Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dear Sixth Grade Boy

Dear Sixth Grade Boy,

Well, the time has come to say goodbye. It seems hard to believe that my life will no longer be surrounded with such a level of crotch-grabbing, nose-picking, and girl-baiting. I know that high school boys have some strange habits as well, but somehow, they seem less relentless due to the increased level of self-awareness and, you know, actual girls around who could possibly be paying attention.

In some ways, I will miss you. I will miss you nerdy ones, who like to talk about the Titanic or the battles of the Civil War, or like to try to stump me in Greek mythology. I will miss the tender-hearted ones, who make sure that the boy with Autism always has someone to partner up with during pair reading, even if it makes their partnership with their best pal an awkward trio. I will miss the ones who surprise themselves when they write a really good line of poetry, or take the risk to sing a solo line in the Christmas play. I will miss the ones who I know still snuggle up against their moms when they are home alone, and maybe still have a little stuffed animal under their pillow where their older brother can’t see it. I will miss the ones who don’t totally know their gay yet, but never miss a chance to comment on my hairstyle or my shoes, and remember to have spirited conversations with me about Glee on Wednesday mornings.

Boys, I still feel a bit like I am abandoning you to the wilds of the middle school hallway, and hope that I have left enough behind to instill in you some compassion, fortitude and gentle reminders to use extra deodorant on gym days.

And you know, I feel like I should miss the Jakes most of all. There’s always a Jake, sometimes two, and you know who you are. (Though your name might also be Nick or Sean or Matt. It doesn’t really matter. You’re still the Jake.) I feel like I should miss you, and part of me wants to stick around and give you the parenting that is either not working, or not evident at all. But you know what, Jake? I should miss you, but I actually won’t.

I won’t miss you randomly falling out of your chair during writing workshop time to be funny. I won’t miss you asking me to go to the bathroom three times during every class, doing the pee-pee emergency dance, when you know you’ve lost your in-class bathroom privleges because of various issues involving permanent markers and paper towels in the toilet. I won’t miss you interrupting every single time I give directions just to derail me and create mayhem in an effort to have power in some arena of your life. I will not miss you asking me the same question over and over again as I sit at my desk in a thinly veiled attempt to look down my shirt. I will not miss my fear every time I have to take you on a field trip that you will open the rear door of the bus and plunge into highway traffic, or steal from the museum gift shop on a dare. I will not miss hearing you bark like a dog in the hallway after lunch and blame it on a kid from the other class, and I will not miss the emails from your parents telling me that it’s somehow my fault that you don’t write your homework in your agenda. ‘Cause the thing is, you’re 12. You can write down your own damned homework. I won’t miss caring about your education so very much more than you do.

Jake, or Jake-equivalent, I have done my time. I have had anxiety dreams about your Egypt projects, given you days worth of lunch detentions to prove a point about getting your Climbing Mount Everest poem through to its final draft, and given you endless rah-rah-you-can-do-it speeches. The you-can-still-change speeches. The effort-is-the-most-important speeches. I have given you, every one of you, a piece of my heart without ever really knowing if it will make a difference, or if I’ll simply see your name in the police ledger ten years from now.

Sad, but true.

Boys, please strive. The world needs good men, and everyone, everyone, is capable of finding their highest and best self and sharing it. I have high hopes for every single one of you, and I do have faith that with the right people in your corner, you can overcome your Jake-ness, find a good job, experience the love of a good woman or man, and make it through an hour without checking to make sure that your boy-parts are still intact.

I believe in you, and I always will. But now I am done.

Your Teacher

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Didn't mean to make you worry...

Don't worry. In the immortal words of Monty Python, "I'm not dead yet!" Stay tuned...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Richest Girl in Town

So, yesterday I decided to finally post my news on Facebook. I figured this was the type of thing that people shared - new jobs, new babies, a great trip, an engagement - the stuff of life that people tend to want to know about you. I wasn't at all prepared for the response.

So many people, from far-flung corners of my life, took the time to say congratulations, or just to "like" my happiness. Kids from my past fifth and sixth grade classes, people I've been in shows with, kids from my high school, kids from shows I've directed at my New School. I felt so incredibly overwhelmed and humbled to have so many people care about what happens to me. I was thinking of that line in It's a Wonderful Life, where Clarence says, "Each man's life touches so many others..." It's amazing to me how many people I have known and engaged with over the years, and when my friend Dillon posted, "Could this be any more like the scene at the end of It's a Wonderful Life? To KHB, the richest girl in town!" I just lost it, and sobbed.

Who am I ever to feel unhappy? How dare I for a moment ever feel sad or lonely, or forget how very supported I am in the world? I have everything a person could ever want in life, and this was just another huge reminder to be grateful grateful grateful and to try to be kind, and to try, whenever possible, to reach out in this way to other people, and to tell them how much I appreciate them and what they mean to me. It feels so uplifting. Life is so funny...you get up every day, and make the coffee, and drive to work, and toil away, and talk to people and listen, and you just never know what lingers. Careful the things you say.

The best of all was the email from Matt's mom, congratulating me and telling me again how much Beauty and the Beast had meant to their family, and how New School is lucky to have me. How do I express to her how much it meant to me? How knowing Matt has changed my life completely, and is directly responsible for this whole thing even happening? More than anyone else in my life, Matt taught me how much it can matter, and how worthwhile it can be. I prayed to him during this process...his mom's email felt like a shout-out back from him.

This reminds me, too, to make extra sure that I am worthy of this wonderful opportunity. I have much to learn and study before I start; I need to be totally devoted to that. I want to build something special there. My vision is a little corner of the school that has the inclusive and protective vibe of the UMass Theatre Guild, where anyone can fly their own Freak Flag and know that they will find other kindred freaks around. I want the theater and vocal music programs to have the sense of service and social responsibility that Company has, where theater is place for kids to both learn and teach themselves and their audiences how to make the world a little better. I want to have a devoted aspiration to excellence that this school is worthy of, where kids take real skills and experiences with them into their futures. And through it all, we'll...you know... sing about it.

I am grateful for this outpouring, and for my raspberry coffee in the pink travel mug that Abby gave me for Christmas. I am grateful for the things that make my children so happy - Amelia's show, Abby's joyful obsession with the Hunger Games (or whatever is the joyful obsession du jour). I am grateful for the Easter Egg Hunt with my Tribe this weekend, with laughs and cameras and new babies and Tom's mimosas. I'm grateful for my in-law's new home and my upcoming trips to see Elise and Craig and the coming of spring for real. Nothing is ever perfect, and everyone's life has shadows, but this whole thing yesterday was such a powerful reminder to always, always look to the light. I want to focus on the best of everything, and just remember to say thank you. I intend to double my efforts in this regard.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Still cleaning out. I'm onto files and binders, now, really weeding through the things I would use if I ever taught middle school again, and getting rid of absolutely anything that I wouldn't. I found this poem in a folder, and it spoke to me this morning.

by Ronald Wallace


Some days I find myself
putting my foot in
the same stream twice;
leading a horse to water
and making him drink.
I have a clue.
I can see the forest
for the trees.

All around me people
are making silk purses
out of sows' ears,
getting blood from stones,
building Rome in a day.
There's a business
like show business.
There's something new
under the sun.

Some days misery
no longer loves company;
it puts itself out of its.
There's rest for the weary.
There's turning back.
There are guarentees.
I can be serious.
I can mean that.
You can quite
put your finger on it.

I am reminded every single day to be grateful for all of my blessings and for the seemingly impossible dreams that come true every day, not just for me, but for lots of people. I love this beautiful weather, the buds on the trees, and my backyard swing. I am excited to have made plans to take road-trips with my girls to see two of my best far-away girlfriends in the next month. North then south the Browne girls travel, singing showtunes and listening to adventurous books on CD together. We do love a road trip.

My coffee is excellent today in my shiny pink travel mug, and for the next two mornings, my students will be taking MCAS, and because we have to be so still and quiet, there is really very little else for me to do besides plunge into the Game of Thrones series. I'm pretty pumped for that. My plan is to spend many quality hours this spring reading those books on my backyard swing, coaxing the peonies to come up and join the party.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ponderings from the Rye

A lesson I’ve had to re-learn many many times in my life is “I can’t fix them.” I have had to keep reminding myself of that year after year in 6th grade, made more difficult by the fact that, well, I’m kind of supposed to. Or, at least, I am supposed to try. And help. That’s kind of the definition of public middle school teacher. Nurse, mother, counselor, sun-maker, tone-setter, model and mentor, all while making sure they hit proficient or above in their MCAS scores.

Increasingly, I have struggled with the futility of it, and yesterday was one of those days when I kind of hit the wall. I am tired of chasing kids down for their 6-sentence homework sheet on writing topic and closing sentences, and Egypt packets, and parent signatures on quiz scores below an 80%. I hate that part. I want to stay true to my mission. I want to give reasons to make school important for them, to help them see that their investment in their education is a matter of character, and not just grades on a piece of paper. No matter what their world is like outside, they can choose who they are in school. That’s the message, anyhow.

