On Becoming

Act As If

Here I am making the victory pose in order to grow into my height. Photo courtesy of my youngest daughter.

Dad used to say to me, “When you’re tall, you have to grow into your height.” You don’t come automatically coordinated or with an instruction manual.

I never put any thought into those words–that maybe he was talking from experience–or if I did, I quickly brushed it off. “Dad? He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

I had Grandma’s stories to remind me that Dad could dribble the ball everywhere, even to take out the trash. How’d he do that if he was uncoordinated? Or how the older kids in the school yard wouldn’t let Dad play basketball with them so Grandpa bought Dad a ball one Christmas and Grandma marched down to the school yard and told them, “Here’s a ball you could play with, just let Bill play some.”

We all start somewhere, and we all have to act as if while we’re making our way through the growing pains.

It’s a heck of a lot easier to imagine those growing pains happening when we are young and awkward anyway, but truth be told, we’re acting our way through life no matter how old we are and no matter what we may have accomplished in another area of our life. We are always honing our skill of starting over, no matter what we might feel about it.

Yes, even if we’re feeling bad about ourselves, we can act as if. Just take one of my top five favorite TED Talk’s with Amy Cuddy delivering her speech, “Your body language may shape who you are.”

She claims that our body language can change our minds, our behavior and our outcomes. All we need to do is stand in the victory pose (with both hands in the air forming a “v”) for two minutes, somewhere private. (It’s instinctual, even blind people do the victory pose when faced with success even though they haven’t seen an athlete do it when they win a game).

The isn’t the classic victory pose, but I couldn’t pass up this great picture of Dad and Moses personalizing their victory after winning the 1983 world championship.

I’m not doing justice to Amy’s TED Talk as she so beautifully drives her point home, “Don’t fake it ’til you make it, fake it ’til you become it”. If you want to hear her powerful story about this, do so. It’s an oldie, but goodie and the 21 minutes you lose in viewing time will mean nothing to what it will make you become.

https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_may_shape_who_you_are?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare

Let’s face it, it’s hard to start over. We need help and thanks to power posing, we can act as if, especially when we feel insecure.

When I told the kids about power posing, however, they laughed, just like I sneered at my Dad when he tried to tell me about growing into your height.

It’s impossible to believe someone when we haven’t experienced it ourselves.

Kids haven’t grown into their heights yet. They most likely feel horribly awkward about it. My youngest found a half of a golf ball this week, which sums this idea up perfectly. Talk about feeling less than whole.

Only we adults know better, kids, athletes (and golf balls) aren’t the only ones who need to grow into their height. Everyone must do so, including me, and every time I start over, I feel insecure, it’s not something that just happened to me as a kid.

Just because I’m a writer who feels like half a golf ball, I’m not exempt, I have to write anyway. So when I’m not power posing, I do what community theater got me to do last year: I get outside of myself and act, even when I don’t feel good enough, I act as if.

It’s a lot easier to act in a group. It’s like power posing on steroids. I don’t feel nearly as self-conscious. So I had no problem being one of the organizers for a bus trip to go see Come From Away on Broadway. It’s a group of 54 of us from three different community theaters.

I also had no problem tracking down Joel Hatch when I heard at Sunday’s practice that my community theater group, Jenkintown Music Theater (JMT), had connections to the actor from Come From Away. It wasn’t his resume that mattered to me, though it was incredibly cool that he was in “The Untouchables”, I cannot lie, but it was the passing fact that he was the son-in-law of one of the founders of our community theater group.

I didn’t even have to do a power pose before searching for him. And to be perfectly honest, I had another motive, in community theater when we’re not in shows, we are going to one another’s shows. We’re a family that way. How cool would it be to know someone in Come From Away?

I found him on Twitter, but he doesn’t accept personal tweets so I had to make this public. Only, while I’m telling truths, it’s not like I’ve ever done anything great with Twitter, it makes me feel like half a golf ball (while we’re on the subject). Since I wasn’t contacting him for myself, it was for my group, I lost my inhibitions and I tweeted him that we were coming to the show and I had to point out the great part of the story, “To think we’re all connected to Dolly.”

He responded within no time that he would be away visiting family and he won’t be in that particular show.

I tweeted him back to say I was bummed but to have a great time off!

Then I slept on it, and I still wasn’t able to let this go. Maybe if I could just tweet him once more and ask him for a nugget that I could share with the group on the bus ride to the show.

He tweeted back, and this was a big deal because nine out of ten people don’t tweet me back, and that includes people I know who are on Twitter. (Sorry Joel to disappoint you if you hoped I could do more for your career due to my Twitter reputation).

Joel Hatch tweeted: “I grew up on a farm in Minnesota near a town of about 800 people, so I don’t share the kind of background that you’ve experienced at JMT.”

Unbeknownst to me, my reporter instincts were kicking up their heels. I was faking it until I made it. I had to know more. This had nothing to do with my group. This was personal. One tweet was not enough. Do you think he’d answer another question?

I tweeted back, half of me wanted him to know I was a real person and the other half of me just wanted to know he was real, too. “Thanks for sharing. Our roots are there to ground us. The metaphor of the farm, though unintended on your part, reminds me of us being the cows on that farm of yours. Maybe that came to mind because I wrote a blog post about cows, but did you aspire to act when you were a kid?”

And, in case you didn’t know that about me, that yes, I wrote a blog post about cows, it’s true. And if you read it, it will help you understand the golf ball reference that’s yet to come. Here’s the link in case you didn’t read it. https://stephanieortiz.com/2020/02/06/finding-a-cow-my-golf-ball-game/

But I’m side tracking now like I did then. I thought about Dad and how he didn’t know as a kid he wanted to play basketball the way Grandma seemed to have known he was destined for it. He actually excelled in baseball and football, too.

Joel Hatch tweeted back that he didn’t know as a kid either. “No, not until college, my senior year, I studied British Lit in England for a semester and saw a lot of theatre. I later applied to graduate school to get some formal training in theatre at the University of Minnesota.”

I find these tweets most endearing because they were old fashioned. The way we used to have a conversation. He never abbreviated anything. There were no hashtags. And, most special was how he used the proper English spelling of theatre. I would write it that way myself but then you’d say, “Now Stephanie, I get this act as if thing, but now you’re just taking it too far. I mean now you expect me to believe with that bad attempt of an accent to believe your British?” But at least I get to quote his proper spelling of the word.

