A discussion about death over orange juice

“You’ll die first.”

My five year old daughter said that to me about two weeks ago. It was 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I was leaning into the fridge reaching for some orange juice. She was between bites of her cereal, sounding chirpy and chipmunky as she usually does.

“You’ll die first.”

Do not underestimate the creepiness of hearing your kid say that to you. Even on a bright Saturday morning while you are in your bathrobe and she is in her snowman pjs and all is right with the world — it was super creepy**. I admit I laughed, snorted and gulped at the same time wondering if I was about to have a kindergartener-exorcist-experience and marveling at how unexpected this parenting stuff is.

I aimed for an attitude of nonchalant curiosity as I emerged from the fridge with the oj. “What do you mean, honey? Can you tell me more? Do you have a question?”

Turns out that she was just confirming a logical sequence that she’d worked out in her head….it goes a little like this:

When people get really old, they die. Mom is older than me. Mom will get really old before I get really old. Therefore, Mom will die before I will die.

Mom will die first (before me). Right, Mom?

Yeah, and it was only 8:00 a.m. 

I agreed that she was right, that I would die first. Yep, yep, you bet, don’t worry about that. Knowing my kid as I do, I know she was looking for comfort and the standard assurance that if I did something first than it wouldn’t be so scary for her. That is her clear preference for how things work in our little family world — her dad and I pave the way, act things out, model behaviors, act as examples, then she feels safe enough to try for herself. On that Saturday morning, her little brain whispered something unsettling about her own mortality; she wanted to make sure that someone else was on the hook to figure that out first. That would be me….on the hook.

It is a sobering thought that your kid is looking to you to model how to approach death — even in the simplest-five-year-old understanding of that concept — yes, that is a sobering thought over Cheerios and coffee and orange juice and slippers and snowman pjs. I didn’t know I was signing up for that when I saw the double pink line on the pregnancy test, you know?

It’s not surprising though, when I consider that this kid is watching me all the time for clues about how to live in this world and how to interpret the events and the people in it. She is all the time looking for indications about what is frightening and what is not, what is safe and what is not, how to treat people/guests/family/friends/neighbors/strangers, how to express herself, the rules of society, the rules of being female, the rules of being a child, and more…She is looking to me and the other adults in her life to model very complicated ways of operating in the world — so she knows how to be and, more importantly, what to expect.

What can she expect? What should she expect? She wants to know. Geez, so do I.

So, death. It comes up from time to time. We see dead birds or dead animals in the woods – we attended my grandmother’s funeral – her grandparents’ dog died – she hears some snippet of news or adults talking or conversation at school about people dying or getting killed. Fairly often, she comes to me with questions about people who died and what that means for them and for us and for her.

I don’t know the answers to any of this. I don’t know what it all means. Once she learns how to read my blog, she’ll know that.

So, we talk about death. We talk about how the body stops working when you die — no more breathing, playing, moving, eating, sleeping, etc. We talk about the permanence of that bodily change (she doesn’t believe in the permanence — not one bit — that’s ok). We talk about our souls and what a soul might be and where it goes after death. Once we get beyond what happens to the body, I answer almost all of her questions about death with my own question “What do you think happens?” Because I’m curious. Because I want her to think it through in a way that makes sense to her five-year-old-mind. Because I don’t know. Currently, she is certain that all souls go directly to Mars to hang out after death. Alright by me. Alright for now.

Mostly, when she comes to me with questions, she’s really asking if she’s safe, if we are going to leave her, and if anything bad is going to happen in the immediate future. I have spent a great deal of time googling ‘age-appropriate conversations about death and dying’ — what the hell, I don’t know how to talk about this — and I’m doing my best to comfort her without feeding her misinformation. I’m doing my best not to make it all sound scary (like how much it scares me) and instead to frame death as a transition, as a mystery, as an aspect of life that we all have in common. I’m doing my best to make sure that she understands that no discussion topic is taboo whether it’s dying or sex or bodies or whatever, and that emotion-laded topics are not to be feared.  In this family, emotions are not to be feared, they are to be shared…even grief, even fear, even confusion, even courage, even love.

Even as I try to comfort her and remind her that she is safe, I know that life and death cannot be controlled. Bad, sad shit happens — wrong and out of order and out of tune and way too soon. I know this. I can’t control it. I can’t anticipate it. One day, she’ll come to me with more questions that I cannot answer about life, death, meaning, fairness, fate, and the f-ed up turning-wheel-of-fortune. In those moments, I will try like hell to hold space for her and her questions, and trust that she will find her own answers over time, as we all must. (Deep breath, deep breath)

In the meantime, I guess I’m showing her how to approach life as well as death (even as I’m figuring that out for myself in real time). I’m engaging what is frightening and what is not, what is safe and what is not; I’m considering how to treat people/guests/family/friends/neighbors/strangers, how to express myself, the rules of society, the rules of being female, the rules of being a child, and more…I am wrestling with the very complicated ways of operating in the world in the presence of my daughter knowing that she can see me and she is watching me live my life. 

