To continue the AMAZING WOMEN I KNOW series… today, I want to shout out to my good friend, Christie Guidry!
Christie has been a company/staff member of Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company since 2004. That’s when I met her. It turns out, she’s a woman of many talents. She’s good at everything she tries.
She has acted in many shows with us, as well as other theatres in Houston. She also does films and commercials and voice acting, so she’s a very accomplished working actress.
In addition, she is a professional photographer for the company she founded, Gentle Bear Photography. She has professionally photographed wildlife for the Alaskan Zoo and others, as well as promotional and archival photos for theatre productions, headshots, etc.
She is a huge animal lover, and used to be the Manager/Wolf keeper/handler at Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary. She’s also into gardening, as a hobby, and shes good at that, too.
If that wasn’t enough, Christie owns her own business as a LuLaRoe Fashion Retailer, where she has enjoyed considerable success.
Also, she’s stunningly beautiful, smart and funny, a fabulous dog mom and one of the best people I know. I’m proud to count this accomplished woman among my closest friends.
Lately, I’ve been really distracted with everything going on in the world, as have most of us, I’m sure. I took a break from blogging, which probably made my 6 followers very sad, if they noticed at all.
I decided to fire it back up today on a positive note with another installment of AMAZING WOMEN I KNOW. Today’s amazing woman is a fellow Houston Artistic Director, Kim Tobin-Lehl.
Kim is the co-founder/Executive Director and Artistic Director for 4th Wall Theater, here in Houston, TX. She’s an actor, director, manager . Basically an all-hats wearing lady who has worked extensively on the stages of Houston, Los Angeles and New York City.
She’s won a bunch of awards for her acting and directing work in Houston, including numerous Houston Press awards, and having worked with some of the world’s best teachers in acting and directing (including Stella Adler), she also runs her own acting studio, Kim Tobin Acting Studio, to share her knowledge with the artists here in Houston.
She’s also the friend I can vent to about how it is to be in charge of a theatre (particularly a woman in charge of a theatre), so we have to meet for lunch now and then and let off steam so we can both survive it.
Also, she has a really nice and talented husband and the cutest dog ever.
Someone posted a meme about these on Facebook, and I thought it was a joke. It wasn’t a joke. It was real. After I shared it (thinking it was a joke), Amazon, who seems to be sitting in an unmarked car with Facebook, staking me out 24/7, started suggesting it to me.
I don’t like candy corn (does anyone? ) but this was just so Willie Wonka, I couldn’t resist. Here is my review:
This stuff was obviously made by a deranged sadist who lives to bring horror and pain to the world. Each piece brings its own, unique brand of hell to your mouth. Some of them taste like vegetables mixed with candy corn. The only tolerable one is the cranberry sauce one, that tastes mostly like regular Candy corn. There was only ONE of those, in the entire bag.
The majority of them taste like cold, brown gravy with candy corn mixed in. I had to brush my teeth twice to get the taste out of my mouth because I felt like I had licked an old bowl of gravy and sugar that sat on the counter for 2 days before someone used it as an ashtray.
The person who invented this should be in jail. This is a crime against humanity.
I haven’t blogged in a while, because like a lot of people, I just can’t focus right now. And I can’t think of anything to say that someone else isn’t saying better.
So…. How about another edition of ‘FABULOUS LADIES I KNOW?’
And today.. It’s LYNDSAY SWEENEY, because tomorrow is her birthday, and she’s fabulous!
If you have seen Lyndsay on stage, you already know that she’s HILARIOUS. I’ve directed her in a few shows and acted with her once, and her comic timing and facial expressions are always spot on. Even when she’s just joking around when we’re hanging out, she cracks me up.
She’s worked with a lot of theatre companies in Houston… The Classical Theatre, Catastrophic, Landing, AD Players, and others.. often getting nominated for awards for her performances. I’ve worked with her in my company, Mildred’s Umbrella, and she always cracks me up and brings fun to the rehearsal process. Here are some photos of her in shows I directed. You can tell by the photos that she’s an incredible actress. I do recommend going to see her in a show when we’re all up and running again. You won’t be sorry.
