Hailing a Cab with Grace and Other Lessons Learned in a New York Minute

Yesterday I wrote about the fabulous and powerful arts experiences I had during my short trip to NYC, but I did not spend all of it in theatrical adventures. No, other experiences abounded, full of fun and learning in a world so very different from my own.

Lesson #1: Only crazy women wear heels in NYC. No offense to any women out there who may actually wander around in heels on a regular basis, but I think you are insane. I wore my black boots, because they are comfortable and I figured the heel (less than an inch I believe) wouldn’t be problematic. WRONG!!! By the end of the weekend my feet showed signs of blisters and I’m convinced that someone attached forty lb. weights to my legs.I am convinced that the only women who really wear them on a regular basis are the ones who have drivers to secretly pick them up a few blocks down the street after they make their legs make a stunning appearance.  On the plus side, when I put my jeans on to return home on Sunday,  they seemed to fit better than they have in a long while. Actually, they were a little big.

Lesson #2: How to Hail a Cab Gracefully. Lesson # 2 is a direct result of lesson #1.  After a day of walking in my boots, plus a few other twists and turns that added complexity (listed below) we decided that perhaps it would be wise to take a taxi to the performance on Saturday night, as the nearest subway stop to the venue would require about 10-15 minutes of walking afterward. I hobbled out of Christen’s apartment ahead of her, while she finished getting ready, so that I could slowly make my way to the next main street where we would hopefully find a taxi. I paused long enough to take a lovely photo outside her apartment (her street is absolutely gorgeous). “If I’m brave enough,” I said. “I’ll try to get a cab.”   “No, don’t! They won’t wait for me.” I listened, but I watched for her, she was just down the street and said, “if you see one, you can get one now.” I turned, I saw a cab, I gracefully raised two fingers and Voila! No jumping around like a maniac waving at every passing vehicle, just a flick of the wrist and success! 😀

The street outside Christen’s place.

Lesson #3: Mani/Pedis You Can Afford. Christen and I talked about living in New York. “The main expense,” she told me, “is rent and transportation like train passes and things. But those are still cheaper than owning a car. Food can be inexpensive, even eating out, because they all compete with each other. Same thing with Mani/Pedis and Laundry.”  She had taken me to her favorite place for a Mani/Pedi, which was inexpensive enough to allow me to add on a 10 minute massage. What a special treat.

Horrifying evidence of my day of decadence.

Lesson #4: Sometimes Giving Up Gives You a New Perspective. When I woke up on Saturday morning early enough to write my Morning Pages before we had to get to Penn Station for the train to Newark in time for Christen’s 9am class, I discovered that I could not find my glasses. They were simply gone. Blaming it on either her cats or the poltergeist that occasionally (supposedly) haunts her kitchen, I searched frantically but had to give up in the name of time. So, I spent most of the day Saturday wandering through a blurry universe, the world unclear like swimming under water.  This added to the complexity of the day, including making it impossible to add a facial into the decadence (no worries, we took care of that in a different way, as you shall see below) because we had to find the glasses before the performance that night.  We tore her apartment apart, looking everywhere including places I hadn’t been. Nothing. Nada! I started thinking about, how I could get an emergency eye doctor appointment when I didn’t even have  a doctor yet, Christen was in the process of giving up and feeling horrible about it. “I FOUND THEM!!!” she yelled. Somehow they had fallen into the mechanism of the pull out bed, and gotten caught within the spring. They moved when the bed moved, and they were dark enough to blend in. However, by giving u,p Christen somehow was able to see them more clearly. Message from the universe perhaps? Sometimes you just have to let go to find your way.

I look strange teaching without glasses. I used to wear contacts, but I have become accustomed to my new look.

Lesson #5: Girlfriends and Zombies are the Best. Following the NYU performance with the world’s creepiest zombie, I went out with two lovely ladies for drinks. While there, one of those lovely ladies shared some news that just makes me giggle and feel very, very happy. I also felt really honored to be blessed with their friendship.  Not to be outdone, the next night Christen and I felt the need to continue the girl talk after seeing Hedda. Since we had not been able to squeeze a facial in that day, we did our own, and managed to recreate the zombie effect in elegant style.

