Saturday, January 28, 2012

Moving Day

Wow. Been here before.  Phew. Yikes.  I wish somebody had a "how to manual" for this.  Hmm...there's an idea. Maybe I will write it.
How to get through the day your kids move across the country.
The thing is, I've been doing this since 2003 when my daughter left for college in Washington State. You'd think I'd be used to it by now!  I know the drill.  The duffel filled with clothes.  The boxes stacked in the hallway waiting to be shipped.  The bedroom looking ....  All the stuff of their childhood staring back at me - as if to say, "Yes, it went fast. They told you it would. And it did."
This time is easier by a degree.  The difference is, my son is not going off to school - he's moving to Chicago
for a job.
That sounds so.... so grown up!
He is.
So I must behave myself.  No big emotional scenes.
Be helpful but not overbearing.
Walk that line.
Not too much mothering.
I mean he is going to Chicago not Afghanistan.  Keep this in perspective.
And I love Chicago.
I mean, hey, one kid in New York. One in Chicago.
Just keep those frequent flyer points coming.
I've spent a lot of time booking flights over the years for my kids.
For her
Four years back and forth
Off to college at UW
Long Beach to Seattle
Seattle to Long Beach
Study Abroad
LAX to Prague
Prague to LAX
LAX to Paris
Paris to LAX
Back to UW
LAX to Seattle
Seattle to Long Beach.
Home for two years
Off to NYU
Back and forth
Long Beach to JFK
JFK to Long Beach.
Long Beach to JFK

For him
Off to college at Villanova
OC to Philly
Philly to OC
OC to Philly
Philly to USC - I mean OC
Today, a new route.
LAX to Chicago.

So the nest will officially be empty as of today.
Their rooms are here for when they come "back to California" for a visit.
Thanks, Steve Jobs, for face time.
Right now at this juncture, I realize how important it is to marry the right person and have a life of your own!

When the child-rearing, college -commuting, twenty-something -gypsy-parent-stage is over -
it's back to where you started - only a little older, grayer, rounder, and wiser.

So tonight, we head off to a party with some friends from college.
Misery loves company.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Theatre Education Up to the Minute

Today I am bi-locating. As luck would have it, I am on semester break.  As luck would have it, it is a rainy day.  So here I sit at my desk - my laptop computer and my ipad opened to twitter, TEDxBroadway, and Howard Sherman's live blog from the one day conference being held  at New World Stages in New York. To say I wish I were there is an understatement. But thanks to technology and the world of social media, I'm as close to it as I could possibly be.  This year, TEDxBroadway's theme is WHAT'S THE BEST BROADWAY COULD BE IN 2032.
As a theatre educator this topic grabbed me and peeked my interest and curiosity.
In his blog, Howard Sherman quotes Patricia Martin:
Patricia Martin begins her talk titled, “Will the future ‘like’ you?” She talks about lying on the floor of the Vatican and wondering how that level of creativity happens. Her book prompted by that experience has thesis that we are poised on the edge of another Renaissance, despite difficult economic times. Cites mentor’s research: the same thing that creates a renaissance can also send us into the dark ages. As a result of hyper-progress, as what’s irrelevant is shed, making space for the new. Indicators of of a renaissance: 1) death comes first, 2 ) facilitating medium (in Rome, road; today, the internet), and 3) age of enlightenment (messy concept she often avoids; has everything to do with future of creative work and how we appeal to young audience). Talks about the dwindling of subscriber base at Steppenwolf Theater and charge to find global brands that were doing best work reaching young audiences; they all did one thing well, knowingly or not – they could speak at a higher frequency. Recipe to higher frequency: in young audiences’ upbringing, they experience truth by believing what they can feel, being heard above the din. Young audiences yearn for higher purpose through human connection; we are more and more becoming wired to be social and feel human connection. She studied science of consciousness: witness, empathize, imagine and then act; but there’s a caveat – it’s most powerful when it happens live. Speaks of difficulty in changing culture because you must walk against the tide of prevailing culture.So when do we get to renaissance? Currently deep in winter of discontent and have facilitating medium of Internet – so why are we still stuck? Because we don’t have a compelling story of the future. We’re waiting – what’s next? Martin cites Jung: “The creation of something truly new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct, acting out of necessity.” So will to future like us? A conditional yes. “We need stories about the human condition that are told with love, because that is what helps people feel compassion towards each other and through compassion comes enlightenment.”
I couldn't agree more! The notion that we are in a Renaissance is a positive spin on the discomfort we feel with the revolutionary changes taking place in communication and technology.  But what role does live theatre have in today's world? There is one thing that cannot and will not change - human beings are human beings and they need to tell their story. Theatre is live and will always have the power to move an audience simply because it is a human experience.  This gives me faith as a theatre educator to encourage young artists. The theatre is not dead.  The theatre lives because it breathes - just like we all do.  Arthur Miller said, "The theatre makes us more human." Do not despair, fellow theatre educators.  The work we are doing continues to transform the world.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Being Useful

Mother took a nap almost every afternoon on the couch in our living room.  Wearing a snap-front, cotton, permanent press house coat, her twisted, arthritic feet crossed at the ankle, she lay, her hand at her neck, her toes wiggling slowly in rhythm to the tugging of the  loose skin under her chin.  Toes so crippled looking and skin so dry it was hard to imagine how once they danced in heels, her little foot, kicking up, proudly showing off the "Reid legs" - catching my father's eye.

