Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Strange Sentinels

I woke up this morning thinking about when this whole thing might have started, the disgruntled shtick. Babies cry when they get the urge to cry; usually, people don't question them. They answer.

At what point does a human, baby or otherwise, lose its credibility? Yes, I intentionally said it. Maybe the answer depends on how much learning has taken place in that person's life. The baby might have learned that crying gets him somewhere. He's going to milk that for all it's worth.

We all know about the boy who cried wolf. He lost his credibility when people realized he was full of false alarm.

Media sources need to be trustworthy in order for people to keep coming back to them. And I'd better say something to you that makes your visit to this blog worthwhile, too.

Credibility and trust are issues people like to lecture about. Stern parents warn their children about the consequences of being untrustworthy. Children listen and do what they were going to do anyway. Sometimes, the best we can hope for is that we can trust people to be themselves. This doesn't mean we escape trouble, of course. Just that we accept whatever a person does as we might accept, for example, a baby crying. Babies know nothing of missed opportunities. The only disappointment a baby really knows is that of discomfort. And who really can know and understand an adult's discomfort?

We have a cat who lives in a designated area. (Yes, that's him up above.) Even though he "knows" going beyond a particular door is off limits, he still stands there every day, crying. All it usually takes to calm him down is calling him over, petting him a little, and talking to him in a soothing voice. But he gets the urge to go to that door, again and again. He is very trustworthy this way; I would be surprised if he suddenly stopped crying at that door.

So, what kind of credibility do I have in this cat's eyes? He knows I'm the spoilsport who keeps shooing him away from there. Just as the cat can't (and won't) stop the urge to go beyond his boundaries, people are the same way. We'll push and push sometimes, until we either get "our way" or some kind of response: agreement, disagreement, or maybe just acknowledgement.

And yet why do we do this? Is it not enough to just be content, not strive for anything? No. We always want and need something. To be heard, or fed, or burped, or to move around outside the cabin, where it's not so feverish. And satisfaction is always temporary, too. The end of something means the beginning of something else. We might stop being disgruntled over the cat's behavior but then immediately pick up some new annoyance, a thing to complain about. So we scratch that itch and go on to the next thing. It literally never ends! We go to bed at night, needing that bed as much as we need to get out of it the next morning. And there's that cat again, waiting at the door to be scolded again, deterred from getting what he thinks he wants.

Maybe we are just gatekeepers, strange sentinels who grant and deny permission for this and that. And we're always expected to end on a happy note. What's that all about, anyway. We greet each other with smiles, hugs, and kisses. We leave each other in the same way. I am not advocating violent hellos or door-slamming exits. Maybe I'm just saying shaking up the routine could be useful.

Trust me, okay?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Anonymity Anonymous

I am kind of happy about this chapter, the eleventh in what will ultimately be a thirty-three chapter, 100-page book, tentatively titled Not For Sale. This is actually (also) an edited version of a paper I turned in for a class last night. The assignment was to interview someone with a job. (The class is in career counseling.) I interviewed one of the directors of a play my daughter was in a few weeks ago.

One of the outstanding characteristics of this book is that there are no names used, only titles. Places are okay, city and state names and such. But I wanted it to be free of people's names. Remember, the book is not for sale. And the article I turned in for class included names, of course.

Chapter 11

Interview Project. The textbook points out that a counselor’s work can significantly improve the client’s satisfaction with his or her life. Although the Director never saw a counselor to help her decide on a career path, it is clear to me she is quite satisfied with the direction her life has taken. She does not view what she does as a career, though; she thinks of career in association with promotions and such. As we talked, words like “amazing” and “wow” and “incredible” kept popping up.

Her journey toward becoming a theater director started in Strasbourg, France, which is near the border of Germany. Director got an early start in acting in junior high. She saw a poster saying the cast of a play was being formed and she wanted to be a part of that. “One of the teachers was a writer and director and had done a play.”

This brings to mind the pyramid of information processing. The lower level of the pyramid showing the theoretical components of cognitive information-processing theory consists of two parts, self-knowledge and occupational knowledge. Director remembered (self-knowledge) this person as being an early influence in her life, someone who possessed information (occupational knowledge) about something exciting to her, theater. Not only that, there was also the influence of community involvement. Director became involved in a theater group that was financially supported by the city and state. “This fantastic organization … was pretty much a theater company. [The founder] mixed people who were already actors with young actors, people who had never acted before.” It was a giant thing, she said. Nothing Mickey Mouse about it. This is how she grew up in theater.

Likewise, what she is doing now with her Theater Group was heavily influenced by her experience in France, where they had sponsorship. Whenever they would prepare for a new play, they would have free workshops with professionals who taught them voice, movement, clowning, improvisational, miming, and mask work. (Theater Group enjoys similar sponsorship from the city and other contributors, corporate and private donors.)

"We performed in French, German, and Alsatian, which is a combination of both. It is spoken near the border of France and Germany and has a lot of German in it. A lot of what we did was based on historical situations because our region was French then German, then French then German, and there was war and … it’s rich with drama and lots of things that happened. So, we would use one of those events as the basis of creation of our plays and which involved, by the way, the whole town. Like there would be an equestrian club, and if we did something about something back in the days when people rode on horseback, those guys were involved, so we had this giant effect … people on horseback and military music, people coming back from the war…. I mean, it was giant, things on a huge scale. It was quite incredible."

