Apologies to regular fans of my Friday blog. I’m going to do things a little differently today.
I’ve been writing Shit that Pissed me off most Fridays for the last three years. I enjoy it as an exercise in writing humor and in exploring my opinions about what is happening in the world around me. Since I’ve started writing the column, it has never coincided with my birthday.
Well this year, it has.
So I decided instead of spending my birthday thinking about stuff that annoys me, I’m going to write about things that make me happy. I’ll post this week’s shit that pissed me off on Monday. Because even on my birthday, there are things that piss me off.
I begin my 48th year today and in honor of that, here are 48 things that make me happy.
1. I’ve been married to the same amazing woman for the last 25 1/2 years. She is brilliant, courageous, thoughtful, sexy, and supportive. She laughs at some of my jokes. She listens when I’m in a bad mood. She corrects me when I’m wrong. There is not a night that goes by where I am not happy we share a bed, a home, and a life.
2. I’ve got one fantastic mother. She loves math and has spent her life finding ways to help others love it too. She loves being an amateur artist. She is a fun travel companion. Any day I know I’m going to see her is automatically a good day.
3. My oldest son is great. He’s clever, cheerful, fun, and affectionate. He grew several inches in the last year and is starting to show signs of facial hair. Pretty soon, he’s going to learn how to drive and get a job and start looking at colleges. I’m not sure I’m ready for any of that.
4. My youngest son is wonderfully creative. The way he builds new Lego structures and describes ideas for new games or parks or dinosaurs shows boundless inventiveness. His head must be such an interesting place to live.
5. My Brother is full of passion and energy. He has been remarkably successful in not just the field he has chosen to pursue, but most anything he decides to accomplish. We have a great relationship hampered only by the distance that separates us.
6. My Sister-in-law has a sharp sense of humor, an infectious positive attitude, and seems like a perfect partner for my brother.
Last night, word reached me that a friend died suddenly over the weekend. I’ve known Robert Schug ever since he and his partner Steven joined the Renaissance Festival cast. Like many of my friends, I’ve seen them far less frequently than I would have liked in the last few years.
Robert was exuberant, proud, and generous. When a fire devastated part of the festival several years ago, he was instrumental in creating the Phoenix project, which helped crafters rebuild their booths.
Many people have referred to Robert as being a member of the fops and that isn’t correct. He and Steven were their royal highnesses Prince Puph and Phluph from the realm of materialism. As he himself put it, Robert was the fluffy one. They received the Cracked Cup for rookie of the year and as a member of the group that voted for awards that year, I’ve never had an easier decision to make.
Note: My point is not to suggest that Steven and Robert were better or worse than the Fops. Rather, I think it is important to remember that they were different.
Robert had his faults, as we all do. I can’t for the life of me recall what they were and it isn’t as if they matter.
He was filled with joy and life and he is gone.
I’ve known Ronn since I was assistant Artistic Director at the Arizona Festival in 1996. I knew of him prior to that time but I don’t think we actually met.
We only see each other seven weekends a year and we are both too busy to spend any time together. Most interactions we have are a quick two sentence exchange in the morning or a conversation via Facebook.
Such is friendship with someone on the circuit.
Ronn is a member of the very Tortuga Twins. They are one of the most popular acts at the Festival and I have never actually seen them perform. Too many conflicts.
What I know from watching them at other times and from talking to him about their shows is this: their comic timing is absolutely stellar and the attention to their writing is admirable. I don’t think they feel they are owed anything by their audience. They know that every dollar in their hat is earned and they work hard to earn each and every one.
Ronn and I have bonded a bit over shared opinions on Religion, politics, vaccines, conspiracies, and homeopathy. Among other things.
He’s not afraid to invite debate about touchy subjects. Nor is he afraid to express his opinion on those subjects. In that way, he is a lot like me.
He exudes confidence that should never be mistaken for cockiness. Being confident is the sign of a professional who knows what he is doing. Cockiness is the sign of someone who wants to be a professional but doesn’t know what he is doing.
Ronn writes about his daughter a lot and is clearly very invested in his role as a dad. Raising a child while travelling around the country is a challenge that he seems to have embraced in a way I respect and admire.
He’ll be rolling into town in a couple of weeks and we’ll have our all too brief exchanges once again. Such is the nature of the community we share.
It’s pretty awesome and at the same time, a little bit disappointing.
I’ve known of Carr far longer than I’ve actually known him. When I started at the Renaissance Festival thirty years ago, the Ratcatcher was one of the most well-known street characters anywhere.
I didn’t know him as a person then. I knew him as an icon. He was what all of us were trying to be, if only just a little bit.
Many years later, Carr was the Artistic Director of the festival and he had created what can be fairly called a lifetime achievement award. I was the third recipient of the award and he was the person who presented it to me. It was a surreal moment. I was recognized for my contributions to the festival by someone who was a legend long before I ever started making them.
