Thursday, July 31, 2014

To Be: Something Wicked This Way Comes

10 years ago I learned of a theatre education program where my son could do sword-fighting, learn acting skills and become familiar with Shakespeare that took place outside in a local park  … I signed him up immediately.

8 years ago I received an invitation to be part of that program. I remember the invitation clearly. Here was a unique opportunity to apply my event planning and marketing skills within the theatrical community -- coordinating fundraising, special events, playbill planning and community outreach programs to get the word out about Shakespeare Royal Oak. I didn’t hesitate then either. I signed me up.

Since that time I have watched my son perform on the Water Works Theatre Company stage. I have worked alongside him, and countless other theatre lover volunteers, to breathe life into each season and manage a Hospitality tent that lets our audience know how important they are and how much we appreciate their continuing support of our expanding programs. I have witnessed stellar performances under the stars and the fortitude of actors and crew on misty, rainy, chilly and sweltering summer nights.

Since that time I have coordinated 8 fundraisers, attended countless community organization meetings to “spread the word,” written articles and sold advertisements to businesses who also value what our programs offer. And I have spoken with thousands about the amazing experience that we call Shakespeare Royal Oak. 

To be part of this organization – and what my son calls “The Best Two Weeks of the Summer” – is Wicked Awesome! I am honored to promote a program that employs local artists and makes Shakespeare productions possible in my hometown. I am passionate about sharing the fact that these plays can be accessible and affordable and fun for all ages. I am excited to see Hamlet amidst the slings and arrows of park improvements and inclement weather that haunted our “tech week” but never daunted our artists … or our staff.

To BE part of Shakespeare Royal Oak is an amazing leap of faith. Each spring we go once more into the breach. What a piece of work is every man, woman and child involved in our programs. The play’s the thing that brings them back each season.

Shakespeare Royal Oak is an exceptional program. Our community is lucky to have it. My kids are lucky to grow up with it. I am passionate to be part of it …. I celebrate that it is To Be … every summer.
                                                                   Jenni Carmichael Clark
                                                                    Community Marketing & Events Director
                                                                    Water Works Theatre Company

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Dehumanization of Facebook

When did you join Facebook? Why did you join Facebook? And finally, are you still ON Facebook

Earlier this summer, my son's social commentary Some People video series mocked  Facebook for many reasons. Membership on that site is dying out, he reports. The youth of today bailed on it ages ago, he says. Although his observations and tone seemed a bit hostile, his arguments rang true.

I remember joining Facebook in 2008. A friend had posted photos of me from a New Years Eve party on her page. To view them, I had to join. Not long after that initial viewing had taken place, I discovered we had a mutual friend and connected with her. We'd message each other. How FUN, I thought. She had moved to the Grand Rapids area a while ago and we had lost touch. At that time, Facebook reminded me of the 1970's Wella Balsam commercial as it guided me to another friend and another friend and so on and so on and so on.

So I set up my Home Page and began scanning and uploading old photos, finding long-lost high school and college friends and discovering a fun new way to stay in touch with local friends who I didn't see as often as I'd like. Suddenly, I had access to photos I might otherwise never see. I could post videos of show clips I was especially proud of to share with "the on-line world." My friends and I could message each other conversationally. Typing my thoughts and having a chance to edit as I went appealed to the writer in me who likes to get the wording right. (Much easier to edit my thoughts by typing than speaking!) Facebook offered a novel way to reconnect with people lost to time and distance. And that's why I joined ... to stay connected. That was its initial purpose after all ... to provide a "Social Connection." 

In the olden days -- back when Facebook was black & white like Pleasantville -- I visited and posted with abandon. The site provided an easy way to make quick plans and invite people to events ... and to receive invites from the moms from my kids' schools. I planned my husband's 50th birthday party using Facebook. Sending out virtual friend requests with on-line notifications was easier (and less costly) than making tons of phone calls or using snail mail. It offered a simple way to invite acquaintances unknown to me personally who live out of the area in various places within the Metro Detroit community.

With Facebook I'd receive updates about Birthdays. Oh, I'm organized and I have a Franklin planner page dedicated to all my family and friends' birthdays and anniversaries ... and kids' birthdays too. (My organizational skills are frightening when it comes to remembering dates.) But reminders are helpful.. And receiving thoughtful little posts via Facebook on birthdays, special days and at important times has meaning. It's nice ... 

BUT ...

