13 April, 2015

Ask Al: Recovering from your 'not-so-best' moments

Dear Al,

I just had the most embarrassing audition, and I'm having a tough time recovering / moving forward. It was so bad that they asked me to come back and do something else,  then I came back it was even worse than the first time…! I felt genuinely humiliated and don't know how to get out of this funk.


Dear Funky,

Okay first just remember you are going to be okay! Maybe not in an hour, maybe not in a couple of days even. But someday and soon this day will be a learning moment and nothing more.

Sometimes we have a LOT going on in our lives.
Sometimes we are distracted and have every right to be.

But sometimes we spend weeks on end on the sofa, unable to lift our limbs, watching Daytime TV, and cleaning corners with a Q-tip LIKEABOSS; our interests only in padding feebly from room to room, napping, procedural crime-drama marathons, and shoveling pre-packaged food into our drooling gobs…

…Oh dear.

We all have an ‘off’ day or two.
We must be kind to ourselves and try not to torpedo into “I’m-a-failure" mode because of a bad day no matter how bad it FELT.

So! Here’s how to turn your not-so-proud moments into AWESOME-PIE.

When we get to that [hermit-bathrobe] place, we must do the following:

     1.) Stop talking. 

     2.) Look within—not outside—for the answers.

By spending time in silence, reconnecting with what I like to call your “Highest Self,” (i.e, the version of you that is your most compassionate, wise, understanding and non-judgemental) and maybe even having a chat with your good ol’ pal The Almighty Universe, you remind yourself that every single thing you need is within you. Worrying, doubting, forcing, obsessively planning, dramatizing, tensing up, bracing yourself, overworking….all this does is cut you off from what is naturally trying to reach you.

When we tend to that which is within, we allow the desires that we perceive to be outside of ourselves to manifest in the real world.

Basically: When you spend some time in silence, you emerge feeling like you can bend a bridge in half.

Then, when you emerge from Silent-ville, surround yourself in treasured friends who are smart, fun, and the good kind of tough-on-you, who are also ambitious about their own lives, high-vibration-y, creative smarty-pantses. Being around that energy will inspire you to take care of business, YOUR business to be specific. (Meaning: you don’t want someone to sit down in the muck with you who is also a muck-monster. You want a fellow kick-assasaurus.) For, you see, one must truly roll up their sleeves and reach deep into the plasma of their own ass-kickery… in order to…ya know, kick some…ass.

Cuz listen: rejection and sucking at things you are normally good at?
It sucks.
And boy oh boy, it always will—
     from crappy auditions
to horrible dates,
     from breaking bones while doing a workout DVD
to accidentally hurting a friend,
     from I-thought-I-knew-how-this-electrical-circuit-breaker-worked-BEFORE-that-fire
to I-killed-another-plant...
…All of the above, by the way, I have done—and I still consider myself to be awesome in general.

And while I totally understand that it is embarrassing and awful to feel like you did poorly in front of people that really matter to you, it isn't the end of the universe.
You didn't end up in prison
or get humiliated by the mass media
or tank for Steven Spielberg…
    and you know what?
Even if you did do any of those things— it wouldn’t be the end of the universe either.
Because of  little thing called the power of perspective.

You had a bad audition
     and you will have dozens of other chances to do good work
     because you're a PERSON and allowed to have moments like this.
We’re not slicing brains or fixing Syria.
It’s professional pretend.

But on a grander scheme: people are not perfect and perfectionism is a very real form of self-sabotage directly linked to personal shame. If we can recognize and make peace with our shame, we can accept that perfectionism isn’t a realistic, attainable or healthy goal and incorporate our less-than-awesome moments with our glorious ones and recognize that they are all part of our over-all awesome selves.

But that said: it stinks.
This is your life’s work and you had a bad day.
But it is NOT  the end of the world.
It is an opportunity to grow.

I really really promise.

I know this because I both
     sang on the Grammys...
and set fire to my ceiling.

So lick your wounds, get back in that practice room, pick yourself up and keep going.
We can't nail it every single time. I've bombed more auditions than I can count.
And I'm still alive and have self respect.
…Maaaaybe not self-respect about keeping plants alive— but certainly in general. 



