Skagit County Fair 2021

Ten years ago, I was not a performer. Anyone that knew me knew not only was I not a performer, but I was emphatically not a performer. Then I met Della. Then I learned to perform and really grew to enjoy it. Then came the Wren and Della brand and performing became my livelihood. Then it was all taken away and I was faced with the daunting decision of rebuilding a performance life or not. This question was tested recently at my stint at the Skagit County Fair.

I've done a few little gigs earlier this year: a teaching gig in Leavenworth, a stilting gig in Kendall, a company picnic in Bellingham, and the Circus In Person show at the Bellingham Circus Guild. But the Skagit County Fair was different. For one, it was a gig that Della and I have done for years together. The people there know us as, well, us. For another, the booking required me to cover 7 30-minute stage shows, something I've never done without Della. Thirty minutes is a long time. And me and Della's show evolved over years to become what it was. The Skagit County Fair was the first real test of the daunting decision of whether I was going to embark on the path of rebuilding a performance career.

The verdict: hard but good. It was hard because memories were everywhere, I didn't have my partner to help make the work less worky, and I had to share the news about Della to so many people who hadn't heard yet still keep an entertaining facade. It was good because everyone was so super supportive—from the fair staff and volunteer to the other performers that Della and I have performed many times with to the booth vendors who saw our roving enough times to learn our tells to the fairgoers who came to my show just so I would know I could do it. The stage shows were hard; I lost about 2 gallons of sweat running around in the sun with the stress of "is this good enough?"* The roving was good; I posed for pictures, wowed people with my knot tricks, and even got quoted by the news.

Getting back on the horse seems like an apt analogy to my time at the Skagit County Fair this year. It was scary and daunting, but I did it. I'm a different guy than I was 10 years ago and maybe one of those differences is that I am a performer now. For four days at the Skagit County Fair I was, at least. As for the future, only time will tell.
Sunday August 22 2021File under: circus, Della

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Shoulda and Grateful Lists


Photo from our 9th anniversary, when we got takeout from our special anniversary spot.
Today would have been me and Della's 10th anniversary. It seems like an appropriate time to post about this idea I've been thinking about for the past 9 months.

I wish I would have rubbed Della's feet more.

It's easy to look back and wish for so much to have been different—with the knowledge I have now, to have done, said, or acted differently. But this feels like a slippery slope. Yes, I have a whole lot of shouldas, those things that I lament. On the whole, though, they are mostly little things. Yet while each of these little shouldas pain me, I also feel so blessed that the list is so small. The inverse of that shoulda list—the things I'm so grateful that we did do, say, or act—is long and full.

Since losing Della, I've thought about these two categories, the things I wished we'd done and the things I'm so glad we did. I've thought about them and how sharing my thoughts on them might help other couples be better prepared if tragedy also befalls them. Or maybe just some perspective. I know me and Della's relationship wasn't like everyone's. And that which worked for us won't necessarily work for everyone. But I hope, in sharing, at least a morsel might be helpful, even if only to reflect that your shoulda list is sufficiently short.

