He Unpacked the Bag
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An Invitation Out by Shualee Cook

April 17 - May 3, 2015

Christmas Truce web

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  Many of you know that I have an 18 year-old son, Andy, who has severe autism – it was the subject of my play Falling, which premiered last August here at Mustard Seed Theatre.

Andy plans his life. Far in advance. He has 8 stacks of 8 videos each, and not only can he tell you the names of all the movies in each stack (in order from top to bottom) but he can tell you on which day he is planning to watch them.

See, life is pretty scary when your brain is wired like his – so knowing what’s ahead is a comfort.

During the week, when he goes to his summer program, he takes 2 DVD’s and 2 videos with him. The stacks of 8 videos are for the weekend, or special days when there’s no other activity.

So imagine my dismay when I came down last Tuesday morning to find that he’d packed his bag with 8 videos and was ready to embark on a “special day” outing. I assured him that it was Summer Program day, and he gently walked me to the calendar, where I saw what had happened. I had written “Summer Program” on Monday and then drawn an arrow pointing through the days until Friday. It was perfectly clear to me, of course, but Andy interpreted it to mean that he only went to the summer program on Monday.

When I explained to him what had happened, and wrote “Summer Program” on Tuesday, he took a pen and crossed it out. (“No fair changing the rules,” I imagined him thinking.) He was getting agitated, and my husband Steve and I began to gear ourselves up for an aggressive incident. I took him to his room, wrote out a note explaining the schedule for the week, handed it to him, and said “Read that and think about it. I’ll be outside the door.”

I closed the door. Steve and I braced ourselves for the screams that would start, indicating his frustration and an explosive meltdown.

It was quiet.

After a minute or so of quiet, there came a small knock on the door. We jumped.

“Mom will open the door,” Andy said.

“Yes I will,” I replied. “And then what will you do?”

“Andy will go to Summer Program.”

Suspicious looks were exchanged. “Is he setting us up … we’ll open the door and he’ll come out swinging?”

“Andy, how do you feel about going to Summer Program,” I asked cautiously.

“Happy.”

I opened the door. A smiling face greeted me. He walked down the stairs and went to his bag packed with the 8 videos.

He unpacked the bag.

He UNPACKED the bag.

(Here is where those of you who know a person with autism are doing your own amazed happy dance, saying, “He unpacked the bag? He unpacked the bag!”)

He repacked for Summer Program. Where he went and had a great day.

! ! !

Most parents watch for milestones like going to Kindergarten, getting a driver’s license.

Extreme Parents (like us) watch for the day he “unpacks the bag.” He met an obstacle in his path, and instead of doing all in his power to destroy the obstacle, he changed his path.

And do I know why? Maybe the new medication that has helped him focus and think more clearly? Maybe the raging hormones of his early teens are waning? Maybe it was just time for the brain to mature that little bit more?

So after days of simply being excited about this amazing event (or non-event, if you think of it a certain way), I began to realize that there’s a lesson for me in all of this.

To unpack my bag. Metaphorically.

It’s the lesson Tami finally learned in FALLING – that sometimes you have to let go. Of the plan. Of the dream. Of the battle for control.

Sometimes I just need to unpack and repack and face the new plan with a smile.

Mustardseed Blog

That Question, and This Answer

by Shualee Cook

As the first production of An Invitation Out creeps closer and

closer, one question has been making frequent appearances in the

many conversations where I can’t shut up about my play - “So how’d

you come up with the idea for this?” And I usually answer with

something short and tag line-ish to avoid going into the longwinded,

embarrassing truth that the origins of this show extend

all the way back my gawky teenage years in the quiet mountain town

of Paradise, California (yes, the name is mostly ironic). One of

the first leading roles I ever got in my high school drama

department was in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

And yes, it’s one of those plays that gets performed so often (and

usually rather badly) that many theatre folk roll their eyes at

the very mention of it. But coming to it fresh was electrifying. I

was immediately intoxicated by the language, the wit, the plot’s

effortless combination of intelligence and utter silliness. The

style of it very quickly clamped onto my fancy, and never let go.

My high school drama program was pretty amazing, looking back, and

in my freshman and sophomore years, I’d already been exposed to

Shakespeare, Tom Stoppard, and Jean Giraudoux. Wilde was the

fourth and final nail in the “maybe I want to be a playwright”

coffin, and I was done. The year that I performed in Earnest was

also the year that I wrote my first play.

 

Flash forward more years than I’m comfortable admitting to, and we

arrive at the heyday of Facebook and Twitter. As countless posts

skittered across my computer screen, I started to notice a trend -

a sizable number of the things getting “liked” or shared around

were quick, two or three sentence attempts at humor or cleverness,

a form that Oscar Wilde made his public reputation from. “Always

forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much” “Fashion is a

form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six

months.” “The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork.”

Seriously, Oscar Wilde would have OWNED Twitter. 21st century

social media had found a new stage for the witty epigram, had in

fact turned the internet into one gigantic Victorian dinner party

with everyone rushing to come up with the best zinger of the

night. All of the sudden, the archaic 19th century drawing room

comedies I’d been obsessed with since high school felt more

immediate than ever, and seemed a natural form to use to explore

an online world of clever dandyism gone mad. The idea was a simple

one: I would write a Wildean drawing room comedy, but in a chat

room instead. From there, the story gushed out very quickly, a

look at the future inspired by the past that would hopefully shed

some light on the present. So there you have it, how I came up

with this. And now, if we happen to bump into each other, you’ll

already know the answer to your question, and won’t be subjected

to me rambling on about high school theatre productions and longdead

playwrights, and we can share a perfectly lovely sigh of

relief.

 
 

 

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