About Tamara

I am a creator, teacher, coach, collaborator, podcaster, actor, playwright, theatre-maker, and mom living in Durham, NC. I love ideas, and I love getting things done. In my own little ways, I aim to make the world a better place.

Going solo: a bumpy ride

Welcome to my learning curve!

Ten days ago, I launched my first ever interview podcast via the Artist Soapbox. Today, I published my first solo podcast! WOOT. In the solo episode, I discuss three ways to support a creative process (based on my conversation with Mara Thomas in Episode 001) and I answer FAQs about Artist Soapbox. The episode clocks in at a lean 16 minutes and is clean for kids’ ears.

I’m reasonably happy with it, particularly since it’s my first effort. And I’m pleased by how far I’ve gone outside my comfort zone in putting this podcast together. However, to balance that happy pat-on-the-back, I’m including a ridiculous list of maybe-you-can-learn-from-my-mistakes. Because this sixteen minute podcast took me SIX hours to record and edit. Yep. And that doesn’t include time spent figuring out how to publish it online and write any accompanying text (like this blog post).

Now, I don’t have that much time to invest in something I’m only “reasonably happy with,” so I’ve been reflecting on what ate up so many hours. Answer = lack of adequate preparation and being a novice. Perhaps you can learn from these….

TIME SUCKS AND INEFFICIENCIES:

*I’m learning to edit using Garage Band on my Mac computer and it’s pretty straightforward….as long as you know what you’re doing. I would not recommend the learn-as-you-go approach that I took with Garage Band. If I could go back in time, I’d learn GB ahead of time and save myself a lot of frustrating moments, like when I deleted tracks accidentally, and recorded over sections that I liked, and messed things up in ways that I’m still unclear about. GB and I need to get up close and personal before the next podcasting.

*I also bought a really cool new microphone to use at home called the Blue Yeti. It’s an awesome plug-and-play mic and I feel all official using it. It also requires experimenting and refining which I didn’t do enough of ahead of time. When you listen to my solo in Episode 002, you’ll hear some of that experimenting happening during the episode which is not the best time to be fiddling around. I recorded in the kitchen during the day while my toddler napped and then went to my bedroom in the evening when the kids went to bed and then moved back down to the kitchen when my spouse went to sleep. Duh, the audio quality is different in my echo-y kitchen with glass table top compared to my bedroom where I was talking into a corner stuffed with pillows. You can hear the difference. Again, duh. Note: bedroom with pillow-corner was superior in audio-quality, but not as comfortable for me. Next time I’ll record in the same room during the entire process and keep a consistent distance from the microphone. Seriously, Tamara, pay attention to how far your face is from the microphone!

*You know what helps when you sit down to record a podcast? AN OUTLINE. And sometimes it helps even more to type out exactly word for word what to say. I know I have experience talking in front of groups, leading workshops, improvising, coaching folks and just enjoying a friendly one-on-one chat. I also have a lot to say about creativity and art-making and theatre and community and all the topics that Artist Soapbox will inevitably cover. However, I’m not sure why I was sooooooo positive that if I just thought about what I wanted to say beforehand, then I would open my mouth and the words would pour out fluidly and coherently. That did not happen. I wasted a lot of time doing re-takes until I finally sat down like an adult and made a darn outline with some key words and phrases. Right. I also practiced what I was going to say a few times because that HELPS. I swear, it was like Amateur Hour around here. In my defense, it was 1:00 am when I finished, and I’m usually only awake at that time if I’m giving birth….so it’s rare and I’m not at my best in the wee hours.

**

Some of the podcast-y issues that cropped up were due to the fact that I’m a newbie, and some were issues that I should have anticipated and prepared for. Also, I’m not skilled enough with the editing software yet (see above) to fix my mistakes, so I must get everything right from the start.

Moving forward, I have a combination of recordings scheduled at Shadowbox Studio (with people who know what the hell they are doing) and at home (with a person who will eventually know what the hell she is doing). A home studio is really useful for odd-hours, solo recordings and managing schedule-craziness or conflicts.

