Discovering Theater

I’m in love.

That’s what I found myself thinking on Saturday night as I guided my aging Ford Ranger around the curves of Needles Highway east of the Black Hills Playhouse. The euphoria of an intoxicating encounter with my beloved had lifted my spirits almost to the point of song.

Since I make a joyful noise – emphasis on “noise” – when I attempt to carry a melody, I rarely attempt the feat. “Almost to the point of song” is the epitome of joy for me, and that’s where I was as my headlights pierced the darkness, leading me home to dream happily of my enchanting evening.

My girls are rolling their eyes as they read this. They’ve seen it before, the way I am consumed with joy by a new passion.

The summer I took up gardening – which, in my case, involved digging up my landlord’s carefully tended grass to replace it with bed after bed of perennials – Sara was in Milwaukee, working as an au pair and falling in love for the first time. When she called, wanting to talk about Kurt, I excitedly shared with her details about my columbine, bleeding heart, coral bells, daisies and purple coneflower, among others. For her, our two passions were not in the same league.

For me, they were. I woke early in the morning to eat breakfast in my garden, wrote poems about my garden, took roll after roll of film to document every development. I was consumed with joy and alive with creativity.

The last few years have been rough on me. Long hours at work. An inability to negotiate mutually respectful relationships with folks with whom I had significant value differences, including – unfortunately – my parish priest. (I never cease to be amazed at the number of people who are unable to understand that folks don’t have to agree with one another to treat one another with respect.)

I was dry inside when I moved to Custer nearly three months ago. The Black Hills Playhouse has changed that for me, not only the productions, but also the people. I went out before the first production, “Lend Me a Tenor,” to do a set-up story, and floated back into the office a few hours later.

Linda Anderson, the executive director, took me around campus, introducing me to people. I was enchanted, and prepared to like “Lend Me a Tenor,” whether it was good or not. (It was good.)

However, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” truly fell like renewing rain upon my spirit, giving life again to that which is creative within me. I went out to the campus the week it opened on Saturday afternoon and listened to the directors’ talk. There I learned how their creative vision shaped the show I would see.

I sat under the picnic shelter when that was over and interviewed Dan and Deb Workman, this year’s artistic director and company manager. They have a joyful and nurturing presence. Just talking with them is a gift and grace. After eating dinner with them and with Linda, I went into the playhouse to see “Joseph.”

Like a lover, I didn’t want to leave when it was over. I wanted to hug every single member of the cast and to say over and over, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” The gift they gave me that night was without price. I left feeling alive inside, feeling the need to express the gratitude that welled within me. I was ready to paint again, for the first time in years. In years.

Only true beauty, only excellence can evoke that kind of response in me. It was like sitting in front of one of Signe Stuart’s paintings for the first time. At the time, I had never set foot in a museum, had never picked up a paint brush, but I saw it, gazed at it for hours over a period of weeks, and I needed to paint, too, to find my creative voice and express it.

I still hear Iah Kinley’s voice singing “Close Every Door” from “Joseph” and wish I had a recording of it, so I could never forget. The whole cast was amazing, and Martha Stai was incredible as the narrator, but Kinley’s voice moved something deep within me, and I regret not seeing “Joseph” more often. I only saw it twice. Fool.

Fortunately, “Joseph” wasn’t the end of the season. Over the weekend, I saw “All Shook Up.” Granted, Elvis classics aren’t in the same league as an Andrew Lloyd Webber composition, but the cast is still incredible and I am still as much in love as ever.

It’s hard to believe the Black Hills Playhouse almost didn’t survive. How grateful I am to all who made this season possible, whose dedication and generosity sent out ripples that touch lives in unexpected ways.

Gramma, what’s a book store?

Both of my girls tell the same story.

When they were growing up, money was tight. I was a single parent who did not receive child support. I was happy when I could cover bills, pick up necessities and treat the girls to a McDonald’s Happy Meal from time to time.

They received toys as birthday gifts and Christmas presents, not as impulse purchases when we stopped by Kmart (in those pre-WalMart days) to pick up cleaning supplies, toiletries and socks. That is not to say they didn’t look – we always made a detour through the toy section. We just didn’t buy.

Then, we’d walk down to Waldenbooks to browse a little more. Inevitably, my resolve would weaken there, and they would each get to pick out a new book while I picked up something off the bargain book table. They remember this.

“Mom never had money for toys,” Sara told her future husband the first time we met, while we were sitting around a table at Borders in Rapid City drinking coffee, “but she always bought us books.”