Things have changed on Facebook. (Obviously the youth of today knew this first.) I noticed it during the election. I note it daily as the opinions posted by a "Friend" lead to unkind remarks and "Unfriending." I notice it evolved from the initial social link I enjoyed to a place to argue and defend and divide. I notice that some of the posts seem rather ridiculous. That I just don't care to read every occurrence and wonder why anyone thinks that providing every single minute detail of daily life is interesting to anyone but themselves.  Is it just me that notices the banality of this site? I'm over the diatribes and campaigns, too. The egocentric nature of this "communication tool" has evolved into a weapon of mass destruction. Anonymity of the typed word to an invisible audience can be empowering to people who might be too intimidated or passive aggressive to share their ideas in a face-to-face scenario.

I find it interesting that Facebook -- and other social networking sites -- use blue  lettering for their logo and images. As a color, blue reflects sincerity. It is reserved, calming and quiet. It doesn't like to make a fuss or call attention to itself. Through color psychology research, I discovered that Blue is a color that has always sought peace and tranquility above all else. A color that presumably reduces stress, creating a sense of calmness, relaxation and order. Blue is considered the helper ... a giver not a taker ... building strong trusting relationships.

How intriguing that color choice, for something that has evolved into a lot of posturing and self-aggrandizing.  I see more harmful self-promotion then real relationships. 

I don't visit the site much but Yes, I'm still on it. Why? Mostly because of how I choose to use it, which is the way I believe it was originally designed. I enjoy messages and chats with friends. I share photos and enjoy those shared by people I care for. But then I log out and choose to connect physically or verbally.

I use Facebook on my terms ... because people I care about are out there. I stay out of the hot and heavy debates and I won't argue with a cursor flashing before my eyes as it's really easy to type mean stuff. You may call me naive, but I believe and choose to honor the purity of Facebook's original intent. So there are people out there who hi-jacked it. Doesn't mean I have to play by their rules when I use it. 

In my naivete, I still believe that Facebook originated to bridge distance and enhance interpersonal relationships. I believe it still can when used appropriately with a blend of other relational communication mechanisms. After all, it is nice to see a glimpse into the lives of friends and family members in other places. Though at times when I browse sites of photo albums of my Friends, I confess that I feel a bit like a voyeur and a stalker ... 

Status Update Jenni Carmichael Clark: 
Doing well but would like to catch up. What's new? Let's get together. Bring a picture or two of your kids or your cats or your landscaping or whatever is going on and exciting in your life. Let's Stay Connected with FaceTime instead of Facebook.

                                                                                                 -- Jenni

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Taking Child's Pose ... Inconceivable

If I asked if you have seen The Princess Bride, I'd predict quite a few or you would say yes. I remember the very first time I saw that film. I rented it from Blockbuster and watched it multiple times. It's iconic.

For those of you who have seen this film, do you remember Vizzini? Do you remember what he repeated over and over when facing truths and rejecting them? Pretty sure you must ...


Oh he said it with the actor's signature lisp, but the word echoes in my mind as clearly as the sound of his voice.

I thought of that the other day in my morning yoga session. We were invited to take Child's Pose at any time during the class. If things became too much or we needed something different, we were given permission to "Take Child's Pose."  Whether you do yoga or not, that name might cause you to automatically assume it's a simple, quiet less active place. 

But for the first time -- at that very moment -- it hit me that Child's Pose isn't necessarily a "quiet pose" after all.  That what the instructor was asking me to do didn't mean what I initially thought it meant. To coin another PB phrase ... Let me 'splain. No, there is too much ... let me sum up. Well, just let me 'splain first. :)

In yoga, as in most exercise classes, you follow directions. Someone talks, guiding you into poses and through various flows. That's one of the things that I appreciate. During that hour, I don't have to make decisions. I am told what to do and where to move. I am asked questions and prompted gently concerning the direction my mind should think. During that time, I gratefully release control to someone else who guides me where I need to be.

That's nice. Really nice for a control-freak, type AAA organizer. During class, I am released from the stresses that come from decision-making. I don't have to plan dinner, create a shopping list, tend to my kids, deal with work stuff, run through that conversation I had or plan to have with a friend and its potential implications, decide whether I'll make that call or write that text, determine which show to audition for, manage the budget ... well, you get the idea. During that hour, I don't have to make any decisions at all. I just follow the prompts and do what I'm told. 

In a way, you'd say I'm like a child ... following the directions someone gives me. Like Steve Winwood advised ... Roll with it, baby. So at yoga, I just go with the flow and do what I'm told. Child-like, right?

Um ... (and here's what I figured out so pay attention now!) Not. You see, as I reflected in class, children aren't that simple. They don't just "do what their told." 

