Sunday
Dec022012

Never Was a High School Cheerleader

That’s not entirely true. I was a high school cheerleader for one mortifying afternoon practice. The new girl at school, I was [what’s the sports word for “cast”] on the JV team. That was generous of them, really, since I was horrible at it. I probably wasn’t that cheerful either, since I was bummed out that I couldn’t be with my awesome new friends who were on Varsity.  They are still amazing, so don’t picture fake, popular cheerleader chicks— picture a talented fashion designer and a topnotch video effects producer, each with a heart the size of the earth and a killer sense of humor. When I realized I wasn’t going to get extra hang time with those two and I got asked to assistant stage manage a professional theatre company’s play, I swiftly ducked out of letting anyone else put their Ked on my right shoulder.


This November, I have felt like a whole cheer squad, kicking my shins up to my nose with excitement for the feats of writer Jennifer Gandin Le as she approached and crossed the 50,000 word finish line in just 28 days + an hour or two. She had 30 days to finish and even though she was knocked down for the better part of a week by a sick baby, she came back strong and added a couple thousand extra words to her novel on top of the 50,000 word challenge. This was all part of National Novel Writing Month, and lucky for me, Jennifer cheered me on the whole way to that purple “winner” bar.


We conspired to encourage each other when I was in her hometown for the Austin Film Festival. We had been members of a diverse and impressive writers’ group in New York from its beginnings, so the kinship was already there. I don’t think I realized, though, how meaningful and encouraging it would be to share the lonely task of writing with someone thousands of miles away— neither of us really knowing what the other was writing (my word count included bracketed questions and notes to self like the one in the first paragraph of this blog), just knowing that we were doing it.


By the way, we also chatted about this blog over the best queso and margarita in Texas— and had a good laugh about how what “she does” may not actually be this. It’s a challenge to share more words here when you’re already trying to write a novel, a play, and a couple of screenplays in a single year. I’ve continued to think about this space though, so you may find me here again on another day when I have share-able thoughts that don’t fit in one of my story worlds. My favorite experiment on How She Does It was curating posts by other creatives who amaze and inspire. So… if that’s you, let us know. We’re more than happy to cheer you on too!

Sunday
Dec112011

it will not be simple

Either on the first or last day of our freshman year directing class, our teacher, the inimitable Jim Peck, gave us all a copy of this poem by Adrienne Rich. I think that was the first time I read her words -- the beginning of a deep literary love.

In the years since, this poem has lain gently over several not simple, not long experiences, like a silk cloth over tables of lacquered wood, cold steel, fingerprinted glass.

In the ninth month of my first year of being a mother, I reach into a drawer and touch the rich words of this poem again. I close my eyes with gratitude for their familiar comfort.

These words apply to anything worth doing fully. Directing, writing, loving, mothering. All of it.

Final Notations

Adrienne Rich

it will not be simple, it will not be long
it will take little time, it will take all your thought
it will take all your heart, it will take all your breath
it will be short, it will not be simple

it will touch through your ribs, it will take all your heart
it will not be long, it will occupy your thought
as a city is occupied, as a bed is occupied
it will take all your flesh, it will not be simple

You are coming into us who cannot withstand you
you are coming into us who never wanted to withstand you
you are taking parts of us into places never planned
you are going far away with pieces of our lives

it will be short, it will take all your breath
it will not be simple, it will become your will

Monday
Jul182011

A Penny for My...

A thorn in my paw removed. Trash turned to treasure. The bitter in my espresso now entirely sweet. And that last one's no metaphor.  Nothing big has happened. I just had one of those ahas that sends the chattier of us to our blogs. I've been meeting some demanding deadlines the last couple of months, making choices like not opening this website and keeping my nose -and evidently one shiny penny- to the grindstone.

Flashback to: One morning, my coffee grinder threatens to bite the dust. It's not super fancy, but it grinds as fine as Turkish, and I depend on it for lattes at home. Suddenly, it makes the kind of noise people like to perform on Car Talk. I shake it more than a little and get it going again. And then I guess I never put two and two together, but my espresso has tasted off ever since. I thought it was the beans, but look what I found cleaning it out today: a penny nearly smoothed to feather height on one side. First thought: yuck.  Second: Maybe I've been getting a daily dose of copper?

