Celebrating Projects

This (long-ish) list of mine is making me take trips into memory and thing pop into my head. I find myself remembering with a smile or a groan some of the interesting and obscure creative projects I’ve participated in, with people of all ages. So today, for #32, I celebrate some of those moments.

History Comes to Life

The first one that popped into my head has led me on a futile search for some record of another amazing person in my life. When I was a Sophomore in high school, I had a wonderful teacher named Rita Smith (who would a few years later be named the Time Magazine teacher of the year). She taught social studies, and as a class project we created a living chess tournament using characters from history (The War of the Roses) as our chess pieces. I, along with a fellow student, wrote the script for the tournament, which we then submitted for the state history competition, and made it to the semi-finals I believe. We all performed the living chess play/tournament in Boston, dressed in costume and enjoying every moment. This was one of the moment I saw the power of theatre as a teaching tool, but also the influence of an incredible and creative teacher on making learning an enjoyable and memorable experience. To this day, I strive to create opportunities like that in everything I do. I spent the day trying to find out where Rita Smith is now, but haven’t found any information. I’d like to say thank you, if I could. (Any Brockton High School alums who may read this . . . do you know where she is?)

Mystery on a Train

When I lived in Vermont, one summer I taught a summer camp at the Burlington Center of the Arts that was called “Mystery on the Flyer.” The kids who participated created a murder mystery that we performed on a moving train in Burlington. It was fun. It was fabulous. It was an adventure.

We met all the characters in the train station first, then we got on the train and the mystery began.

We met all the characters in the train station first, then we got on the train and the mystery began.

G.O.A.L Reached

While living in Durango, I worked on several projects geared toward grades 5-8 that I found rewarding. One was the Girl’s Opportunities in Arts and Leadership, where I helped some middle school girls find their voices through writing and onstage. I love mentoring girls. I also worked with a group f 5th graders as an Improvisation coach for a Destination ImagiNation competition which combines science, theatre and social studies. They placed fourth in the state and were a wonderful group of kids.

Creativity is for Everyone

In Kansas I worked on a program that I’ve written about elsewhere in this blog, providing an arts/drama workshop for a group of adults with developmental disabilities. That will always remain one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

Combating Hatred

If you read any of my posts about Slovakia, and working with the Roma you know how special and influential that experience was, and how much I hope to find a way to continue with projects like that.

Students Who Think

Over the years, I’ve managed to inspire or challenge some of my students to take their learning beyond the classroom. There was the one who decided to create a piece of invisible theatre in the campus center protesting the abuse of women around the world; there was the class (last semester) who decided to do a flash mob of sorts exploring the issue of sleep deprivation and stress around exam time.

There were Honors students who became inspired by something I taught  and pursued that as their project.  There was the Japanese student in my conversation class who took my discussion of poetry back to his college classroom to share. There was the student who took a chance and applied for a transfer at her dream school, partially because of a discussion with me (she’ll be graduating from Emerson in May). The list of students who have inspired me because of their passion, and of whom I feel like I’ve helped inspire as well, is ever-changing and growing. I’m honored to have been even a small part of their journey.

While I still sometimes look at my career and say, what have I done? I don’t have a big name in my field. I’m not famous. I never became the well-known director I had dreamed of becoming, it’s these smaller moments and short-term projects (a list which could contain many other examples) that I cherish.

What are some of the work/project experiences in your life that you hold dear?

Embracing My Birthday Month

This month it’s official. There’s no going back from middle age.

Meanwhile, however, my mind does not feel anything near how old my body is. In order to accept the inevitable, and embrace the reality that more years simply means that I have lived life in a fascinating way, I’ve decided to create a slide show, celebrating me. The challenge to this is that I can’t seem to find a lot of pictures from my early years, but here goes.

Enjoy or ignore as you see fit. I may add more images as I find them

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He Was My Father

I said farewell to my father today. I kept looking for him to be sitting next to us, but he wasn’t there. My mother asked me to write a eulogy for him, and these are the words I said.