 Peering through the screen door, into the living room, I would see her there, a certainty of my life.   The backyard pool, where we all learned to swim, glimmering in the background through sliding glass doors.   It was a neighborhood where people  grew up and didn't move far. At least I didn't. For long.
I stayed close to Mother.  Two blocks to be exact. Home was a blend of  the street of my childhood - Resh and the street of my children's childhood -  Pine.

Whenever I approached the house, I was sure to find Mother  - reclining on the couch, on a lounge chair, on her bed, a paperback in her hands. The TV Guide and her Beagle by her side. Sometimes the TV blared. Especially as she got older and her hearing began to go. The radio in the kitchen blasted news of traffic jams and pileups on freeways nowhere near us  - but she never failed to report them.  Ever vigilant. Ever watchful of potential threats - invasions - the weather-  a full tank of gas and a full pantry her defense against impending doom.

She kept herself useful to the end even when, truth be known, her usefulness had run its course.  In her mind, even after dementia set in, four words never escaped her vocabulary - "do you need anything?"

A mother's usefulness is on my mind right now.

My mother remained useful because I allowed her to be.  I allowed her to continue mothering me even when I felt like I was being suffocated by her. Yet, Mother also had a way of keeping her distance.  She was not an interfering mother.  She was helpful.  Sometimes too helpful - evidenced by a few shrunken sweaters. But there was overall a bond so intense and so practical that for the most part, it worked. For both of us.

 Even at the bitter end, after four painfully difficult years of caregiving, it worked.  I was able to be there in the end. No guilt. No regrets.
Just a chapter I'd prefer not to have lived. Cutting pills, brushing dentures, trips to ER, radiation for a skin cancer overtaking her upper lip, battles over the caregivers - it was a nasty time. My lower back perpetually out from hoisting the wheel chair in and out of the trunk and jutting my hip a certain way to lift her into the car. I have seen old age up close. I know what it looks like. What it smells like.  What if feels like.  I have walked the halls of an Alzheimer's facility, shoveled food into my mother's mouth, and held her hand, silently looking into her eyes for hours on end. There were days I was at the breaking point. A crazy woman. Me.  Not her.  But her too. A crazy combination. She didn't like it any more than I did.

And when it was over - it was over.  We were both released from the bondage of those terrible days.

My father always said one of his greatest fears was that he would be a burden for his children.  He dropped dead long before he needed to worry about that.  Was Mother a burden? I would be less than honest if I said no.  Mother was a heavy load during those years. Ninety is a long life. But to the end, she thought herself useful.  And indeed she was.  Her old age taught me an important lesson.

 The lesson I learned is that usefulness, real or imagined,  is the key to combatting the inevitable decline.

Mother needed me to need her.
I believe all mothers need to be needed to one degree or another.

A mother's usefulness does not necessarily translate into washing dishes and doing laundry as it did for my mother.

Sometimes, the most useful thing a mother can do - is let go.
Circumstances dictate choices.
They certainly did in my case.
 I chose to stay close to my mother because our lives and losses made it nearly impossible not to.

But the lesson I learned is that a mother must be willing to release her children to their own destiny.
And her children must be willing to go.

Perhaps this lesson is one I was compelled to pass on to my children so not to perpetuate the legacy of a suffocating mother.  I have been forced to practice what I preach. Both of my children have chosen to venture across the country in search of their destinies.

And as I remain behind it is up to me to find new ways of being useful. That is my job. Not theirs.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Browning Revisited

When last we were young
 the world lay before us
the future everything
and nothing
unrealized dreams
propelling us into the unknown
when last we were young.

Once more
Once more
Once more
to be young
once more

before we are past
the possibility of our dreams -

Grow young along with me
the best is yet to be,
the last for which the first was made.
Our dreams are in our hands.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

January 2012

The Christmas decorations are boxed and put away. The comfort of home and family fully realized over the holiday in front of the fireplace and around the dinner table.

Now, the bright January sun announces the new year and with it comes yearning, curiosity, trepidation and an itch for adventure. With rapid fire successive thoughts I long to be on a boat, on the beach, in Tuscany, in Provence, in Hawaii, in New York, at the theatre, in a flat, seeing something, anything I haven't seen before - from Yosemite to Tibet, aboard a clipper ship or a train - wandering and letting the world seep into my being. I am a writer holed up in a loft, a cabaret singer at the Algonquin, a twenty-year-old actress schlepping off to an audition. I am a poet, a director off off Broadway, a memoirist on the New York Times Best Seller list. January stirs up a concoction of fantasy, regret, and possibility.

What dreams might still have a chance? What doubts, fears, and useless notions still stand in their way?
January is packed with questions and demands - hope and possibility. Contentment gives way to the restlessness. Restlessness to change.
January provides the opportunity for a new self image and the belief that identity is not fixed in cement. Change begins with thought.

Unlike summertime when laziness and sloth or'whelm my spirit, January's sunshine and brisk air ignite the spark of action. Creative energy surges through my veins and springtime looms prompting new life.
I'm not one to sit still, it's clear.
I need variety and challenge - new projects and endeavors.

January 2012 startled me awake.
In a month's time, I will turn the age my brother was when he died.
At fifty-three, I'm nowhere near ready to be done. And neither, I'm sure, was he.

What's left to do? What risks have I not yet taken? What lies have I believed that have prevented me from taking them?
What self-imposed rules do I need to break?
What new rules do I need to follow?

Rule #1: Try something different.

As the poet, David Whyte says:

Start close in,
don't take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step you don't want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people's questions,
don't let them
smother something

To find
another's voice
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don't follow
someone else's
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don't mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don't take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step you don't want to take.

~ David Whyte ~
(River Flow)