Archive for the LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS Category

WICKED KANYE OF THE WEST

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2015 by erikball123

Upon reading this I fear that the Kanye secret service will be deployed, and my body will never be found and you’ll never hear from me again…so read quickly.

I have to address the Grammy Awards and the absolute disgrace of a man known as Kanye West. I say man, rather than artist, because I want to be very careful in how I distinguish him. An artist is someone who creates original work which is to be enjoyed by others, hopefully inspiring them to create something original themselves, ultimately making this world a better place. While this isn’t the standard Webster’s dictionary definition…I’ll stick to it. A man is someone who respects others, defends others, loves others and leads by example. Kanye West is no man.

Beck won Album of the Year, and I must admit these things before I continue so that there isn’t any confusion. I didn’t watch the Grammy’s, I don’t own a Beck album, I don’t own a Kayne West album, I don’t own a Beyonce album. I’ve listened to songs from all albums (I teach high school, for the love of God. Even if I didn’t want to hear, they get rubbed off on me by proxy, like some weird audio mono) and I want to make the bold statement that all three artists in my opinion are talented, creative, worthy-of-an-award artists. I would also like to recognize that Beyonce (who has won 20 career Grammy’s, more than any other woman) and Kanye West has won 21 career Grammy’s (at the young age of 36). With that said, I must subject you to Kanye’s comments to Vanity Fair after he stormed the stage (ala: his embarrassing, most-likely-drunk, moment when Taylor Swift won the Grammy in 2009) as a “joke” to protest Beck’s winning Album of the Year. He turned around and sat back down before saying anything this time…but the message was sent. Here are his comments:

KANYE WEST: “I just know that the Grammys, if they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t going to play with them no more. And Beck needs to respect artistry, and he should have given his award to Beyoncé. At this point, we tired of it. What happens is, when you keep on diminishing art, and not respecting the craft, and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration. We, as musicians, have to inspire people who go to work every day, and they listen to that Beyoncé album, and they feel like it takes them to another place. Then they do this promotional event, and they’ll run the music over somebody’s speech, the artist, because they want commercial advertising. No. We not playing with them anymore. And by the way, I got my wife, my daughter, and I got my clothing line, so I’m not going to do nothing that would put my daughter at risk, but I am here to fight for creativity. That’s the reason why I didn’t say anything tonight. But you all knew what it meant when ‘Ye walked on that stage.”

Here’s what I’d like to address: the messiah complex. From a simple drama teacher’s perspective, who is desperately attempting to nurture and foster a working relationship with young artists everyday, these comments and attitudes, create a sort of status symbol that, by virtue of Kayne’s mere influence in the music industry alone, woos young impressionable minds into thinking that these actions and comments are okay. Justified even. Mr. West refers to respecting artistry. What about Beck’s art? Mr. West refers to the Grammys not respecting the craft. What about respecting the awards ceremony that has blessed Mr. West with 21 previous awards? He says Beyonce was smacked in the face after delivering a monumental feat of of music. Isn’t that merely one man’s opinion? Apparently the governing, voting board thought otherwise. Isn’t that okay? (After all this is just another man or woman’s opinion. Why does your opinion carry more gravity than another’s, Mr. West?)

The problem is not the awards ceremony, not the Best Album of the Year award, not Beck, not Beyonce….the problem is the mainstream media and the music industry. This sort of behavior is unacceptable and to use a word that Kanye loves to use: “DISRESPECTFUL.” This is nothing more than a powerful producer’s little-boy tantrum…and he knows he can get away with it. (After all, he’s done it before without repercussion. Hell, his and Taylor Swift’s career THRIVED after the outburst in 2009. Even more testament to the fact that the world lives and breaths based on what is fed to them.)

People who get SO powerful, so big, so untouchable (people like Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, Kanye West…etc.) they forget what it is to be a human being, someone who must RELATE with others…someone “in the trenches” dealing with life on an everyday basis. How are we supposed to co-exsist, if mega-stars like this refuse to live by simple, thoughtful morality-based rules that we hold each other to every day. If anyone else rushed that stage during Taylor Swift or Beck’s acceptance speech….ANYONE at all….security would have pounced on them. But, Kanye, he’s above the rules and law.

