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Monthly Archives: January 2012

It’s a Dirty Job…

I hate cleaning. Vacuuming, mopping, dusting, polishing, washing, straightening, organizing, wiping, sanitizing…did I mention I hate cleaning?!?

I have to admit… I can either ignore it, or be completely obsessed with it. No in between.

Owning and living in a large 123 year old house with two big dogs and a cat certainly doesn’t make the job any easier. Even when I’m in my obsessed stage, I always seem to find a paw print or cobweb I missed. And what about that pesky mirror or window smudge that will not go away?

When I’m trying to ignore it, I rationalize that it’s just going to get dirty again, right?

I often find myself putting off projects, especially after I’ve cleaned, because I don’t want to clean up the mess.

It’s a different world from what I grew up in. My mother always kept an immaculate house. (At least that’s how I remember it.) I remember helping with the household chores at an early age. (What kid doesn’t like pushing a vacuum?) As we got older, we had our assigned chores that we did regularly and the house was always clean. I never remember dusting the furniture and seeing any actual dust; or emptying anything out of the vacuum cleaner. Mirrors, windows and pictures always looked clean but we cleaned them again anyway. Yes, it was a different world.

I think the world is dirtier– or Illinois is dirtier than Florida? I know I don’t have better eyesight! In either case, it’s a constant battle to win the war on cleanliness. I guarantee you, if I shampoo the carpets… it promises to rain so my dogs can track mud in on the clean floors. It never fails.

 

Today’s Pic of the Day: My cleaning/organizing project.

Creating Illusions

In a few hours we’ll begin our first read through of the script, Ragtime, our spring musical, at school. I spent most of the morning getting copies of a character development sheet ready to pass out to the students. The long rehearsal process begins!

I also spent time outside taking down Christmas lights, using this unseasonably warm weather to my advantage.

What do these two activities have in common?

They made me think about how much of our lives we spend creating illusions.

Whether we are decorating for the holidays, or daily life… landscaping, painting the interior or exterior of our homes, we are in affect creating an illusion. Without plantings, color and furnishings we basically have a relatively plain, hollow shell.

In preparation for performance, actors develop characters– their look, how they talk, move and appear to the audience. By carefully manipulating their behavior and appearance, actors can completely become someone else.

How much time do we spend creating these same illusions in real life?

We all live our lives as actors creating illusions. We may want to appear smarter, or richer, or younger, or older. We try to adjust our look in a way that will appeal to others in certain situations. In some cases, we may want to appear sick or tired or unattractive.. but it’s still an illusion. It’s only when we strip off the make up, the clothing, let our hair down and stop trying to be something else –that our true selves are evident.

In the end, don’t we really want people to just accept us for who we are underneath the disguise?

The true reality is that without the costuming and pageantry, most of us would be completely overlooked. Society expects certain efforts towards appearance. Success doesn’t come to most without great efforts of visual transformations.

I say, the most successful people are those that can see beyond the illusion and measure the person hidden underneath by their inner beauty.

In the end, that’s all that is all that we really have.

 

Today’s Pic of the Day: Down comes Christmas. Just the beginning of the process.

Journey of Life

Do you ever think about how you got to the place where you are now? Location, career, relationships, satisfaction, fulfillment… How did you get here?

When we’re young, we have dreams and aspirations– usually grand– of a future full of fame and fortune. That’s the American Dream, right? We set out to mark a path from Point A to Point B, seldom consciously realistic about the many obstacles that are sure to present roadblocks along the way.

One thing I try to tell the students at school, particularly the ones that want to go into the performing arts, is that it’s about the journey. It doesn’t matter where you end up, as long as you do your best, follow your heart and enjoy the path along the way.

I believe wherever we are, whatever we experience and wherever we end up– is exactly where we are supposed to be.

I’ve spoken with several former students that expressed regret that their paths changed course– as if they let me down, or were a disappointment. My only question to them is: “Are you happy?” That’s all that really matters, isn’t it? For most, they’ve only started their journey. At the age of 49, I feel my journey is far from complete. It’s so much more than just location or career or family and friends. It’s about the whole of who we were, who we are and who we will be.

