Wednesday, December 4, 2013

don't let your taste cripple your art.

They say for any art form, there is a period of time where an artist's taste is more advanced than her ability. A time gap where skill is not equal to desired outcome. An artist can be crippled by his own taste if each failure to live up to that taste becomes too devastating.

I’ve seen many actors (including myself) read a scene and know how it should look, but lack the tools to execute it. It comes out looking like crap. I’ve done a lot of crappy scenes. Then slowly but surely, little moments land. You start to trust your skill. More miniscule moments land. One day, you actually do a scene that isn’t crap. Don’t get me wrong, there’s always room for self-loathing. But you arrive at a place where you’re in the vicinity of meeting your own discerning taste. Sometimes, just for a moment, you can even go to a place above and beyond what you imagined. That is when the magic happens. But you have to get past a lot of failure to find it.

I'm struggling with this as an editor right now. My grand visions fall flat on their face with my current limited abilities. It’s a learning curve. After my first pass at editing my last project I wanted to stab an ice pick through my eyeballs. Luckily I don’t own an ice pick. Luckily two experienced editor friends gave me a few pointers. In addition to all the luck, I’m trying to log in those ten thousand hours so each project has fewer crappy parts than the last one. By the way Malcolm Gladwell, ten thousand is A LOT of hours. Clearly anyone who actually has ten thousand hours to do anything is not the mother of a toddler...I'm not your demographic, but I'm doing it anyway.

Speaking of my toddler, the art form he’s struggling with is talking. His level of understanding amazes me. But when it comes to executing words…well, let’s just say as his parent I understand every nuanced grunt, but they wouldn’t get him far with anyone else. This morning on our walk, he pointed to every single bicycle (we live in Brooklyn, so there were many bicycles) and said "thibick," “buckly,” “bickel,” “bithick.” But instead of getting frustrated each time he was wrong, he giggled and tried again. I'd like to think he didn't inherit my self-loathing gene. But more likely, mother nature protects us from self-loathing long enough to ensure we make it through all the failures that come from learning to walk and talk.  

On the way home we said at least a hundred and thirty seven versions of the word bicycle. He still didn't get it. But he had a blast trying. It has now become my goal to share that enthusiasm for trying with my students (and myself).

“Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good.” 
― Malcolm GladwellOutliers: The Story of Success

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Wow. 2013. I was absent from this blog for the end of 2012. To be honest, my goal was to keep this blog fun and light, but my Dad died in the fall and I had trouble finding fun and light things to write about. In fact, I went to a holiday party just before Christmas…when there was a lull in the conversation I started to rack my brain for some conversation starters. The only topics I could come up with were baby poop and how to execute a last will and testament. Needless to say, I wasn’t invited to any more holiday parties. 

As soon as the baby was ready to travel last year, I planned a September trip to visit my Dad for his 65th birthday. I wanted the little guy to meet his grandpa. And boy am I happy we made the trip. When we arrived I could tell that Dad had been keeping quiet about how bad his emphysema had become. His activity was restricted to the couch and a short radius around it. TJ was at the stage when being on a blanket and trying to roll over occupied him for hours. So I put a blanket in front of the couch and the three of us just hung out for a few days. Dad and TJ had an instant connection. And it wasn’t just because Dad had a nose for TJ to grab onto. The two of them babbled to each other all day long, giggling and holding onto each other’s fingers. I managed to get a few words in edge-wise to ask Dad questions…things we don’t think to ask our parents about their lives…his teen years, his time in Vietnam, his career. He had strong feelings about staying in his home to die. I told him I wanted to be there to help him at the end. He said he would tell me when he needed me, but was never quite forthcoming about how much help he really did need. Too stoic and proud. And stubborn. Four weeks later, I was on the plane on the way to see him again when he died. We had already said our goodbyes, but I wish I had been there. Hugged him one more time. Said thank you one more time. I think of him constantly. At first it saddened me every time something came up that I wouldn’t be able to share with him. Now I’m starting to see reminders and thoughts of him as little pieces of his sense of humor that have stuck around and that I get to share with his grandson. Slowly but surely, the fun and light will come back.

