Dear World . . . Using the power of Birthday Wishes

It’s still my birthday month, plus today is the fabulous Andra Watkins’ birthday, which multiplies the power of birthday wish magic in immeasurable amounts, so I have a few birthday wishes I’d  like  to share.

But wait, you say . . . if I share the wishes then they won’t come true. The wishes I want to share aren’t my personal, private wishes, but wishes that affect many other people. So maybe, if other people agree with my wishes and we all use the power of wishing and birthday magic together, some of the wishes come  true.

So let’s blow out some candles, find a falling star, and make a wish or two for the good of all:

There's powerful birthday wish magic in Andra's decadent looking dessert.

There’s powerful birthday wish magic in Andra’s decadent looking dessert.

 

Wish #1: Educational Sanity

“Whimper, whimper, whimper.”

I pull myself out of my hard-won deep sleep (after a 3 hour bout of insomnia) to the sound  of my daughter whimpering as she crawled into my bed for a  morning snuggle.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?”

She buried under the covers moaning and mumbling something.

“What? I don’t understand?”

“I’m not ready for MCAS long essay. I wish we didn’t move here. I wish I went to school where I didn’t have to take  these tests.”

“These tests are everywhere Sarah. You’ve taken them everywhere, they are  just more emphasized this year.”

“But Massachusetts is in the name of the test.”

“Well, yes, but every state has these stupid tests. That’s the problem. I just want you to do your best and not worry about it. These tests mean nothing about you as a student.”

“I feel like I’m going to fail.”

“I’ll be proud of you if you just try. I don’t care  about these tests. They have nothing to do with you and everything to do with a broken education system.”

“I’ll try, Mommy. I’ll try.”

Okay, so maybe this wish is a little personal. My heart breaks when I see my daughter losing the joy of learning to her stress over achieving some mandatory score on a mandatory test that proves nothing than the fact that these kids know how to take tests. They aren’t learning how to think, to be creative, to challenge themselves . . . they are learning how to take tests.

I wish for a complete education overhaul that does not treat education like a business and teachers like servants who only win rewards if they prove numerically that students are improving, when we all know learning can’t always be proven by graphs and charts. I wish for an education system that embraces creative learning, challenges and questions societal norms, and incorporates all the things I’m passionate including learning through the arts.

Does anyone else wish for some educational sanity?

Wish #2: Governmental Sanity

Okay, since I’m already wishing for the impossible,  I might as well wish for the ultimate impossibility of  a sane and functioning government here in the United States. I am probably naive. I simply do not understand why greed and hatred have such a powerful hold over officials who are supposedly elected to represent the will of  the people. I don’t understand why a body of people can continue to get paid and not fired when they aren’t doing their jobs. I don’t understand why 1/4 of 1/3 of the government (as in 1/2 of the congress which is only one half of one branch of the government) has held us hostage for so  long and can demand unrealistic cuts in the name of more money for the richest few in a country where everyone is supposed to be equal, and get away with it. I don’t understand why we are still fighting for equality for women in 2013. I don’t understand why immigration is such as an issue in a land full of one time immigrants.

I don’t understand anything. I feel we are being ruled by insanity lately, although I must say that some of the people I know who are labelled as “insane” or “crazy” would make wiser choices than many of our elected officials.

It’s a simple wish, bring some sanity back before the US. government destroys everything.

More wishes to come . . . 

I don’t want to overwhelm you with my long list of “soapbox” birthday wishes, but I will explore more for  the next few days, until my birthday month is officially over (although I am actually celebrating into April when I go to my birthday concert so maybe the wishes will continue).

If you knew the power of birthday wishes or any wishes would work, what would you wish for to make this world a better place?

Celebrating 45

A few posts back I wrote about how I have no intention of fading away as I move into the future. Yet, I’m the first to admit that I am the hardest on myself–unable to see my own successes when I’m not quite where or who I thought I’d be. However, my journey into memory through pictures made me decide that I should celebrate the interesting life I have lived. I should acknowledge the things I have done, that make me unique. I should, basically, celebrate myself. Please bear with me as I toot my own horn, because sometimes doing things like this is necessary.

I plan to make a list of 45 (wonderful) things that make me who I am, in no particular order, with details provided if explanation helps. However, I will spread it across several posts because A) I don’t want to bore you and B) It’s really, really difficult for me to do this.

