I endure hardship, folding it into life like melted butter into batter. It is an expected guest, though an unwelcome one. What unfolded in the summer of ’08 was an unexpected test. I could no longer swim in the waters of chaos, the vortex of mental illness is far too strong. The dam broke in the marriage in February of ’07, flooding me with the realities of raising two sons solo as a Realtor® in a declining market. Two soccer schedules at two different parks had me driving in circles, keeping the boys in their schools meant a ten mile daily commute; I spent many a morning burrowed in the underground parking lot, napping in the back of the Volvo before going to my office. Endurance is endearing, enduring is exhausting. Under the circumstances, this was a trade up; at least the chaos was my own. Slowly, putting one stiletto in front of another I moved forward, no longer sacrificing my life on the alter of addiction. While he took to climbing mountains, I became adept at moving them. It got better. Until the other shoe dropped…
The boys had been with their dad for the Fourth of July weekend. I was on my way to meet them half way for the kid swap when the phone rang. No one had heard from my brother since Thursday. Now if Steve hadn’t called me, his wife or his life-long friend in three days, something was seriously wrong. I promised to go by the house and check in, I called the boys to say I’d need more time, and I got dressed slowly and methodically, thinking ‘are these the glasses you want to wear when you talk to the coroner? Should I take a sweater in case it’s cold in the morgue?’ Driving across town I wished I had some dry cleaning to pick up, contemplated a drive through the Starbucks, anything to delay what I knew was inevitable. I ran through my mental Rolodex, looking for someone who might meet me there, cursing and asking, ‘Why do I have to do this alone?’ Tears were welling but not falling, waiting in the traffic jam of my numbness. The ten minute drive felt like an hour. I pulled up to the house; his car was catty-wampus in the driveway, the keys lying on the threshold of the front door. My deepest fear confirmed in that moment. I walked around the back of the house to check the back, stood at the sliding glass door looking in. A clear voice spoke to me, very strong, “No baby, don’t do this. Don’t come in, you don’t have to do this.” I knocked as a matter of protocol and called the police. “My brother is dead.” “Are you with him?” came the first of many questions from the 911 operator. “No, he is dead at the bottom of the stairway.” I said, having no evidence save the premonition I’d had months earlier as I followed Steve down the stairs. I waited for the cops to come, alone. My real estate partner, Lea, called with a question about condo rules. I answered in a trance and told her where I was. She landed there in minutes, like an angel; staying the five hours it took for detectives and coroners to process the scene. I didn’t break until the photographer arrived. Steve had been a professional photographer and in our LA days I’d been his model, rep and muse. I was crushed under the weight of irony. The family gathered for the “Shaffer Shiva”, a ritual that requires more vodka than prayers. And time passed.

I met Natalie Rekstad-Lynn in 2005, she was sitting along the wall of my acting class with the rest of the students at the Denver Center Theatre Academy. She’d only made it to a few classes but did not go unnoticed. Her eyes were clear blue and clearly focused, her ballerina’s body and the intensity she brought to her work lifted her above the rest. One night she stayed behind a bit to apologize for her absence, let me know she enjoyed the class and something about driving from Boulder and having a new baby. We chatted for a while in “mom speak” about babes and shifts they made to careers and hips. She offhandedly mentioned an ‘ annual fundraiser’ she did to benefit the arts. I, in my rush and snobbery, thought she was speaking of a hobby; a little like Mommy and Me with Degas. Ha! I had no idea who I was talking to for Natalie Rekstad- Lynn plays on a role far bigger than those I was coaching.
Inspired by the great European art salons of the late nineteenth century, Ms. Lynn founded Salon d’ Arts in 2001 and by 2006 she had built a nationally recognized arts event featuring museum held artists from around the country. The goal has always been to spotlight Colorado as a world-class fine arts destination, promote artistic integrity and education through visual and performing arts and to strengthen the cultural ties between Colorado non-profits. She has reached and exceeded this, expanding herself, her life and the artistic community in the process.
Through the years the Salon d’ Arts has been held in local galleries and benefited more than one non-profit. Working in collaboration with DAM’s outgoing and incoming Chief Curators, Lewis Sharp and Christoph Heinrich, Lynn narrowed Salon’s focus as a funder for the Denver Art Museum, moving the 2009 gala into the Fredrick Hamilton Building with the Embrace exhibit and Salon du Musee was born. On Saturday night la tradition jeunes continued with a beautiful soiree and a major tweak. This year marks the first museum-wide collaboration to form one exhibition.
Denver Art Museum curators selected works from significant artists from each department. The result is a sublime exhibition of more than eighty works ranging in value from $250 up to $100,000. This year’s event and art auction is a unique opportunity to understand the breadth of the museum’s collections represented through new objects from each genre, while giving collectors an opportunity to add vetted curator selections to their personal art collections.
The selections were a spectacular smorgasbord of sensory delight. The VIP reception began with champagne and artist Daniel Sprick speaking of his hauntingly elegant oil paintings. The whimsical irony in Bill Amundson pencil drawings, the graceful graphite of Marc Brandenburg, Bill Starke‘s sculptural rock climbers, and others provided nourishment for every aesthetic palette. And the event was a work of art in itself raising funds through silent and live auctions.
Who knew the modest, self-described “Boulder mom” would be hostess extraordinaire? In the five years since our meeting I have learned that with Natalie Rekstad-Lynn that there will always be a great surprise. She is a force of benevolent nature, bursting with passion for a life of beauty, a deep connection to friends and family and a guiding mantra “The impossible just takes longer”.