I have two boys this year who just hurt my heart every day. Total apathy and disconnection and rudeness, actively trying to not only spoil their own experiences, but to bring down the rest of the whole class. It’s exhausting, and really, when I think about it…it always seems to be the case. Every year there are a couple of kids who basically kick my ass, and require their own candles in the end-of-the-year burning ceremony, and they usually get the same message when I release them: “May they find joy and peace in their hearts, and understand that investing in learning is the ticket out of the sad place they dwell.” I berate myself for not having “fixed,” them, but really, what can I do? I can only give them the best of myself while they are here…

Here’s the thing, though…I know I don’t always do that. I know I hit the wall, every year, and sort of toss my hands up and say, “You’re your mother’s problem.” (I mean, not out loud or anything. Just in my head.) I think I have hit that point a bit earlier this year, simply out of fatigue. They’ve worn me down.

(Sidebar update…you might remember Sam, my “little fox,” who we kept for another year. He’s thriving in every way. He’s a success story, a wonderful soul, and I think we caught him in time. It took a village, and will continue to require that, but we got him. I think his changes will stick.)

I am 99% overjoyed about the choice to change my life and career. The only place where I feel conflict is the 1% Guilt Factor. And the guilt comes from this simple fact: I know that I can’t totally fix these poor little lost souls…but I can make a dent. I have made a difference in the lives of some of these kids, and now I won’t be here to catch them in the rye. Who will? If I can do it, shouldn’t I? Why should I get to have a much easier life now, full of things that just make me happy, when I am equipped to do much harder work in the world?

I don’t have an answer, and believe me, I am not going to change my mind. And after days like yesterday, that question doesn’t hurt me so much. Some days, though, it lingers.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sixth Grade Field Trip

Otherwise known as "Please Kill Me Now."

Tomorrow is the 6th grade field trip to the Museum of Science. On a bus. For an hour and a half each way. With 6th graders. They are twelve, in case you've forgotten. Want to spend a 3-hour round-trip bus ride with 48 twelve year olds and 17 adult chaperones? I didn't think so.

Now, this has been done before more-or-less pleasantly, the time Andrea and I wore matching cherry flip-flops and, in the interest of full disclosure, were just a leeetle bit hung over from drinking Trailer Park Punch the night before, so things were just a little funnier than they might have otherwise been. Plus, I had a really great class that year, and one really Hot Dad as a chaperone.

This year...well, my class is...yeah. I don't know. I have two that I'm afraid will literally hurl themselves out the bus window just to get their peers' attention. I mean, I am SERIOUSLY afraid of that happening. I have another one who persists on wearing a sweatshirt that smells like cat pee despite my saying, "Hey, your sweatshirt smells like cat pee. Please wash it." He hasn't. I have another student who thinks it's really funny to bark and say "Shhhhh!!!!" REALLY loudly as often as possible. Not Tourette's or anything...just for fun. I have one with Autism who already doesn't like loud noises...so the bus ride should be FUN for him, obviously, plus two "advanced" kids (read: closer to 13) that I already have to tell every day NOT to do that one-armed middle school hug thing during locker time.

I AM NOT EXCITED ABOUT THIS FIELD TRIP. At least I don't have a group assigned to me, so I will try to spend the museum time just floating around, trying to sneak up on kids and watch them from afar, being available in case one of them loses it and needs to be taken out.

Ah...who am I kidding? In a perfect world, I will hide in that little room where the tiny-faced monkeys play, or in the corner of the cafeteria looking out on the Charles River, sparkling in the sunlight, and eating the gummy bears and Swedish fish I will have hidden in my pockets. For fortification.

Wish me luck.

My Yellow Brick Road

I preface this entry by saying it’s very freaking long, and you don’t have to read the whole thing, obviously. I am going to tell you exactly how I manifested this new job in my life using the principles of the Law of Attraction. (And I know that there are those of you that will roll your eyes when I start using words like "manifest," but that's okay. You can read something else instead.)

First, there was the obvious stuff…I worked really hard for seven years, built a reputation, made connections to staff people, and really, really loved my work. I loved it, and it grew in my heart.

Secondly, I fully understood what the Law of Attraction really means, and doesn't me an. It does not mean that you can get yourself a sports car by sitting on the couch and just "believing." That’s just absurd. I understood that the Law of Attraction means that what you think about, and thank about, you bring about. Your goal has to make sense for who you are, and it has to be something that you also work toward diligently and carefully.

So, when I found out that my predecessor had already made public his intentions to leave at the end of the year, (and only after I knew that – let the record show) I set out to earn the job. I made the decision in a hard and fast rush of “Eff this. I’M GOING FOR IT.” And I saw it in capital letters, and set myself a methodical agenda to bring it into being. I heard my shadow self, sitting sulkily in the corner, saying, “This is new-age bullshit. It’s not going to make a difference. They either will want you or they won’t. None of this matters.” Then I threw a coconut cream pie in that self's face and plodded forward.

How Kelly Harnessed the Law of Attraction in Ten Deliberate Steps…

1. Vision Board – I did this the weekend I decided to GO FOR IT. The need to do it woke me up at 3:30 one morning, and I did it alone in the Athenaeum. I took the school calendar (a beautiful, glossy full-of-photos affair) and collaged parts of it in. Then I took magazine pictures I had been sort of saving away in a box for the past couple of years – just stuff that vaguely spoke to me at the time – and sorted through until I found pictures and words that said the things I was feeling…things about a leap of faith, about working smarter and more efficiently instead of just more, about believing in your dreams. I wrote a little one-paragraph manifesto, imagining what a friend who loved me would tell me in answer to the question, “Why should I get this job?” Smack in the middle I put Kermit the Frog, who is basically my theater idol, as well as my inspiration for how to run the show with a sense of humor, and how to keep myself surrounded by good friends and love while I do it.

Here it is:

2. Amazon.com Shopping Cart – I filled an Amazon.com shopping cart with all of the textbooks I would need or want to do the job well. They included books on teaching acting, running a choir, vocal technique, directing, and theater games for the classroom. (I didn't buy them...just put them in my shopping cart.) One of which was called At Play: Teaching Teenagers Theater by Elizabeth Swados, which I found, oddly, I already owned. I put that book, along with my Complete Works of William Shakespeare and Ask and It is Given by Jerry & Esther Hicks on the shelf with my vision board. On top of them I put a Beauty and the Beast rose, ‘cause I was kind of praying to Matt during this whole thing, too.

3. Post-its on the computer – They were reminders of things I had read that clicked hard with me. They said:

“Be there. Go there now and never leave. Imagine that your dream has already come true. Filter every thought, question and answer from there. Dwelling from, not upon, the space you want to inherit is the fastest way to change absolutely everything.”

“The Universe is creative, kind, loving, beautiful, expanding, abundant, receptive.”

“You get what you think about, whether you want it or not.”

And my two favorites, from Eat Pray Love. One is a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert about Diligent Joy: “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it..you have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.” And the other: “Darling, it’s time.” That’s from the movie, where Javier Bardem dances Julia Roberts off into the bedroom. To me, that meant…you’ve waited long enough. You’ve worked very hard to be the best you can be, now come to this new place of joy and freedom and a brand new beginning. Plus, anything said in Javier Bardem’s voice had to be true and inspirational. Obviously. Sometimes I pretend his voice is reading through the DVR list, too.

4. Snap-Shots game – I have played this game in a variety of lovely forms, but in this case, it meant writing down on post-its moments from my “new life.” For example, “My students are laying on the floor of the stage. The lights are turned low, and I am walking them through a guided meditation where they meet their character on a walk in the woods." Or, "We are studying Hamlet's soliloquy. We have read it, discussed it, and are watching You Tube clips of great actors performing it, and talking about their choices and understandings." I wrote scores of them, and stuck them in the back of my journal.

5. Mentor Texts – I read
Steering by Starlight & How to Find Your Way in a New Wild World (Martha Beck.)
The Power of Intention (Wayne Dyer)
Ask and It Is Given (Jerry & Esther Hicks)
Creative Visualization (Shakti Gawain)
A Return to Love (Marianne Williamson)
The Secret (Rhonda Byrne)

6. Journaling – Obviously, I journaled my ass off about it. Mostly so that no one else had to listen to me go on and on and on and on and on about how much I was thinking about it. Though I did talk a lot about it too. But, believe me, not one tiny iota as much as I thought about it. Or wrote about it.

7. Sleep-Teaching – Every night before I fell asleep, I pictured my dream as true. I went there, dwelled there, felt the feelings, looked around the rooms I would have to inhabit, decorated my office, and set up the furniture. Every single night, even if it was just a whisp of a second when my head hit the pillow. I planned my dreams before dreaming.

8. Conversation Rehearsals – The conversation where I was offered the job. The conversation where I told my current principal I was leaving. The conversation where I told my partner. I practiced them. Scripted them. And it’s worth noting that they all came true almost exactly as I thought they would. Not totally, but enough to give me shivers. I also wrote the email to my friends announcing that I got the job…one full week before I go the job. I only changed one sentence of it after I got my contract in my hand.

9. Focused on the End Feeling – I tried to not just imagine, but feel what it will feel like to have one job to go to, one place to devote my energy, instead of two. I tried to feel what it will feel like to be there for Monday Morning Meeting with the whole school. How it will feel to have two weeks off in March with my kids still in school, and to be done at Memorial Day weekend. What it will feel like to actually be there on the day the cast list is announced, or to be able to spend my days talking about Shakespeare and human relationships and motivations. How it will feel to have my life filled with music, all the time. It felt, and still feels, joyous. It feels what Martha Beck calls “Shackles Off,” which means utterly free and uplifting.

