Have My Red Shoes On

Today is raring up to be a hot one.
I can hear the cicada chirping outside as they do on hot summer mornings.
Their song takes me all the way back to early mornings in North Carolina.
Sweet memories.

Today I am traveling
I am telling Pushing Boundaries
and to do that I have to revisit the 1960s and70s.

Its a trip I enjoy
Except this "run"of the show its been very much a sentimental journey
without Jim
sometimes there have been rough spots with tears threatening
but I have managed to get maintaint "traction"
and move the story along to safer ground.

That's what storytellers do
We travel in personal as well as story space
Sometimes it is like working on an emotional high wire.

We know it can be risky
that's part of the challenge
and why
I m wearing red shoes.


Catching 1970s Second Wave Stories - before they slip away

Pushing Boundaries is my memoir of the 1970s with ERA as the centerpiece. Tomorrow at 7:15 PM is the last performance at the Capital Fringe.

I love reliving-by-story those years when I morphed from a very traditional southern girl housewife to a national ERA activist.

My transformation started in 1968 when, as a 29 year old mom,  I decided to go back to college. That decision led me to the streets of Washington DC on July 9 1978 to be a part of the NOW organized march in support of the extension for that campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

These days when I tell this story I close with a Q and A and ask for memories of those times from the audience. I relish hearing their stories.
For instance during this run -
 *  a middle aged man told me, " my mother was President of the Massachusetts League of Women Voters in the late 1970s and she took me to all the ERA rallies. I remember all about that campaign."

 *  a Capital Hill professional woman told the audience about working for a young Congresswomen in the 1970s and about how she marched on July 9, 1978 alongside a small woman who would later become a Supreme Court Justice.

 *  two women told me stories of being on members of the first Women's Commission in their state.

 *  an Honorable women who has served more that 35 years in both the House and Senate of her state talked about how hard it was for a woman to get elected in the 1970s.

*  an artist remembered days when she was a member the Washington Women's Arts Center - "it was wonderful."

*  women at all performances raised their hands, "yes" - they were members of Consciousness Raising Groups where women talked about the "issues" and learned the power of Sisterhood.

 These stories add a special life and meaning to Pushing Boundaries because our stories of that exciting and challenging time for women are not told in text books.
Our daughters and grand-daughters will not know the full fabric of those years when women were pushing boundaries for them if WE don't tell them.

We are the veterans of the 1970s. Our hair is silver and sometimes our steps falter. Think about it. We could slip away without telling our stories.

Please join the effort to collect these stories. Tell us your story in a comment to this post or go to facebook.com/secondwavealbum and post a comment or picture there. If you don't feel comfortable doing either please send me an email at ellouise1@juno.com and I will post for you.

If you weren't there maybe a woman in your family was. Ask her. Add her story!


About Face

Hello. Leo here.

Things are getting dicey around here so I decided it was time for me to get my hands on the computer.

Ellouise is standing straight, telling stories at the Fringe, and keeping her hand in on Facebook - but behind the scenes she is getting a bit shakey.

Why you wonder. Its almost 5 months since Jim died. Some people will ask - "Isn't she past the hard stuff yet?"

Well we thought she was but - - - next Wednesday is Jim's final burial at Arlington - and its as though she has been yanked back to Day One.

The work of getting ready for her Fringe show has been a good thing - kept her mind occupied and given her hard work to do. But she only has two more shows - and then its done. Shop closes.

Preparing for August 1 and Jim's burial - also a focus point. Yesterday and today Ellouise spent an hour on the phone with Arlington National Cemetary going over questions and details. Gathering the information to email to the relatively small contingent of folks who are invited. The Mass will be at the Old Post Chapel which is inside the gates of Fort Myer Army Base so there are special instructions for driving in. Talking with the Chaplin about the Mass - including the music and the readings. Tweaking and thinking - or would that be thinking and tweaking. Anyway, it took a long time especially talking with the internment guy about her concerns that the airman with the white cotton gloves might not be able to keep his hold on the slick glazed surface of the urn. 

When someone asked her, "Where did that come from?" she told them, " I woke up worrying about it. Look, I used to organize events and I learned then to pick things to pieces so you are prepared when something unexpected happens."

Later, when she was talking on her cell phone in the car, I heard her telling her sister Kathy that she's worried - wondering what happens on August 2 when both of those jobs are completed.
What then?

So, she's thinking about next week, even next month - but she does not have a clue what's ahead.

From what I have seen since I've been here  I feel safe in saying, "something will turn up."
Only one thing-
She is not listening.


Full Day

My friend Betsy came down from PA Thursday to see the Pushing Boundaries show and I was so happy to have her there. As I have been happy to have her friendship since we were Girl Scouts together in Charlotte, NC.

