Monday, August 31, 2015

I've Got Class

You know those anxiety dreams you used to have/still have about school? The one where you forgot to go to class all semester and now there's a final exam? Or you wore a ridiculous outfit or forgot to wear clothes at all? Or you showed up and it was the wrong night or the wrong time or the wrong place? Well, last week I lived out one of my anxiety dreams in the very first class of the graduate certificate in practical theater program that I started this semester. (You may recall that I'm going to be a famous actress as soon as my kids move out of the house.)

Here's how my dreams/nightmares became reality:

I showed up for my Principles of  Acting class about 15 minutes early on Thursday evening. I was anxious and I didn't want to be late. When I got to the room there was a sign on the door that said "Do Not Disturb. Studio in Use," but I chalked it up to my early arrival and I waited. And waited. At 7:30, the door still hadn't opened and no one else had showed up. Obviously not a good sign. Given my increased tendency to remember things incorrectly, I double checked my calendar. I had the class start time correct. My calendar didn't indicate a location, but I was certain it was Vasey Studio. Well, I was certainly wrong. My acting class was in another building. The one furthest from where I was currently, and I wasn't wearing running shoes. So I took off my sandals and started sprinting barefoot across campus. I can just imagine how many heads I turned. And not in a good way.

I arrived at my class 20 minutes late, dripping with sweat. I explained to the professor and my classmates that I was going for "a dramatic entrance" and then took my seat in the circle on the floor. I had missed everyone's personal introductions and the syllabus review, and was put on the spot with a request to tell the group something interesting about myself. I played the 2nd degree black belt card so all the other students would think I'm a badass. A sweaty, late, middle aged badass.

From there, things got interesting. The class started with movement. Lots of movement. On the floor. Yoga positions, which I must say I nailed as compared to my considerably more youthful classmates. Of course, being an acting class, we couldn't merely stretch into the locust position. We had to breathe at the same time. Audibly. With feeling. Being born without the capacity for embarrassment, I let it all out. Including my underwear. Bad choice of granny panties with pants that sat too low on my hips to cover them, particularly when rocking back and forth on my stomach while holding my feet in my hands. By the time we finished on the floor, I was so sweaty that I looked like I'd peed myself. And they say you only get one chance to make a first impression.

After we returned to vertical positions and circled up, we began throwing knives at one another. No surprise there. And if we didn't catch the imaginary knife being thrown at us, we had to die a dramatic death. I died relatively early in the process. So I spent more time on the floor. I'm not sure what actors have against chairs.

The good news is that the highlight of the evening was still to come.

We spent the final hour (seriously, a full hour) of class staring at each other. But at least we got to sit for it. We each took turns on a chair in the front of the room where our assignment was to look at each person for longer than is comfortable. Frankly, I enjoyed it. We were given permission to gawk and I gave myself permission to also judge everyone I looked at. I made up little stories about them in my head. It was good fun. The sitting while others stared wasn't quite as enjoyable. Way too much down time for someone who constantly needs to be doing something (or sleeping). I didn't mind being stared, though I did have trouble not breaking into a smile, winking, licking my lips, or tossing out a Joey Tribbiani "How you doin?" just to break up the monotony.

Next week's class will begin with one word to describe how we feel, followed by more floor moves, a physical destination exercise and a read through of the monologue we've selected for our semester performance. I'm psyched. Seriously.

Though I'm the only one in class who didn't major in theater or performance as an undergraduate, and am probably the only one who hasn't auditioned or performed in anything for 25 years, I'm surprisingly comfortable. I rather enjoy the age difference (especially given my impressive level of flexibility), I don't have to think twice about letting my freak flag fly, and honestly, the other students are super friendly. I think this is gonna be good. And if it's not, I'll at least get some great blog material out of the experience!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Reflecting on the "F" Word

It's been a particularly emotional couple of weeks for me and that's saying something given that I'm always emotional. I think it's fair to say the "F" word was the source of my emotion overload. Yes, family has a way of affecting us like nothing else can. It can bring out the best in us and the worst. It can be a source of great joy and utter misery. We may relish the laughter of shared memories, and at the same time struggle with the disappointment of unmet expectations. We can take comfort in the power of forgiveness, or live with the bitterness of unresolved issues. Family is a big bundle of crazy that we can't imagine (though sometimes we wish we were) living without.

