Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jump In

I observed some kids playing in a park today.  They quickly made up a scenario in which one kid needed to be saved by the others.  They all jumped into action, two of them turning a piece of playground equipment into a police car, while their friend dangled herself from the jungle gym.  They didn't need to discuss who would play each role, they each just took on a part and ran with it.  When one child decided she was tired of this scene, she shouted, "I want to play something different!"  One of her companions obliged, declaring that they were all now swimming.  And off they all swam.  This willingness to say, "yes," to try any suggested idea wholeheartedly, or to figure out independently how to fit oneself into a scene in an interesting and supportive way, is something I wish for with each new cast of actors with which I begin to work.  I have, at times, gone into a process naively expecting everyone to have a gung-ho cooperative attitude.  I recognize that I must cultivate amongst each new company of actors (and designers, sometimes) a culture of enthusiasm and good-natured risk-taking.  I can usually use exercises to help with this towards the beginning of the process, but more importantly, I need to communicate clearly that this is my hope, desire, and expectation from them.  Equally important is that I model the attitudes I seek.

Monday, January 30, 2012


When I participated in the SITI in LA Suzuki and Viewpoints workshop, the instructors from SITI Company continuously referred to the work they were teaching as "training".  They use this word, not in the sense of it being lessons, but rather, practice.  They compared it to the way a runner trains for a marathon.  In the theatre, we don't always think about training in this way.  It is a useful approach for cultivating a habit of disciplined work.  If I have a long stretch of time during which I am not performing or directing, like a runner not wanting muscles to get soft, I don't want to let my my skills atrophy.  It would be a disappointment to return to my work feeling like I was a few steps behind rather than picking up where I left off.  I realize I've been idle for a while, so I must create exercises for myself to keep my mind trained.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Muddy Thoughts on Challenges

It has somewhat recently occurred to me that I overvalue the challenging choice.  I'm starting to come around to a different point of view on the matter.  I used to have an attitude that if I was trying to get somewhere, I wasn't interested in the easy path, but would rather clamor up the steep slope of difficult terrain out of some fool-headed notion of learning brilliant things through the sheer challenge of it all.  How silly.  I can trace the origins of this habit back to my time at Shakespeare & Company, back during the days when if you were only working three jobs at once, you weren't working hard enough or giving enough of yourself.  From the artistic side of things, it was a glorious experience to be a teenager, bubbling with passion and zeal, acting my little heart out in that magical patch of New England forest.  Through our theatrical explorations, my comrades and I constantly sought unique angles and novel approaches to our work, guilelessly bounding towards seemingly-impossible tasks.  Such an earnest search for the challenge was the right attitude for that place and time.   But I clearly remember, with humiliation and chagrin, taking this prideful attitude with me to my undergraduate theatre classes, and taking on preposterous acting roles (and other ambitious creative projects) out this misguided notion of challenge.  I'm sure I learned valuable things from all of it, but brilliant acting was not one of those things.  I wish I had understood the value in starting with something simpler to work on, something closer to myself, and to learn how to succeed within the rules before trying to break them all.

Today, I recognize that setting obstacles in my own path will not always serve me or my goals.  In my own mind, I say these things with an exasperated chuckle and sigh, because I know some part of my core will always believe in the nobility of such an attitude.  I won't stop trying to explore ambitious ideas.  An important thing for me to recognize is whether my immediate goal is to learn something or to achieve a specific result (or product).  There are bound to be times when the two can overlap.

Time Out

As a part of caring for a small child, I have to make peace with the need to sometimes step out of enjoyable activities in order to tend to him.  Little foxes can only take so much fun at a time.  We might be in the midst of a family holiday party, or a Chinese New Year parade, and if he asks for milk and a nap, I'm the one who can give it to him.  So I must put my own desires on hold to give him what he needs.  This is one of the daily ways in which I love my child.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Made-up Language

I am constantly teaching language to my child.  It's an amazing process.  In the beginning, I just talked to him a lot.  Whatever I happened to be doing, I described.  I explained the task, I identified the things I handled, and I repeated words over and over.  And it appeared he would listen.  As his focus improved, he watched.  Eventually, he would look at the items I named, and then later he could point to them.  "Where are the flowers?"  "Where is the light?"  Lights amazed him and he pointed to them wherever we went.  "Do you see a fan?"  Fans also captivated him, and he made up a gesture that he used to point out every ceiling fan we walked beneath.  He was clearly so excited to be able to recognize some of the things in the world around him, and I think he was inspired to connect language with those things, even if it was a made up gesture of his own.  Language had an origin, and seeing my son's effort to communicate makes me imagine how people long ago also concocted ways to share their thoughts. 

