To Be Right or Not To Be…

My Dear Friends,

As a child, it was my understanding that if I wasn’t right, I wasn’t going to survive.  Those were the rules.  At home, in school, at the playground, I had to have the right answers and agree with the powers that be, parents, teachers, bullies… or else.

As an adult and a citizen of the United States of America,  I realized I didn’t have to or want to agree with everything or everyone.  I found places and people where I felt safe enough to agree to disagree.  What a blessing.

Over the last few years, I feel like I am regressing.  Once again, my survival is based on choosing the RIGHT people and the RIGHT answers.  And let me tell you, if I am going to regress, I’m going all the way and have me a temper tantrum. 

I have noted the movie musical 1776 before.  During the Second Continental Congress of the not yet born United States, representatives of the original 13 Colonies gathered in Philadelphia to issue a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.  Oh, my dear friends, you want to hear what disagreement and differences of opinions and varied interests both personal and communal sound like? Tune into this movie. From June 7, 1776 to July 4, 1776, the delegates from each State, alternately stamped their feet, threatened, cajoled, shouted, cursed, voted over and over, searching for the consensus necessary to pass the Declaration.  

As violently as they disagreed, no one pulled out a musket or brandished a sword or brought in a mob, to silence the debate.  

I must admit the Original Sin of this Declaration Convention was the inability of the Congress to remove forever the stain of slavery, which is and always will be a plague on this nation regardless of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.  Discussion of which requires a far more in depth exploration of race relations in this country than these words intend.

What is it about having to be right that really screws up a person’s personhood?  Do we all bring forward from childhood the fear that if we are not right, if we don’t belong to the right group, if we don’t equate righteousness with God, like Mel Brooks’ 2,000 Year Old Man, the Angel From Death will fly in our window and no necklace of garlic is gonna save any of us.

How do I make sense of our human frailties gone awry? When last we met, I shared the story of Ms. and Mr. Robin and the nest they built in the eaves of my porch. I have been diligently observing their progress. Ever ready with my vocal cords and scarf to shoo predators away from my rent-free tenants.  I watched as the mama moved from egg laying, to egg sitting, and papa stood guard taking on all alien enemies… including me.  I even stopped going through my front door.  I didn’t want to be responsible for an anxious mama.  We all know anxious mothers make anxious children.   

Every time Mama flies out for a little R&R, I take a quick peek, and then one day, blue eggs begin to appear.  While Mama sits on the eggs, Papa and me do the expectant parent parade. 

At last!  The babies hatch!  

Hallelujah!!! 

A few scattered feathers pulsing away as life takes hold.  I am transported.  The program of searching for food and feeding the babies begins. It is beyond anyone’s imagination how these parents work in tandem and harmony.  The mama sits to keep them warm, as the papa flies off in search of food.  The papa stands guard while Mama does her food turn. All happens without any discussion about who did what when and whose turn it is.  

A thought occurs to me.  I am not sure about the mating game for Robins, probably less complicated without the internet.  Pregnancy and delivery… lets not even discuss it.  I get it.  Humans are more complicated than birds.  Really?  Are they?  Well, goodness knows, sometimes I get the feeling that this is really our job.  Making life more complicated.  It’s not as if birds, e.g. animals, don’t have rules.  Their rules for survival are as defined and important as ours. However, animal rules are instinctual.  As humans evolve, our animal instincts take a back seat to society rules. 

Whoa!  Did I just say a mouthful?   Do I mean depending on who imparts the rules for my survival is how I will behave and think and be???

The question is not to be right or not to be. The more important question is, who am I really listening to inside my head? Me…? Or those voices that do not belong to me.

From all my observations, a robin is a robin is a robin. Furthermore, they don’t need to be right to fly. They only need to be free. 

What about it, my friends… Does that apply to us human animals as well???

What do you think ???

Love, Sally-Jane

Berkshire Spring – Wishful Thinking

My Dear Friends and Family –

I have returned from the South to the North just in time for Winter…. Let me explain…

We who live in the Berkshires, live in the hope that every Spring will begin on the calendar day of March 20th.  From then until sometime in June, it is a constant disappointment akin to finding out that there is no Santa. 

