Tag Archive | kids

Just for You.

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My husband and I recently gave ourselves the gift of a few days in Yosemite National Park. There were jaw-dropping vistas, cliffs so dramatic they make you weep, waterfalls that remind you how mortal you are, and rivers and trees that murmur the blessings of Mother Nature to you, welcoming you home. All of it is so special and remarkable that you feel that you are the first, that this is a gift just for you.

The city smut sloughs off of you and you can clearly feel your exhaustion. You hadn’t been aware of how depressed and isolated you had become. The separation from anything real snuck up on you, seeping in insidiously until you had lost hope in this current, science-denying country of ours, and assumed everyone but you saw Mother Nature as a big ol’ whore to be pimped to the highest bidding john.

But you look again, and miracle of miracles, you realize there are others. Many others. “Oh,” you say with tears of surprise and relief in your eyes as you see that someone else cares, “I thought I was the only one left who gave a shit.” There are many who have come to be in this sacred space to remember who they are. People who realize that without wilderness, we can never know ourselves, or our place in the world. Individuals, like yourself, who value the world as it is rather than reducing it with their small-minded greed to a disposable commodity.  People who know that we have fucked up—big time—but it’s not yet too late, not quite, and they will not let her die without a fight. These people are the planet’s medics on the battlefield, the last line of defense against the disease of the uncaring ravagers and pillagers. We humans, meant to be the stewards of nature, have instead wounded the world, lost our way, but there is a path that leads back. It’s a sobering thought that the world will not be healed in our lifetimes. Bringing back a healthy environment will take generations.

Which is one reason that, as much as I love my own experiences hiking or exploring or just admiring, I get a real visceral thrill when I see and hear children’s enthusiasm that matches, or even exceeds my own. I love sharing my meager knowledge, or pointing out a deer in the trees, or maybe encouraging them to take off their shoes and feel the cold water and smooth stones of the creek on their feet. If they don’t know it, they can’t love it, and if they don’t love it, they won’t protect it.

When I was a small child, my mother said she had to get a hold of me if we ever went somewhere high with a view because I would race to the edge with my arms flung wide and scream at the top of my lungs. Every daring glimpse of the cosmos was a gift, just for me, and I took it.

My mom called it energy, and it was, but it was something more than just my personal energy, more even than childish unbridled joy. It was a few precious seconds of connection with the swirling, glorious infinity of nature and the universe. I know that feeling, I remember it. I still get it, though people freak a bit if, as an adult, I launch myself to the edge of a precipice and scream. I don’t know why—just one of life’s many mysteries. So I’ve learned to temper my reaction, sadly, but my husband still gets a hold of my belt when we get close to high, open places. He is wary of my impulse to be out in that air, to experience sitting in the twenty story windowsill or on the edge of bridges. Both of which I’ve also been known to do, feet dangling over the width and breadth of San Francisco bay, or the lights of a city night.

In that same spirit I have twirled on rooftops, waltzed on the Eiffel tower, whooped with bliss on the African Savannah, hummed with the crickets in the forest at night, leapt from a rocky cliff into the chill of the magnificent Pacific, and laid down in the rain with my face up to the sky, watching the water fall. Note, it’s important to squint when you do this, it makes it easier to keep your eyes open.

And why? For life, to feel the whorl and tides of unmitigated force and vitality. It’s a precious gift and I damn well am going to open it every chance I get.

Possibly the only thing I enjoy as much as gulping in bliss and nature is watching and hearing kids do it. Their enthusiasm is endless, not unlike my own, and their expressions have not yet been tempered or their unchecked joy corrected, limited, and restrained. Their awe is unbridled and infinite.

Sometimes, probably unfairly, it makes me nuts when people treat an outing to someplace like Yosemite as a photo shoot for their kids. Reining them in from the hugeness of the experience to try to contain it in a few thousand pixels. I get it, we all want to document our experience and to share it, but not at the cost of the kids discovering it while they’re there.