Dad wasn’t strong enough to hold TJ when they met, but I managed to balance a lap sit so that I could get one photo of the two of them together.  I will cherish it and that trip forever.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Freddie Hawkins

Freddie Hawkins gave me my first job. Actually, that’s not true. My first job was working in my parents’ restaurant. But they’re family so they had to give me a job. Or maybe I had to work for them. Either way, one night when I was 17, I was told to be home because we were hosting a night for the camp my little brother attended. Apparently the owners of Vista Camps traveled around in the off-season hosting camp video nights to attract new campers and counselors. The camp I had gone to when I was younger had closed. Maybe because they didn’t do these traveling camp video nights? Anyway, when my mom introduced me to Freddie, his second sentence was about me coming to work for them that summer. From what I learned about Freddie in the following years, I now realize his giving me a job was probably some conspiracy between him and my mom. Another thing I learned about Freddie is that he considered everyone who walked into Vista Camps a family member. So really, my work with Vista turned out to be not a job at all, but time spent with a whole new family.

My first summer, I was hired as the snack girl and was just a year older than some of the campers. I also met my best friend, Dana. Seven summers later I was the Program Director for Sierra Vista. But despite my responsibilities, Freddie continued to call Dana and I into his office whenever there was evidence of camp hijinks. I’ll admit now that we were usually guilty.

Through all the practical jokes and bending of camp rules, in seven summers I met some of the most unique people (including a new side of my own brother that he reserved for camp). Something about driving through the gates of Vista allowed people to shed the insecurities…kids came out of their shells, counselors were the model of silliness, it was a place to truly be your comfortable self. That feeling was created by Freddie. Every summer there are articles in prominent publications about the value of the summer camp experience. It fosters independence, builds character, hones values while teaching new skills. Yada yada yada. The truth is, you spend the summer singing at the top of your lungs in the dining hall, competing in ruthless tribal games, having shaving cream fights, wrestling a greased watermelon in the lake, enduring strange initiation rituals, all in 100 degree Texas sun. The seriousness with which Freddie created the fun was what made it perfect.

Amidst all the fun, when I got hit in the head with the waterskiing rope handle and had to get a few stitches, it was Freddie who washed the blood out of my hair and drove me to the doctor in town. When I encountered challenges as the program director, it was Freddie who mentored me through my first leadership role. He was the camp dad to so many and I am blessed to be among them.

Freddie Hawkins died just a few days before camp ended this summer. There is a celebration of his life at Vista tomorrow. I'm sad to be so far away, to not be able to say goodbye in person among camp friends. But a few mornings ago in a walk through Prospect Park with my three-month-old son, I heard cicadas. The noise brought a flood of camp memories that include that same summer hum of cicadas. Even before I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to send my kids to Vista. TJ will go there someday and while I’m sad he will never meet Freddie, I’m grateful that such a magical place exists for him and future family generations. Thank you, Freddie. Goodbye.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lamaze Class Reunion

Our lamaze class had a reunion. Missy, the instructor, is the spitting image of Jane Lynch and has a football coach's approach to lamaze. During class she would get us to practice our breathing and then start yelling "A CONTRACTION IS 90 SECONDS LONG. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING FOR 90 SECONDS!!!" "SQUAT! DO IT! GET THOSE KNEES UP! PARTNERS, MAMA NEEDS HELP WITH HER KNEES SO SHE CAN PUUUUUUUSSSSHHHHH!!!"

Despite the yelling, the whole class came back for the reunion. We last saw each other back in April when we were seven very pregnant ladies and seven supportive partners. And now there are seven more people in the world. Seven new little souls. When I walked in the door with TJ, Missy yelled "YOU DID IT!!!" so loudly it startled TJ awake. He and all the other little ones ate, pooped and cried while we exhausted parents shared our birth stories. The prize for the most dramatic delivery went to the couple who had an intern try nine times to insert the epidural causing the doula to faint and have to be taken to the emergency room.

The most amazing thing was to see how the little ones reflected their parents personalities and demeanor. The high strung couple's baby cried a lot, the laid back lesbian couple had the most laid back little dude, the daughter of a librarian and a teacher was quiet, alert and observing everything. Nature or nurture? If TJ reflects us already, I'm too close to see it. Oh wait...he just spent fifteen minutes going cross-eyed from staring at his own hand. Yep, he's definitely part of this family.

