Yearning for all

You’ve likely heard something about the article in The Atlantic Magazine by Anne-Marie Slaughter. It’s titled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. It received so much attention that the website crashed. Cool. If you haven’t read it, then please do. It takes awhile because of the length, but it’s worth it. After my trek through it, I feel like I’ve been dowsed with a bucket of ice water and handed an open can of worms. Whew! Periodically, I’ll be dropping in posts that have been stirred up as a result. (Don’t worry, in between, my posts will be just as random as ever). Here is my first musing related to “Having it All”.* (see little footnote below).

Since I’ve become a parent, my creative life has suffered. My professional life and my relationships have suffered. My identity and the opinion I have of myself have suffered. (Perhaps, I should say they have all ‘transformed’ or ‘decelerated’. The fact that I judge these as ‘suffering’ is telling anyway.) I’ve declined exciting opportunities because of the way the world of work and theatre-making is structured, and because I want to be present and available to my child and my husband. When I tried to maintain the pace I’d set before having a baby, my parenting and my marriage suffered. I couldn’t figure out ‘how to do everything’ so some things had to go. That’s what moms do, yes? That’s what people do when their life circumstances alter dramatically, right? That’s life.

I’m grateful I still have a job. I’m grateful for what I can do. I am always aware that this is my choice. It was my choice to have a baby. It has been my choice to spend time with her that I could have spent making art, making money, advancing my career (or going to the gym, visiting friends, taking a shower, dating my husband).

And yes, it has been worth it. For me, being a mom is mind-blowing, soul-shaking, beautiful, awe-full, and metamorphosing. I haven’t exactly transformed from a caterpillar into a butterfly over these last few years, but I do know that I am not the person I was before I had my daughter. And all of that is my choice. So, yes, I chose that and I’ll stand by it because opportunities will come again and when a door shuts, a window opens, and it’s all worth it and suck it up and take responsibility and make the hard choice and get over it and be grateful and all those other things that I say when I don’t think I have the right to complain about whatever it is that I’m complaining about. I know to do all of that. And, thankfully, as my daughter gets older, the work-life balance becomes easier (hence, the blog!). In many ways I am finally coming up for air and re-entering my creative-work-groove. That’s great.

However, for the last three years, I’ve felt terrible guilt as I alternated between blaming myself, blaming my husband and blaming my child when I couldn’t do everything that I wanted with my life since becoming a mom. I still do this, and it feels terrible. And I tell myself that I have no right to be upset and no right to complain about anything because I am so lucky to have what I have and to be a mom and etc. I still feel that way. And I remain uncertain about how to sort out ‘my rights’ from this tangled mess.

But after reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, I’m questioning the way I think about this. I’m tweaking my assumptions a little. Is it really complaining when I say “I wish I could be part of that creation/conversation/project/opportunity/experience”? To say, “I want to participate, but I don’t feel like I can”? To say, “I’m sad because I can’t figure out how to be the mom I want to be and the professional I want to be, by my definition, on my own terms”? Because that’s really what I’ve been saying. I want to be at the table with the movers and shakers. I want to indulge my creative imagination and make more art faster, higher, harder. I want to accelerate, not maintain. I want to be included in the things I was included in before I was banished to Motherland — banished by the choices I’ve made. Because like many women, I believe I have something to add to the conversation, creation, experience, project, opportunity, and because I enjoy the work. Oh, and I want all of that in addition to building, nurturing and participating fully in my family life. Sigh.

Is this yearning really the same thing as complaining? Is it acceptable to feel gratitude for what I have and to yearn for additional fulfillment at the same time? Can I have compassion for the way I feel about this complicated situation?

As a community, can we have compassion for moms, dads, women, all people who feel the pain of giving up what they love for something else they love? Saying yes to one, means saying no to another. That choice-making is painful no matter how much it feels like the right choice. We all know sacrifices must be made as a part of life. That is reality. But I wonder if we could offer compassion, tenderness, support, and dare I say it, make accommodations for people confronted with the reality of choosing between their family-life and professional-life, rather than offering what they already offer themselves — “You can’t compete. It’s your fault. Suffer the consequences.” I wonder if I can do that for myself.

To be continued…

How do you talk to yourself around choice-making? What’s really underneath the ‘complaining’ you do? What comes up when you must “say yes to one, and no to another”?

