Thursday, July 31, 2014

Party Talk in St. Louis, Jimmy Fallon & Phyllis Diller

A chorus of tree frogs after dark. Laughing with Judy. A cardinal chirping just after dawn. Gathering with the Five Favorite Female Friends. Surprising Edward at a coffee date. Squealing with glee at seeing Ellen. Delivering drive-by hugs to dear friends who answered their doors. Coping with 100 degrees one day and then basking in a night cool enough to open the windows. Being entertained by stories from Gail and Gail. Reveling in the company of the Wise Women Book Club. Eating fabulous meals with Judy and Scott.

These are just some of the highlights of a recent quick trip to St. Louis. Though I lived there for 62 years, I don’t call it home anymore. Four years ago I headed west, and I’ve been around long enough to know that dwelling on the past does not serve me well. So when a guest at Judy’s wonderful birthday party asked me whether I miss living in St. Louis, I said no. His face registered shock and dismay.

“Don’t misunderstand,” I said to the man, someone I do not know well. “People I love live here and it means a great deal to me to be with them again. But I don’t miss St. Louis.” When I left town, I felt as though I had interviewed everyone (at least three times!) and been everywhere and done everything multiple times. I was ready for a new city, new people, new experiences. I have embraced that every day in the City by the Bay.

A friend in St. Louis told me when she mentioned my name to a woman she knows, the woman immediately brought up the column I wrote in the Post-Dispatch when my son went to college. That column was so popular that it ran in August for several years in a row! How nice to learn that someone remembers it.

In that column, I wrote that it’s important to take responsibility for living an interesting life. It’s certainly easier not to -- and yet, at 66 I am even more certain that the only way to avoid confronting sameness on a day-to-day basis is to generate change, to expand, to reach out, to learn something new, to go a little crazy now and then.

I’m taking my own advice. Here is an excerpt from an email I sent recently to about 70 women:

“Here, in the cocktail hour of my life (thank you, Ken Page, for naming it so perfectly), I have decided what I want to do next!

I have enrolled in a three-day workshop in August and then an eight-week workshop in October on how to develop, write and perform a solo show. Both workshops are with experienced professionals and opportunities are available if I want to go further. Added bonus: A friend believes so strongly in this venture that she has covered my class fees -- my first corporate sponsor! 

Jimmy Fallon, here I come! (Oh no, what to wear???)

Back to reality: My theme is the chasm between what we expect of ourselves at this age and what so much of society expects, and how those expectations influence how we think of ourselves. I used to be on the outside looking in, personally but also professionally, as I covered aging and Boomers and interviewed many older adults for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Now I find the view from inside is so different!

Though I have never taken an acting class, I am comfortable on stage, and not just dancing in red sequins and fringe. (Long live Voluptua!) I've given hundreds of speeches to audiences large (650 at the Ritz) and small (eight women in a church basement) and I know how to tell a story, get a laugh, maybe help someone think differently.”

I asked my friends to send me stories about their experiences (troubling or funny) when they thought they were being underestimated because of their age. Now I am asking a broader audience, so please share this blog post with any likely suspects.

Thinking about being funny (and profound) on stage has brought to mind time spent in Phyllis Diller’s house in Webster Groves. In junior high, I was friends with her daughter Stephanie. We took the family-leased cab to a shopping mall and McDonald’s, we tried on Phyllis’ costumes and, with Steph’s siblings, we played musical instruments in the Dillers’ basement. Sometimes, Phyllis asked us to sort through jokes sent to her, and recommend which ones she might want to incorporate into her routines. I tell myself now that that part of my past proves I can move forward in this new adventure with confidence. 

Voluptua’s sequins seal the deal.