Every year along with snow or ice or unseasonable temperatures, Spring arrives. During the months of March, April, and most of May, an occasional balmy day arrives and you can hear the Berkshire sigh of, “at last”.  However, at last does not last.  For as long as I have been living here, this scenario hasn’t changed.  I do my best every time a friend or acquaintance complains about the lack of Spring weather to repeat what I know to be the truth.  Spring doesn’t come to the Berkshires until a few days before summer.  I feel like Cassandra, the former Trojan priestess of Apollo of Greek mythology, cursed to tell the truth and never to be believed.

I marvel at the loss of Berkshirites’ memory and at the same time I understand it.  In my psychobabble analysis, Winter in the Berkshires has its own special magic, up to a point.  After that point, we want it to be over.  I love a climate of seasonal changes and I find the transition from Summer to Fall easy because I welcome the movement of hot, humid days to cooler, dryer ones.  The colors of the leaves as they change from green to the rainbow hues of Autumn is inspiring.  The holiday season eases Autumn into Winter; festivities and good cheer for all.  And then comes January, with ice and sleet or snow and temperatures that dip to single digits and minuses. Then more of the same for February.  For me, all the other seasons blend from one to the other in a timely fashion.  Not Winter.  Winter hangs on like Carrie in the Stephen King movie; as soon as you think she’s gone, she gives us another minus degree day or snow storm in May… “she’s baaaack”.  She just won’t behave like any of the other seasons.

There is something mystical and mysterious about the journey from Winter to Spring.  It has to do with my theory of the sighting of land.

Sighting of Land Theory:  There have been times in life when I have found myself confused and lost amidst situations, decisions, choices, peoples of all stripes and colors.  It’s as if I am lost at sea.  Suddenly there appears a speck on the horizon.  My brainball receives it as a signal of hope.  I think, “not to worry, SJ.  There is a sign of land ahead.  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”   

Well, I think Winter to Spring has its own signs of land.  The groundhog starts the ball rolling followed by the budding and blossoming of trees and grass in that glorious iridescent green that almost hurts the eyes, dandelions, daffodils… all signal the Spring awakening.

As I write, outside my window, two beautiful robins have built their nest into the eaves of my porch.  Piece by piece of dry grass and sticks, I watch as they build their palace.  Now Ms. Robin sits on her eggs.  Mr. Robin keeps watch on the roof over the nest.  We all wait for the ultimate message of the arrival of Spring… new life.  

It’s almost the middle of May.  Once again I put on my winter jacket and hat to go out.  I think, “the calendar is just another human invention.  There exists a more accurate device signaling spring arrival… Mother Nature.”  

We just celebrated Mothers’ Day.  I hope you didn’t omit a thank you and acknowledgement of our debt to this powerful, wily woman and Mother to us all. Like errant children we can’t compensate our Mother for the damage we have already caused, but we can try to make amends by being aware of all she provides for a life of ongoing riches.   And when she kicks up a fuss with a hurricane, tornado, flood, fire, drought, remember we assisted in their creation.  

I am reminded of an advertisement many years ago about how you can’t tell a particular brand of margarine from real butter:

“YOU CAN’T FOOL MOTHER NATURE”

Right???  Of course, right!!!

Love ~ Sally-Jane

New Tricks

Among other things, this is the name of a British Television series available on Amazon Prime. If nothing else, just view the first episode because it’s so apropos. It is also the last part of an adage I have recently adapted to a new circumstance in my old life.  

 Do you think it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks?

All right, already, what in the Sam Hill (this is a euphemism for swearing because I didn’t feel like writing ‘hell’…sue me) is that woman trying to tell us???

It’s always great when you ask the right question.  

Recently, two dear friends, submitted samples of my writing (these very Blogs you receive) to the Editor and Publisher of The Berkshire Eagle, suggesting I might write a monthly Column for the Op-ed page of the newspaper.  I was grateful and, at the same time, a little unsure about my “style” of writing conforming to a newspaper. Who knows? Maybe it was just my way of preparing myself for rejection.  Remember, I spent my life auditioning. Maybe I still am. I think my percentages ran to about 50/50 of getting the part to “You’re very special”, words that always indicated you didn’t get it. “Next…”  All to say I wasn’t expecting a call from the publisher.  

But he did call and offered me an Op-ed column.  I accepted.  Immediately, I went to work writing.  The subject had been on my mind for about as long the Berkshire County Cottage and Division Street Bridges had been closed, which they were for many years, causing great inconvenience to the community and some  economic hardships to affected businesses. I spent the last two years gossiping about it to friends, neighbors and whoever would listen, like the women in Meredith Wilson’s musical Music Man.