So it’s nice to find a balance. I was at the base of Yosemite falls and a mom with two boys, very young, maybe 3 and 5, was trying to line them up for a photo, drawing them away from the toddler-mind-blowing reality in front of them. Away from the now for a future reward. The younger boy slumped, hands hanging almost to his knees as he moaned, “Why do we always have to take a picture?” His older brother, no doubt sensing the inevitable and wanting to get it over with, threw an arm over his little brother’s shoulder and drew him close. Turning their backs on the object of delight to pose for mom, he explained, shouting over the roar into his brother’s ear, “Because these are memories.” As he said the word ‘memories,’ he stretched the last syllable, turning the eee sound, into a big smile, which he turned toward the camera. Click, and they were back to the moment where they belonged, exhilarated at the sheer thrill of the explosive power of falling water. They leaned over the stone bridge and screamed into the crash of impact and danced in the magical mist that engulfed them.

And that’s our life, sometimes we take the gift of now, and sometimes we wrap one up for the future into a tiny computer file to look at later and bring the memories and the sensations of something grander than ourselves back to us when we sit at our desks or in the carpool lane. A gift of now for the future, just for you.

I suppose that’s what a great family trip in nature is, a gift for now and for later.

“Please,” I pray to Mother Nature, “please let the children remember. Let them love you so that they find the courage to protect you.”

And she whispers back to me, “It is in their soul now, it always was, but here they have found it again.”

Then, being Mother Nature and a bit unpredictable not to mention snarky, she adds, “And it’s on mom’s cellphone, so…you’re welcome.”

Then she winks and fades away with the most glorious sunset that ever was, to work her magic on the twilight.

 

Just for me.

 

 

Shari, April 11, 2018

 

The Honor of Weeping.

 

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My very special friend, Daniella.

For many years I have been one of the directors of a charity that assists pediatric cancer patients and their families. In that time I have learned so much about myself, suffering, kindness, courage, life, and most importantly death. I cannot now look at a child and not imagine the possibility that they might not make it to adulthood, or even their teens. It infuses every experience with the radiant reminder of true importance, a glowing reminder of the moment most precious, this moment.

There are so many memories that stand out. The director of the charity had already lost her own child, and yet she had the courage to face this unthinkable journey with others, again and again. But then came the call, she needed to talk, to weep, another of our kids was dying, and she just couldn’t fathom it. She wept, and then went on to hold other mothers’ hands and help them through the journey. Again and again. I stand in awe.

I remember walking down the halls of City of Hope and hearing screaming, I remember one of the nurses, while we were there decorating the ward for the holidays, exclaim, “I hate Christmas! So many kids die.” Because, she went on to explain, the terminally ill have a tendency to hold out for a special date, maybe a birthday, maybe Christmas, but then they let go. The nurses can do nothing but try to comfort, ease pain, hug family that are enduring the unthinkable in a constant state of shock. And when it’s over, they get back to work, clearing away the evidence of a loved patient who they may have known for years, and the room their lives once occupied returns to empty, until the next child comes to fill it. They return to work and start all over again. I stand in awe.

The Pajama Party, which we hold every year, patients, current and alumni, are invited. Each patient and their siblings receive pajamas, slippers, and many other fun gifts. Hundreds of people attend. We have a dinner, a raffle, games for the kids, and then Santa! My favorite doctor greets and embraces family after family with a huge smile and genuine joy, often remembering a child who is no longer with us by sharing a moment with the parents who lost them. I stand in awe.

When it became clear that a 12 year old who loved photography that we worked with was not going to make it, the doctors and nurses organized an art show for him. His lovely photos were displayed and sold to help his family with the horrific bills that would be all they were left with after they buried their child. My favorite photo was a shot down a city street with the sunset in the distance, he called it, “A Door to Heaven.” I remember standing next to the doctor as he talked to the young artist, who had received a huge platelet donation that day so that he could get out of bed and attend this event. They joked about him enjoying his cocktails. I stand in awe.

