Yo, Ho, Ho!
Ahoy, me Hexlings!
The other night, a fellow who spoke at the vigil quoted the first stanza of poet Walt Whitman’s long poem, “Song of Myself.” The lines are:
I Celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
These three lines are glorious, and not too long, and I would like us to learn to say them aloud together. Remember how I was talking with you about pride? Whitman has pride; he celebrates himself and he tells the reader that she should mirror him. He says that they are made of the same atoms. What belongs to him, belongs to his reader. What a loving thing for a writer to say to a reader!
Whitman encourages us to see others as ourselves. This was not a concept that originated with Walt Whitman, in fact it echoes one of the ten commandments in the Bible -thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself- but he rephrases it in a musical, poetic way. We see so much evidence of human beings NOT practicing this, which makes it extra important that we try to practice it and that we try to notice others practicing it. This is empathy. It is the ability to think compassionately about how actions affect people other than ourselves. It is so important. Without it, our world is a goner. I have always thought that education that does not teach empathy is worth very little. As a teacher, if there is only one thing I hope for my students to learn from me, it is empathy. I model it and discuss it, and I pray it causes what a wonderful professor of mine, Dr. West, used to call a “ripple effect.” She was talking about feminist theory, but it applies here, too. It refers to what happens when someone skips a stone on the water– there are ripples that travel beyond where the stone first hits.
Our choices cast ripples in the universe, ones we cannot always see but know exist.
We must strive to share. We must strive to give. We must strive to live humbly and love greatly. These are the things that those three lines in “Song of Myself” urge us to do. I see the spirit of this stanza (a stanza is a group, or formation, of lines in a poem) in the theatre community, more than in other places, and that may be why, after years “away” from it, I was drawn back. I had to sing the “song of myself.” It’s true that I have had to let go of A LOT and change in big ways in order to be ready to return to involvement with theatre. But it was right with my soul.
Shakespeare is a good place for empathy-building to take shape. People who have a song to sing, a song of empathy, often do so through the arts, through performing and painting and all sorts of things.
If you possess the song of empathy, you are already an artist, because you possess a soul and art is soul. A soul is what connects us. To whatever we love. Someone. Something. Whatever we love. A soul is a shared thing; it is there for sharing. Some people don’t believe in souls, but I do. I equate the soul with the strongest place of connection in our minds– it is the part of the mind that seeks empathy and understanding, the part that wants to sing to someone or something. Maya Angelou was a great poet with an immense soul that lives on in her poetry; she wrote a poem called “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” First of all, why do you think the caged bird sings? What’s a caged bird like? I want to hear your answers before I tell you Angelou’s answer.
Maya told us that the caged bird sings of freedom; he sings of freedom because he is enslaved. It is sad and hopeful to think about a bird in a cage, isn’t it? The hopeful part is the bird, is in the bird. It is the enslaved bird’s will to live and desire to be free that keeps him alive amidst the tragedy of circumstance. Angelou’s bird celebrates himself and all beings, like Whitman does, because the one benefit (that I have found) in suffering is empathy. Suffering changes people. It makes them conscious of things that, if they had not suffered, they would not be conscious of. It makes them judge others less and consider others more. It’s not that suffering is good, per se, but that it opens us to the song of ourselves, the song of empathy, the song in us that longs to overcome, to be free, to celebrate: that is art and that is the soul and that is empathy.
And that’s enough for now about poetry. Darah, yesterday, you gave me a piece of advice. You told me that if I would write shorter letters, then you could actually read them. You said, “Well, if you wouldn’t write them so long, Mummy, we would read them!” You said it in your humorous way, and you made me chuckle. I said, “Well, they will be there for you when you are old enough to read a long letter,” but I am also going to try to write you short letters, too. Sometimes I just need to say… I love you. Or tell you about a crazy encounter with a squirrel. Or talk about the weather. You made such a good point. My letters to you don’t have to be twenty-one pages long. Sometimes a paragraph is epic enough.
Love should be epic. Think about it. Writing abounds where love abounds. My letters are my “songs of myself.” They are all about sharing life with you.