Shoulda list
  • We shoulda taken the time to do all the boring business stuff: beneficiary on bank accounts, name on car titles, wills and powers of attorney. It wouldn't have taken long and it would have saved a lot of frustration, confusion, and time.
  • We shoulda made a plan, or at least talked about things. Della was my partner in all things and when tragedy struck, I was at a loss without the council and support of my partner. I feel incredibly fortunate that Della did leave me a tiny checklist on what to do; it allowed me to have some semblance of that partnership that I so relied on. But we shoulda had a better plan, talked about the uncomfortable things (what do you want to happen to your body?, memorial?,), the mundanely practical things (do we have each other's family's numbers in our phones? where do you store your passwords? what's your SSN?), and the supportive things (what should I do to persist?)
  • I shoulda done the little things more. One of the hardest things about not having Della, something I wouldn't have necessarily thought about before, is to not have an outlet for my love. Della bought me a pair of socks that said "Pretty decent boyfriend", I think that was fitting; I made her breakfast, supported her projects, played along to her often goofy games, and so much more. But every day, every minute was an opportunity to show that love in so many ways. And every day I wish that I had done that more. She so loved it when I rubbed her feet and I wish I would have done it more.
Grateful list
  • I'm grateful of all the photos we have together. Performance photos, travel photos, goofy photos, kissing photos—we have so many great pictures together. Going through pictures for the memorial recently has reminded me of all those great times and I'm so grateful for that.
  • I'm grateful to have known each other's lives so well. We knew each other's passwords, doctor's names, bank affairs, family's birthdays. It may be tiny, but knowing all that stuff has been a huge help in navigating this life after Della, from business affairs to personal connections.
  • I'm grateful that we travelled. Travel is something that is so easy to put off, saying "we were always meaning to go to ____". It's so easy to put off so much, really, thinking there will be time later. While there are a few of those things for us, for the most part, we did pretty well. As for travel, I'd say we did pretty well indeed, and for that, I'm grateful.
  • I'm grateful that Della knew how I felt about her. We were never a love-you-in-lieu-of-goodbye people. It was a couple years before we said the L-word to each other without feeling weird about it, and even then, it continued to be rare. But there were times I couldn't contain myself, when I told her I was on the verge of tears because I loved her so much and was so happy in the life we had built together. And when this happened, she would hold me comfortingly and smile, because she already knew, and for that, I'm grateful.
  • I'm grateful we took time together. The first of every month was our Monthiversary, a day we attempted to keep our schedules clear so we could have a leisurely breakfast together, go for a walk, or at least not hectically be working on various projects. Quality time together is something that I could see falling into the shoulda list in some cases and it feels like it would have been one of the hardest shouldas to live with. I'm so grateful this shoulda was a did.
  • While this very distinctly doesn't fall into the category of applicable, it very much does fall into the category of things I'm grateful for. I'm so so so grateful that me and Della's last days and hours together were good happy ones. In the last 24 hours, we did a zoom juggling gig (and had so much fun doing it), had silly fun horsing around time in the hotel pool (where she laughed so hard she might have peed the pool), explored a new town walking hand in hand, and were genuinely together. I sometimes think about how hard it would be if this wasn't the case, if we hadn't been together or were grumpy at each other or if we were mired in the hardness of work. I'm so grateful I can say otherwise.
Both of these lists grow and shrink in my mind. Hindsight is a funny thing, esp. with the passage of time. But I share this list with the thought that maybe the concept might inspire you to shift something from a shoulda to a grateful in case of the worst. Or maybe I'm sharing for myself down the road, as with so many things on this blog, so I know what I was thinking and feeling. Or maybe I just wanted the excuse to spend the time writing this, on this special day, thinking about our lives together.
Sunday August 1 2021File under: Della

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Walk Like MADD - Marathon Edition

This past weekend, the Washington Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving hosted a virtual walk-a-thon called "Walk Like MADD".  Its goal was to raise money to support the organization's mission of "fighting the 100% preventable crimes of drunk and drugged driving."  Needless to say, I was on board.

I wasn't able to participate during the event, as it coincided with Circus In Person, Bellingham Circus Guild's grand re-opening event.  I did a version of my crossword act with added cheap theatrics, my first solo BCG act ever and my first time performing without Della waiting for me backstage to cheer me on (or comfort me from all the drops, as the case may be).  It was an emotional weekend of shows, and although the cast was so great, Della's absence was palpable.

It was with these emotions that I set out to belatedly participate in the Walk Like Madd event.  They were asking for folks to do a 5K, but for whatever reason, I got it in my head that I needed to do more.  I needed more time with my thoughts.  And perhaps I even hoped that with more, more of an impact could be made, more awareness raised, and more lives saved.  So I decided to walk a marathon.