My daughter, despite every possible effort, refused to EVER drink from a bottle.  My son, no matter how many times I beg, plead, instruct, cajole or even speak emphatically, never fails to leave his dresser drawers wide open. Nope, doesn't close 'em. No idea why. But I can't seem to affect change there. No matter what I say, there are times (not always but times) that Children Won't Listen. They won't do what they are told. They will follow their own unique path and do it their way.

Back to the idea of Child's Pose. While at first I considered this "opting out" and doing a more simple stretch, that isn't it at all. During Yoga, that's Inconceivable because you are still working and growing and evolving, even in that pose. 

So again, Inigo Montoya's clever response to Vizzini's repeated remark ... "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means ..." is spot on. Child's Pose isn't going quiet. Such an idea is Inconceivable during Yoga just like it is in life. It's actually taking me deeper.

Pretty cool, those Ah-ha moments. 

Children are ever busy with their questions and exploration as well as their high energy and amazing sense of wonder. They do things their way from a very young age ... sometimes, like in the case of my daughter, a very VERY young age. And though you can guide and suggest, they make their own decisions, discoveries and mistakes. They don't follow pre-established instructions. They are active in shaping every aspect of their lives and their achievements.

So, then, it is Inconceivable to think that Child's Pose is just a still, quiet pose. It is Inconceivable to think that during Yoga (or life for that matter) all I am doing is following a set of outlined, pre-established steps and instructions and if my to-do list isn't chock full of activities than I'm really, truly inactive. Though I "go with the flow," the way I do it and reach a pose as well as what I'm experiencing as I get there is anything but inactive or simple. No ... I'm being guided intuitively to reach inside myself and learn or grow or stretch or celebrate or ... well, whatever it is that I need at that moment. That's what we do every single day.

Taking Child's Pose isn't opting out. Instead it is a meditational, quieter pose that challenges us, like children, to reach deeper and explore different aspects of our selves without movement to distract our thoughts or bodies.

Ever sit still for 5 minutes? That ain't easy. But that's taking Child's Pose ... it's quiet, yes ... and contemplative, explorative and perhaps helping you find what you need at that moment.

Taking a "simple" Child's Pose? Well, that's Inconceivable.

So when encouraged to become more child-like, consider what Inigo said ... "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means ..."
                                                                                                                -- Jenni

Monday, July 7, 2014

Life ... Not A One Way Street

This weekend for the very first time I went on a Bike Ride with my daughter. Well, it was technically a Bike Walk since she rode a bike and I walked beside her. She rode rather fast too so it was nearly a Bike Run since I had to keep moving at a pretty good clip. But it was pure fun. She chattered along the whole ride (surprise), grinning as her blond hair whipped behind her in the breeze. And I grinned too.

I suppose I should preface this accomplishment a bit. You see my daughter hadn’t mastered either the training wheel aspect of the bike or the two wheeler skill. She wanted nothing to do with a bicycle since she tumbled off her own nearly 4 years ago. She didn’t like the brakes and had difficulty getting moving on her own. The entire experience just discouraged her. She was seriously afraid of her bike. The very thought or discussion about said Bike would result  in “drama,” complete with tears and her storming off.

Since I bought it when she was 4 ½, her Tinkerbell bike is way too small anyway. It teeters/totters dangerously every time she goes out with those plastic training wheels still on. Her brother worked with her over spring break. We have even had a friend work with her. She rode two blocks once ... but it was a process. So I had pretty much resigned myself to a trip to garage sales in search of a new used bike that might be the right size and that might give her confidence and get her to try again. But, she stubbornly announced one night at dinner that she would never ride a bike. Nothing I could do would change her mind.

But this past weekend took care of that.

Now, my son would tell you that she really didn’t master a bike this past weekend at all. She rode her Meema’s full-size 3 wheel bike, complete with a large basket on the back to conveniently hold her books, dolls, toys, groceries and the dog she insists I’m going to get her one of these days. But watching her ride an adult sized bike much too big for her with such amazing joy and confidence was a thrill to me … she was finally riding all by herself and unafraid.  She couldn’t get enough.  We were out twice a day! She peddled, she braked, she turned, she rode alone down the street while I watched. And the one time she took a turn too fast and fell was no big deal. She got right back on and started peddling, the scrape on her knee dismissed. 

So it was a 3-wheel bike. The little girl scared of her own bicycle mastered a grown up contraption in less than 3 minutes. 

My daughter is stubborn, yes. But she is passionate and fearless once she decides to do something. (She's a lot like me.) So, she has decided that a full size 3-wheel bicycle is THE answer to her previous struggles. And she is determined to have one and ride to her heart’s content. I hinted that perhaps her newfound confidence might imply that she could at least Try a 2-wheeler. To my initial chagrin, she dismissed the idea on the spot.  But .... 

