The Terror of Winning

“Traveler, there is no path, the path must be forged as you walk.” -Poet Antonio Machado

“Awards are so unnecessary because I think we get so much out of our work just by doing it. The work is a reward in itself.” -Natalie Portman.

“Awards are wonderful. I’ve been nominated many times and won many awards. But my journey is not towards that. If it happens it will be a blast. If it doesn’t, it’s still been a blast.” -Tom Cruise

 2013 Mayor's Arts Award Pottery Studio

This past Sunday, my husband won one of the annual Mayor’s Arts Awards in our city. Well, the pottery studio he founded won the award for Art organization that has made a significant contribution to the city and the surrounding county. It was a lovely event with five arts awards, and two humanities awards given to individuals and organizations.

It was lovely, and it made me uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of my husband and his colleagues who make such a difference. I was proud of the way my husband, an introvert like I am, handled all the praise. He was gracious, humble and accepted the praise without deflecting it onto someone else. What made me uncomfortable is remembering how it feels to win an award, or even to receive praise.

I don’t do well with having huge amounts of praise heaped upon me, or having all the attention focused in my direction. If I’m teaching a class, or acting in a play, or some activity like that, I feel different about getting attention. In those instances, I’m encouraging learning, or I’m playing another person. So, the focus isn’t on me personally. But, when someone singles me out, especially in public to give me specific praise, I want to duck for cover.

I’ve just finished reading Daring Greatly by Dr. Brené Brown, and I have to acknowledge that I do the “foreboding joy” thing when I receive praise of any kind. Foreboding joy is when something wonderful happens to you, or you feel great love or joy, and immediately you feel that some disaster is going to befall you if you lean into the good feelings. Even in little things, like when a student tells me they like the way I teach the class, I feel a twinge of discomfort before thanking them. When the praise is about a big thing, I almost feel physical pain. Here’s an example. I directed The Wizard of Oz last spring at a local elementary school. Almost all the children in the school were in the play, over two-hundred students. I got lots of praise, and it was easier to accept because of the personal work I’ve been doing, but when the praise came, I still deflected it to all the people who worked hard on the production. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good idea to give credit where credit is due. Nevertheless, I have trouble acknowledging my own talents. It was a huge undertaking, no one involved, except me, had ever directed such a large theatrical production. It could have bombed, but it was a success, because of my years of directing experience, and because I asked for, and got lots of help. I love that collaborative process of theatre, because I’m not out there doing the creating all on my own.

Writing is a completely different matter. The words on the page come from me, or my muse, and no one else. I can’t hide behind a collaborative group of people.

As I write this post, I’m in the process of revising my first novel. It’ll be published later this year. Yes, I have readers and editors helping me, but I’m the one who created the work. I hadn’t been thinking much about getting an award for it. Then just last week, I got an email from our POD representative about this years IPPY awards. He was letting us know about the awards for independently published books, and that just happened to coincide with the pottery studio award that my husband was going to accept. Of course, in my fanciful mind, I went off on a tangent thinking what I’d do if I ever won an award for my writing. How would I feel? I know I’d cry and not be cool, calm and collected. I’d probably be like Jennifer Lawrence and trip up the steps on my way to the podium. Somehow after reading both Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection, I’d be okay with that. Jennifer Lawrence, was cool, because she acknowledged how embarrassing it was to trip, and then she went on with accepting the award. She allowed herself to be imperfect. I liked that.

When Brené Brown was on Oprah’s Life Class, she said (I’m paraphrasing) “I’d mapped out a pretty small life for myself. Then my TED-X talk went viral, and I had to lean into vulnerability and acknowledge that I had to dare greatly and risk much so I could affect change and help people.”

Man can I relate to that. I’ve lived a pretty small and invisible life. And now I’m becoming a writer, and putting my work out into the world. I’ve had to embrace being vulnerable, risk failure, and criticism. My work may never go viral, but it’s still being read by people I don’t know, like many of you. That’s scary and exciting at the same time. And when people leave comments on my posts, I get a chance to examine my point of view. I get to expand my view of the world. Sure, I may get nasty comments too, but as my dad used to say, “People who hurt others are wounded themselves.” When I get those negative comments, I’ll allow myself to feel the pain, work through my process, and then move on.

Whether or not I win awards for my writing, I’m willing to come out of my shell, and offer my work to the people who will read it.  I hope that I can affect you and them in positive ways.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014

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Cooperation Not Competition

“If your vision is one year, plant rice. If your vision is ten years, plant trees. If your vision is one-hundred years, educate your children in the arts.” -Chinese Proverb.

