What to do when you hear yourself say, “The holidays can suck it!”

An excerpt from a lengthy out-of-the-blue rant given in the direction of my poor spouse, by me: “THE HOLIDAYS CAN SUCK IT! I have done ZERO shopping. No one is getting ANY presents. I don’t care WHAT we eat. We can have peanut butter and jelly FOR ALL I CARE!”

To his credit, my spouse didn’t reference that particular rant again, opting instead to let it evaporate into the ether like it never happened. (Although the next day he suggested we consider setting up a regular food delivery system via Amazon Pantry. “One less thing to stress us out,” he said. He’s known me for awhile.)

Even though I laughed about my rant later that day, I was troubled. It seems to me that shouting “the holidays can suck it” and really meaning it, is not me being my best self. It’s probably a sign that something is off. And more troubling still, I continue to carry the residue of that sentiment, I’m just not saying it out loud….as much.

So I made a list (like you do this time of year, and checked it twice, etc.) It’s for me, but if it gives anyone else inspiration or comfort, then I’d love to hear that.

What to do to de-suckify my attitude, get myself together, and stop being a Grinchy jerk:

  1. Check myself and don’t spread the suck. This season is fun and meaningful for some; for others it’s a damn difficult time of year. I don’t need to suck the joy out of people who are riding the wave of holiday cheer, and I don’t need to make folks who are struggling feel worse. So, shut up, Tamara. [See also: Check your privilege. There’s a lot of legit bad shit happening in the world, so get a grip about your stocking stuffers. ]
  2. Contain the suck. Find an appropriate container and pour the sucky feelings into that, and only that. Appropriate containers: a journal, a friend who gets me, a spouse who understands that I’m not always a crabby, mean-spirited person — basically someone or something that will listen without comment or judgement. Like #1 above, don’t pour your suck on everyone who happens to pass by.
  3. Name it, don’t shame it. When a feeling arises, I skip straight to asking whether I should have that feeling or I deserve to have that feeling or whether that feeling is appropriate. If I decide that I shouldn’t feel that feel, then I squash it or ignore it. This is a bad idea because it backs up my feeling tubes — which is a fancy term for the channels that your feelings flow out of when you need to release them and move on. If you’re not a scientist, then that probably didn’t make sense to you, but I’m just saying when I work really hard to deny feelings, then my feeling tubes get clogged and that’s problematic. So, hence forth, I will name the feeling that I’m feeling, and regardless of whether my brain thinks it’s ‘appropriate’ I’m going to hang with it for awhile. I’m gonna do some observing and feeling and chill out with that feeling until I decide whether to kick it out like an unwanted guest or take it on the town and introduce it to all my friends. Either way, it’s gonna flow. Cuz I don’t need to control the feeling. I need to manage the action that I take because of it. Or something like that?
  4. Breathe. My therapist told me I’m bad at breathing. Well, she didn’t say “bad”, but that was the upshot. We were doing belly breathing exercises that I totally goofed which was so irritating because I’m like, an actor, and I can breathe….most days. But it’s true, I couldn’t breathe while lying on the floor of my therapist’s office. My belly wouldn’t cooperate and all my breathing muscles were too tight. I looked like a fish on dry land. “Your body isn’t helping your emotional state,” she said, “Calm your body to calm your emotions.” Over here, I’m practicing my breathing.
  5. Go deep. Anger isn’t my go-to emotion; I generally try out all the other ones first before arriving at anger. (The reasons for that are 1. I’m not an angry person, I’m more of a sad person. 2. I’ve internalized that anger is so wrong that I’d rather implode than actually express anger even in a healthy way. Yay, me!) Anyway, I’ve learned over time that Epic Crankiness is the final stop before I really go to Crazy Town, so for me, getting angry is a definite sign that I need to slow down and figure out what’s really going on. Anger is me masking the deeper questions and concerns that I’m struggling with, but don’t want to actually deal with. Going deep is a drag….but it’s necessary.
  6. Be grateful. How embarrassing that I get so caught up in childish First World problems that I forget who surrounds me and how lucky I am and how exceptional my life is!!! Gratitude journaling STAT. Gratitude is good medicine.
  7. Take care. We know kids often act out to get attention. We know that self-care is a really important component to maintaining a healthy mental state. So when I hear myself saying shitty kid words, well then, I think that means I need to give myself attention and take better care of myself. It was hard for me to type that sentence. I find self-care really confusing… but gosh, I think…it’s important? Cuz here’s the thing — after venting about the Great Holiday-Suckfest, I  went to a play and saw some friends, and I LAUGHED. I stretched before bed. I ate an actual dinner. I went right to bed instead of staying up late stoking my anxiety. And in the morning, I could picture a season with some cheer. I didn’t do those things on purpose to make myself feel better, but all those accidental care-taking things had a noticeable effect. Imagine if I actually put my mind to taking care…of me.

