her understanding of her faith and who she is.

It’s a tall order for a short film. It’s powerful and deeply connected to me.

See- my character, Kiona, has suffered her third miscarriage. She’s asking all those questions about why and what has she done to deserve this. Her mother, however, straight up believes that Kiona will be blessed when she’s ready.

Of the many beautiful characteristics of these women, the main one for me is that they’re Native American. So to have Mary Beth state so matter-of-factly that she believes the Great Spirit will bless Kiona when she deserves only deepens Kiona’s exasperation of dealing with her loss. Why doesn’t she deserve?

Grief is grief- that’s what my shrink said when I told her about making this film and how exposed I am. See- I suffer…struggle with secondary infertility. I just found that term and a bunch of amazing women, mothers, who suffer this, too. It may not be the same miscarriage as others but none of us are the same, except grieving the loss of a child who will never be.

I know the incredible joy of creating a child, and carrying her inside me only to give her life…I know how I felt when it dawned on me that God must see that I’m worthy of something grand in this world to give me a child.

Now- I truly believe that is true for any parent, no matter how that child comes into their life. When you are chosen to be a parent, through whatever means, that’s what God is doing. Blessing you. And I know Peter and I will blessed with more children.

For me, right now, though, the wound lies deep inside me. In that place of creation that is no longer capable of creating any life. I went through an early menopause at 43. And have never felt so alone. Because so many women my age are just cool with not having more children. Or at least that’s what they say. Their lives are filled with college-bound teenagers and elementary school-agers…and they don’t seem to ache as much I do.

I had my daughter, Bird, by myself. I was a single parent from pretty much minutes after conception. Seriously. And it was hard at times…and it was lovely. And warm. And I love her in ways I can’t even find the words for. I love her with all that I am, with all my essence. Becoming her mom gave me purpose. Gave me direction. Bird saved my life. She did. (that’s another film – to tell the story of the life I was living before her)

But now, I have a husband who is the most incredible dad. His love for Bird is unmeasurable and I wanted to create a baby with him. When we first met and became friends, he told me that what struck him the most was the kind of mom I am. On one of our first dates a couple years later, he told me this and that he wanted me to be the mother of his children. But I can’t have babies. His babies. I can’t.

The pain is so deep. I’ve lost friends who couldn’t stick around to help me. I’ve lost friends who weren’t capable of showing up. I’ve suffered through newborn happenings and baby showers and birth stories and struggled with balancing my pure love and joy for all these incredible mamas in my life while tending to my wounds. My grief. It was private and personal. Intimate aches.

So last year when I pushed to finish a draft of Blessed I didn’t recognize what I was doing, actually. I didn’t see the healing I was committing. I found a brilliant director who not only dug the story of Kiona, she also appreciates the beauty of Kiona being a cop who believes in laws, justice and strength. My director also is committed to the action and suspense in this story, which apparently doesn’t happen that often – female leads in action films about a more feminine theme. She’s bringing me extremely talented people who are joining us to make this film and they get it, too. And I’m so grateful.

I’m meeting actors who take my breath away. Fierce and strong, and yet so wounded, they are giving this story life so that I can heal. I get to keep healing.

Along with my therapy, my daily writings, my Brene Brown work, my watercolors, my collages, tea, toast and dark chocolate, Blessed, the film, is healing me.

So today’s Toast! is to Art That Heals.

And here’s wishing you all some healing love and magic today.


Toast! to Inspirational Creative Places- THE LIBRARY!

I love the library. Always have. As a kid I have the fondest memories of the tiny library in Worthington. And Mrs. Beck. I still remember her name. She turned me onto the Bobbsey Twins. She steered towards Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, and she told me “good job” when I added multiple circles to my summer reading caterpillar. She also kicked me and my siblings out when we danced too loudly to the records – “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies was a favorite of mine.

Oh…and downstairs there was a museum. Rooms like stage play sets were blocked off by rope, but if no was looking and you stretched your arm, you could touch some of the items. Again, reasons why we were kicked out. But I was fascinated and scared of the iron lung. And although the scenes of life on the prairie (did I mention Worthington is in rural Minnesota?) didn’t do much for me because there were no Indians, which was who my people were during prairie times, I found all the old iron kitchen tools and utensils very cool. The dolls though, they gave me the creeps.

But in the stacks, I could wander for hours. I remember finding solace in the library years later, when I was pregnant and back home. I remember carrying my sleeping newborn through the paperback room, looking for books.

And as Lanee Bird grew, the library became a joyous event in our lives. No matter where we lived, we always spent alot of time in libraries. Even moving here, when things were alittle difficult with my adolescent – try moving across the country at 14 to a city that you quickly discover you don’t like- we always the library. Sometimes she’d go her way, and I’d go mine and we’d meet up, arms full of books. On a few occasions I’d find her, sitting on the floor, books stacked around her and I’d be happy. I raised a daughter who loves the search for knowledge.

So, the picture is of the atrium of the Los Angeles library. You can find me there, two cloth bags filled with books, sitting on the floor in the stacks, searching and learning…and possibly tripping a bit down memory lane.

Today’s Toast! is to Inspirational Creative Places- THE LIBRARY!

What are yours?


Toast! to Teachers in Oklahoma

Short and simple.

I Toast! the teachers in Oklahoma who laid their bodies over their children in their watch. We’re reminded of the heroism of the teachers at Sandy Hook. We think of our own teachers in our lives, in our children’s lives…overworked and underpaid, given one of the most valuable jobs in the world…and to know that so many of them, without hesitation, lay down their lives for the little children.

Thank you.  We Toast! you for your commitment, your dedication, your life.

Peace and love.