Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Cliches

I love Christmas. I love all of it. And I don’t feel put upon that I try to accomplish so much at this time of year. I don't want to miss anything. I’m glad to do it all, inspired to do it. But doing it all takes a lot of energy – mental energy, like production week – and sometimes I need a breather to put the energy back. I’ll be a better Mrs. Claus/Supermom tomorrow because of it.

The only thing I don’t love about Christmas is the pressure of knowing I only have one shot at it. I only get one chance to do Christmas of Fifth and Fourth grade, just like I had only one senior year in high school Christmas and one Last Christmas Before Kids Christmas. I don’t want to squander my chance at creating something meaningful and full of light because I’m lazy or inattentive, or on the other end, too busy and focused. And not because I feel like I have to. I want to. I want to know that when this special time of year came, I was ready for it, made room for it, welcomed it and allowed myself to be inspired. I think maybe that’s the heart of it all. The love I feel at Christmastime inspires me, right down to the bottom of my soul. The love I express through the gifts I give and the conversations I have and the surge of love just from singing with John Denver and the Muppets in my car. This love helps me remember to fill the freaking elf doors every night. It makes me take the time to write the note or make the gift that will show my appreciation for the many wonders and miracles in my life, my family, my exquisite friends. And it has staying power.

Every year, we have this Christmas party. Elise and I started it during the first year we lived together, and it has grown to be a yearly reunion of our college friends. The event that we just don’t miss. We had to reschedule it two different years, and made it something else like Faux Valentine’s, but it wasn’t the same. It’s the Christmas that matters. People take that valuable last Saturday before Christmas, when there are lots of other worthwhile things to be doing, and they come to our house in the cold – bring their babies or pay a babysitter or borrow the car. These fine, fine people who are contributing to the world and being all sexy and brilliant come to my house, because it’s Christmastime, and we all belong together at Christmas. I feel so humbled by that.

And I love Christmas for the shared recognition that there really is a Santa Claus, and he is part of all of us, and that a baby was born that brought hope and inspiration to so many and made people live better in his name. That Faithful Friends Who are Dear to Us are, indeed, the dearest of all, the ones you live for, cherish, admire. These are the friends who help you be a better person, because you know they love you, and you aspire to be the best of the person they think you are.

I don’t even know if that makes sense. I only know that I honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I live in the Past, the Present and the Future, and I live open-hearted to the lessons the Universe is teaching. And every Christmas, under the spell of twinkle lights and eggnog and Hallmark movies, I reaffirm that pledge and start anew.




This is a song that I love by Nancy LaMott, called “All Those Christmas Cliches.” It’s on the mix CD I made to remember this Christmas by, along with two songs from Glee and “True Blue Miracle” from the Sesame Street Muppets…and a bunch of other stuff. I will totally make you a copy if you want one…it’s what Christmas sounds like in Kelly’s Head.

Anyhoo…here are the lyrics…

I’ve spent Christmas in Peoria, Christmas in Schenectedy, Christmas in Las Vegas and L.A.

And I always thought it couldn’t matter less, But lately, come December, I confess

I want the tree full of toys and tinsel, I want the wreath on the red front door

I want the elves in the yard and each sentimental card dripping glitter on the floor

I want a roof full of plywood reindeer, I want a road full of horse-drawn sleighs

All Those Christmas Cliches

I want the turkey with all the trimmings, the turkey mom hardly ever made

I want the gulp and tear at the moment that I hear Johnny Mathis being played

I want a lake full of perfect skaters, I want that fruit cake with sugar glaze

All Those Christmas Cliches

Not to mention the snow, not to mention the choir, not to mention the candles in the window, and chestnuts roasting on the fire

Inside a house filled with noise and laughter along a street bathed in twinkling light

I want the bells and the drums, mistletoe and sugar plums, and kids to tuck in tight

And as for that guy in the bright red outfit, instead of flying off he stays

All Those Christmas Cliches

I want those overblown, corny, heartwarming, Hallmark Christmas cliches.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Santa Struggle

My little one, my emotional, tempestuous daughter, came home in a rage yesterday. "It was a great day until I got on the bus to come come and Matthew and Emily both kept saying there was no Santa Claus and I kept telling them that I was going to write a letter and tell Santa that they said that, and then they'd be sorry!" Oh, she was in a fit. Which is sort of cute and charming, in a way, that level of belief, but also alarming in the holy-shit-what-have-I-done kind of way. While I am deeply proud of the sense of magic that we've perpetuated in our daughters for their entire childhood, I know we're hitting the end game in that regard, and I honestly am not sure how to handle it. So what have I done in that regard? I just keep repeating, "I believe in Santa. As long as you believe, he comes." All of which is true. But last week when she made me pinky-swear that I don't put the presents under the tree, I did it, with the justification that, actually, the Santa presents are left NEXT to the tree. So, it's not exactly lying. Right? I don't know. I just don't know. But I do know that the fit she pitched yesterday evening due to her frustrated feelings came out as the nasty, sarcastic, mean-spirited spitting remarks that I lie in fear of when I picture her teenage life. Managing her feelings is a life-skill that we are trying so hard to teach her. Not seeing so much success there yet.

I don't know if I'm doing her more harm by keeping Santa alive than if I just sat down and told her the truth of it all. I have listened to what other people have done with this issue, but nothing has felt just right to me. Maybe it's my own weakeness and inability to look into her disappointed little blue eyes and say the words that will break her heart. On the other hand, am I just making things worse for her as she has to fight the playground battles and gets laughed at in the process? I told her that there are lots and lots of people who don't believe in Santa, and that she should maybe just keep her opinions to herself if she doesn't want to keep getting her feelings hurt. But for all of her sometimes incomprehensible fit-pitching behavior, she has, at her core, a very strong sense of justice. That's where it all comes from, I think. She has a firm belief that she knows what is right and wrong, what is fair and unfair, and the idea of NOT speaking up about that is foreign to her nature. While it's exhausting to have a child that so vehemently sticks up for what she believes (especially when Patrick and I are often in the not-fair category, in her opinion), it's still a powerful quality to have. My job, I know, is to help her find judgement in choosing her battles, and find a balance between speaking out and listening hard to people that she can trust to guide her.

Sigh. It's really just that....parenting is hard. Even the good stuff is still hard, and takes so much energy and tact and discomfort. I am trying so hard to do the right things, and so many nights I tuck them in and just want to put my head down and cry about it all, about the possibility of how seriously I can screw up two small people in the world if I'm not careful. Or even if I am careful.

In other news, we did have a wonderful weekend in New York City with my mom. She took us to see Elf and Wicked, and we saw the Rockefeller Center tree and the amazing windows on 5th avenue and stayed at the Marriot, and really had a magical Christmas adventure. So much joy. The only shadow on things was the same parenting issue I just described, which manifests in many ways. If Patrick and I manage nothing else in this parenting journey, I want to make sure that our children have a sense of appreciation for the good things they receieve, and the good things in the world, and an understanding that everything worth having comes from hard work. I know how hard my parents, and Patrick and I, had to work to afford the special things the girls got to see and do this weekend, and I just keep hoping that the message to appreciate both the tangible and the magical becomes a firm part of their foundation.

Working on it. All we can do is just keep on working on it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Another Super Sunday

Today launches the busiest week of my year, made further complicated by my daughter's regional Irish Step Competition, "Gym Show," and the unmissable midnight Harry Potter premiere. I am so grateful to have the help of my Village, my parents who are taking Amelia to Rhode Island on Saturday, and the Saads who will have Abby basically all weekend long. It's a mad week in a mad life, but I know that at the end of this, Christmas music awaits.

Super Sunday is one of those events that can go one of two ways...it should be intense but not frantic, productive and exciting, a chance to cross things off the problem list, bringing us one giant step closer to the goal of a great opening. OR...it can be frazzled and full of strife, with over-tired teenagers crying and the staff bickering and snappish, and the gaping sense of "Holy shit...this thing is never going to be ready."

I have high hopes for option A today, and I'm trying very hard to not even entertain option B as a possibility. I have a particularly great group of kids this year, with only one lead who is not giving it his all. Peer pressure can be a useful tool, though, so rather than my continuing to nag him, I'm hoping that his more-serious peers will get him to cut the crap and focus already.

This will be my sixth production of Guys and Dolls, and by far the best one I have done. If it goes the way I think it will, it may turn out to be the best one I've ever seen, too. This is not me being arrogant, either...if anything, I am much more likely to err on the side of "Eh...it's fine" with the things that I direct. The fact that this one will be good really has very little to do with me. It's a perfect cast, really great musical numbers, and a super cool set. All of the elements are there...and it'll be my job this week to fine-tune it and make it all work. I'm up for the challenge.

My personal goal for this week? Avoid the snack table in the green room.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November Musings...

I’ve actually been doing quite a lot of journaling lately, but nothing much I wanted to share, so here are just a few little snapshots of my life right now.

I have a boy in my class who eats two bags of cheese-its exactly like a squirrel. He holds one cracker in his two hands, right up next to his mouth, and nibble nibble nibbles. He especially likes to do it when I’m reading aloud to the kids, so all I hear as I’m reading is the scrumple of his hands in the bag (as loudly as possible) and then nibble nibble nibble. Repeat repeatedly. Someday I will literally run screaming from the room smack in the middle of Tuck Everlasting.

Yesterday was one of those days where my mouth just ran away from me while giving notes to my leads, and I said something very dirty completely without meaning it…and then worse, sniggered. I totally didn’t mean it, and it was one of those moments I just wish I could Groundhog Day my way right back out of. Cringe-worthy. I hate when that happens. And then the memory of it is like a canker sore in your mouth that you can’t stop moving your tongue over.

