Friday, May 30, 2014

Starting on a Hat

Years ago, I read and loved the book What Dreams May Come. There were many concepts about it that enraptured me – the idea of kindred souls meeting in the sandbox in their next life, the image of “hell” as only something that you create through your own pain, and that all you need to do to get out if it is to forgive yourself and choose to walk into the light. Those are the big ideas, but the thing that captivated me most in the whole book was one tiny one. This author described this one little corner of “heaven” which houses something like a hall of records – the story of everyone who has ever lived, and ever will live, the inventions created and still to be created, and the books already written, and yet to be written, when exactly the right author presents herself as ready.

JK Rowling said that the idea for Harry Potter just settled upon her, nearly fully formed, as she rode a train to London. Many authors have described similar experiences when that glimmer of an idea hit. I wrote one play, and the idea for that came to me in a rush, with the image of the very last scene, and the rest all tumbled out. Not to say that the writing of it isn’t hard work, sweat, doubt, nerves, euphoria, vampires, and chocolate chip cookies. It’s all of those things and a million more, but the idea is key. Work you can do yourself. The idea has to happen to you. At least that is what I believe.

I have really wanted to write another play for my students to use, one that would offer lots of roles for maximum involvement. One that would have something to say about taking risks and being open-hearted and following your intuition and creating your own path. One that would address the world of social networking versus human interaction, and perception versus reality.

An idea happened to me a couple of days ago. It just fell into my brain, again starting with the ending picture, and after several hours of journaling every single little thought I could capture about it…it has formed into something viable and exciting. I’ve created the Pinterest Board. I’ve named the main character. I’ve started some social inquiries for ideas I can steal and shape from my friends and loved ones. I’m totally jazzed, and I already know that this is going to happen. For real. It doesn’t have to change the world, but I know it will change me, the way creating anything always does. And it will change some kids, the way being in a play always does. And only good can come from that.

Working title: #choosingElla.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Artist's Date

Quite a few years ago, Craig turned me on to The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. It is a 12 week program for any kind of artist that encourages creative thinking and expression, and digging down deep into your feelings. My kind of deal. It requires daily "morning pages," which is 3 pages written in long-hand, as soon as you wake up. I found that part very difficult, partly because I prefer to type my journaling whenever possible because my brain goes so much faster than my writing hand, and because first thing in the morning is my least productive thinking time. That part went kind of by the wayside for me. One concept I loved, though, is called the Artist's Date, where you basically take yourself on a solitary date once a week, doing something that makes you happy and makes you feel inspired. It can be a trip to a museum, or a great meal, or a play or a movie. Whatever. I have held tightly to that over the years, and even though I don't get to do it once a week, I can usually manage at least once a month. Sometimes twice. It is an outing that is mindful and watchful, looking out and listening in at the same time. I am almost always alone for these, though I do occasionally share at least part of them with someone. And as corny as it sounds, that sharing always feels very sacred.

My favorite location for an Artist's Date is the Loring Cinema in Hingham, where I have seen some of my very favorite movies - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Her, Kill Your Darlings, and Before Midnight, for example. All super artsy-fartsy movies that I loved. There are several restaurants near there with delightful martini lists, and I like to just sit at the bar and listen to the people. I also love the MFA, and I have an annual Christmastime Artist's Date there that I treasure. I have one planned in June to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where I've never been before. Sometimes, it has just been sitting on the beach reading a book. It's the conscious designation of the day that counts.

Today, I have an end-of-school celebratory Artist's Date planned. It starts with taking the train (taking the train is a much-preferred aspect of my Artist's Dates - particularly on my trips to the Broadway Teacher's Workshop...which is the ULTIMATE Artist's Date.) I am taking the train to Harvard Square, and planning to find a coffee shop where I can sit with my journal for a while. Then I will do some window shopping at Anthropologie and the bookstores, have a nice dinner and a festive beverage, and then see Twelfth Night at the ART. I may or may not have a bottle of Trailer Park Punch in my purse while I do these things. (Oh, who are we kidding. OBVIOUSLY there will be Trailer Park Punch in my purse.)

Anyone can make their own Artist's Date. You should try. And really, like everything, it's only the choosing that makes it one. It's just your perspective. You could do ordinary things, and try to think of them as special, and then, sometimes suprisingly...they are. Works for me every time.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Last Day of School

Last Day of School. That is one of my favorite phrases in all the world, along with “summer afternoon,” and a new one I just heard, “stubborn gladness.”

It is the end of my second full time year here at my beautiful high school, and while it has had its ups and downs personally… professionally, it has been outstanding. I am pleased with the work we did, I am proud of how the kids grew, and I am excited that the numbers in all of my classes have significantly increased for next year, which means that I am achieving the goals for which I was hired. Next year, I have two Shakespeare based shows: West Side Story and Twelfth Night, both of which make me ecstatic. I got to fill a giant virtual cart at, so I have all kinds of summer reading books on their way, with titles like The Second City Almanac of Improvisation and Will in the World and West Side Story and the American Imagination and Story, by Robert McKee which is about script-writing and Will Power: How to Act Shakespeare in 21 Days.

Guys, they actually pay me to read this stuff. Un-freaking-believable.

Back in the early days of the blog, I wrote a great deal about my middle school teaching life. I loved it, and worked hard, and felt such a sense of purpose and pride and investment in it. But it was tiring. I wanted this new job so very much for a million reasons, but not the least of it was that I hoped that it would mean I could work just a little bit less hard, for fewer days, and have a little bit more head and heart space left over to do other things…like write that novel, or another play, or follow whatever other creative urge might come along to tickle my fancy. Well, I didn’t anticipate that my head and heart space would need to be used for other more pressing matters in these two years of transition, but in retrospect, the Universe sure knows a thing or three about timing.

This new job was my saving grace in these past two years, and while there are still challenges – namely teaching a subject that I have only encountered as a student, never a teacher – it is, in fact, easier. More weekly hours, but less brain time. More things to do, but fewer pointless things to do. Higher payout (though not financially,) and lower stakes. I’m not impacting kids lives to the same extent, because they have much more of their own stuff going on, and more of a sense of the world than my little guys did. I am a lesser influence, and I feel so much relief in that.

That being said, however, I do have the advantage of having kids year after year. I will have students next year that I will have taught in the classroom for three years in a row, sometimes twice a day. Those are very rich and connected relationships, and I love that. And it’s nice to know that when they graduate, we can actually be friends in the future, instead of many more years between us before they grow up. In three years from when they leave, we could potentially be drinking margaritas together. And have. There are always one or two in a year who write me beautiful letters, and I take them so much to heart. I feel very valued and appreciated, which I know many teachers don’t, and I never take that for granted.

I used to have a whole burning ritual on the night before the last day of school, where I would light candles and set little scraps of paper on fire and say all sorts of incantations and release ceremonies. It was indispensible in helping me let the intensity of the past year go, and leave a clean space for summer to fill. And for the next class to fill in September. I don’t feel the need for that ceremony any more. It’s less burdensome to carry these students with me. These are gentler goodbyes for all of us, because they are more…see you soon’s.

So, while I feel less stress, I feel equally purposeful in my work. I know I get to create communities, little artistic families, transient but profound. Kids feel less alone in the world because of it. I make the platform where kids find their wings…not because I “give” them to them, but because I hold up the giant mirror and go… “Pssstt…look what you got there…wings. Now let’s sing a song about it.” I feel like the art of theatre is a noble one, and teaches people to listen and hear each other. Oscar Wilde said, “I regard theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” I believe that, and I know that I am teaching humanity and connection. It matters. And beyond that, I get to fulfill my own creative self. I wrote two little plays this spring. Nothing earth-shattering, but they are little hats where there were not little hats before. I have another simmering inside me, getting ready to bubble over onto the page. And when it does, I will have a world in which to bring it to life. All while earning a living and supporting my family.

I am excited for those beautiful words: Last Day of School. But I will be equally thrilled to say one of my other favorite phrases: First Day of School.

But first, rest, parties, game nights, camping, Kidspot, star-gazing, beach-walking, journaling, and an epic trip to Europe in August. My first time. I will look forward to sharing my adventures with you.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What's in a Name?

The matter of my name has been a source of some serious consideration, as you might imagine. I started my life as Kelly Kennedy, and became Kelly Hines when I was adopted in the 6th grade. I always liked it...the way it flowed, and I usually used my middle initial, just to be fancy about it: Kelly M. Hines. I always envisioned that on the cover of a novel someday.

When I got married, I was happy to change it, wanting to have the same name as any future hypothetical children, as well as being excited at the sense of both belonging and arriving that my new name brought. I loved my new family, and I was proud to have that name. So I used my maiden name along with it professionally for all of my life. Three names, neat and secure. I liked it.

For obvious reasons, I needed to change that. It didn't make sense to keep my married name, clearly, and I could never understand how anyone could after a divorce. Wouldn't it somehow keep you tied forever? Wouldn't it connote a sense of belonging that would become, by definition, a great big lie? Can you really own someone else's name, even if it was your own too for a long time? I did not believe I could. And my two last names had gone together for so long, I didn't think I could have one without the other. It felt like just lobbing something off of myself, and leaving something gaping and unfinished. I also didn't like the idea of going back to my "maiden" name, which made me feel like a child, and still somehow owned by my father. I feel every minute of my age on my spirit, and while I am proud of my age, and feel like I have accomplished a great deal for 42 both personally and professionally, I just couldn't abide the idea of going backwards. In any way. And a year ago, when I was smack in the middle of this crazy journey, the idea of a single step backwards for any reason was overwhelmingly exhausting. The only way out was through and there was no turning back.

So, I decided to pick a new name for myself. I almost went with Nolan, after A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I considered Blythe, for Anne of Green Gables. I looked back into my family tree, though, and decided on Griffin, my maternal grandmother's maiden name. I had always felt her around me, even though she passed when I was in the fourth grade. I lived with her for a good portion of my childhood, lived in her house while she was dying of cancer, and not only remembered her very vividly, but saw the best of her in my mom and Auntie, and wanted to honor that. I have a tattoo on my ankle for her, partly, and it seemed to make sense. Above all, I wanted something far from who I was before, a daily symbol of my new life, my new persona.

It's different when you are in a profession where people call you all day by your last name. I think, maybe, it takes on a new importance. I am never just Kelly. I am Ms. So-and-So, formerly a Mrs. My last name is said to me, about me, a hundred times a day, and it had to feel like mine. So, I became Ms. Griffin at school this year, and many times, kids would call my name or ask me a question, and I would not answer them. Because I did not feel like they were talking to me. It was a coat that kept me warm this year, got me through this transition, but did not quite fit right.

When everything was finally wrapped up a few weeks ago, all tidy and legal, the judge would not let me be Kelly Griffin. I would be allowed to legally return to my "maiden" name...I REALLY hate that term...but to take on Griffin would require another petition, another proceedure, lots more phone calls, and a whole bunch of money that I don't have.

I have now spent three weeks as Kelly M. Hines. I have sat with it, rolled it around, written it in my journal, and signed my checks that way. And after a lot of careful consideration...I have decided to keep it. It doesn't feel like a step backwards, as I feared it would. It feels new and fresh, and above all, it feels like mine. Not my father's. Not my mother's. Not an unfinished phrase. It feels like me.

I only had one teaching year as Ms. Hines, my first year at Manomet, and it was glorious. My name changed halfway into my second year teaching. To go back to Ms. Hines now, as my new career is still only in its fledgling stages, feels right. I felt so invigorated in that year, with that inspiring class, one member of whom grew up to become one of my best friends. I feel so much at the beginning of something right now, just as I did then, and I can still see that plucky, enthusiastic, determined girl in the face of the woman I am now. Under the laugh lines, scars and all. Kelly M. Hines is still in there, and she is me.

I know that people will think I am flaky, especially at school. I expect a lot of "What the mother-eff is she doing now?" Three names in three years? But I can live with that. As a teacher, I know I am more than just what I say to my students. I am what I do. I am how I live. So, I am living as a person decides. Who changes her mind if she feels like it. Who is not afraid to change direction, declare a new truth when she learns it, experiment, grow, and make bold declarations. Everyone can do that, every day. We all get to decide. An important friend lately reminded me of that, and I think it all the time. It's been my mantra. I decide. And when I have new information, or new feelings, or new perceptions...guess what? I get to decide again. Still. All the time.

I choose Kelly M. Hines. Nice to meet you.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dear eHarmony

Dear eHarmony,

Like many of your subscribers, I am a busy, professional, independent woman who waited a long time before deciding to fill out your very lengthy profile form. I did a lot of head shaking as I answered all of those questions. (Rate the importance of “honesty” on a scale from 1-5? Really? Is there a 30? How else would you answer that?) I very much regarded the whole process with a “What the hell?” sort of attitude, having been alone and recovering from the end of my relationship for...well, A LONG TIME. Clearly, meeting someone, no matter how it might turn out in the end, was an idea whose time had come, if only to get me out of my yoga pants on a Saturday night. Would I find a fling? A friend with benefits? Would it be a string of weirdos who would at least give me writing fodder, blog entries called “Horrible First Date, Number 73?” Would my blind date flex his muscles at me at the bar or ask me how many miles I had run that morning (obviously, ZERO) or text all during dinner or tell me that teaching theater was a very “cute” way to make a living? My expectations, eHarmony, were low. If I’m being an honest 5 on a scale of 5.

Every journey starts with a single step, and since I am a woman long used to being In Charge, I set out on your little website with a business-like plan to pick someone. Anyone, really, to be First Guy. Just to get it over with, no big hopes. Just to get out there. But then I saw…well, this smile. Dark hair, twinkly eyes, whose profile basically said, “Nice Guy seeks an up-front, positive woman who understands busy schedules and hard work and that kids are priority, and values both adventure and quiet time on the couch.” He sounded ideal. But what about the little things? There is not a place on your profile “wish list” to include things like: Looking for a man who will hold open the door. Who will hold my hand from the penguins all the way to the top of the giant turtle tank on an Aquarium third date and remember the quirks of my murderous cat. Who will bring me both wildflowers and a mix CD before week one is even over, and who will render me legless by unexpectedly kissing my ear at the dessert counter.

Based on my experiences so far, you might need to consider updating your questionnaire.

And I know you advise taking everything very slowly and approaching intimacy with care and caution, but honestly, eHarmony, what can you do when you look at his face for the first time and literally hear your own voice in your head say, VERY LOUDLY, “Yep. This guy.” What can you do? You go with it. And the new story begins.

You have all of these commercials with beautiful couples nudging each other with their elbows and tossing their heads back in laughter and gazing at each other with such a sense of affection and true companionship. And on my cynical days, I would just shake my head and fight back the uncharacteristic taste of bitterness those commercials would leave. But clearly, eHarmony, something in those images must have resonated. The quiet part of me that longed for someone who would look at me like that, who would know me like that, who could make me laugh and blush and sigh must have somehow still believed that those stories were real and possible. Something inside me kept the faith that even though I was 40-plus and mothering teenagers, it could still happen, against the statistical odds. And so I kept writing my vision-board-ish journal entries about Mr. Wonderful, who would be able to cook and think to hold my coat for me and be a super invested, connected dad. And - though this is basically impossible, of course, but since I was ordering him up from the Universe I figured I might as well include the following CRAZY little quirks: He will give me reason to visit random cities, like, say, Nashville or Minneapolis, because he would have to travel for work and not mind having me around to keep him company in airport waiting rooms. And, though this is REALLY pushing it, could you maybe make him able to tolerate show-tunes and someday sit in a dark theater with me as an overture rises and hold my hand? And if it isn’t still too much to ask, (though I know it is) might he possibly be comfortable drinking scotch and smoking cigars with Chris and Tom and the guys? How about good grammar, nice lips, maybe an interest in wine and lingerie? (On me, preferably.) Yeah. I know. That’s just Crazytown 101. But still…if you’re going to dream, you might as well dream Big. And extremely specifically.

This is a long introduction to a very short story, eHarmony, because this story starts and finds its Happily Ever After in a New York minute. I found him, literally one day after signing up for your fine service. He said yes, then we both said yes yes yes, and now we are planning picnics and buying tickets and sharing confidences. No one can predict the future, but this today we have found? Beautiful. Inspirational. Healing. So, I hate to say it, eHarmony, because you did a very nice job, but you’ve just lost yourself a couple of prime subscriptions. We are all set.

Let us know when you need us to film our commercial.

Kelly and Adam
Because we’re an “and” now.

Friday, May 2, 2014


My youngest girl has a very obsessive personality. When she loves something, she immerses herself in it completely, head over heels in love, to the exclusion of all else. No matter what anyone else thinks about it, no matter if anyone else knows what on earth she is talking about...she breathes it in completely. (I know...sound familiar?) When she was very young, there were phases of these obsessions. One notable one was these Littlest Pet Shop toys. There were guide books with the names of these little plastic animals, and she had these little houses that she would set up on the kitchen table, moving the pets from one place to another, having conversations between them, clear about everyone's personalities and preferences and best friends and favorite corners. She would sit there for hours as a 3 and 4 year old - and four year olds do NOTHING for hours, so that's saying something - enacting her little plays. These little sheep and dogs and reindeer and frogs came everywhere with her in bags or buckets, and she always had one or two clutched in her little fists.

Later, there would be a very long Greek Mythology phase, where she read all the Percy Jackson books and her dad told her the entire story of the Odyssey and the Iliad, and she created huge posters with all of the Olympians and their symbols and personalities and back-stories and connections to other tales. Just for fun. She painted her room an Aphrodite pink and had a little altar of shells devoted to this favorite goddess. Then came the Hunger Games, briefly, and then she finally read the Harry Potter series after years of protests and refusals. And of course, she fell in love with that, too. She was particularly enthralled with the Epilogue, and the characters of the next generation - Harry and Ron's and Hermione's children and their relationships to one another. She began, at this time, to write very detailed "fan fiction" in which she created all new stories featuring these characters, typed fervently with two thumbs on her iPod. Notoriously shy, she wouldn't let anyone read them. She drew the characters endlessly, in different outfits, in different combinations and families, pages and pages and pages in colored pencil. These, she shared. And these I will hold onto forever in her keepsake boxes.

Around this time, she discovered the concept of a "Fandom." I am sure you are familiar with this - they are little internet groups devoted to a certain fad or actor of tv series. They gather in corners of Pinterest or Facebook, and some eventually lead to things like Comicon. I know they have existed in some form or other forever, but with the internet, they are very easy to find. Abby is like me as a middle schooler in that she has friends in school, but after school, is pretty much content to just hang out on her own, doing her thing, with the stuff she loves. For me, of course, it was reading Anne of Green Gables and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Flowers in the Attic and ridiculous Gothic novels by Victoria Holt, mostly so I could be like Kristin Fahey, whom I idolized. And, of course, there were the Broadway cast albums. Left at my house by my grandmother, and collected from an ex-boyfriend of my mother's, I had every obscure cast album you could think of. Fiorello and She Loves Me and Damn Yankees and many versions of Gypsy and several Fiddlers on the Roof and the black versions of Guys and Dolls and Hello, Dolly. (Pearl Bailey is my favorite ever Dolly Levi.) I listened to them, song by song, and read the liner notes, and they are the reason I win the Broadway Teachers' Workshop trivia contest every summer. Who needed friends when I could spend my afternoon with Laurie and Curley and Maria Von Trapp? But the thing is...I was alone. I knew not another soul on the planet with this same obscure hobby. There was no internet, there was no community theater in my life. I was a solitary, weird little girl who thought I would basically always be solitary and weird. I dreamed of the people who would later become my Tribe, the Bens and the Craigs and the Jamies who came along in the flesh and recognized and shared all of my little Freak Flags. But it took a decade of solitude before that came.

