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<br /><p class=Green: Where I want to go" src="https://lisawieldswords.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/map-of-travel1.jpg?w=535" width="535" height="266" /> 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?

Finding Comfort in Words

I don’t know if it is the fact that April is National Poetry Month, but my mind keeps going to poetry these days, and where my mind goes, my fingers and heart  follow.

Words written on fragile pages
journals of my life’s journey
sometimes joyous
often sad
meant for no eyes but my own
except . . . perhaps
future generations.

These words comfort and console.

Friendships formed
over books devoured
and discussed in lively groups
some loved
some hated
some faced with confusion.
Books written in words
of hope, of pain, of life.

I travel with these words and feel less alone.

Words written in
the pages of technology
linking me to voices
across the nation
across the world
reaching for people who understand
who celebrate
who love words
who love thought
who live fully.

These words connect me beyond my emptiness.

Books read in the privacy
of loneliness
speaking  in the voice
of friends from afar,
sharing  thoughts, ideas
opinions, refutations
and connections.

These words validate and enhance the words I seek.

Words are my friends
words are my enemy
words are my sustenance
words are my emptiness
words are my life.

” . . . I realized that maybe writing doesn’t require sacrifice. Maybe it’s a gift to experience emotions through our brushes, ink, and paper. I wrote out of sorrow, fear, and hate. You wrote out of desire, joy, and love. We each paid a heavy price for speaking our minds, for revealing our hearts, fort trying to create,but it was worth it, wasn’t it, daughter?” (Lisa See, Peony in Love, 242)

Brabble and Growl (100 Word Challenge)

A little silly poetry for my 100 Word Challenge for Grownups . . . although I guess this is more for kids. Enjoy.

My baby brother’s brabble
with his best friend Bobby,
caused me to foozle badly
doing my favorite hobby.

I dripped the paint all over.
I crumpled all the paper.
The glitter’s now on Rover,
and the room is now in danger.

Mother’s looking grumpy
Father’s looking frazzled
time to hide in my growlery
to avoid more of the brabble.

But hiding is horrendous
with all the noise out there
it makes me want to scream
and pull on someone’s hair.

The solution to the brabble 
between Bobby and my brother
is to send away the rabble
and my project I’ll recover.

Pompous Verbosity for Fun (100 Word Challenge)

For this weeks 100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups, we must incorporate the following words into our post: Ripple  Brood  Evocative  Lilt  Untoward. These five words come from the list of “103 Most Beautiful Words” posted by another blogger. I, in my state of (I’m making up a word here) frustratedboredommixedwithwriter’sblocktiredofwaitinglimbo decided to extend my own challenge by using as many of the beautiful words as I could in my post, knowing–of course–that I would come off sounding like a pompous jerk who uses big words when simple ones will do. The red highlighted words are from the challenge. The purple highlighted words are from the list.  Enjoy, join the challenge, and visit some of the other participants.

As I sit in limbo brooding over the vagaries of life, with its plethora of  untoward yet serendipitous incidents, I ponder the meaning of our existence. Suddenly, an evocative sound interrupts my thoughts, like the effervescent tinkle of a hundred lilting fairy voices. What is it? I wonder. Do I hear the voice of angels, coming to soothe my woebegone soul? No, it is simply a ripple of laughter, floating upon a mellifluous breeze. What a felicitous tintinnabulation, I think to myself. The wonderful sounds are a lagniappe to my soul; simple reminders that the evanescent moments of life are what make life worth living.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love of Literature, Fear of Failure

I have been reading forever, and writing since I knew how to form letters. Books have been my best friends, and sometimes my worst enemies. Writing essays and stories became my escape, and represented a climb to glory that only a few could achieve. Some of my fondest memories of childhood come from my own words–when the school published a poem I wrote, or a teacher read a story I wrote to the class. I relished reports written by me and then presented orally. I still remember doing the research on Basenjis because my dog, Tammy, was part Basenji.

Tammy had the coloring, the face, and the size, but she had a lab chest.

This love of reading and writing lasted throughout school, as I blasted ahead of fellow classmates absorbing literature like food. At Smith, I skipped the Introductory Course in English and went straight into the Sophomore Level. (That only became an issue years later when I started to teach Freshman Comp, and realized I didn’t know how).  I believe I declared a major in English Language and Literature as soon as I was allowed to declare my major.

But wait, you are thinking, isn’t your field theater?

Well, at the time English Language and Literature was one of the HARDEST majors at Smith College. What used to be an easy A for me, became a hard-earned B (with the occasional A). The lowest grade I ever got in college was from my Chaucer class (although I have to say that was not completely a fair grade–but that’s another story).  I tended to excel in the dramatic literature classes more than in the classes about novels or poetry. As much as I loved reading and writing, I started to doubt myself. I had one professor who truly supported me, and allowed me to do a special studies project during my senior year (“The Roles of Women in Shakespeare”). I had one professor who chose favorites, and he happened to be the one who taught Short Story writing. When I graduated, I only had a B+ average in my major.