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.” -Oscar Wilde

“An artist is not paid for his labor, but for his vision.” -James Whistler

“There IS no weakness in having a theatre background. There is only strength.” -Brian Sibley

Marco Polo

Every once in awhile something happens that prompts me to get up on my soap box about how under appreciated the Arts are in this country. The other day I was at a meeting of English, Communication and Theatre instructors at the local community college where I teach part-time. One of the instructors brought up the fact that English and communications are required classes for every degree. But I was thinking, why aren’t the Arts also required. In my humble opinion you can learn a great deal about yourself by creating a work of art.

Now, I have to admit that I was influenced by a wonderful blog post I’d read recently, by Brian Sibley, titled, “9 Ways a Theatre Degree Trumps a Business Degree.” His blog, Change Agent, is available on WordPress. Here’s the link to the post I mention in case you want to read it for yourself: http://changeagent.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/9-ways-a-theatre-degree-trumps-a-business-degree/

I agree with Brian in so many ways, it’s almost as if I wrote the blog post myself. Theatre teaches critical thinking skills, how to think on your feet, how to gain insights into what makes humans tick, how to be resourceful, and creative. It also teaches, self-discipline, self-awareness, and self-esteem.

The common wisdom is that playing a team sport does all those things for you, and I’m not saying they don’t, but sports are about competition. The performing arts teach cooperation. Dr. Brené Brown writes in Daring Greatly, “We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” That passage resonates with my life experiences. I feel bad when I’m in competition with someone, and good when we’re cooperating. After a theatrical performance, there are no riots, because one actor did a better job than another. Most of the time people leave the theatre feeling good, thoughtful, and enriched with a new perspective. I’m not sure we have those feelings after any kind of sporting event, especially when our team loses.

Okay, enough complaining. Since we live in a bottom-line culture, I’ll get to the bottom-line of why having two theatre degrees has been good for me.

It’s helped me in my personal and work relationships. Actors and directors learn to analyze the motivations of the characters in the play, which helps us understand the motivations of the people we come in contact with every day. Understanding human nature helps me communicate better. I’ve also learned how to read body language, which comprises 95% of our communication. We think words are of vital importance; we learn more from non-verbal clues, if we’re paying attention. Theatre also taught me how to express myself in more effective ways, because part of the acting process is to listen, think about what was said, then decide how to respond. That’s a good practice in every day life too.

One of the most important things I learned from my theatre experiences is to think critically. A group of people take a play look at all the “problems” that have to be solved in order for the production to be a success. They tackle each one, and little-by-little the production comes together until opening night when the audience tells them whether or not they did a good job. This kind of work is internal. It doesn’t show up on a spread sheet in neat little columns. To quote Brian Sibley, “You have to make tremendous inferences and intellectual leaps…” to make the production a success. In other words, you have to think outside the box. In my opinion, we could use a lot more of those people in all kinds of business endeavors.

Finally, I have to mention how good being involved in the Arts is for self-esteem. I’ve had students who were shy, or not interested in school, or who needed a place to belong, who blossomed as a result of taking drama, or getting involved in their local theatre troupe. Being an artist uses a very different skill set than being a scientist, mathematician, jock, computer nerd, or working with your hands. In most of those fields, the work that’s done is quantifiable.The effect of a work of art on both the audience and the performers isn’t measurable. Yet, would we give up going to the movies, concerts, art galleries, dance recitals, or plays because we can’t define what it is we get out of those events? Every parent who goes to see their child perform, is proud beyond measure, and that’s as it should be. Their pride and the child’s achievement can’t be measured, but it still enriches.

So, the next time you’re thinking that your school district should cut the art, band, choir, dance or theatre program, just remember that you’ll be denying an entire student population of that school district a chance to gain confidence, and learn some great skills that they will use their entire lives.

And I’ll end by saying, I think every college and university student should be required to take theatre classes as part of their degree program. After all, aren’t we tired of the lack of communication in business, and particularly in our government. People in every profession can use the empathy and critical thinking skills they could learn from involvement in the Arts.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014

Words, Words, Words

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”- Ann Landers

  Monument fire begins June 2011

Ack, that whole Duck Dynasty controversy! What a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. I don’t watch the show, but, okay, so the guy showed us who he is. We all do that by what we say and do. He can’t be anything other than who he is and that goes for everyone else. Yes, he’s now a public figure. He’s probably not used to having everything he says and does scrutinized, and he’s not the first public figure to put his foot in it. I’m not saying I agree with him, but crimeny, what did the controversy accomplish? I was thinking about this latest media brouhaha, and then the other day in my writer’s group, we were discussing what can happen when you put yourself out into the world, and you get negative feedback.