I never had a clear path or grand plan for my life, so perhaps in some ways the road has been easier to travel. I think people with too many specific notions or desires for a successful life are the ones that have the most difficult time finding fulfillment. I believe you have to be willing to take a different path, endure the many bumps in the road and not be afraid of the detours.

I also believe education is a tool, not a solution. We should all be lifelong learners. I know more people that are happily successful in areas that did not require a specific path of higher learning, or ended up finding themselves successfully content outside their field of study. To get there, they still had to learn and acquire the necessary skills and experience to allow for their success.

The growing number of unmotivated college graduates frightens me. I’ve seen so many students float through school, move back home and do nothing, if their parents let them. In many ways, I think the generations since the baby boomers have done their children a disservice by giving them everything. In doing so, they’ve created ungrateful, unmotivated young adults with no comprehension of what it takes to achieve success. Life has been too easy for them. Parents who should be empty nesters, moving on to a new phase in their lives, find themselves continuing to support their children far in to adulthood.

Children need to take a trip. They need to be taught how to work, use their imagination and discover a world of their own. When children are given everything they want, how do they ever learn what they really need? More important, how will they learn to survive?

I see a generation of unemployed college graduates, whose parents gave up so much to give them everything. Somehow, the children were lost along the way.

It’s a lost generation, stuck at an intersection, with no value or understanding of the journey. So they sit… looking left, looking right, looking back… without the ability to make any decisions and follow the path ahead.

We have to help them find their way.

 

Yesterday’s Pic of the Day: I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and started taking down my Christmas lights, only to discover the pesky squirrels had already started. So much for LED lights that were supposed to last 10 to 15 years!

Today’s Pic of the Day: Full Moon 5:30 AM. Both pictures were taken with my new Canon S95. (Thanks Dad!)

The Power of Dreams

I debated about whether to write about this but here it goes…

I woke up this morning from one of my dreaded dreams… in it I was outside with my Boxers, Cash and Roxie. We were by

Cash & Roxie as puppies.

the side porch and Cash had a stroke and rolled over on his side with Roxie standing looking on. This is not an unusual dream for me. I dream about them a lot. The most frequent dream is that they are outside and the gate is standing open. Nothing ever happens in these dreams… just my unconscious voicing my inner fears. Cash and Roxie are 8 years old which is getting up there in years, for larger breeds. They are such an important part of my life I worry about them constantly.

So I lay there this morning, Cash snoring and snuggling my side and I just hugged him… petted him and scratched behind his ears, giving him a kiss before I got up.

I used to be really interested in dream interpretation until I realized most of it is a bunch of malarkey. Aside from a few reoccurring nonsensical dreams, most of the ones I remember deal with unresolved issues I’ve struggled with; or often people that were mentioned in conversation the previous day. Sometimes I’ll dream about someone or something from my forgotten past and I’ll spend hours trying to figure out what prompted it.

I’ve found some of my dreams are rather disturbing and others make me happy or peaceful. I’ve actually caught myself waking up, laughing out loud in/at my dreams.

So, two questions:

1) Do you dream in color or black and white? Supposedly, most people dream in black and white but I dream in color. When you ask that question, most people have to really stop and think about it. I found most of the artistic people I’ve asked, dream in color.

2) Have you ever died in your dreams, or has anyone else (or thing) died in your dreams? I never have. I’ve had falling dreams, dreams where I’ve faked my death or I’m at my own funeral listening to what people say about me… I’ve dreamed about people about to die or after they died… but never actual death. I’m not sure whether it’s an urban legend or what– but supposedly if we were to actually die in our dreams, we’d really die.

I’ve had some really crazy dreams over the years. Many dealing with the theatre and crazy impossible situations with combinations of people who have never met. But two reoccurring dreams stand out.

