Life’s Wisdom Learned in Works for Children

Whenever the craziness and insanity of our world gets to be too much, I find myself turning to old favorite things for comfort. Sometimes that means putting in a good romantic comedy (When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, Notting Hill, or The Holiday are my recent go to picks). But, more often than not, I search for comfort in all things related to children–movies, books, and television shows (even the most obnoxious ones from Disney). Of course, some of my go to comforts aren’t specifically for children, but most of them filter the world through the eyes of childhood and reveal that children are much closer to simple truth than so many adults who think they know everything.

The past few days have been very emotional for me. A combination of good news, bad news, creative energy, fear, too much Halloween candy, insomnia brought upon by the joyous time change, a lot of schlepping and driving, the general ups and downs of being a parent, and a few too many caffeinated  have combined to make me a babbling ball of frazzled energy. So, in typical fashion I found myself looking for comfort in a book. Now the book I chose isn’t exactly one for children, but it is a reminder that learning can come even from the simplest of bears:

Hoff writes,

“but the adult is not the highest stage of development. the end of the cycle is that of the independent, clear-minded, all-seeing Child. That is the level known as wisdom. When the Ta Te Ching and other wise books say things like, “Return to the beginning; become a child again,” that’s what they’re referring to.” (151)

Throughout my posts you can easily find quotes and memories from childhood favorites that still speak to me this day. But rather than have you search for them, and in a hope that gathering some of this wisdom together might make me fill more centered, I thought I would share some of my favorite lessons here, in one place. Feel free to add any that I miss in the comments below.

  • There is no limit to dreams: I very recently wrote the post called “Join Me in a Land of Wonder” so I’m not going to repeat the videos here. But I would like to quote some of the dialogue from Tangled that I love:

Rapunzel: I’ve been looking out of a window for eighteen years, dreaming about what I might feel like when those lights rise in the sky. What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be?
Flynn Rider: It will be.
Rapunzel: And what if it is? What do I do then?
Flynn Rider: Well,that’s the good part I guess. You get to go find a new dream.

  • Today’s mistakes mean nothing: Or, to quote “Tomorrow is another day with no mistakes in it.” 
  • There is no limit to where your imagination can take you:

“If you are a dreamer come in, . . .”

. . (Shel Silverstein, Invitation)

“For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.” (Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends)

  • The simplest things can make us happy:

Actually, Calvin and Hobbes is one of the best sources of wisdom anywhere.

  • Keep on trying:

  • Love, travel, and adventure make life worth living:

My list could go on forever, but I’ll spare you that. What words of wisdom have you learned from your favorites of childhood?

Monsters in the Closet and Other Scary Stuff

“I can’t sleep with the closet door open.”

I made this statement on one of the rare occasions when the entire Kramer family was gathered together. My mother looked at me as if I was completely insane and said, “Really? You’re kidding!”

“No, I’m not. I’m afraid of monsters in the closet. I know they aren’t really there, but I can’t help being afraid.”

My mother continued to scoff.

Much to my surprise my older sister (Deb) who you haven’t met often, and my older brother (Steve) who you have, jumped to my defense.

“I know exactly why she’s afraid,” Deb said. “It was because of Grandma’s house.”

“Yeah,” Steve agreed. “The door with the glass doorknob.”

My mom looked at us all strangely. “What are you talking about?”

So we explained.

When my grandparents were alive we would go visit them in Belmar, New Jersey. My grandparents passed away within a few months of each other when I was about 6 years old, so my memories of them are limited. My sister is 5 years older than me, so she probably has clearer memories, but we rarely talk about them. Perhaps we should.

When we visited my grandparents the kids all stayed in one room. A small double bed filled one side of the room, and a cot lay opposite for the third little body. We alternated who would sleep in the double and who would sleep in the cot. You might think we all wanted the cot, but you would be wrong. Why?

Because the cot was right next to the scariest door in the world. The one with the glittery, diamond-shaped door knob.

 

I’m not sure where the door led. I always thought it led to the attic (shudder) but someone told me it was just a closet. When it was my turn, I would lie in that cot, the door knob inches from my non-sleeping eyes convinced that at any moment the door knob would turn from unseen hands and open to suck me into a terrifying nightmare.

We were all afraid of the door knob.

“Why didn’t you say something?” Mom asked. “Grandma would have done something.”