I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year, and I am afraid. Though I love the hosting aspect, cooking has never been my thing, to say the least, and my new oven is un-tested under pressure. I suppose I should make some back-up reservations somewhere.

I will not even confess to you how excited I am to see the new Harry Potter movie. It defies description.

In the midst of my Autumn craziness, I have been extremely committed to my new self-improvement, bring-on-forty program. I have lost ten pounds so far, have started writing Morning Pages at 5:45 a.m. for a specialized version of the Artist’s Way (which I’ve been meaning to do for maybe fifteen years) and I’ve been working on getting my belting voice back to its former functionality. I am up to a dependable b-flat, and aiming for at least a C. I had an E once, for just a little while, back in the days of playing Little Red Ridinghood (for which I completely credit Peter Fernandez’ Kelly Warm-Up Mix tape.) Regardless, singing showtunes as loud as I can in my car up and down route 3 certainly raises my energy. No matter what happens, the process of getting ready to audition for something will have been worth it on its own.

Miley Cyrus had her coming-out-as-Hannah-Montana episode on Sunday night, and my girls discussed that in the car on the way to rehearsal yesterday. Said Amelia, “It’s really a big ending of something. I feel empty and confused.”

And to end today, three words:

Glee Christmas Album.

:)

Friday, October 29, 2010

40? Bring it.

I’m feeling surprisingly, and suddenly, obsessed with the idea of turning 40. And not in a bad way. It’s in a way that makes me feel kind of thrilled and excited. And strange little inspirations and entertainments keep finding me to reinforce the way I feel about it.

I’ve decided to lose 40 pounds by the time I turn 40. Not to impress anyone…not even to show that I can, but so that, for just a while, what I look like on the outside reflects how I feel inside. For one segment of my life, I want that particular kind of harmony, and feel capable of attaining it. Inside, at nearly 40, I feel more powerful and vibrant and enthusiastic about life than I ever have. I appreciate everything more…my friends, my family, a great meal or a perfect latte. I feel more present in my life, my REAL life, as it is, rather than I how I hope it will be, than I ever have before. So many people have told me that your 40’s are the best time of your life, and whether they’re lying or not, or just trying to make me feel better about this approaching milestone, I’m intending to make it so.

My children aren’t raised yet; I’m in the middle of that. My career is only partly how I would like it to be; I’m working toward that vision. (And in the meantime, I’m blooming where I’m planted in that regard.) I have ever so much left to do, to accomplish. But I’m digging the journey, right smack now. I am living an examined life, and delighting in the gifts that brings.

I had a good friend tell me not so long ago that my somewhere in my soul's past, I had to work to find my voice. I still feel like I'm looking for that, striving toward it, figuring out how to say what I need to say. Getting close to 40 is helping me to do that. I feel surrounded by people who are capable of using their voices, of speaking their truths and owning their own opinions about things. I want to be that aware, that certain, that in tune with the most authentic self I can be. The knowing, the wanting, the striving, is half the battle, don't you think? Noticing who is doing it "right," whatever that might mean for them, inspires me.

I am psyched for turning 40. Psyched for a vacation with my girlfriends, psyched to create the body I want, psyched to have an awesome family and the most glorious, magical group of friends a person ever had.

This weekend, I celebrate with them. I celebrate hotness at any age, certainty of belonging, and the sheer joy of having people around who know where I've been, and are eager to see where I'm going. And vice-freaking-versa. I LOVE them, and hope for them the most fulfilling, joyful lives they can possibly find. And I know that they will be there, and love me, no matter where the journey ends.

But the end doesn't matter now. It's the journey. It's always the journey, the yellow-brick-road. I can only hope that whom-soever you find on yours is a fraction as magical as the ones I find on mine. And I really do hope that for you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why No One Should Ever Give Me Plants

An Open Letter to Francie, the Bonsai Tree in the Athenaeum,

I knew it would come to this. I rejoiced when you arrived, so green and optimistic and unexpected, and I was so grateful to your sender, a friend whose support for my creative pursuits is boundless. I vowed with the best that was in me to nurture your verdant life energy, to talk to you and sing to you and honor you as a talisman for personal expression, and as the mascot of the Room of My own I for which I had so long pined.

But now you’re dead.

You are dry, irreparably ruined, and looking like a pitiful twisted, leafless twig from some Danny Elfman universe. Against all odds and my own personal history with plants, you showed some early potential. You held on through the summer, and then, with the coming of autumn, with the explosion of my schedule and the loss of my focus on home and hearth, you gave up. You quit me, and I’m trying hard not to take it personally. I recognize my responsibility for your fragile potted life, but I forgot you, and you keeled over and died in dramatic protest.

I blame myself completely. Your tragic demise is an apt metaphor for the loss of my life essence that grabs me by the throat every spring. And, you know, it’s ironic, because I’m actually feeling more fortified than I usually feel in the fall, but all of my energy is devoted elsewhere. What I have left after teaching sixth grade all day, and peppily directing a classic musical at night, is going to my children…to be more precise, to their laundry, and whatever I can throw into the crockpot. And as it turns out, when I get home at 8 and clean out the backpacks and put on my sweats, all I really want to do is sit on the couch with Patrick and watch Modern Family. My creativity points for the day are all used up, and I just want to sit down.

I have spent no more than business-like passing moments in the Athenaeum since school began, wandering in to find a purple marker or put a book on the shelf or to open or close the futon for the girls so they can watch a movie. I bought autumn Home-Sweet-Home candles for this fall that have yet to be lit, and my fainting couch, from which I intended to sit and watch the oak leaves fall, is currently covered with a pile of winter coats unpacked from storage that I haven’t yet had a chance to hang in the hall closet.

But, hey, the fact that I managed to unpack the winter coats is something, isn’t it? And the fact that my children are fed and clothed and generally wearing clean underwear is a comfort. And I’m getting better at snagging moments throughout the work day to nurture myself creatively, wherever I can. As I thought up this very blog entry, I was sitting at rehearsal while Pam staged the Crapshooters Ballet. My only job is to run the CD for her, and rather than tapping my foot and thinking of all of the other things I should be doing, I made the grocery list, figured out the plans for snacks and crafts and games for Abby’s little Halloween gathering with her schoolfriends on Friday, cropped a bunch of photographs, fine-tuned the rehearsal schedule for this week, and looked up a bunch of point values for snacks on the Weight Watcher ap on my phone.

That was four days ago. Now, it is Wednesday night, and I am actually here. It’s too late for the once-pert little Francie the Bonsai tree, but the fact that I can sit here now…that I carved out the time today…shows that the possibility of creating something, even in the autumn, still exists. This makes me wonder if perhaps there is still a shoot of green somewhere in this pretty plant, and that if I bring it to school tomorrow, my Shaman of a teaching partner might be able to coax it back to life…

Never give up.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wearing Purple

I am wearing purple today, as part of a nation-wide inititative to raise awareness of the prevalence of gay and lesbian teen suicide in our country. And of course, I asked my sixth graders, "Does anyone know why I am wearing purple today?" A number of them did, and there followed a long discussion about it. The topic comes up every year for one reason or another, more often than not because I overhear someone using the word "gay" as an insult, or when we're reading Bridge to Terabithia and the father calls his son a sissy for loving to draw. I've been teaching for fifteen years, and it never ceases to surprise me how much easier the conversation becomes year to year. The world is changing, and though I can't be an activist like Jamie, I feel compelled to continue to play my part in that shift in mentatlity.

Today, the kids brought up Glee, and the characters of Kurt and his father, and a number of them literally said, "I don't get what the big deal is. Who cares who you like?" They talked about Don't Ask/Don't Tell, (none of it prompted by me, I swear) and one girl said, "My mother doesn't let me go to church anymore because of what the bible says about gay people." (I had to play that one cool...while I will profess my beliefs loud and proud when it comes to people's basic human equality, I have to tread carefully around religion, being as I have to also teach evolution, and all of the major religions of the world from the ancient Greeks to modern Buddhism and everything in between.)

The tone of the room, of the conversation, was so surprisingly relaxed, nothing like it would have been fifteen years ago, or ten, or even five. Yes, there were the couple of snickering boys, but there were more kids rolling their eyes at the snickerers, rathering than everyone just shifting uncomfortably, looking at the floor. And I know it's because of the hard work of the people on the front line, raising awareness, holding the rallies and raising the flags. I'm not that person, but I hope that if I do have a gay student in my class this year, there is at least the tiny part of them that knows that the conversation is okay to have, it's not going to be as bad as they think...it gets better.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dear Sixth Grade Boy

Dear Sixth Grade Boy,

It will still be there when you get home.

I promise.

Please leave it alone in class. Please.

With eyes on the ceiling,
Your Teacher

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

This Little Light

We had a music rehearsal yesterday for my high school show which generally means that I sit and observe and offer crowd control. It gives me a bit too much time to think, and to miss my favorite musical director, one who controls his crowd by making us all just love him and respect him too much to set a toe out of line. The kids were singing “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” and I realized that I still can remember all of my alto lines from singing in the ensemble of that show at Company, fifteen years later. And it’s not because I’m a good student of music; I’m a great big faker when it comes to music. It’s because my teacher is so extraordinary, and made us all excellent. He does not settle for less. It was all I could do not to jump in and teach the song as he taught it, diction and dynamics and really solid ending consonants. He spoiled me for every other music director ever.