Lovely, aren't we?

Lesson #6: Groupons and Saturday Brunch are the Best!

Enough said.

There you have it. My adventures in the Big City.

What lessons have you learned in your travels?


A Weekend of Powerful Arts

I was only there for about 41 hours.

In New York City, 41 hours can be packed with adventure, learning, fun, emotions, and everything in between.  In the next few posts I will share some of the craziness and fabulousity (I like creating words) of this adventure. Of course, I must begin with one of my main reasons for this trip at this particular time. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that one of the issues I am most passionate about is

The Power and Importance of the Arts!!!!

This short venture into the Big Apple, while also an excuse for fun with friends, was really based on this premise. Three separate experiences validated and reinforced this for me in interesting ways.

Part I

Je Laisse L’Amour Entrer:
Even Zombies Need Art

On Friday night I saw this devised theatre piece performed by undergraduate students from the Playwrights Horizons Theater School at NYU, Tisch School of the Arts.

Devised theatre, as defined by the (ahem) always trustworthy source of Wikipedia, is:

Devised theatre (also called collaborative creation, particularly in the United States [1]) is a form of theatre where the script originates not from a writer or writers, but from collaborative, usually improvisatory, work by a group of people (usually, but not necessarily, the performers).”

I have a love/hate relationship with devised theatre. I love working on it, and when it is good it is really really good. Sometimes I find it so esoteric and confusing that I don’t enjoy it. This wasn’t one of those times.

The program explains that Je Laisse L’Amour Entrer (I Let Love in) was “Based on the Ballet La Sylphide & The Music of Nick Cave and Rob Zombie.” The text also includes William Shakespeare, Anton Chekhov, Helen Fisther, Robert Sternberg, and Wikipedia. In other words it was a mash-up of classic complicated ballet love story with hard and classical rock, with classic texts, all mixed in with a little zombie horror. Complicated, right?

In reality, it was a blast.

At first I wasn’t sure. My biggest complaint about this production was that they painted the entire theatre yellow (which is always a complex color on the stage) then dressed the ensemble cast in costumes that matched the yellow, and lit it with yellow light. This meant that sometimes the performers bodies disappeared in a performance that relied heavily on movement and the incredible physicality of the performers. However, eventually I was able to let that go for the pure fun of the evening, especially after the zombie lover crashed out of a cardboard box that had been sitting on the stage since before the audience entered the theatre. The production celebrated love, questioned purpose, pointed out hypocrisy, and glorified the pure joy of living life with love and passion (even when you fall in love with a zombie).

"Our Zombie in Her Tu-Tu, Photo Courtesy of Joanna Li " borrowed from a blog post by Southerner in the City. http://southernerinthecity.blogspot.com/2012/03/je-laisse-lamour-entrer.html

What really blew me away about this production was the quality of performances by these students and the commitment of each performer to create a highly energized and engaging show.  There wasn’t a weak link in the entire ensemble. It was fun, terrifying, full of surprises and a delight to watch.

Part II

Art and Culture in Public Service:
The Important Truths

The main reason for this trip was to be a guest lecturer in my friend Christen’s class at Rutgers called Art and Culture in Public Service. Christen wanted me to share how theatre in education can be used to do more than simply create the next generation of struggling theatre artists, but teach about other aspects of life and of what it means to live in our society. The class is 3 hours long on a Saturday, and Christen asked me to prepare about an hours worth of presentation. Before that, I sat in and listened to the class discussion about arts and politics, as well as two presentations–one about the KONY video (which was a wrap up of a presentation from last week) and one about Arts in Education. As I observed, I realized a few things:

  • Christen is an AMAZING teacher
  • This group of students was eloquent, passionate, and committed to making the world a better place
  • I miss teaching classes which make real world connections between theory, history, and life to more mature students
  • Art truly is the most valuable tool to make a difference
  • There was no way I would have time to do the full lesson I had planned because this group of students loved to discuss, debate, and question

When it came to my turn, with less than an hour to go, I had to scrap everything but I was okay with that. I decided to share with them some activities that would allow them to explore their discussion in a theatrical way, because that is really what theatre in education is all about. It is about using arts as a tool to further discussion. I pointed out to them how theatre really combines all art forms, so it is perhaps the most powerful tool that can be used in this way. I borrowed from Augusto Boal and had them sculpt each other into images that represented certain words and issues. Some hesitated at first but then they got into the freedom and creativity with powerful results.  Here are some images we explored:



Pretty self explanatory image of racism.