 

Photo by Steve Kramer

Photo by Steve Kramer

He was my father.

 

He shared his love of reading with me. He said that, as a child, he always loved to read, and he carried that with him throughout his life. I follow in his footsteps.

 

He was the person I went to when I doubted my own words; we’d argue over the use of commas.

 

He was the only one who voluntarily read my dissertation. I’m not sure what he thought, except he told me he needed a dictionary in parts.

 

He was the person I’d call when I applied for jobs and was unsure what to say. He made me believe that anything was possible.

 

He came to my rescue when I needed help with Sarah, whose toddler days sometimes meant I couldn’t always get my work done. Nathan had to be away for some reason, and I had a big interview to prepare for, so he came and stayed for a couple of weeks, to play with his granddaughter and even take her to the beach for the first time.

 

He printed out images of Snoopy on a dot matrix printer and handed out punch cards with messages on them as he wowed my elementary school classmates with a room full of computer technology.

 

He charmed my friends whenever they met him.

 

He told awful jokes that I’m now passing down to Sarah.

 

He greeted every spring with this memorable poem, “Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the birdies is, the birds is on the wing, no, the wings is on the birds.”

 

He mastered the art of telling the Passover story as quickly as possible so we could get to the food, and of giving me hints (without anyone knowing) which allowed me to find the Afikomen before the big kids.

 

His snore scared away the bears, but his joy on one particular canoe trip made the adventure even greater.

 

He made connections with people in Japan faster than most Americans who lived there.

 

He led the way on every journey we took. He loved to walk and we had to scramble to keep up.

 

He was my personal GPS system, even though I believe he and I have a completely different understanding of the term “short cut.”

 

He jumped over my wedding dress when my parents walked me down the aisle.

 

He always said that, when he was young he “walked to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways.”

 

His favorite childhood story involved a skunk, a dog, tomato juice, and the missing seat in his pants.

 

He was the silliest looking samurai ever.

 

I learned early on never to pull his finger, and that beans were a musical fruit.

 

He played endless games with his only grandchild, who has these words to say:

 

I MISS YOU PAPA

I loved the way you laughed.

I loved the way you played games with me.

I loved that you watched me when I was a baby.

I wish I was brave enough to go to your funeral.

I miss you SO much Papa and I love you.

Rest in Peace! Sarah

 

 

He was taken far too soon, by a disease that deprived us of his wit, wisdom and his voice. Two years ago, Nathan, Sarah, and I tried to capture his memories using techniques from StoryCorps. From that interview I learned how much he loved my mother, how much he had hoped to spend his retirement traveling with her, and these words from his mouth

“I had a great life.”

 

I will miss you forever, Dad.

 

 

Baruch Dayan Ha’emet.

 

 

 

 

 

The Magic of Childhood Memories

A lake in New Hampshire.

1970 something.

On a boat.

The Idiot was nowhere near us, but I borrowed a few lines of his style since his post about Jaws and the discussion following made me flash on this particular memory.

Dad and Deb at the lake, I wonder if they were searching for mermaids? (Note: there are not many pictures of my adventures, mostly my brother and sister's.)

Dad and Deb again. Maybe Debbie is pointing at a lake monster in the distance.

We had a couple of lovable idiots on the boat. One of them, I called Daddy. The other was an old family friend named Hank. They had taken us out on a boat and I remember floating on the middle of the lake when both of them went overboard.

I’m not sure it was by choice. In later discussions my older sister (by five years) said that there was beer involved, and some sort of horseplay.

They were under water for a long time, and came back up covered in black gunk.

“What happened?!” I asked.

“We were attacked by a giant octopus.” Daddy said. And Hank reinforced his story.

Of course, I believed them. I mean, isn’t every New England lake inhabited by giant man-eating octopi?

Now, despite the fact that The Idiot said,

“Lisa – There is nothing I take more pride in….than dredging up old, deep, psychological wounds and memories……. So glad I could help :) “

I’m not really wounded by the gullible naiveté of that little girl, instead I am saddened that I can no longer give into that complete and utter belief of childhood.

