Monthly Archives: June 2015

Week 46 – Little Bits of Growing Pains

Hi there, Celebrationists!

Hope your week is already off to an excellent start.

1.) I am grateful for knowledgable, caring, and thoughtful friends – old and new, who are a better support system than I could ever deserve.

2.) I am grateful to have a couple days of weather that isn’t either rainy and bleak or 95 degrees and oppressive.

3.) I am grateful for a particular new friend who always makes sure I’m kept in coffee, rides, laundry abilities, and a ready listening ear. So grateful.

Today I want to talk about growth. And to share this, by Elizabeth Gilbert – because she’s simply the best, and I’m making it my mantra for the week:

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Growth seems to be one of those things that is really hard to track, in ourselves. There are so many areas of my life in which I feel constantly behind. Moments where I think “I should be so much further along than this…”  Maybe you’ve felt it, too. Perhaps this sensation manifests in terms of where you are at in your…

  • Romantic relationship
  • Living situation
  • Self-love
  • Financial life
  • Ability to set boundaries/assert yourself
  • Way of negotiating friendships
  • Clarity of purpose
  • Life trajectory
  • A million other possibilities…

I feel like the phrase “getting ahead” is a very American one. But I wonder what, or who we are trying to get ahead of? When will we ever feel like we are growing enough? What’s the benchmark? What’s fast enough? We already know that perfection doesn’t exist.  And that if it did, my idea might look very different from yours.

Every now and again I’ll have an absolute moment of delight when I’ll think, “Wow. I could never have done that a year ago.” And then I’ll speed back inside my head to a time where I was a less-empowered me, and realize, “Huh. I guess I am coming along more than I thought I was.” But sadly those interjections don’t seem to come nearly as frequently as the self-critical assurance that I am somehow “behind.”

To that point, this quote by Anais Nin brings me a ton of peace –

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.” 

For me, there’s so much comfort in the thought that parts of myself can be developing at a high rate, others might not be, and it’s all ok.  And that the “there,” is relative, anyway. And that a year from now…or day from now, everything will be different.  I’ll be different.  And that maybe not a whole lot of good is accomplished by me judging what I perceive to be my own growth, or lack thereof.

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Part of me totally feels like this same little me on so many days…

It does seem like a great way to encourage growth in ourselves is to open up fully to the possibility of new experiences. Each time we engage in the act of meeting new people, traveling to new places, taking new classes…whatever it is, we are inviting the almost inevitable possibility of growth.  I really enjoy the idea that growth is available to us in every moment, as per this quote by one of my favorite authors in the world, Jen Sincero.  I’ve mentioned her book at in at LEAST 5 posts, but if you are a new blog reader, PLEASE do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of You Are a Badass. Seriously. Do it. It’s the best book I’ve ever read.

“All life is either moving forward and evolving or shrinking back and dying.  If you want to evolve in your own life, you have to push through the obstacles instead of running from them.  Obstacles and challenges are the agents of growth.  Nobody gets to be large and in charge without facing challenges and moving through them.  Birth is messy, painful, scary, uncertain, and freaky.  Birth is also a glorious miracle that leads to new life.  If you want the new life you say you want, you have to do the work instead of just studying and discussing and wishing and wanting.”

When we are in the midst of struggle – and we all experience them, it’s hard to see how the challenging or miserable times are working on us, but they always are.  It’s not a ton of fun to think about the fact that embracing difficulty can make us richer people, but I definitely think it’s true.  In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens says, “Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.” Preach, Mr. Dickens. Preach. These kinds of struggles fall under what I’d consider “Adult Growing Pains.”  Life events like break ups, moving, falling out with friends, dealing with illness, loss, rejection of all kinds…while they are happening we merely think of them as suffering (or maybe something with a few choice descriptors beforehand)  – but in the end they are powerful agents of personal growth. The hard times aren’t totally for nothing.

