Alaska writer, speaker, humorist, activist Barbara Brown In Print barbarabrown@alaskawriters.com
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Anchorage, Alaska 99508-5129
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The Best Women's Travel Writing 2007

Storytime in the Garden

Alaska Botanical Garden Storytime

   
Lie on the floor and look up at all the glass
The arts come alive
 

When I was in junior high, I read Gone with the Wind. I cried so hard when the Tarleton twins died that the pages of my paperback warped and wrinkled. The book swelled to twice its normal size. My father said, "What are you all worked up over? It's only a book."

Years later, I am in Anchorage. I find myself in an audience watching Tracy Hinkson in "Bent," the story of gays taken away to concentration camps in Germany. I'd already seen it on Broadway with Richard Gere, but I'm here because it's theater and it's live and I'm bringing my husband. Before he met me, he thought melodrama was theater.

The production is so good, I start to cry. Eventually, I'm snorting and sobbing. I am a choking mass of tears, blubbering and hiccupping, trying not to attract attention. My husband doesn't know what to do. "Should we leave? Do you want to go home?" I wouldn't leave that theater if he dragged me out. I came to that performance to be moved, and something in it The director? The actor? took a story and breathed such life and death and love into it that I lost the space between me and the story. Something all new breathed in me, and I was different.

Patricia Eckert is a vegetarian; she won't eat anything with a face. She loved her dog and, when he died, she wanted to tan his hide and make mittens. She went to the library to learn how to tan him, which required boiling him in gasoline. Patricia tells us this bizarre story as a performance piece at Out North Theatre. It is all so incongruous and ingenious and hilarious. I cannot believe someone can make something so outrageously funny and so sad and lovely. I laugh till people in the other rows turn around to see who it is.

When Dale Chihuly and his exhibition of blown glass came to the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, I got a chance to meet him. Big colored globes of glass and light filled the spaces at the Museum. One room was darkened, and the spheres glowed otherworldly-like, spaced around the room like aliens on another planet. In another room, huge globes were piled on top of a wide glass shelf. Chihuly says to lie on the floor and look up at all the glass.

So later, when I bring my daughter to the exhibit and we lie on the floor and people stare at us, I say, very loudly, "The artist said this was how to look at it." It is a whole new vision. We cannot believe these spheres are made of glass; they look like liquid color, maybe soft, colored air.

We walk toward the darkened room. A couple of globes glow out to us, and Sophie screams and runs away. I hold her hand, tell her it's just more glass balls, and we approach closer. She can't stand it; she tears off. The room is eerie. The balls are alive.

Susan Joy Share makes books, and for two days, I had signed up to make books with her. I choose paper, cut it to a size I might like. I make folds, scores, hinges. I stitch and glue, emboss and mix paint. I touch the paper often and feel it. At 6 p.m. on the second day, Susan says the workshop is over. I look up. Now I remember that I don't live in this studio with these books.

I dared myself to write a play and did. I had some really deep grief and it needed a voice and humor, and one thing just led to another till I was on stage. Why, why, why? Nobody held a gun to my head and said, "Expose yourself." Why do I put myself in these places? I want to vaporize, but I plunge ahead and win the audience. I can hear them crying and laughing and squirming. They are with me. My grief became art, touched them, and moved on.


Written for the Rasmuson Foundation website


10,000 Miles, 24 Water Parks, 10 Stitches to the Head, and 3 Bathing Suits Later
Boxes, a favorite from the Anchorage Daily News
Lie on the floor and look up at all the glass -- the arts that move us
"Hold this Thought" -- a daily, one-minute thought on radio, podcast, and website
"A Little Bit Pregnant" and "My Friend Is Coming"

 

 
 
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Unless otherwise noted, all material is copyrighted 2006 Barbara Brown, all rights reserved.
AlaskaWriter illustrations and site design copyright 2003, 2004
Sonya Senkowsky and AlaskaWriter. All rights reserved.

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