Here I go:

  1.  I was born backwards (breach) which says a lot for who I am now. 😉 In some ways, being breach saved me from a car birth. My Dad used to say that he dropped Mom off (after getting stopped by a policeman as he sped to the hospital) and went to park the car. When he got back, someone congratulated him on the birth of his daughter. A woman, waiting for her daughter to give birth, turned to him and said “How did you do that?” Way to make an entrance.

    Cheeks.

    Cheeks.

  2. I started reading when I was very young (like 3 or 4 or something). Mom says it was in competition with my older brother Steve (who you might know from his many blogs, such as this wonderful post about helping others). I’d like to think my love for words simply insisted on making an early appearance. I vaguely recall people handing me newspapers and asking me to read out loud. I didn’t necessarily understand the words, but I could read them. Sounding out words, and finding meaning in those sounds, or finding interesting ways of putting those sounds together, has become the passion of my life.
  3. That leads to my love of learning languages. All languages. While I’ve lost my fluency in most (including English sometimes) in my life I have studied (and in some cases spoken to some degree): Hebrew, French, Spanish, Japanese, Russian (for a very short time when I was supposed to go on a trip), Slovak (again in preparation for a trip) and a few words in Chinese.  I believe that, if you want to travel, the best way to learn about people is to learn their language. It is the height of ego to expect others to learn English, and make no effort to communicate with the words that represent the culture.
  4. I have visited 8 countries. Now, that’s not a lot, for a girl who dreamed of seeing the world. My list of countries that I still want to go to is large. However, when I travel, I rarely do it just as a tourist. I try to see the country beyond the tourist image. I lived and worked in Japan for three years, and hope someday to be able to live and work somewhere else, even for a short time. My travels have not ended, I just have to find new ways and means to go. Even though I haven’t been to many of the places I’d love to go, I have friends from countries all over the world, many of whom I have actually met in person.

    Red: Where I've lived (although HI has disappeared)Blue: Where I've been
Green: Where I want to go

    Red: Where I’ve lived (although HI has disappeared)
    Blue: Where I’ve been
    Green: Where I want to go

  5. I’ve lived in 9 states and visited 44. I would like to get to all 50, and there are a few I might want to live in.
  6. I have earned three degrees: a BA from Smith College with a double major in English Language & Literature and Theatre; an MFA from the University of Hawaii, Manoa in Theatre (Directing); and a Ph.D from Arizona State University in Theatre (Theatre for Youth)
  7. I have directed 25+ plays at all levels (from beginning actors to professional).While this is one of the areas where I feel like I somehow have failed, I always wanted to direct, and at least I can say I have directed some truly wonderful and challenging pieces.

    The opening scene of CLOUD 9, another play I loved directing, especially because it pushed buttons and promoted discussion.

    The opening scene of CLOUD 9, another play I loved directing, especially because it pushed buttons and promoted discussion.

  8. I have taught hundreds if not thousands of students in subjects ranging from English conversation to writing, from Introduction to Theatre to Special Studies in Drama. I’ve taught at colleges, universities, language schools, after school programs and special programs for adults. I’ve lost track of the types of courses I’ve taught, but they include classes in theatre, writing, honors, and education.
  9. I saved two wonderful dogs from the humane society and they have enriched my life immensely. Even with the begging, the poop, and the constant dog hair.Lizzy & Jasper, 1-1
  10. I found a wonderful partner in life, Nathan, who for whatever reason puts up with my craziness and stands by me even when I don’t want to stand by myself.
  11. We gave birth to an amazing, talented, and beautiful daughter, who surprises me every day.

I think that’s my list for today, as now I’m entering the part where I think “I did this but .  . ” You know, where I start undervaluing everything I’ve ever done.

This isn’t easy, that’s for sure.

Do you ever have a difficult time celebrating yourself and your accomplishments?

Ladies in Red, Purple and Every Other Color

I have a brilliant and talented friend named Kristie.

She was a year ahead of me in college. She and I lived in the same house, and had the same major (English Language & Literature).

She went on to get a masters from Harvard and then became a high school English teacher that I would love to have my daughter study with.

I went on to become . . . well, me.

