The End

Here’s the third post  to end my term AND this guest fiction challenge. Thank you, Everyone.  Thank you!

Pt 1. – The Beginning 
Pt 2. – The Middle
Pt 3. – The End (this one)

 

Hahn /Spokane/ Insurance

A fire you had to put out this week? Relationship issues

Where do you go for peace? My apartment

Favorite relative? Twin sister

Best gift or surprise you’ve given? Valentine’s care package to a long distance boyfriend

A food you won’t eat? Octopus. Too slimy

A city you’re curious about?Athens

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Doctor

Something you have that’s broken? Communication with my boss

Describe your favorite boss.Worked at JC Penney’s in college.  The store manager could get us riled up and eager to do well.  He made little competitions and made us want to do well.

Describe your least favorite teacher. Unapproachable.  Didn’t have compassion for students who didn’t grasp or enjoy his instruction

How will this character resolve things? It should definitely work out.  I like stories that work out.  She’ll struggle at first, then realize that what she wants she’s always had it inside her or around her.

 

 

Corinne spun around on her heels, the key to her car still aimed for its lock. She heard the grunt before she could make sense of the surge of adrenaline pulsing in her ears and the man’s blazer doubled over in front of her.

“Shane, you scared the shit out of me,” she said, taking a step back to rest against her car as her heart beat steadied.

Shane slowly stood to his full six feet.  His hand was pressing against a phantom wound in his side.  “You stabbed me!”

He made animated faces and exaggerated pains. Corinne let a smile unwind in the corners of her mouth.

“You stepped into my weapon, pal,” she said.  “Where’s your coat? What are you doing creeping up on me in the dark?”

“I was trying to catch you before you flew out of here,” he said, relaxing his face and rubbing the spot where Corinne’s car key had jabbed him.  “I wanted to ask you to meet us at Treetop tonight.”

Corinne folded her hands under her elbows, tightening her arms around her.  Treetop?  Her?

“Who’s ‘us?’” she asked.

Shane chuckled. His crooked eye teeth pushing past his smile. Corinne hadn’t noticed his dimples before.  They’d worked in neighboring stores for nearly five years now.  She’d never understood how anyone could be devoted to selling mattresses, but she guessed people might say the same of the quiet jewelry shop.

“The ‘us’ who’ve been your retail neighbors for almost a decade,” he said.

“You’ve only been here five years, Shane,” Corinne said.

“Ahh, so you have noticed me lumbering around here,” he said.

Corinne blushed.

“I’ve seen you once or twice,” she said.

Shane smiled his crooked, dimpled smile. “You should make it one more time,” he said. “Around eight o’clock.”

Corinne raised herself from the car and moved toward her store again.  She’d forgotten her cell phone inside.  “You should have on a coat,” she said.

“Yes ma’am, I should,” he said, not moving from watching her.

He kept his eyes pinned to her when they shared a basket of nachos two hours later at the Treetop. Corinne had arrived to the bar and grill to find that the only “us” Shane had planned for was the two of them.

“You didn’t leave me any choice,” he’d said.  “I’ve been trying to get your attention for two years, but you weren’t very –uh- approachable until recently.”

Corinne looked down to her beer glass. She thought about how her fists unclenching and her heart unzipping while hiking through the mountains of Buenos Aires.  She’d spent three weeks roaming the countryside, drinking at festivals, reading graphic novels on the beach.  She’d tried to take an online Spanish course, but the instructor seemed offended that she wanted to collect a few quick phrases and had no compassion for her abbreviated learning needs. Even without a functional grasp of the language, Corinne felt instantly connected to the people she met there.  They were warm and inviting and especially friendly once she told them her father was native.  As always, Aunt Vanda had been right.  Seeing her homeland was powerful, in spite of her storied and painful disappointment with “homes” and family.  She’d come back to the states feeling whole.

“Was I mean to you?” she asked, raising her beer to her lips.  He was handsome, in a boyish farmhand kind of way.

“Naw, not mean,” Shane said.  “You weren’t standoffish, either.  You seemed, I dunno, oblivious.”

Corinne raised her eyebrows. “That’s an interesting choice of words.”

Shane smiled.  “I know even bigger words than that,” he said, waving away her protests about what she didn’t mean.  “I sent you a care package for Valentine’s Day because I figured you’d be swamped in there.  You sent a thank you card from the store.”

Corinne lowered her beer and blinked at him, remembering the box with exotic candies which included jellied squares of octopus.  “I didn’t realize it was from you to me,” she said.  “I assumed it was from your store to my store.  To all the stores, actually.”

“Why would I–”

“I mean, I just thought you were playing retail block captain,” Corinne cut in quickly.  “I didn’t know.  Thank you, for then and for now.”

She learned that Shane had a twin sister who lived in Nashville.  That he’d wanted to be a doctor until his parents needed one and he came home from school to help care for them.

“My father has since passed, but my mother is doing okay,” he said.

“How are you?” Corinne asked, searching for sadness in his face.

“Pretty good most days,” he said.  “I spend a lot of time at her house, but I’m able to regenerate and regroup at my apartment.  I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy my quiet time.”

“When you’re not studying the dictionary, what are you doing?” Corinne teased.

“Collecting bottle caps and bird watching,” Shane said with his boyish grin. He seemed pleased to hear her laugh.

“What are you doing when you’re not guarding the diamonds?” he asked.

“I’m finally going to try and figure that out,” she said.

“I’d like to help you out, if you’re looking for a tour guide, or something,” Shane said. Keep you riled up about your new man and your new options.”

Corinne liked the way Shane talked to her, certain and soothing. She liked how the dark clouds that had begun lifting away from her since making her trip coming home had not been a figment of her storytelling.

“New man? I’d ruin this peace of mind with relationship issues?”

“Absolutely not,” Shane said. “I plan to help you keep the peace.”

Corinne shook her head.  “Not with those jokes,” she said.

“Those are my best assets, baby.”

Corinne liked the feeling of a smile stretching across her face. She allowed herself the flutter in her stomach as Shane looked at her and imagined them exploring his family’s legacy in Athens,  hand in hand.

The Middle

This is the second of three posts where unsuspecting guests help to build a short story.

