Archive for the FAITH, FAMILY and FUN Category

Attend…a REALLY GOOD tale.

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2014 by erikball123

I believe the role of a Lutheran teacher is to foster a relationship of trust and mutual respect with a student so that they (collectively) can take advantage of academic, social and religious information, skill sets and opportunities to the fullest. It is then the Lutheran teacher’s job to provide an opportunity for the student to demonstrate their understanding of the topic through practical application or performance.

Enter drama teacher, stage left.

The school where I teach and direct will offer SWEENEY TODD as part of next year’s season. The musical by Stephen Sondheim (American theatrical composer, and arguably one of the most influential composers of the last three decades) and Hugh Wheeler (book writer) is one of the most celebrated musicals of all time, garnishing a veritable trunkful of top honors including the Tony Award – Best Musical, the Drama Desk Award – Best Musical, and the Olivier Award – Best Musical (a feat that not even the likes of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA or LES MISERABLES could accomplish.) It is a tale of a Victorian-era, London barber, Benjamin Barker, who is incarcerated for life under a false charge, so that a tyrannical judge may covet his wife. Barker, now 15 years later and a pale fragment of the man he once was, escapes back to London hoping to find a loving wife and child, but finds, that the city has changed, in much the same way he has. Finding out through an accomplice Mrs. Lovett, who owns a meat pie shop under his old barber shop, he finds that his wife is now dead and his daughter is being held as a ward in the same Judge’s care. Focused on revenge, Barker, who adopts the alias Sweeney Todd, seeks revenge, and cooks his victims in Lovett’s meat pies…and through a course of sub-plot twists and turns, finds that in the end, love and the cruelties of this world have blinded him. It is a poignant, humorous (oddly enough), telling and relatable tale that audiences love to be a part of. (Much in the same way 13 year-old boys root for the bad guy during a WWE wrestling match. Macho Man Randy Savage was always my favorite.) There is a savageness to the elements of the story….but we all know that wrestling is fake.

sweeney and lovett

George Hearn and Angela Lansbury in Broadway’s SWEENEY TODD.

 

It’s a ghost story, make no mistake about that. This generation probably won’t be so anxious to sit down to the George Hearn and Angela Lansbury broadway version, because a much more accessible Johnny Depp version (with 3D blood effects) is much more attractive. That particular version is a box-office wonder, no doubt…and I enjoyed it. But Hollywood is not the stage, and movies are not theatre. They can be theatrical…but the human element of creating a stage production is ever present that in order for Sweeney Todd to work, it absolutely must have an audience….like a courtroom full of jurors ready to put to trial this man who will plead for a second chance throughout two acts. I hope the audience judges this show. This is a “musical thriller” that invites audiences to “attend” the tale of Sweeney Todd. Not listen, not observe….”attend.” Become a part of the story. The story itself is masterfully written. I regard it as living, breathing poetry for the stage. It controls, with masterful precision, dark humor and caricatures which would appear to be as superficial as Dicken’s Ghost of Jacob Marley, and yet as real as any neglectful, self-serving icon of today’s media world. Sondheim’s music, which any theatrical scholar or theatre-lover might argue, is nothing short of genius with four-part harmonies (and a one-point, overlapping four-parts of melodies) interweaving themselves into a tapestry of a time we’ve only ever thought about. It’s twisted in the same way our perception of that particular time might be.

So, why, then? Why SWEENEY TODD?

I would argue that the ugliness of this secular world and human nature in general is quite evident in nearly every musical. It’s essential to the conflict and plot resolution. When we presented INTO THE WOODS (another Sondheim classic) we presented questions regarding infidelity, sacrifice, death and greed. In ROMEO & JULIET (another show, well-received by audiences at my school) we examined suicide, betrayal and nearly every other character died a bloody death. In DRACULA (yet another thrilling offering) found us identifying with a monster, who sucks blood and turns into a bat at night. These offerings are not unlike Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS where one theatre patron was moved to comment that the “I Love a Piano” song was all about sexual innuendo. (?!?!?!) I reeled for a bit in disbelief, as I thought WHITE CHRISTMAS to be as innocent as the driven-snow (or in this show’s case, lack of snow) and then remembered that every patron has the right to an opinion.

How theatre is perceived is very interesting to me. There are those that won’t bat an eye at a production of GREASE. (Heck, a year deosn’t go by when our 8th graders don’t perform a lip sync competition to “Greased Lightning!”) One might argue that this seemingly innocent story is a stereotype of a “rebel without a cause” era and therefore “good clean dirt.” I argue, any story “without a cause”, even one that goes against morality, is bad storytelling. Even those hardened atheists out there would have a very hard argument against the fact that the Bible contains brilliant parables about morality.

Perception is often based on an individuals’ relationship to this world. But, you see that’s what’s so glorious about the theatre: people bring their own feelings, relationships and personal insights to the venue. It’s what works within them as they contemplate the story and character’s dilemma. It’s what motivates them to come to conclusions at the end of the show as to whether or not they enjoyed the production. I’m sure there will be some people that won’t categorize Sweeney Todd in their top ten. But it’s this same personal insight that also influences them to choose Fruit Loops over Bran Flakes in the cereal aisle. Fruit Loops are better…and that’s their choice and opinion…and they’re not wrong for feeling that way.

These offerings are essential to the Christian high school student looking to learn more from or make a career in the theatrical arts. I would argue that in the secular works of this Darwinistic world, these are stories worth telling, as they challenge our sensibilities, asking us to decipher good from evil, truth from fallacies and right from wrong. As artists (in design offstage and as performers onstage) it is essential that we find God in our work. As a theatre teacher and director, it is my privilege to put in front of the students productions that I believe will be well-generated examples that would serve this purpose well. Shows like JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, while a wonderful, engaging (and successful) theatrical offering, guaranteed to put a smile on the face of even those who sit in the back pew on Sunday, on the flip side, from a content structure standpoint, it’s a flawed show (in my opinion), as it doesn’t reflect on God’s saving grace, and leaves those who are unchurched little connection to the ultimate goal, which I would assume is to invite an audience to attend the tale of a lost man who is wronged. In that particular story, all ends happily with bright-sparkly jazz hands. Does this make it a show “not worth doing?” Not necessarily. Rather I might argue it is worth the investment, as it provides an opportunity to learn more. As a teacher, it’s a win-win opportunity.

The value of a ghost story about another wronged man that ends tragically and with the villain (which we find ourselves strangely a bit sympathetic with) meeting his end due to his naivety, is equally important. It’s the same reason the Bible story of Job is valuable. (He maintains his love for the Lord regardless of all that happens to him.) In the case of SWEENEY TODD, we challenge the audience to think about what would happen should “Job-y Todd” lose his faith…and instead run from the deliverance of evil in hot pursuit of a revenge he believes he needs.

The world of theatre is an escape from reality and will always be presented as a means by which to discover anew the value of one’s mind, heart, soul and faith. It interrupts the artificial sensibilities we possess, that of a hot-bed media conglomerate, wrought with agenda that interrupts our perception of how and who we should be according to our faith. In the end moments of Sweeney Todd, the ensemble sings “To seek revenge may lead to hell, but everyone does it and seldom as well.”

SWEENEY TODD is not unlike any other theatrical production. It’s a love story about a man who was wronged and hopes only to return to a reality he once new in the comforts of the only love he had. He’s a killer yes. (So is Dexter, Dorothy Gail from Kansas, nearly every Shakespearean protagonist, David, Sampson, Cain, etc.)  These wonderfully relatable characters serve as foils for deeper meaning. In Sweeney’s feverish pursuit, he forgets that sometimes the blessings we so richly are afforded by a loving God, are right in front of our faces. (“Don’t I…know you…mister…?”) *For those of you who know the show…you know what I mean. For those of you who don’t…you’ll see what I mean.

