Hashtag Expensive Cat

We have a new entry in the list of “Unforeseen Expenses.” This one is titled “Save Magellan!” because apparently his kidneys are apparently at risk of collapsing.

We found this out Saturday because he ate a little bit of chocolate – I don’t know why, he’s never been very interested in people food before but hey cats they’re like kids only usually less expensive. Usually. Ugh.

It became clear as the day went on that he was in an increasing amount of pain, so we rushed him to the emergency veterinarian hospital and we discovered that the source of his suffering had little to nothing to do with the chocolate. Nope. His urinary tract was blocked up something fierce. Which meant he had crystals in his bladder. And this also apparently means that his kidneys are at risk for collapsing if not treated immediately.

Right now, Magoo is at the vet and doing okay, they tell us. After a $900 deposit, they’ve unblocked his UT, but he’s being kept under observation until at least Monday night to make sure he’s peeing regularly on his own.

All of this care and attention is running up an estimated bill of $1560, provided there aren’t further complications. As of this blog, friends have donated $520, a third of the estimate, to Magellan’s GoFundMe page (thank you all so SO much! I am literally screaming you don’t even know), but I’m appealing to strangers here too. Any amount of money would be so, SO helpful.

As you can probably guess, we don’t have a lot of cash on hand, and certainly not enough to cover this bill as quickly as the hospital has been asking for. My mom is disabled from a stoke in 2013 and, while she’s improving quickly and has gotten part time work as a music teacher, she’s still unable to hold down a full-time job. I’m her full-time caregiver and thus require a more flexible schedule than any area employers are willing to grant me, so other than freelance singing and occasional reviews for DC Metro, I’m unemployed. My brother has an assortment of part-time jobs that keep us afloat and has a few job prospects now that he’s nearly finished his masters degree, but the money he makes is all swallowed up by our existing bills; mortgage, electric, Mom’s hospital and therapy bills, student loans, car payments, and the list goes on.

A reasonable question would be “why are we bending over backwards for a cat?” Simply put, he’s family. Magellan was born four years ago in my mom’s closet, to a cat we were sitting for a friend. He bonded with Mom immediately and has been her baby ever since. He cried for the month she was in the hospital after her stroke and couldn’t be moved from her side when she came home. He’s been her cuddle-buddy all through her recovery, sometimes being the only thing that kept her going off the deep end when the depression overwhelmed her.

He’s one of the most loving cats I’ve ever owned and we would all be absolutely devastated to lose him, be it because of health concerns or because the hospital wouldn’t treat him due to money issues.

So please, donate if you can. Share the link with other pet lovers. If we meet our goal or somehow go past it, the excess money will be donated to resources like Red Rover, which helps pet caregivers in crisis, and which I’ve been using to find additional resources for Magellan.

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Reviewer Woes

Last Friday, I saw a show in Baltimore. I reviewed it and you can read it here.

But it’s missing something. This evening, my editor removed this paragraph:

In a similar vein, there’s an unavoidable streak of bi-erasure present in the script. It may be played for quick laughs here, a sign that Michaels’ friends and family understand him,  but with lines like “you’re going through a phase,” and a discussion about everyone being “addicted to the penis,” the very possibility of not just Michael being bisexual but of anyone in the world of this play being bisexual is completely dismissed. It’s a familiar and damaging narrative, the inclusion of which does Tying the Knot no favors.

He did so in reaction to an email from the playwright, who said I had completely missed the point. I don’t know if he requested that the paragraph be removed – the comment I was forwarded didn’t ask for it – but my editor did so anyway, despite my objections. Despite my discussing it with him on Saturday and backing up my opinion with lines from the play, something which he’d assured me time and time again in other, happier reviews, was the only criteria I needed to meet if I had a criticism. And that’s obviously a lie.

I’m flabbergasted right now. By the playwright and by my editor. I started reviewing in the book community, where an author approaching a reviewer or publisher like this is considered the height of being unprofessional. Authors are regularly and rightly laughed out of the proverbial arena for behaving like this, because it is implicitly understood that reviews are NOT FOR THE CREATOR. Once you’ve put yourself out there enough for a reviewer to come into the picture, your creation is no longer yours.