Around the same time that I became aware of every ceiling fan in Southern California, I started to show my little one some words in sign language.  I had read that it could take two months before he even imitated any, and even longer before he would connect meanings, and then desires, to the signs.   But I persevered in using a few signs for common words, unsure whether any of them were being absorbed.  Then, one day, my son signed to me that he wanted "more" of something he was eating.  It was an amazing moment for me.  My 10-month old child was communicating to me what he wanted. 

Over the following months his comprehension snowballed.  He could point to dozens of objects when they were named, and he could sign when he wanted to eat, drink, nurse, and sleep.  What further amazed me, was how his use of the language he thus far possessed evolved with his shifting needs.  He began to use "more" to indicate when he wanted to play more of some game, and then to play more with some toy, and then to let us know he simply wanted to play with something or see how it worked.  "More" became the all-purpose action button, the "A" button, if you will. 

He has adapted other signs in logical ways--using "ball" to ask for an orange, for example.  And as he has started speaking a few simple words, he has used "hot" to label things that could hurt him.  His learning has also become much faster.  He learned the sign for "potty" on the first day I showed it to him, and a day later let me know he wanted to use it.  How amazing what communication tools can accomplish!  There have been amusing misunderstandings, too.  He conflated the words "coffee" and "coughing".  To point out the coffee on the table (yup, he's been asking for sips of coffee, a real chip off the old block), he would fake cough twice, "ugh-ugh".  This evolved to "ah-ah", which is now his word for coffee. 

I am constantly fascinated by the rolling developments, and grateful for my blind, early efforts to give him tools to start with.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I'm sitting in my bedroom (nursing), forced to stay put and just be still for a little while.  That moment when circumstances insist on inactivity can be a gift.  I'm looking at the pieces of my room, the little areas of clutter and collection that together give a room its character.  These are the things I look at numerous times a day, and yet rarely notice.  What do the details of my surroundings say about me, and how do they daily affect me?  Two different questions.

What if I was a character and the room was a set?  If a stranger saw the snapshot puzzle pieces, what impression would they make and what stories do they hint at?  Also, what known details can I fill in to make the story richer?  For example, I'll describe the hat rack on the wall: a fragment of lattice, stained wood with pegs.  It looks like a thrift store find, suggesting a limited budget, and a bohemian sensibility.  I know it came from my grandparents' house, so that extra detail adds a background of familial connectivity and caring about the past.  The sunhats, both woven straw, one a little funky with its jaunty, cloche-like, angular cut, the other straight and boxy with its brown ribbon flower more prairie-esque, put a female character in the story.  Is she young or old, sassy or sweet?  Neither, and both.  She must live somewhere sunny and she gets out into the world.  The stylish maroon camera bag conveys a hobby of one with an eye focused on the visual impact of the world.  Colorful crocheted scarves, red, green, and purple, dangle together; did she make them?  The objects might betray us.  What surprises and lies can they add to the story?  I could continue on with each detail.  I could shift my gaze to the dresser, with its piles of diapers, boxes of baby wipes, tangle of hair elastics, barrettes, and necklaces, and abandoned scraps of paper (shopping lists?), and come up with an entirely different character and backstory.  If I then consider these two fragments as part of a bigger picture, I see more complex possibilities.

So far I have ignored the second question.  Does it make me happy to look at these surroundings each day?  Do the objects remind me of my passions?  My recent activities?  My duties?