The next several episodes will be interview style, and I’ll welcome the conversation with another person in the room. I originally thought my solo Episode 002 would be twenty minutes or longer, but I topped out at sixteen minutes and that felt like plenty for a first-go.

I hope you’ll keep listening. I hope you’ll learn from my mistakes and laugh along with me as I keep moving forward. I’m really excited about this new platform and having lots of fun with it. There’s much to learn about the art and science of podcasting, so I’m gonna keep plugging away.

I podcasted, and I liked it.

 

ARTIST SOAPBOX has been launched! Wheeee!

BIG NEW THING: I recorded a podcast, and I’m so excited that I couldn’t wait to share it. Seriously, I am SO excited. It took me an embarrassing number of hours to edit and put the first darn thing online, but I did it. It ain’t perfect, but that’s on me and my learning curve. More to come, more to come, more to come.

Me=tired. Good enough=Just fine

There’s still much to do with getting artwork, listing on iTunes, fixing the website, etc. but the link is online and it seems to work and it’s live. Anyhow, I’m getting there. I’m feeling grateful that there are so many incredible artists to converse with, and I can’t wait to do more. Special thanks to Greg Myer, Mara Thomas, and Jim Haverkamp for helping me launch.

Feel free to share if you’d like or just listen. There’s some good swearing, so it’s not for the kids.

EPISODE 001: Mara Thomas says Yes to Nothing

***

ALSO:

So I didn’t:

I haven’t written Mother of the Year yet. And I still have some other projects that I didn’t wrap up. I’ll just say, almost everything is still pending.

So I did:

I did write another play in the meantime.

Onwards!

Project: Mother of the Year

If you live in the Triangle Area of North Carolina and you identify yourself as a mother, then I have a request for you.

I’m gathering creative fodder for a new project, and I’d love to have your contributions. This project, tentatively titled MOTHER OF THE YEAR, has no shape or performance date, or anything at all specific. Like most artistic endeavors, it’s a creative trust exercise in the spirit of “let’s see what happens”!

Below, you’ll see the details (such as they are) as well as the caveats. If you’re game, send me something by the deadline. If this isn’t your cup of tea or you don’t have the brain-space at the moment, then that’s totally cool too.

DETAILS:

I’m looking for writing in any style and of any length based on your own experience. As much or as little as you’d like to send.

The focus: Your experience of being a mother right now. What are you going through/involved in/wrestling with/enjoying/struggling against/embracing/striving for/questioning/etc right now? What’s top of mind? What’s in your heart?

It could be profound or trivial. Focused broadly or minutely, globally or locally, politically or artistically or domestically, or personally or publicly or bodily or spiritually. Light, heavy, serious, comedic….of any emotional tone. It could be a poem, a conversation, a song, a speech, a monologue, a jingle, a list, a letter, a sentence, a stand up routine, a paragraph, a journal entry —whatever— pour your experience into a document and send it.

Deadline: Wednesday, Feb. 1. I’m setting this first deadline to assess interest. If I get zero contributions, then I’ll reassess the project and take a different tack. If I get a pile of emails, then I’ll rejoice, set a course for development and probably put a call out for more text!

Feel free to share with people in the Triangle Area (NC) who identify as mothers. For now, I’m limiting the geographic area to our smallish corner of the world.

CAVEATS:

I don’t know what I’m going to do with the writing that I receive. It could be broken up, combined, or used solely as inspiration. Your writing could be completely unrecognizable to you in the finished piece or it might be used word for word. If you send me something, please release it with the understanding that you are giving it away to be used TBD.

Everything that you send to me will be anonymous. If the project goes public, then your name will be listed as a contributor (unless you don’t want that), but no one will know what text is ‘yours’.

WHY AM I INITIATING THIS?

