How Do We Cope?

Act I The Skin of Our Teeth

“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman

“But during the war,–in the middle of all that blood and dirt and hot and cold–everyday and night, I’d have moments, Maggie, when I saw the things that we could do when it was over. When you’re at war you think about a better life; when you’re at peace you think about a more comfortable one.” George Antrobus from the play The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder.

Even before the pandemic was declared, I was thinking a great deal about how people cope when faced with life threatening situations, like war, suffering from a deadly disease, personal or communal economic crashes, incarceration, or slavery? What is it that drives us to fight to make life better, to survive horrific situations?

In my second book Time’s Echo, Morgan and Jenna are fighting for women’s rights. They are exposed to women who have lived through horrendous situations. Those women inspire them because they do their best to carry on even as they are devalued by the men in their lives. I’m at the stage of writing now when I’m trying to flesh out the bare bones of the story and I’m always rummaging for connections that give me new inspiration for my story.

A day or two ago, in that netherworld between sleep and waking, I remembered a play I directed some years ago with similar themes to what I’ve been thinking about for my book. The play is The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder. It was first performed in 1942 and later won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The United States had recently entered WW II. The world was in chaos; just another disaster that mankind has had to try to survive. And that’s the theme of the play. Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus are the head of an “every family”, who, with their maid and children have survived the Ice Age, the great flood, plagues, and war after war. Mr. Antorbus is the inventor of the wheel, the alphabet, and all kinds of other things we take for granted. But like any family, they have their dysfunctions which they must work through as the world falls apart around them. In fact, it might be because the world is falling apart around them that they must confront their misconceptions about each other and their assumptions of how the world works.

Maybe this current crisis is making us do the same thing. Many of us have lots of time on our hands and in a way we’re being forced to take stock of our relationships, our attitudes, our wounds, and our purpose in life. The Skin of Our Teeth might help you with some of the inner work you might be engaged in. Here is the link if you care to watch the play.

Since I’m a connector, someone who is always looking for answers to my big questions in unlikely places, I was excited when Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov came up on my YouTube feed. At first I didn’t think past how much I love that piece of music. But as I listened to it, I remembered the story of Scheherazade. I’ve looked up a couple of versions of the story. I don’t know if she was a real woman, or just part of the mythology of One Thousand and One Nights, or as we know the collection, The Arabian Nights.

The story goes like this: Someplace in the Middle East, or perhaps in India, Sultan Shahryar arrives home from a hunting trip unexpectedly early and finds his wife in bed with servants. He’s so enraged that he beheads all of them immediately. Because of this incident, he wants revenge and vows to wed a virgin and kill her the morning after their wedding so she will never have an opportunity to cheat on him. After the Sultan has killed hundreds of women in this way, the Vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, offers herself as his next wife. She’s known to be an educated, charming, talented women. The Vizier had tried to get both his daughters to flee to another country, but Scheherazade proves how intelligent she is. After the wedding, she makes a request of the Sultan. She promised her sister that she would tell her one last story and asks if she may do that on their wedding night. The Sultan agrees and the sister joins them. As they sit together, Scheherazade tells such a riveting story that the Sultan is enthralled, but just as the sun comes up, at the most exciting part of the story, Scheherazade says that it’s dawn and she must finish the story the next night. The Sultan agrees. This goes on like that for 1001 nights. Over that time, the Sultan’s rage has been healed. He has fallen in love with Scheherazade. Because of her courage, and talent in storytelling, peace returns to the land.

Stories can be like water droplets on stone. It may take a long time, but as the water freezes, and continues to drop on the stone, fissures form. Eventually the stone breaks. Perhaps that’s why we love watching our favorite movies or plays over and over, or returning to our favorite book for comfort. Each time we reencounter the story we learn something new and we are changed as a result.

Hopefully during this time of crisis, we will tell each other our stories both of pain and of hope and they will break down the barriers we’ve built up inside our minds and hearts.

Think of funerals and memorial services. Telling stories about the lost loved one often helps the mourners. Grief is not erased, but perhaps eased somewhat. When my father died years ago, we had a family reunion to celebrate his life. Each of us shared many stories about how he had touched our lives. When those few days ended, I still missed him. But I had learned things about him I’d never known before. Knowing those things helped me through my grieving process. His life had touched so many others and isn’t that we all hope for, to be remembered as someone who made a difference?

Welcome to my new followers. Thank you all for reading. I’d like to know what stories have touched your lives.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2020

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a little bit like Outlander in that it’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel. Jenna’s life is shattered and she must put her life back together. When she finds old journals as she’s clearing out her mother’s house, she joins consciousness with her three-times great-grandmother, Morgan. She is able to come back to her own life at intervals and apply what she’s learned to heal and forgive.

The Space Between Time is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords and for Kindle at Amazon, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news when the audiobook version is published.

Reflections

Taj Mahal at sunset
Taj Mahal at sunset

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” ~ Margaret J. Wheatley

“It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.” ~ Marcus Tillius Cicero

“My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.” ~ John Lennon

“Many scientists think that philosophy has no place, so for me it’s a sad time because the role of reflection, contemplation, meditation, self-inquiry, insight, intuition, imagination, creativity, free will, is in a way not given any importance, which is the domain of philosophers.” ~ Deepak Chopra

I’m a bit of a rebel. I don’t usually create New Year’s resolutions, or do the end of the year reflections. I don’t do them because resolving to improve myself and reflect on what I’ve learned is something I do on a continuing basis. However, after the year we’ve just had, I have some things I’d like to express.