Women's Rights or the War on Women

Need I say more about why this experience was so valuable?

Part III

The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler:
Theatre as Art, Community and Message

To put it simply, this was the best theatrical experience I have had in a long time. Every element, the location, the performances, the script, the audience, the meal served at intermission . . . everything created a magical moment that truly resonated the value of the arts to our society.

The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler was written by Jeff Whitty who also wrote the musical scripts for Avenue Q  which won a Tony Award. For this production at Exit, Pursued by A Bear (EPBB), Whitty also peformed the role of Hedda Gabler with exquisite grace and beauty. It was truly amazing to watch. This talented professional cast also included Billy Porter, whose bio is almost a full page in the program,  in the role of Mammy. Both of these men played these female roles with poignancy and humor and true empathy. Each member of the ensemble just added to power of this performance.

I find it difficult to explain this in my own words, so I will quote from the Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, the Artistic Director of EPBB and the director of this production:

“There is no adventure more unusual, nor story more extraordinarily human, than the birth of Hedda Gabler as she journeys from literary fiction to independent self-awareness. Tonight, you’ll have the further pleasure of watching the playwright portray his own protagonist, and you’ll experience the author and his character mounting a passionate, thrilling and moving defence of the theatre.
Jeff treats his characters–and his colleagues–with profound empathy and sincere affection. It is a fundamentally nurturing instinct that remind me of why I fell in love with the theatre–as a craft, and as a lifestyle. We are drawn to the theatre because we know we’ll meet like-minded misfits there, those others who are terrorized by isolation, face the same nameless terrors and sleepless nights and take comfort in sharing the experiences that make us who we are. The familiar (and unfamiliar) characters in Jeff’s play are slivers of the human imagination dating back to the Greeks: they are evidence of where we’ve been and the foundations for where we’ll go.”

What you need to really understand why this was such a profound and powerful evening of theatre for me, is that it is not your typical production. EPBB presents their plays in the home, yes the loft apartment, of Artistic Director Iskandar. The plays are free (although they ask for donations), and they provide a delicious vegetarian meal for every audience member during intermission. When you enter, the cast is mingling with the audience and welcoming you with a glass of wine or other beverage. (Audience members are asked to bring drinks or desserts).  During intermission, these same incredible talents, who have just wowed you on the stage help serve the meal and mingle more with the audience. After the play, they help serve dessert and the audience is welcome to stay and enjoy this party for as long as they like. Conversations and laughter abound, and the line between audience and performer blurs in a delightful way.

In some ways it is a return to the roots of theatre, to the storytelling and sharing around the fire, to celebrations of community and the lessons every member of that community has to teach. This show comes down to the basic purpose of theatre, to share story and encourage empathy and understanding.

Unfortunately for those of you in New York, the show closed last night. But, if anyone is ever in New York City and finds out a production is being put on at Exit, Pursued By a Bear put it at the top of your list.

You won’t regret it!!!



Start Spreading the News . . .

by Sarah KramerLee

Travels go through your mind.
Travels make us proud.
Travels turn into adventures come true.

Photo taken by Sarah KramerLee at the top of the Empire State Building (Ignore all the dates on Sarah's photos. I didn't know she had it set incorrectly)

Photo by Sarah KramerLee

We had a wonderful little jaunt into New York city. I always have moments of, “I wish” when I go through New York, wondering what would have happened if I had taken a chance and pursued a theatre career in New York. . But, I came back from this trip determined to not look back with regret, or “woulda coulda shoulda” thoughts. The journey is now, and I am learning to truly embrace that journey.

Our trip hiccuped to a start. We were supposed to spend the night before we left in Mystic, CT with a friend of mine from college. However, Nathan had to work (striking a set) until Sunday evening, and in the rush to get out we brilliantly left the train tickets behind. Luckily we realized that only about 30 minutes into the drive, but we decided to return home and start the adventure again in the morning.