Just a short time ago, Kristie made her first venture into the world of blogging (she blames me for this). Her first post at Schmidtty First Drafts reveals her wit and way with words. Her second post, entitled “Not Yet, Boba Fett” shares an honest look at the challenges many people, especially women, face as we enter that bizarre between time known as midlife. Her post inspired this post. I would love for you to pop over and read Kristie’s post before continuing with this one, but in case you don’t, she writes about a scene in Postcards from the Edge where Shirley Maclaine, dressed in a glittery red-outfit performs the song “I’m Still Here” at a party that was supposed to celebrate her daughter. Kristie writes:

“As I enter midlife, my disdain for Maclaine’s poorly timed and skewed self affirmation has tempered and transformed. In a culture that devalues those growing older, especially women, her declaration now seems about so much more than simply shouting “Look at me. I need attention right now.” It serves as a siren call, one beckoning us to look first at ourselves. In my midlife world this necessitates a temporal exploration. Who was I? Who am I? Who do I now want to be? That confident (though sometimes needy and sometimes selfish) bravura woman in red, where did she go? Because she existed.”

In some ways, I’ve always been the lady in red. Although, just as often I might be the lady in purple or hot pink or some other bright color that says “Look at me, I’m here.”

I wore red at a mini reunion with Kristie (with the white coat) a couple of years ago.

I wore red at a mini reunion with Kristie (with the white coat) a couple of years ago.

While this isn’t really about the color of my clothes, there is a pattern to how I wear clothing. When I most want to hide, or feel down on myself, I wear grays, blacks, neutrals. When I need a confidence boost, or when I have to make some kind of presentation, I’ll either where a professional looking black or the bright reds and purples of a woman who wants to be seen. This doesn’t mean I want or need to be the center of attention, its more like a statement that “I am here and what I say matters.”

Too often in my life I’ve felt invisible and unheard. Yet, the lady in red always wanted to come out. She wanted to sing to the world “I’m alive and full of fun and fabulous ideas!” So I added color to my wardrobe, and began to find ways to be heard,

Except when I wasn’t.

Now, like Kristie, I’m not willing to simply fade into the background as I enter midlife. I’m not willing to disappear as wrinkles and gray hair begin to make their presence known. I’m not willing to accept the status quo. I intend to create a path into the future filled with passion, ambition, adventure and possibility.

I plan to wear a lot of red (or purple, green, yellow,  and maybe even orange)  while doing it.

 

 

I am Not Your Mother

Dear Students,

I am an under-payed adjunct faculty person teaching introductory courses in theatre, courses that you take to fulfill your arts requirement.

Although I am not a full-time faculty person, I am still an experienced and well-trained professional. I hold an MFA in directing and have directed numerous successful and well-received shows. I also hold a Ph.D in theatre with a specialty in Theatre for Youth, which means I’ve read, researched and written on a wide range of subjects. In addition to teaching Introductory courses, I’ve taught advanced level courses in Non-Western Theatre, Theatre for Young Audiences, Feminist Theatre, Studies in Drama, Theatre for Social Change, Puppetry, and Theatre History among others. I’ve also, which is unusual for many professors who specialize in one field, taught Intro and advanced level courses in Writing, Research Writing, Honors and Education. In other words, I am a well-rounded, experienced teacher.

The Day I received my doctorate.

The Day I received my doctorate.

My job, as I see it, is to:

  • create a course that lasts the entire semester
  • develop a syllabus that outlines this course (I spend hours on this, and try my best to stick to it).
  • prepare for lectures and or course presentations for each class, as necessary
  • create interesting assignments that reinforce or support the learning goals of the course, and explain my expectations for those assignments
  • grade assignments in a timely fashion
  • answer your questions or meet with you when you have problems
  • keep tabs of your attendance and participation
  • lead class discussions
  • answer your e-mails
  • turn in grade reports and other official documents required by the school, in a timely fashion

In addition, as a concerned teacher in an arts discipline who likes to challenge her students and explore new ways of teaching, I try to:

  • create interesting assignments that ask my students to think creatively
  • create assignments that allow for students to use their strengths. While I believe it is important to have written assignments, I try to provide assignments that will allow people to use presentation or art skills as well.
  • since this is a theatre class, provide opportunities to make presentations, act, and/or try some of the other skills required in the world of theatre.
  • avoid doing things like testing memorized facts, but rather ask my students to think about how what they are learning in my class might relate to their lives or the real world.

Nowhere in those lists does it say that I am supposed to be your Mother.

