24 October 2007


Last night John (six) was warning me about the hazards of playing baseball. He said "Dad, if you were younger and stronger instead of old and weak, don't play baseball, because I almost got two black eyes."


And Caitlin (ten) read the first draft of "Boam and Hammy in the Utah War" (my historical novel for fourth-graders). She said I should read a bunch of other books to see how to write one, that it would take her more than a month to tell me all the questions I left unanswered and all the details I left unconnected, and that if I turned it in with only the corrections I have in mind already, the publishing company would fire me.

[The following was retired to Journal Bits Archive 4 January 2008.]

2 July 1980

     This morning at five after one, immediately following a short but intense dream about an enormous ant crawling on my arm, I awoke to find an enormous ant crawling on my arm. I flicked it off, with some difficulty, and knowing it to be quite obviously still alive, began searching for it, lest it should take me again unawares. I found it at last on the curtain, trying to hide, of all things. I killed it, without a license but with good reason, I thought, and measured the carcass with a tape measure. It was five eighths of an inch long. My wife had by now also awakened with some concern and asked what woke me up, to which I replied, "Hoofbeats."

[The following was retired to Journal Bits Archive 26 January 2004]

16 April 2003

     Getting ready for "The King And I," I've felt challenged to come up with something like an authentic accent. I've never seen the movie, and I want to play the king of Siam instead of playing Yul Brynner, so merely copying Brynner's accent was out of the question. There are some Thai speakers around here, but chances are they learned their English from Americans, so they're not a good resource. The king learned his English from highly educated missionaries and diplomats from England. I discovered that there aren't any sounds we use in English that aren't also used in Thai, so my character would probably pronounce the "Queen's English" very well. I found several samples of things my character actually wrote, and they gave me an idea of his rhythms and idiosyncrasies, if not the actual sound. (Of course, Oscar Hammerstein read the same stuff.) Some of my last readings included the strong supposition that the people of Siam migrated there from Mongolia. So I wound up asking, "Who do I know of who speaks the "Queen's English" with a Mongolian accent? Oh yeah, Yul Brynner."
     So I'll play the king sounding like the Pharoah Ramses and nobody'll be the wiser.

[The following was retired to Journal Bits Archive 16 April 2003.]

(I'm kind of cheating, here. I wanted to post a journal entry from July of 1992, but found that I hadn't written it nearly as completely as I remember the event. So this is reminiscence which sprang from a journal entry which sprang from a funny night in the theatre.)

     I was playing in the band for a production, at Sundance, of "Li'l Abner." Banjo and harmonica mostly, but also a little percussion and lots of sound effects when Stupefyin' Jones would strike comely poses. It's time to start, and the player who delivers the role of the Government Scientist hasn't shown up. (This is the character who comes to Dogpatch and interviews the hillbilly residents to determine if their town would make a good target for bomb testing.) The artistic director of Sundance, Jayne Luke, yanked me out of the band and tagged me to go in and play the crucial scene. We tore through costumes from the alternating show, "Carousel," and found a suit that my character might wear, and, mercifully, the Scientist had been blocked to carry a clipboard, upon which Jayne slapped a couple of pages of script.
    Now for the tricky part. The band had been playing for weeks from offstage left. The pianist and conductor could see the stage, but I couldn't. I hadn't the slightest clue where the Scientist had been directed to go, or where any of the other characters with whom the Scientist interacted were to be found. (I think maybe Jayne didn't know this.) The solution: I decided to play a Government Scientist with really, really, really bad eyesight. I scrounged up some prop spectacles and stumbled out onto the stage, purposefully addressing trees, rocks, and outhouses. The other players turned and pushed and led me hither and thither, and I think the audience hadn't a clue I was faking it, when we had a
    The scene in question was three pages long. I had pages on my clipboard, which the audience completely forgave me for peering at quizzically. Trouble is, I had only two. But I did happen to remember the line that closed the scene, so when I lifted that second page and saw a blank clipboard, I intoned it with great authority and got the heck offstage. This gave the rest of the cast the opportunity to figure out how to sandwich into the next couple of scenes all the pretty critical exposition that I had just edited out.
    They did heroically well and, happily, the real Government Scientist showed up at intermission. This was a great gift, because I wasn't looking forward to the Government Scientist scene at the beginning of Act Two, the one involving the Latin American dance production number. The dress and fruited hat wouldn't have looked nearly so good on me as it did on her.

