The Pleasure Principle

As can happen, a second word has found it’s way to me for the year.

I have been happily living through my deeply-felt word for 2019, which is CORE. (You can read about my Word for the Year practice here and my word for the year here.) Didn’t think or know anything was missing. I was perfectly content with CORE. CORE is a big ask! A truly great word for the year. I was content.

Until I was given an exercise by someone I am working with (a Desire Catalyst!) and I realized that yet another word had found it’s way into my life and demanded my attention. And that word is PLEASURE.

I was given a very simple task: make a list of ten things that create a experience of pleasure for me.

Let’s look at the definition of PLEASURE, according to the Oxford Dictionary:

definition: a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment:
“she smiled with pleasure at being praised”
synonyms:
happiness, delight, joy, gladness, rapture, glee, satisfaction, gratification, fulfillment, contentment, contentedness, enjoyment, amusement, delectation
adjective 1. used or intended for entertainment rather than business:
“pleasure boats”
verb 1. give sexual enjoyment or satisfaction to:
“tell me what will pleasure you”

I totally get the definition. Yes, I know what that means. Sounds great!

Then I get to the synonyms. Whoa. Rapture? Glee? Gratification? Delectation?

Other than a few amazing culinary experiences and some lovely sexual activity that I have known on occasion, where I am finding that kind of PLEASURE in my life? In my day, even? And by finding I mean, where I am taking the time out of my day to seek experiences that are truly pleasurable? Uh oh.

Then I get to its use as an adjective. There’s a bit of a hint. How much do I allow myself to do out of a day that is not in some way associated with business. The business of acting. The business of the business of acting. The business of living. Of being. A lot of business and busi-ness in my life. 

Then I get to PLEASURE as a verb. Now, that is a whole other post for another day. Let’s just say, I am usually “too busy.” Or it becomes the business of being intimate. I mean, you can approach anything in a business-like way. Even sex. “Gotta fit it in.”  Not, I am going to take this hour and just play for pleasure. Nope, just another thing on my list of things to get done.

So what is up with that, I asked myself.

The good news is that I had no trouble creating a list.

That came pretty easy. Great! I have no trouble identifying things that give me pleasure.

The problem is that I have trouble giving myself the time and permission to actually let myself have or do them.

I had my list, and I looked at it, and realized that I rarely allowed myself the time to enjoy or do any of the things on my list. (And some of them were as simple as enjoying a glass of water!)

It turns out that I am fairly anorexic in the pleasure arena. I staunchly deprive myself of things that bring me pleasure. What does this mean exactly?

This Pleasure Practice idea seemed so simple.

Now I am realizing that I have a lot of unraveling to do. And simple does not always mean easy.

What comes up when I begin to give myself the time and space to choose one or two and commit to doing them for two weeks?

I was so overwhelmed at the thought of it! My Protestant forebears reeled back in rebuke. My Puritan roots bristled with disgust. A lifetime (and beyond) of judgement and condemnation rushed through my psyche, channelling all those familial, cultural, historical and societal influences that my ancestors lived through and that I was born into and surrounded by throughout childhood. Words flew across my mind like dark bats hitting the sides of a cave: glutton, whore, lazy, lowlife, no-gooder, disgusting, perverted.

You see, I come from people who believe that self-discipline and suffering are badges of moral merit. To live for pleasure — well, that would mean to be wasteful. My heart craved pleasure, but my cellular memory feared it.

So my Desire Catalyst suggested to just start with one thing on my list: I was to let myself enjoy one glass of water at 1 PM each day.

At the mere suggestion, something in me breaks, some dam inside that I had no idea was there, the dam holding back a thirst for pleasurable things. I cry a deep little cry as the realization follows that I have been living decades denying myself small simple pleasures in my quest for great things.

And then something else breaks through…and I know.

I have found my second word for the year. Or it has found me.

So here I go. 2019, the year of CORE and of PLEASURE. Just typing that makes butterflies in my belly. Who am I to want to have more PLEASURE in my life? I speak gently, but firmly to whomever asked that question within me: I am the person who is going to break this pattern of belief. I am the one who is going to blaze a new trail for all that came behind me. I am the one who is going to seek PLEASURE from my CORE.

