Saw some shows

Last week, before the Tonys and the controversy over Julius Caesar, I saw a bunch of off and off-off Broadway shows and two are especially sticking with me.

Somebody's Daughter by Chisa Hutchinson.  I know Chisa from the New York Neo-Futurists (we are both alums; Fun fact: we are also both Vassar alums but we didn't meet there) and have been so excited for all of her achievements and her growing professional success since her time with the company.  Chisa's writing is so bright, specific and nuanced, particularly in her characters' voices and dialogue.  Somebody's Daughter takes on cross-cultural relationships, coming-of-age, mother/daughter relationships and more but in surprising ways; we've seen these topics before but Chisa's play never felt anything but fresh. This play, too, made excellent use of a not-quite-linear structure and an expert sense of where each character's story should end.  In less-capable hands, it's easy to imagine a still-good but much less successful effect, but Chisa's choices are so spot-on that she avoids pitfalls we've all seen elsewhere and has created something that feels revelatory.  And though I was there to cheerlead for Chisa (and clearly wasn't disappointed) I would be remiss if I didn't say that the performance and the direction (and the production design) were all outstanding.  Somebody's Daughter is part of Second Stage's season and is running through June 25, so just GO SEE IT. 

Wake Up And Smell The Coffee by Eric Bogosian.  This is a one-man show - a connected series of monologues - written a decade ago and performed recently by Frank Zagottis at one of the modest theaters at The Producers Club.  To be perfectly honest, I wasn't a huge fan of the script which felt dated, in spite of clever updates to cultural references and which (for me) didn't manage to overcome its negative attitude/world-view in spite of being self-aware about it.  But whether you liked the script or not - and I may be in the minority: it should be noted that the night I was there, the nearly-sold-out audience really seemed to be enjoying itself - there is no denying that Zagottis is an artistic force to be reckoned with.  With no set to speak of and just a couple of small props to help delineate different characters, Zagottis held our attention for 90 minutes without flagging.  Even more remarkably, he kept our focus without ever grabbing or straining for it; his performance was a beautiful blend of energy and ease.  Even in the moments that seem clearly to have been written by Bogosian for himself - Bogosian as Bogosian - Zagottis fit himself beautifully into the piece as if it had been written for him.  If producers do decide to remount the show, I'd like to see director Jeffrey Zeiner take a stronger hand in shaping the journey of the piece and clarifying just a couple of spots where I wasn't sure if I was seeing a new character or one we'd met before.  Still, overall, this show is a testament to the power of a performer in a room with something to share - the power of theater - which is always lovely to behold and inspiring to remember.

Old Year

Before we get too far into 2017, I wanted to take a moment to appreciate what a great year 2016 was artistically for me (however problematic and sad it was in other regards).  Here are the highlights:

  • My creative partner, Kevin R. Free and I made our ongoing collaboration "official" forming MyCarl Productions.  We made a website AND a video so you KNOW we're serious now. ;)
  • My comedy webseries, Gemma & The Bear!  continued to receive accolades.  Most exciting, we were programmed into the New York Television Festival (NYTVF) which gave us access to so many amazing panels plus the opportunity to pitch to and otherwise meet with TV executives.  To get ready, I wrote six original TV pitches and the beginning of a pilot.  Along the way, I discovered how much I LOVE writing for TV.
  • I was in an amazing play called NIGHT OF THE LIVING N-WORD!!  It was produced as part of the 20th anniversary NYC Fringe festival.  We received a lot of critical acclaim and folks wrote some nice words about my performance as well.  I'm proud of my work and proud to have been part of bringing an innovative and important play to life.
  • I wrote my first TV pilot! All the way through!! It's an hour-long teen sci-fi drama (dramedy?) and I'm revising it now but . . . that was fun!

