Happy New Year everyone! May your 2012 be filled with joy, adventure, love, laughter, friendship, words, fulfillment, fun, and happiness.
Next post from Slovakia . . .
This blog is a place to explore thoughts, question ideas, and practice writing in the hopes that I will inspire myself and others.
31 Dec 2011 15 Comments
Happy New Year everyone! May your 2012 be filled with joy, adventure, love, laughter, friendship, words, fulfillment, fun, and happiness.
Next post from Slovakia . . .
30 Dec 2011 18 Comments
in The Importance of the Arts, Theatre, Art, and Education, Thoughts about Entertainment Tags: Anton Chekhov, Boston Globe, Cherry Orchard, Chocolate, John Kuntz, Seagull, theatre review, Uncle Vanya, Vanya
Russian forests crash down under the axe, billions of trees are dying, the habitations of animals and birds are layed waste, rivers grow shallow and dry up, marvelous landscapes are disappearing forever…. Man is endowed with creativity in order to multiply that which has been given him; he has not created, but destroyed. There are fewer and fewer forests, rivers are drying up, wildlife has become extinct, the climate is ruined, and the earth is becoming ever poorer and uglier.” (Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya)
I am not all that fond of Anton Chekhov, having worked on at least two slo-o-www productions of The Cherry Orchard and The Seagull. I think The Cherry Orchard was the first show I did in college, and I was the props person. In plays that center around domestic life on Russian estates, that means A LOT of props.
I appreciate the language and the symbolism and the messages of Chekhov, but I usually find productions leave a lot to be desired. Last night, however, I was pleasantly surprised. I still think it was completely depressing, but the production itself was excellent. Perhaps the main difference came from seeing it done with professional, age appropriate actors, instead of college students. I also enjoyed the artistic premise which had the small audience (limited to 30 for the purposes of this production) moving from room to room in the old theater building (1906) as we follow the story of people struggling to survive and find happiness in their fading country estate. In an article for the Boston Globe, John Kuntz, who gives an amazing performance in the title role said:
“We start in the biggest room, and as we work our way through the play, the rooms start getting close, until in the last act we’re all sort of intimately together in this room that’s pretty small,’’ says John Kuntz, who stars as Vanya. “I kind of like that idea, that sense of people being trapped on this estate.’’
They successfully brought us into the intimacy, the tension, and the sadness of this particular estate. Actually, my only complaint was that Act I and Act II (of this four act play) didn’t have a button at the end to indicate to the audience that the act was over. Instead, the house manager jumped up and said, “OK, that was the end . . . follow me to the next location,” or something to that effect. I found that to be jarring, by not enabling the audience to applaud or stay in the moment that we had been invited to so intimately.
Meanwhile, the play was full of words, as Chekhov’s plays usually are. This time, however, I found myself pondering the meaning and how they relate or don’t relate to our times. The above quote really hit home with me, as I reflect on the complete destruction humankind has wrought on the environment. Other things, struck me as well, particularly Uncle Vanya’s despair that his life was over at 47, where he had no hope of changing or finding any purpose. (I told you it was depressing). It made me think about how different the world is now. While I, at 43, struggle with what kind of changes I would like in my life, and how to live fully and completely, Vanya really had no hope for the future, and his niece, Sonya, had even less because she was “plain” (although I found the actress pretty) and would never find a husband, particularly not the man she loved.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
All in all, it was delightful night at the theater, where I got to
I chose to eat that for breakfast this morning. Probably not the wisest choice of my life, but boy did it taste good. I will, eventually, counteract it with something healthy and full of fiber, but once in a while, especially after watching a production filled with despair, it seems important to celebrate with a little bit of chocolate. Don’t you?
29 Dec 2011 14 Comments
Now men, before you get your underoos in a bunch, I like spending time with intelligent people in general, but once in a while I need to spend a little quality time where intelligent estrogen overpowers testosterone.