We had a wonderful time - topping off our Thursday evening after my show with another Fringe show and a stop by the cafe in Politics and Prose Bookstore to pick up several pieces of lime chiffon cake to "go".  The weather turned on us and we drove home in the pyrotechnics of an electrically dramatic and drenching rainstorm. I admit I was scared - especially knowing that the last leg to drive to my house was heavily treed with a canopy of branches arching over the road. So relieved as we drove into the driveway. Once we changed from our dripping clothes and dried out - that cake tasted all the more delicious.

Next day I asked a very special favor of Betsy - to drive with me to Arlington National Cemetary to visit my daughter, Gretchen. This is where we will bring Jim August 1. I want to open myself to accept that.

We sat on the grass and talked for a long time. The tour buses filled with tourists passed several times. I wished we had some deviled eggs and fried chicken for a picnic. "Do you think this is a bit nuts?" I asked Betsy. "No, its southern. We are back to our roots"

Our grave is near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier so we stopped there since Betsy had never seen the changing of the guards. It is a solemn and moving ceremony.

Then we drove the same path the horse drawn caisson will follow as they take Jim to his grave. Its more of a distance than I remembered from the Old Post Chapel. I know I can't walk the whole way - so I will call Arlington tomorrow and find out how they handle stopping the cars and letting people get out to walk part of the way following the horse drawn caisson. So many things to think about and work out in my mind.

Later than evening Betsy and I went to see Vijai Nathan's Fringe show
McGoddess. Good storytelling, well woven story - funny and touching. Perfect.

Full day!


One Day at a Time

My days are complicated - workwise and emotionally. 

Some things are very exciting - i.e. telling Pushing Boundaries at the Capital Fringe. I thrive when there are shows to tell.  I felt the telling was good at the first show. Frankly more than anything I was plain relieved to be able to tell it.  Well, my euphoria did not last too long. Two days later the reviews were posted - one really whapped me up side the head. The reviewer, a man, was baffled by the concept of Sisterhood - and turned off completely by the still strong feelings about the Equal Rights Amendment women have. So, although he "had nothing to critique" about my storytelling he gave me a three star rating. I was disappointed. 

But I decided to try and analyze his review and see if there was something I need to know. There was - - - although it took me a few readings to "get it". Because I was protecting myself and my ability to tell the story I had taken much of Jim's presence out of this version of the story. I can see that I have to put him back in because the bits about Jim humanize the story. 

So - here I am today reworking some areas of the story - which is going to make it much more of a challenge to tell. I talked with an experienced media guy about this - he did not pull his punches. "When you put something political in it you brought it on yourself." Ouch. 

I don't think of ERA as political - it was part of my life. "Doesn't matter. You don't know whether it was part of his - - in a negative way - maybe he had a messy divorce or his mother left him at school because she was at a rally."  Oops - says I.  " Stand in front of an audience and anything can happen."

"Why did you take Jim out?"  "I don't want to cry." He startled me by asking, " what's the worst thing that can happen outside of running your mascara? - - Put him back in. "
Hmm????? So I will look like a racoon. Maybe, so.

Lesson learned.

The other emotionally complicating factor is that two weeks from tomorrow is Jim's burial at Arlington National Cemetary. Around the edges of my peformances I am arranging the guest list and a small reception after the burial and honors ceremony. Its a bit much. 

I keep thinking I would like to have undisturbed time to think and journal in this last two weeks before the final burial. But I also wonder - are the diversions helpful?
OK - -  why am I doing the Fringe when these two events were bound to collide? Good question. I have often asked it myself. 

First I had committed to the Fringe before we realized Jim would not still be here with us. As that became clear he encouraged me to get back to storytelling as soon as I could. Its so easy to "lose traction" when you are dealing with a devastating loss and he was hoping storytelling would be the "grace" to help me through. I am hoping he was right - but I won't really know until both the Fringe and Jim's burial are behind me.
One day at a time. One step at a time.



Two big passages for me yesterday. My 76th birthday
and telling Pushing Boundaries at the Fringe  -
without Jim being there. So many reached out to help me cross those bridges with calls, cards, flowers and notes: my kids, family, friends and the community on Facebook. It felt like a "village" handing me along one step at a time. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The birthday was a sweet non-event that was easy. But --- the storytelling was another FIRST. And it was hard! I was proud of myself that I did it! At the finish I stood a bit straighter and breathed in deeper. But, I am not fooling myself - it will be a challenge every time - it just won't be a first!