I cannot wait to see where these two lead me.

#core #pleasure #wordfor20019

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Tropical Sense

When I was a young girl, someone gave me a very small solid of perfume.

I think that it might have been my great grandmother who brought it back from a trip to Hawaii.

She had lost her husband before I was born and traveled extensively in her later life. Quite an independent, adventuresome woman for her time. She had amazing style – dressed impeccably and decorated her Texas apartment with an elegance that was unique.

I was very young – maybe 5 years old. But I loved it. I was both a girlie girl and a Tomboy from day one, though I outwardly presented only as the former, and eventually, sadly, the Tomboy in me was abandoned by me in order to fit in/gain acceptance.

The perfume smelled like tropical smells – I think Gardenia was very much in the forefront.

It came in a small round plastic case the color if the Seafoam Green Crayon – remember that? I loved that too. That color only came in the 64 crayon size box – it seemed so luxurious, that crayon.

So it felt very grown up and special to have that perfume.

My grandmother was charismatic and quite the lady. I loved and feared her: she was very invested in etiquette and manners. She called me wiggle Worm. I guess I was naturally filled with vibrant impulses. She was the start of my socialization, and I learned to suppress that energy, to strive poise.

Eventually, the solid ran down until only the case was left, which eventually I lost.

But over the years, and to this day, I recall that smell. Intermittently, I have tried to find it again. I’ve longed for that scent, the exotic smell of far away tropical paradise.

I recently found a scent that is the closest I have come so far. It is not exact, but close.

I still hope to find the original again someday.

Perhaps I am looking to claim that half-girl, half-boy I was. To reclaim that vibrancy, those physical impulses.

Perhaps on a trip to Hawaii I will find it again? And those parts of myself? Wouldn’t that be amazing.

What has been a significant scent in your life? Why?

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On the Road Again

My husband and I are driving a Penske truck filled with furniture from our last apartment In the Bronx, NY to Texas. We’ve made this trip before.

Last time, we drove the opposite way with the same furniture from my parents’ home just after we were married 8 years ago, just after my Dad died, a year after my brother died and two years after my mother did.

I was so grateful for that furniture at the time. Newly married, making a home with someone for the first time, I was thrilled to have really nice things to bring to our shared space, a new apartment we’d chosen together.

Having lived in a tiny studio apartment in the West Village of NYC for 18 years prior to this big change, I had no furniture to speak of. My husband had some nice things to bring from his place, but not enough. We were stretching our budgets to get our apartment. New furniture was not in the plan. So my parents was a blessing.

It was amazing how perfectly the furniture all worked together. We chose rich colors for the walls off of the colors in the rugs, and somehow, it all had an eclectic warmth that just felt right. So “us,” somehow. The us we were becoming.

For the first years of our marriage, in those years after those huge losses in which I grieved and lived as best I could, that furniture surrounded me and held me and filled the empty gaping hole their deaths left.

I cherished it all. I had my father’s bronzed baby cowboy boots as book ends. A china cabinet held bluebirds, brown ware and silver pieces from my mother’s collections. We ate off of plates and used pans brought up from their kitchen. Put drinks on coasters from their den.

Our bedroom furniture was from my parents first house. The first expensive rug they bought, a now-worn but still lovely Oriental, sat under their gorgeous dark wood dining table and chairs.

But somewhere along year 6, something began to shift in me, and now, 18 months later, after a Konmari wave that washed away my clutter, a new apartment search, offer, and purchase, a renovation, putting an apartment on the market, a sale, a closing, a move, and a settling in, here I am. Day two of a three day journey to take much of that furniture to a new home.

My cousin, who my parents loved, who has a lovely wife and two young kids and a house, is happily taking the furniture off my hands. Whatever he did not take, others in NY needed and wanted.

Tomorrow we reach Austin, where the pieces will be put in their new home.

And I will let go. Of the grieving time. Of the me that has lived these 8 years in the after-shock, doing my best.

