Present Presence


Somewhere in 2001…

Yet again, sitting in that awkward silence that falls in the wake of a request no one in the room wants to answer, I felt the frustration well up. We were starting yet another acting exercise or project, and everyone was simply afraid to start it off and be the first to break the ice. Anyone with the least bit of intuition could hear the silent screams of “Please, not me first,” or “I don’t have any idea what he wants me to do. I’ll probably screw it up,” or “I can’t do this.” Breath stopped. We sat, willing it so that someone, somewhere would volunteer.

Then, a hand would inevitably shoot up. What a surprise; someone has a question! Actually no, it was never a surprise. It was a stalling tactic. Not a purposeful one, mind you, but one that ate up class time and that, again, put off the inevitability of the doing of the activity off. After all, maybe if we could just understand it a little bit better, particularly what it was supposed to look like if we did it the right way, well, then, these questions and conversations would prove totally justified!

It didn’t matter; someone had to budge. Our profs had to shut us up. Sometimes one of the boys would volunteer. Sometimes I jumped up, pushed by frustration and even a little bit of anger. But also, I was pushed into the water by the reminder that I was there for a reason—to hone my acting skills. If I was just going to sit around and talk about it all day and watch everyone else, then I might as well pack up and go home. I was mad at those in my class who constantly needed reassurance and extra cheerleading to get up and try an exercise or performance. They thought the extra time they bought through conversation would magically transform their performances into the right version, the perfect version, free of error, transcendental in its performance.

They were scared. So was I, but I managed to jump into the deep, cold end of the performance pool, not knowing what I would find. Sometimes I did “screw up,” but mostly the feedback focused on the experience. I had to try to get into the water to see how my body, my mind, and my spirit would react in that particular situation. Allowing myself to free fall into the depths of doubt, to see how my intuition would guide, and how I might emerge from the experience showed me more about my abilities than any approaches before.

In these acting exercises, in these moments I took some initiative, I shifted the focus off of myself and redirected it to my environment, or the other—inanimate, yet powerfully influential—character. The experience liberated me. I allowed the form to support me, to place its hands, to step out from the ledge and know that my faith would keep me…present.

Somewhere Now…

That’s the issue: being present. I struggled with it then and continue to do so now. My faith couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t fail, but failure in and of itself would imply that there could only be one correct specific outcome. Concern about failure also gestures to a focus on the future; we were worrying about what might be. Take, for example, the myriad of projects I have scattered throughout the landscape of my house. Or even teaching as I walk into a classroom. I look at just a single project and I find myself fearful and sad, feeling defeated that “I’m never going to get this done.” I’m looking at the big obstacle and all of the things that can go wrong and get in the way of the original goal. Consequently, I slink in retreat from said pile, refusing to take just that first step toward a new outcome, a new experience. Sure, the pile probably contains some overdue…something or other, perhaps a portal into yet another project (like an endless project pyramid scheme), an outline of an idea scratched on a ripped piece of paper, and those things that I still have no idea where they should go. Really, the thought is less about, “I’m never going to get this done,” and more about, “I’m never going to get this done perfectly.

But maybe, just maybe, that pile could produce a new idea for a piece of writing. Or a new approach to take to my classroom. Or maybe I’ll unearth a picture and I’ll need to put it in a photo album, which will take me down a different path. Taking one step at a time, I might journey down a completely new and uncontrived path. Each moment of presence in the present builds a future.

One of the notes I got often both as an undergrad and graduate actor was, “You are too hard on yourself. You waste your energy beating yourself up.” I beat myself up because I was too focused on what my work needed to look like in the end. Terrified of doing or being wrong, I deflected the criticism by heading it off. While I was busy judging my cohort of fear, fear turned me against myself. Emotions pulled at me from two different directions: fear from the future and anger from the past.