I grew doubts.

Meanwhile, I had always intended to do a minor in theater. I participated in everything I could, and took more classes than the minor required. (On a side note, I always made sure to take at least one class a semester outside of English or Theater to broaden my horizons–Smith didn’t have any core requirements). So, when senior year rolled around and I met with my minor advisor, she and I realized that I was only three credits shy of the theater major, and that I had an A- (?) average in all those courses. Three production credits. I had done numerous productions for no credit. So, we traipsed over to the chairs office and asked if there was any way I could still be a major, without those credits. He waived them.

So I graduated from Smith College with a double major in English Language and Literature and Theatre.

Little did I know how intricate a role each would come to play in my life.

The theater part is pretty obvious if you have been reading my blog for any length of time. Sorry if this is a little repetitive. I did an internship in electrics and stage management, eventually went back to school for an MFA in directing, and then continued my masochistic pursuit of education to get my PhD in Theatre for Youth. So now I am technically, a theater director/educator with an expertise in theatre for and with children as well as theatre for social change.

Now to English. Between my internship and my MFA I taught English conversation classes in Japan for three years. And of course, I kept reading and writing.

After I got my PhD and moved to Vermont where my husband taught at Castleton State College, I felt like I needed more than teaching adjunct courses for the theater department in the college and directing  one show a year.

So yes, crazy me, signed up for a distance learning class with the Institute for Children’s Literature. That one class led to three, and the book that is gathering dust without a home.

We then moved onto Fort Lewis College where, due to circumstances which I choose not to discuss here, my opportunities to teach in the theatre department were limited and then ultimately disappeared (although I did teach Non Western Theater that was part of the General Education program, as well as Children’s Theater for the Education Department). I got to direct one show (eventually) and had lots of projects in the community, as well as some children’s classes. But again, that wasn’t enough, especially financially. So, the first classes I taught at the college were 1 credit Library Research classes, introducing appropriate use of resources. It was a horrible class  because it was being phased out, but still a requirement. But, it was a foot in the door, and I got to do it because I had a PhD. After that, the Writing Program advertised for a full-time faculty position. I knew I wasn’t qualified, but I applied anyway. I didn’t get that job, but late in the summer (about two weeks before the semester started)  I got a call from the Head of the Writing Program saying “Would you like to pick up a couple of classes? We really need someone.” So I found myself teaching a 100 level and a 200 level course in Composition–without having a clue.

You know what I learned? Give me a challenge and I live up to it. Both those classes were successful, and I learned from my mistakes. I eventually picked up more classes, got on a part-time contract (that included benefits) and taught courses throughout the school in Honors, Comp, Gen Ed, Writing, and the occasional theater class.

Move forward to now. I am at a community college (another long story). I teach Theater Appreciation and Stage Makeup, which are basically the only Theater classes available to me at the moment. It’s a small program. I direct. This past semester, the person in charge of adjuncts asked if I would be willing to teach a Comp I class. No problem, I’m experienced now (although this one was very different).  He asked me if I’d teach one on-line as well. Slight problem, but I was up for the challenge (and that class was better than the live one).

I didn’t expect any classes over the summer, but I said I was willing to teach some on-line courses. (Live ones would be too complicated for the summer). At first nothing, and then I was offered two classes. Slight problem, instead of Comp I he wanted me to do Comp II. Okay, I’ve done that before as well, just a matter of figuring the technology again.

However, the second class leads me to here and now. To this present moment. I am teaching an Introduction to Literature Class. American Literature. (Did I mention that my degree at Smith mostly focused on Brit Lit).

I’M FREAKING OUT!

There, vent over. Luckily I have a wonderful blogging buddy who has sent me a gracious gift.  So, here’s a shout out to Amanda at A.Hab’s View who is a goddess in disguise.

Now, I must stop procrastinating and face the beast.

Humbled by Language

Cover of "Reading Like a Writer: A Guide ...

Cover via Amazon

My life has always been enriched by words.

My earliest memories include the sounds of words; words read to me, words sung to me, and words lisped hesitantly in my own youthful tones. I don’t know if this is a real memory, or one coming from the numerous times I’ve heard the story; but I vaguely recall being handed a newspaper at around 4 years old to sound out words that had no meaning to me yet but challenged me with their complexity and their poetry. I loved the feel of strange syllables tumbling their way off of my tongue.

I learned language through writing. I remember my earliest stories and poems written for school and for fun. Mermaids and princesses, talking fish and puppet shows, descriptions of families and my love of spaghetti all appeared in childish scrawls embellished by drawings in creative colors. I loved creating rainbows with words and crayola.