I feel such a mix of sadness and relief and excitement. Sadness because I still wish they were here instead of their things. Relief because something is done that I seem to have needed to do. Some job I unconsciously took on will soon be complete. And excitement is for this next part, whatever it will be.

Today I crave space. I want to be surrounded by things that resonate the me I am today. Our new home in no way resembles our last. And I love it with its new colors and furniture, and kickass river views.

I kept one chair out of it all. And reupholstered it. It looks wonderful there, surrounded by our new pieces, our new rugs.

At the end of the first day’s drive, we were treated to a blazing orange sky. Since my mother passed, I am convinced that beautiful sunsets are her way of letting me know she is there, loving me. It was clear that she, my Dad and brother, approve of this trip.

My parents and brother are still with me. But now they fill my heart space. I carry them wherever I go.

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Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown(-through?)

Fifteen months ago, I began a deep letting go process.

I was very sick, suffering from an unexplained exhaustion that kept me housebound for much of the summer.

Coincidentally, for a year my husband and I had been waiting for a larger apartment in our building to become available. We were happy where we were. We just wanted another bedroom and a larger kitchen.

In the beginning of this “sick summer,” one of these larger apartments became available. It was being sold unlisted, by the owner, who would not price it. “What will you pay for it?” he asked.

And so I began to look around, to see what was in the neighborhood that was comparable, to get an educated idea of the value of the apartment.

And along the way, I began to see possibilities that I had never even let myself imagine for us.

I saw apartments, alright. And some not with just an additional room and larger kitchen.

I saw some with balconies and a gorgeous view of the river! With a seasonal pool!

What?!

For us?

Could we?

Who were we to have such niceness?

It was a real stretch for my husband and I to imagine buying such an apartment.

The move we had been considering before this exploration of what was out there in our ‘hood would have been almost lateral. If we’d gotten that apartment in our building, we’d have basically recreated the apartment we have had these 8 years since marrying. I am pretty sure we’d literally have just brought over everything, just changed the kitchen and added a room.

We’ve both loved the home we made together. Somehow, his furniture and the furniture we brought up from my parents’ houses in Texas after my Dad died three months before our marriage all blended into an eclectic, beautiful style.

We have loved our home.

But I now realize that even before the summer, I had been working towards this letting go, this deep clean, this moving on, this full-on “now” presence in my own adult life.

In January I did a sweep of all my things and let go of a great deal. Yes, I applied as much of the Konmari technique as I could, and it was amazing, and freeing. I even finally went into stuff in storage and let it all go…stuff from my parents’ house I had not been able to deal with or use that had sat there since 2010.

I thought, great! I did it! My therapist and I applauded my actions.

And yet. I was still surrounded by furniture and other things that were my parents’, my mother’s, my grandmother’s. And I could feel the heaviness of it.

And so somehow, unconsciously, this drive to move took over. We daringly made an offer on the apartment with the view. It was accepted.

Uh oh.

This was not a lateral move. It was a stretch up. Way up.

We hired an interior designer to help. What?! Who am I?

(I call him the wedding coordinator I did not let myself have. Brilliant call.)

And I made a Big Decision: We. Would. Get. All. New. Furniture.

All my parents’ stuff? Letting it go! But how?! Some stuff can go to the Salvation Army, but my parents’ stuff?? Most of our furniture I couldn’t bear to give to strangers.

In December, impulsively, my cousin, who loved my parents and has a wonderful wife and two little kids, happened to take a trip up here from Texas for a weekend. I asked if they’d mind looking at our stuff to see if they might want anything down the road.

Miraculously, they agreed to take most of it. They were thrilled! (I was elated!)

Other friends who just happened to be buying new, larger homes who were in need and interested are taking the rest.

It makes me so happy for it to go to people who will use and love it. To not have it sit in storage, unused.

I have kept just one item. An upholstered chair that had been my great grandmother’s, that I had climbed up into as a toddler in my grandma’s house. A chair that my mother had kept. A chair that I have always loved.

We have had it reupholstered and the wood frame repainted. It had to be basically remade. (My husband still thinks it a bit crazy of me.)

I cannot wait to see it with the beautiful new pieces that we chosen for our new home. It gives me a deep joy, and I feel love around it.

