In Defense of Gray (100 WCGU)

Gray is such a dismal word
but why must it be so?
It makes pink pop
Red and orange too
It even heralds snow.

It’s neutral
It’s not black or white
It doesn’t judge or take a stance
Some say it helps stabilize
And make vibrant colors dance.

Native Americans, some people say
associate gray with friends
It symbolizes security
Maturity
Upon gray you can depend.

But still gray skies indicate
days of doom and gloom
Unless you choose to take that day
as an opportunity
a chance to read a book, drink some tea,
and snuggle in your room.

 

This is my entry in Julia’s 100 Word Challenge for Grown-ups this week, with the prompt “Grey” (or gray, which is the correct spelling?). For an old look at Gray in my life visit a poem of mine from a while back called “A Gray Day”

 

True Confessions of a Fearful Artist

Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum.

I sit in a coffee shop feeling my heart beat as I try to find a sense of calm. In a little over an hour I will be at an interview for a directing job. Just a small college show, but my fears overwhelm me and I feel panic building.

What am I afraid of?

Once upon a time I believed I would be a famous director.  I thought I had the talent and vision to create powerful and meaningful theatrical experiences for even novice theatre-goers. Or, at least that’s what I tricked myself into thinking.

The truth is that my doubts ate away at me. That little inner critic took control and won. I didn’t have the courage to pursue my dream fully and I let the nay-sayers and the cruel manipulators who wanted to keep themselves on top push me down. I lost faith in my ability. I lost faith in my talent and knowledge. I lost faith in myself.

I still got directing jobs, though.  Usually through somebody else’s recommendation. Actually, that’s how I get most of my jobs of any type, through a connection or a recommendation–rarely through an actual interview?

What does that say about me?

Since moving back to Massachusetts, I’ve seen plenty of directing jobs, although most of them were near Boston. I used the hour drive (without traffic) as an excuse not to apply. You know . . . rehearsals would start around 6 or so which means I would have to leave by 4:30 at the latest to be sure I’d get there and wouldn’t have any time to see Sarah, etc. etc. etc.

But really what held me back from applying was fear.

Then this job came up, and the excuse didn’t stand. This University is 15 minutes from my house, without traffic. The play is quirky and interesting, written by a woman and with strong female characters. It relies heavily on movement, music, and, I believe light. In other words, all the things I love.

No excuses. I had to apply. I didn’t even let myself stop and think. I sent in my resume as soon as I saw the ad, even before I’d read the play. If I had procrastinated, the inner critic would have found another excuse for me to run away and hide in fear.

Which brings me to this moment of nervous tension building.

But here’s the interesting thing, since I started writing this post, suddenly my fears are beginning to calm. It’s as if words are my meditation. By allowing myself to blog, to share my words in a public sphere, I have slowly learned to be brave about all my artistic endeavors. The inner critic doesn’t have as much control anymore.

I can, and will, go into this interview knowing that they want me to succeed. They want to find the director who will be the best match for this project.  I believe that could be me, but if for some reason they disagree that isn’t a reflection of myself or my talent.

Sometimes what it really comes down to is personalities.

I no longer have the dream of becoming a famous director. I have other dreams trying to make themselves knows–writing and publishing novels; developing theatre for social change projects; becoming a successful arts advocate in some way; and other dreams that I have yet to put into words. Directing is a part of my life that I’m not willing to give up completely, but it is not the guiding light to my creative soul. Still, I think I need to confront this fear in order to continue to grow into the person I want to be.

Wish me luck.

What are you afraid of as an artist? What do you do to confront those fears?

 

 

 

 

Yearning for Nostalgia: When Craftsmanship Mattered

Have you ever walked around an old city filled with beautiful architecture and marveled at the craftsmanship that went into each element?

A house in Zdiar, Slovakia, crafted without nails.

The lucky chandelier and painted ceiling of the Town Hall in Levoca, Slovakia

Have you ever looked at the craftsmanship of things created by hand centuries ago that have somehow survived the ages?

Have you ever thought about what we’ve lost in a world where production is made easier through technology, but somehow it leads to cookie cutter homes and replicas of pieces that were labored over for hours in times past?

