Relentless Pursuit

When I put together my list of acting tips that apply to caregiving, I wanted to include the concept of motivation, or intention, or what Russian acting guru Stansislavsky called the “objective.” Characters in plays (like people in life) do things for a reason, and Stansislavsky chose the term “objective” for what drives a character’s actions at any given moment. He called the larger motivation for all of a character’s actions the “super-objective”, which is just a fancy name for an over-arching goal or purpose. The super-objective drives everything a character does . . . consciously or unconsciously.

Thus, the final item on my list of tips (yes, we’re wrapping up here) is:

  • Relentlessly pursue your super-objective

Let’s look back at Shakespeare’s King Lear. What’s driving our tragic hero? What’s his super-objective? It might be a number of things (I’ve never played Lear), but I tend to think King Lear wants to prove that he is loved. He certainly starts out asking for proof from his daughters, and over the course of the play, he learns through bitter experience who truly loves him — and who never did.

Remember Cordelia, Lear’s youngest daughter, the faithful one? She does love her father, but her love is complex and nuanced.  When Lear asks which of his daughters loves him best, she refuses to flatter him:

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
According to my bond; nor more nor less.

[ . . . ] Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honor you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty:
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.

Cordelia has boundaries.

She also has a super-objective. What is it?  I’ve never played her either (and I’m too old now), but I believe she’s driven by a need to love with integrity. This integrity infuriates her father and gets her banished in the first act. But Lear and Cordelia reunite later in the play, and he sees the error of his ways. Of course, this is a tragedy, so – spoiler alert – they both die. (Almost everybody dies. Sorry.)

If you look closely, you will find that every character in every play has a super-objective. Caregivers have them too, consciously or unconsciously. I find it helps to be conscious about this, so I came up one of my own.

My super-objective with Mom is to have no regrets – to carry neither guilt nor resentment with me after she dies. I don’t want to feel guilty because I didn’t give her enough of my time, and I don’t want to resent her for taking me away from other things that matter deeply to me.

That’s my goal, every day: to love her, to care for her, but also to maintain my own work life and my other relationships. This is what she modeled for me with her mother, and it’s what I want to model for my child. I make daily choices based on that super-objective – when to visit, when to take breaks, when to give myself over completely to her needs. That way, I know I’ll be able to live with myself when her dementia journey is over.

And there you have it — a simple list of tips for caregiving, gleaned from my life as an actor. I hope it helps. Adapt it as you will. Or seek your own creative path. Theatre works for me, but your path might lead you through music, poetry, painting, glass blowing, basket weaving, writing (obviously I use that too), or a host of other creative ventures.

Art goes deep. My life as a theatre artist has enriched me and kept me connected to other people throughout my mom’s dementia.  It’s allowed me to express strong emotions and acknowledge both the joys and agonies of human life. It’s given me a way to speak the truth about things that really matter, and to give some dignity to suffering.

For example . . .

As hard as it was for me to perform King Lear in front of my mother, I still love the play. I have done two productions, and I could do it again and again. It speaks powerfully about the need to care for those who are fragile, confused, or lost. There are noble characters in the play who do prevail, even though many others die.

One of those noble characters is the duke of Albany, Goneril’s husband.  When war breaks out, he takes the side of Lear, and though he can’t save the king’s life, he honors him in death.

I’ll end with his simple speech, which helps me keep my own feelings and my mom’s courage in perspective:

The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

June at Little Creek 2017

Writing Through Doubt

I promised myself I’d blog for seven days in a row. Though I missed my goal, I have in fact written seven blog posts in just over a week, and I feel a sense of accomplishment. Of course, there are plenty of people who blog every day, 365 days a year, but for me, a week of daily posts was enough to learn the value – and the difficulty – of disciplined writing.

I gave myself the challenge of posting every day because I was falling into one of those dark moods, where you feel like your soul’s been tossed to the bottom of a rusty bucket and kicked under the porch. I knew I had to do something, so I picked one negative voice in my head – the one that tells me I’m a failure for not blogging regularly, but comforts me with the assurance that it’s okay because I don’t really write well enough to be published anyway – and set out to prove it wrong.

