New Beginnings

So far, two of my friends have completed their Ph.D.s this school year. They are both wonderful people who have inspired me to stretch myself as an artist, student, and person. I am so grateful that I began at Flordia State University in 2019 because I had the opportunity to get to know the graduate students in my program before we shut down due to the pandemic. During the shutdown, walks around Lake Ella, sitting far apart outside and laughing, playing games online, all hour texting, comparing weird middle-of-the-night Etsy purchases, and having happy hour on Zoom were a few ways I continued to feel connected to the people in my program. With my husband working 10-hour shifts at the hospital, I found myself alone in our apartment, taking classes and reading theory, plays, and history that were new to me while also writing a master’s thesis. This was sometimes overwhelming, but I never felt alone.

I am often asked what it was like to get a master’s degree during the pandemic. Well, because of my wonderful group of grad friends, it was easier than one would expect. The night before my thesis defense (from my apartment, on Zoom), I walked through my entire presentation with one of my friends, who gave me her thoughts, many of which helped me shorten and reshape my presentation. When another began writing his dissertation, I was delighted to talk about it him. I began looking forward to muddling over a thought or two when he asked me about an idea. There are countless moments with all of my graduate school friends that have both held me up and shown me the way throughout my time at Florida State University. You will often hear me say I am held up by those who support me, I could these two doctors at two of those people.

Today, I am going to another friend’s thesis defense. I am delighted! It is such a wonderful thing to see them finish their time here. I can’t wait to see what they do next!

Carrying Memories

So I am reading a fascinating article for one of my classes, and my hands feel dry. This distracts me when I write notes, when I highlight essential passages or when I catch a glimpse of the ashy-ness happening at my fingertips. So, as always, I lean for the lotion and start my ritual of putting on lotion at a desk.

First, I have to take off all of my rings. I love rings, and I wear many. They are my little emotional reminders of the people and experiences I have had in my life that I like to keep close at hand. First are my two stackable thumb rings. One says “wishes” the other “imagine.” One thousand miles away, on the finger of my cousin, there is another set of these. So I take the time to think of something ridiculous that my cousin said, which makes me laugh. Today the ridiculous thing s “nut dust” to the tune of Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits,” which stems from the dust that spilled out onto our cheese platter when we emptied a bag of walnuts. Though this was just a few days ago, I do not remember who exclaimed “nut dust,” nor do I remember who sang it…but I do know it was something ridiculous we did. And, as always, though we are far away from each other right now, it makes me feel closer to her.

Because today is a ‘stay at the home study day,’ I only have the rings that I didn’t take off before falling asleep while reading last night, so the ritual is shorter than usual. The only other ring on my right hand is a black silicone band imprinted with black Mickey Mouse faces, a constant reminder of how Walter Disney began with a mouse. If it were more accurate, it would be the side of a barn and some charcoal because that is where he began drawing, but I love the mouse, so the mouse it is!

Then I remove the rings from my left hand. My engagement ring and wedding ring were soldered to each other a few years ago because over the last 17+ years, the bands have worn down, so they come off my hand as one ring and remind me of the last 20 years of extraordinary adventures that my husband and I have had. And, under them, the last ring I always take off is my 10th-anniversary band. So, for our 10th anniversary, my husband and I got in the car and drove (from Michigan) to Niagara Falls. It was a beautiful trip, full of hilarious and beautiful moments, including me repeating our wedding vows to my husband while we were under the falls, vows that I wrote ten years earlier.

Next comes the lotion, which today smells like grapefruit. It is my very favorite lotion, and there isn’t much left. Every time I smell this lotion, I think of walking down the beach in Jacksonville, Florida, with my husband while on tour. He tells me I smell lovely and says, “one day, we will live in Florida.” I remember thinking what a nice idea, but I had just accepted a job as the Director of a new center for the performing arts, so I could not see it happening anytime soon.

The entire ritual reminds me of one woman, my seventh (and eighth) grade Math teacher. She wore many rings and would also do this ritual when her hands were dry in class. She made math attainable for me, using everyday objects, like a kleenex box she had labeled to show us geometry. She took the worry out of math, and for me, turned it into a subject I love and still love to this day. She was tough and a little scary but always there for me. Because my mom worked at the school, my math teacher did not only exist in that classroom. She had appeared as a symbol of strength for me when I needed it most, like when my grandma died. I knew she was there to support her friend, my mom, but she was still an icon of strength for me, even as an adult. So, I always think of her when performing this lotion ritual because I am positive it is her ritual, and I am just borrowing it, and hopefully some of her strength.

Putting the rings back on after applying the lotion reaffirms how much love I have in my life, here in my home in Florida. And how, even though I am not with my family and mentors in Michigan, I carry them with me every day.

Looking back and forward…

Alice in Wonderland | The Berman Summerstock

So, I am updating my website. Doing this requires that I go through my CV and other assorted information to make sure that I have all of the shows that I want to highlight on the website. Then, I get to search for a bunch of pictures to put together my galleries of images. This is my favorite part because I get to find pictures like this one.

These kids are all twice this size now. I am Aunt Elaine to all of them. Two of them drive, maybe three, one of them is writing her own books and stories, one is getting ready to graduate from high school, and all of them still have my heart. I love these kids!!! I am so glad I need to update my website, because it comes with beautiful memoires.

Soon I will be able to see them again, and I will hug them. A lot.