*Anne-Marie Slaughter states very clearly in her article that she is writing from a position of privilege. Although not nearly at her level, I am aware that I write from a position of privilege as well. My husband and I are a dual income, middle-class family. My friends, co-workers and family support me in the work I do inside and outside the home. I feel grateful for those things, for the luxury of choice that I do have given my circumstances, and for the opportunity to have this conversation.

The role of a lifetime

My grandmother died last Friday. She was my last living grandparent. Now I have none.

Three grandparents were living when I got married five years ago, when I had a baby three years ago, when I was at Christmas two years ago. And now there are none.

There’s been a shift in our family as my parents are now the grandparents, my sister and I are the parents, and our children are….well, they are who we have always been….the kids. So I am not one of the children, the kids, the youngsters. No place for me at the kids’ table anymore — my daughter’s sitting there.

This weekend, I traveled back to the Midwest where I grew up. I traveled with my daughter and introduced her to some family members she’s never met before, including my deceased grandmother in her casket. My sweet daughter said that G.G. (Great-Grandmother) was “beautiful in her bed”. She especially liked her beautiful glasses and her beautiful white hair. She asked when G.G. was going to wake up. I said that when people die they don’t wake up. She asked if she could see G.G’s feet. I said no. All of the little kids wanted to touch G.G. I said no to that too, but couldn’t figure out how to answer their questions about why not. My daughter’s thoughts about her G.G. (a woman she’d never met before): “I love her. I miss her so much.”

As you can imagine, it’s been a crazy few days. Crazy-fun, crazy-beautiful, crazy-sad, crazy-confusing and just plain crazy. It was nice to see my extended family, some of whom I haven’t seen in a decade or so. They are good people.  It was strange and sad to say a final farewell to my 93-year-old grandmother, who’d been telling folks that she’d “lived a good long life and was ready to go.”

I wrote “final farewell” above, but that’s not really accurate because there is no final really for me, I think. The people I know who have died, well, I’m still working out my farewells with them, which have turned into extended negotiations of “I’ll see you later.” And I don’t even know what I think about that really — I don’t even know what I think about what happens after we die, because nothing about it makes sense to me, but I often say to myself, “I can’t wait to tell her about that. I have to ask him about that. I wonder what she’s doing these days.” Like those folks-who-have-passed-away are all functioning happily in parallel lives or somewhere in another town. Just like when they were alive, but I don’t see them as much anymore.

So this is hard, and I don’t have a ‘take-away’ this week other than to offer what I struggle with these days. A strange gift to give, yes?

My friend and I have often joked that “This is not a play. This is really happening.” We aren’t playing characters in a story. We can’t stop the action, re-wind, re-do. We don’t get awards for Best Dramatic Performance 2012 — “the role of a life-time”. This is the role of our life-time, the only one we’ve got. We are all marching forward in the same direction — for real. The choices that we made or didn’t make, the missed opportunities, the mistakes, the triumphs, the peaks, the valleys, the moments and the moments and the moments ticking by….the moments have ticked by…disappearing like smoke… all marched by like little tin soldiers, many of them not even noticed by me.

And my questions for myself, the questions that keep me up at night, become “What does that mean? Knowing that, what do I do? How do I respond? What do I say, how do I interact with those around me? Now…what?”

What do you think? Now, what?

How did you memorize those lines?

“How did you memorize those lines?” I heard this question for the first time as an undergraduate sitting in the audience during a post-show conversation with the actors.

The “How did you memorize those lines?” question elicited eye-rolling, sneers, and ill-concealed laughter from my theatre-major friends and me. (We experimented with a lot of things back then, but compassion wasn’t really one of them.) Of all the questions in the world, that was the most boring, and even disrespectful. To us, asking an actor how she memorized her words was like asking a chef how she learned to boil water. Like, who cares? Ideally after all, by the time the play is performed, the actor has been wrestling with characterization, motivation, physicalization, concentration, comic timing, emotion, back-stage politics, the arc of the show and the journey of her character. Performing in a play is the most fun and wonderfully addictive experience ever, but it’s also an enormous amount of work, requiring the ability to take risks, manage fear, play well with others, jump into the unknown and surrender to the art. Memorizing the words is just the crappy scut work that you do to get to the good stuff. Put in the time, pound it out and memorize your stuff. It ain’t fun, it ain’t glamorous. And like,why would we want to spend time talking about it?