I was reminded of this yesterday, when we met some friends a the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, CT. I recently read a book whose main character restored carousel horses, so I found the tour or the museum fascinating, with the details coming to life about how the magnificent creatures were created.

A horse’s head coming to life.

I loved the idea that the  Master carved the Elegant  side of the animal (the side which would face out), while the apprentice practiced his craft on the plain side.

Carousel horse

Carousel horse (Photo credit: vpickering)

I was amused (although perhaps not surprised ) to learn that women were not allowed to ride on carousels until they added chariots.  I fell in love with a child’s chariot that had no top or bottom so even taller children could ride.

I wanted to take this home from the museum.

I was blown away by the people who had built miniature carousels and donated them to the museum. These creations were made of wood, paper, recycled objects (including a motor from a sewing machine) and even paper clips.

Those mini creations reminded me that craftsmanship isn’t dead, it’s just hidden in the passions of the few people who commit to the time, passion and precision required to create magnificent pieces of art. Sometimes you have to go hunt things out, to find the astounding possibilities in things made by hand.

Sushi crafted out of floral materials for the annual Christmas decoration contest at Tower Hill Botanic Gardens.

These cupcakes look delicious. Too bad they are made out of flowers and other natural materials at the Botanical Gardens.

While I may yearn for the times when people seemed to take more pride in their work, and progress wasn’t measured by how much we could cram into one day. I recognize that there are, indeed, people who live their lives with the idea of making this world a more beautiful place–through arts, crafts, music, and words.

I plan to be one of them.

A peaceful mantle at the botanic garden which inspires me to create places of peace in my own home.

 

Thankful for an Inferiority Complex

Yesterday I got my haircut and Roxanne, my hairdresser, spent a lot of time straightening my hair. While I realize that it looks good that way, I don’t really see myself when I look in the mirror.

Early morning hair this morning, still straight but the curls are trying to come back.

“Don’t go back to curly,” my mom said. “Your hair looks so good straight.”

“I don’t have a choice, Mom. It takes a long time to get it this way.” Well, maybe it’s not that long, but I simply don’t  have the patience to spend the time needed to make my hair behave everyday.

This is what I’m usually dealing with.

Now, I know my mom meant her words as a compliment, but it got me to thinking of all the ways I have felt not good enough or somehow inferior throughout my life.

I have an inferiority complex.

Appearance is just one of the areas where I don’t feel up to snuff. I doubt myself and my ability in all aspects of my life.

But today I realized something. I am THANKFUL for my inferiority complex.

Would I like to wake up every day feeling fully confident and like I can take on the world? Sure, who wouldn’t? But, my self-doubts, my questioning, forces me that much harder to improve, to grow, to challenge myself to do better, to strive for perfection.

My inferiority complex also enables me to help others. Although I sometimes feel jealous, I am genuinely happy when I see someone else surpass me to come out on top. perhaps because I don’t believe that I’ll ever really get there. I recognize that I ‘m good at helping others achieve their goals. That’s nothing to feel bad about.

Of course, the question then becomes, what is “top”? What does it mean to be “good enough”?  I am starting to revise my own definition of that, and realize that my best can indeed be good enough, even if nobody else sees me that way.

I am not inferior, I am myself.

So today, on a day when people reflect on what it means to be thankful, I want to acknowledge that I am truly thankful for my FLAWS because they have made me who I am today.

And that is someone who is, indeed, good enough. From there, everything can only get better.

The imperfect fairy house I built. I think fairies will still love it, don’t you?

Too Many Words: A Rebus

Today I spent the day

trying to wrangle

 

 into some semblance of intelligent meaning.

 But the more I work on this article the more


I feel.

It’s like my

is dripping out my head through my

and now I feel

THE END

Reciprocity and Friendship

When I was in college I was starstruck.

Not by anybody famous, but by the “It” girls–the gorgeous, intelligent, popular ones who never really gave me much attention in high school. I followed them around with fairy dust in my eyes, amazed at their ability to attract men, be athletes, discuss intelligent topics, have fun, and still maintain incredibly high GPAs at a Seven Sister school. I relished every moment where they welcomed me in their orbit, never realizing that I served the role of kind, overweight, supportive friend/lackey who made them shine all the brighter because of how they were reflected in my eyes.

