As I think about the direction this podcast is going, I realize I want it to be more story driven and less Op/Ed. Sure, I like to put my thoughts out there as a little cud to chew for the readers and listeners, but I’m finding I get plenty of that on social media already and maybe this show ought to veer toward interesting stories. I’ll finish giving you the articles that are already written, even if they’re my opinions, but after that, it’s going to be all great stories. And that’s why I’m asking you up front to help me out a little by sending in your own stories - stuff you think would be interesting to tell to the whole world. So stick around at the end of the episode and I’ll tell you how to get those to me. Right now, though, I’m Michael Blackston and I’ve got a few things to tell you about my own Funny Messy Life.
You’ll be able to tell right away that this first one was written a while back, but I thought it was an interesting piece, since it mentions an element of my life that happened at the same time my sister and I were building that dang float I told you about in episode 10 called, Sister Sister. It’s a peek into how crazy my life was at that time and why there was ...
No Sleep For Me
Here we are only a couple of weeks away from curtain and I can’t sleep one stupid wink. The little clock in the bottom right corner of my laptop says 2:50 am and just above it a tiny, bug-eyed paperclip stares back at me inside of his pink square. We, the paper clip and I, are the only people in the world not asleep right now.
Sleepless nights are nothing new to me. I go through a few days of mild insomnia about three or four times a year and I can usually deal with those. A little late night house cleaning and a few crosswords on the iPad while I wait for the Nyquil to kick in and I’m good. But there’s a unique thing that happens every now and then when sleep becomes a stranger and there’s only one good explanation for it - Showtime is approaching.
It’s called “Thespio-Insomnia”. Thespio – as in having to do with the dramatic arts, and Insomnia – as in you’d be willing to use those little black metal clips to clamp your eyelids closed while listening to a speech by Al Gore on the history of tax documentation if it’d promise just a little bit of sleep.
It’s a phenomenon I just made up that presents whenever I’m directing a live show and get to around two weeks from curtain. I’m sure it happens to others, too - actors preparing for their roles, Prop Masters who are in charge of making sure nobody touches the props in a show full of kids, - but as the Director of the program, it’s an all out war waged on the mind, body, and spirit in the middle of the night. It’s a cruel demon that pushes a crazy cart with a wobbly, squeaky wheel in my head all night long. That cart is spilling over with set designs, staging issues, cast problems, deadlines, and any number of other considerations that seemed to be simple on paper, but have become the stuff of nightmares as opening night gets closer.
A typical night in the worst of it goes like this:
I come home from a rehearsal, placing one exhausted foot in front of the other, zombie-like, toward the bathtub where lies the sweet promise of water hot enough to soothe my back and make my fingers look all wrinkly and gross.. My back wants it, my feet yearn for it, and my heart needs it. While I’m in the bath, the residue of the issues from the latest production might - I said Might - fade into the back of my mind and I’ll start to relax. For some insane reason, I’m fooled into a state of euphoria that tells me that upon my next move to the bedroom, I’ll find the sweet restoration of a good night’s sleep. I slide into the bed under blissfully crisp tubbins (Tubbins are my family’s word for covers and the explaination for that deserves its own piece) and I actually do fall asleep. Let’s say this happens around 11 pm.
At 11:15 pm my eyes fly open and every nuance of every problem with the show seems like a mountain that’ll be impossible to climb. I’m suddenly inundated with the madness of the cold, hard, truth. The lighting is nowhere near ready, the sound is anything but complete, the set is way behind schedule, the cast is waaaaayyyyyy behind schedule.
And we’re supposed to be off book by now … HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
Crap, I forgot to mention that costume issue to them tonight! We don’t have all the props we need! I mean, where in the world am I supposed to get an 18th century bamboo pigmy lantern shaped like a monkey head?! (I knew I should have snagged that one I saw last year at that thrift store!)
So and so refuses to project. Such and such projects too much! AND WE OPEN IN TWO WEEKS!
Such is the life of the director of a show.
Every time I do one, I get to this point and I have to ask myself why I continue to be involved with such nonsense. I already know the answer because the answer never changes. It’s in the blood that courses through my veins. All the issues that need to be dealt with are nothing compared to the thrill of a stage awash in lights and an audience just barely able to be seen beyond them. It’s the craft as a whole thing - it can’t be sectioned off in pros and cons, you savage! And it’s the end game. It’s a performance that pleases the crowd.
But this particular show is a bit different from the stuff I normally direct. Months ago I mentioned the inclination to put together a Christmas production as a thank you to the theatre and the city for all the hard work and expenditures that had gone into a major remodel and renovation that broadened our local theatrical capabilities. The idea for the show was accepted and scheduled and I’ve been excited to bring it together.