10. Believing – I believed with all of my passionate, striving, hopeful heart. I knew I could do it. I knew I could make it happen. I didn’t entertain the thoughts of “What if it doesn’t?” beyond knowing that if that unthinkable if were to occur, I would take to my bed for three days and cry, then choose out some new dreams. But I threw coconut cream pies at all of those ifs, every time they came up. Those were shadows. I kept my face to the light, and believed.

Speaking of believing, I realize that there people who won’t believe in this, and think the whole idea of the Law of Attraction is crap. And that’s okay. Part of how I know it’s true – at least for me – is that I don’t actually care if other people don’t believe in it. I don’t care. I know I am right, and that it can work, and I wish and hope that everyone in the whole world could learn these principles and ways of thinking, because they have made me so happy and successful, and brought me my Big Wish.

Of course I have been asked the question I most wonder myself, which is, “But in light of this, why do bad things happen to good people?” I still don’t know. I don’t know. My only guess is that part of life is carving out your purpose and path and destiny from the lump of marble you were born into, and that every soul has a different destiny, one that the soul chooses out for itself before it gets here on earth. I think about my brother in this. He was a good soul, a good person, and had people who loved him so much and tried to help him. But he still died the way he did. How could that happen in a benevolent Universe? How could my gentle mother have deserved to have that sort of pain inflicted on her? I don’t know, but here’s what I think, what I believe…my brother was meant to be a healer. He was meant to help others through their traumas in the afterlife, wherever that might be, and the only way for him to do it well, as I think he’s doing it now, is to have suffered in real life. To know the pain of the worst of human living in order to gently mentor others who have suffered, leading them into the light. I know that’s what he’s doing now. And somehow, it was part of my path of learning to lose him, and my parents’ and my cousins’, and somehow, his son’s. I don’t know why. I think, someday, when I’m in the Next Place with him, singing songs from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and eating Heavenly Hash ice cream, I’ll know. That has to be enough for me for now.

This is a digression, and, I guess, a post of its own for another time.

Getting back to the point...there you have it. My steps, and my philosophies behind them. I know, of course, that it won’t work just this way for everyone, but everyone has the capacity to create their own path. This was mine. And it won’t surprise you one bit to know that it looks exactly in my mind like a Yellow Brick Road.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cleaning Out

For reasons I will soon be eagerly discussing, I am cleaning out my classroom. And not just my classroom, but the various places in which I have stashed 17 years worth of teaching and theater *stuff.* Among the items I came across today:

- 2 huge gallons of apple juice that expired in 2008.
- Sesame Street and autumn motif fabric from my "Let's iron appliques on sweatshirts and tote bags and then outline them in puff-paint" episodes of the mid-1990's.
- A copy of the Ladies Home Journal from 1915.
- Inexplicably, 19 vests in various brocade fabrics and corduroy.
- My high school sweetheart's Soccer letterman's jacket which I wore for the entire winter of 1988-1989.
- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with Donny Osmond...on VHS.

I also found these:

My semi-formal and prom dresses from the late 80's. What to do with these? I have kept them in my costume collection under the guise of someone-might-use-them-someday, but really, the fact that I still have them made me feel one step away from the adult-diaper hiding, maggoty freezer Hoarders that both terrify and entrance me. Why have I held onto this stuff, really? I certainly never expect to wear it again myself. I have the pictures safely scrapbooked and captioned, memories intact. I don't have the answer. Just the question.

My flower girl dress from when I was in my mother's wedding, with the chicken-dinner stain that, luckily, I dropped on my lap AFTER the pictures.


I also found these, from when I taught 5th grade and had a yearly commemorative stamp contest for the Revolutionary War.

How seriously my students took this! Hallway displays, leveraging for votes, all for bragging rights and the privilege of being in this laminated book...which went into the trash today, having spent six years in closet purgatory. I remembered what I told my mom when she was moving out of her house. "Take a picture. You don't need the item, just to remember the item and what it meant to you. Take a picture, and pitch it." I filled two dumpsters in Hull on that logic, and I employed it today...mostly.

I found this:

My poetry apron, made back when I had time to copy and laminate poems, add appliqued pockets to an apron and puff-paint it with whimsy. I was that, heart and soul. I was Fifth Grade Teacher, and reflecting now, I truly did the very best I could. I wasn't perfect, but I was cheerful and enthusiastic and committed and loving, and I made my classroom into the safe haven I had envisioned it to be when I used to talk to Elise in my sleep about multiculturalism and cooperative learning in our dorm room at UMass. I did it. I was "Ms. Hines," spunky and theatrical and creating the weather every day in my classroom.

I still am, to an extent, but in recent years, my spirit has evolved, and my ambitions have evolved, and I have dreamed beyond these walls. Not to devalue them in any way; I have loved this work, and it was my absolute dream job...until a new dream came along. I will always be grateful for everything I learned in teaching 5th and 6th grade, and the ways it gave me purpose and stability and a job at which I could eventually be solid and competent enough to make second in my life to raising small daughters.

The idealistic teacher I encountered as I cleaned out drawers and files today was familiar and someone for whom I have great affection and appreciation. But she is gone, now. I, myself, at 40, cannot ever teach Number the Stars again. Can't do it. And the truth is, I love 6th graders, LOVE them, but I don't give a shit about ancient Egypt...or ancient China, or even ancient Greece. Never have, thought I talked a good game. I dug Buddhism. I kind of liked the idea of Rome - the roads, and the aquaducts, and the funny things that happened on the way to all of those forums...but I won't miss it one tiny bit. I have taught Homecoming and Tuck Everlasting as well as I possibly could, honored them and drove home their themes and messages with all of the emotion I could muster. We journaled our asses off, and did some great projects and adapted Shakespeare plays and made mobiles and dioramas and portfolios. We did it up.

I took my poetry apron to one of the teachers on my floor, a person who is the Nicest Person I Know, and I guarantee you, nicer than the Nicest Person You Know. And you know what she said when I gave it to her? She said, "You know, I feel like I made this happen with my mind. I was just going through all of my other aprons - my word-root apron and my long-vowels apron, and I thought...I wish I had a poetry apron. And here you are, with a poetry apron. And now I will have a little part of you with me when you go."

You'll think this is quaint, maybe, or else that I am surrounded by other insane people who also make things happen with their minds - poetry aprons and grant proposals and dream jobs and the like - but for me, this was yet another example of a perfect tiny bit of synchronicity, of things appearing for people when they most need them. I believe in that reality more now than I ever have before...and if you know me at all, that's freaking saying something.
Not that the world is perfect, and I still struggle every single day with the idea of why-do-bad-things-happen-to-good-people, but in the realm of small things that I can control...like poetry aprons and just the right note from the Universe when I need it, or the perfect song on the radio, or seeing a "101" at the exact moment when I'm trying to make a decision...I have to say, I am just a big old pile of gratitude and awareness these days.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Over the Rainbow

I mentioned a while back about reading Finding Your Way in a New Wild World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want by Martha Beck. I bought it because I already love this author, and had just finished Steering by Starlight, which I also loved. I thought it would be a tool to help me live more deeply and mindfully, and to use my skills, such as they are, and such as they could be, to contribute to the world.

Turns out, the whole second half of the book is about how to create the job of your dreams – literally your nighttime dreams – and bring it about into reality. And before I even read that, I had already done it. Not suddenly, but certainly magically, and in precisely the way that she describes in her method.

Happenstances like this are rocking my world these days.

So, here it is…I have just been appointed Theater Teacher and choral director for this very special high school where I have worked for seven years. I am leaving 6th grade, and beginning a bold new venture in a place both new and familiar.

This is the Dream Job of my sleep-dreams and awake-dreams. In recent years, I have fully written out the description of the Perfect Job, and it has now happened. A salary that can support my family, benefits, retirement, an office, and a classroom that is…a theater. My classroom is the stage of a brand new, state of the art, multi-million dollar theater. I am part of a team of devoted, hard working, creative and industrious people who are 100% For Kids all the time. I feel like Dorothy Over the Rainbow, I really do. And my team exactly fits the profile of the Land of Oz. My boss, Jeff, is like the lion, because he’s very protective and knows when to roar, and vaguely looks lion-like. My music director, Dan, is every inch the Tin-Man, sensitive and operating fully from his heart. My tech director, Brooks, is the Scarecrow, my right-hand, kind of a mess sometimes in certain ways, but creative and devoted and dear. Pam, my choreographer, is literally a 50/50 combination of Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch, in a way that she would both understand and agree with. She knows when to blow bubbles, and she knows when to throw fire balls. I admire that tremendously. And here I am, all wide-eyed and hands clasped and finding that home is right here in a place I have been for a long time, but somehow also now Technicolor and Wild and New.

