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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.