Yes, you wrote it and now, you fool, you’ve set it loose into the hands and minds of strangers who will consume it and interpret it from a million different experiences and perspectives, none of which you can control. And they will always find things to criticize. Some of those criticisms will be baseless but many of them will be on to something. This is why you share your work, as liberally and openly as you can, to get feedback from as wide an audience as possible, so that you can be sure that before releasing a final product you’ve made your point as clearly as possible. This is why creators have editors, beta readers and critique partners, go to workshops and conferences, where people you barely know will take your baby into their arms and objectively tell you it’s ugly. Because that is the reality; you have an ugly baby. But it doesn’t have to stay ugly! These people with the opinions you may not want to hear are the safeguards of the creative process, there to make sure that what you ACTUALLY say is what you MEAN to say. Because, as a creator, you can do what no parent can: wield your scalpel pen and make that ugly baby beautiful.

God knows I’ve shared work where the feedback I’ve gotten is horrible, where people have completely missed what I intended and came out on the other side. It hurts. It can be humiliating and infuriating. But in nearly every case, after I’ve calmed down (usually a few weeks later, I admit), I’ve gone back, looked objectively at what was said versus what I wrote – not MEANT to write but ACTUALLY wrote – and discovered that I had indeed dropped the ball.

And while I may have brought a perspective to this play that makes me more sensitive to bi-erasure and the like than the average viewer, I don’t think anyone who goes to this play can doubt that it’s in need of some editing, in terms of the obnoxiously repetitive content at the very least.

I’m sorry that the playwright is upset that I’ve seen something in his work he never intended. I’m sorrier that he didn’t get that feedback earlier, either because no one picked up on it or didn’t think it was their place to mention it. I’m glad that my editor told him to search for a 5-star review elsewhere. I’m equally angry, if not more so, that he nonetheless removed the offending paragraph instead of letting it stand for audiences to consider for themselves.

And I’m so tired of fearing that every time I see a less than stellar show, I’m going to have to defend my criticisms to a higher standard than my compliments are ever held to, only to have them dismissed anyway at the first sign of controversy or argument.

Tl;dr – The 26 year-old with only an associates degree under her belt is the most professional party in the equation and it is exhausting her.

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International Cat Day

Happy International Cat Day! The day wherein the rest of the world officially recognizes what cat owners call every day.

And to celebrate in her own special way, this cream puff of a cat hasn’t left my side for more than 5 minutes since I got home nearly six hours ago.

the purring. the magnificent purring.

the purring. the magnificent purring.

My legs are the only thing keeping her from falling off the couch. The benefit is that my calves are getting a lovely massage from her purrs…

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Seeing the Light

Coming out of a mild but persistent depression I’ve been stuck in since at least May, maybe even April. As awful as the deep depressive episodes are, I think I hate the mild ones even more, because while I’m not miserable, I end up wasting months of time feeling lethargic and directionless before I *realize* I’m depressed and start climbing out. It’s time I could be writing, or singing, or fixing the myriad of small problems around the house, etc. Months go by and I have nothing to show for it except a moderately clean house and anxiety over why I’m not writing more.

Writing has actually helped me get out of it. I really put the pressure on myself to get back to rewriting Nevermore (which is going pretty well so far, thank you for asking) and the whole process of diving back into that has reinvigorated me in so many ways.

I’m still a little adrift – taking a year and a half off Life to take care of a disabled parent tends to throw people off their grooves – but I have a plan now. I’m going back to school to get my degree in art history. I’m going to start therapy to deal with my daddy issues and my self-sabotaging tendencies. I’m actively getting out of the house and taking Mom with me so we don’t go stir crazy. I’ve started an exercise routine and I’m meditating.

My life is a work in process but I’m *working* on it again after a long period of just… floating by.