I thought about all that acting, all that training, all those years he felt like half a golf ball but acted as if anyway.

A half of a golf ball must do a lot to Act As If!

No wonder why he is where he is today. But he’s not just an actor. So I tweeted back. “When did you realize you could also sing? (You sing my girl’s favorite song in Come From Away).”

And while the girls were still complaining that I said that, they take anything I say about them publicly very seriously, as they should, but sometimes I have to talk them off the ledge, by explaining it’s okay to pay someone a compliment. But I shooshed them because I had an incoming tweet.

Joel Hatch tweeted: “I always sang in church choir and in college choir. In graduate school I did more straight theatre, but I got my first professional work singing in the chorus of the Minnesota Opera and Children’s Theatre. I moved to Chicago and was able to do both.”

I started to feel bad that I had contacted him without really knowing anything about him, yet I acted as if I knew him. I hoped he didn’t think bad of me. So I tweeted back hoping to understand, “Is it true that you never acted for JMT, you married into it?”

Joel Hatch tweeted that indeed he had married into it. His wife acted in Chicago theatre for 30 years. She did musicals at JMT since her childhood.

There were so many more questions I would have asked, but tweeting kept the interview brief (good thing considering I’m so long-winded). Now that I had gotten to know him, I truly was sad that he wasn’t going to be on that stage! So I told him so and I added, “My daughters think you might be one of the last of the orginal cast members. It reminds me of when I met this girl who was the last of the Babylonians…It seems epic in some way, or maybe, it’s just an epic tweet? Thanks for sharing!”

The girls were furious over that one. Suppose they had their fact wrong? But if I was more interested in remembering the matter of the last of the Babylonians. This guy Alex once worked with dated her. She was tall and smart and exactly the stereotype you might have if you were to typecast the last of the Babylonians. When he broke up with her I wanted him to know he had broken up with history! But there was no time to reminisce.

Joel Hatch tweeted back, “You will see Astrid, Petrina, Caesar, Chad, Sharon and maybe Q. All original members.”

To think Come From Away is dark on Monday, and he spent the greater portion of his day tweeting with me (maybe his replies didn’t take up nearly as many brain cells as my questions). I felt honored in some weird way that we just had a Twitter interview–talk about faking it until you make it. As public as it was, no one commented, liked or commented on our conversation, yet, we had made a real connection. So I asked if I could use our interview; it started as a nugget as you might recall.

“Mind if I write a blog post around our tweets? I’m thinking of calling it “Act As If” referring to those times when I’m not feeling so great about myself (feeling like that cow) and I have to act my way through it. What a congenial mid-story you’ve provided…if you’re game.”

And there my permission was tweeted back to me, Joel Hatch tweeted, “Write your story. Have fun.”

And that’s the great fun about writing these blog posts. I don’t have to be a published writer, or even feel like one, I just need to write. I don’t need to approach a publicist to set up an interview, I just need to Tweet. And I never even needed to do my power pose, not this time, anyway, although it’s there when I need it.

I think back about what Dad had to teach me when I was growing up but I didn’t think he knew what he was talking about.

I want to explore this topic about growing into your height next blog post, too, because it’s a great topic to continue exploring, and personally, because I’m by no means there yet. But meanwhile, if you’re like me and you need help envisioning what you can do when you grow into your height, here’s one I found in Grandma’s scrapbook she made of Dad’s career. (There’s so much more to sift through than the newspapers in the basement).

Dad’s the one in outer space, according to The Sporting News 2/22/1964. No wonder why they called him the Kangaroo Kid (& why I didn’t believe him when he said he had to grow into his height).

Meanwhile, back to earth, no more dreaming of finding that instruction manual about how to grow into my height, I’ll just start growing already. It all starts with the victory pose. and if I continue to act as if I’m a writer, (I did score a Twitter interview with Joel Hatch), what heights will I soar to?

Taking Dad’s statement, “You have to grow into your height”…to new heights Photo courtesy of my youngest daughter.
A Muse 4 You: What heights might you soar to if you apply the victory pose in your life?

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What Role Am I?

Will the real role/roll please stand up?

One thing I love about community theater is how it reflects our off stage lives. Whether on stage or off, we all have roles (or rolls depending on how you look at it) that we play and they always leave us wondering who am I?

Take on stage, just this Sunday, I was asked to be a pole. Someone has to simulate the corner of the boxing ring during the fight scene in Twelfth Night, the musical. I was told that we’d be holding pool noodles. How many poles does it take to make the corners of a ring? Well, four, naturally.

So I started thinking about how best to be a pole holding two pool noodles. I could put into practice last year’s bit of advice from an experienced cast member, “Wow them from the neck up”.

So from the neck up, I’ll be a pole that taunts the leads to fight. “What kind of man are you going to be?”

There are so many pole jokes to go around, “at least they didn’t want me to be a pole dancer” or “I’m a pole, but at least I still have my noodles.”

I didn’t say they had to be good jokes but I could go on if you want me to. We have a lot of empty time on our hands at rehearsals to hang out with our cast members and crack bad jokes.

And now that I’m halfway throughly life, I’ve had a lot of other roles. Sometimes I start to question, will the real role please stand up? But let’s back track and take this one role at a time.

Philadelphia Inquirer, May 27, 1973 (3-year-old Stephanie with Mom)

Daughter: Let’s face it, I was a daughter first. Here’s an incredible picture of Mom and me in that first role plucked straight from one of the newspapers buried in the basement. Mom spoke out quite a bit as she wanted people to know her story. It was hard being the wife of a man who loved basketball, while she loved the man behind the game. He’d be at the front door, bringing his duffel bag to the front door to leave for a road trip, and I’d hold onto his leg and cry. It must have broken Mom’s heart to have to see her daughter so upset. Meanwhile, she was publicly struggling to find out who she was. I was trying to figure it out, too. Only I was too young. I didn’t have the capacity to figure it all out, so I looked outside of myself for the answers. For me it translated like this…the teacher made me be a tree in our first grade play, therefore, that must be what I’m cut out to be in life: a tree. So I did what any kid would do, I waited until I got older so I could show that teacher that I could also be a pole.

