The Long, Lonely, Lovely Road

I split the drive home over three days. I left late on Wednesday, after one last breakfast and chauffering with Sadie, after which she gave me a hug which surprised and touched me. It felt weird to start a long drive so late in the day, when normally I’ll take off at first light, but I was happy to have that last interaction, and visit a favorite Durham coffee shop one more time.

I stopped in Charlotte and had a short visit with MyLoan, glad I could touch base on my way out and establish a lasting relationship. It felt like so long ago that I met her, still so early in the Summer, but we got along just as well as I remembered.

I got as far as Atlanta before stopping to make camp. I was overly optimistic about how much daylight was left, as well as getting stuck waiting for the campground host, so I wound up making camp in the dark. Thankfully I’m well practiced setting up by myself at this point.

There was some unfortunate light spillage, but otherwise a pleasant night at the campground. It felt weird that this was not just another small adventure outside Chapel Hill, and that tomorrow I would be continuing South instead of turning back North. I so rarely cut long drives into multiple days, at least not if the whole point is just to get from A to B. The whole thing felt like it took place is a suspended state, and each time I snapped out of it, hundreds more miles had passed.

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On the road/fresh dye selfie

The next day I stopped in Montgomery, and visiting the state house and civil rights memorial. Alabama is weird, I remember having the same thought in Birmingham, in that Confederate statues remain standing right beside commemorations of the civil rights movement. Especially with my home city currently surging with protests (and righteous ones), it was sobering to be in a place that casts Racism and oppression in such stark light. It’s harder, I think, in Alabama, to pretend like these things were so long ago that it’s done and settled. It all feels visceral and recent when you see how little has changed in the places where some of the boldest acts took place.

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Wyoming….why so extra??

It was swelteringly hot when I stepped outside my car. I don’t normally mind the heat, but I think because I had convinced myself it was starting to be autumn, I just couldn’t accept it. I did not spend much time walking through down town, instead sticking to indoors and shade.

A few hours South of Montgomery, and I hit I-10. Which meant that I could get home even if I lost my maps. That was the first time, although well past the half-way point, that I really felt like I was no longer in range of my Summer home.

I took the long route, to skim the Gulf Coast and drive through Biloxi, which I had visited over twelve years ago with my mom and sister. I went to put my feet in the Gulf, and quickly backed away again when I noticed the globs of jellyfish that had washed up on shore.

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I timed my next stop much better than the night before, and set up to camp near the shores of Lake Ponchatrain, in Fountainbleau state park. I set camp by daylight, and got to the lake for sunset.

I had the lake front to myself, and enjoyed strolling under the spanish-moss-swathed canopy to get to the boardwalk as the sunlight waned. Across the lake, two highly isolated thunderstorm systems flanked the dark glow of the sunset, the occasional bloom of lighting flickering through them. I could barely see what might have been the lights of New Orleans at the far end of the bridge.

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I had not planned to get in, but something compelled me to walk into the shallows and sit in that warm Southern water. And not just to get away from the swarms of mosquitoes. But oh man were they swarming.

I sat in the lake, feeling the lap of the water, watching the light show across the way, and it felt like the Bayou South embracing me, and welcoming me home. But so, too, would seeing the St. Louis gateway Arch feel like homecoming. Or stepping once again into the stuffy studio in Saxapahaw, or punching in the code for Jenny’s garage. So many places that feel like home.

Eventually I walked back out, and scrambled to my car as quick as I could to escape the cloud of mosquitoes. It was beautifully dark and quiet night at the campsite.

I slept so well.

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Unloading and reloading

Monday, I went to Saxapahaw to unload puppets. It was just a skeleton crew, and I was braced to continue riding high emotions. I found that, rather than getting even more sad that things were ending, I found the way everyone else was focusing on the next project already very reassuring. We all keep going, and when possible, we’ll be going together.

It was, however, a little traumatic to watch the giant glow turtle get instantly gutted. I understand the decision, but it hit hard. Donovan and I wrestled that frame for a long time, and I performed in it in the last moments of every show. And now it’s time to move on. Just like that.

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Chris and I had lunch together after, one last meal at the general store. On the way in, I saw Tommy having lunch with his wife, and Donovan crossed our paths on our way out. We had already had sentimental good byes, so I just waved and awkwardly scrambled out, but it was nice to be bumping into them, as if I wasn’t about to be over a thousand miles away.

Everyone I parted with expressed wishes for me to return. Several people told me if I had time before departure to reach out for last minute socializing. It was very sweet. It made it very hard to leave. I wanted to make time for them all. But I will always want to make more time.