05 April, 2015

A list of Right Now

1. homemade green juice
2. binge-watching awe-inspiring TED talks.
3. greek tragedies
4. the magic of my perfect, perfect bed
5. the post-daylight savings light in the winter palace around four o'clock
6. great empathy and compassion from treasured inner-circle friends
7. adorable care packages from Mama Silbs
8. Radiolab, TED Radio, This American Life, and my new discover: Love and Radio
9. catching up on heaps of theatre (American in Paris, John & Jen, Fun Home, Hand of God)
10. Tatiana being adorable (I brought her home a year ago this week!)
11. reflecting on how much I love the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
12. dreaming of glasgow
13. dreaming of los angeles
14. trying new vegetables
15. thinking about my Pace babies. Always.
16. gluten-free deliciousness
17. drinking coffee. (delicious, delicious coffee...)
18. becoming more of a night owl
19. introverting
20. singing (and not-singing)
21. journal-ing (even when I don't feel like it)
22. copy-editing
23. clearing internal and external paths for new and better things
23. reading: chekhov, brené brown, susan cain, shalom auslander
24. working: spoon river, the seagull, my fair lady, all things bernstein
25. (re)writing: euripides, sophocles, and ovid
26. talent-crushing on patricia arquette
27. healing
28. waiting for Spring...

©hula seventy

Effort at Speech Between Two People by Muriel Rukeyser

:  Speak to me.          Take my hand.            What are you now?
   I will tell you all.          I will conceal nothing.
   When I was three, a little child read a story about a rabbit
   who died, in the story, and I crawled under a chair    :
   a pink rabbit    :    it was my birthday, and a candle
   burnt a sore spot on my finger, and I was told to be happy.

:  Oh, grow to know me.        I am not happy.        I will be open:
   Now I am thinking of white sails against a sky like music,
   like glad horns blowing, and birds tilting, and an arm about me.
   There was one I loved, who wanted to live, sailing.

:  Speak to me.        Take my hand.        What are you now?
   When I was nine, I was fruitily sentimental,
   fluid    :    and my widowed aunt played Chopin,
   and I bent my head on the painted woodwork, and wept.
   I want now to be close to you.        I would
   link the minutes of my days close, somehow, to your days.

:  I am not happy.          I will be open.
   I have liked lamps in evening corners, and quiet poems.
   There has been fear in my life.          Sometimes I speculate
   On what a tragedy his life was, really.

:  Take my hand.          Fist my mind in your hand.          What are you now?
   When I was fourteen, I had dreams of suicide,
   and I stood at a steep window, at sunset, hoping toward death   :
   if the light had not melted clouds and plains to beauty,
   if light had not transformed that day, I would have leapt.
   I am unhappy.          I am lonely.          Speak to me.

:  I will be open.          I think he never loved me:
   He loved the bright beaches, the little lips of foam
   that ride small waves, he loved the veer of gulls:
   he said with a gay mouth: I love you.          Grow to know me.

:  What are you now?          If we could touch one another,
   if these our separate entities could come to grips,
   clenched like a Chinese puzzle . . . yesterday
   I stood in a crowded street that was live with people,
   and no one spoke a word, and the morning shone.
   Everyone silent, moving. . . . Take my hand.          Speak to me.
from The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser. © Out of Silence: Selected Poems (TriQuarterly Books, 2006)

10 March, 2015

Ask Al: Figuring it Out

Dear Al, 

I still don't quite know what I want to do with my life... I don't even quite know how to go about figuring it out. What if I pick a bumb path? Go down the wrong road? What if I pick something I love but I'm a total failure? Help.



Dear Anonymous,

To begin, I shall quote a quote I love to quote:

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. — Jack London 

If you have no idea what next steps to take in your personal or business life...
or how to get clear on your jewelry-making business concept...
or whether or not you should become a vegetarian...
or a Nun...
or an astrologer...
or what to do next with your half-baked idea for a food cart...
or if you simply want to finish your book while you still have both your original hips...
    etc, etc, etc
Read on.