On a much watered-down level (although one might argue, equally as important, at least to them), this mentality is what plants the notion in students’ minds that when they aren’t cast in the role they believe they deserve, then it’s perfectly reasonable to BLAST the director or student who did get the role. (At least behind their backs, right?) It’s the same mentality that tells society, that a rule of order, especially a subjective / creative one, is not a strong-hold and subject to public scrutiny if any one individual so chooses. (Look at all the frivolous lawsuits out there! “I think they’re wrong, because I don’t think that’s the way it should be!!”) It’s nothing more than glorified, attention-seeking temper-tantrums and it’s ruining this generations perception of what it means to be a true artist.

No one has the right to an award. No one has the right to assume that their agenda is more important than another. And certainly, no one should use someone’s celebrated achievement or recognition to float their own agenda or demand attention. That’s nothing short of being a sore loser. (With an emphasis on “loser.”)

I asked a few of my students what they thought of the matter. They responded “I thought it was hilarious. I don’t know Beck…but it’s just Kayne. It’s something he would do.” *Sigh*

For the record, I have nothing against Kanye West or Beyonce…and I’m not a Beck fanatic. I merely think that young artists today have very few role models…someone to demonstrate that it’s the ART that’s important, not the exposure or attention or legacy or power or money or awards or clothing line AROUND the art.

No doubt Kayne will be all over the news today because of his actions. He’s the mainstream media’s babydoll. I betch we’ll hear about Kim Kardasian’s thoughts on the matter as well. And we’ve all seen the Vine of Jay Z’s reaction…because that’s important too. I’m sure that word will spread about Beck’s Album of the Year win, as well…but I doubt there will be any coverage that won’t feature news about West “pulling another Kanye.” I suppose that’s what makes me sick to my stomach the most.

I’d better go. I must get back to my world and a job I take great pride in, and one that gets harder and harder with every year as this world shape-shifts into a land of right-fighters and Google-schooled know-it-alls.  It’s a world of high school theatre where impressionable visionaries are born and discover hidden treasures within themselves. It’s an Indiana Jones 4-year window and it’s my duty to ensure they use their powers for good, not evil. It’s a privilege of directing, nurturing and mentoring…or as I call it, shaping little Kanye’s into selfless artists.

 

Positive Addition to Creativity

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , on November 27, 2013 by erikball123

*This is a posting I wrote a long time ago. I don’t remember what spurned the thought…but I thought it still was relevant and might stir some thought.


I admire tenacity, creative spirit, frankness and artistic vision. There are several people whose work I admire greatly…and I’ve never had the chance to meet them and tell them face to face.

People today (and I might argue that it’s hugely fueled by the lack of empathy demonstrated by this generation of teens) cannot bring themselves to step outside of themselves long enough to find art behind the artist. Or, in crudest terms: it’s easier to make fun of someone than befriend someone, because that garnishes immediate attention, instead of the alternative which requires effort, time, thought, consideration…and MOST OF ALL, a desire to be empathetic toward someone or something else.

It’s frightening. I have the pleasure of meeting eyes with teenagers everyday…and I just want to say that the vast majority of them are BRILLIANT, wonderful human beings. Kind, hard-working, positive and polite. But vast majority lack empathy. (What some might consider a landmark ingredient in what one might consider the casserole called humanity.) It’s not always their fault. I blame the social media world and an age of googling the answers to any questions we have thus satisfying the immediate desire to obtain something (answers, information, recognition, acceptance, etc.) RIGHT NOW. Why wouldn’t they? Who writes letters anymore? Why would you…send an email, or even better, a text! It’s immediate, it’s easy…and it’s momentary, so we can return to the ADD world we live in to partake in one of the other million things we participate in. I’m guilty as charged as well.

The problem isn’t so much that we’ve stopped caring. In fact we care a lot! We just have NO DESIRE to relate. To immerse ourselves (whether through research, education, time, effort, blood, sweat and tears) into whatever we choose to afford our attention to….and EMPATHIZE. It just doesn’t happen anymore.

