(Thanks to you)

I have been operating under the following assumptions:

That I am plain, average and dull

That I am unmemorable, forgettable

That to surrender to pleasure is a death sentence

That love becomes humiliation overnight

That vulnerability ends in shame

But I am finally reframing these beliefs

I am choosing to find new truths:

I am lovely, unique and vibrant

I am memorable, unforgettable

Pleasure is safe and begets more pleasure

Love always elevates and is never wrong or cruel

Vulnerability is my birthright and there is no shame in it ever

So you see, I got this

(No thanks to you, btw)

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: assumption

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

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

It is a fact: I am not a big fan of selfie-taking. I wish to put this disclaimer right out there at the forefront. (See my previous post “On Selfies and Vulnerability.”)

Nonetheless, I recognize that it has become a part of the fabric of our culture today, and I have tried to make my peace with it since it is clearly here to stay.

However, can we please, as a society, draw some lines, people?

Today, after my run at the gym, I was half-naked, air drying, when I noticed a fellow gym member taking a multitudes of selfies in the dressing room.

Now I know that people, for whatever reason, have come to believe that bathrooms are the ideal place for self-taking. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I even took one myself, which I never posted as it just seemed absurd to me.) It is a standard selfie location nowadays.

But, seriously, the dressing room at the gym?

I wondered as I watched her taking photos in front of the mirror – both aiming in to the mirror and also with the camera flipped standing in front of it – which meant that there was the possibility that I, in my half-nakedness, stood a chance of being in the background of aforesaid selfies, either in the reflection of the mirror directly behind her.

I have to say that I immediately felt my privacy had been invaded.

As calmly as possible, I walked over to her after I dressed and said I’d noticed he’d been taking selfies and that I was concerned that I may have inadvertently been in some of the shots topless. I was going to ask her to delete and retake if so, out of courtesy to my right to privacy.

Well, you would have thought I had demanded her phone and then smashed it.

She quickly swiped through the 8 shots she’d taken, none of which I could properly see because she as going so fast, though I did see that the top I’d been holding was in the background of 1 or 2, as it was a very colorful print.

She starting yelling at me then, telling me that she wasn’t taking pictures of me. I said I didn’t think she was taking pictures of me, but I feared my naked torso was in the background, caught accidentally.

She got even louder and angrier, and told me I was crazy. I asked to see the pictures again, she refused and continued to yell at me.

Someone intervened and asked us to stop yelling. She also tried to explain to the lady what I was concerned about, to no avail.

I went down to speak to the manager, who wanted to go find the lady, but while I was waiting to talk to her, the woman left through the side door. (I know this because when we went to look for her, another woman came forward and said she had seen her leave.)

All I really wanted from the manager was perhaps a sign to go up in the dressing room that selfies were not allowed in respect to the privacy of other members.

(Of course, as I asked for this, a part of me wondered if anyone really takes anything a middle-aged white lady says with a grain of salt. It is embarrassing to bring up in a world where so many are fighting for equality, but I will say it: women over 45 are, for the most part, invisible and/or treated like we are crazy much of the time. I am not saying we need a movement like many other much more maligned parts of society; I recognize the advantages and the privilege that my being a white, American, middle-class woman have afforded me. Still. Just saying. But I digress.)

To her credit, she listened and gave my concerns attention.

What I wish to propose here is that we, as a culture, recognize/remember that there are still places where photography is not legally welcome. Even in the Age of the Selfie.

Don’t believe me? While it is legal to take pictures just about anywhere, there is a line drawn. “Basically, anyone can be photographed without their consent except when they have secluded themselves in places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy such as dressing rooms, restrooms, medical facilities, and inside their homes.”*

*Reference below.

tpr.jpg.png

I think that a dressing room is a place where I can reasonably expect privacy, am I right?

Yes, legally I am. I am not just another crazy middle-aged lady ranting, it is illegal.

Now, I know this lady had no desire to take a pic of me. I have no fear that she is now circulating the photos on the Internet! (This has actually been a big thing and prompted Congress to address the issue of privacy by enacting the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004.

According to the West Virginia State Privacy Office website: “The Video Voyeurism Prevention Act prohibits the photographing or videotaping of a naked person without his or her permission in a gym, tanning salon, dressing room or anywhere else where one expects a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Violators can expect fines of up to $100,000 and/or up to a year in prison. This doesn’t necessarily make it illegal for someone to snap your photo without your permission though. For instance, if you’re just walking down the street and someone takes a picture, they’re well within their rights no matter how violated you might feel. If you see someone taking your photo without your permission, it’s your right to ask him or her to stop. Never take photos of people without their permission, and try to be aware of your surroundings.”)