I should clean my room.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I read an interview with Robert Rauschenberg (most famous for his found-object, three-dimensional "combines"), during which he said that if he could envision a completed work, then the idea was enough for him and he didn't need to build it.  He preferred to put his effort into the projects whose final forms were mysteries to him and to make his decisions about what to build once he had the materials in his hands.  Sometimes I think about this approach to creating art when I reflect on my own process.  Paintings, sculptures, and installations are something different than theatre performances, of course, but I like to see how ideas from one discipline can inform or be in dialogue with those of another.  Some directors work as real auteurs, sculpting the performance of their imagination, using the actors and scenery as mere matter.  Others have a vague idea of what they want a show to be, and largely allow the actors to shape the direction of the show.  I think a large majority work in a sort of middle ground of mutual compromise.  At times, I have a strong, near-complete vision of how I would like a scene to play.  I know from experience that if I can accomplish it, I'm pleased with the results, but I also feel a bit of a fraud, or at least selfish.  I feel an ethical obligation to honestly consider the ideas and desired contributions of the actors and designers.  Generally, I think that's how I should be working in this collaborative field.  But there are times when I simply want to compose a performance and have that vision fulfilled.  Without questioning.  And then there are the collaboratively created ("devised") works I have led.  These require a huge jump of faith that the process--which usually involves much improvisation--will yield a good and meaningful show as the result.  Too much planning, or too-specific expectations would undermine the point of such creations.  Improvisation is a useful tool for both actors and directors (and, apparently, found-object sculptors), but I like it as a means of reaching a higher and more finely-crafted goal, as opposed to improvisation being part of the performance.  Unless it is thematically relevant.  Then I may find it to be smart and whimsical fun.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Welcome Home-ish

Fresh pattering rain outside the screen door behind
Wide open patio doors due to
Unusually mild January temperature as
Sweet Fox nuzzles close and naps on th'
Comfort of my own bed, my own blankets, my own room and
Notice the sweet fragrance of flora that
Always welcomes me back to Orange County

It's not verse, (I didn't count the meter) but an experiment in phrasing and editing.  I believe in editing.  First thin-sliced impressions are useful tools; reflection and editing are also necessary to accomplish goals.  The choices depend on the effect I want. 

Fresh pattering rain outside the screen
Behind the wide open patio door
With thanks due to the mild January weather
As my sweet little Fox nuzzles close and naps
In the comfort of my own bed, my own pillow, my own room
And I notice the sweet fragrance of the flora
That always welcomes me back to Orange County.
Small things make tough transitions easier.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gone Missing

I posted a blog yesterday about the problems with an economic model of "growth equaling success".  The entry was online for a few hours, after which, I accidentally erased it.  (Beware that "revert to draft" button.  Oh, the touchscreen troubles.)  I know that at least two people read the blog before it disappeared into the ether, so in my mind, it existed.  With digitally recorded work--writing, music, photography, or what-have-you--there is this question on my mind of the work's existence and permanence.  The work I do in the theatre is impermanent.  It exists in a specific temporal space and then is gone.  Therefore, I often think of my directing work as being not only about what happens upon the stage, but what happens in the room.  The collective experience that the audience members and the company has in the theatre on any particular night is what I (we) have created.  I always consider the journey the audience travels along through the performance.  The impermanence is part of the magic of theatre, and always a bit heartbreaking, too.  A recording often seems to be a pale impression of what happened.  You had to be there.

Did you see or hear the tree?  Then it is real.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Picture It

At times I try to think without words. It is strange and challnging. I attempt to remember, with only images and undefined sentiments, places or sequences, perhaps steps like recipes, or desired destinations. It's an exercise that always reminds me of the power of language and the beauty of being able to articulate a though or feeling just so.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Language is a recurring theme in my musings and my work. It seems so permanent, and yet it is ever shifting and transforming itself to serve our changing culture. In my own lifetime, I've done writing in print and in script, as letters to penpals, as folded up mashnotes and slambooks, on typewriters, then typewriters that could erase (!), on computer word processors to be printed out, never mind print-outs, send it electronically, or by phone, why not just call, or video chat, but a quick text message will suffice. Each form alters how we think, as we try to communicate. Someone told me schools no longer teach cursive writing; can that be true? Writing by hand uses different parts of the brain than typing. An the fluid lines of script take the mind down different paths than rigid printing, I suspect. Composing thoughts through a keyboard (and lately, a touchscreen) has required some learning and adapting from me. Practice does make a significant difference, even from blogging. I have thought that our increasing use of texting and facebook-messaging, instead of calling and hearing someone's voice, was a change away from how things were, and perhaps a major change for our culture. But talking by phone is also a short-lifed anomaly. It has been only a little over a century since the invention of the telephone. And what did we use before then? Letters. (And talking in person, of course, but that's not really what this is all about.) Is texting and email moving us back closer to the way we used to communicate? Or has it changed everything? There is much more to this topic to still uncover.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Heart