In addition to her massive talent as a theatre artist, she’s a teacher who works with tiny tots, through elementary school aged kids, schools and in theatres. They love her because she is patient, fun and kind. That is a talent that cannot be faked, and it makes me very proud of her. Here is her teaching at Brave Little Company. You can see why the kids love her.
Her kindness comes through in everything she does. When she decided to adopt a dog, she was super picky about it, and it took forever. I thought she was looking for perfection, but instead of picking a new puppy or an easy dog with no issues, she chose a dog who had been abandoned and neglected, who had some physical issues that needed help and some issues from the abandonment that needed patience and love to get past. She picked a dog who needed someone exactly like her, and she put in the work to bring her back to health and happiness. Watching her do that has impressed me more than any show I ever saw her do.
She’s one of the best friends I have ever had. She’s always there for me if I call on her, and always tells me the truth about things, even if it’s not what I want to hear. I love her and trust her, and I want the world to know how fabulous she is.
Thank you for sticking by me, Lyndsay. I love you. Happy Birthday!
With all the social distancing, many people have not seen anyone in person from outside their household in months. I am one of them. As we are social creatures, I, like others, have connected more online. I don’t want to stop doing that, but it feels like some interactions have been worse than they would have in person, and it’s seriously giving me a headache.
When Trump was elected president, I couldn’t even believe that there were so many people in this country who would vote for such an ignorant, narcissistic buffoon. I thought most of them had to be evil, or at the very least stupid. They quickly identified themselves on social media by posting memes about how ‘liberals are crying because they lost’, and sometimes I was surprised to see who they were. When I tried to explain that the reason many of us were upset was not because we were ‘sore losers’, but because we were terrified that a very dangerous narcissist was now in a powerful position to do terrible things to our country, they called me names and continued to jeer at me. It was like going back to elementary school trying to talk to them, and I eventually realized that no amount of reasoning was going to change their minds, and that while some of them are evil, and some of them are indeed stupid, most of them are neither. Some of them are just brainwashed. They have been conditioned with this ‘us and them’ mentality over many years through a steady diet of very specific and concentrated news sources, and politics have turned into a game where they’re metaphorically sitting in a sports bar, hurling insults at the losing team.
Currently some people in this group are holding ‘anti-mask’ rallies, protesting for the right to infect themselves and everyone around them with a deadly disease, because they have been told that a global pandemic is a lie by the other ‘team’, which is being supported by the entire rest of the world. To make it worse, they are using the slogan, “We can’t Breath”, which is deliberately mocking the race protests that started when a man was suffocated to death by a cop. I know that sounds evil, and the leaders of it are certainly are, in my opinion, but a lot of the followers just don’t see the istuation as real. I have talked to some of them, and they really think democrats are making up the black people being murdered and the Covid-19 pandemic just to piss them off and control them. So they join in to root for their home team. They seem to me to be in some kind of alternate reality, and while I admire the people who are still trying to talk them out of it, I really think it’s a pointless waste of energy. They need deprogramming, like people who have been rescued from cults. Until that is acknowledged, nothing will change.
Recently, there was an ad put out by sensible Republicans to try to convince MAGA-Hat people that they should not vote for Donald Trump again. It was a nice try, but I can tell them for sure that it’s not going to work, because they don’t mention in the video that they are Republicans. They need to tell those people they’re on the same team if they want them to listen, and then work hard to start helping them to de-program. The video is here, if you’re interested. It looks just like something a liberal group would produce, and it is useless. https://twitter.com/murphymike/status/1268997121446801408?s=20
I had to cut contact wtih a lot of people in that mindset because my own mental health is worth too much to me to let anyone push my buttons, and nothing I say to them will matter anyway. Then I realized that I have a different problem: extremists on the liberal side. These are usually people who I mostly agree with, but they are so extreme in expressing their views, that they seem like they’re playing the same game as their right wing counterparts. They’re just wearing the other team’s colors. They seem to live to rant endlessly about every celebrity who uses the wrong pronoun or tweets something that might be interpreted as a slight to someone. They sit at their computers and painstakingly correct everyone about every tiny mistake in whatever the ‘right’ way of saying something is at the moment. They seem to take great joy in finding things other people do that give them a reason to express how offended they are. They are self righteous and relentless, and they are generally armed with good grammar and at least a moderate gift for intelligent debate, which makes them harder to dismiss as crackpots.