Pt 1. – The Beginning 
Pt 2. – The Middle (this one)
Pt 3. – The End

Michael /South Carolina/ Retired Medical Researcher

A fire you had to put out this week? Let’s see… a lot had to be done before we left … trying to remember … routine things … had to squeeze in a visit to my parents, make arrangements for the animals, store the tools and machinery…

Where do you go for peace? Anyplace I can be alone.  I like to walk in the woods, but you can be alone in the city, too, if you can get away from your distractions

Favorite relative? That’s not fair. I feel differently about them all. Both parents were only children. I do miss my grandparents.

Best gift or surprise you’ve given? I’m a horrible gift buyer. Not for lack of trying, but for trying too hard. I’m very self analytical.  You want to give a really good gift, but everything you look at doesn’t measure up.  Paralyzed by wanting the gift to be perfect. Agonize for weeks, until it’s the last minute and you’re at the drug store buying something awful.

A food you won’t eat? Tripe, headcheese, entrails, chitlins

A city you’re curious about? Berlin or cities in Argentina

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Game warden

Something you have that’s broken? My house has been broken forever.  It’s consumed our lives for 30 years.  It’s a 100-year-old wooden Victorian.

Describe your favorite boss/mentor. One of my high school teachers. Our friendship continued until he died. He was the first person to make me realize that the world was bigger than where you live.  Things can be provincial in a small town. He talked in thoughts and concepts, so I was able to grow up thinking beyond the limits of my peers, my town, and even myself. He made things accessible.  Music, for instance, was not reserved for those refined people.  He also showed me how not to take things too seriously.

What is preventing this character from having peace of mind? She wants history; she wants to know where she comes from.  People who don’t know their history don’t know who they are. Even a difficult history is a history.  A map has so much detail, but if you don’t know where you are on that map, it means nothing.

 

Okay! Here’s the middle:

 

Corinne turned on to Wicker Street but nothing happened.  All four pick-up trucks were at rest in front of the Crane’s house on the corner and the football game blinked through their curtain sheers with silhouettes of the Crane men, all brothers and sons.  Next door, the lopsided head on the Parkers’ snowman was sure to slide to the ground any day now. Windows of the first duplex were lit upstairs and dark downstairs.  The second duplex had its windows lit in the reverse way. Corinne lived at the end of the block. Usually a sense of calm eased over her when she drove this short block, but nothing stirred in her tonight.

She rented the attic loft of a 100-year-old Victorian, freshly painted in a palette of rose and teal.  It reminded her of a dollhouse now. The owners, Paulette and Doug were its congenial life-size doll owners. They’d owned the house for nearly eight years before finally fixing up the attic for a renter. Everything in the house was broken when they’d bought, they’d told her, and they constantly patching and replacing things. “This house will consume us for the next 30 years,” Doug had said.  Paulette had laughed, nodding beside him.  Doug taught composition at the local junior college, turning down opportunities to teach at the university and Paulette was a DNR permits manager who’d wanted to be a game warden when she grew up.  They were in their early forties, energetic, eclectic, the type of people who talked in concepts and ideas, defying the typical provincial limits of small town living and thinking. After nearly an hour sipping tea with them in their electric doll house anchoring the end of a dead end street, Corinne had canceled her viewing for a swank studio apartment on the east end of town.  She’d fallen head over heels for this rickety house its warm and lively owners.

Outside, there was usually a tarp or a ladder or a contractor.  Inside, there were towers of paint cans, swatches of fabric, power tools, bottles of wine, hand spun candy, homemade hog headcheese, every beat of music and laughter. There was always plenty of laughter in this old house that refused to crumble away.

Doug was grading papers in the dining room and Paulette was folded laundry in the next room, screaming at the football players on TV. Doug chuckled to himself, shaking his head at his wife’s antics.  When he noticed Corinne, he gave her a warm smile.

“How’d it go?” he asked, laying down his ink pen.

“Talking to Aunt Vanda is a like going to the oracle,” she said.  “I feel good, almost.”

Doug raised his eyebrows. “Almost?”

Corinne unbuttoned her coat and leaned against a chair back. “You know how some advice can sound great until you realize how hard it’s going to be?”

Doug smiled, leaning back in his seat.  “That’s how you know it’s good advice. What did she say?”

Corinne sat down, bunching her coat into her lap. She’d replayed Vanda’s words in her head for the entire drive from the Inn. She liked the sound of it every time, but it thickened a knot of terror inside her.

“She said I should go to Argentina.”

Doug snapped his head like he’d been smacked on both cheeks. “Argentina? What’s that about?”

“That’s the only thing I know about my birth parents,” Corinne said. “My birth certificate lists my father’s name as Unknown, but that he’s from Argentina.”

Over the course of many meals at this table, Corinne had shared her entire life history with Paulette and Doug.  Corinne rarely shared her tragic tale, that her mother’s family had driven two counties to deliver Corinne and then abandon her at the hospital, that her youth was filled with neglect anxiety and abuse as a foster child, that she was no longer able to ignore her history of anguish and pretend that only the future mattered. Her packaged answer had always been to say that her parents had been only children, and when they passed on she was all she had left. The spirit of this old house, however, insisted on her truth.

“So, you’re going to Argentina to find your father?” Doug asked.

“Oh, God, no,” Corinne said, pulling slim fingers through her short red curls.  “I could care less about him. My mother either.  Aunt Vanda’s idea was to just to go and explore.  Feel what it’s like.  See where I come from.”

Doug gave a slow nod and a slow smile.  “I kinda like that idea,” he said.  “I get the ‘great but scary’ part, too.  Are you thinking about it?”

“Well, I’ve never been anywhere,” Corinne said. “Why not go big and go international?”

They laughed and fell into an awkward silence.

“But?” Doug asked, spinning his ink pen atop a stack of ungraded papers.

“But,” Corinne said with a sigh.  “I don’t know if a South American adventure will make me feel less alone.  I’ve survived 27 years, and now all of a sudden I want roots? I don’t understand why it’s consuming so much of me.  I tried walking in the woods to clear the distracting thought, but nothing works! I’d hate to blow my savings just to come home with a bag of crappy souvenirs and no more peace of mind.”

“Peace of mind is a process, girlie,” sang Paulette as she passed the dining room with the laundry basket.

Doug held up his hands, gesturing toward Paulette and her passing wisdom.

“As usual, my better half has said it best,” he said.  “No, you probably won’t come back with all of your questions answered and all your heartaches cured. But you’ll get to see, first hand, the culture and land that made the generations of people who made you.  That’s still going to be powerful.”

Corinne had her legs outstretched, absently knocking her feet together while she listened to Doug describe a memorable trip his family took  to Berlin in high school. He came home swelled with an unexpected pride for a heritage he’d never paid much attention to.