Only a hand full of folks in the audience knew about the personal challenge.Storyteller friends tell me yesterday was a strong, excellent telling of the story - and I trust them because they have heard it before. The reviews are not posted yet so I hope the reviewers heard it the same way -
 When I stepped into those red shoes - the story took off.

I call Pushing Boundaries an ERA Memoir and it is - but it is so much more for me - its a chronicle of my life with Jim. Stage by stage as I entered the women's movement and my 1950s ideas of being a woman changed. There is much that is not in the story. Those were tough days for everyone - for all the women involved in the movement working for social changes and their families.

Jim and I always counted ourselves lucky because our marriage survived the emotional sunami - and we celebrated 56 anniversaries. Maybe someday I will add some of those stories to the program - well, probably not. But I know the stories - of anger, mis-understanding, fear, and challenge moving to acceptance, understanding, humor and kindness - - you know, love.


Yesterday after the show one woman stopped me - "I was there too but you put it into another context for me that I have not seen before." 

There it is - why I love storytelling and how sharing stories can connect people.

Its the reason I will keep facing the challenge,


Ah, Venezia

If you asked me to name a special birthday -
In 2003 Jim and I spent the month of July in Venice.

We rented a small charming artist's apartment near the Arsenale, rode a vaporetto to our Italian classes at the Instituto de Venezia every day, saw every exhibit at the Biennale and danced in San Marco Square under the stars. We just basked in the magical atmosphere that envelops Venice

On my birthday Jim took me for a drink at the fabled Harry's Bar and for High Tea at the legendary Florian's Cafe which faces onto San Marco Square.

It was the best of times.

In a city we both loved - from our first trip there in 1977 to - - this very day.


Just asking

This crow perched on the top of a pole over-looking the patio at Starbucks calling out "CAW CAW CAW".

Someone told me a crow is
a sign of good luck
and a sign of change.

I know for sure everywhere I turn there is change - nothing in my life is or feels the same.
I hope that the "good luck" part is also true.

My first Fringe show is tomorrow.
Good luck would be very helpful because I cannot seem to be still or focused long enough to feel well-rehearsed.

Then I ask myself -
what is "well-rehearsed" for a storyteller.

I don't memorize the story.
I tell it - -
and this story I lived.

Certainly I know it -

Ah ha - then it's in the telling
But can that be practiced?

Isn't the telling in response to the audience?

That being said
does the story rely on who comes to hear it
to make it what it will be.....

Could that be true?

Just asking.



Talking with Juliane Brienza, Director, Capital Fringe

Capital Fringe opens today. But, several weeks ago I had a chance to interview Juliane Brienza, Fringe Director, while all the pieces were still coming together for Capital Fringe 2012.

Thought this would be a good chance to take a look at the "back story" as the Fringe momentum kicks off.

Prepping and primping

Getting ready for the Fringe includes mundane tweaks like repainting the chipped paint on my stool. That's like putting on lipstick.

Preparing a program and taking it to Staples for copies. I like to have them fold it for me. The crease will be precisely in the middle and the it will be sharp.

Have to buy a new countryman head-piece mic. When we tested yesterday - mine was broken. I guess after 5 years I have gotten good dollar value out of it. For me the head set is much better for a long performance than the I like using the lavilier. The trick is to anchor the mic wire to your face with clear band-aid strips so that it won't slip. Jim was great at that.

I bought a smart white linen jacket that I really like. Ordinarily I prefer to wear "experienced" outfits for performances so that I don't fidget with my clothes but this is a plain simple jacket and like anything light weight linen - it comes with a slightly lived-in look.

On a whim I went to Macy's for a make-up refresher. It was fun and the woman knew what she was doing  - and I was pleased with the new me.

It was all fun except for one thing. They re-use the make-up brushes from client to client. Although she assured me she was cleaning them with antiseptic "brush cleaner" I was a tad apprehensive - but went ahead with it anyway.

Drat. This is a word of warning for you.

I should have followed my "feeling". Several days later I was on the phone to my doctor for a topical antibiotic for a new infection on my face. Not exactly how I wanted to face an audience. Vanity. Vanity.  and I hope will be restored by Saturday.

When I was taking a creative writing class at the University of North Carolina I wrote a story about a young woman who - when she afraid - or nervous - chose her outfit carefully - usually wearing red because it made her feel brave. That's the job for the birthday shoes Karen gave me -


Just saying

 These days I am absorbed with getting ready for Pushing Boundaries for the DC Capital Fringe. My first show is 4 days away on Saturday July 14 - my birthday.