Hopefully, therapy will help me recognize these periods sooner so I don’t get stuck for so long, just wondering what’s wrong with me. Until that gets started, though, I’m going to enjoy feeling productive again and keep the fire going as long as I can.


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in case you were wondering

Oh, yeah, the novella is going great. No no, I’m fine. That isn’t blood, I promise. Just ignore the scent of charred flesh and tears. Nothing to see here. The writing is coming along just fine. Totally, absolutely fine. It’s fine. Fine.

Just move up the months so that the final image is May and you have my current state of mind.

Just move up the months so that the final image is May and you have my current state of mind.

(please god someone make the words stop hurting me i didn’t mean to anger them so no not in the face not in the face nooooooooo)

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The review that ruined my weekend.

You can read the review that (eventually) got published here.

This is what I actually thought about it:

Anne Arundel Community College’s Spring production, The Phantom of the Opera, opened Friday night at the Robert E. Kauffman Theater. The prologue of  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera takes us to Paris in 1911, at an auction within the dilapidated Paris Opera House. From here, we’re swept further back in time by the unveiling of Lot 666, the infamous chandelier. This prop is the stuff of Broadway legend; the great chandelier which, later in the show, plays an unforgettable part in the Phantom’s terrorizing of the opera house. The music swells. The lights change. And a rather anemic looking chandelier slowly – slowly – rises above an empty stage while the overture plays. This imbalance – part of the production hitting the mark and another part falling short – is indicative of the problems that will plague the rest of this production.

The Phantom of the Opera is theatrical big leagues. You either go big or go home, because if any part of the production is out of balance with the rest, it risks the quality of the show as a whole. Having said this, one may wonder why a community college would try put it on at all. But the answer is easy. For all the technical and artistic difficulties inherent to Phantom, it’s a familiar show and a fun one, and a wonderful bridge between musical theater and traditional opera. Students should have a shot at it if for no other reason than to test their capabilities and see how far they still have to go.

And this production does rise to the challenge more often than not. Gabe Taylor as the Phantom is amazing. His acting is spot on and his voice carries the perfect intensity for the role, managing to be  subdued yet menacing. Jeffrey Walter as Raoul is charming, clever, and courageous. Emily L. Sergo is perfectly cast as the diva Carlotta; she’s always appropriately over the top, “strutting about the stage” and acting like she owns the place in all her scenes. Kristina Tardif Banks and Reed Sigmon play the often underappreciated roles of Mme Giry and Maestro Reyer, both bringing a nearly comical sense of severity and impatience to their respective roles. Many of the performances are even more impressive when you consider that they’re all still students.

There’s a lot of good vocal talent on stage, the main cast especially. No one’s technique is quite up to the challenges of the score, but everyone does their best and they manage to pull it off.  Vocal coach Mary Anne Barcellona would be well advised to give everyone a refresher course on diction, however. There were several moments, particularly in ensemble scenes, where lines were lost entirely in a sea of mumbling. Having microphones is no excuse to get sloppy.

The orchestra, under the direction of Blair Skinner, is absolutely wonderful. My only complaint is that the volume occasionally overwhelmed the singers – brass, I’m looking at you. Otherwise, my hat is off to everyone in the pit. Michael Klima did a great job as lighting designer, and Sean J. Urbantke created some amazing sets. Some of the set pieces are very large and the transitions are slow, but the final effects are worth it. Kristi Schaffner’s choreography is lovely and well executed, and the costumes by A.T. Jones are beautiful, though some of the many, many dresses could use a steam before the next show. And while we’re talking about costumes, the quick changes are impressive in theory but could definitely use more practice. There’s some struggle going on which distracts the performers and consequently distracts the audience.

I wish that I could in good conscience end the review here. The students of AACC have worked hard and it shows, despite my minor complaints above. But there are two very big problems which undermine this otherwise impressive student production of The Phantom of the Opera.