Can you find me in this house full of women?

However, even then I recognized that sometimes the relationship was uneven. A few of these women would come to me in times of strife; looking for a shoulder to cry on, a comforting word and sometimes even wise advice. They came to me when they were lonely and needed someone to fill up time, which I was always willing to do if I had a gap in my own (very busy) schedule.  However, when I struggled with my own issues and reached out in loneliness I got responses like”nobody wants to hang out with someone who is depressed all the time” or “I know it’s hard but let’s talk about me now” (of course I exaggerate, nobody used those exact words).

Needless to say, those friendships haven’t really survived the years. That time period also taught me to protect myself when it comes to friendship, which isn’t really a positive thing. I have a hard time making close friends sometimes, and I find it truly difficult to reach out to friends when I need help. I’m still always there for others, although I have begun to recognize when and how to set boundaries on my support.

I learned to depend on myself and to recognize my own strengths. I realized that part of the reason they came to me is that I have strong empathy and the ability to help. I pride myself in those skills, and often find myself in the position to help and encourage people who just need a non-judgmental ear. I admit that I love being able to help people.

And yet . . . there are some people in my life who still ask me to serve that role of supporting friend without reciprocating in a similar way. As I mentioned, I find it difficult to ask for help. But, in recent years, with a few people who have come to me when they’ve reached difficult challenges in their lives, I decided that maybe they could be there for m as well. Of course, not when they were in the middle of their dark struggles, but after I’d helped them through. I’d reach out a tentative hand, saying I could use some advice and support, only to be dismissed with “Not now” or “I know it’s hard but let’s talk about me.” 🙂

Do you see the trend?

Will I ever learn?

The answer to that is a resounding “YES!”

Yesterday my friend and creative partner from Kansas called me with exciting news. She also called to thank me for my (very small) role in helping her get to this exciting news.

Jackie and I inspired each other to create.

“I want to thank you by helping you with . . . ”

I don’t know if she realizes how much the reciprocity in our relationship means to me. We helped each other. She inspired me to create and get out of my own comfort zone. I’d like to think I challenged her to expand her own boundaries.

This is a friendship that will last through distance and time.

Last night one of my non-reciprocal friends reached out to me again, looking for a boost and support. I know that I won’t refuse. I’ll be there for her in her time of need but then . . .

I think I’ll reconnect with people who give as much as they receive.

Have you ever found yourself in an unbalanced relationship? What do you do?

A Quick Lesson in Trust

This just happened.

I stopped at the bank and noticed a striking black woman in line behind me in line. Striking because she looked lovely in her bright colors that suggested perhaps she was from another country.

I finished my business and left the bank. I had just pulled my car into reverse when the same woman appeared in my passenger window indicating that she had something to say.

My first thought was, did I leave something in the bank? I have walked out of the bank before without car keys (but they were in the ignition) and I was positive I had put my money in my wallet. I opened the window.

“Are you going that way?” she asked in heavily accented English, an accent I couldn’t place which confirmed that she was from one of the parts of the world I intend to visit someday although I’m not sure where.

“Yes, I am.” I hoped she wouldn’t ask for directions because I am still utterly confused by this place and would be useless getting anyone anywhere.

“Good. You take me to the African store.”

“What?” I asked as she began to open the back door to my mini-van and pull herself in.

“You take me to the African store. In that direction.”

My initial reaction was confusion followed immediately by a moment of panic. This strange woman was climbing into my car, without asking, and demanding I take her to an unknown location.

What should I do? I thought.

But then I thought again. Why not? She obviously needs a ride.

I closed the door, pulled my car back into gear, and said “Do you know where the African store is?”

“Yes, yes. You are going in that direction?”

“Yes I am.”

I turned off NPR so I could talk to the woman and learn more. Her accent was challenging and I think she was still just learning English. “The post office is closed,” she said, but she indicated the bank, which was open.

I asked her if she had walked to the bank. “No, the post office. The computers are broken.”

I admit, I have no idea what she was talking about. We drove in silence for a moment until she said “here, right here.”