“We were kids, Mom,” My sister answered.

But I think it was deeper than that, I think we didn’t say anything because nobody would have believed us anyway. We would have received the same reaction then as we did on this day, nearly 40 years later.

I am convinced that my grandparent’s house had its ghosts, even if they were simply the ghosts of our imagination. I am also convinced that, if I have ever really been visited by ghosts, the visitations have come from my grandparents, my nana (Dad’s mother) and possibly a man we called Cousin Lou who may or may not actually be my relative. All I remember about him is the giant red teddy bear with the flowered belly that he gave me after winning it from the fair.

When did they visit? I will try to remember some of the occasions that add to my belief in the power of spirit, as I discussed yesterday.

  • When Nana passed away, a bird got into my brother’s tiny bedroom somehow. My mom claims the window was open, but I remember it being closed. Even if it was open, this had never happened before. Birds, in Jewish folklore, can represent a “winged soul.” This particular bird was extremely important as it got into the room a few minutes before we got the phone call saying Nana had just passed away. I will always believe Nana came to say good-bye.
  • I used to have a recurring dream that took place at my grandparents house. Sometimes we would go down into the basement of the house (a basement that I really don’t have a memory of). Usually my grandparents aren’t there, at least not visibly, but I hear their voices talking to me and telling me something. I might just pass these off as dreams except for something I learned much later in life, Deb and Steve both used to have similar dreams.
  • In a similar way, Cousin Lou often visited me in dreams of my Nana’s house, although not as often.
  • There is one day that I know all my ancestors were with me in spirit; the day I became a Bat Mitzvah. I remember the day starting out cloudy, threatening rain. This upset me, as I wanted a beautiful day. But, by the time the Friday evening ceremony rolled around, the sun shone in glorious April beauty. A gift from my loved ones. When I stood on the Bima to read my haftorah, my stomach jiggled with a million butterflies. There was a certain part of the complex Hebrew text that always sounded like something else to me. I can’t remember exactly what, but it was something like “we love you” or another comforting phrase like that. It was early on in my chanting, and as soon as I hit the phrase my heart filled with warmth and I knew that the people who would have most celebrated that day (my grandparents were Orthodox Jews) were there with me, with glowing golden smiles on their faces. My Mom said she saw me smile then. I continued with a strong voice, and was even invited back to repeat the haftorah the following year.

Of course, this could all have been the workings of a very imaginative child, but who knows? Most bumps and creaks in the night can be easily explained away, but once in a while you experience a mystery that adds to the awesome complexities of life.

So forgive me if I close my closet door before I go to sleep. You never know when something unexpected might come out.

The Flavors of Fall

Autumn has always been my favorite season. The change has only just begun, but it never fails to create a feeling of excitement and awe in me. I don’t know exactly what it is about the fall. Perhaps it is because even now it seems more like the beginning of the a new year to me then January ever does. I grew up celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in the fall, but it’s more than that. The fall means a new school year, with new things to learn. The fall means new clothes, especially the beginning of sweater weather, which I love. While the fall technically represents the dimming of life, as the leaves fade away, to me it merely represents continuation and change, because though the beauty fades it will return again next year.

I thought I would share some of my favorite things about fall with you. I love the smell of cinnamon and apples, of pumpkin pie and leaves on the ground. I love the colors and the warmth, the blue of the sky and the ever-changing leaves. Here are a few images of the beauty and flavors of fall.

Happy Fall and Happy New Year everyone! May the sweetness, warmth, and color of this season fill your life in the coming year.

This Time It’s Different, Coming Home to the Unknown

“Welcome home, everyone,” I said into the walkie-talkie as we crossed over the border of Massachusetts.

Welcome home. Welcome home. The words echoed in my head, each time resonating with new meanings and new messages until the words became meaningless.

After all, I am still trying to understand what home means to me.

Of course, this is literally coming home, since I grew up in MA, and only moved away from the state after college when I began my adventures teaching English in Japan. (Of course, there was one summer during college when I lived in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, but I’m not sure that counts).

When I left it all those years ago, I never thought I’d be back. Not that I made a conscious decision never to return to Massachusetts, but that I thought life would continue to lead me in all sorts of directions. I’m not sure where I thought I would end up. I had dreams of New York City, or perhaps London or Paris. I had thoughts of making it big in Los Angeles or perhaps becoming a politician (eek!) and living in Washington, DC. I had a brief thought of living in Boston as well, and working for some editing company.