I usually agree with the general basics of the beliefs of these far lefters, so I just let them say what they want, and I don’t argue with them. I just try to ignore what they say when I don’t like it. I agree that people need to be called out when they are wrong, but I just don’t agree with their methods. Therefore, I can respect their space and keep myself from arguing with them on their own turf, but often, when I share something on social media myself, one of these types will latch on to a word in the headline or a icture of a celebrity who is loosely related to the situation, and start railing at me and anyone else who has the misfortune to be looking at it. Other innocent bystanders might comment with a slight objection, or maybe they’re just not agreeing in the right way, and they are then dragged into self righteous, inflexible debate for hours if they don’t just flee the situation. If I ask them to stop, I am ‘oppressing people with different opinions than mine”. If I just delete the post, I must be ‘uncomfortable talking about my bias or secret bigotry’. They can’t imagine that it might be because I just don’t like endless, un-resolvable arguments over details. That I don’t want to see my slightly less liberal friends, or elderly relatives who aren’t as good at arguing get publicly humiliated. I’m all for civilized debate, but if I know from experience that someone is about to jump on a soap box and refuse to listen to anyone else, I’m deleting the conversation. I don’t care how ‘right’ you are about what you’re saying. We have enough bullshit to deal with in 2020 for that to ever be worth it.
I don’t know what is in other people’s minds, but it looks from where I’m sitting that for these people, being right is far more important than other people’s mental health or even friendship. Some of them have a particular pet argument, and others are like that about almost everything. I knew a white man whose pet arguments were racism and sexism. He was very vocal about how against both of those injustices he was, but he spent a lot of his time telling black people and women how they should feel about their oppression. When anyone called him on it, he would freak out and claim to have been ‘attacked’ for his views. There is no way to win or find a compromise with someone like that. No matter what side they’re on.
Are they also brainwashed? I don’t know. I didn’t notice this happening any more than I noticed it with the other ones. Maybe they feel guilty about whatever privilege they have or seem to have, and they’re trying to prove they’re not bad people for it? Perhaps they have become so bored with the echo chamber they’ve created for themselves that they’re desperate for a debate and have no more conservatives left in their lives to argue with. Whatever it is, I’m exhausted with it. I guess some people think arguing is fun, but I don’t. With these people, I’m usually on the same side of the issue. We’re almost always just arguing about a tiny detail, and that is just draining.
Both extremist teams seem to me to lack empathy and don’t seem to remember, online anyway, that actual humans are complicated. Every person comes to every situation with their own complicated baggage. They bring with them everything they are born with, everything they’ve experienced and everything they have learned. All of these things factor into a person’s interpretation or reaction to the world. The difference between the two extremes is that one side isn’t pretending to care, while the other side loudly and adamantly claims they do. Maybe it feels like a game to a lot of people to argue online because you don’t have to look into a person’s face while you’re tearing them down. Everyone is just an avatar and black and white text on a screen, so it doesn’t feel like they are real.
In order to live in a society, we must deal with other people, and other people are separate, unique beings. They have their own minds,and yeah, some of them are wrong in their speech and behavior. Hell, we all are wrong that way at times (even you, PC Peter). Sometimes minds can be changed, but running at people acting like a pompous know-it-all with an ax to grind rarely changes someone’s mind. It usually only makes people angry and defensive. People on both sides need to chill the fuck out and choose their battles if they are actually trying to get people to listen, instead of having everyone they talk to that isn’t exactly like them quitting every conversation in defeat and frustration.
If it’s just arguing that is fun, I recommend these people who feel that way finding each other and having a group for it or something, instead of continuing to alienate everyone else in their lives. Don’t we have enough sadness and anxiety in the world at the moment without creating more? Just a suggestion.
It’s been a bit since I blogged. I’m working on one now, but a lot is going on, so I keep putting it off. Meanwhile, I’ll do another ‘Fabulous Women I Know” post… this time, it’s about Dabrina Sandifer!
I met Dabrina when she took over a role in our play festival at the last minute and learned the lines and the part in like a day or something and knocked it out of the park with her performance. I was like… ‘who is this rock star?!” and I wanted to know her better.