[The following was retired to Journal Bits Archive 18 February 2003.]

(I wrote the following (true) story to take to a Valentine's party for a "guess whose courtship" game. Because you're not playing the game, I've inserted bracketed explanations.)

6 February 1998

       She was contracted by a local municipality to help prepare a presentation tracking genetic commonalities among mass murderers. [She was co-directing a community theatre production of "Arsenic And Old Lace."] He was brought in as an expert on the criminal mind. [I was cast as Jonathan, the really bad big brother.] They had enjoyed, before this, a respectful arms-length association. [I hadn't yet persuaded her to go out with me.] Glancing through the resources that had been collected for the project [the pile of props backstage], he recognized a rare book, of which he also happened to have a copy. Deeply intrigued, he held it up and asked whose it was. She said, "That's the autobiography of my great-great-great grandfather. Why do you ask?" He answered, "Because this is the autobiography of my great-great grandfather! You know what this means, don't you? Our children will be idiots." He and she were married nine months later. Their posterity is still under observation.

[The following was retired to Journal Bits Archive 3 January 2003.]

(Usually what goes here is something from my own journal, but I stumbled across these Christmas reminiscences of my father, who passed away in 2000 at age ninety-five.)

     After having passed through ninety Christmases, I could tell you about a few. But I'll only tell quickly about three. A lot of my memories of Christmas are not really stories, just pictures. But here's one story from when I was just a little boy.

     Down in Sevier County we were having a big Christmas party in the church yard. I wandered off to the edge of the crowd and two Indians came riding up on either side of me and scooped me up by the arms. One swung me onto the back of his horse and off they rode with me. After a short ways they let me down and I walked back to the party, but the folks there thought the Indians had me for sure. They didn't know that the supposed "Indians" were really friends of mine and that we'd planned the whole thing just to liven up the Christmas party.

     The second story is from the days after I had met and begun courting my wife.
     On our first Christmas together as young sweethearts, each of us had one little package under the tree. Neither of us had any idea what the other was planning to give. I opened mine from her and was amazed to find a lovely ruby ring. I was amazed because when she opened hers from me she found a large walnut shell with my face drawn on it. Inside the shell was a velvet lining and a nearly identical ruby in a ring.

     My last story is a family story.
     After working the camera for Walt Disney for several years, I trained a team of young men to do my job and became a supervisor. When World War Two broke out, all those who weren't hands-on workers were let go, which included supervisors. So I was left at Christmas time without enough money to buy a Christmas tree for my family.
We lived in El Monte, California, on an acre lot, and had a long evergreen hedge that nearly surrounded us. So I got a wooden pole and bored holes all up and down in it and stuck in branches from the evergreen hedge. The kids all watched that Christmas tree get built from the ground up.
     My wife was embarrassed about not having a real tree, and always felt badly about it until the kids were grown. Then one evening we all sat around trying to remember favorite Christmases from the past, and our oldest son, Darrel, said that his very favorite Christmas was when we got to make our own Christmas tree. All the kids agreed, and mother changed her mind.

[The following was retired to Journal Bits Archive 7 December 2002.]

(I get the idea that some folks think making movies is constant, frantic, demanding work. It is. For the crew. For the actors, it's often more like the following.)

25 July 2002

     Idaho panhandle, near Grangeville, population 3228, in a Bill Shira film. It's called "Where Rivers Meet," and we all hope it does well for Bill. Like all his films, this is a family project. The meals are all prepared by little old ladies in Bill's mom's ward. She herself is the executive producer, a widow with a flower shop. Heaven only knows what she had to hock to pay for all this.
     We shot this morning in a little frame chapel with a steep tin roof, a hundred years old, that belongs to the Nez Perce Indians. "Nez Perce" means "pierced noses." Some of our grips would feel right at home among them, being pierced to the degree that they would draw lightning and also might not be allowed to board airplanes.
     The whole area is abuzz about a movie happening here. During a break before lunch an old cowboy came into camp enthusing about local talent. Bill and I hopped in his pickup and drove downriver a couple of miles to check out a bar for a possible location and listen to the owner sing us a couple of songs with his old telecaster. We are perceived as very important. Most of the locals seem tickled--others are looking for a fight or, even better, a lawsuit.
     This is extraordinarily beautiful country. I've never seen anything like it. Fields of grain stretch out like oceans and then rise and roll in hills that are crowned with pine forests. Rivers run through this, and down occasional canyons like the one I'm sitting in now, waiting for a ride back to Grangeville.
     The deer are a pretty brown. They are white-tails, and as plentiful as our gray mule deer. Driving home the other night, one of our crew almost hit a black bear.
     Until now, my only memory of Grangeville is that nearly thirty years ago we were on our way to Portland and sort of got lost. After dark we came upon Grangeville and stopped for dinner. I asked the waitress what kind of soup they had and she said, "Chicken noodle and mine strone." (Rhymes with "pine cone.") I'm really grateful that, regarding Grangeville, my horizons have been advanced.

