Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Something's Coming

"Michael," they said, "We've been thinking about this for a long time. We'd like to involve you as part of the Broadway Live family. Would you be interested in...."

And, after an initial "Yes, of course!" and subsequent conversations it comes to this:

I will be writing a new regular feature for the Broadway Live series here in Lexington.

Amazing.  The historic venue where I saw my first original Broadway tour calls me home to write about the magic yet to come.

They are calling it "Broadway Live Insider".


Shall we dance?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Not a single day

"Thinking and sweating
And cursing and crying
And turning and reaching
And waking and dying" 
-Stephen Sondheim, Merrily We Roll Along, 1982

April 15, 2012

It is one year to the day that I was handed a "dismissal without cause" letter signed by the Commissioner of Education and Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and escorted from my corner office on the eighteenth floor of the Tower. Taken down. Stripped of my ID, my Tower Pass, my Company Phone.  In the light of day.  Some colleagues were there.  They saw it.  The system did not want that.  They asked I stay down in the HR office until the workers were gone so that my humiliation might not be witnessed by my colleagues, my friends. 

"Wait until after work hours," They said. "We'll give you until 6:00pm to clear the building."

 I said "no".  Take me now.  I want them to see this.

The next few days and weeks were horrifying for my partner Tom and I.  Thankfully, we were able to negotiate a somewhat feasible settlement with the Kentucky Retirement System.  There was an Angel at their office.  We sent her a kind card. 

Late spring and summer followed.  Tom was ever supportive.  I spent days at the pool while he went to work.  I slept.  A lot.  We cancelled long-planned trips to New York to see shows that we had paid for and to attend the coveted James Beard Awards that he had so looked forward to.  His first being a member of their Foundation.

I still don't know what happened, really. But I do know this:

A former colleague reached out. I have spent the past school year proudly serving as a leadership facilitator for an educational cooperative in eastern Kentucky hungry for support and growth.

At the recommendation of one of the most powerfully connected women in Lexington, I have been named to the Board of Directors of a center that serves special-needs infants and toddlers. 

People believe in me.  Tom believes in me.  My family. People like you who post comments here and otherwise.

I turned 50 in the midst of all of this and have never felt more alive.  Free, even.

Just an update, a year later.

"Till the days go by, till the days go by
Till the days go by, till the days go by."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Is She?

Mom was admitted to the hospital on the Monday prior to Thanksgiving.

I visited.  Once. My sis Vicki could go home for the one hour that I was there. To take a shower and bring back Little Debbie snack cakes.

Mom didn't know me but she thought I was cute. She said as much as my Sis and I were hand feeding her the Little Debbies.

"You're cute," she said. With the Most Precious Eyes and all of Heaven shining up at me.

People ask "How is she?"

I say, "She's doing better."

She is back in the nursing home. There are Alzheimer's horror stories out there about eldercare, but we think Mom is being treated well. Vicki no longer has to sleep beside her hospital bed to ensure the night nurse tries to feed her pills.


How Is She?

After chopping off all the arms that reached out to me;
after boarding up all the windows and doors;

after filling all the pits with poisoned water;
after building my house on the rock of a No
inaccessible to flattery and fear;

after cutting off my tongue and eating it;
after hurling handfuls of silence and monosyllables of scorn at my loves;

after forgetting my name
and the name of my birthplace
and the name of my race;

after judging and sentencing myself
to perpetual waiting
and perpetual loneliness, I heard
against the stones of my dungeon of syllogisms

the humid, tender, insistent
onset of spring.

-Octavio Paz

But maybe-

that's Me. 

Maybe that's the answer to the question seldom asked.

"How Are You?"

Grant that I might respond:  "The humid, tender, insistent onset of spring."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

He Ain't Heavy: He's my Brother

Education is our family calling. 
Bred.  To care.  Baptist minister Grandfather. Taught school in a one-roomer and had spirit enough to care about the struggling country children. Long before the Appalachian label. Way before the Kennedy/Shrivers made us documentary barefoot fodder.  Papa Douglas Miller just... cared.   Became sort of a silent icon. Saintly Grandfather Superintendent.

Mom went to school at Eastern when it was a college for young women.  Back in the day when that was what young ladies of a certain age did:  become Teachers.  She and Dad moved to northern Kentucky.  She secured a teaching job. It remains a family mystery what angel must have opened that particular door for an Estill County girl to land a prime job in what was then, and in many ways still is, a rather elitist northern  district. Moving away from the cloudy misty homesafe of Irvine.  It was scandalous at the time, I reckon.  Janice Miller, eldest daughter of a potential oil fortune, moving away and following a dream. (escape?)

Her husband, having failed at regular schooling, procured a Barber College certificate of some sort and opened his own shop up there in the faraway. Dad had a shop within a few months with paying barbers.  Across from Ontario's Department Store and right next to the first Ponderosa Steak House in the region. Prime location. Salad bar!

Within a few years they gave birth to a son.  Me.  My memory of those days is a mixture of the large fish tanks in Dad's barbershop, Mom's particular pride of what I wore to "her" school on the first day, and lots of alone time, as a firstborn child. Alone. Time with myself.  Both parents working in an age when that was rare. There were Froot Loops and Batman. That was plenty.

Tonight, I got a call from my brother.  He is concerned about the test scores that are about to be released at the school where he is now Principal.