We still drove into Mystic so we could have a yummy breakfast there and then waited at the train station. It was a lovely day to wait for a train.

When you travel with the Kramer Lee’s never be surprised by the appearance of creative flights of the imagination, even on a train.

When we got to New York, I had to laugh. The other day, when I mentioned I was a little nervous about presenting at the travelogue, the fabulous Jamie from Life of Jamie suggested I picture David Beckham in his underwear. So, I could not help but giggle gleefully when the very first thing I saw as I walked out into the streets of New York from the train station to see this:

Somehow I knew the trip would be a success!

We had a few hours to kill before we could head to our friend’s apartment in Queens. What better way to introduce Sarah to NYC then going up the Empire State Building.

I loved being high enough to see the division between rain and sun over the city.

From there we wandered over to Times Square, full of sights, sounds, people, and theatre posters galore. I love the lights and colors there. Sarah and Nathan went into Toys R Us, leaving me on bag guard duty, but I used the time to take more pictures.

The next day we went to see the Jim Henson Exhibit at the Museum of Moving Images. Unfortunately we weren’t supposed to take photos of his exhibit. I would have loved to, because I found so much inspiration there. I loved the fact that Henson used yellow pads to sketch out his ideas. Somehow it makes his genius and talent seem more human and possible. One of the displays quoted “The Imagination Song” sung by Ernie on Sesame Street and I can’t resist including it here because it speaks so much to me about Jim Henson’s magic.

While there. All of us had the opportunity to play, including creating our own mini animation videos. I was hoping to include mine here, but can’t figure out how. Sigh.

That evening was the Travelogue, where I read my post about Travel as Inspiration. I guess I did ok. Sarah wrote the above poem and that was presented (she wouldn’t do it herself). Nathan talked about a trip he took after college. He was fabulous, sounding like a podcast on the Moth.

We also got a moment to catch up with a friend we haven’t seen in 16 years. Although it was only for a brief time sadly. Another mysterious puppet made an appearance as well.

The adventure ended with delicious bagels and a rousing game of Uno before we caught the train and rode into the snow.

I wonder where the next adventure will lead.

Travel as Inspiration

It’s Saturday, but I am working on a post for Tuesday evening. Tomorrow Nathan, Sarah, and I are heading to New York City for a couple of days. We planned this trip around the Dramatic Adventure Theatre Travelogue. I want to share something on that day, so I thought I would write something new and have it post around the same time I would be sharing (if I don’t chicken out).  Here we go:

Whenever anyone asks me about the best part of my experience in Slovakia travelling with Dramatic Adventure Theatre, I find myself talking about our day with the Roma. The extreme disparity between the Slovak attitude toward these people, and the warmth of our reception still intrigues me. The eye-opening experience of walking through the mud and debris of the Roma settlement after seeing the beauty and elegance of other parts of the country will live in my memory for a long time. These thoughts have inspired me as I approach writing my first novel for adults, a novel which (I believe) will explore the perception of difference that connects and divides us all.

The moment in the middle of the drama workshop  where I realized that the power of imagination and theatre works in every culture, reinforced something I have always felt. The moment when I led the workshop and lived up to the challenge made me finally acknowledge, “Hey, I really do know my stuff.” Those moments helped me take steps back toward confidence.

Despite all that, the truth is that the day with the Roma was not the best part of the experience. It is simply the easiest part of the story to share. It is, in some ways, the most obvious point of inspiration. However, for me the best part began simply with the decision to go.

For many people, travel is a form of escape out of their real lives. For others, travel is about experiencing adventure and risking new things. For some it is about meeting new people and learning about other cultures. For me, it is all of those things and none of those things at the same time. I am not really an adventurous traveler. I prefer to walk in company then alone. I like the quieter moments of travel, as opposed to the wild night life or taking risks.

Isa by the fire. I could be found in the same position at another time.

But, while I may not be the most adventurous traveler, each journey I take fills an unexpressed need, because each time I travel in a place unfamiliar to me I also make an inner journey of self-discovery. I learn more about myself and the connections I have with others. I face the opposites inside myself; things I should be proud of and things I strive to change.

