Life on My Own Terms

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Two summers ago I met my friend Terry Berliner when she came out to direct a play for Okoboji Summer Theatre (our “summer home”). Terry and I hit it off immediately, first on the three-hour drive back from Minneapolis where … Continue reading

Learning Literary and Life Lessons #NESCBWI14

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“Because I wasn’t mad I saw something beautiful. I saw a color I had never seen before.” (Peter Reynolds) In his keynote address at the NESCBWI conference yesterday, Peter Reynolds–award-winning author and illustrator of North Star, The Dot,  and Ish–shared his philosophies … Continue reading

What to Write? What to Write? What to Write?

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Yesterday, the talented Sarah Cottrell, who blogs for the Bangor Daily News at Housewife Plus asked me if I would help motivate her with some writing prompts as she wants to start posting daily. As I lay in bed thinking about … Continue reading

Emptying My In Box

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I spent the morning deleting things from my four email accounts. While there are still a few emails left in each, there is something joyous about creating blank space that hasn’t yet been filled with obligations, rejections, duties, responsibilities, or … Continue reading

Creativity Breeds Creativity

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I’ve felt it happen hundreds of times. Put a group of people in a room together. Give them a creative project to work on –one with a clear goal but the flexibility for them to take ownership and make it … Continue reading

In Search of Inspiration

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  I have another confession to make . . . I often envy the people like artists and musicians who go out and make their art without letting life get in their way. I’m not talking about the big names … Continue reading

Thoughts from the Roof, the Road, and Points in Between

I’ve often written about life as a journey. In many ways, that is the guiding metaphor for my life recently.

Because of that, interesting things happen when you commit to taking an actual journey. A compact version of the journey of life, with the only difference being you know your destination (home), your traveling companions (Nathan, Sarah and the Dogs), and your general route (East).

Other than that, the past several days have been a physical as well as an emotional voyage filled with sights, sounds, thoughts, doubts, fears, inspiration, frustration and hope.

First, of course, I bonded with a gorilla, a reminder to me that we are not the only creatures that think and feel in the universe.

Different gorilla, but this is how I felt yesterday when I learned I still haven't been (and won't be for a while) paid for a job completed last April.

Different gorilla, but this is how I felt yesterday when I learned I still haven’t been (and won’t be for a while) paid for a job completed last April.

From there I floated in leisure (with a few moments of effort) on a canoe filled with both memories and dreams–memories of canoe trips past, and dreams of living in a place where I could have easy access to everything I love to do.

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I watched my daughter fall in love with reading as she devoured a book of old fairy tales–not the sanitized modern versions. I wondered if anything of mine would ever be read that intently, by someone sitting at a cabin in the woods.

 

I played with this image a bit because I thought it was so lovely.

I played with this image a bit because I thought it was so lovely.

At Sarah’s request, I went into the legions of hell, also known as the Mall of America, where I met the memories of the child she was and the young adult she’s becoming. I had memories of moments snuggled together as we watched Backyardigans and, my favorite, Miss Spider. Then we went into a store and bought her something that proves she is growing up. Sigh.

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While Sarah had a sleepover with some old friends, followed by an adventure on her own involving a 9 mile bike ride without adult supervision, Nathan and I (along with friends) wandered through the strange landscape of Franconia Sculpture Park as we attended a taiko drumming performance, which brought with it more memories of my journey, in the form of poetry.

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The cool thing about the poem is that I found the perfect place to write it.

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The poem itself reflects my inner journey. I call it Tadaima which means, in Japanese “I’m back” or “I’m home.”

Tadaima

Taiko drumming its way into
my memory
thousands of miles
before today
a past that calls
to dreams unlived
and future hopes
yumei
onegai shimasu
tadaima
Will I ever say
I’ve come home?

Yumei means dream.

Onegai shimasu is a formal way to say please.

The journey continued at a barbecue where several periods of my life met.

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And then it was time to say goodbye. We decided to take a different route home, since we’ve driven across I90 so many times, so we took the carferry across Lake Michigan for a slightly different perspective.

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Today was a more traditional day of driving, with a pause to wander through a park in Toledo, Ohio.

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I’ve been stuck in my head all day, and I think it’s time for me to get out of that space and focus on letting go. I’m trying hard to do that.

The only unusual part of today’s travel involved the configuration of sleeping figures in the back seat.

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We have a long day of driving tomorrow, but then we will be home.

I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiring Creativity in Unexpected Places

 

At one state university I taught an Intro to Theatre class, which I’ve taught many times before to similar groups of students–a spattering of students who signed up because of an actual interest mixed with a majority who signed up to fulfill a requirement and figured it would be  an easy class.

The second was for a Bryant University, a private institution known mostly as a business school. I was hired to fill in for a professor on medical leave to teach a course called Studies in Drama. this is an interesting course in that it was a 300 level course offered through the department of Literary and Cultural Studies to fulfill an LCS requirement, but at the same time was an introductory course on some levels. The majority of the class was made up of seniors, several of whom had specifically chosen this course because the original professor didn’t require seniors to take finals and had a reputation for not requiring a lot of work. Many of them were getting majors in things like business, accounting, economics, etc. Few of them had any experience in theatre or even expressed much interest on the first day of class.

In a blog post on Woman Wielding Words, I wrote this about the course:

“Knowing that I might have a reluctant group, I decided to try and make the course relevant to their interests as well as my own. Since I could design the course as I saw fit, I decided to focus on ‘theatre as a tool of cultural expression, political engagement, and social change.’ (From my syllabus). The first thing I had them read was  The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs by Mike Daisey, which is a somewhat controversial monologue/play that questions the ethics of Apple, Steve Jobs, and the use of Chinese workers to build Apple products. What better play to intrigue the interest of business majors?”