I seem to like to sit on ledges–here I am with Alex back in, I don’t know, let’s say 2003

Married: I didn’t enter marriage gracefully. It was hard to take on the responsibility, when I much preferred being free and unencumbered. When Alex and I got engaged, I almost threw the engagement ring out the window of the cab. I was angry because Alex had “tracked me down”. I was hanging out after work with my friends at the local bar downstairs and I lost track of time. The bartender stood there holding an old-fashioned telephone in his hand, it wasn’t old fashioned at the time, and he asked, “Is anyone here by the name of Stephanie?” In all fairness, I was hours late to a date that Alex had pre-arranged. It was the most callous, insensitive thing that I ever did because I didn’t get the marriage thing. But over the years, we’ve learned together and we’re beautiful because of it.

Daughter-In-Law: I hear more horror stories of people hating their in-laws. In fact, once at a writing retreat I was prompted to write about my mother-in-law and my story was the only one that was so beautiful I ended up sharing it with my dear Mother-In-Law afterwards. I love my in-laws and am graced and blessed by their love.

Mama: This one didn’t come easy either. I was so scared of giving birth that I tried to hold my oldest in. The very daughter I fought to bring into the world, looked nothing like me. But then there was my second. I didn’t fight her, in fact, we welcomed her wholeheartedly, she was my mini-me, only we didn’t have a name for her. They wouldn’t let us leave the hospital calling her “baby girl Ortiz”. To this day my oldest has a complex because we didn’t have choices of what we would name her. She said her friends all have funny stories, like her sister, that they “might have been” called Sage or Kendall. I told my oldest to use her sisters possible names. Now I know why I was so scared to have kids, I didn’t want to let them go when their time comes to fly. It comes so quickly.

Writer: If you haven’t noticed the pattern here, I’ve been reticent to take on any new role. That’s where community theater helps. Whenever I try to look at myself as a writer and the doubt sets in, I remember last year I got on that stage without any experience at all. So here I am, showing up on my blog, just like I got on that stage, one week at a time.

I’ve played all these roles, and so many more that I haven’t included here, or this could go on way longer than you’re probably willing to read.

When a play is over the girls always handle the aftermath with such grace. I’m the one who can’t get it out of my head. I”m scared to let it go, yes, even if I’m just a pole.

Only, about that pole, just as quickly as I became one, well, I just as quickly lost it. Yes, they asked me to go back to ensemble and they gave the pole, I mean role, to someone else.

At least I can be the pole understudy and I can always joke how I am part pole, and my kids, well, they’re a quarter pole…

You’d think now that I’m older and wiser and I know who I am. Or do we ever really know who we are? We’re always growing, no matter what our age, no matter what role we play. We always look to the roles and the actors around us to glimpse who we really are.

And no matter how I look at it, I have become the person I am today because of these roles. I might not be able to shoot a basketball, but I look just like my Dad. I don’t have a southern accent and southern charm to boot (put Mom in a room and she will come out of there knowing at least three important facts about every person in there), but I can write a story or two. I’ve learned from the best.

I loved Laura Dern’s quote from the Oscars, not just because she played Mom in Little Women, but because of what she said, “Some say you never meet your heroes, I say, if you’re truly blessed you have them as your parents.”

I was equally as blessed. I had a head start in life having great parents to help me begin to answer the question, “who am I?”. I have had great teachers along the way in the form of Alex, my in-laws, my kids, oh, and my first grade teacher who made me be a tree.

I’m grateful for all these meaningful rolls. Yes, I mean rolls, literally, this time. It wasn’t a family meal until Mom accidentally burned them. So even if I have to be a burnt piece of bread, I’ve been a tree and I’ve been part pole so I can take it on.

Even with my writing, when I begin to wonder where it might lead me, I need just apply myself to the role at hand.

Since all the world’s a stage, let’s just take life one role at a time and see where it takes us.

A Muse 4 You: How do you see yourself through the roles that you play?

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Finding A Cow: My Golf Ball Game

The Cow Jumped Over the Club
The Cow Jumped Over the Club

In the beginning of the week, the weather was so gorgeous my golf game was in full swing again. And if you believe I’m actually talking about playing golf, you’d better keep reading.

Before I get to the back story, My game involves looking for graveyard golf balls. It’s my daily ritual to look (I don’t always find).

I was walking Holly along the golf course and was lost in thought about what I’d write about next when I stumbled upon a ball. And there my muse was printed on it (like a fortune cookie, only better) in the form of an insignia of a cow on top of a golf club. The seed to my next story.

So that’s what makes this post about cows. If your wondering how could I possibly do this, you really don’t understand the game very well just yet.

My first instinct when I see a cow that appears to be jumping is to go straight into nursery rhyme mode.

The Cow Jumped Over the Moon: It’s just gibberish, but it brings me back to my daughter’s birth. Our dear friends I’ve known since childhood, sent her a life-size baby cow. It was numbered, dated and named. Isn’t she adorable?

Our family “cowch” jumps over the golf club

At the time, I never looked up anything on the internet about the cow. We weren’t in the babit of doing that like we are today. And do I feel stupid now. Turns out these cows are fashioned off of real cows and they have quite a beautiful story.

http://www.thecowsanctuary.org

Not to mention, I didn’t get the pun of her trademark name “COWCH”, not to be confused with couch. Who knew I had to find a cow golf ball to understand the precious cow we have in our own family?

But Alex’s Dad had a cow story of his own. In keeping with the nursery rhyme theme we have going here, I’ll call this story of how my in-laws met: Papito Jumped Over Bolivia. Papito had gotten a scholarship to study in Texas, which then led him to continue studying in France. That’s where he met Mamita. She thought he was a Texas rancher and that he raised cattle. (Boy was she mistaken when she took that boat-ride with her spouse and young son to move to Bolivia). But I think she was confused because he always wears this hat. Wherever we go, people think he’s a rancher from Texas.

Don’t let the hat fool you, my father-in-law is not from Texas, Bolivia

Those were the cow stories that I knew. There had to be a cow story that I didn’t know burried in one of those newspapers I had unearthed in the basement last week. It was a bit of a challenge to start going through them with this intent, but I never doubted that it couldn’t be done. If you have doubts, you must be the one hitting all those balls in the graveyard.