Saturday night in Riverfront Park, 1,200 of Denver’s finery crowd… read my latest Huffington Post blog on the beauty that walks the riverside.

Actor Paul Page and me in Telluride

This is the question slated for the Telluride Playwrights Festival Open House on Thursday, and a conversation that circulates through the theatre community like a five dollar bill. I’ve popped this and a few other questions to some of the TPF participants. Grabbing a post-rehearsal snack at Smugglers with director/playwright William Missouri Downs, in from Wyoming to direct Telluride Rep actors in Phillip Gerson’s This Isn’t What It Looks Like. A prolific author and playwright, Bill has eight upcoming productions around the country and just closed the Denver hit, Books on Tape.

T- “Why do you think we keep asking this question?”

B- “To justify our existence.”

T- “Do we ask if new songs should be written, or if fashion should be recreated seasonally?”

B- “Good point. There’s been so much talk over the past few decades about theatre being dead or irrelevant. And with the Internet, we’ve got so many forms of public dialogue and expression.”

T- “Yes, but it’s not in 3-D.”

B- “We’re the original 3-D. If for no other reason than the disconnect of the internet, we’ve become more relevant. Those who want to participate in the intimate reflection of life that only theatre offers crave it. We are like books printed on paper, and campfire stories; not commonplace as the world changes, but essential nonetheless.”

T- “Like art museums. People still go to them but now they take a picture of the art and move on to the next masterpiece. We exist for those who actually stand there and look at the painting.”

B- “Theatre has got to tell stories which are universal, I believe that more and more. When your medium is about being physically in a room with a group of people for a shared experience, the observational story is less effective. Save that for film and television. Just the fact that you can’t talk in the theatre changes things.”

T-“Really, you’re not supposed to talk? What about texting?”

On the gondola with Denver actor Paul Page. “What do you like about being in Telluride?” I asked.

P-“It’s really exciting to be involved in the thought process of a new play. I’ve done many world premieres with script tweaks and changes before opening, but this is a much more raw discovery of the characters as the playwright is solidifying them. The festival really gives the script and the artists a chance to incubate.”

T-“How do you like the play you’re working on?”

P-“Oh god, it’s fascinating. James Still has created these really interesting characters and put them in a highly charged situation. We’re working through the script slowly, moment-to-moment, asking questions of each other in a process of discovering what the play is.”

T- “Plays do write themselves at some point. If you let them.”

P-“And James is so open, so talented. It’s great to work with artists from other markets. After New York I’ve spent the past twenty years in Denver.”

T-“Working constantly.”

P- “Well, yes. But it’s nice to shake it up a bit.”

We’re only a third of the way through the Festival and the energy is building steadily. Hunkered down in our rewrites and rehearsals, meeting up for dinners graciously hosted by TPF supporters, eyeing the mountains for a chance to hike, my experience of Telluride is always a balance of risk and safety. I feel held, which gives me the power to create. And I feel that is terribly important.