26 July 2002

     Writing that last entry is about the most active thing I've done in the three days I've been here. My part is small, but is played in several locations, so they have to keep me around.
     I got here so tired and battered from work in Utah that the first day on location I slept for awhile on the back seat of a van, for awhile in the changing room of the trailer, for awhile on a sleeping bag under a pine tree, and for awhile on a church pew that had been carried outside to make room for equipment. I actually got the most sleep on the pew, and wondered if maybe it flowed from a long-stifled urge to sleep in church.
     I woke up at 11:00 this morning after a 13-hour sleep and rode out to a new location, a tiny town on a ridge called Clearwater. When it became evident that I wasn't going to be acting (they were still building my sheriff's office), I sat down on a chair on the front porch of a disused store. There was nothing across the street, and I looked out on the descending landscape to the distant golden ridges beyond the Clearwater River, and into the sky, built of clouds. I sat there for four hours, gazing, dozing, letting my mind go wherever it would, letting it sleep. It became so clear to me that I've been wound up tight as a rattlesnake for a long, long time.

27 July 2002

     Today the front porch of my Clearwater store was swarming with cast and crew--the site of lunch. Yesterday all I could hear from there was the flapping of a flag on a porch post, and the flapping of another flag over the volunteer fire station down on the corner. That and an occasional crow, an occasional cow, and, when an occasional car drove into town, an occasional dog barking. I can't listen anyway, I'm acting all day, and into the night.

[The following was retired to Journal Bits Archive 24 September 2002.]

(During the early eighties, I played a one-armed guy named Charlie who hangs out on a mountaintop serving as sentinel over an American frontier village. It was an adaptation of a book by Blaine Yorgason. In the course of Charlie's lifetime, he builds a pile of rocks up there, each stone representing some memory or lesson learned, hence the title "Charlie's Monument." The monument was pantomimed. Over the course of a couple of hundred performances, things generally went as scripted. But not always.)

5 August 1983

    Tonight I got an eight-inch rip in my pants near the beginning of the show, fell through a half-ton of monument while sitting down to fly a kite, told my wife Nellie not to worry about our ailing daughter Anna because I'd called the doctor (it's 1890 on the frontier and we live in a shack), and picked Nellie up for the finale, whirled her around and well-nigh pitched her off the mountain. But people seemed to forgive.

(As I typed this entry for you, I also seemed to remember being so enthusiastic that night about getting resurrected with a new arm that I'd never had in mortality that I poked myself in the eye with my new thumb. Well, what would you expect?)

[The following was retired to the Journal Bits Archive 12 May 2002.]

(Another "suite of entries," if I may. Just some things I found as I looked back on Mother's Day pages.)

8 May 1983

Mother's Day. Before rehearsal last week, I wrote the following lyric for the ward choir to sing today.

Our Christ flew far to save us,
from stars beyond our own­
fell through the birth He gave us,
the gate of blood and bone.
And then, before the manger,
the Savior, small and bare,
looked up, and like a stranger,
He saw His mother there.

A child among the shepherds,
a spring beside the lake,
a lamb among the leopards,
a dragon spell to break,
He followed where the wind blows
along the wings of prayer,
and looked back on the window,
and saw His mother there.

When Christ was fully flowered,
He died for you and me.
He hung, those horrid hours,
against the cruel tree.
And pain pressed in upon Him­
and through the darkened air,
He looked for one to want Him,
and saw His mother there.

Beyond our God's descending,
beyond this taste of Hell,
a rainbow dream unending,
a wounded race made well.
One image now is keeping,
with scenes too sweet to bear:
the King of Heaven weeping
to see His mother there.