On Tuesday, I packed up my room at Jenny’s house. It went so much faster than I expected. I had forgotten how light I was traveling. It’s hard to believe I could feel so at home in a place where so little belonged to me.

We had family dinner send off, all the kids assembled, if briefly, and in stages, and Sadie brought her beloved chicken Eggo to say hi, which I took as I great sign of affection. It was nice to be with them all. The boys were utterly silent to my profession of appreciation that they had gone along with sharing their home with me.

After everyone else had scattered to bed time or whatever reclusive things teenagers like to run off and do, Jenny and I got a nice little quiet moment to reminisce. I love her so much, and am so grateful I had such an amazing family to stay with this Summer. Hugging her good night, with a good chance that I won’t catch her in the morning, I absolutely failed to keep my composure, and we both shuffled to bed with teary eyes.

I had trouble going to bed, in my gutted room, not ready for the last day. But, simultaneously, these last few days before getting home to Dave have been agonizing. I’m ready to be home, I just wish I didn’t have to leave to get there.

Greensboro goodbyes

One of the things I liked about having the last weekend in Greensboro, was that I was utterly absorbed in the new city, instead of being distracted by my connections in Chapel Hill. Before the shows, I was getting to know the city, walking through parks and popping into cafes.

Nyssa, Jake and I did some canvassing through Greensboro Pride Fest before the Saturday show. The Flamingo puppet was a huge hit, and it was a delight to have a little mini-show with the two of them. We also quickly made a ritual of going to the coffee shop across from the theater before call time. A little time to sit together, recounting the highlight reel, before diving whole-heartedly back into our show.

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Nyssa held her own like a champ!

The last show arrived, and I was braced for a big emotional blow. However, though there were many surges of memory as I pre-set the show, once it was running, I found that the greatest thing I could do was simply lose myself in the show, as I had on all the best performances, and not dwell on the significance.

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It worked well when the show kept plugging along. However, there were a few moments where it wavered. One, was leading the second migration, the one where I run straight downstage. That moment always gets me though, so although being in the front did change the intensity, it doesn’t quite count. Another time, towards the end, just before I got inside the giant, glowing turtle to perform a shadow show, I looked out on the stage and watched the parade happening there. So many faces I loved, moving and singing together, including a surprise visit from Ginger, our seamstress, reduced me to near-blubbering and I had to shape up quick to get the turtle on stage.

Then it was over. The last time that show will be ever done. I’ve never been on a show with such a long process and run, and rarely has it felt over so quickly.

Everything got into the trucks with far less care than all previous packs, and then, as one large group of puppeteer bliss, we walked down the Greensboro streets to our final cast party.

It was wonderfully rowdy, and lots of love to go around. There was even much service paid to Dave, though he was absent, which is a really great thing to be able to take home with me.

I aggressively cast off whatever last decorum I had around physical affection and spent good periods of the night hanging off of some of my dearest cast mates.

I was glad I had composed a few thoughts about my experience before hand. Several people made nice toasts, and I chimed in as well.

I don’t have every last word I said, but the most important part was this. That Not only have I given and received so much love this Summer, but I feel that my *capacity* for love has exponentially expanded. All thanks to each and every person in the Paperhand crew.

I was among the last stragglers of the crowd. Me, Nyssa, and Jake were all in the last small group, which slowly pulled itself out of the cafe patio. We had been craning over the patio fence to look at this strange, pink glowing over the park nearby, and before it was time to go, our last little weary group wandered over to check it out. It was a giant, pink and blue net, suspended over the city park and lit up so it hung overhead like a strange bio luminescent sea creature.

Then it was time to scatter. We drifted apart to our separate cars in the theater parking lot. The after image of light still glowed when I closed my eyes.

The last weekend of Paperhand arrived in Greensboro Friday night! We had a sort of crash-landing unload and dress rehearsal that night, and already emotions were surging.

It was strange to run the show indoors. In many ways, I was comforted to be inside a full theater again. Cramped hall ways, fly rails, and bulb-lined mirrors in dressing rooms all brought me to a reassuring place of competency. I know theaters, I get them. But this show feels like an odd fit. We barely squeezed it into the off-stage wings, and it was disorienting not to have the open sky around them. It seemed to stunt these stunning, grandiose creations.

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Overflowing onto the stage!

There were great benefits as well, of course. Not worrying about the weather was fantastic, as was having real dressing rooms instead of getting changed in bathroom stalls. And leaving the puppets out over night, with no fear of stealing or exposure, was amazing.

I stayed with Nyssa at her mom’s house over the weekend, since it was nearer Greensboro than Jenny’s house is. Also, it was just a really fun excuse to spend a bunch of time together. After dress rehearsal, we stayed up late sitting on the bedroom floor, Nyssa sewing and me doodling. It was all the friendly intimacy and none of the elevated drama of teenaged sleepovers.