I look forward to producing this musical. But, more importantly, I look forward to providing an opportunity for my students to practice (through their own skill-sets and sensibilities) delivering a thrilling story that will charge an audience to think about the world around them and their station in it. I will ask them to find God within the work and demonstrate an understanding of why there might just be a little bit of Sweeney in all of us. (“Isn’t that Sweeney there beside you?”) It is my hope that the audience might be able to relate to elements in the story, much like I hoped that we might relate with two estranged ogres last year (more fictitious characters). The brandishing of a razor…the flouring of a meat pie….the trapped song bird….that’s all beautiful, symbolic elements of a love story set to the stage and served up with a bit of a jolt. (Like the feeling one gets when they ALMOST has a fender-bender in the afternoon traffic.) I hope patrons leave thinking “Thank God.” We should be so lucky to have a loving God that we can trust in when we are awoken to the dangers of the world.

I appreciate, more than words, that I have an administration that trusts that our production of SWEENEY TODD will be presented with artistic and creative integrity and a clear vision that would challenge students to look beyond the opportunity to merely “play a bad guy”. I hope you’ll attend.

“A CHRISTMAS STORY” targets Faith Lutheran

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM on November 2, 2011 by erikball123

We hope you will all join us for the Faith Lutheran Theatre Company High School Spotlight Production “A CHRISTMAS STORY” – Get your tickets now at www.FaithTheatreCompany.com

Your Choice: Be a Zombie…or be Aware.

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2011 by erikball123

I always thought my family was incredibly nosey. I recall incidents when my mother or father would pick up the receiver of another house phone to interrupt my call with my school friend to tell me it was time for dinner. Or, the countless teachers I had that caught me talking in class or doing something silly behind their backs, supporting the theory that teachers have eyes in the backs of their heads. Even my grandmother, on nights I had my girlfriend over to watch a movie, would walk into the room with impecable timing to offer us cookies…or something. (That girlfriend, by the way, is now my wife…and we now laugh at those moments.) Nosey, nosey people. Right?

I’m finding as I get older, that the people I once thought were gettin’ “up in my grill” (to use the street vernacular) were actually just acutely aware. It has come to my attention (pun intended) that society as we know it has becaome less and less aware of themselves. I could put a spin on this post by going on and on about the various medias that probe our minds, or the various technological influences that control our every move. (Of course, I could simply type this post on my iPad, iPhone or one of my three computers. I could even text it in if I wanted to…but that would take too long, and I have crops to harvest on Farmville and tweets to twit on Twitter. So…yeah.)

Instead, I think I’ll let you all assume that the bulk of this post has to do with the fact that times, they are a’changin’…and let’s agree that there are MANY reasons/influences that could be blamed. I’m satisfied with this. I’m not trying to nail down a culprit here. I guess you could say my goal was to merely bring awareness to the fact that we aren’t as aware as we once were. Allow me to elaborate. Here are some every day examples of how society demonstrates that they aren’t aware:

  • TURN SIGNALS – It’s a common argument (when discussing driving etiquette) but I truly have noticed (say in the last three years) that more and more drivers simply don’t use their turn signals. Back roads, main roads, highways, drive ways…it’s absolutely astounding to me. I tried to break into the psychological reasoning behind it. The result is a very selfish one. If you think about it, the only reason a turn signal exists is to ensure the safety of others, primarily. To NOT use it…means that the driver cares MORE about whatever they are doing inside the car (or not doing, for that matter!) is MORE important that the safety and ultimately the concern of others. That’s very bad. Watch the next few times you are driving…you’ll see what I mean. People aren’t using their signals! I looked it up…when turning left or right onto any roadway, parkway or driveway, a driver must have their turn signal on at least 100 feet before the turn. Failure to do so can result in a ticket. Come on police….let’s nab ’em!!!!
  • WALKING – Okay, I live in Vegas. One of the busiest cities in the world (especially when it comes to tourism.) But, with that said, I don’t think it is too much to ask to be courteous when you are walking around in public. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times I’ve been walking down the aisle of the grocery store and someone (in this example, a crazed Steelers fan with red glasses and Crocs) is walking right toward me….and nearly takes me out like a freakin’ hockey player, only to (seconds before) look up, shoot me a dirty look and walk away. Most of the time these people are on their cell phones, or texting. But sometimes it’s a general focus issue. Take the little kid with the dirty face I met in the parking lot today. I was walking into a store and was nearly thrown to the pavement when he swiped my left leg. He turned and looked at me like I was insane…but what was worse was the mother who just walked by and said NOTHING to him. Just kept walking. I could easily chalk these experiences as being merely rude…but the FOCUS is gone. If these people were aware that they are positing themselves in public areas, where others are co-existing, then we can all go about our days safely. I blame zombie movies. We’ve all adopted that particular mind set, I guess.
  • CLOSING DOORS – When you walk through a door…do not presume that there is no one behind you. Actually look…then if there is, I don’t care how rushed you are…hold it for them. Adults and students alike…you are guilty as charged.
  • PLEASANTRIES – This is a personal pet peeve of mine. We’re all busy. I’m constantly buzzing from one place to another. But, if I’m in a hall walking from point A to point B, and I pass a fellow teacher or a student….or God forbid, a stranger…and I say “good morning,” or “hello,”….is the sky going to rain down fire and brimstone if you answer back with a pleasantry? I’m in awe at this. This social formality is probably the easiest to fix. Just remember, you are not alone in this world…there are others…and sometimes they are nice people who are just trying to be nice. Try to turn on your “common courtesy radar” and drop a “good morning” every now and then. For the love of all that is holy, it won’t kill you!
  • TIME – To all the people of the world: I promise you, I will never presume that my schedule is more jam-packed than yours, if you promise to keep in mind, that in this busy busy life, we all have places to go and people to see. Please be aware of what is going on in the big picture for everyone…not just you. Try not to monopolize time. Try not to presume others have access time to spare. And most of all, don’t drop by unannounced. Unless you’re a beloved friend with a cute daughter who brightens our day with a little smile from next door…It really puts people in awkward situations when they are forced to choose: either accommodate this interruption and figure out a way to work it into what you have already planned on doing, or tell them to leave. For non-confrontation people like me…this is very trying at times.
  • INSTANT INFORMATION – I would say that students today get exactly what they want…when they want it. Every day, without fail, students walk into my classroom and say, “what are we doing today?” Patience is a fruit of the spirit, and I guarantee these children….they WILL indeed find out in mere minutes. But, no. They NEED to know right now. (Why? Because when they NEED to know something, they are so accustomed to getting that info instantly.) When watching a Charlie Chaplin movie with my Clowning & Puppetry class, a student goes “what’s going to happen to him”…right in the middle of the movie. Just shouts it out. I replied “wait and see.” “But, is he going to jail?” They asked. “Just wait and see.” “Yeah…but, is he going to jail?” I don’t exaggerate. If the student was patient, and watched with 100% focus / awareness….they would receive all the info they need to watch the movie.
In church today, pastor talked about the fact that we are all so very fortunate. How we take for granted the unbelievable resources that are not only available to us daily, but completely at our disposal, daily. To think some people don’t have clean water to drink, or a bed to sleep on. I’m typing on a $2000 laptop and I’m complaining about turn signals. What the Sam Hill gives me the right!? Right?!
I suppose my point is, we all are so accustomed to the lives we lead. We are unaccustomed to those lives in foreign lands where people must cope with conditions that are very different from our own. I suppose it unrealistic to expect anyone (least of all, me) to radically change our daily existences to make up for the sufferings / challenges of other countries. But I do think that change is possible, if approached bit-by-bit.
Awareness is something we can all do. (Heck, if this ADD-riddled freak can turn on the radar a little more, you can.) I think the result is a friendlier, more sensitive, encouraging and safer place. We shouldn’t have to live life on the defensive. Instead let’s choose a less-driven path…and focus on being a smidge more aware in this beautiful world. I’m positive we can make a difference.
Until then…I’m going to walk over to the teacher’s lounge for a soda. Perhaps I’ll meet a zombie. If so, I’ll make sure I use my turn signal as I swerve out of their way.