Here’s what I learned: writing takes time. You have to sit down at the keyboard and open a channel from your heart to your fingertips, and then leave that channel open long enough for messages of more than 140 characters to come through. You have to be patient when those messages are garbled or slow to arrive. You have to accept all incoming messages, no matter how irrelevant, and trust that real truths will show up if you wait for them. When you have gathered enough of them on a page, you have to put them into groups and let them talk amongst themselves, until they finally sort themselves out into paragraphs and form a little community of words that’s willing to speak to a reader.

It’s been a valuable experience, this waiting for the words. It absolutely erased the self-doubt I was feeling about writing. Quality aside, I know I can at least produce writing in quantity, and that’s reassuring.

I’m going to take a break for a few days now and ponder what to write next. I hope to be back at the blog soon. In the meantime, I’ll be singing, reading, taking long walks, loving my family, and holding on to the satisfaction I feel when my soul peers out from under the porch and glimpses light again.

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Lazy Sunday

(I’m trying to blog daily for seven days. This is day three.)

I wrote a blog post for today, but it turned out to be too personal and self-involved, so I didn’t post it. (You’re welcome.)

Instead, here’s the view from the living room rug, where I spent most of the day curled up with a good book.  May your Monday morning be as warm and comforting as my Sunday afternoon . . . .

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QWERTY

It’s Electronic Recycling Day! We’ve been scouring the house for old equipment that shouldn’t be here but definitely shouldn’t go to the landfill. My husband unearthed enough relics to fill a respectable cardboard box or two, and in the process he turned up an old-fashioned computer keyboard and set it beside my laptop. I just found it. OMG. Christmas!

An old-fashioned keyboard! The kind with sticky-up keys! So that I can actually feel the keys when I type! And hear them go clickety, clickety, clack!

I am suddenly transported back to 11th grade typing class, where we all learned to type on manual typewriters before we could graduate to the sleek new IBM Selectrics at the front of the room. Clickety, clickety, clack, an hour a day – perfect preparation for either (A) a college career typing term papers (and possibly getting paid to type other people’s term papers, because not everybody could type) or (B) a secretarial job that would tide you over until Mr. Right came along. Or both!!

I did both, by which I mean, I (A) went to college and typed my own papers (many of which were in French, and required me to go over them with a ball-point pen, adding accents and cedillas because there were no foreign-language characters on my keyboard), and (B) supported my acting career by working as a secretary, office assistant, receptionist, and many other jobs that required typing (on a sleek new IBM Selectric, always), until personal computers took over the world and typing for a living became obsolete.

Obsolete. Like this lovely old-fashioned Dell keyboard that is now hooked up via USB to my Toshiba laptop. I love it. Next thing you know, I’ll be asking Santa for Liquid Paper . . . .

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Career Inventory

I did one of those quizzes on Facebook where you answer seven or eight questions and determine what Star Wars character or Muppet you are, or where you really ought to live. This one was “What Career Should You Actually Have?”

I got writer.

So I figured I’d better get back to the ole blog.

I don’t usually do those quizzes. I don’t need to know what city I should be living in, because I live here, in Atlanta. I have planted tomato plants in a new garden space right outside the kitchen window, and I’m not going anywhere until I get some big fat tomatoes. I can already taste the tomato sandwiches on homemade bread. No, I’ll be staying right here, at least until mid-July.

And I don’t want to find out that I’m Princess Leia or a Muppet. I spent most of my late teens believing I could have done a MUCH better job than Carrie Fischer, thank you very much, so let’s not open old wounds. (Love Carrie Fischer now, by the way, but at seventeen I had an imaginary film career to defend.) And the Muppets? In my heart, I am all of them.

But that silly quiz about the ideal job snagged me. I clicked on the link and answered a short list of questions about what matters more in an office environment (“Coffee maker or co-workers?”) and how I relate to a boss (“I have no boss”). A few more clicks of the mouse, and voila!

Writer.

So here I am, at the keyboard, periodically glancing out the window to see how my tomato plants are doing. I’m not about to embark on a writing career (she said, with false conviction), but I do love to write. I’ll hand it to the folks who do this for a living: it’s hard, it’s lonely, and when your work is staring you in the face and refusing to cooperate, it’s damn frustrating.