I’m not in that studio anymore, but I feel those familiar feelings tugging at me. At home. At work. In my friendships. There isn’t a whole lot that looked like I had planned it. Those are the moments I feel like a failure. Today, I’m going to start again. And this time, I’ll start the exercise with a simple inhale. Open my eyes and step forward into the present.

life · Misc. Musings · Uncategorized


Eight years have gone by and I’m still dogged by the same feelings of failure every day. Now, I don’t see myself as a victim. Life hasn’t dealt me a bad hand, done me wrong, or anything like that. I constantly sabotage myself. Every day I wake up and tell myself that it will be different, and that today will be the start of a different way of thinking, doing, being in the world. I promise myself each day that I’m going to be focused, productive, organized, fit, and happy. Instead, I find that I have a difficult time concentrating on much of anything, I waste time doing mindless tasks, I’m buried in piles of papers and things I’m desperate to either sort or just plain throw out. Oh, and I’ve gained 30 pounds, making me the heaviest weight I’ve been at any point in my life aside from my pregnancy.

Even now, I have so many feelings and thoughts coursing through my head that I find it truly challenging to separate them out. Where do I start? I’ve tried making lists. I pray. I exercise (OK, sometimes). I can’t seem to get myself grounded or organized. I feel…untethered, adrift. It feels as if my greatest fear is coming to fruition, that when I left acting full time, I would lose my sense of who I was, of who I am. I have this desperate sense that I need to do something, but I just don’t know what it is. Of course, part of that is being the best mommy I can be to my girls, but I do feel that a large part of that role includes modeling a happy, productive, purposeful life. And part of it, quite honestly, is that I’m not solely a mother. I am me, without the roles, without the labels. How am I just me in my own skin? How do I teach two little girls how to be secure in their own emerging hearts, minds, and bodies, when I can’t seem to get a handle on my own?

So getting back to my original question about the self-sabotage- in my search for the key to success, I layer new and interesting things to do onto my daily/ weekly/ short-term/ long-term plan. I feel like I’m chasing some moving target without having a real handle on what that particular target exactly is. Instead of defining the goal then actuating a plan to achieve it, I reverse the whole set up. I just keep adding “interesting” things, blindly trusting that it all will lead me, eventually, where I need to go. Like right now, I’m working part-time, I’m doing a show, I am leading a Girl Scout troop, I am the primary caretaker of the house and the kids, I volunteered to teach religious ed, and just because I have nothing else to do, clearly, I’m the chair of a committee at my kiddos’ elementary school. Because, why the hell not? Now, I expect to be the best at all of this, but in weighing myself down with so many things, I know that I set myself up to fail and to disappoint myself. I go around believing that my talents will show themselves if I do enough stuff; throw enough crap at the wall and something is bound to stick.

This strategy isn’t working. I’ve known it has not been working for 8 years. I know something is inside me; I’ve lost sight of what that might be. I’m terrified I might never discover the essence of who I am.

Gratitude · life · Misc. Musings

A Moment of Thankfulness


In this moment, I am thankful for:

A warm spring night.

The sound of the keyboard clicking softly under the pads of my fingertips.

The insistent rainfall during the night, a welcome respite.

My husband lying next to me.

My daughters falling asleep reading, cuddled together.

The geese honking at the nighttime thunder.

A warm shower after a day of cooking, playing, and gardening.

The quiet to imagine what adventures the next day might promise.

A roof over my head.

My family.

My health.

My life.






life · Parenting · Uncategorized

Dance Party 2 (Because All of its Musical Fabulousness Couldn’t Be Contained in Just One Volume)

This is something I wrote from a while back, but apparently got stuck in the “drafts” pile.

Like laundry.

Sometime in 2013…

I’ve been stuck because I don’t know where to begin. So I thought I might try approaching things one at a time.  (Good luck, she says to herself.)

It was late afternoon a couple of days ago- the worst time of day for me- because I just want to crawl in some cave and sleep until dinner is ready, which is a problem as I’m the one that does dinner, so cave slumber= mass starvation.  Anyway, I try to do some sort of physical activity with my little ones (two four year olds) so that they don’t turn into couch potatoes and I don’t have to start an IV caffeine drip. This particular day I thought, “Let’s try the Just Dance 2 Playstation game,” otherwise known as “The Dancing Game.”  For those of you not familiar with this rockin’ timeless, Billboard-chart shattering music collection brought to life with equally mind-numbing blowing choreography, here’s an earworm that will devour your soul:

You’re welcome.

