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.

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