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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Curtain call...on studying theatre in college

My recent post, "My kid wants to study theatre and I'm not sorry about it," was met with several comments, most of them supportive. I have a feeling that the nay-sayers, those who are shaking their heads at my naivete, were just being nice and holding their tongues.

Usually when there are comments, I try to reply to them within the context of the comments. But there were so many things I wanted to say, that I decided to give it another piece of real estate here in the blog.

I loved what Ellie had to say about her son's non-traditional major in college (he studied library science): "He didn't treat college like a vocational school." Yes! Exactly. What happened to the idea that college is the place where people go to learn about different perspectives and different ways of viewing the world?  There is nothing wrong with vocational education, but the idea that going to college to be an X is so limiting. What happens when you've spent so many years learning to be an X, working as an X, and you wake up one morning and figure out you are really not meant to be an X, that your true calling is to be a Y or, God forbid, an H -- something so far removed from what you were trained to do? There is a difference between being trained and being educated. It does put the burden of work and creativity on the person willing to seek true education, yes, but what an exciting way to face life.

Heather has had some experience going from being an X to an H. She said "If it doesn't work out, use that experience to build on and remake yourself." We are no longer in an era where people work for the same company for 30 years. For some, we are no longer in an era where people even work in the same field for 30 years. I want my kids to go into life knowing that remaking themselves is an exciting, even enviable, option -- not the mark of failure.

Tricia is a mom like me with an arts-loving kid. Yet, based on her own experience, she is encouraging her daughter to look into related careers. That is a prudent path. I've spoken before to Annie about "Plan B." She nods her head. She understands. She had her first kick in the gut when when audition led her to a spot in a program, but not the program she wanted. It hurt. She was angry. But she is undeterred.

I could have circled back with a discussion about other career options, but as a mother, as much as I watch how theatre feeds her, I also see how "Plan B" sucks the wind out of her. This is her time. This is her life. If she wants to throw herself into a "crazy" dream, then who am I stand in her way. If she willing to drive herself to live her dreams, then I'm not going to go around deflating her tires.

Momza had a really interesting thought -- should the cost of a degree be based on future earning potential? Working in higher ed, I can tell you right off that no professor in the world would go for that. In fact, some theatre programs charge a premium above regular tuition. If the cost based on potential was the equation, there are a lot of schools who would find themselves on the short end of the stick when their graduates go on to make blockbuster films and platinum albums. Maybe the cost of a degree should be based on future giving potential -- how much will the degree earning be giving back to society when they work in their chosen career. Based on that equation, teachers would be earning millions.

I loved hearing from Jennifer, whose son is also studying theatre, and Kimmybee, who is counting on the day when she can say about Annie, "I knew you when." But in the end, it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks. It doesn't even matter what I think. What matters is that my kid has found a passion and is willing to go all in for following her dream. So once again, my kid wants to study theatre and I'm not sorry about it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Can magic happen twice? #LTYM

 photo LTYM-logo_zps21ae9409.jpgNearly two years ago, I was part of something magical. It was the first Listen to Your Mother show in Indianapolis. A group of women from different parts of Indiana, the Midwest really, with different jobs and experiences came together to discuss what tied us all together -- motherhood. Being in the show was fabulous. Getting to know these women was even better. And now, the call is out for submissions to this year's Listen to Your Mother show and I wonder if I have it in me to make the magic happen again.

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The deadline for submissions to the Indianapolis show is January 31. I've been mulling over some ideas in my head, but nothing seems to stick. My entry for the inaugural Indianapolis show was a humorous piece (see the video here). Should I go that route again? Maybe I should dig in to something more emotional? Or something with a spiritual bent? I guess I need to just sit down and start writing and see where it takes me.

I've also given some thought to auditioning for the show in my husband's hometown of Evansville, Indiana. This is Evansville's first year for LTYM. One of the producers is Hillary Melchiors who was a member of "my" cast in Indianapolis. It would be so great to be a part of growing LTYM to a new city. Auditions there take place next month, on a day it just so happens we will be in town for a college visit.

 photo e70332c3-a369-4ad1-b64a-c51e605ee328_zps7860e9ed.jpgAnd if I were even to get selected for the Indy or Evansville show, would the magic still exist? It would be different magic for sure. I'm a different person and the cast would be different. But I choose to believe that the camaraderie of the cast and the electricity of sharing my own words on stage would be magical in its own, new way.

What about you? Is there a LTYM show near you? Probably -- there are nearly 40 shows this year! Do you have something to say about being (or not being), having (or not having) a mother?

If telling your story on a stage is not your style, I really encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and give it a try. Or just write your story for yourself. There is real power in that, too. At the very least, find a LTYM show near you and be in the audience. You won't be disappointed. I swear on my mother's grave (except she is happily alive, but you get the idea).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My kid wants to study theatre and I'm not sorry about it.

 photo Notsorrytheatre_zps9aac70fc.jpgGet into a conversation with a parent in which one or both of you have a child who is a senior in high school and the topic at hand inevitably turns to college. "What does your child want to study?" "Where does she want to go to school?" My daughter Annie plans to study theatre and I'm not sorry about it.