I remember one funeral, for a boy of eighteen, who we had been assisting since he was nine. He had lost an arm in the long hard process but he was the best hugger I ever met. He also had an amazing voice and he sang Wind Beneath my Wings at one of our fundraisers when he was only 11, not a dry eye. I remember his friends carrying his casket, the stunned loss on their still too young faces. When they sealed the casket at the gravesite, his mother, whose entire life for nine years had been caring for her gravely ill son, kept on straightening the drape on the casket as gently as if it had been a blanket she was tucking around him to keep him warm. The gesture was so intimate and it was so strange to me that such a large crowd of mourners were watching, that I turned away and looked to the sky to give her a sliver of privacy, though I doubt she even knew or cared for anything in that moment. That last, horrible, powerless moment when she could do no more. I will never forget the sound that she made, it wasn’t a cry, or a sob, it was from her very soul. It was a long, drawn out sound that rose and fell and vibrated the air around her. Keening. That sound is part of who I am now, I hear it when I think of these families and what they have endured. I stand it awe.

And then there are the children themselves, to a one they were the bravest, most accepting souls I have ever met. It’s as though they were finished with being mortal, they didn’t ‘need’ to be here any more, it was time for them to move on to the next stage. To a one they taught everyone around them what was true and important. To a one they offered a sense of perspective. I stand in awe.

Which brings me to the reason we began the charity. Desi. This girl, who at nine was diagnosed with a cancer so severe that the doctors gave her a five percent chance of surviving a couple of months, lived two years. In those two years, she got well enough to do many things, including going horse back riding with me, something I had promised her when she was very ill. This child, this exceptional human being, never lost her faith or her courage. Multiple times when we thought it was the end, she fought her way back, and she never missed a chance for a laugh. When a child is at the end, they are attached to machinery that counts their breaths per minute, and when it goes to zero and stays there, that’s pretty much it. So there she was, with her loved ones around her, watching the monitor, praying, comforting each other, when the monitor went from 5 to 2 to 0. They all leaned in, watching to see if this was it, after so much suffering if it was time for her to go home. No one breathed, everyone was drawn toward the bed, curling physically downward to be close to her, waiting, when suddenly, Desi’s eyes flickered, and she very weakly, but distinctly, formed an o with her mouth, and said, “Boo!” Everyone straightened up, laughing and relieved, she actually pulled through that time. I stand in awe.

But it was a short reprieve, and she was back in the hospital a few weeks later. When she finally, quietly, slipped away, only her mother was in the room with her. She told me that she knew that her daughter had died, but she didn’t call the nurses, she didn’t leave or reach out, she just sat quietly beside her daughter’s body and waited, thankful for the time she had with her, she told me that the thing she felt the most, was honor. She said she was honored to have been Desi’s mother. I stand in awe.

I still am a part of this charity, though now that I am not living in Los Angeles, I cannot take part in the active service as often as I would like, though every time I return to LA, I make it a point to go to City of Hope and donate blood and platelets, and visit with some of my friends there. I hope to find another place to fill where there is need when I settle wherever I may land, but my life is irrevocably changed already, my sense of perspective has forever changed. Things I once thought important are now laughable to me. My own children, who often accompanied me to events and the hospital to visit with the kids or help decorate for holidays, are markedly better people because of their experiences there. We are endlessly grateful to those children and those families, they have given us the gift of perspective that softens life somehow, makes the little things easier to bear, to release, to set free. I am not afraid to die, what better gift could I ever receive?

And sometimes I weep, just to think of them. Sometimes I smile when I recall their courage, and always I respect and admire the people who lost and lived to love and give back, almost every one of them turn to helping others in some form. I think of the remarkable human beings who care for these children every day, again and again, and never lose their ability to grieve each devastating death. Doctors and nurses who weep for the loss of every child they have cared about, and for, sometimes for years. I stand in awe.

