Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On my father and having enough.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. -Melody Beattie

My father said something really amazing to me when I was talking to him and Mom over Christmas about continuing my educational pursuits in a graduate degree program. We hadn’t even been talking about said future schooling for ten minutes when my dad offered to help me pay for it. My parents have already paid for an expensive undergraduate degree in Acting because they love me so. Since graduating, I’ve prided myself in being a financially independent artist (who is, I admit, very grateful to be on the family cell phone and health insurance plan). And so I responded that I did not expect any financial support, but hoped for their emotional and ideological support. Without the slightest hesitation, my dad replied plainly and confidently, “If I have the money, I’d rather spend it on that. I don’t need any more stuff.” I admire my parents for so many reasons, but something about this specific expression of generosity has stuck with me. I kept hearing that phrase in my head, “I don’t need any more...” 

I am blessed that I have parents who have enough to offer financial support to make my dreams into reality. When I was 19, I told them I wanted to be a professional actress and that I needed a BFA from the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis to do that. Six years later, I am working for a professional theater performing and teaching Shakespeare to 8th graders. I would not be here if they didn’t write a check to a school they had never seen in a state they had never visited for me to get a degree which made them nervous. 

I think my father’s wisdom is rooted in knowledge of himself, what he has and what he needs. How often do we say to someone, “Here, take this. I don’t need any more. I have enough."? Enough to be comfortable and content. Enough to share with others. Enough to give of ourselves. As my artistic collaborator Ron Clark pointed out, enough is not a word we hear a lot in this country these days. And indeed, many people don’t have enough. Enough to support their children through school. Enough to quit their second job. Enough to buy health insurance. Enough to take off work to see their kid in a play. Enough to take a vacation. Enough to retire. 

Yet, even if we don't have enough money, we usually have plenty of something else. We just might have enough time to call an ailing relative. Enough energy to volunteer on a Saturday. Enough clothes to donate to charity. Enough care to pick up the garbage in the alley. Enough books to pass along to a colleague. Enough passion to write something more than a Facebook status. Enough pasta to invite a friend over for dinner. Enough patience to play “Is this a hat?” for the thousandth time with the kid we nanny. Enough faith to say a prayer for peace. Enough perseverance to try again to reconcile with our estranged spouses. Enough love to do the dishes. Enough respect to put our phones down and listen to each other. Enough to share. Enough to give.

What do you have enough of? My 25th birthday is on Thursday. Instead of giving me anything (because I definitely have enough), give something you have enough of to someone who needs it. In the wake of bombings in Boston, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, it's just about all we can do. 

And after all, it’s hard to think about how little money you have when a toddler is excitedly putting random things on your head and you are repeatedly asking him if the object in question is indeed, a hat.

My dad and me when I was a toddler. I am a Super Baby and not wearing a hat.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On losing The Game and quitting things in your mind.

A recent episode of Wiretap, one of my favorite podcasts, highlighted something called “The Game” which I’m sure I’ve heard about before, but can’t remember where. The aim of The Game is to forget you are playing The Game, ie, every time you remember you are playing The Game, you lose The Game. Thus because I am writing about The Game that means I am thinking about The Game and have therefore lost The Game. You, dear reader, now know about The Game and are currently thinking about The Game, so you too, have lost The Game. Are we having fun yet?

While on lunch break at work, a bunch of actors/standardized patients were sitting around a table wearing paper gowns talking about how hard it is to be actors. Someone offered that when one gets discouraged with the actor’s lot of failed callbacks and low-paying, sporadic work, the best thing to do is to quit acting in one’s mind. Don’t quit for real, just quit in your mind to take the edge off. If you’ve quit, you’ll seem less desperate, you’ll go out more, you’ll take a trip, you’ll read a book. Then when you come back from your hiatus which you told no one about, you’ll be better, happier, stronger, older and thus more likely to book the job, in theory.

I think I did something similar with my writing this winter. As a rule, I write in my journal or blog when I see something that inspires me or something interesting/funny/story-worthy happens. I write when I have something of value to contribute to this flooded cesspool of people's mindful and mindless musings. Phrases will come to me out of the stratosphere while riding my bike or knitting quietly. This winter, the phrases didn’t come and neither did the impulse to tap the keys of my undergraduate Mac with the smudged screen. I forgot I was a writer (well, a person who writes). If writing was The Game, I was winning.

I think there is a sweet spot to quitting something in your mind. You gotta know when to join back up; you must sense when you are full of things to write about or full of energy and ideas to act or create again. I missed my sweet spot. I forgot I was a writer for so long that I stopped asking the phrases to come, stopped looking for the stories, stopped observing the people around me. I’ve become more interior and self-critical, less generous and content. Certain stories are now past their time and cannot be written. Even writing this feels labored, clunky and a chore. But I writing it.* I’ve lost The Game because I remembered I am a person who writes. No qualifiers, I just write.
Scot in the greenhouse.
The bunnies on Easter morning after the egg hunt.
So what did happen during these last three months? We traveled to Iowa City to perform in The Exit Interview. Those two months proved very fruitful to us. Scot continued to write and refine his plays and cared for Kathy's greenhouse. I knitted and sewed a dress for Stephen’s wedding. We both read a lot (Scot’s favorite read was Building Stories by Chris Ware and mine was Like Life by Lorrie Moore). It’s hard to believe we met almost a year ago at the opening night of Timon of Athens at Chicago Shakespeare. We continue to inspire, delight and confuse each other every day. We saw Scot's daughter Emma dance wonderfully in a modern dance showcase and spoke to her drama class at Toledo School for the Performing Arts about being Chicago actors. I gave up Facebook for Lent. Quitting cold turkey was a great way to reevaluate how I use my time online and on social media. As I write this, I am happy to say that I don't have a Facebook tab open on my browser. Facebook is a sometime food. This past Easter weekend we celebrated with our friends here in Chicago by hosting the traditional brunch. I made a ham using Nina’s wonderful apricot and mustard glaze recipe. We selfishly hoped there would be leftovers for ham sandwiches, ham omelets and ham cookies. Ham is an anytime food. But alas, by the time everyone left Sunday evening, that ham bone was picked cleaned. We saved it for soup.
Beautiful Easter ham.
What has been on my mind the most (and perhaps why I’ve not written) is applying to school again. I’m not ready to go into all that right now, but soon. My blue and yellow sundress under a wool sweater harkens the arrival of spring in Chicago. We are sitting in the Map Room on Armitage Ave, which we thought was a coffee shop and is more a place where men day drink together. This post is a warm-up for a personal statement which I’m on a deadline to write. The blank Pages window beside this one shines white full of possibility and potential, just waiting for me to personally state something on it.

One thing is for sure, I better not tell them what a loser I am cause I think about The Game all the time.

*This is an typo from my first draft left intentionally because (1) it makes me laugh and (2) it shows the depths of depravity my writing has come to. I WRITING IT, DAMN IT!