I can no longer lie in my bed at night on Christmas wishing that, since Santa wouldn’t come to my house and bring me presents, he would at least let Rudolph knock on my window and take me for a magical ride.

Forgive my early Christmas reference.

I can no longer wander through a Halloween night, wondering if some of the creatures wandering the streets are real. [OK, I can, but I’m not supposed to admit it ;)] I cannot sit in a pumpkin patch and wait for the appearance of the Great Pumpkin. I never did that, but I always empathize with Linus when watching the special, I want so much to believe.

I can no longer wish upon a star, bursting out into song of course, and expect my wish will come true with a simple spark of fairy magic.

I can no longer run through the streets on a cool spring evening searching for Elijah in hopes that he might appear.

I can’t wander through a house that I am not familiar with looking at closet doors and wardrobes wondering if I can find an opening to a world like Narnia through one of them, and hoping I will.

More often than not, I’m driving the car, so I can’t give into the traveling fantasies of my childhood days, where I am riding a horse along the side of the road or conversing with a person just like me who lives among the stars.

I’m not supposed to believe in fairies and leprechauns, ghosts and goblins, or anything else truly magical. But that is a true loss. I wrote recently how much I would like to think like an eight year old, and I mean it.

The other day Nathan found our old video tape of Hook (1991) starring Dustin Hoffman,  Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, and Maggie Smith (love her) and directed by Steven Spielberg. Now, some people called this movie a flop, but I always loved it. Why? Because it reminds all adults, and even kids, of the value of imagination and believing in magic. How can you not love the following scene where a meal of nothing turns into a feast of fabulosity (and I know I made up that word)?

I want to get back on the boat and believe in the octopus, because believing in the impossible makes this world and this life a place full of possibility.

Don’t you think?

 

Monsters in the Closet and Other Scary Stuff

“I can’t sleep with the closet door open.”

I made this statement on one of the rare occasions when the entire Kramer family was gathered together. My mother looked at me as if I was completely insane and said, “Really? You’re kidding!”

“No, I’m not. I’m afraid of monsters in the closet. I know they aren’t really there, but I can’t help being afraid.”

My mother continued to scoff.

Much to my surprise my older sister (Deb) who you haven’t met often, and my older brother (Steve) who you have, jumped to my defense.

“I know exactly why she’s afraid,” Deb said. “It was because of Grandma’s house.”

“Yeah,” Steve agreed. “The door with the glass doorknob.”

My mom looked at us all strangely. “What are you talking about?”

So we explained.

When my grandparents were alive we would go visit them in Belmar, New Jersey. My grandparents passed away within a few months of each other when I was about 6 years old, so my memories of them are limited. My sister is 5 years older than me, so she probably has clearer memories, but we rarely talk about them. Perhaps we should.

When we visited my grandparents the kids all stayed in one room. A small double bed filled one side of the room, and a cot lay opposite for the third little body. We alternated who would sleep in the double and who would sleep in the cot. You might think we all wanted the cot, but you would be wrong. Why?

Because the cot was right next to the scariest door in the world. The one with the glittery, diamond-shaped door knob.

 

I’m not sure where the door led. I always thought it led to the attic (shudder) but someone told me it was just a closet. When it was my turn, I would lie in that cot, the door knob inches from my non-sleeping eyes convinced that at any moment the door knob would turn from unseen hands and open to suck me into a terrifying nightmare.

We were all afraid of the door knob.

“Why didn’t you say something?” Mom asked. “Grandma would have done something.”

“We were kids, Mom,” My sister answered.

But I think it was deeper than that, I think we didn’t say anything because nobody would have believed us anyway. We would have received the same reaction then as we did on this day, nearly 40 years later.

I am convinced that my grandparent’s house had its ghosts, even if they were simply the ghosts of our imagination. I am also convinced that, if I have ever really been visited by ghosts, the visitations have come from my grandparents, my nana (Dad’s mother) and possibly a man we called Cousin Lou who may or may not actually be my relative. All I remember about him is the giant red teddy bear with the flowered belly that he gave me after winning it from the fair.