The truth is that I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or where I wanted to be. And I still don’t.

Life has taken me on an unexpected journey, making me land in places I never even considered. This return home  is merely another stop in the journey, but a stop that represents a full circle in many ways.

Driving into Massachusetts, then, contains levels of familiarity mixed in with something new and something completely different. What is the difference? Well, it is the unknown.

For the most part, whenever I have moved someplace, I already had work lined up or some clear plan. The exception to that was when I had just graduated with my MFA in directing and decided to move in with Nathan who lived and taught in Edwardsville, IL outside of St. Louis. I had no job, no clear plan of what I wanted to do, and no clue how to find something. I remember going into a deep depression as I struggled to find work and figure out how to use the degree that I had fought to earn, in a kind of ugly battle that was the beginning of my disillusionment with academia and with certain aspects of the theater world. Eventually, however, I found myself working with the International Economics Society as kind of a general office worker, and with the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) in St. Louis as a part-time House Manager, while I tried to find my way into the theater scene as a director. I learned a lot from those experiences, including the fact that I don’t really like the drudgery of working in an office from 9-5. My experiences there led to the next decisions of my life which eventually brought me to where I am today.

But where am I? I am back in the same position I was then, as we made the move for Nathan’s work and I don’t have any specific work lined up until the spring (when the University Nathan is working for has offered me a class).  I’m back in the unknown, not sure where or how to start looking. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But this time it is different. I may be unsure of what I want to do, or how to go about doing it, but I carry with me some valuable pieces to help me along the way. I’m not talking about the belongings that we lugged with us across the country (not even this computer which is my lifeline in so many ways). No, I carry with me the following:

  • Knowledge and experience: I have proven to myself time and time again that I can achieve any project set in front of me, and that I am capable of gaining the knowledge I need in order to face all challenges successfully.
  • Words: I am a writer. I write. I may not have made a lot of money out of it, but I have the talent and ability to write, and that is a valuable thing to have.
  • Diversity. I am a walking advertisement in all aspects of diversity. I have diverse skills that can help in many positions. I have an open mind to diverse possibilities. Heck, even my family represents diversity, with a husband who is Japanese/Korean American and a daughter who is, then, a Japanese/Korean/Jew. The ability to communicate and embrace diversity in our world is a valuable skill to have, and I believe I have it.

So what does any of this mean? I still don’t know, but I do know this time it’s different. I may be facing the unknown yet again, and be as clueless as I was when I left my MFA program so many years ago. But I will not allow that to bring me down. I will create a path and a life that I love, so that perhaps coming back to Massachusetts will really feel like coming home.

 

UFO Messages

UFO? UFO?

Image by thinboyfatter via Flickr

In a vibrant aquamarine sky, tiny white spaceships drop down toward the earth, similar in shape and movement to the old Atari Space invaders game. (Yes, I am dating myself). But the sky was blue, and the UFO’s did not have evil-looking faces.

One of my recurring childhood dreams always began that way.

The scene would then shift, to a beautiful, crystal night sky sparkling with billions of stars. I sat on the front stoop of my childhood home, watching the beauty. The townhouses across the street sat quietly, waiting for something to happen.

Suddenly a giant rectangle forms in the sky, and a movie starts to play in bright and vibrant colorful display. This internal movie was always different. It always had some sort of message for me, although I cannot recall any of the specific details. I watched with enthusiasm, absorbing the knowledge and wisdom displayed in the heavens. Sometimes neighbors came out to join me, our heads craning upward in company.

After the movie, the street became crowded with a fair-like atmosphere. Music playing, people dancing. Cotton candy and fried dough vendors selling their wares. All in the length of street in front of my childhood home. The revelry became overwhelming. I very rarely joined in, but watched from the safety of the front stoop.

The inevitable twist in the dream came than. As a gigantic, lone UFO moved down from the sky. Chaos ensued, with screaming masses trying to escape from what they perceived as their inevitable doom. My role here shifted from dream to dream. Sometimes I was trying to be the ambassador, calming everyone down “The come in peace” because I knew they did. Sometimes I sensed that the UFO represented destruction, and I tried to help others escape.

The UFO would land and a creature would come out, bearing ill or good depending on the dream and . . .

I would wake up.