My daughter – in her nine-year-old wisdom – explained to me that not everyone does things the same way. That though her way might be different, that didn’t make it wrong. That her way was okay too.

Wow. Pretty cool.

My daughter recognized at a young age something that a lot of grown-ups I know still struggle with. She understands that being different isn’t bad. That there isn’t one way to do something. And that choosing to march to the beat of her own drum is not only okay but empowering.

I hope she can still embrace this idea whenever Peer Pressure rears its ugly head ….

At any rate, she’s right. What’s right for you, might not be right for me. Life is full of choices and we make them uniquely. There is no one right way to do anything. Instead, there are lots of wonderful options and choices. I honor what you choose. I hope you’ll honor mine. And if not, feel free to express your opinions but don’t be offended if I choose to continue my momentum or if I don’t leap to dance to the rhythm of your Pied Piper.

It’s okay to be different. Life isn’t a one-way street. In today's society, that should be easy to embrace. But it's not. I tell my kids -- and write in my blogs -- to not only honor but celebrate your "you-ness" ... to nurture your individuality, creative spark, unique perspectives, interests, feelings, thoughts, ideas and imagination. Oh the Places You'll Go if you Let your true colors shine through. Here and now I speak my truth .... Don’t be afraid if the colors of your life aren’t the same as someone else’s. That won’t make them any less beautiful.

As my daughter eloquently reminded me, there isn’t just one way to accomplish or look at something or someone. Our uniqueness makes us who we are. We possess the freedom to maintain our individuality. And that makes each of us dynamic and exciting.  

So ride whatever bike you choose. That's my Declaration of Independence this July. And when you're out there, listen for my daughter’s laughter on the wind …
                                                                                                                            -- Jenni

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why I Must Write ... and a Thank You

I awake with words in my head, like a cartoon character with a caption bubble. You know what I'm referring to. Sometimes the words are clear ... sometimes they echo just beyond my comprehension like the "blah blah blah blah blah" of a Peanuts adult or the squiggly marks associated with Woodstock. There's a story lurking on the edge of my consciousness like a rising storm ... a poem dancing with images like the drops from a summer rain ... a blog demanding a voice. An observation whispers on the wind. An idea spins like a spider weaving her web.

All my life, I've been writing. In elementary school I participated in the Young Author's Conference. I remember my first story, handwritten words in a small 5 x 7 3-ring binder and illustrated by a friend. I wrote it in 4th grade. There was another book in 5th and a mystery in 6th. I don't know where these early products of my imagination went. I don't need their tangible presence to prove that they "were." 

Over a year ago, I launched Jenni's Corner, encouraged by a couple special friends who had been reading my words for a time and thought I might have something to say -- and the skill to articulate it with words on a screen.  I want to take a moment to thank each of you who have taken time to read my ideas ... my thoughts. I appreciate it when you email me comments. I treasure compliments as well as different viewpoints. I'm honored that you read what I write and that there are debates and discussions inspired by my words.

See, I'm an English/Theatre major embedded with theatricality. So I have thoughts ... I like to explore and discuss and learn from others out there. I read what is shared with me. I pour through books and scripts and blogs, honoring ideas and differing viewpoints. To write is to breathe for me. Banter is the chocolate for my soul.

Do my thoughts and words have any value when they hit the "paper" screen? I don't know. The curser flashes and I type. My notebooks beckon each morning so I write in them, offering up my words and ideas like sacrifices on an Aztec pyramid. And though I give them life with blood, sweat and a super sharp pencil, only when someone reads them do they begin to breathe.

I write because I have words and ideas and images and observations. But, why do you read them? I like to think you take something from them. That through sharing words we connect and open our minds. In my necessary writers "arrogance" -- for who would have the courage to put their words out there and become vulnerable without it -- I feel I offer you something that you find valuable. At least, I hope so.

Writers write for the same reason runners run, painters paint, teenagers stay up late and sleep away the morning. We have to. It is our nature. We have a voice in our head that will not cease speaking until the words take form ... until a character's story is told ... until an observation or theory is articulated ...

So I'm grateful to you ... those who read my thoughts in "the Corner." I hope my little words have sparked delight ... have made you think a bit. I might just have a bigger story in me that needs to be told. Who knows what is next ... surprise is half the fun.

I wake up with words dancing in my mind and stories on the edge of my consciousness that need release. Read them kindly ... let them swirl in your mouth like a good wine or beer or whiskey or whatever beverage delights and tantalizes your senses. I want to stir your senses with my words ... my little words.

I write because I must ... I have words to say. Thank you for indulging them. Thank you for taking time to read my varied, little thoughts from "the Corner." 

                                                                                                                     -- Jenni