Her parents were wonderful hosts. Her mom made me some of the best coffee I’ve had in all of my time in different houses around North Carolina. Her step Dad showed me through their rock collection, encouraged after I could pick out Tourmaline and Labradorite and other less-mainstream minerals. After a very interesting tour of the collection, he gifted me a Rose Quartz orb that has a beautiful star-shaped refraction in sunlight.

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Nyssa keeping her step dad company while he does some maintenence

I’m so grateful for Nyssa’s friendship, and all of the fun and interesting things it has brought me.

And speaking of excellent friends, Audrey and her boyfriend Diego came to the Saturday night show! Since I stayed with them on the way out, it was a perfect bookend to get to spend a little time with them at the end of the Summer. They were thrilled with the show, and brought a picnic lunch to the park where we met the day after.

It was a nice distraction to see them, and reminisce yet again on how far this Summer has taken me. And think instead, about how much further I might go yet.

Filling potential

Between Raleigh and Greensboro was a weird lull. After Hell Week 2.0 it felt almost uncomfortable to have a slow burn into the final weekend instead of the utterly out of control wild fire of the week prior.

But oh man was I grateful for the open schedule. I got to revisit the writer’s meetup, put some love and attention into thank-you notes for some of my favorite North Carolinians, and catch up on all the little chores that need doing before I move on. Although I did regularly have to stop halfway through the planning process because the concept that I was leaving so soon was simply too overwhelming.

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(some thank you note drawings I did)

One of the nicest parts was spending more extended time at Jenny’s house. Staying home is such a wonderful luxury, and her company is great. I joined her for yoga class and impromptu movie night, and spent a lot of time trying not to count down the days left to enjoy this fantastic home she has given me.

I went for a run on one of the trails near Jenny’s house, that I had meant to run since I moved in. I hadn’t run anything at all since then, with the puppets or travels keeping me so busy and active anyway, it not only seemed unnecessary, but down right counter-productive. I have not felt “recovered” in weeks. The trail ended at a little cafe where I once sat with Nyssa and wrote while she drew.

This place is so full of memory now. It seeps into all the wide open places that at the beginning of the Summer were wide open with potential and uncertainty.

Cyclical perspective

It is totally unreal to have only one weekend left, and to know I am leaving in just ten days. The little endings are piling up. Raleigh was over just as I got comfortable there. One of cast members is already gone (sudden unexpected conflict, but thankfully a previous cast member was able to be called back in), and Raleigh was Alan’s last weekend volunteering with us.

Before the last Raleigh show, Chris was getting sentimental, expressing how much he enjoyed working with us interns, and it was nearly too much. I am vehemently in denial of the good byes, while compulsively counting down each show…

But, as if in tribute to beautiful cycle of things, Alicia came to town! She is my connection to Paperhand in the first place, and I never would have had this incredible Summer without her. Seeing her again, in passing, as we usually do, was a much needed reassurance of the ability of things to return as easily as they slip away.

She opened for the Sunday show, her music cutting right to my heart as it usually does, and then I stayed over at the place where she is house/pet sitting (totally worth dealing with cat allergies). We were up into the wee hours catching up, and the following day toured around Durham a bit. We were going to go to the Nasher museum on Duke’s campus, but it turned out to be closed on Mondays (neither of us are in a position to keep track of what day of the week it is….) so since we had already paid for parking we wandered down to the Duke Gardens, where the attendant said “you look like regulars who don’t need a map…” and it’s true! I’m a regular now! Wow!

She also took me to the much-lauded Scrap Exchange, a lovely thrift-store/odds-and-ends place where you can buy fabric, wood, and plastic scraps for what is essentially spare change. I wish I had a better vision for the busking puppets I want to make at home, so I could have made better use of scrounging through the buckets there, but it was still an adventure to explore the store.

As we drove around, she described the ways Durham has changed since she was growing up there. She pointed out the places that had stood abandoned until recently, and the intersections that used to connect in different ways. I have wondered all Summer what this place must look like from her perspective, a place she has grown out of long ago but is still full of new, exciting discoveries for me. I’m so glad I got to share some time with her here.

Performing at NCMA Raleigh

Monday we landed in Raleigh. I jumped into the unloading crew, and was reminded that Summer hasn’t quite released its grip yet as we hauled our puppets out of those big metal boxes. I handled the in-truck shuffle, and somehow still discovered I had become a little sunburned at the end of the day.