A few years after that, I made a push to present that award to Carr. It seemed wrong to me that he should be excluded from consideration due to the technicality that he created the award.
Carr is a passionate man. He has so many passions, it is hard to see how he manages to keep track of them all. He is a speaker, a photographer, a director, a political activist, an actor, and a great deal more.
The festival is a world of challenges and frequently a world of extreme negativity. Everyone thinks they could do things better. Most of them are right.
But a focus on the negative can be crippling. Carr is so relentlessly positive about the experience that he reminds all of us why we are doing this in the first place. We are doing it for the love of the experience. At some level, that love of the experience outweighs all of the negative stuff.
His talent is to find a way to keep a huge cast focused on the good things. He doesn’t pretend the bad things aren’t there. He simply reminds us that they can’t be the most important thing. Otherwise, why are we there?
Carr and I don’t always agree. Yet I have the utmost respect for him because he disagrees with me without ever devaluing my opinion.
I know who Carr is as a person now. That’s better than being an icon. Icons aren’t real.
I got a little bit behind on my Friend a Day posts as CONvergence got into full swing.
Today’s friend is a person I hadn’t expected to write about because I didn’t know her that well. Her passing over CONvergence weekend reminded me that so many people touch our lives and we ought to take a few moments to show gratitude for those moments.
I first met Tish Cassidy through the Renaissance Festival. She was one of many fellow performers I didn’t know that well. She always had a smile on her face, which is an endearing trait in almost anyone.
She dated a roommate for a little while and spent a lot of time in our house. She was very charming and chatty. When the relationship ended, we didn’t see much of her for a while.
Later, she began to work with CONvergence and was one of the people tapped to take over the con when a new organizational model was adopted. That model was a disaster but Tish was a fighter. She and I had more than one conversation in which I saw her desire to find a way to make the whole thing work.
She loved the convention and while she was frustrated with the direction it was going, she was trying to do everything in her power to fix things. The ship was flagging a little bit but Tish (and the people she worked with) was working as hard as she could to keep it afloat.
It is perhaps appropriate, then, that her last memories would be of the convention she loved. From my last few encounters with her, I could see she was ill. It turns out she was seriously ill. She collapsed at the convention on Saturday night and expired Sunday morning.
Her sudden loss cast a pall over the weekend, which was unavoidable. I at least took comfort in the fact that she died doing something she loved surrounded by people she loved and who loved her.
I didn’t know her that well so my sense of loss is not as great as some of my friends. But I knew her. Her life touched mine. We lose friends all the time and for all sorts of reasons. It’s worth appreciating them while they are around.
I’ve known Anj for a long time. I worked as a hawker on her stage during the 1987 Renaissance Festival season. I’m not going to pretend all went well with us that year. I was finding my voice and it turned out that I wasn’t all that interested in being a hawker. That was my fault.
But you know what? You can get beyond a bad experience with someone because sometimes good people make bad decisions.
While she is moving on from it now, Anj spent the last several years at the festival as Alice the Cook. The festival is a strange beast that combines entertainment with education and it typically errs in the direction of entertainment. It is hard to fight against that tide.
But that is what Anjila did. Day after day, she worked to teach people something in an entertaining way. I don’t think her form of work was ever as appreciated as it should have been.
As a performer, I never walked by her stage without being offered something to eat and/or something to drink. With all the health issues she deals with, she never ceased to be concerned about the health of everyone around her.
When Anj commits to doing something, she commits to doing it as well as she possibly can. She spent hours of prep time every day she played Alice.
I see that commitment in every other part of her life. I see it in every career choice she has made. She is someone who will work as hard as she possibly can to make things happen.
She has a very genuine smile that is almost always present. When she is around, she makes others feel like they are the most important thing to her.
It was may fault that we got started on the wrong foot all those years ago. I’m glad that an ill beginning was overcome. Anj is a great person.
Right now, her husband is recovering from surgery. I’m going to link to his Gofundme page because that recovery is expensive and insurance doesn’t cover everything. Whether or not you know Anj and Chris, do them a favor. They deserve it.
I’ve known Jim ever since I started working at the Renaissance Festival. He is well known to many as the master of the Feast of Fantasy now but when I first met him, he was a member of an act call the Comedy Troupe. Every member of that act was supremely talented.
What I enjoy about working with Jim is how generous he is to the performers who come to work on his stage. He is always conscious of our time constraints and always thanks us for our performance. I can’t even tell you how enjoyable it is to work with someone that professional.
A few years ago, there was a decision to start doing Vilification Tennis themed feasts and we went in having a clear expectation that we were to be doing extremely blue material. Unfortunately, the audience didn’t have the same expectation. The results were less than spectacular. I think the word “disaster” would be more appropriate.
