cinderella memorandum

cinderella blog 1Goodness knows I could stand to write about planting potatoes right now, but we’re still shaking off post-production whiplash from Lulah’s fifth performance run with the local high school theater group. We are so proud of her. It was great. The songs are still rolling around in my head all day. The experience of live theater really sticks to my ribs.

The Spring 2016 show was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I had never heard of it before, but we quickly got up to speed by watching the (rather ancient) movie version starring a very young Julie Andrews as Cinderella. Lulah has had a long-standing aversion to the Disney cartoon Cinderella, even though she’s never seen the movie, so we were relieved to find that the musical version was quite a bit more spunky and fun than the sappy sweet Disney. I was even more pleasantly surprised to find that the Rodgers and Hammerstein version had been “updated” with a new sub-plot involving a political fire-brand who falls in love with one of Ella’s step-sisters and convinces Ella to tell the prince (the charmingly clueless Prince ‘Topher) that his people were being treated unfairly. In the end, Cinderella is not only escorted out of squalor and oppression and into Queen-dom, she also carries her people with her and convinces her true love to establish a democracy. (Wow, right?)cinderella 6cinderella ten minutes ago 2

The kids are so gorgeous. They throw themselves into the show and transport us into a suspended reality. For those hours, we believe them in their characters, in their sincerity, and their hilarity. And then, after the curtain call, we see them return to themselves, but still in fancy costume. They have such wonderful vitality. They are beautiful in so many ways.

cinderella grand entrance

cinderella blog 2Watching the show, night after night, I began to wonder about my own personal sub-plot in the drama of this High School Theater group. Why am I so mesmerized by the activity of the show? Something happens to me when the lights go up on that stage. Seeing those fresh faces, teetering on the brink of adulthood, takes me back.

And the truth is, looking back is not a completely comfortable experience. I remember some of the thrill of BEing where they are now. I remember the small sea of faces in the audience – trying not to be TOO obvious about seeking out my loved ones – letting the months of rehearsal, memorization, repetition, flow through me. I remember the magic of performance as art. And I remember being a contradictory teenage bundle of energy, bravado, and insecurity.

Don’t get me wrong – it was a great time. But in the midst of all that fun stuff, I never believed that I was enough. I wasn’t pretty enough, or smart enough, or strong enough. I didn’t let on about my perceived insufficiencies much, but I held onto them inside. (The way so many of us do.)

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Watching the stage, feeling my heartstrings plucked, it becomes obvious that I was plenty beautiful, smart, and strong, just like they are now. I don’t know if I would have listened to anyone telling me that I really was sufficient, for myself, and for the task ahead of growing up. But I can’t help wishing that I had felt a little more comfortable in my own skin (I had nice skin, but I didn’t know it then.). The past has passed.

There’s always room for greater peace, though, and that’s what washes over me in the aftermath of the show. By opening my heart to these kids – my own, as well as all the others I am fortunate enough to meet in our community – I have the opportunity to make peace with my old demons of insecurity and self-doubt. Watching these young people at play and at work on this show, has helped me remember myself as I was, and extend the affection I feel for the kids towards that (rather grumpy and critical) memory of myself at their age. When I am able to look into my past with greater compassion and affection, I become more capable of loving my life as it IS, right now. What a gift.

cinderella fairy god mother hug

In return, I hope to add my voice to the multifaceted cultural message these young folks are absorbing as they move toward maturity, because the Disney storyline doesn’t work for a lot of us, and it’s good to have options. Here I am, long enough past adolescence and early adulthood to be irrelevant, strange, or maybe a little wise. I guess it’s up to them to decide.

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These days, my voice travels to the next generation primarily in the context to being a mother – mostly, Lulah’s mother. My best bet is to embrace and enjoy my post for all it’s worth. And so I am… Lulah’s mother who doesn’t wear make up and refuses to color over the gray in her hair. Lulah’s mother who drives the muddy car. Lulah’s mother who brings a ball of wool and a crochet hook to rehearsal. Lulah’s mother, who insists that it’s good for you to stand on one foot and breathe. Lulah’s mother, who wants you to touch your toes, drink more water, bend your knees, AND relax. Lulah’s mother who wants you to be yourself, and believe in yourself as much (or more) than the rest of us believe in you. Lulah’s mother may be a little batty, and maybe that’s alright.

cinderella the shoe does not fit

But my aim is true. I want them to experience for themselves that they ARE sufficiently beautiful, strong and smart, that they are just as wonderful as they dream themselves to be, and also that they have so much farther to go. I want them to have confidence to walk into the world around them, not as masters, but as students of LIFE, because the best masters also stay students.

Life is full of foibles. I may not succeed in my heart-felt effort to inspire greater confidence in personal goodness in the next generation, but having seen the possibility for myself, in myself – I have to try.

So, thanks kids, for the great show, for doing some yoga with me, and for being your beautiful selves. Please – carry on. Keep singing. You are on a roll – don’t stop growing!

