January 2020 Blog
Pic is of me & Ricky Whittle on the set.
I’m so happy it’s 2020. And not just because it looks so good, the 2 2s and the 2 0s. And not because last year was difficult. In fact 2019 was one of my best years ever. I just love that it’s 2020 because it feels like we’re all turning some important page. I hope it’s not a darker chapter; as I write, our President is playing with matches in the Middle East. But I’m personally glad to welcome a new year because some things are getting settled that were not settled previously.
We had a lovely Christmas in Spokane. Michael and I even went to a traditional Latin Mass on Christmas morning at Mt. St. Michael’s. The Latin was beautiful, and the music sublime. But overall, it felt very cult-y and weird and — I may be projecting — the women looked sad and downcast. It was wildly interesting. I wish I could know more about that place. They’ve had a few provocative scandals in the last few years; there’s a school; there are several families with many young children. I wish I could be a fly on the wall. I want it to be a wonderful, meaningful refuge but I suspect it is not.
So what is new? I guess my big news is that I’ll be shooting a film version of Julia Sweeney: Older & Wider in Spokane, my hometown, April 2 and 3 at the Fox Theater — where I used to work as an usherette in high school. I’m selling half the seats and giving away the other half. There’s a pop-up window on my website where you can get free tickets or just click here. This is going to be a big part of my work for the year, getting that show filmed, edited and ready for wherever it will stream. I hope it’s Amazon or Netflix; we will see.
On April 6, I’m recording the audio version of the show for Audible — a special performance at The Groundlings Theatre. When I record for an audio listening experience, I think more about how I sound and less about having high energy than when it’s being recorded for film. Something I learned after many recordings of Letting Go of God. I finally got a recording I liked in NYC at Ars Nova. Here’s hoping the same quality will be captured at The Groundlings.
I’m doing Older & Wider February 1 at Seattle’s Neptune Theater. I just spent a few days in Seattle doing publicity for my show, which I’m looking forward to.
And, for a long time now, I’ve been developing and re-working a show called I, as Well. After many, many workshop presentations this autumn in Los Angeles, I’ve decided to record it as an audio … something. Podcast? Comedy performance? Not sure yet. But I’m going to record it on my own, and by that I mean not in front of an audience. The workshops helped me understand the dramatic structure of the piece, but at the same time, it stopped being a comedy, and it even stopped needing to be performed in front of a live audience. I have a new vision for it, as a recording with music, and I’m working on that. I hope to finish it in the next six months.
This year my husband Michael and I are doing a remodel on our home, and a lot of my energies will be taken up with that. We’ve been talking and planning this for so long. It’s a project that has become very large, then scaled back again. Right now we’re on the scaled-back side of things, but it still means moving out of the house for several months. It’s a very creative thing, to remodel. I’m trying to enjoy it. But mostly I want it to be done.
The big things I learned this last year? Well, I’m not going to be a stage monologue performer forever. I really thought I’d be coming up with show after show. But now my view has shifted. It both is too difficult for me to do so many stage shows and takes up an enormous amount of time, mentally and physically. Moreover, since I was able to act so much this year, I’m inspired to make more room to act in other people’s shows. That means I need to be available to be cast, and that means not scheduling so many stage performances.
I’m thinking seriously about doing a podcast called Catholijizm. I’ve been futzing around with a subtitle, maybe “Examining the essence of Catholicism” or “Examining the seeds of the Papists.” I dunno. Send me a good idea if you have one.
To prepare for this, I’ve been spending a lot of my free time re-learning (and learning!) about the history of Catholicism and Christianity, which of course means reading more about Judaism.
First, I read most of Robert M. Price’s books, which are brilliant. I was even able to have him tutor me for several months. I adore him. He should be a household name. And he’s funny, too. Plus, a genius. I’m serious. I love that guy so much.
Then, I’ve been reading the Bible while watching classes on the website, “The Great Courses,” like mad. Seriously, every moment I can. It’s driving my husband crazy, but I don’t care. The Great Courses Plus is such a good deal: $120 for the year and you get so much! That website is made for me. Right now I’m mad for three instructors. David Brakke of The Ohio State University is probably my favorite. I’ve watched his “Understanding the New Testament” and “Gnosticism” and “The Apocraphyl Jesus.” Sometimes I watch a “class” five times. He’s so plain and clear in his explanations, but it’s a lot to absorb.
I’ve also watched Amy-Jill Levine’s Old Testament class. She’s a professor in Jewish Studies in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University. This class is from about 20 years ago (fortunately the Old T. hasn’t changed!). There’s so much there, it’s actually overwhelming. In the last class of the series she lists everything she wishes she could’ve covered but didn’t. I was practically crying out, “Don’t stop! I want more!” She’s terrific.
And at this moment, I’m crazy-happy in the middle of a class called “The Holy Land Revealed” (that’s such a weird History Channel type of title, but the class is not schlocky like the History Channel). The instructor is Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill. This class is mostly about archeology. Wow, so fascinating.
I recently became aware that Yale has a whole Open Courses catalogue you can watch online for free. There are a few religious classes, and I’m looking forward to getting to those, once I’ve exhausted the Great Courses catalogue on religion.
What I find most interesting — now that I’m firmly an unbeliever myself — is how people’s beliefs shaped history. Whether the belief was true or not actually doesn’t matter that much. If people believe it, and laws and behaviors are based on it, then it’s been influential in ways I want to understand better. It’s notable that most of these beliefs were only tangentially adhered to; they were manipulated and expanded and contracted to fit the situation. And most of all, what’s mesmerizing is how they told the story to themselves, usually re-shaping history in the retelling, taking events or things that happened out of their control, and rewriting them to somehow reflect control, predictability, and hope. People like certainty, even if it’s with a God that clearly isn’t keeping promises. They create a feedback loop of belief and disappointment which keeps them in a vacillating state between reality and non-reality. It’s actually kind of a genius way to get through difficult times.
I’ve also been up at night watching videos on YouTube of Traditional Catholics giving speeches. Some are really amazing. I understand and even relate to their stories, how distressed they were before they found a code of behavior they could stick to, and how happy they are to find a community that helps reinforce that behavior and gives them infrastructure to do what they want to do.
What I don’t understand is why the belief system they found had to be Catholicism. Or actually anything that includes miracles, or God. Why not Stoicism, for example? I suspect it has to do with the structure and community that religion offers. But my biggest question is why their beliefs seems to include oppression of women and other traditional “values” that are actually harmful and restricting. There just seem to be so many better choices than Catholicism. Even though I have great affection for the church, myself. But not enough to join it. (But enough, I guess, to think about it a lot!)
I told my husband that I really think the Catholic Church is heading toward a schism. Maybe it’s me watching all these Traditional (or Trad) Catholic videos. They are not fans of the Pope. My joke, when explaining who Trad Catholics are to people unfamiliar with them, is to say they are a group for whom the answer to the question “Is the Pope Catholic?” is “No!”
Michael said, “Maybe you should call your podcast Catholi-schism.” Ha. That’s a good one.
Right now I’m in Toronto for two weeks shooting American Gods. I lerve this show so much. I adore everyone on it, and the crew is so professional and competent. I’m sort of blown away with everyone’s skill. I love my part and I can’t wait for you to see it.
It’s very cold here today, snowy and blowy. I have a day off and am cozy, looking out the hotel window.
Until next month.