So, we begin. Now I’ve taken a LOT of dance; I had some sort of dance instruction for close to 10 years, and that’s not including all of the miscellaneous theatre movement training. For some reason, this choreography seems just “off” like a quarter of a beat or something.  I can’t place it.  It’s just so damn awkward and I find myself not as graceful as I imagine myself to be, although it could also have something to do with the fact that I’m 25 years older than when I first started dancing; however, that latter explanation is clearly the inferior one, I’m positive.

My girls are doing an OK job with The Dancing Game.  They love it.  It doesn’t matter how good they are, although it’s clear that one of them is more coordinated than the other.  It could also have to do with the fact that Slightly More Coordinated Twin is serious as a heart attack about her choreography.  Slightly Less Coordinated Twin gets caught up in watching the video and doing some half- hearted attempt at what seems to be a possible voluntary physical movement—or maybe it’s just a twitch.  Sometimes I can’t tell.

Still, an awareness rears its ugly and awkwardly-timed head.  And the self-comparisons—which have already begun in other areas—emerge, paralyzing and self-depreciating:

“Momma, I can’t do this.  She does it better than me.”

Ohhhhh crap. So I go into problem solving mode.

“You’ve got to make your moves bigger,” I tell her, in an effort to cajole her into making some more definitive, more distinguishable moves.

“Mommy, I lost.  She got more stars than me.”

“No, honey, you didn’t get as many stars but you have to keep trying.  Don’t worry so much about the stars your sister has.  You have one.  Keep trying.”


“Did you have fun dancing?  Then you just have to keep dancing and you’re going to get better. You can’t just stand there. You have to move!”

And then it happened.  I heard what I was saying for the first time, as if Morpheus for a moment stepped out of “the desert of the real” reached into my world, stopped time, and shoved my face up against a mirror.

I’ve been feeling stuck, you see.

“Momma, I can’t do this.  EVERYONE does it better than me.”  As an actor, I’ve been trained to put my focus on the “other”- the other actors onstage with me, the “other” that I allow myself to inhabit.  Somewhere along the way, I forgot myself a bit, and was so focused on everyone else, that I just got lost. Particularly of late, I am seeing so many of my friends and colleagues garner well-deserved accolades and success, both professionally and personally.  And I am genuinely happy for them- seriously.  But then I look at myself and can’t help but think how everyone I know is a better mother/ wife/ teacher/ scholar/actor/homemaker than I am.

“Mommy, I lost.  She got more stars than me.” I’m still a big believer in winning and losing.  I don’t think everyone should be a winner all the time.  But I have been feeling lost- and like I’ve lost a lot.  I feel so behind and am a little perplexed as to how this “behind” situation happened.  I feel tired, like I’ve done a lot, but I just haven’t seen any payoff, and that is frustrating.  I see other people getting some acknowledgement, but I don’t see it happening over on my end.  There’s no anger toward other people, only anger toward myself for not being better, although I’m unsure as to what “better” actually means.

“No, honey, you didn’t get as many stars but you have to keep trying.  Don’t worry so much about the stars your sister has.  You have one.  Keep trying.”  Of course I will keep trying.  I’m like a damn terrier.  Ask my husband.  I relentlessly pursued him (minus the Lifetime Network dose of psychosis). But for a start, I think perhaps I need to put some of the focus on myself for once. On my work. On figuring out what it is I really want to achieve.  Setting goals.  Ugh, that one’s a tough one, and I realize that I have not been good at defining what I would like my future to look like.  I always believed that if I just worked hard enough, “good things” would come to me.  What these “good things” were- exactly- I couldn’t specifically say, only that they were really good. Seriously. I mean like, totally. I’m totally serious.

“Did you have fun dancing?”  Yes, nothing I’ve done I regret. Very few things in my life do I wish I had done differently because I never would have met my husband and had these daughters and that hypothetical prospect looms most regrettable of all.

“Then you just have to keep dancing and you’re going to get better.” Fine. Fine. FINE.