It turns out walking 26.2 miles isn't very easy.  It isn't even kind of easy.  It's hard.  I started in Concrete, Washington and followed the Cascade Trail 22.5 miles through beautiful fields and along the calmly flowing Skagit River.  With the exception of an occasional biker and a few walkers near each end, I had the trail to myself.  After I ran out of trail, I meandered (or, more specifically, zombie-walked, as my body had more or less gone on strike after about mile 18) the streets of Sedro Woolley to get me to my goal.  Total time: ~8.5 hours. Blisters, chafage, and achy muscles reminded me that perhaps this was why the Walk Like Madd event was only a 5K.  But, although my body wasn't happy, my heart was proud.  I had done a really hard thing.

But why had I done this hard thing?  The reason I did this hard thing is so that I could get your attention and say this to you: Please Don't Drink and Drive. Please don't say "oh, I've only had one beer."  Please don't say "how else was I supposed to get home?" Please don't say "I'm fine." Please please be uncompromising. Please realize how serious and dangerous drinking and driving is.  And if after you've made that commitment, the I'm-not-just-saying-this-but-super-fucking-mean-it commitment, you wanted to do more, consider including MADD in your giving plan.  But really, I just want you to think of Della any time you need a reminder that drinking and driving isn't okay.

Memorial update: Now that COVID has more or less sorted itself out (*knock on wood*), we've settled on a date for Della's memorial: September 25 at the Deming Logging Show grounds (outdoor, plenty of space). More info will be forthcoming which I will add to the comments of this post.
Tuesday July 20 2021File under: Della

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Six months

On the 18th of every month, I light a candle in honor of
Della, the light of my life. Every month, it is really hard.
Today marks six months since the car crash that took Della's life and forever changed mine. The last six months have been marked by much mourning and sadness, navigating seemingly infinitely complex legal/financial/criminal systems, pondering of my future in so many respects, and much more. I've been mostly avoiding posting on social media, as it can all get overwhelming, but I wanted to share some updates so everyone can know what's going on.

Recently, I learned criminal charges against the driver of the oncoming car have been filed by the state of Montana. The charge is Vehicular Homicide While Under Influence*. The criminal process will be (and already has been) long and drawn out and no one knows where it will go, in terms of sentence, plea bargain, timeline, or anything. Ultimately, it is between the state of Montana and the driver and doesn't involve me unless I get called to testify at trial (if there even is one). Nevertheless, I plan to stay apprised as best I can.

There is so much paperwork/business/financial stuff that goes along with someone's death and each element seems to have its own procedures, quirks, and failings. From cancelling Della's business license, to closing her bank accounts, to dealing with the other driver's auto insurance, to filing her taxes and so much more, I've been chipping away at the todos. The process is endlessly frustrating as, so far, not one of these companies seems to put any priority or consideration on communication, speed, ease, or (in some cases) accuracy. In some respects, having the mountains of work has been good for me, as the details keep my mind busy and makes me feel productive, but I'm hoping the end is in sight and it will be a task I can soon cross off my list.

I mentioned in the 2 month update that I was only recently back on both feet, after time on crutches and in a walking boot from injuries sustained in the crash. Now, my physical health is maybe 90% recovered. Functionally, I'm able to do most things (walk, jog, juggle, etc.) but there is still pain, weakness, and inflexibility, esp. in the right ankle. Part of me is sure there will be ailments that are with me the rest of my life, a constant reminder of the terrible day 6 months ago. But the human body is an amazing thing and part of me holds out hope that time will do its healing job. As for my mental and emotional state, it is so hard to say. There are good days and bad days. Some days, I'm crippled with anxiety about the future and sadness for the loss of the past. Some days, I make it from my morning cereal to evening Jeopardy! with relative normalcy, albeit with loneliness and loss as a constant companion. Overall, I guess I'd say I'm doing alright considering.

