Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What I have learned since January 3rd 2011

So I’m certain many of you are wondering what is significant about January 3, 2011. Yes, it was the day our children returned to school after the winter holidays, but it isn’t that. I did do a little jig as they walked out the door for the day. We all love our children, but who doesn’t enjoy a little time to oneself?

My dance was halted mid-jig, foot and arm in the air, when I caught an e-mail out of the corner of my eye. If I was a smarter woman, I would have learned to not dance and open my e-mail at the same time. Rarely are there any e-mails that require or inspire “The Dance of Joy.” In my in-box was a warm and welcoming letter from the company the school PTA had contracted to assist our elementary aged thespians to put on a play. Some time ago, way back when, I had put my hand in the air and said, “Sure, I’ll help.” Help in this case came in the form of “Producer.” If you’re asking yourself what do I know about producing a play, you’re a step ahead of the game. Nothing. So with reality striking me between the eyes, I put arm and foot firmly down on terra firma and immediately went in search of the cardboard box the previous producer gave me last April.

Upon opening the box I saw a notebook with a checklist in it. I read for about thirty seconds when my stomach clenched and I realized I was a tad bit behind schedule. I quickly compiled a list, responded to the e-mail, and the journey began.

Don’t laugh, but when I was a child I dreamt of becoming two things; an opera singer or a writer. Perhaps at one of the many schools I attended there was some kind of drama program, but none that made its presence known to me. Here’s another thing to not laugh at, I’m shy. People don’t believe me when I tell them. I learned to cope with being the new girl at school by being out-going (pretty tough on my natural predisposition to hide behind a book) and as an adult I have learned that all the years of making small talk at church socials comes in handy. At this very minute many people think I’m busy. I’m just hiding.

So when you put these two topics together you get a shy girl who wanted to sing opera. As you can tell by the fact that I’m writing this and not performing on the stage, the writer in me won out after stumbling down many a precarious path (okay Microsoft isn’t dark and dangerous, but it isn’t for the faint of heart). This all leads to how I raised my hand to be the Producer of the school play.

After much pounding of my head on my desk, I pulled it together long enough to make a million phone calls and got the ball rolling. In early February we began with auditions. Keep in mind every child was going to be in the play, the auditions were so the Directors could see and hear the different skills each child had. I knew from my daughter’s first school play last year what would be required. Each child would recite a one minute monolog and sing a solo.

Watching the auditions I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. Some kids squirmed, others forgot their monologs, some were so quiet you could barely hear them, and others were Diva in training. Regardless, every last one of them had the courage to go on, to push themselves and prevail. Not one dropped out. I have since sat through many a rehearsal and I have to say they dazzle me. I often watch them and feel profound gratitude for the example they set and it is my fervent prayer that the confidence that they have now stays with them forever.

Every time my children try something new I think to myself, “As an adult, if someone threw me out on a field, on a stage, in a competition of any sort, would I rise to the occasion or just quietly excuse myself and go find a book?” As with most people the answer relies on whether I stand alone or with my village.

I’ve been exploring the idea of the Chicken versus the Egg lately. What begets me?

There are experiences in my adult life that bring me to tears, to weep, to feel so intensely that I believe that there is something way way back there on the memory shelf needing to be heard and felt. Twenty-ish years ago I was at the wedding of the friends who now live in Moscow, Idaho (see the blog regarding country music). A woman stood up and sang a solo; I believe it was Ave Maria. I was so enthralled with her voice that I found myself thinking, “It isn’t too late, I could go to voice school. It could be me; I could feel this intense fulfillment every day.” Unfortunately the path I was travelling on was extremely complex, full of twists and turns that I was far too immature and frightened to detour from. In this case the Chicken or the Egg is still undecided. Did I not pursue this path because I was frightened to fail?