Here's hoping 2017 can be as artistically rich as 2016 if not more so! xo

The Baker

When my mother wasn't well, I took over her car so that I could go back and forth to where she was in NJ and, later, the Bronx.  I got the cheapest local parking spot about 10 blocks away.  The walk to the garage took me past a funny, old-fashioned-feeling French bakery that, I discovered, sold the perfect small chocolate-chip cookie for eating all of the feelings I was having about my mom's illness.  One cookie was just enough to do the emotional work I needed a chocolate chip cookie to do, but not so much that I tipped over into gluttony or guilt. 

I loved the man who most often served me.  We were both kind of stiff and spoke as little as possible; he was french and I was always wanting to speak french to him and simultaneously too embarrassed.  As much as the cookie, he was part of the comfort I found stopping in there on my way to or from the hospital or hospice; the neighborly familiarity of being recognized but not really known. 

He died, that man.  I read it in the newsletter of the other local bakery (where I prefer the bread but dislike the cookies) and out-loud said, loudly, "no!"  I know that a large measure of the sadness I'm feeling about him is really sadness about my mom, but it's also true that I will miss HIM, am sad to know I won't get to see him again, sorry to have taken those oddly pleasurable interactions for granted. 

I am newly grateful to live in a community where we see each other and recognize our neighbors even if we don't often get to know them very well; a kind of extended family in the absence of actual kin. 

Moon & Memory


The cool, wet evening air and the big, gorgeous moon as I stepped out to walk the dog reminded me of college and camp. They jumped me back to feeling young and full-hearted.  I think the contents of that heart-of-my-youth would not nearly fill the current vessel (and nostalgia is sweet but it does not make a meal).

Artsy! My/Your/Our new favorite time-suck!

A couple weeks ago I got a really nice e-mail in regard to a blog post I wrote last year about some public art I'd gone to see (and really enjoyed) including work by one of my favorite artists, Spencer Finch

The e-mail came from a guy who works for a thing called Artsy which, it turns out, is an amazingly cool and really powerful website!  As the e-mail explained:

We strive to make all of the world’s art accessible to anyone online. Our Spencer Finch page, for example, provides visitors with Finch's bio, over 60 of his works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date Finch exhibition listings. The page even includes related artist & category tags, plus suggested contemporary artists, allowing viewers to continue exploring art beyond our Finch page.

And it's true! E-mail guy wasn't lying!

I immediately looked up some other top-of-mind favorites: Sol Lewitt, Mark Rothko, Helen FrankenthalerYves Klein, Alexander Calder, Lucian Freud, Ernesto Neto . . . it's like getting to Skype with faraway friends you wish you got to visit more.  And then, in looking up a favorite Grant Wood painting, I found Don Coen who's making work I kinda like and who I'd never heard of before.  Then Joseph Cornell gave me Adam Nisenson!  Cool, right?! And am I embarrassed that my list only contains ONE woman? I am! So I'm going to keep poking around Artsy with an eye to remedying that deficit. BAM!

And that's not even all you can do on Artsy, it's just all I've done so far.

Scrolling artists is a MUCH more gratifying way to loose half an hour (or more - oops!) than scrolling Facebook.  Check it out. And leave me a comment about YOUR favorite artist(s) - especially if you've got a lady for me! xo

Consider Poetry

I have been rather upset and unsettled by current events of late - as, I think, have many of us;  local, national and international news all seem to provide whole new levels of disquiet.

I don't know about you, but I am not one of those "the universe is telling me . . ." sorts.  Nevertheless, it is a convenient shorthand for the minor sense of destiny a closely grouped series of apparent-coincidences can create, and so it has been with me and poetry. 

Poetry, in the face of the agita and anxiety provoked by any glancing encounter with the news, has been such a balm and not because it is escapist but because it is manages to be both direct and so very gentle.

Consider the power of the gentle gesture.  Consider the the soft voice, the body that yields rather than stiffens.  Consider how art well-wrought, in whatever form, can sneak into our cracks (like water in the sidewalk) and expand and break us open (keep us open) in the best possible way. 

