Spring time update

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

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

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

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

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

So, it’s spring. I’m happy.

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

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

Waking up to baby

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

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

The spaces in my heart are waiting to be surprised.

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

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

Surprise! I’m pregnant.

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

In the Baby Sarah post, I wrote:

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

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

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

However.

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

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

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

And I love possibilities.

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

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

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

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

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

Her face was shining. My heart was melting.

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

Cross your fingers for me, will you? Wheeeee!

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

Gratitude, journaling, and new horizons

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

Hard to say good-bye to that.

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

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

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

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

Stayed tuned for more.

Wishing you all the best.

Baby Sarah

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

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

I told her I would feel sad.

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

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

The spaces in my heart are waiting to be surprised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I love possibilities.

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

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

Taking off the shirt

I’ve been thinking about an audition I had a few weeks ago — a fun group-audition focused on building ensemble, listening, playing, and following impulses (Yippee, my favorites!). It felt more like a workshop than an audition which left me feeling grateful, inspired, and relieved. The people in the room were super. It was fun. I’d like to say that I was great/totally nailed it/surprised myself/did my best/really went for it, but the truth is I was ok. I was fine.

So, in an effort to move myself closer to great/totally nailed it/surprised myself/did my best/really went for it,  I’ve been mulling over the audition and considering whether I fully engaged in those so-called favorites — building ensemble, listening, playing, and following impulses.

The short answer is: I didn’t. I didn’t fully engage.

I almost did. I often did. I wanted to. I tried, but I didn’t quite get there 100% all the time.

Yes, it’s hard to do those things. Especially in an audition setting. It’s hard to just be — authentic, in the moment — rather than perform what I think is desirable, cool, clever, funny, interesting, easy, whatever. But I want to ‘be in the moment’ more. I want to be more consistently authentic. I don’t want to perform myself, I want to be myself.

(Here’s the part where my internal child falls in a heap on the ground and rolls around dejectedly until she gets distracted by something shiny.)

I’m been thinking about a particular moment during the audition when I tripped over my ego instead of following my impulses as I was invited to do (Ok, there were lots of moments, but I only have time to describe one today).

It was the moment when I wanted to take off my shirt, but I didn’t.

(If this sounds titilating, then you can go ahead and un-titilate yourself, cuz this ain’t a sexy thing.)

During the audition, our group performed several rounds of a sound and movement exercise. We sat in a circle and individuals took turns moving into the center. The task of the group was to support the individual in the center by making sounds. The task of the individual in the center was to move in a way that authentically embodied whatever particular concept we were working on during that round — without premeditation or pre-choreographing the movement.

During one of my turns in the circle, I stood up quickly and took off my fleece jacket. My next impulse was to take off the shirt underneath as well (leaving me in my bra) and strike some grimacing, muscle-y poses like the Incredible Hulk.

But my shirt stayed on and my pseudo-Hulk never appeared. Instead I performed goofy fleece-tricks like swinging the fleece over my head and passing it between my legs and pretending to throw it at people and stuffing it up my shirt. It was fine. Whatever.

During that microsecond between taking off my fleece and deciding not to follow my first impulse, a zillion thoughts zipped thru my head (One of the problems = too much thinking! Right? If you are thinking, then you are doing it wrong.)

In that microsecond between trusting/not trusting my intuition, I questioned whether my impulse was weird and off-base and nonsensical  and whether it would seem gratuitous or show-offy (Look at me! Whee, I take off my clothes!).

In that microsecond between does-shirt-come-off-no-shirt-stays-on, I tried to remember what bra I was wearing, if my underwear were peeking up over the top of my yoga pants, and if I was looking bloated. (Would everyone notice that I haven’t gone to the gym in a looooong time? In this situation, would taking off my shirt make me a bad ass or a fool?) 

Never mind that I was wearing a bra on the poster for a previous show. In the moment, I freaked out.

In one tiny microsecond, my concern over what people would think of my creative contribution + my body anxiety knocked me off-kilter. I fretted about how I yearned to appear rather than just stepping into who I was in that moment. I was Incredible Hulk in that moment! Then I killed my Incredible Hulk. (Sad face) I didn’t trust that my 15 second contribution to the circle would be accepted and appreciated no matter what it was. I knew we were all just playing, just trying stuff, just being ourselves, just trying to have fun — I knew I was in a safe space with a group of warm and welcoming artists, and that this was no big deal — but I still couldn’t shake off THE JUDGE. I missed that luscious and rare opportunity to be in the zone, ride the wave, surprise myself, drop into lizard brain and just be. Bummer.

Also, those people in that audition really missed out because I can rock a bra. (JOKING! Seriously, joking.)

So that was 15 seconds of an audition, right? That was one kinda silly-hopefully funny-a little embarrassing moment in my life. Really small beans in the scheme of things. But it did make me think about regular ol’ daily life and the number of times I stop myself, squelch my impulses and pull myself back from being fully present. Do you extinguish your creative sparks? How often? What is the result?

Look, I know we can’t walk around all the time without our filters, just like we can’t walk around shirtless all the time. That would be inefficient and impractical and inappropriate. But maybe we have more leeway than we think?

I’m trying to do the calculation here….I’m trying to determine when the small beans become big beans. Because I suspect we all do this, right? If so, then what’s the effect of our widespread short-circuiting of creativity? What is the effect of so much not-being-present? What is the long term effect of discarding our impulses and intuition? What do you think?

I wonder how much we lose while straining to be too-cool-for-school rather than acknowledging our shared awkwardness and vulnerability. We’re all just working to make art and make life, right? Forget being cool, let’s just be real.

I wonder what is lost…. when I stop myself from reaching out, when I stop myself from taking risks, when I see others second guess their honest reactions, when I see adults reject the invitation to play even though their hearts yearn to be childlike.

I wonder what would happen if we all took a chance and whipped off our shirts once in awhile (I’m speaking metaphorically, but whatever floats your boat). I wonder what would happen if we were brave and creative and vulnerable and intuitive more often. Perhaps it’s worth some practice? Certainly, I need some more practice. And practice and practice and practice.

So, the audition….

In the end, it was all fine. It was fun. It was clearly thought provoking. I’m grateful for the opportunity, and I hope to have more. I’ll learn and grow and do better next time. If I keep practicing, then I will.

 

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.

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