Measuring Down?

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2011 by erikball123

The last time I made cookies, I had to throw the batter away half way through the cooking process. I tested the first batch, of course, and nearly choked. I obviously measured something wrong. I didn’t pay that much attention, as I’ve made cookies before…and thought, what the heck. (I’ve been watching Food Network. It’s souring my thinking.) It was a true lesson that it is not a shame to pick up a measuring cup. (Maybe I should just leave the cookie making to my wife!)

I guess some things CAN be measured. Let me restate that. Some things SHOULD be measured.

I have been thinking a lot about my students this week. It’s been a busy week. (And I forgot to tell you last week about my middle school student who, during group work, tapped me on my shoulder. I turned round. He was wearing a paper mustache and goatee. Cooly, he stated in a dark Guatemalan accent, “I don’t drink often. But when I do…I prefer Dos Equis.” I almost wet myself. It was the funniest thing I’ve seen in months.) Anyway…I digress.

My students are literally the highlight of my day, and the most concerning part of my approach TO my day. Let me explain. Faith Lutheran High School (the best school in the country) is a caring, nurturing supportive, and safe exception to any student’s Middle School / High School career. I love it there. I find myself spending hours nit-picking little tiny things to complain about daily…simply because it is such an amazing place to be. Isn’t that funny? I kick myself daily, saying “I’m too blessed to be stressed.” At the ends of my days (good days and bad)…I walk to my Nissan Cube, and I find myself worried about my students. Why should I worry about these kids, who are in our care, behind decorative gates and stone walls, sharing the good word of Jesus Christ? I’m proud of my students. I have faith in my students. I’m scared for my students.

I think sometimes…we don’t allow our students to fail.

There is an onset expectation when you purchase something, and that is, you’re going to GET what you paid for. If you grab a Sierra Mist, you know you’re getting ice cold, citrusy goodness. If you purchase a new car, it darn well better fill you nostrils with new car smell. If you purchase a Happy Meal, gosh darn it, there had better be a toy in there! You GET what you pay for. I think there should be NO EXCEPTION with that mind-set when you enroll a student in a private school for a quality education. It’s part of my philosophy as I approach my classroom everyday. I’m fulfilling my end of that expectation. Is this a reasonable expectation when we’re dealing with impressionable young people? People with personal goals, dreams, fears….and unique dynamics? I wonder.

Every time I post a cast list, and one of my students allows the ensemble role that they thought would be a principle role alter their self-control…and they begin bad-mouthing a fellow student…I break down inside a little.  Every time I witness the rules bend ever so slightly for a student so that they may be allowed to play a sport, or participate in an event….because that parent called the administration, and maybe, just maybe, this is the “least disruptive solution”….I question my approach to these kids, a little. Every time I see a student cut in the lunch line…get caught…and then don’t react with remorse…I feel a little lost.

“Wow, Erik. There are teachers in some schools walking the same halls where drug deals are being made, and your dissecting a situation regarding cutting in the lunch line?? Dang, you wussy.” Well…in my defense, this is all I know. I feel very badly for third world countries where people go to sleep starving every day. I will pray for them. But, I cannot fully understand that world, or affectively “deal” with it either…because this is the only world I know. So, in the sterile lunch lines of Faith Lutheran…yeah, these things affect me.

What are we doing to our students? Teaching them. Right. But what? Reading, Writing and Arithmetic? What about winning AND losing? Right AND wrong? Good AND bad? They surely know WHAT these things are….but do they know HOW these things are?

We do not affectively prepare our students for the real world, if we don’t ALLOW THEM to fail sometimes.

There is this saying, that I love, that goes, “Try your best. Even if you fall on your face…you’re still moving forward.”

Students are going to mess up…get a C- on their AP English homework…forget to turn an assignment in….get a detention for necking in the hallway…smoke a cigarette. All students mess up…they are all TEMPTED to compromise the free will and self-control that is gifted to them by God. It’s not the messing up that is important….it’s WHAT THEY DO AFTERWARDS that will surely define their characters, and generate exceptional, private school students…and even better, lay the ground-work for brilliant young Christian leaders after high school.

I sat four young men down after a middle school class this week. They were talking out of turn, disrupting the presentations of their classmates, snapping rubber bands and playing on their cell phones. All within 10 minutes. (I told you we had multi-tasking, talented kids at Faith.) I pulled them aside and said “look…I don’t want to give you a detention. YOU don’t want me to give you a detention. I need you to be respectful in class. If not, the school’s rules state that you must receive a punishment, which in turn makes me the bad guy…which in turn makes you unhappy with me, which makes me sad. So…here’s the deal. I’ll give you your phone back. The rubber bands I’m keeping…because, frankly, I’m out of rubber bands….but we’ll start fresh next class, with a clearer understanding of my expectations. If then, we continue to have problems…. detention. Understood?” Three of the four kids apologized. I accepted it….and waited. The fourth got a detention today. He continued down the same path. I asked him to stay after class…and then I asked him to fill out the detention form. He did it sharply and quickly…and accepted it. I think that was VERY good.

I’ll tell you something. The process of MAKING good cookies is always the same. Mix the proper ingrediants…bake them for a certain time…allow them to cool. We can measure what NEEDS to go into each cookie, very carefully. But, what happens if we make an error? I don’t blame the process of making cookies…and I certainly don’t stop making cookies altogether. Instead, I learn from my mistakes, restart and try again. I learn. Hopefully, I’ll wind up with better cookies.

If we (teachers and parents) take time with our students…nurture their needs as individuals (as we all know that God made each of these little ones by hand…there were no cookie cutters up in heaven)….and then be a part of the clean up process when they fail (continuing to nurture)…then maybe we’ll wind up with a batch of really well-prepared cookies.

And who doesn’t appreciate a well-prepared cookie?

“Excuse Me, I Have to Take This Call.”

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2011 by erikball123

One of the shows that I used to watch as a kid was The Cosby Show. I still value the wisdom and humor of Bill Cosby as one of the most influential forces in my life, personally. The show itself, which featured the life lessons of the loveable Huxtable family, lives in the annals of time as one of the most beloved television shows ever, and I can recite half of the episodes word for word. Sometimes I wish life was a little bit simpler, perhaps more “scripted” and decorated with life lessons, like that one episode where Theo was getting ready for college and he had to buy back is bedroom furniture…or the brilliant episode where the husbands of the Huxtable woman challenged each other to try and purchase the most romantic gift ever. It’s a half an hour of feel good moments that I cherish.

When I think about time, and how my time is spent…and this day and ages’ “normal day”…for some reason, I capture the image of Heathcliff Huxtable, the hard working obstetrician, trying with every fiber of his being to catch just a few winks on the family room sofa before having to go in for another shift at the hospital. This last round of unexpected call ins has kept him busy for hours…and at the height of the scene, Heathcliff rolls over and exclaims to little Rudy, who has interrupted his sleep, “Rudy, I just delivered over 100 babies…I need some sleep.”