Following, the poetry that has been throwing itself in front of me over the past couple of weeks (don't hurt yourself, poetry):

by Nikki Giovani

by Nikki Giovani

I heard this piece on All Things Considered about poets mining non-fiction to create their work: Poets Take Cues From Journalism In Recent Collections

And then I heard this interview with Max Ritvo. I heard it via the New Yorker Radio Hour but it was originally on the Only Human podcast.  Only Human made a short animation to go with a poem of his that was recently published in The New Yorker

Finally, here is a list of poems by one of my favorite poets, Vikram Seth.  Of everything on this page his work feels to me the most out-of-time - resonant because of a sense of universal experience but not particularly relevant to the immediate times and travails.  That's not a dig on him, just a note for you. 

Bucket list: OYSTERS

There were exactly two things on my bucket list: 1. Shucking (and eating) oysters with friends outdoors on some summer evening; 2. Curling in Canada. 

In honor of my birthday my husband arranged for a group of friends to go with us to an Oyster farm on Long Island. 

Oyster Shucking: ACHIEVED!

We arrived at Captree state park with a cooler of beer, where the owner of Blue Island Oysters, Chris Quartuccio, picked us up in a motor boat and ferried us, in two groups, to the small man-made pier-island between Captree and Fire Island.  Chris gave us a talk about oysters generally and oyster farming specifically and then we got into kayaks and paddled out to see the oyster beds and their environs.  The water was really shallow and incredibly warm - the oyster "bags" were less than a foot from the surface of the water - and it was a gorgeous evening.  When we had seen all there was to see, and paddled enough, we went back to the pier-island to shuck (and eat) oysters plus lobster rolls and, later, cake and ice cream.  The sunset was literally picture perfect. 

The outing was a peak life experience - a top ten day.  Crawling into bed that night, thinking back over the whole adventure felt delightfully like the parallel moment on my wedding night: wonderful memories forged with good friends. Here are some photos if you'd like to see:

Everyone at Blue Island Oysters was just lovely, I learned so much and we all had a really fun time.  Thanks to Carl Schweitzer, Bekah Fisk and Pam at Blue Island Oysters for taking the photos!


Neighborhood Dog Police

I don't think she looks that tasty . . .

I don't think she looks that tasty . . .

A stranger just waited outside the grocery store, gathering and working up a small group of other strangers, so when I came out, she could yell at me for leaving my dog tied up outside.


She told me dogs have been stolen lately from outside another nearby store.

She told me that there's "a pitbull ring up at 125" and that they will come in a van, cut the leash, steal the dog and euthanize her.

A passerby then added in passing "and EAT her!!"

"See?" said the first lady.


I asked her to please try to speak to me in a less aggressive way.

I told her I'd always considered the neighborhood rather safe in this particular regard.

I told her that I appreciated her concern and good intentions.

We agreed that we both have dead parents and love animals.

I told her my leaving my dog there while I went into the store was none of her business.

She disagreed.


I didn't tell her that I grew up being told the same thing would happen to me. That strangers would sidle up to me and inject me with god-knows-what, spirit me away and then . . . [meaningful looks here]

I didn't tell her that I've spent years and years being unfriendly and stand-off-ish and anxious out of an abundance of caution (fear) about what strangers might do to me or my pet or my property or my loved one.

I didn't tell her that I'd just finally started to settle into the idea that most people are good, that I live in a pretty nice neighborhood with a community of folks who recognize and look out for each other.  I didn't point out that I made this choice in the middle of a sunny, Sunday afternoon on a busy block that I know well.

I don't want to take unnecessary risks; if dogs are being stolen I will reconsider leaving mine tied up unattended (and I'm glad to have the information). But I also don't want to be that lady and her ad-hoc cronies worried about faceless van people stealing and eating dogs. I don't want the burden of that world view.

And I really don't want to be yelled at. Especially by strangers.

Are you in a bubble? (Take this quiz!)

Typical; not proud of it.

Typical; not proud of it.