This project won’t let me go, so I’m giving into it. I don’t know what it will be or if it will be, but I hear the call to use the actual words of those who mother as the foundation and springboard for a piece of art. An exploration of contemporary motherhood, as told through local voices….perhaps….?

AND FINALLY

If you are like me, sometimes you need a ‘reason’ to write — I’m hoping that this will be a good reason for you, and an opportunity to voice some of the mothering-related thoughts that you’re carrying around in your heart and your head. Send me questions if you have them. No pressure. No judgment. Love. Love. Love.

With deep appreciation for all you do…

And Happy New Year and hugs,

Tamara

tamara_kissane@yahoo.com

A mom who…

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Gratuitous photo of darling baby toes. Taken by his big sister.

There are a lot of gifts that accompany a show opening. Everything has come together and is soaring. It’s a celebratory time. The New Colossus has opened! The cast, the direction, the design, the stage management are all amazing. Hurrah!

For me, one of the gifts of TNC‘s opening weekend, is a more personal one. And I feel a little embarrassed admitting it. The opening of the play has given me the opportunity to talk about more than just my kids. It’s strange, but that’s a real gift for me. Like, I’ve got other things going on that make me a multi-dimensional person and that feels really nice.

I’m so much a MOM these days. I’m MOM-ing constantly and vigorously. Leading up to the opening of TNC, I was on antibiotics for mastitis (Again. Sigh.) Most nights, I was pulling ice packs out of my bra before entering rehearsal. And my usually chilled out baby had major sleep issues. He. Would. Not. Stay. Asleep. Argh. So I was even more sleep-deprived than usual. At the end of rehearsal (and now, after the show), I rushed home to get friendly with my breast pump. No one wants engorgement, nope. Then there’s the end of school year chaos and piano lessons, swim lessons, etc. etc. Anyway, you get the picture. I felt my MOM-ness very much, even though I had sweet pockets of time when I was in rehearsal and felt my creative-self assert herself, and my mom-self take a little rest. My mom-self needs a rest sometimes, you know?

Please don’t get me wrong, I am crazy-grateful for my family. I love my kids, and I love to talk about them. Go ahead, ask me, you won’t be twisting my arm. It’s easy and often necessary at this time in their lives to make them my everything. It’s very special to witness the growth of such wonderful spirits.  So, I’m in love with my life, but there’s not much space for me in it right now. I’m MOM before anything else. I’m a “A mom who….” — A mom who writes, A mom who works, A mom who acts, A mom who makes theatre, A mom who is always mom-ing.

But now! But now, the show is out there in the wider world and people are coming to see it and wonderfully, amazingly, they are talking about it. And this past weekend, for a few days anyway, I really felt like a writer first, an artist, “A writer who moms….” And it was cool to have that experience, and I’m grateful for it too. Honestly, I think it was a damn f-ing miracle that I was able to write TNC while I was pregnant and then continue to work on it with an infant. I’m really, really hoping for another miracle as I start work on the next project too. (Writing with a toddler and an 8-year old — hold onto your hats!) Since I don’t know if I’ll get that next miracle, I’m enjoying the ever-loving sh!t out of this one. I really am. I don’t feel my usual murky mix of anxiety and awkwardness about my art. I just feel grateful and present and happy.

Please come see The New Colossus if you can. I’d like to talk with you about it. After that, I’ll tell you a funny story about my kids. Hee.

*Speaking of children, this Thursday, May 26, is Red Nose Day for TNC. Come support this worthy cause and get yourself a ticket discount. If you attend wearing a red nose, pay just $6 (half-off regular price). Good for door sales only the night of the show. Read more about Red Nose Day.

**This post is the third in a short series of posts about TNC. Here’s the first one. Here’s the second one.

 

 

On the brink of taking flight

TNCThis is the second of a short series of posts about my upcoming play, The New Colossus. (Here’s the first.) In the spirit of gratitude and reflection,  I’m considering some of what it took to stage this sucker (from a playwright’s perspective). We open this week!