Now I'm imbuing this discovery with all kinds of unwarranted deeper meaning, asking what else I've been missing. What's returned me to the grind with a funny taste in my mouth, just slightly displeased but not enough to suss out the culprit? Is it lucky? A sign of more surprises? A silver sheen peeks through on this pretty penny.



Wednesday
Mar092011

Our New Mama!

Congratulations to the beautiful Jennifer Gandin Le and her husband, Chris!  They made one handsome little man, born just before midnight on Sunday.  And now there's even more love in the world.

 

Tuesday
Mar012011

Sorry, Tina

I guess Tina Fey would find me incredibly rude.  Just as I began asking women how they manage the many aspects of their life (creative, personal, trivial), she proclaims in the New Yorker, "What is the rudest question you can ask a woman? 'How old are you?’ 'What do you weigh?' No, the worst question is: 'How do you juggle it all?'" 

So, I'm sorry.  I thought it was a compliment-- to consider all the women I know professional jugglers, as I work on my 5-prop throw while treading a unicycle. At least Deborah Siegel (writer, thinker and new mama of twins) does.  In fact, her blog is what drew my attention to Fey's objections to my query.  

I do think that if we're not asking each other how we manage, then we're silently wondering it.  Or we're whispering it over a quick bite.  "So you're home with your toddler two days out of the week.  Do you get any work done on those days?" I asked a friend.  See, so rude.  And guess how she responded.  "I was going to ask you the same thing!"  


I'm waist deep in rewrites and new writes and also teaching two classes, so I try to get as much done as possible in the span of a questionable nap.  (If I work too late at night, I get creatively wired and can't sleep at all.)  I've also set up a mini table and chairs in my office (thanks, Grandma!) where Francesca can do her "work." Luckily, her feet don't quite reach the floor, so she can climb up there, but has to ask for help to get down.  

I told my friend that I also have this dream that a few of us could be in one room, working, while our mini-mes play together. She loved the idea so much that we tried it out within the week, and... Success.  My child tried to feed hers like she was a doll, but we both agreed that we actually got a lot of work done. It was a huge feat in some ways, especially with my border collie mut trying to steal letter cookies instead of helping to corral the girls.  We have yet to do it again, but that's only because of all of the other wrenches that get thrown into the juggling act. And I know we will.

I'll try to keep taking a moment away from it all to reflect.  Excuse me if I ask you to divulge as well.

 

Tuesday
Feb222011

The Family Museum

Julie M. Gale:  Last fall I was one busy momma/wife/professor/all-around human being. I made my directorial debut at the college with The Collected Shorter Works of Samuel Beckett AND dragged through my first trimester of my second pregnancy. The exhaustion mixed with elation was an excellent reminder of what it feels to have a newborn. The production was like a pregnancy--lots of work, lots of effort, some tears, some unexpected surprises and a great experience for all by the opening night curtain. I wouldn't trade any day of it, even the days I literally directed the show lying across the stage with the stomach flu.

How on earth did I do it? Two recent events gave me pause to reflect. First, I was contacted by my uber talented friend Cristina Pippa to guest blog on the lovely collective How She Does It blog. I am deeply honored to join these amazing creative ladies and share my experience as a "Mamaturg."

Here's a little math:

Mama + Dramaturg=Mamaturg

Motherhood + Dramaturgy=Mamaturgy

I hope these words will one day join the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Until then, a girl can dream. You might also need a dictionary to know what a "dramaturg" is and what "dramaturgy" does. It happens often. I like how it makes me feel like a spy, doing secret work in the theatre.

Okay! Back to the original arc of the post. The second event that answers "how I do it" is this:

During a cold day last fall, my five-year-old daughter Iris arranged a collection of items on the floor. I immediately went into tired Mommy mode and exclaimed, "Iris, pick your stuff up off the floor."

Iris replied, "But Mommy, this is our museum. I can't put it away until you stop to look at it."

