Rest days.

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

(John Steinbeck, East of Eden)

In every training plan, no matter what the race distance, at least one day is usually set aside as a rest day. That means no training of any kind– no ‘easy’ spins on the bike, no ‘slow’ jogs: nothing but allowing the body to recuperate from the week’s work. It is at such moments that the body gets stronger, interestingly enough: in what might seem an allowance to weakness, making time for rest actually allows for strength to increase.

So it is mentally, I believe.

Thus, in despite of the ostensible ‘rules’ of NaPoWriMo– to post something every day– I decided last week to take some much-needed rest rather than type inanities for the sake of putting something onto the screen. Such posts are the mental equivalent of “junk miles”: mere spending of energy, rather than effort undertaken for a specific end.

At the same time, I was dealing with the kinds of busy-ness inherent in this time of term: lots of papers to mark, students to meet with, and yes, yet more plagiarists. To be perfectly honest, I was not only exhausted but demoralized by the combination. I’ve posted before about the pitfalls of plagiarism– now imagine that it’s late in the term, and the writers in question are advanced students: ergo, those who by any lights should know better.

Apply head forcibly to brick wall. Repeatedly.

Demoralization isn’t exactly a fashionable attribute to admit to among faculty: after all, we’re here to educate! To inspire! To enjoy the efforts of our students! Etc.! But when some of said students don’t seem to put forth as much of their own effort as is required, well, it’s very hard not to hit a downside of the educational emotion slope.

So I take some comfort in Steinbeck’s words at moments like these: no, I’m not someone who delights in every moment of every day of the education business– I’m a human being, with ups and downs like everyone else. Once I can set the image of an “ideal educator” aside, then I can get down to the real task at hand: being very good at what I do.

Because what I do (reaching audiences and getting them to look at the world and themselves in new ways) matters to me. I hope it matters to them as well.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!

(Side note: a surprisingly large number of Shakespeare’s plays mention or feature storms; conversely, a surprisingly small number of the works of his contemporaries do so. So concluded my decidedly unscientific mental survey of Renaissance drama the last time I found myself quoting this line: in the middle of the run of my first Ironman triathlon, when it rained and hailed so hard I could barely see five feet in front of me.)

It’s been a Lear-like day, weather-wise, around here: at least 7 tornadoes were sighted in the area, with several communities suffering widespread devastation unusual for this part of the world.

I’m hugely fortunate to have been well away from the tornado zones, and to have watched the rain pound the streets and cars parked thereon as if I were in the middle of a gigantic car wash, with water coming in sheets from all directions.

For a brief moment after the tumult, there was a glimpse of sunshine this afternoon. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, at how stark that light must look to those south and west of here faced with piles of rubble where homes and businesses used to be.

A terrible beauty, indeed.

Hitting the reset button

I almost typed that title as the “resent button,” which is precisely the one I don’t want to hit. But it’s presciently indicative of the need to stop every once in a while.

My workouts have felt a bit ‘off’ this week– nothing precise, no injury, but a general sense of not having the usual spring in my legs and energy to work with.

Admittedly, it’s been a grey week, which doesn’t help. But I rather suspect that at least some of it is due to the craziness of this time of term– papers abound, stress levels are rising among the students, and the prospect of there being really only 2 weeks of usable class time left does raise the pressure to get everything done before finals.

Not too surprisingly, then, I woke up this morning and was not feeling the exercise love– it was cold and foggy outside, and the prospect of running was awfully close to anathema.

So I did the only sensible thing: took a short walk to get a few groceries, got some useful errands taken care of, then decided I was done– and spent part of the afternoon watching the NBC broadcast of the Ironman World Championships, which is always motivating. I also did a half-hour of yoga after dinner for the first time in ages: the off-season is the perfect time to get back into the habit, and it’ll help me considerably when things get even busier in April and May of next year (when I’ll have all these typical term stresses plus the show to deal with).

I’ll sign up for some 2014 races soon to give myself something to train for, but in the meantime, taking a pause to recharge is a useful thing.

(Not, perhaps, the world’s most thrilling post, but an honest one as NaPoWriMo continues…)

*Deep breath* And so it begins…

It’s very strange to get to do something I’ve long wanted to do– a mixture of delight and sheer terror, of hallelujah! and oh shit! simultaneously.