This has been manifested with patience and hard work and a kick-ass vision board, and a mindful application of Law of Attraction principles of focusing on the end game, the big picture, and letting the “hows” take care of themselves. I didn’t decide to really go for it in a focused way until I knew for sure that the person who holds the job currently was leaving of his own volition, so it feels pure in that way. (Not pure in every way, though, since my relationship with him was so frought with negativity and conflict. But that is a topic for…elsewhere. I have accepted responsibility for my part in that, and forgiven him his. That’s really all I could do.)

So, this blog will have a new focus now. It will become, now, the story of a woman recreating herself in mid-life, launching a new career at 40, leaving behind that which is safe and familiar and well-oiled, and starting down the Yellow Brick Road. I will strive, as always, to foster connections and help kids to find things they don’t yet know about themselves. Changing the world one high-school kid at a time…where showtunes are not only expected, but a required part of the job.

Dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cockeyed Optimist

Shockingly, I have a big crush on our President. I just watched a program I had saved on my DVR that was called something like, "Broadway at the White House." (Some great numbers, but yet another reminder that I just don't get it about Elaine Stritch. She does nothing for me. Brian D'Arcy James, on the other hand...I'm a fan.)

Anyway, the President started off with an introduction, in which he said,

There’s nothing quite like the power and the passion of a Broadway musical. At its heart, it’s the power of a story, of love, and of heartbreak, joy and sorrow, singing witches and dancing ogres. Musicals carry us to a different time and place, but in the end they also teach us a little something about ourselves. It’s one of the few genres of music that can inspire the same passion in an 8 year old as an 80 year old, making them both want to get up and dance. It transcends musical tastes, from opera and classical to rock, hip hop, and whether we want to admit it or not, we all have the lyrics to a few Broadway songs stuck in our heads. In many ways, the story of Broadway is also intertwined with the story of America. Some of the greatest singers and songwriters Broadway and this country has ever known came to this country on a boat with an idea in their head and a song in their heart. They succeeded in the same way so many immirgrants have succeeded, through talent, hard work, and sheer determination. Over the years, musicals have also been at the forefront of our social consciousness, challenging stereotypes, and shaping our opinions about race and religion, death and disease, power and politics. Perhaps the most American part of this truly American art form is its optimism. Broadway music calls us to see the best in ourselves, and in the world around us, to believe that no matter how hopeless things might seem, the nice guy can still get the girl, the hero can still triumph over evil, and a brighter day can be waiting just around the bend. As the great Mel Brooks once said, “Musicals blow the dust off your soul.”

I love that I get this. And I get to live this, and teach it.

That's kind of all I have to say about that. Nice work if you can get it.

Nathan Lane is the emcee. He just said, "We are here to sing showtunes for the most powerful man in the free world. And God help anyone who gets in our way." Haaaa.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Quiet on the Other Side

Rainy Saturday morning, snuggled up with coffee on the couch watching Hello, Dolly, which started on some random cable channel exactly when I sat down this morning. Yet another gift from a Universe who, this week, worked some phenomenal magic on my behalf. My gratitude meter has busted its confines, and I have been thinking of a quote I put in my journal a few months ago: "All of my life, I have been a bride married to amazement." You'd think I'd be over it by now, but I am constantly awed by how wishes come true (not free), and how much better life gets all the time. I'm not allowed to say anything more about this for one more month, but then...oh, you just wait. I've got loads to say.

"Put on your Sunday Clothes when you feel down and out..." This song always ends up on my inevitable Happy Spring Mix CD, because it just feels so joyful and clean and optimistic. "Out there...there's a world outside of Yonkers..." I remember Chris singing that in our high school production, all awkward and earnest and gawky at 15, and how in the big choral part of that number, every single girl had a beautiful frou-frou pastel dress and a fabulous hat, and we all felt kind of embarrassed to be wearing it, but also secretly delighted with outselves. I think I'm one of only like eleven people on earth that love the film version with Barbra Streisand, and if I ever direct this show again, I would want to try to capture this quirky, sassy, pink-Valentine feel of this movie. For now, though, I love that I have nothing more important to do this morning than sit on the couch with Abby in our pajamas, with her casting the show in her mind with all of the kids who were just in Into the Woods. Fun game.

A rare weekend with nothing whatsoever that I have to do. I will putter in my scrapbooking stuff, maybe, do some housework, watch Hugo with my family, and just enjoy the brain-space and the quiet.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Back to life, back to sense, back to child, back to husband...

You can't live in the woods.

Post show depression. It's been so long since I have felt this that I forgot it was a thing. It's been ages since I was more excited for a show than I was for its Pajama Done Day, and it's alerted something inside me.

This was the best experience. The absolute best. The process, start to finish, the product, but above all, the feel of it all...the flow of knowing that we were doing well at work worth doing, and that we were making something that would actually impact people - the kids in the cast, their parents who were so incredibly grateful and complimentary, and our little artistic staff, who became true friends and partners through this show.

I've talked about my big secret project, and it's very close to fruition. If it happens, my life is going to utterly change, and it will all be due to this show. This show brought all the certainty I needed to follow this path, and to have the courage I needed to change...it takes patience and fear and despair to change...

I have changed. I know it's just a little show to some people, and that I'm a little bit crazy for how I ramble on about these things. But the fact is, I felt LIT by this. I CHOSE to be lit by this, to make it matter, and whadya know, it totally worked. NEVER underestimate the power of a 4 a.m. vision board. Mine keeps coming true, layer by layer. I have never worked so hard, with so much inspired energy, on any work project in my life.

It's not always like this. I don't WANT it to be always like this, because to tell the truth, I'm very effing tired. But every now and then you have to pour yourself into something, and trust in the journey. You have to let the real stuff of life in, and leave behind things you thought you were, or should be, and decide to become who you really want to be NOW, without apology. That's what I'm doing with eyes wide open, listening hard, and making the Law of Attraction my bitch.

My friends came to see this show, and lots of them sent me supportive messages. My family came, and my mom saw it three times. I felt deeply blessed and loved because of this. I am a part of such an amazing community, never alone. From parents I got tearful thank-yous, from kids exultant emails and texts. A perfect rose, a pendant, a meaningful apology, and a red-hot dis that infuriated and somehow also assured me. My daughters loved every second of being with the most awesome teenagers ever for the seventh year in a row, making my parenting so much easier. I am awash in gratitude for the life I get to live and the people I get to connect with in my life.

Today I did laundry and returned microphones while listening to Barry Manilow and cried a little and took a nap. I made a delicious vegetable soup and watched a show about whales. I typed this while watching the Oscar awards death montage. If I got hit by that proverbial bus tomorrow, I would leave this life knowing that I had lived with purpose and inspiration of my own choosing, and that everyone in my life that matters most would know exactly how I loved and valued them. And that's like, seriously, the best that I can do so now I'm going to bed. I don't actually care who wins best picture. I only saw two of them anyhow, because I had other stuff to do.

Friday, February 24, 2012

It's Time to Go

Opening night tonight. We had an excellent dress rehearsal yesterday, where just the right amount of things went wrong to make it step up for tonight. Some staff members came, and a few parents, and my Mom and Auntie, and Christianna and her kids. Just enough for the kids to take it seriously.

This show has been a whole long litany of "just right" since the very start. Just the right cast. Just the right timing for everything.

The two best comments I heard today about the show were from a mom who said, "They work so well together - it is as if they are a single entity." And my mom, who said, "They are all just so into it, and they really understand what they are saying." That's everything I wanted it to be.

Very soon I'm going to be able to write about my Big Project, my magical potion that I've been brewing so carefully for the past several months. It has everything to do with this show, and everything I have been writing about for years. I'm so close. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Woods are Just Trees

Okay, so, when I write late at night by the twinkle lights in the Athenaeum, everything is so freaking emotional. I'm calmer now. I'm really not going off the deep end with this show - or, at least, not any more off the deep end than usual, I guess. I'm not spending every second seeped in profound feeling. I'm really not. It's just sometimes, and true to fashion, I can't possibly keep it to myself in those moments. Out it pours.

Right this minute, Wednesday morning of production week, this show is a list of things to do, and to get. To deliver the program, to get the blind girl glasses, to paint the flats, to find the prop corn, to pick up the borrowed carriage to go to the festival.

Into the woods and out of the woods, way way after dark.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I Think I See a Glimmer

I know I talk about work so much in this blog, but when I sort of revived it recently, I decided that I needed a focus, something to keep me motivated. I wanted to pick something that I would be compelled to write about anyhow so that I would not just give up. So, I have been writing about this show.

I wonder a little bit, now, if this experience has become another example of my writing something into existence that might not occur otherwise. I have done this a number of times, as it turns out. This show has been actively in the works since the middle of October, and a twinkle in my eye for two years before that. I have been writing for all of that time about how special it would be, how much it would mean to all of us, how much we all could learn. And…we have. Would this have happened if I hadn’t set this intention so strongly, and written it out with such specificity and deliberation? I don’t really know, but honestly, it doesn’t matter now. It is here. It has become the vision, the intention. It’s become that already, and it’s only Tuesday.

It is magical, as I knew it would be. I have moments of doubt where I think I’m just making too much of it all, and making much ado about nothing in particular. It’s not rocket science; it’s musical theater. It’s high school theater, for cry-sakes. Why can't I get through the freaking finale without crying? We’re not curing cancer or anything.