Let’s get you to grab your ‘club’ and get on with it.

The next thing I hear in your letter is a fear that whatever you select might not be successful. That is a totally valid, universal concern, and I encourage you to sit down and have a long “Dear Diary” moment about your myths and definitions of success—because our culture has some mega-myths that have to do with making money, fame, notoriety and external validation and following the status-quo. I deny those definitions, and a few years ago redefined success for myself in one of those ton-of-bricks moments as I walked home from a tiny, minuscule, lose-money-on-it job that was the most artistically fulfilling of my life.
Here’s what I came up with:


And curiously, once I got clear, I pursued that definition of success with purity, and that in downtown job directly led to a Carnegie Hall debut, conventional success, and more money than I’d ever made in my adult life the rest of that calendar year. Basically, the lesson is this: it’s not about success. It’s about SHOWING UP. Once again I shall quote a quote:
 “It is not the critic who counts… The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena... who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly”
—Theodore Roosevelt

But before jumping into the proverbial arena, you have to recognize and accept that in this world, in order to actually live (not just “coast” or “survive”) we have to play ball, show up, and get our butts into that arena in the first place. Arriving at the arena in your gladiator outfit requires more than just a great gladiator costume. No. It requires courage, chutzpah, and above all, an crystal-clear clarity of values. You have to be sure what your worth is, and what you value.
Worth’ means recognizing your talents, skills, capacity for growth and understanding.
Values’ can mean things like honesty, integrity, courage, daring, contemplation, faithfulness, and innovation ...to name but a few.

Once you gather your courage up and arrive allll ready to rumble, you need to make sure you have at least one person who is willing to pick you up and wipe the mud off your face when you get your ass kicked, (which you most definitely will). Clarity about your worth and values are critical because clarity gives you unfaltering perspective: when you are face-down-in-the-dirt in the arena, you still understand why you are there.

Real talk: you cannot have courage and comfort at the same time.
You get one or the other.
So. When you find yourself facing a decision that has lots of moving parts with thoughts and doubts all over the place, here’s what I recommend:

1. “Drop in” to your truth, and get real with yourself. 
Most of the time we convince ourselves that we don’t have clarity about what we want, when what we really possess is fear, worry, and doubt which all cause blockages We KNOW the answer, we’re just convincing ourselves that we’re not ready/ can’t have it/ aren’t good enough. If there’s something you’d love to do that seems completely out of the question, you’ve most likely found what it is that you’re meant to do next, all you need to do now is own it and start taking action. Which leads me to my next point.

2. Make a list of the Pros and Cons. 
Yep. Get out that ol’ legal pad, draw that line down the middle, dig deep, and get a-listing. (You know how much I love a list.) And when I say “dig deep” I mean write down ALL the niggly little things knocking around in your brain. Things like
     CON: “My fear is currently bigger than my desire”
     CON: “I feel frustrated and crestfallen that for every single decent date, I have to go on nine bad ones”
     CON: “But I will miss hanging out on Saturday night eating cereal out of the box without anyone around to judge me” …are all legit. I would feel, and have felt, those things too.

3. Get opinions from (ONLY) one or two people who really truly know and love you, and who are also living large and in charge themselves. 
One way I know I’m in deep doo-doo is when my inner pollster comes out and starts asking everyone and their Aunt Muriel what I should do next. Don’t do that. Aunt Muriel doesn’t know you and your values and soul. The last thing you need is to confuse yourself even further with lots of ideas from lots of people who may or may not know what the hell they’re talking about, or worse, be non-objectively informed by their own wackadoo experiences. If Aunt Muriel got burned because her birdhouse enterprise went as south as the birds she hoped would live in her birdhouses, that is Muriel's experience, not yours! Dealing with the critics (plus our own self-doubt) is tricky! But by refusing to “armor up” and shut ourselves off, we tell all those unhelpful people and vampire-in-the-middle-of-the-night-voices, "Ohai, I see you, I hear you, but I’m going to do this anyway.”