When I travel, I come closer to my truths.

What did I learn on this trip?

  • I learned that I have hidden reserves of strength that can help me achieve my goals as long as I move at my own pace.
  • I learned that there is no shame in moving at my own pace and occasionally admitting I need help.
  • I learned that I am a complete idiot when trying to function on a couple of hours of sleep, and you should never trust a tired Lisa with bus money. (So embarrassing!)
  • I learned that, despite the fact that I may not be living the life I expected, others see my life as one full of adventure and success.
  • I learned the value of being sensitive to others when you travel, or you might come off as an aggressive tourist no matter how good your intentions.
  • I learned the joy of creating bonds with fellow travelers who believe in making connections and art, not war.
  • I learned the value of quiet time in front of a fire, with nothing but yourself, your journal, and the crackle of the flames.
  • I learned that I am more than my roles in life.
  • I learned the joy of eating bryzna halusky on a snowy winter’s day.
  • I learned that laughter and silliness connects people as quickly as sharing intimate secrets.

Most of all, I learned that the best and most inspiring part of the journey is the journey itself.

Writing Ahead, Planning for Adventures

I just wrote a long post. You won’t see it until Tuesday at 5pm.

I know many of you do this, writing posts ahead and scheduling when they will publish. It feels a little strange to me. I guess I use this blog as a place to reflect on the immediate emotions and ideas that pop into my head. Perhaps it means my writing suffers for it, as I don’t take time to refine. I know that I often go back and fix horrible grammatical errors or really poor wording. But usually my posts just go, pouring out of me in the instant I feel like writing them.

Maybe that’s why my blog only grows at a snail’s pace rather than a cheetah’s.

English: Common variety snail Comment by F. We...

Image via Wikipedia

Well, anyway, I am holding back on this post because it is something I have written to share at Dramatic Adventure Theatre’s Travelogue on Tuesday evening. I plan to read it at this open mike event, if I don’t chicken out. So I’ve timed the post to publish at the same time the event begins. I’m letting you know  now, in case any of my reader’s are in New York City and feel like checking the event out. It’s free.

Gulp! I just invited more strangers. Eek!

Anyway, as I wrote and prepared, my mind took its usual journey into self-doubt.  I questioned whether or not it was good enough. Is any of my writing good enough? I am sharing an essay, should I be sharing poetry? Maybe I shouldn’t share a single thing?

But what is this blog if not a place for sharing–even if some of my work does not live up to my ideals? And why did I take the trip to Slovakia if I am unwilling to explore and follow wherever that journey leaves?

So tomorrow evening my family and I will take a little trip together. First we head to Connecticut to stay with a friend for the evening. Then we take a train to New York City. I am excited for Sarah’s first trip to NYC. She’s excited too, even though it means missing a few days of school.

We don’t really have specific sight-seeing plans for New York. Maybe we will go

The Empire State Building.

Image via Wikipedia

to the Empire State Building. Maybe we will end up somewhere else. We do want to go to the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image, because we are a family of puppet lovers.

While I don’t plan on bringing my computer, I think I will be doing a lot of writing on this trip. We will only be away until Wednesday but the possibilities are endless. Meanwhile, to pre-post or not to post, that is the question.

We shall see what inspiration hits.

This Time It’s Different, Coming Home to the Unknown

“Welcome home, everyone,” I said into the walkie-talkie as we crossed over the border of Massachusetts.

Welcome home. Welcome home. The words echoed in my head, each time resonating with new meanings and new messages until the words became meaningless.

After all, I am still trying to understand what home means to me.

Of course, this is literally coming home, since I grew up in MA, and only moved away from the state after college when I began my adventures teaching English in Japan. (Of course, there was one summer during college when I lived in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, but I’m not sure that counts).

When I left it all those years ago, I never thought I’d be back. Not that I made a conscious decision never to return to Massachusetts, but that I thought life would continue to lead me in all sorts of directions. I’m not sure where I thought I would end up. I had dreams of New York City, or perhaps London or Paris. I had thoughts of making it big in Los Angeles or perhaps becoming a politician (eek!) and living in Washington, DC. I had a brief thought of living in Boston as well, and working for some editing company.