I’ve seen best friends…students who LEGITIMATELY like one another….friends!…relentlessly make fun of each other, period after period…day after day. (Little teases…”oh you’re stupid” kinda stuff.) And I’ve seen innocent teasing turn to down-right rude brow-beating in seconds….and then immediately after intervening I’m met with “oh, we’re just joking with one another. You know we are good friends, right?” I’ve even heard “Mr. Ball…I make fun of him, because I love him.” I just don’t get it.

At what time did we stop rooting for the good guy in WWF wrestling…and start rooting for the bad guy? At what point did our young ladies STOP wanting to go on a date with the young man they could trust, and would treat them respectfully (open the door for them and treat them with kindness)…and when did they prefer the “bad boy” who just might get them in trouble?

It’s important to know that we’ve never stopped wanting to go against the norm…or be individuals…or challenge authority. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m saying…is that in today’s world we have to face automaton-like “numbness” as it pertains to the fundamental human quality of “taking care of each other.” It’s not passive either. It’s not that we IGNORE one another. We’re not just galumphing along from day to day without acknowledgment of one another. (We’ll leave that to the Walking Dead series.) Rather, we substitute this fundamental social responsibility with a selfish knee-jerk reaction to spend our energies in pushing someone DOWN, in order to gain attention.

If a student drops their books in the hall….help them out by picking those books up. (Nothing is too important and you’re never too rushed to discount you from being a kind and thoughtful human being for a few seconds.)

If someone makes a joke…laugh if it’s funny. Don’t use it as a spring-board to capitalize on the attention they gained by bringing that person down. (You’re wonderful too. Wait your turn. Come up with a silly joke yourself. That joke will be “all yours” and you won’t be hurting someone else in the process.)

If someone creates something…anything….enjoy it, or not. Allow the vision, creative effort or message to influence accordingly….or not. But, instead of making fun of that artist…how about use your thoughts, opinions and energies as motivation to create something yourself. By sending hate-mail…or offering offensive tweets / posts (I remember a time that Facebook was an enjoyable forum) you’re just confirming that your a lazy activist, unwilling to make a change for the better. If you feel so strongly about it…take a stand and make a change.

I’ve never understood picketers for the same reason. What good are you doing standing in the sun for days and days. BE PROACTIVE…make a change by CREATING SOMETHING good yourself.

If you’re not positively adding TO something…then you’re negatively taking AWAY from something. Bottom line.

 

 

School Spirit: Not Just Lip-Service

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2011 by erikball123

In my efforts to lick my wounds, I offer you all a challenge: offset the mad-man ramblings of one Dale Earnhardt when he quipped “second place is first place loser.” Have we raised our standards so high that we can’t even see the feet we’re standing on anymore? Seriously. I’ve often spouted about how I’m blessed to teach at Faith Lutheran…but make no mistake, it can sometimes be a “everybody gets a gold star” type of place. That’s not the real world. That’s not how life really is. Take it from an actor who met more closed doors that open when making a living in Chicago. You gotta have a tough skin, because sometimes life doesn’t happen to fall into place the way you expect it to.

Last night at the annual Faith Lutheran Homecoming Lip Sync event…the Senior class was defeated by the Junior class. (I was the adviser of the Senior class, along with my dear friends Chris and Christian.) Some say that the results of the judging were unjust! Some were outraged! Some wallflower seniors shed tears! One student threw a roll of toilet paper. We all deal with anger differently, I guess. I went to the drive-thru of McDonalds and inhaled two cherry pies in record time.

Allow me to explain what a Lip Sync is, first. Every Homecoming has a theme. This year’s was “VEGAS.” Every Homecoming event circulating this theme had to do with an individual Vegas casinos. The Lip Sync competition is one that pits classes against each other in spirited rivalry as they cut a four-minute music mix based on the given theme, and perform a costumed performance to the music, while attempting to lip sync to the vocals, as an ensemble. The theme for the Lip Sync event was HARD ROCK CAFE, and the seniors were given Queen, Journey and Rolling Stones as their music selections. The Lip Sync is truly one of the most attended and fun events we have on campus. (Even the teachers perform in a faculty skit. It gets really silly!) I’ve always loved it because it demands the students to work as an ensemble and draw on each others’ creative spirits.