I have two small children. Christmas will come to our house. The question is, “How will I show up?”

I wish you a gentle season of love and ease and just the right amount of fun.

Who understands this kid

My toddler has a motor speech delay. He’s been working with an amazing speech therapist for about four months now. My guess is that we’ll continue to make that weekly appointment for at least another year. Unless we need to step it up to twice a week which we might need to do. We don’t know yet.

These kind of speech delays are difficult to diagnose in little kids, and they can manifest differently for each individual child. Don’t Google motor speech delay (I did, and it was a mistake). A motor speech delay for my toddler means that he has a very hard time forming syllables that other kids seem to naturally voice. He has to look at my mouth when he’s trying to imitate me, and then he has to concentrate really hard to make his mouth do what his brain is telling him. It’s hard work. His vocal substitutions aren’t the usual ones that kids make and don’t make a lot of logical sense. He uses one ‘word’ to signify almost all other words regardless of what they sound like (‘da-da’ means ketchup, waffles, firetruck, and turkey). We are working to give him new and consistent motor maps for his mouth. His therapist gives him physical cues to make sounds, like touching his nose for the nasal n sound. He doesn’t seem to have any other challenges that delayed speech often signifies. He’s making improvements, but it’s slow going and no matter how fun we try to make it, it’s not super fun for any of us. One day this will be behind us.

Please note: This is not the time to tell me that your cousin’s neighbor’s roommate had a kid who didn’t say a word until he was three and he turned out ok, and don’t tell me about Einstein, and don’t tell me about how boys develop more slowly than girls and how he’ll talk when he’s ready. I appreciate so much that your words are coming from a place of love and reassurance, but 47 other people have already told me that. And it sounds sweet but…dismissive and like I shouldn’t be worried about something that I am worried about and like I don’t know my own kid.

I know he will learn to talk. I am certain of it. It’s just going to be more work than we thought. In the scheme of things this is a itty-bitty, teeny-tiny deal — I know parents and children who have lives full of appointments on top of appointments and daily therapies, and THEY ARE MY HEROES because just this one appointment each week in addition to the accompanying stress and all the other commitments that we have is about all I can manage. Maybe that says a lot about what I can manage. And what my priorities are. Sigh.

Here’s something embarrassing: when we’re out at the playground and other parents ask me how old my toddler is, I think about lying. He’s 25 months, but I want to say that he’s much younger. His gross motor skills are tops, so he seems older until he opens his mouth and a stream of incomprehensible sounds come out. Other kids his age are putting together sentences and saying “dinosaur”. At his age, my daughter was singing songs with lyrics. “He just turned two,” I say, “He doesn’t have a lot of words.”

I’m an introvert. I like quiet. But my work-life has been almost exclusively about talking. I’m an actor and a director; I have a podcast; in my long-ago life, I spoke with college-students about career counseling, and individuals about journaling, and I’ve led workshops for hundreds of people. Even the writing that I’ve done has been with oral speech in mind — as a playwright writing for performance or a poet writing to be read aloud. How can I have a kid who can’t speak and be understood?