I guess we all get to a point to where we feel like there is just no catching up on rest…and others’ perception of our plight is just simply not understood. (No matter how noble the cause.)

Now, I don’t deliver babies….ha! Yeah, God bless doctors…I can’t even stand the waiting rooms….I’m a simple High School Drama teacher…but I do feel sometimes that times are changing and expectations are extremely high with regards to how much time we are expected to spend in the efforts to be the greatest school on earth. Now, I promise this won’t turn into a sob-fest…but rather I’d like to take note that times they be a-changin’. Today, the parents of the students I teach are people my age, which means that I need to appreciate what these people are going through as they manage the trials of their children’s school careers. Yet, I don’t. I find myself frustrated…and pointing fingers.

You ever find yourself mad at someone, just because they’re going home at 3pm…and you have to stay for rehearsal…or an after-school activity. That’s all. They didn’t DO anything to you…there isn’t any REAL reason to be angry….but ooooo! They get to go home…and rest, and stuff. And I’ve gotta stay…and do stuff. Dang it! Shoot!

I have only to blame myself for being committed to many things…I like to stay active and involved…I love attention…I love working with the kids outside of class…and I bring it on myself. But, I get increasing annoyed with the 24/7, on-call status that I feel I sometimes am expected to maintain as a teacher. The emails I have to answer up to midnight from students and parents…phone calls I have to return…make-up test/assignment arrangements I have to make and attend…make-up auditions and “meetings” before an after class to “discuss” stuff. We’re on-call counselors, curriculum directors, tutors and mentors. On top of that…I work at the most wonderful high school in the country. A private school where I don’t have to worry about getting shot in the hallways…face drug deals in the bathrooms….and worry about gangs. And I sit here…annoyed and tired. Shame on me, right?

I guess I think about these sort of things because of the ways of the world that I recall when I was growing up. I recall my parents making me going to school no matter how sick I was. I would have to be puking or running a fever before I was allowed to stay home. Today…kids “don’t wanna” go to school…and they spend the day at home. (And I won’t get into the numerous unplanned vacations that are taken throughout the school year. That’s a subject for another blog.) I don’t understand the mind set of some parents. Perhaps they justify things because it’s a private school…and when you pay enrollment, there is a certain expectation. “I pay for this school…if I wanna pull my kid to take them to Hawaii…well, darn it, I’m gonna.”

I guess I’m not arguing about a lack of rest…or a desire to have a nightly vacation from school to recharge. I guess my concerns come from a lack of responsibility that we don’t enforce in today’s students. These are teenagers after all. The same ones that come up to me in class during group work and say, “Mr. Ball, where is some white paper.” “Um…right there.” “Oh, yeah.” Open your eyes…look around…and find the paper. If you cannot find it…after HUNTING for it….then ask. I’m afraid everything nowadays is being served up on a silver platter…and all our teenagers know how to do is ring the little bell and request another “thing.”

I guess what I’d like to see more of (because I always tell my students to stop complaining unless they have a solution!) is parents making their students more responsible for things. The text book stuff…it’s very important…but dude, even the smartest of smart people have to admit that some of the most important stuff you can take away from high school is the collaboration…the ensemble efforts…the trial and error of the everyday interactions. How can students learn how to identify a true success, if they don’t fail every now and then.

Hotlines are important. I think they are an integral part of society and should exist for many worthy causes. But have you ever noticed that hotlines exist primarily for urgent needs? I mean, rarely do you find a go-to source for mundane, everyday things? I feel like the age of technology and the turn of the decades (and this age of parents) expects teachers to drop everything for their students. I guarantee you….we do. (And for the most part, we WANT to.) But, when it’s after hours…or if it involves a hired worker to go above and beyond their expected punch out time…I beg of you to remain cognizant of the fact that this is not normal. If you get your hands on a teacher willing to spend time with your kid…this is a major good thing.

I can’t get mad at those people walking to their cars at 3:15pm. I can’t. God bless them. I don’t necessarily consider myself Heathcliff Huxtable either…trying to catch a few zzzs on the sofa before the next round. After all, I step into the classroom and take on these extra commitments myself, knowing full well what is expected of me. I just want the students and parents to know what is expected of them too. Perhaps that’s unreasonable. But, then again, I would settle for a half an hour of old-school life lessons from the Huxtable household. I guarantee you, unless little Rudy was puking or running a fever….girl would stay home.

“Everybody Hurts…Sometimes…”

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2010 by erikball123

I’ve often referred to my Grandmother as my Superman. I’m not quite sure why either. I mean, the symbolism makes sense to me as I feel she can do just about anything from the comfort of her screened in front porch…but the reality is Superman doesn’t exsist and my Grandma doesn’t give a flying poodle about Kryptonite. So, why the need for such symbolism? I thought about it. My grandmother is a faithful, stand-up, decent, kind, and loving…but flawed, human being. She’s not out flying around the world. She has weaknesses just like all of us…and to see her this week in a recovery center, strapped to a walker, with thousands of dollars of titanium in her knee, brought me back to earth for a while.

Having not been back to visit my family in over a year has also abruptly wrestled into my brain the fact that no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to convince myself to believe that my family has nothing to hide. “Erik’s Family: Sans Issues,” is a lie I’ve been telling myself for years, running away from issues to Never Never Land…or at least Summer Summerlin. It’s hard to look forward to the future when you’re too blind to see your hand in front of your face.

With a huge sigh of relief at visiting my Grandmother and family this summer, (she’s looks great!) and with a very heavy heart at the passing of my other Grandmother and in dealing with other family “issues,” I have decided to do the following…think positive. Cliche, huh? I’ve caught myself saying to people that I’m sending “positive energy your way.” What does that mean? It isn’t a laser beam from my eyes…I can’t summon the positive energy spirits…and I can’t shoot rainbows out of my butt either. It means nothing! Perhaps it implies that I’m thinking of them in a positive way and hoping for a better tomorrow for them. But that takes too long to say…and there’s something fun and contemporary about “positive energy,”  right?

Perhaps that’s why I love my Grandmother so much. She’s so freakin’ positive. I mean…does she sweep issues under the carpet and stand on them like the rest of us? Yes. Does she purse her lips and wish she would have interjected at times throughout the years? Yes. Has she walked in on Emily and I in mid-make-out session in my college years? Yes. So…why would she CHOOSE to move forward, forfeiting these burdens? Is it cowardly? Is it easier?

Let’s come back to this in a minute. Let’s shift gears here.

Everyone knows I’m a God-fearing Christian. If you don’t…I am. I also like to think I’m a fairly positive, happy person. With that said…..I don’t understand atheists. Okay…I believe in God. They don’t. End of story? Yeah…no. Why do atheists go to such GREAT lengths to attempt and convince me, and anyone within earshot, that there is no God. If you TRULY believe there isn’t one…why spend so much time and energy on the matter? Why not just leave Christians alone…and do your own thing? What if God didn’t exist? Why does it matter to atheists SO MUCH that other people find peace, hope and joy in something THEY DON’T BELIEVE IN? But, no…they’ll spend an eternity on a soapbox so that they can have the final word. And they are angry, angry people too. A conversation between a Christian and an atheist cannot remain positive. It always weaves into sensitive territories laced with accusations, theories and personal agendas. It’s hardly positive.

Now…bring this thought into what I’m talking about. What if…my Grandma…CHOOSES to remain positive. Why? I don’t know! (And frankly…I’m so intreagued about this notion, I don’t care!) What if it’s because she’s getting older….or maybe because she care about impressions she’s making on her grandchildren (and great grandchildren.) Perhaps she’s scared of fighting past battles alone? Or, perhaps it’s none of these things…and I’m over-thinking.