“I didn’t know you were German,” Corinne said.

Doug smiled.  “But I know that I am,” he said with a wink.

“Get one of the natives to help you buy our gifts,” Paulette said, her voice floating past them again on her way back to the football game on TV. “You know how you get paralyzed by trying to find something perfect. I don’t want crappy South American souvenirs, as you put it.  Ask for directions and help with your shopping!”

Corinne folded herself with laughter. She loved that she could add the chime of her voice to the merriment of this house.  She loved that Aunt Vanda’s idea had taken root. Corinne would have a lot to do before she could leave.  But, for sure now, she would leave.

 

 

Read Parts 1 & 3 here:

Pt 1. – The Beginning 
Pt 2. – The Middle (this one)
Pt 3. – The End

The Beginning

This is the first of three posts where I wrangle an unsuspecting Pfister guest into a short story project.

Pt 1. – The Beginning (this one)
Pt 2. – The Middle
Pt 3. – The End

Today, I asked for random details to shape the beginning of a story.

Jeff / Milwaukee/ Writer & Producer

  1. A fire you had to put out this week? Deciding on whether to spend a lot of money on a rug.
  2. Where do you go for peace? Lynden Sculpture Garden
  3. Favorite relative? My Aunt Vanda. She reminds me of my mother, who’s no longer with us. She’s wise, not book smart.  And she’s curious. I think that’s important.
  4. Best gift or surprise you’ve given? I teach.  I think passing along information and knowledge is like giving a gift.
  5. A food you won’t eat? Onions, because I’m allergic.
  6. A city you’re curious about? Istanbul
  7. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Lawyer
  8. Something you have that’s broken? I can’t think of anything that’s bugging me. I usually fix everything.
  9. Describe your favorite boss. In college, I waited tables.  This boss was not like most other restaurant owners.  She was actually kind to her employees and took interest in us.  We were part of her family.
  10. Describe your least favorite teacher. My gym coach.  He was… well… we just didn’t mesh well.
  11. What does this character want? Peace of Mind

Okay! Here we go…

 

Corinne shrugged the coat from her shoulders and stood on the ribbed floor mat to stamp the snow from her boots.  She would still have to remove the boots before entering the kitchen.  Aunt Vanda had often scolded that “mud room” didn’t mean “make as much mud as possible.”

Corinne pushed open the door, the familiar chimes tinkling above her head. Aunt Vanda stood at the stove, swallowed by a cloud of steam.  The windows, usually framing a view of wildflowers or snow sculptures, were opaque and sweating.  Aunt Vanda peered into an enormous, grumbling pot.  As she stirred, her signature swag of silver bangs was pinned back with a glittery barrette.  Corinne remembered when the edgy auburn bob had boasted only one thick streak of grey. They all loved this full head of platinum and smoke.

Aunt Vanda greeted Corinne without looking up from her pot. Corinne walked to the cabinets and pulled down a coffee mug.  She never had to ask if there was coffee made. Aunt Vanda always had coffee.

She sat at  the tall wooden table in the center of the kitchen, sipped her coffee and watched Vanda at the stove.  Corinne hadn’t met many people who also appreciated silence.  She and Aunt Vanda had shared powerful moments that hadn’t included a single spoken word.  The best was when Aunt Vanda had introduced her to the Lynden Sculpture Garden and they’d strolling the grounds in exquisite and soothing quiet.  Corinne was grateful to find someone that finally understood her non-language.

After a few more minutes of tantric stirring, Aunt Vanda lifted the long-handled spoon to drain a dark strip of fabric.

“Is that the teal?” Corinne asked.

“No, this’ll be more of a smoky blue once it dries,” Aunt Vanda said. “I think she’s making a dress with this one.” Corinne watched  Vanda transfer the dripping fabric into a bowl of cool water.  Whether it was cooking or creating, they could often push open the kitchen door to find Aunt Vanda floating about her vast kitchen, peeking into cabinets, lifting lids from multiple large pots, kicking closed the oven door, grinning to herself.

The first time Corinne entered this space, she was arrested with thick aromas of cumin, mint, figs and lamb.  Aunt Vanda was fascinated with Istanbul at the time, and her menus reflected that passionate curiosity.  She’d even splurged on an expensive Turkish floor rug, once she’d learned that their artistry rivaled that of Persia and Egypt. Morocco was Vanda’s next fantastic study.  Later,Vienna .Singapore. New Orleans.  Aunt Vanda couldn’t treat herself to much travel in those days, but she gifted herself with knowledge, as she put it, learning everything she could about the culture or city of the moment.  Anyone who spoke with her would’ve thought that Aunt Vanda had lived in locales around the world when, actually, she’d never traveled further than 100 miles beyond this farmhouse in her entire life.

As a child, Vanda watched her family’s farm waste away after her father died and her mother had taken to the drink. Vanda protected her six siblings from most of their mother’s violent tirades, but not all of them.  They each carried a constellation of scars and dark memories.  Vanda’s siblings fled the farm and the small town, one by one, and never came back.  Not even after their mother died and Vanda was alone on the farm.  Vonda didn’t fault them. She had simply learned to live with the ghosts howling in the shadows.

Then she met her truth.  Jim showed up on her doorstep like an angel dispatched from the clouds.  He was passing through town and decided he might stay for a while. He asked if he could earn a few dollars by helping repair things around the property. Vanda had thanked him, but told him that she usually fixed everything herself.  Whenever Vanda retold the story, her eyes always twinkled at the part where Jim had asked her if she planned to spend her life always doing what she’d always done.

They were wed in seven months.  The marriage had, indeed, been tumultuous but Aunt Vanda said she would always think back to their first date when Jim had ordered for her and instructed the waiter not to include onions. She hadn’t even remembered telling him about her allergy, but he’d obviously remembered some passing mention of it.  If he could care for these small parts of her, she decided, they could manage the big parts together.

In fact, Jim was integral in opening the World Café & Inn.  He converted the old barn into a restaurant, scavenging the entire region for scrap parts and used equipment.  The farmhouse rooms were even converted into a boarding house.  Jim loved her fiercely and completely until his passing.  That’s when Vanda had the idea to change the inn from a boarding house for adults to a transitional home for teens.