As one of the assignments for this class, I asked you to attend a performance of a production put on by your peers at the college, and write a review of this. I selected this production because it was less expensive than attending professional theatre, especially with your student discount, and it was on campus, so you shouldn’t have had any difficulty finding it or finding parking. I told you about this assignment on THE FIRST DAY of class, and reminded you as it approached.

“Where is it?”

“How much does it cost?”

“Where do I find tickets?”

“When is it?”

These questions dominated the classroom for several weeks. I did my best to answer them, repeatedly.

Then, this past weekend, mother nature threatened us with another storm that (upon initial reports) could have been of epic proportions. It fizzled out to be a cold, slimy, mixture of rain and snow that didn’t do much except create an incredible wonderland this morning.

DSCN1859

However, to be cautious, since I thought the shows might be cancelled, I came up with two alternative options of other shows that would happen on campus later this semester. I sent that information out to you. Some of you, it seems, have chosen to pursue those options instead, and I can’t penalize you for that. But, that’s not what this letter is about.

It’s about the fact that I am not your Mother.

After I sent the e-mail with the options I got numerous e-mails asking things like:

“How do I know if the show is cancelled?”

You all walk around with these fancy pieces of technology that have the power of accessing the internet to look things up, and–even more amazing– can enable you to talk to other people and find out information. If you wished, you could pick up these amazing pieces of technology to either look on the school website to see if anything has been cancelled, or call the box office for news. This is how I would find out myself, so why must I do it for you?

Because you want me to be your Mother.

Dear, dear students. You are adults, or on the verge of being adults. It is your decision if you want to come to class and be there on time, although class participation does affect your grade. It is your decision whether or not you do the reading, although I often do check-ins on the reading which is part of your grade. It is your decision whether or not you want to do the research and preparation required for your group projects. I am willing to help you with suggestions, but I cannot do it for you. On the creative projects, where I ask you to make design choices and present things to the class, I specifically created them to allow for all types of presentations. I have given you the guidelines, but I refuse to give you line by line instructions. If you are not willing to break out of your comfort zone, and want me to spoon feed you all the information and details as to how to approach a project, then you are in the wrong class.

I am not responsible for your inability to organize your schedule around my class. I don’t ask for much, just that you come to class. I know that this assignment was outside of class hours, but I gave you plenty of notice (approximately 6 weeks) so there should be no reason you can’t arrange your work/play/ or whatever schedule around seeing one show.

When you miss class, I am not responsible for making sure you know what you’ve missed. I’m not responsible for sending you the handouts and making sure you know what assignment is coming up. I’m happy to send that material to you, or make it available on-line (where you can find most of it already), if you contact me about your absence, but you must initiate the contact. If you have been absent for a long time (because of illness or something else major), and expect to turn in all of your assignments, it would help if you contact me before you’ve missed the classes, not after you got back.

I’m not an ogre. I’ll work with you and help if you have situations, but I’m not your Mother. I’m not going to just allow you to do things on your own time because I feel sorry for you. You need to show some initiative, take responsibility, and acknowledge that my time is as valuable as yours. I am not at your beck and call 24 hours a day. I am not responsible for taking care of your issues the moment you have them. While I check my e-mail often, I don’t have a phone that notifies me every time someone wants to send me something. Nor do I want one. I actually have a life outside of this job, and I try to keep that time separate from the time I work.

Even though work often bleeds over and my paycheck gets smaller and smaller.

I am indeed a Mother. Yet, I try to teach my daughter some responsibility and initiative. This past weekend, we went on a family outing to a winter festival at the nearby botanical gardens. “Bring your snow gear,” I said to my daughter. “We will be outside.”

She brought them, and then left them in the car. “I didn’t think I needed to carry them,” she said.

“I don’t tell you to bring things just because I want to tell you to do something,” I said. “You can go back to the car and get them, or you can do without.”

She did without. Should I feel bad? No. She made her choice, and she suffered the cold-handed consequences. She still got to pet an alpaca, however, which I think is pretty cool.

DSCN1848

I humbly request that you recognize that there is a difference between an Instructor and a Mother, and act accordingly.  Actually, I hope that you show more respect to your mother than you currently do to me.

