“Our youth is the very oldest part of us”

When you have a moment, check out this fantastic article about creating theatre for young people: Theater of the Young, For the Young by Steven Dietz. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I read it. In particular, the quotes below captured my imagination in a big way.

Age is not a horizontal marker, but a vertical one. Our youth is never behind us, it is beneath us; it is never surrendered, only sublimated or surmounted.

All of our ages conspire within us and continue to underscore our days. We are all the young.

And what’s more: our youth is the very oldest part of us. We have carried it longer, had the chance to know it more fully, than any self we have concocted in the interim.

Yes! “We are all the young!” Ok, so this appeals to my vanity — I like the idea of being young — but it also speaks to something that I’ve always felt but could never quite articulate. That is, the idea that we carry our youth along with everything else that we accumulate in this life. There it is, packed in all of our little life-suitcases available for taking out and putting on whenever we need it. There’s our youth as a resource, a tool, a fuzzy old sweater that somehow still fits, something familiar, something neglected at the bottom of the suitcase, something that’s still shiny and fragile and resilient and prickly and fun and portable and us. Rather than being replaced, the young us lives alongside (underneath? in front of?) the old us.

Now that I think about it, in my experience leading workshops with adults it’s that sublimated youth that I’m aiming for. Sometimes subtle and sometimes direct, my questions are variations on “Will you play? Can you play? What’s in your imagination?” I know that youth is in there somewhere, right? “Our youth is never behind us…it is never surrendered.”

Some people seem to carry their youth with them in their pockets — easy to access, they know right where it is. And some people have shoved it to the bottom of a big steamer trunk underneath a lot of other baggage — inaccessible, lost — and then they have to dig deep to find it. Happily, even the deep excavations seem to be worth it. Seeing youth play is a beautiful thing, especially when the youth are not young.

Like my glasses and my keys, I lose track of my youth on a fairly regular basis, and then wander around frustrated and confused. But unlike my glasses and keys, which I consider to be necessities, I’m often willing to give up seeking out my youth when I can’t locate it immediately.

Does having a young child make it easiest to locate my youth? Sure, sometimes having a little one gives easy access to stereotypical features of the young — the wonder, openness to experience, easy love, raw emotion, quickness, creativity….and um, selfishness, rash impulsiveness, tantrums, etc. Sometimes parenting a child makes me feel old in the best ways (wise, knowledgeable, compassionate, calm) and the worst ways (exhausted, crotchety, pained, jaded). I’ve noticed that when I feel particularly crappy it’s because I’m acting out some toxic cocktail of the worst features of young and old. Then I don’t know who I am. I feel not only like I’ve misplaced my youth, I feel like I’ve misplaced my self.

Anyhoo, as a person prone to tangents and free-association-rabbit-holes-of ideas, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot with bubbling up images of ‘concocting our selves,’ ‘our ages conspiring within us,’ ‘age as vertical or horizontal,’ ‘youth being the oldest part of us’….etc. Can’t you see this stuff unfolding and wrapping around a short story or a play or a painting? Quick, someone make some art about this and let me know!

Or perhaps, just think along with me about these questions…So, where is your youth? Can you find it when you need to? Do you want to? What makes you feel young?

Also, if you are a theatre-type, I highly recommend signing up for a daily email from the website Howl Round: A Journal of the Theater Commons. Consistently great content.

Good words, bad words?

Question: What do these words have in common? Loaf, Buzz, Quiver, Whisper, Boom, Jelly

Answer: You’ll find all of them on my Loathsome and Lovely Lists of Words.

The LLs feature words that make my skin crawl or my heart feel joyful just by saying or hearing them. It’s less about the meaning of the words and more about the sensation of the words as they are voiced and heard.