When Corinne came to the Inn, she’d been braced for another tooth-and-nail, survival-of-the-fittest foster home.  She was aging out of the system and was relieved learned to be placed in a group home where she would work at a restaurant in exchange for room and board.  Most foster kids found themselves homeless once they turned 18 and were released from the state’s care. Corinne had barely survived her foster homes; she wasn’t cut out to make a life on the street. Her social worker had been a childhood friend of Vanda’s and said  she only placed her most promising kids at the World Café.  Corinne had listened to the warm endorsement but couldn’t help rolling her eyes at the words “treats you like her family.” The social workers always said that. They’d always been wrong.

It had been seven years since Corinne lived at the Inn, and she was one of several “World Kids” whose heart never moved away.  Vanda had become their family, which is why they called her Aunt Vanda.  There were nearly three dozen of them breathing out there in the real world.  A handful had perished, but most of them had been refortified after lifetimes of abuse, neglect, rage and fear.  They’d become musicians, gym teachers, lawyers, mothers, soldiers, sous chefs. They’d become whole.  Corinne worked at a jewelry store.  She liked dressing up and being surrounded by beautiful things and loved the serenity.

She lived in the city now, but found her way back to visit Aunt Vanda at least once a month.  She liked observing the new Kids as they stocked the silverware trays or carried fresh greens to the barn.  They were doing more of the cooking now, since the nearby culinary school had taken an interest in the Café and its mission.  Vanda still set the menu (apparently, she was all about Serbia these days) but she filled her cooking time with creating hand-dyed fabrics for a designer in the city.

Corinne stood to refill her coffee mug.  She could feel Aunt Vanda’s eyes on her this time. She knew.  Vanda always knew.

“So,” Vanda said wiping her hands on a rag and taking a seat at the high wooden table. “What’s eluding you, kiddo?”

Corinne let the warm coffee rest on her lip while she thought.  “Peace of mind,” she answered.  “I can’t seem to get any peace of mind.”

 

Read parts 2 & 3 here:

Pt 1. – The Beginning (this one)
Pt 2. – The Middle
Pt 3. – The End

Nights Like This

You have reached your bewitching hour.  While most people will unwind inside the cushioned margins of prime time, you won’t shrug away the day until it’s ready to expire. You are not governed by office hours or bedtimes. You will review and research and design and sort and package and analyze and schmooze until your limbs and attention vehemently protest.  When you can no longer deny your hunger, fatigue, neck cramps or that blister on your left heel, then you will stop.

You will stop long after your neighbor has put away the gardening tools and your kids’ soccer coach has read a chapter of the newest best seller. Long after the dog has been walked one last time, your ambition will watch the hour hand gracefully sweep across the meridian of a new day.

It is typically this late hour that helps grind your gears to a slow coast. It’s true what your relatives say about you. That you never truly stop.  That slowing down is enough for you.  You can still catch your breath at a crawling 100 mph.

Your work day has ended, but you can’t surrender easily to sleep. You make your way to the bar, welcoming its foreign familiarity. You’re in another hotel. Another city. Another lush penthouse lounge with votive candles flickering all about. You have never stayed here before, but you like it, you say to the woman at the bar. You’re in town from Chicago. Business. Banking. She buys your first drink. Hands you a card. She’s a writer. Or a reporter. Something for the hotel. You thank her for the drink and hope she’s not going to talk your ear off. She smiles. You both watch the rain.

Her best friend always gets sleepy when it rains like this, she says.  She says she likes to look at the rain or watch a movies. You’re inspired in other ways by the rain, but you don’t say so. You save that humor for people who know your edges. You don’t know this woman. In fact, you’re not sure why she’s talking to you.  She’s clearly sizing you up for something. You pick up her card and read it. Narrator.

You ask her why a hotel would have an arts residency program. She asks you how often you travel.  She tells you she’s been writing since she was a kid.  You tell her you never planned on banking, just knew you would be in business. You ask her what other things she writes. She asks what makes you good at your job.

You tell her that you’re good in front of clients.  You tell her that you work your ass off.  You tell her that you’re persistent and patient and you’re always prepared.  You tell her about taking clients to dinner. Fishing. To ball games. You tell her how the rookies only see the glamour of it all. You tell her that you’d rather give the box seats away sometimes.  You tell her that you’re not socializing; you’re working.  Always working.

You tell her that some deals take years to close.  She asks the common mistake that rookies might make.  You tell her they don’t know when to walk away. She asks what made you join this new company.  You tell her about the better offer.  She asks about life balance. You can hear the air quotes in her voice. You say that no one really has balance, we’re all making the best with what we’ve got. She tells you about taking her laptop to the beach. You say working and vacation don’t have to be mutually exclusive terms.  It’s your life and your time, you say. She agrees, but says her body started to disagree and she had to pay better attention to that life balance thing.  Air quotes again.  You nod and sip your drink. You silently toast your strong body.

She asks if you plan to repair sailboats or invest in a winery or open a little bed and breakfast one day.  You tell her how you want your investment properties to cover the mortgage on a second home one day.  You don’t tell her how close “one day” is.  She doesn’t ask.

Instead, she asks about Chicago. You tell her it’s home. You say you don’t mind the snow. She calls the city her favorite suburb. You buy the next round. Gin and tonic. Whiskey neat. You hadn’t expected to talk with her this long. She smiles again and is quiet. You feel the weight of the day begin to press into your shoulders.  You’re talking about barbecue.  The joint on the west side with the great sauce until the new owners took over.  Shameful, you say.

The drinks and the rain and the late hour have begun to converge into their nightly spell. You catch a yawn with your closed fist. You see her eyes slip out of focus for a second as she listens to you. Sleep has finally come to greet you both.

You order one more. She signs her check and wishes you luck on some throw away comment you’ve already forgotten. You tell her to be careful driving home in the rain. You watch her leave. You turn back to your drink and the tumult outside the window. You imagine this would be a gorgeous view on a clear night. You imagine what tomorrow will bring.

Rock Star

“Let me tell you a story about the Colorado River…”

The speaker is only a few minutes into her keynote address. From my seat at the back of the grand ballroom, I can barely see her diminutive frame on the dais. I’m sitting on a stray banquet chair between two elaborate exhibits for water purifiers and intelligent faucets. I’m pouting.

I’d been unable to wrangle a conversation from the conference planners I’d met down the hall. They’d gracefully ducked my efforts to engage them, then shuffled me to the ballroom to hear their luncheon speaker. Passing the elevators, I thought better of leaving. I had nothing to lose by listening for a few minutes, even though I couldn’t imagine what could hold my interest at the World Water Summit.

Then she said “story.”