When did they visit? I will try to remember some of the occasions that add to my belief in the power of spirit, as I discussed yesterday.

  • When Nana passed away, a bird got into my brother’s tiny bedroom somehow. My mom claims the window was open, but I remember it being closed. Even if it was open, this had never happened before. Birds, in Jewish folklore, can represent a “winged soul.” This particular bird was extremely important as it got into the room a few minutes before we got the phone call saying Nana had just passed away. I will always believe Nana came to say good-bye.
  • I used to have a recurring dream that took place at my grandparents house. Sometimes we would go down into the basement of the house (a basement that I really don’t have a memory of). Usually my grandparents aren’t there, at least not visibly, but I hear their voices talking to me and telling me something. I might just pass these off as dreams except for something I learned much later in life, Deb and Steve both used to have similar dreams.
  • In a similar way, Cousin Lou often visited me in dreams of my Nana’s house, although not as often.
  • There is one day that I know all my ancestors were with me in spirit; the day I became a Bat Mitzvah. I remember the day starting out cloudy, threatening rain. This upset me, as I wanted a beautiful day. But, by the time the Friday evening ceremony rolled around, the sun shone in glorious April beauty. A gift from my loved ones. When I stood on the Bima to read my haftorah, my stomach jiggled with a million butterflies. There was a certain part of the complex Hebrew text that always sounded like something else to me. I can’t remember exactly what, but it was something like “we love you” or another comforting phrase like that. It was early on in my chanting, and as soon as I hit the phrase my heart filled with warmth and I knew that the people who would have most celebrated that day (my grandparents were Orthodox Jews) were there with me, with glowing golden smiles on their faces. My Mom said she saw me smile then. I continued with a strong voice, and was even invited back to repeat the haftorah the following year.

Of course, this could all have been the workings of a very imaginative child, but who knows? Most bumps and creaks in the night can be easily explained away, but once in a while you experience a mystery that adds to the awesome complexities of life.

So forgive me if I close my closet door before I go to sleep. You never know when something unexpected might come out.

The True Legacy of the Super Bra!

A selection of underwire bras in a retail store

Image via Wikipedia

Time to begin with revelations of truth versus lies from yesterday’s memetastic post. In order to make convincing lies, I simply changed a word or two to an actual truth. This seems to have thrown a few people, particularly for my first lie. I wrote “The legacy I left behind in college involves a pair of underwear” but that is not quite true. Here is the true story.

Picture this: a house full of intelligent women who spend most of their time studying, writing papers, discussing how to solve the problems of the world,  as well as partying, eating frozen yogurt, and contemplating romantic relationships of all sorts. It’s a diverse group of women from all around the world; each holding different belief systems, some studying science, some arts, some varieties in between; some athletes and health fanatics, some who would prefer to curl up with a book over doing curls; some wealthy, some on scholarship, many balancing school work with jobs and other extracurricular activities. These women live together, eat together, fight together, celebrate together–eventually they even menstruate together (although, thankfully that went by floor rather than the entire house at one time!).

Now picture a campus full of those houses, each its own little pressure cooker ready to explode. Relief can be found in mini-house rivalries, and festive traditions sponsored by the college including the magical mountain day when the bells ring and the entire campus shuts down to celebrate the glories of fall in New England.

Add to all that the pressure of upcoming exams with more papers to do, more books to read, more projects to complete. Pressure builds and tension and strange things happen as the women search for a little release. One of these is a campus tradition. A scheduled PRIMAL SCREAM that starts on one end of campus and moves across to the other. A wave of sound that reaches an ultimate crescendo in the darkness before the women return to their work, their play, and possibly their sleep.

Other methods develop, not necessarily condoned by the college, but developing as much power as the traditions of yore. This is how I BECAME A LEGEND!

Well, not all of me, but the most prominent part. 😉

It all began one evening  during my sophomore year when the stress was beginning to build. Some of my more crazy outgoing friends were looking for a little break. They decided it was time to haze initiate the First Year’s who looked up to them. (On a side note, the women leading his craziness have gone on to become doctors, judges, and other prestigious individuals all around the country).