While not sitting on my hands, I also had time to ponder the ways in which I find and lose so many amazing people in my life. The best and worst part of all of my jobs is the fact that I get to know people so intensely for such a short time. Some, I keep, but it’s so incredibly rare. I can only think of one person who started as a student and stayed a friend. (I suppose this has something to do with the fact that I can count on one hand the number of real friends I have now that I’ve made since college - that’s twenty years now.) I meet such extraordinary people as a teacher, and in the moment when I know them, I am so filled with awe and appreciation of them - as human beings. It’s never about their talent, interestingly. Sometimes they are in a show because they happen to be talented, but that never has anything to do with whether or not I feel drawn to them.

“Kindred spirits are not so rare as I used to think,” says Anne as the world begins to open to her. It is such a gift to have one wander into my life, but I am always so sad when they wander out again. I know there are so clich├ęs about people leaving footprints on your heart or how some people are meant to be with you for a moment or a season or whatever, but still…There are so many careful levels of appropriateness that must be maintained, which I understand are there for a reason, and I always err on the side of caution in that regard. But I think about the students I’ve known, and truly loved, and I wonder what happens to them. I catch them in the midst of becoming who they’ll be…I wish I could get to know the final product sometimes.

There’s Facebook, which I’m grateful for, but it’s not the same as being able to sit and have a cup of coffee with them. I wrote that play last year based on four of the sorts of people I am talking about, and even that was something I had to handle carefully, working hard to honor them and how I saw them, while trying to avoid anything like a creep factor, even though they’ve all long graduated. There are four students in this current cast who I feel that way about, people that I wish I could know forever. The truth is that they’ll graduate in a year or two and go about their lives, making room for new teachers, which is as it should be. There will be occasional Facebook messages or something, promises to get together next summer, but it probably will never happen.

I am not a stagnant person. I grow and change and evolve all the time, so this doesn’t come from a sense of being left behind, or inflating how important I should be to them because of the title of Teacher. It’s not even about trying to reap what I sow in the energy or guidance I give them. (Or that they give back to me.) It’s more about the profound blessing I feel from knowing amazing people, or people who are on the brink of becoming amazing. They take their amazing selves out into the world, and I have to be content with just knowing that they’re out there somewhere, finding and recognizing other kindred spirits, and connecting us all in a web of light, however briefly our lights may have shone together.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Add something lovely to your October day...

Fall
by Edward Hirsch

Fall, falling, fallen. That's the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer's
Sprawling past and winter's hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Expressing Motherhood

Tonight I went to see a show called Expressing Motherhood with my friend Christianna. We went because we both love a blogger called Damomma, and she was one of the speakers. It was a Vagina Monologues style show, where a dozen different mothers got up and told their stories of some aspect of their lives as mothers. Maybe a vignette, or a rant, whatever. I love this writer, and in the way I've come to feel like a student of all of my favorite writers, I feel like I know her. I feel like we have shared perspectives, and I feel like she's a kindred spirit. We parent in very similar ways, and she often makes me focus on things about my daughters that I might not otherwise notice.

So, there was the fun of seeing her speak. There was also another woman presenting who used to work at my school. That was cool. And then there was the experience of putting on high heels and lipstick and being with Christianna, a friend that I adore, sharing the joy of her new house and gawking in amazement at the fact that she made bowling pins out of fondant for her daughter's birthday party tomorrow. I loved drinking a pre-show martini at a fabulous girly bar, and swapping daughter stories with someone who is right down with me in the trenches, trying to be a mother while staying a real-live person in the meantime. She is one of the smartest people I know, and yet I know she needs the same things as I do...well-adjusted children, competence in her career, love in her marriage and a party with the Tribe from time to time.

And then we saw a show, 12 mothers with their own stories, and we had similar levels of appreciation/judgement/connection for the various monologues. I drove home singing showtunes at the top of my lungs, thinking...life is so, so good. My children are home safe, eager for my return but perfectly fine without me there because they have the best dad. I have amazing friends and family, and daily get to do work that actually mattters in the world. I'm sure this sounds bromidic and trite but I am just overwhelmed with gratitude. One really good day is a powerful reminder of that.

Here is the note I wrote to Elizabeth, (damomma) but I haven't decided whether or not I'll post it to her. I am a little afraid that she'll think I'm a crazy stalker.. Which I'm not, but I have stuff to say. Maybe I'll just post it here and that will be enough.



Dear Elizabeth,

Thank you for sharing your beautiful story, and for an evening full of comfort and laughter. I would not have gone to that show if not for you, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to hear so many fierce and tender women tell their tales. Yours was the most resonant for me, which may be bias because I feel like I know you through this blog. (Or it might be because you were just the best.) It might be because I love that image of you - of Mother - standing under the stars, beside the oak tree with her baby in her arms, pondering a Universe that gives so bountifully but also has the potential to take without your permission. I am so happy that your story ends so well.

I also loved the woman who said the short piece about having the gift of hearing the quiet voice of her child's soul, and how she covered her child's face with kisses for one whole minute at bedtime. Isn't that the best thing we can do with the small souls in our care? Listen hard, and love without limits, even for the victim sherpa years. :)

I think the greatest struggle of my parenting is the same as yours - how to raise fierce and fearless girls in a world that offers so many reasons to feel afraid. I connect to your writing partly because I, too, am the mother that sends them off to find the milk, and lets them go to the summer camp, where I know many other mothers would not, and think I, too, should not. I appreciate the quiet support that your writing gives to the way I also choose to mother - mindfully, passionately, with trust and glitter, and always with a sense of humor and an appreciation for cold vodka and a well-made meal.

What I loved about your show is the reminder of the fact that for every mother in the world, there exists shared experiences. Mothers' experiences carry a variety of levels of shame and elation, and of smugness and adoration, guilt and entitlement, resentment and gratitude, and a thousand other layers in between. It was a comforting reminder that what I feel every day, however contrary and contradictory these feelings might be - Well, it's all just part of the journey.

I like how you say in your blog that your number one responsibility in life is raising little women. Mine too. I like the fierceness with which you insist that deciding to have a child is entering into a life-long contract, one whose first 18 years are exhausting. That's how it is. You don't get to sleep till noon for, like, 25 years. That's the deal, and that's the priority. But I love, too, that you are managing to still be you - writer, teacher, wife, speaker, whatever-else - for your own growth and financial contribution to your household, as well as to be the example to your girls of how to live a productive life. I am trying very hard to do the same, and I appreciate knowing you're out there in the world, travelling a similar road. It makes it much less lonesome.



So that's what I would write to her. And I will add, here, that the women that I choose to be friends with, the working moms and the stay at home moms, the ones who've already raised their kids and the ones with their babes in arms and all of us in between...well, even if we don't always have time to talk about it, I love you. I respect all of you, all of us, for doing the very best we can with what we've got.

I am so grateful for the ability to spend an evening tonight with Christianna, my glorious woman-friend, who quipped on the way out the door, "Geez! Even when it's girls' night out, it's still somehow about the kids!" I get it. I'm just so glad that we're all in it together.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Comfort Levels

On Wednesday Amelia came home from school with an invitation to a birthday party. It was a fifth grade sleepover, and it was last minute because she was the "new girl" and the birthday girl finally convinced her mother to let her invite one more person. Amelia was very eager to go, so excited that someone had included her, that she had friends and a place to belong. I had very mixed feelings about it - what if the people are super trashy? What if the girl has a creepy older brother? What if there are guns/drugs/boa constrictors in the house? But I remember so clearly how it felt to be the one invited to a party, but whose parents wouldn't let her go. After enough times of that, I also remember how it felt to know that someone was having a party that I wasn't invited to. I remember how it was to be the girl with her nose in a book, "totally fine" to not have anyone looking for me to sit with them at lunch. I don't want my daughter to feel that, not if I can help it. When she has friendship troubles, which are inevitable, I can't come to school and show people how awesome she is, but I can make afterschool okay, like my mom did with me through tea-time and General Hospital. I can also make sure that she's always got Natalie and Avery to turn to. I can't slap the mean girl who makes the cruel comment about her hair or her clothes, but I can make sure that she's got a dance class to go to in a different town where she's successful and skilled, and has 9 friends who have no idea what her "school life" is like at any given time. She can just be...herself.

So, I talked the party over with Patrick, and we said yes. I called the mom, who told me that she's a teacher, too, which means that at the very least she's CORI checked and free of tuberculosis. I thought about how we have raised our child to be confident and resilient, to listen to her moral compass and her built-in sense of intuition to know when a situation is okay. There comes a time when you have to have faith in the person she is, as well as the job you've done as a parent, and wave goodbye through the car windows. I had lessons in that this summer, as you know. We decided to have faith in her, and in us, and let her go.

I had a long day at school yesterday, then rehearsal, which I left a bit early to go to the Loring Theater in Hingham to see Cairo Time. The movie was *eh* but the experience of being there, in an old-timey theater with a balcony and creaky stairs, in a place so familiar and integral to the my little life chronicles was a little hug around the neck. It was a great big deep breath. It was...insert another mixed metaphor for "comforting" here.

I came home last night to Amelia padding downstairs, red-eyed, asking if she could talk to me. I sat down on her bed with her, where she sobbingly confessed that she didn't want to sleep over. She just...didn't, and what should she do? It was one of those Mom-moments that I knew was going to matter later. I knew that what I said then, and how she came to experience herself in this moment was going to be remembered later. And it was one of those moments where I thought...huh. I actually know what to do with this. I totally got this one. I remember what Christianna said about Acceptable Levels of Truth, and how it could be applied to this situation.