In my mind, it should’ve hardly been stressful at all. It was to be a concert style affair. That meant that no real staging or blocking needed to be done. The set would be quaint, but minimal, using the brand new fancy pants lighting they just installed to set the mood and three simple microphone stands placed across the stage. The cast was hand-selected - not auditioned - and rehearsals would be a cinch.
I thought I’d be spared the interruptions in my sleep patterns, but I was wrong, Jack! I've got to face some things about the show and they ain’t pretty. There’s stuff to be done and I mean quick.
A couple of nights ago, the same old drunk demon got behind the wheel of the crazy cart in my head and started screeching down the nightmare road. Sleep became unsettled and tonight is worse. I’m wide awake. The actual times were: To bed and finally asleep at 1 am. Jolted awake at 2:30.
And it always starts the same way.
“Be GONE, demon,” I command.
The nasty little imp just laughs and wheezes and weaves his cart with the funky wheel over the center line. He’s singing a really bad version of For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow. So not only is he drunk and singing way off-key, but he’s also WRONG!
“Be gone in the name of JESUS!” I mentally shout and in reality just angrily flop over in the bed, my jaw set in defiance, or more accurately, a pouty face. But since this isn’t really a demon, just my mind being an idiot, it laughs even harder and starts singing an off-key version of How Are Things In Glocca Morra from Finian’s Rainbow with a bad Irish accent. At least now it’s a showtune.
Next I resort to pleading.
“Plu-huh-huh-heeeze let me sleep and stop thinking about all the theatre-y stuff. Give me rest and dreams about chocolate cookies and the white kitty from CATS!” (I think her name’s Victoria. Yes, my wife knows she’s my favorite kitty.)
Now the inebriated incubus stops the cart and has gone quiet, but only just long enough to make me think he’s giving up at last, only to suddenly sing louder and more off-key in an even worse caricature of an Irishman. Same show, different song.
“Look, look, look to th’rainbow!”
Come to think of it, this just might all be the details from a dream I had after eating too much taco pie right before bed one night. Seems like a too-much-taco-pie dream. And I’m also starting to think the demon is really just the little guy from the Lucky Charms commercials.
Anyway, it ought to be an interesting day. I have a CD of the performance music to finalize, a large sign to paint for the parade float that’ll help promote the show, a script to write for what little narration we’ll have, a lighting plan to put into place, emails with update info to send to the cast, an audio recording project to work on, and several other things I can’t remember now but that will, I’m sure, pop happily into my head around 2 am tomorrow morning with the distinctive voice of a leprechaun. In other words, plenty of wine to keep that evil demon drunk while he kicks his heels and pushes the crazy cart down the windy road of my brain.
The good news is that I can usually function okay on days like the coming one will be. And I do have the option of a nap this afternoon if I need one.
But odds are that I’ll start going down the list, feverishly trying to get as much done as I can before I’m off on a business trip that’ll be the cause of me missing an entire week of rehearsal.
I can do this as surely as I’ve done it so many times before on a much larger scale. And I wonder how much fun it would really be if we got to the end and I thought to myself, “Well, that wasn’t a difficult process at all.” I think I’d probably feel like something was missing because there’s nothing like a job well done when the work’s been hard.
I have the coffee pot ready to brew, but I won’t push the button just yet. I think there’s something in the bible about not brewing the morning’s coffee before 6 am.
I hear my daughter in the other room calling for her juice, so I think I’ll check in and see if I can be of any assistance to my wife, you know, since I’m up and all.
Why do I do this to myself?
Because I love it, that’s why.
We’ve all had those days when we really want to get going, but stuff - call it lack of focus, not awake enough, being a moron, whatever - keeps making us spin our wheels in the mud. My wife will tell you how angry I get when that happens, so I thought I’d try to put a comical spin on one of those times when ...
I Just Wanted To Leave
I’ve been so busy lately that I nearly forgot to put this episode together. For a plan-your-work / work-your-plan type of person like me, that can be stressful. It had to be done, though, because there were other things that took priority over the podcast - things that revolve around the care of my family and things that create income for said family. Mama raised me right; God and family come first, then income, then peripheral stuff like blogging, podcasting, or the Punkin Chunkin’ World Championships.
What are the Punkin Chunkin’ World Championships? I don’t have time to tell you. There are other things that take priority over that, but the name ought to be enough to get you close anyway.
I will say that some things are negotiable in the priority chain of command based on their monetary values, but no price can be placed on the family portion – no price.