Ours was REALLY cool too! The story followed a group of seniors from the hall (with various crazy hall passes) to the bathroom where there was a party going on. (Stall 54!) The Asst. Principal bursts in a gives everyone lunch detentions. While at lunch we meet some rather colorful lunch ladies, some boot-scooting girls and some Harlem shuffling boys. After the boys fall in love with the lunch ladies…the Principal comes in and issues a Saturday detention, enforced by the Saturday detention campus police (on bicycles…including a tiny clown bike.) The students are disgruntled…but in the end one brave student says “hey, guys…let’s get past all this…after all ‘We Are the Champions.'” Cue music. Everyone ends up very happy and unified…and we take a class picture. It was a very fun 4 minutes.

I’ve always thought that competition is a good thing. I don’t coach any sport, but the second we begin doing contests “just for fun” is the day Rome falls. I can’t imagine any red-blooded 4A school in the country suiting up for a friendly game of ball where they didn’t keep score. Wouldn’t happen. So, in this case, the Lip Sync is judged. I would say the vast majority of the time, the Seniors win…simply because this is their last hurrah! They usually pull out all stops and generate a lively, energetic and touching offering. Something they can be proud of. This year was no different and I was proud to be an adviser.

With that said…I find myself a bit disheartened today. Like every heated competition, there must be a winner. When that winner is announced, surely there will be a group of people who are upset by this. Well, the dust settled…my group of seniors were defeated (and by a bunch of Juniors! The audacity!)…and I found myself facing a handful of faithful lip stinkers who have taken the defeat very personally and are steadfast in their theories that the school is “out to get them” or “hates the senior class.” One student even punched a hole in our foam board restroom stall that we made. (Ironically, he was the one that the toilet paper as well. Restroom rage?)

Please allow me to put forth my perspective: I think the senior class worked a lot of hours perfecting dance moves, pulling together creative ideas, making costumes/props, and including people from all four corners of the class dynamic into every faction of the offering. It was inspiring. Were there those that rolled their eyes? Yes. Were there those who didn’t care as much? Sure. But overall…I’d say that the class represented themselves very well. I was there from day one…I saw how this coming-together of minds morphed from a puddle of goo into a full-fledged production. I saw people struggle and sweat. I saw the spirit.

Now, did the winning team struggle? Did they overcome trials and tribulations? Did they inject even half as much spirit into their offering? Who knows! I certainly don’t. I hear grumblings just like everyone else…but I can imagine that they had their share of trials as well. And I’m sure everyone can agree that everyone wants to win. But, here’s the thing…(and I’m sure some seniors have personal, or big picture gripes about what they are experiencing this year versus what is deserved)…there is no perfect system. Like every audition I conduct…I am to be trusted to make a decision that will affect a bigger picture. Those judges were picked by student council and it’s up to them to issue the final decision. If the seniors would have won…we’d be facing the same uphill climb with the Juniors. They’d be mad….etc. Now, one might argue that because last year the Junior (now Seniors) under my direction again (sheesh! I’m cursed!) came in second place….and we had a REALLY cool offering. But we’re not talking about last year…we’re focusing on this year, and the stuffy Gym atmosphere, and the new judges, and the alpha and omega stars which were aligned and the fifty-thousand other things that made this particular lip sync unique.

Now, before all the seniors who read this hit the Stumble Upon button, grumbling madly…I would encourage you to think about this…school spirit is what YOU make of it. It’s not a magic power…it’s not something granted or earned….it’s not something someone is entitled to. It’s a mind-set.