The child asked her frazzled, morning sick, how-am-I-going-to-finish-the-fall-semester Mommy to stop and observe. These simple objects, arranged by tiny hands, communicated our family to my daughter. The Converse sneakers and tissues belong to Daddy. The American Theatre and film books belong to Mommy. The toys, puzzles and Lite Brite patterns belong to Iris.

At the moment my daughter stopped me, I wasn't in the mood. I had a mountain of papers to grade, I'd spent half the morning lying on the bathroom floor with morning sickness, and I had rehearsal for the show in the evening. But her persuasive insistence won me over. I had to stop and look.

I asked my little curator to explain the museum. Her answer was simple, "This stuff is from everyone in our family. I wanted to see how it all looked together. It also shows we have a lot of fun."

I stared at the objects for a few minutes, gave Iris a big hug and snapped the picture. I wanted the picture to remind me "how to do it." By "it" I mean being a mother, wife and creative person. The only way I know is to put it all together, not isolate one role from the other, and let the parts inform the whole that is me. I also cannot let one of these roles diminish into the background. If I stop working on being a wife, my mothering and art suffers. If I stop working on being a professor, director and writer, I have nothing to say and I will show nothing of my life's passion to my children. If I stop mothering, how can I communicate the nurturing process that is educational theatre or the beauty of a self-donative act of love? It simply doesn't happen.

Sure, there are days where the last thing I want to do is teach a class, make a peanut butter Nutella sandwich or listen to my husband vent about a difficult day. We all have those moments. The key to helping me stay upbeat, stay sane and live my version of the good life is to remember how all of my many roles in life are a reflection of the other. There is inevitable day where I teach to a bored class on Medieval Drama, barely say "hi" and "goodnight" to my husband and make supper using the microwave. But in the end, I "did it," even if it was imperfect. And as my daughter says, "We have a lot of fun." Yup, through it all, we really do.

Julie M. Gale is a Professor of Theatre and freelance dramaturg in North Texas. She is married to PhD English student Nathan Gale. They have one daughter, Iris and one on the way this summer. Julie M. Gale can be easily persuaded with conversation about theatre, the musical stylings of Andrew Bird and Dunkin' Donuts Toasted Coconut donuts. Please visit her wee blog nobasementatthealamo.blogspot.com

Wednesday
Feb162011

Ephemeral Memory 2

Susan Reedy

My work investigates themes of language, memory, and preservation of ephemeral materials that are in danger of becoming extinct in our electronic era. The work is created with vintage papers that have been discarded, lost, or destroyed: sheet music, dictionaries, fragments of billboards and prayer books. 


The work is inspired by the inherent beauty of these vintage materials and by the textural qualities sometimes seen on out door surfaces-walls, signs, etc-that are in a state of flux due to the ravages of time, the elements, and neglect. In the work the text and imagery of the source material becomes altered during the creative process so that new and unexpected combinations of form and context emerge. The art work reflects the poetic beauty of the imperfect state of the source material and utilizes its inherent sensuous nature.

The creative process involves alternating layers of paint and paper that are built up, stripped away then partially rebuilt, often in many successive layers. This additive and subtractive process results in an expressive surface that is rich in paint, altered imagery, and text. The technique used to transform the images-the scraping, tearing and painting over-both destroys and preserves these vintage materials using contemporary thinking about surface quality and composition. 

www.susanreedy.com

Tuesday
Feb152011

Juggling 3 Kids and 13 Dialects

How do I do it, and what is it I do when I do do it?       Erika Bailey

Here are the creative endeavors I’m undertaking at this point in my life: teaching voice and speech to actors in an MFA program, coaching dialects for professional theatre productions, attaining tenure, flirting with the idea of acting again, being married, and parenting three kids under the age of three years.  Each of these projects seems to conflict with the others at times.  But in the end, though I often am not quite sure what I did during the day, I go to bed feeling pretty alive and challenged and lucky. 

Here’s a typical day for me.  Or not a totally typical day; there is no typical.

6:30 Nicolas (16 months old) wakes up and starts a crying.  