The Raleigh shows are a the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA)’s outdoor amphitheater. It’s design is….challenging. It’s total form over function and has barely any backstage space to speak of, let alone to house two huge moving truck’s worth of giant puppets. Getting on stage is an exercise in navigating tall ledges or cramped staircases, and the ramps from ground level to stage level don’t eve line up correctly.

That said, the museum grounds are stunning. I showed up early on a couple days just to enjoy the gorgeous space and the art it houses. Hanging out pre-show was a treat, even as what had looked like a resurgence of Summer transformed into blustery, unseasonably chilly weather for our Saturday and Sunday shows.

But, before the shift in weather, we had tech week to get through. After a long afternoon unloading trucks and driving through Raleigh to return them, we got started on the extended head-ache of re-staging the show to work with the challenging space. After a long weekend of performances, I was already totally exhausted, and honestly just grateful that Friday had been rained out to give me one less performance’s worth of strain on my neck and shoulders.

Likewise, when first tech got rained out after the second act, I was only mildly upset. I honestly was happy to get home that much earlier, and for me, personally, it was the first two act’s that had most new staging to work with. We got all the puppets on stage and under a tarp (the only viable storage option at this venue….) just before the skies cracked open and absolutely poured down on us. Leading up to that, we got to watch some pretty awesome lightning-stitched clouds over-whelm a stunning full corn moon.

So after a quick post-rehearsal meeting huddled in what tiny bits of shelter we could find, we went home for our one and only day off between labor day and Raleigh runs.

Our second tech rehearsal stayed dry (as did the whole weekend, yay!) and during the long list of notes at the end of the run, the shift in weather had finally taken hold. By the end of notes I was huddling between Chris and Jake and wishing I hadn’t left all my cool-weather clothes (save for one light-weight hoodie) back home in Houston. (It’s a summer internship, I said….).

It was totally weird not to be fighting heat-exhaustion and sweat-plastered clothes during the show. The first time I put on my pigeon suit I couldn’t figure out why it felt so weird. Then I realized I had not ever worn it without sweating straight through all three layers before.

The main thing about the re-staging was the extension of several entrances. Some of the only places to hide are well off-stage so that meant much longer ground to cover to get from “off stage” to onstage. For some puppets, this was fun. As the flamingo, I got ham it up way longer and leer over the railing at the crowd as I entered and exited. For others, it was excruciating. The only way to get the cart on and off stage was via the back ramp. It was absolutely horrendous having to navigate the incline on what is already a challenging weight. I am super super grateful for the cast mates who helped me haul and halt that thing.

The main benefit of shows at NCMA is the size of the crowds. On Saturday, we broke attendance records by performing for a sold-out crowd of 1900 attendees (not counting the people who stopped and watched from the surrounding walkways and fields). It is such an honor to be a part of this ever-growing movement. As much as I hope this only gets bigger and bigger, I am equally hopeful that I will get to be a part of that record-smashing.

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Nyssa on parade!

Goodbye Forest Theater

Monday was the final show in Forest theater. We have a weekend in Raleigh and a weekend in Greensboro left to go, but the Forest is Paperhand’s true home and there is a definitely sting to leaving it behind.

I’m glad I had the sentimental factor to buoy me through that Monday show. After the exhaustion of back to back shows Sunday and the effort of having family in town (no matter how great a time it was, it was still lots of activity!) I was feeling some strain.

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Backstage bye byes

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The cast all signed this poster. 3 birds for 3 interns

Zella, who usually leads the migration-bird line for the show will be leaving us before Greensboro, and I’ll be covering for her in one of the tuns. She had me practice the route that Monday night, so on our last day in Forest theater I got to be the front of the line for that downstage run I love so much.

I just kept looking around me at my cast mates and being overwhelmed by how far we’ve come. At curtain call, I made eye contact with Donovan just before the final bow and it was almost too much for me.

I have a small, private tradition post-curtain-call, just as we’re all about run back off stage, where I would lift my hands to the sky, gather fists and release again, imagining the flow of gratitude for what this place gave me and I hope I returned. It felt so keen and clear that night. Just infinite gratitude.

We packed up two huge trucks with all of our puppets, and Chris’ van with all the repair-kit and other odds and ends that could go back to the studio instead of coming with us from the theater. Then we ate from the food that Vimala surprised us with and sat around the back field of the theater.

In hazy, happy exhaustion we communed under the full moon (“the full moon is really only totally full for a second, so I like to give it a few days” says Chris) and began the anticipation for two weeks on the, admittedly short, road.

 

Family Visit!

The day after mom and I returned from the beach, my sister Natalie flew in! Jenny and the boys were all out of town on different trips, so we all got to stay in the house together, which was really great. We’ve rarely stayed in a home that actually had room for all of us at once, and it was nice that we could all be in one place.