As has been the case throughout this ordeal, I have felt immensely supported—from diversions when I need, to talking through feelings and fears, to help with the so many details of everything. Besides the wonderful support I've received from friends and family, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has been an amazing resource for both help with details in all the different facets (law, insurance, bureaucracy, etc.) as well just the feeling of support that can only come from someone that knows what it is like to lose a partner because of someone else's choice to drink and drive. If you or someone you know has been the victim of a drunk driving crash, please know that MADD is there to support you.

With COVID vaccines becoming widely available and things opening back up, we've started planning for a memorial service, likely to be held outside in late June in Bellingham. I'll post further details in the comments of this post as they become known. Planning is also underway for a month of celebration and remembrance of Della in October 2021 in the form of Dellapalooza. Info for that will be forth coming as well.

All of these updates are just a summary. I have further details on everything (the crash, insurance, business, criminal stuff, my health, MADD, etc.) that I am willing to share with whoever wants to know. Sharing allows me to be reminded that other people care and that I'm not in this alone.
Sunday April 18 2021File under: Della

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Photos of Me and Della

Over the past months, I've found myself going through photos quite often. Sometimes it is for a specific purpose (picking a photo for the obituary or my Valentine's Day project) or sometimes it is just a way to remember Della and the wonderful life we had together. (Then, of course, there are the times I can't bear it and have to avoid the painful reminders all together.) In going through the photos, I found myself pulling out ones that fit together for whatever reason. And while I know more photos in each category will emerge, I wanted to get these up so as to share them, but more so that I know they will be archived and I can come back and see them whenever I need to. (Many photos will be repeats, either from previous blog posts (hers or mine) or from my, our, or her instagrams, but I'm guessing a good number of them will be new.)

Costumes

For our job, Della and I had occasion to dress up frequently. But in looking back through the photos, I was reminded of how much we dressed up outside of work as well. Here are some fun ones from over the years.


Kissing

These are the photos I was immediately drawn to, for obvious reasons. I feel so fortunate that I have so many photos to remind me of the love Della and I shared. In organizing and captioning them for this blog post, I also was reminded of how we kissed our way around the world: Jordan, Italy, Indonesia, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Panama, and Mexico just in this collection alone! Then, of course, there were the business kisses, often onstage for the Bellingham Circus Guild's Valentine's Day show. I'm grateful for each of these photos.