6:50 I admit that he’s not going to go back to sleep and get up.  We head downstairs and have breakfast and say hi to husband/dad on his way to work.

(yes, that is a Christmas tree in the background in February. Still haven’t managed to clear that out yet)

7:45 Fausto/husband leaves and Caroline and Theo (2.75 years old each) get up.  French toast for Breakfast. 

 

9:15 shovel driveway (it snowed the day before).

9:45 take a shower

10:00 realize washing machine is leaking water all over the pantry floor.  Stop laundry, call husband.  Decide to investigate further later.  Mop water up with clean towels, which I leave in a wet heap on the pantry floor. 

 

 

 

10:15 pile all kids and Emily into car and drive to work in our ‘kid car’.  Kids and Emily head to play group after dropping me off.

10:30 in my office assessing my to do list.  Primarily working on redoing the footnotes for an article on Rhetoric that I’m submitting to the Voice and Speech Review. 

12:00 lunch with Fausto who works 5 minutes from my office.  Excellent, quiet, non-exhausted, non-kid time.  I drop Fausto off at his office in the ‘grown up’ car. 

 

2:00  teach 3rd year voice.  We’re doing a project on southern dialects that’s involved lots of phonetic transcriptions which I’ve been loving.

4:00 back to office for a bit

5:00 pick Fausto up and head home. 

5:20 Emily leaves and it’s playtime with the kids. 

6:00 dinner for kids

6:45 head up stairs for toothbrushing, pajamas, potty time, stories.

7:30 I leave bedtime which Fausto will finish, get a quick snack, and drive to the World War I museum where our department in a joint production with the Kansas City Actors Theatre is rehearsing Oh What a Lovely War.

In this production the following dialects are employed: Standard British, Cockney, German, French, Irish, Lancaster, Scottish, Russian, Serbo-Croation, Austo-Hungarian, Australian, American, Swiss.  And sometimes several varieties of each.  My job at this point in rehearsals (last days before tech) is to listen to the actors run scenes and take notes on how they could strengthen their rendition of each of these 13 dialects.  An aural juggling act but a fun one. 

11:00 Leave rehearsal and head home.  Fausto’s awake.  Yay!  We have a glass of wine and are in bed by midnight. 

What will tomorrow hold? 

So how do I do it?  How do I balance everything?  A pre-requisite for my life is a very useful husband!  A nanny is also an amazing thing.  I love my job, which makes all of this possible.  I love working with students on creating characters and defining the worlds of the plays they’re in, helping them increase their ability to communicate with nuance and passion.  I have incredibly flexible and supportive colleagues.  And of course, I’m in love with the kids.  So my life is an abundance of riches, exhausting many times but never, never boring. 

Sunday
Feb132011

Love in Letters (and etch-a-sketch)

The fresnels and chimeras mentioned in my new year's post must have done their job, because the raw footage of my screenplay's real life heroine looks great, and I'm moved by her love story all over again. Producer genius to have her read those wartime love letters out loud. You can almost imagine what it was like when she first received them seventy years ago. 

Her love calls her "the girl of my past and the woman of my future."  He'll wait for her, no matter what happens or how long it takes.  Before any wedding, he calls her his wife, his life, and quite simply- everything. The black ink runs across each page with insistence, her fingers holding the words steady.

My love story is not quite five years old, less time than the war that kept these two apart.  It may be only one of many means of communication these days, but writing to someone who lives in your house still feels essential.  Handwritten, they somehow say so much more and do seem worth saving for the better part of a century. And if they're composed on etch-a-sketch, like the love note Joe made for for our little valentine this morning, I guess I'll just have to take a picture.  

 

This is Caillou, surrounded with hearts. If you don't know who he is, don't google him.  I'd like to save you from the theme song that's been stuck in my head for the last three months. He might as well be the Romeo to our 1 1/2 year old Juliet, and we've been urging their separation.  Are we cruel?  She's even said, "I love you, Caillou."  So we sing his song and draw his picture in hopes that she won't have to actually watch him. 

Here's to the more feasible love stories, the ones that are worth fighting (and writing) for.

Happy Valentine's Day