After blaming my old eggs and ancient uterus (see: Advanced Maternal Age) and wondering if I’ve been too lax with this second-and-final child (maybe I should have pushed him more, talked to him more, given him more attention and vegetables), I’ve settled on “SCREW IT!” (well, a more profane version). Screw it, who cares why. Screw it, this is small potatoes. Screw it, we can handle this. Screw it, this is what we’ve got. This is who we got — a really wonderful wouldn’t-trade-him-for-anything  sweet little stinker — and this is what we’re dealing with. And aren’t we lucky? We really are. Honest to God, he’s about as cute as can be.

Communicating with my toddler is a full body experience. He acts out what he’s trying to say with his body, so most conversations are like playing charades with a two-year old. He uses sign language, facial expression, pitch and tone to convey what he means. Often, he’ll take my hand (or anyone’s hand!) and physically move us to see what he wants to ‘talk’ about. And when he finally loses his patience after I can’t understand him over and over and over, he screams at the top of his lungs in frustration….and gets over it. He moves onto something else.

Obviously, this blog post is me screaming….and getting over it and moving on to something else.

Of all the people in my toddler’s world, I am the one who understands him the best. That is special. I’m grateful for it. I spend the most time with him, but I also listen to him the hardest… the most carefully. So  yesterday when he finally said ‘boo’ for blue, instead of ‘bow’ and instead of ‘da-da’ and instead of ‘uhhhh’ — I HEAR it. I hear him, and we both rejoice. ‘Boo’ is on the right track to blue.

It’s the little victories, right? Boo never sounded so good.

 

Teeth extraction, boot-strapping, social media-mania and other announcements

Announcements like bursts of confetti for you.

#1: [Not exactly an announcement — I just need tooth-courage STAT.] I gotta get my wisdom teeth removed in October, and I’m scared of the sedation. Cuz I like to control when I go unconscious, and I don’t like to wake up bloody. I’m not alone in that, right?

#2: There’s a Facebook page for Artist Soapbox podcast. It’s new. I’m telling you, I am soooo technically challenged. This podcast and it’s ancillary marketing needs have required me to jump in with both feet while holding my nose. Thrilling and terrifying. I’m cool with ‘just trying things to see what happens’ but these last few weeks have pushed me to my limit. I’m sure trying a lot of things — hope they work. Who’s a big imposter with Imposter Syndrome? Uhh….not me….? Would you like my page ….and stuff?

#3: Episode 003 of Artist Soapbox is up! John Jimerson is a wonderful conversation partner. (He even read me a story from the Velveteen Rabbit!) We went deep on a range of topics and had some goofy laughs too. Give it a listen and let me know what you think. Keep a lookout on the Facebook page and on the Artist Soapbox website to learn about new podcast episodes as soon as they are posted — I have lots of awesome interviews already scheduled thru the fall!

#4: On October 8, I’ll be launching a Patreon campaign for the Artist Soapbox podcast. I believe Artist Soapbox can add real value to our conversations with/around/in support of artists in the Triangle and help promote a thriving community. Right now I’m boot-strapping the heck out of this podcast, but I need support to take it to the next level. I’ve put together a bare bones preview site on Patreon, and I’d deeply appreciate feedback from you. I would be grateful if you’d take a look and share your thoughts about things like:

Do I really need to make a video to motivate people? Is the ‘about’ text confusing and not specific enough? Am I presenting this in a way that highlights its value? Are the rewards sufficient or would you like something else?

What would you like?

Better graphics? A different message?

Will anyone give a crap about this and if not, how can I make them? What else?

I’ve clearly buried the lead at the bottom of this post because I’m nervous about the Patreon campaign. I have big plans for this podcast and lots to share with our community. If you’ve read this far into the post, then I’m guessing that you and I are already partners in our desire to support local artists and (new!) podcasters. So thanks for ‘Getting on the Soapbox’ even before this campaign is launched! Love.