Generally, plays require an enormous amount of collaborative and collective work to put up — way more than you would guess unless you do it on a regular basis. As a world premiere, The New Colossus required an even larger than usual dollop of investment, commitment, and risk-taking from everyone involved. It’s a brand new beast.

The New Colossus (TNC) would not be opening this week without a theatre company willing to take the risk to cultivate the script over the last two years, then put in the time/money/energy to mount a production. Thank you, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern. Thank you, Manbites Dog Theater, for access to the venue and support thru the Other Voices Series.

It often requires years of preparation to bring a new play to the stage. This was the case for TNC. Research, several drafts, then readings, rounds of feedback, and more drafts, and then more drafts after that. It’s a long-game approach. It was a gift to have a producing company, like Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, that invested in TNC before we even entered the rehearsal room.

Even a script based on a beloved classic, like this one, is still untested. It’s untried and probably still a little unfinished. By the time most plays really pick up steam geographically, they’ve been workshopped and produced multiple times, so the first production is really the infant phase for a new play. And you know it takes a village to raise a child….

Dana Marks, the director of TNC, has been a superb detective, problem-solver and imagineer — reading the text closely, discovering moments I didn’t know were there, conducting the pacing, arc and emotional tone of the production, as well as folding in all the crazy technical elements written into the script. (Yikes, videos and live feed!) Dana, Jenn Evans and Erin Bell, our stage managers, and the cast have been upbeat, flexible and supportive as I made numerous script edits throughout the rehearsal process. We’ve been able to collaborate and brainstorm solutions for moments that didn’t quite work once we got the script “on its feet.” Bless the amazing cast who jumped in enthusiastically, and tried to make even the most awkward lines work.  They breathed life and dimension into their characters in surprising and wonderful ways. Together with the stellar designers, all of these folks created a world that I never anticipated.

And of course, in order for TNC to happen, I needed lots of support from my friends and family (hi, honey!) — from the people who read and discussed drafts with me, and the people who’ve worked with me in the past. Kevin Ewert and Jaybird O’Berski were crucial readers and script advisors. My friend, Cheryl Chamblee, and I wrote and produced a dozen plays together in the last 20 years; without those experience with her, I wouldn’t have been able to bring this play to life. Same thing goes for my work with Rachel Klem in Summer Sisters, and lots of other experiences with folks who have built new work in the theatre.

As a theatre-maker, new works are my jam. I love creating them. I love experiencing them. Happily, this community is rich with theatre companies who are commissioning and growing new work. Support them! Love them! They are laboring hard against the odds to bring you new art.  Here are a few examples: Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, StreetSigns, Archipelago, Common Wealth Endeavors, The Performance Collective, DIDA, Haymaker, Manbites Dog Theater, Duke University Theater Studies,  The ArtsCenter Carrboro, Paperhand Puppet Intervention, Common Ground Theatre, and more.

As an audience member, I’m thrilled by world premieres. Watching a never-seen-before-play is a special treat. It’s a secret discovery that no one else has access to yet. It’s opening up a surprise package. It’s watching theatre being born. I hope you feel that way too.

The New Colossus runs for three weekends. It’s about 90 minutes with no intermission. Rated R, so not for the kids. Get your tickets.

 

 

 

What’s the deal with the seagull?

PrintThis is the first of a few posts that I’m writing about my upcoming play, The New Colossus. Opening on May 19th!

A tiny bit about The Seagull:

Anton Chekhov wrote The Seagull in 1895, and it was performed a year later in Petersburg. In 1909, the play was translated from Russian to English. During the past 100+ years, there have been dozens of additional translations and adaptations, and countless productions of The Seagull. It’s one of those plays that continues to capture people’s imaginations. Wikipedia can tell you more.