Why should I CARE why she wants to remain positive. My atheist friends…take note. Shouldn’t instead I be happy that she is in this state? Even if it was a ruse…a complete falsehood…doesn’t that say something about her character that she cares enough about me to put up a front for MY benefits? (Maybe I will admire her acting prowess!) Then again…this is assuming that she is merely putting up a facade…and that she’s a miserable lump of goo.

I’m not sure that thinking positive…having hope for the future, and asking God for things (like a stinkin’ genie in a bottle) during prayer time is the answer for everyone’s hardened questions. (And I’m fairly certain that no matter how GIANT my issues are…there will always be ones out there, bigger and scarier.) But, I can tell you this….it certainly is PART of the solution. I’m a big believer in prayer. Prayer, mixed with positive energy (shooting rainbows out my butt!) and having hope will AT LEAST give you something to hold on to. (Which is SOMETHING…especially when you feel like all else is lost.)

I think God gave us free will for a reason. (Not merely because we needed some heated topics in Social Issues class.) I mean…how can we appreciate the “highs” in our lives if we never have experienced the “lows.” That free will is what helps to get us motivated to find answers and turn back to God…even when things are crazy and don’t make sense. You see it all the time in movies. My favorite is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Sittin’ at a bar, with all hope lost…at the end of his rope…George Bailey says, “Dear God, I’m not a praying man…but show me the way…” I betcha you didn’t say your prayers last night…neither did I. I forgot. Wonder why? I had a great day yesterday…and I felt good…and I was WORN OUT when I plopped into bed. Perhaps that was it. Sheer exhaustion. But, what if….I was lost…alone…ashamed…. broke…..banished….scared….sorrow-filled….or lonely. I betcha “putting my head down” at the end of the day would be just a little bit harder for me under these circumstances….and a heck of a lot easier to turn my thoughts over to God. When you and I are down…we don’t want to mourn alone. Human nature. We have a fundamental need to SHARE grief, so that collectively, we can pull through. (Hence the reason for post-funeral dinners, yellow support ribbons and candle-light vigils.)

I like to think that I’ve got the image right in my head when I look into my Grandmother’s eyes and think “there’s my Superman.” But the truth of the matter is…no one person can be super all by themselves. Even if Superman did exsist….no one would even notice unless someone pointed to the sky and said “look up there! It’s a bird, it’s a plane! No…it’s Superman.” It takes a collective to turn something concerning into something POSITIVE.

Share in your common miseries today and tomorrow with your family and friends. Be that shoulder to cry on for somebody you love…and CRY if you need to cry. Christians and self-proclaimed atheists….we’re all human beings with wants and needs…and feelings…and yes, issues. None of us are Superman, and we need to help each other out. We need to support one another….even if “we’re right…and you’re wrong,” one things remains regardless.

NO ONE wants to be alone.

——————————————————–

When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go, ’cause everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes

Sometimes everything is wrong. Now it’s time to sing along
When your day is night alone, (hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go, (hold on)
When you think you’ve had too much of this life, well hang on

‘Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts. Don’t throw your hand. Oh, no. Don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone, no, no, no, you are not alone

If you’re on your own in this life, the days and nights are long,
When you think you’ve had too much of this life to hang on

Well, everybody hurts sometimes,
Everybody cries. And everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes. So, hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Everybody hurts. You are not alone

– R.E.M.

Home…or Away…For the Holidays

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2009 by erikball123

I just finished my Coffee Bean latte. I have this thing about “last drinks.” You know…when there is one swallow of beverage left in whatever receptacle you decide to drink out of? I can’t ever bring myself to swallow that one last drink, no matter how thirsty. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that it surely won’t be as satisfying as the several other pervious gulps. You see now it’s either watered down, muddied with back-wash or the remains of what should have been mixed throughout the beverage. No…that last drink never seems to be something I look forward to. I will admit, that I drank the last drink of my $3.56 latee today…and my friends, it was delicious. I was enjoying the drink so much, having just stepped in from the chilly 50 degree air of a Vegas Christmas, that it didn’t occur to me that this was the much feared “last drink” that I often dodge. After finishing my latte, I thought to myself “back-wash or not, that was delightful.”

There was a lady on the afternoon news today that the press stopped in the mall (reflecting on a piece about the 11th hour shopping crunch) who said plainly “we had decided not to do Christmas this year. We were going to Cabo. But, at the last minute we got roped into things again.”

This year also marks the first time in 11 years my wife and I didn’t pack up our wears and pets and fly or drive back to Michigan for the holidays. While I’ll truly miss seeing my family (including my Grandmothers, two neices who are growing like weeds and my newly married brother and his wife) I did look forward to a vacation of rest. Oftentimes the holidays tend to be as busy as a bustling Best Buy. Calendars are filled with obligatory visits to all four-corners of the family tree and subsequent journeys through slushy wonderlands in the four-wheeled drive sleighs, instead of watching snowflakes gently fall from the warm interior of one’s living room, conspiring and dreaming by the fire (as the pictures are painted so often in movies.) It’s become a double-edged sword. Living so far away, we don’t see family as often as we’d like, and yet, during a time of peace and love…our cups runneth over in the love category…but we return home tired, and rushed to return to normalcy before the break is over.

But, somehow, I felt obligated to offer my take on deciding “not to do Christmas this year.”

My wife recently took a pair of electric clippers and buzz-cut my hair. (Down to 1/2 an inch.) Why? I’m not sure. My love / hate relationship with my ever-growing receded hairline is marked in the annals of history…but I found myself thinking about how I could pull off a short hair-style. This year, with no family to visit, no scheduled appointments, and two-weeks to hate myself if it doesn’t work out…I decided to take the plunge. She clipped…and I sat silently convincing myself “you know, Patrick Stewart is quite dapper for a bald guy.” I didn’t shave my head, mind you. Just clipped…and sat…and then felt the peach skin that was my head afterward….then I went out and bought a hat.

Freshly Buzzed! (Me, not the pug.)

Is it bad? Well…it’s extremely different. It’s very, very different. I’m all about change, but people will tell you that I’m all about “the show” when it comes to the presentation of anything, including myself. (Call it vanity…fine. But when you’re this good looking….! JK)

I didn’t much care for the final result. Who knows…it might grow on me. Truth be told, some of my options are running out…so this might be one of those times that while right now it isn’t exactly what I want…down the road, this might help ease me into an otherwise ice-cold bath when my options are considerably limited. So…I’ll go with it. I’m ready for the barrage of questioning that will surely ensue upon my return to the classroom. (Everyone gets an “F” unless they say it’s fetching!)

I’m looking forward to the Christmas Eve service tonight. Christmas Eve candlelight service is always one to help set the right tone for the coming of the Christ child, and always helps me tune out the holly jolly, mass-produced commercial Christmas, and bring it back to the intimate manger scene on a night long ago. While I won’t be sitting next to my extended family this year, and I surely won’t awake to my niece’s knee in my ribs, jumping up and down shouting “it’s Christmas!” I assure you I will awake to my lovely wife, and the same feeling of joy in knowing that this is a celebration of the birth of the Savior who came to this earth to die for us.

My concern is that my family might think we’re lazy this year…or uncaring. My fear is that they think we would rather not be with them. Well, while that is certainly not true, as we get older and continue to move forward in our own lives we are interested in looking at what might be in the best interest of us, right here, right now. It may not seem like the best decision, or the most sensitive…or whatever, but, often times when a big decision needs to be made, there tends to be questions. So, I’ll insist that this year we made the right decision in staying home…and I’m having a brilliant, intimate Christmas with my wife and dogs….I’ll Skype my relatives and post status updates on Twitter…and we’ll make sure that Christmas cheer transcends time and space.