Related news: A new iteration of Music Man arrives on Broadway mid-December, starring Hugh Jackmam. Y’All fuggetaboutit! He’s mine!

This opportunity gave me permission to share my thoughts with the community in which I live. It brings a very different color and responsibility to writing. The Blog and the Column are very personal. And that is where the similarity begins and ends.

I began the Blah, Blah, Blog as a very personal and almost intimate look into my absurd take on a long life (soooo grateful). Readers chose to sign up to see what the crazy lady was going to write about next or unsubscribe.

Subscribers or purchasers of a Newspaper have a completely different set of expectations. Yes, the Op-ed page is a page for people’s opinions. Not judgements, which most of you know is my favorite form of opinion.  I think newspaper readers (the few that are left) represent a wider variety of thought and opinion than blog readers. As I wrote the op-ed piece, I realized I was very self conscious. I write the Blog from absurd insights inside my brain, and over the years (since 2014) each of you has chosen to subscribe to peek inside that overworked mechanism.

A column goes out to a wider and more diverse audience. That alone creates a different writing environment.  It became a challenge. Life threw down a gauntlet. Was I up to it?

Well, what in the Sam Mountain do you think? (higher form of swear words.) As I wrote and researched the subject, I became more and more comfortable and actually enjoyed this new challenge. The gauntlet was in my hand and it fit like a glove.  (I can’t believe I wrote that…)

Here is my answer to the original question I posed.

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Have a look and let me know: Sally-Jane Heit: Bridges to democracy

Right???

Of course, right!

Love ~ Sally-Jane

P.S.

Weird and Wonderful

Very recently I had a very challenging and ultimately satisfying experience.

2017

I think most of you received an email about my reading the Edith Wharton short story The Mission of Jane at The Mount (Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, Massachusetts)

This was going to be the fifth year of my reading this story.  I had convinced the powers that be that the story was so rich and funny that a yearly reading would plumb the depths of pathos and humor of Wharton’s writing.  Thankfully, they agreed.

Enter the villain virus.

It was a challenge for Susan Wissler, Executive Director of The Mount.

There is nothing Susan likes better than a challenge.  She took a failing Mount out of bankruptcy and the cultural world marveled at her leadership bringing The Mount into solvency and success.  

She accepted the Villian Virus challenge. The latest of which were the live readings of Edith Wharton’s and other short stories. Of course it had to be outdoors and the number of audience limited and distances set.  She decided to use the forecourt of The Mount –  a beautiful area originally established for carriages and cars to dispense passengers before their entering the mansion.  It was perfect.

Wednesday, August 19th arrived with sun, then clouds, then rain and not until 4 pm before a 5:30 reading was there a go-ahead.  Leaving this reader slightly frazzled.  Hey, guys, those in the know know… it don’t take much for that to happen.  Sensitive or neurotic or a little of both.  Take your pick.

The build-up to performance was intense. I rehearsed. I tried to forget my age. (fat chance) I love performing. I love the story. I love The Mount.  

“Be gone, Virus!  You are not welcome here!”

The reading was SOLD OUT.  The reading was limited to and audience of 45.  I didn’t care. I love saying I played to a sold out house. Sue me!

I looked out over the audience.  Two people seated way over left, 3 people seated way over right, 4 people here and there, another double, another triple, and so on spread apart from each other (as required by law) all through the forecourt.  There was no audience seating.  There were disparate chairs placed all over the space. So that I could not read to one group as I did before but individual groupings which made it difficult for the audience to relate to each other, no less to the reader.  

It is something I never thought about before, but when a member of an audience comes into a performance space, he or she may start out individually but as the performance continues the audience slowly but surely becomes unified, sometimes for you and sometimes against you.

I  would venture a guess that, seated together as they all are, that unity makes it possible for the actor or actors to create the necessary bond to create a satisfactory relationship.  A catharthis, right?  (look it up)  I am grateful that the story was an hour long because it took me at least thirty minutes to bring this disparate audience into a unified one.  

And then there is the wearing of masks. This was a reading in daylight.  I looked out at a sea of faces masked to their eyeballs.  At the beginning I couldn’t see their smiles or hear their laughter (some advantage… I couldn’t see them yawn, either.) As the story progressed and as the audience came together, the laughter escaped the masks and finally I could sense there was enjoyment.  

There was a nice prolonged applause at the end of the story.  And, my friends, I have to tell you I think in part it was for me and the story, but I also think it was because the event at The Mount gave 45 people the opportunity to come out from their isolation, from their quarantine and for that they were grateful. Me, too.