In the first, I’m either graduating from college, or finding out I never graduated from college (24 years ago) because of my Spanish grade. To this day, I believe my last semester Spanish teacher gave me a passing grade so I could graduate. (But I swear that woman had it out for me.) I think I’ve continued to have that dream because Spanish is something I’ve never conquered. I’ve considered buying one of those language programs to teach myself. Here I’ve been to Mexico twice and run in to Spanish-speaking people on a daily basis… I should really be able to speak it. Maybe if I did, that dream would go away.

The other most vivid reoccurring dream involves my maternal Grandma. In the dreams, we are having some sort of present day family gathering and she’s just there. Everyone is acting like everything is perfectly normal except Grandma is there. I had this dream over and over for many years. At one point, it would really upset me. I would ask my Mom (in my dream), “How is Grandma here and nobody thinks its strange?” I usually woke up before I got an answer.

After a few dreams and attempts to analyze it, I stopped asking the question and just enjoyed the dream, everyone together– one big happy family. It was never an upsetting dream but it did become a very peaceful dream. One that I noticed I often had when I was under a lot of real-life stress.

My Grandma passed away, unexpectedly, during my senior year of college in 1988. She was in the hospital for routine surgery, I was home for spring break– and I didn’t go to see her. I talked to her briefly on the phone, but I was too selfish with my time and didn’t go. No sooner had I gotten back to school when I got the call.

I carried that guilt of not going to see her– with me for a lot of years.

I always felt she was my guardian angel, watching over me during some really tough times in my 20’s. The dream always seemed to reinforce that she was with me.

When I was finally at a point that I was able to forgive my selfishness and stop beating myself up for not going to see her.. the dreams stopped.

I miss her… and I really miss that dream.

 

Today’s Pic of the Day: Thank goodness they marked it FRAGILE! With all the hubbub over the Post Office raising rates and cutting back services… I found the condition of this box from Kohl’s pretty amusing. Thankfully, there was nothing breakable inside!

Because I Knew You…

Through social networking, I’ve been able to reconnect with many people that played an important role in helping me evolve into who I am today… and a few that I’ve been able to influence along the way. My high school drama teacher, band director, the head of the theatre company where I first got my feet wet… they, along with many others, had a huge influence on my life.

I was reminiscing over old photographs I had uploaded to Facebook with a former colleague and realized what a huge influence he had been on me.  In 1982, just a year out of high school, I was fortunate to be a part of a magical production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Alan played Jesus and I played Peter. Another actor in the show, Gene, playing King Herod, and would one year later write a musical on which we’d collaborate. One of my lifelong best friendships grew out of that production too… Melissa played Mary.

Alan, was and is, a brilliant set designer and great actor. In recent years, he has brought life and success back to a small theatre company that struggled for years to survive. Techniques I learned from Alan, mostly by observing, are evident in many of my set designs to this day. He didn’t set out to influence me but had a profound affect on my life.

Gene is a singer/songwriter with a bigger than life personality. When I was directing West Side Story (based on Romeo and Juliet), he and I somehow came to the conclusion he had to write a rock version of R & J. He would tell you it was a bet. Within a few months, we were in production for Starcross, written by Gene and I directed. Alan agreed to play Tybalt, initially giving me my first “I am not worthy” moment. I felt so inadequate to direct him… until we actually started working and he quickly put me at easy. Keep in mind, I was only 20 at the time. It was a great experience and I have repeatedly tried to get Gene to rework the show so I could produce it again. Gene is an inspiration to everyone he meets. I can’t even begin to list all the ways his influence has inspired me.

Melissa is my soul mate. She’s a little bit older than me and was the first person to make me feel grown up. We’ve been terrible about keeping in touch but manage to get together every couple years. She and I shared some of the darkest moments in our lives. No matter what, we’ve always known that the other is just a phone call away. We even had a pact years ago, that if we were both single by the age of 30, we would get married (in spite of the obvious complications). That never happened. To this day, she remains one of my dearest friends.

All three had a tremendous impact on my life and influenced me in different ways. There have been many, many people– most that would never know it, who helped me discover who I am.