We talk about living during this living-alive-portion-of-my-life. Daughter, let’s talk about life! I do my best to comfort her without feeding her misinformation. I do my best not to make it all sound scary (like how much life scares me) and instead to frame life as a series of transitions, as a mystery, as something else that we all have in common.

Like death, life still happens, even if we ignore it. I don’t want to ignore either one.

Yes.

Yes, I want her to be right about me ‘dying first’ (there’s something I never expected I would say).

Yes, that is ok with me.

I plan to live to hit the triple digits. If my soul goes to Mars when I’m 100, she’ll still be a spritely 65. As far as I’m concerned, ‘first’ doesn’t mean anytime soon.

Triple digits, baby.

** Unless you are a five-year-old innocent, please be cool and refrain from repeating this statement to me.

Meta Mette Metta

Last Saturday was the closing performance of Little Green Pig’s production of Celebration. (Below you’ll see some links to reviews for this production, fyi.) I miss the show. I miss the generous, talented people associated with it. I miss my character, Mette. Celebration was a theatrical roller coaster ride seeded with major family dysfunction and deep brokenness (secrets, abuse, racism, violence, denial, repression, control, suicide) combined with the family’s desperate refusal to abandon the façade of perfect-family-happy-party-time. Amid the mayhem were moments of great affection, humor, courage, and love.

As you might imagine, there’s a lot to write about with this production, but Mette has been weighing on my mind this week. I’ve been trying to make sense of her – Why do I miss her? What can I learn from her? What was the experience of sharing her skin?

Yes, getting meta with Mette…hee.

Below, is a snapshot of Mette as I lived her. (She wasn’t like the Mette in the movie; she wasn’t like the Mette that another actor might portray. She was mine.) Some of her personality I was aware of during the performances and some of it I pieced together after shaking her off. The audience and my fellow cast members wouldn’t have noticed most of this — there was so much going on and I certainly wasn’t the star of the show and there so many über-talented actors to track — but that’s as it should be… this was my acting thing.

I wonder if you’ll understand my affection for her.

First, a photo to give you the flavor of my gal:

Mette in action.  Photo by Alex Maness

Mette is leaving! Photo by Alex Maness.

Yeah, Mette always has a little blood in her mouth (metaphorically speaking). That’s why she drinks so much, why she wears red lipstick, makes so much noise. She has a big mouth. She is a BIG MOUTH and she has fangs. She generally thinks people are “hilariously full of shit”- especially the family around the table – but she doesn’t mind as long as she’s having fun. She likes to have fun.

She loves to touch people — grab/grasp/poke/push people on the arms and on the face. She thinks it’s funny when other people get in trouble.

She’s a straight talker. She’s a heavy drinker. She’s self-involved. She’s a volcano, that Mette. Sex, for her, can be a transaction, a weapon, or lots and lots of fun. She’s cool with her sexiness. She shouts. She gets very angry very fast. She flirts purposefully and wickedly; she mates for life. She loves her husband.

Mette gives as good as she gets. She never apologizes for herself even when she’s gross or inappropriate. There is nothing to apologize for.

She loves her child. She wants to be a good mother (better than her own!) Sometimes she treats her daughter like a baby and sometimes like an adult.  Mette loses track of her kid often — Where did that kid go now? — but she is very clear that her daughter is ‘the best thing she’s ever done’ and the best part of her life. Mette raises her daughter in an environment with violence (overt and suppressed), verbal abuse, racist songs, and dysfunction, but she wouldn’t describe it that way.

Mette does not define herself as a mother or a wife, she is always “Just Mette.”

Sometimes she cries at night because life isn’t measuring up to her expectations…neither is her husband… and neither is she.

After a performance, a friend said, “I bet it felt good to be so angry!”

Yes. Yes, it did.

After a show on another night, a friend described Mette as “icky.”

Yes. But geez, I loved her.

I'm through with you. Photo by Alex Maness.

I’m so through with you, dude. Photo by Alex Maness.

So what did I learn? What am I taking with me from Celebration via the vehicle of Mette?

The most obvious is an affirmation of how satisfying it is to be an actor and to create theatre in community. There’s something deeply enjoyable about the bifurcated mind on-stage — the tightrope walk of surrendering completely to the reality of the play and at the same time tracking technique, staging, ensemble, and audience. It requires deep concentration. It’s being in the zone, baby, and it feels great. Being in the zone with a tight ensemble feels even greater. Being in the zone with a tight ensemble while playing an interesting juicy character feels knock-out-awesome-greatastic.

Mette and all of the characters in Celebration reminded me once again that given a particular set of circumstances, given a particular context, people can be capable of anything — bad decisions, beautiful sacrifices, horrible mistakes, mortifying missteps, and heart-breaking courage. Life teaches us/work teaches us/theatre teaches us this: I have the potential for all behaviors and so does everyone else. I am you and you are me, you know? In order to play a character on-stage, I need to understand where she’s coming from and buy into her choices. Over time, that ‘buying into’ increases my understanding and respect for her decisions even if I don’t think I’d make them myself. It’s cool, but I don’t know how it works. Maybe it’s as simple as walking a mile in someone else’s high-heeled shoes.