And yet…if you don’t recognize moments when they happen, what’s really the point of anything? I could just go through my life, day after day, doing the tasks that need doing, teaching the lessons I am paid to teach, punching the clock, grading the papers, living a quiet, gentle, peaceful life, free of all drama, either on or off the stage. I choose, instead, to make theater. When I’m not making theater, I still choose to not only recognize the moments, but sometimes, create them. And hopefully, if I am doing it the way I am intending to, the moments are not just for me. When I work in the theater, the moments are for the kids who make a friend, who overcome something in themselves that troubles them, who get to wear a very pretty dress and a feather hat. They’re for the parents who get to see their child excel, and express something about themselves that they used to think only they could appreciate, and instead, get to see it shared with others.

Oh, if life were made of moments, even now and then a bad one.
But if life were only moments, then you'd never know you had one.

I have my blogging doubts now, about writing about this, as I have all along. That if someone reads this, they would only think that I am a psycho ego-maniac, needing to always sound like the big important cheese. I don’t mean to be that, or to do that. It’s the Big Fear, and the thing I most feel like I have to apologize for, and try to guard against. And yet, this little blog is kind of the story of how I live my life, so by definition it has to be about me, and my perceptions about things. Would you like to know how many times I will re-read this one stupid paragraph and say, “Am I apologizing too much? Am I over-explaining? Over compensating for actually just being utterly self-absorbed?” I don’t know. Probably a bunch. And then eventually I’ll just say, eff-this, and hit publish. My constant insistence that “it’s not all about me” seems ironic in this context.


The boy who plays Jack in this show suffers from anxiety, as lots of people do. In the past two rehearsals, this kid has performed “Giants in the Sky” triumphantly. Soaring vocals, dead-on intentions, and cheers and howls from his cast mates. The beaming grin on his face as he hits that last soaring tenor note is all him, genuine and exultant, and if that’s not real, and worthwhile, then what the hell is? Nothing. Someday, he’ll be nervous for a job interview or something, and he’ll think, “I nailed Giants in the Sky and everyone cheered for me. I can certainly nail this.” And maybe that little glow that he felt in those moments will be the thing that gives him courage to walk through the door and convince those people-in-suits that he is the one who deserves the job. Or maybe not. Maybe it’ll be nothing, and won’t linger for him. How are we to know? How are we ever to know?

Since Beauty and the Beast, I have to decided to err on the side of, “It might matter.” When Matt’s mother hugged me at his wake, and said, “Matt thought that Beauty and the Beast was the greatest moment of his life,” something shifted in me, and in my perceptions of events things impact people. This might be nothing, this little show. But then again…it might be something. I make it matter to me. And this time, I think pretty much all of them have made it matter to them, too.

We all ordered t-shirts for this show, and we have names or phrases on our backs. Some say character names: BWife (our abbreviation for Baker’s Wife), Got Milk? for Milky White. Once Upon a Time for the Narrator. Wishes Come True, Not Free for my hard-working student director. Mine will say, “Children Will Listen.” It’s become a cliché from this show, almost, but it captures the sense of responsibility I feel for making this all come out right.

Careful the things you say. Children will listen.
Careful the things you do. Children will see, and learn.
Children may not obey, but children will listen.
Children will look to you for which way to turn
to learn what to be...
Careful before you say "Listen to me."
Children will listen...

I love this work. I hope I get to keep doing it for a really, really long time.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Something's Bound to Linger

I think every show I have ever been a part of has had a “Super Sunday.” All of our college shows, the Company shows, all of the high school shows I’ve directed. Oddly, I don’t really remember Super Sundays from being in high school. Not sure why that is.

Anyway, today’s was very long. Some disappointments – one important actor who does not even kind of know his lines, costumes arriving two hours late, and one student who gave me serious attitude to my face – which almost never happens to me there, so it was very notable. Mostly, though, it went as I had hoped it would…working out the set changes, a few moments of major advancement for a few people, some good laughs, and a very satisfied feeling after a very long and tiring day. I have a twisted nerve or something in the arch of my foot which had me limping like a fool all day, but otherwise, no complaints.

I have a new musical director in this show – in this very intricate, complicated, difficult Sondheim musical, and he is just…I don’t even have the words to really capture it. His name is Dan, and he is so incredibly calm and steady, straightforward, on-the-level, clear-talking, peaceful, realistic and really just glad to be there. He’s been my accompanist for three years, and just became musical director in this show. He’s not gushy or emotional or effusive, ever, but he is the perfect example of a person whose still waters run deep, who will tell you how he feels under the surface if you ask him the right way, and it’s always good things. He loves the kids so much in a quiet, supportive, paternal way that reveals itself in unexpected moments – a rescue on a lyric, the plunking of a melody for a struggling singer, a calm acceptance of a ripped microphone cord without a twinge of a guilt trip. It is a delight, and a relief, to work with someone in this capacity who operates completely without ego…because it’s never about him. It’s about the kids. I love him for that.

My other teammate is my technical director, Brooks, who works way too long and way too hard for his own good. He gets a little crazy at this time of the year and I often have to talk him down from of the rafters, and off of the very enormous Little Giant ladder very late at night. We have found a way to communicate with each other after seven long years and a lot of trial, error and misunderstanding. He didn’t like me at all when he first met me. He thought I was just a flighty, shallow rah-rah cheerleader type, lacking substance, and I very much had to prove myself to him. Now, though, we understand each other very well, and he is always able to conceptualize what I want – a tower, a tree, a sewer with only lighting effects. Can we fly Finch down from the ceiling? Of course we can. Can you make me Juliet’s balcony? Of course I can. Can you build me a two story English manor house, with seven slamming doors, and then take it apart in pieces to spin around? Um…well…sure. Yes, I’ll do that for you. And then he somehow makes it happen, and I am always very grateful, and cognizant of how important it is to express that gratitude. He always goes so far and above the call of duty, with creativity and, most of the time, a sense of humor.

It’s a happy little crew there at this very special school, and I only hope that we can keep building on this good thing we’ve got going.

This will be the best show I have ever directed. I know I’ve been saying that all along, but every single day, I’m more and more certain. I hoped, of course, that it would be more than just an enjoyable performance, played to a supportive audience of loving parents cheering on earnest, plucky kids giving it their all. What I hoped is that it would be a transcendent piece of theater for every cast member, and maybe even some of their parents… something that would elevate the experience of the kids in a meaningful way that they would carry with them, that they would allow to alter their perceptions and become a part of how they view themselves and the world.

It’s happening. I can already see the glimmers. Not to everyone, of course. Some of them are just going through the motions, a show like any show, a time to hang out with their friends. And that’s okay. But some of them…they get it. They know what’s happening, and are being mindful and present. I am working hard to balance praise with criticism for the group in general, and trying hard to not just consistently gush about the same people all the time…but it’s not easy, to tell the truth. It takes a lot of focus to make sure I hit every one with compliments, and not save them all for the kids who regularly take my breath away – my Cinderella, who’s just luminous, graceful and lovely and charming, and the first one off book, which I always appreciate. My Narrator, whose voice and demeanor make him perfect for storytelling, and who started off as a very goofy, child-like freshman, and has become a man in four years before my very eyes, poised and confident and kind. My fierce and funny Witch, belting sustained b-flats and giving everyone shivers. My hilarious Stepsisters. My Harvard-bound, accordion-playing mathlete valedictorian playing Granny and the Giant with absolute sincerity. And my Baker. My favorite ever, quite simply, who is able to show the full gamut of everything he does best in this role: singing like a true musician, expressing a sly, clever sense of humor, and showing an ability to access, with sincerity and mindfulness, a depth of human experience that is well beyond his years. He is so smart, and he truly understands his character’s journey. He takes the whole thing seriously, which helps everyone else to take it seriously, too. He is a leader, and I feel so proud that through these little plays we did together, he was able to learn that about himself. It wasn’t just this, of course. He would have learned it anyhow, somewhere, but he got to practice it here. He has been a leader by example, choosing to be the best of himself, just because it’s the right thing to do. He had a mentor, someone like a brother, leave him halfway through the wood, and he had to figure out what to do with all of those feelings and reverses. He could have just brushed it off, or he could have gotten all dark and angry, but he chose, instead, to take the best of the lessons and let them make him stronger. So, now, others have watched him, and learned from him, and will be the better for it. And I believe, more strongly now than I ever have in my life, that those ripples of genuine kindness and dedication and commitment linger, and are bound to be heard. I have learned so much from this student, which is why I think he is so special to me. I was supposed to be the teacher, and he has ended up teaching me.

