Embracing the moment

I knew what I was going to name this post before I even knew what exactly I was going to say in it!

I am still whirling and bopping from a fantastic weekend at the Mark Twain Museum Writer’s Weekend. I met fabulous people, including a fast friend who floats on the same wavelength as me. I heard a lot of words. I felt a lot of feelings. I was inspired.

I got a call last week informing me that I was invited to callbacks during the writer’s weekend. I embraced the moment and asked to be seen earlier in the day. Easily arranged. It was a gorgeous day and I kept the windows rolled down as I drove from the shoreline to Hartford after my audition. It was sunny and I sang along loudly to my shuffled iPhone playlist.

I went to a ton of workshops that day, but I kept my eyes open and went with the flow. I met Neil Labute, one of my favorite playwrights. I asked questions, I spoke without fully articulating my thoughts beforehand (also known as normal, improvised conversation.

In between the day and the keynote address, I sat with some new friends outside on the sun-soaked steps and drank cabernet sauvignon from plastic cups. I talked about theater, acting, writing. It couldn’t have been better.

Sunday morning, however, I was exhausted. I was sort of amazed at myself. How in the hell could I be so tired? I honestly don’t know, but I think it may have had something to do with the new environment and being inundated with tons of people and new ideas.

Over peanut butter and jelly, we talked about all kinds of things related and non to writing. I scurried inside for my last workshop, completely enamored with my new journey.

Last night I went to a book signing at the Mark Twain House (again) for a book talk and signing for the book “Redeployment,” by Phil Klay. My writer friend and I sat with her husband and listened in to a dynamic talk. I had heard Phil on the Diane Rehm show and was moved by his words and his eloquence, so when I heard he was coming I marked it down.

I saved a lot of my remarks for the diverse crowd for until afterwards,  when I blurted all my thoughts out to the author as we stood second to last in line.

Afterwards, my friend and her husband suggested that we go out for a drink at The Half Door. Irish through and through, I said yes. 🙂

___________________

This morning, I went to a dealership to bring my car in for some work on the brakes and to remove a cabin air filter that I was later told “was awful…I think there were mouse hairs in it.”

I sat down, armed with a large coffee and my laptop, and a journal, and wrote. I worked a little here, I worked a little there, and applying the process of doing a bit every day and REALLY doing it, I felt fantastic. I started this new practice on Monday and I have been keeping it up ever since. It’s easier to keep a promise to yourself when you have fun with it. I tend to like to binge on my “office hours” and work like crazy. But I am starting to truly embrace (see how I am bringing it full circle?) the theme of life I have been striving for and sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding at, for years. We touched on it a bit this week on our podcast, about how to live an artistic life. Some people may be able to compartmentalize their lives, but I don’t recommend it. I have tried that before and found that it is extremely limiting. Instead, why not find a way to embrace the artist, the chores-doer, the daughter, the creative, the multi-tasker, and find a way to blend it into one fine day at a time?

This for me, has meant unplugging and also using this great new app that Dani Shaprio recommended this weekend, called Freedom. If anything, it’s more of a starting place to learn to unplug from distractions.

Embracing the moment of the day for me means giving more time to myself and allowing my needs to come first. They come before I check my email, texts, social media. I do what i need to at the start of the day, so I am able to enjoy everything else without the stress.

My good friend, John Henry Soto texted me today because he saw that Paul Williams and Tracey Jackson are going to be doing a book reading and signing this evening only 36 minutes from my house!! I have been wanting to see them at an event for awhile. John first mentioned their work to me last year and I have been following them on twitter and instagram. Truly inspiring people who have lived amazingly creative and relatable lives.

As I stood outside in the warm sun doing yoga on my deck, I was so grateful to be connected to such amazing people who have such excellent timing. I believe that when you are aligned with yourself and ready to receive, timing all works out for the best.

SO. I am heading there this evening. Admittedly, I haven’t finished their book that my library director sister gave me first dibs on, and it’s last minute, but again…Embracing!!

Review of Two Short Plays by Trish Ayers

What is so fascinating about short plays? I ask myself this question after just taking in a lovely read of two short plays by Trish Ayers. Over the years, I have attended one act festivals and contests and I absolutely delight in seeing a series of short plays back to back in a night of theater.

Some may be mistaken in thinking it might be “easier” to write a short play than a standard three or five act play, but I would disagree. Theater is meant to be experienced as an arc, with an unfolding of character and story development. There is more room to breathe in a standard format, but fitting a complete story structure with a beginning, middle, and end in a short play format requires a different kind of focus.

Playwright Trish Ayers
Playwright Trish Ayers

I have seen short plays fail, but I have also seen them take the audience’s breath away. I think the short plays that typically fail are those that try to paint too much of a brush stroke in a limited amount of space and time.

A scene that attempts to say too much about what happened before, what’s going to happen, and has a monologue worth of exposition just to get the scene going: it’s going to lose the audience.

However, when a playwright allows the reader or viewer some room to figure it out: the who, the what, the where in the very beginning; it keeps the audience awake. Part of the enjoyment of watching the one act is being surprised. You are given a limited amount of time, say ten minutes, to piece together the who, the what and the where, quickly followed by the why and the how. By the time a good short play is over, you have had a complete experience.

