Monday, December 10, 2012

Me: Plain and Simple

My original intention with The 40 Project was to check items off my list on a monthly basis and write about the experience...then the fall semester got underway, and I fell off the blog wagon.  I know speaking to fellow college instructors that this is our constant battle -- how to effectively balance teaching and be active with our own work/research/writing.

We are still looking for answers. 

What I want to focus on today is that I am continuing to go outside of my comfort zone and take part in activities that I've always wanted to do, but for one reason or another, have yet to accomplish.  Yesterday was one of those days.  When a friend of mine put a call out for actors, I jumped at the opportunity to take part in a short film project.  Even though film is one of my major areas of study, I 've never been an actor in a film.  I knew how different the process would be from my time on stage, but I never really thought about everything the process itself entailed.  And I loved it.  I loved the lights' heat on my face, the stills adding up to a final, fluid movement, the close ups.

Ah, the close ups.

There was a noticeable issue there, and it just comes with age.  For some, it's gray hair.  For others, it's complexion.  For me, it's those pockets that have formed under my eyes.  The bags.  The "try this product to reduce swelling, and then when that doesn't work, spend your money on this other product, because we guarantee that this, along with extensive Photoshopping, will get rid of those incessant bags."  I've tried it all.  Every roll-on ball with gels, lotions, and pastes.  Cortisone, Preparation H ( know you've heard that, too), ice packs...need I go on?  (If you've kept up with my Facebook posts or heard me tell this story, you'll even remember the time I went to see a doctor about a sinus infection and he looked at me, pointed to my eyes, and asked, "What's going on there?")  There was finally a make-up artist who came over with concealer and powder and did her best to hide my imperfection.

We'll see how it turns out in the final edit.

On the way home (the entire 45 minutes home), I thought about how women's physical flaws are often pointed out.  It's nothing new, and we've heard it all before.  But I also thought about how I could respond to this.  What is my reaction going to be?

Here's what I decided:

When I teach issues of gender in the classroom, I ask my students, "If we know that the images that we are barraged with on a daily basis are not real, are unattainable, why do we continue to strive for this false ideal?"  Yesterday, the tables were turned, and I was the one in search of an answer.  I realized that the real problem is not that I have bags under my eyes.  The real problem is that we do not see this often enough in our image-driven culture.

While some may choose to see external bags, redness on the cheeks, or un-brushed hair, I choose to celebrate what the external holds.  My face carries a lifetime of experiences, and I've earned every line on my face.  One of things I know for sure, what is truly important, exists beyond the face, and those who hold the most significance in my life, celebrate that fact with me every day. 

Plain and simple.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Artistic Resuscitation

Four score and a couple of blogs ago, I was in a bit of an artistic funk.  Despite a dear friend telling me just to "be creative again," the wall was up and wouldn't budge. 

The longer I'm not creative, the more time I spend away from expressing myself in that way, the more I feel a sense of loss.  Even though I was far from the mood, I forced myself to get back "out there" and do something.  After all, this year is supposed to be the year I reach out of my comfort zone and explore different avenues, possibilities, and opportunities.

Last week, I was talking to some theater students after class, telling them how I missed being on the stage.  They told me to check out the theater department and try to get involved again (simple, and yet, it was something I had shied away from).  Right after class, I decided to go to our theater department's website.  I read through various profiles and chose one professor that I could talk to.  I wasn't entirely sure what the discussion was going to be about.  I mean, I had some general ideas about getting back on stage, maybe seeing my play produced professionally, etc., but the plan was just to move forward...with anything creative.  We did meet for lunch just a few days later, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for an upcoming production of my work.  But really, it just felt good to "talk theater" again.

Tonight was no different.  I had the privilege of driving a visiting professor to dinner.  His specialization is in both Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed and in LGBT young adult lit.  The connection makes perfect sense, but it is not one I had previously made.  I have taught Boal to my underclassmen before, and on separate occasions I have taught LGBT drama and film.  What excited me is that there is still room for exploration on the stage that has yet to be discovered.  Why do we have films, TV shows, and plays about the LGBT community but little, if any, that deal directly with, and feature, the youth?  Simply put, it's the controversy that surrounds this subject matter.  It's alive and well.  But the possibilities...the possibilities are, too.