So as I move into this week thinking about the concept of growth, I want to be conscious of these ideas, if you care to join me:

1. I will do my best NOT to judge where I am at. My growth is unique, and it doesn’t serve me (or the people around me) to criticize it, or compare my journey with anyone else’s.

2.  I will dare to be vulnerable in the face of new experiences.

3.  I will not run from struggle or hide from challenges, knowing that they are powerful tools in my evolution as a human on this planet.

4.  I will remind myself that there is beauty in the most mature and evolved parts of myself, and the most childish parts of myself, alike : )

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Be good to yourselves this week, Celebrationists!  Where you are at RIGHT NOW is exactly where  you are meant to be : )

Week 45 – Little Bits of Community

Happy Monday, Celebrationists!

1.) I am grateful for the kind people who helped me out this week with my mysterious eye trouble.  Your time, resources, and generosity were so touching and appreciated.  I don’t take any of your kindness lightly, particularly during such a busy week.

2.) I am grateful for the chance to begin rehearsal for a new show this week, and to teach/work with what I’m sure will be some amazing kids, at camp.

3.) I am grateful for the chance to see the new Pixar movie, Inside Out. I wanted to write a whole post about it today, but don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it. I’m so inspired and thrilled that this kind of material is being put out into the universe – movies for multi-generational audiences that deal with important topics, in sensitive and challenging ways. To see a name like Pixar using their title and “powers” for such good…it makes me extremely happy and hopeful.

This weekend, the theater I’m working at for the summer lost air conditioning for an evening. With some rather substantial period costumes, the ninety degree weather outside, and an audience who we weren’t sure would stick around for such conditions, we launched into the show dripping, doing our best to hydrate, and conscious of the fact that to get through this performance we were all going to have to look out for each other.

It was great.

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Cue substantial period costumes : )

In my humble opinion, these circumstances became the perfect grounds for our best performance of the weekend. Why? I think that each member of the cast had to plug in extra hard to the needs of each actor – both in and out of scenes.  Listening became heightened, stakes became higher, and pacing became sharper. I think many of us finished that performance exhausted but happy, feeling like we’d “won.” Together.

I think this little scenario is a great example of what community can be. It also exemplifies one of the things I love and crave most about being an actor – working together with a group of people from all different types of life experiences to achieve something that is larger than any of us, and in service of a group of people (the audience) who will each glean something totally different from the story being told. They’ll take away that memory, image, or feeling and have the potential to be affected in ways that they may not even be fully aware of. But it takes engagement on the part of everyone. And in a world that is somehow the most and least connected we’ve ever been…I think that’s really special.

What are the different communities you are a part of? (*For the purposes of this post I just mean – a group of people you engage with regularly, at least for a time). It could be your:

  • Family
  • Coworkers
  • Friend group
  • Place of worship, whether formal or informal
  • Neighborhood
  • Choir, team, board, etc.

I think about how frequently we take for granted the people in our lives who we experience on a a frequent basis. How easily our various communities become a collection of isolated individuals each on their own track – tapped into their personal desires, but not really listening.

How often are we battling our very human feelings of wanting to be right more than we want what’s best for the group? I think we all struggle with this at various points. Maybe the important thing is to recognize that this happens, be gentle with ourselves, and consider experimenting with what happens when we relegate our ego to the backseat (or trunk) for a little while. To see what happens when we jump out of our heads and plug into the big picture. Also…I think it’s really easy to feel alone in your own community, at times. Because people change. We change. And not in the same ways, or at the same times. But I think the more we can remind ourselves that everyone feels this way – even, and maybe most especially those who let it show the least. And that our reaching out and serving the group might not just help address our own loneliness, but someone else’s, too.  When we lift each other up, everybody wins.

History (and current events) show that many communities do GREAT in times of crisis. You can probably easily list ten personal and/or global examples of this that you’ve experienced first-hand, or at least read about.  But I guess what I’m interested in is figuring out how we can incorporate more of this kind of engagement, compassion, and looking outside ourselves…in times of normalcy.  How can we strengthen our communities right now? Does it have to take a crisis for us to put “the needs of the whole” before our own?