So I started with the papers Mom had saved in a manilla envelope from Dad’s rookie year with the 76ers when he was the sixth man, which happened to be the year before they won the World Championship. I wasn’t even born yet so it was fun to see where my parents were in that time capsule of 1966.

Anyone used to love Back to the Future, too? I don’t even need the time traveling car to go back in time. I just need to go in the basement.

Where Alex’s Dad had a fictional connection to cattle, turns out my Dad had a real tie to it as he was involved in, drum roll please, a cattle-breeding operation…but it wasn’t his only business venture.

The story of the cow led me to want to know, more importantly, why Dad was a businessman while he was playing professional ball? Was it because of Grandpa’s influence? He wanted Dad to get a real job at IBM after college and play basketball on the side.

Dad explained, “Professional basketball back in those days was an extension of your college career. You always had a job in the summer. Guys worked for banks to generate more money for their family. They’d retire at 28 years old because they’d have families and realize this wasn’t going to work.”

Incidentally, I had stumbled upon one of Wilt Chamberlain’s side jobs because Mom had saved a newspaper clipping of Wilt (7’1″) trying to get into a Volkswagen (13’4″ long). It doesn’t relate to my cow story, so just think of it as a commercial break.

Keep in mind, this wasn’t exactly a cash cow in today’s world, but Wilt was getting paid far, far better than Dad, who was also in on Wilt’s commercial. Dad was just the side of potatoes getting paid $1,000 to show that someone his size (6’6″) could get in the car. Check it out, it’s so cute.

King Rose Archives posted the commercial on YouTube.

Though it moved us further away from our cow discussion, Dad had fun memories of his sister teaching him how to get from first to third gear so he could drive ten feet for the commercial. He wasn’t going to give up his $1,000.

The commercial took forever, and while they were standing around waiting, Dad said Wilt would go to the back of the VW where the engine was, and just for kicks, he’d pick it up and move the tires. That could have been a whole other commercial.

So after that commercial break, and while we’re still on the topic of Wilt, there’s my final cow story, which we can call Wilt Jumped Over the Cow. I found the reference to Wilt’s post game ritual of drinking a quart of milk in a March 9, 1966 newspaper clipping. So I asked Dad if this was true. You know how the papers can be.

Dad said, “Oh yes. He’d also eat an apple pie and a quart of milk or a quart of orange juice at half time while the rest of us would drink a little water.” It was remarkable how he fueled himself, but Dad explained, “Gatorade wasn’t available then.”

So that’s how I came to write a post about a cow. Of course, the post doesn’t feel like it can end here, not without an explanation of the golf ball game. So if you want to stick with me, I’ll steer away from our muse on cows to explain.

It started so simply back in the summer. I found my first ball outside the golf course fence. I didn’t know then that it would change my dog-walking days from that point on. I dreamed of finding balls all summer long and making a golf ball-lined fence.

Back to the first ball I found, I put it on the top of the fence. And the reality quickly set in that my game would have to be different. The ball dissappeared. In fact, every ball I found and put up on a fence post, it didn’t matter where it was, it would be gone.

Then it became: how dare they mess with my game? I even thought of supergluing the balls to the fence post, but I had to keep this on the public side of the fence, where I’m allowed to tresspass.

The game progressed, and I’d hide the balls. I’d lose those balls too.

By September, I decided to write funny sayings on the balls, like “Was Lost But Now I’m Found” or I’d honor special dates that coincided with finding a ball like “50” (yes, that was me turning 50). But the elements were against me, or at least, there was the weather that would wear my words away (Sharpie blue pens are not weatherproof).

So I bought Sharpie Extreme’s. I was ready for the balls to be found and the golfers to have a good laugh, only it was the fall. Even if I was finding balls, no one else was looking for them.

By the time winter had set in, I was afraid to leave the balls out so I hoarded all the golf balls in my house like a squirrel with her nuts.

Even still, my family got in on the game and they find balls on their walks, too. We might not find a ball a week, but when we have a few spring days thrown into the wintry mix, we can find a ball or two. Winter golfers don’t look for their balls, for some reason.

Last week Alex found a ball that said “practice”. It wasn’t even along the golf course, but that’s when I realized that it had to be Kobe’s ball. Thanks to Kobe, every week’s muse will get a ball.

Thanks to Alex finding this “PRACTICE” ball, one found ball a week will be dedicated to the week’s blog post muse.

Next time the ball jumps over the fence and lands in the graveyard, don’t dismay and worry about the state of your golf game. Now that my game is in full swing, I’ll resurrect your ball with a funny little pun, a saying to let you know it’s an important event for me or my family or maybe the ball will be the title from one of my blog posts.

And even if you don’t find one of my balls and all you get is a plain white one with a number and the golf ball brand, just remember, there’s a story behind every ball, even if it’s just about the golfer who lost it. If you’re lucky enough to find a ball, see where the story leads you.

A Muse 4 You: Suppose you found this ball, what meaning would it have for you?

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Meaningful Moments

In Light of "Kobe Bryant's Muse"

“The seed that started everything for me, everything grew from this ball,” Kobe Bryant.

It’s still so painful to think about Sunday’s helicopter crash. I didn’t know these families personally, yet my heart pours out to all those who are suffering so much right now due to their great loss.

Before Sunday I didn’t know anything about Kobe Bryant, so I read the obituary and thought I had watched his short film, “Dear Basketball”, which was based off a poem he had written in 2015 to announce his retirement. (It appears that wasn’t the real copy so then all copies that were circulating on the internet were taken down according to the January 28, 2020 article posted in the Los Angeles Times). But it didn’t matter, I was touched by his words, not the images.

I watched basketball back in the day when Dad was involved. It was a passion that we shared. A way of seeing the sport through each other’s eyes. The love that we shared for the sport bonded us in a way that meant just as much to me as our family ties.

And when Dad quit coaching, I stored it all away. All those emotions, all that love, all that analysis. When Mom had to leave games early and take my sister home, my best friend and I would stay until the end. We’d have to go through the tunnel to get to the area outside the locker room, where my Dad would meet us. I would be too embarrassed to say I was Bill Cunningham’s daughter, especially if it was a guard who didn’t know me. So while I shuffled my feet (I probably looked like a kid who had to go to the bathroom), I’d say, “I need to meet my Dad”.