What a week of paradox it’s been. As one thing falls apart, another comes together; bank approval here, foreclosure sale postponed there, and just when you feel the darkness, a double rainbow hurls itself into your horizon. Sometimes events and their contrast seem to flurry in such rapid succession, don’t they? During these accelerated moments it’s easy to get thrown off balance, wanting only to slow down to get a grip on the grounding cord. To be alive is to be in the midst of life’s energetic ebb and flow, the question is do we have to create turbulence where it need not exist?

The real estate business, like politics, always works for someone; it’s all a matter of perspective. As we buyers, sellers and agents move from under contract to closing there are negotiable moments where we work to create smooth win/wins for all and most of the time we are successful. Other times more closely resemble the Senate floor, where tactical goats butt heads in a loud and dizzying attempt to confuse the opposing strategy. To what end? What I recall from reading Sun Tzu’s Art of War in the ’80s can be summed up in a few quotes, this being one, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” When we get caught up in our need to win the present battle, so many times we lose the war and all of this stems from our loss of the larger picture. What are we fighting about, really? A garage door opener? A few thousand dollars that now have been given the power to stand in the way of achieving our larger goal?

Sometimes we fight for the principal of the matter, or we’ve been drawn into battle in self-defense. But what’s the underlying need? Our larger social conditioning is chock full of tales of battle. We worship warrior gods and punishment, inuring ourselves to the battleground we’ve made of life.

Theatre is another area where politics, strategy and tactics reign, most often in the pursuit of emotional real estate. This kind of drama is suited for the stage, in fact it cannot hold without it. But to manufacture senseless drama in our own lives is a misplaced tragic comedy, there are enough real problems that are worth the fight. We can choose to do better. Experience has taught me that though it may feel like the enemy, each event holds opportunity to enhance life if you let it. (Note to self: never argue with a hater.)

Sunday morning and the boys are still in bed. That’s good. Eventually they’ll raise their sleepy heads and realize it is Father’s Day with their dad no where in sight. I never wanted to be a father; being a mother is challenging (and rewarding) enough, thank you. I hold the roll in high regard and though I am a very capable woman, that job is completely beyond my ken. Today we honor the men who made our existence possible, trace their footsteps and the imprint they’ve made on our lives, I’m drawn to reflect on my father and on the father of my children.
My dad was a child of the Depression, my ex, a depressive. Dad stayed. Whether it was influenced by his own father’s absence during World War I or because doing what you said you were going to do is one of the defining characteristics of “The Greatest Generation”, I don’t know. But like getting up early on Saturday to mow the lawn, sweep the pool and wash the car, raising your children was just what you did; non-negotiable. Although they did eventually divorce, my parents waited until I, the youngest, was out of school and ready to fly. Well, ready to test my wings at least. My relationship with my father has provided some deep and lasting benefits and I’ve learned from his wisdom and his foibles alike. He worked in the movie business; animation, optical illusions & special effects at one point in his career. He’d tell me how a TV Jeannie got into the bottle or how Mr. Limpet stayed out of the drain, and the knowing took a little magic out of the movie, but it also taught me things aren’t always what they seemed. He drummed a few choice phrases into my head: “Life is always going to have it’s problems, Trace. Become a master at solving them.” and his perpetual query, “How’s your attitude?”. At one time I found this annoying, now I find myself beating the same drum into my sixteen-year-old’s cerebral cortex. Bob taught me to show up and stay in the game.

I logged into Facebook this morning and scrolled through the tomes to fathers, living and dead, I saw generous shout outs to mothers who played both roles and I wanted to post “Happy Fathers Day, especially to those who stayed in the game” choosing otherwise, for fear the lack of context might tip the post to the realm of the critical & bitter. I am neither and work very hard not to be. The vagaries of life being what they are, I’m not sure I ever truly believed that marriage lasts forever, but I do think parenthood ought to.
It is difficult to conceive of fathering by phone. How does that work? I know far too many single mothers with the same story of inconsistent or non-existent fathers, and I’m sure there are stories that work the other way from the male perspective. Life is hard, yes, but barring a situation where safety is involved, families work things out and remain families long after marriages end, or end and begin again. That was my belief, that schedules, finances and responsibilities are negotiated so that children don’t become the detritus of a once happy union. I can’t imagine, (though at times I do admit I fantasize) choosing a life without my sons; moving to Paris, trekking in Nepal or slugging it out on the streets of Manhattan as if what came before had never happened. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all muddle along doing the best we can, but do we really? Can’t we always do better? I think we can. Even under duress, I know I can. Because that is what my father taught me… Happy Father’s Day.

