Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Going up the steps

In my play, Old Woman in the Basement, Mariah Kincaid, 82 years of age,  stands at the top of her basement steps that are littered with books . She's a little tipsy on the champagne she drank in the party going on above her. She speaks of the boxes filled with" old books, old clothes, old memories and old ghosts and here's an old woman come to join the rest." She rants of shoes and "falling and can't get up phones" then this comes. I abandon heaven , abandon earth, to the nether regions I descend. This is from the Sumerian myth Inanna where the Queen of Heaven descends to the Great Below, to see her dark sister Ereshkigal.  She loses herself,  dies, is hung on a hook and is reborn to ascend, reclaiming the power she lost.
 Mariah, telling of her life, recounts the loss of power that comes with aging, the losing of beauty, loved ones, independence and the keys to the car, friends, memory, health. A friend of mine, Eloise George, may her name be blessed, spoke of aging as living in ever smaller circles.We are living longer  which makes going back up the steps, reclaiming power, possible. Maybe not the same way.
Mariah has a garbageman who passes on wisdom about step climbing. Calls it a kind of knowing. It's also paying attention and listening. I listened to a clerk, a small woman in a baby store, tell me she was old enough for early retirement.  "Its such a little bit of money, isn't it, but all I've ever done is work and raise children. Seems like I should have time to enjoy..." She didn't finish the sentence but what she was imagining was shining on her face. And she said, "Yes!" and I nodded.

The redwoods are part of my going up the steps. I've been wanting to see the Great Trees for years. This summer, my family got me on a plane to San Francisco to stand in Muir Woods in the cathedral of living beings that touch the sky and to ride up into Sequioa National Park to do the yoga pose Standing Tree at the big toe of General Sherman,  over two thousand years of age and the biggest living being in the world. Sequioas grow straight up then they broaden. And broaden. And broaden. A beautiful knowing comes from them. It turns the air into a reverent silence. And you say, "Yes!"


  1. As long as I've known Gwenda LedBetter she's been coming up the steps. oh, she may step back, but she's always looking ahead.

  2. In my estimation, most human relationships rise and fall on power: shared, held, denied, stolen, horded, given away. I saw an early incarnation of this work last spring and came away with the clear sense of the triumph of the power of the spirit and personality of this old woman, that can increase with age, even as physical losses of power accumulate. Not unlike King Lear, or other Shakespearian characters, the lesson seems to be not to give away your kingdom/power too soon, and certainly not to succumb to the first, second or third sets of losses that accompany age. Heroic work by a master story teller.

  3. After seeing Gwenda's first play - Friday's Father - which was fabulous, I can't wait to see her perform her new one at NC Stage the begging of November. Gwenda is so gifted. She creates a whole world with her words and draws you into it so you feel like you are sitting right next to her, like a second skin. Her new play - The Old Woman in the Basement - deals with situations we all experience at some point and I just know it will be wonderful. So good to see her up on stage performing again. Ruth

  4. As to the quote from Eloise George about our living in smaller circles as we age...maybe the concentric circles lead us to what is REALLY important in this life before we transform to the next.