Oddly enough, that queasy feeling is exactly how I know this is something I really should be doing.

Today the process began that will culminate in my theatre company’s production in May of Margaret Edson’s Wit. (Fear not, there will be links posted to the website and all that jazz once it’s all up and running– show doesn’t open until May, so we’ve got some time.)

I’ll be playing Vivian Bearing. (The central character, for those who don’t know the show.*) She’s been on my bucket list of characters ever since I first read the play over ten years ago, so when I got the phone call offering me the role, my reaction was “Hell yes!”, much to the amusement of my Artistic Director.

My director (whom I absolutely love and trust, thank heavens) just sent out a first set of ideas for us to play with, and he and I will sit down to chat about the show in the next week or so.

So I’m excited.

And terrified.

But excited.

Yet scared mindless.

So what this means is that I’ll probably be nauseous for the next six months or so, right?

Great.

*deep breath*

Bring it on.

*Yes, I do know that the play was recently performed successfully on Broadway. And yes, I’ve seen the wonderful HBO film– I’ve forbidden myself from watching it again until after the show is over, lest I end up curled up in a corner whimpering at Emma Thompson’s brilliance. Fortunately, I’ve had a little bit of practice at this, since the last major show I did was Doubt— so replace “Emma Thompson” with “Cherry Jones and Meryl Streep,” and you get the idea. (Remind me why I do this again??)

Best part of the day:

Monologue Day in class today. Yes, there was real theatre– some wonderful moments in both classes. But the best moment of all was when one of my Shakespeare students put up her hand at the end of class and asked, “Can we do another one of these?” as a number of her classmates chorused their approval.

This from the students who originally moaned, groaned, and grumbled at the prospect of having to do a monologue at all.

*does professorial happy dance*

I’ll freely admit that some days are tough in the classroom, but today I win.

In the words of Gloria Estefan,

“Get on your feet!”

(Cue 1980’s dance sequence. Go ahead– I’ll wait.)

This time of year, when everyone’s drained, classrooms can easily become swirling vortexes (or vortices) of exhaustion, and my students appear to have been replaced by a collection of open-mouthed dead fish…I take Gloria’s advice, and get everyone on their feet.

(Yes, they’re mostly English majors. No, they’re mostly not actors. Don’t care. Up everyone gets.)

All my undergrads have to do oral performances each semester, where they have to get up (in a random order determined by my literally drawing their names out of a hat) and give a memorized rendition of any segment of any play we’re discussing in class. So that certainly gets them up on their feet– and before we even begin, I make everyone stand up and we do a few stretches and silly moves to warm and wake everyone up (what else is the hokey pokey for, I ask you?). When the light comes back to their eyes and the energy in the room rises exponentially, we’re ready.

Then theatre– as an action, not just a subject of discussion– can happen. Everyone learns far more that day than they expect to, in ways they often don’t anticipate.

Performance day is tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a good day.

Smartest Thing I’ve Heard All Day

From a student after I’d explained to her and her group-mates why some aspects of their recent presentation were problematic:

“So, in the paper we have to write about this, is it okay if I write about what I learned because I got things wrong here?”

I answered that it absolutely was. And gave her a high-five. And may well have uttered the word “booyah.”

Somehow it’s so very easy to lose sight of this fact, but this really is what we all do, ideally: we try new things, make mistakes, and learn from them. Repeat ad infinitum

Exactly the same practices apply to theatre: when I trained at the School at Steppenwolf a few summers ago, I ran smack-bang into the wall of my long-ingrained perfectionism. Repeatedly. But after enough repetition and my own messy meltdowns in Meisner class and hearing the improv mantra “If you’re gonna fuck up, fuck up big!” day after day, it finally sank in: perfection is boring. It’s stagnant. People don’t go to the theatre to see perfect creatures– they go to watch human beings be fully human (including screwing up) in all kinds of ways. Oddly enough, the “messier” and more imperfect I became, the better my acting seemed to get.

Moral Of The Story: “Getting it right” is only useful if you learn something along the way, and how can you do that if you don’t realize what doesn’t work? So make those mistakes: show us what you got! Doesn’t work? Try something else!