I took this fascinating quiz that asks the question "Do You Live In A Bubble."  It's from PBS News Hour, not Buzzfeed; it's for real.  It doesn't take too long and at the end you get a score that describes how "thick" your bubble is. 

I scored a 2.  My bubble is thick.  No surprise there.  What I found interesting were the questions they asked to try to get to the heart of the matter.  What I wish is that there was some more actionable next step. 

I didn't need the quiz to know I'm in a bubble.  As a bubble-dweller, I try to be self-aware and keep myself open to hearing (and believing) other people when they tell me about their experiences, especially when they differ from mine.  I'm not sure this quiz does anything to answer the question of how to build empathy and understanding with people in other bubbles.  Awareness is certainly a good first step.

If you take the quiz, let me know what you think . . . and your score!

Go get it: Salux!

I can take no credit.  I read about Salux wash cloths recently on Into The Gloss.  You can too.

But you don't need to if you'll just take my word for it.  Get one.  Spend the $6.  You will not regret it.

I have gone from a lifetime of shower ambivalence (necessary for basic hygiene but awfully wet and then cold) to an experience of SHOWER DELIGHT.  Plus my skin is softer and smoother.

*mic drop*

My First Film Festival!

Over the past several days, I've been attending the Winter Film Awards here in NYC.  Gemma & The Bear! is an official selection - one of only five selections that fall under the "web content" or "internet programming" category.  And we're really proud!  We're also really impressed with the other content we've seen in the screenings as well as with the amazing organization of the festival itself. 

Before this, I never would have considered going to a random film festival screening as something to do in my leisure time, but now I totally would.  Moreover, there are film festivals happening all over the country (I know because I've done a bunch of research submitting Gemma & The Bear to many of them) which means that everyone has access to this high-quality yet non-mainstream content.  It's exciting and inspiring! 

Anyway, here are some photos of our festival adventures if you'd like to see:

Kevin heading in to the opening reception party!

Kevin heading in to the opening reception party!

Inside the party. 

Inside the party. 

Before the screening. We were excited to find our logo on the festival poster!

Before the screening. We were excited to find our logo on the festival poster!

Here we are pretending to watch the screening before the lights go out. :)

Here we are pretending to watch the screening before the lights go out. :)

Kevin on the big screen! (see the floor lights and exit sign? we're LEGIT in a theater!)

Kevin on the big screen! (see the floor lights and exit sign? we're LEGIT in a theater!)

Stacee Mandeville (AD), Matt Scott (Director), Kevin & Me outside the theater after the screening.

Stacee Mandeville (AD), Matt Scott (Director), Kevin & Me outside the theater after the screening.

As part of the festival, I also had the opportunity to attend a presentation by the New York State Governor's Office about how NY supports/encourages film production.  They said things like "If your budget is under fifteen million . . ." but even though we're not anywhere near that level (YET) they were so positive and helpful, it was really inspiring. 

Do you attend film festivals?  What are your pro tips? 

Professional Lover of Eggs

I love eggs.

Wherever there's some marker to commemorate my life after I die, that's probably what it should say:  Eevin Hartsough 19whatever - 20whatever. LOVED eggs.

Anyway, I was having a phone meeting recently when it was revealed to me, via a series of digressions, that many people still struggle (as I once did) to confidently and reliably produce properly cooked soft-boiled eggs.  I told my colleague how I like to do it and she said "make me a video!" so I did.  Here it is in case you also would find this information useful.

And then, here's an old post about one of my favorite clutch dinners which involves . . . soft boiled eggs! 

Tell me if you have another way or how you tweak this method for yourself! 

Two great tastes . . .

Sometimes, you've got some chocolate and some peanut butter and something happens and suddenly they have combined to create a new, wonderful thing.  I read these two essays within a day or two of one another.  I liked and appreciated each of them, but I really like them next to one another.  Here they are with my favorite part of each excerpted.