What’s on your Loathsome and Lovely Word Lists? These are short versions of mine:

Loathsome List:

I don’t have anything against these words, they just eeewww-me-out. For total me-incapacitation, make a sentence out of the following words and whisper them in my ear (Also, you have to do it in a creepy Dracula way):

  • meat
  • loaf (or heaven forbid — meatloaf!)
  • panty
  • hose (again, help me — pantyhose!)
  • quiver
  • jelly/jellied
  • soup
  • pussy willow
  • postpartum
  • tinkle
  • puss
  • murmur
  • ventilation
  • roost
  • wafer

Lovely List:

It’s not necessarily the meaning of these words that I love, it’s just how cool they feel to say. Beware, I may fall in love with you if you make a sentence from these words and whisper them in my ear (No Dracula impression needed this time.):

  • passion
  • whisper (See, how I used that word already twice in this post? Because it’s awesome!)
  • words with z: buzzzz, jazzzz, zzzzebra, razz-ma-tazzzzz, zzzzipp
  • malodorous
  • jacks
  • cacophony
  • boom! (especially chicka-chicka-boom-boom!)
  • cock-a-doodle-doo
  • toot-toot
  • love
  • meow
  • chickadee
  • pariah
  • wonderful
  • fabulous
  • particle
  • appellate
  • darling
  • every
  • puke
  • yellow
  • fierce
  • et cetera

Once you start sorting words into Loathsome and Lovely, it may be hard to stop. For me, once I really dig into the sensation of speaking words and listening to their sounds, I’m reminded of the incredible richness and depth of our language. I’m grateful for the ability to have language as a multi-sensory experience. The speaking, the hearing, the seeing — all so glorious and powerful — not to mention the emotions, associations, and memories that words conjure up as we conjure up words.

The more I play with words, the more I realize that it takes a concerted effort to separate the meanings of the words from their physical/aural sensations, and in many cases, it’s impossible to do so. I always love the names of the people I love, for example, and I wouldn’t give my kids the names of people I find “extra-challenging” no matter how I feel about the sounds of the letters. Amazing isn’t it, that letters arranged in a certain pattern can make us feel so intensely? Adding the actual definitions of the words back in and they can pack a wallop.

Certain words spoken by certain people can stop me in my tracks, cause my heart to gallop, steal my breath, or make me roar with laughter. Amazing to think about. Amazzzzzzzzzzing (Lovely word!)

So, what are your lovely and loathsome words? What words in what circumstances make you feel walloped?

(Please don’t include any words that would receive a R-rating or words that are potentially hurtful because then I won’t be able to approve your comment for the public, and I really really want to!)

A letter to my daughter after the passage of Amendment One

Look up! There’s a video of me reading my letter. Below, you’ll see the transcript if you’d prefer to read instead. What are your hopes and expectations for this next generation? What’s next for you?

A letter to my daughter after the passage of Amendment One

My darling daughter,

You gave me a sweet memory the other night. You were all snuggled in your bed. We’d just wrapped up our ritual of ‘a lotta kisses and a lotta hugs’.

“Wait, Mom,” you said, “Say, no matter.”

“Oh, I love you no matter what.”

“No, Mom. Say it with your eyebrows up.”

“Like this?” I said, with my eyebrows raised. “I love you no matter what.”

“Yes!” You said.

And I thought you are so funny and I love you so much. And then I went downstairs and watched as Amendment One was passed. And I was shocked and distressed and really sad. I thought, how could I explain this to you? I mean, you’re only three now, we can’t have an in-depth conversation, but if you were older, how might I begin?

So I’m writing this letter to you and to some future version of you kind of at the same time.

Here’s the deal, kid. Right now, we don’t know if you are straight or gay or somewhere in between. We don’t know if you will get married one day or not, get pregnant one day or not, get divorced. We don’t know what choices you will make about who you partner with and how you live your life.

But I want you to know that these are my hopes and expectations for you… I want you to be happy and safe and kind and true to yourself. I want you to treat others with respect and with a generous spirit. Be responsible. Love yourself and lead a life filled with compassion, wisdom, authenticity, possibility and creativity. Those are the family values that your father and I are trying to instill in you.

Althought it’s hard to imagine now, one day you will be a grown-up person, and assuming we don’t back-slide as a country, you will be able to make grown-up choices alongside other grown-ups about your grown-up life. Love who you love. Create the family you define for yourself. Don’t let other people take control of your body. Never let anyone tell you that you are worth less. You are worth everything.