I remember my dad saying to me, "I will always be your best excuse. If you don't want to do something, you can always say I won't let you." I remember appreciating that advice. (Unfortunately, he actually DIDN'T let me do most of the things I wanted to do, but that's a whole different story.) Anyway, I remember feeling comforted by that, and that's what I told her. "I will always do what I can to help you follow your truth. If you truly do not want to go to this party for whatever reason, I will help you not to go, while not having to be embarrassed in front of your new friends." While there's a part of me that doesn't want to advocate lying, there's a part of me that knows that when you're ten years old, and you have no freaking clue how to get along with brand new people, and you can't throw a baseball and your body is smelly and your hair drives you crazy and you still sleep with a stuffed animal, the least you can hope for is not to get teased for failing to attend a sleepover party. And while I know it won't last, right this minute, I can still fix it for her. For just this little while longer, I can get her out of a tricky situation.

"Sweetie, I will call the mom, and tell her that you are training for a big dance competition -which is true - and that you have a double class the next morning - which is true - and that I am worried about you not having enough sleep - which I am not, but which I can totally start to do, so then THAT will be true, too." She will go to the birthday party part, and sing happy birthday and bring a kick-ass present and do the craft and paint her nails and whatever else they do at 5th grade parties, and then, when the girls are getting into pajamas, I will go pick her up. She'll call me, and I will be at the door in five minutes. And when the party pictures get developed, Amelia will still be in them, and all that will be remembered by those girls months from now is that she was there, she was a part of it.

But hopefully, Amelia will remember that no matter what the situation, she will never have to be alone. If she speaks up, she can always find support from her parents and ideas on how to creatively solve a problem, no matter how tangly. And five years from now, when she's at a party where things are out of control, she'll remember she can call me and I will get there as fast as I can. And if someone is pressuring her to do something, and she's not sure how to get out of it, she can play the My Mother is Strict/Neurotic/Mean/Psychic/Very-Good-at-Spying Card to get her out safely, while still figuring out how to save face in the Piranha Pool of high school.

There's a line, I think, between maintaining your authentic self, and Adolescent Public School Survival. I didn't manage it too well myself, but in hindsight, I know what I could have, and should have done differently. If those spiral notebooks in the closet are good for anything, they're good for that. My daughters might not internalize those lessons, and they will come up against things I've never had to face, but at least I have something to go on.

I am so proud of her for wanting to go to that party. I am so proud of her for putting herself out there to make new friends, and for being willing to take such a risk as to go to a strange party with girls she doesn't really know very well. But I'm even more proud of her for speaking up about her fears of going, for knowing that she was beyond her already admirable extension of her comfort level to a place that felt wrong. And I'm proud of her for asking for help, and for trusting that Patrick and I would listen with kindness, and make it better.

I feel half the time like I'm wandering blind through this whole motherhood thing. But then there are moments when I know that at the very least, I'm doing the best I know how, taking advice from people I respect and trying to lead with love. I feel so lucky to have two such beautiful souls to mother, and that I won such an amazing man to be their dad.

And if it's selfish of me to be relieved that both of those little souls will be snug in their own beds tonight, under their covers, cozy with goodnight kisses and stuffed animals in their arms...well, I can live with that.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Beauty of the Beast

Today is the one year anniversary of Matt's death. I'm sitting in the auditorium as I write this, remembering so vividly the awe he inspired in me, in all of us, really. I do believe that what comes next when we leave this world is all goodness and love, so I am not wallowing in sadness. At least not for him...the sadness is for his loved ones, his tribe, who today miss their friend. Matt was the greatest lesson I have yet had in the importance of making each day count, and of the transformative power of theater. I am ever grateful to have known him and learned from his courage, joy, and heart-light.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Happy Thoughts

I am feeling oddly cheerful and buoyant today. I haven't felt this way in a long time. I just realized that I have less I have to do this weekend than I have in weeks, and that this weekend I will actually be able to find and unpack my leather boots and cozy sweaters in time for Apple Picking with my mom on Sunday. (I was hoping to have time to buy an orchard-strolling hat, like that lady in the Target commercial, but hey, you can't have everything.) I got a piece of happy news this week about an upcoming project, so I have something kind of quietly shiny in my soul to think about and look forward to. I had lots of child-care help from Andrea this week which made me feel secure and supported. I was able to help out a friend that I love, making me feel secure and supportive. I have a date with a friend to see my favorite blogging-mama speak, and I made hotel reservations for the wedding of year, lakeside on a crisp autumn day at which, among the many joyful things about this event, I'll get to see both Craig and Elise, so multiple blessings there. I got to eat take-out and watch Glee with Patrick even though the party fell through, and I'm reading a really good book.

Even though it's Crazy Time, today is just feeling like a really good day.

I have Open House tonight, which I don't really enjoy, but my secret teacher-confessional is that it's always a fun time to see which kids have hot dads. Don't judge me. You'd totally do it to, if you were me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mutual Animosity Society

You’d think, being an educated woman of the modern age, that I would embrace technology in all its forms. You’d think, being creatively minded and professionally curious, that I would ply technology’s riches for all that it can do to enhance my teaching, bringing the Stone Age or ancient Egypt to vibrant life under my students’ fingertips. You’d think that as a teacher with a reputation for excellence that I would celebrate the ability to use power-points and Smart Boards and spreadsheets to organize the many lists of kids I have to connect with year to year. You’d think that I would enthusiastically create video clips and special effects to raise the level of professionalism of my many theatrical productions, like the directors that I admire do so well.

You’d think.

The truth is, I HATE technology. I am afraid of it, and it knows. It taunts me, failing invariably when I need it most. I plan a spectacular lesson in the computer lab for students to explore the cave paintings at Lascaux, and the internet is down in my building which of course I don’t know until I’ve done the energetically theatrical introduction and said, with as much affect as I can muster, “And now, my darlings, we travel back and back to the dawn of civilization…ready…GO!” Dead air. Or, even if the internet IS working, what do I inevitably hear? “Mrs. Browne, my flash player isn’t installed.” “It says I’m being redirected…” “Why is the text all in French?”

I don’t even have an iPod, because I am afraid of them.

Even my printer, which I frequently call a Filthy Dirty Whore, only works for Patrick, who insists that it hears me say those things, and that’s why it quits me. Always when I have something I NEED RIGHT NOW, it taunts me, sputtering and clicking insolently, until Patrick just smiles and pets it, and then it’s fine. And it makes me bitter.

I refuse to choose shows that have any kind of required technological component, because they can and do fail, and because if they are not working, I have no ability to fix them. Anything else that goes wrong in a show, I can handle myself. I can stitch a hem on a gown if I have to, build a bench, paint a flat, collect a prop from a sketchy Walmart at midnight, but if it involves technology, forget it. Thoroughly Modern Millie, which I directed last fall, requires Chinese translation to be projected. Absolute plot necessity. I almost didn’t chose the show because of it, but choose it we did, and if you’ve been reading this for a while, you might recall my panic about that during dress rehearsal last November. (If I had a single ounce of technological savvy, I would be able to link last year’s blog entry right here so you could look back and read it. But I DON’T FREAKING KNOW HOW TO DO THAT.) And of course, because the buck stops with me, I ended up having to actually RUN the powerpoint during the show, timed exactly right to the dialogue, and all I can actually remember from those performances is my shaking finger over the space bar, my heart thumping, praying to Dionysus and Angel Matt to have pity on me, guide me, not let me ruin the show that I had worked so hard on for three months.

We were supposed to have a big Glee premiere cast party tonight, pizza and social time, and the internet/cable/goddess of tubes and wires has failed. Lightning strike, conductor something-or-other. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that I got everyone all pepped up, gleeful for Glee, went to everyone I needed to for permission, ordered bunches of pizza, and now have to cancel the whole thing, embarrassed and frustrated.

I hate technology ‘cause technology utterly hates me.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Community

Two small things, and then a related story. First, I got an email from Company this morning with a link to a youtube video of the show Gloryland that we did back in 2000. The opening number was “America, the Dream Goes On.” Even watching it now, a decade later, I can see how incredibly stirring it was, and remember how thrilling and satisfying it felt to sing a delicious second soprano line choral with a perfectly directed ensemble. Still one of my favorite things to do in the world, and I know I’m getting close to the point where I need to be in the chorus of some Company show or die. I’ve been increasingly feeling a sort of desperation for it that cannot be denied. Vampire-thirsty.

Second, in the car yesterday, my daughter asked me if I could rent a smoke machine for the backyard musical they are preparing for Halloween with the completely wide-eyed, startled 8-year-old across the street and her equally somewhat-alarmed 4-year-old sister. Since we moved there in May, they still don’t seem to know quite what to make of their new neighbors who regularly knock at their door decked in sequins and feathers, carrying a radio. I said no to the smoke machine.

So, I’m working on Guys and Dolls (yes, again) at my fancy high school. I have many associations with this show, a long and twisted history frought with drama and stress. Why do I keep doing this show so often if it’s kicked my butt repeatedly? Well, sometimes, it’s the perfect show for the group I have. This is one of those times. My cast is perfect, my mission band is full of my beloved senior girls who seem relatively cheery about it, the staff is getting along well so far, and we’re off to a good start.

I had the worst single case ever of disgruntled I/My Precious Daughter Deserved the Lead madness that I have ever experienced, and hope never to encounter either party ever again. Anywhere. Utterly cruel and destructive, and full of the worst kind of petty smallness. My friend Ellie always reminds me to ask, “What is the gift in that?” whenever things are going badly…and the gift in this is twofold. One, it reminds me yet again how lucky I am to work with so many incredibly smart, compassionate, talented teenagers who are kind and mature, and two, that karma is a red-hot bitch-slapping Mama, because this kind of behavior will reap what it sows. I think, too, that there were lessons that needed to be learned somehow for the girl who got the part, and got the flack for it, so a milestone was reached on her journey.