Letter of Recommendation: Sick Days by Sheila Heti

Sick in bed is a bit like Halloween: a day on which you wear a costume to express the parts of yourself that can’t normally be expressed. In this case, what can’t be expressed on other days is that all of our activity is ultimately worthless, that we are going to the grave, that being busy is largely about keeping up the appearance that our lives mean something, our relationships mean something, our work means something and crossing things off a list means something. It’s true. These things do mean something. But they also don’t. Sick days are like Halloween; days on which you can live and dress up wholly in life’s bleakness. The costume is simple: It’s bed.

How To Keep Writing When No One Gives A Shit by Jennifer Garam

(I say: just replace "writing" with whatever you care about most.)

But as bad as the rejection and all the non-caring feels, not writing feels worse. I have to tell my stories and share my experiences, or I get angry and lethargic and depressed. Without writing, I feel powerless and like I don’t have a voice, like my thoughts and feelings and experiences don’t matter. I get frustrated when I’m sending out a piece that I love and it isn’t getting accepted anywhere and I’m yearning for it to be published so others can read it. I’d prefer if everything I wrote got accepted. But regardless, the actual process of writing is soothing, healing, and necessary for me to feel OK in the world. So I have to keep doing it.

What do you think?  Do these articles resonate for you as a pair?  I'd like to give Jennifer Garam a sick day like the one Heti describes, and then watch them have lunch together. 

What did you like best about either or both essay?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

This is how I do it

this is how we do it o 90s Rewind: This Is How We Celebrate Montell Jordans This is How We Do It

Last week I wrote about my accidental resolution to embrace and trust my process with the goal of leaving a good deal of anxiety behind.  So, I wanted to share something I've been doing for the past couple of months that's really been working for me.

It's all about Monday mornings and my trusty notebook.  Here's what I do:

On the left hand page, I write down all of my to-do's.  I have separate columns for e-mails and phone calls (because I try to do those things in clusters) and usually a little non-column for frivolous things like a video or an app I want to remember to check out.  Any to-do's that weren't to-done last week get copied over to the new week.  It's nice when I don't have to copy much, but it's also a big indicator of what I'm avoiding/resisting/procrastinating which helps me STOP doing that. 

On the right hand page, I draw out my week.  I'm still tweaking this, but the gist is that I block out when I have time to work (aka when my son is in school or with his babysitter), dinner times and gym times.  I do all of that in pen.  In pencil, I go back to my to-do list and plan in which to-do's I hope to accomplish when. 

On Monday mornings when I make the calendar for the week, I also try to plan WHAT we'll have for dinner every night.  Doing that planning once a week saves me both stress and trips to the grocery store - it's been a big upgrade for how I spend my work time and my time with my kiddo.

Here's what my notebook looked like last week. Monday was a school day off so I actually started on Tuesday.

Here's what my notebook looked like last week. Monday was a school day off so I actually started on Tuesday.

And that's it!  The to-do's for the week reflect my longer-term plans, so I don't have to think too much, I just DO the things I told myself to do.  I've been making more productive use of my time and generally feeling more satisfied with what I'm getting done. 

People are making all kinds of pre-printed notebooks to help you accomplish this (I've seen a bunch pop up on Kickstarter and the like), but I like the process of making these two pages every week.  Planning it out this way gives me time to think and helps me feel like I've got a handle on the week ahead.

Do you have a system for organizing your whole life?  How does it work?  Would you try this? Leave a comment!

Accidental Resolution

Sometimes I'm smug; this is Smaug.

Sometimes I'm smug; this is Smaug.

I was feeling a big smug (albeit inadvertently) that I had made no New Year's resolutions this year; hadn't even considered that I might; had given the subject no thought whatsoever.  Then a couple of days ago I pulled myself up short.  Uh-oh, I thought.

There are two things. 

The first is that I make resolutions all the time.  I'm irritatingly unsatisfied, always looking for a way to improve, nit-picking very good things in an effort to make them even better.  And I do okay.  I mean, I annoy my husband sometimes when I apply this tendency to our relationship, but I generally think I have continued to move in the direction I want as a result of my own efforts. 