I have so much writing to do. Backed up on blogs and interviews for the Huffington Post and Telluride Inside and the final draft for a pending stage production.  Summertime always ramps up the distractions: the kids out of school, the real estate biz busy, the house guests, hikes and the road trip. But when Denver turns into a giant block party, how’s a girl gonna keep her thoughts together? The languorous days of summer  bring me out of myself and into the streets; to the ballpark, the patio at Elway’s, without a care in the world or a thought in my head.

There’s a party out there!

There are the easy things like the Cherry Creek  and metro area Farmers Market, Sunday night picnics at City Park Jazz and Tuesdays or Wednesdays at Film on the Rocks, and the monthly First Friday Art Walks; tonight it’s a screening of Convention, tomorrow it’ll be something else:  Denver Art Museum Flappers and Pharoahs Bash Mixed Taste at the M CA, and then comes July and the Biennial of the Americas, I’ll never catch up.

Telluride, that’s where I’ll write! I return next month to the Telluride Playwrights Festival and a chance to put the finishing touches on the production script of (W)hole.   My first trip the script was part of the festival and in I was in full writer mode. Between rehearsals, the actors and directors hiked and rode their bikes along the river while I locked myself in my condo to write. After evening table readings and notes, the playwrights rush through dinner (passing on the wine) then scurry home to make script changes, while the attendant guests ride the nighttime gondola and party like rock stars. This year my load will be lighter, my duties confined to acting and providing feedback. Surrounded by my friends and the beauty of the boxy canyon, I should have plenty of time for my own… looks like I won’t be writing there either. Can’t these deadline thingies be pushed back to October?

I’ve just listed a one-of-a-kind property in one of Denver’s hippest neighborhoods. Walk or roll to Sunflower Market, First Friday Art Walk and the funky/trendy/boutiques on Tennyson Street, quick commute to downtown and the most bea-U-tiful gardens! Take a moment and check out the virtual tour linked below.

Is walking away from a home when you’re upside-down immoral or simply a financial deal that didn’t work out? This question was put to the group of real estate professionals recently and the discussion, especially when it came to the million dollar market, exploded.

For many low-to-mid-range homeowners the scenario goes like this: buyer purchased a home when the market was high, with an adjustable rate mortgage and bought at the top of their game. Time goes by and the ARM resets, doubles the mortgage and blows the family out of their budgetary waters. Add a major life change; wage cut, job loss, illness with or without health insurance and our humbled buyer, sinking deeper into debt drifts closer to the mouth of foreclosure. But should a higher price point or a higher income stream make a difference?
Consider the family who buys a $1.5 million hilltop home in 2006 with the Denver market at its peak. Using a stated income loan and 5% down, they move in and comfortably pay the monthly mortgage. Over the next few years home prices decline and their $1.5M home has depreciated by $250k of its former value. In the midst of an historical banking crisis, recession hits, banks stop lending leaving the homeowner unable to make his employee payroll. He puts his home on the market, jumbo loans have all but dried up and his neighborhood’s filled with vacant spec homes selling at deep discounts or falling into foreclosure like a McMansion of cards.
There has been a lot of criticism lately of the high-end buyer, yet it may not be as cavalier as it may seem. The tricky part with a high-end short sale is that though the seller can prove hardship, they may have assets which don’t allow for bank approval. Like homeowners across the income spectrum, many of them in the million dollar range, they burn through much or all of what they’ve got, waiting for the market to turn around, in an attempt to save their FICO score and face. Is there any difference between homeowners who look at their balance sheet and realize they’ve got a liability on their hands or the option of starting over? We understand the relief for the homeowner put into an adjustable rate mortgage at 8% interest, who now has no job and no ability to refinance. But should our empathy be limited to those who purchased homes under $200,000?

Most of us begin with integrity and every intention of repaying our loan. Inherent to the process is the understanding that at its heart, buying a home is a business deal. You loan me the money, I pay you under the agreed upon terms and interest rate, if I default you have the right to redeem your secured asset, my home.