We spent the Tuesday evening and all day yesterday at our second annual mini-reunion with some of my fellow, Smithies and it was fabulous. Note there were males their (husbands and sons) but most of the time it was a chat fest between women.
We talked about everything: books, education, memories, work, relationships, friendship, parenting, homeschooling, politics (a little), travel . . .
While we think a lot alike, we don’t always agree, which is fine. We bring our world perspectives into the discussion and sometimes they become passionate but never angry. We laughed, we teased, and we created some memorable moments that will cause laughter (and blushing) forever.
Unlike some people who don’t know me as well, I didn’t have to explain why I am heading to Slovakia in TWO DAYS! The asked about the trip, but when I mentioned that some people wonder why I’m going, their response was a unanimous “why wouldn’t you?” They needed no explanation. Of course, most of you have been that supportive as well, and I truly appreciate it.
Lest you think all we did was talk, we also played a hilarious game of Funglish where you have to get your team to guess the word using a set collection of descriptions. It’s challenging, and resulted in several spontaneous quotes from When Harry Met Sally, because it seemed the person was describing “Baby fish mouth . . . that phrase is sweeping the nation.”
We also did took the entire group on a spy adventure, where we discovered the mole and survived a huge explosion.
We also ate A LOT thanks to the HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST, another intelligent woman who I hope to get to know better in the near future.
So back to the premise of this post. I love spending time with intelligent women who are not afraid to express themselves, to be independent, to disagree, to argue, to stand up for themselves, and to fully embrace their power. I have met, throughout the years, some women who use that power poorly, and fall into the belief system that women must be bitchier, better, and more evil than men if they want to get anywhere. These are the women who crawl their way to the top, stabbing backs and leaving broken bodies in their wake. I have been battered by several of them. But then, I am reminded by my wonderful long-time friends as well as the friends that I have made through blogging, that it is possible to be intelligent, beautiful, passionate, and talented while still being compassionate, caring, and supportive.
I enjoy spending time with intelligent people (of both sexes) who use their intelligence to make the world a better place. I count all of you among those people, and want to say thank you for sharing your time with me over this past year.
Big hugs for the New Year! May 2012 be filled with laughter, joy, intelligent conversation, good food, and good friends.
I apologize in advance as I will be putting blogging on the back burner (except, perhaps for a couple of posts) as I focus on the experience and the journey in Slovakia. I leave in two days!
27 Dec 2011 14 Comments
This has been a year of change for me, as well as a year of final absorbing some of the lessons that I’ve been trying to understand my whole life. I have learned . . .
My list could go on and on, as I have learned a lot this year, but I would rather hear from you. What lessons have you learned during 2011 and how did you learn them?
26 Dec 2011 1 Comment
Please read this post by Steve, and then help out a worthy cause. Word power as it should be used.
26 Dec 2011 15 Comments
Reflections on a Year Gone By
While to me, I feel like the year begins in the fall, when the scent of apples fills the air and everyone heads back to school, it’s that time of year when I look back to see the journey I have taken since last New Year’s Eve.
And what a ride it has been. As I began reflecting on this post, at first I had a hard time remembering the past year, as so much and so little has happened. But, this blog serves one fabulous purpose if no other, it helps me look at my life as I live it as well as I reflect on past experiences. Thus my year already lives here in words and pictures. That might be a good reason for my blog!
Sitting at my sister’s table for a Christmas dinner with her beau, it suddenly struck me that I sat there last year, as a visitor. Last year, we drove through snow with two dogs in tow, to spend our winter vacation in Massachusetts with my family, hoping Sarah would get a little quality time with Papa before his inevitable slide into Alzheimer’s took him further away from us.
This year, he sat on the couch watching It’s a Wonderful Life while everyone else. This is perhaps one of the saddest changes this year has brought.
We started the year in a little town in Kansas, which offered a lot of interesting experiences but never quite felt like home.
Last year began with me planning to teach a new class (for that college) Comp I as well as another section of Theater Appreciation and a one student course in Stage Makeup. It also began my first foray into directing a musical, School House Rock, Live!
