Storytelling and a Man Named Ivan

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept that story is in our DNA. We are “wired for story” says social scientist Brené Brown. And, if current research is correct, we are quite literally “a part of all that I have met” as Alfred Tennyson wrote — past traumas, past loves, past experiences, co-mingling to make our stories all the more rich and interesting.

Our stories are what connect us, what make us see the common thread that unites us, despite all of the forces seeking to divide and conquer. Ultimately, it is the act of storytelling that keeps us alive — literally and figuratively — now, and even after we have passed.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago this when I read the obituary for a local man named Ivan MacDonald. I didn’t know Ivan very well — we worked together on a few small projects over the years — but he was a memorable character, for sure, with a fabulous story to tell!

The last time I saw Ivan was in 2014. He hired me to write that very obituary. It appeared in local papers, edited to fit, but I thought I would share it here in its entirety. To tell his story…

Ivan was 88 when he passed away on September 19, 2017.


At an early age he was determined on a career in the theater. Detroit-born and educated, Ivan MacDonald began training with members of the famous Jessie Bonstelle Playhouse in Detroit.

He made his professional debut in 1946 in Maine at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Noel Cowards’s Tonight at 8:30 with Lilian Harvey; and in the world premiere of Michael Myerberg’s Production Balloon by Padraic Colum featuring McKay Morris.

The Detroit Dramatic Guild cast him in the juvenile lead in Papa is All, and a year later in The Play’s the Thing with Ian Keith and Joseph Macaulay, produced by Roger L. Stevens who later became one of New York’s prominent Broadway producers.

After his education was behind him, young MacDonald headed for New York to continue his theater studies, and landed a role on Broadway in Seeds in the Wind with Tonio Selwart and Sidney Lumet. Along the eastern seaboard, he made many summer theater appearances. He toured as Henry Morgan’s son in Father of the Bride, and with John Loder in O’ Mistress Mine. He repeated the same role at the Berkshire Playhouse, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, featured in O’ Mistress Mine opposite Peggy Conklin. The Myrtle Beach Playhouse, S.C., featured Ivan in a mystery thriller as a psychopathic killer in Twilight Walk by A.B. Shiffrin.

He appeared on all major television and radio networks. MacDonald was one of the pioneers of early television. For NBC, in the first live show on location (Delancey and Orchard Street, Manhattan), City at Midnight, he played a Jewish boy who was burned alive in a garbage can! For Robert Montgomery Presents, he played Omg Chi, a Chinese scheming extortionist in The Letter with Madeleine Carroll; on NBC, a romantic fantasy in the Chinese manner The Stolen Prince, portraying Long Fo, son of the royal cook; on the DuMont Network, a running part on Captain Video playing a Chinese communist; also Colgate Comedy Theater, The Florist Shop opposite Ruth Gilbert.

Uncle Sam took him for two years in 1950. The first year as an Entertainment Specialist for the U.S. Army Hospital, Fort Custer, Michigan; the second year, 11 months in Korea. On his return to New York in 1952, NBC cast him in Hall of Fame opposite Sarah Churchill (Winston’s daughter) in Fanny Stevenson. On CBS, Leave It to Larry with Eddie Albert; on ABC’s Boris Karloff Show opposite Karloff in Mr. I. Murderer by Arch Obler. On NBC Radio, he was George Bigelow on The Aldrich Family and was on Pepper Young’s Family and CBS’s Rosemary.

As he matured, casting became a problem. Ivan left New York and moved to Connecticut where he worked in a family business, MacDonald’s Motel in Branford, Connecticut..

Several years later, he developed an idea for an audio-visual film lecture on art and great gardens of the world. He performed live in a 60-minute lecture series, becoming a national speaker for major museums and colleges through the U.S., as well as for the Chautauqua Institution and the Caramoor Center for the Arts.

He found it a pleasure working with great talent and in three careers. Mr. MacDonald is the end of his family line.

©2017, Jen Payne. Detail of Spiral, Alexander Calder.

Cape Included

I am coveting
her red and purple cape
the fun parade of stars
and stripes
it has stripes!
and a matching hat!
with golden wings!
for flying
(or angelic inspiration?)
I want to be like her
“super awesome”
able to leap tall buildings
conquer the fear
the doubt
the worry

the general day-to-day

we should all come with capes!

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. National Poetry Month, 6. Image of Flying Super Hero Costume used with permission from Lane Huerta of lovelane designs. For more super awesome designs, visit her Etsy shop HERE.

The Great Puzzle

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: “When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?” ― Gabrielle Roth

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

7 Years: With Heartfelt Gratitude

Today, I am celebrating my 2,555th day as a non-smoker! Here, seven years later, it may feel effortless, but I will tell you that quitting smoking was the hardest and bravest effort of my life.

It was something I could only do by myself. And yet something that required the full support of everyone I knew. I remain forever grateful to each and every one of them.

They…you…saved my life.

With love,


Make It So: Five Oh

Jean Luc-Picard had it right. If you’re going to boldly go where no one has gone before, you have to “Make It So.” No one is going to do the bold stuff for you — and why would you want them to? That meaty bold stuff is what makes all of the gristly bits palatable.

With that in mind, I set out to make this — my 50th year on the planet — all about making it so. In March, I told you about my 50 for 50 List, remember? Fifty delicious things to do before the clock strikes 12 on December 31: from BIG things like a 1. Cross Country Road Trip to sweet little things, like 40. Bake a Cake. From dreams that have been on my Bucket List for years, like 39. Visit MOMA, to new culinary experiences, like 23. Eat a Bánh Mì.

Today is a good waypoint, now 10% of the way along this journey! Including:

27. Make Ina Garten’s Roast Lamb
Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, is my go-to food guru, and her Perfect French Dinner Party recipes for 4-Hour Lamb with Provencal French Beans did not disappoint.


4. Guggenheim Museum/Sylvia’s Soul Food
My friend Mary Anne and I have been talking about this trip for several years, and we finally set aside a gorgeous weekend in April for our NYC adventure. Sylvia’s was fabulous — some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had — and the Guggenheim was extraordinary. The exhibit of Peter Fischli and David Weiss’ collective works continues to inspire me, now, two months later.



11. Write a Poem a Day for National Poetry Month.
Yes! A poem a day for a month. That’s 30 poems. Count ’em. Better yet, read ‘em! Click here.


8. Buy a New Camera
I have not had a “real camera” since I tucked away my trusty film Minolta ten years ago. And oh how I’ve missed it! This new one promises to be a good traveling companion, I can tell already.


20. Find Julia’s Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking
This gem arrived today, copper foil embossing on the front cover and everything. Can’t wait to try my first recipe! Any suggestions?


So that’s Five down and Forty-five to go…best we Make It So, don’t you think? “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.”

Writing & Photos ©2016, Jen Payne. Quote: J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan.