Saturday, June 21, 2014

Wasting Time

I have really enjoyed my new relationship with wasting time. I think I have always appreciated it, but I don’t think I actually leaned into it as much as I have lately. I work hard, though not as hard as a lot of other people, of course. But I sure do know how to kick back and relax. I have my Artist’s Dates out in the world…plays and movies and martinis and writing on benches in random places outdoors. Those are wonderful. And then there are times where I do nothing but play on Pinterest and watch episodes of Family Affair (which I actually cared enough about to find and DVR, if that tells you anything about how I invest in the quality of my leisure time,) or watch all four hours of the Today Show, or reruns of the Love Boat. (Where, oddly, I always seem to catch episodes with Charo and one of the sisters from Eight is Enough.) I was introduced to Quiz Up by a beloved friend and I am afraid it brings out the worst in me. (The intellectually competitive high school girl who probably has a genetic predisposition to gambling addiction. That sort of person has no business playing video games against real people. Still, I play. And if you try to get me to stop before I am ready I will feel the urge to punch you.) Those are so indulgent, too. And I have been lucky enough to have a bunch of them in this beautiful June vacation.

I think my favorite, though, are these in between ones, neither the extravagant nor mindless, when I take a little while to just sit by myself in my garden behind the rhododendrons. (I say “garden” as if I do anything to it. I do not. I just pay a college kid to mow my grass and before I sit down I sweep the pollen off of the furniture. I also sing to the peonies, though that might be a mistake because I didn’t get a single bud this year. I am trying not to take that as an omen.)

But I digress. That sometimes happens out here in the garden.

I’ve done it since we moved here to this house I used to love so very much. I take my journal, a magazine, a glass of wine, and my phone both for music and because I know I need to keep being responsible to my life if I am needed. I sit in my wicker furniture that I bought from my earnings for directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and knowing that I earned it makes me feel extra grateful to use it year after year. I listen to the robins. I watch the clouds and notice the patterns the light makes through these oak leaves at different times of the day. Recently, I rigged out an extension cord so I can plug in my laptop out here, and write. I am writing this blog from here right now. It’s a little chilly, so I am sitting under the Wizard of Oz blanket that Auntie gave me in high school. With my glasses perched on the end of my nose, I am sure I look exactly like my own grandmother, convalescing in the fresh summer air. I am okay with that.

I do not always have time like this. I blast through my life like a freight train some seasons, for weeks or even months at a time. But, inevitably, there comes a time where I declare my need for stillness, for solitude, for the right to write. Usually it is just an afternoon or an evening here or there. It has just so happened that this month has been the longest ever string of them, and I have treasured every one. I’ve done some work on my new play. I’ve blogged a few times. I’ve journaled a TON. I feel replenished because of it.

In between, I worked with Andrea on finishing our play, and got it ready to launch for our summer camp. I paid the bills and helped throw a party and mindfully parented and made some positive changes in my life and outlook. I had some challenging conversations. I figured some things out. I got some important things done this June. But not as many as usual. I am okay with that, too.

I understand how rare and precious this is, and that not everyone gets to do this. I think of Lisa, six sons and a seventh on the way. She gets her prayer time, but it is no easy feat to find a moment alone. I think of Uncle Kevin, who is always running around fixing something, for someone. He should be long retired, but instead he climbs on ladders and fixes my garage door. I see that. I am humbled by it. But I also remember time spent hot-gluing Christmas lights into the Corny Collins sign at 10:30 on a Tuesday night. Saturday afternoons cleaning the paint sink or bolting platforms together. Nights crossing my fingers that the mortgage check wouldn’t bounce. Mornings weeping in the car, and having to repair all of my makeup before getting to my destination. (I still keep mascara in the glove department of my car, just in case. I guess I am never sure that the crying is really done for good.) I have my share of trials, too, just like anyone, and no one’s life is ever a rose garden, despite what it appears on the outside. (Or a rhododendron garden, as the case may be.) Some days are hard. In between, though, I steal an hour or a few from time to time, and I savor every moment of it. It’s a beautiful thing.

So, I leave you now, to read my Real Simple magazine, and my book about the making of West Side Story, and this Facebook article Elise sent me. I will drink my wine and watch the cardinals for just a little while longer, and then I will mop the kitchen floor and change the litterbox and get the girls packed up for their sleepovers.

But now? Here. This.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Part of the Human Heart

People say that you are not your job, and I used to believe that was true. But I am realizing that I cannot separate my job from my self anymore. I suppose that could be considered the definition of workaholic, but I think it’s a little different.

I feel like I walk around much of the time as the outside observer of my life, which “people” say that you are also not supposed to do - that this way of thinking keeps you from being in the moment. I don't agree. I feel like the writer and director of my own story all the time now, and feel very present inside of that. I used to believe I didn’t have as much choice in the matter. But I have learned that I am choosing every single second, and that I am responsible for the quality of my life all the time, whether I can always see it or not. I sometimes even hear my own narration in my head…like this afternoon, when I poured myself a glass of wine and carried two magazines, my journal, my iPad, and three books out to my garden. “Our heroine, spent, in need of repose and reflection settles in beside the peonies to pass a summer’s afternoon.” I set a soundtrack: my carefully honed crooners Pandora station, where at any moment I might here Sinatra or Jack Jones or Ella or Rosemary Clooney. I am doing these things because they are exactly what I want to be doing with this moment, and also because I am simultaneously creating a character who would do those things. Does that even make any sense? And is anyone else doing the same thing? It’s it hopelessly cliché to think this way or am I sort of pretentious and possibly bipolar? These are not rhetorical questions. I really do want to know.