This week I really want to meditate on the power of what can happen when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with, and listen to the people around us. To consider “what the group needs” as much as what “I” need. To look at the beauty and magic that can be created when we are “all in” – in service to something larger than our own desires, insecurities, goals, and opinions. However and wherever that manifests for each of us.

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And for the record, the audience stayed : ) They were right there with us in the trenches.  Who will you join in the trenches this week?

Until next Monday! Have a great one, Celebrationists : )

Week 44 – Little Bits of Identity

Happy Monday, Celebrationists!  Excited to bring you another wonderfully inspiring GBD today.

  1. I am grateful for the day off, and this morning of laundry, dog-petting, cookbook perusing, home-made iced coffee, and time spent with delightful new friends.
  2. I am grateful for this talk on TED Radio that started my morning off on a great note (and is a incidentally a perfect companion-listen to today’s blog post)
  3. I am grateful for this little sign I passed while poking around shops in Rolla. Ain’t it the truth.photo-2

Please allow me to introduce today’s GBD – the lovely Donna DeLonay!

Donna at the lake

When I first met Donna, I was immediately appreciative of her warmth, sensitivity, radical empathy, and vulnerability.  One of the ways that Donna uses these beautiful gifts is in her work as an actress.  She also utilizes these gifts (and many others) by serving members of the transgender community in a unique way.  When I found out about this part of Donna’s life, I was so fascinated by this Little Bit of Good she is putting out into the world by helping these individuals find their authentic voice – in more ways than one.

I can’t claim to have a comprehensive understanding of the experience of a transgender person. I can read articles, educate myself using reliable sources, and listen to interviews, but I don’t think that anyone who hasn’t been through this transition really can understand (what I can only imagine are) the complexities of this transition, and what life must be like. But in my humble opinion, Donna says it perfectly:

“You don’t have to understand it.  Just be kind.”

I also believe that we all – every person on this planet, have so much more in common than we think.

How would you describe the work that you do? 

I give voice lessons to transgender women (those transitioning from male to female.)  (*Editor’s note: Donna is also incredibly humble, so I’ll tell you – she also provides invaluable emotional support, a humble listening ear, and so much encouragement).

How did you get started/discover that this was something you had a passion for? 

I have a good friend, Teresa, whose partner is a transgender woman. She’s friends with a therapist who works with the trans community here in the St.Petersburg/Tampa area. I found out that a lot of transgender women need help in the vocal area. Some transgender women don’t really care if people know that they are trans. They are actually very proud of it and help a lot in trying to gain acceptance for the transgender community.  But there are many transgender women who do not want attention drawn to them at all.  My students are mostly those women. Teresa suggested that since I’m a singer, maybe I can incorporate some of the vocal exercises I use for singing into helping transgender students sound more feminine. I looked at what other vocal coaches for trans women were doing and I gleaned a little bit from all of them. I figured out what worked best for the students I had. Each student is different, so what works for one might not work for another.  Finding the exact place in the throat to use can be very tricky. I have a lot of vocal exercises that my students use to help find a voice that sounds natural. Of course, we do breathing exercises to help support the new voice. I use duet acting scenes – Crimes of the Heart works really well. We take turns reading the different roles and experiment with different accents and voices.  We usually use the last 10 to 15 minutes of the lesson talking in the “new voice”. It’s really difficult to converse naturally while you are thinking about keeping your voice in feminine mode, so we practice that.

What have been some of the greatest challenges of this incredible work you do? 

Patience to find the voice. Where to place the voice in your throat. You just have to experiment. When the student says something that sounds feminine during our exercises, I point it out and ask if she can find that voice again. We just keep trying things until something clicks in.  Once we find the voice, it can take a while for the new voice to become second nature. I wish it could just happen overnight, but it just doesn’t.