In fact, I’ve been thinking that if I could love Mette and the rest of the f-ed up people around the dining room table of Celebration (and I did!) then surely I can love and accept the real beautifully flawed humans in my life. Surely I can soften my judgement and open my heart to the real folks walking around this planet with me.

Yes, for all of you good Buddhists, I’m getting metta with Mette….

Ok, ok, ok, this is what I learned and what I know…if I am intentional about noticing and implementing the lessons, acting and theatre-making are opportunities to increase my ability to love. Admitting that makes me feel like the biggest-silliest-rainbow-sparkles-and-unicorns-theatre-geek in the entire world — “acting and theatre are opportunities to increase my ability to love!” — GAH! —  but I really think that’s true. I think it’s true for anything that people are passionate about whether it’s making model airplanes or saving the whales or running a marathon Our passions connect us with the greater human experience — and connection is the conduit to love. Love breeds love. “All we need is love“…..and that’s how art can save the world.

As for little Mette, I hope to hang on to wisps of her personality — a sprinkle of her zesty-ness and her straight-talking, a tad of her crackly electricity and her this-is-who-i-am-man-take-me-or-leave-me. Though it’s likely that will fade as I regain my Tamaralibrium. Really, the greatest gift she gave me was learning that I can do some things I wasn’t sure I could do. So, it turns out… I can raise my voice in anger. I can attack. I can be a wife and a mom and be sexy. I can snarl, and be unapologetic, and make noise, and take up space. I know I can do those things if I want to… because I did.

She gave me some of her power after all.

Now I know.

Links to Reviews:

The Five Points Star

The Indy 

News & Observer

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.

Putting the ‘fun’ in Acting Fundamentals

I taught my first Fundamentals of Acting class last week. I think it went really well – everyone left smiling and feeling jazzed and saying things like “Looking forward to next week!” I felt that way too. Oh, happy day!

I drove home after Class One. Couldn’t sleep. Too excited.  My mental skywriter was writing fluffy, looping “grateful grateful grateful” in the landscape of my mind.

Now it’s Sunday night, and I just finished my lesson plan for Class Two of Four (which has eaten considerably into the time I have for crafting a blog post). And I’m excited again, and nervous again, and grateful again.

I feel lucky and grateful for the opportunity to share my love of the theatre* while offering practical acting skills and advice (hopefully). I’m grateful for all of the wise and fabulous teachers/directors/actors who’ve taught me what (little) I do know, and I’m most especially grateful for the wise and fabulous folks I’ve partnered with to co-teach prior to this class. I feel lucky  to have observed so many great teachers at work. Do you feel like you carry those people into the classroom with you as resources? I do. Hmmm, what would Cheryl do? What would Nathan do? What would Rachel, Jay, Mary, Jeff, Ellen, Bill, Devon, Chris, Jody, Dan, Melissa, Dina, Adam, Lorm, Nancy, Johnny, Greg, Rafael, Laurie, Sumi, Tom, Jenny, Janice, Beth, Dana, Enoch, Dave, Hope do?* What would my Mom, a former kindergarten teacher, do? Thank you, my teachers! What gifts you are to the world.

As I mentioned, this is a four-part class on (trumpets, please!The Fundamentals of Acting. Huh. Initially, when I sat down to hammer out text to describe/advertise the class, all sorts of questions were triggered – like, most importantly — What are the Fundamentals of Acting?

So, I brainstormed the list below (not in any particular order, and no doubt, incomplete).

Brainstorm List of Acting Fundamentals:

  • Creating a character (external) – body, voice
  • Creating a character (internal) – given circumstances, relationships, motivation/tactics/intentions
  • Script analysis, world of the play, story
  • Basic stage etiquette, terminology, job descriptions, etc.
  • Basic vocal work – diction, volume, pitch, tempo, resonance
  • Basic physical work – gesture, neutral, weird actory things
  • Ensemble building — being with other people on-stage and off-stage
  • Performance experience – scene work, monologues, auditions
  • My list of acting pet peeves; list of acting favorites
  • Actor mind — Focus, relaxed concentration, memorization, openness, creativity, improvisation. Something about authenticity?
  • Fun? Acting is FUN.Yep.

I also spent an evening with my best friend Google, and added more to that list. A long long list with a lot of words and eight hours of teach-time. Huh. I got myself tangled up with prioritization and the fact that all of the items on the list overlap and intertwine and that it’s all much more subtle and nuanced and that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Ack, imposter syndrome. I searched my house feverishly for undergraduate readings by Uta Hagen and Sanford Meisner and Stanislavski and etcetera. I couldn’t find them. Have you seen ’em?

There’s a looooonnnnng list of items to accomplish in order to be a an ACTOR. It’s more complicated than I first thought. And of course, my fear is that if I’m not ticking most of those items off the list, then I’m just ACKIN’ up there on stage. Or worse, being a WHACKTOR. Geez. Been there, done that. Hopefully, not recently.