I will soon be having a very important conversation about teaching that will have an impact on my life. In preparation, I was thinking about the many different teachers I have had, and how you never know when you will meet someone who will become your teacher. Really, the moment a person becomes a teacher is the moment when the student decides to learn from him…or her. A thing I have been enjoying lately about life is that I am finding so many teachers and learning so much. They come in unlikely forms sometimes, so I have learned to recognize and appreciate these kindred spirits when I find them. At this particular vibrant time in my life, they seem to be presenting themselves in rapid succession, and I determined not to miss a single one.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Patrick and I have started twice-monthly Friday night Payday Dates. The girls are just old enough now to be home alone for a couple of hours at a time as long as we're fairly local. Last week, my smart husband picked a very tacky, very townie Chinese restaurant, which shows precisely how well he knows me. I love a place with a vibe - an energy all its own that sets it apart from a place like Bertuccis or Olive Garden or someplace that's just...ordinary. The decor is incredibly out of date with giant pandas and bamboo in random places. The drink menu included things like Singapore Sling and Suffering Bastard and Scorpion Bowl for one. (Which I ordered, just because it came in a bowl. Perfect.) The bartender was in his 50's, and had the most enormous, pouffy, sort of streaky Chinese afro I have ever seen. The bar was wall-to-wall townies, Boston accents rich and jangly, just the way I like them. Keno, flaming pu pu platters, and a waitstaff that has been there for twenty years. It reminded me so much of my favorite Chinese restaurant of all time, the Aloha in Hingham, which is now a Starbucks/jewelry store/insurance agency. We would go there after every chorus concert and for most of our cast parties, and it was the tackiest place you ever saw. It had this scary sort of dark sunken bar area with - I kid you not - a whole bunch of shrunken heads hanging over the doorway. I vowed that the very second I turned 21, I would get a drink at that bar, and I did, exactly once before they tore it down. I still have a menu from the 80's that Barry Violette stole for me in an effort to impress me. It worked. We had a great date, and I was very grateful to be so understood.

My favorite times have always been in places with a vibe - and my favorite people are the ones who share in and appreciate that. One example of this is my friend Dillon, (who was a student in my very first class) and his fiance Lisa (picture a combination of Gidget, a 1940's pin-up girl, and Meg Ryan...though prettier, and with a subversive, slightly bad-ass edge.) They live in NYC, and have a very unique appreciation for the concept of the vibe. Last year, they took me to a rooftop bar, full of plants and flowers and a fabulous drink menu in a very brown-stoney upscale neighborhood near a gated park. The year before that, Dillon took me to a very secret bar in Grand Central Station (one of my favorite places in the whole wide world) where I turned 39 over a giant goblet of "Prohibition Punch." Very vibe-ish. They are getting married this summer, and they are having a Mad Men, 1960's themed reception. See? Vibe. They will make it work. I absolutely cannot wait.

Some of my favorite vibe places include: the Haymarket in Northampton, the Purple Pub in Williamstown, 12 Westwood Road on some particularly memorable party nights (some large, but the best of them much more intimate), the 8th floor lobby of the Marriot Marquis Times Square, the Company Theatre fireplace room, and the Loring Movie Theater in Hingham. Places where things happen to you, feelings happen, and you can tell from the energy that things have happened to other people there, too. I love that. I love being in a place that's very full of humanity and connection. You know them when you feel them, I think, and I'm always on the look out for more.

By way of update...we ran Act One last night, and it was a little rough. At least, rough by my current standards of what is "good" and "rough" in high school theater, which is to say...pretty freaking fine. I am so far ahead of where I hoped to be by the week before production week of a Sondheim musical...it's just the best. The kids revealed their Secret Valentines at the end of rehearsal last night, and the bonding in this cast is so deep and entrenched. I wrote them all Valentine notes, and I always feel that moment of hesitation when I tell students the truth of what I think about them. I feel it when I write each of my 6th graders their end of the year project letter, and I felt it with this, too. I want to say what is truly in my heart, but I also have that moment's hesitation of, "What if this were broadcast on the 6:00 news?" Would my outpouring of affection be misinterpreted? I guess that's just part of the job - that worry. I have chosen consistently to just SAY it, what I think and feel about them, come what may. I just have to. It's who I am, and I can't be NOT that.

In the musical "Big," (yes, there really is one) there's a song called "Stop, Time." It's sung by Josh's mother, and it's about how you love every phase of your child's growth, each one more precious than the next, and you just want to stop time right where it is to truly revel in the moment. That's exactly how I feel about Into the Woods.

Stop, time. I'm not ready to let them go.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"But if life were made of moments, then you'd never know you'd had one..."

Lately, I’ve taken to catching myself smiling while driving alone in my car. I will be barreling up or down rt. 3, 45 minutes from one workplace to the next, and for no reason, I’ll feel a smile on my face and realize that without even noticing, I’ve been thinking happy thoughts. I probably have written this before – at least, I know I’ve journaled it – but in Eat Pray Love, the Balinese medicine man tells Liz that she needs to “smile with her liver.” Smile while meditating, while doing your small daily tasks. Just choose to be happy with your body and soul, and make a habit out of it.

I would say if I could pick the greatest of the changes in my life since turning 40, that would be it. I smile with my liver now, more often than not. Despite an enormous uncertainty in my life, waiting at the crossroads, despite working many many hours a week, despite some annoyances and worries, I am just happy most of the time. I know it’s because I am in the flow of my life, living on purpose, and with great appreciation and a continual expectation that things will turn out just the way they should. An attitude of gratitude. Feeling so energized by it all.

We had another great rehearsal tonight. We ran act two for the second time, and if you know anything about high school theater, you know that to be running act two three times before production week is kind of amazing. But they are all kinds of amazing, and while I had a vision when we started of what “cast bonding” with this group could be, I had no idea how very much it would exceed my expectations. They love each other so much, and are so caring and aware of each other, and it is a beautiful and heartwarming thing to witness. The senior girl who is my student director has taken charge of leading some warm ups and wrap ups with the cast, and they had a “favorite moments” circle on Sunday after sharing the first day of clues for their secret Valentines. Their compliments to each other about their favorite moments were so thoughtful and sensitive and judicious. They not only said what they felt, sincerely, but they also said things that were the very sentiments their castmates most needed to hear. And I think pretty much everyone had something special and unique about themselves recognized and praised aloud in front of people they all respect and admire.

I mean, really. How often in a life do you get a chance to see a thing like that happen, organically and with tremendous grace? What I get to do with my life is such a gift. And while I know it probably sounds so corny and bromidic (name that showtune reference)…I maintain that magic happens in theater. There is nothing more magical than genuine connection between people, than seeing love and confidence grow in a team united in a common goal. While singing showtunes. I feel so incredibly blessed to be a part of that.

It’s not always like this. Some shows are just shows, at least to me. I think they all make an impact in some ways to all of us, but this one is different. This one is special, and I knew it would be when the idea to do this just came to me two years ago. I thought of it, and I let a picture form in my mind of how it would manifest, and I was so right. I knew it would be this special for everyone.

It will be the saddest ever to say goodbye to this class, to watch them journey off into the world. But I’m so happy for all of them, so proud of them and so grateful to have known them. They have had some big experiences in their four years of theater with me, but this will be everyone’s favorite, and the perfect way to end.

Almost the entire cast is seniors. Most have been in lots of shows before, nearly all of them. A few are new. One of the new ones is playing Milky White. I had decided early on that I would make Milky White a person, and thought it would be funny if she were kind of jaded and sarcastic, edgy and trailer-park. But this girl walked in, and wanted to be Milky White, and turned out to be the sweetest, most sparkly sunshiney girl ever. She is one of those people that raises the vibration of the room as soon as she walks in. I had to have her in the show, so Milky White morphed immediately into a sparkly, sunshiney very happy cow, and her performance is so charming.

She’s so lovely that my Abby, who is the most excellent judge of such things, adores her especially. She draws her pictures of cows, and suggested a piece of blocking for the second act just so that everyone in the audience wouldn’t have to be upset thinking that Milky White got stepped on by the giant…LIKE EVERYONE ELSE IN THIS PLAY. (If you know Abby, you can imagine exactly how she would say that. “Like, EVERYONE dies. And Cinderella’s mother dies TWICE. What’s UP with that?”)

And she’s only one of twenty-five cast members, all of whom I like, most of whom I adore, and a few that I just love, plain and simple. Not every year, but some years when kids graduate, I think, “It’ll never be the same without them.” And I’m always right. This year, I mean it the most.

The way is dark,
the light is dim,
but now there's you, me, her and him...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Two Midnights Gone

Nothing much new or exciting to blog about. Busy with rehearsals this week. The show is going beautifully, and it's still so much fun. My friend Pam came in over the weekend to choreograph "Ever After" with the kids, and even she could see how well they're doing, how committed everyone is, and at the end of the rehearsal, when they all started to "circle up" - of their own volition, not something that I make them do - she said, "You're right. It's magic here."

Only a handful of the kids in the show are not seniors. I have been doing a very good job of pressing that knowledge down in my consciousness during this process, knowing that if I give myself up to sadness about that too soon, it's going to diminish everyone's joy. The other night, though, driving home and playing the soundtrack for the girls, I listened to the words of "No One Is Alone," and for just a little while, let myself be sad. I know that this show may represent the end of a journey for me, as well, and while I am at peace with that possibility, once in a while, I just need to let myself have a moment to mourn just a little. Maybe dealing with it in small batches will make it easier to face the end when it comes, whatever form that ending might take. When I think too much about it, I am sad to know that there are already Two Midnights Gone. Given the chance, I would do this show, with these people, every year for the rest of my life.

Doesn't work that way, though.