What have been some of the greatest rewards?  

These women usually don’t get a lot of emotional support. We talk a lot during our lessons. They seem to really appreciate having someone in their corner who cares and understands. I cheer them on and encourage them. I’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories!  Most have faced rejection from family members- from their parents, their children, or even their grandchildren. It’s awful. Several of my students were married to women when they decided to transition. They deal with incredible guilt. They know it’s asking a lot for their wives to support this huge change. It’s not exactly what their wives signed on for! All of a sudden the man they married is going to be a woman and now they will be a lesbian couple… “It’s complicated” would be an understatement!  Trans women and men are very aware and sensitive to the fact that they are putting their loved ones’ lives into turmoil and they get criticized a lot for being “selfish”. They are often depressed and filled with self loathing.  They really need love and support. I greatly admire the strength these ladies have to go through all they do to become who they REALLY are deep down inside. To decide NOT to live a lie anymore.  To express themselves without apology.  I found that I related to these women in a lot of ways.  I, too  grew up not feeling comfortable in my own skin. I was always shy and never liked myself. I didn’t feel that I mattered.  I didn’t feel confident that people could like and accept me, so I kept to myself a lot. I dealt with major depression.  Working with these sweet, misunderstood women has actually been very therapeutic for me! I only hope that I have been as much a blessing to them as they have been to me!

Donna with  JJ Marie Gufreda, author of Left Hander in London

If you had a piece of advice for someone who is making this physical/emotional/psychological change, what would you share? 

I would tell them to please remember that YOU ARE LOVED! You are NOT a mistake! You are not alone. There are people who understand and will support you in your decision to finally be true to yourself. Look for those people. Surround yourself with them. To thine own self be true! It’s YOUR life. YOU have to live it. Stop caring about what the world thinks. What the neighbors think, what the lady in the check out line ahead of you thinks. LIFE IS TOO SHORT! It’s YOUR life! You are the one that has to live with yourself 24-7.  Yes, you are going to disappoint people, but you know what? If they can’t love and accept you as you really and truly are- do you really want them in your life? Love yourself. You are worth it!

If you had a piece of advice for someone who may not understand why or how a person would make this transition, what would you share?  

You don’t have to understand it.  Just be kind. Just try to put yourself in their shoes. Having to pretend you’re something you are not, day after day after day. Denying your feelings. These people are willing to go through a lot to be who they were born to be. To have surgeries, hormone therapy, electrolysis, not to mention the humiliation and embarrassment they deal with on a daily basis. Why would anyone choose that? Being transgender is not a choice.

I’d be curious to know if you’d like to share any thoughts about Caitlyn Jenner?

A LOT of the things Caitlyn talked about in her interview with Diane Sawyer are things my students have talked about with me. Similar feelings and experiences. Of course, the big difference is Caitlyn’s fame and wealth. Being rich and famous is definitely going to help her transition. Unfortunately, most transgender people don’t have that. Caitlyn did mention that she wants to use her fame to help the transgender community gain acceptance. I hope so.

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Thank you so much, Donna!

I can’t help but think about the moments in my life that I (sometimes unconsciously) have impulses to respond with fear, aggression or rejection when faced with an idea I may not understand fully.  For me, this week is going to be about finding that moment of pause. And choosing to be kind. Aren’t we all in life this together?

For some great tips and information on how you can be an ally to the transgender community, check out: http://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies

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See you next week, Celebrationists!

Week 43 – Little Bits of Selflessness

Happy Monday, Celebrationists!

As you know, we’ve gone many weeks without a GBD post (Good Bit Do-er, for anyone who may just be joining us), and today I’m excited to introduce you to someone very special!  But first…

1. I am grateful for the Rolla Saturday Farmer’s Market, where I got some beautiful rainbow swiss chard, home-made granola, and delicious spicy salsa.