You can make me an offer and we’ll see, but it’s probably not gonna happen.
Make me an offer.
JUST KIDDIN’! Calm down, you! Save your anger for a post called maybe, Is It Possible To Sell Out Your Family And NOT Go To Hell?. The answer, by the way, is a resounding “no.”
My hobbies aren’t the only things that have suffered due to my mind being occupied by other stuff and I think that adult readers will relate to the morning I’ve had. First, for the past few days, I’ve been hosting an abnoxiously angry tooth. It’s one of the molars in the back. I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s exactly PO’d. I’ve dealt with angrier teeth. But this one has definitely got its dander up.
Aside from the tooth, there’s also been a ceremony or a concert or a party of some sort my son has had to be a part of on several nights for the last two weeks. We're also preparing a trip to Disney World. I have a very young daughter – enough said, and a teenage son.
Due to all of this on my mind and more that I won’t mention because getting to the point is a priority, I had a hard time getting out of the house this morning.
It started in a fashion common to adults, especially those stepping out into their Monday morning commute, but I was trying to keep from waking everybody in the house. I’ll try to give an accurate account while leaving out a few of the details that aren’t a priority.
My wife woke me in the middle of the night by asking a simple question.
“What time did you set your alarm for?”
She knew that I had to be in Clinton, NC to meet a client at 9:30 am and the drive is 5 hours, not counting the necessary stops to pee, fill up the gas tank, and, depending upon whether or not the light was on, hit the drive thru at the Krispy Kreme. The problem was not as much her question as it was the way I, in a dream state, interpreted it. In reality, it was a simple question born of a much more tolerable situation I was yet to understand. In my mind, however, I assumed I must have slept right through the alarm into Thursday and would have some “splainin’ to do.”
My heart leapt from my chest and I told her my alarm was set for 3:45 am. Then I added, “What time is it?!” in a tone that suggested it might be opening day of college football season and I had missed a kickoff.
“Calm down,” she said. “It’s only midnight, but the power is off. I’ll set my phone alarm for you.”
Now I could go back to sleep, only with a tinge of anxiety playing a bad rendition of, If I could Turn Back Time, on an out of tune accordion in my head.
When the alarm woke me at precisely 3:45, I hopped out of bed like I normally do the morning of a commute and into the bathroom. One flushing of the toilet and a few sounds I made previous to that, and I was ready to get dressed, but I couldn’t find my shoes. Where were my shoes? I’d put them right there! I could explain where right there was, but … priorities.
I found my shoes under three baby dolls and a magna doodle and, after putting them on, kissed my wife and my daughter, who was sleeping beside her, on the cheeks. The face cheeks.
I typically give myself about 15 minutes before the time I actually need to leave to get everything together and get out of the house, but today I needed more than that.
I started to grab the stuff I put in my pockets on a daily basis, but realized everything was fuzzy. I’d forgotten to put in my contacts. I tiptoed back through the bedroom to the bathroom, opened the case, and began wrenching my right eyelid open wide enough to jam a plastic disc on it. I closed the lens case and trotted myself back out of the bedroom, stopping for one more kiss on each of the ladies in the room’s cheeks. The face cheeks.
Now I could leave. I packed up my computer, which I had almost walked out without, and went outside.
Stuff was still blurry. I had only put in one contact and that just wouldn't cut it. I had to unlock the front door and go back into the house to remedy that. Once I could see, it was back out the front door.
My phone. I forgot my phone.
Unlocking the door, I went back inside and slipped into the bedroom to retrieve it from the nightstand beside my bed. I took that moment to wonder why I didn’t just set my own phone alarm, but whatever. I kissed the ladies on the cheeks once more for good measure. Face cheek … at least on one of them. My daughter had turned onto her stomach and twisted upside down in the bed and I got the wrong set of cheeks. It was dark.
I went through the door at the front of the house and exited toward the car, noticing it was quite chillier than it should have been in mid-May. That’s when it occurred to me that I had not grabbed my pocket stuff from the top of the microwave. I unlocked the front door and entered the house again, found myself greeted by two cats who I could swear were calling me an idiot with their eyes, and went to grab my pocket stuff.
Problem. No pockets.
I’d forgotten pants.
I needed to be wearing pants and I was not wearing pants.
Pants are a priority.
I performed a pantsless prance back into the bedroom and put on some jeans, almost got another set of kisses but thought better of it, and left the house for the final time.
Ten miles down the road, I couldn’t find my phone, even though I knew I had put it right there, and decided I had to turn around. It only took a mile heading back in the direction of the house before I found it in the little cup under the door handle.