The guard would say, “You’re not allowed past this point. No fans allowed”.

My friend, not in the least embarrassed, would speak up and say, “We’re not fans; she’s Bill Cunningham’s daughter”.

It was the guard’s turn to get embarrassed and he’d say, “I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you just say so?”

But how could I explain he was just my dad and the locker room where we could find him was the closest thing he had to an office? And, Oh yeah, he was my ride home. It sounded made up.

There’s something about Kobe’s ode to basketball that opened up the basketball floodgates stored inside of me. This feeling that I had when I finally got into the car and I had my Dad to myself: no reporters, no fans, no autographs–just us, where we could recap, not the stats, but what really had happened on the court that night.

Sunday’s helicopter accident woke up the stories inside of me. They come from that place where the truth seems like make believe and the fiction seems so believable. It’s just a mind trip really, but writing about it would have made it real.

But underneath my surreal life, and a deep desire to be normal like everybody else, there was this love for basketball. Since I couldn’t play, the time would come when it would no longer be in our lives. Little did I know then that it would get stored away as a childhood memory.

So I heard Kobe’s words wash over me and reawaken my soul. It was like he was tapping me on the shoulder saying, “There are so many great stories, just like mine. They all need to be told before it’s too late.” Thank goodness Kobe got to tell his. He’s left us with so many powerful words.

I was eager to watch his documentary, “Kobe Bryant’s Muse,” which can be rented. (I rented it through Amazon). Sadly it took his death for me to notice Kobe. I didn’t follow his career or his teenage years when he was already making a name for himself in my hometown; I had already moved to New York and I didn’t watch basketball anymore. Whether I followed him or not, there’s an incestuousness to basketball. The paths of our fathers had intersected: Dad had coached Kobe’s father.

And so, the opening words on the screen hit home with me: “There is power in understanding the journey of others to help create your own.”

I want to understand Kobe’s journey because he was graced by the same love for the game of basketball that I had been touched with as a kid. It was always an indescribable feeling and I couldn’t put words to it as a fan or a player. Kobe finally could put words to the very love that I had felt and hid from all these years.

He spoke to this unwritten emotional obligation that we all felt. It’s as if the guys had written in blood to never defame the game. To love the sport no matter what bad things could come from it. When Kobe said he tried to be Superman around the other guys, especially in his darkest hour and in light of his injury to his Achilles heal, he spoke to that sense of duty. He had a similar injury that ended the career of many basketball greats so he would have by no means been a quitter if he were to leave the game.

I flashed back to my Dad. We used the Superman joke, too. He would work out even if he had the flu. There wasn’t an excuse to miss a workout. None. It was as bad as missing church on Sunday. Sometimes after a workout, he’d hobble down the stairs to the basement. His old knee injury, which ended his career, would sometimes be the culprit, though Dad would never admit that. We’d watch him disappear and we’d shake our heads, “He’s crazy.”

But nothing is crazy to a basketball legend. They give their bodies to the game, as if they are Superman, but they don’t stop there. They also give their minds over to the game. They drink, sleep and eat it. It was endearing to hear how Kobe loved how his grandfather sent tapes of the American basketball games while they were living in Italy so he could watch, rewatch and study those tapes…To think of all the tapes in our own basement.

The day after I heard about the crash, I went into the basement. In the old house we called it “the cave”. My Dad would be down there sitting in one of three spots. There was the frayed yellow couch that had survived the 70s and maybe a quick war. Or he’d be sitting up close and next to the TV screen, working the VCR, in the purple kidney-bean chair. Or when it was getting late and he was getting tired, there was an ugly green lazy boy in the corner.

No matter where he migrated to, he’d be watching basketball games. We were one of the few people I knew to own a Betamax and then later a VHS. I was the only one in the family who knew how to operate it (hello, push play and record at the same time), so I became responsible for taping the games. It would get hairy because sometimes I’d think I had pushed both buttons, but I hadn’t, and I’d miss a game (that didn’t go over well!). But when I got it right, Dad would be watching.

Now the basement is where I had a workspace with piles of papers marking thirty years of research, storyboards, islands, drafts, edits and class notes for my old book idea. I knew what I had come down there to do. I piled them all away into plastic bins. I learned how to write on that story, and maybe that was all it was good for. It’s time to say good-bye.

Kobe’s words have been drawing me into a greater story. There are so many legends. And one day, poof, they too will be so faded we won’t be able to remember them anymore.

My tables were all clear; I got the bin of newspapers that Mom had saved over the years. They had survived a fire and poor storage so I got them and laid them all out on my tables. I put them in piles depending on what year they were written. Sometimes a stray photo would be in there so I put those to the side along with the brochures and glossy items. There were three articles of me as a girl, strewn in with the final edition of the Bulletin, and major life events like that first man walking on the moon. Relics of time. At .25 cents it wasn’t meant to last.

In the background, my old book is stashed away in the file bins, which made room for the new mess: the saved newspapers in the workspace now..

Looking at our lives through the newspapers, I was reminded of how much family always meant to Mom and Dad. We were there for Dad even if it was just Mom calling us to the TV when Dad was on his road trips, “Look at your Dad, he looks so tired. Does he look tired to you?”

It was hard on Mom. She’d get so nervous during the games, she’d turn off the TV and tell me to go watch it in the other room and then she’d nervously say, “Yell out if anything important happens.” She’d then rake the orange carpet. It had a few bald spots, but that didn’t stop her, she’d go ahead and rake those parts, too.

That’s how we were a family, and family meant more to Dad than basketball–that’s how much he loved us.

In 2003, Kobe went from being at the top of his game to the next year having no idea if he’d keep playing. But he had his family and he had to be strong for them. Only as Kobe did his physical therapy, I could hear the sports reporter wondering aloud if Kobe could make a comeback and then he quoted an announcer who always would say, ‘Father time is undefeated’; and it’s the truth”.

I smiled, even through the tears, because those sports reporters always had a way of saying something so profound before they’d tag on a cliche. They could never just leave a great quote alone.

But Kobe seemed unfazed by the warning and the cliche. Instead, he spoke of his teammates, “We have a bond that will never be broken because the lion looked us in the face and we looked back.” Indeed, that’s what I’d seen with Dad. Once a teammate, always a teammate. Once a coach, always a coach. Even now, Dad loves his players just as much as he loves us and just as much as he loved the sport.