But I digress….the question here is What is Fundamental?

This is the final text that was distributed to the public about the class:

The purpose of Fundamentals of Acting is to give older teens and adults an opportunity to further explore and develop acting skills on a more advanced level, regardless of experience.  Participants will learn or build upon drama skills, including voice, movement, vocabulary and character development and scene work.

Through low-stress, structured exercises and performance, students will:

·         Review basic theatre terminology and etiquette

·         Examine voice, speech, and breath as acting tools

·         Build characters from the inside-out and outside-in

·         Learn to make clear and well-informed acting choices

·         Develop confidence and relaxation on-stage

Please bring water and a yoga mat or towel for gentle warm-up exercises. Wear clothing and shoes that you can move in.

My basic plan (subject to change) for the class is:

  • Class One: Body
  • Class Two: Voice
  • Class Three: Mind
  • Class Four: Performance

Now, what do you consider to be (trumpets, please!) acting fundamentals? I’d love to hear your thoughts and have a conversation with you.

Like most things, acting (good acting, any kind of acting) is very subjective. I don’t know if we could easily devise a short list that everyone would agree on, and I haven’t asked my friend Google if such a list exists. However, as an exercise for myself, I tried to boil everything down to five essential bullet points.

Actors need to:

  • Be heard (project!).
  • Be understood (diction!).
  • Make specific choices that hang together coherently.
  • Develop a particular character for a particular play.
  • Be a team-player.

In the broadest sense, do those cover the ‘must-dos’? Fundamentally?

In the end, however, I keep coming back to the phrase  — actors need to be alive on stage. In this moment, that idea seems essential.  Actors need to be alive on stage is sophisticated and fundamental — yikes, I don’t know exactly what I mean by it (another blog post) — but really, I think that there’s something about electric-focused-energy-aliveness that is directly related to a compelling performance and somehow naturally gathers up all of the other items on the list. Maybe it’s a chicken or an egg thing. I don’t know. What do you think?

Well. That’s what I’m working with and that’s where I am. To be continued….

Wish me luck.

Wishing you many alive moments on the stage.

*This class focuses on acting on stage, rather than on film. Based on my limited experience with film acting, there seem to be a few key differences of style and skill. I’m not a film acting expert, but I can become one if you want to put me in your film. Hee.

*This is not the list of all of the teachers I know and love — not even close. It’s just the list of people I can think of in the time allotted to write this in my somewhat distracted state, and it includes folks I’ve actually seen do some teaching. I have a long list of  ‘excellent teachers-I’d-love-to-see-in-action’ on my to-call list. Here’s hoping I get to that one day. Also, although I am really enjoying this solo teaching experience, I have a real heart for co-teaching too. 

Getting (or not getting) what you want on Election Day

Tomorrow is Election Day. It seems like a lot is at stake this year. Whew. Like many people, I will be on pins and needles hoping hoping hoping watching watching watching as the votes are tallied. My guy! My guy! My guy! I want my guy to win! Four years ago on Election Day, my husband and I took our three-month-old daughter to vote with us. A beautiful experience voting as a family for the first time.

Sure, I hope ‘my guy’ wins again, but I don’t know what’s going to happen. And no matter the outcome, a large portion of the country is going to be deeply disappointed on Wednesday. Not the majority, obviously, but still, many many people will not get the outcome they voted for.

I wonder how folks will deal with that.

Will we have graceful winners and graceful losers? Given the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy and the numerous other critical issues facing our country, will people quickly abandon the discussion of winning and losing and focus instead on stepping into a united future of the States of America? Will there be olive branches and genuine handshakes of ‘we’re all in this together’? I hope so.

I hope so, but I’m not confident that will be the case. Maybe not right away. Maybe not ever. Because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people handle not getting what they want, and frankly, people don’t handle it very well. I know I don’t. In fact, I venture to say that one of the greatest challenges in life is learning how to ‘be cool’ with not getting what we want — ‘being cool’ for real, and consistently. We are very bad at this. We are so attached — like frantic emotional octopuses (octopi?) — to the outcomes that we want and the way we want things to be.

We seem to have a tendency for grasping and clutching — or maybe that’s just me.

I know I hold much of my life too tightly. I often think there is only one right way for things to be. And based on my experience of living with a wee youngster, it seems this inability to deal with not-getting-what-we-want-when-we-want-it is a problem right from the start of our lives. It’s an on-going ever-growing challenge.

Yeah. You know what’s always caused giant tantrums in our house (ehem, from the adults and the kid)? Yeah, when a person doesn’t get what he or she wants — when expectations are not met, when the outcome is undesired, especially when that person is already stressed — it’s welcome to Tantrum City, USA.

I hope we don’t wake up to Tantrum City, USA on Wednesday morning. I hope we all can put on our best big-girl and big-boy behavior and be friends. I hope. I hope that no matter which side we are on today,  we can be graceful tomorrow and the next day and the next day and so on…together.