Speaking of LIFE, as in the board game, a week or so ago I asked you, “Have you played the game of LIFE lately?” Darah, you responded by saying, “No” and then you sighed, “It’s because it has you written all over it.” I laughed so hard because you are a phrase-magnet, and you have a knack for properly using them. And you were SO right. LIFE does have me written all over it. And the two of you, too. So many things around me have “Darah and Elanah” written all over them. Even the clothes I wear remind me of you because I remember wearing them in your presence. Everything reminds me of you! I only get sad because I think about how far away you are and how I miss you. That is when my heart aches and my tears well. But then I think about getting to hold you and see you and kiss your faces in exactly a month, and that calms my heartache.
Today we celebrated Uncle Joey’s birthday. He’s 24 years old. Darah, you were one and Elanah was just about to grow in my womb when I was his age. I can’t believe Joey is 24! We talked about it this afternoon. I said, “Whose birthday is it today?” And you both said, “Jooooooeeeeeeyyyyy.” You two have told me that I look “just like Joey” and that makes me smile because I am happy to be like Joey. He is beautiful on the outside, but we know that’s not important. What’s important is how beautiful he is on the inside.
Joey has been gentle and sensitive since he was a little baby. We know that there are no such things as “perfect little angels,” but Joey came close. Joey is a cat-parent. Joey is a nurturer. Joey is a gentleman. Joey is himself. Joey is love. And we celebrate him.
Gramma Sue is on her way back to Florida. I will miss her. It was really nice having her with me for the week; I can be myself and feel at ease, and secure, with her. There’s just something about moms…something comforting. And to think, you have more than one!
We are getting closer to starting the show. The Winter’s Tale goes up in about a week. It’s very exciting. One of my favorite things, among many, is when people who are passing through the park stop and start watching the rehearsal. I especially love when someone who doesn’t know about Shakespeare or Shakespeare in the Park stops in and starts listening. It happens quite often, and the thing I notice is that they always end up smiling and enjoying it. It’s really great when kids your age crouch down and get into it. I just love that. You won’t be able to see this show, but you will be able to see The Taming of the Shrew, and I know you’ll love it. There will be pirates, argggghhh!!!
Tonight was our first full run with most of the props and furniture. I loved tonight because I worked my butt off. Yep, my butt got so tired she ran off! Not really, but wouldn’t that be something…! My butt didn’t really run off; she’s still with me, but she’s kind of a pain, right now, to put it plainly. My back is a pain, too. I am doing a lot of furniture moving, up and down stairs, and sometimes it’s heavy and sometimes it’s in the dark, so I have to be careful because of my back issue. I will probably have to wear one of my back braces under my clothes for the show, just to keep my back upright and to remind me to hold it that way. I had never had a back problem until after I had my epidurals, and after the back injury I had earlier this year, I cannot risk it.
I am small and fragile, but I am stronger than I look. I carried around a lot of things tonight, and it feels good to do manual labor, actually. Most of the time I am doing intellectual work and using my fine motor skills, so it’s good to sometimes exercise my body, as well. That’s one of the reasons it was such a JOY (I accidentally wrote JOEY, but … SAME THING) for me to get to fill in for a dancer during a dance rehearsal.
You two are my dancers. I think everyone (who wants to dance) should dance because it frees the soul. Part of the reason I love that you love to dance is because I LOVE to dance. Dance is a song, a song that is sung through the whole body instead of just through the mouth, lungs, and diaphragm. I used to be “a dancer.” Now that my body is older, I cannot do what I once was able to do, but I still love to dance. It’s just that now I have to work harder and pay more attention to what I am doing so I don’t end up dizzy on the floor, feeling nauseous because I overdid the headbanging (anyone who has seen me dance privately, and that would include the two of you, knows how spastic I can be). I love that you love to make up your own dances.
Elanah, I love to think back to this little memory I have of you in the backseat of the car when you were one. We had dropped Momma Si off at the airport to take a trip and were on the long drive home, and I was playing some classic Melissa Etheridge, and I looked back at you in my rear-view mirror, and you were rapidly banging your head to the song. It is one of the cutest things I have ever seen and it was hilarious because of just HOW rapidly you were headbanging. You were a high-speed tiny baby rocker. I still have never seen anything like that. I knew you had some mad dancing -and comedic- skills at that moment. If only we had caught it on camera. (Yes, I can do an impersonation.)