In other news, today I made my sixth graders meditate. We have moved from Hinduism to Buddhism, which is more comfortable for me. (In fact, I emailed Patrick after my first Buddhism lesson last week and said, "I think I might be Buddhist!" And he replied, "You think you're everything," and reminded me that I say that every year.) I guess it's all part of my life-long search for spiritual open-ness and understanding. It's one of those areas of life, though, in which I find the journey to be much more fulfilling than any bottom line, or end result. I kind of just like thinking about it. Anyway, Buddhist meditation. I put in the guided mediation CD I found at the public library, shut off the lights, chose carefully the parts I would play (though I mistakenly forgot to NOT play the one where the lady tells them to clench and release their buttocks...you can imagine how that went.) The kids really took it more seriously than I even thought they would, particularly my most challenging student this year, whose un-medicated and un-strategized (and, actually, un-diagnosed) ADHD routinely wreaks havok on the most ordinary of lessons.

For 22 minutes, that child did not move a single muscle. He sat alone in a corner of the room (by his choice) with his eyes closed, palms up, as the guide droned on in her peaceful voice on the topics of breath, and self-worth, and kindness, and world-peace. He loved it. And he was even able to verbalize that he loved it because he could just listen to someone else tell him thoughts, rather than thinking his own thoughts while trying to sit still at the same time. I immediately made him a copy of the CD to keep. Hope his parents don't get mad that I sent him home with a CD that says "buttocks." Still...it was a welcome reminder to me that there are so many different ways to reach a kid, and sometimes, they reveal themselves in the most unexpected times and places.

Because this is already rambling and disconnected, I will add this: My high school director called me earlier in the week to help him with a fundraiser for my former high school's theater program. He asked me to send a message to the kids I knew from high school to ask them to donate to this year's ad book. Oh, the years I traversed my little town to ask businesses to buy ads! The hardware store, the bakery, the insurance agencies..."Can you donate $25 for a quarter page ad?" I am happy to do it, and part of the reason is because at my very special and fancy high school, I have never ever had to do that. Or anything even close to that. And I have never had to ask my students to do it, either. They just...give me what I need, mostly because I don't ask for an awful lot.

My high school director LOVED to spend money. He really did. He would (and still does - proved it to me on the phone yesterday) talk in detail about the amazing satin fabric he found at close-out prices in the garment district. The sequins, the feathers...he liked things pretty and shiny and very, very satin. (Your typical teenage girl does NOT look good in satin, might I add. To him, irrelevant.) I am not really into that. I'm more concerned with what they're experiencing, how they're connecting, than what they, or the show, looks like. This sounds like I'm being snottily superior, but it's kind of the opposite of that. I sometimes really wish that I had the time or the brain-space to care more about things like that. Instead, I have been very blessed to be able to have other people around me to who can take care of those sorts of details. I have a costume designer. I have a set designer. My high school director had to do all of those things by himself. Partly because he had to, I guess, but partly because he WANTED to do all of those things, for his own creative expression, and the result was that it always felt like "his" show. People would call them that, and still do. "A Doniger show." Everyone wears sequins in a Doniger show. Flash, sparkle, production value that mine don't have.

I often wish I could find a way to strike more of a balance. I often wish that my finished products had more sparkle and flare. I worry that the experience of the kids, their bond and intensity and joy and excitement, doesn't translate in production value. I guess that's what I need to look toward in my future. I want to grow toward that - having the experience and the "product" more closely align. That's in my journey. Maybe.

Today, I was home and in my gnome pajama bottoms and my holey UMass sweatshirt at exatly 3:23 p.m. That might be a record. Patrick is out writing, and tonight for dinner I am making comfort food, a recipe that my mom calls rice-a-roni. It is poor-people food, a combination of cream of mushroom soup, a can of tuna, and rice. Like everyone I know, some weeks are lean weeks, and we rely on whatever is in the cupboard to make it to the next payday. Patrick and I call them "Nolan Weeks," after A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. He worries about them, but truthfully, I don't. Partly because I feel like as soon as you put out into the world the concept of "I don't have enough," then the Universe supports that. We always have enough. We always have more than enough, when I really stop and look at it. I also appreciate Nolan weeks because it helps me remember that we are both hard-working and gainfully employed, and that we know that our next paycheck is only a few days away. Lots of people aren't that lucky. I need a Nolan week from time to time to remind me to be grateful for all of the abundance in my life.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sorry, Ghandi.

Part of being a teacher is stepping out of your comfort zone. I was raised Catholic, have become...I don't know what you would even call it...maybe something like Universalist, but not exactly. The Universe and I are BFF...there should be a name for that. Law of Attractionist? I don't know.

Anyhow, among the many things I have to teach is Hinduism. I don't know much about Hinduism in my personal experience, as you might imagine, but if you have to teach it, you have to learn it. Because it's such a dense and confusing religion, I need to make sure that the kids understand Hinduism as its absolute basics.

Clearly, I have sucked at this.

The assignment was: Pretend a Kindergartener has asked you, "What is Hinduism?" Explain it in terms a 6 year old can understand. They needed to include the following concepts: reincarnation, Brahman (the sort of big-cheese god with its three main god-parts), karma, puja (how they worship), and the caste system.

Here are some actual responses from today:

There are 2 kinds of karma, bad and good. Good is mostly when you have an awesome soul, bad is when you are rude, mean, nasty and etc. (No shades of grey here, clearly.)

The whole goal of Hinduism is to be reincarnated so many times that you reach the Batman. The Batman is the force in the universe that makes up everything, including all of the people and the flowers and the animals and Mrs. Browne’s coffee cup. When you get to the Batman, you don’t have to have any more lifely troubles. (She means Brahman.)

The Ghandis River is very sacred to Hindus because they say it washes away your bad feelings. Like Ghandi did. (He means Ganges.)

Good karma will help you reach the Brahman, which is beyond this world of suffering, where the true essence of life is found. Once you have reached this blissful point, you don’t ever have to be reincarnated on this stupid Earth ever again. (I have referred her for counseling.)

In India, people do not think of death as an ending or the beginning. It’s a ferris wheel, but it’s also a fun ride because if you get good karma, then each spin around is better than the next. (Take that, Slumdog Millionaire.)

I'm better at teaching...well, everything else. I promise.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dear Sixth Grade Girl

Dear Sixth Grade Girl,

Actually, strike that. Go back to texting or putting on lip gloss or whispering in someone's ear. I need to talk to your mothers.

Heeeey there, mothers. Here's the thing...I'm totally one of you now. I have a sixth grader. And I preface this by saying that my little sixth grader is about as awkward a bird as you'll find. Awkward and so incredibly smart and dear and sunny and geeky in all of the best ways. I would never want to squash that, and however your daughter is awkward and geeky and dear is precious. She is herself, and I certainly believe whole-heartedly in allowing her to find her way, try on different personas, and experiment with lots of ways of being.

Within reason.

Mothers, please. Before your daughter leaves the house, please make her sit in a chair to make sure you can't see into the back of her pants. Long shirts, please. Likewise, require a bra. Even if she has nothing much happening up there at all, you just never know when the classroom will get chilly and then it's just all kinds of humiliating.

I know...all of our daughters must experiment with fashion and hairstyles. It's part of the ritual. Mine, in fact will never NOT wear a saggy old low ponytail in her beautiful curls, no matter how much I passive-aggressively beg. (You look so pretty with your hair in clips...or any single other way than that...) You won't always win the battle, and that's okay. BUT, if your daughter has a full out black moustache on her pasty-white face, and there is absolutely no cultural reason for that in your heritage, FIX IT. Please fix it. The same goes for a unibrow.

We walk a fine line, mothers, between encouraging their self-esteem and preventing them from being embarrassed in the locker room. I sympathize, and I am typing all of this around the plank in my own eye. Small things, though, make a difference. Small things like underpants, and not letting them wear pajamas to school. And buying them deoderant, and then sniffing them to make sure they wear it.

Okay, girls. Turn around. YOU'RE PRETTY! WE LOVE YOU.

But you might need a shower.

Hugs and Kisses,
Your Teacher
Also a Mother
But Not Yours
But Please Wash Your Hair.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

To Teach, to Join, to Go to the Festival

Wednesday. I love Wednesdays. It’s now 5:25. I cleaned the sunporch. Dinner is in the oven. (Lemon thyme chicken…reference ever post I have every made about how much I hate to cook. Still do. But I made it, ‘cause on Wednesdays, I can.) I have already dealt with Abby’s “I HATE chicken! What can I have instead? Whaaa whaaa whaaaaaaa…” It all sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Now, as I wait to take it out of the oven, I am watching things I have saved on the DVR…Betty White’s 90th birthday, sitcoms that Patrick (who's working late) won’t care about (Two Broke Girls, Up All Night, Hot in Cleveland.) Soon it will be homework done, shower done, knots brushed out of gnarly curly hair. Aaah, Wednesday night at home, being Mom. Both jangly and relaxing as the dryer whirls.

Hmm… Actually, it’s a funny thing. Usually, by this point in my “winter play” process, I am already tired, and Wednesdays home are such a relief. I actually don’t feel that way this time. I am excited to go to rehearsals. That’s saying something, I guess. I don’t know if it’s saying something about my enjoyment of my job, or the current level of annoyance with my pre-teens. Not sure. Maybe both.