Her name is Pat Mulroy.  She’s the General Manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District and Southern Nevada Water Authority, entities that oversee, treat and deliver water to more than two million Nevada residents and 40 million annual visitors.

“… the Colorado River runs through seven states, starting with Wyoming all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. This one river is the artery for all of the southwest…”

Pat had been introduced to this audience as a “rock star in the water world.”  I look around the ballroom and crinkle my brow, an involuntary response when my brain is challenged to consider the interior of a new world. Whether its guidance counselors, line dancers, contractors, chefs, funeral directors, renaissance fair gypsies, socialites or water execs, every world has its own culture, and every culture gets a rock star.

“…we use more water per capita than anyone else in the world. As a nation, we do this because we can. We take for granted that when we turn on the faucet, fresh, clean water will pour out. It is difficult trying to tell people that water will not always be there…”

There are nearly 500 business suits in the ballroom, sitting in rapt attention.  Pat speaks with fire and authority, facts and context. She never looks down to notes or stumbles over her words. She is an anomaly in the industry. First, she’s a woman. Second, she didn’t arrive at the post with the typical background in science or law. Rather, she holds a degree in German literature. When she assumed the position, the establishment was caught unawares with her networking finesse, strategic grit and wherewithal for a good fight.

“…in the west, property ownership has no relation to water rights. You can’t just dig a well on your land and tap into a water source; you have to apply for water rights. The discussions around water in our region are, naturally, contentious…”

This watershed runs through through farms and communities of Nevada,Arizona,Utah,Colorado,New Mexico,Wyoming and California. In fact, half of the water supply of southern California depends on water from the Colorado River. Pat’s story chronicled the events, threats and challenges that led to a landmark, 1922 treaty over the seven states’ access and delivery of Colorado River water. Today, this river region provides 20% of the nation’s fruit and vegetables and 27% of the country’s GDP.

“…we’ve learned through hard knocks that you can’t poke at any point of this system without causing a domino effect…”

In 1990, Pat says that experts and authorities in all of these states agreed that they were running out of water. Lake Meade, one of the two reservoirs funneling water through the region has dropped to a water level that almost reaches its lowest mark since 1956.  Falling water levels of the other primary reservoir, the Hoover Dam, threaten the electricity source as well as water for three states.  Pat explained how the Upper Basin and Lower Basin communities of Nevada decided to band together to develop new partnerships and solutions.

“…it was unheard of in Western water. We threw away our water rights. We threw away proprietary plumbing. We pooled our resources. We were able to speak as one Nevada, one voice. It was not a pleasant experience for the other states…”

Pat, who also has experience as a lobbyist, described the tension and challenge of renegotiating Nevada’s role in the Colorado Compact which, previously, favored the more agricultural states. Now, 20 years after taking the post, Pat is heralded across the nation as a key player in reshaping the industry’s approach to water politics and conservation. The states brokered creative partnerships for storing, channeling and leveraging Colorado River resources.  In her own district,Las Vegas went from a city with the highest level of consumption to becoming a national model for water conservation.

“…we are a dry community, so most of our water savings will happen outdoors. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with home owners associations and, once everyone stopped worrying about whether their trees were going to die, we were able to make progress.  One thing I learned, however, is that nothing will interfere with senior citizens and their car washing schedules…”

Although the car washing “car pools” were a bust, as well as the ban on water fountains, the Southern Nevada Water Authority successfully implemented a residential watering schedule and distributed $200 million in rebates to customers who removed grass and replaced landscaping with desert plants instead.

“…we have people who move here from Chicago and Florida, but Kentucky bluegrass is not indigenous to the Mojave desert. Oh, let me reassure you, my Midwestern friends, that doesn’t mean rocks, a cactus and a dry coyote skull. There are plenty of beautiful plants and flowers on the desert landscape…”

Pat and her communities engaged in more than conservation strategies; they changed their culture. As a result, 94% of the water in southern Nevada is recycled and the region reduced its water use by one third in less than six years.  Today, they’re even able to “loan” water to California.

“…the drought we’ve been experiencing for the past 12 years will have astronomical economic, social and geological consequences if we do not continue to explore partnerships and aggressive solutions. There cannot be winners and losers. There will only be losers…”

I sense that she is nearing the end of her presentation. I look up to scan the room for the first time since she’d started speaking. I’ve been scribbling furiously in my notebook, too fascinated by her every word to observe the attendees.  These are executives and researchers and policy makers gathered from all over the world to discuss the “future of water,” a proposition that, sadly, few pedestrians like me will often think about.

“…a water conversation is the most difficult to engage with the public, but it’s a conversation whose time has come. We showed that it can be done.”

Now, I watch the audience.  They are unified and focused.  There is no side chatter, no early exits.  She is speaking their gospel.  This is their world and it is clear –even to an outsider like me– Pat Mulroy is a Rock Star in it.

Can You See Me Now?

Maggie Janssen is the Senior Vice President of Global Communications for one of the largest and most respected non-profit organizations in the world.

Well, not yet.

I found Maggie stationed at a skirted table outside of the Imperial Ballroom.  At the entrance behind her, a diagram has been pinned to the partition beginning a maze of  exhibition panels and displays.  A similar schematic is on the table where Maggie sits.

The ballroom is almost empty and its deflation of energy was palpable.  A handful of people in lanyards milled around, the long day beginning to drape heavily over their shoulders.

Maggie is still smiling.

I introduce myself to Maggie and her supervisor, Elizabeth. They work for Bon Ton, the parent company for a portfolio of department stores, including the local Boston Store.

“What’s going on today?” I ask.

The supervisor, Elizabeth, says, “This is our global vendor fair. We invite suppliers from around the world to present their materials and make bids to produce for our private label.”

“Interesting,” I say, looking from Elizabeth to Maggie.  “Who do I get to talk to about the event?”

Elizabeth, a short bespectacled blonde with a glint in her eyes and sideways smile, points to Maggie. “I’m delegating,” she says with a playful chuckle.

I turn to Maggie and she’s beaming.

“Sure!” she says, clearing the seat beside her.

“So, what’s your role?” I ask.

“I coordinate the planning and logistics for this event.”

“All of it?”

Maggie nods.

“Really?”

Maggie nods again, smiling.

“That’s kind of a big deal,” I say.

Smile.

Maggie’s exact title is International Vendor Fair Event Coordinator – slash- Global Sourcing Specialist.  One day, she tells me, she’d like to be director of events and communications for a non-profit. Just last year, however, she was a new college grad in search of a job.