I wish I could say the semester was smooth sailing, but that would be a lie. From battles with the system over which was more important the arts or sports, to my worst teaching semester in a classroom ruled by disrespect and testosterone, the semester left a lot to be desired. We also faced the challenges of an extremely overworked husband , a marriage facing some difficult times, a daughter who was very homesick, and my utter confusion about who and what I am
Highlights of the Year
A Year of Slow Moving Complexity
If I had to title this year for myself, I would call it either “The Year of the Inner Journey” or “The Year of Contrasts.”
Why? Because through all of this I have been doing a lot of soul-searching, a lot of writing, a lot of reading, a lot of dreaming. I am in a year of moving slowly toward a destination that I still don’t see. I can’t say that it has been a year of achievement, but at the same time I have achieved a lot. At the beginning of 2011, I assumed we would end it in Kansas, still finding the balance between the joy I had in projects and my inability to feel at home.
It has been a year of super highs and energetic projects, followed by super lows and confusion.
It has been my year of questioning and wondering, as I move on into the unknown.
What will the next year bring?
As I write this, I’ve been thinking about New Year’s resolutions. I don’t make them anymore, as I find they set a bar high where I then beat myself up if I fail. I’m already hard enough on myself, don’t you think.
So, instead, I will be starting 2012 with an adventure! On New Year’s Eve I will begin the journey to Slovakia. Who knows what will follow after a beginning like that?
Given the craziness of my life, anything can happen. I guess all I can do is enjoy the journey.
What are your hopes for 2012?
21 Dec 2011 27 Comments
I am both the best and the worst gift-giver in the world!
How is it possible to be both? Allow me to explain.
When it comes to the times you people expect gifts, like Christmas, birthdays, other random holidays, I stink. I do not like getting gifts for people just because I’m supposed to get them a gift.
However, when the time comes to give a gift because I care, I shine. I would rather give gifts when people least expect them, because then those gifts come from the heart. For example, when I lived in Japan, I think I missed most of the gift-giving moments, but I spent a lot of time (and in some cases a lot of money) looking for the perfect gift to send the important individuals in my life. In other words, I thought about what each person would want/need/love and never get for him/herself and that is the gift I gave.
At this time of year, when gifts seem more like obligations than signs of caring, there are several questions that drive me crazy:
If I have to answer a bunch of questions about a gift, then just let me get it myself. It’s almost easier if you give me money or a gift card. Of course, money often feels like it has strings attached. So often, when I get money as a gift, it comes with instructions as to how the giver would like me to spend it. But seriously, if paying an outstanding bill gives me peace of mind, isn’t that just as valuable as treating myself to a day at a spa?
To me, a gift is something you give a person because it makes you think of that person. It is something that the recipient may never get for him/herself, but you know he/she would love.
A gift is thoughtful and from the heart.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t want gifts on my birthday. But, I prefer the gift of having someone remember and care, to anything bought because someone felt obliged to get me a gift. Actually, I’d rather have a thoughtful dinner with friends, or a special day, then an expensive bauble that has more to do with the buyer than me.
So far, during this crazed gift-giving season, the best gift I have received was the holiday card from Mark (aka the Idiot). I know, everyone gets masses of holiday greetings and year-end updates at this time of year (although a lot of ours seem to have been lost in the mail, as the Post Office continues to be abysmal about forwarding letters.) The reason I say this was a special gift is because it signifies the growing friendship with a person that I have only met through words. I was honored to be put on the list, and that felt like a gift.
To me, the rules of gift giving should be as follows:
So, please understand when I don’t give gifts on a holiday which holds little meaning to me, beyond the festive lights, the music, and the atmosphere of chaotic joy. But, don’t be surprised if someday, for no reason, you get a little gift from me, even if it is simply a note of encouragement.
After all, one of my strongest gifts is with words, so if I can’t share those in kindness than I have nothing else to give.