However, if that’s not the case… if you don’t get what you want on Election Day, then I’m here to offer you some alternative responses (see them below). They are inspired by real-life recent examples of a four-year-old melting down when she didn’t get what she wanted. Try these on for size on Wednesday (in the privacy of your own home) if you think they will help. If I don’t get what I want on Election Day, then you can be sure I’ll be working my way down that list too.

Ideas for responding like a preschooler when you-don’t-get-what-you-want-when-you-want-it (which is NOW):

1. Whine loudly, yet incoherently, while draping yourself limply over the arm of the couch. Slide slowly, dramatically, to the floor in a heap. Roll around on the floor. Don’t stop whining!

2. Scream as loudly as you can with all of your teeth bared. Clench your fists as your face turns bright red. You, a red pepper, a four-year-old HULK!

3. Menace someone in the room (yes, usually your Mom) with the threat of physical harm. Examples: Hit the carpet as hard as you can while crawling in a circle around her; charge forward with your fists balled up boxer-style, stopping just in time; scoot along on your bottom with your feet windmill kicking — getting closer and closer, but never actually making contact; try to pinch your Mom with your toes. Be careful, if you hurt Mom, you will get an instant Time Out.

4. Destroy things! Break your nightlight; try to pull off the head of your Tinker Bell doll; knock over all of your toys; crumple your drawings in a ball; throw your books around. P.S. You’ll need to clean up this mess later, and if you actually break stuff, you’ll be in big trouble.

5. Negotiate, bargain, negotiate. Surely, we can work this out! When your negotiations go nowhere, find someone else (like Dad!) and try again.

6. Repeat each of these phrases twenty times: “I’m not your friend anymore! You’re not my Mom anymore! You broke my heart! It’s not fair! I’m berry upset with you! I’m berry serious! I want it! I want it! I WANT IT!!!!!!” When you pause to catch your breath, give your meanest Death Glare — like lasers from your eyeballs.

7. Cry — big, fat, sad tears. Point out your tears to your Mom. Go into the bathroom to watch yourself cry in the mirror. Ask your Mom to come and witness you watching yourself cry in the mirror.

8. Apologize wildly for everything that you can think of, everything that you’ve ever done in your entire life, in the hopes that the outcome will change.

9. Refuse a hug. Refuse any attempts by other people to help you feel better. Put your hands over your ears and close your eyes tightly. Refuse to move on.

10. Slam the door to the bathroom and lock yourself in. (When you get scared because you can’t unlock the door, your Mom will pop the lock and rescue you.)

11. Walk away, up to your bedroom for some alone time. Read books and sing songs to yourself until you are calm in your mind and your body. Then, come downstairs to play.

12. Sing along as your Mom quietly sings the chorus of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

13. Hug your Mom or your Dad or your friend or your cat. Cry. Feel better. Move on. Go build something.

Happy pre-Election Day, my friends. Here’s hoping we can roll with the outcome better than most four-year-olds. Wishing you all the best, sincerely.

Vote.

Cosmic creativity — say what?

This post was written before Hurricane Sandy started her march toward the coast. Today, I’m sending hopes and prayers for the safety and welfare of everyone in the path of the storm.

***

This is my 26th post. Hard to believe that this blog is almost seven months old! The more I write, the more I realize that I have a lot to figure out. I’m wandering around this blog, sprinkling words on a page, zeroing in on what I think and puzzling out my parenting, my creative work, and my life in general. Did I mention I’m still figuring stuff out? The practice of writing on a weekly basis has provided much needed accountability and discipline. I’m grateful for the folks who read these posts — I appreciate your support more than you might imagine — especially when I whip out my New Agey wandery thoughts like the ones in the post below. Ah, the discoveries we make about ourselves in the blogosphere…

***

When I am floundering about for some inspiration, I like to imagine there is a giant invisible net that catches all of the creative imaginings of the world. It’s accessible to everyone. If we are wide wide open and a little lucky, each of us can key into that mix on any given day. We reach in and snag an idea that is new to us. Then we mix, shake and stir that ‘new’ idea in with the rest of the thoughts kicking around in our brains and voila! Creative magic!

I like to imagine the properties of the new ideas – some light and skittish like birds – we hold them gently, calmly, moving slowly to build trust. Some ideas are sharp rocks – heavy, solid, dangerous, serious, ancient, beautiful. Some ideas are water, fire or wind — we cannot hold them, but we react to the sensations they create. Characterizing ideas this way helps me befriend the ones I do snag and helps put some distance between myself (I come up with ideas! This has sprung from my gifted imagination! I own it and control it!) and the inspiration (I stuck my hand out and caught this – now let me examine it and see what it is.)

How would you characterize the ideas you are working with now? How about previous ideas? Do you prefer certain kinds of ideas (heavy, flexible, reptilian, teeny, gray, melodic, etc.)? Which are easiest for you to grab?