2. I am grateful that the sun finally came out today! It’s been pretty overcast and frankly kinda gloomy for most of my time in Rolla so far (even though I’ve been inside at rehearsal for most of it).

3. I am grateful for my sister, and wish her so much luck as she starts her first day of grad school at The University of Notre Dame, in Indiana. So incredibly proud of, and excited for her!

Hope you are having a wonderful beginning to your week, Celebrationists.  I’m currently in Rolla, MO doing a couple of shows at Ozark Actor’s Theatre for the summer.  At the moment, I’m in rehearsal for the musical Meet Me in St. Louis – if you don’t know the classic film with Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien, I recommend it highly – it’s just delightful : )

Some of my favorite projects over the years are those that allow me to spend time with young actors.  Working with kids is something that brings me an incredible amount of joy – whether it’s teaching, directing, or working alongside them, I’m always moved by their particular and unique kinds of wisdom…and frankly, I just really enjoy hanging out with them.

From the first day of rehearsal for Meet Me in St. Louis, I was particularly curious about our young actor playing the role of Tootie (Margaret O’Brien’s role in the movie). Audrey arrived off-book (not using her script), and possesses a maturity, sense of humor, and a level of seriousness and professionalism that completely fascinates me.  Earlier this week I overheard some local actors talking about what Audrey did for her birthday last month, and I was completely blown away by it.

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Audrey decided to have her birthday party at Ozark Actor’s Theater, and instead of her friends bringing presents, she asked them to donate money to the theater. I’m not sure that I could have given up presents from my friends, at age 8. Actually, I’m pretty positive that it never would have crossed my mind – and if it had been suggested, I probably would have been horrified!

I asked Audrey if she would be willing to chat with me about this Little Bit of Good that she decided to put into the world, by making such a generous choice on her special day.  What struck me most while interviewing her was how matter-of -fact she was about the whole thing.  It didn’t seem to occur to her just how selfless an act this was, but she was certainly aware of how generous her friends are, who did the donating. Here is part of our conversation, on a break, during rehearsal…

How old are you, Audrey? Eight.

I understand that you just had a birthday! When was it? May 9th. Well my real birthday was on May 11th, but my party was on May 9th.

And it sounds like you did something really special for your birthday this year. What did you do? I actually donated to OAT for my birthday, instead of getting presents.

That’s incredible! What was it that gave you the idea? I love OAT and knew they needed some stuff, and I thought “yeah, that would be a good idea.”

How many shows have you done with OAT? This is my third. Joseph (and the Amazing Technicolor DreamCoat) was my first one, and then I did A Fairytale Christmas Carol.

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What is so special about working at OAT? What do you like best about being there? The directors are really good. And they all LOVE kids.

Can you describe how you feel when you’re at OAT? It feels AWESOME.

Is there a person (or people) who inspires you to want to be generous? My mom and my dad, and my grandparents.

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What is the best thing that has happened to you today? Probably doing the first act of Meet Me in St. Louis, and getting it all done.

What would you say to other kids who are considering doing something generous like you – on their birthday, or otherwise? Keep it up.

*Note from Mom: From a parent’s perspective…we encouraged her to use her birthday as an opportunity to help others since she has been so blessed and has so much “stuff’ already.  She knew that there were some close to her who would do gifts anyway, and we told her we’d do something special with her, too, but giving up gifts at the party wasn’t easy.  Once she made the decision, you could see on her face that she was happy about it.  After the party, as she counted the money, she smiled SO big.  She looked at me and said “mom, my friends are SO generous.” I kind of thought she was going to cry.  

Talking with Audrey made me think about the opportunities that are available in my own life where I can choose to be more selfless, and think of the bigger picture.  This week, I’m aiming to be more aware of the ways in which I can share more, give more, and be more generous with my time, attention, and resources.  Thank you Audrey, for the inspiration.

Want to join me? : )

And if you’d like to give Audrey a late birthday present and add to the $350 she was able to collect at her birthday party, you can donate to Ozark Actor’s Theatre, here.