I’ve seen short sales where I’ve walked away empty-handed, scratching my head in wonder…A seller in an under $100k price point submits a short sale offer to the bank, and after waiting seven months for approval he’s denied under FHA guidelines for having too much income. In the meantime, he moved with his family to a larger home in a nicer neighborhood, courtesy of his mother-in-law. A mid-priced listing went under contract with a buyer on a VA loan and got approval from the lender on the first mortgage. The second agreed to settle, provided the seller could make one payment of $400 to keep the loan from hitting 180 days late. Though this payment was feasible for the seller, she decided against making it; she is set to file bankruptcy anyway. These are good people, making bad decisions under awful circumstances and there will always be those who try to skirt the system. But the system is set up to protect us equally and it is up to the bank to approve or deny the short sale on a case-by-case basis.
In an effort to let more Americans stay in their homes, this month the government put a new program into effect. With sellers waiting far too long before applying, loan modification under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) has done little to stem the tidal wave of foreclosures. The Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative (HAFA) attempts to go further, offering financial incentives. Currently the seller is not allowed to take a penny from the closing table, but HAFA allows $3000 for borrower’s relocation assistance, $1500 to cover servicing costs and up to $2,000 for investors who allow a total of up to $6,000 in short sale proceeds to be distributed to subordinate lien holders, on a one-for-three matching basis. Will this help? Only time will tell, but borrowers may now receive pre-approved short sale terms before listing the property and that should help expedite the process.

So… is the short-sale-as-business-deal much different morally than an off-shore account to lower one’s taxes? Or cheating on them? I don’t know. But with tax day just behind us, it looks like we’ll all have to belly up. Equally.

I’m always a bit leery of special events called “Expo” “Convention” or “Rally.” The names conjure birds of a feather picking through rows of vendor tables, snagging pens and key chains for their swag bags, and popping from workshop to seminar in search of the The Next Big Thing. Perhaps it’s my fear of living in a corporate structure, or the year I spent on the road riding up a hotel elevator filled with drunken conventioneers, but “Create Denver Week,” kicked off by tomorrow’s all day “Create Denver Expo,” has me in paradoxical state of intrigue and trepidation.

As a founder of the Thriving Artist Alliance and Create Denver Week exhibitor/participant/presenter, I’ll be actively engaged with my swag squad and workshop poppers. There’s no easy exit. But a little voice inside – or is it wishful thinking? – tells me this Expo will be different, special.

For the last four years, the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs has brought together the creative community and the local businesses that support them for a group think about the Petri dish that is Denver’s cultural scene. And getting everyone, including some very heavy hitters, into the same room to talk strategy, policy, programming initiatives, technical assistance, and arts advocacy seems to be working. Colorado creatives are large drivers of Denver’s economy, and so it makes good sense for the city to invest its time and focus here. But often cities don’t make sense.

Mayor Hickenlooper calls this year “splashy,” and with multiple mingling ops, he might just be right. On top of the all-day info-slam of the Expo, events are planned throughout the city, throughout the week .

Saturday’s workshop topics include Turn Your Passion for the Arts into a Thriving Business, Arts-to-Business Marketing, Building Wealth with Real Estate, Performance on the Fringe. The one that hits all my buzz words is Time Management; the Artist and the Internet presented by MakeBigArt. Experts are on hand to review portfolios, as well as attorneys to answer copyright questions. There are presentations on the subjects of health insurance options for creatives, financial assistance, and business start-up, and an exhibition hall where you can find an expert to scratch whatever your itch.

I’ll be there too, wandering the aisles, collecting pens and key chains, working the booth, handing out pens and pamphlets, my Expo aversion only mildly concealed behind a smile.
(I trust you will find me smiling.)

As the week unfolds, there’ll be more skills and thrills, with events such as Yoga & Hoop Dance, Denver Kids Create, with the Flobots.org folk, a Pop-up Market, a Thriving Artist Alliance panel From Survival to Success to Significance, and of course the Launch Party.

Sounds like there’s plenty here to stimulate thought and the senses, but one dark thought plagues: Do we have a week’s worth of attention span? Hope so. Part think-tank, part talent show, part party, Denver should be alive with the buzz and frolic of the Creative Class. I for one am eager to see what programs are in place now that have come out of the Create Denver initiative and what will grow out of the week ahead.

What do I want out of all the activity? I’m hopeful about new connections made, old ties strengthened, and ideas – perhaps The Next Big Thing or two – generated. Our mayor seems to have a clear vision about his desired outcome: Hick’s office is looking to position Denver as “The Creative Capitol of the Rocky Mountain West.” But that sounds so yesterday to me. Aren’t we that already? I mean, what are we up against: Laramie?