I’ll go see any show that’s a take on Alice in Wonderland, my favorite book of all-time. Last weekend I went to see Dodgeball Theatre‘s steampunk-inspired ALICE, a part of Capital Fringe. Performed in the round with exaggerated stage movement and outlandish characterizations of the story roles I love so much, I was able to see the story in a whole new light.
Seductive undertones, a dream-like weaving of the story’s most famous lines, and a triumphant Alice all made me realize that stories, like life, are malleable. Words are only the beginning. Physical movement, rich visuals, and lush music can transform lines of text into an experience that we can dive into head first and never look back. Like the white rabbit, I lost all sense of time and space as I looked on waiting to see where this multi-talented and imaginative cast would take me. Falling down the rabbit hole with them was a delight.
You can still catch ALICE on Thursday, July 16th, Saturday, July 18th, Tuesday, July 21st, and Saturday, July 25th. And if I were you, I’d mark these down as very important dates to relish how theater can make an old story new again.
I recently read a quote that books (and thereby, learning and education) can’t solve everything. They don’t fill an empty belly, stop violence, or provide much-needed healthcare. And I beg to differ. I’ve felt hungry, afraid in an unstable environment, and sick without healthcare. Books helped me, and continue to help me, take the long view. They help me to believe in a better, brighter tomorrow, and they empower me to build that tomorrow with my own two hands, and my mind, and my heart. Books make me powerful.
In my saddest and darkest hours, my education literally saved me. It helped me to keep looking up, and to keep trying, when it seemed like all of my efforts were in vain. No, maintaining our grit and determination in the face of adversity isn’t easy, and yes, it’s tempting to take a shortcut and go off the tracks and give up. But if we will go just one more day, no matter how difficult or embarrassing or discouraging, the light at the end of the tunnel is there and it is ours as much as it is anyone else’s. It was there for me, and it’s there for every child who can find a way to keep going.
We have within our power, in one generation, to make that happen for every child, everywhere. It will be expensive, though not nearly as expensive as not doing it. Think of how we could change the world if we could educate every child.An education is for the good of the many, and the one. That’s not just an idea, that’s a revolution. That’s a movement.
“For me Madeline is therapy in the dark hours.” ~ Ludwig Bemelmans
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…” is one of the most famous introductions to one of the most famous characters in children’s literature: Madeline. Ludwig Bemelmans created Madeline after a terrible accident that left him hospitalized at the age of 39. His hospital roommate was a young girl who had her appendix removed. Her stories of her life inspired Bemelmans to create Madeline.
Eventually Bemelmans recovered from his injuries and published his first Madeline book at age 41 after 20+ years of working in hotels in New York. During those two decades, he consistently practiced his art and slowly built up his freelance portfolio. His example has been a great inspiration to me as a writer.
Madeline was Bemelmans’ second act after many years of difficult work in a completely different industry. He never lost his optimism and never gave up. And thank goodness. Not only is Madeline therapy for him, but it’s therapy for all of his readers and admirers, particularly little girls who strive to be strong, brave, and courageous. The New-York Historical Society has mounted a retrospective of Bemelmans’ life and art with Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans.
Bemelmans Bar is one of my favorite bars in New York – tucked away in the Carlyle Hotel on East 76th Street. The walls are covered with his original drawings. It’s a good place to dream, and drink. If you’re in New York, I highly recommend it.
“The reluctance to put away childish things may be a requirement of genius.” ~ Rebecca Pepper Sinkler
Keep your board games, puzzles, fairytales, and toys. Hang onto your intense curiosity, magical sense of wonder, and big dreams, especially those that you created when you felt that anything and everything was possible. The surest ways to success and happiness lie along those roads. Guard them like the precious gifts that they are.
There are a lot of people who bemoan TV as wasting the minds of America. I’ve never understood that mindset because TV literally saved me. As a kid, it taught me to dream. It taught me about relationships, friendship, and the many options that were available in the world of work. It showed me that I could live my life differently than those around me. It gave me a very small window into a very big world.
As a child of the 80’s, I looked up to and learned from characters in The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Growing Pains, The Facts of Life, Different Strokes, Cheers, Who’s the Boss?, and The Muppet Show. I loved reruns of The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days, M*A*S*H, All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and Mork & Mindy. I remember seeing the very first episode of The Simpsons and deciding to play the saxophone so I could be like Lisa. Saturday morning cartoons were my favorite event of the week. I watched the news morning and night to learn about far-flung places around the globe. From my tiny little town that didn’t hold much hope for me, TV gave me the idea that there was a lot more to the world than what I was experiencing. It made me laugh and it gave me an escape.
Somewhere inside me, that little girl is still there, her eyes glued to that small shiny box, her smile wide, and her face lit up by the light of pictures that showed her she could carve her own path. TV didn’t waste my mind. Quite the contrary – it bolstered me up. I wouldn’t be who I am without it.
When you hear a brigade of motorcycles roaring down the highway, they might just be on their way to save a life. Bikers Against Child Abuse International (B.A.C.A.) is a global network of bikers who are devoted to stopping child abuse cold in its tracks.
I saw an interview with a few members last week and contrary to their gruff exteriors, they were very emotional. This mission is personal. Many of them were victims of abuse and / or knew children who were victims. They have banded together to bring an end to it. Help and inspiration can come from the most unlikely places. Now more than ever it is important for all of us to stand up for children who can’t stand up for themselves. B.A.C.A. is leading the charge.