**If you don’t know what Patreon is, then this page will help.

Previous posts about the Artist Soapbox podcast:

Post #1

Post #2

 

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.

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.

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.

Conversations like coffee

“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

My brain got stretched this week, and it was uncomfortable. My head ached. I felt exhausted every night from the extra hard thinking I was doing — from trying to keep up with the conversations, the connections, the leaps of thinking and the much-too-muchness of all people have to offer. Sheesh, people! People and their words! On Thursday night, I cried. Then I mopped my face with a tissue and went straight to bed so I could be well-rested for the more that the next day would bring. More uncomfortable brain-stretching, more conversation, more connections, more much-too-muchness of all people have to offer.

It was a week of deep conversations every single day. Even the conversations that were brief, were taxing for my imagination and my equilibrium:

In conversation with my daughter, I pointed out the rain drops on the car’s windshield, and she explained that “rain drops are made of souls.”

In conversation with a group, a participant suggested that ‘the sky would teach me everything if I really looked at it several times a day.’

In a conversation with friends, we talked about the nets we build and do not build to catch each other when we fall. We talked about the far-reaching life-altering decisions that we make as a result of our connectedness to others.

I had lengthy, far-ranging conversations about illness, legacies, writing, poetry, death, theatre, politics, race, religion, parenting, poverty, libraries, pornography, and life. I made small talk that wasn’t small talk about parodies, calendars, brunches, rock bands, cat food, human food, dreams, real estate, bodies, television, laundry, coloring books, and more, and more, and more. These were conversations face-to-face, over the phone, and via the interwebs — a communications assault on all fronts.

I found myself dropped in conversations that were so unexpected they took my breath away. How did I get here? People surprised me with the size of their hearts, their intellects, their compassion, their blind spots. It was a week full of conversations laced with yearning and unsettledness. It was a week of seeking peace and seeking solutions where there were none. It was a week of reaching out for human connection with laughter and joy, with anger and frustration, with wonder, with confusion, with words, words, and more words…and some tears.

Human beings being human beings.

And I was so grateful. I am so grateful for all of those conversations. I am so eager for more because this was a week that left me vibrating and overwhelmed by the people I encountered. I felt literally impressed — pressed into — by the energy of humanity in a way that made me feel alive and exhausted by the possibilities and the mysteries and the answers on the horizon.

It was a highly caffeinated week.

Even though I love it, it is really scary for me to talk with people. Even though I want to, it’s really scariest for me to have high-wire conversations about the deep stuff of life with all those emotions along for the ride. God forbid I say something stupid or rude and have someone dislike me. God forbid I offend someone. What if someone gets angry? God forbid I have nothing interesting or comforting to say. What if I don’t have an answer when someone is looking to me for an answer? What if this conversation ‘gets out of control’?!

People are messy and the words that we use to communicate with each other can be confusing and frustrating and distracting. Conversations are incredibly inefficient — they take a lot of time. And who has time for anything these days? Sheesh, just send me an email. Sheesh, just get to the point. Just tell me what you want me to do. Many words = many opportunities for misunderstanding. And so much of what we are trying to convey is heart-stuff, laden with emotions and history and hopes that we can barely articulate to ourselves let alone another person.

Talking with people….it’s so much work.

For me, right now I think the work is worth it.

Yes, I think the work is worth it. I’m hanging in there (until I just need a break! until I just need to rest!) thru the hard messy stuff to keep talking. I want to. What do you think?

Real conversations — sincere attempts at connection and a commitment to vulnerability and understanding — we gotta have them to grow as individuals and as a community. Conversations build the (metaphorical) nets and bridges that we need to hold our society together. Conversations lead to commitments and actions that make change. Conversations light a fire under our butts, and help us re-examine our assumptions about responsibility and preconceived ideas of what other people think. Conversations tear down walls, and expose shoddy arguments and lies. Conversations reinforce connection and the idea that we live together on this planet. Of course, conversations lead to great art too.