I learned language through reading. I read books, books, and more books. I read magazines, short stories, poetry. I read textbooks and letters, journal articles and recently blog post ofter blog post. As I posted earlier, the books we choose, the books we remember, the books we love, the books we name–those books help tell our story. But reading goes beyond books. I read to escape. I read to dream. I read cereal boxes every morning to entertain myself through breakfast. (As I am working on this, my daughter has picked up a yogurt container and begun to read–like mother like daughter). On long trips, I still read every billboard I pass–a habit that has lead to me writing a post that actually caused a little stir.  My recent discovery that the smooth ride of our Kia Sedona allows me to read books without motion sickness was a welcome one on our long drive from Kansas to Massachusetts and back. I revisited the world of Tolkien as we travelled across snow-filled fields of nothingness. I imagined our trip as one on horseback and boat, rather than the dull drone of a car engine.

I learned language through song. Even today, I can remember all the songs of my childhood, because language put to music stays with me. I cannot name artists. I cannot name albums. But I can sing any song that has wrapped me in the lyrical language of beautiful music combined with imagery,  assonance and alliteration. This includes language beyond English. My first introduction to Hebrew came through the music of the chants and prayers. I cannot speak it in conversation. I cannot translate it for others. But, because of the music of the language I can still read Hebrew and often sing comforting lullabies of Hebrew prayers when I need to find peace.

This love of language has served me well when it comes to learning other languages.  I’m not fluent in anything anymore; but I’ve relished the romance of French, I’ve struggled with the rolling R’s of Spanish, I’ve conquered the backward grammar of Japanese, and I’ve briefly battled with the guttural sounds of German and Russian. (I admit, that battle never got very far).

I pursued language in college, studying English Language & Literature at Smith College, which at the time was one of the most difficult majors there. I recognized that my interest in theater was merely an extension of this love of the written word, because the written word spoken out loud is language sung in a human cadence. I ended up majoring in both, but went on to focus on theater for a number of reasons that included the power of the spoken word, but also my own fear of my ability to write.

I was afraid that I had no real power of language.

Where did that fear come from? Obviously, this love of language had grown in me from the moment I heard and understood words. So why did I pursue the spoken word rather than the written word?

Because one teacher told me I wasn’t good enough. Because one teacher gave me B’s in a short story writing class. Because one teacher had a favorite student who was not me. And because I doubted I had anything new to say.

Flash forward many years. Language took on many roles in my life: from teaching English conversation in Japan, to writing a doctoral dissertation; from teaching First Year compositions classes in different colleges, to writing my first book for young readers; from taking extended studies classes in creative writing, to finding my voice in the world of blogging. I finally thought I had conquered my fear and reconnected with language.

Until today, when suddenly I feel like a complete novice again. Why, you ask? I started reading Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.

Prose reads books. (Interesting, I wonder if Prose is her real name?). Prose writes books. Prose has an incredible understanding of the art of writing. Prose makes me feel like I have never read a book in my entire life. I thought I was well-read, but her close analysis of stories I’ve never heard of as well as books that I probably should have read by now makes me feel nearly illiterate. My list of books to read has grown tremendously. I want to go back and re-read some of the books I have already read with close reading; relishing every word, every sentence, every paragraph.

Prose practices what she preaches. Her analysis astonishes. Her knowledge astounds. But it is her own ability to craft a beautiful sentence, to choose words that work, to write a paragraph filled with honest observation and clarity–that ability has left me humbled:

It was fortunate that I had lived so much in books, and especially in the books of the past. For one thing, I seemed not to know that no one wrote that way anymore. For another, I was somehow unaware that no one lived that way any longer–that is, in circumstances that encouraged and facilitated the telling of long stories.

In an era in which air travelers compare notes on how best to prevent their seatmates from making casual conversation (the eyeshade! the earplugs! the open magazine!) it seems for less likely that one passenger would tell another (as happens in Tolstoy’s “The Kreutzer Sonata”) a long, tormented account of how sexual jealousy ruined his marriage and his life. Perversely, it’s more likely that someone might “share” this confession with a national TV audience. Now that anyone who talks for more than a few seconds–that is, anyone who prevents us from talking for more than a few seconds–is generally regarded as a bore, what are the chances that a group of gentlemen will gather before a fire to exchange the detailed histories of long-past love affairs . . . ? (86-87)

Throughout the book I find passages that trill in my heart–those of the masters and those of Prose herself. The beauty of a well-crafted sentence. The lusciousness of descriptive language or the perfect word. Each sentence fills me with yearning for more of the magic of metaphor and hyperbole. I long for the ability to craft a sentence that resonates through time and space.

I feel humbled and overwhelmed.

I feel conscious of crafting sentences, which means that I started this post last night. This could become problematic, as I struggle with every word I write hoping to find the one that sings, the one that fits, the one that resonates. I’m allowing myself this struggle today, but then I need to move on and regain what I’ve only recently discovered–that I am indeed a writer.

I write. And so it begins . . .

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