But really what it comes down to:

“You can’t just stand there. You have to move!”  I tell my students this all the time, but it actually sounds more like this:  “Be strong and wrong!” The sentiment remains the same: do something, even if you don’t know what to do, because in all likelihood, a definitive, strong choice reveals the path to follow (or at the very least will slam a door in your face and you probably needed that).  I can’t just stand around and watch other choreography.  It’s off because it’s not mine; I’m trying to ape someone else’s trajectory and that simply won’t fly. Doing this only sets me up for failure and defines me as a victim, someone things happen to, not someone who can impact the world around me.  Deep down, I have faith I can make this change.

So for me, the first move I make requires setting my fingers to the keyboard and writing, writing, writing.  And yeah, I probably should get off my butt and workout.  That too.

Acting · life · Misc. Musings

Acting Silence (or Silent Acting)

I remember sitting in class one day, the FIRST time I was in graduate school. We were talking about stillness, probably in the context of how we were sitting and breathing. Our professor coached us through, engaging questions, asking us to be aware of our bodies in that moment. I have a vivid recollection of discomfort throughout my body; it was so very restless and the practice of stillness felt…almost painful.  I could not get comfortable in the chair, so I couldn’t sit still. At the time, I thought the physical pain had a clinical origin. Perhaps I was so very out of alignment, or out of shape, or maybe even there was just something wrong with me. Or, all of the above, more likely.  I was a walking, talking, breathing living history of my experiences and that wasn’t good or bad…just simply was the way it was. Me.

Going back even further, again back into my acting training, I recall my movement classes. Aside from the fact that—while I firmly believe in the techniques and theories taught—they are sort of caricatures of themselves, there is an irony about them. I know I went into movement class as an 18 year old thinking I would learn how to move, so OF COURSE there should be a lot of moving involved because, you know, movement. But so much of movement class involved what appeared and felt to be decidely not moving. We were instructed at the beginning of every class that it was “the ten minutes in which you do nothing.” When we first began this ritual, our instructor verbally led us through the experience in a sort of guided meditation. But the anxiety crept in when we were supposed to clear our minds and think about nothing. No. Thing. It was at that point when I became silently desperate, trying to push thoughts out of my mind, and in fighting those impulses, created even more thoughts. I panicked. On the inside, of course. “HOW DO I DO NOTHING?” came the silent scream.  “I am not DOING nothing right because I have all the thoughts! I’m thinking about not thinking!” I felt a little like Ray Stanz in Ghostbusters:


Still, the idea of just taking a minute to be fully present in a space took practice. What I found was in opening myself up to allowing thoughts to pass through, I had more autonomy about engaging with thoughts, than if I tried to shut them out.

I settled into stillness. Well, more precisely, I came to a place where I could coexist with it. I welcomed it. Sometimes, the restless discomfort was there, but I had to acknowledge it in order to move on.

Flash forward to now. I’m trying to tune the noise out. It’s a noise addiction. Even now, as I’m writing, as I’m enjoying the quiet hum of the fan above me (and a little indignant at the sound of an airplane flying overhead, intruding on the night quiet)–with no television, social media, radio, internet—I’m longing for it. I yearn for this time, this place, this space to hear my thoughts, and my first impulse is to drown them out. Like some messed up sugar addiction, I try to cut out the sweets, and savor the lightness in my body and the energy it begins to feel, only to hear my inner voice thinking, “As a reward for feeling so good, you should get a treat. Sugar!” And while social media can get me amped, it quickly exhausts me, leaving me deflated, numb, and reflexively reaching for more of… less.

Maybe I think the noise will give me my thoughts, will set me on the right path toward self-enlightenment and what I hope to do in this world. But these inputs merely obfuscate the whole situation. They crowd out—and sometimes even work to replace—my own thoughts. I’ve been moving and filling the space with so much that I no longer recognize my own thoughts through the din.

So I’ve made pledge to myself, imperfect as it is. Among the million and one self-improvement promises, I am starting with some silence each evening. Some pause. Some breath. Because just as I learned those many years ago, many times over, that singular breath will both birth and ignite my impulse. My truth.