I don't know what will come out of either of these meetings.  What I do know is that the wall is finally beginning to budge.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Roses for Bobby C

I've often told friends of mine that I have a hard time remembering my teachers during my time as an undergraduate student; this is not the case when it comes to graduate school.

I learned today that one of my former professors, Dr. Barbara Cicardo, passed away.

Now, Dr. Cicardo was a pretty amazing woman.  It seemed that she had read just about everything, and her memory was unlike anything I've ever seen.  Unless I've read a book more than once or taught it, I'm lucky if I can detail the plot for you a few months later.  But Dr. Cicardo could remember what she read during elementary school and tell you details as if she had just closed the cover...well into her 70's. 

I took a few classes with Dr. Cicardo to prepare myself for my early American literature comprehensive exam.  One such class was on the American Eve, an interesting study in women's roles in 18th and early 19th century texts.  The class was once a week for three hours.  Filling up a three-hour lecture is no easy task; but if you were Barbara Cicardo, this was done with ease.  Not even laryngitis stopped her.  One night she actually wrote the lecture on the board in between whispers. 

If you needed to stop into her office, her door was always open.  Joke was, you would need to pencil in about an hour of your time.  She wouldn't just want to talk to you about literature.  She'd want to talk to you about life in general.  About her sister.  About her youth.  About her day.

A handful of graduate students affectionately called her Bobby C., but you knew better than to address her as anything other than Dr. Cicardo in class and in the hallways.  She told us that she had earned her title and she was proud of it.

So, Dr. Cicardo, here's to you.  I hope my career in academia lasts the length of yours, and I thank you for the time you dedicated to us over the years.




Monday, September 10, 2012

Artistic Insecurity

Tonight I found myself googling:  "artists and insecurity."  Yep.  I'm having one of those days.  And it led me to wonder how people overcome this, because I know I'm not alone.  One blogger posed the question:

" what extent [does] insecurity drive creativity, and when [does] insecurity actually undermine creativity"? (Ross).

I know the "when" answer to the latter part of that question...what I am still searching for is a solution to the "how."  (Love the line in The Beatles song "Something" when George sings, "You know I believe in how.")  How it undermines creativity is that it can stop it from happening altogether. do you fix that...stop that from taking hold? 

I am surrounded by truly talented and overwhelmingly productive artists, and somewhere in that space, I question my own creative movement(s)...slow...and resting.

So...I welcome your thoughts. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The 40 Project

So...last week in my 30's is fast approaching.  Instead of having a midlife crisis, I decided to embrace this new decade by trying a bit of an ongoing experiment.

Here's my plan:

For every month in my 40th year, I will do something that pushes me out of my comfort zone.  I want this year to be less about buzzards, black streamers, and Geritol and more about living my life to the fullest  (I'm ignoring the fact that AARP sent me a membership form in the mail this week).  I thought it would be fun to document the events before/during/after they occur on my blog, and I invite anyone else to join in no matter what your age. 

Now, my ideas may not seem as crazy as jumping out of an airplane (unless I am attached to someone who has decades of experience and you have given me ample Valium), but the point is to have fun and to be aware of life's possibilities.

So far, I only have a couple months preplanned:

August:  Get a haircut that normally would scare the bejesus out of me.  This one takes me all the way back to junior high when I got the infamous "perm from hell."  If you knew me back then, you know which one I'm talking about....the one that received comments like:  Did you stick your finger in a socket, Is that a wig, etc.  (FYI, I've told more than one person you couldn't pay me a million dollars to return to age 12-13.)  Since then, I tend to stay in my hair comfort zone.  Every time I see something a little edgy that I want to try, I get the guts until I get into the hairdresser's chair.  This time...this time I'm taking the plunge.  (My mother has already informed me she dislikes this idea...I'd say I'm not off to a good start, but this is not an uncommon occurrence.)  Here's the plan...minus the blond color:

September:  Cook something out of a cookbook that requires more than 4-5 ingredients and serve it to willing test subjects.  (Mama's Pizza is just down the street in case of emergency.)

October:  A DIY that I know what DIY means.