We are on the precipice of actually moving in now. We closed on the apartment one year ago. Began renovating it in January.

Most of the process has been relatively smooth: the getting financing, board approval in the new building. The renovation. The decisions. The shopping. The decorating.

Putting our current apartment on the market. Going into contract.

Our current apartment closes next week.

And so here I am, packing and sorting. The move is actualizing now. What has been theory up until now is happening.

I have let go of most things. The rugs/furniture are all spoken for. Most doodads have been given away.

But some I just could not part with yet. Things of my mothers that were in a china cabinet that will now go to my cousin’s.

I have these things in a few small boxes in storage. They won’t be in the new place. I really want to let them go. I just find it so hard to give them to a thrift store. But I am working towards it.

My mother’s china, my cousin wants. Yay! But these other things…

I now realize some part of me is afraid I will wish for them someday. When I am old and alone, won’t I want to be surrounded by proof I lived and was loved?

And deeper yet: if I let these things go, does it make me a bad daughter? Does it mean I loved my parents less?

Am I a bad person if I do not keep the little blue bird figurines my mother collected?

Will she feel forgotten or unappreciated if I just let them go?

Who am afraid it will hurt?

These are difficult questions. There is reconciling to do, which doesn’t happen overnight.

Maybe Konmari can do it swiftly, the way she does.

I am doing the Curry Technique for this final bit. I am in a life/shifting, deep dive excavation of my very soul. I have been living this process that has been 18 months in the making to get here now, on the verge of really letting go of all this physical evidence of my parents and brother, now dead some years.

Of really moving on from these years of grieving. These years of finding a new paradigm. Of finding a new footing in this world without three very key people in it.

It has gotten quite challenging here at the end. We’ve had some new apartment issues. The new wood floor has buckled in places. The central AC’s leaked.

What does it mean? What is it reflecting about our process? The floor is literally the very foundation of our home. The leak? Is it literal tears?

These issues at this point have felt overwhelming. Like the last 6 miles of a marathon.

(I have had fantasies of selling the apartment and all the new stuff in it as is and living out of one suitcase somewhere. Yesterday I had to force myself to drive home. Everything in me wanted to drive away and never return. Seriously.)

Yet here I am. Putting one foot in front of the other. Showing up. Letting go daily.

I am continuing to walk to the edge of this precipice.

Here I am. On the verge.

And soon, in just days, I will leap.

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The Move

It looked great on the surface of it.

A new apartment, with a gorgeous view. I mean, who wouldn’t say yes to that?

I did. I was the instigator of this move. I did the apartment searching. The financing work.

And so here we are. A year after purchasing, and months of renovations. Renovations that we planned to take at most 6 months that are now at 8.

And our current apartment is in contract. Our buyers were just approved to move in by the board of the co-op.

We will be getting dates for closing any day now, and then we will move into our beautiful new apartment with its dream view.

All good, right?

And yet.

I. AM. NOT. PACKING. YET.

(Much to my husband’s consternation and confusion.)

I mean, I have been the instigator of all this upheaval.

I decided to totally redecorate and choose new furniture for the new apartment. To find new homes for the furniture that we have loved the past 8 years together in this first home we are now in and about to leave.

This was major, because most of the furniture came from my deceased parents’ home. It was oddly perfect timing, my father passing away after my mother and 3 months before our wedding. I have been surrounded these 8 years in our home by furniture that comforted me, held me…gave me a nest, truly.

And yet, here I am, ready to let it all go. My cousins are taking the pieces I would never be able to just give away to anybody. Close friends with kids are taking other pieces, which feels so right and good. Other people my husband knows are inheriting some things, which they need, want and are thrilled about, and that makes me happy.

The new furniture has been bought, and I love it.

I visit our new home and am stunned at how lovely it is going to be.

And yet.

We are literally half out of our current place. My husband is packing most of what is left. Things are in boxes or are already gone. We are half in and half out. Limbo.

What. Is. Going. On. With. Me. And. This. Resistance.

I find myself wanting to stay in this limbo land. I feel as if I could hover here with one foot in and one foot out forever.