“We exist as a body of Bikers to empower children to not feel afraid of the world in which they live. We desire to send a clear message to all involved with the abused child that this child is part of our organization, and that we are prepared to lend our physical and emotional support to them by affiliation, and our physical presence. We stand at the ready to shield these children from further abuse. We do not condone the use of violence or physical force in any manner, however, if circumstances arise such that we are the only obstacle preventing a child from further abuse, we stand ready to be that obstacle.”
I sat behind a boy on the train as we rolled by empty lots between Newark airport and New York City that are littered with trash, surrounded by graffiti laden buildings, and completely devoid of life.
“They could build an arena here. Make it better,” he said to his father.
Kids see potential in a way that most adults don’t. They see possibility, hope, and the opportunity for reclamation. They remind me that despair is something we create, something we’re taught, not something that we innately know. We are programmed for wonder, to seize opportunity. The trick is to hang on to that even as the world attempts to change us. If we can stay focused on what’s possible rather than what is, we can create what we seek.
I grew up in the dirt, literally. There was (and still is) a tractor crossing sign across the street from the house where I grew up. My rural hometown fostered a childhood that involved climbing trees and making mud pies. When I was little, I was convinced that there was a dinosaur skeleton hiding under the ground in my backyard. I enlisted my sister, Weez, to help me dig and dig and dig. All we found was a small mouse skeleton, but I thought it was clearly a prehistoric mouse! Other kids wanted to be doctors, firefighters, or teachers. I wanted to be a paleontologist. I still do.
My childhood was far from idyllic, but there were some very positive things about growing up in the sticks. I got my hands dirty in the process of making things. I ate organic food because that’s really all there was, not because it was trendy. Animals were my friends and companions, as much as people. Maybe even more than people. I learned to appreciate the Earth, her majesty and her power. Weather was a way of life, and I still watch it with fascination and wonder.
An article in the New York Times last weekend talked about a movement in this fine and fair city I now call home to bring more nature into the lives of city kids not by taking them out of the city, but by bringing nature to them. Brooklyn Forest, a husband and wife startup, “takes toddlers into Prospect Park to promote learning through creative play like building teepees out of branches.” 7 students were in their first class. Now there are over 200. More people are eager to get into mud these days; I was a pioneer.
There’s something to be said for the slow life, the life we build rather than the life we buy shrink-wrapped and delivered right to our doorstep. Creation builds confidence and bolsters the imagination. It makes us self-sufficient. I’m all for it, for our children and for us. There’s a lot of beauty down there in the mud.
Yesterday, marked the 20th anniversary of my father’s passing. I’ve been alive longer without him than with him. To even fathom that 20 years has passed makes my mind numb. I remember that evening so clearly that I could recite my actions and thoughts of each minute. I think of it in frames of a film, a shutter action happening in between each. There’s some soaring music in the background that rises and falls in waves like water.
That night I was viscerally aware that I was literally closing one chapter of my life and opening another one with my bare hands. The door between those chapters was heavy and awkward. I knew that once it shut behind me that there was no going back. That feeling is lodged in my heart in a way that used to feel painful and now is just familiar. It’s become one of my oldest friends.
Nothing happens in isolation. As soon as my mind turns those events over a few times, it just keeps going and I follow it along as an audience member, as if I am watching a performance of Sleep No More. At first it slowly trudges to the wake and funeral, to high school graduation, to leaving my hometown, to college and everything that would unravel and then coalesce in that time.
The speed of the frames in my mind picks up rapidly after that. As a young 20-something I thought I would go into politics and instead opted for a career in theatre, moving from D.C. to New York to life on the road. That would lead me to Florida, back to D.C., on to graduate school in Virginia, and then back to New York where I’ve made my home for the past 5 and a half years. That journey flashes with so many characters and scenes and travels across the globe, some happy, some sad and everything in between. It makes me dizzy if I think about it for too long.
I used to feel so much a part of that narrative. No matter how much distance I got from December 1, 1992, I was still that character, playing that role. I was this way because my dad was that way. I played the victim card, the martyr card, the lost card, the hopeless card, the trapped card. I let the role write the script instead of writing it myself.
It took a long time for me to understand how that’s a clear and certain road to disaster. No one wins in that scenario, least of all me. And it took me even more time to realize that it didn’t have to be that way. The beginning of a journey influences its course but it doesn’t define it. It is within our power, responsibility, and right to own the narrative of our lives.
We can fold, toss those old worn out cards into the center of the table, and walk away. It’s okay to leave it behind and continue on in a different direction. It’s healthy to do so. It’s required if we intend to do anything extraordinary with our lives. We can honor our past, our roots, and not feel shackled to them. What happened, happened. There’s no changing it. What happens next? Well, that’s up to us. It’s always up to us.
Wherever my dad is now, I hope he folded his hand, too, walked away from the table, and set out on a new course that was brighter than the one that was here among us. Every soul deserves that chance.
“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” ~ Albert Einstein
I spend time with my nieces, Lorelei and Aubree, because I love them. I also spend time with them because I am incredibly selfish. They are a constant reminder to me that life is filled with the exciting, the unexpected, and the unprecedented. There are millions of surprises just waiting for us. The world wants to astound us, to make us wonder and wander. It wants us to be free and open to its magic, to follow its lead into the miraculous and previously unimagined. My nieces remind me of all of that whenever they see something I have seen a million times before and regard it with amazement.
Show up with a full heart, open eyes, and perked up ears. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll be inspired.