My family has tapped into my every emotion in the past two weeks. It started with Rob and Ian traveling to Mexico City on a week long church mission trip. I was concerned for their safety, proud of their willingness to serve, and a bit envious that the two of them were spending that special time together. I also was lonely. With communications limited to three brief text messages, for the first time in my marriage I acutely felt Rob's absence.
I discovered I missed my husband. While it sounds terrible, I confess that I'm not someone who pines for my spouse when we're apart. With phone calls and email and Facebook updates, it's hard to feel truly separated. But when Rob wasn't here and I couldn't call him and didn't know how he and Ian were, and there was no opportunity to share and take comfort in the mere the presence of the person with whom I share my life, my heart hurt. I was reminded of how much I love him and how blessed I am. Missing him was good for me.

Two days after Ian and Rob returned home, I left for three days, thereby maintaining the warm fuzzies that came from missing them. I headed to the mecca of Waretown, NJ along Barnegat Bay for a getaway with my parents and sister, brother-in-law and nephew who were home from Colorado for their semiannual visit. Time with my sister Dawn was spent laughing at painful memories of falling off my bike, competing in plank challenges (which I won both times), swatting green head flies on the boat while crabbing, and playing numerous games of Bananagrams (of which I am the champion). Unfortunately, on the first night of our visit, my mom learned that her sister Janet had died, nearly two years to the day that her sister Glenna passed away. My mom was one of five girls in her family. There are only two of them left, and this causes my mom considerable grief and pain.

When Irving Berlin wrote "Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters" he clearly had my mom and my aunts in mind. There existed a bond between those women that I've never seen before and likely never will experience personally. Interestingly, the closeness they shared is is in sharp contrast to the relationships my aunts often had with others, whether it be their husbands or their own children. In fact, in my Aunt Janet's obituary, there was no mention of her oldest son. They stopped talking decades ago, evidence of how easily relationships can be destroyed by an unwillingness to forgive and forget.

Last summer's photo.
We forgot to take one this year.
Irving Berlin did not write a song about my sister and me. While there is no bitterness or underlying root cause for the distance between us (literally and figuratively), I must confess to a level of disappointment with the way things are versus the way I'd like them to be. I would like Dawn to move home (or within reasonable driving distance). I would like Dawn to at least want to move home. I would like her to be sad when it's time to say goodbye. I would like it if we would start telling each other "I love you." While I don't expect to achieve the level of closeness my mom had with her sisters, I know Dawn and I could have more, but I don't know how to get us there.

Dawn's visit home coincided with my church's annual mission trip to western North Carolina. A truly family affair, this trip brings together all ages for a week of work and fellowship that has to be experienced because no description can do it justice. Obviously I did not go on the trip this year because I wanted to spend time with my sister. Abby, however, more than adequately represented the MacShimer family.
Abby on the roofing site with her MPC family.
Since she returned home on Saturday evening, I've lost count of the number of times Abby wished she were back in Banner Elk. For the first time in her life, Abby, who thinks a 30 minute car ride is torture, was sad to see a nine-hour car ride end (she had traveled with friends). Despite the fact that she was leaving for Avalon on Sunday to spend time with three girls from school, Abby actually seemed weepy when she repeated for the umpteenth time that she "didn't want to be home," but wished she could return to NC (which makes me sad, though I'm trying not to take it personally).

Car ride buddies (plus the Hicks girls)
The Sunday church service following Banner Elk is always wonderful. Those who went on the trip wear their matching t-shirts. We watch a slide show of photos from the week. The praise band (which for the first time included Abby on guitar!) plays the same music, and a few individuals on the trip share their experience in place of a traditional sermon. Naturally, I cried during several parts of the service, partly because I was disappointed to have missed being there, and partly because I was overwhelmed with love for my church family. While the church, like our flesh and blood family, has its own issues, the grace and forgiveness that we extend to one another provides a foundation for the strongest relationships I've ever known. And I don't know if it's a "Christian thing" or if we're just lucky, but my MPC brothers and sisters so openly share their love. There's no awkwardness in a hug. There's no discomfort in saying "I love you." What a gift!

As I reflect on the experiences of the past two weeks, I realize how blessed I am to have more than one family who loves me. If you've been separated from a loved one, I pray for reconciliation and healing. The bonds of family should not be so easily broken.