“I studied PR and business at UW Stevens Point,” she says.  “I started here as a temp a few months after graduation.”

“Not bad for your first gig,” I say.

“Yeah, I got lucky.”

More smiles.

As a temp, Maggie supported last year’s organizers by handling data entry and helping with logistics.  “This is what I want to do,” she says of the experience. She even enrolled in classes at a local community college last fall to earn a certificate in event management.  Maggie’s three-month temp assignment became seven months and, ultimately, a permanent full-time position.

“I was texting everybody as soon as I found out,” she says.  “So excited.”

A facilities manager approaches the table to ask for clarification about the schedule.

“You can go ahead and lock those doors in back,” she says to him. “We won’t need to get in there until eight.”

I ask Maggie whether she’s already started thinking about tweaks for next year.

“I was just making a list,” she says excitedly.  “Like, I want the reception to feel more like a party.  It’s all business around here.”

She notices a hotel staff person fussing with a breakout room door.  “That lock doesn’t work,” Maggie calls out.  “You don’t have to bother with it. Someone’s coming back to fix it already.”

I ask Maggie if any of her family or friends might be surprised to see her in a role like this.

“Not at all,” she says.  ‘

“Let me guess,” I say.  “Captain of your sports team? President of your class?”

Maggie nods with a sheepish grin, “Yeah, I was class president.”

She’s also the oldest of five, three sisters and a brother from a town of about 10,000 people. “It was kind of expected of me to be a leader,” she says. “I’ve always liked pulling people together, making things happen.”

“What’s something else you’re challenging yourself to make happen, outside of work even?”

“Golf,” Maggie says. “My boyfriend is helping me learn.  I’m not too awesome.”

“Not yet,” I say.

Big smile. “Right,” Maggie says.  “Not yet.”

She turns her smile to a trio of women exiting the ballroom, heading toward the elevators.

“Bye ladies,” Maggie sings. “Have a good night.”

“What has been the hardest part about going from temp to official?” I ask.

Her reply was instant: “Making myself known.”

Maggie describes how the layers of management make it difficult for any higher ups to witness her talent. Common with most large companies, rookies rarely gain audience with the top brass.  As the keeper of all the event details this time, Maggie hopes to parlay her logistics intel into a memorable interaction –or two– with her boss’ boss.

For the first time, I glimpse the fierceness and determination in her eyes. Far more than providence or discipline, this young woman is fueled by deliberate and raw ambition. As Maggie spoke, the sudden hard angle of her jaw nudged my imagination forward to the future version of her, with a commanding maturity and series of impressive notches to her resume.

“Has your plan been working?” I ask.

“It’s going well,” Maggie says with a slow smile.  “He’s talking to me. He knows who I am.”

“When this is over, do you start planning for next year right away?”

“Not yet,” she says. “It’ll take a few months for us to process the orders that happen here this week.  As soon as we get back, my temp will start to input–”

“Wait,” I interrupt. “You have a temp?”

Maggie smiles. “Yes.”

Of course. Of course she does.

 

Every Three Seconds

“You want to know about Indian culture?” he asks with a raised brow.

I pick up my pen, square my shoulders, and give an affirmative bring-it-on nod.

The lobby lounge is relaxed after a full day of visitors and tourists trafficking through the hotel. I’m having an evening coffee at the bar and my guest, Murali, is unwinding with a glass of whiskey. His flight from India touched down only a few hours ago. He’s in the t-shirt business and his work carries him all over the globe: Sri Lanka, Australia, Europe, Japan, Singapore. He’s in Milwaukee for the first time.

“I left home for work as a young man. I have traveled with my work ever since,” he says.

An exporting entrepreneur in his early 40s, Murali tells me that he lives in the southern region of India now,400 kilometers from his native city.  With his extensive travel schedule, I ask how often he gets to his home village.

“Every year,” he says. His dark eyes are piercing and certain.  “I travel home every year to worship at my temple. It is wonderful.”

Murali tells me about the full day at his home temple, with 150 families together from sunrise to sunset. He even clears napkins from the bar and a tray of mixed nuts to illustrate the generations and linkages of men who worship with him.  He continues worship traditions in his new city, of course, but explains how each region of India will have varied approaches and styles.

“There are 24 states in India and more than 24 languages,” he says.  “Even 60 miles away, there is a different language.  The celebrations are similar, but will look different from region to region.”

“After living away for so long,” I ask, “does your native city always feel familiar when you visit or oddly foreign?” Murali has been cordial with me so far, but understandably guarded. He lets his first smile peek through when I ask about “home.”

“My native city is always home.” Murali says.  He pauses for a moment, his face becoming serious again, and adds, “Things do change where green fields are now homes or shops. Everywhere in the world, things are becoming commercialized. Still, we appreciate tradition.”

I ask about these traditions and Murali lists just a few of the festival celebrations from his culture. There’s a River Festival, a Sun Festival, a festival for studies and a festival for the harvest.  Each month, he says, there is a different celebration with a different focus, and even a different food.

“Each celebration is regenerating,” he says.  “If you think about it, the total of these celebrations are essential for human beings,” he says.

“Which is your favorite?” I ask.

“Diwali,” he says, taking my journal and pen to write the title correctly.  Diwali, Festival of Lights, is held in November or October and is India’s biggest and most important holiday of the year. It is named for the rows of clay lamps that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness.

“Every family will have new dress, there are firecrackers and sweets, servants get bonuses, brothers will visit sisters. It is a time for families to come together,” he says.  “The first Diwali after a couple is married is a big celebration for the entire family. The first Diwali with my own wife was in 2000. It will always be my favorite.”

“As a kid, did you value these traditions,” I ask, “or did you learn to really appreciate them once you were an adult?” Murali didn’t hesitate: he’s always cherished his culture and traditions.

“In my childhood, we woke up at 4:30 in the morning to be at the temple by 5am.  We all were there, praying to God,” he says. “We all prayed with the same movements. We had the same ritual of exercise.  We all eat our evening meals on a new banana leaf.  There is even a way to lay in the bed. Yes, these things create a culture, but they are also essential to the body.”

I think about his world, and the certainty it suggests.  I can admit that I have wrinkled my modern and Western nose at the notion of tradition, focused too intently on familiar expectations won’t exist or might be forbidden elsewhere in the world.  In talking with Murali and witnessing the joy he holds in simply describing his traditions to me, I’m better able to appreciate the sense of foundation and purpose that occurs he gains from a culture steeped in prescription and rich tradition.