The second thing is that I spent most of the time between my son's birth in March, 2013 and this past fall in a state of panic, or at least high-alert.  I'm pretty good with panic (maybe being naturally anxious helps) - I'm good at focusing my energies, being decisive, getting sh*t done when it counts - but it's intense and it makes it hard to think sometimes.

In the fall, after completing the release of Gemma & The Bear, I found myself in a natural moment for a pause.  It was a chance to spend some time thinking about goals and create a road-map for reaching them.  (It is worth mentioning, as an aside, that meeting with my mentor was crucial to the success of this planning phase.)

Then, before I knew it: the holidays were upon us and with the kiddo out of school and our babysitter on vacation, it didn't make sense to do anything but hang out and be a mom.  The plan would be there for me in January and, in the meantime, we had a super non-stressful and really nice break.

This week, as I've been getting back to work and back to my plan, along with my desire to ACHIEVE (which is so real it needs all caps), I noticed this funny aversion to that intense, panicky energy I'd been working with/on for so long.  I realized I had plenty left to do in my plan and that getting myself worked up was entirely unnecessary to my getting those things done.  So this week, I've just been doing them (or trying to).  I've been trusting the plan and the process and feeling better about my days overall.  It's not that there's no stress, but there's no panic (yet) and I think I like it. 

I found myself resolving to try to keep this calm-but-productive, trust-the-process thing going as long as possible.  Smug no more.  We'll see how it goes.

How about you?  Did you surprise yourself with any resolutions this year?

Recipe: Fake It 'Till You Make It S'mores

The Boy in question.

The Boy in question.

20 minutes.  That's how long the boy sat, screaming, in the middle of the sidewalk on a particularly windy side-street late this afternoon.  He was unaffected by the cold; unmoved by threats and friendly passersby alike.  It took another 15 minutes, a significant amount of dragging, sack-of-potato-carrying,  and some heavy (and seriously questionable) negotiations in order to travel the not-quite-three blocks home.  Maybe that doesn't sound very long.  It was VERY LONG.

(This event feels like the culmination of a week's worth of bad listening, poor attitude, mood swings and epic fussiness.  For the love of God I hope he doesn't top this.)

So after bath-dinner-bedtime which included some minor skirmishes and near-miss off-the-deep-ends (all executed solo as the husband is off on an unfortunately-timed business trip), I stumbled foggily out of his bedroom and commenced to stress-eat* my favorite MacGyver'd junk food: the Fake It 'Till You Make It S'more.

Here is what you need: Carrs whole wheat crackers, some chocolate. 

Here is what you do: put half a square of chocolate (we had Ghirardelli semi-sweet which has big squares) on a cracker.  Eat it in several bites.  Repeat. 

Try not to repeat too many times or the guilt will undo the soothing qualities of your semi-upscale, improvised, adult s'more-like treat.  If you happen to have a marshmallow around, sure, go for it.  But it really isn't necessary.  In any case, I do not recommend microwaving any part of this food.

That's it.  Now, with head cleared and sweet-tooth satisfied you can return to your productive evening.  Maybe with a glass of wine.  Or two. 

Off you go!


*I know.  Stress eating is no good.  I don't endorse it.  I try not to do it.  But these things happen.  And then I turn lemons into lemonade and use my guilt to propel me to the gym.  So it all balances out . . . right?


Things I Didn't Get For Christmas


We had a really good Christmas this year.  It was super fun.  The gifts were pretty much great all around.  The food was delicious.  People were happy.  High-fives left and right.

Still, I am an improver to a fault.  So, with New Year's (and its pesky resolutions) not yet upon me, I will embrace who I am (rather than change just yet) and share with you the things I did NOT get for Christmas and wish I had:

  • Several extra hours in each day (to use for sleep, productivity, and leisure)
  • More girlfriends (maybe just more conversations/connections with girlfriends)
  • The return of my favorite correspondent
  • A faster metabolism
  • INBox Zero
  • A wireless printer that actually prints wirelessly
  • The money to make season two of Gemma & The Bear

So . . . ya know . . . make a note for next year, k?