The truth is that I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or where I wanted to be. And I still don’t.

Life has taken me on an unexpected journey, making me land in places I never even considered. This return home  is merely another stop in the journey, but a stop that represents a full circle in many ways.

Driving into Massachusetts, then, contains levels of familiarity mixed in with something new and something completely different. What is the difference? Well, it is the unknown.

For the most part, whenever I have moved someplace, I already had work lined up or some clear plan. The exception to that was when I had just graduated with my MFA in directing and decided to move in with Nathan who lived and taught in Edwardsville, IL outside of St. Louis. I had no job, no clear plan of what I wanted to do, and no clue how to find something. I remember going into a deep depression as I struggled to find work and figure out how to use the degree that I had fought to earn, in a kind of ugly battle that was the beginning of my disillusionment with academia and with certain aspects of the theater world. Eventually, however, I found myself working with the International Economics Society as kind of a general office worker, and with the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) in St. Louis as a part-time House Manager, while I tried to find my way into the theater scene as a director. I learned a lot from those experiences, including the fact that I don’t really like the drudgery of working in an office from 9-5. My experiences there led to the next decisions of my life which eventually brought me to where I am today.

But where am I? I am back in the same position I was then, as we made the move for Nathan’s work and I don’t have any specific work lined up until the spring (when the University Nathan is working for has offered me a class).  I’m back in the unknown, not sure where or how to start looking. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But this time it is different. I may be unsure of what I want to do, or how to go about doing it, but I carry with me some valuable pieces to help me along the way. I’m not talking about the belongings that we lugged with us across the country (not even this computer which is my lifeline in so many ways). No, I carry with me the following:

  • Knowledge and experience: I have proven to myself time and time again that I can achieve any project set in front of me, and that I am capable of gaining the knowledge I need in order to face all challenges successfully.
  • Words: I am a writer. I write. I may not have made a lot of money out of it, but I have the talent and ability to write, and that is a valuable thing to have.
  • Diversity. I am a walking advertisement in all aspects of diversity. I have diverse skills that can help in many positions. I have an open mind to diverse possibilities. Heck, even my family represents diversity, with a husband who is Japanese/Korean American and a daughter who is, then, a Japanese/Korean/Jew. The ability to communicate and embrace diversity in our world is a valuable skill to have, and I believe I have it.

So what does any of this mean? I still don’t know, but I do know this time it’s different. I may be facing the unknown yet again, and be as clueless as I was when I left my MFA program so many years ago. But I will not allow that to bring me down. I will create a path and a life that I love, so that perhaps coming back to Massachusetts will really feel like coming home.


The Magic is in the Details


Today I want to point out two magnificent posts from the past week that have made me realize something about my own writing, something that I am going to challenge myself to change. Both these writers captured me with the eloquence of their details–details which made the locations and people that they were writing about  come alive in my heart and  my brain.

Ed, over at Salt ‘n Peppah, wrote this stunning descriptive passage on a day when  New York took a positive step toward change by legalizing gay marriage:

“The Stonewall Inn was barely open this early afternoon. “The gays” typically don’t begin bar hopping until much later in the early evening, so the bar was deserted, except for a short little fire plug bartender named typically, Joe. He welcomed us in immediately as if desperate for company on this miserable Saturday afternoon. Folding our dripping umbrellas and leaving them by the front door, I looked around. You could smell the age and the mustiness of this dark and dingy place. A thick painted tin ceiling and dark poster filled walls hugged us as small tables were tossed about a small elevated “stage” hardly protected by a single red velvet rope. Black and white photos of the now famous “Stonewall Riots” were haphazardly placed around on the deep paneled walls of this establishment. Framed newspaper and magazine clippings of history were draped behind the bar. Somehow the light of day made this bar look like me when I wake up in the morning. Raw and exposed. Pale and puffy. Vulnerable yet somehow as cozy as the thick fleece robe I throw on to ward off the early morning chill.”