I am terrified. So scared. To move on. To enter fully into my truly adult life, beyond the losses that have so colored the last eleven years. To let the past fall away and let the present fully emerge.

I get panicked. If I let go of the bronzed tiny cowboy boots of my father’s that I brought up from Texas with the furniture, does it mean I loved him any less? Does it mean I am a better daughter and I really loved him if I hold on to them?

If I throw out or give away the plates my brother and I made in our childhood, will I forget him and our youth? Am I a bad person?

If I let go of the plastic container I handprinted with hearts that holds some of my mom’s cookie cutters that I gave her and brought up from her kitchen after she dies, does it mean I am not a loyal daughter? Will it hurt her feelings?

Will I lose who I am if I let go of these things? Will I lose their love somehow?

Who will I be if I am not carrying around these objects that are connected to my past?

Will I float into nothingness? Will I no longer know myself? Will I forget the people and the memories associated with these things?

I have to somehow resolve this. Find a way to keep moving through this change that on some level I called in for my own soul.

I have to find a way to actually make this move. It is a movement, after all.

I have to breathe. And trust. And move forward, into my life.

Inspired by a Daily Word Prompt at Guest Daily Prompts: surface

Tradition

I am on an adventure with my nephew.

When I graduated from high school, my Granma took me on a trip to England, Wales and Ireland. It was a generous gift.

She’d traveled extensively in her life, as had her mother, my Great-Grandmother Burns. They’d both lost their husbands early and ended up living quite rich and adventurous lives as widows.

My Gran had taken my two brothers before me as they each graduated. It was a tradition.

So when my brother’s first born graduated from high school, I had the impulse to carry on the tradition.

My Gran was long-since dead, and my Mom – her daughter – had died a few years’ past.

So I decided to do what I knew they’d have loved to do.

I took my niece on a trip to London and Paris in 2016. My sister-in-law came too, which was almost as good as my Mom being there. She is warm and loving, just like my Mom.

It was a wonderful trip. I cherished our time together and felt my parents’ presence (my father and other brother had recently died as well) with us.

And now here I am, my nephew and I on an adventure. And this time, we are all here together: my husband, my nephew, my brother, my sister-in-law and my niece.

My nephew chose Norway and Sweden to explore. None of us had ever thought of visiting either, but of course we were all game!

So here we all are, in Norway.

And it is heavenly.

The beauty of this country is just magnificent.

But of course, it is all really about being together. We feast our eyes on the landscapes. We laugh and laugh. We eat delicious food.

Once again, I sense my parents, and my brother somehow here, happy for us.

Maybe my niece and nephew will someday carry on the tradition and feel my presence there, too.

On Enthusiasm

If you want to break open your heart (and your world) in the best of ways, go to clown school.

I just finished day two of a five week journey into the craft of the comedic world – the world of physical theatre, clown and Commedia del Arte.

I went to clown school once before, in 2014. It changed me and the way I live and act in countless, invaluable ways.

And I have taken a few clown weekend intensives between then and now.

But the thing is, you have to keep using the muscles that clown requires, or they atrophy. The wonderful clown you have freed from inside you descends further and further back into the recesses of your heart. Back into the darkness.

One of those clown muscles is enthusiasm. That excitement and wonder for people and things that give you pleasure, that make you laugh. That thing that males your eyes sparkle and your body happy.

That thing that gets bullied out of you around junior high (maybe earlier these days.)

That thing you learn to flatten to seem cool to the other kids.

The thing you learn not to show to protect yourself from ridicule.

The thing you betray in yourself out of fear of becoming an outcast.

The thing that gets beaten down into adult cynicism and suspicion.

(That thing you forget how to feel after while.)

It is a delicious sensation!

Day two of clown class, and I feel that muscle pinking up again. When enthusiasm is allowed its space to inhabit your body, all kinds of good begin to happen. And fun!

I double-dog dare you to find yours. Shake off the cobwebs and try it on for size. Take it for a walk.

It may feel a bit scary to let it be seen again by others. A part of you may be afraid and want to keep it under wraps.

I say: Go ahead. Be subversive. Be a part of the revolution.