Saturday March 13 2021File under: Della

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Obituary Addendum

Writing Della's obituary was really hard. How can one possibly encapsulate a woman like Della, much less with all the constraints (word count, readability, intended audience, history vs. heart, etc.) all the while in a state of such disorienting grief. I'm not displeased with the result, with much help from Deanna as well as a few choice phrases from others, but it hardly scratches the surface. With that in mind, I offer this addendum, some of the things I wanted to include but couldn't, about the woman I love.
  • Della worked at a La Conner retirement center, helping residents get to their appointments and planning fun activities to keep them engaged and happy. Throughout her adult life, this extra care for the elderly continued, organizing special opportunities for seniors to come to circus shows, performing at retirement centers, and more.
  • Soccer and Soo Bahk Do were a big big deal in her life. She often talked about how she felt her life went in 7 year cycles; 7 years when soccer was her life—breathing, sleeping, and eating soccer; then it was 7 years of Soo Bahk Do, again throwing herself wholly into it, achieving considerable success*. After 7 years of performing, she was seriously questioning whether to continue or if it was time to move on. She eventually found renewed passion and dedication through working with some amazing women and the ability to make a living, esp. from our Wren and Della gigs.
  • Della loved animals so much. In our house/petsitting tag team, she was the heart, loving on pets like they were her own. When travelling, she'd pour her heart into various street dogs and cats, cleaning, feeding, and petting them. I won't be able to see another tiny dog in my life without hearing her squees of glee echo in my ears. And it wasn't just pets: on all our travels, Della would also find so much joy in seeing animals of all sorts.
  • Before there was circus, there was dance. And although she performed with the Dirty Birds as well as belly dancing, she loved the act of dancing itself, for its freedom and for the communities it helped her form.
  • Della was a really good juggler, even by juggler standards (as opposed to performance juggling standards*). We passed 8 clubs, could run 7-club three count, and she would catch all the slop I would throw. Solo, she was getting 5 ball juggling down, a feat that takes determination and lots of practice. She made our juggling acts fun and successful through her personality and stage glow, but her juggling skill was truly noteworthy.
  • Many people know Della first as a performer, from her iconic chair dance and pig dance. From these thought-provoking, pants-peeingly funny Della creations to improv warm-up exercises and everything in between, she was a true performer. She made people smile, laugh, and think. She connected to audiences in a special way that left them feeling good and valued.
  • Della loved drawing as a kid and over the last couple years, she was enjoying so much rediscovering it. She made calendars, birthday cards, and most recently, My Animal ABC's: A Coloring Book!, a project that allowed her to connect with old friends and young friends alike. Let me know if you want a copy.
  • One word that maybe most embodied Della was "kind". But "kind" isn't strong enough a word for the good, caring, generous, friendly, considerate, positive person she was. And not only did she embody it in her actions, that feeling of kindness permeated her life. We didn't watch TV shows where people were mean to each other; she hated seeing such an influential platform set bad examples. She loved Mr. Rogers and his message of positivity. And you didn't want to get her started on Donald Trump or other politicians who were unapologetically unkind people. We talked a lot about what being kind meant and how to best practice it, finding that sometimes fine line between compassion and enabling. It influenced her performance style, showing respect to the audience. It was a part of everything she did.
  • Another competing word for most-embodying of Della was "fun". The girl knew how to have fun and to make fun. From planning ridiculousness to momentary punny word play to costumes, costumes, costumes, fun was at Della's core.
  • Did you know that Della sewed all of our juggling costumes? Fancy, professional looking costumes that always got compliments. And her pig suit? And tons of masks for people during this pandemic? And made super awesome juggle bags? And patched my shorts...a lot? Della was handy at a sewing machine and had an eye for creation.
  • In the obituary, we used the metaphor of light to describe Della and I can't get over how right that feel. Her happiness, caring, warmth, and radiance. It just doesn't feel like it can be overstated. My previous post talks about how she was the light in my life, and I know she was that to so many people.
  • Della was serious about her style of performance. She invested tons of time and money into taking clown* and physical theater classes, from Maine to Vancouver to Los Angeles and more with well-known names in the industry.
  • The accident that took Della's life was caused when the oncoming driver slid into our lane, striking our vehicle head on. The tires on his pickup were completely bald and alcohol was suspected to have been involved. [Update: the test results came back and confirmed the oncoming driver was drunk. Della was killed by a drunk driver.] Even though we were doing everything right (seatbelts, airbags, not speeding, staying in our lane), another driver's bad choices caused this tragedy. Please drive safely, for your lives and the lives of others.
  • Did you know Della kept a blog? It was mostly for documentary purposes, but there are some great pictures and stories. And did you know Della was a budding actress? Here's her resume. Other places to get more Della is on her instagram, our instagram, her youtube channel, her website, and our website.
Obituaries feel like a kind of message to the future about someone. I want the future to know how wonderful Della was. And while this silly blog post won't do that, maybe when someone goes looking for the obituary for Della Plaster in the future, they will also come across this post and get a little clearer picture than the newspaper's 353 words could give. And I hope they read this post and smile.
Saturday November 21 2020File under: Della

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Recent Content:
*Skagit County Fair 2021
*Sleeping Around 2020-2021
*Shoulda and Grateful Lists
*Walk Like MADD - Marathon Edition
*New York Times Crossword III and the Connections It Brings
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*Photos of Me and Della
*Twas The Night 2020
*Obituary Addendum
*The Light Has Gone Out of My Life

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