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See you next week, Celebrationists!

Week 42 – Little Bits of Fearfulness

Hi there, Celebrationists.  Writing you today from Rolla, MO. Hope your Monday is going great.

  1. I’m grateful for a wonderful date night this week with a certain fella.  Indian food and a period play? Yup.
  2. I’m grateful for the chance to reunite with some wonderful “old friends” this past week, and meet some lovely new ones, while reading a couple of great plays. A joyful experience all around.

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3. I’m grateful to have my own quiet little apartment less than a block from the theater, for the next 7 weeks

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about fear.

This morning I allowed myself a glorious hour of kindle-reading-time (as opposed to mercilessly drilling lines the whole time) during my flight from New York to St. Louis.

I was going back through a favorite book – Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, (which I mentioned back in my book recommendations post). Do you ever re-read a passage of something and think….yeah. There is not one thing I needed to hear today more than I needed to hear this.?  I felt like that today.

Check out this quote, if you will.  I recommend letting it wash over you in whatever way it does, and then taking it again and going through it slowly.

(the act of) “Daring Greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage.  In a world where scarcity and shame dominate, and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive.  Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times.  And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of feeling hurt.  But as I look back on my own life and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.” – Brene Brown

Re-read that last bit.  It’s something, right?

Maybe it strikes me so potently because at the end of the day I really identify as a person who is afraid a lot. And a hardcore worrier.

In elementary and middle school, I was never the straight-A student who loved all (or any) of her classes, I was the one faking a menagerie of illnesses in the nurse’s office in an effort to be sent home.  The kid who saw a child psychologist, quit dance because the teacher scared her, and went to the “reading and math van.”  The child who sobbed her way through swimming lessons and never learned to swim properly despite the fact that both her mother and sister are life guards. I have many childhood memories that are like these, and I mention them because – I did not come into this planet hard-wired with any desire, penchant, or knack for Daring Greatly.

Looking again at the end of that quote, the “standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen?” I can only think….yes. I’ve been in that place so many times.

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Fear is a funny thing.  In another (new) favorite book of mine – Take the Stairs by Rory Vaden, he says “FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. That is almost always what fear is.  It’s a fictional story written by our own minds.”  He goes on to say that action is the cure for fear.

I spent many years being afraid to do anything I wasn’t already good at. So I stopped doing a lot of things. Or just stopped trying very many new ones.  This is still an impulse I have to challenge myself on, daily.  And I’d say I’m about 50% at it.  On an intellectual level I understand that action is the answer to anything that makes us feel afraid, but it’s so stinkin’ vulnerable, isn’t it? There are some aspects of my life in which I (somewhat) consistently accept the challenge for action…and others where I really, really struggle.

I’ve always identified closely with the title song from the Sondheim musical Anyone Can Whistle.  Part of it goes:

Anyone can whistle,
That’s what they say-
Easy.
Anyone can whistle
Any old day-
Easy.
It’s all so simple:
Relax, let go, let fly.
So someone tell me why
Can’t I?
I can dance a tango,
I can read Greek-
Easy.
I can slay a dragon
Any old week-
Easy.
What’s hard is simple.
What’s natural comes hard

 

For some reason, I can be fearless about things like packing up my life and moving for awhile to a city where I know no one, but doing something like… playing a board game in a social setting makes my particular fear-gremlins climb onto my shoulder and ask whether I’m really smart enough to hold my own. Will I make a fool of myself, say something stupid, not know something that I “should,” or do who knows what? That may sound silly, but maybe you have some version of this yourself?

I hope you’ll join me this week, dear Celebrationists, in challenging ourselves to show up and be seen. To dare greatly. To feel the shame, the fear, the whatever, and just do it anyway. To not be a bystander in our own life.  Today I’m going to leave you with this little gem that my boyfriend found, and shared with me. It’s pretty wonderful.

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