The first problem is director Doug Byerly’s staging, which breaks a cardinal theatrical rule. Never sing or act with your back to the audience. And I saw an awful lot of backs. By facing upstage, the audience is deprived of the actors faces, missing out on key reactions and emotional displays. And going back to diction, even with microphones, it makes a difference in clarity, volume, and diction when your actors are facing upstage or into the wings. Dialogue was lost. Emotions were lost. It’s bad staging which underserved and undermined the cast.

In addition, too much of the action happens upstage and those actions get lost. A perfect example of this is in Act 1, during that first brief reveal of the Phantom’s face.  The family sitting behind me had to explain to a member of their group, who knew nothing of the show, what was happening, as no one could clearly see what had occurred. The audience should not need foreknowledge of a show to make sense of staging.  Finally, I’m assuming there must be something wrong with stage left, because with only a few exceptions, the majority of the action and staging took place stage right. It was, in a word, awkward.

The second problem is casting of Christine. At a glance, Laura Sparks seems ideal. She has the ingénue look and when she stays in head voice and doesn’t belt, her voice is well suited to the music. But she can’t act, and in this role, it’s unforgivable.

Though the title of the show may be Phantom, the story is truly about Christine Daae , the manipulation of her mind and emotions at the Phantom’s hands, and her breaking free from it. Those who know the show understand that Christine is an incredibly complex character, who both fears the Phantom but has been made reliant on him. Sparks’ portrayal gives us no hint of this. As Christine, her emotions swing between two extremes: giddy naiveté and screaming hysterical terror. When not forced by the script to emote, she seems to suffer from Deer-In-the-Headlights Syndrome, either smiling blithely at the audience or staring vacantly. A kid sitting near me audibly asked what was wrong with her as she felt herself up during “Point of No Return”. And in her final scene, when Christine says goodbye to the Phantom, Sparks’ reaction is to grimace and scrunch her shoulders up to her ears as she walks offstage. There’s no compassion, no sadness, no relief at being free; just an immature gesture of disgust. Considering that Sparks already has a degree in vocal performance and a good deal of experience on the stage, I expected much better.

And thus, we have an imbalanced performance. Taylor as the Phantom gives us a terrifying yet tragic madman. Walter as Raoul is compassionate and courageous, and it’s easy to root for him as he tries to save Christine. Sparks just gives us a pretty face and a nice voice. Her Christine lacks any emotional depth, coming across instead as an immature flake. In the end, I was left wondering why the Phantom and Raoul were even fighting for her.

The Phantom of the Opera is one of the greats for a reason, as the music and story can stand even when aspects of the production fall short. I applaud AACC for trying their hand at such an ambitious show; in nearly every aspect, they’ve done better than I would’ve ever anticipated from a student production. But when casting in the future, make sure your actors are up to the challenges of their characters.

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And now my editor thinks I’m mean.

I am annoyed by the state of my life.  Some version of “You were a very strong candidate, but we’ve decided to go with someone else” has been uttered more times than I care to count over the past six months. It’s happened with job applications. I’ve gotten it in auditions. I’ve gotten it with my writing. I guess this is just part of paying my dues but dear god I’m so sick of being almost-but-not-quite good enough.

My one bright spot – aside from making Plans for Nevermore (Mwahahahaha) – is my new reviewing gig with DC Metro. God knows I love to wield my pen in critique of others.

I am Mabel Pines. Mabel Pines is me.

I am Mabel Pines. Mabel Pines is me.

So far, the vast majority of the shows I’ve reviewed have been good. The only exception has been a community college production of The Phantom of the Opera. And dear God, that one was bad. The show was on Friday and I’m still having to rewrite the review to meet my editors standards and not hurt anyone’s feelings. Also, he wants me to bump up the star rating. And just say the Christine was having a bad day. I’ve gotta lie and I hate it. It was a bad show, even for a student production, and I don’t believe in coddling people when they’ve fucked up. They picked a show beyond their capabilities simply because the director wanted to be the first local theater to do the show and they cast a shitty actress for the female lead. But I can’t say that. That’s not how the game is played.

And now I’m having another mild existential crisis over whether or not I’m good enough to write bad reviews.

Ugh. I’m going to go play with matches and evaluate my life choices.


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