When I married you, I did not give you my heart. That would be placing an impolite burden of responsibility upon you to tend to its care. My heart is always my own to keep happy and healthy. A better metaphor would be to say that I opened the door to you alone to the garden of my heart. Side by side with an open doorway joining them, the gardens of our two hearts become nurturing playgrounds for us both. We look after one another's well-being like good neighbors and lovers. The flora is more abundant, diverse, and unusual for the cross pollination that can happen as butterflies flutter in from your garden and bees buzz back to you from mine. Taking care of my own heart is a duty I relish for the benefits it allows me to offer to you, my love.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rethinking Big Assumptions

I used to try to buy American-made products out of a concern over the conditions in overseas sweatshops.  I have been reading, however, about how developing countries' investments in the empowerment of women has allowed many women to move into factory jobs, leading to vast improvements of their lives.  When women are no longer kept at home (only able to leave their houses with the permission of their fathers or husbands), they can become educated, learn skills, hold jobs, earn money over which they retain control, gain status and respect, contribute to their countries' GDPs, delay marriages and childbearing, and improve their health and well-being.  They can move themselves and their families out of a cycle of poverty.  Factory "sweatshop" jobs actual contribute to this.  For people like myself who are interested in how the small choices in our daily lives can be connected to larger humanitarian concerns, this is something worth reconsidering.  I am reminded that I could benefit from being less parochial in my ideological focus, and from looking with open eyes and mind at the lives of people far from my own liberated home.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Does it Work?

There is a wide distance between the habit of taking an uncompromising stance on a particular ideology and compromising a bit in order to make a difference.  I have often considered whether sticking rigidly to your principals is always the most ethical way to live.  These ideas come up a lot during political debates.  Candidates swear their unwavering support of one position on some polarizing issue.  I suspect a lot of ordinary folks can be a bit fuzzier in their stance on a lot of issues.  Yet there seems to be an idealizing, in this nation, of the strong stance.  Uncompromising dedication earns a hero-like admiration from many.  I see it pop up in subculture communities, including the feminist community.  I've read many articles and blogs looking at problems of subjugated women in various parts of the world and calling for sweeping changes, vocal opposition, legislation, and international intervention.  But after more reading and research, I'm learning that real activists sometimes need to take the less politically-correct approach to a problem because empirical evidence has shown it to be more effective.  Humility and compassion can guide us to really look at whether the effects of our work match our intentions.  Real changes, even small, are what we should be after.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Learning Joy

Little kids get shuttled around from place to place, tagging along on their parents' errands, and ruled by their parents' schedules.  Much of the time, this is necessary.  I feel so joyful when, instead, I am able to allow little Fox to set the pace and lead the action for part of the day.  Sometimes, if we have a day with no set plans, after breakfast, I just set him loose in the house and follow him from plaything to plaything, be they toys or everyday household items.  He decides what he wants to dismantle next.  Today we spent a few hours in the Boston Children's Museum, which was a blast.  I overheard numerous parents shepherding their obviously engaged kids onto the next exhibit, "Come on, let's move on."  As I watched the delight on Foxy's face as he swished his hands around in the soap water and reached for the huge bubbles, I relaxed and resolved to not push him forward.  I let him spend as much time as he wanted in that one activity, knowing there was no reason to try to fit as many experiences as possible into a single visit.  The excitement he was feeling was valuable.  I want to nurture a love of learning, and I think respecting a child's innate curiosity is one way to do this.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Characters in My Life