I wish you all a calm and peaceful holiday season, filled with love, warmth, and joy. The only other gift I can offer, right now, is my continued support to this fabulous community of warm, creative people.
It’s a gift from the heart.
20 Dec 2011 29 Comments
I am trying to get ready for the trip to Slovakia.
The most terrifying part of travel is not what you would expect. It’s not the unknown adventure–that’s what I’m going for. It’s not the flight, even though I have my occasional panic moments when I do fly (as you can read about here). It’s not the long flight alone, I flew to Japan by myself and that was much longer.
It’s not even the packing, although this time the challenge is how to pack lightly while still packing for warmth.
No my friends, the most terrifying part of the trip is . . .
Yes folks, the most terrifying part of this trip is the fact that I had to go to the mall. I know, I chose to go at the worst possible time (the week before Christmas) but I didn’t get my packing specifics until last week, and I want to be sure I have everything before the last minute. Plus, there are still good sales out there.
But . . . for me, the mall at any time of year is terrifying. I am bad at shopping for myself . I can’t stand trying things on in mirrors that emphasize every disgusting part of your body. I hate finding something that I think will be perfect, only to discover that when I put it on I look like a walrus stuffed into some children’s stockings.
But, brave the mall I did. I first suspected this was a bad choice when I had to play parking lot shark in order to find any parking anywhere.
Luckily that didn’t take long.
My plan was to go to only one store in the mall, with a specific mission in mind, but that was enough. As soon as I walked in and became overwhelmed by the cloying sweetness of competing perfume and the signs everywhere advertising a Special One Day Sale! I knew I was doomed.
I wandered aimlessly through the stacks, seeing clothes I’d love to have but realizing that none of them would fit. Pants, I said to myself, I need some pants, maybe a sweater, and some underwear. Stay focused.
Of course, the pants and sweater that caught my eye first were made for normal sized people. Now, before you get upset that I’m insulting myself, I’m not talking about weight here. I am 5 ft. tall. Any pants in the regular section require either major cutting or lots of cuffing. And the sweaters were meant to be long, but on me (to get a size that would fit) they would hang below my knees.
Of course, when you get to the land of petites (Where oh where are the petites in this jungle of stimulation?) then you have to deal with the fact that, in the warped minds of whoever designs clothes nobody could be short as well as a larger size. I’ve got curves people. Yes, I’m overweight, but even without the extra weight, I’VE GOT CURVES!!!
Finally, I made my way through the jungle, and found the petite section. I picked up a couple of things that would do, even though I still hated every moment of trying them on. I only managed to snag one of the deals (figures). Then I headed upstairs to buy some underwear . . . more trauma as this was not my usual store, so I had no clue what would be comfortable.
The stress, the music, the smells, the women talking loudly about buying more for themselves then others, the salespeople trying to help clueless men buy the perfect gift for their wives . . . it all became so overwhelming that I just grabbed something and ran.
The worst part is, I still need a few things for my trip.
Slovakia will be great, if I survive to get on the plane. Perhaps the only way to do it is with a song (apologies to Andy Williams):
It’s the most terrifying time of the year
With the car horns yelling
And everyone telling you “Buy this thing here”
It’s the most terrifying time of the year
It’s the grump-grumpiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and smelly infusions
When you walk in the mall
It’s the grump-grumpiest season of all
Wish me luck!
19 Dec 2011 33 Comments
in Life, Life in the Theatre, The Importance of the Arts, Theatre, Art, and Education Tags: Career, creative person, creative sides, Creativity, epiphanies, impressionist styles, Slovakia, something fun, Uncle Vanya
I’ve had a few epiphanies since my meeting about Slovakia. Perhaps because I made the decision to just be open to whatever happens, I’ve realized some important things about myself, my life and what it all means.
To begin, I am a creative person.
I know, some of you are shocked at that statement. Wait until you read the next one.
I am a very self-critical person.
(I can hear some of you saying “No S%*#, Sherlock!” or some less vulgar variation like, “Duh!”)