I first read The Seagull in college (eep, 20 years ago!), and I remember thinking that it was an amazing but odd little play where not much happened. Mostly, people sat around and talked about….I don’t know….life…whatever….? And I totally didn’t get the whacky obsession with the dead seagull (Weird metaphor alert!). At that point in my theatre-making life, I was most excited by Shakespeare’s style of overthrowing kings and brandishing swords and epic drama and chest-pounding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still into that, but these days I really dig the subtle dramas of everyday life and the undercurrent of emotion that bubbles below the surface of our interactions. Our days are thick with feelings, dreams, aspirations, and disappointments. Maybe those interest me most because that’s what I have in my life right now. Not much epic drama or brandishing swords, thank goodness.

SparkNotes describes Chekhov’s writing this way:

His plays marked a new movement in the theatre with their use of subtext, intimacy, colloquialisms and realism. His comedy-tragedies were unlike any plays that audiences had seen before because they made drama out of everyday circumstances, such as love and longing, instead of portraying the grand gestures of heroes and heroines of earlier plays.

Two years ago, I was re-introduced to The Seagull in a Chekhov class taught by Jaybird O’Berski. The play blew my socks off. The themes and conversations felt remarkably fresh and contemporary. The characters were damn deep. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I read different translations and adaptations and various essays and reviews. Then I got the zany idea to write a new play inspired by Chekhov’s Seagull. It’s an homage, really, because I’m so fond of the original.*

I wrote an adaptation with the help and support from a whole lot of people. (More on that in another post.) Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, of which I am a longtime ensemble member, was kind enough to produce it. In less than two weeks, The New Colossus, produced by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, will open at Manbites Dog Theatre in downtown Durham. I’m weak with excitement and gratitude.

This is the teaser description:

A family of frustrated, attention-starved artists flocks to the seashore. One of them has a gun…what could possibly go wrong? A darkly comic reboot of Chekhov’s classic, this rollicking tale examines the pitfalls of making art and making love in modern day America.

Hopefully, people who don’t know The Seagull will enjoy The New Colossus as a stand alone play and be inspired to read the original. Hopefully, longtime Chekhov fans will enjoy the ways we’ve reimagined this work.  The basic story elements remain — they are the reasons I fell in love with the play in the first place. However, I did make some noteworthy changes. Some examples: one character never comes on-stage, two characters merged into one, the scene order is different, music and dance and video are more pervasive, and there are several new and transformed scenes. In particular, I added two new scenes so the female characters can talk to one another. (Those interactions were missing from the original and I was curious to consider them.) Most surprising to me, setting the play in 2016 had the biggest ripple effect on the entire project. It seemed pretty straightforward at first — just dress the characters in modern day clothing and sprinkle in some modern words! — but the ways in which we interact with art, fame, community, family, technology, health, and success seem different than they were for Chekhov’s Russian characters in 1895. The tools are different. The love and the longing are still there, but we manage them differently today, I think.

I’ll be curious to hear what you think.

And there’s still the dead seagull. What’s up with that?

THE NEW COLOSSUS opens May 19 and plays for 3 weekends in Durham, NC. Get some tickets.

*Regarding the use of the word ‘original’: I didn’t read The Seagull as it was first written in Russian. I’m sure that limits my understanding of the play in some important ways.

Spring time update

animated-10Seven months ago, I had a(nother) baby. So, I’m a mother of two now. Mind boggling.

Since I haven’t posted in a year, I thought I’d take a quick minute to post an update while the baby naps and before I pick up the seven year old from school.

Parenting, yes. My sweet spouse and I are doing a lot of parenting. A lot. And that is very challenging and very joyful. Even more so with each passing day.

Art-making, not as much. In the first 180 days of the baby’s life, I went out by myself TWICE at night and then raced home before the baby woke up to eat. Breast-feeding is tough, man. It’s cool, but it’s tough. However, in the last three weeks I was able to attend a few plays and even a few rehearsals, and I started writing again, and now the birds are singing and I feel more like myself.