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May your shoes always fit!cinderella the shoe fits

occupy life

(Sigh.) Another theater season has drawn to a close in our local high school. They did a bang up job putting on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. And we survived. My lack of a post last week was due to the fact that we were just surviving the process, but now, a few days out, I can look back and enjoy the ride.occupy teacup 2

Theater is a high impact, comprehensive, creative, full body sport. I love it. When I was in high school, it was one of my ambitions to play Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, on Broadway, or someplace similar. (Thankfully, I have let that particular ambition slide.)

It didn’t take much time in New York City for me to realize I would rather be in the woods than on the stage. The theater of life is sufficient. But that doesn’t stop me from still loving the process of live stage drama. So, I got a little bit involved.

The directors of the local theater program are really excellent folks with good taste in vegetables (we supply their families) and we had long talked about yoga with the theater kids. I started leading their warm ups at one rehearsal each week.

It was so much fun. I’m hoping that the kids enjoyed it at least half as much as I did. Working with them, and watching them develop this performance has been a really special experience for me. Love of my daughter, the stage, and the local kids all collided in one great opportunity. I really want these young folks to get a sense of their own power, and to practice a waking awareness of their own bodies and selves. See, in order to convince someone in the audience that you are not yourself, you have to use every piece of yourself – every gesture, every breath, each movement – and so you need an acute awareness and control over yourself. I want them to know where their hands and feet are at all times – to feel the weight of their precious heads on their shoulders and use it well. I want them to use their whole bodies and their whole minds, and to learn how to work hard without hurting themselves in the process.  occupy kids

Those teenage years are so freakin’ intense. Young people have enormous amounts of energy – emotionally, intellectually, physically – and it is in the best interest of all involved for that energy to be used well. There’s a tremendous focus on sports-related activities in our local schools (which is a fine outlet) and the theater gives an outlet to those who aren’t so inclined to the playing field.

Watching them take their final bow on closing night brought back vivid memories of those wonderful intense sensations – the heat of the lights, the bond with fellow players, the exhilaration and corresponding exhaustion. A theater production crew creates something altogether new with their combined efforts whether great or small, and shares that creation with the community. Whatever the character of their shared creation, if it grabs us, the audience, and takes us along for the ride, it is successful.occupy teacup

Of course, when my personal favorite purple tea cup takes the stage, I can’t pay very much attention to the rest of the action. That’s the nature of parenthood I suppose, but besides that, I appreciate seeing her be a piece of the whole production process. As exhausting as it is, I do believe in it. (I’ll believe in it even more when she’s older and can drive herself to rehearsal, but…)occupy kids 1

Then there was the bomb threat.

Yes, that’s right, a bomb threat, right here in the middle of nowhere. It was a fake, of course, perpetrated probably by a student hoping to get out of school early, but the authorities had no choice but to take it seriously and lock down the school for a night. And that in turn meant canceling that night’s performance and re-scheduling it later, which was a major bummer for the kids who had worked so hard for months to put this show together.

My initial reaction to hearing the word “bomb” connected to any place my children will be is to remove them from that place, perhaps permanently.

But after that reaction came and went, I got to thinking a little harder about it all.

First I thought about this place – the rural south – where we have come home and chosen to raise our children. I wasn’t born here, but have lived here since I was a little baby. I’m still not considered “local” and probably my children won’t be either, even though they are among the tiny minority of people actually born in this county. Part of why I like it here is that there is a staying power to the people. Walking the halls of the high school on the closing night of the play, I looked at the faces of the graduates dating back into the 1930’s. The surnames are still familiar – there are generations of people who have stayed right here. They know each other through deeply woven connections and generations of family ties. To my way of thinking, this gives the local society a level of accountability that is hard to find in the scattered social disconnect of suburban sprawl. There are problems, too, of course. There are “good old boy” networks and prejudices that sometimes send me screaming. But there is a sweet, deep beating heart beneath all of that. And that’s what will keep a community whole, a place where you don’t ever, in your wildest dreams, expect to hear the words “bomb threat”. And that’s part of why we are still here.

There is a tendency among a growing number of us to want to ditch civilization at large. I am definitely prone to that kind of thinking. There are times that I would like nothing more than to take my family deep into the primeval forest and stay there, where there are no bomb threats, no standardized tests, no blinking screens and ticking clocks and nightly news and faceschmuk.

But if I hold my gaze firm I come to know that there is no running away. There is no perfect place. What I want is a better world, a world without bomb threats and school shootings, among many things. It is feasible that my Fellow Man and I could perhaps create enough of a bubble around ourselves to make the world better for OUR kids, which would be great, but it’s not the whole picture.

I believe that when part of humanity suffers, we all suffer in some way. Our suffering, in our comfortable homes and with our creature comforts may be indirect and subtle. It may manifest in the crude sort of alienation that leads young people to make false bomb threats. But that doesn’t make the suffering any less real.

I want to do things that make the whole world a better place. Your world, my world, OUR world. This doesn’t mean I’m joining Doctors Without Borders (a WONDERFUL organization). That’s not my calling. My work, for now is simply to not run away – to stay here and occupy this world, at home.

I believe that if we were to pay more attention to the places we occupy – our bodies, our homes, our communities – then these places will be improved. They will not be improved while our attention remains glued to the high speed screens that try to sell us what they say we ought to be.