We had our first group rehearsal yesterday, intentionally choosing the complicated “Runyonland” tapestry of an opening number, because it built in wait-time, and would give the kids a chance to socialize in this new grouping, get to know their cast-mates, and gain an understanding that rehearsals, no matter how meticulously organized, have down time. My choreographer was hard at work with the kids, so I mostly drifted about the groups, or ran the CD for her as needed.

I watched one small group closely. Freshman and sophomore girls, scrolling together through one’s iphone music list. It was clearly full of showtunes, and I could hear them chatting about Wicked and Gypsy and Spring Awakenings and singing quietly to an obscure Kristen Chenoweth song called “Taylor the Latte Boy,” to which all four of them knew all the words. I thought back to who I was in high school - I was those girls, head full of showtunes, lyrics constantly playing in my head, or scribbled on notebook pages. I lived for rehearsal times, for whatever the show was, and I have very few memories of high school that do not take place in the auditorium or in the choir room. And in fact, of my classroom memories, nearly all of them are bad ones.

The difference, though, between myself and these girls was that I was me, alone, and they have each other. Oh, I had Lisa and Chris in high school, and truly felt that they were the only friends I needed. But they both were involved in sports and had actual lives beyond theater, and far beyond me. And I was never pals with anyone in the shows other than them, and never knew anyone else who knew all the words to Trouble in River City or Just You Wait ‘Enry ‘Iggins, or to be impressed by the fact that I did. I kept my theater geek Freak Flag safely in my journal until I got to college and then let it fly, unabashed and celebratory, part of a community. Here’s my hat, fellas…I’m staying where I’m at, fellas…

I love knowing that whatever else I’m doing in my life, I’m year to year providing community space to the musically disenfranchised and socially awkward too-loud girls in this corner of the world. Tomorrow night, we're having a cast party to watch the Glee premiere, yet another way to remind them that they are not alone. So while I’m already feeling significantly frayed around the edges in this tiring season of my life, I can clearly look out at swaying sophomores singing “Seasons of Love” and think, yeah…there’s the gift in that.

And, if I should give in about the smoke machine, I totally know like three places to get one.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dear Teacher

On the first day of school, I write a long letter to the kids about some things they'll learn, and some things about me and what I like to do. I ask them questions about their lives and their interests, and their only homework on the first day is to write me a letter back. It's a great way to get a sense of their writing voices, and to find out whose parents do their homework for them.

Here are some gem lines from letters I got this morning. They are all exact quotes - I have not altered a thing.


"Now I want to tell you all about me. I love pasta and salsa. It makes my tongue tingle like my tastebuds are dancing. Your friend, Isabella."

"My favorite shows are Flashpoint and Big Brother. I used to love Knight Rider 2008, but it got cancelled for reasons I do not understand."

"Though Greece and Egypt seem to be interesting topics indeed, I find it difficult to talk about curriculum from the relaxing comfort of my home. I instead will take the opportunity you gave me to tell you about myself."

"I am in a band called Stones of Gold. But we've never even had a rehearsal so I don't think that's going to work."

"I have two gerbils named Lewis and Clark. It was kind of stupid to name them after explorers because they never leave their cage, but I like history so that's why I did it."

"Mrs. Browne I'm really not sure what to right so I will tell you that my favorite food is cheese and I have two annoying sisters named Abby and Katie. Have a nice night."

"I love to eat chocolate, whoopie pies, pies, ice cream, chips, chocolate chips, and cake."

"Some things I like are swimming, soccer, watermelon and lacrosse."

"One day my parents got a letter! It said your daughter has led poisoning! Then my parents asked my grandparents what kind of paint they used in the house! It was my great grammys and back then they used paint with led in it! Led paint can give elderlys and small children led poisoning! That day we moved!"

And my favorite, from an awesome cracker-jack kid who emerged as a leader in the first five minutes of school:

"I own over 12 globes, 20 atlases and least 100 small maps around the house. I also have 20 books on various civilizations and ancient cultures. I do like video games but I play games like Total War and not Call of Duty. Total war has about 10 different games, and they follow groups like the Romans and Napolion and others. You pick your groups like the Franks or the Saxons and move your troops on each campaign. So you are not rotting your brain with zombies or guns but learning. I don't play video games all the time. I mostly play in the house with legos or in the backyard with myself."

I fully intent to use this against him when he runs for President.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

One Ten-Year-Old at a Time

I begin another school year in just two days, and somehow, I'm not feeling it. This is my 15th year as a teacher, I recently figured out, and every single time, that first day flutter kicks in. Somehow, though, I'm not there yet.

For my first year, I was in my classroom for weeks beforehand, pouring over how-to books, making sure everything was just so. Now, I go on for one day. Really, one half of a day. Put up bulletin boards, copy my first day stuff, set up desks, adjust the schedule, and then when the actual First Day comes, my concentration is on getting my own girls ready, psyching them up, taking the pictures on the stoop and feeling all the day that a part of my spirit hovers with them, patting them when they need it, offering a wink and a smile when their nerves hit. Before my daughters, my focus was only on the students.

So, in the spirit of finding my way back to then, I'm sharing a piece I wrote for a contest about my first year teaching. It was my response to the prompt, "When did you first know you were a grown up?" I didn't win, but I will always be glad that I tried it. I'm pretty sure I never published it here before, but in case I'm old and forgetful, and you've already read it, go read the newspaper or something instead.

One Ten Year Old at a Time

“I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain…” A firm believer in the My-Life-A-Broadway-Musical approach to romance, adventure, and all of life’s challenges, I had belted fortifying songs throughout the weeks spent preparing for my first Real Job. I had been training and studying for years, had envisioned this opportunity with such hope and enthusiasm, and here it was. I was a teacher at last. My very first class – fifth grade in a tiny neighborhood school in Plymouth, Massachusetts. I assembled perky bulletin boards designed to encourage and uplift, wrote names in careful script in rank books and spelling charts, imprinting these small souls on mine before I had even seen their faces.

Marbled journals were waiting on every desk, and everyone had a sharpened pencil ready. Math workbooks assigned? Check. First day puzzles pieces cut out and labeled? Check. Nametags? My new colleagues wandered in during these preparation days to welcome me and wish me well, and to offer advice and encouragement. They walked around my cooperative-learning style desk groupings, eyeing the nametags and sharing the wisdom of their experience with my new students, the ones they had already taught in first through fourth grades. “Oh, that one never shuts up. He wants to be the class clown. Don’t let him.” Eyes scanned over the desks. “This one is bossy. She’s going to tell you what to do all the time.” “This one doesn’t do homework.” “No motivation.” “Very bumbling. Don’t leave anything breakable on your desk or it won’t be there in June.” I smiled and nodded politely as they rambled, and recited the list of Multiple Intelligences in my mind to tune them out. I knew I had to make my own decisions, and I wanted to discover who they were all on my own.

It wasn’t until I was halfway to work on that sunny, Macintosh-and-Ticonderoga scented first day that I realized a terrifying fact…I had never seen a first day of school from a teacher’s perspective. All of my student teaching experiences had occurred after the first day of school, and though I knew the logistics of what I was supposed to do…I actually had no idea, in practice, what to expect. Terrifying analogies began to run through my head…Would a pilot fly a plane without ever having seen it leave the runway? Would a surgeon operate without ever having seen that first incision made? Panic fluttered. Fifth graders are going to eat me alive, I was suddenly certain, and there is no showtune for this!

My stomach’s butterflies turned to helicopters as I walked into my expectant, empty classroom on that first September morning. Breathing deeply, I became determined to be the voice of authority, to be fortified by my student teaching experiences and never let on that I was anything but perfectly ready to lead these emergent adolescents through the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, persuasive essay writing, the scientific method, the American Revolution, and dividing fractions. I would show no flicker of weakness. I would be strong. I would be In Charge.

That mindset would not last. In that first week I learned the stories, and personalities that came along with those carefully penned names, and realized that I was in way over my head. I was given one student with severe special needs, who came with an aide that I had no idea what to do with. I completely forgot to take them to lunch one day and they were too polite to tell me. I made a wreck of my plan-book and every lesson took twice as long as it should have. I pulled the handle right off the only ancient mimeo machine, making me the Most Hated Teacher in School for four entire days. I blew a fuse by using both the microwave and the toaster in the teacher’s room while the copier was running, plunging half the school into darkness. I made a boy cry when I asked him about his mother…whom I didn’t know had died two years before…and I could not seem to keep straight the names of the Spanish Explorers I expected the kids to memorize, confusing all of us repeatedly. The harder I clung to In Charge, the more the Universe laughed and threw obstacles in my way. I was beginning to feel that I should have been a plumber instead and the only showtunes I could seem to draw from were those of the starving French peasants in Les Miserables. Things were definitely falling apart.

My breakthrough came during a particularly troubling math lesson. I had lost my way halfway through demonstrating a problem on the board. Puzzled glances and hands in the air soon gave way to muttering amongst the kids. I grew more and more frustrated at my inability to solve the problem as well as my terrifying sense that I was losing control of them, just as I knew I would all along. A timid voice rang out, “I think I know how to fix it.” Biting back the humiliated tears threatening to jump out of my eyes, I handed over the chalk and walked to the back of the room. This small, shy fairy-child erased two bits of the problem, and talked the whole class through solving it correctly. The kids nodded, light-bulbs flickered in their eyes, and one student turned to me and said, “See, Ms. Hines? We got it. It’s okay.” Their encouraging, sympathetic smiles did me in. I stopped the lesson midstream and sat them all on the rug, and I simply told them the truth. “I’ve wanted to be a teacher all my life, and I feel so grateful for this job, but sometimes…I don’t know just what I’m doing. I’m trying really hard, and I want to be the best I can, but I need your help. I need advice.” Their advice? Relax. Be yourself. Don’t worry so much. We already like you, so trust us. We’ll show you how.

