Tuesday, January 31, 2012

without wonder and insight

When I was nearly finished my undergraduate degree in theatre, I had an acting class with a woman named Pamela.  I did not know it at the time, but Pamela had had careers both on Broadway and at Stratford.  Teaching university acting was retirement.  Pamela was a little bit frightening and moody.  One day she screamed at a student for eating an orange in class because she did not like the smell of oranges.  Other days she was delightful.

One day in acting class Pamela said that she wanted us all to go home and think about why we wanted to be actors.  And this would be up for discussion the following day.  I didn't really think much about my answer because I anticipated this would be one of those warm and fuzzy acting exercises where we all would learn more about each other.  Someone would cry, others would have sympathetic tears.  We'd hug each other.  We'd smoke and go for drinks.  Typical actor stuff.

When the discussion began, one enthusiastic student announced he'd wanted to be an actor from the time he was a small boy when he learned that it felt good to make people laugh.  We all smiled politely.  "Wrong", said Pamela.  We turned to stare at her.  How could his answer be wrong?

Someone else tentatively put forward that she wanted to use theatre as a vehicle to promote social change.  This sounded academic.  It had to be what Pamela wanted.  She said, "No, that's wrong."

"Because I love it?"  


"Because I have stories I want to tell."


"Because it's fun?"


On and on like this we ventured timid thoughts, timid because it had never occurred to us that our reasons for pursuing acting could be right or wrong.  Only that we each wanted ours to be the most entertaining or relatable or funny or... something.

"Wrong," said Pamela.  "The only reason for you to be actor, for anyone to ever even consider being an actor, is because you have to.  Because you absolutely must, because there is absolutely nothing else you could ever do."

Interesting.  I looked around me.  People were nodding.  Some of them seemed to know what she meant.  Maybe, they too, had to be actors.  

Pamela's pronouncement only confirmed what I already knew, that I wasn't going to be an actor.  I might act, I might enjoy acting and do it sometimes, but I wasn't going to be an actor.  There was nothing in me that longed for the stage badly enough that I had to pursue it at all costs.  

Maybe if someone had asked me when I was in twelfth grade, playing Molly Molloy in The Matchmaker why I wanted to be an actor I would have said that I had to be.  That was when I was seventeen and my very identity was inexorably tied to the theatre, and because when I was seventeen, acting was the only thing I knew I was good at.  I couldn't factor a polynomial or even, really, diagram a sentence in spite of being able to write one just fine.  I couldn't figure out what the cool kids were laughing at or talking about, I didn't have the right haircut, and I didn't listen to the right music.  But I could memorize a script, and I could really really deliver a performance.  Without that, I would not have known who I was.

But Pamela didn't ask me that question when I was seventeen.  She asked when I was twenty-three, and by then I had a better idea of who I might be outside of pretending to be someone else.

When I teach acting, I do not teach with the notion that any of my students will become actors.  I teach with the idea that there are probably other teenagers who have no idea who they are and could use a little help figuring it out.  We do acting games and exercises and performances, but the purpose isn't to become an actor.  It's to practice real world skills in a safe place where we can pretend that we're just pretending.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

comes with a free fake smile

Today is one of those wonderful days when school is not in session although teachers are still expected to report to work.  Exams are being written, but this year we are not assigned to invigilate them because we are on a pretend strike, also called "job action", in which we do not do a certain number of the extra things we usually do (things that aren't actually in our job description) in an effort to annoy the administration.  Why it is that we want to annoy the administration, as they have no say in our salaries or working conditions, is beyond my grasp.  I think it means the government has successfully divided two groups of people who should be working together to convince the government to properly fund education, but whatever, it's probably more fun to focus our energies on annoying the boss.

The point is that I have to be inside the building but once I get there, I have nothing to do.  Sure, I can prepare myself for next semester, get a few lesson plans organized, tidy my desk, that kind of thing.  But I've been a teacher long enough that I don't really need any time to do these things.  Lesson plans are all in my head, and I know how to operate with a messy desk.