Is my art compromised by my children? Yes, in many, many ways. Is my art made richer as well? I hope so. I think so. I guess we will see. I certainly appreciate any opportunities that I have to make art now — way more than I did before having kids. I work faster and smarter and with a better attitude. Going to rehearsal or having 15 minutes to write is like the best hot fudge sundae ever. It’s like pure oxygen.

So, it’s spring. I’m happy.

  • My family is thriving. I am so glad. I’m so grateful. No, the baby isn’t sleeping thru the night and the seven year old gets sassy sometimes, but on-balance, they are delightful. My husband is a cool dude.
  • I’m in the midst of a few playwriting projects. In some cases, that means actually writing for a few minutes here and there, and in some cases, I’m just thinking about my projects while driving in the car or feeding the baby or falling asleep at night. I’ll just trust that art is cumulative and that each moment spent creating will eventually add up to a meaningful whole. In the last week I’ve even written a few coherent and creative thoughts down. And I’m feeling inspired. Actually inspired to write more!
  • Most importantly, A play that I WROTE is going to open on May 19th (more on that soon). Thrilling!

The baby is awake and it’s time to go.  That’s the scoop. I’ll be posting more soon. Sending you all the best on this day and all the days that follow.

Waking up to baby

Early last year, after a long string of miscarriages and unexplained infertility issues combined with my ever-advancing maternal age, I accepted that I wouldn’t be giving birth to anymore babies. I wrote a post titled Baby Sarah which was an opportunity for me to acknowledge my acceptance (and sadness) as well as give voice to the hope that our family might grow in other lovely and unexpected ways:

Perhaps our family will expand to include animals (rescue pets? chickens?! goats!!), or neighborhood kids, or my daughter’s friends, or adult friends, or people united by a cause, or wise elderly folks, or amazing teams of people working on creative projects. My sweet friend told me, “you will be surprised at the ways souls come into your life to fill up the spaces in your heart.”

The spaces in my heart are waiting to be surprised.

I was very sad. I was increasingly grateful for my daughter and our little family. (You know what’s awesome? First graders are awesome.) And then I moved on. I didn’t get goats or chickens, but I felt myself expand as I incorporated new surprises and experiences. I quit my full-time day job. I took on freelance projects that felt scary and challenging and exhilarating. I finally got my passport and researched exotic beachy destinations with great cocktails. I took Zumba classes and yoga classes with the zeal of the newly converted. I began to cook meals from scratch (a big deal for a professional microwaver like me). And I gave away or sold ALL of the ten tons of baby paraphernalia in my house. Space. Freedom. Strength. Growth. Gratitude.

Then…a happy accident? An unexpected development? I got pregnant.

Surprise! I’m pregnant.

There is an actual heart-beating baby in this old belly. Surprise, Me! Surprise, Everyone! Surprise!

In the Baby Sarah post, I wrote:

I’m casting out trust into the universe, into the cosmic web of connection. At this juncture, I’m trusting that if our family grows (if we even have the time and space to grow!), then it will grow in another, surprising way…

To me at least, being pregnant again qualifies as “another, surprising way” for our family to grow. I didn’t believe in that possibility anymore. Indeed, the spaces in my heart have been amply surprised by this development. Good one, Universe. Well played.

Now, almost half way thru this pregnancy, I am almost ready to accept that this baby might actually happen. After failed pregnancies, non-pregnancies, and a lot of tangled up feelings, it seemed emotionally safer to be in a state of relative denial over these last months. Every doctor’s appointment was a gauntlet to be run, every ultrasound had me on tenterhooks. It has been a hunkering-down, harrowing, contracted kind of time for me. And truth be told, I have been rather overwhelmed by this huge change in my life course. This was not what I expected! I made other plans! I’m on a different track now with space and freedom and creative possibilities! Must I be banished again to those yearning early childhood years in Motherland? GAH!

However.

Today, I woke up. I woke up again to my life. To the life inside me. To the life around me. I built a bridge, got over myself and my bullsh!t, and joined again the land of the living where sometimes surprises are good and can be welcomed and embraced. Like now.