It wasn’t so bad taking that last swallow of latte. It wasn’t so bad, biting the bullet and lopping off my locks. Looking back, would I do it differently? Maybe. Getting “roped into things” is part of the spontaneity and thrill of having a family. But then again…change is good. Enjoy that last swallow of latte…thinking “who cares what others think. Gimmie a splash of bay rum!” That’s perfectly fine in my book. Just so long as you have a candlelight service to ground you into the true reason for the holiday above all.

To my friends and family, and to all others who are with family, or away from family this holiday season, MERRY CHRISTMAS.

React…with JOY

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2009 by erikball123

If you’re anything like me, then you’re finding yourself buzzing through your everyday with the Christmas station on. You might find yourself oddly complacent with the fact that Aaron Neville’s “Let it Snow” and anything remotely “Christmas Beach Boy” related is considered fine music “for now.” I think the holiday season is the only time of year I find myself actively letting things fly with regards to things I absolutely despise. (I mean…does anyone actually like the dude who sings Feliz Navidad? Who is that guy? I heard a Jimmy Buffet version for the first time this year and almost wet myself with excitement!) Perhaps it’s the spirit of Christmas. Perhaps it’s good will toward man? Perhaps it’s the long lines, materialism and overpriced Wii system and Wii Fit accessories that I MUST HAVE!! I tend to think it’s the later. Weird? Not really. Joy to the world seems to come quickly around Christmas time…and why not!?

I won’t get into the whole “it’s okay to wish someone Happy Chanukah, but God forbid we say Merry Christmas…instead we blanket a Happy Holidays around everything so as not to offend anyone” thing. That’s an overwhelming argument that I refuse to get into anymore. Instead I’ll continue to say Merry Christmas to the Starbucks cashier, knowing I’ll piss off the occasional atheist. “Thank you for the Latte, Devin…I’ll pray for your soul. Nice eyeliner.”

Instead, I wanna say that Christmas is full of times for us to cuddle by the fire and watch a multitude of seasonal movies about family disfunction that we all can relate to. Tragedy, even in its simplest forms (Clark Griswold, for example) is something we all deal with. Whether it’s stubbing your toe on the cedar chest…or giggling at someone’s impression of Hitler (a mass-murdering poop head)…we all find great comfort in laughing at tragedy and/or someone else’s expense.

Today in church pastor talked about Joy. (I remember…because the pink advent candle was lit.) Here’s the thing…I guess you could say that my mind works like a Swiss watch maker. I tend to over-think things. I take what someone is saying and dissect it over and over to see what was on the inside. While this tends to give me great topics for this blog…it also leaves me over-analytical and paranoid half the time! But, I digress…Pastor said something kinda cool. He said “Joy is not manufactured…it’s a reaction.” It got me thinking about times in my life I found great joy. Personal experiences where I didn’t paint a smile on my face or conjure up a chuckle to accompany someone’s not-so-funny joke. A true, joyful experience.

When I thought of these times…I realized that he’s right. My joyful feeling, and likewise my fond memories of past times were unscripted and they totally caught me off-guard.

As human beings we tend to come together in times of great tragedy. 9-11 pops into my head right away of a time when the whole country picked up a flag and said “I’m an American…and this sort of thing won’t ever happen again, so help me God.” As time went on, our sorrows and memories of that event faded slightly…and we remained proud, but not as proud as that moment when others NEEDED us to be proud. We still feel it. Anytime I see footage of that tragedy, I’m transported back to that day when I felt united with a country I believe in, and people I care about.

Christmas has a tendency to do that for us. You don’t have to be a Christian to have to believe in Peace on Earth and find comfort in family and friends in a season of giving. You don’t have to send cards to people you never talk to, or sings carols, or drink egg nog, or tune the radio station to Karen Carpenter or Burl Ives. Santa Claus is lots of fun…but he can’t stuff Peace on Earth in everyone’s stocking.

The Holiday season is a time for remembering. I have a friend who lost someone very dear to her this past week. I have a student who cried when we as a school group sang for a senior center, because she misses her grandma, who was called home last year. I have family far away that we will not be seeing this Christmas because of financial concerns and the trip is expensive. But in light of these “tragedies” (big or small)…we can find hope. That’s why tears flow…that why a song on the radio, or the smell of gingerbread, or the sound of a baby laughing can bring us back to a time when we experienced joy. Christmas is a special time of year for just that reason. It’s is referenced and celebrated because of the coming of the Christ child. The Savior that was sent to earth to die for our sins. It’s easy to say “find great joy in knowing that your sins are forgiven.” I have such a hard time imagining that someone would die…just for me. Doesn’t seem possible. But I do believe. And I do find that joy. Not because I met Jesus. Not because I personally witnessed his death and resurrection…but moreso, because I have witnessed what God has done in my life and the lives of those I care about. Christmas is a time for reliving the joy in our hearts that we share with one another. It’s as innocent as the thrill of hope displayed by a child opening a gift….or as complex as someone’s mended relationship that was once sorted, complicated and painful. Joy can be found in all of those things.

When I hear “Joy to the World” on the radio…and I think of the lyric “let every heart, prepare Him room.” I like the idea that perhaps our hearts are indeed filled with joy at Christmas…and as crazy as our schedules get this time of year, we need to remember that the joy in our heart needs to blanket the love we have for our Lord….like a $20 Snuggie. I love my Lord…and I love Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Both bring me joy….and I think there’s room in my heart for both.

But I need to make sure that there is.

“My King and I”

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , on July 31, 2009 by erikball123

Sitting through hours of “King & I” auditions, carefully watching every flinch and then transcribing my thoughts regarding their worth in a useful way so that the director can decipher my thoughts…is, quite frankly, exhausting. And this coming from a dude who would spend nearly every waking moment plotting, planning and executing live theatre.

One of the responsibilites as a board member for Signature Productions here in town is to support the effforts of the directors and staff during the audition process. Now I’m not the creative team for this one…but I did anticipate a little bit of paper shuffle in the process. I was shocked when they wanted me to sit in on auditions and evaluate with them. They didn’t have to ask me twice, and I took off my “helper” hat and popped my “director” cap on. (I put it on backwards….rally cap, I know, but I’m not directing, just offering my thoughts to the director. I thought it would be rude to actually wear my director’s cap in he usual fashion.)

Things went very well for the most part. Two of my students auditioned and I couldn’t be MORE PROUD of them if I tried. (I see them growing in front of my eyes…in height and talent.) In both of them I saw “something wonderful.”

Tonight was callbacks…which are always filled with jitters, anticipation, hopeful energy and excitement. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly actors turn into sharks when you dial up the pressure! Sheesh. But, overall they were an impressive group and I was glad to position the camcorder at them.

During my drive home, I was indeed “whistling a happy tune”…but I was also thinking about how stiff my neck was in relation to the audition process in general. How this one might differ from ones I might conduct…or in relation to Broadway turn-outs.

Those hopefuls, so full of excitement and nervous energy, standing in front of us…all they want is a chance. The glow of the spotlight is very cozy, and whatever life-altering ting brought them to the theatre that day to shed their outer skin and expose their raw talent to a table full of strangers, is enough to give anyone a stiff neck. I read somewhere that there is a constant 80% unemployment rate for working actors. Hm. Why do it, then? Why work so hard for a moment SO brief…all of which is at the mercy of the director’s subjective mind. Why do it? I can only think of one answer….because you love to perform. You love the CHANCE to find yourself in a position to challenge yourself to create something you didn’t think you could.

I’m working toward my next audition right now. It’s really hard to get up every day and force myself to do what it takes to prepare myself to the point that will boost me OVER the top and make myself a stand-out in the director’s eyes. But, I like the challenge…and I look forward to the audition. And I’ll kill it!