4. Make a decision with your brain.

In the usual manner.

5. Hold this decision loosely in your heart, get real quiet, shut off your brain and ask your pal The Universe for guidance until you get a hit that feels right. 
I don’t care if you have to light incense, do Gregorian chants, or write a letter to your uterus, just get on with it. 

6. Taking action. 
 Listen: I love my brain. I love the way it thinks and figures things out. I do not love the squirrel’s nest of confusion and excuses it’s so skilled at crafting. Most often the answers we seek present themselves in doing, not thinking. Get off the couch, act on your hunches, and trust that they will lead you in the right direction instead of thinking everything through to the point where it seems impossible. The brain is a mighty strong thing, and it is just s capable of motivating you as it is of paralyzing you—the difference is an active choice. Don’t allow yourself to be torpedoed by thinking.

7. Call for help. 
Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees, so I highly recommend finding ONE brilliant, insightful, big-thinking person or coach or associate and asking them for some outside perspective. (And just like I mentioned above, don’t make this a group project.)

Remember, not every decision is made with perfect, 100% conviction and clarity, in fact, I would wager that though we all love to snuggle up with certainty, we hardly ever have it.

So! Don’t drive yourself insane by waiting around for certainty before making a move. Get as clear as you can possibly get, trust your gut, take action on the thing that feels best and trust that the rest will be revealed.

Finally, I shall remind you of one of my life’s dearest maxims:

Fortune favo(u)rs the brave.
And you are braver than you think.


17 February, 2015

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

“There are days when everything I see seems to me charged with meaning: messages it would be difficult for me to communicate to others, define, translate into words, but which for this very reason appear to me decisive. They are announcements or presages that concern me or the world at once: for my part, not only the external events of my existence but also what happens inside, in the depths of me; and for the world, not some particular event but the general way of being of all things.” 

07 February, 2015

Grammy Pep Talk Glory

So here's the thing.
You all know how great my chums are. 
I sort of gush (and gush and gush and gush and gush) about them ad naseum...
I'm very choosy about my pals, ye see.
And why?! 
Because they are real life, in-the-flesh flecks of human awesomeness. 

I have managed to surround myself with treasured BFFs who are 
     hard-on-me in the good ways
who are also 
     ambitious about their own lives
oh, and 
who, just by being them, and by being in your world,
remind you that YOU ARE A ROCK-STAR-A-SSAURUS.

I have some pretty kickass friends.
Friends that know when to give you a pep talk. 
Friends that know you need that pep talk in a video...

      so you can play it over and over again...

                  ...and potentially turn it into a compilation...


28 January, 2015

Ask Al: Poetic Scansion 2 - Rhythm & Meter

RHYTHM  [We got rhy-THM!]

In English, the major feet are:


IAMB ( ^  / )  — unstressed, stressed 

Examples:      InDEED  // beLIEVE  //  the END

    Shall I | comPARE | thee TO | a SUM | mer’s DAY? |

TROCHEE ( /  ^ )  —  stressed, unstressed

Examples:      SINGing  //  SLEEPy  //  TALK to

    DOUble, | DOUble, | TOIL and | TROUble — |

SPONDEE ( /  / ) —  stressed, stressed

Examples:      AMEN  // ARCH-FIEND  // DARK NIGHT

    •    (It would be confusing at best to literate an entire poem consisting of purely spondaic feet —it would sound like a drill! Or Incessant hammering! For this reason, the spondee is usually used for emphasis, or to break up another foot such as the anapest.)

PYRRHIC ( ^  ^ ) —  unstressed, unstressed

Examples:      and the  //   in the  //  is to

    And the | QUAINT MAZ | es in | the WAN | ton GREEN. |

    •    (Due to the monotonous, or redundant sound, the pyrrhic foot is not used to construct an entire poem. Much like the anapest and the dactyl, the pyrrhic is often found within the framework of the poem, but does not make up the entire structure.)