Mostly, I remember the things I’ve learned so completely, that they are a part of who I am now.

That beauty can be found in a ravaged face. That love never dies. That your heart can be torn from your body and you can be glad to have had the capacity to feel that much, because the choice to not would have meant that you would never have have had that someone in your life at all.

I weep often, but not forever.

I care more fully, now.

I judge less, and look closer.

You never really know someone else’s story.

Especially the end.

You don’t know what might shatter your heart.

You might not yet know that you can survive it.

You can live to feel only honor.

You can make a difference for someone else.

I stand in awe.

Won’t you join me?

 

Shari, November 9th, 2017

Dog, Cat, Character.

 

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My cat, Moose. He is very amused. 

A couple of blogs ago I talked about the non-existence of writer’s block. My theory being that you can always write something. But I’d like to break it down a little further. 

We all have times when we have vague ideas but nothing that really seems pertinent. One of my most enjoyable, and helpful, experiences as an actor was the time I spent studying and performing with “The Groundlings,” a very well known comedy improv group in L.A. Some of the people I had in my class included Lisa Kudrow, Chris Parnell,(known mostly as Dr. Spaceman on 30 Rock) Michael McDonald from Mad TV and many more. They were great, but some of the people you don’t know were the funniest. 

The best thing you learn from improv is to always say yes. Sometimes you might have an idea then discard it before giving it a chance. That mean, negative voice in your head says, that’s stupid, it won’t work. 

I say, slap ’em and give it a try. To give an example in improve, you might have the audience suggestion that you are robbing a bank. Lights down, lights up! You’re standing there pretending to hold a gun in your hand pointing it at your partner, but before you speak they say. “Put all the money in a bag and act natural.” Now you’re the teller. 

Under no circumstances do you say, “No, I’m robbing you!” Instead, you need to justify the ‘gun’ position. So, the gun, becomes the bag and you retort with, “Good news, we’re giving away reusable shopping bags today!” And the scene continues. 

Or— “But you don’t have a gun. Here, take mine.” 

As I’m starting up notes for a new novel, it’s time for character development. Now I have several different systems for this, my favorite being to combine more than one interesting people I know into one. But to stay on the Groundlings theme, I want to give you an exercise that is both inventive and fun. 

Use your pet. In Groundlings, we would create scenes or monologues based on the personality of an animal we knew. One of the funniest I saw was a Basset Hound. “Are you leaving? Are you coming back? Are you ever coming back?” It made a hysterically loving but insecure person. 

So take a look at your cat, your dog, your iguana, your hamster, bird, what ever. Write down a few of their traits. Are they lazy? Always hungry? Eager for your attention or indifferent to your entreaties? Do they like to go outside and be adventurous, or do they prefer to lie on the heating vent and sleep all day? What do those traits translate to in human personality?

If they had a human voice, what would it sound like? Low and growly, or high-pitched and piercing? Are they quiet but full of remorseful stares, or do they chatter endlessly? What do they talk about? 

If they had a job, what would it be? If you have a cat that grooms constantly, perhaps they would be a hairdresser. A dog that sniffs out everything, a detective. A parrot that watches you constantly with one eye might be a psychiatrist. Don’t forget to give yourself several options before you land on one. 

Now, sit down and write a monologue as that person. Put the animal part aside, except for the traits you’ve landed on. Don’t forget physical traits. Are they slack-jawed and clumsy, super-stealthy, sneezers, droolers? It all works. 

Next, add another character. Maybe you, and make a conversation, or scene. This is a blast, who among us hasn’t had a one-sided conversation with our pet? Now they can answer back! You can go on from there to writing a short story or adventure for them, and trust me on this. You will be surprised by what they do. After all, you know them, but you don’t. 

And you’re off on your own petting zoo adventure. 

 By the way, if you are neither a writer nor a actor, this is still a super fun game for kids! I’ve used it as a writing exercise for a fourth grade class and they had a ball!! 