I’m not sure who said it, but someone spoke up with “Hey! Let’s take off our shirts and bras, hang our bras on the trees, and run around the house topless!” Hilarity ensued as the bevy of beauties began tearing off their tops for this first fateful run.

I did not rush to join in the fun for a few reasons. In those days, I tended toward somewhat conservative behavior. I still hadn’t broken free from the “goody-goody” role that I grew up with (I don’t know that I ever truly have, but now I at least show my rebellious wild side more often).  I didn’t want to get caught doing anything stupid. I was also, in some ways, the responsible one in the group–the one who helped others home and took care of them after a party that went a little wild. So, on this occasion I fell into “good ol reliable Lisa” persona and said, “I’ll stay in here in case you need someone to bail you out of jail.”

But that was just an excuse. In truth I was embarrassed and terrified. I am a –ahem–well-endowed individual. Okay,  I can compete with Dolly Parton and any bodacious beauty  you can think (real or fake).  So the thought of releasing the girls and running around the outside of a large home sounded embarrassing, bouncy, and downright painful. Eventually I would overcome the fear and join in the fun . . . but that comes later in this story.

The bras hung on the trees! The goddesses began their run! I hovered by the door which had to be opened from the inside or by using a key and then the plot thickened . . .

Once or twice a semester the fire captains would practice fire drills in our house. Often late at night, it would force us out of bed in various states of dress, stumbling down the stairs to hover in groups while the house leaders checked to make sure we all survived the imaginary fire. This wasn’t so bad, as these drills always ended with donuts and warm drinks in a festive atmosphere.  On this fateful day, the day that begins my legacy, the fire captains pulled a fire drill at just the right moment. Yes, I admit, I knew that it was about to happen and I did not put a stop to it. Fire alarm pulled, dozens of women start pouring down the stairs and out of the house just as the topless few rounded the corner to reclaim their lacy bras with a victorious yell!

And this, dear readers, was the beginning of the legendary Topless Fire Drill Team!

We did not do it at fire drills (or at least not intentionally). But, once or twice a semester we would schedule a run. The rules were simple:

  • Thou shalt run topless!
  • Thou shalt hang thy bra on the tree before running.
  • If thou art a visiting male, thou shalt not watch unless thou participate. Male participation requires the removal of the entire bottom portion of thy clothing!

I eventually gave in and ran, supporting my bowling balls with my hands to alleviate bounces and bruising. I was always afraid I’d give myself a black eye! 😀  The runs got more complicated and gained fame on campus. The campus police would try to catch us in the act, search lights blazing from the tops of their cars. Eventually, we would warn them before it would happen so other houses wouldn’t call and complain. They still never actually caught us in the act.

When a roadblock was put up–in the form of the Science Building that was being erected right behind our house, thus cutting off our complete circuit of the house–we simply adjusted, by running over to neighboring houses and harassing entertaining them with our bouncing breasts.

When senior year rolled around, we felt that this new and freeing tradition should continue. The original members of the team decided to pass on the Captain-ship to another generation. The new captains of the team would receive a whistle and something even more glorious– a bra containing the signatures of the original team. Of course, the only bra big enough to support the signatures of all involved belonged to yours truly.

Now flash forward many years (I refuse to specify exactly how many). The students from this particular house decided to celebrate a significant birthday for the house, and invited all alumna to come. I lived near enough to make the trip, and decided it would be fun to go. This is how I learned of the true power of that legacy!

During my conversations with some of the occupants of the house, they mentioned that there was a Topless Fire Drill Team!

“Really! I was one of the original founders.”

“No! Seriously?!” I have to show you something. The woman runs off to her room to come back bearing THE BRA that had been passed down from senior to underclasswoman until this very day.

“That’s my bra.” I tell them.

“No, really? We didn’t think you were real”

And so my legend lives on . . .