“Is this the African store?” I asked, peering around for an indication of what she was looking for, but only finding some kind of auto shop.

“Yes, yes,” she said. I pulled into the lot. She got out and said, “Thank you and God bless,” and walked on her merry way to locations unknown.

As I  drove away I began to think about what had just happened, and why my initial reaction was panic. It was not because of her race or immigrant status or anything like that. I realized my reaction was a very American one–because we have become a country of distrust. We build walls around ourselves, whether it’s by hiding from others through technology or locking ourselves behind closed doors in moving vehicles. I know I’m over-generalizing, but we really have lost that mentality of just giving someone a lift because they need it–of offering someone a ride in the back of the wagon.

I reacted because a strange person broke the rules of engagement that we have built; rules that I believe indicate a true loss.

It is always difficult, when travelling, to adjust to the variations of behavior or the openness of some cultures where the bubble around individuals is smaller. It can be overwhelming when meeting a group of people who define community and relationships differently than we do here.  But, letting go of our instinctual fear and distrust is indeed a valuable lesson we should all learn.

Today I learned a quick lesson in trust, and I feel blessed.

Learning lessons of welcome from the Roma population in Stara Lubovna, Slovakia 2012

Planting Seeds of Inspiration: ‘I done good!’

I’m often filled with self doubt.

I can hear those of you who have been reading me for a while now saying things like “Duh!” or “No, really!” or (the more vulgar) “No s*%t Sherlock!”

At least I acknowledge that I’m my own worst critic.

This negativity about myself isn’t just centered on my writing. There are times that I question every single thing I’m doing, whether it’s teaching, writing, parenting, directing, interviewing . . . Basically if its a verb I do, I criticize myself for not doing it well enough–for somehow screwing even the simplest things up.

But then there are days like today, when I realize that “I done good.”

This semester I’ve been teaching a course called Studies in Drama at Bryant University; a University that is mostly known as a business school, but has been expanding its liberal arts offerings. This is a 300 level course taught through the Literary and Cultural Studies Department that fulfills an LCS requirement that all students need to graduate.

Did you pick up on the key words there? Business students, 300 level, requirement.

Anyone who has ever taught an introductory level REQUIRED course in arts or writing will recognize that sometimes getting students involved is like beating your head against a brick wall. They come in with the attitude that “this has nothing to do with my life” or “why do I need to learn to write when I’m a _______ major?” Usually those courses are at the 100 level and filled with First Year Students who are struggling with the day-to-day reality of what it means to be a college student. I’ve had both successes and failures in those types of classes, but of course I always obsess about the failures and gloss over the successes.

Now, this particular course is kind of Intro to Theatre meets upper-division expectations.  My entire class is made of up seniors, some of whom will be graduating in December; all of whom are focused (quite naturally) on getting jobs after graduating.  In other words, students who put off this particular requirement for their Senior year. Students who, in some instances, had ZERO interest in theatre and ZERO contact with theatre; they just needed to fulfill their LCS requirement in some way. Several of them signed up for this course because the original instructor (whom I replaced because of a sudden medical leave) was known for his quirky teaching style and the fact that he NEVER MADE SENIORS TAKE A FINAL.

Knowing that I might have a reluctant group, I decided to try and make the course relevant to their interests as well as my own. Since I could design the course as I saw fit, I decided to focus on “theatre as a tool of cultural expression, political engagement, and social change.” (From my syllabus). The first thing I had them read was  The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs by Mike Daisey, which is a somewhat controversial monologue/play that questions the ethics of Apple, Steve Jobs, and the use of Chinese workers to build Apple products. What better play to intrigue the interest of business majors?

From there, we’ve traveled great distances in the class: from learning about the theatrical techniques of Bertolt Brecht, to discussing racism in Othello. We spent time with the Federal Theatre Project and discusses how a bunch of beavers led to the downfall of a federally supported theatre.  We’ve looked at the role of theatre in confronting feminist issues in plays like Trifles, A Doll House,  and even Lysistrata.  We discussed the role of race and gender in plays like Cloud 9 and for colored girls who have considered suicide, when the rainbow is enuf. I’ve introduced them to the techniques of Augusto Boal and today we looked at radical street theatre and the ways in which theatre can affect social change in public places.