I'm bringing a book, of course.  But what else?

I've been thinking of rereading The Great Gatsby to see if I still love it.  I have this sneaking suspicion that the last time I read it I just loved it because of J's attachment to it, and his overbrimming analogies.  Of course when you pay closer attention to James Gatz, he's telling you that he fell in love with an idea rather than with a woman.  The woman herself was vapid and shallow and cold.  But the idea of her was so warm.  Maybe that is what J meant.  Actually maybe I hate The Great Gatsby.

Time to go to work.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Cesar is from the Phillipines, and I may have made up the story that he was an engineer there.  But it might be true, it could be.  His first language is Tagalog, and his accent is beautiful.  Every morning when I pass him the cafeteria hallway as he begins setting up tables for the day and sweeping the spotless shiny floor, he tells me how many days are left until the weekend.  And on short weeks he tells me which day will be a day off, but he presents this information as though he is my boss, Three more days; I give you Friday.  I like Cesar very much.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

waiting on the world to change

Shawn and I went to Kitsilano this afternoon, which is a very trendy part of downtown Vancouver.  It has the highest number of designer baby clothing stores in the whole wide world.  And Merino wool is worn by one and all (except us).  For perspective, if we sold our 2000 square foot detached house in the suburbs on a third of an acre of land, we could buy a tiny bachelor apartment in Kitsilano.  For this reason I feel like a tourist when I go to Kitsilano.  I can't stop staring, walking backwards sometimes so I won't miss anything.  I stopped short of taking pictures, but only because it was raining.  Hard.

We went into a cute store that sold rainboots and coats.  (It was a rain themed day.)  I was drawn in by the brightly coloured umbrellas and boots in the window.  In particular, I liked this bright green boot.  Mostly because it looked like it would taste good, which is absurd, but I think you understand what I mean.  It was $150 dollars, which was also absurd and far less tasty.  I did not buy this pair of boots, nor the cute red ladybug umbrella that helped lured me in.   We left Kitsilano empty handed, like we always do.  But it was fun looking.


Friday, January 13, 2012

About hope

In counselling we learn that one important factor in mental health is having things to look forward to.

I look forward to:
- weekends
- watching J's life unfold
- becoming a full time counsellor
- retiring and being able to spend more time with Shawn

What do you look forward to?


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Things I Don't Feel Guilty About (anymore)

-not vaccuuming the carpet very often
-falling asleep on the couch after work
-taking ibuprofen when I have a headache


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I stayed home from work today.  This was my second sick day since school started in September.  Last time I took the day off because I had to take J to the doctor, and this time because I was waiting for a UPS delivery.  Waiting for a UPS delivery is a ridiculous reason to stay home from work, but so is UPS's system of creating a ten hour window in which they might make a drop off, particularly when you have to sign paperwork.  If you aren't there when they come by, then they try again to deliver the next day, and the next day.  And if you happen to have a full time job then your chances of receiving your parcel are pretty slim.  It's exasperating, really, but the day off was nice.  I cuddled the puppies and watched Judge Judy yell at someone for selecting a babysitter from Craigslist.


Sunday, January 08, 2012


We dropped J off at the stable around noon.  I had to go in this time because she told me there was a new animal in the stable, a fuzzy baby donkey named Nestor.  Because I really wanted to meet Nestor, I picked my way through the hay and manure piles to get close.  He let me rub his nose which was warm and bristly.  I like donkeys, more so now than ever.


On the way out we saw a tree with seven immature bald eagles sitting together.  I didn't realise that baby eagles stick together like that.  I always thought they were more independent.  We pulled over on the side of the gravel road to watch them, and as we were doing that, two women walking by with their dog told us that further up the road there was another tree in which they had counted thirteen adult bald eagles.  We drove in the direction they pointed to see those eagles too.  It's a wonderful place we live.