(Here’s the link to the rest of his post, called “Stonewall“.) Eds post was powerful because of its timeliness, but also because of  the details. He described a place in a way that showed an emotion and brought into focus the world around us. I wish I could do that. Yes, I know that I am good at ideas and issues, but I feel severely lacking in the details.

As usual  when I read Kathy’s post at Reinventing the Invent Horizon, my awe of people who can  write the details so they strengthen the message only grew.  Kathy is a master at  making details come to life to show the truth in the story she shares. Here’s an example from the post called “Close Encounters with Well-Wigged Old Women and other Adventures in Government-Subsidized Housing”:

“Bea, like Evelyn, had obviously, at one time, been a stunningly beautiful woman, a fact betrayed by facial features that shown through despite her age—high cheek bones and big, blue eyes that still twinkled when she smiled.

Bea was one of the few ladies in the group who didn’t wear a wig, and for a woman well into her 90s she had a head of gorgeous, light brown curls.  True her hair was largely gray, but she retained enough of the brown to surprise you, since otherwise she looked so old and borderline antique.

Bea was also one of the ladies who slept most afternoons, waking herself up every few minutes with her own overly-sized snores.

But then again, Bea never stayed more than 30 minutes at a time, as when nicotine called at least twice an hour, she struggled to her feet from the over-stuffed chair, shuffled her pink-slippered feet across the industrial blue carpet, and disappeared into her apartment several doors down, only to reemerge a few minutes later having snuck a cigarette or two, still insisting upon her return that she had had to use the rest room or make a phone call.  Never mind she smelled like smoke over the tic-tac she sucked and the Avon she had sprayed post-puff.”

The magic is in the details.

I am setting myself a writing challenge this week. I am going to focus on the details of whatever stories I write. I’m going to write stories that have details, not just the rants that I seem to be known for. But, I need your help, because as much as I want to do this, I’m also afraid. So here is how you can help, if you would like. Ask me specific questions. Some of you have read me enough to know that I have had a bizarre life, but for some reason I find it trouble to write about the details of that life. I avoid the specifics, and write more about the sweeping philosophies and lessons learned. Maybe, if you ask me specific questions, I’ll be able to focus more on the details.

I know that is my next step to grow as a writer. Can you help?

In order to help me do this, I decided to create an award that I am giving to Ed and Kathy. I’m not very good at creating graphics, so forgive my lame attempt (and if someone is better at it and wants to improve the details of my design please let me know). But here is the first official The Magic is in the Details Award. Congratulations to Ed and Kathy–ignore this as you will.


Making Choices without Sorrow

Making decisions

When I was a year out of college I faced a decision that would change my life forever.

I had worked the previous year as a lowly intern for a regional theater company in Massachusetts, doing electrics and stage management. While I learned a lot during that year, and loved the fact that I was actually doing theater, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I always wanted to direct (if I couldn’t be a famous actress, of course). I was burnt out after long hours on $40 a week plus housing, schlepping lighting instruments up and down ladders or comforting divas before they made their grand entrance.

So, when the time came to look for my next move in life (the internship was only for 9 months) I decided to pursue options from my other major–English. I was originally an English major, and only really got a double major by default because I ended up taking so many theater classes anyway. So, I applied for jobs where my language skills might be more valuable.

I remember stumbling uncomfortably toward an interview in New York City with a Public Relations, wearing heels I should never have worn. Sweat dripping into my first official suit, that I contrasted with a bright floral shirt to show my personality. I’d written my way through the first  hoops to get that interview, creating a fake publicity campaign for some product that they had assigned me. I knew I had the writing chops to do the job, but did I have what it takes to make it in the Big Apple? Or did I even really want to? Well, I didn’t get the job, so I guess that question was moot.

Ultimately, I was offered two jobs–both of them out of the country. The first was with an Arts Management company based in Toronto that went around to Arts Organizations throughout North America for three months at a time to help them reorganize their publicity and promotions to make them stronger companies. That job would have put me on a career path, that would still be helping me today. The second job offer was to teach English Conversation at a small, private, English language school in Okayama, Japan.

Well, anyone who has been reading my blog knows which job I took, but the decision was not an easy one. The job in Canada meant safety, security, and the potential for future earnings. You can translate that to safety. The second choice was a leap into the unknown, and I had no idea where it would lead.