I welcome interpretations of this dream from my childhood. Or, share any recurring dreams you have had in your life, that stay in your memory.

I share this in honor of Sidey’s Weekend Theme–UFO. Join us in the fun.

Appropriate Age Appropriateness

I love reading books for children and young adults.

I like going to movies that have a rating below “R.”

I admit my fascination with shows made for Disney and Nick.

I like to build with and play with puppets.

I talk to stuffed animals, and yes I even sleep with some (they are the perfect size to support my arm, my husband is too big).

I have several collections of music made for children by regular artists.

Sometimes I feel I get along better with kids, then with other adults.

I am in my 40s, and I love all things related to childhood. And I truly believe that those adults who are in touch with their inner child lead happier lives.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, one of my many projects this summer is working with adults with Developmental Disabilities to create some drama/art programming. My artist friend, Jackie, and I go there twice a week to work with this wonderful group of people. At the end of this month, we will be doing a public sharing of some of the things we have done, but my focus has really been on providing this group with an experience that helps them learn, grow, and have fun.

Last Tuesday, the group had an open house and wanted to film the workshop for inclusion in a commercial. So I made sure to plan a really active day, incorporating everything we had done so far–including the fabulous masks and puppets that the group had made. It went really well, and the filming was fun.

However, this is where the issue of AGE APPROPRIATENESS came into play. Yes folks, one of the important people from the company stuck her head into the room to watch what we were doing. Literally, only her head, because to fully enter into the room might actually allow her to sense the energy, learning, and enthusiasm that was going. And what was her reaction? She didn’t like the puppets. She didn’t think they were age appropriate.

Let me backtrack a little to explain. Since this was a new group for me to work with, I had a plan but recognized that I had to be flexible and let the plan grow around the needs of the group. That is one thing that I am good at. So, first I started by introducing them to drama games, and getting them comfortable with using their bodies and their imaginations. Then we asked them to create masks which I thought would help some of the shyer ones come out of their shells.

Some of the fabulous masks.

It worked.

Then I learned that a group of them are in choir and sing “Puff the Magic Dragon. ” In an Aha! Moment I thought, “ooh, we could use that as a foundation for a drama to explore.” So, I brought the song with me to a session–and in that one we went on a magical imaginary adventure to the beach where Puff lived and the cave where he hid out. Then, in the next class, we had the group build puppets made of egg cartons and paper, and the decorations of their creative minds. Again, my theory behind the puppets was to give them something tangible and comfortable to use as we further explored this world.

A Puff puppet. The body is paper and "flies"

On Tuesday, the group interacted with the puppets, the masks, and each other. They had conversations and acted like they were at a party. They came to life.

But remember, the puppets are NOT AGE APPROPRIATE!

Yesterday, I wrote mini-scenes for us to explore, and brought two sheets and a few masks and one puppet to aid us.

Scene I: (on the beach)

Puff: I love you Jackie.

Jackie: I love you too Puff. Let’s always be friends.

We established the beach using the sheet, where we had an imaginary picnic. We ate. We played volleyball. We hunted sea shells. We became seagulls. And then we used the puppet and one mask to practice the scene.

Success #1: The shy man who would never speak or do anything, volunteered and read the lines in a very quiet voice.

Success #2: The woman who said “No!” and would not move, jumped onto the picnic blanket and ate her imaginary chicken nuggets.

Scene II: (Riding in a boat on the ocean!)

Jackie: Land Ho!

Puff: Roar!

King: Welcome!

Pirate: Arrrr!

We used two sheets to create the boat. One became the sail, supported by two people.  We laid the second sheet on the ground and had people sit in the middle. Then we picked up the corners and raised it around them, swaying back and forth so they could feel the boat moving. The rest of the group made wind sounds as the boat moved in the ocean.

Success #3: People jumping at the opportunity to ride in that boat.

Success #4: The older gentleman who is always happy and having fun, but a little hesitant about participating, refusing to let go of the sail because he was having so much fun holding it up and swaying in the wind.

Success #5: Some of the shyer ones again volunteering to speak and become the characters.

Success #6: The man who is somewhat higher functioning, but can be very taciturn and grumpy when things don’t go the way he wants them to, leaping up to become the King and embodying that king in body and voice.

Scene III (In the Cave)

Puff: Where are you Jackie?

Jackie (outside of the cave): I’m too busy, Puff.