Revolt of the Beavers

All in all, although there have been a few unenthusiastic and non-participatory students, the discussions have been excellent throughout the semester and the students have challenged me and each other with difficult questions.

Of course, there was still the issue of the final project. Since it was an LCS class I kind of felt the need (at first) to go with the traditional write a paper route. Then, after reading an article with the class about finding ways to incorporate the reality that this generation of students has grown up with technology into theatre classrooms, I opened up the possibility of some of my students finding alternative ways to present their projects beyond the traditional academic paper.

This lead to a surprising result today. As I mentioned earlier, in today’s class we talked about street theater using articles from Jan Cohen-Cruz’ anthology Radical Street Performance: An International Anthology. We talked about various forms of street theatre they have seen themselves, and I included in the discussion flash mobs which, although perhaps not as political as some other forms, have become (in my opinion) an important phenomenon in modern society. We looked at videos of  groups like Improv Everywhere who have mastered the art of producing moments of theatre in public places.  This is one of my favorite videos of theirs:

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a voice calls out, “Can we negotiate the final papers if we create a flash mob?”

“Um . . . let me think about that.”

The class continued until we neared the end.

“How about the flash mob idea?”

“Well. . .,” I said, not wanting to dull their enthusiasm. After all, this was a group of students who want to, suddenly, do a CREATIVE project as their final. These are the same students who refused to acknowledge themselves as creative individuals in the beginning of the class. Granted, many of them are simply trying to avoid having to write an academic paper. Still, to me this indicates that they’ve been learning that theatre does, indeed, have power.

At the same time, I don’t want their final project to be a mediocre piece of fluff. “If you want to do this, then it needs to have some meaning. It can’t be just a fun flash mob. You need to make some kind of statement. If you can, as a group, come up with a reasonable proposal by next Tuesday, we’ll see.”

“Everybody, stay for five minutes,” another student said. “Let’s brainstorm.”

I left the class in discussion and headed toward my basement office cubby.

Ten minutes later, two students walked in. “We figured it out.”

They explained their idea. (I’ll leave the details for the future).  I negotiated a little to raise the expectations (there needs to be a research component and a little writing by everyone in the group). I told them I would still make the final decision next Tuesday, pending their figuring out some of those research details and a few other logistical things.

Meanwhile, all I could think was, “Wow! I think they really learned something. ‘I done good!'”

Stay tuned for the end results.

A Modicum of Wordplay

I love sunset, and so do crepuscular creatures great and small. Photo taken by Sarah KramerLee

Yesterday, Kathy over at Lake Superior Spirit celebrated the word “fallow” among other things. (Congratulations Kathy, on the wise words of a blind man and your popularity at the magazine).

Isn’t fallow a lovely world?

Today, as I seem to be intent on accomplishing nothing, and busy getting in my own way I began to think about words, and how wonderful words really are.  I’ve written about words in past posts in this blog, and of course I use lots of words in order to write, but today I feel like celebrating words that scintillate or titillate the tongue. Words that you feel good saying, or words that inspire images and emotions. Of course, as soon as I decided to do this, words slipped from my mind leaving me unable to express a single idea.

So I turned to friends on Facebook and asked them what their favorite words were. Several responses are not suitable for this post (but hilarious anyway). Others reminded me of the wonder of language of all types.

Here are some of people’s favorites, with definitions from Wordnik.com (The definitions themselves provide some lovely words. I bold all the words that make me happy):

  • Ort:
    1. n. A small scrap or leaving of food after a meal is completed. Often used in the plural.
    2. n. A scrap; a bit.
  • Popinjay:  A vain, talkative person. (Also a parrot)
  • Bosh: nonsense
  • tosh: foolish nonsense; twaddle, balderdash
  • Curmudgeon: An ill-tempered person full of resentment and stubborn notions. [I need to use this more often]
  • Crepuscular:  [This one seems very popular, it’s fun to say so several people selected it]
    1. adj. Of or like twilight; dim: “the period’s crepuscular charm and a waning of the intense francophilia that used to shape the art market” Wall Street Journal).
    2. adj. Zoology Becoming active at twilight or before sunrise, as do bats and certain insects and bird
  • Bastante: (Spanish): enough, plenty, quite
  • Plethora: [This happens to be one of my favorites as well]
    1. . A superabundance; an excess.
    2. n. An excess of blood in the circulatory system or in one organ or area.
  • Yesterday, Sarah had an assignment to find synonyms and antonyms for the word vivacious and one of the words she came up with was bubbly which makes me feel bubbly all over.