And if I don’t….that’ll give me something ELSE to look froward to. The evaluation…the re-group….the preparation….and the next audition…..where I’ll kill it!

What if you had to audition to be a Christian? Wouldn’t that make things interesting? I wouldn’t imagine God would want to be put in the same category as Simon Cowell…but suppose in order to deem yourself a Christian man or women, you had to “audition” in front of the one who was ultimately “in charge.” All of a sudden that would put a different spin on things, hmmm? People who would TRULY want to consider themselves a Christian would be doing homework, and stretching spiritual muscles that haven’t been used in a long time. Or, maybe they wouldn’t and say, “well…I’ll wait until the next audition. Besides, I don’t know what He’s looking for.”

I wonder what life would be like if Christians were as unbridled as an industry performer. Those performers who REALLY REALLY work hard to just get that opportunity to create. They’d have to prepare….strengthen themselves….study and work hard…and then when the pressure’s on and they were faced with adversity….spread the word of the Gospel. They may win they’re audience over….or maybe not. But, even then, that’ll give them something ELSE to look forward to. Apples and oranges? Maybe not.

Have you ever found yourself trying to make an impression on God? Trying to win him over with a good work, or feverish Bible study…or voluenteering at your church for everything under the sun? Have you found yourself patting yourself on the back? Are you sure that’s what God wants you to do?

I’d say 80% of being an actor is the preparation. What goes on before and after you step onstage. It’s hard work…thankless….and sometimes, unrewarding. But, you do it because you believe in the work, and you want to get better so that you can do more work. You want to create.

Shouldn’t that be the goal of our walks with Christ? Shouldn’t we strive to create clean hearts not only within ourselves…but in others as well?

As someone who wants to spread the word of God…I would hope nobody would perceive me as being “unemployed,” simply because I’m not sitting in a pew at church.

I suppose it’s wishful thinking to think that all the people I jotted down on my mental “who I would cast” list will make it into “The King and I.” But, who knows. I can say that some of them truly won me over! There was sparkle…there were golden moments….there was talent….”etcetra, etcetra, etcetra.” I’ll be honest, and say that I was living a little vicariously through them.

Acting is fun because if you use the talents God gave you to glorify him…always…then it’s a double whammy. You’re doing something you love…and you’re doing something He loves.

So, I’ll wait for that cast list to be posted to see if my prediction are true and I’ll continue to prepare for my next audition as well. And while I would never consider myself “unemployed” right now…I will say that I’m looking forward to the next audition…and I’m preparing and praying so that I may look good in the director’s eye….but mostly in my King’s eye.

Congrats to everyone who auditioned.

One-Upped!

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2009 by erikball123

IMG_7821

My wife and I celebrated my birthday Saturday. I got my Grandma’s card in the mail today…and there’s just something about an envelope-sealing kitten sticker that brings a smile to your face.

I can’t say I eagerly anticipate birthdays. I’m not much of a cake guy, really. I’ve always been a pie man…cherry or pecan. You can’t beat a sliver of pumpkin with a cuppa Joe either. But, this year wasn’t any big hoopla. My beloved surprised me with gifts (even though I told her not to) and we went out and feasted upon crab and over-steamed potatoes and enjoyed some music from my friend’s band RAVEN HILL. (They rocked.)

But as far as birthdays go, in general…I’ve never been a very sentimental guy. I suppose the tradition of a formal get-together including the gift unwrapping ceremony was never really my bag. I don’t like death…I like my life…and birthdays always “instill the fear of the shroud in me.” (To quote Jack Nicholson.)

I wonder if sometimes we do things backwards. I mean, if you think about it…nobody gets gifts at funerals. People send flowers…that in return wilt and die within three days. What a thoughtful reminder. At funeral receptions, people usually bring three-bean salads wrapped in their see-through condolences or a card with some perfunctory message about “a new life” or something. I suppose that’s nice in the big picture, but wouldn’t a funeral be the perfect time for an iTunes gift card or new clothing or a dinner out for a grieving parent, spouse or loved one? Perhaps I’m dwelling on the fact that I’ve always found the functionality of a birthday party a bit contrived, and funerals are too solemn. A celebration of life should be had at a funeral, and a birthday should be more of a toll-booth on the highway to heaven. A brief stop to take a look at yourself for a moment. It shouldn’t have to be a formal affair. I certainly wouldn’t feature three-bean salad. Not if it were the last food on earth.

I went and saw the Pixar movie “UP” the other day with a friend and have to say that it was the best movie I’ve seen in a while. (Which isn’t saying much since I’ve embraced my nonexistent movie-going social life.) But, still, Pixar tends to crank out highly enjoyable, crazy expensive flicks that are very, very marketable. Surprisingly, this one wasn’t necessarily like that. It was highly enjoyable with phenomenal animation…but it wasn’t a one-trick pony. There were no farting ogres or forlorn cowboy dolls, it was a simple story about a simple man. I can’t see them pushing old man dolls at Epcot after this one. Granted, like all good stories, it waved it’s magic wand to bring out the fantasty…but throughout the mayhem, the simple duel relationship between an old man and his love, and the old man and his goal to have an adventure…was perfect. I was hooked.  It was character-based rather than concept-based. I found myself engrossed in the old man’s adventure and I HIGHLY recommend the film to young and old.

I sometimes scratch my head and get angry at the wispy-ness of my once thick head of hair. I grow concerned with how tired I get after midnight. I can’t sleep in anymore. My internal clock buzzes around 9am. I luckily don’t have any gray hair yet…and the one I saw in my patchy goatee I plucked and burned with a match. (I think I heard a tiny scream.)  I’m taking a multi-vitamin now…which is recommended by my multi-opinioned doctor, and is nothing more than a white flag in my eyes. *Sigh* Yup…let’s face it kids, the big boy needs his power nap.

I didn’t take my thirtieth birthday hard. I was cool with it actually. I looked at it as a milestone. I was a force to be recognized with and I could properly use the term whipper-snapper without feeling out of my league at that point. But this year’s birthday…(and I’m not telling you how many I’ve had since, to my students, I’m eternally 28 years old.)…was different. It was solitary…and unnerving. Kinda like passing gas in church. Everyone around you knows it’s there. Nobody really acknowledges it…but afterward on the car ride home, everyone talks about it.

But, why should I be so concerned? Huh? I mean, who knows what’s in store for me tomorrow. My friend Chris has a saying that she spouts usually when she’s stressed:  “Maybe Jesus will come tomorrow and we won’t have to worry about a thing.” Who knows! Right? My brain could explode. A bulldozer could fall on me. I could get electrocuted by my $50, buzzing toothbrush. The neighbor’s dog could eat my neck. I could turn to stone! Anything can happen…and it won’t matter if it’s my birthday or not. It would be my time to go, and I will never see it coming.

I guess my unpleasant thoughts come from a “what if” perspective. I think about my life now and how blessed I am, and all the things I have done. Then I immediately think about all the things I’d like to do shortly after…and I sometimes feel that time is running out! But, perhaps that is a wildly “glass is half-empty” way of thinking. What is our life’s big adventure anyway?

With all the goals in the world (and I’m just thinking about mine…imagine the complex web of oft-dismissed goals of the world’s population) what will it all mean in the end? You can’t take anything with you…so why worry about it so much now.

So, why throw birthday parties? Are we saying “yea! No bulldozers fell on you this year!” Or is it truly a celebration of the day you were born? I think it should be a celebration of what you’ve done with your life. Good, bad, ugly….where ever you are, and whatever situation you are in…that one day a year you can say “dude…but look at all that you’ve done!”  And if you’re sittin’ in jail, or in the basement playing guitar hero with your only friend Buddy the hampster…then it’s a chance to say…”look at what I’ve done, and look at what I could do.”