So I guess, in that way, I am a writer all the time. (And, incidentally, I have just decided to get over myself and call writing my job, or one of them, because I have some things under my belt now, and they count as something. A kind of work, certainly.) There have been times in the past two years where I have wanted to do nothing, and just sit at home and hide myself away with my murderous cat. The one thing that would get me out of the house, though, would be those times when I would say, “You can stay home and watch reruns of Modern Family, OR, you can go out and do something, which might possibly be something worth writing about.” And I would go. And it might turn out to be nothing, or it might turn out to be something. (Not to say that I haven’t had flashes of inspiration during those sedentary couch times. Those are necessary too…but not in QUITE the number I was racking up.)

I have always known that I am a teacher all the time. It’s the little things, like not being able to go to the mall or the supermarket without meeting students, or parents of students. But it’s more than just that. I went to the most beautiful wedding last night, this sort of very fancy but country-rustic wedding of a former student, homespun and ambitious and beautiful and industrious. She is a teacher herself, an administrator in the Teach for American Program. Her groom is a teacher too, and the wedding was attended by many students I have had in different places – several from years of directing, or from Kidspot, and one from my very magical first year teaching, now a professional actor, and his beautiful pregnant wife. The bride sang to her groom, with a shout out to me, because it was a song from a show that we had done together, which I evidently once told her it was a perfect song for a wedding. It’s called “Human Heart” from Once on This Island, one of my favorite shows to direct. (I’ve done it five times.) It was beautiful and heart-felt. The whole night was full of theatricality and showtunes, actually. My actor student was telling us how he became an actor because of the fifth grade production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where he played Oberon and was bitten by the proverbial bug. He met his wife doing theater in Chicago. And I know that I am a part of that, mostly just because I was just lucky enough to be there, in the right place and time, to set one tiny spark that they turned into a life. Not alone, of course. I am not trying to take credit for who they are now…but my crossing their path had a tiny bit to do with it. In that way of my favorite Into the Woods quote: “You move just a finger, say the slightest word…something’s bound to linger, be heard.” And add up those slightest words among thousands of students over the twenty years I have been teaching…and that’s a lot. It makes me feel like part of something in the world.

The courage of a dreamer, the innocence of youth.
The failures and the foolishness that lead us to the truth.
The hopes that make us happy, the hopes that don't come true.
And all the love there ever was, I see this all in you.
You are part...part of the human heart.
Of all who took the journey, and managed to endure.
The ones who knew such tenderness, the ones who felt so sure.
The ones who came before you, the others yet to come,
and those who you will teach it to...and those you've learned it from...
You are part, part of the human heart.

I am a part of a lot of Human Hearts, as they are part of me. Part of those who they will teach it to and those they've learned it from.

I see lots of theatre, which is my favorite thing to do, and every time I do, I am thinking like a director. “How can I bring something of this to my kids? How can I take the power of this moment that I am thrilling to back to them, to give them the experience of creating something that can move their audience the way I am being moved right now?” (I am also thinking, “How can I ALSO set this thing on fire or fly this other thing up in the air?” That is less relevant to this particular story, though.) I can’t ever simply watch something passively anymore, just for the enjoyment of it. I don’t regret that. Part of the fun of watching theatre or movies is the inspiration of it all, and that comes from thinking about it in many layers. It’s work to watch things like that, but it’s so worth it.

I used to have this Teddy Roosevelt quote in my 6th grade classroom: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” It was used in the movie version of Bridge to Terabithia, which I taught every year. I feel like I have won a huge prize in this life, because I figured out what I wanted to do, and I then worked hard, and got to do it. The Jim Carrey graduation speech made its rounds on Facebook recently, and he said a lot of things that I found very resonant – the parts about choosing love over fear, and the law of attraction thing about writing himself a check for millions in a very vision-boardy-ish sort of exercise, obviously, but especially the thing he said about his dad. (If you haven’t watched it, you should.) The key part is when he says that his dad chose a safe career as an accountant out of fear instead of choosing to pursue the thing he loved…and he still got laid off, and “failed.” So, you CAN fail, no matter what you choose, so why not choose the thing you love?

I manifested my dream job, and I love it beyond measure. I have now revised my dream vision. I want to phase out of teaching choral music, and phase into doing only theatre and English. I want to teach Shakespeare, or creative journal writing, or a class in drama as literature where we study Ibsen and Chekov and also Larson and Wasserstein and Ephron and Kushner. And I am totally going to make that happen. You just watch me do it. And I am going to write a new play and have it performed by my students, and observe, amazed, as all of my work, and all of my heart, come together in one shiny little point of light. I can declare that because I am unafraid. Because I love what I am so lucky to be able to do. In this, too, I choose love. And love wins, every single time.