As a side note, I’ve heard the ‘memorize-lines question’ in post-show discussions many times since then. For plays with complex language sequences, that question can reveal interesting tidbits about how shows come together in rehearsal. However, I think it generally surfaces when audience members don’t know what else to say. If audience members don’t have something to say after 90-120 minutes of live theatre, then that’s very interesting, right? Perhaps they need guidance, guidelines, or a new configuration of people to dialogue with (content experts, designers, the playwright, the artistic director, etc.)? For a fantastic article about post-show discussions, check out Brant Russell’s article on HowlRound. Yes, I’d like to lead your next post-show conversation. Contact me and we’ll talk.

Back to the subject matter at hand….
So, friends, the karma-machine has struck again, kicking me well and fully in the butt. Because now I am asking that same question….of MYSELF.

I’ve been cast in Little Green Pig’s production of Shakespeare’s Richard II which will be performed this September. Hurrah! I’m extremely truly grateful for the opportunity. I’m super excited. I’m going to work my tail off. But holy cow, how am I going to memorize these lines? I am now fantasizing about a post-show discussion when someone will ask me, “Tamara, how did you memorize those lines?” and I can say, “Well, friend, this is how I did it…”. And I will have done it. Can we skip to that part?

The good news is Willie Shakes gave my character lots of rhymes and a fairly consistent iambic pentameter. So at this point, I know when I’m missing words, and I know the ending words for two sentences back-to-back. However, I don’t so much know the words in between. Hopefully, the audience won’t mind when I say, “Shall I da DUM da DUM da DUM da sight? Or with da DUM da DUM da DUM da height?” Impressive, yes?

The language is beautiful, lush, evocative, and in my character’s case, rather bloody. So inspiring. So damn tricky to memorize. Here’s an example:

O God defend my soul from such deep sin!
Shall I seem crest-fall’n in my mother’s sight?
Or with pale beggar-fear impeach my height
Before this out-dared dastard? Ere my tongue
Shall wound my honour with such feeble wrong,
Or sound so base a parle, my teeth shall tear
The slavish motive of recanting fear,
And spit it bleeding in her high disgrace,
Where shame doth harbour, even in Mowbray’s face.

What the what!? Are you feeling sorry for me or sneering like the 20 year-old undergraduate me? Regardless, the fact remains that I must memorize these lines or else. Fear = the best motivator!

So what’s the plan? It’s not complicated, but here it is:

  • Start now. Work everyday. Carry my script wherever I go in case of unexpected downtime.
  • Work with my eyes, ears, and mouth and mind. This means reading the words and picturing them on the page. Listening to myself saying them over and over. Feeling myself speaking the words so I get them in my mouth. Mapping the words in my mind thru various associations and word games. Eventually, I’ll get the body in on it when we’re in rehearsal and can connect the words to action and location.
  • Reconcile myself to the uncomfortableness of this process. Training for a marathon doesn’t feel like skipping-to-the-lou. It’s going to be hard, get over it.
  • Enlist the help of my sweet husband and any other person who will help me run lines. There is no app for this (well, there is, but not one exactly like what I need). For me, there’s no substitute for a live someone who will work patiently with me over and over again.
  • Indulge in a large quantity of profanity without judgement. I don’t swear much, but learning my lines gives me potty mouth. Not good creative swears either, but clumsy ugly strings of mumbled curses. It’s embarrassing, but it happens every time and I just can’t sweat it.
  • Use the power of positive thinking. Yes, I’m a gigantic super-dork! But seriously, if I can’t cheer-lead myself through this, then that’s just self-defeating, isn’t it? I’m going to be doing some powerful positive visualizing and self-talk.
  • And lastly..it’s painful even to type this….I’m going to start running (um, jogging). The last time I performed Shakespeare (a long time ago), the rhythm of running helped me learn my lines and build the breath control to say them. I really hate running, but I’m going to try it. Please, wish me luck.

What works for you when you are facing a challenging task (memorization or otherwise)? How do you motivate yourself and organize your work on a specific project? Are you wondering why I spent time writing this post instead of working on my lines?