In my early twenties I ended up at Microsoft through a very circuitous and un-thought-through process. My boyfriend’s brother in law worked there and knew the International Department was looking for software testers and I kind of spoke Spanish. The stuff dreams are made of! I arrived at my interview late on a very dark and rainy January evening (yes, my interviews began at 6:30 at night). While I was waiting for the woman to interview me there was much hub-bub across the hall. Some guy ran into the office I was sitting in and said, “I heard you spoke Spanish.” The next thing I knew I was up to my eyeballs translating an error message with all kinds of software developers and testers standing around me. My interview was finished at 6:44 and I had the job. I left my job of six years (I had worked at the Shipyard in Bremerton since I turned 16) and moved out on my own. Based upon what? The word, Microsoft.

On my first day I dumped my cup of hot chocolate into my boss’s keyboard, deleted my operating system file, and sat in a cubicle not having a single idea of what I was supposed to do. Later that morning I found out I would test one international version of a spreadsheet per week and travel my way around the world by the seat of my pants.

A few years later I sat at my desk at (in my own office) and watched the landscapers planting pansies one rainy spring afternoon and realized how far out of my element I was. Chicken versus Egg moment: Was I good at solving problems due to a chaotic childhood or was I naturally predisposed to it? Was I choosing a safe path versus following a dream? At that point I hadn’t dreamt in so long I didn’t know what my dreams were.

Fortunately I bungled my way through a very unhealthy relationship back into school. I took classes for two years in just about everything before I found my passion, my dream, my harbor; art. Whether it be art history, painting classes, design studios, or even the most hated urban planning classes, I found that I could ride the roller coaster because it was all leading me, for the first time ever, to a place where I felt successful, confident, and talented; Landscape Architecture. Chicken versus Egg moment: Was I good at this because my “good problem solving skills” had evolved into “great problem solving skills” or would I have been good at this if at some point along the way I had sat down and given my path thought? I didn’t even know I liked art before returning to school.

Life is what it is. I am the youngest of five children who had very busy parents and we moved every two to three years. I spent the better part of my childhood in coping mode. Move to a new place: (problem solving skills kicked in) who to hang out with? Who was cool? Who wasn’t? Who was safe? Who would accept me? Were my clothes right? How quickly could I figure out slang/vernacular/points of reference? The second year (if there was one) was spent in some state of moving out of original group of friends into new group of friends (those who fit better) and trying to figure out what I was supposed to have learned the previous year and get up to speed. The third year: spent get ready to say good-bye to friends, let myself believe I didn’t care we were moving, finding reasons to believe moving would be good, packing, saying good bye to my space.

I’ve learned that “my space” means everything to me. Establishing a space means a return to some normality. If the picture is on the wall and bed is neatly made, this must be home. My space has become to me what most people call friends.

As an adult I rarely say no to an event that means helping children. I walk into a place and my eyes immediately search for the children who need help being drawn into the group. I walk into a space and my heart feels for the children who need someone to believe in them. As an adult I choose to invest in children versus having a job because I must. Everything that lives inside of me, tells me, informs me, that what I get back is so much more than I give. I don’t know what the Chicken versus the Egg moment here is. It is all very convoluted, but what I do know is that no child was ever harmed by having adults in their life who believed in them.

So, on January 3rd, 2011 I began the journey with forty eight kids and their families towards a school play. This experience has had its highs and lows, but every step of the way I have watched a lost child gain confidence, a shy child say their line proudly, and a very popular child befriend someone who needed a friend. The play is being performed this weekend and I have to say I’m torn. I feel absolute relief that the intensity of the experience is coming to an end, while the bigger part of me will miss watching this self-discovery in motion. These kids who may not even know that I am in the room have taught me so much and I will be forever grateful to them.

If you are ever in doubt as to what you should or could be doing, find an organization that helps children. Even if you learn it isn’t your thing, I promise you that during that time if you call a child by their name, chat with them briefly about something that is important to them, or help them solve a problem no matter how big or small, you will have changed a life.