But it’s a privilege to put words on a page, physical or virtual, and send them into the world. The internet has granted me that privilege (along with endless distractions to lure me away from the task of actually writing.) I accept the gift.

Why not? I know what my real ideal job is, and I’m not doing it right now. Might as well join the ranks of those who put metaphorical pen to paper and stir the imagination with their words.

Yeah, I’ll do that. Right after I water the garden.

Be right back . . . .

Saint Francis keeping watch over the pansies and marigolds.  The tomato plants are behind the stump.

Saint Francis keeping watch over the pansies and marigolds. The tomato plants are behind the stump.

An Open Letter to My Blog

Dear Blog,

Stamps photoI’m sorry I’ve been out of touch. I promise I still care about you. I think about you all the time. I’ve just been busy. It’s like that Elvis song, “You Were Always on my Mind,” which is basically a lame excuse for spousal neglect couched in a sappy ballad, but still. It’s sincere.

Anyway, it’s true: you really are always on my mind. When I’m with my mom I think of ideas for posts about aging, or dementia care, or mothers and daughters. When I’m with my daughter, I dream up posts about the college search, or learning to let go, or mothers and daughters. When I’m at the theatre I compose mental posts about a life in the arts. Or mothers and daughters.

When I’m with my husband I forget about you. (Sorry. I’m just so happy to see him.)

Well, okay, sometimes I think about you even when I’m with him. Like this morning, when we swung by the library after our weekly Waffle House breakfast date (oh, there’s an idea for a post). Anyway, we were at the library because he needed something, and I browsed the non-fiction shelves and grabbed a few books that looked interesting. And then I thought about how I could take a picture of those books just to show you how wildly diverse my interests are right now. I thought you’d like that. See? You really are always on my mind.

But I’ve been so busy.

And there’s something else. If we’re going for full disclosure, darling blog, then I must confess that I’ve cheated on you. A little. I’ve been writing to someone else. Don’t worry; I’m not leaving you. The person I’ve been writing to doesn’t want me to leave you. The person I’ve been writing to thinks you’re great. See, the person I’ve been writing to is me.

Yes, I admit it: I’ve been journaling. It’s selfish, I know.  But like Greta Garbo, sometimes I just want to be alone.

I promise, my dear, I haven’t forgotten you. I’ll write to you again. Until then, trust me. You are always . . . well, you know.

Love,

Me

P. S.  I am working on a post entitled “Tap Dancing in Cleats.”  Watch your inbox. . .

The Creative Act

In my kitchen there are two constants: dirty dishes, and this:

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This little wall hanging is only 5″ square (about 13cm), but its message looms large in my mind.

Many years ago, I hung this on a cabinet next to my sink, as a reminder that each day is an opportunity to create something. I don’t always manage it, of course, unless you consider a day well lived to be a creation. (I don’t always manage even that.)

I am driven to create things, as I believe all of us are. My copy of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (a crumbling, oft-thumbed volume from 1976) defines “to create” as “to bring into existence.” That, of course, is quite beyond my powers; I can’t make something from nothing. But Webster’s goes on to list other meanings, of which this is my favorite: “to produce through imaginative skill: the actor created an entirely new Hamlet.”

This definition jumped off the page at me. I just saw Joe Knezevich create an entirely new Hamlet at Georgia Shakespeare, and I have long believed that acting is a creative endeavor. You could argue that playwrights create, and actors merely interpret. But I would respectfully reply that the playwright’s words are a love letter to the creative actor, an invitation to embody the writer’s vision and give it form and substance. That embodiment is, at its best, a new creation each night.

We closed Hamlet a few days ago, and I already miss the nightly ritual of creating a life on stage. I know I’ll be acting again soon (in Lombardi at Aurora Theatre), but there are many days to fill before rehearsals begin. I’ll be finding my creative opportunities in ordinary life: cooking, sewing, writing, taking pictures, and tending to relationships with the people I love.

First, though, I have to wash the dishes.

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