Calling me for advice, I suppose.  Or solace.  Or, "Hey Bro, what should I say to my staff when they get the news?"

I didn't have much to say, other than "that failed No Child Left Behind policy is bullcrap".

What I should have said is:

"Education is our family calling.  Tomorrow morning, find the first lonely child fresh off the bus and call her by name.  Ask her to breakfast in your office.  Tell your secretary to hold all calls.  You have a very important meeting with the most important person in the building."

Friday, July 1, 2011

To be of use

"The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls."
-Marge Piercy

On April 15, 2011, I was sent into dallying shallows. 

Almost out of sight.

The official letter, handed over to me in circumstances that I have chosen to get beyond said, simply: "Your services are no longer needed.  You are being dismissed without cause."

The first days weeks of this news were beyond understanding.  A career ended, it seemed.  Decades of dedication to public education erased like blackboards I had washed clean in late afternoons as a young teacher in my very first classroom.  Wanting everything to be fresh for the next day. But now: No dust of chalk. No blackboards. Things, it seemed, had changed. My services were no longer needed.

So. Be. It. 

A few weeks ago, I was contacted out of the blue by an innovative educator.  His vision is to provide direct one-on-one support to principals, teacher leaders, and superintendents in the most struggling schools in our state.  He heard that I was "available" and said to me, "I don't know what happened up there, but you know more about curriculum and teaching than anyone I know.  Folks in eastern Kentucky respect you. They know you are one of them. Would you be interested in working for us?  It would mean a lot to the kids in the region where you grew up. We need you to help make a diffierence." 

I said, "Yes."

And so, this coming school year, I'm going home.  To give what I can to the children of my homeland.

To say I am not terrified by this chance would be profoundly untrue.  Between now and then, I shall swim, read, re-create, and prepare for my recovery from the dallying shallows.

"We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the ones who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear."
-Adrienne Rich

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

i killed my kindle

"I see nobody on the road," said Alice.
"I only wish that I had such eyes," the King remarked in a fretful tone.  "To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too!  Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light."

-Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

I killed my Kindle today. 

At the pool

In the middle of a sentence of Karen Russell's brilliant Swamplandia!  I decide to go for a bottled water.  It was so hot.  At the pool.

Cool drink of water.  Sit down.  Refreshing.  Cold, even, on this very hot day.  Put in the iPhone earbugs for some Enrique.  Toes dancing.  God, it's hot.  "You're so damn priiiity.  If I had a type I know it'd be yuuuu...."    Nap.

Later:  Let's see what the Bigtrees are up to.

Reach into the beach bag.  No Kindle. 

I sat on it.  Dead.  I killed my Kindle today.

You learn a lot about yourself in moments like this. My first thought was not that I had killed my Kindle, but that I needed to know what happened to the Bigtree family in Swamplandia! and how they would survive without me knowing. Or without me with them. 

So, I go the the Lexington Central Public Library, wet swimsuit and all (very Swamplandia!, if you are familiar with the mid-chapters) and type in the title.

There is one copy available at the Tates Creek Branch.  The tidy librarian puts it on hold. For me.  Like magic. I drive out and retrieve it.

So, now I have Karen Russell's Swamplandia in hard copy at no charge.  And the Bigtrees can live.

I come home and find my place in the pages.  Kiwi is being shat upon by the pigeons, just like at the Pool, hours earlier.  Just like on Kindle.  But, better?

Holding a book in my hands again.  From a free public library. 

"Laundry is my last priority right now, V."
"Shit, I'd rethink that! Have you smelled you? I will, like sneak your laundry into my house, bro. My mom loves doing laundry, it's like this Immigrant Mother disorder? She uses Lluvia de las Montanas detergent--it's so badass.  You'll smell like Costa Rica!"

-swamplandia, the print edition (and maybe in eBook, i dont know)

Thursday, May 19, 2011


"Oh, thinking about all our younger years,
There was only you and me,
We were young and wild and free."

Today, precisely at nineteen minutes into the treadmill at Jefferson Fitness Center, I was slapped by a loving revelation.  Godsmacked.

I've been finding solace there recently, following my recent dismissal  transition.

I was a member of Jefferson Fitness Center a long time ago.  I would go there after work.  Escape from the stress of my "job".  And "life".  It is now owned by a wonderful woman who bought the place 12 years ago and has made it, once again, the go-to gym/fitness/rehab place in downtown.  No memberships, no commitments, they say.  And they mean it. 

But, there is one commitment I have made to this place:  Sanctuary.

Every single person there is in transition.  Every. Single. Person.

I swim alongside women who could be my Mom, if she were not confined to a nursing home in Richmond. Precious Mermaids, these Golden Girls, in baggy ill-formed swimwear.

I see Dad in every 50-ish man who is working on his weight and on meds that if Dad had access to (and a Holy place like this)  may have lived another decade or so.

And then, there's me.

Awaiting final paperwork for retirement, at age 49.  Blessed beyond belief.  Wondering what's next for me once the cloudy haze of what has happened brings a sunrise that not even Mom and Dad could imagine. 

Transition.  Sanctuary.

So, back to the treadmill revelation:

Pandora iPhone earbugs in.  DJ Sammy.  Closed my eyes and dragged the HELL out of:

"And love is all that I need
And I found it there in your heart.
It isn't too hard to see
We're in Heaven."