If you read my Facebook postings you already know all about this as I post about it incessantly as part of the marketing to fill seats -

But there is no denying the elephant in the middle of the room. This is the first major storytelling event for me where Jim will not be there. To tell you the truth - I feel differently nervous, not for the story - for me. I am a new widow and that's a very vulnerable person to be. They tell you, warn really,  that in the first year everything is a "first." I can verify these firsts make some days unexpectedly more raw - especially since you can't seem to predict what, how or who with grief.

Today when I went to the Goethe Institut for my tech rehearsal it was comfortable and familiar and  I thought - "this will be fine" until I entered the auditorium.  This is my third time telling stories in that room - always with Jim present to help set things up. It was great to see the same sound guy who has been there for the previous shows - except when I had to tell him Jim was not coming. 

I have not written much about this because 
it is what it is.
it is not going away
Jim is not coming back.
I have to adjust.
but bottom line  - its brutally tough.

The Pushing Boundaries story is in good shape. Its a story I lived as well as wrote and I enjoy telling it.

People ask me, "why are you taking this on 'so soon'"?
What else would I do?
This is my job.
Jim encouraged me to get back to telling stories as soon as I could. He thought storytelling would be a saving grace for me.
I think that as well - or I would not be doing it.

Besides that - look, I don't have time to languish while I "get better".  Saturday I turn 76. 
I want to tell stories now.
Pushing Boundaries is more than a compelling personal story its part of the grassroots history of the 1970s women's movement.  

We all have stories that are a window into the life of our times. Anyone that knows me knows I am somewhat hipped on their importance.

Maybe I am talking about my vulnerability now - to ward it off  - - while I tell the story.

Hope it works.

Thanks for listening.


Memories smell good.

In her book "The Total Memory Make-over" Marilu Henner talks about using your five senses to bring back bits of your past. 

Thinking of that I remembered this blog post from 2007.

October 2007:  North Carolina candy apples photographed one October in Mount Airy, NC. Karen and I were on our way to Charlotte. When we saw the highway sign for the turn to Mt. Airy we decided to take the detour and visit this town which was used as Mayberry in the Andy Griffith Show.

We rode into town on a beautiful October day and found a Fall Fair filling the main street. There were stalls selling crafts, food stuffs, and Christmas gifts. We stopped to listen to an old-timer playing a rousing fiddle tune. At one stall a couple was dipping apples in hot candy syrup and dropping them onto metal trays to "set". It smelled spicy and sweet and filled my head with memories of being "home". 

July 2012:
Something that happened this week that I am sure I will not forget.

  A friend gave me this gardenia plant when Jim died in March. This week it finally opened a gorgeous velvety white blossom and filled the living room with a heady perfume. 

The intoxicating fragrance reminds me of 
high school prom wrist corsages
and warm summer evenings in North Carolina
sitting on the front porch drinking iced tea near blooming gardenia bushes.


There was a storm here.

It is now Tuesday - July 3

Last Friday night a ferocious storm came through the DC area pelting us with rain and hail, while scary winds tossed and uprooted trees, cut off power and knocked out AT&T towers. I was home alone - and sat on the stairs to our basement holding our quivering dog until it was over. Fortunately I had grabbed a lantern on my way downstairs.

Nothing has been the same since.

Turns out our area was fiercely slammed.  Trees in the neighborhood streets, lights and A/C are gone, and no telephone or cell phone service. We were fortunate on the tree side. But no AC, power, or telephone service is quite a blow. We have been totally disconnected.

By Sunday night the house was hot and humid. Our little dog looked pathetic stretched out on any cool floor spot panting in her diminutive fur coat. Tempers frayed. Then - good news. My son had his power back. My daughter Karen and I, taking my dog and her cat, evacuated to their air-conditioned house where there are lights and WI FI. You know what we were thinking. Tomorrow will be better.


Still no power at  home. Karen has escaped to our house outside Gettysburg where there is power, a/c and the internet works.

The dog and I stayed here with Jimmy and family so that I can go back and forth to keep an eye on the house.

The Pepco website says it will be Friday July 6 before a return of the power and AT&T guess-ti-mates July 9 for cellphone service. AT&T has 300 plus towers down and the ones in our neighborhood are scheduled for later - - no doubt because of the old, massive and beautiful trees that litter the streets and fell on houses. We are grateful we only lost limbs.

When I was a Girl Scout Leader I never took my troop camping because
being hot and sticky and sitting in the dark was never my idea of a good time. 

Guess what?
I have not changed my mind.
Take away the cell phone and the internet  - - well, there are no words.

Tonight I am pricing an in-home generator - one that kicks on when the power goes off.
Maybe I can afford one to light, heat or cool two rooms - and run the internet. I won't be picky.
Just enough so the dog and I can stay home.

Our little dog does not like being away from home.
She is getting downright grumpy.