It’s a fine balancing act to trust your writing and the audience’s intelligence.

“No Reservation” by Trish Ayers

If you had access to the “other side” and could bring back the dead for an activist cause, who would you bring back?

In this case, a young idealistic feminist, Helen, has an opportunity to bring back the first woman Chief of the Cherokee Nation for a Woman’s Initiative Project to usher in gender equality. The historical figure, Wilma Mankiller, is confused as to why she was chosen to come back and why exactly she is needed.

What I enjoyed most about this play was the acute use of assumptions and the breaking of them. Oddly enough, when I read the description, I thought I would be reading about feminism, but that’s not the whole story. Really, it’s about labels and what we assume we know about different people and how we choose to put certain people in certain groups because it benefits us in the long run.

Feminism itself has become such a loaded word precisely because everyone has a different opinion about what it really means. Not only that, but more recently there are consistent labels of what makes a “good” feminist or a “bad feminist.”

Bringing it full circle, we like to rewrite history at times and say things like “President Nixon would agree with this!” or “Amelia Earhart would think this is so cool!” or “Martin Luther King Jr. would never put up with this!” But what do we really know? Every individual is a product of their individual times and fought particular causes based on their experiences.

In this show, Helen assumes that Wilma will automatically be interested in working on her initiative because she was a strong female leader. However, Wilma is more interested in getting back to the Spirit World, unsure of what exactly the Initiative entails. She’s interested in her own work.

I think this is an interesting dynamic to think about when it comes to feminism and social justice groups in general. Oftentimes, groups are formed without always having a clear initiative, which ultimately leads to not much change occurring. Wilma is more interested in the bullet points of the initiative, which Helen points out can’t be formed until the participants are gathered.

One of my favorite personality traits of Wilma is her focus on work. She consistently talks about her work. How did she overcome gender inequality? “I focused on my work,” she says. I love this aspect of feminist thought. Instead of always fighting the tide of resistance, perhaps if individuals strived to be excellent at their work, the resistance would slowly dissipate. It’s a controversial idea, but I find it exciting.

Another assumption in this play that is quickly smashed is Helen’s assumption that Wilma will identify mostly with being a woman. But as their conversation goes on, Wilma talks about her Native American identity too. It’s a nice reminder for the audience that each person is very complex, and oftentimes labels are troublesome simply because they don’t encompass the entire person.

Helen then tries to win Wilma over to the Initiative by pointing out that they have a diverse group of women joining. Still, it’s not enough for Wilma.

It’s not until Helen tells her own story of struggle that Wilma finally agrees. Specificity is key. What is a cause without specific goals? It’s just a petition, just another like on Facebook, just another empty proclamation.

On a personal note, this play drove me to the internet to do research on Wilma Mankiller. The playwright, Trish Ayers, has upheld her end of the bargain on the Women’s Initiative..by educating the audience with a real life grounded role model who did excellent work while she was alive.

The Cypress Tree by Trish Ayers

This is my favorite kind of short play. The way you would see it performed would just be a woman sitting on a bench delivering a monologue. She is having a conversation with a security guard at a gallery.

The reason I enjoy pieces like this so much is because it relies heavily on the words of the playwright, and the strength and charisma of the actor onstage. Not only that, but to carve out a strong beginning, middle, and end, where the character experiences a change in ten minutes is no easy feat either.

Trish Ayers does a beautiful job with this as her words are so bright and colorful, that you can easily imagine the art on the walls around Fern. Even her name evokes an immediate feeling! The title itself, “The Cypress Tree” is brought up during the play, where Fern describes the tree as something that grows so beautifully it looks as though it was trimmed and sculpted by hand. Ironically, Fern doesn’t see that she is the beauty of The Cypress Tree herself.

She goes on to explain that she’s taller than her peers, which she finds to be an inconvenience. However, if she embraces her height, she will be embracing her beauty.

Some readers might wonder why there is another character at all, when he doesn’t even appear onstage. However, it usually takes a catalyst to evoke big change in other people’s lives. The more Fern talks it out with the security guard, the more inspired she becomes to make a change.

This play is beautiful because it can speak as a feminist work, but also as an inspirational piece to anyone who is afraid of following their dreams. Oftentimes I hear people say “Oh, I’ll start this dream when such and such happens or when I’m ready.” A beautiful metaphor for this is how Fern carries a beautiful green scarf with her that she never wore for years. She bought it on impulse and yet always has it tucked away. When she finally takes it out the gallery, her impulsive nature returns and she feels inspired to “pick up paint” on the way home from the gallery.

The sad aspect to this is many people tuck away their gifts, afraid to use them. If they would just let their light shine, they would not only be happier, but find that the entire world of inspiration would be open to them. I see this play as a gift to an audience to remind them that they each are their own gifts. Sometimes it can be hard to see and the help of a friend, or in this case, a stranger, is the precise tipping point for a breakthrough to occur.

For the radio performance and review, check out the On Air Players!