I’ve heard it said that the footsteps of the farmer are the best fertilizer. That’s not a statement about compressing the soil – it’s about paying attention. Our worlds, large and small, need our attention, as they are right now, in pain and sickness and pleasure and plenty, to heal and to thrive. Nothing will get better if we ditch now. Nothing will improve without our heartfelt, focused, creative attention.

That’s a lot to pack into a yoga class with some teenagers, I know. Sometimes people get a funny look on their face when I say to a class, “feel your feet on the ground”. Maybe they’re thinking that this yoga teacher is just nuts. Or maybe they’re feeling the soles of their feet in a way they hadn’t noticed before. Maybe they can carry that new sense of the soles of their feet out on the stage in the stride of some character that will make us all laugh our heads off. Maybe they will carry that sensation into their lives and use it to help them stay awake for all the beauty in store for them if they look for it, and create it. I hope so, cause that’s what I’m talking about.

The kids in the theater production occupied every inch of that stage to make that awesome performance. They connected to the creative process, and each other, and they shared it with us. We gave them back a lot of love and appreciation in return, and for this period of time, in this little town, that lively exchange made our world a very good place.occupy kids 2

bloom

“Bloom where you’re planted.”

elephant 1It’s such a good idea, but truth be told, some locations demand a skillful gardener to coax blooms.

In our dark little hollow, we’ve found that the more trees we clear, the more flowers bloom. When we cleared the western fence row, a long row of day lilies sprang up. When the larger sycamore in the pasture came down, an ancient hydrangea came to bloom. More light, more air, more flowers.

This spring we sent our most mature sprout up into the sun, to see how she bloomed. We put her in the care of some energetic and creative gardeners. With their care, she has done well.jb wolf 2

The Jungle Book production at our local high school was a smashing success. The gardeners, otherwise known as directors, cultivated a crew of more than forty young people, ages 6 to 18, through two and a half months of intense rehearsals. Some participants were seasoned perennials, but many of the youngsters were first time transplants in the world of theater.

If the thought of choreographing forty mixed age kids into a cohesive hour and a half long stage production isn’t enough to make you shake in your boots, consider that they also used live music. The high school band performed the entire score. “Bare Necessities, and “Wanna Be Like You”, and plenty more, too.jb bee 2

Live music adds such depth to a performance. There’s something about the vibration of the trombone, the piano string, that cannot be captured and replayed without a living player. And there’s so much to learn about singing with real musicians. It’s easier to sing with canned music. It never changes – you can change your voice all you want, but you know the recorded tune will not alter. Much easier. To sing a song with live musicians means forming a listening relationship with each other. It’s a wonderful thing to learn – and good strong work.

We know our sprouts, here on the farm. We know Lulah to be an active, spicy girl with strong opinions. She can be easily distracted, but when she sets her mind to a task, her determination will see her through.jb elephant

But she hasn’t done a lot of growing in the larger world. She’s comfortable at the homes of our family and friends, and at our home church. But consider that she’s never been in a classroom with a built-in set of thirty peers. Her closest friends are children she has known either since she was born or they were. They have their own codes of familiarity, and they love one an-others company in a particularly unconditional, deep, and wonderful way.

I had no idea how she would adapt to the company of so many new kids. Even though she can be outrageously expressive at home, I have seen her be reserved, even almost shy, in less familiar environments. But again, the skilled gardeners find a way. The show directors took time to break the ice, play games, and create structure to keep the kids busy with one another in different age groups. When I ventured into the hallowed auditorium to drop off or pick up my little performer, I was happy with the environment I encountered. The kids were friendly without pretense, and though Lulah wasn’t always engaged talking with someone, she never seemed put out about it. Throughout the course of the show, especially as dress rehearsals began to get more intense, she bonded more closely with a couple of the other girls. She was content with her experience. And so, I could be too.jb wolf

Rehearsals took place during some horrible winter weather, then through the first few spring rushes of intense work in the garden, then through the loss of the third member of our family to pass away in less than a year. Lulah definitely learned that the show must go on. And it’s been good, that regularity, and the carrying of the creative spark even in the mundane work. Lulah was pushed (she always slept well after rehearsals), but just far enough to become productive, never to the point of burn out. Creativity, brought to fruition, is a lot of work, after all.

Rehearsals were closed. Even though we ate, slept, and breathed the Jungle Book, we had no idea how the performance would actually look. It was a great surprise. We intended to attend just a couple of the five performances, letting family and friends fill in for us on other nights, but in the end, we only missed one show. Even watching the performances unfold was wonderful. Everyone gained such confidence and familiarity over the course of those five days. It was like time lapse photography of a blooming field of wildflowers – with a really groovin’ soundtrack.jb bee

I can’t help but admit that I’m relieved to be free of rehearsal schedule. I’m sure we all are. But I have no regrets about the time well spent. The cut flowers on our table remind me just how much our Lulah has bloomed. I’m grateful for the patient production team, skilled gardeners all, who take the time to help our children grow this way. The beauty and fun, the living color, sound, and movement that they are cultivating in our community is vital to the root, heart and soul.jb whole cast2