Lord Byron's "Don Juan" contains a fine example of pyrrhic feet:

    My WAY | is to | begIN | with the | begIN | ning. |


ANAPEST ( ^ ^ / )  — unstressed, unstressed, stressed (FYI: this is the natural rhythm of the French language)

Examples:      in the NIGHT  //  by the LIGHT  //  of the MOON

    I am MON | arch of ALL | i surVEY |

DACTYL ( / ^ ^ )  — stressed, unstressed, unstressed (FYI: this is the natural rhythm of the Italian language)

Examples:      BEAUtiful  //  SERious  // SING to her

    TAKE her up | TENDderly |

    •    IAMBIC and ANAPESTIC meters are called rising meters (because their movement rises from unstressed syllable to stressed)

    •    TROCHAIC and DACTYLIC meters are called falling meters.

SPONDEE and PYRRHIC feet, are never used as the sole meter of a poem; if they were, it would be like the steady impact of nails being hammered into a board—no delight to hear. Blech. But inserted now and then, they can lend emphasis and variety to a meter.

    •    (In the twentieth century, the bouncing meters—anapestic and dactylic—have been used more often for comic verse than for serious poetry.)

What is a caesura?
A caesura . . . is . . . . . . . . . a pause.

indicated by a “double-pipe”  || (so as to be discernible front he SPONDEE “railroad tracks:” //) is an indication of a brief pause outside of the metrical rhythm. It may be:
- initial caesura (near the beginning of a line)
- medial caesura (near the middle of a line)
- terminal caesura (near the end of a line)

FEMININE ENDING - A line of iambic pentameter (our stock in trade) has a feminine ending when there are one (or sometime more) unaccented syllables after the fifth foot. The line ends with an extra unstressed syllable, giving eleven syllables instead of ten. (For reference, a masculine ending is a (“regular”) end, one with a stressed syllable.)

Crucial: a feminine ending indicates the presence of a CAESURA, a pause.

Why is this so critical?
    •    Let us begin with the assertion that William Shakespeare is a great poet.
    •    Thus, we can assume that Shakespeare can write regular iambic pentameter any time he damn well wants to.
    •    Therefore, when he varies from it, he has a purpose.
    •    If dramatic verse represents the character's thoughts, we can have confidence that any “turbulence” or irregularity within the verse represents some idea that causes the character distress or pause for some reason.

If a line ends with a feminine ending, we can pick out the exact word that is causing the character additional thought/distress/pause.

The effects:
    •    It makes the thought itself potentially ironic
    •    It makes the effect making the line more pliant
    •    and often giving the quality of working through the thought
    •    something giving it a haunted and unfinished sound as thought leaving the thought in the air.

There are many feminine endings in Hamlet's famous Act 3 soliloquy:

          To be, or not to be: that is the ques-tion:
          Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suf-fer
          The slings and arrows of outrageous for-tune,
          Or to take arms against a sea of trou-bles,
          And by opposing, end them.     (…)

My personal favorite example of an extremely effective feminine ending is from Desdemona’s speech in Act 4, scene 2 of Othello:

    O good Iago,
    What shall I do to win my lord again?
    Good friend, go to him; for, by this light of heaven,
    I know not how I lost him. Here I kneel:
    If e'er my will did trespass 'gainst his love,
    Either in discourse of thought or actual deed,
    Or that mine eyes, mine ears, or any sense,
    Delighted them in any other form;
    Or that I do not yet, and ever did.
    And ever will--though he do shake me off
    To beggarly divorcement--love him dearly,
    Comfort forswear me! Unkindness may do much;
    And his unkindness may defeat my life,
    But never taint my love. I cannot say 'whore:'

—the topic word itself IS the feminine ending, and the subsequent pause further emphasizes the following line:

    It does abhor me now I speak the word;
    To do the act that might the addition earn
    Not the world's mass of vanity could make me.


Elision and Expansion

Things to keep in mind:

  • Remember to put a mark over every syllable. 
  • Keep in mind that by pronouncing a word differently, you may find different numbers of syllables in it, as in “diff-rent-ly” and “diff-er-ent-ly.” (I'll go into more detail about what is called elision and expansion in the next post). This is particularly true of proper names ("Iago" can be "ee-AH-go" or "YA-go"). 
  • If you are having "trouble" with a line, go to proper names first and then any polysyllabic words and play around with pronunciation, see if you missed something. This is art not science so try not to have a stroke about it.