The more Murali tells me about his village, holidays, rituals and memories, the more relaxed and talkative he becomes.  He speaks from a grounded place, a clear understanding of his journey through the world.

“Ancient priests wrote many things about timing. Every second, for example, three people are born in the world,” Murali says, settling back against his chair, his eyes fixed on mine. “The destiny and the ancestry of those three people can be charted by the sun and the stars.  The people born just one second later will have a different destiny. Our ways are ancient. This is what we believe.”

As much as our cultures may differ, I learn that Murali and I share quirky similarities.  First of all, we were born only eight days apart. Secondly, we are both raising preteen girls.  Third, we both have surrendered our memory to digital gadgets.

“When I started my business, I kept 200 phone numbers in my head,” he says. “Now with the mobile phone, there’s no need.”  I laugh because the only number I have committed to memory is my mother’s.  (If I ever lose my digital address book and find myself in an epic crisis with only one permitted phone call, I’ll have to cross my fingers that she’s not in the audience of a stage play with her ringer silenced.)

“The young people now are a digital generation,” Murali continues.  “Anything they need to know, they pick up their phone and have an answer in seconds.  We used to memorize everything.”

I ask if he uses technology readily or reluctantly.  “Oh, I use it,” he says. “I have to. For business, conversations that used to take a week or two weeks happen instantly now.”

I ask if he uses programs like Skype to talk with his daughter while he’s on the road.  Murali loosens his second broad smile.  “Whatever it takes,” he says.  “Every Sunday when I am home, she asks questions about my travels. So many questions. I miss that.”

I smile. Love and family are certainly universal concepts … and food.  Murali turns to greet a delivery person with a fragrant bag of takeout.

“Food from my country,” he says to me with a smile.

I begin to pack my things, and thank him profusely for his time and generous cultural lesson. Murali finishes paying for his dinner and settles his bag atop the bar.  He turns his attention back to me and gives a slow nod.

“You are most welcome,” he says.  “Next time, I will tell you about Indian food.  That will take an entire day.”

 

Sacred Harvest

I’ve always enjoyed fall. Not because of the burnished and bronze treetops or the soft comfort of an old sweater or for the ubiquity of football. Definitely not for the football.

Rather, I am incredibly buoyant during the early fall months, inspired by the season’s warmth and currents of change. Perhaps it’s trace enthusiasm for the first days of school.  It might be my practice of renewal during my Libra days. Or, maybe, I have ancient agrarian roots still eager about the harvest. Yeah, maybe.

Whatever the source, I am aware of the conversion taking place. My stroll is more purposeful against the retreating grass. The days approach more urgently as my calendar is layered with more meetings and appointments. I am meditative about possibilities and metamorphosis and preparing for harsher winds to come.

I carry this thoughtful quiet with me into the café this morning.  The restaurant is filled with guests. I take a deep breath and steel myself.  High voltage energy will require an extra effort from me today.

As is my usual rhythm, I take a seat to watch the room. After 20 minutes, longer than usual, I realize my calm has been absorbed into the low hum of the room.  I’m unaccustomed to early mornings in the hotel. At once, I am started and soothed by the stillness among this restaurant full of people. The servers smile and pass swiftly with plates of food. A large table is holding a breakfast social in the back.  A trio of guests lightly lob orders over the counter for made-to-order breakfast sandwiches. A woman sitting alone uses her forearm to pin down a paperback book  beside a plate of eggs. The space is active and still … still.

I move into the lobby lounge and find more morning mediation in motion: newspapers fan open and closed like rustling butterflies, revealing only glimpses of the people behind them; tall cups of coffee dot the table-scape of the room; no one is making eye contact; no one seems to be aware of the person beside them.  Everyone carefully packing and unpacking their ideas and plans for the day.

Although I’m pulled from my own thoughts, having begun to imagine the stories seated at each of these tables, I am loathe to interrupt anyone.  Not even the few tables with pairs of people talking in animated whispers. Not even them. Not this morning. This morning feels sacred somehow, as guests scroll through their smart phones, scribble into notepads, consult their watches, and wait.

The quiet will end soon.

A man sitting on a lobby couch folds his paper and stands.  He’s a tall, stocky guy, I’d guess in his mid 50s, dressed in jeans and a Raiders long-sleeve shirt.  He tucks the newspaper into a pocket of his roller bag and guides his luggage out of the lobby lounge.

I step back over to the café side and nearly collide with a conga line of guests leaving their large table meeting.  New diners are arriving in twos, some with matching padfolios and some with matching wedding rings.

The quiet. It will end.

A woman races in, arms weighted with bags and folders and gadgets.  She rattles off a breakfast order, bounces from foot to foot while the barista and cook prepare, pays for her to go meal and flies out again.

The quiet has gone.  In a matter of minutes, the vibration of the cafe has changed to a heightened frequency and the new guests are arriving with intention.

I am still in a space of contemplation, however, and would like to hover here a bit longer.  Perhaps this is what endears me to Fall, a sense of being suspended inside the transition from summer to winter.  Here, in this narrow window of days, transformation is the priority.  Right now, inside this sliver of a harvest morning, it will be the promise of emerging possibilities to carry me through a gorgeous autumn day.

Back to the Future

“Don’t you remember when police officers had the baseball cards?”

This happens a lot. Though I’m Milwaukee-born, I’m an Army brat and didn’t fully experience the city until I moved back an adult.  Subsequently, I miss many of these “remember back when” references of my Milwaukee-bred peers.

“Don’t you remember??” he insists.

Gabriel is a true son of Milwaukee. I met him over a decade ago when he was a radio personality for WMSE.  As we pass one another in the lobby, we both do a double take, hug, and fall into our usual rapid-fire exchange. The last time we bumped into each other this way, we stood talking in a grocery store parking lot. This time, at least, we had chairs.

“So, let me get this straight,” I say. “Once upon a time, Milwaukee police officers walked around with baseball trading cards in their pockets?”

“Yes.”

“And handed them out to the kids on their neighborhood patrols?”

“Yes.”

“And it became your life mission to restore this tradition because …?”

“My son.”

Aha.

I settle back in my seat. The evening bustle of the front lobby sweeps back and forth in front of us as Gabriel tells me about his project, Cops4Kidz.

“The officers who patrolled my neighborhood as a kid, they gave us cards,” he said, recalling how he and his friends had often hoped for football or basketball card, too.

