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.
I haven’t blogged for a bit, because my brain has been bouncing around with all this virus chaos, but while I sort out what profound wisdom I feel like sharing next (Haha! Just kidding. It’s just me venting!) I wanted to do another FABULOUS WOMAN I KNOW post.
This time, I want to tell you about my amazing my friend, Patricia Duran Hays. If you know her, you probably already know that she is wonderful, but if not.. Imma tell ya!
Patricia is one of my best friends. She is honest, loyal and wise. She has been there for me through every trial in my life since I’ve known her, with a calming presence and sound advice.
She is also one of the most talented actresses I’ve ever seen. She is a superstar, literally. Last season, she won ‘Best Actress’ in The Houston Press for her work, and it was well-deserved. She’s also a good singer, dancer, director and all around theater artist. She’s a founding member of my company, Mildred’s Umbrella, and has done everything from acting, directing. sound design, costume design, newsletter drafting.. whatever. She’s also worked in almost every theatre in Houston now, and shines on stage in every role she’s in. I don’t think there’s anything she can’t do.
Anyway, she is AMAZING. If you want to see her acting bio, it’s here, but if you’ve ever seen her, you already know: Patricia bio
And, I know its not totally fair for someone to be this amazing AND gorgeous, but she’s also stunningly beautiful.
Anyway, here’s a video I did for her on her birthday if you want to see it.
So.. if you have any acting work right now that can be done under the current social distancing rules, I recommend her for it. Actors are out of work right now while the theatres are closed, and this is one actor you definitely want to hire.
I’ve never been a religious person. I’m not really a “joiner” by nature, for one thing. I don’t even like exercise classes. I prefer to find my own path with things. I have absolutely no bad feelings to people who do believe a mainstream religion, as long as they don’t ever use it to hurt anyone or as a tool of discrimination. It just doesn’t work for me.
I think if you get to the core of any religion, they’re all basically good, with the focus on just being a good person. They’re also basically alike at the root of them all. However, some of them have been mucked up along the way with negatives that were added here and there for the benefit of people who wanted to control others, and those are the parts I can’t deal with. Any religion that has the slightest hint of misogyny will be dismissed immediately in my world, and that includes most of the major ones.
I like Buddhism because there is no ‘God’ that you are supposed to worship. The whole religion is about how life equals suffering, and the idea is to learn all the lessons you need to learn as a spiritual being. Nobody is expected to master it. We are all just expected to do our best. Nobody is going to Hell. We are all just trying again until we finish learning. This makes sense to me. We are human to learn and grow, not to be punished just for being what we naturally are.
The five basic rules of Buddhism (in case you don’t know)
To avoid taking the life of beings. Most people agree that it’s not ok to kill other people, but this rule doesn’t apply to just humans. The idea is that all living beings have the right to their lives and should be respected. This makes sense. Civilized and enlightened people are compassionate toward animals.
To avoid taking things not given. Obviously, don’t steal things, but to me, this extends also to things that are not material. Basically, don’t take anything that wasn’t meant for you. I think it applies to forcing people to do things for you that they don’t want to do, or taking credit when someone else deserves it. Exploring this in myself, I need to be mindful that I don’t use passive aggressive behavior to manipulate anyone into anything. That’s something that might happen unconsciously, if we don’t stay aware.
To avoid sensual misconduct. A lot of people think this is only about sexual misconduct or excess, but it also extends to gluttony or any excess. As physical creatures, we each have our own issues with this. I feel like hoarding material things might fall here, too.
To refrain from false speech. It seems like this only refers to lying, but it also extends to any speech that is harmful to others, like gossiping or slander, or just saying mean things to someone. This one is the hardest, I think, because sometimes my harsh speech is reacting or retaliating, and that is an impulse that is harder to control sometimes for me. Also, gossip happens at times. I’m going to try to keep that in check.