Tonight I was lifted up by the people I work with at Shakespeare in the Park. I began to make friends with the actors backstage, and we were laughing together and having fun. I also had some very kind people say some very kind words to me, complimenting me for my hard work, which meant a lot. And I was able to say kind things to my new friends, as well, which is easy because they are great people and very talented performers that I know will bring joy to so many people who come and see the show. See, when a cast and crew work together to share a story on the stage, called a play, with an audience, they are, in a way, saying what Walt Whitman said.
Before I say goodnight/goodmorning, I have to tell you about a very special person by the name of Saul Elkin. Dr. Elkin is a well-respected figure in the community, and now that I have the privilege of getting to know him personally and professionally, I know why. You know how I said that Joey was a gentleman? Dr. Elkin is a gentleman, too. He is gentle and kind and welcoming, and he possesses the qualities that give me hope for humanity, qualities that should be celebrated. I am lucky to be around him right now, not only to learn from him as a professional but to be lifted up by his empathy. There are people who only serve themselves, but Saul is a person who serves others and his community, and he does so generously and primarily through Shakespeare, through his love of Shakespeare and his love of his community. A lot of people love Shakespeare; it’s not just Mummy. Shakespeare wrote plays for the common good, for all people. He wrote plays for commoners and elites alike. He wrote plays that celebrate life, human suffering and joy, and human connection. Dr. Elkin has devoted his life to giving people access to FREE theatre, to FREE Shakespeare. He has done this because he has a HUGE soul, a HUGE capacity for empathy. What I call an ATOMIC LOVE for humanity. The kind of love for life and living that Shakespeare, himself, had.
The spirit of Shakespeare is for everyone. For pirates and poets and poet-pirates, alike. Every atom of Shakespeare belongs to the globe of souls.You know you’re where you’re supposed to be when it doesn’t feel like work, when you would do it without pay, like I am happily doing, when you would live poor and give up other things to do it. You know you’re where you’re supposed to be when you don’t care how late you have to stay. When what’s happening, even if it’s repetitious, never ceases to delight you. That’s how I feel when I’m with my writing. That’s how I feel when I’m with Shakespeare. That’s how I feel when I’m with you. Joy. Life. Love.
I left rehearsal tonight feeling a sense of purpose and direction. Saul thanked me for my hard work and I said, “My goal is to be useful.” He is a sincere person and he said to me, sincerely, “Well, you have become indispensable.” That made my night. When you are in the right place and you are doing what you know you should be doing, you do it with all your heart, you do it without an expectation of a benefit outside of your personal joy, you do it because, to you, it is a song you sing from your cage, whatever that cage may be. I am lucky to be able to sing, not alone, but with others. Not just with you, but with many others, too. This is why I wrote to Shakespeare in Delaware Park this Spring to ask how I could help and if I could be involved. This is why I love Shakespeare and theatre. And you. Because we were meant to sing. Together.
Goodnight and goodmorning, my songbirds, my lovebirds, my everythingbirds.
Blimey, 2:30 AM! Well, blow me down! Who’s bein’ in charge o’ this here ship! Ye lassies better be fast asleep or I’ll pillage the poop deck. Shiver me timbers; I best be makin’ me way to me Head and gettin’ me sorry sod of a rump to me inhospitable sleepin’ bench!
I’ll be seein’ ye two wee scallywags tomorrow mornin’, if I’ll ever be wakin’ up… if ye don’t here from me, hoist me a Jolly Roger! I can’t be sleepin’ too long if I be wantin’ to ransack Booty Island!
I be sendin’ all my love,
Yer Mummy Buccaneer
P.S. I got a lot of compliments on my signature plastic skeleton earring tonight. And the Grateful Dead shirt I was wearing. A very funny fellow asked me if I was going for the pirate Muppet look. I said, “Yep, that’s me.” (Argh, Mateys….)