In a million small moments of trust and connection, we slowly began to build a community together. I asked about their families, their dreams, their passions, and they asked about mine. And I told them. We talked together about current events, their fears about transitioning to middle school, the complications of friendship and how much things had changed from when they were “little.” And I listened hard. When I wasn’t sure the best way to deliver a particular Social Studies concept or help them prepare for a vocabulary test, I asked them, and I implemented their ideas for how to teach them best. We put on a fabulous production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, surprising the naysayers who insisted that fifth graders Can’t Do Shakespeare. We learned all the songs from Oliver! and Schoolhouse Rock. I took them all to Boston to see Donny Osmond in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and even my most reluctant theater-goers loved it. We read and we painted and danced and wrote…and we laughed. We laughed at them, and we laughed at me, and we all loved coming to school every single day.

In the fifteen years of teaching that have followed this first one, I have only grown in my appreciation of special these people were. Many of my teaching years are full of kids who come with more baggage than I can help lift, or more defenses that I am able to penetrate, but I have held fast to the lessons I learned that first year about creating a safe haven for students and teacher alike. I keep working to foster trust, because an inspirational bunch taught me how.

The Class Clown is soon to end his Navy tour of duty; I’ll attend his wedding this spring. The Bossy One leads her own fourth grade classroom. Midsummer's Oberon is now a professional actor. The one without motivation is finishing her law school degree, and the clumsy Bumbler is now a successful stand-up comedian. (And yes, he did break my favorite coffee mug.) I was hired to be their teacher, and in every way, they taught me. They taught me to be myself, finally. They taught me that opening my heart is a sign of strength, not weakness, and that I should always listen more than I talk. In doing so, they made me a teacher. In doing so, they have allowed me to teach thousands more these very same lessons. Because of what I learned from them, I now annually create a classroom where differences are celebrated, freak flags proudly fly, and truths are discovered and boldly spoken. I know I’m not rescuing people from burning buildings and I’m not curing cancer, but in my own small way, I’m changing the world, one ten-year-old at a time. And my first ten-year-olds taught me how. I grew up before their very eyes, just as they grew up before mine.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cyclone

There are a lot of reasons I haven't written lately. For one, I've been hibernating. A hermit. I felt the need to shut the world out just a little bit. For just a little while. I journaled during that, so I know I'm alright. I just needed to build a little chrysalis.

For another, since I've been re-emerging all new to the world, butterfly-like, I have been very jangly and sensitive. Squinting in the light, like coming out of the movies at three in the afternoon.

Third, a lot of what's been happening lately has been very personal, and if I couldn't write about that, then I couldn't write about anything, because it would feel too phony.

I learned that. I learned - and was lately reminded - that if I am not in a place of authenticity with myself, then I can't write at all. We all have our fatal flaws; mine is, I think, a tendency to kid myself about things. I decide I can deal with a situation, or choose not to deal with it, or not see the truth of something by convincing my perceptions to bend to my will. I suppose everyone does that, but I do it readily. Eventually, though, the truth will out, and I will figure out how I truly, deeply feel about something, and how I'll do it will be to write my way through it. So, I have done that. I have written myself straight on through to the other side, and I'm very nearly ready to take a step into this new phase. (Nearly ready - one good afternoon with the tribe ought to clinch it, I think.)

This fall will be the beginning of many new things for me. For my family. I know this. It is the middle of a cycle that began when I sold my house last fall. I sold my house, and then I moved my family and tried to take care of them durning a terrible winter of discontent, and I wrote a play. I finished a school year and I got my house of dreams and I went to New York City had an August of Renewal. That Augus was the eye of the storm. Now I have the other side of this cyclone to work through, and I will be Dorothy sitting on her bed, pointing out the window, noticing whatever comes past. And then my house will land, and we'll sing a song about it, I'll get a pair of fabulous new shoes, and another phase of my journey will begin.

I have a lot more to say - about what I learned this summer. I wrote in June about that. I was asked, "What will you learn this summer, Kelly?" And I learned a lot.

For now, though, I am enjoying a chance to reconnect to this. I'm watching the finale of Pillars of the Earth again, and I am tossing out a question. Is there anything out there that will help me to connect to other periods of history the way this novel connected me to the 1200's? I had never been able to conceive of this time without this novel. Shakespeare in Love did it for the 1500's, and reading Gone With the Wind did it for the Civil War. (Not the movie - that felt like the 1930's. I kept picturing the actors climging into their Rolls Royces after their shooting day, fur stoles around their collars.) I have to teach Egypt and Greece and early man, and I have no passion for it. No connection. And I find it hard to do anything in my life without passion.

So, does anyone know any novels or movies that can help me? I need something transporting and inspiring, not for the kids to read, but for me to read to help me bring it to life.

Thanks. See you real soon.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Undoing the Damage

Yesterday afternoon, I spontaneously decided to take the girls to the Magical Secret Beach for a couple of hours, to get them out of the house, into the fresh air, into the ocean and to break up an otherwise quiet day at home. I called the Saads, and Chris and the kids joined us. They spent a couple of hours frolicking about, while Chris and I chatted and watched the seagulls...and the children, of course. The girls put together some sort of musical routine that was designed to get us to take them to the movies...we didn't pay it too much attention, because they daily put together musical routines for one purpose or another. We said no, having other evening plans, and the three of them pitched a fit. (Well, mostly mine, but still...) It was one of those disgusting displays of spoiled-brattiness, a serious case of the gimme-mores, and I hit the ceiling.

We are now launching into the second installment of what I affectionately call Consumer Depravation Period. I did this once before, a year or so ago, when they had ceased to show the appropriate appreciation for the life they have, the "stuff" they get from toys to orange coolatas, and it was very effective. What it means is that there are no treats, no dinners out, no ice cream, nothing besides what's already in our house. Not one red cent will be spent on them in any fashion. (I wish I had not picked up groceries for camp yesterday morning - though I did stash some of it away already.) This, of course, is accompanied by stories of my early childhood of poverty, of the hard work and stress my mother had to experience even to provide us with the basics, let alone the luxuries...the feeling of waiting in the "free lunch" line in the cafeteria and lunches of government cheese. They have no idea how great they have it...but in this next week and half, until we leave for vacation, they're going to get a taste of it. Chores are being doubled, and if they don't come out of this with a greater appreciation of their toys and their own rooms and their wonderful lives that are NOT a feature of good luck, but of the hard work and loving tendencies of their parents, then we will spend the weekend in Pennsylvania NOT in Hershey Park and Amish Adventure Land (or whatever it's called) but driving through the slums of Philadelphia. (What? I ain't scared.)

I know that it sounds extreme to freak out over one little temper fit on a beach, but it's been building. And I am not above using Serious Drama to make my point when it matters.

So, no running out to meet the ice-cream truck, no extra dollars for the snack bar at camp, no back to school anything until further notice. But, of course, there WILL be trips to the mall, the bookstore, Target and CVS, where they will NOT get this one book they've been waiting for forever or one little pack of gum or just a bottle of water...

I hate to think that I have spoiled my children, and prefer instead to recognize that wanting things is natural and normal, and that this is just a phase. They do appreciate things, generally - family time, and gifts from their grandparents, and special trips and events. But there have just been seven too many exasperated sighs when they don't get that little bit more that they want. I will NOT have children who feel entitled to everything under the sun. I want them to appreciate the simple things in life, the ones money can't buy, and I intend to fully double my efforts to align our family values with our actual day to day family life.

I think about what President Obama said about everyone needing to tighten their belts, stop living lives of excess, and I am as guilty of that as anyone. I can do better for our family that I've been doing, set a better example, and spend my money on the stuff that matters, instead of the crap that doesn't. It'll be good for all of us. (Insert Patriotic musical swell here.) We are so lucky to have this big beautiful house, more than we need to entertain us and nourish us, body and soul. It's time to make do with what we have much more, because we have so freaking much.

Turning over a new leaf today.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

There are days in my life that stand out as shining jewels. And there are days that are benchmarks, where I chose to follow a road and that has made all the difference. And then there are days so full of pleasures and small discoveries that your positive energy bank is tipped deeply into the black. I had a day like that today.

Firs, I chopped my hair off yesterday. And I'm not a tiny bit sorry, though I look like someone entirely different. I actually feel quite like someone entirely different lately, and it suits my soul right now. Patrick was going through something important today, and I sent energy strongly in that direction. I sat on the beach this morning for nearly three hours, and journaled for most of it. I drank iced coffee, I got some things off my chest, I got to the bottom of some worries and stirrings. I watched the tide come all the way in, soaked in the sunshine, abandoning the umbrella, which I normally find unthinkable. I watched the dragonflies and the piping plovers, looked for seashells, wandered into the seagrass which tickled my knees, and was utterly, totally alone on this outdoor expanse.

I had several meaningful conversations, and reminisced about joyful moments - martinis on a deck, the drive Chris and Dan and I took to San Diego, listening to Earth Wind and Fire, a walk in the woods behind Rolling Green, a trip to Florida. I had a perfect soundtrack for my ride home: Fantasy by EWF, Oooh Child by the Five Stairsteps, Country Roads by John Denver, Don't Fence me in by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters and On a Clear Day, which is my favorite hymn to joy. I stopped at a farmstand on the way home and bought this:



Which I then turned into this:



Which may be the most perfect lunch in the history of human-kind. I defy you to think of one more satisfying and colorful.