Be enthusiastic!

Children Will Listen

From a very young age, I could feel what was happening in the adult world around me.

I am not unique. Yes, I am a highly sensitive person. But I believe we all are. I have no way to gauge another’s inner experience – just guessing.

Children have not yet developed the callous that life experience cam eventually create. They are sponges, picking up everything that is going on around them.

Why then do adults tell themselves that their kids “won’t know what is happening” and decide that is is best to “shield them” from “harsh, adult” realities?

There were pivotal events in my childhood that were never explained to me: my mother’s miscarriage when I was 6. My aunt and uncle’s divorce. The fact that my grandfather had had another family before ours. These things were never spoken of. Yet, I felt the energy around them and knew that something was going on.

Left to my own devices, I had no choice but to try to make sense of what I sensed, to piece together what I could as best I could with my emotional immaturity and my limited understanding.

I assumed my mother was dying. I thought she had stomach cancer. When she was taken away to the hospital, I thought it was forever.

When my uncle literally disappeared from our lives, I thought I must have done something to make him leave. I learned that people who you love can leave without reason or notice. I learned abandonment.

And as for my grandfather’s secret other family: my grandparents knew that there was a first wife and a son. They kept it to themselves. Boy, was that a heavy weight.

I could literally feel it in their presence. Their home, a place I loved dearly, always felt slightly “off,” and there was a barely discernible tension whenever the phone rang.

Years later, when the truth came out, my entire world clicked back into its rightful position. Living in the atmosphere of secrets gives added weight to gravity. It creates a denseness to the air one breathes. There is a physical and emotional tension of “readiness” you develop in that environment: you do not know why, but just under the surface you are on high alert, 24/7.

I’ve had to unravel these experiences. It has taken time, patience, professional help and love.

I have a friend who was an active alcoholic for the first years of his kids lives. After he got sober, he refused to consider that they had been affected by his drinking. He felt he’d hidden it well, that he’d been highly functional, had kept it from them.

I don’t know why he had such a blind spot around it. A kind of denial. Maybe it was too painful for him to admit to himself.

Maybe he, my parents, and my grandparents, were all well-intended and thought they were doing the best thing for their children.

Perhaps it was too complicated-feeling for them to try to guide their children through the truth so they opted to keep quiet and hope for the best.

All I know is that children do know – can sense – everything happening around them. And that if adults do not help the children make sense of what they pick up on, they will form their own conclusions about the world that they experience.

The prolific Stephen Sondheim captures this reality beautifully in his song, “Children Will Listen.” The lyrics are below. Here is one of my favorite renditions by the incredible Mandy Patinkin.

Who are your children listening to?

Children Will Listen

How do you say to your child in the night

Nothing is all black but then nothing is all white?

How do you say it will all be alright

When you know that it mightn’t be true?

What do you do?

Careful the things you say

Children will listen

Careful the things you do

Children will see

And learn

Children may not obey

But children will listen

Children will look to you

For which way to turn

To learn what to be

Careful before you say

“Listen to me”

Children will listen

Careful the wish you make

Wishes are children

Careful the path they take

Wishes come true

Not free

Careful the spell you cast

Not just on children

Sometimes the spell may last

Past what you can see

And turn against you

Careful the tale you tell

That is the spell

Children will listen

How can you say to a child who’s in flight

Don’t slip away and I won’t hold so tight?

What can you say that no matter how slight won’t be misunderstood?

What do you leave to your child when you’re dead

Only what ever you put in its head

Things that your mother and father had said

Which were left to them too

Careful what you say, children will listen

Careful you do it too, children will see and learn, oh

Guide them but step away

Children will glisten

Temper with what is true

And children will turn

If just to be free

Careful before you say

“Listen to me”

Children will listen

Children will listen

Children, children will listen

Songwriter: Stephen Sondheim

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: observe

In His Hands

There is so much noise out there today about gun control and gun rights.

A colleague of mine, Mark Cirnigliaro, wrote a Facebook post yesterday that I cannot get out of my heart and head. I felt he really captured the realities that teachers are facing today. Not theory or politics. The actual human experience of moving through where things are in our schools today. He writes without blame or platitudes. He writes simply from his heart, and it was very enlightening to me personally in having some small understanding of what is going on.