I am a storyteller in my work.  In my life, I often feel like I have no interesting stories to tell.   But interesting characters are all around me.  Yes, I know some real characters.  Occasionally, I think about the people who have passed through my life, and I imagine how they would fit into a really great play.  If my life story is the plot, what function does each person serve?  What do I want from them and what have I learned from each?  How do they contrast with one another?  One friend's foibles may enhance another friend's virtues, or even my own.  Perhaps the admirable choice of a family member prods me to examine the ethics of my routine ways.  Creative inspiration is surrounding me.  I can imagine someone I spent time with this week, and consider, what is that person's most conspicuous characteristic?  If I was directing an actor in a play, how could I utilize this trait in an amusing way?  If I wanted to explain my friend to a stranger, how would I sum up my perception of their essence?  Can I step far enough outside of myself to perceive my own qualities and life story, and could I sum it up in an engaging way?  And if I can't, then perhaps I need to do more meaningful work with my time.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cry Through It

There are some experiences that we need to suffer through even when we know we're not alone in them.  Sleep training an infant or toddler is stressful.  Every parent I've talked to about it feels miserable while listening to their child cry.  But so much literature out there strongly encourages us to teach our little ones to sooth themselves to sleep for their own benefit.  I presume they know what they're talking about.  I've heard and read from so many parents who suffered through it and found that after a few days their child went to sleep much more easily.  With our little Fox, we've gone back and forth between easy bedtimes and rough ones.  Regressions tend to happen at the cusp of new skill developments.  Right, now it's biggies of walking and talking.  With each regression, there is the dilemma of whether he needs me to just be sympathetic and try to ease him through it, or whether he'd be better off if I was tough with a firm routine.  Although I would like to take comfort in the knowledge that many have gone through this successfully, it sure is hard.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


A fox awake too late
Is finally settled into his den;
Screens of incomplete prose
Will have to thus remain.
This mom is turning in

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Big Fish Swimming Together

Someone said to me recently, "It's better to be a big fish in a small pond."  Of course, that would not be the right situation for all artists, as some people thrive from the competition in a crowded shark pool. I haven't always wanted to admit it, but I DO like being the big fish. I'd rather have my work reach a small group to whom it is significant, than see it bounce off the over-saturated cynics of a big-market crowd.  Freedom from the worry of competing allows me to open my heart a bit more and to take bigger leaps.  If I believe the work is meaningful to my compatriots, I feel willing to invest more of myself.

When I was researching theatre companies for my thesis on collaborative creation, I found companies with a range of attitudes regarding cooperativeness within their workspaces.  One company's founder described a willingness to forget about being nice and to have their artists (figuratively) duke it out in the rehearsal room for the best idea, while another company sought consensus both in meetings and in the creation of their work. It is useful to recognize where along that spectrum you feel most comfortable as an artist. I know that I like to work with a harmonious group, while still maintaining some directorial authority.  Disagreement and challenging views are important, but can be offered with respectful intent to push the work to a level of higher integrity.

The work is important, but even more important are people.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Source Material

Sometimes a trait I find annoying in a person could make a character onstage very interesting. As an example, I'm thinking of someone I know who has a tendency towards nostalgia. Nostalgia on its own isn't such a bad thing, but I feel like this person is so fond of things were during childhood, that telling the anecdotes becomes the subject of all mental focus, replacing opportunities to continue growing and learning about the world.  Precluded are any chances for thoughtful reflection, analysis of why things may be different now, or consideration of whether the changes are for the better or possibly a sign of decline. As a character, however, such a trait offers many possibilities, perhaps as the sole remaining keeper of some precious bit of information, or the one who reveals what all others in the story have long forgotten and need to be reminded of to keep their humanity alive, or simply as a witness of times past passing on the torch to the next generation.  How else could this idea be utilized?

This way of looking at things helps me look more sympathetically on others.  And it reminds me to look at the world as a source of creative inspiration.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sensing out an old familiar place

Toasted onion bagels Macintosh apples Pine trees Rain on blacktop Coffee Leaf-bare trees Apple tree silhouettes Crooked barns Red and yellow brick Grey sky Pot hole roads Melancholy nostalgia Cold cheeks Wool sweater Brisk breath in Maple candy Licorice Snowflakes Dry leaves Bread & butter, oil & vinegar, spaghetti & meatballs Slack-mouthed guttural curses Bagpipes Forks and dishes clinking Bell on door Landline phone ring

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Moldering in the Grave

I had a new thought about the problem of the perennial white savior character in movies that aim to deal with issues of racial conflict.  It's a problematic handling of a still important issue, undoubtedly.  (Ah, "problematic", that overused term of the progressively-minded blog!)  And yet it seems nearly as questionable to do away with such stories completely.