Well, it turns out, she IS an all around superstar. When you see her in a photo, it is obvious that she is a glamorous and beautiful woman with a strong mind and a confident personality (yes, you can tell all that from a photo. Look at the one I just posted!)
But other than that, you wouldn’t believe all the stuff she does.
She is an actress,director and producer in Houston theatre. She is the Executive Artistic Director and Programming manager Esurient Arts, whose mission is To present art that reflects under-represented stories and making the arts and training accessible to all. Check it out: https://www.facebook.com/pg/esurienttheater/about/?ref=page_internal
Esurient does all kinds of performance related projects, and is also going to do some programming for youth in under-served communities this summer. Dabrina is also on the board of Mildred’s Umbrella, the company I founded that supports the work of women in theatre, and she works with many other companies in town, as well.
She is a guest host on the radio show, Living Art, on KPFT, and she’s got a solo radio show debuting this week on ALL REAL RADIO, (it’s on https://www.allrealradio.com/ , and it’s also an app) that focuses on arts and community efforts. It is called ‘Dark Mondays”, so totally check that out!
She is ALSO the program manager in Crisis Intervention & Supportive Services for low to moderate income and under-served communities. The goal for her position is to “bring resources to participants with a mission of empowering, improving quality of life, and providing opportunities for positive progression across generations.”
AND she’s recently done some extra work with the Honorary Mayor of Sunnyside, working alongside HPD to get food and supplies delivered to senior citizens during the Covid-19 crisis.
Even though she is constantly working her butt off to make the world a brighter and better place, she never looks even slightly bad. Somehow, in all of this work she does, she is always polished, coiffed and gorgeous.
I know it sounds impossible for one person to do all of this, but she does. Sometimes, I think there might be 3 of her, and we just never see them all in the room at the same time.
In addition to this, she is smart, funny, nice, and she loves nature and animals, especially dogs.
So.. obviously I needed to tell everyone about this lovely person that I get to know. Everyone should check out her radio shows and her theatre page. She’s amazing!
I haven’t done a ‘Amazing Woman Who I Know!’ post in a while, so here’s one!
The lovely and talented Laura Moreno!!
Laura is a multi-talented theatre artist.. she’s an actor, director, costume designer, makeup and wig artist (and probably more. That’s what I know). She is also basically the ‘Miss Congeniality’ of Houston Theatre, always making sure we all stay connected, and trying to help support and promote the theatre happening here, whether she’s involved in a show or not.
Recently, you might have seen her acting in The Catastrophic Theatre’s FEFU AND HER FRIENDS, and you might have seen her fabulous costume/makeup design in Mildred’s Umbrella Theatre’s LADIES NIGHT WITH SAMUEL BECKETT.
Laura (right) in “Fefu and Her Friends”
Costume design for LADIES NIGHT WITH SAMUEL BECKETT
(Above, here’s Laura acting in Fefu and Her Friends (rt) and costume design for Ladies Night with Samuel Beckett. )
She supports women in Houston theatre by running a fabulous page on Facebook, where she props up her sisters in Houston theatre by promoting them and their shows: Womxn in Theatre – Houston
Shes also a mom to literally the cutest baby who has ever existed (many people will back me up on this fact), Izzy, and she’s finishing up her MFA in Directing at The University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance after receiving a BFA in acting there in 2016. AND she is a teaching artist for The Alley Theatre and on the advisory board and play selection committee for the Sin Muros LatinX Reading Festival at Stages.
I mean.. there’s probably more, but I have no idea how this woman is winning at life so hard with the stuff I mentioned, much less more. She’s a super hero. She constantly thinks of the community and does so much to prop us all up, while rocking hard with her own work the whole time.
This week, I started watching Mrs. America, which is about the women on all sides of the women’s liberation movement in the early 1970s. Later in the week, I had a totally unrelated conversation with my mother, where she expressed regret to me about how much she missed out on doing in her life. She’d never really directly said that to me before, although I did suspect she might feel that way at times. It occurred to me that she was a young woman at the time as the events portrayed in that show. She just wasn’t important enough to anyone with power to have her voice heard about it, and I suddenly felt very sad about how hard that must have been for her.