Katie has told friends the same thing. With the news this week that Borders, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February, would close all of its stores by September, I find myself wondering whether I will be able to share the marvelous experience of browsing through bookstores with my grandgirls.

Granted, Amazon.com is convenient. A few weeks ago, my brother emailed me to ask about some books on Catholicism for his granddaughters, and within a matter of hours, I was able to send three age-appropriate books their way.

But, buying books online, convenient though it may be, doesn’t offer the same pleasure that walking through a bookstore does. I do the same thing every time I step through the doors of a bookstore. I take a deep breath, as though I could inhale the wisdom contained within those walls, and let my eyes wander over the rows of books. Only a church can fill me with that same sense of awe.

However, between Amazon.com and e-readers, bookstores are becoming threatened habitats. Borders is closing, which probably means the remaining Waldenbooks stores, too, since it’s a Borders subsidiary. Barnes and Noble is for sale, having closed it’s B. Dalton stores in recent years.

Sadly, few small, locally-owned bookstores remain in areas where the superstores cropped up. In another century, when I started college, Brookings had several little bookstores – one or two on Medary near campus, in an area which has since been consumed by South Dakota State University, and a couple downtown.

Then, Waldenbooks moved in. The children’s bookstore closed. The other downtown store diversified, becoming a gift store, and the others closed. Ten years later, Waldenbooks pulled out when mall management increased the rent, making the store less than viable. The gift shop downtown increased its selection of books again, but doesn’t carry children’s books.

That’s not an isolated incident. That’s part of a pattern seen across the country.

So, if we don’t have bookstores that are part of nationwide chains and we don’t have local bookstores, where will my grandgirls and I go to share the adventure of finding the latest book in a favorite series or a new author? Where will we sit on the floor challenged by the need to choose between all of the books that appeal to our imaginations?

Times change, I know. When I was a kid, personal computers didn’t exist, phones were connected to the wall and long distance calls were paid for by the minute. When I was a kid, cameras had film which took two weeks to process, and the local theater showed one movie, sometimes for two weeks in a row.

I concede that point. But, why must bookstores be among the treasures threatened by change?

Dirty Little Secret

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but … but … but I like getting special attention because I’m a journalist.

I like finding myself on a first-name basis with celebrities and decision-makers. I like the stories I get to tell about some of my experiences.

For example, six or seven years ago I took one of my professional detours, accepting the position of executive director for a nonprofit organization. About 20 minutes after I arrived on the first day, the sheriff’s deputy showed up and served me with papers. I was being summoned into court. Not an auspicious beginning to a new job.

Several months earlier, I had done a ride-along with the local Game, Fish and Parks officer on the opening day of pheasant season.

I have a decided penchant for ride-alongs of any sort. I’ve done ride-alongs with law enforcement officers on Saturday nights, and watched them break up fights and deal with domestic disturbances. I’ve done ride-alongs with weather watchers, and found myself down-on-my-knees grateful not to have experienced more than a little hail. I’ve done ride-alongs when fishing licenses were checked on the Oahe reservoir, and ended up with the most painful sunburn of my life despite using sunblock.

Ride-alongs not only help me appreciate the demands of others’ jobs, but also give me more information than I could ever obtain with an interview. Sit in a car with a law enforcement officer at 3:30 a.m., after she has just had to break up a fight behind a bar that involved a broken beer bottle, and you will know that officer’s character. You will know why men and women choose that profession, because at that moment the officer will speak to you with a blatant honesty not tempered by the need to be politically-correct.

Truthfully, I did the ride-along on the opening day of pheasant season that year out of desperation. I was tired of writing the standard opening-day story for the paper, but I couldn’t come up with a new angle. I was hoping the ride-along would give me something a little different – and it did.

When the officer was checking hunting licenses, I recognized one of the hunters as a member of the South Dakota National Guard who had returned from Iraq a few months earlier. We started talking, and he shared with me how healing it was to walk the fields with his dog after the trauma of carrying a weapon for self-defense. That story felt like a special gift to me.

However, that was not the experience which led to the court summons. That event happened later in the day. The conservation officer and I were parked on a bit of a bluff, using binoculars and a spotting scope to watch hunters in the area. The driver of one pickup was acting suspiciously. He was driving slowly along a road that bordered a game production area.

I wondered aloud why he didn’t park his truck so he could do some hunting. The officer didn’t give me a direct answer. He just told me to keep an eye on the truck. I did, and before long I saw the guy take a shot from the truck. For those who don’t know, that’s a no-no without a disabled hunter permit. The driver was known to the conservation officer, who also knew he didn’t have the required permit.