If you took: kindness / optimistic / determination / courage / thoughtfulness / faith and Hawaiian Punch and made a crazed milkshake…maybe with a dash of Red Bull…that’s school spirit. It’s what you feel when your home team scores a touchdown. It’s what you feel when every member of your class puts their hand in the circle and you shout “TEAM!” together. It’s what you demonstrate when you high five someone who just did well, or comfort someone who feels sad. It’s a frame of mind that supports you and guides you and helps you make positive choices. I argue….it’s the influence of the Holy Spirit working through you.

School spirit is like Bigfoot. Do we really need proof that it exists? If everyone in the room agrees that it does…that’s enough. And that’s what’s FUN about it! (Frankly, that’s what’s fun about Bigfoot too!)

I’m sad for my senior students. I have the great fortune to look into their eyes and see good people. Even those buggers who are naughty…(you know who you are)…I stand behind them with my hand on their shoulder and I tell you, they are good people too. That’s the thing about Faith Lutheran, it’s a school that truly does care. It’s an imperfect place…and there is room to grow…but no one wants to be on the receiving end of a second place trophy. While I argue that this contest was in no way personal…and that my students can use this experience to help paint the color of the fabric of their character…I will say that it sucks to lose as a senior to the juniors. I tip my hat to them, as they did a fine job. But, I hope that the four-minutes of Lip Syncing isn’t what these students will take with them on their personal journeys after graduation. I hope it’s a bigger scope of experiences.

Did you know that Jack Nicklaus (some would say the greatest golfer of all time) came in second place 19 times, in 19 separate major golf championships?

Did you know that Star Wars (a film in a year that redefined cinema in nearly every regard, and was considered to be a shoe-in for Best Picture) lost the Best Picture Oscar to “Rocky?” (Gotta love the underdog irony there.)

Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears were both runners-up on Star Search before becoming world-wide music icons.

Al Gore (probably one of the most famous runner-ups ever) received more popular votes than any elected President ever….still lost to George W. Bush.

This is absolutely no consolation to the efforts demonstrated by the class of 2012. But, I would argue that while upsetting, it gives us all something to talk about today. (Even if it is commiserating.) And after all, isn’t that what spirit week during Homecoming is all about? A chance to come together? I mean…let’s say we win our football game this Friday. We’ll walk away…together….going “WE ROCK!” But, if we lose this Friday…hypothetically….then we should be able to walk away….together…going “DARN YOU BULLDOGS!” Here’s the thing…there’s a saying “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I’m not sure I LOVE the saying…but I am a huge fan of teaching students to have a thick skin.

Instead of adopting the “pick yourself up and dust yourself off” mentality…I suggest we think of things this way: If we’re all trying to be SCHOOL SPIRITED…even if we fall on our faces…we’re still moving forward….together.

The students are disgruntled…I understand that. But, I’m letting you all know…I feel strongly that we will all be able to champion through this situation. Seniors deserve a chance to shine! If it isn’t going to be as the winners of Lip Sync, then let it be as good sports.

“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.

Frequently Masked Questions

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2011 by erikball123

Today I mourn with hundreds of Faith students, parents and teachers at the tragic, unexpected passing of one of my students. She died in an accident while on vacation. We just started the new school year…and already my heart is heavy and I’m kinda mad at myself, because I find myself (in my efforts to make sense of all of this) questioning my own mortality. I suppose that’s a natural knee-jerk reaction. But, I’m mad because I feel like “how dare you focus on YOU at a time like this!”I suppose when tragedy occurs, the coming together of friends and family is what gives us peace. It centers our focus so that we may commiserate together. I look forward to a tough Tuesday as we head back to school.

For the record, this young lady was a student in my class…a hard-working, creative, clever, fun-loving beam of sunshine in my every day. I loved that she considered herself unique and had a will of steel. She was determined, she loved her friends and she never hesitated to stop me in the hall for a hug. On top of all of this, she loved her Lord, and I can sleep at night knowing she’s with her Father in heaven right now.

I remember when I was a freshman in college and my parents got divorced…I got so angry. I prided myself in having a great family life and this particular bomb, just blind-sided me. I couldn’t forgive my father for walking out. “This decision was obviously fueled by a mid-life crisis situation and a desire to find happiness”…I kept telling myself. How dare he be so selfish. I have always said, and I will continue to say, you create your own happiness. I was so angry at my dad for giving up on us.