Sincerely,

Dr. Kramer

Things that Defy Logic: The Gender Wage Gap

The other day I got an e-mail from someone who had found my blog “after searching for people that have referenced or mentioned salaries and wages.” She told me she was “part of a  team of designers and researchers that put together an infographic showing why the gender wage gap continues to be a growing concern.”  I responded that I was always interested in learning and understanding more, but I didn’t promise her I would spread the information any further.

Today I’ve decided to share that infographic, for reasons I’ll explain below. Click on the image to reach the original web source.

Provided by: LearnStuff.com

While I acknowledge that my salary struggles may have more to do with the  inequity in how universities and colleges pay adjunct faculty, who do the same amount of work (or more) per credit hour as full-time faculty but often get payed ridiculously low wages, I can’t completely prove that my gender does not play a role. As a matter of fact, I know that in the past I have been paid less than my husband for similar work, despite the fact that his highest degree is an MFA and I hold both an MFA and a PhD.

But that’s not the only reason I’m sharing this.

The other day I had an interesting conversation with some of my female students. You may recall that I am teaching a course at a university in another state that is known mostly as a business school. This reputation means that the percentage of enrolled female students, though growing, is nowhere equal to the percentage of male students. When I’ve taught theatre classes of any type at other schools, the females usually outnumber the males in my courses. This differed, sometimes, in my Freshman Comp and Research Writing courses, but overall I would say that throughout my career teaching in academia I’ve taught more women than men.

In this course, Studies in Drama, 12 out of 26 students are female. That’s almost half, you argue, but it would have been a greater difference if I hadn’t scared away about 7 males on the first day of class. While there have been a few duds, overall this class has been excellent. In general, however, the women spoke more than the men throughout the course.

One of these women was checking in with me about some research she was doing on the effect of sleep deprivation on college students. (What does that have to do with theatre, you ask? That answer will have to come in a later post, when I am able to share specifics about their creative final project I mentioned a while back.) She showed me her annotated bibliography for an article entitled “Sleep Habits and Patterns of College Students: A Preliminary Study” from the Journal of American College Health. In the abstract of the article it says,

 “In their sample of 191 undergraduates at a rural southern university, they found that most of the students exhibited some form of sleep disturbance and that women, in general, reported more sleep disturbances than men did.”

“That’s interesting,” I said.

“What is?” she asked.

“That women report more sleep disturbances. Do you think it’s because women feel more pressure to succeed?”

“I think it’s true at this university, at least,” she said. [Note, these might not be her exact words, but the gist of what she said.]

This led to a discussion about how women perform at this specific university. “I think we try harder because this is a business school with more men,” my student said. “We make sure we’re prepared. We take the lead in projects. We lead discussions.” Another female student agreed with her.

In my experience of this class, she’s very right. The women in this class work hard to stay ahead and compete against the males. I would add, however, that in my experience of almost any class I’ve ever taught, women almost always take the lead.

Of course there have been hard-working, outspoken males in all my classes as well (there are a few in the Studies in Drama course), but I’d say that the predominant leaders in any of my classes were female.

Is that because I am female and enjoy mentoring female students, or is it because these women were more committed toward succeeding in my classes and in school overall?

Here’s what I realized as I thought about this conversation and looked at the infographic, the only reason men get paid more is because they have a penis.

That defies logic.

All of my students in the Studies in Drama course are seniors. The majority of them will find work before they graduate in May, or continue on to graduate school. At least one of the women has already found a  job, while many of the men have been going on multiple interviews. Most of them will be working in business or accounting or some related field.

Most of these women will be paid less, despite the fact that they will work harder at their jobs to prove themselves and do well.

That defies logic. It makes sense to pay a person more who:

  • performs better
  • has a higher degree or more training
  • works harder
  • takes the lead
  • contributes new ideas
  • has special skills that contribute to job success
  • etc.

It does not make sense to pay a person more who

  • has a penis.

As the above infographic shows, this is an issue that should concern everybody, because the way women are treated affects every other aspect of society.

Disrespecting anyone based on gender, race, sexuality, or any other defining characteristic  that is outside their realm of control, defies logic.  In my opinion, glorifying and rewarding anyone based on those characteristics also defies logic.

Will we ever live in a world that realizes that a penis is really only necessary for a few biological activities and has nothing to do with a person’s ability to work, to achieve, or to lead? I certainly hope so. If not, I think it’s time for vaginas to take over.

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.