By coincidence, the theater company where I worked had ties to Japan. They had a working relationship with Suzuki Ono, who had come to train the performers in his specific style of acting, and had invited many of them to train in Japan over the summer. I spoke to some of them, looking for advice. Several said, “Well, we’ll be there. Maybe you could come see us.” I naively believed that Japan was small enough for me to do that without planning ahead.

But one person said something that has stuck with me ever since, “You can never make a bad decision, Lisa. You simply make choices. And although you may make a choice that makes you unhappy for a while, that choice leads to other choices.”

I thought long and hard about that, and then I called the Canadian company. “I don’t know what to do,” I said, and I explained my dilemma. The response, “You need to go to Japan, this is the chance of a lifetime. If you are still interested in working with us when you get back, give us a call.”

So I eventually found myself on a plane heading west, tears pouring down my face as I flew over the continental United States (I’m still unsure why it was better to go west in order to get to the Far East, I guess that’s why I am not a pilot) heading to adventures I couldn’t imagine, and to new decisions that would eventually lead to other places and situations. I still don’t know where all this is heading.

Do I ever regret not taking the safer choice? Honestly, sometimes I do. Now, as my interests have shifted somewhat, I would love to have proof of the skill set I would have gained in the Arts Administration job. I mean, I have done everything that is required to get that kind of position, but never had the title or the official job to prove it. Also, given the way this country is heading lately, I would love to already have an excuse to be living and working in Canada. I may end up there yet, depending on how the next Presidential election goes. 😉 I don’t know where I would have ended up if I had made that choice, but I can’t live my life thinking “what if?” because that way likes insanity.

So my answer to the Daily Post question “When is it better to be sorry than safe?” is almost always. You can be sorry, and then you make a new choice that will lead you to joy. But if you always play it safe, then you may never reach your potential. Of course, there is potential for sorrow in any choice you make, so I guess the main thing is –keep making choices.

On Tax Refunds, Coffee Shops, and Random Thoughts

I admit it, I’ve always wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw. Okay, maybe not exactly Carrie Bradshaw in terms of crazy sex life, super high heels, and high fashion in New York City (although I’m sure that, for a short time at least, that would be fun), but the Carrie Bradshaw who sits in a coffee shop in the middle of New York City writing about whatever she feels like at the moment. And getting paid for it!

So today, after finding out that we actually are getting a decent tax refund, I decided that I will pay myself, by sitting in a coffee shop and writing about whatever I feel like at the moment. I also decided I’ve written too many depressing blogs lately, and that I need to envision  what I really want for my life. So here it is, I want to be able to sit in a coffee shop, writing, and get paid for it.  There, I said it.  But, the question is, what do I want to write?

I already have one novel written (for middle-grade readers) although I still have to find a publisher. I have several others started, although they seem to have stalled out as I face this complex search for a new job, a new career, and a new life. And in this blog you can see several attempts at poetry (although definitely not my best).  I used to want to be a journalist, but is that even an option now, with newspapers and magazines suffering along with the rest of the economy?  I’m writing this blog, but where will that lead?  I doubt very much that I will be the next writer of Julie & Julia merely based on blog posts (although I won’t deny that the fantasy of that is there). Who wouldn’t like to be discovered unexpectedly, just based on the random thoughts she places in a blog?  I’ve imagined being discovered in so many moments of my life . . . but that’s a rare occurence of course, and I recognize that hard work is the more likely road to success.

But, then again, the unanswerable question for me is how do I define success?  Do I have to be published and become a recognizable name? Or can I ever be satisfied simply doing good work and being acknowledged by my peers?  I can’t answer that question at the moment, because I haven’t allowed for the possibility that I am successful in my life already. Is that because I strive for perfection, which I can never achieve? Or am I allowing an outside definition of success to dictate who I am and what I become?

I think that, here and now, I want to create my own definition of success.  One that applies to me, and makes me feel proud of who I am regardless of where I am and what others say. So, from now on my definition of success includes sitting in a coffee shop, writing!  Hey, look at that, I’m successful!

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