I would never take credit for another person’s success but I take great joy in hearing from people I’ve somehow influenced over the years. A few years ago, I reconnected with someone I had directed in several shows when they were younger. Hearing from him, that I was a positive influence on his career path meant the world to me. It was unexpected, but told me I must be doing something right. By the way, that young man is now a composer, manages a growing musicians’ website and just recent conducted his first Broadway show. If I played some very small part in that… I am humbled.

We never really know who or how we can potentially influence people. It’s those positive influences that set us on a course for success. Who am I kidding? The negative influences play a huge part in our evolution as well. Today I just try to be as supportive as I can to anyone seeking guidance (and some that aren’t). The feeling that I can make a difference, has kept me where I am for the past 13 years.

It’s because of who I knew… that I am who and where I am today.

Maybe we can’t change the world…but with a little effort, some encouragement… maybe just a little kindness… we might just influence the people that can.

 

Today’s Pic of the Day: If you never really understood why pipes break when they freeze… here’s an example of how water contracts and expands as it freezes.

Death and Taxes

Enough is enough already! After getting my final check for the year, I realized after taxes, social security, pension deductions and insurance, I have 70% on my income to live on. I pay out 30% of what I make without even seeing it. Oh wait! Add to that: sales tax, property tax, tolls, convenience taxes, new taxes on all forms of energy use… not much left, is there? And to top it off, no raise (or cost of living increase) in three years.

In 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes“. We could add government mismanagement and corruption to that.

In attempting to deal with an anticipated 13 million dollar deficit for the coming year, the city of Elgin, IL (where I live) cleverly approached the budget and public outcry revealing their doomsday scenario: cutting essential services and raising taxes. This of course, involved a lot of smoke and mirrors, making the final approved budget seem more appealing. Instead of raising existing taxes… they created a whole hodgepodge of new ones. Different scenario… same outcome… more money coming out of my pocket.

I’ve never understood the ignorance of politicians when it comes to their decisions and philosophies. The recently approved deal between the state of Illinois and Sears, providing tax breaks to keep their headquarters in the state, for instance. This approval was only greeted with the announcement that Sears would be closing nearly 120 Sears and Kmart stores nationwide. This only further decreases their contribution to the state coffers. What about the mom and pop stores? What kind of breaks are they getting? None. Which explains our dependency on big box stores and why only the strong survive.

Free enterprise isn’t free. Freedom isn’t free. We are slaves to our jobs (those lucky enough to have one) and our country. Land of the Free and Home of the Brave should be changed to Land of the Slaves and Home of the Oppressed. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This is why uprisings such as Occupy Wall Street are happening. But, are demonstrations effective? Is anybody listening?

 

Today’s Pic of the Day: Break is Over. My car in the empty parking lot at BHS at 5 am yesterday. I see this view frequently, often the first to arrive and/or the last to leave.

Hi! I’m ADD OCD ADHD … How Are You?

The choir director at school and I often comment  jokingly, on our numerous disorders when we get caught up in all the details of putting together the school’s musical. The fact is, everyone has some degree of psychological and/or personality disorders. I recently read an article that claimed over 30 million Americans have some diagnosed personality disorder and more than half of our population will suffer from some disorder at one point in their lifetime.

Does a diagnosis mean someone is abnormal or unable to function in society? Does that really mean we all need to be medicated? Does a medicated society mean a better society?

The commercials for the latest, greatest medications for depression and other ailments run continually, 24 hours a day. “Depressed? Take this! It might make you commit suicide but otherwise you’ll feel better.” This scares the begeezus out of me. Our society over medicates way to frequently. If you need one medication, chances are you’ll need four more to counter the side affects.

I’ve never been diagnosed with any disorder but I assume we all would fall into some category, even if only marginally. Today, we are no longer simply individuals… we are a subgroup of some disorder. We are no longer quirky or strange, we are diseased. I understand the medical and scientific community’s desire or need to categorize everyone but whom does it benefit?