Today, I am laughing at this great surprise. Today, I am hugely tickled by the machinations of the universe, by my wacky biology, by the timing of the bun in my oven. Today, I am accepting and open to this possibility. Funny, I wrote about possibilities in Baby Sarah last year:

We can fill those spaces in our hearts in surprising ways. This is possible. There are possibilities I’ve never considered before.

And I love possibilities.

That’s still true. This is possible. I love possibilities. Of course I love this one and what it means for my life. How could I not? Yes, I don’t know specifically what the arrival of this baby means for my always-fledgling career as an art maker, or my dreams of exotic destinations, or my Zumba classes. Either I will carry on with them as planned (my hope!), or I will create new experiences of space, freedom, strength, growth, and gratitude in my life. Because that’s what we do… if we can, right? Accept, adapt, and love. My friend told me, “Children don’t restrict our creativity. They add creativity to our lives because they demand that we live in a new way. They demand that we live creatively.”

Well, I don’t know about that, friend. Sometimes it seems that way and sometimes not so much, but it’s cool. I don’t need to make any predictions at this point. I’m just going to hang on for the ride and do my best to keep smiling all the way. Wheeeeeee!

As you might imagine, my daughter was thrilled-out-of-her-mind to find out she was having a little sib. Although after years of exaggerating the truth (lying!) about it, no one believed her when she made the announcement to friends and family. A funny lesson in crying wolf, I guess.

When my husband and I sat her down to reveal that she was going to be a big sister, she promptly burst into tears. “What’s wrong?!” I asked (Geez, sibling rivalry, jealousy, already!?), “Why are you crying?!”

She said, “These are happy tears. I’m just so happy.”

Her face was shining. My heart was melting.

She might not be crying happy tears in a few years when her toddler brother* is hitting her in the face and pulling her hair. However, today, I’m relishing and reveling in her sweet words and our beautiful gift and crying some happy tears myself.

Cross your fingers for me, will you? Wheeeee!

*My advanced maternal age and previous preg issues required some additional testing, so we did find out early that this next child will be a boy.

Gratitude, journaling, and new horizons

For the last 15 months, I worked in the Duke University Hospital as the Literary Arts Coordinator for Arts & Health at Duke. During that time, I spoke with hundreds of people about journaling as a tool for self-care, creative expression, and legacy-building. I worked with staff, patients, and caregivers, in large groups, small groups and individually. I led workshops, retreats, and conducted beside visits. I used poetry, visual images, writing prompts, lists, humor, conversation, theatre games, and all sorts of other springboards to encourage people to write and reflect and connect. It was a unique and deep opportunity for me. The work felt important and meaningful. I loved my job and the people there, and I felt like I was good at it — which is such a satisfying feeling, right?

Hard to say good-bye to that.

However, for family/life/balance/creative-project reasons, I made the difficult decision to conclude my time in that position. Moving forward, I will be working as a freelancer — making theatre as a playwright and actor and director, coaching art-makers and journal-writers, teaching workshops, and leaping into who-knows-what-kind-of-other-projects. It’s exciting and scary.

I learned an enormous amount in the last 15 months; possibly more than at any other time except the first 15 months of my daughter’s life. I’m so grateful for that learning and the opportunities that I was given as Literary Arts Coordinator, and I’m so grateful for the open-hearted and generous staff I worked alongside at Duke University Hospital and Clinics.

For this blog…occasionally, I plan to write about journaling and include some of the tips/tricks/inspiration that I’ve found helpful. I’m fully converted into believing in the power of journaling as a tool for self-care, creative expression, and legacy-building. And I think (I hope) I have some compelling thoughts to share about that.

If you’ve ever wanted to write (for yourselves or for others), if you feel like you have a story to share, if you are stressed and need an outlet, if you want to leave ‘something behind’ for your friends or family, then consider journaling, ok? If you’re already journaling (hurrah for you!) — maybe you might be interested in some other writing options that I’ll share? Yes?

