My First Time from Page to Stage by Associate DGA Member Sharon Baker, Travel Journalist, Artist, and Emerging Playwright--Bluffton, South Carolina
For twenty years, I was a fearless selfish Jaguar, prowling Planet Earth. On assignment with HarperCollins, Birnbaum, and Fodor’s travel guides, I wrote books on Seoul, Chicago, Florida, Santa Fe, and Grand Cayman.
I also crafted first person travel essays about terrifying experiences: kayaking with ten-ton orca killer whales, swimming with giant whale sharks, and getting face to face with ferocious wild polar bears. I scaled snow-covered mountains, collapsing with altitude sickness. I swam in Hudson Bay Canada with beluga whales and almost drowned. In Trinidad, I nearly stepped on a fer-de-lance, a poisonous snake. The more scared I got, the better the travel tale. My editors were thrilled. I won travel-writing awards for being crazy. I was ridiculously happy.
You know what’s coming next, right? Happiness screeched to a halt.
My husband and business partner, filmmaker/ photographer Warren Lieb, was stricken with cancer, Parkinson’s, and incontinence. Our life changed from enthralling adventures to life threatening procedures, surgeries, and emergency room visits.
I resigned from my newspaper and magazine contracts, staying home to Nurse my Beloved. Warren declined, transforming from a courageous handsome “Indiana Jones,” to a desiccated old man stuck in a wheelchair.
One morning he tenderly smiled, then said “I will always adore you Sharon, my Love.” Gently, slowly, he exhaled his last breath. Watching his soul floating upward out of his disease ravaged body, I cried: “Goodbye my Love. Please don’t leave me alone.”
Travel inspires plays, paintings and articles. Google “Jungle Eyes” to read Sharon Baker’s new adventure essay on how Costa Rica changed her life.
All of us who have mourned beloveds, know the Terror of being Alone.
Curled up in bed for weeks, I succumbed to lethargy, ambivalence, and self-pity. Why eat? Why bathe? Why do anything? One rainy afternoon, I had this Dream:
“Why should I stay alive?” I asked no one.
“Why should you die?” a gentle energy replied. “Don’t you realize more is coming?”
“Everything you need and desire is within you.
Don’t you believe me?”
“ Absolutely not.”
I woke up. I hate touchy feely Spirit Guides stalking me.
I called four girlfriends for help.
“Ya gotta help me. I’m so screwed up, Spirit Guides are telling me to think positive,” I complained.
But I got out of bed, ready to reclaim my Jaguar self.
Sharon writes plays about endangered wildlife. Her Polar Bear painting is titled “Looking for Ice”.
Shortly after that dream, I started getting myself together. Friends buffed and fluffed me, and one posted me on dating sites. I endured a few awful dates and gave up.
But one handsome man from a nearby town courted me by email, phone, and finally, an in person date. We both loved theater, music, movies, food, travel, and laughter. Who was this rainbow guy? Kenny Baker, a retired businessman, passionate about golf and living joyfully. “I’ve been looking for you for 12 years,” he smiled. I moved to his vibrant town, Bluffton, South Carolina, met new gal pals, and gave thanks for my blessings. We were married a year later, in a joyous celebration.
So happy. And yet restless. I tried mahjong. Tried tennis. Listened to other senior women wax ecstatic about their grandchildren. I wandered through Publix, Target, and the Library.
I missed my globetrotting life. Yet the 24/7 merry-go-round schedule of a travel journalist was more for an energetic workaholic in her 40’s and 50’s, than me at 65. Was there anything left for me to accomplish?
Missy Gentile, an astonishing Artist and wise Art teacher got my creativity flowing again. “Throw paint on your canvas, Sharon. Don’t be afraid to mess up. The only rule: there are no rules.” So, like a blissful kindergartner, I created whimsical colorful paintings of, you guessed it: Polar bears, whale sharks, coral reefs, and mountains. Dozens of paintings and two gallery shows later, I could feel the ferocity and fearlessness of my old Jaguar self.
During art classes with Missy, I realized my life as a travel journalist is a cornucopia of stage worthy stories.
In addition to plays, Sharon Baker creates whimsical nature paintings. Title: My Beloved Seahorse.
Remembering my life changing experience at the Dalai Lama’s Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, I wrote a one act play: “Birthday Party at the Dalai Lama’s Palace.” About ambition, confusion, and unexpected blessings at the world’s coolest palace. Sort of Monty Python meets the Wizard of Oz….
The two leads ask: Does my life matter? Will I ever see my dead family/friends again? This play enabled me to become an Associate Member of DGA and I’m following all the incredible opportunities we members are offered.
I wrote a ten-minute play, “Love and Death in Eden, Australia.” A strange tale from a visit to Eden, Australia: about orca killer whales rounding up humpback whales, and delivering them to humans who harpoon them to death. The play is about murder, passion, and a woman’s discovery of her bizarre identity.
Eden Australia, the setting for my bizarre comedy, “Love and Death in Eden Australia “.
On Monday July 28, my dream of becoming a first time Playwright came true. Sitting in the audience at the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center in Aventura Florida, I was thrilled and terrified. My ten minute play was about to go from page to stage as part of “Stages of the Sun,” an evening of 8 new innovative short plays, presented by The South Florida Theatre League.
My play, “Love and Death in Eden Australia “ was presented in Miami Florida. Near the theater, I met another inspirational writer. Keep writing he said!
As a DG Associate Member, I’m grateful for all the support and mentoring on this new journey. I’m 65 years young, still a glorious Jaguar.
Sharon Baker is a new Associate member of The Dramatist’s Guild of America and The Playwright’s Center, Minneapolis.
Google her travel essays, under Sharon Spence Lieb.