On this day, when the shooter was in court and when school children across the country protested, I felt his words merited being shared beyond the platform of Facebook. I would like many, many people to read and consider his words as they consider the questions we are asking as a country around guns and violence in our country today.

I am having a hard time processing today.

PART 1: This morning at 11AM a member of Public Safety, our campus police, presented a video on what to do in the event of an active shooter, entitled, without irony, “If Lightning Strikes.” It’s what you would expect (if you could expect something like this) from an institutionally funded instruction vid. It’s a few years old, obvious and poorly acted, with a lot of bullet points and utterly terrifying.

In brief: 1) RUN 2) If you can’t run, HIDE 3) if 1 and 2 are unavailable to you ENGAGE THE SHOOTER

At the completion of this video we had a brief question and answer period. Then we were told we will be participating in an active shooter drill some time on the near future, but they haven’t scheduled it yet. It will be a presentation where someone will pretend to be an active shooter walking around my building with a gun pointed and ready to shoot (I am still unclear if they will actually shoot something to indicate if you’ve been hit). At this point I asked if we were going to practice the escape drill. The answer was as follows:

“We will be showing you your teacher vid tomorrow.”

There are two problems here. Two main problems. The first is, I don’t work on Tuesday’s, I am only an adjunct professor. The second is, I know from my theatre training that just telling someone what to do and then moving on without trying it is the best way for them NOT TO DO IT. You must rehearse it, put it in their bodies. Get them able to react in the moment, not think, act. Even the video said it should be rehearsed.

At that point the gentleman said his goodbyes and left me with a choice. So I chose to coordinate and rehearse my own active shooter drill with my students.

PART 2: I spend a good portion of my life contemplating worst case scenarios.

I read somewhere, late at night, about being in a yellow state (or something else, but the color was yellow) The idea here is to always be in a soft state of readiness. Know where the exits are. Assess your position in the room, who you are with, relationship to furniture, or other objects some of which might turn useful in an extreme circumstance. For some reason this idea planted itself for good in my brain. Since then I find myself casually doing this fairly consistently.

My class room is a 30X30 room with the two exterior walls covered in a series of large single pane windows. There is one large metal door that opens into the hallway and another set of doors the lead to the backstage of the small theatre performance space. The large metal door locks with a set of keys that I am not allowed to have and the other set of doors are locked always. Again, no keys. We are the first building on campus. I am in the first classroom in that building.

So my soft readiness tells me we are fish in a barrel.

The other notion this late night vid instilled was the idea of expectations. That the shooter will have expectations about how this event is going to go and any way to disrupt this expectation could not only save lives, but possibly end the conflict. Basically the shooter expects people to run away, not at him. So I make my plan.

For the last few years I have been living with the idea that I will rush the door (assuming he uses the door) and engage. Give my kids time. I realize this is a poor plan, but it is all I have.

PART 3: The new plan still involves me rushing the door, but now everyone else knows how to get the fuck out.

After the video I speak briefly to the students about how agitated I was by it. I express my concerns over having not practiced anything. They agree and we hatch our new plan.

At the top of class, one student is to check the typically locked doors to see if they are open or not. Another student is to check a temperamental window in the back of the room and make sure it’s prepped, a third checks another window on the other wall. If the doors are unlocked, one side of the room exits through the doors, over the stage and out through a side exit into the huge parking lot we are against. The other half through the window. If the doors are locked, then both sections of class escaped from two different windows. While this is happening I run to the door and brace myself to hold it closed (remember it opens out) while they escape. The doors heavy metal makes me believe we have a chance against a gun.

We run the drill. Some people in the adjacent building run out asking if something is going on (My students are committed to circumstance. It is an acting class after all). We tell them no.

We run it again.

We run it again.

We talk about it.

PART 4: Guns have had a large and very close effect on me throughout my life, but in an indirect way.

I don’t think I can write about this. Just trust it is true.