Why Write? A Reflection on Writing vs. Talking

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been meeting with a few students who wanted the opportunity to revise their midterm take-home essay exams because they were not satisfied with their grades.  As I sat down with each one to go over their paper, I realized that, for the most part, they understood the material and could express their ideas clearly when talking to me about them. The problem came when they tried to put their words in writing. They simply cannot express themselves as clearly or logically in a written form.

After talking to these students, I returned home to my 9-year-old daughter who moans, groans and complains every time she has to write a paragraph–and she has a lot of paragraphs to write this year. “I don’t know what to say,” she says. “Can you help me?”

“What do you have to write about?”

Sometimes it is a response to a reading, or a prompt to use her imagination and tell a creative story. I will ask her questions, and she can (usually) answer them. If she can’t answer them, I tell her to reread the passage, and then she is able to answer well. In terms of creativity I’ve heard her make up stories inspired by something small, and sat through endless puppet shows created by her and her friends. She has also written numerous poems that you can find sprinkled throughout my blog posts. But, when it comes to assignments for school, she struggles. Her topic sentences are often vague. Her supporting details are sometimes weak. Her concluding sentences non-existent.

Like the college students, she struggles with conveying ideas in a written form.

As a teacher, I’ve often struggled with my own inability to understand why people have difficulty writing. I know, it sounds naive, because everyone has skills that differ from each other. But expressing myself in words has always come naturally to me. When talking to these students or my daughter, they express themselves in words. So why, I wonder, is it so difficult to put those words onto the page?

It’s possible, I suppose, that the difference lies in how people use their brains. The students that I have been working with are predominantly business majors, so I am sure their comfort with numbers, statistics, and graphs is much higher than my own.

But still, that doesn’t explain the gap between the ability to talk fluently about something and the ability to write eloquently and logically about the same topic.

Perhaps the difference lies in how we perceive writing. To me writing is part of my thought process. When I need to work through a problem or an issue, I write. When I am frustrated or angry about something, I write. At times I have even written letters or e-mails to explain an important issue to someone. I am more confident in my ability to express myself in writing than I am in my ability to talk.

Why? Well, as a talker I have a few habits that I have never successfully broken, especially if I am nervous:

  • I giggle
  • I talk with my hands
  • I pace.

In other words, I do all the things I shouldn’t do if I want to be a great speaker. Somehow these habits in addition to my short stature makes me seem less authoritative even when I am the expert in the room.

However, when I write nobody knows what I look like. Nobody hears the giggles or sees the talking hands. Nobody notices my quirks and my pacing.

When I write, I become the speaker I wish I could be.

For me writing is my language of comfort. For my students they communicate in other ways. In Introductory Theater courses I usually give an option for my projects which allows for any type of presentation; including written papers, performed scenes, artistic projects, etc. I try to leave it open-ended to allow for the variety of learners that come to my classes.  For this upper-division course, however, which is filled with seniors, I am requiring written research/analysis papers as their final project.

Am I doing them an injustice by demanding that they express themselves in writing?

These are students who will soon walk out into the world. Most of them will enter the world of business. Most of them will never have to write another long paper. They’ ll never have to do library research. They’ll never have to turn in a written document with a well-thought out argument.

But then again, maybe they will. If they want to move up in the business world, they need to be able to express themselves clearly. They need to be able to write  well-constructed letters; develop well-thought out and researched reports. They need to be able to express themselves in ways beyond the numbers and graphs.

In other words, they need to be able to write.

And I need to be able to speak the words I write.

We all have something to learn.

 

 

It All Comes Down to Choice

Choices we make define who we become.
Choices  we don’t make allow others to define us.
It all comes down to choice.

In an age where women daily face
the stripping down of choices
each decision we make
adds fuel to the fire
of our right to make choices.

It all comes down to choice.

I’m not talking about life or death here
I’m not talking about my body
or that of a fertilized egg.
Those choices are important
but they are not the only choices that come
with the package of womanhood.

It ALL comes down to choice.

I’m talking about my core
my being
my self
and how each decision
or non-decision
either opens a door
or slams one shut.

It all comes down to choice.

The path I choose is my own to choose
but I am not travelling alone
so one choice
affects all
choices.

IT ALL COMES DOWN TO CHOICE!

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference." Robert Frost

Dancing Through Life One Tea at a Time

I walked into a lovely home filled with chattering women. The kettle whistled on the stove, and the table in another room practically groaned under the weight of finger sandwiches and decadent pastries.