I hate labels! Labels tend to make people shut down, both the person that is labeled or diagnosed and the people dealing with them. At school I often hear, “Oh, don’t expect much from them… they are ADD (or insert here).” My usual response is, “So?” I’m not going to give up on someone just because they come with a label attached. That’s one of the big problems in education today. Label the kid and you don’t have to teach them. We all learn differently, respond differently and react differently. That’s what makes us unique individuals.

Some of the most brilliant students I’ve encountered have labels. What’s yours?

Today’s Pic of the Day: Thinking about this subject, I noticed how from a side view, my demure “Bird Girl” statue has a really evil quality when you look at her profile. I took this photo yesterday afternoon and enhanced it.

Anyone Have Four Million Dollars Laying Around?

Since I finished my Masters Degree in Entertainment Business last September, the question I get asked the most is: “So what are you going to do with it?” Good question. The main reason I got the degree was to make myself marketable again in the theatre industry. I’ve been out of the professional theatre world for so long, I thought the degree would be a nice boost to my credentials.

One slight problem, there are no jobs. Looking at listings nationwide, the majority of the positions open are for experienced professionals in development and grant writing. There are a few occasional listings of interest but even in metropolitan areas like New York and Seattle, the salary range is about half what I currently make… which isn’t that great to begin with.

My current job is pretty stable and satisfying right now. I’m directing AND tech directing the musical, Ragtime, this year at school. It’s the first year I’m officially directing. No huge issues with the rest of the job, so I’m mildly content to stay. There are many things I want to do but no clear path has me chomping at the bit.

UNLESS…

Does anyone have 4 million dollars you want to give me?

Four million dollars. That’s all that is separating me from creating my dream job and legacy: a creative and performing arts center. I have the knowledge and experience and I have a completely written, detailed business plan. I just need the cash.

So if any of you big spenders want to contribute, let me know.

 

Today’s pic of the Day: My angel statue in the back yard. “To love another person is to see the face of God.” — Les Miserables

Just Say ‘No’ To New Year’s Resolutions

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? If not, I say DON’T! If you have, it’s not too late to tear up that list and run screaming in the opposite direction. Why do I say this? Because most resolutions are doomed to fail from the start. Why torment yourself that way?

Most resolutions people make are life-changing. What makes you think that the January 1st is any more magical than say, August 15th? If you aren’t ready to change something in the middle of August, I hardly think the month of January will make you any more successful.

How many times have you heard, “My New Year’s resolution is to _______ (fill in the blank), but I’m going to wait until after the holidays”. OR, “I was going to start _____ but I’ll do it next week”. Clearly, these statements make it obvious the speaker isn’t ready to commit.

Don’t get me wrong, I think change is great. Especially if it will better your health or improve your quality of life. If you want to make important decisions and changes for your future, it requires you to prioritize that activity and you have to change your daily routine.

I’d rather hear people call their resolutions: goals. Doesn’t it sound better to say, “I didn’t reach my goal” than to say, “My resolution was to ____ and I failed”? Plus, if you can creates steps or milestones towards your goal, it seems much less daunting. Failure, or the fear of failure have a huge impact on your self esteem. You have to be truly ready to make changes and take steps daily if you want to reach your goals.

Being better, stronger, healthier people is an ongoing, lifelong commitment. You just have to be realistic and and ready to make the change. You have to consciously adjust your daily routine to include the task ahead… it won’t magically fit itself into your current schedule.

If you are struggling: STEP BACK. One of the most common reasons for failure is too much, too soon. Take a break, look at what is working and what isn’t, adjust your plan of attack and start again. Most important- whether you reach your goal or not, find the positive impact the experience has had on your life. There will always be one, you just might have to look harder to find it.

 

Today’s Pic of the day: GARBAGE! What?!? Elgin, IL is a dying city. Our house is surrounded by churches and low income housing, so there is quite a bit of foot traffic and LOTS of littering. This bag of trash was left on the parkway, on the side of our house, Thanksgiving weekend. I decided to see how long it sits there before: a) the city removes it (the parkway IS their property); b) someone rips it open to see if there is anything good inside; or, c) a Good Samaritan carries it away to dispose of it. Status: 6 weeks and counting.