Kobe singled out his particular affinity to Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. In fact, Kobe said they were his muses. He wanted more than anything to prove himself worthy to sit at the same table with them and belong there. And that meant the world to him because as a kid when Kobe first moved to the States, he sat alone at the lunch table.

For me, I found my childhood muses were Dad’s friends. It was a rare occasion when it happened, but there was something magical about sitting around a table with them in a restaurant. It was pure bliss to hear their stories. I got to see Dad the way his friend’s saw him: how funny he was and what a great storyteller.

And Kobe was a great storyteller as he described his first game back after his injury and what he felt with childish delight, “I could feel the energy in the building, the sounds of the cameras, the smell of popcorn, the sounds of people walking around, preparing for the game, I could feel the intensity in the air…There’s an energy that you can tap into, once you feel it. Everything becomes you; you become everything.”

But there is that bitter ending. It must inevitably come. Brought by none other than father time. It’s very poignant when Kobe asks, “Do you ever truly know this is the moment to walk away?” It brought back memories of Dad asking us at the dinner table what did we think if he quit coaching. I burst out in tears and I said, “My whole life is basketball. It’s all that I know.”

Dad always said when he was a player he thought selfishly, and it was all about offense, but when he was a coach, he used to think for the team, and he changed his strategy to defense. I was far from being a parent yet–that makes you a coach you know. All I could do was think like a player. I was thinking selfishly and about how his decision would impact me. I didn’t want him to leave the sport I loved. He had the choice, whether to go or not, and he stayed for a few more years. But I wish I could go back and tell him “it’s okay to go Dad; you did what you needed to do.”

Somehow there’s a seed in all of these memories I just know it. As Kobe said, a basketball was the seed that started everything for him. And before the papers fade so I can’t read the newsprint anymore, I need to capture the stories that are buried there.

And then there’s one image Kobe left me with: his adult self sitting in a ball park at 3 in the morning staring at his 8 year old self sitting on a ball across from him. As that adult he knew all the pain he would have to go through and he wondered what would he tell his 8 year old self? At that point, he would have said, “I don’t know if I’d keep playing.”

Luckily his 8 year old self didn’t listen. The seed had already been planted and the momentum had taken over. But then I remember the sadder truth: that Kobe’s daughters will never have memories to put behind his words. They’ll only be able to see their father on TV. And when the credits roll at the end of the documentary and we see some of the home videos, it’s the only way they’ll be able to see their sister, too. And for his dear wife, as hard as it was on Mom, Dad got to come home.

It was with such great sadness to see this all come to an end. And yet Kobe’s adult and 8 year old selves can always live on, whenever we want to bring them back into our consciousness.

Not to end on a sad note, let’s bring this back to Kobe’s muse: who are the muses that you would want to pay tribute to at your table?

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Greatness

Re Re Who’s Who The Terrible Two’s

Part 2 of 2

Look who’s entered the terrible two’s!

We had our first rehearsal, and three subsequent practices, for Twelfth Night (our not-so Shakespearean musical). For the veterans this could very well be their twentieth show, for me, it’s Mama takes the stage, take two. In other words, I’ve reached the terrible twos with this whole acting, singing dancing thing.

This is the practice where we go around the room and give a fun fact about ourselves. And being that I’m always wittier when I can hide behind a piece of paper, I’m not so comfortable with delivery, I had some preparing to do. Okay, a lot.

And dare you ask why am I preparing for an impromptu one-minute fact about myself? You’ll have to read on to understand that this wasn’t going to come eloquently unless I thought it through. Not to mention, the last time I had an experience this awkward, I had to ask a guy to the prom, well, actually, I had my friends ask for me so I wouldn’t have to feel that ridiculous. So let’s just say, if I had asked a guy that I knew to the prom, it would have been just as scary.

In fact, I was up several nights in advance. I didn’t even tell Alex or the kids about this. It was embarrassing enough. No one else in the cast was being so ridiculous. (And aren’t I still playing the fool to be admitting to it now? But this is Shakespeare, after all) In fact, their fun fact could be what they had for breakfast that morning, and especially if they were a lead, everyone would laugh anyway. Ensemble has it harder, because let’s face it, there are so many of us and we aren’t exactly a walking comedy skit. (Ok, I do like to entertain with a story or two).

Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t judged by our fun facts and everyone forgets them anyway. It’s three practices later and I can’t remember much of what was said that day. Luckily I have my daughter who makes me write this stuff down.

We heard how we are going to modernize the play. Bring in members of our community. For instance, the Illyrian bar will be named after the local watering hole and we will don paraphernalia from the local sports teams.

We went around the circle so everyone could have their spotlight. As I remembered perfectly from last year, there were the two camps: those who could truly skim the fat off the surface and say the latest witty thing that came to mind and those of us, like me, who had to rehearse, or should have rehearsed, what we were going to say up until our turn. (And then the aftermath, when we’re plagued with the replay hoping we sounded okay).

It’s just how it goes. But I was ready. I listened. Some gave recaps of all the fun facts they’d given over the years (they must have prepared, too) and those who hadn’t rehearsed, but secretly wished they had, and took the bandaid off quickly with a “my fun fact is (blank).” Get the spotlight off of me NOW! (This group also secretly wanted a chair to be missing so they could get out of playing Musical Chairs when they were kids).

And it was my turn. But before you can read on, this is really part two of a two part series and it would be wise if you read what I revealed in about myself in last week’s post about my blush with greatness in order to get me here. http://re-whos-who-aka-the-incognito-snowman. Whether you read it or you’re brave enough to read on, please understand, these words were not easy for me to say.

What I said, seemed to morph into what I wanted to say and now I can’t tell the difference between the two of them anyway. But I’ve belabored the telling of this long enough. So whether I said it out loud or in my head, this is how I’m going to recap this now:

“I’m Stephanie Ortiz (when you forget to say your in ensemble, that’s okay, everyone assumes since Deb didn’t ask me to clarify that, that’s who I am anyway). This is middle-aged Mama takes the stage take two. Take one was last year and I practically crawled on that stage, but I did it with the support of my daughters, who forced me to go through with it, and my stage husband (I looked over at Bill). I can’t act, I can’t sing, I can’t dance, but I did it anyway/. I’ve always watched greatness. I watched my Dad coach the Philadelphia 76ers to a world championship, and now this was my championship and I did it with you. So I’m a glutton for punishment and now I’m back again. And fun fact: I have some sports paraphernalia for you, Deb!”