After that it seems impossible that things could get more exciting but they did because we went to the bookstore to spend my Christmas gift certificate, courtesy of Mum and Dad.  I only had one book on my must-have list and was planning to let Shawn spend the rest.  But he was looking for something specific (by Isaac Asimov) which wasn't there.  Because he has a Kindle he felt it wouldn't be worthwhile to order a paper copy of a book he would rather have electronically.  (I don't really understand this, because I prefer paper books.)  I reconsidered my opinion on this, though, after I got my books.  The book I most wanted was 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami, and it's enormous.  Too enormous to come into the bath with me for I will certainly drop it in.  And so enormous, I suspect, that I will develop very strong wrists from holding it up as long as it will take me to read it.

Since Shawn didn't want to spend my certificate, I decided upon two more books.  I already had a Japanese author, so I picked an American (The Grief of Others, Leah Hager Cohen)  and a Canadian (Monoceros, Suzette Mayr).   The cashier commended my selections on the way out, which I found promising all around.  I like it when people who work in bookstores read books too.


Saturday, January 07, 2012

sometimes you close your eyes and see the place where you used to live

At the end of Beatrice & Virgil, Martel's character talks about the loss of them, the monkey and the donkey, when their author dies.  How it hurts, physically, to be apart from them.  I understand what he means by that; when I love a book and love its protagonists I feel genuine and perhaps disproportionate sadness when the story ends.  When a writer kills off a character I love I feel angry.  Surely I am meant to feel that way.


You know when you meet someone and you just click?  This afternoon Shawn and I went to a hair salon with J.  She wanted her hair done the way teenage girls do, and Shawn decided that since we were there anyway he might as well get his hair cut too.  The woman who cut his hair was fantastic.  I don't know what it was about her, exactly, but both of us loved her immediately and as we went to pay the bill I was wondering if it would be weird to invite her and her husband to go out with us some time.  Whatever, obviously that's weird.  And I didn't do it.  But we took her card so we can go back for more haircuts.


Thursday, January 05, 2012

I got soul but I'm not a soldier

Yann Martel's newest book is good, so good.  So far I love it.  Beatrice is a donkey, Virgil is a red howler monkey.  They're taxidermy, and the taxidermist is writing a play about them.  They discuss fruit, mostly pears but sometimes bananas.  Secretly, I think they're both still alive and that they talk to each other for real when the shop is empty.  I wonder why this kind of absurdism is so completely comfortable for me, but when the protagonist in Self changed genders without explanation, I had a hard time suspending disbelief.


I have never liked pears.  The flavour is pleasant enough; it's the gritty texture of the flesh that I do not enjoy.  Like an apple with a bit of sand mixed in.


Sunday, January 01, 2012

When I am on vacation and not getting up to an alarm clock I tend to remember my dreams much more than I normallly do.  The night before last I dreamed I was back in the D.U.S. (Drama Undergraduate Society) lounge with people I knew back then, discussing the tragedy of raising membership fees to pay for the representatives to go on some unnecessary trip where it was presumed they were all hooking up instead of working.  Hilarious.  The only part of this that was inaccurate to the past was the part where I was bothering to discuss it.  Although this kind of thing happened all the time I was too apathetic for it to upset me.  In reality I would have cracked jokes about it and shrugged.

Last night I dreamed I was in the hospital awaiting surgery.  I had to get from my hospital room to the surgery room on my own, for some reason, rather than being taken there on a gurney.  The problem was that I couldn't seem to find my way and every time I was late showing up, my important surgery was put off and rescheduled for another day.  It was starting to look like I was going to end up living the rest of my life in the hospital (a bit like Tom Hanks stuck in the airport in The Terminal) and my biggest frustration here was not that I was missing my life or not receving some kind of medical procedure I allegedly needed, but that I wanted to drink a beer and couldn't because I was perpetually awaiting surgery.  Dreams are so weird.  I love remembering them.