Flash forward to today and the current tragedy…I continue to struggle with the question “why?”…I find myself in a similar spot. I’ve always said (from an ignorant Lutheran’s point of view) that it is okay to question God. It’s okay to go to God in anger, fear, resentment, frustration and sadness. Questioning is okay…so long as you DON’T STOP looking for the answer. That’s why I love God’s style. It’s a selfish man who demands results RIGHT NOW…but a caring, contemplative man who is willing to wait for the answer to unfold over time. God’s blessing of free will and patience is something I take for granted, especially when I want something. I want answers about this young lady’s death. The same investigative mind-set is snooping Facebook searching for details. (I had to physically shut my computer off in order to knock some sense into myself.) The bottom line…this tragic accident shouldn’t have happened to such a wonderful person, and I’m angry. At first I thought…you know what, it’s out of our hands, it’s God’s will. But you know something. That’s not right. God’s will does not include brilliant 16-year to die a tragic death. In Genesis, God didn’t want people to die. It wasn’t until Satan stuck his nose into things that the first tragedy occurred. It’s NOT God’s will. I’ll tell you what it is….it’s God’s PROMISE, that no matter what the devil does to us…no matter what tragedy befalls us…if we trust in the Lord and we know with our mind and our hearts that Jesus is the only way to heaven…then we will be saved.

There’s a cheesy moment in the movie “White Christmas” when Bing Crosby and what’s-her-face is sitting around a fireplace guzzling buttermilk and singing about how we should all count our blessings. I’ve never tried to actually sit down and count my blessings. I tried. First and foremost…hand-writing a list is something I haven’t done in a while! (Welcome to the age of technology!) I got to about #54 before stopping and thinking….this could go ON AND ON! There is a never-ending amount of blessings that we should all sit back and think about. Little ones, like my dog, the roof over my head, my car with working air conditioning, a job to look forward to every day, clothes on my back, food in my stomach and an amazing wife who I get to share life with. There are blessings we forget about…like my friend Joel in NY, who throughout all his schooling and travels and spunky, care-free nature, still takes time to reflect how none of it is possible without the Lord. He’s what I call a “secret witness.” Or even, the beautiful children being born every day! Or the beautiful people of this world who so desperately want to have children, but cannot. Silly things, like television shows that make us laugh. That songs we play over and over again on our iPods that makes us feel “normal” again. The feeling of peace and quiet that moment just before you fall asleep at night. The hot shower that soothes your aching, aging bones. The friend who does something nice for you (like, bringing you a Starbucks!)…or that Grandparent who still drops a letter in the mail for you every now and then.

I could go on and on. I cannot begin to tell you all the things I have to be thankful for…that I take for granted every day. Walking the halls of Faith Lutheran, I look into the eyes of hundreds of students. Students with goals, and dreams, and hopes and fears. I guess what’s hardest about all of this, is the fact that God’s plan is not necessarily laid out for us to interpret. I suppose it’s not expected of us to understand God’s will.

I think I need to study up. I feel myself confusing God’s perfect will with something else…a “Just Do It” or “Trust No One’s” soceity that tells us…”oh well, it’s God’s will.” God has bigger better plans for us. Those plans do not include accidents that claim people’s lives. I can trust that this young lady’s faith in Christ has delivered her to her Father, and that the devil has lost this one.

I guess that’s what I’m struggling with. I’m a power-hungry, control freak…who has to trust in God enough to relinquish control of this situation. To put this (like all my doubts, fears and frustrations) in God’s hands. I’ll try.

To the parents of this young lady…God’s blessings to you. I promise I will continue to pray for you and your family. I will not, even remotely, attempt to try and understand the grief you are experiencing. But I will say this…your daughter was beloved on earth, as she is beloved by our Father in heaven. I will miss her terribly.