Puff: ROAR (sobs)

This time the two sheets became the cave.  Four people held up one for the ceiling, and the other formed the floor. Volunteers again leaped at the opportunity to sit in the cave. When I asked what we might hear in the cave, everyone said “water.” So I grabbed my rain stick and handed it to the one woman who had not participated much at all that day. She simply sat in a chair and watched. She took the rain stick and helped create the glorious drippy atmosphere. Then, as  we started with the lines, I realized that caves should echo. So everyone became part of this scene, with one person saying the line and everyone repeating it several times to create a cavernous echo.

Success #7: Full participation in this imaginative journey.

Now remember folks. We achieved all of this using things that might be inappropriate. 

I wish more adults had the courage to embrace child-like things, because it brings joy.

And for this group of adults, it also brings other important things like:

  • The ability to communicate
  • Use of their imaginations
  • Use of their bodies
  • Fine motor skills in order to use the puppets
  • The chance to speak despite shyness.
  • The chance to touch in a caring, safe way.
  • The opportunity to travel even in imaginary places
  • Etc.

So I am going to continue to embrace the inappropriate. Anyone want to join me?

Please check out this  post written by Diane who used puppets in an even more powerful way, but faced the issue of inappropriateness  as well.

TRAVELING FANTASIES

[I'm looking for inspiration today, but I can't seem to find it.  Not in my whole wheat waffles dribbled with some peach yogurt to make it seem like a decadent pastry (sometimes I trick myself into believing that). Not in the inspiring words of some of my favorite bloggers. Not in the Daily Post suggestions, or even from my dreams. So I decided to look at some of my past writing, that I haven't put into the blog and see if I could expand, or if it could just speak for itself. Here and there I have pieces of a "memoir" I guess, a series of essays that I want my daughter to read someday, so that she knows who I was throughout my life. This is under a file called "A Patchwork Life"]:

When I was a young girl I loved going on long car rides.  Well, maybe not always.  When all three of us kids crowded into the back seat and the elbow fights began because someone crossed the line into another person’s space, that wasn’t so fun.  But I loved when I got to sit by the window and everyone was listening to some oldies or jazz that my Dad played on the radio.  In the quiet my own adventures began.

During the day I imagined that I wasn’t in the car, but I was riding next to the car on a beautiful horse. Sometimes I imagined a rich chestnut with a lightning bolt of white between the eyes.  I named her Wildfire, after the song.  I think Wildfire might actually have come from a book I read.  Sometimes I rode a gorgeous Palomino that glistened in a bright gold when the sunlight hit her.  I called her Golden Glow or something like that.  Whichever horse I imagined that day took me speeding along the highway, with wind racing through hair and mane in wild abandon.  Sometimes we took side trip rides away from the family car, but we always returned to make sure we didn’t get lost.  My horse was swifter than any car, and very brave.  I always had a magnificent ride that I never wanted to end.

posters.sonik.us

At night my imagination took me on a different adventure.  I would stare at the stars searching for UFOs.  I’d seek out the numerous moving lights in the night sky, thrilled anytime I could find a satellite or shooting star. Even airplanes motivated fantastic fantasies.   Eventually, I would find a bright star that I decided was a planet.  I imagined that on that planet there was another girl looking at the stars and thinking about me.  I envisioned our conversations, our games, and how fun it would be if we could figure out how to travel through space.  At some point I would slowly drift off to sleep.

With each car ride, my adventure would change, but they were always exciting.  I sometimes wish I could easily revisit them now.  It is harder to fall into complete daydreams now, as life and everyday worries have the tendency to intrude on even the most fabulous fantasies.

Those fantasies were important though, in that they were another place of escape. They became a place where I allowed myself to be as brave and courageous as I wanted to be. They are also the foundation of my continuing search for stories to tell, as well as my joy in working for and with young people. Youth has a closer connection with the world of magic and imagination; connections I struggle to hold onto as the realities of adult life take the forefront.

On our most recent long car trip, the drive from Kansas to Massachusetts and back, I yearned for those childhood fantasies. Instead I had to lose myself reading the journeys of “Poor Mr. Frodo.”

Sometimes, though, when Sarah and the dogs were sleeping soundly in the back and Nathan was driving, I would find myself drifting off into the wonderful lands of imagination. I almost felt myself riding that horse again; together we were off on an adventure in a completely new world. Sigh.