So, on some deep level, I believe my ideas aren’t really ‘my’ ideas, even though I hold them in my hand (I’ve been lucky enough to coax them into my hand) and even though they are mine (for the moment) to explore. Ideas are gifts — gifts from the great cumulative imagination in a world of creative people, and gifts from something I read or saw or a conversation with an interesting person. In some ways this makes it easier for me to release an idea – if it’s not working for me, then I can let it go back into the great collective imagination soup, and someone else can have it (yeah, I re-gift it!). When I consider the number of people who are contributing to the world of ideas, I am comforted knowing that we will never run out – the people of the earth are reforming and transforming ideas that will lead to ideas that all pile back into the big basket of imaginings. Reach out and catch one.

In all of my creative work, even the stuff that seems solo-like, I have more than just myself to thank (this is always the case in collective art-making) because my ideas are influenced and shaped by the people and the culture and the environment and the world that I live in. In my experience, lone genius is a myth. Lone artist is a myth. As a creative person, it does me good to look to the world for inspiration, rather than just ruminate on my inner thoughts, and it does me good to be thankful to the world around me for the inspiration that presses up against me with every step. Thank you, world. Thank you, inspiring friends and creative partners and family and co-workers and community for the endless inspiration that you provide.

I haven’t fully formed this… but really, I think it’s the working of the idea that allows us to put a more personal stamp on it. To use a silly metaphor, it’s like Iron Chef right? We can all have the same ingredients (in this case, an idea or inspiration), but it’s what we cook with them that helps to define us and our aesthetic. So I wonder… maybe laboring so hard to protect ideas doesn’t make a lot of sense? Maybe hoarding inspiration doesn’t make sense? Maybe that’s a waste of energy since the ideas are going to slip thru the cracks anyway, and it’s likely they were never entirely our ideas to begin with? I wonder about all of this. What do you think?

[To be clear… I do have a soft spot for the cosmic accessibility of all ideas, but I’m not advocating for stealing in the art community. Don’t be a poopy-head by co-opting an idea that someone has been working on for a long time or has publicly declared as their special thing. There’s a difference between being gratefully inspired by someone or the happy accident of a shared idea, and purposefully leeching. It makes sense to tread lightly and thoughtfully in these cases, right? Also, I totally understand the need to have a ‘quiet phase’ in your creative art-making campaign; in marketing our art, we often need to leverage the element of surprise and program an ‘unveiling’ into our publicity plan. And sometimes people need to percolate on their ideas before sharing them. So I’m not accusing people of hoarding an idea just because they want to keep it close for awhile.]

Check out Austin Kleon’s great book, How to Steal like an Artist, for more about creativity and inspiration, most especially, Austin’s 25 Quotes to Help you Steal like an Artist. Fabulousness!

Anyway…here’s where I’m going with this, really…I think…

After we’ve caught an idea, perhaps our energy is best spent actually using the idea to create something. Instead of futzing around finding the ‘best’ idea, perhaps we should subscribe to the words of Nike, and “Just do it.” Don’t just think about running fast and dither about how everyone is running fast and you can’t run as fast as your neighbor and you had the idea to run fast FIRST and running fast isn’t really a GREAT idea….just run fast. You have the idea — you have an idea! — now put on your running shoes, and run with it. Explore. Run, in your way, in your body. Just do it. The doing is where the rubber meets the road. That’s where we can make our mark. That’s where the transformation, metamorphosing, and blooming occurs – that’s where you show what you’ve got and where you find yourself. Use the ingredients you’ve got to make something. For me, it’s even better when I make something in partnership with other people.

So if you find yourself thinking – “I can’t do X, someone’s already doing that” or “Does the world really need another X piece of art?” or anything else that shuts you down when you are only at the IDEA STAGE, then perhaps you can just start working with that idea in your own way and trust that no one will ever do things exactly like you. Make your worthy contribution to the creative world. Thank you.

If you have the same idea that someone else has, then perhaps you could work together — or — do your own thing and congratulate yourselves on how ‘great minds think alike’. Then, when you are finished creating, remember to send out literal or spiritual thanks to all of the contributors.

A rather cranky meditation on fear

I’ve done many things I regret*. (No, I’m not going to list them here. Hee.) A few very big things, many medium and small things, and hundreds of teeny thoughts or words or actions that pile up drop by drop over time. Here I am wading up to my knees in regrets – I wish I hadn’t ** I shouldn’t have ** I should have ** Why did I ** I wish I could GO BACK and do… ** How would things be now if I just did…?

Regrets swirling around me like Exxon Valdez-oil-spill water – chilly, thick, life-stealing. Mistakes and missteps. I am stained by them and stayed by them. Ruminating on the woulda, coulda, shouldas leads to regret-paralysis, and I am stuck – feeling  gross, ungrateful, angry, afraid, and deeply unattractive — unable to learn from the past, live in the present, or move freely into the future.

Here I am in this familiar territory (I must like it here, I go here a lot), soaked and cold like a stone, self-indulgent, whining, trying to make sense of the drop by drop by drop….