I talk to my students about some of my personal experiences. I express how completely fucked up it is we are doing this and I share my fears and sadness with them. I ask if any of them want to share. One of them interjects,

“I was labeled as a possible active shooter in my high school and it was devastating. I find all of this very upsetting”

The fear, and courage, and vulnerability of this student causes the room pause. He tries to continue, strenuously denying that he is or would be over and over again, but he is visibly shaken by this admission, and the emotional recall his body maintains begins to take over. I stop him. I assure him, no one here sees him that way. I applaud his courage and vulnerability. I remind him just two days ago he was making mini 2” square PB & J sandwiches for the whole class at their request (It’s a Meisner thing). The class laughs. His shoulders drop. Calm comes over his face. He says “Thank you.”

We talk a little longer. The students ask me to blockade the door every day from now on instead of running to hold it. I agree on principle to help them move on.

The door opens to the hallway.

The class ends and I remind them of their homework assignments. Something has changed in me though. The act of practicing has made a theoretical, reality. Now I am faced with a sobering truth; should this ever happen, I will most likely die.

I think that is what the teacher vid probably tells you.

PART 5: The true tragedies of today.

I spend 16 weeks, every semester, trying to help 36 young people understand themselves better. I try to help them understand their own individual truths, give them context and instill hope in a world that has basically told them they aren’t worth it. I try to help them be their best selves. I try to help them see humanity. I try to connect them to that humanity. If not that large scale idea, then at least each other. I try to change them, and in doing so, in some small way, change the world. A world I want my son to live in.

That sounds hokie I guess. It’s something I really believe I am doing. I don’t always succeed, but I feel good about my percentages.

Regardless, it takes 16 weeks. It takes the whole time I have with them to accomplish this change (give or take a class). I do this through a variety of subtleties. I use poetry, conversation, acting exercises, etc. I treat them with respect while also maintaining a no bullshit attitude about the class, their work and the world. I give them permission to say and do anything they want in the class outside of physical harm. Even if that means throwing a chair against a wall, or telling me to fuck off (and many have).

I spend this time earning their trust. Feeding the pieces of themselves left to die of starvation because of other peoples limited projected visions. I try and leave them with tools that allow them to continue growing, stay vulnerable yet protected, evaluate circumstances and see truth. I try to leave them with hope.

Theatre has the power to change people, performer and audience alike. However that magic is delicate, like ancient sea scroll, dust at a touch delicate. It takes time, nurturing and real care for the moment.

Barricading the door. Watching that video. Running these drills. They change them too.

It does it faster. It does it harsher. It is unforgiving.

PART 6: My confession is I wanted to run these drills the first class after Parkland and didn’t.

While I had been living with my soft readiness for some time, I hadn’t really considered this a reality. My school hadn’t addressed it. Student/Teacher alike compartmentalized that the shootings were the other. It’s not that we actively thought it wouldn’t happen here. We just didn’t think about it at all.

After Parkland something switched for me, where I knew I was being negligent. I really sat down with myself and considered how I was going to handle it. I went over the conversation and the actions again and again, but when it came time and that first class period started I didn’t.

I made a choice that hope was better than fear.

I calculated that creating an environment of fearful and tragic possibility was not one conducive to learning, growing, expanding and evolution. These are active pursuits in my class on a very visceral, personal level with each student. That positive message meant more to me than the preparation to fear an event that most likely will never happen to them. Maybe this was naïve.

What I know is this. We were changed today as people and as a unit. We will be changed for the rest of the semester. It may fade some. We may be able to focus on the work again. Maybe we will overcome. . . you know . . .I almost just wrote “escape.”

PART 7: I am not upset that we practice the drill.

I am all over the place right now. I am sad at the loss of innocence. I am devastated by the idea of dying. I am a rage machine that this is even a consideration.

I am not upset we rehearsed.

The world I am building is going to take a lot of work and a lot more 16 weeks and a lot more students. That world is far off. The world we have, is the world we have.

If I am to keep enacting change one student at a time. I need to make sure my students are prepared to live to make that change happen.

I will just find a way to do both.

 – Mark Cirnigliaro

Inspired by The Daily Word Prompt: noise