One of our members has a new business, Love Based Leadership, with a book and newsletter of the same name. Recently, she began publishing short videos with leadership tips. During our meeting, she told us about some negative comments she’d received about her videos, and her process in dealing with them. Of course, at first she was devastated. We all want to be liked and supported. But here’s the thing, there’s no way we can please all the people all the time. At some point someone’s going to get rubbed the wrong way about what we’re doing, and they’ll say something. This is the thing we agreed upon, when someone says negative things to us, they’re telling us about themselves and their point of view. What they say has nothing to do with us.

Everyone has a unique perspective on the world. So, when I’m talking with anyone in private or in public, I have to remember that there will be people who won’t have the same viewpoint I do, and they may speak up and tell me what they think. The same goes for this blog, or my books. When I get a negative comment, I get to choose if I’ll react, or respond. As Wayne Dyer says, “We choose whether or not to be offended.” Does being offended by what someone else says, serve any purpose? Some people just thrive on controversy. However, there may be times, when speaking up helps raise public awareness, but most of the time it just causes a bigger fracas, which serves no one.

And another thing, when I’m challenged, I have a chance to assess the situation. Am I being challenged by someone who is open minded and willing to have a calm exchange of ideas, or not? If not, I steer clear of that person. They are energy vampires. For some reason controversy makes them feel more powerful. It’s an illusion, of course. What it really does is show their vulnerability and fear.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m not stung when someone makes a nasty comment about something I’ve created. My ego is just as fragile as most people’s. However, I have learned to take a breath and work through my hurt feelings. That’s what we were talking about in my writer’s group. How to overcome those terrible feelings when someone doesn’t appreciate what we have to offer. It takes practice to allow others to have their own point of view. It also takes practice not to be hurt when someone doesn’t like us, but it can be accomplished.

The bottom line is this: When we put ourselves out in the wider world, the negative comments are reminders that we’re doing something right. I mean, who wants to be a milk-toast and never get noticed? I have to remind myself, that what I’m doing is important, even if it’s just for my own soul development. Since that’s the case, I’m determined not to let anyone stop me from following my inner voice. I hope you won’t let anyone stop you either.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014

Confessions of a Late Bloomer Baby Boomer

“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.” -Judy Blume

“Go confidently in the direction of our dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” -Henry David Thoreau

Sister Rita Sings

This week I thought I’d write about how my perception of the American Dream has changed. We all know the schtick; if we don’t get the money, big house, the fancy cars and all the other trappings of wealth, we’re failures. I don’t believe that any more, but, I was having trouble making sense of my jumbled thoughts. Then I saw an interview with Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies, which snapped my intent for this post into place.

Before I go on let me say that TCM is my favorite TV channel. I could do without almost all the rest, but not TCM. Part of the reason I love it so much is because of Robert Osborne. He’s a warm and welcoming gentleman who invites you to watch each classic movie with an open mind and see what you get out of it. He’s been the host since the very beginning when the station was launched twenty years ago. So, when I saw that he was going to be the subject of the next episode of “Private Screenings”, I was thrilled. And am I glad he agreed to be interviewed. Listening to him talk about how his love of movies was the driving force in his life, helped me get a new perspective on my own life.

I’ve always called myself a late bloomer. I’m not like my eleven year old niece who knew when she was three that she wanted to be a dancer, which she pursues with a passion. No, I wasn’t at all sure who I was or what I was passionate about, except I knew I loved stories. Like Robert, I grew up in small towns in Washington State. He was born and raised in Colfax, Washington. Like his parents, mine were working class people, but they loved movies. And we’d watch them on television, or we’d go as a family to see them on the big screen and then we’d talk about them. My parents were also readers, and we’d also talk about the books we were reading. So, I got a great education in literary analysis from my parents long before I declared theatre as my major.

