Mrs. Maisel Took My Job. Sort of.

I have long aspired to become a Professional Party Guest.

“Professional Party Guest” has long been on my list of career aspirations.

I’m not kidding. I just ordered new Ridiculouswoman business cards, and they say, “Writer, blogger, speaker, singer” on them, but I’m thinking of getting some new ones with “professional party guest” added.

Or maybe, “aspiring professional party guest.”

I ordered the new cards the day before I binge-watched the entire first season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which was great.

But there was Midge, doing my party-guest act. (“Everybody does it,” right? – if you’ve watched the show, you know that Midge doesn’t.)

She was trying to work out her routine, and began accepting nightly party invitations where she’d end up entertaining the room – trying out material, improvising with another guy who was trying to make it in showbiz, and generally making a spectacle of herself, to the delight of the other guests (and the disgust of Susie, her manager).

Hey, Midge, dammit, that was my idea!

Except I intend to get paid for it. In money, not just free drinks.

Like the entire adult population of Chicago, I’m a trained improvisor, so why shouldn’t I make myself available to enhance your party? If you’re worried that some of the guests won’t get along, or be too boring, or won’t have anything to talk about, hire me! I can pretend to be mysterious, outrageous, elegant, charming….or just funny. Whatever floats your boat and adds a little pizzazz to the proceedings.

In ancient times (the ’50s and ’60’s) hostesses (back then, the party planning was done almost exclusively by women) worried about making sure they had the right combination of people at a party, especially a dinner party. If there was to be an extra woman (a widow, a spinster sister or aunt, or other pity invite) throwing off the seating arrangements, an “extra man” must be found. And vice versa.

That picture of me up there was taken on Thanksgiving, 2017 – our second one without Mike. I tried to make it as festive as I could for our daughter, following all the traditions we used to follow when he was with us. (Note Sophie the cat, in background in the Bulgarian-built kitchen, gazing appreciatively. Or more likely, wondering where her dinner was).

That year, it worked out great.  This year, not so much. Lost my touch, when my rhythm was thrown off by our going to another house for the meal on the day itself. So I tried to do it all the next day. Disaster.

But I digress. I used the photo to indicate that under the proper circumstances, I can be amusing, fun, exuberant, charming, etc. You can’t see it, but I’m wearing one of those fit-and-flare ’50s style dresses with a crinoline underneath, and feeling pretty perky.

So that’s the woman I’d be as a professional party guest – dressed (ok – overdressed), smiling, laughing,  the life of it.

I’m not as smart-alecky or quick with a comeback as Mrs. Maisel, so I need other people to play off of. Your guests should expect some prying or impertinent questions, or some barging in on their conversations (unless you want mysterious me, in which case I’ll be lurking alone in corners looking fabulously bored, searching your bookshelves. You do have bookshelves, don’t you?)

Here’s the Christmas version of ab-fab me:

IMG_20171224_202307211.jpg

If you look closely you can see the glass is chipped.

As part of last year’s New Year’s Revolutions, I threw it out. It was the last of our wedding stemware, which we never had very much of anyway.

I haven’t written the obligatory New Year’s post yet. It seems to be the done thing to create some sort of “best of” retrospective of the previous year, or share some new determination to get better, at something.

So,  in 2019, I resolve to get hired as a Professional Party Guest.

No? But I have a purple dress for spring, just like the red one for Christmas! I have a demure black one with a white Peter Pan collar if you want me to look…I don’t know, “widowy” and demure!

And in another 10 pounds I’ll be back into that skin-tight blue one I wore to my high school reunion,  or the same dress in red that I wore to the ballet, if you want me to look – well, like a woman of a certain age who probably shouldn’t be wearing skin-tight dresses.

I’ll be happy to entertain (converse with, get your mind out of the gutter, again)  your “extra man.”

Seriously, think about it. Willing to make a spectacle of myself for a reasonable rate (and a coupla free drinks).

And a good time will be had by all.

