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Saturday, October 24, 2009



Word of the Day, vol. IX

Word of the Day: CLOTHES

There are moments in my life when I physically feel it changing. It’s like something shifts into place again or a chord is struck within. This happened a lot when I was living in Apartment 8. I could sit and look around and realize how much work I had put into the person that I was, the person that I was becoming. These friends that I had met, this home I had created, this art I was making. It all felt so different from what I had ever experienced. Better than what I’d expected life could be like.

My relationship with clothes is volatile. Because it’s so much about my relationship with my body. And I’m only recently just beginning to really figure out how to live in this one.

I guess I can look back and realize that I spent a lot of time hiding in my clothes. High school was tough because I was the New Kid all four years. I didn’t know how to make anyone see me in the ways I wanted them to. I was just trying to get out of my house and the small town I saw so many people get stuck in. I rarely thought twice about “what I looked like,” because I always asserted that I wanted people to accept and want me for more than that. It was a preemptive strike. I beat people to the punch by putting on clothes that made me disappear. They weren’t noticing me anyway, I proclaimed.

In college, I lived with people who were consumed with their outer appearances in ways I actually resented. We all know how much I love S, but it still boggles my mind that a casual outfit to her is fitted jeans, a detailed blouse, and low heels. In college, when I was throwing on frayed jeans, polo shirts in sizes too big, and running shoes, this made me feel incredibly inadequate and unnoticed.

I hated shopping because I could never find things that fit and I never had any money, but one day during winter break, my friends dragged me to San Francisco where I spent literally eight hours in fitting rooms, while clothes were piled up and thrown at me to try on. I spent my entire budget of $500 on a new wardrobe and the rest of the night sobbing that I didn’t know how to let go of the old me. It was a full-on breakdown, one that scared me and my friends. It felt intensely scary and risky to try to have people see a me I didn’t know was ready to come out yet. And incredibly sad to realize that, in a lot of ways, I didn’t think I deserved to feel like a better version of myself.

As I started regularly wearing clothes that really fit me and began learning how to shop for myself, I slowly began to realize that feeling good about one’s self on the outside does trickle in to what’s going on inside. It doesn’t have to happen every day, and it doesn’t have to be a lot of work. It’s important for me to dress the body I have because those clothes are the most flattering anyway. And it’s amazing what finding the perfect pair of boots or a really amazing blazer does for one’s self-esteem. I can’t deny that.

Last weekend, I attended a party alone. It was a pretty low-maintenance grad school gathering, but I dressed up because it finally feels like fall, and I did just purchase a fantastic pair of boots. I threw them on with black tights, a black and white plaid skirt, and a royal blue sweater. As I was getting ready to leave my house, I felt a hearkening back to physically feeling my life change.

It was like my body realized how much further I have come. Realizes again how much work I’ve put into the person I am, the person I’m becoming.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Word of the Day, vol.VIII

Word of the Day: TRAVEL

Until I was 20, my passport picture was of me as an infant. I look miserable, like I am sick AND just woke up from a nap. I got a passport as an infant because my family lived in the Netherlands for a year then. We were there long enough for me to start speaking in both English and Dutch. It’s part of the family lore that my brother and I would jabber away in Dutch, to the utter confusion of our mom. The other standard story is that we got caught in a rock slide there. Obviously, I remember none of this.

I do remember spending a family vacation in Florida once and being sorely disappointed that we didn’t visit any sites, just stayed in our hotel and by the beach. Sea World? No. Disneyworld? No way. Miami Beach? Nope. We might have gone to exactly one zoo.

I’ve never done the tourist trap things in Los Angeles, even though I feel like I always plan to.

I’ve been to Disneyland exactly three times. The first time was when I was probably under 5. One of my first memories is the Small World ride. I went again as a high school senior for Grad Night and had, what I understood later to be, a panic attack on the crowded line to Pirates of the Caribbean ride. I went again with friends in college and we spent 11 hours there, riding the Winnie the Pooh ride several times in a row for no other reason than that there was no line, at the end of the night.

I didn’t travel out of the country again or get a new passport until I was a junior in college and spent the summer in London. It was a magical summer, full of revelations about living on my own, feeling like a woman, like an actress. Seeing thirteen plays in four weeks. Learning dialects that I teach now. Doing some of the best acting I’ve ever done in my life. I always say that if I could afford it, I’d move to London in a second.

I spent a tense Thanksgiving in Portland, Oregon one year, cooking because it didn't seem like anyone else would. And a lovely week in summer there another, when my brother and I had an amazing time at the local zoo and played a lot of Guitar Hero.

Honestly, though, I hate traveling. I hate airports. I hate flying. I hate couch-hopping. I hate spending so much money. I hate being away from my own space, my own things. I have a hard time being on other people’s schedules or visiting places where I have a ton of people to see and feeling like I’m performing for them and them for me for days.

S is probably the only person I’m really good at traveling with. We realized this when we traveled to NYC before moving there and consumed only alcohol and Trader Joe’s oriental rice crackers for nine days straight.

I think I don’t like traveling because it makes me feel displaced. Traveling feels too much like moving and I’ve certainly done enough of that for two lifetimes.

Still, some of the best family memories I have are when we would all travel to my mother’s family’s hometown in upstate New York. For years in a row, we would have large family reunions there. Reunions that I was too young to resent or be bored or stressed at. I would bunk with my cousin, dress up for large dinners, play games late into the night, sit in the sun, swim in waterfalls. One summer, my mom, her sister, my brother, and two of three cousins stayed in a house by a lake and we’d fall asleep to the trains rumbling by and wake up to go swimming first thing. We were all giddy with the safe freedom of those days. We’d float air mattresses into the lake. We’d make up ways to make each other laugh. We’d play Charades and music until the summer heat cooled at night.

I remember that as one of the best times of my whole life.

Is it still considered traveling if it felt like home?

Friday, October 9, 2009

conversations with (a) teacher, special edition

When I graduate in May, I will be receiving a Master's degree as well as a Massachusetts state teaching license. Along with the requirements of my program, I am required to take certain classes, complete a two-part standardized test (both of which I've taken and one of which I've passed--I get results for the second part at the end of this month) and student-teach for 300 hours. The leg work it is taking to find a student-teaching slot in an urban high school, which is where I'd like to work, is consuming a lot of this month.

So at 6:30 this morning (after waking up every hour on the hour starting at 2:30 AM and really just dozing from 5:30 on) I got up to visit a high school in Cambridge. The theater teacher there is notoriously elusive and admittedly reluctant about taking on a student-teacher, but I think my persistence will pay off. I spent the morning with her, observing her introductory and advanced theater classes.

She begins each class with a check-in where each kid states a word or phrase describinghow he/she is doing that morning. She also has a large packet from which she asks thought-provoking questions that each student must answer, taking time to let them air their grievances or chat about changes they would make or stories they have to tell.

The beginning class is doing a unit on pantomime, so they spend the day doing physical exercises and engaging with imaginary objects. I was incredibly impressed with these beginning students' commitment, senses of humor, and general enthusiasm. She has obviously created an incredible environment, where the kids trust her and where her care and concern for them is evident.

The advanced acting class started with a totally casual chat and ended with them presenting the two-person scenes they have been working on in a playwriting unit. These texts were nuanced, deep, thoughtfully written, and generally solidly acted. I was so impressed and enthralled.

When one of her beginning students was leaving the class, after he had convincingly pantomimed a lizard crawling into his jacket, she said, "Be safe this weekend and remember your future is in theater." It broke my heart.

It made me think of something one of my professors says, that there are people on the planet because of her. And that there are only so many professions where that can be said.