To abstain from substances which cause intoxication and heedlessness. It seems they aren’t judging people for drinking or doing drugs because it is pleasurable, but only because it causes people to lose control and break the other 4 rules, which makes SO much more sense to me than ‘ don’t do anything fun because fun is not allowed’, which is what some of the other religions always seem like they’re saying to me.
These things are not rules that are there to make people unhappy or that one will be punished for breaking. They are guidelines to follow to further your path to enlightenment and happiness. That makes sense to me.
I like Wicca because it is based in nature, and the balance between masculine and feminine is fair. One is not better than the other, and both are needed for the world to work. There is some magic involved and deities (It is important to note that they are Gods AND Goddesses), which usually makes me skeptical, but if you take that as a metaphor for respecting and connecting with nature, it isn’t really that weird. Physics is just as weird, and nobody really understands that either, so I can take that part in stride.
Nature is Divine- respect everything, from plants to animals to elements. Um… care about the planet AND respect life. How could that not be right?
Karma/Afterlife– No sin, just consequences for your actions, and a cycle of life that happens until you get it right and are ready as a spiritual being to move on to whatever is next.
Personal responsibility – be responsible for your actions and accept the good or bad consequences that you bring to yourself. Totally logical.
Harm None– no harm should intentionally be done to another being.
Respect for others beliefs– Here we go! Each person must find their own spiritual path without coercion. Is there another religion that specifically states this? Because it is very important to me that this is part of my own belief system.
The main idea of both of these paths is to be aware and responsible for your actions, and to have compassion towards other living beings. The big dilemma for me personally is that while not enough concern for others will generate negative Karma, too much concern for others can be a hindrance and can also bring negativity. The challenge is to balance it. I used to always put everything other people wanted before my own needs. I wasn’t always doing it because I am a good person. I was doing it because I have been conditioned with the particular events of my own life that my needs are not important, and making other people happy is the only way to hold value. I found myself resenting it, and that makes for bad thoughts and actions, and generates bad Karma, which to me is just bad energy that builds up when you are failing at being a good person for whatever reason. It is logical that bad actions and thoughts bring a bad response.
So anyway.. I guess I’ve created my own label. I am a Buddhist Witch. I am going to do my best to follow the rules of being an enlightened person, aligned with nature and respectful of science. I’m going to try and fail and try again. I encourage everyone to craft their own path. If you have one already, good for you! If not, find something that makes sense to you,and that holds you accountable without making you feel like a bad person if you mess up. Good luck!
This week, I want to brag about another fabulous woman I know. Her name is Rebecca Ayres. She is a friend who is like a younger sister to me, and she is the other half of the dynamic duo that took Mildred’s Umbrella Theater to the next level (nobody is Robin. We are both Batman).
She has worked in the arts in Houston since 2003 (and I’m not lying that she was basically a child back then). She worked with Diverse Works and Infernal Bridegroom, which was the coolest theater back then, and is now Catastrophic Theatre. That’s when I met her, but then she went off to travel for a while and got a degree at NYU in Anthropology and Comparative Literature, because she’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. She also started working for Mildred’s Umbrella here and there around 2007ish, doing set design and technical stuff for us. In 2012, she started helping more with the administrative side, and served as our Managing director for several years. Because of her, we now have a database, a ticketing service that we can control, and organized files that we can actually find.
While she was doing all that organizing for us, she also went and got a Master’s degree in Arts leadership, and is working at a fancy job now at the American Heart Association, but still helping me with the theater when I ask because I basically can’t live without her.
She is a huge supporter of animals, and has gone above and beyond over and over to rescue hurt and lost animals that she finds or hears about. She’s also a pet whisperer. I think she talks to them telepathically, or she knows their language or something.
Anyway, she’s super smart, pretty, compassionate, organized and she can lift a couch by herself because she does that Cross-Fit stuff that I wouldn’t dare try because I would die. She is funny and nice, but she doesn’t suffer fools.
The last photo is courtesy of Gentle Bear Photography, btw..