Awaiting your invitation (and your check – half now, half when I leave the party, with everyone having a blast) I remain,

Your inappropriately-but-really-cutely-overdressed,

Ridiculouswoman

Divestiture, Episode 4: Life is a Harold

Life circles back, in complex layers, like a Harold…

I first came across the idea of “synchronicity,” that thing where lots of people all over the planet seem to start thinking about the same thing at the same time, when I became interested in Jung, back in college. (I think the Police song came later. I think.)

As an improviser (after college, but still many years ago) I would experience a kind of synchronicity with my fellow players, when everybody seems to share the same insight or have the same thought or impulse at the same moment. It’s called the “group mind.”

The team I was on performed the “Harold,” from the early days of long-form improvisation. “Harold” is a thirty-minute (or so) performance involving games, scenes and monologues, in rounds of three. Each “scene” would return twice after its first appearance, with each repetition layering over, often in subtle or surprising ways that only come together at the end, on what came before.

It doesn’t work if any of the players try to predetermine or “script” what happens next. It only works if everyone is working off everyone else, and the next thing that happens, happens only because of whatever has happened before.

This sense that everything that happens is somehow connected to everything that happened before has been a theme in my life, and probably in yours, if you stop to think about it. You’ll suddenly remember a past part of your life that seems to have circled back around, but at a new and more mature or complex level. Like standing on a long spiral staircase, looking down at the previous circles of your life.

In my latest round of tidying up, getting rid of piles of old crap that oppress me now, a few moments of this helix-shaped laddering of life hit me in odd and unexpected ways. Which is kind of how it is supposed to work. To wit:

• Someone on one of the Facebook groups I participate in replied to a comment of mine by saying it was “en pointe” – and I said (truthfully) that “Ha! I used to dance “en pointe!” The next day, what did I find in the closet? A box full of old pointe shoes (really, really beat up pointe shoes) that I had saved from my teen years, and forgotten about. Smiled, and tossed them.

• Because I am having a period-style dress made to wear at an upcoming event celebrating the era of my favorite books, I suddenly remembered a dress I had made for myself, by hand. Again, back in college – I was flat broke, but I was one of the soprano soloists in “Messiah” for the Christmas concert, and I didn’t have a dress. So I went out and bought some really cheap red satin (which scandalized the orchestra, angry, I guess, that they had to wear the uniform “concert black.”) IMG_20180910_164019.jpgI ripped apart a sundress that fit me well, to use as a pattern. I laid the satin out on my dorm room floor, and came up with a way to make a criss-crossed bodice that formed cap sleeves without having to cut and sew sleeves separately. I attached that to a long, bias-cut skirt that came to a point in front. Except when I was done, one side of the skirt was shorter than and kind of off-center to the other. So I improvised a ruffle on that side, by hand again, to even it out. I loved that dress and was proud of designing it and sewing it together in a marathon all-nighter, a week or so before the concert. I couldn’t remember what I’d done with it. And what did I find in the closet? There it was, in the very bottom of a box, underneath old college papers, exam books (really? Why on earth did I save those?) and programs from recitals and performances long past. Tossed the exam books and papers, kept the programs and the dress.

• Very recently I wrote about my late husband Mike’s journals and what they revealed to me, after he died. And what did I find in the closet? A journal of my own that I had forgotten existed, that chronicled the first days and weeks of our romance – how we met, where we went together in those giddy, dizzying first days and weeks, and, sadly, how early in our relationship we started fighting. I found the earliest poems – written for me or read to me. My journal consumed only about 15% of the blank book it was written in, blazing briefly with the astonishment of those long, wild first days of love – a love that too quickly sank way down, beneath the surface, submerged for decades under the responsibilities of child-rearing and the stress of a long and difficult marriage; the love that returned to us in a profound, mature and painfully poignant way, at the end.

There’s nothing sentimental about improvisation. It’s there and then it’s not. It’s ephemeral. You can’t recreate a great “Harold.” You can only experience it while it is happening, and maybe remember how great it made you feel while you were in the midst of it.

Not unlike life.

Still tidying up, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, moving onward one-cleaned-out-closet-at-a-time,

Ridiculouswoman