7 August 1983

I have been deeply perplexed in recent years about the ordering of the sexes in accountability and covenant­that man answers to God, and the woman to man, a vertical system that seems to subordinate women. Reading now in the fifth chapter of Ephesians, it occurs to me that if such a system is indeed correct, it could be a temporary arrangement designed to teach us all our relationship to Christ. It's metaphor in life. We are all the woman, the bride of Christ. In motherhood, a woman may learn more of saviorship and godliness than a man naturally can. So they are commanded to let us lead (only as Christ leads) so that we may catch up. Maybe.

9 November 1984

I'm writing a song for Tracy [Gallagher, who played opposite me this spring in the stake production of "The Sound Of Music." She was Maria, I was Von Trapp. She has just told me that she and her husband David are expecting their first child, something they've been dreaming and praying for].

More holy now, more holy somehow--
I loved you before, all that saints allow,
but you're more holy now.

No fear of the dark--hopes clear from the start,
you reached for the moon, now a fallen star
sleeps near to your heart.

I've had trouble believing dreams come true.
But now their wings, they breathe on me
as they fly to you.

More holy now, more holy somehow--
I loved you before, all that saints allow,
but you're more holy now.

4 April 1986

All birthdays should honor the mother. [That's who should get the presents.]

16 August 1987

I am told that troubled and infirm people who are clinically given the subliminal message "Mother and I are one" invariably improve. Our pre-natal unity with mother is the thing none of us can remember and none of us can forget. The inevitable [childhood] discovery of our separateness and loss of unity [with mother] compels us into all our mortal searchings for love.

22 November 1994

Mom passed away quietly this morning. I'm excited for her. This is Tuesday. The last thing I'll remember is spooning her ice cream on [her last] Sunday night.

29 January 1995

When I meet my mother again, both of us will be in our prime­I will not be her little boy. Beyond my gratitude for her gifts to me on earth, what will it mean in eternity that she is my mother? Laurie reminded me that as our Heavenly Parents will always be the creators of our eternal spirits, our earthly parents will always be the creators of what will become our eternal bodies.

17 August 1997

Our baby could come any day. Laurie is magnificent, so excited, so caring. I think watching her be a mother will be a constant delight. Her baby will love her­ everybody else's do.

5 September 1997

Caitlin Willow Payne was born to the heroic and beautiful Laurie. I think Caitlin could be the luckiest baby in the world, to have Laurie for her mother.

27 February 2000

Joseph F. Smith clearly taught that mothers may, and should, receive revelation for their children.

[The following was retired to the Journal Bits Archive 1 April 2002.]

(This time I'll give you a tiny suite of entries. David has always reminded me of spring, and the renewal of which spring is a type. My apologies to readers of "Backstage Graffiti" [meridianmagazine.com] who've been offered these entries before.)

22 November 1979
When you lie down, your blood settles down in your body and sings. Then when it stops, your head feels better. It sings little tiny notes. Your blood is really little tiny ladybugs, and they have little tiny chairs where they sit down and sing. My son David, who is four, told me this. This is some of the mysterious knowledge he has.

23 August 1980
Tonight David accidentally knocked baby Joshua's bowl of popcorn off the table onto the floor. I sharply said, "David, you shouldn't have been leaning over like that in front of Joshua!" He paused for a moment and observed, "Well Dad, life is life, and sometimes ya don't do good."

17 October 1980
The weather has turned wintry. It hailed hard for a few minutes this afternoon. David, who had not seen such a thing before, watched it through the window for a while, then asked, "Hey, does snow bounce around?"

2 November 1980
Tonight after bedtime snack, David jumped off his chair, wiped his chin on the tablecloth, and said, "It seems like water is skinnier than milk."

8 December 1981
David came home from school today with mud all over the seat of his pants, which he got from sliding down a certain ditchbank which he has named "the risk of mashed potatoes."

Addendum: About a year before I began keeping a journal, David gave us the clearest clue into how his head works. Our family would be sitting on the porch on a summer evening, all talking and laughing, or we would be driving home from someplace late at night, goofing off noisily, and David would be looking up at the sky intently, or in the car he'd have his cheek pressed against the window, and he'd suddenly ask us all to be quiet, because he was listening to the stars. I wrote a song about it. People liked it because they thought I'd written about my little son's innocence. In fact, it was more a song about the loss of mine.

Don't make too much noise 'round little David--
his ears are not like ours.
Hush down when the evening falls on the grass.
Little David likes to listen to the stars.