We were celebrating another generation, Smith College style.

Those were the days. The women of Smith College's Morris House gather for a photo in the room we always had tea. I'm in the front row. Can you find me?

Every year, just before nervous high school seniors need to make their final college decisions, active Smith clubs around the country hold teas for accepted students, inviting alumnae from the area to come and encourage these young women who might still be undecided, or reinforce the “rightness” of their choice.

This is the first Smith alumnae event I have attended in a while, and I found myself in a surreal reality of my own making. I went because I need to meet more people in the area. I went because I need to begin to network better. I went because I believe that my Smith education was indeed a great one (even though there are some things I would change). I went because I yearn to connect (in person) with intelligent women who support each others goals.

I found all that there.

But, I also suddenly faced the fact that I have been out of college for a really long time. Except for two much older women (who I believe graduated in the late 50s or 60s) I was one of the oldest alumnae there. I was also one of the only newbies to the alumnae group, so of course everyone asked for my story. Everyone wanted to know what I do. Everyone was interested in why I had moved to this part of Massachusetts.

Anyone who has been following my blog for any time knows that I cannot answer any of those questions easily.

I found myself floundering. Am I theatre artist? Am I an educator? Am I a writer? Am I a stay at home Mom?

With the accepted students, I was okay, sharing memories of Smith days past or able to makes some suggestions based on my experience teaching first year students. I am a good mentor, I know that.

But, discussing my life with alumnae left me sputtering like a slowly deflating balloon.

I woke up this morning asking myself WHY?

  • Why am I so afraid to say I am a writer, and that I am actually writing books?
  • Why do I only associate success with a paycheck?
  • Why do I dismiss all of the really cool things I’ve done in my life as meaningless because I don’t have a current  title, or the home I expected, or the life I thought I would?
  • Why do I find it so hard to trust myself?
  • Why do I doubt myself so much?
  • Why can’t I accept that I am a talented, intelligent, creative individual that has a lot to offer this world, even if I haven’t figured out the method of that offering yet?

As often happens, subtle messages from the universe began to creep into my consciousness in answer to my questions. Or maybe I began looking for answers and interpreting the world around me in terms of my questions.  I can’t be sure.

Whichever it is, as I sat in my local coffee shop inhaling a late breakfast (after having to do a fasting blood test this morning) and staring at my computer screen, the universe began speaking.

First I noticed a Facebook post from a very spiritual person that I follow of a song that I have always loved. I smiled when I saw it, but being in a public place without earphones, I didn’t click the video. However, as you will see, it plays a role in me even writing this post.

Stay tuned . . .

Some of the messages, as they so often do, came from the wonderful source of inspiration that is found in the blogosphere. Comments made on my recent posts about fighting inner enemies and the line between success and failure made me think about how many supportive people exist in this universe, despite the fact that I have had the dubious joy of meeting with so many truly selfish people in recent years. Those people lie behind some of my why questions. But, the supportive and insightful comments I have received recently made me ask new whys:

  • Why have I given those people so much power over who I am now?
  • Why can’t I move beyond the hurt and prove that I am worthy?

Then, I read  4AMWriter’s post about how being creative, especially writing, helps ground her in this post called “Replenishing is Drinking.” Reading her post made me realize that I thrive in creative projects. The more projects I have that I believe in, the more balls I can keep juggling in the air.  I do not thrive in sameness, in mundane day to day tasks that seem to have no purpose beyond keeping me busy. I work best solving problems, facing challenges, and working on projects that somehow make a difference. Perhaps, I realized, I don’t see my WIPs as making a difference, in a world full of people striving to become writers and striving to publish.

I sat and sipped my tea, thinking about why I want to write these stories, and if they do have purpose. The answer is yes. Both stories share, through fictionalized worlds, my questioning of certain social issues that make me fearful for the future of our world. Whether or not these stories ever get seen in a broader sense, they are the stories I need to write to find my path through these issues that bother me so much.

I began to write.  I began to explore one of the characters that I need to understand in order to move a story forward. I wrote for two hours, that seemed like minutes. I wrote almost 800 words, that seemed like volumes.

Then I started on this post.

Of course, the universe has a sense of humor, and my computer battery began to die. So, I deserted the post and headed into the gray rainy day to return home.

When we all leave the house, we leave the radio on for the dogs, as that helps them (sometimes) from their more mischievous instincts. When the music doesn’t play, chaos reins.