Locations of Peace

 

MISTY CANOE Photograph by Steve Kramer http://taochild.wordpress.com/

 

I search for peace.

I know I must find it inside myself but the location seems locked away behind walls and memories.

Yesterday, my brother posted pictures from a canoe trip we took years ago. That trip challenged me in many ways. It was exhausting. It was fun. It was aggravating. It was exhilarating. It was also filled with beauty, and silence, and the call of the loons.

In other words, it held moments of peace.

I need to remember those moments, and search for new ones. My most peaceful moments often come with a sense of beauty. Not always in nature, but often. Sometimes I find them in a warm cup of chai, the sun streaming early golden light through the curtains.

Sometimes I find peace watching my daughter play joyfully with friends.

I often find peace looking at fish, in the ocean or the aquarium, or in this case a whale at Mystic Aquarium:

 

Sometimes I find peace reading a good book or listening to beautiful  music.

But ultimately I know that the one place I have to find peace is the one where the search is the hardest–I need to find the peace inside myself.

How do I do that?

Time Moves Slowly in the Blink of an Eye

As of today, I have been married 11 years.

That means we have been together for 16 years.

How is that possible?

When you are a child time can never move quickly enough. If you don’t like school, or are having a bad day, the clock clicks slowly as you wait for the bell to ring. That last week of school before a vacation seems to grow longer. Summer vacation, when you’ve reached the point where you have done everything you can think of and now miss your friends, drags on until the first exciting day of school.

When you are an adult, however, time passes between breaths. Or at least it does in hindsight.

Our life has taken us in many directions. I won’t lie and say it has all been easy or blissfully happy, but it has been a fascinating journey. For some of it, I’m not sure why he puts up with me. I’m the one who forgets to buy anniversary cards and birthday cards (sorry Nathan). I’m the one who has a tendency toward crazy.

But he’s still here. And I love him.

Yet, I cannot comprehend the passage of time with the reality of our relationship. It all happened yesterday, not years ago.

I can remember when Nathan and I first started dating. Well, I wasn’t really sure we were dating but I hoped we were. The fluttery feeling inside when I would see him. The way I “relaxed” outside of the building whenever I thought he might arrive (we met in grad school). Of course, relaxation does not usually include hyper-alertness to everybody approaching the building in the hopes it might be him.

I remember times apart, and I remember times when we were so close that separation hurt. I remember good times and bad. Laughter and tears.

I remember working hard together and apart at the University of Hawaii. Shows and people, classes and papers all were a part of that. I remember my apartment, my favorite one ever, which was the location of a wonderful winter break he and I spent together.

I remember the year apart when he graduated first, and we were not sure we would stay together. That was the year, I think, that he recognized how much he cared about me.

I remember ugly pizza colored carpeting in the apartment he rented in Glen Carbon, IL where I joined him after graduating. Another year of confusion with a boring job, interesting people, and confusion about what to do next. He was so supportive when I said, I think I’m going back to school. I gave the choice to come or go.

He turned down an awesome job opportunity to follow me.

I remember my dad breaking a glass at the restaurant in Phoenix, AZ when Nathan proposed to me in front of my family.

I remember trying to decide the best place to get married. We wanted a small wedding, but couldn’t find a good location. We finally decided that, in a way, Hawaii would be easiest. So much for small;  my side 7, his side 100+.

I remember our lovely house in Vermont that we filled with warmth and puppy love. Lizzy was smaller and a 6 month old bundle of energy, now she is getting old. 

I remember climbing into the car in Vermont on a freezing cold night in February to rush to the hospital so Sarah could enter this world.

I remember the pain and fear that led to our next move to Colorado; and the even greater pain, fear and heartache that led to our most recent move here.

Each moment is vivid, but at the same time fading away. Each moment happened yesterday. Yet yesterdays fades back into the distance.

Sometimes I wish I could make time stop, but then life couldn’t happen.

Happy Anniversary, Nathan! I appreciate every moment of this journey we’ve had together. It has been a journey full of love. I can’t wait until we see what the next years bring. We will know in the blink of an eye.

 

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