When Annie first started talking about majoring in theatre performance and making the stage her life's work, I was excited for her. She has a passion for it. She doesn't just memorize lines and spit them back out. She studies her craft. She reads books on the techniques of acting, seeks critiques of her performance, works tech to learn another side of production. You can see in her eyes and her smile how theatre makes Annie come alive.

But when people started asking me what Annie plans to study in college, I kind of felt like I had to apologize for her career choice. After all, studying theatre isn't exactly a "responsible" choice like studying finance or medicine or education. I would deliver my answer of "theatre" with a slight smile and a quick roll of the eyes, as if to say, "You know kids and their unrealistic expectations." I thought that was how people expected me to react.

My husband and I have talked to Annie about the realities of a career in theatre. Jobs may be scarce and may not pay well. Waiting tables to make ends meet is a real possibility. Grad school may be a necessity; apartment sharing will definitely be. But this is what she wants to do. She is willing to make those sacrifices. No one goes back to school to study theatre. Now is her time.

And so, somehow in the course of Annie moving from her junior year in high school to her senior year, I've lost that obligated, apologetic feeling and the eye roll that came with it. I think about all the joy that the arts -- theatre being one of them -- bring to people. Without people invested in creating that art, that joy would be lost. I look around my own community and see adults working in the realm of theatre -- on stage, back stage, in promotion and development. I can see a future in that for Annie.

Does everyone who goes to theatre school end up winning a Tony or a Golden Globe or inking a deal for a network television show? Of course not. Just as not every finance major ends up being president of a bank and not every med school student wins the Nobel Prize for medicine.

Those who do end up with those career superlatives have certain things in common: they work their butts off; they seize opportunities when presented; they don't take no for an answer; and they do what they do because they are passionate about it.

My daughter is passionate about transforming herself into characters on a stage for the purpose of entertaining, and sometimes educating, people in the audience. And you know what? I'm not the least bit sorry about that.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

When death is an occupational hazard

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Photo adapted from Three Crosses by Tim Green
Someone I cared about passed away on Saturday morning. Her death was unexpected; at least I wasn't expecting it.

I came to know Pat about 18 months ago when I began taking Holy Communion to her -- and others -- once a month at a nearby nursing home. I didn't see her every time I visited. When the weather was good, she would take the city bus for people with disabilities to go to Mass at our church. But in the winter, I'd get to spend some time with her. It was time I looked forward to.

Pat was blind, but she saw with faith. She used a wheelchair most of the time, but she walked a life a service, even until her death. When I would visit, she would ask me to read that day's Gospel to her. Then I would do my best to recount the message of the homily. On certain days I had to admit that my mind had wandered during the homily and I couldn't recall what the priest had said. Pat & I would talk about the Scripture and what in the passage spoke to each of us. Most of my visits with other residents at the nursing home are fairly brief, made so by the residents' limitations with communication, so these conversations with Pat were opportunities I looked forward to.

Based on how old she told me her children are, I would guess that Pat was about my mother's age. Maybe a little bit older. She was determined to really live the life she had. She had a large reading machine that she would use to read books, letters, the church bulletin. Although she was dependent on others to meet most of her physical needs, Pat still lived the call to serve.

Over the past several years, she handmade more than 1,000 cards of encouragement for members of the Indiana National Guard. In her room, she had photos of herself with some of those soldiers who had been on the receiving end of her kindness. So often people think of nursing homes as a place where old people are warehoused until they die. There was no putting Pat on a shelf.

My last visit with Pat was on Christmas day. I'd gone over to the nursing home in the early evening to visit a few people. She and I sat and talked for close to an hour that night. I learned that she had been a nurse and that she preferred working with psychiatric patients. She told me that it had been her birthday just a few days before. She mentioned that she was having some difficulty with her new reader and that she thought some brightly colored tape might help her see where to line up what it is she was trying to read. I told her I'd find some and bring it with me on my next visit. I had no idea that the Christmas visit would be my last visit.

When the phone rang last night and I saw it was a call from one of the other women in this ministry, I knew it had to be bad news. One of our ladies has been fading and has hospice care set up. I had a feeling that this was a call to let me know that she had passed away. When I heard that it was Pat who was gone, I could not believe it. She seemed so good -- finally recovering from a nasty fall, upbeat and like her old self. I halfway thought that there must have been some mix up and that she would be sitting in her chair waiting for me when I got to the nursing home this morning. I wondered whether I would tell her about the errant message and we would laugh about it or whether I would just silently give thanks that it had not been true.

That was wishful thinking. When I arrived, her name was already off the placard outside the door. I hoped I might see her daughter there, clearing out her mother's things so that I could let her know how sorry I am and how much I really liked her mom. But no one was there at the time. The bed had been stripped, the dark blue plastic cover on the mattress piled high with Pat's belongings -- many of them the holiday decorations that probably would have come down soon anyway. I put my hand on the pile and said a prayer for my friend.

Visiting a nursing home on a regular basis, it's not unusual to know people who die. Since I started, I can count six people who've gone on. Most of their deaths have made me briefly sad. Pat's death? It has left me weeping with an aching sadness.

One of the volunteers told me a while ago that I shouldn't get too close to the people I visit. I don't know how to operate like that. So I just accept this feeling of loss as an occupational hazard, because in the end, the losses are so outweighed by the faith and love I gain.

Rest in God's peace, Pat.