In the United States, language was more of a vehicle than a barrier for Director. She lived in a French-speaking house when she first moved here from France, on a scholarship with a College. Other people who were studying French would come to live at the house, either before they went to France or on their way back there. She compared it to a sorority or a fraternity house except it was for French-speaking students, male and female, and she was the head of the house.

I think of the idea of reframing here. Some people moving to a new country would be intimidated by the thought of immersion in a strange new culture and language, different from one’s own. In Director's case, learning the language was a part of her theater experience and helped her in communicating in English. She was cast in a play and said it was hard to understand, first of all, and then to portray, but that it was amazing nonetheless.

"What I learned right there and then was that the way [the Playwright] wrote, what he did, because of the type of words and sounds he used, being a foreign person, I could understand the emotions without exactly understanding the words. That was a big revelation. The sounds, the vowels, the consonants, just told me what was going on in the character, and I was like, wow."

This was also something new for Director's close-knit family, who supported what she was doing. Not only was she the first to leave the country, she was also the first one to make a life out of theater. She says everybody else was into flying. Her grandfather was a pilot. She and the other kids all grew up hearing about flying, but she was never interested. Now her aunt, who is an English teacher, started a theater group in her school and they have started performing. “She told me flat out that I had inspired her to do that, and that it keeps her going, really speaks to her soul.”

This all ties into trait and factor theory, too. Although Director did not receive any kind of formal assessment or career counseling, she gained her own self-understanding (step one) and knowledge about the world of work (step two). Observing firsthand how a successful theater group came to be, and being a vital part of that success. The major goal of career counseling, according to trait and factor theory, is step three: integrating information about oneself and the world of work.

One piece of information Director discovered about herself was that much to her surprise, she actually does have what it takes to teach. “It’s the last thing I would have ever wanted to do,” she told me. But the opportunity to teach came up during her experience with a Theater Group in Massachusetts.

She was there for the summer of 2001 and was performing in two shows in the morning while teaching elementary school aged children in the afternoon. “I realized one of the reasons I didn’t want to teach is because I was scared, scared of the kids.” But it must not have been too bad because when she began working for her present Theater Group in Dallas, she realized she really enjoyed it. “They immediately got me to start teaching [Playwright's] plays. A lot of the tools I used I learned at the other Theater Group.”

Another thing that surprised Director is her transition from acting to directing. “I always thought I wanted to be an actor, and that’s it,” she said. It turns out, however, that she really did have a knack for coaching actors, which she got to do at one of the Dallas community colleges. Director came to the Theater Group through another actor, who she had worked with in another of Playwright's plays in 2002. This was also a play she had the opportunity to direct, five years later, with the Theater Group. It was a big revelation to her, she said, when that actor invited her to co-direct a play with him. This was in 2005, which was also the first year my Daughter acted in the Theater Group's summer performances. This summer, they did the same play Theater Group performed the year Director began helping the actor Friend, in 2004. Afterward, he proposed co-directing with him. She said they worked for two years together. Then, when he told her he would not be there the next year, he said, “I think you’re ready.” And that was her big revelation, she said. “I am!” She co-directed two plays and then directed two on her own after that.

Some things are more enjoyable than others. But sometimes the difficult parts of her job ultimately lead to rewarding experiences. She told of a challenging situation that got resolved by the transformation of one of the teenage actors in this year’s performance, someone who went from being disruptive to being frightened to being confident. The two of them had an emotionally charged conversation that included her telling him she appreciated him, giving him a clear picture of what she was looking for and what she expected of him, and a final warning about repeating the kind of disrespectful behavior that had gotten him into trouble in the first place. In the end, he was overcome with gratitude for her giving him the opportunity to act, despite the problems he had created for the rest of the cast and for her. (She said she had stayed mad for an entire weekend.) “I thought he was just unhappy about his role,” she told me. “But what was really underneath it was that he was afraid.” After their talk, however, “he walked tall and straight, he was a changed person.”

I found it interesting that while Director had previously been afraid to teach children, it was ultimately the fearfulness of one of her own students that led to something rewarding in her own career, such as it may be. In fact, “jumping off the cliff” is something she encourages in young actors.

We ended our interview talking about values. This paper has gotten long enough as it is, but I am including the transcript of our conversation in this folder as a resource. She basically values exploring humanity and revealing herself in her work. Actors will hold their hands to the fire whereas people in regular life will pull away from it. Such expression is like therapy, she says. “It gives words to your emotion, to people who may not have any other way of expressing … and, there you go. Speak it.”

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Started a new project, another month-long book.

Here is an excerpt:

We are all spotted and inconstant. When souls are knit together then later "unknit," those souls change; they cannot possibly exist as they were before the knitting took place. The transformation of a soul unknit from another can be either hideous or beautiful, depending upon both the quality of the soul itself and of the soul to which it was knit, once upon a time.

If it were possible to learn how another person looks and with what art that person sways the motion of another's heart, then more people would get their true hearts' desires. But it cannot and must not be, for what one person hears is not to be known by any other person.

"The course of true love never did run smooth." This is to be expected; therefore I shall and must wait for the courseness of that certain course to reveal its meaning. All people are vessels through which spirit flows. A face differs from a face; but in the end, each one is just a face.

The opportunity to disentangle from materialism never arrives. Why look for it? We will always need something, eventually. Take this cup from me now, but you'd damned well better give it back to me later when I need it again.