METER [Meter maids!]

What is meter?
Meter defines the number of feet in a single line of poetry.

For example:
    •    monometer - One foot
    •    dimeter - Two feet
    •    trimeter - Three feet
    •    tetramter - Four feet
    •    pentameter - Five feet
    •    hectameter or hexameter - Six feet
    •    heptameter - Seven feet
    •    octameter - Eight feet

A frequently heard metrical description is iambic pentameter which simply describes/translates to: a line of five iambs.

As an example of iambic pentameter, take a look at the first four lines (describes in poetry as a quatrain) of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 141:

In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note; 
But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who in despite of view is pleased to dote;     (…)

We see the rhythm of this quatrain is made up of:
    •    one unaccented syllable
    •    followed by one accented syllable,
    •    that is called an iambic foot.
    •    we also count that there are five feet per line
    •    making the meter of the line pentameter.
    •    So, the rhythm and meter are: iambic pentameter.  (Ta-daaaa!)

This is a meter especially familiar because it occurs in all blank verse (such as Shakespeare’s plays), heroic couplets, and sonnets. It is the most like English speech, and thus a familiar and “comforting” rhythmic meter to speak and hear.



Okay. Yes, that’s all very lovely and fancy and all, but why do we study rhythm & meter?

People have a basic need for rhythm (or for the effect produced by it) as several experiments in human psychology have demonstrated (as you can see by watching a crew of workers digging or hammering, or by listening to the chants of work songs, not to mention our most intrinsic human rhythm: our heartbeat—the source and evidence of human life).


    Rhythm gives pleasure and a more emotional response to the listener or reader because it establishes a pattern of expectations, and rewards the listener or reader with the pleasure that comes from having those expectations fulfilled, or the noted change in a rhythm.

To emphasize this extraordinary poetic pleasure, here is one of the most rhythmic poems in history: Hilaire Beloc’s Tarentella:

Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark verandah)?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteeers
Who hadn't got a penny,
And who weren't paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the Din?
And the Hip! Hop! Hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the twirl and the swirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of a clapper to the spin
Out and in --
And the Ting, Tong, Tang, of the Guitar.
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?

Never more;
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar:
And Aragon a torrent at the door.
No sound
In the walls of the Halls where falls
The tread
Of the feet of the dead to the ground
No sound:
But the boom
Of the far Waterfall like Doom.

An argument might be raised against scanning: isn’t it too simple to expect that all language can be divided into neat stressed and unstressed syllables?
Well. Yeah. Of course it is. 
There are infinite levels of stress, from the loudest scream to the faintest whisper.
But, the idea in scanning a poem is not to reproduce the sound of a human voice—a recorder can do that.

To scan a poem is to make a diagram of the stresses and absence of stress we find in it. Studying rhythms, “scanning,” is not just a way of pointing to syllables; it is also a matter of listening to a poem and making sense of it—thus allowing the sense to emerge FROM THE TEXT.
To scan a poem is one way to indicate how to read it aloud; in order to see where stresses fall, you have to see the places where the poet wishes to put emphasis.

That is why when scanning a poem you may find yourself suddenly understanding it.

Above all, in Shakespeare:
    Text first.
    Emotions emerge.

By understanding, and ultimately honoring the poetic verse in all its glory, we allow emotion to stir itself from within the confines of the poetry, as opposed to forcing our emotions upon the the text.

View the text AS THE SPINE of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.

23 January, 2015

Antigone 5

ANTIGONE.     "We must bury them," he said.

He said we must.
Well, he didn't say it, no.
He did not say those words,
    he indicated it with very simple gestures that this was expected.
And so we did.
We buried father’s eyes into a scattering of earth,
And as we did he made me PROMISE:
    to forever defend the souls of my broken family.

There were few words—though much language was expressed on either side, but words, no.
Only these:

His final words to me.


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