We sat with Jim after the show and there was no anger. No finger pointing. Instead there was talk about how we were going to fix the problem for the second feast. There was no question that we were partners in finding a solution.
Whenever I hear Jim on the Radio or at a Twins game, I smile because I know him and he doesn’t just sound like a nice guy, he is a nice guy.
Jim is one of the hardest working people I know. I don’t know how many projects he has going at a time but there is always one more. He is in demand because he is one of the best.
He’s relentlessly positive. He always sees the best in others. He never focuses on the negative. To focus on the best in yourself and those around you is a talent that may be better than all the others he possesses.
I’m truly fortunate to have crossed paths with Jim. He’s one of the great ones.
I’ve known Jena for something close to all of her life. She’s been at the festival almost as long as I have. Maybe longer.
Jena is working on something all of the time. She has a remarkably eclectic skill set that makes her valuable in almost any situation. I don’t know of a time I’ve thought “this is something Jena can’t do.”
When something comes up at the last minute, she is not one to back away from the challenge. Given just a couple of weeks to prepare, she wrote and performed a solo show at the Minnesota Fringe last year. On the Rarig Proscenium.
If you’ve ever been inside the Rarig Proscenium, you should know that performing a solo show on that stage is something only a crazy person would want to do.
Jena is not crazy. She is driven and she is willing to take chances that may or may not pay off because she knows that she will get something valuable out of the experience either way.
We’ve been recording A Reel Education together for about a year now and that has been a lot of fun. She brings that fresh perspective to every movie and it is a lot of fun. The biggest challenge, though, is fitting podcast recordings into her schedule that is filled with rehearsals.
You have to respect someone who is working in theater all the time. She is always finding projects that are interesting and different.
Somehow, she manages to do all of this while also being a single mom. I don’t usually talk about parenting in my Friend a Day posts but the thing is, Jena is very present as a parent and as someone trying to strike that theater/kid balance, I admire and respect her efforts in that regard. I’m fortunate to have a partner to share that load. She doesn’t have that.
Jena is hard working and dedicated and I think that work pays off in all sorts of ways. Time with Jena is always time well spent.
I’ve known Eddie Jeff since 1996 when we sang “Wild Rover” together. Mutual friend Terry Foy was looking for someone to play the song and he asked a big group if anyone knew the song. Both of us knew the song so we performed it together.
Two days later, we got sent out on a promotional event as a music act. We barely knew each other but we sounded pretty good together. Good enough to fool our audience, anyway. He knew a lot more songs than I did but I could play along and I’m pretty fast at figuring out the lyrics to a chorus.
Because he’d been around Renaissance Festivals all his life, I assumed he knew “Ramblin’ Rover” so I asked him if he wanted to sing it. “Sure,” he said.
So I started singing the song and he would cheerfully sing the last syllable of every verse. Finally I stopped and looked at him and said “you don’t know this song at all, do you?”
“Not a lick,” he replied.
The audience loved it.
We’ve played music together, off an on, ever since.
Eddie Jeff is an absolutely great guitar player and he has a fantastic singing voice. He spends most of his life on the road, travelling from gig to gig. It’s a tough life but one that, I think, makes him happy most of the time.
He’s got the unique ability to be able to work with just about anyone. If you can carry a tune, he’ll be able to carry it with you.
The most talented people I know are also the most generous with their talent. Eddie Jeff is the embodiment of that. He is so remarkably good and yet he will share the stage with anyone.
I don’t spend nearly enough time around him these days because he goes where he can make the most money and that is not, unfortunately, the Minnesota Festival.
Any time I can be around him, though, is a treat. He’s a great talent and a great person.
Nan is the director of the Court Revelers at the festival and the amount of work she must put into that job is amazing. They are a large ensemble and their cast changes every year. Just the idea of needing to train in new members every single season gives me nightmares.
That the revelers have been able to maintain a very high standard with that turnover is a credit to all of them but especially the leadership Nan provides. She has very high standards but it still looks like they are having fun when they perform.
She also does many of the arrangements of their music, which impresses me because I don’t read music and because of that, it seems like it must be incredibly difficult. I’m pretty sure it actually is incredibly difficult.
She’s got a commitment to performing that, I think, echoes my own. We both believe that we are out at the festival to entertain and that means we are on stage when the cannon goes off in the morning and we are still there when it goes off in the evening. That is the deal and it is a deal she keeps that deal each day of the season.
Nan has been one of my regular Sunday night dinner companions for the last several seasons. We get together and laugh at the stories from the weekend while ignoring how tired and sore we all look and feel.
Every one of the people who take part in that ritual are special. The weekend doesn’t feel over until we all recap it over dinner. There is a lot more laughter than anything else.
The Renaissance Festival has shaped most of my friendships for the last thirty years. I’m pleased that Nan is one of those friendships.