I am grateful for the talking-talking-talking that makes my head hurt and keeps me awake at night like strong coffee. I am grateful for the seekers and bridge-builders who move thru my life with the curiosity and openness and respect that make these conversations possible. They drop keys/clues/crumbs into my lap that open ideas and connections I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. This is one way I learn about the world.

I am grateful that people allow me to speak and that they allow me to listen. (Yeah, cuz the listening is as important as the talking.)

Let’s keep talking. Let’s keep listening.

Let’s keep hanging in there, even we when need to pass the tissues all around, even when we question whether we should have had that fourth cup of coffee-like conversation.

The Year of Clarity

It’s been over a year since my last blog post.* Much has happened since then including two birthdays for me, a new job, four shows, a trip to Disney World, a kiddo in kindergarten and other stuff that’s too boring or too juicy to mention here. 2013 was checkered with life’s crazy cocktail of events and emotions — growth, discovery, loss, joy, love, sadness, laughter, friendship, friction. An amazing, exhausting blur. Now, I find myself poised at the beginning of this new year with questions, intentions, and an urge to write myself thru what is yet to come — to lean into the wind of 2014 and let my writing catch me and carry me away…

THE YEAR OF CLARITY

My hubbie and I sit together every New Year’s Eve to reflect on the previous year and write out new goals for the coming year. It’s a tradition that I have come to deeply appreciate as a way to mark the passage of time and the progress of our lives, as well as charting our future. This year we even included our five year old in the goal setting exercise. Her goals were refreshingly simple and surprisingly similar to some of mine — take walks, see friends, have a birthday party, enjoy treats.

On this most recent New Years Eve, I declared 2014 to be THE YEAR OF CLARITY. (Yes, I’m geeking out with the New Year’s goals by giving my year a theme in addition to setting out a list of things to accomplish.) I went with a theme because many of my goals were related to this idea of finding clarity, and quite frankly, I gotta figure stuff out.

I have questions. (I said it in a little voice just then, but it’s really I HAVE QUESTIONS!)

We all have questions, right? They are likely the same ol’ standbys — Who am I? What am I doing in this life? Why? How? What needs to change? What’s going to happen? How can I be happy? Where are the balance points? What is important? How can I love better? How do I hold life loosely and tenaciously? How do I get better? Why is this happening? What does my life mean? What does it all mean? Questions. Questions. I have questions. (I HAVE QUESTIONS!) The questions are mostly the same each year — have always been the same as long as I can remember — but I find them harder to ignore as I grow older. In fact, my questions seem to be mating and multiplying like little over-sexed rabbit-questions. I have more more more questions and fewer fewer fewer answers. My answers are evaporating, slipping away. I used to have more answers, you know? Perhaps I gave them away or lost them or perhaps they weren’t answers at all but something else entirely (maybe recipes for a life I thought I should have?).

And don’t get me wrong, I love questions. Questions are beautiful springboards to creative exploration. Questions are awesome. But life is turning up the heat on my real big questions like the ones listed above — questions alone aren’t cutting it anymore — I mean, I gotta get some answers, people! Did I mention that I started working in a hospital last year? Did I mention that I turned 40, my kid’s in elementary school, and life is rolling forward and speeding up and getting real in a way that I haven’t experienced before. There’s an urgency to answering the big questions for real that increases every year. Or at least there’s an increased urgency to try to answer them — I know, I know some of these questions might be unanswerable — but my life needs to be about trying to find the answers in a more intentional way. For me, life has become wrestling with questions in the hopes that I can gather up tiny, unexpected, bracing bits of clarity like snowflakes in the palm of my hand. The Year of Clarity is me diving into the wonder of it all and coming up with some meaning. The effort that I make to understand life, to consider difficult questions, to examine my existence fully — to me, making that effort is a goal I must accomplish. Then, when I find some answers (or at least gain some rockin’ insights), then I can really fly and spin and gallop gracefully thru life with purpose, with gratitude, with fortitude. Then I can get some real good meaningful stuff done. On purpose.