The first song I heard as I got settled at home was the same song I saw on Facebook this morning. A song which always reminded me that life is magical, as long as you remember to dance.

So my friends, I know that my life will always be wonderful, as long as I keep dancing, keep dreaming, and keep having warm cups of tea. I don’t have to have all the answers right now, I just have to keep asking questions.

That’s a pretty good thing to know.

Update:

I barely get this post posted when another message from the blogosphere reaches my mailbox. Please read “How to Build Strong Foundations Underneath Your Dreams”, a post that speaks the truth.

The Many Passions (and Confusions) of Lisa

I sat in the bookstore coffee shop, green tea latte at my side, and prepped for the course I am teaching at a nearby university in Theatre for Young Audiences.

A course in my actual field, what a luxury.

Suddenly, as I read the chapters from the book selected for this course (which I went along with as I wasn’t sure what text to use) I found my chest constricting, and a tense feeling in my shoulders. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and wanted to scream or cry despite being in a very public place.

A panic attack settling into my system. A moment for me step back and reflect on what I was feeling and why.

Deep breaths and listen to the silence.

I am a really good teacher. I challenge my students, I make learning fun, I set high expectations, and at the same time I work very hard to help all my students find a way to succeed.

But I’ve lost the joy of teaching. It was sucked out of me because of too much bureaucratic bull#$%* and because of a system that lets the priorities of a powerful few become more important than the needs of the students. I lost the desire from having too many students who plagiarized, or too many who expected–no demanded–to be handed grades rather than to earn grades. I lost the passion by having to fight too hard to even teach what I teach best, or create what I create best, against people who were so caught up in protecting their territory that they didn’t want new ideas, new talent, or anyone who might challenge the status quo.

Yet, I still love teaching when I have a classroom full of students who are open to exploring and seeing the power of learning, no matter what the subject. And I still love directing theatre when it is about a process of creation and exploration rather than trying to become a star and make lots of money. And I still love writing, even if I don’t know where it is heading.

This class (in the one meeting we had so far) seems to be full of students who really want to be there. Well, except for the one student who has already texted me with questions like “where do I find . . .?” “Do I type it into Google?” “How do I look it up?”  “Can I find it at Barnes & Noble?” Questions that I expect people of this generation, raised on technology, to know how to answer. They have more computer skills than I do, or at least they should.

So why did my throat constrict? Why did the panic set in?

I was reading about things I feel passionately about: like the importance of including arts education into the system; or the excellent tool that theatre  is to teach all kinds of skills and educational lessons and reach different types of people; or the need in any culture for theatre and performance and arts programming that reach all levels of society. I didn’t agree with every statement in the book, but still it is a book about my passions.

So why do I feel like crying?

The answer lies in my experience in Slovakia, particularly the time with the Roma. The answer lies in my current struggle with words and search for focus and simplicity. The answer lies in the multiple incarnations of Lisa, and in my inability to figure out how to market myself so that I am DOING rather than only teaching others how to do.

Not that teaching is a bad thing, but if I am not practicing what I preach I feel like an imposter. The answer lies in my imposter syndrome.

The answer lies in the fact that I have lots and lots of passions and projects, but without a deadline, without a “boss”, without a guarantee of a paycheck or some kind of acknowledgment from an outside source I can’t seem to accomplish them. The answer lies in the fact that I don’t have enough self-esteem to do things because I want to, I simply look too much for validation from outside when I know that I should be able to find satisfaction in myself and my projects, and in the joy of sharing what I love.

I am constantly saying that the process is as important (if not more important) than the product, that the journey is the reward. But when it comes to my own life, I can’t get past the block of feeling like I failed somewhere along the way.

This has got to stop!

I look in the mirror and I do not see what other people see.

I look at my list of accomplishments and I do not see what other people see!

I thought that I had finally gotten over this in Slovakia. As a matter of fact, I even wrote this:

 

Am I only able to find peace and purpose when I am away from my normal environment? Am I only able to see myself when someone else leads the way?

Somehow I must find a way to merge my passions with my abilities, and to become my own support “boss”–the person who gives herself deadlines and achieves every dream with or without validation from others.

My journey began in Slovakia, but now I have to face the painful stuff and move through it. The answers do not lie in an outside source.

The answers lie inside of me.

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