It’s important to keep your priorities in order and try not to get so overwhelmed with everything you’ve got to do that you forget to wear pants.
And now that I think of it, I hope Walmart’s having a sale on underwear.
*Some of the details in this narrative are true and some have been exaggerated for comic effect. I would tell you which are which, but … y’know … priorities.
Life is fleeting and can be interrupted at any time without the courtesy of checking with you first to see if it’s alright. I found out the hard way that a car is hard to control once it starts doing things that aren’t covered in the driver’s manual and all you can do is hang on for the ride. That’s the theme of this last story. I’m going to give you a behind-the-scenes look into ...
A vehicle accident will make you do some thinking. There was me on the interstate, a car that wasn’t built for water sports, and as luck would have it, enough rain falling all of a sudden that when it was all over and the trooper was done taking notes, My Hyundai Elantra was presented with a bronze medal for the backstroke.
Once the rain got bad enough, I decided that pulling over to wait it out would be the best course of action. I was unaware that my car was also a competitive figure skater, complete with those sweet spins and whatnot, and had made a decision without consulting me to try one out at that precise moment. One will not usually win an argument of wills with an automobile unless they are a demigod with an awesome hammer or were created from clay by Zeus. In that light, anyone with a basic working knowledge of physics will understand that I was to be on a carnival ride for a few seconds and completely at the mercy of the mighty Elantra.
She fishtailed left to start the routine, then balanced the act by switching direction and going into a full Dorothy Hamill spin toward the embankment.
Unfortunately, she was not a professional and needed a lot more practice because she pitched backward down that steep embankment and came to rest with a crash at the direct center of the trunk into a tree. I was not amused.
“Don’t do that again,” I told my Elantra with the same voice I use when I tell my son to quit smacking his food, but there was no reply. She was dead.
It occurred to me that I’ve taken some things for granted while I driving in the past and I’ve re-evaluated my commitment when it comes to some of them.
For instance, from now on, I will:
Wait to stop before completely changing clothes. Ever put on pants at 60 miles an hour?
Not apply eye liner or any other makeup while actively driving. Yes, I am a manly man (no comment from those who would comment) and yet, I have done that. I do stage shows and sometimes I run late for dress rehearsal. Speaking of shows, I will …
Only sing YouTube showtunes with songs I know the lyrics to. Googling the lyrics and reading them as you sing and drive is just as bad as texting while driving. Maybe worse.
Keep my eyes open while driving and singing YouTube showtunes. But them passionate “in-character” ballads, though.
No longer completely organize the interior of my automobile at a high rate of speed. (Okay, ANY rate of speed) I realize now that the trunk can wait.
Not play “Peep-Eye” with babies, cute dogs, or old people in the cars next to me. Peep-Eye requires both hands to be effective. Driving requires at least one hand on the wheel or at least a knee.
Not extend any individual fingers to anyone for more than three seconds. While it may seem necessary to emote in such fashion for an extended period of time to insure that communication is properly received by your intended, more than three seconds may incite loss of motor control. And also, Jesus is watching.
Forego counting and rolling coins above 50 miles an hour. A five dollar roll of dimes just ain’t worth crashing over. Probably.
I’m sure I’ll uncover more dangerous activity on my part while I drive that I never realized I was practicing. Until then, I’ll be making sure this new vehicle is better rehearsed with that camel spin.
It’s definitely a female. I’m calling her LaFawnda after the woman in Napoleon Dynamite. She’s a Mazda 5 minivan, buster and you better respect! She may be unassuming, but like LaFawnda, she’s got sass.
She’s also got junk in the trunk, but that’s just me being a slob.
Actually, I can’t call her LaFawnda. That character was a lady. My van stays dirty and sees the parking lot of a whole bunch of motels.
My van is a harlot, so I need to think of a harlot’s name.
Trixie? No. Too cliche. Dottie McGladbags? No.
I’ll think of it sooner or later, but for now, I need to focus on staying in between the lines while I drive and being super conscious of what’s going on around me.
Thank goodness Georgia recently passed the hands free act that makes it not only illegal to text and drive, but also to have anything in your hand while operating a motor vehicle, so I guess I ought to stop writing these scripts while I’m behind the wheel. I’m kidding. I joke - I’m a joker.
HARLEY QUINN! I’ll call my van Harley!
I’m looking forward to writing some fresh, new stories to add to the show and I can’t wait for you to hear them. They’ll be true, too - well - mostly. So until next episode, I’m Michael Blackston and you may now exit the ride. Watch your step and we’ll catch you next time for my Funny Messy Life.
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