The next part I can't tell you...it's too embarrassing...okayfineI'lltellyou. I'm watching Somewhere in Time, which was the first romantic movie I ever saw where I totally GOT it. "Oh! THIS is what the poets meant! THIS is what it feels like!" No wonder my romantic relationships have always been so twisted - look at the baseline standard! I pity every boy who's ever liked me.

And then, to top off my day of delights, Craig sends the the following link in response to my blog yesterday regarding mouse dioramas - and this is the second best thing anyone has ever sent me on the internet. I leave you with the following gift from my beloved friend, and you're welcome:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/artsandliving/magazine/peeps2010/index.html

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Musings

--In one of my favorite novels, Tuck Everlasting, the opening paragraph states (in paraphrase) that the first week of August hangs at the very top of the live-long year, like a ferris wheel that pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before lead up from the capricious spring, and the weeks that follow, the down-turn toward winter. But the first week of August is still, and hot. I am allowing that stillness to enter into my soul right now, remembering to be motionless for a few moments at a time, to pause and listen to the crickets and watch the turkeys in my yard. It also says that it causes people to be listless, and restless, and drawn to do things they'll be sorry for afterward. What are you doing that you might be inclined to be sorry for later?

--I cut off all my hair today, and colored it a sort of goldenish brown. I am very happy with it, but Abby's first reaction was, "Now you look like one of those OLD mothers!" And her second reaction was, "You look like you're in college." Hmmm. I don't qualify this, so far, as a thing I'll feel sorry for later. I find it very freeing. I needed a great big change.

--My daughters left for camp this morning without the backpacks I had packed so carefully, containing bathing suits and extra underpants and clean towels and I-love-you notes written on their lunch napkins. They realized it after ten minutes of waiting in the car at the bus stop, and we raced back to get them, hoping we'd make it in time. It somehow diminished the fuzzy glow of yesterday's whole deal of waving goodbye to the big yellow bus. They missed the freaking yellow bus this morning, and I had to drive them the half an hour to camp, and the half hour home. Not so glowy.

--In looking through the Book of Questions recently, the following came up: "If you were to determine some sort of test to determine whether or not two people were soul-mates, what would it be?" My answer came so clearly, and even thinking about it days later, I still think I'm right on. It's a four step process.
1.) A discussion about books. Favorite books currently, favorites as a kid, the ones that made an impact on your spirit and became your manuals for life. Even if they're not the same, I think people need to have an understanding of the literature that touches their partners' souls. It's very telling.
2.) A crisis situation. Something serious has to happen in one person's life, and both need to see how they deal with it.
3.) Going away together. And not necessarily to sleep together, but just to see how each person deals with the stress and opportunity of travelling.
4.) Sex. 'Cause...chemistry, baby. If it doesn't work in bed, it doesn't work at all. And I think you can build and hone it, but if there's not that chemical pull there to start, it's pointless.

--You know you're home too much in the daytime when you start to think of Yes, Dear and According to Jim as excellent television entertainment. That's what's on in the middle of the afternoon, my friends.

--I am terrified of that Chef on Hell's Kitchen. He haunts my nightmares, yelling at me and dropping the f-bomb over a misplaced garnish.

--I want to see that movie called Dinner for Shmucks only to see the Mouse dioramas. I am a huge fan of the diorama as an art form...which is why I subject my 6th graders to them frequently, for my own selfish amusement. Diorama's of King Tut or Dionysus? Never boring.

--And speaking of Book of Questions, Jennifer Garner and Ashley Judd are just universally sleep-with-able. They seem to be on everyone's list, regardless of orientation. They must be very proud of that.

--I passionately adore my friends. I know I've mentioned that, but it bears repeating. Blessed beyond measure am I.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Yellow Bus

This morning I had a rite-of-passage experience...I put my children on a big yellow schoolbus and watched it drive away.

Now, I know my kids are 10 and 9, and that all of my mother-friends have already done this a million times, but my kids have been driven to school by Patrick for their entire school career, and so this is new for them, and new for me.

They're off to a day camp for two weeks - for swimming, archery, arts and crafts, that sort of thing. Amelia is excited, Abby is only partly excited ("I love swimming, but I don't want swimming lessons...I don't want to play sports of any kind! Not soccer, not t-ball...I am sure that my mother heard these exact same words from me 30 years ago.) I hope that they will have fun, and I will be using the time to get my house fully finished and organized - finally unpacking the basement, getting junk out of the garage, getting our lives in order and systems in place. And...I will get my hair done and go to the beach alone, for the first time ever, and do a thousand other personal things I don't get to when the kids are around...like the dentist, and the brow-wax lady.

Today, though, I made peanut butter sandwiches and packed their towels and sunscreen and bathing suits, fixed ponytails and watched them walk onto a giant bus that was too crowded. They had to mill around for a bit until the counselor helped them get it organzied....but still, those moments where they paced the aisle, oversized backpacks smacking the seats, trying to negotiate the challenge of finding a place to sit amongst strangers, it was all I could do to not climb on the bus and help them figure it out, solve it for them. Put on my teacher voice and manage the kids so everyone has a place. It's what I do, all the time, everywhere...and yet, I had to let my two precious curly girls manage that on their own.

They're confident, and resilient. We built them like that on purpose, so that when these situations arise, they would boldly create a place for themselves. And I am well-versed in the art of stepping back and allowing them to do that, but there was something about the combination of the big yellow school-bus, and the too-big backpacks, and my own emotional state that left me feeling quite undone.

I have loved every phase with my girls so far, and it's very rare that I look with longing on the past. I honor their past, and I scrapbook the crap out of it, and I loved and savored each phase while it was here. I'm not a person who clings to the past, though there are those who would argue that point. I examine the past, yes. I look at it to understand where I am now, where I'm going, and how I got this way, but I never wish my way back to then. I always believe that the best of times is now, and that wonderful times are around the bend in the road.

This morning, though, I just wish I could go back to the August of nine years ago, with my newborn Abby cradled in my arms, and my one-and-a-half year old Amelia snuggled up against us on the couch, Huggy Bear in her fist, watching Bear in the Big Blue House. No mean girls, not hurt feelings, no negotiations....just comfort and protection and a certainty that I had the power to protect them from harm.

They are not in danger at camp, I know, but they rightfully will have to step out of their comfort zones to try new things, meet new people, and figure out who they are in a new place. I can only hope that the work we've done to fill their toolboxes with confidence will pay off when it matters, when that big yellow bus takes them out of my reach.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dear August

Dear August,

It goes without saying that we have had a long-standing love affair. You are the month that I look forward to the most, though I know you have a private little rivalry with December. Rest assured, dear one...you are both so unique, and I love you both the same amount, only differently. Like that children's book, I love you the goldest, and I love December the red-greenest.

But you're here now, my darling month, my month of coffee and amusement parks and scrapbook pages and beach sand between my toes. My month of journaling and trashy novels and too much liquor and questionable hygeine. You are indulgence and rest, fortitude and lust, a time to connect with people and shut the ringer off my phone at the least inclination.

In short, August, you fill my well of hedonistic, pleasure-centered, most base personal needs, and allow me to fill the the other 334 days with something resembling an upstanding life, one in which I seek to actively inspire the leaders of tomorrow to make the world better through Passionate Good Deeds and Industrious Effort....starting September 7th.

Till then, though, for the next four weeks, I will sleep too late, eat too much, stay up too late writing or reading or otherwise frittering the time away. I will watch Ellen and Oprah and tons of Glee reruns and all of those random movies kicking around on my DVR. (Otherwise, they'll be deleted when December's Hallmark movies begin, and I would never want to use a cinematic device to foster unnecessary jealousy between the two of you.)

August, I love you for Magical Strawberry Drink and for swimming pools, for show-tunes blasting and staying in my pajamas all the way through the shrill ladies on the View. I love you for Provincetown and Patrick's secret beach and the Marshfield Fair - my only chance to pat a cow all the year long. I love you for flip-flops, sun-dresses, and a lack of accountability, and if I don't straighten up my house and load the dishwasher until 4:45, just in time for Patrick to get home, well...that's our little secret, isn't it? You don't mind, and you will keep my worst habits under your floppy straw hat. I love you for that, too.

I love you for not judging me when my children watch far too much Scooby Doo, and I love you for the chance to take them to the library and buy them shiny new school sneakers. (Though not yet, August! I'm not even close to ready yet. But I know that when I am, you'll support me through that as well. August, you're so versatile.)

So thank you in advance, my sunflower beauty, bursting with fresh blueberries and queen anne's lace and a chance to pick up four of the 71 novels piled into the "Friends I Haven't Met Yet" shelf in the Athenaeum. Thank you for thunderstorms and fireflies and fried oreos at the downtown street fair.

August, our affair will be brief and brilliant - blazing, even - and when you leave me, I will do my fair share of huddling and shaking and eating too much Ben and Jerry's while I write class lists into my rank book. I will lament your passing in pages and pages of simpering prose in my spiral notebook, and eventually, when I'm shopping for Halloween costumes and buying things that smell like cinnamon, I will be able to think of you with a wistful tenderness, instead of the fierce, devotional obsession I feel today.

Firmly planted in the moment after a gin-and-tonic-with-extra-lime,
KMHB

Clarification

And just to further amend that post yesterday...that is not at all to say that I'm always right or benevolent or good....I'm more often than not clueless and obtuse and inattentive to that which is not smack on the path in front of my feet. I'm just saying that when I've had a hard choice, and I dug down deep to bottom of my soul to ask what to do, I've listened to the answer I've gotten. I have plenty of work to do in many other aspects of my life to be better and kinder and more patient and more loving, but I've just had some clarity this summer about my own inner compass.