Stayed tuned for more.

Wishing you all the best.

Baby Sarah

My daughter is telling everyone that I am pregnant with a baby girl named Sarah. (I’m not.) After the third person at her school congratulated me on this fictitious pregnancy, I asked her why she was telling people this. She replied, “Because it makes people happy when I say that.” Yeah.

My daughter loves babies. She draws pictures of them all the time. Her second word, after ‘hi’, was ‘baby.’ When I told her I wasn’t having anymore babies, she cried big fat tears and asked angrily, “How would you feel if you wanted a baby sister and someone said you couldn’t have one?”

I told her I would feel sad.

So. There won’t be anymore babies in my belly. The how and why of that is long, complicated, and personal, but unless a baby arrives Moses-style on our doorstep (speaking metaphorically), my child won’t have any siblings who share her last name. I feel grief about this. I feel relief at finally being able to let go of the two tons of baby-parphenalia in my house. I feel down-on-my-knees-heart-swelling grateful for my daughter and the life we have together.

So, I’m working on trust right now. I’m casting out trust into the universe, into the cosmic web of connection. At this juncture, I’m trusting that if our family grows (if we even have the time and space to grow!), then it will grow in another, surprising way — perhaps even in a way that doesn’t include babies. Perhaps our family will expand to include animals (rescue pets? chickens?! goats!!), or neighborhood kids, or my daughter’s friends, or adult friends, or people united by a cause, or wise elderly folks, or amazing teams of people working on creative projects. My sweet friend told me, “you will be surprised at the ways souls come into your life to fill up the spaces in your heart.”

The spaces in my heart are waiting to be surprised.

I’m going to trust that my daughter will find her ‘soul sisters’ and ‘soul brothers’ in her lifetime. I’m going to trust that she will find and choose a ‘sister’ like my sister and a ‘brother’ like my husband’s brother. She will find and choose a sibling-like relationship if she needs one, and people will find and choose her. Already, she is lucky to have some wonderful (though faraway) cousins.

We’ll just have to wait and see how she creates and lives into her extended family TBD.

These days, as I’m trusting-trusting-trusting,  I’m also working with the notion that we create our families. I’m considering the idea that the families we are born into, the families we chose, and the families who chose us, are a construction built by the people involved.

And I am comforted by the thought that there is some latitude in thinking about how this will work for us — for the current three-people-in-a-household-family that I have.

(Yes, I know I’m really late to the party on this.) These days I’m percolating on the idea that my-little-three-person-household might loosen up our narrow thinking around what a family can be. We can make the rules; we can tell the story. We can identify the players and the relationships and the boundaries. We can choose the words we’ll use to describe each other. We can make a compact (explicitly or implicitly) to love and care for those souls in our extended family of choice, as well as in our ’traditional’ family. We can locate our village (“it takes a village”) and choose to participate in that village-life too.

We might still have a ‘baby Sarah’ in our lives — she just might be someone else’s baby we love or she might not be a baby at all (see above). We can fill those spaces in our hearts in surprising ways. This is possible. There are possibilities I’ve never considered before.

And I love possibilities.

What possibilities do you see? What is the composition of your family? What kind of a life have you created together?

One more thing:
This post is a meditation for me and a challenge to confront my blind spots. It’s an effort to dive deeper in my Year of Clarity and dig into the life I want to actively create for myself and for those connected to me.
Currently, there are legal and cultural definitions of ‘family’ that constrict and impinge on people’s freedom to fully, legally realize the families they have created. This post isn’t meant to compare my family’s situation to families who are facing shameful laws such as  NC’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. My family and I are privileged in many ways — in this case, my husband and I are legally recognized as a married couple and we receive those associated rights and benefits (including parental ones). It is wrong and deeply disturbing that these rights/benefits/legal recognition are not extended to all consenting and committed adults. Hopefully, 2014 will see that change.