“I mean, we took ‘em,” Gabriel says with a laugh. “One, they were free. Two, they were still sports cards.”

All grown up, Gabriel instantly thought of those cards while out walking with his son one afternoon. His son was seven at the time and they saw an officer at the end of the block.

“We were coming from the library, and I was already feeling like SuperDad that day,” Gabriel says, his face filled with animation.  “I decide to go for the bonus round and score my son a pack of cards.”

Gabriel’s grand plan fizzled on two counts: his son was afraid to speak to the police officer and the neighborhood cops didn’t carry trading cards anymore.

“It was such a small but such an enormous thing,” Gabriel said, his face serious now. “I knew the officers in my neighborhood and they knew me.  Simple, but it went a long way. I wanted to see what I could do to help bring it back.”

Gabriel started with a string of phone calls to various precincts and district headquarters.  Once he reignited their interest, he contacted national distributors for sports cards and secured boxes and boxes of cards for baseball, football and basketball. Once he began placing cards into the hands of beat officers, Gabriel imagined other possibilities.

“I approached Summerfest about hosting an all-star game between police officers and teenagers. This summer was our third year,” he said. “Our motto is ‘let’s meet on the playground and not the battleground.’ ”

I ask about his son, who’s 14 now, and what he thinks about the work Gabriel is doing.

“He loves it.” Gabriel says.  “Especially helping with the games. Plus, he can see there’s no reason to be afraid of police if you haven’t done anything wrong.”

I raise an eyebrow.  Gabriel raises his hands in mock surrender.

“Yes, I’ve had my issues with the police,” he said.  “Arrested in front of my own house for not having my ID on me, handcuffed in an alley another time because I looked like a robbery suspect. Yes, I’ve been through the drill. But the police force isn’t made of up of boogey men. There are more good humans who happen to be cops than bad ones who got the job. It’s all about building dialogue.”

I give him a slow nod.  “So how does all this bring you to the hotel today?”

“See that man over there?” he says, pointing his chin toward the lobby lounge where two tall and distinguished looking black men were looking over menus. “He was the community relations officer who first helped me with this.  He’s retired from the force now, but he still checks up on me from time to time.”

In fact, he’d told Gabriel about a tribute event to honor NBA legend and Bucks icon, Oscar Robertson. Gabriel’s eyes light up as he rattles all the names he hopes to see passing through the lobby.  I can easily see the little kid in him, stacking his favorite cards in a pencil box for safekeeping.

“You’re just a big kid,” I say teasing.

“Of course I am,” he replies. “Of course I am.”

Elevated

When people wax poetic about “the good old days,” it’s not often that they’re referring to the 15th century.

“Artists had it best during the Medici period,” my table mate says to me.  She’s referring to the Italian dynasty famously credited for ushering forth the Renaissance. Their patronage of promising new artists such as Botticelli, Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and even Galileo launched a trend where arts patronage became one of the ultimate status symbols for wealthy families.

“If there were a tax break, patronage might have a comeback,” she says. “We do need patrons again.”

Her name is Amanda Marquardt. I found her in the café as I was scouting someone to share a cup of coffee. I picked her out right away: dark hair with fair features, fierce haircut, fluid movements as she worked on her laptop and an appraising sideways glance as I sat down with my coffee.

Amanda has recently returned to Milwaukee, after 12 years in Los Angeles, to help out with her niece and nephews. A graduate of Milwaukee High School of the Arts, Amanda has been immersed in the arts for as long as she can remember.

“I’ve been dancing since I was three, started instruments when I was 10 and theater when I was 14,” she says.

Amanda describes some of her work as abstract, “late night,” and a bit sardonic. Her plays have earned three nominations for LA Weekly Awards; she’s been a tour manager for the Prince Poppycock, a past finalist on  America’s Got Talent); she produces authentic burlesque shows; and is regularly consulted as a Vaudeville expert.

“In the 20s and 30s, it was working,” Amanda says. “Clubs would include 10-12 chorus girls in their budget. Costumes, a choreographer, a live band. They all were paid. Not a lot, but they earned a working wage.”

“Why do you think things changed?” I asked.

“All that money was yanked out of the budget, out of the schools, out of the social infrastructure,” she says. “The struggle is that, now, people will spend $150 a month on an insurance policy they probably won’t use, but can’t see the value of the arts.”

We talk about the life of an artist, the sacrifices, the necessary drive, the investment of time, education, training and the unbalanced payoff of financial instability.

“There are so many talented people who used all of their saving to move to LA, but can’t go to auditions because they have to work three jobs,” she says.  “The risk is so high.”

Amanda and I share woeful observations about mass market entertainment and how arts and culture will be defined for a new generation, especially with the withering investment of the arts in schools. She’s currently building a Shakespeare children’s theater.

“There are kids who can actually sing who don’t make the cut at Disney because they don’t look a certain way,” she says. “It’s all a big machine that diminishes the other things the arts can do. I was encouraged when my little girls told me they preferred being at rehearsal instead of watching TV.”

Amanda’s friend from high school, Matt, arrives.  As he approaches the table, she introduces him as “a wonderful visual and conceptual artist.” He raises a blush, shrugs one shoulder. Matt is blonde, clean shaven with a youthful glint in his eye.  He also works full-time in the engineering department for the Pfister.

“He’s creating the artwork for my upcoming show,” Amanda says. “I should be able to write him a big fat check for his incredible talent.”

I turn to Matt and explain, “We’ve been talking about the state of the arts.”

“She opened up Pandora’s box is what she did,” Amanda says to Matt.  To me, she turns to say, “He’s heard all this. A lot.”

Matt chuckles and excuses himself to wait at another table with his portfolio. I ask Amanda why she thinks artists keep at it, with the deck stacked so high.

She folds her hands in her lap, gives me a wry smile and says, “I have no other marketable skills.”

“I know better than that,” I say after a laugh. “To sustain an artist’s career for as long as you have, you have an arsenal of marketable skills.  So, really, what pushes you?”

Amanda leans back against the cafe bench to think for a moment. “Where we have evolved is incredible, but where we could be makes me sad,” she says. “A society that values its creative community is one that is elevated. People don’t see the immediate value, but I know that the arts completely inspires people.”

We say our goodbyes, Amanda with a production to plan and me with scribbled notes to sort through.  As tempting as it can be to second-guess a career in the arts, Amanda’s bold conversation was fortifying to this writer and, I’m sure, the many young people and performers she will mentor. Completely inspired, indeed.