There are many strained metaphors we could employ at this point in the post to solve this ‘regret problem’ —  I could clean and wash away my regrets, I could pull the drain and let them go, I could just accept them and don a pair of stylish wading boots, I could turn up the compassion in my heart and let the regrets evaporate in that loving heat, or perhaps in some twist of fate, Deus Ex Machina style, someone could save me and haul me out of my regret soup and fly me off in a private helicopter to a paradise where regret couldn’t find me. I guess those are all possibilities or blog posts or whatever, but here’s the deal….here’s the damn discovery that I am working with and working with and working with and making frustratingly little progress….almost all (maybe ALL?) of the things that I regret doing were motivated by fear. Fear is my greatest regret. My greatest regrets are linked to the times I was most afraid. In my fear, I turn ungenerous, mean, angry, grasping and cold. I run run run. My thinking gets muddled, my heart is eclipsed – at best I am clumsy in thought and deed, at worst I am destructive – and these actions, no matter how compassionate I try to be toward myself after the fact – all translate to thorny sticking regret. Most of my bad decisions have been built on a foundation of fear.**

Once upon a time, during a therapy session, a woman wept about one of the BIG things she regretted doing and how disappointed she was to discover ‘she wasn’t the person she thought she was.’ Wise therapist responded, “Look, your fear kept you from being the person you are. Your fear obstructed your sight and restricted you from acting as your authentic self. Your mind created a vivid scary vision of the future that seemed real to you, so you freaked out. But fear isn’t reality, it’s just fear.”

Yeah, ‘just fear.’ Enlightening, sure (a life-changing conversation actually), but also a little overwhelming to someone who’s ‘just afraid’ of so many things, many of which she cannot even articulate. You might never guess this about her.

But it’s irritating, right? My fear is so annoying. And boring. Boring and annoying and persistent.  And I know that I’m not the only one with a made-up-never-gonna-happen-and-who-cares-if-does fear. I mean, what the hell? As people who are so privileged and lucky, who have so very much, what are we afraid of exactly? Really, what is there to be afraid of in our wonderful lives? Shame on me, shame on us for being so fearful. (Not a compassionate response, I know).  It’s ridiculous and embarrassing and disappointing and deeply human. I don’t want to be deeply human. I’d rather be a movie star instead. Sigh.

So, in a somewhat reluctant effort to step in the direction of a happier, lighter, and more equanimous life, I am working on this.  All roads seem to lead back to mastering, befriending, or getting around my fears. I suppose I have to deal with that. Boo. Hiss. Damn. Boo and hiss and damn.

I’ll get back to you about how exactly I’m going to deal with it. Dude, I can’t figure it out today.

As Fran says in Strictly Ballroom, “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived”. Right? [This is a fabulous movie directed by Baz Luhrman. I love Baz Lurhman. You should see it.] I’d like to do some whole-living,  please, as scary as that seems. I’d like to cha-cha down the yellow brick road and ask the Wizard of Oz for some courage, please, so that I can more fully realize the person I am.

Sorting out how to do this consistently  – to be brave or at ease or sit with my fear – this seems complicated and hard, and frankly, makes me feel all sorts of cranky. But geez, what is the alternative, really? A lifetime of regrets? A lifetime of having a heart that’s two sizes too small? A half-life?

*I’ve also done some things I definitely don’t regret like moving to NC, marrying my husband, becoming a mom, making theatre, and having some fabulous friends and family. So there’s that.

**It probably goes without saying, but I am not referring to legit fears about health, safety and well-being. Obviously, in those cases, it is wisest to listen to your body and your heart, take your fear seriously, and get help. It’s ok to ask for help when you are afraid. In this post, I’m referring to those gauzy ill-formed imagined fears that can make a person act unskillfully, such as fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking weak/stupid/ugly/dumb, fear of disappearing or being irrelevant, imposter syndrome, fear of being alone, fear of not having enough/being enough/doing enough, fear of missing out, fear of not leaving a legacy, etc….and of course those fears we can’t do anything about like the fear of getting older and of dying.

Beauty fail, beauty win

A few weeks ago, I freaked out and bought some cosmetic spackle to “fill + seal” my frown lines.

Yeah.

I was killing time in the Barnes and Noble, and I wandered across an article in a fashion magazine about my ‘elevens’. I didn’t know about these until I read this article — ‘elevens’ are the two frown lines between your eyebrows.Yes, ELEVENS.

Thank you, staff beauty writer, for pointing out this problem to me. Another potential flaw with a special name that I need to vigilantly guard against. I’ll just slot that into my lexicon next to muffin top, bat wings, bra rolls, cankles, and menopot. Fab.

I first noticed my lines in college – they were easy to smooth out then — but over the years I’ve done much concentrated thinking (and ok, some frowning), and they’ve become permanently etched in my brow even in my most serene moments.

I always kinda liked mine until I read an anxious reader begging for help, “Emergency! Please help! My frown lines are terrible. WHAT CAN I DO?”