One thing I was sure about, I wanted to pursue a career that was creative in some way, and so in college I got a double major in Religious Studies and Theatre and Speech. There is the element of story telling in both disciplines, and that is what attracted me to them. Of course, once out of college I had to get a job and, so, for two years I did clerical work. That is, until I couldn’t stand it any longer and quit. At that time, I decided to get my Masters degree in Theater Arts at Portland State University. Once I’d made the break from the drudgery of an office, I never looked back. From then on, I always looked for jobs that had some creative component to them, but deep in my heart I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was just afraid I didn’t have the talent to make a go of it. So, I settled and berated myself for not doing what I loved. That is until I was fifty-three years old. And that brings me back to Robert Osborne’s interview.

The thing I found interesting about Robert’s story is that he always loved movies. The job he has now wasn’t invented when he was getting his degree in journalism, but he kept his passion alive any way he could. He was at various times an actor, an entertainment journalist, a talk show movie expert, an author of a book about the Academy Awards, until at the age of sixty-one he became the host of TCM. Over the years he met all the great actors as their careers were waning and he helped my generation learn a new appreciation for them. He wasn’t at all embarrassed to tell about the lean years when he wasn’t making much money pursuing this passion for the movies. And that’s when I realized that he had been living the American Dream his entire life. His passion was movies and he never lost sight of that. In the end, keeping his focus on what he loved paid off, because for twenty years he’s been working at his dream job.

After watching his interview, I thought back over my own life. I’ve been pursuing my passion as well, that of telling stories. I’ve been an actor, stage manager, worked on costumes and sets, I’ve been a director and I’ve taught drama and English. All jobs that involve story telling. They all led up to becoming a writer. This year, I’ll be sixty-one years old and I’ll publish my first novel. I’ve got twenty or more years to enjoy telling stories in many different ways. My American Dream is coming true, and I’m very grateful for that.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014

Live in the Moment

“I find it unusual that it is more socially acceptable to complain about what you have than it is to ask for what you want.”- Phil Lout

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”- Harriet Beecher Stowe

December Sunrise over the San Jose Mountains

The photo above is of an early December sunrise over the San Jose Mountains in Mexico. It’s a perfect visual representation, for, here we are again at the dawning of another new year. Each new year, my friends and colleagues make their resolutions and share them on social media sites. I rarely make New Year’s resolutions, because I like to examine my life day-to-day and make changes and adjustments as I go along. However, this time of year does invite reflection and, so, I’ve been thinking back over the past year and what I’ve learned. The things that stick out most as I write this is that each day is a new beginning, and I’ve learned to appreciate this very moment. I now appreciate where I am, what I’ve got, and trust that what I need will appear when I need it.

I don’t know about you, but for years I lived only in the future, “I can’t wait until such and such happens,” or I lived in the past, “What if this hadn’t happened, or I’d made that choice, or I wish I’d done this or that.”

In 2013, I worked hard on living in the present moment and appreciating my life as it is “right now”. I started a gratitude journal. In it I wrote down all the good things I had in that moment. That’s a practice I’ll continue, because it helps me focus on the positive rather than the negative.

Another miraculous realization was how concentrating on the task at hand, and telling myself, “At this moment, I have everything I need”, makes me feel less stressed and so much happier. Giving up complaining was a big adjustment in my thinking, but I’m so glad I turned away from it toward gratitude.

This is what happens when I tell myself I have everything I need in this very moment: The knot in my stomach relaxes, so does the tension in my shoulders. And something else happens; I let go of having to control the outcome of anything that is playing out in my life. It’s such a relief to trust God, or the Universe, or Higher Power to take care of my life. When I do that, it feels like I’m not alone, and like I have a partner watching my back.

If you don’t believe in a Higher Power, you can still benefit from living in and concentrating on the present moment. After all, as many a wise teacher has said, now is all we have. Worrying about how things are going to turn out just makes life miserable and it doesn’t help you, or anybody else you’re worrying about. As my sister says, “People think worry is love, but it’s not.” She’s right. Worry is a negative state of being, and if I’ve got a resolve for this or any year, it’s to get rid of as much negative thinking as I possibly can. Everyone can benefit from turning their thinking to more positive directions.

Another great thing happened to me this year. I changed the way I think about my writing. I found that when I concentrate on the work of writing, it flows. Worrying about all the stuff I’ll have to do after my book is ready to be published bogs down my creative process. So, living in the present moment and dipping into my creative fountain, makes me much more productive. When it’s time to turn my attention to marketing and promotion, I’ll concentrate on those tasks.

So, Happy New Year to all my readers. I’m grateful for your comments and continued support by reading and sharing these posts. I send my good thoughts out to all of you and hope you’ll find more positives in your life this year.