Mrs. America starts with Phyllis Schlafly, whose mission was to hinder progress on the Women’s Liberation movement. The first episode is from her point of view, which made me a little skeptical about watching it because I didn’t want to see her as sympathetic. The show in general deals with every side of the issue, including the way mainstream feminisim leaves out black women and gay women, but the main struggle is between the feminists and the women hell-bent on keeping them down.
After watching that first episode, I still didn’t like Schlafly, but I could see how a selfish person who truly knows nothing of other people’s hardships could end up in her position. She is basically framed as a woman who originally had other political interests, but settled on gender issues because that was the only way the men would let her into their politics. She used the desire that other women had to have rights as rungs in a ladder to get a little higher in the world, before pulling that ladder right up behind her. Just like the women she oppressed, she wanted more than just marriage and kids. She wanted to be a person, so she found a way to get what she wanted by keeping options away from other women. I think she is worse than the patriarchy.
What really strikes me watching this though, is the place of privilege that a woman had to be in to get her voice heard at all in 1972. In the show, and in real life, these types have cushy, safe lives, with financial security, and husbands with enough power in the world for them to matter. There is nobody who isn’t white in their lives except their maids, who had to be working women in order to support the lifestyle that the Schlaflys of the world were clinging to. That didn’t seem to matter to the conservative white women, because their ideals didn’t apply to anyone of color. The ridiculous thing is, they were fighting for a right they already had so they were not really fighting FOR anything. Their real cause was to fight against the rights of anyone who wasn’t like them.
My mother was a young woman at that time, and the influence of people like Phyllis Schlafly affected the entire course of her life, sweeping her along on a path that she didn’t necessarily choose for herself. She wasn’t in a place of privilege, and there wasn’t anyone in her universe to help her change course.
My mother is from a middle class family. She was pretty and intelligent, with a love for books and a talent for writing, among other things. She had loads of natural potential. But her parents were from Oklahoma. They were children of the depression. Their parents were poor people who had flooded into Oklahoma during the land rush, hoping to make some kind of life for themselves. They came from a long line of hard working people, who were trapped in tradition, with conservative voices leading their choices in life. Nobody went to college to help broaden their experience beyond their own community. There was no role model to tell my mother that she could do anything bigger than her parents had done. She wanted to go to secretarial school and learn a skill to at least make a living, but her mother talked her out of it and persuaded her that marriage was the best path. So at 18, she married the boy from down the street and had a baby soon after. That baby was me.
By age 26, she was divorced, had three children, and was remarried to a man who could support a family so she could be a full time housewife and mother like she was told she should do. He was domineering and abusive, but instead of telling her to leave him, her mother told her that it must be her fault, and she needed to work harder to make him happy. She had found a provider, and it was her job to keep him, or the failure was on her. My grandmother didn’t invent this idea. She learned it from the patriarchy. She was only preaching the same bullshit that the anti-feminists were also preaching. They were all brainwashed into believing it was true, and passing it on like a bad gene to their own daughters.
When my mother finally got the courage to leave her husband after her mother passed away, she was left with three kids, no money and a foreclosed house, because he literally disappeared on her. She found herself having to work 2 low-paying jobs just to keep the bills paid, because she had no skills besides being a wife. She was 35 at that point. She almost worked herself to death for years, trying to make sure her children survived to adulthood.
I was there through all of this, watching my mother give up her life, first for the happiness of a man, and then for the survival of her children. Being a wife and mother looked like the worst way in the world to lose your personhood. It looked like slavery to me. I didn’t feel that way because of feminists telling me. I felt that way because I saw it happen my entire life, to my mother and others. I’m sure there were plenty of people whose experience with this is different, but my beautiful, smart and talented mother sacrificed her entire youth to being a slave, because of ‘family values’ that were pressed upon her every time she tried to do something different with her life. She was born a bit too early to benefit from any women’s rights movement, and her family and community were driven by the ideas pushed in their faces by their churches and by conservative leaders, binding women to abusive men, or leaving them abandoned as single mothers with no skills to make a living.
My mother didn’t respond by pushing that same crap on me and my sister. She made sure we knew we had choices. She never pressured me to do traditional things, but she supported my sister’s choice to do so. She never told me to get married, and supported my decision not to have children. She is a feminist hero. She survived all the shit that the patriarchy threw at her, and then broke the freakin’ cycle.