I have often considered whether there is something to be gained when a large population of people, who make up the obliviously privileged, are presented and confronted with stories of bedrock-changing experiences endured by characters with whom they identify.  In other words, I do think an ordinary, white, American movie-going person, who hasn't ever given much thought to the actual lived experiences of someone in a vastly (or slightly) different set of circumstances (or skin), can gain some self-awareness by watching a story unfold on the screen in which another supposedly ordinary person ("just like me!") learns to identify with, and even help, people less privileged.  I mean this with no cynicism nor snarkiness.  There is a value to this story.  But there is also the much-expounded-upon problem of that character being seen as a savior whose inherent talent and goodness (which seems to stem from his - it's usually his - whiteness) must be employed to save the apparently inferior others.  And really, much of the problem is that this version of the story is all too common, and just seen as more profitable (which is probably true) than a story in which a hero rises from within the oppressed group to save its own people.  Or ANY other variation.

So, anyway, my new thought to add to my musings is this: could a work of drama make an audience member feel the righteousness of acting on principle for the good of others, not through the glorification of the would-be hero, but because all reasoning, guided by human decency, points to this inevitable choice of action, and could they be moved to such righteousness?  Because the story makes it clear that it is simply the Right Thing To Do?  Is it possible to inspire people without them worshiping the hero?  Could the fact that someone is working on others' behalf without any personal gain to be had give the story line more merit?

I was reading about John Brown which got me thinking about all of this again, and now I have an idea for a project.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Reaching Out

My thoughts are something of a jumble tonight.  I'm feeling inspired, and yet lazy.  I'm following many shadowed paths, overgrown trails, and crooked lanes that end abruptly.  Looking at where I reside, not only the address, the apartment, but the moment and cosmic space upon which I have alighted, I know I've been feeling rather isolated, in my life, and in my home, down in the OC, Santa Ana, Orange County.  I have very few actual friends there.  (Tonight I must call it "there" because for the moment I'm on an extended holiday in my childhood home in the sweet Berkshires, in western Massachusetts.  Without snow.)  While I love solitude, I need connections and collaboration for my art.  So, I have been making a stronger effort to reach out to people, with a goal of nurturing relationships that seem potentially beneficial.  (And, of course, some have already!)  I want to talk about ideas.  Talking helps me quite a bit.  It helps me create; it helps me identify whether an idea is worth developing into a living project.  As language shapes the brain, articulating my artistic ideas solidifies the concepts for me.  Writing, as well, is a propitious exercise for me, as through the process, I must push myself to follow mental paths farther than is initially comfortable.  I'm training myself to develop ideas even while alone.  So, working on my art independently is ok.  AND I also sometimes want company in my work.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


About a year ago, I decided to make the switch to an e-reader. I was one of those people who argued on behalf of a Book, that tangible, comforting, dusty-aroma-ed volume you could thumb through in search of a half-remembered line that gave you pause on first read. And then I had a baby. My decision to breastfeed provided me with an unexpected benefit of time to read. Curled up with the lil' Fox for long stretches of the day, I realized I really wanted to be able to read one-handed, and to have my choice of books quickly available. This change in thinking is rather in line with my growing detachment from other material possessions. It would be disingenuous to claim a genuinely anti-materialist dogma, as I do enjoy many comforts and luxuries in my life. A more accurate description would be a relaxing of my grip on the significance of the material of things. Since the start of last year, I've read quite a few good books and have been eager to catalogue them to aid my own remembrance.

A list.  

