Minding the Sky | The author and her blue bottle each brave certain stormy seas

Posted in Blogs, Theater and Dance

March 22, 2013

“Lost and Found on Either Coast”

It’s been two blue bottles tossed and gone since last I wrote.  And those days seem a lifetime passed, now.  Here and now it is March and the sky is brightening, days are growing longer, the color of the sky and the color of the water are the same shade of pale dove with occasional breaks for golden light to limn the other side of Holmes Harbor with an otherworldly glow.

Back there, in another then, it was the end of October and raining hard from a deep slate sky; it was morning, but it looked like late afternoon, darkening to dusk.

We were on our way to Clearwater, Florida and the first wave of bringing our Agatha Christie show to a bigger place than it had been before.  We were full of all the hopes and fears a moment like that could evoke – cold, dank, metaphorical hands clutching my heart and choking my throat with the Fear piece, followed by a hot, electrical fire crackling in my brain, igniting all the Hopes I’d ever had, like fireworks going off in a basement.

During that departing Clinton-Mukilteo Ferry crossing, my witnesses were by my husband and our shuttle’s serendipitous fellow-traveler, playwright Martha Furey, on that very same day off to see her Edith Piaf show brought to vivid life by Joni Takanikos and her son Max, in a Bay-area theatre.

Judith Walcutt (361x500)

Off on the ferry with my blue bottle prepped for the sea.

I’d prepped my bottle the night before, a darker blue one than the first, into which I dropped the same scrolled poem, “Ontology the Sea and Me,” version #16, signed and dated. I held it in my hands, while the small rains kissed it with a wish for all of us ­­­­– that our shows would be good work; that they would be seen by people who liked them; and that we would see our artistic visions realized.   And then I let it go, like I was throwing a Frisbee hard, backhanded to cut through the wind – a blue bottle of potentials, cast free into the stormy malachite Sound.

I had a certain familiar twinge when it went, an ache and a longing, like when you drop your kid off at kindergarten on the first day of school and feel in your gut that something is beginning and something is ending, and you don’t know the next part of the story yet, so you’re uneasy, but you let go anyway, because it’s the right and natural thing to do – to let go.

In the case of this blue bottle twisting and bobbing so rapidly away in the unwinding wake of the ferry, along with the longing, I felt a little last minute panic as I wondered: Is this one going to make it? Will it get smashed by the next boat out?  In short, would we sink or swim, in this time’s crossing of the great waters?

How did we both survive?

In the case of the blue bottle, it took some kind of luck as the weather remained stormy and bleak, with high winds and smashing waves that pounded the Puget Sound shores for most of November.

For us, for the next month, it was moment-by-moment and day-by-day; a difficult climb over treacherous terrain.

We all know that theater is impossible under the best of circumstances – no matter how much rehearsal you have – it’s just never really enough, right?  And if there weren’t such a thing as “the last minute,” we’d never get anything done. That’s also true, right? But nonetheless, somehow the show goes on and it opens on opening night, right on time, with a grand “TA DA!” and you’ve done it again! Right.

In our case, total time elapsed from table read to preview night was five days – actor rehearsals, full tech, thousands of light cues, a very complicated, full surround-sound score, a temperamental fog machine, circuits overloaded – both figuratively and literally:  Gulp. Did we really do that? Have I lived to tell the tale?


Here I am in Florida with the “BBC Murders” award .

When we got home to the island at the end of November, I put my head down on my kitchen table and cried.  I was pretty sure that I had failed at my job miserably, and that if I had to go back as planned on Jan. 3 for an even longer, more demanding process as we moved from a 450-seat house in Clearwater to a 1200 seat house in Fort Lauderdale, I might not make it to the finish line. I might have to stay home, or run away, or take a really long, hot bath and just say “NO!”  I felt that bad.

Fortunately, I have a family who knows how to hold me when I feel that frail, providing love and mashed potatoes and gravy, followed by black-and-white movies on demand ‘til the moment of fear and loathing passes.

Just as importantly, I have a spiritual practice that I can turn to and take refuge in – the community of Buddhist practitioners on the South end of the island.  I feel fortunate to have that one candle in the dark.

Driving up Highway 525 soon after our return from Fort Lauderdale in February, I took in the reader board of the Trinity Lutheran Church:  “Life is hard. Broken people welcome here.”

I felt the message in my solar plexus – I know that feeling; I know the landscape of that state of mind.  I felt relief in that moment; was reminded that I am not alone and I live in a place where there is communal acknowledgement of the efficacy of following a spiritual thread in life, in whatever denomination and to whichever door it brings us.

What of the blue bottle of last October’s end, tossed into the wild wind; into waters rough enough to test anyone’s courage – and faith?  I received a card in early December.  It had been found on the shore of Hat Island on Thanksgiving Day.

Shore of Hat Island (431x286)

Shore of Hat Island where my second message in a blue bottle was found in November 2012.

The finder wrote me back a note, including a picture of where the bottle had been found.  It said: “It is surprising that your poem arrived dry and the bottle unbroken after our rough storms and across the rocky shore where I found it.”

But it did survive, as I survived – rough waters, rocky shores, unexpected squalls and strong head winds – we both made it through it all. Yes, I thought, it is surprising just how sturdy a fragile thing can be.

Another message in the bottle; another metaphor to live by.

Island spiritual events:

If you are looking to kindle your own candle in the dark, there are so many ways to go on Whidbey and ample opportunity to deepen your spiritual practice within the community at large.

  • Whidbey Institute will host its annual Easter service 11 a.m. Sunday, March 31 at Thomas Berry Hall. A non-sectarian celebration of Spring and rebirth through stories, songs, poetry and music, the service gives the community a chance to gather together, celebrate the return of the light, and commune with the beautiful Chinook land.
  • Upcoming within the Buddhist community, we will welcome Lama Tsultrim Allione  back to the island to give  teachings on Machig Labdron, the 11th century Tibetan yogini and “The Nature of Mind,” from Friday, April 12 to the Sunday, April 14, at the Northwest Language Academy and Cultural Center in Langley. Lama Tsultrim has been a beloved teacher to the community of practicing Buddhists on South Whidbey for many years. She is an author, an international teacher, and the founder/spiritual director of Tara Mandala, a Buddhist retreat center in Pagosa Springs, Colo.  For information email shanti1944@gmail.com.  For registration, email goodwork@whidbey.com.

Judith Walcutt is an award-winning writer, producer, and director for radio, theatre, and TV. She is a grateful alum of Hedgebrook and is currently working on the absolutely last revision (or almost) of her early novel “Memoirs of a Modern She-Noodle.”



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