So I do have the right to not be those photos, and I could (and perhaps should) have called the police. Now, not if she had been willing to have a discourse with me. But as she felt no social obligation towards my concerns or privacy whatsoever – perhaps.

After all, we are all living on this big ball together, right? We do have to work together to some degree, don’t we?

How about this: I’ll put up with your self-taking everywhere else if you respect my privacy in restrooms, dressing rooms, medical facilities and inside my own home. If you just HAVE to get that shot of yourself in one of these places, just make sure that no one else is in your background, okay?

Sound good?

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word prompt: fact

SaveSave

Me Too

It is my intent to remain loyal to my purpose in writing this blog. My intent is to be living out on the skinny branches, which is not always comfortable, often downright scary. It means risking writing about what I care about, even if it may be controversial to others.

In support of my fellow humans today, I wish to share the words of my friend, Olivia Petzy. Olivia is an actress, a writer, host, an improvisor…and she’s one of the biggest-hearted, sharpest and funniest people I know. There are a zillion reasons why I would want to share her with you. But today, it is about something serious.

Olivia shared this on Facebook in response to all of the postings of the “Me Too” movement. The “Me Too” movement, in case you are not on Facebook, is a movement that was started by Alyssa Milano to give people a sense of how many people are affected and have been affected by sexual harassment and assault. It seems to have originally read like this:

“Suggested by a friend: ‘If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.'”

It caught on, and women began to copy and paste and post.

I wanted to share what Olivia wrote because it goes deeper and asks questions that we need to be asking. I wish to share it because I think that unless questions like these and others are asked and discussed, nothing will really ever change.

It is uncomfortable to ask these questions. But change is uncomfortable by its very nature.

Olivia wrote:

I stand in solidarity with every woman and person writing “me too.” I hear you and I believe you and it was not your fault and you did not deserve it. I have also failed you in many ways by not speaking up for you or reaching out to you. I am sorry, fellow suffering human beings. I am aware and I am doing the work.

I need to ask: Why must we out ourselves and relive trauma and pain to help you understand? Why must we cut small pieces of our hearts out and toss them to you as a sacrifice in the hopes that you’ll jump on it and tear into it and somehow taste our fear and our grief and our anger? Why must we come out in droves in the hopes of reaching some (apparently) impossibly high number that will spur you to believe us once and for all and take action? Why must we give of ourselves over and over and over?

Are you seriously saying you didn’t know? We’ve told you. We’ve told you with our words and our body language and our actions and our fading away into the background and our quietness and in a million other ways detectable to those giving a damn and paying attention.

Why aren’t YOU writing “Me, too”? As in “I, too, have been complicit in the pain, suffering and abuse of women and non-binary people through either my own despicable words/actions which I deeply regret, recognize and am actively working to change or through my cowardly inaction as I am a beneficiary of our patriarchal society and have not spoken up even when I knew something was wrong or through a combination of the two.”

Must we do EVERYTHING for you?

Oh, and of course, because you already knew it, because I’m a woman, because I live in the world, because I go out in public, because I’m a woman, because I exist: me fucking too.

I am grateful to Olivia for voicing these things, and grateful to you for reading them here.

My heart is hurting because it still seems such an epic task to bring real, lasting attention to this real problem in our society, and yet I know to anyone who is a “Me too,” this is a huge thing that alters one’s life forever in a myriad of ways.

That that disconnect still thrives in our society terrifies me. It seems insane to me that this has to be spelled out again and again.

Will this ever be understood on the scale in which it exists for the “victims?” What will it take?

#MeToo

P.S. On Facebook, some men also began to post their “Me too’s,” so some amended the language to include men.

Today, a dear friend (who is transitioning) altered it to read: “If all the HUMAN BEINGS OF ANY GENDER who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy/paste.”

I love that. I changed my copied/pasted post to read like his. Because of course, I posted “Me too” too.

Some women may feel that including other genders takes away something. I think it is both a male/female problem and also a person-to-person problem, so I say let’s get it all out there and see how prevalent both are.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: loyal

Wallflower Heart

She waits in the shadows

Yearning to be seen

Afraid to be found lacking

Wearing her best, new, outfit

Hair curled, lips glossy peach

Rubs her lip against her braces

Her heart flutters as he walks by

Calls his name, a tentative whisper

The vibration of her voice

Floats off into the beating music

He doesn’t turn, doesn’t notice

Her hope sinks deep

Back to the well of loneliness

Where her heart lives

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: tentative