Lamaze class reunion:

Here's a recent photo of TJ caught in a non cross-eyed moment:

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Commercial FAIL

Have you seen this commercial for International Delight?
International Delight Coffeehouse

Go ahead. Watch it. I'll wait.

Welcome back.

I've never used International Delight and I'm not usually one to rant. This commercial, however, drives me insane because it assumes that we viewers are stupid. And they have apparently paid for it to air constantly on my television so I'll go ahead and badtalk their commercial.

They suggest we should buy their iced coffee to drink at home because it's too difficult to venture out into crazy unpredictable public spaces where there might be doors that attack us. Wild coffeehouses with doors that are usually found only in grocery stores. These doors also seem programmed to close on people. And if we were to come in contact with these doors out there in the lunatic coffeehouse world, we would be just like the people in the commercial who seem unaware that it takes a modicum common sense to enter and exit a building. So, yes, by all means America, believe them when they tell you that attempting to leave your house is treacherous. Even the simple idea to pick up morning coffee would be bonkers. Stay home. Buy their highly processed drink.

Although...wait a second. Wouldn't you have to go to a grocery store to buy International Delight? Hmmmm...I wonder what kind of doors you will have to navigate there? Godspeed everyone. May the force be with you in the war against mechanized entryways. Here's hoping we all survive to buy another cup 'o joe.

If you have time to kill:
10 Very Funny Commercials

People who haven't done commercials, don't appreciate how hard it is. 
- Justin Long

Monday, June 18, 2012

Do you have your club card?


The young, bright eyed quirky GIRL steps up to the cash register and hands the CASHIER a box of headshot envelopes and mailing labels.

Do you have your club card?

What’s a club card?

A Duane Reade club card.

I don’t know what that is. I just moved here. To New York City.

The cashier gives the girl a blank stare.

I’m going to be an actress.

More blank staring.

Well...can I get these things without a club card?

That’s $14.87.

Ok. I didn’t really tell the cashier that I was going to be an actress. I did, however, figure that I would be frequenting this store they call Duane Reade. But why would the guy not ask me if I wanted a card? Did Duane Reade corporate headquarters really pass down the rule that all cashiers ask if customers have a club card without suggesting that there could be a follow up question if the customer said "no?" I like to support good marketing and customer service so I vowed then and there that if any employee ever actually offered me a card instead of just asking if I already had one, I would certainly take Duane Reade up on benefitting from their club card program. If they couldn't take the extra step to tell me how to get one, why should I? I don't need your stinking club card!

Cut to...eight years later...


The frazzled new MOTHER juggles pushing a stroller up to the cash register while handing a box of newborn diapers and a pint of Haagen Dazs to the CASHIER.

You have your club card?


You want one?


The mother looks up. Stunned. The cashier reaches for a club card brochure.

It’s a rewards program. You can fill this out to get one.

I know what it is. I’ve been waiting eight years to be offered a club card!

The cashier gives the mother a blank stare. 

This is a really big moment--

The BABY in the stroller starts crying. The mother hesitates.

(motioning to stroller)
I have to get him home...I guess Duane Reade missed the window.

More blank staring...but then...
Take it with you. Bring it back anytime.

The cashier gave the mother the club card discount anyway. She took the application and thanked him as she pushes her crying baby out of the store.

Why did it take EIGHT YEARS for me to cross paths with a nice Duane Reade cashier? Is it me? Do I finally look worthy? Did Duane Reade corporate headquarters train their cashiers to offer cards only to those who look frazzled and desperate? Was it the spit-up on my shirt that sealed the deal? Or the way I didn't brush my hair? Well, I'll take the sympathy points my crying baby got me and I promise to cherish my sacred club card.

"It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages."
-Henry Ford

Friday, June 15, 2012


Back in February, I wrote a post about a soup kitchen that needed some help with a website. My friend Christine generously volunteered her time. The end result is this: 

Christine, you are awesome! May it empower Sondra and allow her to continue to feed so many.