But here’s the important part… you are worth-full, and so is everyone else. All your little friends, all the grown-ups, all the people you know and do not yet know — all people are worth-full. You and everybody else.

Since you were born, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I live my life, how to live out the values that I profess to have. When I look at your sweet sleeping face and I think of you or one of your little friends being discriminated against, my blood boils.

As your mother, it’s my job to protect you and fight for your rights always, and as your mother, it’s also my job to lift my head up out of our beautiful family bubble and not just think about your future rights, but also the rights of all people now. To advocate now and to walk this talk I talk to you about freedom, about choice, about equality, about love.

And this is how I’m doing it: Repeal Amendment One. I voted, now what’s next?

I love you, Mom

Sign the petition on Change.org.

Running toward monsters

If you ask my daughter what she’d like to be when she grows up, she’ll say a fairy-princess-ballerina. If anyone can do that, she’ll be the one. It’s been a long journey for us to Princessville. For a long time, I resisted cluttering her little girl life with what I considered to be the mind-numbing coquettishness of Disney prinnies, but with an admirable tenacity and sneakiness, those princesses have wormed their way into our lives (along with their fairy and ballerina cousins). She really loves their royal Pinknesses, and I’ve decided not to judge my daughter just because she wants to be a fairy-princess-ballerina. Heck, when I was little I wanted to be Carol Alt, the first female President of the United States. Plans change. And who am I to judge?

Monster-chases-the-Princess is her favorite game. She plays it with me, her dad, her little friends. Last time we played this game, I realized something very alarming. My daughter doesn’t run away. When she’s the princess, she doesn’t run. Sometimes she just freezes and squeals. Even worse, sometimes she runs toward the Monster and embraces it!

What?

First, I tried coaching her (which was confusing when I was playing the Monster). “Run, honey, run away!” This had no effect. I called my husband and told him that we needed to enroll her in Tae Kwon Do immediately so she could learn to defend herself. Forget this ballet class crap, if she wasn’t going to run, then she could at least learn how to punch and kick the Monsters in her life. “Why doesn’t she run when she’s scared?” I asked him, “Why doesn’t she run away?”

As you can probably tell, I fastened a metaphor jetpack onto this incident and blew it up to signify that she would be taken advantage of by her friends, she would never defend herself, she would stick around even if things or people got scary, she would be too nice for her own good. I flew into a complete and utter panic.

But here’s the thing…I’m a runner. Not physically of course (ewww!), but metaphorically speaking, my tendency is to roll out when things get tough. When my Monsters come calling, I look for the exit sign and employ the strategies of get out, slip out, cut people out, make it go away, and leave. It’s true I’m peaceable, I avoid conflict, I have an appropriately developed sense of self-preservation, but mostly I’m just scared to stick around and deal with the hard bits in life. I’m still learning there’s a difference between ‘hard’ and ‘bad’. And I’m still learning that fear is just a feeling, just a state of mind. Thus far in my life, running from my Monsters has not helped me get away from them. In fact, I just used up a lot of energy and money moving me (and my Monsters) around.

So there’s something beautiful about my daughter’s willingness to run toward her Monster even if it’s just a silly game that she plays with her mom. There’s something touching about her willingness to embrace what scares her (because she really does get scared every time). And something wise about her knowing which is a real Monster and which is a pretend Monster. The pretend Monsters aren’t worth running from, you know?

The adult version of this running-toward-monsters seems hard. I’m gonna try it.

So, tell me…What’s your strategy when your ‘Monsters’ come calling? Has that strategy changed over time? How do you keep yourself brave and steady when things get tough?

P.S. In the event of a real Monster or other dangerous situation, run! If you find yourself in an unsafe situation of any kind, then do what you need to do to stay safe — no running toward real monsters! Find yourself a police officer, therapist, or reliable friend to help you out. In this post, I’m talking about those seemingly scary and anxiety-inducing messages we tell ourselves that are simply just unhelpful interpretations of our lives.

By way of introduction…

“Hi, I’m Tamara — rhymes with camera.” That’s how I’ve introduced myself for about the last ten years.