I want to thank Susan Wissler and The Mount for the opportunity for me to blow my horn and also for creating engaging, inclusive programs for all.

I was so grateful to be able to provide release and relief in the time of this pandemic. And I look forward (ain’t that a nice word for this time in all our lives!) to more creative and satisfying experiences.

Right?  Of course, right!!!!

Love, Sally-Jane ❤️

P.S. Our next opportunity for a creative and satisfying experience is coming up!!

Growing Up In My Backyard

Remember this…?

 I recently wrote a Blah, Blah, Blog accompanied by a photo of a trio of newly hatched Robins.  Three huddled, featherless babies lay in their beautiful nest nursery in a cedar bush in my backyard; hovered over by Mr. and Mrs. Robin in vigilant watch-bird mode for worms, insects, and loudmouth and dangerous Blue Jays and Crows along with other predators.

My friends, forget about your alarm and security company, Mr. and Mrs. Robin exceeded all expectations.  Any would-be predators didn’t stand a chance.  The parents proved their worth in birdseed.  They took over my backyard as the Dangerous Drones of Cedar Bush.

It is now Day 11 of  the baby Robins’ birth.  TA-DA!!!!!

All decked out in their beautiful feathered coats.  They sit in their Royal Nest Nursery.  Mouths always opened ready for the feed. ( I spend a lot of time checking them out… and when I say open all the time… I mean open all the time.)  For the last 11 days Mama and Poppa have fed and protected them. 

Today, for the first time, I have noticed a change.  I can go right up to the nest and no parental dive bombing. 

I have come to a brutal conclusion.  My baby birds’ childhood is almost over.  In  too short a time, if they want their beaks filled, they are going to have to leave the nest and fill it themselves.   

LEAVE THE NEST????  OMG!  They’re still babies.  What do they know about life?  What do they know about men? (one of them must be a female)  

As long as I did what they wanted me to do, my parents fed and protected me at the beginning, and as I remember would have done so forever.   

OOOPS!!! On second thought…

Hey, my adorable use-to-be-babies, shut your beaks and test your wings.  You can always come back for a visit.  The cedar bush ain’t going away.  This is your chance to be you.  Take it! 

In my backyard, I do not allow any FEAR OF FLYING.  (sorry, I just couldn’t resist)

Love, Sally-Jane

SPRING WILL BE A LITTLE LATE THIS YEAR…

So sayeth Frank Loesser, master songwriter and very early prognosticator of climate change…

In response to the fact of those words, those in the Northeastern part of the country in downturned grimace, would reply, “Duh!!  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that.  I’m still wearing my long johns.  My boots haven’t left my feet.  My rain hat hasn’t left my head.”

We are all looking somewhere over the rainbow for a warm, dry, light at the end of the tunnel.

I am hopefully going to supply that for you.

Yesterday, as the rains continued to come, and the cold continued to  chill my bones, I forced  myself to walk around the garden.  Pretending the rain had stopped, I sat down on a nearby bench.  The bench was in front of a large cedar bush.  As I sat down, I was attacked by a robin… well, not exactly attacked, but rather aggressively buzzed around.  Scared me silly.  Why was this bird attacking me?

This photo will explain the why….

With or without my will and my way, this photo of new life hiding in the bushes, if I do not get in its way, this beauty of Spring birth and life itself goes on. It happened in the cold and the rain.  It happened with climate changers, yay and nay.

Mrs. Robin didn’t ask to inhabit the bush in my garden.  She didn’t sign a lease.  She just moved in.

So, in truth, I had absolutely nothing to do with this event. For being a platinum card control freak this was a great relief.  I don’t have to feed them.  I don’t have to babysit. 

I can sit in my garden, away from the cedar bush of course, in the rain or shine, cold or warm, and know in some immutable way, life goes on… and it happened when I wasn’t even looking!

In profound surprise, humility, and love…. Sally-Jane

Sally-Jane’s Winter Wonderland

My Dear Friends,

Last weekend we got our first snow of the season in the Berkshires. I was not happy.  I did not want the first, second or any snow of the season. I was having a family party. Relatives were coming from near and mostly far to attend.

As the snow blew in, I did what I am accustomed to doing… I tried to control the storm. I held my hands up to the sky and tried to force Mother Nature to take her bounty back. She had the last laugh as she dumped five more inches on the town.