Throughout the rest of the I introduced them to many different ideas surrounding theatre. They learned about the theatrical techniques of Bertolt Brecht. We discussed  racism in Othello. We spent time with the Federal Theatre Project and discussed how a bunch of beavers led to the downfall of a federally supported theatre.  We looked at the role of theatre in confronting feminist issues in plays like Trifles, A Doll House,  and even Lysistrata.  We discussed the role of race and gender in plays like Cloud 9 and for colored girls who have considered suicide, when the rainbow is enuf. I introduced them to the techniques of Augusto Boal and we looked at radical street theatre and the ways in which theatre can affect social change in public places. We talked about various forms of street theatre they have seen themselves, and I included in the discussion flash mobs which, although perhaps not as political as some other forms, have become (in my opinion) an important phenomenon in modern society.

Throughout the class I asked them to read, discuss, have virtual discussions, present a scene from a play (in small groups) and review a live production. For the most part, the class participated fully, although I am aware of some slackers. As a final project I had assigned a ten page paper on a theatre related topic of their choice–after all this was a course under the domain of the “English” department, aka Literary and Cultural Studies.

Much to my surprise, when we talked about street theatre and flash mobs one of the students raised their hands and asked if they could do a class flash mob as a final instead of the papers. Now, I am completely aware that this was a ploy to get out of writing a ten page research paper. However, the fact that this group wanted to do a creative project, when on the first day only a few of them raised their hands when I asked who thought of themselves as creative, is a pretty amazing thing.

I negotiated and said that I was willing if there was also a research/written component. They decided to do something that would educate their audiences about sleep deprivation, which meant this flash mob wouldn’t have a dance component (as many people expect they should) but would require the class to fall asleep in the middle of the busiest place on campus for a few moments between classes. They surrounded themselves with signs containing facts about sleep deprivation, caffeine consumption, taking medicines meant for ADD, etc. They performed this twice–with different reactions and responses. They did research on:

  • the history of flash mobs and street theatre
  • sleep deprivation and college students
  • audience reception theory
  • the effects of caffeine on college students
  • perfectionism
  • and a variety of other topics

They learned a little about the challenges of creating a performance, such as:

  • the show must go on even when your technology doesn’t work (the music failed during their first performance)
  • the importance of beginnings and endings
  • focus
  • collaboration
  • communication.

I won’t claim that this was the most brilliant “mob” in existence, but I feel the majority of the class really learned something, and they got their message out as well.

It was an excellent semester.

For your enjoyment, the video they made of their experience:

Fall Semester 2012 found me doing adjunct work at two different universities.

Sometimes You Have to Sit in a Coffee Shop

I like the song playing softly in the background and makes me feel grounded. Yes, the lyrics distract me a little as I sing in my head, but I love sitting in a coffee shop that plays music that I like. I only wish I had a cushy chair to sit in, but at least I have a coffee shop to go to.

I have been struggling with accomplishing anything today. It is partially the remnants of the evil crud that took over my life last week, partially the fact that suddenly my life has become busier than I planned in an overwhelming way, and partially the feeling that I have no ideas right now.

I was hoping to hang out in one of my new places of inspiration, a small art studio owned by a friend of mine, but she wasn’t there. I didn’t want to go home, because I would have to leave again in less than an hour to pick up Sarah. Sometimes home feels like a cage, especially this home that does not feel like home.

So I headed to the lone coffee shop in town.

I’m not going to lie and say and say that ideas poured into me as I sipped my hot chai latte and stared at my computer. That would be the dream. But the reality is interesting too, at least to me.

In typical fashion, because of my addiction to WordPress and e-mail (Hello, my name is Lisa and I am a blogging addict), the first thing I did was plug in my computer and checked my e-mail. Much to my surprise I found an e-mail from our realtor with an actually pretty decent offer on the property that has been hanging around our necks like a brick. I don’t want to jinx it and we still need to discuss, but compared to the crap offer we got last week, things are looking up.

Then I thought about where I write best. Sometimes I write best at home at my desk. But that was when my computer wasn’t portable. Now I have my cute purple mini Dell which travels everywhere with me, so that is no excuse. Sometimes I write best in a journal, but I haven’t done that for a long time. Sometimes I write best in the middle of the night, when I should be sleeping. Sometimes I write best in total silence, sometimes with noise. There is no regularity to when I write best–except one.

Coffee shops.

When I was working on my dissertation (for those of you who many not remember, I actually am Dr. Lisa or Lisa Kramer , Ph.D.) I followed this pattern. I didn’t have the portable computer then, so I would sometimes write at school on yellow pads and then transfer over, but usually I typed directly into the computer. Sometimes I would write in silence, sometimes I put reruns of MASH on because they wouldn’t distract me but made me feel less alone.

After facing the torture of the screen, I printed out the chapters and headed to a local coffee shop. I took over a table and edited, revised, scribbled, ripped apart only to return again to the computer. Why a coffee shop instead of a library? I needed to feel like I was connected with humanity. I needed to feel that there was a world out there, beyond theory and words, beyond analysis and interpretation. I needed music in the background and murmured conversations that only distracted if they were truly juicy, and then I would take a little break.

So today, I headed to the coffee shop in the hopes of finding inspiration. I don’t know if I’ve found it. But now I’m writing this rambling post.

Sometimes you just have to sit in a coffee shop.