At the same time, I am the first person to encourage others to embrace their creative sides. I recognize the power of creativity as a learning tool, as a method of healing, as a way of communicating, and so on.
If I can do that, why am I so hard on myself?
Saturday, the KramerLee family aided by Uncle Steve and one of Nathan’s students, all headed to Chelsea, MA (1 hour away) to help Nathan paint some of the set he is designing for an upcoming production of Uncle Vanya. I admit, this was not completely an act of selfless volunteerism, I wanted to do it in the hopes that I might be able to see my husband a little before I disappear into Slovakia for 11 days, and the show opens on December 29th.
I also had the urge to paint something fun.
While there were several things that needed painting, I wanted to do the backdrop of the outdoor scene, which was meant to look kind of like an impressionistic forest of trees. The student and I started working on that while Sarah and Uncle Steve scraped furniture (Sarah wanted to do whatever Steve was doing) and Nathan got other projects ready.
I dove in, just enjoying the moment, not worrying about the end result. The student, however, spent a lot of time stressing on if he was doing it “right”. Now, since none of us are expert painters, and certainly not in impressionist styles, I kept pointing out to him that it didn’t matter if it was right or wrong. In the end, the result would be great.
I explained, as he worried, that one of the great things about theater is that we don’t always know what we are doing, we just find creative ways to get the job done. In this instance, all of us joined the challenge to achieve the goal.
So, where does the epiphany come in? It comes from me finally recognizing that there is a difference between living a creative life and being an expert at something. My personal struggle has always been with wanting to be recognized for what I do, whether it is through pay or awards or acknowledgement or thank you’s or a title or whatever. In my mind, I equate those things with being an “expert” with “value.”
But, in reality, an expert is a person who “has special skills at a task or knowledge in a subject.” It has nothing to do with pay or a title. I have a lot of expertise in a lot of different areas, but that doesn’t matter. What really matters to me is that I live my life as creatively as possible.
Nathan and I were talking the other day about what the word “career” means. “Could living be your career?” he asked.
Could living be my career? Does a career require a salary or a certain level of achievement? Or could my career be simply living a creative life, and encouraging other people to do the same?
Now my personal goal is to embrace the idea that living creatively is my career. It may never make me money or give me fame, but I believe I will look back on that life and say “I REALLY lived!”
What do you think?
16 Dec 2011 34 Comments
First pour yourself a “cuppa” (the beverage of your choice) and pull up a cozy seat. Right now I’d like a steaming hot cup of spicy chai but I know some of you would prefer that cup of coffee.
Do you take it black? Cream? Sugar? With flavored syrup?
I’m sure you are wondering why I’m calling this “Once Upon a Slovak Time,” and I will get to that, but first I want to thank all of you for your kindness. Many of you told me you would love to come over and have tea (or coffee) with me, and since we can’t do it in person, I’d like to have a virtual cup with all of you.
Would you like some coffee cake?
As many of you have noticed, I’ve been struggling a bit lately with my inner demons, a complete loss of purpose and loneliness. I often feel lonely at what I call the loneliest time of the year, but my struggles over the past few weeks have been deeper than that. However, many of you have offered kind words and support, reminding me that I have just been through a complete overhaul of my life, and I should be kind to myself and allow myself time. And, in reality, the turmoil of my life has been building for three years now, not just the recent sudden move and change, so I know deep down inside that I really should be kind to myself
I’ve been trying. I’m trying to lie fallow for a while, hoping the seeds will grow.
I have been mostly silent this week, both in the blogosphere and in my own life. I lurk on the fringes of interaction, unable and unwilling to read the abundance of joyous holiday celebrations posted this week. I have stuck to a few comments here and there, and replying to comments made to me. I haven’t written my usual overabundance of posts except for my weekly 100 word challenge and a little about my new cozy corner, where I spent most of the week reading, watching movies, playing addictive computer games (UGH!), trying to write, snuggling with the dogs, or just thinking.