See the magic lanterns in the treetops--
they watch his lights go out.
Before he slips away in slumber again,
I want to ask him what they talk to him about

'cause they don't seem to trust me,
little sisters of the night,
even though that three-year-old is mine.
And when I tell them that I'm just like him,
they never get it right.
They only seem to love the things that shine.

David knows the secrets I've forgotten,
like where the monsters hide,
and how it feels to ride your pet dinosaurs,
and how to get the stars to let you on their side.

But they don't seem to trust me,
little sisters of the night,
even though that three-year-old is mine.
And when I tell them that I'm just like him,
they never get it right.
They only seem to love the things that shine.

And little David likes to listen to the stars.

(On the albums "Prayers" and "Spiritual")

[The following was retired to the Journal Bits Archive 16 February 2002.]

(My wife Laurie and I loved being married in the temple, but it wasn't exactly the New Era Magazine prototype. Here's the story.)

10 September 1994

       On our wedding morning, Laurie drove to my house so we could drive to the temple together. The first delaying obstacle was when she found herself on State Street driving behind a slow-moving house, so she detoured and followed a slower tractor to Alpine.

      At the temple, we sat opposite the recorder, who prepared us thoroughly to have our marriage sealed. Then it occured to me to mention to him that we weren't married, so we started over. It was during this meeting that my oldest son Sam became my best man, because my ninety-year-old dad had been allowed to slip through unnoticed, and as a witness he had to be located by someone who could recognize him.

      New brides are assigned a special experienced motherly escort who can imbue the nervous young woman with a feeling of confidence and security. Except this one, who admitted later that she hadn't done this particular service for a long time--we think maybe since pre-earth life. She seemed to be working under the influence of a veil of forgetfulness. After pinning onto and removing from Laurie several erroneous traffic tags, sending her richly mixed signals having to do with dressing, while distractedly squishing the sack containing her veil-wreath of three-dollar-apiece dried flowers, and then delivering us to the sealing room without having performed other temple functions which are generally regarded as pre-requisite to marriage (these we did afterward and all hoped it was okay), she came into the sealing room intending to guide all the happy celebrants out again into the world before we had actually been married. All through this odyssey, she played out a marvelous comedy of putting us on elevators and leaving parents behind, pushing the down button when she meant us to go up, and leaving us in mysterious places and cliff-hangy situations while she disappeared either to check the manual or to get genuinely lost herself. But she was nice--as nice as she could be. Bless her heart.

      Among the workers, competence may have been selective, but simplicity, benevolence, and good humor were universal. As I emerged from my locker dressed in a tuxedo for pictures outside the temple with the bride, one old white-suited brother sitting by the name desk asked "Are we supposed to whistle now?"

      The sealing was performed by a sunburnt old ex-stake president who mangled ordinary syntax but alluded aptly to the "noble" passage in Shakespeare's "The Rape of Lucrece." (This was after quoting, in entirety, the lyric to "Sweethearts On Parade.") My only complaint about his good service is that he wouldn't let me look at Laurie over the altar as the marriage covenants were actually established. He had given us a distinctive cue for when each of us was to say "Yes" (him looking suddenly heavenward) and he didn't want us to miss it.

[The following was retired to the Journal Bits Archive 26 December 2001.]

22 July 2001 (A Sunday)

       I'm doing a goofy little promotional film for a publisher. (I'm a professor, zealously getting in shape to battle "bookaholism"--don't ask me, I just act.) They needed a sunset shot, and since I'm acting at Sundance every evening but Sunday, we had to shoot it tonight. So I spent the evening jogging up and down Wasatch Boulevard in red shorts, horn-rim glasses, a bow tie, wingtips, and a lab coat. Some cars drove by, turned around, and drove by again, apparently unwilling to suspend their disbelief.

[The following was retired to the Journal Bits Archive 20 November 2001.]

26 April 2000

(Playing Lehi in a church film for visitors' centers.)
        Very late last night off in the west desert we were shooting in Lehi's camp on top of a ridge. On a tall crane was mounted a 12,000-watt light that lit up our couple of acres of set like day. Some of the actors hadn't arrived yet from base camp at the bottom of the hill, so the guys on the crane tightened the focus and pointed the light out toward the highway, a mile away, very lonely two-lane strip laid out like a ruler in the dark valley. They picked up the only car on the road and followed it for about half a mile, casting all around it a bright moving circle about fifty yards in diameter. For years the driver of that car will tell about the circle of light that came from nowhere and followed him through the west desert. A close encounter. I just really hope he was alone. You have to keep these film guys busy.