Tamara. Seems good. Seems to suit me. It’s the only name I’ve ever known after all, so I guess it seems familiar — my old friend, my name. (According to my folks, I could have been Veronica. That would have been cool, but my hair is not remotely luscious enough for that name. Hmmm, in another post, I will consider life as Veronica, my alter-ego-super-hero-persona.)

Like many others, I have one of those names with multiple pronunciations causing multiple confusions and multiple corrections and multiple discomforts as I cease correcting and surrender to being called by the wrong name. Some long-ago acquaintances still think I’m Tamara-sounds-like-Tomorrow because I didn’t have the heart to correct them again. It was weirdly embarrassing to me that they couldn’t get my name right, and embarrassment is my kryptonite.  I’m sure my inability to claim my name loudly, vigorously and repeatedly must signify a lack of some pivotal heroine-character-trait (Veronica-me would never be so cowardly!), but that’s how it was until I came up with the rhyme. Not Ta-MARE-ah or Ta-MAH-ra (or Tammy!) — just TAM-ah-ra like CAM-ah-ra (ok, it’s not an exact rhyme, since most people say CAM-er-ah, but it’s a guideline). And I know that in the scheme of things, this is not a big deal — really, you can call me anything, just don’t call me late for dinner!

I have a lot of anxiety around names. I can’t retain them. I second-guess myself. I re-name people in my head and then can’t remember which name is correct. For an entire semester in college, I alternated between calling my classmate Doug and Greg because I couldn’t remember which was his real name. Yikes, I still can’t. Of course, alternating names was a crap-choice because really I was just being rude and lazy. Sorry, Doug/Greg. You were a nice guy. Apparently, my college-self didn’t think it was worth my time to actually keep track of your real name. However, as it always does, the karma-machine sought retribution for that misbehavior. Good job, karma-machine!

However, be assured that I am working on my name-retaining-deficiency. Names are really important and there’s really no excuse for being a lazy-ass in the name department. And as you can see in the About Me section, I’m trying to become an all-around-better-person. I think I can, I hope I can…

So… If I haven’t met you yet, then know that when I do, I may chant your name in a whispery-magical-spell-casting voice under my breath. Or I will call you by name 5-10 times during our 20 second conversation (yes, saying things out loud helps me remember). I seem muttery, I seem odd, but now there’s a 40% chance that I have your name imprinted in my memory. Yes!

However, there’s also a chance that I might have missed your name entirely because I was obsessing about whether I had food in my teeth while smiling at you and shaking your hand and not listening at all to your name. Gosh, did you even tell me your name? What did we talk about? Were you looking at the phantom spinach in my teeth? Argh! When we say goodbye, I’ll slink away to find a friend who knows your nom. Sorry. Sigh.

Despite my anxiety about remembering names, I’ve always been rather obsessed with naming things/people/situations. As a child, I owned three Baby Name books. And I read them. A lot. Having a baby was wonderful for many reasons, but getting to name her was like hitting the jackpot. My darling husband and I read through all 100,000 names in our Baby Name book. It was paradise! So, you can bet your tail-feathers that you’ll see some more posting about names/naming/what’s-in-a-name.

Ok, back to the beginning….

Anyhoos, rhymeswithcamera seemed to be a logical name for this site for the reasons above, but also because I’ve been thinking recently about the snapshots that we take of our lives, and how we share them, how we use them to remember who we were in that moment, who we were with, and what occupied our hearts and minds. Somehow, I see this site (most sites, actually) as a series of snapshots that are compiled over time into one of those slow-motion flip books. Slowly, slowly, a story emerges of a person, a community, a time, a place — all in snail-forward-motion through a kalidescope-accumulation of words, images, and ideas. Real-life-slow-time story telling. Or story compiling. Or story building. Does that make sense? This is not the whole story, but it is a story. Aren’t we all just bits of stories bouncing around in this box called life? So now I wonder…how do we figure in each other’s stories? What is this story that I am telling? What story are you telling about yourself (intentional or not)? What is the story that we will tell together? I’m excited to find out!

Welcome to rhymeswithcamera. I’m Tamara.  I’m happy to meet you.