As soon as he took the shot, we left our perch and before long the guy was being ticketed. For those who don’t know, had the guy entered a guilty plea, he would have paid a small fine, but lost something more precious to him at that moment – his hunting license. Those kinds of offenses result in a mandatory revocation. So, he decided to fight it. He entered a not guilty plea. A trial date was set, and I was served with papers. The trial date was repeatedly moved back all the way through hunting season, and then he entered a guilty plea.

It’s funny now, but when I was served with papers on the first day of a new job, it wasn’t nearly as amusing.

Lately, I’ve been savoring the opportunities provided by my job because I’m been spoiled by the staff at the Black Hills Playhouse. On the first day I went out for an interview with the executive director, Linda not only answered my questions, but also showed me around and let me talk to all kinds of folks. It was an enchanting experience. I floated back to the office.

I’ve enjoyed every visit since, and have been delighted to discover that rubbing shoulders with theater folks has rekindled my creativity. Last weekend, I went out to do some plein air painting for the first time in years. That, too, provided me with a great story in addition to a new painting.

I was struggling with the green areas – the grass and trees – when I suddenly felt someone watching me. That’s not unusual when painting on location. Folks always want to see what I’m doing. I’ve learned to be civil, to let my brain functioning switch from right to left in order to put words together in some semblance of a coherent fashion. On that occasion, I turned around, ready to greet whomever happened to be there, and saw a deer standing about 10 or 12 feet away from me.

She cocked her head a little and wagged her tail a couple times and then took off. I felt like I was in a Disney movie. Had she said something, I would have known I was in a Disney movie. Since she didn’t, I just savor the memory of that moment, and understand again what God felt when he finished his great creative endeavor.

“God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Gen. 1:31, NAB)

Very good, indeed. And I got to share in it simply because I happen to be in a job that gives me incredible opportunities.

And that means?

I give up. What is a faberist?

Apparently in 1891, the editor of the Custer Chronicle was irritated with someone in Hill City. I would speculate, if Hill City had a newspaper called the Hill City Miner, it was the editor of said newspaper. The vitriol published would probably result in a libel suit today. I could feel my eyebrows reach for my hairline as I read it.

So that you aren’t left wondering (after all, it’s been published before): “As usual, the crude faberist of the Hill City Miner, in his reply (?) to our article appearing under the caption of “A Single String,” aims his deadly (?) shaft at us, and thus fails entirely to hit the question at issue. Our adjectives have been a constant source of annoyance to him, and he seemed determined that we shall scale them down to the level of his understanding.

“This latest effort of the miner to make an intelligent reply to us is, by all odds, the most sickly failure he has yet made, which, after distorting, garbling and omitting all of the salient features of our article, succeeds only in exciting the pity of the readers, for his evident and unmistakable failure to be either funny or sensible. His utter imbecility, aggravated, doubtless, by his protracted residence at Hill City, is becoming pitiable, and sorry for having given him any attention in the past, we will in the future, treat his silly and senseless mutterings as we would the incongruous jabbers of a HIll City inebriate, i.e. permit it to pass unnoticed.”

OUCH!

That being said, my insatiable curiosity raised what I believed to be a salient question. What is a faberist?

My dictionary didn’t include the word. I googled it. A bunch of German sites popped up.

Faber is apparently a popular German name. “Dompfarrer Faber ist EuroVolley Botschafter.” “Nadine Faber ist deutsche Vizenmeisterin.” “Simon Faber ist Flensburgs neuer Oberburgemeister.”

So, I wondered if a Faberist might be someone who subscribed to Faberism. I googled Faberism and briefly thought I was on the right track. I found numerous references to “Faberism exposed and refuted and the apostolicity of Catholic doctrine vindicated: against the second edition, ‘revised and remoulded,’ of Faber’s ‘Difficulties of Romanism.'”

My hope was short lived. The book, written by Frederick Charles Husenbeth, was published in 1836. The work being disputed was written by an Anglican theologian named George Stanley Faber. Somehow, I couldn’t imagine either Faber’s work, originally published in 1826, or Husenbeth’s making its way to Custer in 1891 – or attracting the attention of two newspaper editors. Why on God’s green earth would they debate Catholic church doctrine?

That being the case, what might the editor have meant? I eventually decided the Custer editor meant to use the word “fabulist,” a noun which means “composer of fables” or  “a teller of tales, a liar.” That might make sense.

So what is the point of all this? I’m not sure, but my research did remind me how marvelously flexible and adaptable language can be. I like that. I like language evolving with the culture and times.

That malleability ensures we can say what we need to say in a way that others can understand. That delights me, too. Lucky me! Lucky us!