Later my youngest said, Mommy, you had so many fun facts, why’d you have to give one more?” So there you have it, the only response that really mattered.

So why’d I do it? It had been haunting me all those years, always making me scared of the spotlight that would see right through me and show me up for who I really was, gasp, I was Mr. Cellophane. But that’s the wrong play, come back to Twelfth Night and there’s Malvoleo struggling with the very same concept: “Some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them. “

I’m proud of all my Dad’s greatness, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t process it. I was only 13 and I was just trying to figure out who I was.

Maybe you could call it my journey of overcoming greatness: how I sat and watched greatness, thinking it was a one-man show only to finally realize you can’t open the door to your own greatness sitting in the audience. So there’s a moral to this story: the first rule of greatness is you can’t do it alone.

So that reminds me, I’ve just now entered the terrible two’s with this theater thing. Give this Mama just a little bit of a stage, have her turn 50 and just see what happens.

This week’s muse: how have you stared greatness in the face and/or how might you act out your terrible twos?

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Greatness

Re: Who's Who aka The Incognito Snowman

Part 1 of 2

The Incognito Snowman

I have a confession to make, I’m a self-proclaimed nobody. Hence the picture of the incognito snowman. Okay, he might not be the best example, but he’s really cute.

And I have another confession to make. I come up with lots of ideas/stories, and especially when they are great and are meant for somebody else, I feel shamed if I don’t share them.

So that leaves a comedy skit in the making or a good blog post: a nobody with an idea reaching out to a somebody who is famous. However to protect the privacy of my famous person I’m not going to divulge the name and will just refer to who’s who as Incognito Snowman (I got to make sense of my picture somehow).

To dive into my big embarrassing confession a bit more, I’ve always found security in obscurity. (Don’t you just love a rhyme for no reason)? As long as I stayed incognito, I felt safe. My rhyming sister, Emily Dickinson, wrote a poem about us, “I’m nobody who are you? Are you nobody too?” Oh, how I loved that she got me.

But that’s absurd, right? This calls for drastic measures. I broke down the giant and made him take baby steps. Here’s the dumbified results, just to make this easier for me, and for you, so you can play along, too.

Step 1: Walk the dog and come up with an idea for let’s just say a great television show. You know the lightbulb moment that I’m not ashamed to admit isn’t for me. A distinct person came to mind, the very person who could pull it off: none other than Incognito Snowman!

Step 2: Share your idea. But how? Keep this bit of advice handy: find the avenue that the least amount of people would use to contact that person. And if you’re still scratching your head, the answer is email. What a duh moment! Of course, I knew that because I was armed by those words.

Step 3: Decide how to contact Incognito Snowman. Look up said person and realize there are five points of contact via email. It appears a lot of other people have intentions to reach my famous person, ahem. Since there’s no direct email, I choose the writer.

Step 4: Write the email. Another duh moment, but we’re taking baby steps with this, just in case in the heat of the excitement you forget who you are (because trust me you will). This is not a pitch. It’s not professional. It’s just a friend (who you don’t know). I didn’t start off with “hey”, I did reserve some formalities. But do what I say not what I did: make a copy of what you sent.

Step 5: Forget about it. And, of course, I did. (That’s why you made a copy so you could refer back to it when you couldn’t remember you even wrote the email). I wasn’t expecting anything in return. In fact, if I actually thought I’d get a response I wouldn’t have reached out to Incognito Snowman in the first place. (That’s how obscure I hoped to remain).

Step 6: Receive a response email and open it. Yes, at this point, you’re allowed to skim, reread, savor, memorize whatever you want, and yes, you can even start to quote it in your casual conversations with your immediate family members only, who are all in on it. But don’t jump ahead to the complete FREAK OUT just yet. First, proceed with caution and take my daughter’s advice, “Don’t tell anyone or you’ll jinx it.” For the record, she now claims she never said that. Good thing that’s what I heard her say because that’s what I did. Now read the email, trust me, what you’ve done up until this point was not reading. Just process the facts.

Hello Stephanie, 

I am the public relations assistant to Incognito Snowman. We received your email and would like to send you a mailed response. If you would be so kind as to provide me with a personal address or PO Box, we would be happy to do so. 

We are most grateful for your patience and look forward to hearing from you soon!

Kind Regards,

Assistant

Step 7: Respond. I know. You didn’t really need these steps up until this moment. Now you are so shocked you can’t make even the simplest decision. I didn’t want to sound too excited (over what anyway?) or too desperate (what can I get out of this?) or too ungracious (maybe I should just thank the assistant and wish her Happy New Year?). I texted Alex and asked “Should I thank her or wish her Happy New Year?” And, luckily he replied back, “yes to both.”

Step 8: Click Away Negative Thoughts. Most recently I’ve been clicking away my negative thoughts. Remember? https://stephanieortiz.com/2019/12/10/click-away-negative-thoughts/ But some negative thoughts are persistent; I click them away, and they are still there! So get defensive, they creep in like leaches now that you hit “send”. This could be a scam. CLICK. It’s probably just a survey asking how they did. CLICK. Maybe a telemarketer hacked Incognito Snowman’s computer and stole my email. Good thing I covered that and gave Alex’s work address instead of my home address. I showed them. Until my oldest pointed out, “If you’re so worried about this being a scam, don’t you think they would be too?” Why does she have to be so smart when I’m being such a recovering nobody? How many duh moments can there be? The steps, I repeat, remember the steps.

Step 9: Congratulations, you’ve reached the FREAK OUT step! Dream it up! Let it grow. Make it as big as you dare it to be. It’s only in your mind anyway, right? And when you have to share what’s bouncing around like a pinball machine before you burst, share it carefully. Don’t advertise this. You were just feeling like a nobody when we started step 1 (and you don’t need anyone accidentally reminding you of that) so revel in this greatness. When was the last time you dared dream so big?

You get the picture?