What are some of your favorite words, in any language? 

Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets, two of the greatest curmudgeons I know.

I’d Like to Say I’m Proud . . . But I Can’t

For years I have found it difficult to say, “I’m a proud American.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the number of people who executed their right to vote yesterday, and I’m quite happy with the results. I’m thrilled that so many States voted for marriage equality, and so many people stood up for the rights of all, not just the wealthy few.

But, after an ugly and vicious election campaign, where the voices of other parties were drowned out by the yelling of the big guys and more money was spent on horrific ads then ever (as Andra Watkins so eloquently pointed out in a post called The Campaign Daisy Chain Election Complex), I can’t help but see how broken our system really is, and how far we have strayed from the principles that could make us great . . . could make us truly proud.

In his speech last night, President Obama said,

“This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich.  We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong.  Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.”

But that’s not true. Factually we aren’t the wealthiest (although we are among the top ten). We are, technically, the most powerful military, but I personally question why we should be proud of that. As far as university and culture, maybe we are the envy of some people, but we are the laughingstock of others.

Yesterday I read a commentary by German writer  Jakob Augstein called “America Has Already Lost Tuesday’s Election”. His basic premise is that, no matter who won, the USA has already lost because “total capitalism is America’s true ruler, and it has the power to destroy the country.” He writes:

“The truth is that we simply no longer understand America. Looking at the country from Germany and Europe, we see a foreign culture. The political system is in the hands of big business and its lobbyists. The checks and balances have failed. And a perverse mix of irresponsibility, greed and religious zealotry dominate public opinion.

The downfall of the American empire has begun. It could be that the country’s citizens wouldn’t be able to stop it no matter how hard they tried. But they aren’t even trying.”

I hope to think this man is wrong, but the reality of the past few months where greed and hatred seemed to rule every discussion indicates there is something severely broken in our country.

I just hope we can fix it.

How do we do that? I don’t know the answers. If I did, I would run for office. I have opinions, of course:

  • We need to better provide education that works for everyone, and I don’t mean teaching to the test. I mean providing education that suits the needs of individual learners, incorporates new perspectives, encourages creative and independent thinking, and values the arts as much as the technical skills that can “get you the job.”
  • We need to re-evaluate the control of money in our society. In some ways I wish we could live in a world of barter, but I know that’s not realistic. I don’t know how to solve the problem, but as long as money controls power, we have nothing to be proud of.
  • We need to recognize that the most powerful thing in existence right now is mother nature (evidence of that devastated New York and New Jersey just last week) and adjust our attitude toward life in a way that makes Mother Nature proud.
  • We need to focus on the reality that the world is a crowded place, and we all need to help each other. It can’t be us and them, it has to be WE.

When I spent time living in Japan many years ago, my eyes began to open to the ridiculous-ness of blind national pride–of walking around acting superior simply because we are American.  National lines and cultural identities are imaginary. We are born where and when we are born because of . . . I don’t know fate, God, destiny, or perhaps simply a sperm meeting an egg at the right moment in time. We should only be proud of our cultural and/or national identity if we use that identity in a way that makes us deserving of pride.

President Obama went on to say:

“What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth.

The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.  The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights.

And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism.  That’s what makes America great.”

I agree with the concept of a shared destiny, if we acknowledge that destiny is shared with every living creature on the earth. I believe we do have obligations to one another including those of love, charity and duty–but those obligations extend in every direction, beyond simply patriotism.

When we have recognized that our position in the world is a privilege and a responsibility; when we have taken steps toward fixing what is broken and making the world a better place for ALL not just for self or for country; when we have dropped the horrendous squabbling over human rights, superiority, power and money; then–and only then–will I truly be able to say “I am proud to be American.”

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