2016 has been a fantastic year for me! For a while I got caught up the crazy political shenanigans, read lots of articles and such, got angry and sad. Then I realized that what was happening in society was part of the current of growth and change that is always flowing. Sometimes it’s underground, and other time, like now it’s more apparent. It was then that I gave up focusing on the outside and realigned myself to continuing to become a more open, loving, joyful and compassionate person. I felt like that’s how I can best contribute to our awakening.

This is a process I committed to on January 1, 2015. I was tired of my bouts of being unhappy and critical of my life choices. That felt like it didn’t fit with where I see humanity headed. So, I began the work of clearing out old thought patterns and embracing a new, or rather the real me.

I’m so glad I made that choice, because today I can say that every morning I wake up choosing to be happy and noticing all the abundant beauty and opportunities that come my way.

It sounds like becoming happy was easy. It wasn’t. I fought it for so many years because I thought we were meant to suffer. Letting go of that idea took way too many years. The day I acknowledged how I had tortured myself thinking I was getting closer to God by doing so, was my liberation day. I’m excited about the new life I’m creating.

I participated in several activities this year that helped contribute to the next step in my awakening.

I had a great time teaching two performance classes at the college, during the 2015, 2016 school year. My students wrote their own plays. It was great fun for both students and audience members. In the spring, most of the plays made reference to, or actually had a Star Wars storyline. Seeing the joy of creation on the students faces helped me embrace joy too.

Since I began writing in 2008, I have felt great satisfaction of creation. This year I finally finished my novel, The Space Between Time, except for minor edits. It’s been a nearly seven years journey of learning how to construct the plot, develop the characters and improve my overall writing. When I read Steven Pressfield’s book Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t, his insights helped me put the final plot points together. It was kind like he knocked me up the side of the head and all the puzzle pieces landed into place. Not only that, I now have the tools to plot out the next novel and reduce the time I will need to create the story.

Something about Pressfield’s book along with other events, gave me the idea to create my video series, “Loving Literature”. This is a long term project that I’m looking forward to working on. Stories help me make sense out of my life and the world. I began the series hoping to be able to define for myself, and hopefully others, why story is so important. Then I read an article on Upworthy, about a little girl, born 16 weeks too early, who lived because her father read her the entire Harry Potter series. The mom, Kelley, said, “Stories were invented to conjure meaning from randomness. They give us our history, even our identity.” Tom, the father said of deciding to read the stories to his daughter, “Stories are a promise. They are a promise that the ending is worth waiting for.” What touched me the most about it was that when J.K. Rowling heard about Juniper and her parents, she sent them a special gift of the entire Harry Potter series for Juniper to read for herself. The inscription on the first books reads, “To the girl who lived.” Now that’s the power of story and how sharing stories with each other connects us in profound ways. If you want to read the article for yourself, here is the link. Or you can buy the book, Juniper: The girl who was born too soon by Kelley and Thomas French.

So, I’m committed to telling lots of stories both written and on video during 2017 and hopefully connecting with my readers in profound ways, and learning lots more great things about myself. I want to listen and support, I want to make a difference in at least one person’s life with my creative endeavors.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

My Favorite Class to Teach

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

“I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.” ~ Frank Capra

“A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.” ~ Stanley Kubrick

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.” ~ Barbara Tuchman

“You know what your problem is, it’s that you haven’t seen enough movies – all of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” ~ Steve Martin

“God made Man because he loves stories.” ~ Elie Wiesel

Last week I wrote about the profound experience I had during meditation on December 31, 2015. One of the things I realized at that time was that I’m a person who says “no” more than I say “yes”. For most of my life I’ve been a fence sitter. Often I want to say “yes” to life, but I allow the not knowing what the future will look like to hold me back. This coming year is about saying “Yes!” to more new things that come my way. I’m going to get off the fence, embrace the unknown and do the things I love to do without apology.

As I was getting ready for this new semester, it occurred to me that when I tell people I teach theatre classes, I often feel like I’m not as good as the instructors who teach the core subjects. Then I remembered that I decided to say “Yes!” to the things I love so I plan to enjoy the classes I’m teaching this semester to the fullest. Tonight I’m going to begin teaching my favorite class of all time. It’s Dramatic Structure. The name is kind of weird, however, what we do is watch plays and movies and analyze them. We try to get through the many layers of meaning to the core ideas the playwright or screen writer is trying to express. I hope this process will be as helpful and enriching to my students as it has been for me.

I learned to love play analysis with my father. When I was in high school, dad and I would stay up late on weekends watching old movies. Then we’d discuss the characters, plots and what the movie meant to us. Our family would also watch the Sunday Night Movie and do the same thing. It was a great way to get to know myself, my family, and to have the skills to interact with the kids at school, or the people I worked with. I loved doing this so much that I found a wonderful purpose in working in the theatre, teaching, and writing. Analyzing plays and movies has helped me become more compassionate and empathetic as well. I’m grateful that my father was willing to watch and discuss movies with me. We got close and had lots of fun too.

So as I begin this new semester, I’m going to tell my students that I love teaching these classes and why. Hopefully that will inspire them in ways that I can’t even imagine.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share this post with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016