I don’t want boo-boo

A few weeks ago, my daughter tripped on the sidewalk and skinned both knees and the palms of her hands. These were the real deal — bloody, angry-looking, quarter-sized sidewalk burns. Just looking at her injuries made me wince, gritting my teeth as I recalled the hot-burning-jabbing-needles sense-memory of the childhood skinned knee.

My kid is not really the stoic-stiff-upper-lip type. Rather, she has a tendency to narrate every twinge of her pain with a dramatic flare (ok, so that’s just like me…).

Anyway, I knew this was going to be a real challenge for both of us right from the start. She screamed as soon as she fell and continued screaming as I bundled her into the house in my most efficient faux-comforting way (I was focused on keeping her blood from dripping onto my clothing).

For the next twenty minutes or so, she alternated between her scream/siren/wail and the tearful chant, ” I don’t WANT boo-boo. I don’t WANT boo-boo.” As a mom on high alert, I pulled out every tool in my tool-box to fix this situation, stop her pain, and stop the noise. Oh, God, stop the screaming!

  • I offered boo-boo cures: band-aid, ice-pack, cool washcloth, antibiotic cream, pain reliever.
  • I tried distraction: TV, games, music, books, snacks, dollies
  • I cuddled and hugged and kissed and rocked and soothed.
  • I laughed and made jokes. I offered the “just shake it off” speech. I scolded the sidewalk for tripping her. I suggested other shoes to wear. I apologized.
  • I encouraged her to calm her body, calm her voice and take deep breaths. I quietly shushed in her ear. I told her it was ok about 500 times (ignoring the fact that it was clearly not ok).

None of those stemmed the tide. During this mom-barrage of fix-its, I felt annoyed, calm, worried, guilty, sad, confused, embarrassed, crazy, loving, ridiculous, and ‘over it’. I feared  the constant repetition of “I don’t WANT boo-boo” would plunge me into madness. I bargained with God and any spirits that might be listening.

Finally, feeling exhausted and out of ideas, I started chanting along with her, “I don’t WANT boo-boo. I don’t WANT boo-boo.”

That did it. She continued to cry, but the wailing quieted so she could hear me.

And this is what I said…

“I don’t WANT you to have a boo-boo either, honey. I know you really hurt because boo-boos hurt a lot. Sometimes we just need to wait until the boo-boo stops hurting. We’ll sit here together until the pain goes away and you feel better. Then you’ll know your body is starting to heal and your boo-boo is getting better. Sometime we sit until the boo-boo stops hurting and that’s all we can do. I love you very much, but I can’t make it go away. I wish I could, but I can’t make it go away. I love you. We’ll just wait here together.”

We sat in silence for another ten minutes. She huddled on my lap teary and sniffling. I took deep breaths and rubbed her back.

She said, “Ok, Mom, I feel better now.” We went downstairs to play. I slugged down a shot of tequila and two Valium. (Just kidding about the booze and drugs.)

Since then I find myself chanting “I don’t WANT boo-boo” on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes I say it to make myself chuckle, but often I really mean it. Stuff comes up all the time — life-stuff, work-stuff, body-stuff, relationship-stuff, creative-stuff — that I don’t WANT. I don’t want to do it, deal with it, solve it, smile thru it. I don’t want to be exhausted, sad, pained, fearful, jealous, hurt, angry, anxious, freaked out, examined, uncomfortable, taken advantage of. I WANT it to go away. (See Running with Monsters post, right?) In my more lucid moments (after chanting “I don’t WANT boo-boo” about forty-five times), I remember to sit still and breath and wait. I wait to see if I can feel a little better. I wait to see if there’s a little less pain there than the moment before. I sit very still with the understanding that falling down hurts, and life can skin both knees and the palms of your hands, and there isn’t always a quick fix (or any fix) for that.

I’ve discovered that sitting with love can take the edge off of my figurative boo-boos. That love can take the form of a pet or a person, alive or dead. For me, the person could be a friend, co-worker, partner, family member, stranger, 3-year-old or even myself when I’m feeling inclined to treat myself with kindness. Sitting with someone and feeling compassion, kindness, understanding and love allows me to gradually reframe the situation and rephrase my chant from “I don’t WANT boo-boo” to “I feel a little BETTER. I feel a little BETTER.” I remind myself that healing takes as much time as it takes.

If you have been one of those loving people, thank you.

What do you tell yourself when life hurts? What makes you feel better?