On Friday the weather was so gloomy and wet that the show was canceled without any attempt to gather at the theater. Thankfully, the rain held off long enough that we could enjoy Duke gardens for a couple hours before the rain started in full force.

We decided to take advantage of an unexpected night off together and go all out. I was not expecting it, but Natalie and mom treated me to everything as an early birthday event, since this is the only time they’ll see me around then. Natalie treated us to a pre-dinner cocktail hour at the Crunkleton, and then we had an incredible greek smorgasbord dinner at the restaurant across from Vimalas where Paperhand has Saturday dinners. It was a totally decadent evening. I’m not saying I was glad to miss a show, but with the long weekend and Raleigh-re-staging yet to come, I wasn’t totally devastated by it either.

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Saturday, we went to State Capitol in Raleigh, where we caught a tour just after it had started. On many road trips throughout the years Mom has taken us to state capitols for tours, so it has become more fun from a pure tradition stand point as time has gone on.

Just down the street, Tarish “jeghetto”, my cast-mate at Paperhand, was doing a demonstration at the African American Arts Festival. I was so happy to have them see his amazing engineering up close and personal. I never get tired of puppets. Especially not from people I admire so much.

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That night they finally got to see the show! I still think of my Mom and making her proud with any endeavor I do, it doesn’t feel complete until she’s experienced it and celebrated it with me.

They shared in the Vimalas tradition with me and the cast, sharing the table with some of my favorite cohorts. They also saw both shows on Sunday and continued to gush and make me feel all full of pride and joy.

Monday morning I took them down to Saxapahaw to have breakfast at the general store and show them the paperhand studio. I was not ready for the emotion that hit me. Halfway through breakfast I just looked up at the general store, remembering all the lunches the interns spent crowd one end of the central table or spilling out of the booths. The performances have been rolling along with so much force I haven’t had time to reflect on the portions that are already over.

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Mom getting into some money business

It was as nice for me to reminisce my way through the studio as it was to share it with my family. So long as I ignored the horrendous mess left in the tool and costume rooms…yeesh.

Outer Banks

Tuesday, as Harvey was rolling out of Houston, my Mom rolled into Chapel Hill! (She said, like a painfully awkward newscaster trying to make a segue…) Mom arrived late, but we still stayed up into the night reconnecting over tea, as is our usual m-o.

We had a quick turn-around to get the Outer Banks the next day! Mom is the person who instilled a love of long drives and road trips in general in me, and it is always a treat to get to revisit it with her. It was also weird to be in the passenger seat for two days. As the kind of person who is usually a default driver it is disorienting not to be behind the wheel. It was also a total time capsule to navigate for Mom, as we usually did on our trips.

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Road trip!

We had so much fun exploring the Outer Banks. It was a total whirlwind tour, driving up and down the island to visit light houses, play on the shores and devour wonderful food. I also drank a ridiculous amount of coffee as we kept finding great places to stop. We stayed at a beautiful airbnb tucked just off the main drag in Kitty Hawk, but barely spent any time there given our jam packed schedule.

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Many of our stops on the itinerary were recommendations from Dave, as the Outer Banks were a regular family vacation for him growing up. However, Jenny set us up for the highlight of the trip. She suggested we bring a couple of her sleds to Jockey’s Ridge sand dunes. It was SO much fun carving a trench in the sands and riding down. It wasn’t exactly high speeds but it was a flipping treat. A couple kids even came over and adorably asked for a turn. I was happy to share, and tried to convince the parents to join in too, but they were not nearly as cool as my parent.

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Other than a few stops to get our feet in, we didn’t get a proper visit to the beach until the end of our second day. We stopped at Coquina beach after climbing the third and final light house on our itinerary (Bodie island) and jumped into the waves.

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We had barely started playing before the most isolated rain storm I’ve ever seen blew in over head. We ran back to put our stuff in the car, and then agonized over whether or not to try driving into the much clearer skies north and south of us, or wait for it to blow over. We did get in the car, but wound up just driving a circle and coming back to the same spot. But, I guess we tricked the rain, because it had moved out by then!

We then jumped in the waves, body surfing and getting tumbled against the sand by some serious waves that warranted the “no swimming” flags that were flying along the beaches. It was an exhilarating, exhausting good time.

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After a thorough attempt to rinse off all the sand that had been blasted into our hair and swimsuits, that still left sand falling out of sports bra after it had gone through the washing machine, we were on our way back home.

It may have taken until the final stretch of my time here, but I finally got to see just about every corner of this beautiful state. I’m so glad I got to share such a beautiful part of it with my mom!

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