How I Read The New Yorker (A Holiday Gift of Hubris)

Be free, my friends, from your stacks of New Yorker magazines!  No more need they pile up beside your bed or commode.  Unburden yourself of the guilt of vast swaths of the periodical unread! 

You have ONE WEEK to digest a New Yorker before the next one comes.  What you need is a process for finding and reading what's most important to you in any given issue and then the willingness to let the rest go. 

Of course you needn't take in the New Yorker in exactly the manner I do - I encourage you to find your own best practices - but, if you don't have a strategy already in place, I offer you mine as a jumping off point. 

Here's what I do:

Begin with the cover.  It's a piece of actual art that arrives in your hands every week and it's easy to overlook.  If you, like me, take pleasure in art, take that pleasure here and now with the cover.

Turn to the table of contents.  Go right to the bottom and note the title of that cover.  Hmmm. Interesting.  Next, from the top, scan the names of contributors (Tad Friend, Nick Paumgarten, Emily Nussbaum and Malcolm Gladwell are all must-reads for me).  Who wrote the fiction? What's the movie review?

Now begin the skim-through.  This involves paging through the magazine at a moderate pace to get a general overview.  On this first pass I read the short stuff: any arts notices that catch my eye, restaurant reviews that interest me, and all of the cartoons.  I also go ahead and read The Talk of the Town during this phase (I begin each essay to decide if I will continue, but rarely do I read them all) as well as Shouts and Murmurs. The skim-through ends with the caption contest on the back page. 

Now, I have a sense of the magazine.  I know what longer essays and articles are of greatest interest to me.  I usually continue my ramp-up with TV, Film and Theater reviews (always TV because: Emily Nussbaum; Film and TV depend on whats being reviewed) before diving into the meatiest stuff.  The real trick is to be honest with yourself about what you want to read.  Life is short, you are busy, and another New Yorker is right around the corner.  Read what moves you and recycle the rest. 

Voila!  Your New Yorker stack is diminished!  You are more relaxed and happy! 

Leave me a comment if you have your own way to read The New Yorker.  Or, if you try my way, let me know what you think! xo


Liz Lerman-ing Thanksgiving

Since I posted my plan here, I figured I ought to follow up and let you know how it actually turned out.  And I decided to follow Liz Lerman's Critical Response Process*.  I will be both the "artist" and the "audience" in the following conversation. Here goes:

Statement of meaning.  The audience say what they found meaningful, evocative, striking and exciting in the work.  This needs to be a positive statement.

  • I really enjoyed using the plates, glasses and silver that belonged to my family and that we always used at our family holiday celebrations; it felt cozy to see and use those objects again.
  • I liked the way our purple mashed potatoes drew attention and took up space visually on the plates; I liked how their inclusion honored my son who'd been enthusiastic about the choice to go purple.
  • It was exciting to see such a more-elaborate-than-usual meal come together.
  • It felt good to go running around outside after our long day inside and big meal.

Artist as questioner.  The artist asks questions about his or her work.  Ideally the questions are formulated in order to require an articulate response as opposed to a yes/no answer.