Abby, however, who is the most fervent Freak Flag waver I have ever met, is most certainly not alone. In her little Pinterest world, she sees many other people who love Dr. Who, and the Harry Potter next generation with their fan art and fan fiction that brings to life the stories that she carries inside her as well. Though she doesn't know these people in life, she knows that they exist out there in the world, and that she is not alone. And she will never be alone. I love that she has that sense of community, giving validation to her quirks and inspirations and the worlds that delight and ignite her.

Her latest is Les Miserables, and the fandom for this is wide-spread, vocal, and creative. It has been going on for quite some time, and because my life has always been kind of magical, we have been given a number of very magical gifts to support her joy in this. If there were a stronger word for "obsessed," I would use it. She knows every word to every song. She can list every cast from every version in the US and London, and trace the various actors who have appeared in multiple versions and their relationships to each other. She had drawn all of the characters and writes fan fiction about them. She has read the actual novel, dog-eared and underlined - Victor Hugo at 12 years old, prompting one member of her math class to ask, "Why do you carry a dictionary around with you all the time?" She has written every single word of the musical out in longhand on 12 x 18 art paper - all from memory, and they are rolled up in a scroll in the parlor. She knows all of the actors currently playing the Barricade Boys, also knows as Les Amies, including all of the swings, and follows them all on Twitter. She literally knows EVERYTHING there is to know about Les Miserables and her Freak Flag is very firmly red, white and blue Frenchie-French. Earlier this year, I rediscovered an old friend from my past named Jennifer. (This in itself is a phenonamenally blog-worthy story for a day very soon. You'll like this one. I promise.) Anyway, she lives in London and came to visit recently, and it turns out...she was the pianist for the film version of Les Miserables. She worked with every singer on every song, coaching and teaching, and playing into their ear pieces while they sang live for filming. And she brought her score, and played the entire thing in my front parlor while we all sang along. So, Abby had the experience of singing "On My Own" with the same pianist who played it for Samantha Barks in the film. In my freaking living room. And for Christmas, I got the girls tickets to see the revival on Broadway. We went at the beginning of April (after the months-long countdown Abby had installed on her phone), and not only was I able to use connections to get a backstage tour, it was by her exact number one most favorite actor in the whole entire show, named Jason Forbach. (Who deserves a shout-out because he literally could not have been nicer.) He wrote a personalized note in her copy of the novel, and his friendliness and attention gave her the single best moment of her life so far. I am taking her back to see it again, along with my goddaughter, for their 13th birthdays this July. They have seats in the second row. I maxed out a credit card to do it and I swear, it is already worth every single penny. Because it is her thing. It is her passion. She doesn't play on a soccer league, or skate for a travelling hockey team, or need dancing school costumes or piano lessons. She wants this. She loves this. And it is more than worth it to support whatever gives her a sense of passion and community and reminds her that she is not alone. She hears the people sing. She hears the distant drums. And while I will not have control over many of her tomorrows, I have her todays in my hands and I will do what I can to fill them with as much wonder as I possibly can. Just one among my many, many blessings that are more and more evident to me every day.

Glad to be back to the blog. Thanks for reading.