Yet I still struggle.
Yesterday, I felt disgusted with myself and decided to try something a little different. I turned off the computer game (a habit I need to break NOW) and got out an old video cassette of Yoga for Weight Loss. I forced myself to work my way through every single pose.
This pose always kills me.
I feel it today, but it’s a good kind of ache.
Then I forced myself out of the house to finally deposit checks that have been sitting in my wallet doing nobody any good. For the past couple of weeks, I have only left the house to take Sarah to her various extracurricular activities or to teach my Saturday class, so this was a step in the right direction. I headed to the library, hoping to find a good holiday movie as recommended by my friend Vicky. But, unable to find Love Actually, I ended up bringing the entire first season of Charmed home. I guess I’m not through resting in my comfy chair.
I also brought home a video about Belly Dancing, figuring that might be a fun form of exercise to try in the privacy of my own home. Another step in the right direction.
When dropping Sarah off at her musical theater class for her dress rehearsal before tonight’s performance of Lights, Camera, Action! (be prepared for pictures of my little Mary Poppins in future posts) I actually got into a conversation with one of the other Moms. We walked out to the parking lot together, and chattered away discovering common interests.
I got brave and said, “Do you have to be somewhere? Would you like to go get a cup of coffee or something?”
We went to Starbucks.
I think I might have made a friend.
I came home feeling better about myself then I have for a while.
Then came my telephone conference about my upcoming trip to Slovakia. Now, many of you know how excited and nervous I am about this trip. The conference last night simultaneously soothed my fears and brought back the reality of my lost and clueless state of existence.
It all began when I was asked to introduce myself and explain my goals for the trip and I was unable to articulate those goals. After all, in many ways the purpose of this trip, for me, is to find purpose.
Why couldn’t I articulate that in this phone call? Because suddenly I felt, not old exactly, but I felt my life experience, which is all related to my current state of confusion.
Let me try to explain. The people going on this trip are all either just starting their careers (as in still in school) or in the middle of establishing themselves in their fields. I am a middle-aged woman trying to reinvent herself after years of following a career path that has taken many unexpected twists and turns.
I am lost.
As the teleconference continued, with a presentation of expectations, needs, concerns, safety precautions, etc. etc. I went through a series of flashbacks that served to remind me of a few things:
For example, when discussing how to be safe and avoid pickpockets, I had a sudden flash to my high school trip to France where I got pick-pocketed in Paris. When discussing the importance of being respectful while absorbing and learning, I flashed to my time in Japan and some of my bizarre experiences there. The discussion about not hiding behind a camera and placing barriers between yourself and experience had me thinking about numerous lost opportunities in my life and my own fears on a trip to Norway where I hid behind my insecurities rather than diving in. The discussion about being respectful about food led to more memories of Japan when my students decided to challenge me by ordering dishes that might challenge American tastes . . . I learned to eat first and ask questions later.
The introduction of all the members of the group and their specific goals, made me realize that I have experiences that I can offer each and every one of them. That made me feel good in some ways (I know I’m a good mentor) but sad about my inability to define my own goals for this trip.
But, as I said before, for me the purpose of this trip is to find purpose.
In a few weeks I will be stepping on a plane to Paris and then transferring to Vienna. I will get off the plane, and I will eat lunch in that beautiful city. Then I will take a train to Bratislava, Slovakia where I will enter an adventure I cannot predict. I will bring with me notebooks and pens, a camera, my Kindle (with a Slovak dictionary loaded on it), my music player and clothes to keep me warm. I will not bring my phone. I will not bring my laptop.
I will let go, for a short time, my identity as mother, daughter, wife, educator, Ph.D, theater director . . . and try to reconnect with myself.
I may blog, a little, if there is time and an internet cafe. But I will reserve a lot of that for my return. I will check e-mail occasionally, but not obsessively. Ditto for Facebook and Twitter. I will be open to adventure, opportunity, observations, inspiration and learning.
Now let the story unfold . . .