Now let’s move this into acting. In this case, I like to take one particular trait. I once had a director tell me that my character would enter the room and all eyes would go to her, knowing she was dangerous. 

Easy. I pictured that I had a long black panther tail that lashed from side to side as I walked. 

To translate this back to writing, you could say,  “He could almost hear the swish of a panther’s tail as she fixed her predator’s eyes on him, it lashed dangerously, delightedly, as she started for his table, and the hunt began.” Or some such, I’m winging it here. 

But you get the idea. Works both ways. On the page, and on the stage. (Or set, or studio, or living room, classroom, whatever.) 

So get in touch with you animal side, and write your little paws off. 

Have a blast!! 

Shari, January 2nd. 2013. 

 

My Chillen’

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I would call them ‘my children’ but they are so much cooler than that even with, or perhaps in spite of, the natural tendency toward mortification in all teens.

I’ve directed a few show in my day, everything from Shakespeare to original pieces, but it’s always been with groups of professional actors. You know, if they don’t show up or learn their lines, I fire them. It never comes to that. It’s amazing how quickly someone will step up when you explain that you have someone waiting to take over the lead.

But now I’ve been asked to direct “The Importance of Being Earnest” for my daughter’s eighth grade production. No understudies, no alternates, and a couple of extra parts written in.

Here’s what I’ve got going for me. 11 really fabulous 14 year olds, the fact that they have been educated by a Waldorf school system, and the resources of a creative community.

Waldorf is an amazing way to develop a brain. The kids all knit, woodwork, blacksmith, make stained glass, play musical instruments, sing chorus, study Spanish and German, have physics lessons outside where they use a pulley system or create science experiences, they all learn to write beautifully with real fountain pens, and on and on. It’s amazing to visit the high school and see boys knitting during an English class, or girls outside hammering copper into bowls. And the college placement? Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Rhode Island School of Design, etc, forty percent of the graduates go into the sciences, and I mean they become top doctors and research scientists. There is much to be said for teaching kids to think, instead of memorize. Every kid speaks at graduation and most of them mention that they want to do something to make the world a better place. And they do. One of the kids in the first graduating class was Paul Newman’s daughter, who went on to create the line “Newman’s Own” which donates most of it’s profits to charity. That’s the kind of human Waldorf produces.

In my daughter’s class, there are two, ‘special needs’ students. One is a boy with HDHD, it’s hard for Jay to be still or quiet, but the kids let him know when he goes to far. In rehearsal, this sometimes results in a “Jay, shut up!” but it’s good-natured, and they are all learning something valuable. Jay is experiencing the fact that the world will sometime reprimand him for his erratic energy and he must learn to control it, and the other kids, that the work environment is not always ideal—and that’s okay.

The second kid has brain seizures. Jenny is beautiful, bright, fun, and incapable of learning to read. She participates in most of the lessons, and all of the art, she is well respected and liked by her classmates. I didn’t realize the extent of her differences until I asked her to write down that we needed glasses for the play. One of the other girls asked her, very matter-of-factly, ‘do you want me to write it for you?’ And did so, meanwhile, Jenny had drawn a picture of the glasses, problem solved, no judgment.

Wow.

The other thing that impresses me, is that these kids get it. They speak to me as an equal, with respect for me and for themselves, they laugh heartily at the dry, clever wit of Oscar Wilde. This is amazing to me, and half the battle as the director.

We’ve worked on speaking distinctly with a British accent, (some get it, one is hysterical) we’ve worked on where in our bodies the character comes from, (the snooty aunt leads with her nose in the air, the cocky young man swaggers from the hips), we’re learning to listen and react, not just act. And we’re making excellent progress on lines.

Now, I’m not expecting a Knightbridge Theatre production, of course. But, even in the early stages, I’m very taken with each of these kids, their efforts and their natural ability to, not only perform, but to throw themselves into it, encourage each other and set aside their teen angst self-consciousness.