I am proud of her strength, but I weep for that young woman that she was. I weep for all of the young women who didn’t really have options, and I thank the ones who kept up the fight with other people in mind besides themselves, because without them, my life would have been totally different. So, I understand trying to make Phyllis Shlafly a person with reasons for what she did, but she can bite me.
Women are still trying to hold each other down in the same way Schlafly did in the 70s. Why? Is it fear that their own choices will be taken away from them if other women do something different and everyone discovers that they can? Is it jealousy that they wanted to do something different and they weren’t brave enough? Or is it just an absolute lack of empathy for or other people? I don’t know. All I know is that the Shlafllys of the world were the ones whose voices mattered, and their words and actions hurt a lot of other women, then and later, and even now.
Since the stay-at-home order, life has crashed into a wall. When it started happening, I was freaked out. Our trips were canceled, the theater I run was frantic about what to do about our shows, classes I teach were being forced online, people I know started losing income, and more and more people were being hospitalized. Would everyone I know become homeless, get sick or die? I was a ball of stress and fear those first few days.
I spent my entire spring break working nonstop to get my classes online. My brain was cluttered. I had this sense of panic, as if the fabric of the world would literally come unraveled if I stopped for a minute and just let things go.
However, a few days into it, I started feeling this weird peace. I went out for a few minutes to walk my dog, and I was flooded with nostalgia. I suddenly felt the reality that I wasn’t a slave to a calendar or clock, which is a feeling I haven’t had since I was 14 years old. It felt like even my heartbeat had slowed a bit. My brain was only acknowledging the present, and I wasn’t even thinking about work.
When I was growing up, my homelife was a war zone. My house was dominated by an unstable stepfather who made daily life into a minefield. His temper might have partly been because he was a workaholic. If he was home, we constantly had to be doing some kind of work. If we weren’t doing homework, we’d better be doing chores. If you weren’t working, you were lazy and a freeloader. Also, because of his job, we moved constantly. I’d just get settled into a school, and it was time to pick up and move again because he’d been transferred. My life was a blur of movement and discord most of the time.
After a stressful trip to Disney World when I was 8 years old had left unpleasant stains on my psyche, I chose to spend my summers alone with my grandparents in Oklahoma. My friends definitely didn’t understand why I chose to do that instead of going to Carlsbad Caverns or Mexico with my family, but I needed it.
My grandparents had a small, cozy house with a giant backyard. There was an old mimosa tree with flowers that looked like pink feather dusters, a crab apple tree with a swing hanging from the branches, and a row of pear trees in the back that always had fruit.
My granddad built me a gazebo with a porch swing on it. It had trellis posts and a ceiling, which were covered in honeysuckle and trumpet vines. He rigged it with electricity so I could bring my record player out there. We called it “the Bower.”
Once a week or so, my grandmother took me thrift store shopping, and I got books and random junk to make crafts. There was a secondhand book store a block away that I could go to trade in old books for new ones. I wasn’t lazy. I got things done. I climbed trees and read books. I discovered Beethoven, The Beatles, old soundtracks, Big Band music and jazz. I created art, wrote stories and played with my grandparents’ dogs. I learned to cook, did crossword puzzles and had conversations with my grandmother about philosophy and religion and life in general.
It wasn’t exciting. It was calm. The days were long, and the world turned slowly. Nobody cared what I was wearing or whether my hair was brushed. No alarm clock got me out of bed in the morning. I got up because I wanted to. I couldn’t wait to start a day that was all mine. By the time it was over, I was usually ready to return to regular life, but I never missed it while I was away from it.
When I was 15, I got a job, and I worked all summer. Since then, I’ve always had a job. Sometimes two jobs. Down time feels like a criminal act. Even when I’m on vacation, I’m working. I don’t think I am unique in this kind of life. The current situation is shining a harsh spotlight on just how precarious most people’s situation is, even if they constantly work.
I don’t want people to get sick or die. I don’t want people to lose their income. I want this to not be happening. But I feel like, in a way, the earth is taking a breath, and I am getting to take a breath with it. I’ll be glad when it’s over, but I also know that I don’t want to go back to my life exactly as it was before. This is a wake-up call.
Decker is a professor at Houston Community College, and the artistic director and co-founder of Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company.