More to come...let The 40 Project begin!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


When I was younger and would return home with a movie selection from Blockbuster, my mother would ask, "Did you get one of your artsy movies again?"  I didn't know what that meant.  To me, I saw beauty in film, in shots, in movements.  I still do.  Five minutes into Kieslowski's Red, she started snoring.

Now it is 2012.  I am in the middle of Beginners.  I hear Bach's cello.

I don't know when or where I first heard this piece, but somehow it makes me feel like a familiar acquaintance is calling to me. 

What is it about certain songs, certain films, certain art that stirs memory and feelings whose origins we can't begin to explain?  Why is it that I can look at a portrait and follow the contours of a woman's face, a man's lips, a tree's extension, and a person can walk behind me and ask, "What's the point?" 

I've always loved the complexity of art.  How something I see so clearly can perplex the next viewer.  My boyfriend and I once found ourselves standing in a hotel lobby.  There was a sculpture of horse surrounded by small men, scaffolding, and tools.  I said, "Interesting.  They are deconstructing the horse,"  to which he responded, "I thought they were building him."

It is, in fact, the building of art that is in itself a complexity.  

I miss the days that I was surrounded by fellow artists.  Painting parties.  Poetry workshops.  Foreign film screenings.  I thrived during these moments.  I was no longer the lonely artist. 

But with time comes change, and the people I was once surrounded by on a daily basis have now moved to different parts of the world.  I read their works at a distance.  See their faces in a virtual world.  And I long to connect to that energy we once created.  An energy that can only be generated by art.

I long for new beginnings.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Perfectly Normal

I was on my Facebook page the other day, and I saw something that I see all too often: a 20-something-year-old's post about finding her Prince Charming.  This also comes in the form of comments like: I need a man, I need a date, Where is he?,  and so on.  When I was in my 20's, I'll admit I thought the same things.  It's difficult not to.  From an early age girls see images of what is "normal" in Western culture, and as we get older, the images often do not change, even though the opportunities for women certainly have.

Just a FEW of many examples:




Don't get me wrong...I love Disney and Pixar films.  I still laugh at Charlotte and watch Sex and the City reruns.  And yes, I teared up when Jerry interrupted the divorced women's group meeting.  

But here's the problem:  Women are not only taught that if we do not find our Prince Charming, the world will come to an end, and if we do, in the form of Tom Cruise, he will complete our very being...but we buy into this unattainable ideal.  This becomes the new reality.  So what happens if you don't live up to these constructed expectations? 

Here's the shocking truth...continue to breath normally and brace yourselves:

I'm fast approaching 40.  I've never been engaged or married.  I have no children.  I received my Ph.D. in 2007 and have been happily employed as an Instructor at a private university for the past five years.  I have been in public places and asked the following questions:

Are you a lesbian?
Have you given up on getting married?
A woman got her Ph.D.?
Don't you want kids?  You better hurry.

You may be surprised (or not) by some of these, but this has become a normal routine for me.  And you know what?  The only thing about it that really and truly bothers me is that this is 2012, and it is still seen as something out of the norm.  I could sit there and give my story about how when my friends were getting married, I was dealing with the death of my father.  I could say that during my late 20's and early 30's I was focusing on my career so I could support myself.  I could explain that I chose the wrong men as a result of some violent behaviors I witnessed when I was younger.  But then I'm giving excuses for something I shouldn't have to.  I'm giving in to justifying why I'm at the place that I am (and even hesitated writing those previous sentences).

So what's the point?  The point is that this place is amazing.  I have a job I love and a house in a great neighborhood near an old high school friend.  I've traveled the world, I've published a book of poems, and I've written a play (still working on getting the whole piece staged, but one thing at a time).  And in this space, I did meet someone.  But he doesn't "complete me."  He enhances the woman I've become.  He loves and respects me for who I am...and he listens to me talk about issues such as these and grins.  (And if we do tie the knot, I'll be in a much better place for that than when I was 20 years ago).

But most importantly, I've come into my own.

My reason for writing all of this is that I want younger women to know that it's okay to be single by the time you're 40.  It's okay not to have children.  Sometimes life leads us down different paths, but that does not mean that it should be seen as something "abnormal."  Will it feel like you are the only one in that position sometimes?  Sure.  But I'm here to tell you from experience that you're not.  