  • How did it feel to put the trappings of Thanksgiving onto what was otherwise an ordinary family dinner in terms of people and place? (A: I was really crabby about it for the days preceeding and especially on Thanksgiving morning.  It wasn't clear to me how doing a lot more work for the same old family dinner was going to pay off in any meaningful way.  I'm still not completely satisfied with the final result, but I am glad we made the effort.  It felt good to create an event and a moment of pause for our son.)
  • How effective did you find the Thankful Alphabet game where everyone took turns saying something they were thankful for that started with the next letter of the alphabet? (A: You know, I made that up on the spot.  I'd been looking for a way to create a conversation around thankfulness that would be accessible to our son - who is three and a half - and while he opted not to participate in saying what he was thankful for, he was very engaged in the conversation that developed between his dad and I and contributed to what we were saying.  I thought the alphabet was a good but maybe not perfect structure as many things and people for which we are deeply thankful were left out because they started with a popular letter of the alphabet and, likewise, some letters forced us to stretch for fluffier items on our thankful lists.)
  • What other elements or traditions came to mind during this thanksgiving that weren't included? (A: I had this funny impulse that we should say some sort of non-religious prayer - a meditation or something - before we began our meal and I can't say if I wish we had or not.  There were also a number of menu items that I loved growing up but couldn't include in our celebration this year.)
  • How did you feel watching the parade on TV with your family? (A: Growing up, I LOVED to watch the parade on TV while we were cooking and getting ready.  However, having it on with our son - who isn't really allowed to watch TV usually, which was already bringing some tension to the situation for me - didn't feel so good.  As an adult watching the parade, it's possible to enjoy the performances and displays while simultaneously understanding that the whole thing is one giant advertisement.  Watching with our not-yet-media-savvy son, I was suddenly rather uncomfortable and found myself saying snarkier/grinchier things that I would have liked in an effort to break the spell of marketing.  By contrast, the National Dog Show was a big hit and felt much more wholesome and age-appropriate.)

Neutral questions. The audience asks neutral questions to the artist about the work, the artist answers.  Questions are neutral when they do not have an opinion embedded in them.

How closely did the experience of Thanksgiving this year match your idea of what the day would be like?  (A: I was surprised in the morning by how upset - how emotional - I was to be doing Thanksgiving just ourselves.  I was feeling really lonely totally disconnected from my family-of-origin and kind of angry.  I was likewise surprised by how much I enjoyed the second half of the day - once the work was done and the stress of succeeding or failing was behind me - and how meaningful things like using the fancy dishes felt in the moment.)

Did you discover anything unexpected through the process of preparing and executing Thanksgiving? (A: Beyond the above, not really.  I went into Thanksgiving with a lot of resistance or, at least, unhappy resignation.  Also anxiety about having to figure it all out by myself.  I was gratified to succeed but it was a minor success.  Nothing about our meal was particularaly outstanding or memorable.  I'd say, in that regard, I got out of it what I put into it.  I took small risks and the rewards were proportional.)

Opinions.  The audience state opinions subject to permission from the artist: "I have an opinion about . . . . Would you like to hear it?  The artist has the option to say no.

  • I have an opinion about the Turkey. Would you like to hear it?
  • Yes.
  • I think you could have cooked it longer.  It was done but I think only *just* and you probably would have felt more relaxed if you weren't secretly afraid you were about to give yourself and your son some kind of food poisoning

  • I have an opinion about the Wine.  Would you like to hear it?
  • Yes.
  • I don't think the wine paired especially well with the meal.  It was fine, but it didn't do anything to add to a sense of occasion or "specialness." 
  • I agree.

  • I have an opinion about the structure of the day.  Would you like to hear it?
  • Yes.
  • It would have been nice to get outside before the meal, maybe even to watch some of the parade live, but I think that probably wasn't possible technically . . .
  • That's right.
  • So I thought it was great that you nevertheless went outside to play after the meal, even though it was getting dark.  I might encourage you to move the meal just a bit earlier to give yourself more playtime between the main meal and dessert.  I also thought it made sense to have dessert much later.
  • Thank you.

  • I have an opinion about the dessert.  Would you like to hear it?
  • Yes.
  • I LOVED the pumpkin pudding plus a cookie instead of a pie with a crust.  Those cookies were BANANAS they were so delicious.  And I always forget how delicious fresh whipped cream is.
  • I agree!

And there you have it!  Far more than you wanted to know about my Thanksgiving.  I'd say the main takeaway is: MAKE THOSE COOKIES!


* A caveat: I have participated in discussions using CRP but I have not had the pleasure of studying with Ms. Lerman herself and do not profess to be doing this perfectly.  I borrowed this blog posts's outline of the process to guide my own.