And for 14 year olds, that is no small thing. It is a huge thing, and they are all champions.

I did have one problem. The young lady playing Cecily came running to meet my car this morning, her face a mask of panic.  “Shari, Shari, I have to talk to you,” she panted. “Do I have to kiss Steven? The script says he kisses me!”

I reassured her that we would stage it so that no actual contact would take place. The terror subsided and rehearsal began.

The best thing about this process is, I’m the one learning the most. Isn’t that always the case? When we set out to teach, or to lead, we must listen and learn how to do that. And the gift is mine, I am the receiver of learning to love each of these outstanding young people more than I did before. I’ve been on camping trips with them, worked festivals, had some of them over for sleepovers, but this is different. I’m counting on them to be their best, to be proud of their uniqueness and their special talents, to learn to love another aspect of themselves.

Or, as Oscar might have said, “Learning to love yourself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

Merry Christmas from me and Mr. Wilde.

Shari, December 20, 2012.

Leftover Lovin’

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Here’s two of my nephews on the hunt. Be berry berry qwiet. Wabbit!

Whew! What a whirlwind Thanksgiving. One thing I love about Joseph and my families is the interesting mixture of people and kids with whom we have the joy of sharing the holidays! Thank goodness they all helped cook, and the plethora of food was almost embarrassing. My brother Dwayne, who produces both “Madmen” and “Magic City” and is a wonderful cook, took over the timing in the kitchen and got everything to the table in a timely manner. “We need gravy on the set!” “Flying in!” Once a producer, always a producer! 

The kids spent the day on the trampoline, searching for frogs, on the hillside smashing pumpkins, (not the band, we do this to share with the forest animals, and some of the seeds may root for next year!) I watched several ‘plays’ from the girls, which lasted all of thirty giggling seconds, worked on some stage fighting with the boys when they found Joseph’s stage swords, threw baseballs, picked oranges off the tree to make gallons of orange juice, (they love this!) and roasted marshmallows! Double whew! 

And now, the rest of the house is sleeping, and I’m up, wondering what to do with the leftovers that I couldn’t pack up for the others to take home. And here are some ideas! 

Stuffing balls. These can be done several ways. The kid’s favorite is this; take a small cube of cheese, pack it into a meatball sized ball of stuffing, (If it won’t stick, add an egg or two to the stuffing!) roll it in bread crumbs and fry it in a bit of olive oil, turning to brown evenly. If you are ambitious, you can add an outside layer of breakfast sausage before the breadcrumbs, serve hot! 

Turkey Crepes I won’t give a crepe recipe, it’s easy to find. Take the stripped clean turkey, and put it in water, bring to a boil then simmer for a good while. Strain the liquid, discard the bones, and bring the broth to a boil to reduce by at least half. You want a very flavorful broth. (this has the added joy of filling the house with that turkey cooking smell again!) take about two cups of the liquid, add a cup or so of half and half, a half cup of grated parmesan, half a pack of cream cheese, enough of a paste of flour and cornstarch combined to thicken it, stir to prevent clumping! Once it’s creamy, add in leftover turkey pieces, diced red pepper, peas if you like. Fill the crepes with the mixture, sprinkle with paprika and extra parmesan. Yummy! 

I’m not big on exacting recipes as you can see, but I think it’s fun to be creative, wing it! 

The best part of my thanksgiving was after everyone had left and I could hear my two girls in the bedroom next to mine. They were laughing together for a long time. The music of that to a mom is something that reverberates through you. Every time I would hear a blast of laughter, something in my body sang out. I thought to myself, I don’t know if I will ever be able to write that feeling. Some things in life are so all encompassing that even the most eloquent among us can only scratch out a stick figure sketch of the magnificent art that life is. 

But I’ll keep at it. Listening, loving, writing, sharing, being overwhelmed with gratitude. 

If only I could find the words. 

Shari,  November 23, 2012