IMG_0719Karen and Bill, who had arrived before the storm began, and my friend Cindy watched as I tried to control the uncontrollable. Waving my hands and I shouted to the wind, “BAH!  HUMBUG!” (which is also the name of an exterminating service on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills)

When my tirade had no effect, I took a pause and looked around me.

IMG_0708Here I was in a winter wonderland –  the yard was decorated – a Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (his red nose winking and blinking, her direct from the beauty salon with curly shining hair ); Poinsettias, holly, a boxwood tree, greens, winterberry sprouting from places throughout the yard and on the porch. When the snow hit the lights, they sparkled like diamonds.

Suddenly I realized how blessed I am. The real joy was being with dear friends who also
happen to be relatives.  Like the air going out of a balloon my ego settled.  Yet again, it was not going to be “my will be done”.  I’m telling you guys it was only when I let go that  I was able to see the real beauty and feel the gratitude.   All of us booted, gloved, donned hats and ran out to play in the falling snow.

I was an octogenarian kid.  If you don’t believe me, watch this…

Santa Sally and her merry elves,Karen, Bill, and Cindy in a Winter Wonderland 

I was wondering…  if I can “let go” of what I can’t control, like the storm, like what children or grandchildren or friends or relatives wear or don’t wear and what utensils they use while eating (hopefully they will use something) and what color hair and body piercings and political or nonpolitical affiliations… I am not saying I can…  but IF I can… I think I might have a Happier New Year.

Wanna try??????

Love ~ Sally Jane

BY YOUR PUPILS YOU’LL BE TAUGHT


Berkshire Music School


It is amazing what can happen if you say, YES!  And I did…

Tracy Wilson, head of The Berkshire Music School called last Friday to ask if I would critique a class of students that were studying to be Cabaret Artists.

Having spent many years in and out of Cabarets…with or without smoke (oh, yes, if they weren’t blowing smoke in your face you were not in a cabaret), or waiters taking and delivering orders and of course, as you are building up to the final crescendo of a very dramatic song,  a drunk yells out, “Sing Melancholy Baby”!

And yet, with all of that, some of my best experiences have been in the Cabaret.  The experimenting  with new material, learning how to think fast on your feet as a lyric goes missing from your brain, there is NO SAFE HOUSE to hide behind.   And most of all because there is an incredible intimacy with the audience…even if you make the connection with just one person, it is a connection you can feel because it is the most intimate venue.

For all those reasons and most of all because Tracy asked me.  What she has done in Berkshire County with all ages of peoples with musical talent at all levels is nothing short of breathtaking.  So yes, I said “yes”.

I showed up at the Berkshire School of Music last Saturday to a Cabaret class taught by Sherri James Buxton with Bob Sheperd as Musical Director.  I was introduced to all.  No one had any real cabaret performing experience.  The age of the youngest was 65, maybe 70 and the oldest was 92.  92!!!!

I had complained about getting out of bed that morning.  Get a grip, SJ.  And if you haven’t heard “My Way” sung by a 92 year old man, you’ve not heard it.  And let me tell you, from that moment to right now, I put my over-the-top sense of judgment (ask my children they’ll tell how well developed my judgmental self is) in the garbage.  I replaced judgment with gratitude:

  • to Tracy for asking me
  • to Sherri and Bob for just being who they are
  • to the four students who performed for a total stranger as if that’s what they did all the time.

I am an ordinary human who feels I have an inordinate right to complain particularly when life doesn’t go my way.  I watched and listened to four people push the envelope of life until it blossomed like the rose you wish you had planted and nurtured.  And yes, they all won the prize.

Each one in their own way went for the dream.  Oh, yes, this was something they wanted to do for a long time.  Life is what happens while you’re making plans, right?  Of course, right!

Many of us go along with coulda, woulda, shoulda.  None of that was apparent in the room as they sang with heart with soul with LIFE.

In my show I ask the audience to check their pulse.  I remind them if they feel it, (and believe me if they don’t they probably didn’t buy a ticket)  GET UP, GET OUT, LAUGH UNTIL YOUR SIDES HURT, BUT MOST OF ALL LOVE!

Oh, my friends there was so much love in that room that morning.

I floated out and am still airborne.  More and more I do not recognize the world around me. But on that morning in Berkshire Music school , students of a certain age were following their dreams and, for me, for just that moment in time I remembered, like the t-shirt says, LIFE IS GOOD.

To you, Tracy, Sherri, Bob… THANK YOU.

Love, SJ