I went to the choral concert at my Fancy High School last night, and it made me feel all nostalgic. Concert Choir was really one of the formative aspects of my high school life. First, there was my teacher, Mr. Leavitt, still one of the greatest, most loving men I have ever known. Mr. Leavitt was near retirement by the time we had him, crippled by bone spurs in his toes, and, we thought, possibly drunk a lot of the time. Still…he was one of the first people I had ever met who spoke music like a language. I met him when he was the traveling music teacher for our elementary and middle school, while still running the high school choir. He smelled like Old Spice, wore a giant class ring with a bright blue jewel, always had a laughing twinkle in his eye, and a booming laugh that seemed to originate from this soul-level I didn’t yet have words for. Looking back on it now, I can see him as troubled, conflicted, someone whose life took him in directions he didn’t plan, but he bloomed where he was planted, here with us, and was still so full of genuine love and joy. Mr. Leavitt liked me, a nervous little mousy welfare kid, because he used to play Name That Tune, whistling songs from musicals and the American Song Book - he had the most perfect, fetching whistle - and I was the only one who knew those songs… (Thanks, Nana’s player piano.) Alexander’s Ragtime Band and Birth of the Blues and the theme from the Love Boat. He was a gentle, sophisticated, merry, accomplished gentleman, and always seemed larger than life to me.

When we got to high school…(Sidebar…whenever I think about high school, I think about what “we” experienced, and the we is always Lisa, Chris, and me. Funny.) Anyhow, we knew how awesome it was to have him for our choir director because he was so fundamental to the town, part of the twenty-something year legacy that he had led at our high school. We knew that the songs we would sing in the Christmas concert were the same ones our aunts and uncles had sung decades ago, and that when he was our pianist in the musical, no matter what happened, he had our backs.

I remember when he tried to teach me music theory in high school, I was such a little jerk. I remember saying, “I don’t need to learn to play the notes. I just learn by listening and singing them.” He looked me in the eye and said, “That won’t always work. And no one else is going to take the time to teach you this, so pay attention.” And so I did. I remember he made me write out the transposition for “I’d Rather Be Blue” for Funny Girl as an exercise to prove I had learned what I was supposed to, and if I didn’t do it right, he said he wouldn’t play it for me, and he would cut the number from the show. But he said it with a smile, and I worked really hard to do it right. He had a way of making everyone love him, and work for him, even on the cusp of retirement, even in chronic pain. We loved him just because he was ours, devoted to all of us, and we knew it. We used to sing various concerts at Christmastime…nursing homes, malls, that sort of thing, and there would always be a party after one of those at his house, where his long-suffering wife would feed all of us (“Mum’s lasagna,” he used to call it.) There would always be a sing-along beside his giant grand piano, and whatever in-bred drama was happening in our little choir at the time would always seems to somehow play out in the backdrop of those parties. A fight. A kiss. A reconciliation. Maybe it was just me…but I doubt it.

He set the tone for our choir, and made sure we all knew our roles. As freshmen, we knew the seniors were the leaders, and we worshipped them. As seniors, we knew the freshmen looked up to us, and that it was our responsibility to be good people to set an example. We all were committed, though, every year. I lived for my 45 minutes of chorus class every other day. Being in the Concert Choir felt like being a part of a very long, old, in-bred, extended family, and as corny as it sounds, music was our tie. Our vocal lines in “Do You Hear What I Hear” and “Hava Nagila” were the ribbons that connected us, one graduating class to the next.

I went to the concert last night expecting to see something like that…some sort of a community, tied and affectionate and cohesive. I didn’t see that. I saw some stand-out performances by talented kids (the best of whom are in my “Into the Woods” cast…but I digress.) I saw some moments of connection and fun and light pass through the kids, but mostly…I did not see that sense of delight in singing. And it made me feel sad. It made me feel like there is a golden opportunity here that’s yet to be ignited. The feeling of singing in a chorus, of blending your voice as the third alto from the left, indistinguishable from the one beside you, or the soprano on the other end of the riser, is such a sensation of camaraderie and belonging and togetherness, and I want that for these kids. Maybe I just missed it. Maybe it’s there, but being on the outside, I can’t see. I hope that’s the case.

For now, I am not a part of fixing that, or giving that, but…I want them to have that in this show. That I can help facilitate. I really hope I can encourage that kind of mindfulness for them now. I want to help them truly feel that joy of singing, moving, story-telling as one, and recognizing the power they have to move people when they share that with an audience. I want to be Leavitt-Like, providing a world, a backdrop, a soundtrack, for them to have their own personal discoveries and growth experiences and above all, the very pure joy of finding their way to another person through music.

Ack. That sounded corny, even for me. But it’s really how I feel.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dear Sixth Grade Boy

Dear Sixth Grade Boys,

Tuck Everlasting is a beautiful book, full of poetry and meaningful concepts and deep discussions about life and the nature of choice and consequence. If you spoil our reading circle by losing yourself to a fit of giggles over the word "spurt," rest assured that you will be writing a page on exactly what that word means to you and why you think it's so funny. Don't mess with me, fellas. I'm bigger'n you and I've had three additional decades to cultivate a dirty mind. There's not a reference you can find in any of these books that I haven't already thought of, and snickered over. But in polite company, we keep such things to ourselves. Learn to save it for after class.

While we're at it...a friendly reminder...NO SWEATPANTS. Please, oh please. I know you can't possibly be looking for loose change in those pockets. There is nothing to buy here. I don't know what else I can say about that.

Staring at Her Coffee Cup,
Your Teacher

Monday, January 23, 2012

That Awkward Moment When...

I’m sure it won’t shock you to know that I was a very awkward teenager. High school was not my window of popularity or confidence, despite what it might look like I accomplished on paper I was a very annoying mixture of Hermione Granger, Anne of Green Gables, a little bit Patty Simcox and Sue Heck from that show “The Middle.” Always saying the wrong thing, raising my hand where I just should have probably sat there, even being the annoying voice reading the Pledge of Allegiance and the morning announcements. Or at least that's the way I look back on it. Maybe everyone feels like that a little bit.

But now, as an adult, I find…I’m pretty much equally awkward. I just mind it less. In sixth grade, I almost never mind it, because even at my most awkward, I still know that there is nothing on this green earth as awkward as a 12-year-old boy, so at least I’m still ahead of that game. And the girls are still just at the beginning of the cusp of caring what’s "cool," so most of them don’t mind me too much. And if they do, they tend to keep it to themselves. Kids are smart; I might not be perfect, but they know that spending a couple of hours a day with me is better than what they might have in another classroom, or in another school. So I do okay there.

In my high school, it’s different. I’ll be going along, directing something, staging a scene, feeling in the flow and focus of it all, and then *bam* … there it is, that awkward moment when your director just said “balls” by accident. And then snickered. Or today, when we were staging the scene that preceeds the Act One finale, and we had to have the conversation about how to “milk” the senior girl playing Milky White. I can’t ever handle things like that with coolness. I just can’t do it.

My students are kind, though, and I think generally that they all are just used to shaking their heads at me and forgiving me for being such a goofball. There is always that secret fear that someone is cell-phone-taping me, and there will someday emerge some website or facebook page or something that runs all of my ridiculous trip-overs on one of those auto-tune loops.

I’m only three weeks in, and this show has already won the prize of my Favorite Show Ever. The cast has already bonded, they are acting and sounding like an ensemble, and rehearsals feel productive, energetic, and joyful. It’s fun. AND it’s already excellent. How often does that happen? I hope everyone feels that at their job sometimes. No matter what their job might be. I hope that the surgeon sometimes feels that thrill of “I fixed him,” or that the counselor knows she’s given comfort and light, or the carpenter looks at a perfectly hung door and says, “I did that.” It feels so good to be the captain of a ship that's sailing toward Excellence. I feel both proud and humbled at the same time, just to get to be a part of it all.

I knew it would be like this, though. I absolutely knew, even a year ago, that if I did this show, right now, as my last show with this group, it would feel like this. It would turn out like this. The process, and the product. I’m doing very well at staying in the moment, and not getting myself knee deep in a well of sadness about losing them to graduation. I learned my lesson about that in my own senior year – I spent so much time worrying about the end of things that I didn’t enjoy the journey. Cinderella’s Prince has a line in response to Jack’s hysterical mother: “Worrying will do you no good.” It’s played for laughs, but honestly, I find it very poignant. Worrying will do you no good. I have a poster in my classroom that says, “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles; it empties today of its strength.” So, I am not worrying about tomorrow, or lamenting, or goodbye-ing before it’s time. I am just enjoying every day with this process, this music, these kids. I hope they are doing the same. They seem to be.

It's fun to be back to blogging. It's fun to have something to write about that inspires me as much as this does. I like having a focus, and a reason to write. Even in this long hiatus I had from blogging, I have been writing all the time. The more agitated I feel, the more I need to write. I am addicted to writing the same way some people get addicted to things like cutting themselves or, I guess, even drugs. That sounds psychopathic, but honestly, it's my therapy. If I don't journal, I get all twitchy and out of sorts. I have been hyper focused on my big Secret Project, and I am so boring, such a one-note Johnny about it all. I have to write it down so I don't bore my loved ones any more than I already do.

Despite the uncertainty of this time in my life, I can truly say that I am really happier right now than I have been in a very long time. And it seems to keep on growing. I hope that continues.