“Oh,” replied the advice columnist (well, my interpretation of the advice columnist’s reply) “you mean your ELEVENS? Your horrible vertical stick-like elevenish frown lines? Holy crap! Go immediately to purchase this spackle and that illuminator and this concealer. The spackle will fill in your cavernous wrinkles with a paste-like substance, the illuminator will create a shimmering mirage of young skin while redirecting the eye, and the concealer will smooth everything over so your wrinkles blend in with the rest of your makeupped face. These three products together will cost you over $100, but you must stop the ELEVENS! No wrinkles no matter what the cost. And, always wear bangs to hide the evidence of your thinking and frowning so you never look OLD or MEAN or SEVERE or SERIOUS…. or OLD. Your goal for the rest of your life is to appear 30 years old. Color those grays poking out from the top of your head. Drink two Diet Cokes and call me in the morning.”

Wow, I fell for it. I took that bait. I don’t know if I was having particularly low-self-esteem that day, but I did not blink, I did not pass Go and I did not collect $200; I marched myself to the Target with my daughter in tow and grabbed that recommended spackle off the shelf. In fact, I seized the remaining two boxes in a scarcity induced mania fueled by beauty desperation. On sale! Hooray! Wait, the sticker says they are discontinuing it?! No no no this always happens I find something I like then it’s discontinued what am I going to do when I run out of these two boxes oh my god my wrinkles everyone will see that I am getting older…must. have. this. product….

Never mind that the spackle comes in a toothpaste-sized tube, and you need apply only two centimeters of it to your frown lines. My two tubes will last at least a decade. And never mind that the company was probably discontinuing this particular product because IT DIDN’T WORK. Excuse me while I wipe the word ‘sucker’ off my forehead.

So, I raced home and spackled myself. Yes, very nice. Oh, yes, much younger now! My elevens are fully camouflaged.

That evening, a propro of nothing, my daughter reached up and traced my frown lines with her lovely little index finger. Then she traced each of my eyebrows and rested her hand on my forehead like she was checking for fever.

“What are you doing, honey?” I asked.

“Tracing lines,” she said. Then she skipped away.

She didn’t seem to have a particular point of view about my lines. To her, they’ve been part of my face since the day she was born. Just lines. Completely unremarkable, really. And good for tracing. Apparently, despite my best efforts, they were still in plain view. Huh.

Shortly after my daughter was born, I stopped buying all of those fashion/women/beauty mags. I didn’t want them around the house for her to see and for me to try to explain. I’m a feminist, ok? I’m trying to raise a four-year-old feminist. Victoria Secret ads on the coffee table muddle things up. Even still, I’d eagerly look for opportunities to thumb thru magazines in the grocery store or bookstore. Furtively, joyfully, gluttonously. However, since the Spackle Incident, I don’t read them at all anymore – Mademoiselle, Glamour, Marie Claire, Vogue, Self, Harper’s Bazaar, O: Oprah Magazine, etc. — despite how much I LOVE them. Because I love them so much – so glossy and gorgeous and fantastical and young and sleek and inspirational and full of promises and comparisons and gossip and full of answers and possibilities and the BEST stuff I NEED to make myself HAPPY. I love those magazines like I love a hot fudge sundae, but they make me crazy.

I don’t need any more crazy.

I need to be myself — which is plenty hard enough, right?  I’ll trace my lines, get over them, and then spend my time, my money and my life on something that really matters. At this point in my life, as I march toward 40, I am finally waking up — waking up to my voice and my body and my self in this world. Finally, at long last, the picture of ‘what really matters’ is coming into focus. I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste my life f-ing around with my wrinkles.

Because also, this happened…

During a peaceful car ride last week, my daughter chirped from the backseat, “When I grow up, I’m going to be beautiful.” [My internal monologue = I failed to protect her from our culture’s obsession with physical attractiveness as the ultimate achievement. She is four years old and thinking about being beautiful already. Is that all she wants to be? Wait, does she have low self-esteem? Does she think she’s ugly?]

“I think you are beautiful now,” I said.

“No, mom,” she laughed, “I’m just a kid. Kids can’t be beautiful. Womans are beautiful.”

“Oh. Who’s a woman you think is beautiful?” I ask. [My internal monologue = She’s going to say one of the princesses.  Oh, here we go with the princesses. Now I’m going to have to deconstruct the Disney Princess.]

“You, Mom,” she said.

[Internal monologue = silence]

“Thank you,” I said, “Who else is beautiful?”

She listed all of the women we know — all of our friends, her teachers, babysitters, grandmothers, and the moms of her friends.  No ‘womans’ from books or DVDs or pictures. None of her favorite fantasty-play-acting characters like mermaids, princesses, fairies, ballerinas. Just real live women in her world.

My daughter’s simple formula was WOMAN = BEAUTIFUL. She didn’t rule anyone out. She didn’t mention clothing, shoes, size, shape, skin, hair, job, money, age. She believes that when she is woman, she’ll be beautiful too. Just like all the rest of us.

My heart leaps at this thought.  A reminder of the beauty in all people, not just women, but everyone. A generous application of beauty, a blanket and universal acceptance — yes, we all can be that. We are all beautiful. All of us in our different ways. Beauty-full.

What or who is beautiful to you?