Step 10: Wait, and I mean wait for the post man to come, every day, the old-fashioned way. Yes, there’s time here. Lots of time. In fact so much time that I’m reminded of Fiona and the waiting…the waiting…the waiting…

Waiting doesn’t feel like a step, but don’t be fooled. It knocks the sense into you. This is when I collected myself and ultimately opened to the truth. Alex helped too as he had the wherewithal to locate a message board. Fans posted that they received letters, gasp, in the mail. There were two camps: those who sent a photo and got it returned with a signature and those that wrote fan mail and received a response written in block letters thanking them for their support.

That was the buzz kill. That good for nothing reality check. I’m just a, gulp, fan. And while I was facing the truth I had to consider a few more things. Remember all those giddy, grandiose dreams that were too big to even tell anyone in the freak out stage? They weren’t real. And for all those years of playing a nobody alongside Emily Dickinson, I had to finally admit that truth, too; she’s dead, long gone. Imagine that, my partner in anonymoty was a famous dead person.

But somehow these realizations didn’t send me crawling back to my blanket of obscurity as they once would have, and they have made the waiting a bit more doable. There’s still questions, but now they’re just more practical, grounded and shareable: am I eligible for an autographed photo? Has my idea been lumped into the “thank you for your support” pile? Let’s throw in that possibility of a survey–it would be a fun twist.

Now that I’ve validated myself, I don’t need to hope anymore that my letter from Incognito Snowman will fulfill me. I just had to come out of hiding and find myself again. Take one step at a time.

I’m still waiting. If I hear anything, you’ll be the first to know. But, hey, I did hear it’s supposed to snow on Saturday. to Want to build a snowman? Though the name Incognito Snowman is taken, I have a good feeling about this; whatever name we give him, ours will be just as great (wink)!

A Muse 4U: Did you ever have an encounter with a Who’s Who that made you forget who you were? And perhaps, that was just the nudge you needed…

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Touched By An Angel: What Small Change Can Do

It’s only $4, or is it?

I asked my family if this New Year’s Day they’d be up for a challenge: to give a dollar to someone we don’t know.

We had planned to go to the city so each of us could give our dollar maybe to someone who was homeless. (It seemed to make the most sense). But my youngest had a fever and Alex was feeling like he was coming down with something so that wasn’t possible.

It was getting late and even though the sun had gone down on New Year’s Day, our challenge seemed to be turning into, well, a challenge.

Alex agreed to drive and I would give our combined $4 to whoever was behind the register at the convenience store down the street.

We were a little nervous—this isn’t typical for us. We wondered what would he think? Would he be confused by our gesture and question why so little?” Maybe we should be giving more, but that’s all we had on us, so it would have to do.

But then I remembered, “Just think about how excited you are when you find even a quarter. I think he’ll be happy.”

The closer we got to the store, I decided I’d go in alone so we didn’t overwhelm the person and I’d definitely give it to the worker behind the counter. There are so many stories about the person buying coffee, etc. for the guy in line. And those are beautiful gestures, too, and are just as special. But what about the guy who has to work there?

This was our way to change it up, well, $4 up.

So I prayed that the person working there would be the right person. The person that $4 would mean something to…For some reason that mattered to me.

But there was still the biggest question, what would I say? I pushed that thought away when I saw my stranger through the doors: the man behind the counter. He was checking out the only customer in the store. So I let them finish up their transaction and then entered.

The worker kindly said to the customer, “Happy New Year.” I knew he was the one.

The doors jingled and the customer left calling to mind that scene in the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. Remember that famous quote? “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” Trust me, no angel was getting any wings here, but I grinned at the thought anyway.

He turned to me and asked, “What can I do for you?” He smiled back, it was faint, maybe it had been a long day, but he didn’t show it. He gave his full attention to me and what I might need.

I handed him the money and he took it and waited patiently for my answer. Cigarettes? Isn’t that what he keeps behind the counter? I had to explain, and quickly, as this was rather unusual. I said, “This is for you.“ And I found the words to say, his words, in fact, “Happy New Year!”

He took it, but he kept his hand outstretched, holding the money gingerly so I could change my mind and take it back. Funny that play on words change my mind. Or clearly this was a prank. But I didn’t move. I asked for nothing.

I nodded my head yes and said, “It’s for you.”

He looked at me so deeply he could have even had tears in his eyes, but he didn’t.

He asked, “But why?”

I said, “Just because.” And the pause we shared between us was the gift I would carry away with me. I smiled and then I said, “Happy New Year!”

And he looked at me with his eyes so deep with love or gratitude or awe or disbelief or maybe all of the above. The power in his eyes was so great you would have thought an angel had just come into the room. But that angel already was with us, remember the bells?

He never even looked to see how much money it was. In fact, it wasn’t even money anymore. In his eyes, and hopefully reflected in my own, was the deeper knowledge that what we had exchanged was far greater.

I left and got back in the car. It felt like a get-away car, Alex and I both felt so flustered. Alex was awkwardly trying to get out in the wrong direction and then righted himself and started backing up all while the man stood at the door and stared after us. I waved a couple of times but he didn’t wave back. He just looked.

Alex finally righted the car and was getting ready to drive on so he rolled down the window as the man opened the store door and we heard the bells jingle. Alex was a bit touched too and he accidentally yelled out “Merry Christmas” and then he corrected himself and said “I mean Happy New Year!”

And then the man found his voice again and said, “Happy New Year.”

But there was a quiet way about him. There was that look on his face the way your parents would look at you when they had just waved you goodbye and you were leaving. It was a moment so sacred that words don’t describe it. Maybe we all had been truly touched by that angel.

When we got home, my oldest asked me to write it down (she’s always badgering me to write down my stories while they’re still fresh). She wanted me to make it my next blog post, but I told her I wouldn’t be able to, “It was too sacred of a moment”.

So she said, “Then at least write it down before you forget.”

So I wrote it down, and then, as only my daughter knows best, once written, how could I not share? There’s no way I can break the sacredness that had transpired that night. It happened, I would only be so lucky to be able to find the words to explain it.

The story started off and it was small change for me too. But when those bells jingled, the story took on a whole new dimension. We were all touched by that angel.

A Muse 4 You: Did you ever have that moment where small change multiplied to make such a big difference in the life of a stranger?

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