So I tell myself anyway.

Because I do want to fly and spin and gallop gracefully thru life with purpose, with gratitude, with fortitude. I want to get clear, gain clarity, figure things out, and then do some real-good-meaningful-stuff-on-purpose. Somehow I think/hope this blog can help me do that.

So, I’m back. Want to join me?

*Yeah, so it’s been over a year since my last blog post and I barely remember how to use WordPress. It’s going to take me awhile to figure out how to do fancier stuff and make it look pretty –but don’t worry, that’s on my goals for 2014. Also, I don’t know how regular my posts will be. TBD, friends.

To be continued as needed

This is it. Post #30. Hard to believe that I’ve been writing weekly posts for seven months now. Blogging has been way more fun than I anticipated and way more challenging too. That seems appropriate since I generally find life to be way more fun and way more challenging than I anticipate.

These are the reasons I started this blog:

I liked to write, and I wanted to get better at it. (I still do.) I wanted to encourage (force) myself to write more regularly. I thought I could handle a weekly post; I liked the deadline and the discipline.

I wanted to find my voice. Turns out, I’m still and always finding it. As I watch my daughter grow, as I witness my friends and family wrestling with their lives, I’m discovering that this idea of ‘finding your voice’ is a life-long process. As we change, as we evolve, our voices change. Our declarations, our questions, our need to speak, how we say things, what we say – all of that transforms over time. Maybe there is no definitive finding our voices, maybe there is only locating or glimpsing or journeying with our voices. Maybe our voices aren’t found, maybe they are developed. Maybe they are revealed and accepted. Seeking our voices, still and always.

I felt that I had something to say that was worth sharing. The jury is still out on that, but  really, more importantly, it was time for me to challenge myself to take a stand and declare my point of view, even if ‘my stand’ is often that I don’t know what I think. I’m conflict-shy; I don’t like to rock the boat – I’m a dove, people – but I’ve realized that I can be a peacemaker and still have an opinion. In fact, I’ve decided that having a point of view is actually a crucial first step in peacemaking and change-making.  It’s certainly crucial to making good art. Surprise, surprise, I can have a POV that’s strong and flexible, well-thought-out and fluid. Prior to starting this blog, I had the shocking realization that I’d lost track of my thinking. Since then, I’ve discovered that I think differently than I did five or ten or twenty years ago. I’m still behind somehow and out of step with myself —  my spirit has outpaced my mind, but I’m working to catch them up. I’m updating my Operating System and recalibrating my mind, you know? Over these last seven months, I’ve been pinning myself down with words. The act of selecting words to express myself, rather than sliding by with gauzy unvoiced half-thoughts, has been an act of compass-making. I’m learning which way is North. Mostly.

I wanted to embrace technology. As a presenter/teacher, my preferred audio-visual equipment is still flip-chart paper with a few colored markers. However, seven months after starting this blog, I can (sort of) figure out (some things on) WordPress. Now, I have an iPhone! That’s right, I can swipe my finger across my Apple screen just like those kids do! [I’ve mentioned that I want to do a podcast, right? Will someone please come to my house, set that up, and show me which buttons to press? It’s exhausting to think about.]

I’ve determined that it takes four to six hours for me to write and edit (ok, loosely edit) a 1000-1200 word post. (This post has 1039 words.) As we hurdle toward the end of the year, I’ve realized I don’t have that time anymore. Or rather, I need to spend that time doing other things. Or rather, I’m choosing to spend my time with people and other projects. I suppose this is what they call ‘prioritizing’. So, I am changing up my blogging schedule to be ‘as needed’.  I’ll write when I need to; I’ll write when I can. I hesitate to make this change because I am now opening the possibility of NEVER BLOGGING AGAIN. You know how that inertia can be.

