I’ve hung on to a lot of shirts over the years. Some are too small. Others have holes. I keep them for the memories. They remind me of how I got to be as old and fulfilled as I am today.
One of my favorites is a fitted black tee with white letteringfrom the seventies that says Improvisational Comedy in an arc across the back. In the front is my name and the word director. These were our costumes for San Ramon High School’s Improvised Comedy Troupe. I loved working with those actors. They were always actors first in my mind and teenagers second.
I let my actors make the decisions about color, lettering, and style. I would not be a performer, so I didn’t order a shirt, but they surprised me. “You’re our director,” one said. “You taught us how to do this stuff,” another added as she slipped her new shirt over the one she was already wearing and flipped her Farrah Fawcett hair. Sometimes I think of Sally Field’s line one year at the Oscars: “You like me. You really like me.”
I have shirts from other shows. One from Pirates of Penzance, a summer musical at Ohlone College, has memories of struggling to be heard. Another one from Falsettos, reminds me of 11-year-old Jonathan Kaplan, who did a show with us, got a bigger part, moved to New York with his mom to take it, and kept acting. I got curious and googled him. He is a Broadway actor and acting coach who was nominated for a Tony and won a Theater World Award before his voice changed. Find him at http://www.jonathanckaplan.com.
I have theatre shirts from the Eugene O’Neill Foundation, which I visited; and The Scaregrounds, where I played a zombie; and the American College Theatre Festival, wheremy Ohlone students competed in the Irene Ryan Acting Competition. I loved my life as a drama teacher and director, and the shirts remind me how committed I was to making the shows and each drama program work.
Embroidered Hawaiian Shirt
Years later, I picked out a blue shirt with embroidered waves and a dolphin on the front. I bought it when I was in Hawaii after a year of caring for my mom. She had been through carotid artery surgery and it changed her. I became her driver. I did her errands, vacuumed her condo, brought her books, did the laundry, and nuked her Lean Cuisine.
I called her after being in Hawaii for 24 hours, and she told me she was halfway across the driveway, pushing her walker, when the daily garbage bag fell from her hands. She stood there, unable to move, until a neighbor picked it up and walked her back to her house. Clearly I had made a mistake going away. I told her I was coming home, but she wouldn’t let me. We struggled through her medical and memory issues for five more years before I learned that she had undiagnosed Alzheimer’s. Even without the diagnosis she somehow knew. She would call me late at night andask, “What if I have Alzheimer’s?”
“Do you ever lose your keys?” I asked without any explanation.
“All the time.” If she wondered where this was going, she didn’t say so.
“Do you know what they are for when you find them?”
“You don’t have Alzheimer’s.” I didn’t know there was such a thing as undiagnosed Alzheimer’s. I simply thought she was becoming more of her outspoken self.
I keep the Hawaiian shirt, even though it has holes. It reminds me that my mother and I survived. I have other travel shirts of course. One is from Westport, CT. I got it during a trip in the eighties when I was still teaching high school and wanting a fuller life. I bought the size I hopedI’d fit into it if I lost a few pounds. I never even washed it.
Today my husband and I purchase shirts as we travel. I have one from New Mexico, where my oldest step-daughter lives, one from Slot Canyon, Arizona, where I never would have gone alone, and one from the Bahamas, where we spent our second Christmas together. I know there will be more travel shirts in my future.
The Other Side of Creativity
I still have a faded black shirt with a cartoon figure dancing for joy that I bought from The Other Side of Creativity. When I pull it out, I remember the time the site’s ownerasked me to run a weekly chat interviewing authors. He knew about my experience: each issue of Writer Advice started with an author interview. He told me he had lots of contacts with authors, and he knew I had experience talking to authors and running another chat room on AOL. Every Sunday afternoon I’d introduce an author, ask a few questions, and call on people to type in their questions.
Later the owner started a publishing company and asked me to put together two short books, From an Author’s POV—Tips on Writing and another one called wrote From an Author’s POV—Tips on Marketing. Having those first books in my hand was a turning point in my writing career. I was offered a contract without even asking for it. I wanted to see what else I could do.
I have a shirt from WOW—Women on Writing, which Ireceived for earning an Honorable Mention in one of their flash fiction contests. I have one from the California Writers Club for givng a workshop for young writers. I wonder, sometimes, how many conversations I’d start if I had one made with Writer Advice, http://www.writeradvice.comon it.
A Shirt With My Partner
When we were on Padre Island, my husband and I gotshirts that say “I Love My Crazy Husband” and “I Love My Crazy Wife.” We both wore them out to dinner that night and got nods, knowing looks, and comments like “great shirts” from restaurant servers and theatre usherswho were less than half of our age. We earned their respect. We still get a lot of approval from twenty-somethings when we’re in those shirts, even though it’s pretty clear we’re way over 60. We wore them so much that the seams began to fray and on our last trip to Texas we got replacement shirts. We love the message they send to the world, and the world loves us back when we wear them.
B. Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advice, http://www.writeradvice.com. She’s written You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (Tate Publishing) and Talent (Eternal Press), which was short-listed for a Literary Lightbox Award and won a bronze medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards. She’s shopping her memoir, Never Too Late: A 62-Year-Old Goes From Wannabe to Wife with agents and publishers.