Who care about the Costco cake with pasty frosting. Forget the rolls of streamers and the butterfly pinatas. (Is my family the only ones that do that?) Forget the gifts. They should really go to your mom anyway. After all she has to live with those purple veins in her legs.

But just like the old man in the “UP” movie, our big adventures is the every day. Everyday the Lord puts new things in our path so that we may endure and live and learn.Who knows what tomorrow brings. Crab legs? Rockin’ the night away to the tunes of a friend’s band? Three-bean salad? Who knows.

My birthday this year was a reminder that things are looking up.

I WANNA BE A “PRODUCE”-ER

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2009 by erikball123

It got to a blistering 108 degrees today in Las Vegas and I thought my beaded, metal necklace was going to burn a rope mark onto my chest as I walked through the parking lot.

I was at the grocery store getting the weekly goods and found myself spending a lot of time in the freezer section! Upon lugging our frozen waffles and crusty French bread home in doggy-walk bags, my wife and I decided to clean out the freezer. That’s when Emily found it! Not Jimmy Hoffa’s body… (I still truly believe the corpse can be found in the bottom drawer of my teacher’s desk at school)…but, rather,  a bag of frozen broccoli from 2006. We didn’t even live in this house in 2006…how did that happen!? It’s 2009. That’s three year old broccoli. (They say it loses it’s nutrients when you boil it. Hmm.)

broccoli

Got me thinking: What ALL do we forget about? Mind you, I’m not digging for vast philosophy here…I’m merely suggesting that in our daily clouds that are muddied with Americano chugs, “sup” nods and dress shirt pressing, we have a lot tucked in our proverbial freezers that we forget about. It sits there…frozen. It was at one point in time something significant, or useful. Something that we planned for…desired….obtained or toiled over…and then forget. Tossed aside, cozy against the Otter Pops and Pizza Rolls.

EXAMPLE: How many birthday’s did you forget this year? (And the term “forget,” in this setting, refers to something that you didn’t plan for or look forward to. Not necessarily forgot completely.) I can’t remember how many times I’d be watching TV and see a Father’s Day commercial or something, and find myself going “hmm…Father’s Day must be coming up.” And it was Father’s Day. Or, I recall my mother saying to me, “your cousin’s husband just lost his grandmother. They we’re very close. A phone call would be nice.”  I forgot. I never called.

Yeah, that broccoli could easily be something that you purposely avoid…because it’s something you have to deal with and can’t be bother by the insignificance of it all. After all, who wants to eat broccoli anyway, right?

It might be the weekly war between the church pew and the snooze button. It might be the backyard lawn and the hedges that you can’t manage to find time to trim. It could be the “thank you” letter that you forgot to write….or PLANNED to write, but found that re-run of Scrubs more enthralling and the chaise much more comfortable.

That bag of 2006, frost-bitten broccoli could be anything.

I saw a dude pull into the supermarket as I was pulling out. He had a Great Dane in the back seat. I thought to myself  “he’d better not leave him in the car and run in.” Of course he didn’t…because if I didn’t think that, I would sleep at night. But, there ARE morons who do that sort of thing. For those morons…for some reason, at that moment…that broccoli is not as important as whatever he needs to do in the supermarket. People who leave pets in cars are immediately  inconvenienced and are too lazy to deal with it.

That broccoli could be one-more beer past the time you promised to be home. That broccoli could be the prayer forgotten about as you lie half-asleep, actually thinking about how you didn’t pray. That broccoli could be forgetting to say “thank you.”

Forgetfulness in general, is not a happy thing. I visited my two grandmothers last week in Michigan (and it was GREAT to see them both!) and one of them celebrated her 90th birthday. As we visited, I struggled in my communications with her using a college-ruled notebook and an over-exaggerated mouthing technique I call “BALLTALK.” (I usually talk that way anyway.) She’s forgetting a lot. It’s hard to watch someone you love struggle to find a single word so that they can complete their thought. It was a work-out for her.  She had so much to say…and with us living in Las Vegas, expressing herself otherwise is close to impossible. The visit was like watching her struggle to play that Clock Game on the Price is Right. She had to get all she wanted to say out, before time was up and we had to leave. Broke my heart.

The struggle with that sort of “forgetting” is something I can appreciate and lovingly forgive from a third party perspective. But, the “thoughtless” forgetting (for lack of better words) is something we should all strive to work on. It is closely related to a catch phrase that I find myself less willing to accommodate as I get older. It’s called “WHATEVER.”

I have a guilty pleasure. It’s called Judge Judy. I don’t know how to explain it. I certainly do not apologize for my TiVo-ing every episode. I don’t apologize for laughing at the litigants. I even like Burd the Bailiff.  I find great entertainment in watching Judith Sheindlind set traps for the defendants…and then watch them walk right into them. Boo-ya! It’s like a modern day, 12-minute Miss Marple. I try to figure it out before she reveals it. I don’t know….it’s a guilty pleasure.

I find myself in CONSTANT awe at how people get SO wrapped up in their own selfish lives. Granted, I’m no saint! I put off work today for a nap. I find loopholes and “easy way outs” all the time, just like the next guy. But, I can’t explain the number of times litigants simply don’t have answers to simple questions like “why did you do that?” or “when were you going to pay her back?” They truly don’t know…and don’t care. Strike that. They DO know…but hoped that “it” would expire, and then years down the road when someone noticed “it” they were hoping they would simply throw “it” away.  (Did you follow me there?)

I laugh and enjoy the show…and then go back to my own finger-pointing, sinful life doing the exact same thing in differing degrees.

Let’s call it “selective forgetfulness” or rather the need to find daily obligations conveniently forgotten. It’s not the right thing. It’s how dog’s get left in cars…teenage students get pregnant…and broccoli get left in the freezer. We know…we just don’t care ENOUGH to act.

What a sad existence. Hm. Makes me wonder what it would TAKE to light that fire under my butt TO care? I mean, I bought that broccoli in 2006…planned on eating it in 2006…and I imagine I saw it in there from time to time. It HAD to be moved from one house to another when we moved 3 years ago. Yet…I didn’t care enough to strap on my hounds tooth hat and portray “Sherlock Holmes and the case of the Expired Broccoli.”  It remained…comfortable…cozy….forgotten about in the recesses of my temperamental freezer. (Maybe the ice cubes are sending me hidden messages when I ask for cubes and get crushed.)

So, what’s the solution? Should we take a vow of of fresh produce? I don’t think it’s necessary. We’re human and change our minds often. Working out the details in life is something I think God would want us to do, right?

Onstage it’s our job as actors to find moments to make the structure of the story we’re offering live, and thrive…and extend to the receptive audience. The role is one thing…the relationship is another…but it’s the choices we make as performers that binds it all together, breathes new life into it, and propels it forward. If we start character analysis at the beginning of the process with a bag of broccoli…we can do whatever we want to with it…except forget about it. That would be like denouncing the stir fry in which it was originally intended!

I don’t think it’s a crime to change your mind. I think we live in a fast-paced world. It’s okay to feel bad that we can’t communicate effectively with our grandmas like we used to. It’s okay to struggle with a part onstage. It’s okay to find it “hard” to read the Bible, go to church and find time to talk with God. It’s okay.

Again, I’m not digging for vast philosophy here. I just think that we have a natural tendency to find it all too convenient to forget to clean out the freezer from time to time. We shouldn’t assume that nothing actually “goes bad” when it’s frozen.

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