However, I’m hopeful that this ‘as needed’ schedule will help to de-stress my life a little and result in more robust, life-changing posts – perhaps I’ll post only my best stuff rather than a mix of weekly best and half-best. My fortieth (yes, FORTIETH!) birthday is coming up which is bringing me a great deal of angst, and my child is still endlessly inspiring to me (Currently, she is getting the words ‘nipple’ and ‘pupil’ confused which can be quite alarming in conversation. The fact that I find this creatively inspiring is odd, I know.). I’m also happily mixed up in the development of some super-fab theatre projects – so I’m guessing that I’ll still post fairly regularly. After all, life is so interesting, right? There’s so much of it.

Two things before I go (temporarily):

  1. Thanks for reading. I appreciate you. I apologize for all of the grammatical missteps and whacked out punctuation and typos. Hopefully, you were able to overlork that. Hee.
  2. This seems random, but I want everyone to know about it, so I’m awkwardly plopping it at the end of this post…I recently watched the Half the Sky series via our streaming Netflix. I was tremendously moved by these programs, and I’m still mulling on what to do as a result. Anyway, I highly recommend them. If you watch, let me know what you decide to do as a result. You’ll see a little blurb below.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is a four-hour television series for PBS and international broadcast, shot in 10 countries: Cambodia, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Liberia and the U.S. Inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn‘s book, the documentary series introduces women and girls who are living under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable — and fighting bravely to change them. Traveling with intrepid reporter Nicholas Kristof and A-list celebrity advocates America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde, the film reflects viable and sustainable options for empowerment and offers an actionable blueprint for transformation. The series premiered in the United States Oct. 1 and 2, 2012, with international broadcast to follow in 2013.

Keep on growing. Keep on keepin’ on.

Until soon,

Tamara

Praise for libraries, clogs…the list goes on

It’s that blessing-counting time of year again. It’s good, right? To be reminded once a year (cuz we need reminding!) to count our blessings and to explain to our kid what thanksgiving means. After this year’s explanation of thanksgiving/Thanksgiving/gratitude, my daughter told me she was thankful for lollipops. I told her I was thankful for her and our family and a warm place to live. I asked her if she was thankful for anything like that, and she said, “No, just lollies.”

Right. Better luck next time.

Yes, I’m truly madly deeply grateful for my family and friends and my job and my home and theatre-making  and the multitude of amazing obvious-to-me blessings in my life. However, when making this year’s gratitude list, I decided to a take a step beyond the knee-jerk gratitude items that are always on the tip of my tongue. Once I started digging in, I was reminded that I’m grateful for so much. There’s so much.

Below, you’ll see the first ten (somewhat random and sometimes superficial) items I added to my gratitude list. I will tell you that my day got much better after brainstorming a gratitude list. Suddenly, I caught the gratitude virus, and I was thankful for LOTS and EVERYTHING. (I’m grateful for this tissue, so I can blow my nose. I’m grateful for this window, so I can see the sky. I’m grateful for this hot shower, because HOT SHOWERS ARE SO AWESOME. Only two things are more awesome than a hot shower. I’ll let you guess what those are.) Being grateful from moment to moment for LOTS and EVERYTHING feels really good.

Although I suspect this is true for many people, I know that I take much for granted in my life. This is unfortunate, not only because it decreases the pleasure I take from my life and the gifts of my life, but also because by taking so much for granted, I also make the assumption that everyone has what I have — which we know is not true — and I become complacent and complicit in perpetuating the inequality and inequity in this world. Many many people don’t have hot showers, or showers, or clean water to drink, let alone bathe in. [See The Water Project. See Half the Sky. See Save the Children. See Durham Rescue Mission. See Hidden Voices.]