So, pop in your fairy tales, watch Sex and the City reruns, or curl up with Bridget Jones' Diary with some popcorn.  But when you're done, don't forget that these stories aren't the reality.  Your life is the reality.  Make the best of it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In Search of a New Project

It's never more evident to me that my mind works in an "artistic way" than when I am among those whose don't.  I was recently on vacation in Florida, and I was riding a trolley with two other people.  I started to notice the interior lines, the intersections of wood, the beach through design-covered windows.  My first thought was, why did I just spend money on a fancy camera that I don't use?  Second thought...there's always the cell phone.  It's not ideal, but it works during times like these.  I know there are all of the fancy apps such as Hipstamatic and Instagram, but sometimes I want to take the picture "in the raw" and play with manipulations later on.  Of course...once I've placed the image inside the frame, the manipulations have already begun.

So, I'm tilting my phone up and sideways, and I'm getting into that zone.  Suddenly, I hear, "What are you doing?"  with an emphasis on "doing."  Now luckily I'm not on my stomach or on my back or upside down (admit it, photographers, you've done the same).  I was upright, sitting in my seat, enjoying the moment until the bubble burst (later that night you would have thought I needed to be committed when we were outdoors waiting for an available table, and I was pointing my camera up at the sky).

Submitting evidence below:

I've studied photographs and films, and I have always wanted to become more of a professional in these areas.  One of these days, I'll take a class and see where technical improvements can be made (as I know those exist).

My central points of interest include the intersections of paintings, film, stills, and the stage.  Lately, however, I've come to a standstill as to what my next project will be.  I've never officially done film, but I'm intrigued by collaborative theater groups like Fevered Sleep.  Often, their audiences consist of children...I tell my students that the reason for this is that children don't question the wonders of the imagination...they invite them in:

And then there is Stan Brakhage who takes something as simple as moths' wings and makes them into an artistic expression:

So I'll keep thinking about what my next step will be.  In the meantime don't be surprised if you see me pointing my camera up at the sky or out the window.  That's just an artist at play.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Can You Escape the Personal in Writing?

I had a student come into my office the other day and ask me how she could keep personal, past experiences out of her writing.  I sat there for a moment trying to think if that was even possible. Days later, I continue to think if that is ever possible.

The very reason I started writing at an early age was so that I could make some attempt to articulate my personal experiences, and, in doing so, learn how to work my way through them.  Rainer Maria Rilke writes, "╬ŁO ONE CAN ADVISE or help you - no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write."

I told my student that I may be the wrong person to ask, and then I turned the tables on her.  What was her concern?  Was it a "problem" she wanted to "solve?"  And if that was the case, was (or is) there a way that this is even possible (insert Freud here).  

She said that she had a "very dark" past that she was not ready to face...she didn't want to enter back into that space as of yet.  In time she thought she could, but she wanted her writing to explore other subjects, other moods, other movements.  However, the past kept finding its way in.

It always does.  

I told her that if she really wanted to explore other exercises, I could give her a book that may lead her into a different direction, but ultimately, I thought the past would continue to find its way in.  I then went on to give her numerous examples of artists/writes/musicians who have created some of the most beautiful work from some of the darkest times in their lives.  

I think people often feel ashamed of their dark past.  That we must be these automatons -- strong...metallic...unwavering. That to say our past rings fear in our ears is something that should be denied.  I know those dark places.  I've sat in their corners.  I've felt the cold fingers of night upon me.  But it was in those very spaces that I created some of my strongest writing.  It is in those very spaces that I came face to face with my fears and learned them, greeted them, and in doing so, became who I am today.

But I didn't tell her all of that.  Instead, I questioned the creative process and wondered about its limitations when dealing with the personal...even when we attempt to deny its very existence.  


Friday, February 10, 2012

In Recovery

Life(less) Seen

sitting among baby-bellied women
we wait for the sound-image projected

they dream in pinks and blues

but one catches my frown
downing the crowd

she hands me two chocolates
and walks away

the only thing fetal is my position
the only thing grown is a 5 cm sack

barring freedom
and sun

the nurse says she's big enough to name
I give a caged smile

three cuts and she'll be gone
two weeks and I'll heal

my roses are dying
dropping petal on wood

I have her picture
left unseen