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn 
Lie My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen (still in the middle of this one)  
Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier  
Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World by Lisa Bloom  
Classic Poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay (still working my way through this in spurts)  
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan  
The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child by Alan Kazdin 
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel by Erik Larson  
My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus by Nancy Tringali Piho  
Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein  

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong  
The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett  
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon  
On Beauty by Zadie Smith  
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire  
Saturday by Ian McEwan  

The Clean House and Other Plays by Sarah Ruhl 

I also read a handful of actual, physical books, including a lot of Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They'd Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child's Sexual Development by Justin Richardson and Mark Schustermost, On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, and most of The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It by Meenakshi Gigi Durham. 

I'm grateful to have had so much time to read this past year (though conflicted on having little time for anything else).  I feel I should balance out my nonfiction reading with more literature.  Also, I should really make an effort to find more drama in digital form.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Little One

As an artist I've often thought about my work as something to nurture (evven as it nourishes me), and I have at times felt motherly towards my casts, but the actual work of childcare ocupies my time and clouds my mind, making it a challenge to contemplate my work. I've only been without my helpmate a single day, and already my role feels demanding and my art far from my grasp. Yet, with my little one at my breast, I tap out some thoughts one-handed on my nook, and I smile.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Slow Down

I went to the Clark Art Institute today. I initially declined the audio guide, thinking I didn't want to tune out my companions, but on second thought went back for the audio device. I like to learn about what I'm viewing. But more importantly, listening to the commentary forces me to spend more time looking at each individual work. As a TA in grad school, I assisted a professor who required his students to draw any object of their choosing during a museum visit and record the thoughts that occurred to them as they sketched. The exercise forced them to slow down, and by spending more time with the object, to consider many aspects of the work--the materials, design, decoration, use, intended user, etc.--and by extension of all of these aspects, to consider what could be learned about the people who made the object. This is a useful lesson for anyone who enjoys museum exhibits, whether art or cultural objects. I am reminded, within my art, to consider my own choices thoughtfully and thoroughly.

Monday, January 2, 2012

I Am Fortunate

I've been reading an important book. It's called Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by married couple Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I AM a feminist and I DO know that oppression is a daily burden for women in many places of the world, but I often feel so distant from the problem. The authors of this book are journalists who, through their work, witnessed many instances of this oppression first hand and knew they needed to do something to try to change things. In their book, they tell the horrifying stories of individuals kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery, subjected to violent attacks and rapes, injured or killed during childbirth due to the low prioritizing of medical care for women, and numerous other injustices. The individual stories stand in for the unbelievably high number of girls and women suffering, and they help a reader like me sympathize on a deeper level than statistics can. Whenever I turn my gaze back out into the more distant world, I remember that I should do more with my life to make a difference. The privilege I enjoy is due to nothing more than good luck. I need to give thought and do research to see what I can do to help. I'll start here: http://www.halftheskymovement.org.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Collecting Dust

I was at used a book store in the Berkshires this week and found a lovely picture book that I wanted to buy for Sebastian. (It was Anno's Alphabet by Mitsumasa Anno, if you're wondering.) Seeing an old price sticker inside, I thought it was around $12, but the proprietor alerted me to the fact that it was actually $30, due to it being a first edition. I declined the purchase, but it got me thinking about the value put onto an item merely because it is old. I realized that I'm not a collector. I may have once felt differently about this, but these days I don't care too much about the physical object in possession. Jay has pointed out how the presence of an object can help invoke precious memories, and I believe he is right about this. Nevertheless, the notion of a book having more monetary value because of the idea of the desirability of a first edition seems like a self-perpetuating, inflated loop. It makes such a noble (and humble) thing as a book into an elitist token. I had to look up the quote about knowledge being the great equalizer--it was written by Horace Mann, an American education reformer and, appropriately enough, a representative from Massachusetts. "Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery." So it was education he was writing about, but I think the idea has a strong connection to books and reading. Books are beautiful, wonderful, meaningful, powerful, all these things, and more. But their value comes from their content, the ideas contained within. I believe purveyors of used books generally go into their field motivated by a sincere love of books, but I think their work is, at times, at odds with the intention of books. The collectible status shifts the value of the book from the content to the object.

As a side note, I just learned a little bit about Horace Mann, whose statue stands outside the Massachusetts State House. I particularly like this quote of his: "Be Ashamed to Die Until You Have Won Some Victory for Humanity." I'd better get on that.