A sampling of ten items from the long list of things for which I’m grateful:

  1. Libraries.  One of the first things I did after moving to Durham (that is, after finding a place to live and locating the Whole Foods) was get my library card. The library is a place where I feel safe and hopeful — answers are in the library, stories are in the library, knowledge is in the library, Storytime is in the library!– all available for free. My weekly visit to the public library gives me great joy. Public libraries are a beautiful gift to the community.
  2. Health Insurance. Listen, without health insurance, my family could be very broke, or very sick, or very anxious. It ain’t cheap, but it’s affordable and it’s comprehensive. That’s something everyone should have, don’t you think? Go, Obamacare.
  3. Smooth roads + good signage + our old GPS. Like many people, I spend a lot of time in my car. Unlike many people, I am directionally challenged. I never know where North is; I can’t call up a mental street map; I don’t have one of those smart phones with Google Maps. I am always .005 seconds away from being completely utterly lost. Good roadside signage plus a GPS are key to arriving on time (I was going to say “key to my survival” which feels true, but is not true). Also, both of our cars have passed the 10 year mark, so driving on a bumpy, pothole-pocked road is noisy, uncomfortable and could quickly result in a trip to the mechanic. Sure, there’s a ginormous cavernous pothole right outside the gas station near my house, but otherwise, we’re lucky to live in an area with roads in good repair. Me = grateful
  4. Music for children that doesn’t suck. Since we have to listen to the same songs and CDs five billion times in a row (Did I mention that I’m in the car too much? Did I mention that my child is the boss of me?), it’s nice to have children’s music that (mostly) doesn’t make me want to rip my face off. Thank you, Laurie Berkner Band. Thank you, various Putumayo CDs. Thank you, Elizabeth Mitchell.
  5. Clogs. Yes, I said clogs — don’t judge. Dansko, LL Bean, Target-brand, whatever. Easy  to slide on and off; comfy clogs make me two inches taller without hurting my feet. And they look dressy? Sort of? I only have two pairs, but if I could be the Imelda Marcos of clogs, then I would be.
  6. People who grow food in their own gardens and keep their own chickens. I love the idea of this. These people are super cool.  I aspire to be these people…sadly, I have a hysterical aversion to ticks, my daughter has an egg allergy, sometimes chickens frighten me with their cold, beady eyes, and I manage to kill all of my plants sooner or later. This is not my thing. Thank goodness people do this. Thank goodness they share with me. Wait, hold up….actually, I’m grateful for all farmers (of the small and large scale variety, and especially those who practice humane and environmentally-sensitive agriculture). That’s some damn hard work. Thank you, farmers, for feeding me.
  7. Doulas. Giving birth is rather, um, intense. A good doula rocks. (My doula literally rocked me.)
  8. Free-to-the-public places to be and stuff to see, such as public parks, playgrounds, nature trails, beaches, museums, public works of art. (I’m noticing a trend here with numbers 1, 2, 3, and 8.) Thank you to the folks who make and keep those free public spaces available (and keep them clean and safe and beautiful).
  9. Though-provoking and lightly snarky podcasts. (These are free too  – once you buy the MP3 player and computer, of course) Here are some of my favorites:  BBC casts (Women’s Hour, Forum — A World of Ideas), Inside Acting, Slate Magazine casts (Double X, Culture, Political, Lexicon Valley), Audio Dharma, American Theatre Wing, On Being with Krista Tippett, TED. My secret wish is to have my own podcast. Until then, I listen with pleasure to the podcasts of others. Let me know if you have favorites to suggest.
  10. Funny people.  Here’s the truth – if you make me laugh and keep me laughing (and laugh at my jokes too), then I will love you. I don’t even have to know you  — you could be a complete stranger to me on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me or SNL or just have something to do with creating the Planters Peanut ad that says “Spend this holiday with the nuts you love.” I love you for keeping my spirits up in this challenging world, in these challenging times.  Yes. Love.

So, what are your less-obvious gratitude items? I’m curious.

You can learn about yourself, and learn about other people by sharing your gratitude lists. See, now you have a fun, revealing, inspiring and free(!) party game!

Counting my blessings. Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.

I’ll be back on Dec. 3.