Chocolate, Chekhov, and Choices

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. Oil on canvas. From t...

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Russian forests crash down under the axe, billions of trees are dying, the habitations of animals and birds are layed waste, rivers grow shallow and dry up, marvelous landscapes are disappearing forever…. Man is endowed with creativity in order to multiply that which has been given him; he has not created, but destroyed. There are fewer and fewer forests, rivers are drying up, wildlife has become extinct, the climate is ruined, and the earth is becoming ever poorer and uglier.” (Anton Chekhov,  Uncle Vanya)

Last night Nathan and I went to see Apollinaire Theatre’s production of Uncle Vanya, which Nathan designed and I helped paint.

Not a production shot, but you get the idea.

I am not all that fond of Anton Chekhov, having worked on at least two slo-o-www productions of The Cherry Orchard  and The Seagull. I think The Cherry Orchard was the first show I did in college, and I was the props person. In plays that center around domestic life on Russian estates, that means A LOT of props.

I appreciate the language and the symbolism and the messages of Chekhov, but I usually find productions leave a lot to be desired. Last night, however, I was pleasantly surprised. I still think it was completely depressing,  but the production itself was excellent. Perhaps the main difference came from seeing it done with professional, age appropriate actors, instead of college students. I also enjoyed the artistic premise which had the small audience (limited to 30 for the purposes of this production) moving from room to room in the old theater building (1906) as we follow the story of people struggling to survive and find happiness in their fading country estate.  In an article for the Boston Globe, John Kuntz, who gives an amazing performance in the title role said:

“We start in the biggest room, and as we work our way through the play, the rooms start getting close, until in the last act we’re all sort of intimately together in this room that’s pretty small,’’ says John Kuntz, who stars as Vanya. “I kind of like that idea, that sense of people being trapped on this estate.’’

They successfully brought us into the intimacy, the tension, and the sadness of this particular estate. Actually, my only complaint was that Act I and Act II (of this four act play) didn’t have a button at the end to indicate to the audience that the act was over. Instead, the house manager jumped up and said, “OK, that was the end . . . follow me to the next location,” or something to that effect. I found that to be jarring, by not enabling the audience to applaud or stay in the moment that we had been invited to so intimately.

Meanwhile, the play was full of words, as Chekhov’s plays usually are. This time, however, I found myself pondering the meaning and how they relate or don’t relate to our times. The above quote really hit home with me, as I reflect on the complete destruction humankind has wrought on the environment. Other things, struck me as well, particularly Uncle Vanya’s despair that his life was over at 47, where he had no hope of changing or finding any purpose. (I told you it was depressing). It made me think about how different the world is now. While I, at 43, struggle with what kind of changes I would like in my life, and how to live fully and completely, Vanya really had no hope for the future, and his niece, Sonya, had even less because she was “plain” (although I found the actress pretty) and would never find a husband, particularly not the man she loved.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

All in all, it was  delightful night at the theater, where I got to

  • celebrate my talented husband
  • eat a delicious meal beforehand
  • ponder the meaning of life, love, and the pursuit of happiness
  • think about the choices we have and the choices we cannot make
  • and leave with a decadent, Trader Joe’s milk chocolate bar that Nathan bought at concessions.

I chose to eat that for breakfast this morning. 😉  Probably not the wisest choice of my life, but boy did it taste good.  I will, eventually, counteract it with something healthy and full of fiber, but once in a while, especially after watching a production filled with despair, it seems important to celebrate with a little bit of chocolate. Don’t you?

Creativity vs. Expertise

I’ve  had a few epiphanies since my meeting about Slovakia. Perhaps because I made the decision to just be open to whatever happens, I’ve realized some important things about myself, my life and what it all means.

To begin, I am a creative person.

I know, some of you are shocked at that statement. 😉 Wait until you read the next one.

I am a very self-critical person.

(I can hear some of you saying “No S%*#, Sherlock!” or some less vulgar variation like, “Duh!”)

At the same time, I am the first person to encourage others to embrace their creative sides. I recognize the power of creativity as a learning tool, as a method of healing, as a way of communicating, and so on.

If I can do that, why am I so hard on myself?

Saturday, the KramerLee family aided by Uncle Steve and one of Nathan’s students, all headed to Chelsea, MA (1 hour away) to help Nathan paint some of the set he is designing for an upcoming production of Uncle Vanya. I admit, this was not completely an act of selfless volunteerism, I wanted to do it in the hopes that I might be able to see my husband a little before I disappear into Slovakia for 11 days, and the show opens on December 29th.

I also had the urge to paint something fun.

While there were several things that needed painting, I wanted to do the backdrop of the outdoor scene, which was meant to look kind of like an impressionistic forest of trees. The student and I started working on that while Sarah and Uncle Steve scraped furniture (Sarah wanted to do whatever Steve was doing) and Nathan got other projects ready.

You can tell who dove in and who hesitated more.

I dove in, just enjoying the moment, not worrying about the end result. The student, however, spent a lot of time stressing on if he was doing it “right”. Now, since none of us are expert painters, and certainly not in impressionist styles, I kept pointing out to him that it didn’t matter if it was right or wrong. In the end, the result would be great.

Even without stage lighting, this looks cool.

I explained, as he worried, that one of the great things about theater is that we don’t always know what we are doing, we just find creative ways to get the job done. In this instance, all of us joined the challenge to achieve the goal.

We all got into the action.

It makes sense to make the shortest person get the highest stuff, or at least it does to Sarah who insisted on painting on the ladder.

So, where does the epiphany come in? It comes from me finally recognizing that there is a difference between living a creative life and being an expert at something. My personal struggle has always been with wanting to be recognized for what I do, whether it is through pay or awards or acknowledgement or thank you’s or  a title or whatever.  In my mind, I equate those things with being an “expert” with “value.”

But, in reality, an expert is a person who “has special skills at a task or knowledge in a subject.” It has nothing to do with pay or a title. I have a lot of expertise in a lot of different areas, but that doesn’t matter. What really matters to me is that I live my life as creatively as possible.

Nathan and I were talking the other day about what the word “career” means. “Could living be your career?” he asked.

Could living be my career? Does a career require a salary or a certain level of achievement? Or could my career be simply living a creative life, and encouraging other people to do the same?

Now my personal goal is to embrace the idea that living creatively is my career. It may never make me money or give me fame, but I believe I will look back on that life and say “I REALLY lived!”

What do you think?

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