My inner compass this morning is telling me to drink a lot of coffee, and when the rainstorms come, to sit on my front porch with Eat, Pray, Love. That is what I shall be doing.

More Faith

I set an intention for this summer to try to have more faith in myself. When I wrote that back in June, I mostly meant about my writing – I wanted to have the faith in myself that the people who love me have in me. In the way most things go, though, my declaration came true in unexpected ways.

Already this summer, I have faced some challenging moments. And in them, and before and after them, I felt some clarity in how I needed to be, what I needed to do or say, and I trusted my instincts. I trusted what my gut told me, and even though many things did not turn out the way I hoped, I still feel that I did what was right, followed my path, trusted myself.

Change is in the air, all around me. And it’s not the coming of fall. It’s a shift in mindset – looking at 40, accepting some circumstances and having complete clarity in what I have yet to create in my life.

In April, I made a vision board that came very true in spooky ways. I intend to do another one this August, and I am so sure about what needs to be on it. I know what I want, I know where I’m headed, and I am leaving the “how” to the angelic experts. I am preparing for the best, because I know for certain that the best is yet to come.

I woke the girls up at 5:00 a.m. this morning and surprised them with a trip to Storyland. On the way up there, I got lost. I knew where to go for guidance, and got it. And in the process, I got a beautiful, scenic drive of early morning mist rising over the White Mountains, waterfalls, and too many shades of sunlight-dappled green for my eyes to grasp. We had a wonderful day together, the girls and I – riding the Bamboo Chutes about eleven times, then met Lisa and her family for a swim at their hotel and pizza for dinner. Lisa, in her most Lisa-ish ways, managed to affirm in two hours things that I have grappled with for weeks. It was a grounding I didn’t even know I needed. Had a tricky ride home (Hi…Giant Rt. 93 Sinkhole? Anyone hear about that?) But even then, I had two sleepy, happy, satisfied girls snoozy in the backseat, as I listened to Bedtime Magic and that crazy Dalilah music, and even then, I was proud that I had done something adventurous and bold and made a page for the scrapbook.

I’m tired as I write this, but Julia Roberts is about to be on Letterman to talk about the movie I’m second-most looking forward to this year. (Eat, Pray Love, but Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One is still my dorky #1 choice.) I’m tired, but I’m going to post this inane rambling anyhow because I have made a commitment to myself to get freaking serious about this writing thing. No matter what drivel is flowing, it’s MY drivel, and I’m going to raise it on my Freak Flag for all the world to see.

Okay, wait…three more things:
1.) Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are perfection in a food item.
2.) The smell of my daughters’ hair, even when it’s chlorine-laced or tangly, grounds my spirit completely.
3.) I may not know what I’m doing most of the time, but I know that when I follow what feels right in my solar plexus, I’m never wrong. I can look back to being 14 and know that when I listen to that, I am never wrong. I have the 64 spiral notebooks to prove it, soon to be organized and padlocked here in my watermelon slice-colored office, waiting to serve their purpose.

Bon nuit, amies. Merci.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Look Over There

I’m trying to keep consistent about blogging this month, but I’ve really done no writing whatsoever except for when I was in New York. I journaled like 40 pages that weekend, and it’s the calmest I’ve felt in ages. Here are a few snippets of journal entries. Partly ‘cause it’s really all I’ve got, and partly because it’s very much a portrait of the way my mind works. These are disjointed snippets of things I heard or read or thought, or figured out and found resonant.

On the train:
I just passed some horrible slummy looking neighborhood, and I thought, as I very, very often do, that there but for the grace of my mother – and of a college education - go I. I could so easily have wound up like that – like so many of my family before me. I half expect it – the single mother balancing multiple low-paying jobs, with my scrappy, shabby children under the eyes of predators and scoundrels all the time. Truly, there are few days of my life that pass where I do not remember this. Choices and sacrifices were made to ensure I did not go there. I chose to marry a man who will not leave me…especially not leave me like that. Instead, here I am, on a train, heading to see four Broadway shows, with To Kill a Mockingbird in my bag beside me and a five-bedroom home with neat husband and clean children to return to on Sunday. Thankful, Thankful.

My 70’s radio playlist on Pandora…
Bless the Beasts and the ChildrenI love you Just the Way You Are: “You always have my unspoken passion…” Barry Manilow’s Weekend in New England…remembering Elise and I howling with laughter as “Mandy” blasts in our hot tub room in Northampton…Air Supply, Jim Croce, BJ Thomas…”I’m never gonna stop the rain by complaining…”

Later, in my room…
I’m eating a turkey club sandwich IN bed, on a table-cloth covered tray that someone wheeled into my room, wearing silky pajamas and drinking a pina colada while watching a Meryl Streep movie…I love my life!

Thursday, the first morning of the workshop…
It’s incredibly hot in this theater. Our director just called our experience “a site-specific rendition of 110’ in the Shade.” Only like three other people laughed with me. This proves I am a tremendous nerd.

“Why do we sing on stage? Because the character feels so much something that mere words are not enough. They have to sing it." (to paraphrase Joshua Logan.) I feel that way a lot – it’s why the most important moments of my life always have a soundtrack.

As they are setting up for this workshop on technical theater, the mic chords are too short. Four of Broadway’s finest technical theater professionals all look at each other blankly, no clue what to do. The program director swoops in and takes care of it herself.

Broadway theaters all rent their sound and light equipment. I did not know that! If you’re going to purchase your own for your theater, make sure it’s all of equivalent quality. Don’t buy an expensive board and then shitty body mics. “It’s the weakest link in the chain that will always fail you.” Ain’t THAT the truth of life?

The sexy sound guy who looks like Jack’s dad from Lost has a beautifully chiseled chin. He just said, “plug that into my dimmer rack” and now everything he says sounds dirty.

After lunch, Presentation from the creators of the Ragtime Revival…
On deciding to direct it: “They called and I agreed, then I wanted to back out. I got scared, and generally when I get scared, it means I should do it.” Good advice. She saw Ragtime as a ballet, and thinks it’s the best, most important theater piece from the second half of the 20th century. I totally agree.

As an actor, to draw upon personal experience is to examine your wounds with scabs, not the newly formed, festering ones that hurt too much to face just yet. If an actor is lost in his own pain, and crying, then the audience is not crying. You need to remember the feeling, but not be lost in the feeling.

“Back to Before” is sung barefoot on beach. The ocean is in the accompaniment, rolling and relentless.

“As a director, I need you upstage left on this line. It’s your job as the actor to figure out why you decide to go there.”

Later, a presentation by a famous playwright…
Yeah, this lady is a wack-job. She just explained a play she wrote about a pool – that takes place IN A POOL – where nursing mothers complain that they keep leaking milk into the water. I would much rather be sitting in the hotel bar right now.

“What is the blazing moment you want to explore? THAT’S your play, right there.”

Midnight, as it turns my birthday…
In a fabulous secret bar, drinking Prohibition Punch. If this is what 39 feels like, bring it on.

Friday morning, at the theater…
I’m wearing my new, very expensive shirt, and I’m having a good hair day. I started the day with phone calls, a bazillion Facebook birthday greetings, a vanilla latte and a chocolate croissant. I’m feeling kind of sparkly and glowy inside. Now I’m starting my MTI workshop, where I am determined to win first prize in the trivia contest for the third year in a row. This day is already kicking ass. (Then, two hours later…) Holy shit. I totally won the contest again.

Later that day, William Ivey Long…
(First of all, he’s amazing. Google him.) He’s like a throwback from a 1950’s supper club era, pinky up and pin-striped suit impeccable. He says Hugh Jackman and David Hyde Pierce are the nicest men in show business, and that Robin Wright is the most beautiful woman he’s ever met in real life. I learned a great deal about lighting and scenery from his presentation…amazing, since he’s a costume designer! (Seriously – Wikipeida him!) He’s completely in charge of everything about the way the actor looks, head to toe. Wigs, makeup, everything. “I’m the one the directors yell at, that’s how I know I’m in charge.” Also, he lived with Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Joy in the Morning) for like three years! That’s an amazing connection. “I love actors. They’re magical. They have been touched by the gods.”

Craig Carnelia, Acting teacher and author of many songs in Working
(I write a lot during this presentation, things he said and did, but overall, I was just riveted to his energy) “Your acting has to DO something, in your song, you must be DOING something. Don’t just swim in the pool of your feelings…use the feelings in the preparation and then make it specific. You don’t want to sing in vague sorrow, and you don’t want to be in reverence…you want to be blatant. What do you want to get through these words?” Oh, I could be a good theater teacher, given the chance. I’ve never had the chance. I get it, though, and I know I could teach it. Then…Oh, my god, he’s going to play and sing the Mason Song, right here, four feet from where I sit. I LOVE this song! Best. Birthday. Ever. And that message, being blatant. The life lesson I have been striving most to learn for 30 years.


Later, sitting in the theater, waiting for the show to start:
Really loving today. I feel happy and uplifted and jumpy and relaxed, and like I can hear my own voice for the first time in ages. I need this trip each year. I need it as the best potion for all that which sometimes ails me. I am glad to know that this escape holds that key for me, and I am grateful that in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t even so very much to want. It’s big enough to keep me working my ass off all year to be worthy of it. And from the work, everyone wins – my students, because I’m a better teacher when propelled by the energy I store here in my reserve. I can be more patience and inspiring with them. My husband, because it allows him to enjoy his time away without his guilt or my resentment. It adds so much balance to the force. I am a broken record of appreciation.

At La Cage…
So, count all the loves who will love you from now
Till the rest of your life.
And when you have added the loves who have loved you before…
Look over there! Look over there!
Somebody loves you more…