Just so you know…my dad and I did make up. It wasn’t too long before I thought to myself, “well, you can’t stop loving your father simply because you can’t understand or, rather get-over a situation.” We talked it out. (It was rough at first.) Down the road he remarried. She a very nice woman. (Her name is Chene…I call them “the old Ball and Chene!” He hates that. It makes me laugh.) But, we do talk, and he and I have a very respectable, loving relationship now. I may not ever truly understand why he decided to get the divorce, but part of life is taking the good and the bad…wrapping it up tight in your head, praying about it…and then attempting to generate something productive with it. I think that’s what God wants us to do.

I will continue to try and do that with both of these situations.

Everyone needs a father, especially in times of struggle. Rest peacefully, knowing that you always do…and He always has an answer…whether you fully understand the questions or not.

Psalm 18:2  “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Pawn My Drama

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2011 by erikball123

I’ve been into stupid little reality shows like Hardcore Pawn and Pawn Stars lately. I’m diggin’ on Storage Wars too, but that’s starting to get old, and scripted. I think what attracts me to such television silliness is the mystery behind people’s stories. What is in that storage unit that makes the risk of purchasing it at a premium so appealing. What mysterious chain of events brought Mr. Cecil Stickyfingers to the pawn store today to give up his prized possession. The suspense of actually seeing that the cardboard box holds dirty laundry instead of Uncle Billy’s gold coin collection is what builds the suspense for me. The let down after seeing Cecil find out that the autographed skull of Abraham Lincoln was really a knock off is what creates the storyline for me, I guess.

In general, my stomach ties itself in knots when I’m faced with confrontation. In the big picture, I find myself working very hard to move forward, with every project, every challenge and every journey. The speed bumps that slow me down are things I like to deal with quickly and quietly. I’m not a fighter. I get frustrated and hurt when people cannot see that all I want to do is create something positive…something good.

I’m also found out that I’m not sentimental. This realization surprised me. My wife said it simply “well, you’re not sentimental.” At the time I took it personally. Then I thought about it. She’s right. Tangible items in my life mean very little to me. It’s not that I don’t care about things…rather, I care VERY much about people, and feelings, and emotion…to the point to where the object doesn’t matter.

So, why do I find entertainment value in watching people fight and toil over objects? I suppose it has to do with the convenience of it all. Have you ever thought WHY people put “things” into storage? I’ll give you a few suggestions:

  1. To store for a future event / date / project.
  2. Because they don’t have room for said valuables in their homes.
  3. Because they want to hide it.
  4. Because they want to forget about it.

Pawning is different. People give up their valuables for money. A quick pay off to get them through today, so they can peacefully look forward to tomorrow. The tangible items doesn’t matter in the “now,” and the knowledge that later, when the dust settles, they can obtain that object back (if they pay the price) is appealing.

I find these concepts particularly interesting to me lately.

As you can see, it’s been about 10 months since my last post. I’ve been a smidge busy. I’ve been involved in a total of 6 theatrical productions this year (technically, and onstage), I taught full time, starting my own radio show and was recently hired into a professional acting gig. That’s just the work I’ve been involved in. It’s been a long year.

A long disheartening year.

Granted, I find value in every experience, good or bad, because I truly think you can learn from all, but this year was different. I’m losing faith in my fellow actor. Perhaps even, my fellow man. (Cue dramatic music.) The creative person (especially theatrical actors) by nature is extroverted. They are emotional, passionate people. I pride myself on being one of them. But, I cannot grasp the notion of sullying relationships and taking such a huge personal vested interest in a creative project that it voids out human nature and creative collaboration. These are fundamentals that I believe are staples in creating good theatre.

The state of theatre in Las Vegas is the opposite of what I think everyone believes. There is plenty of theatre to do here in the Valley. All types too. You can keep yourself pretty busy by hitching yourself to any of these proverbial horses. With that said, it’s really a small city. Getting my foot in the door here as a director / designer, etc. was relatively easy. (Pay your dues, be respectful, believe in your product and work hard…and you can too.) But, now that I’m here…I don’t know if I want to be.

I respect my fellow directors / actors. The modern day theatre company is VERY hard to manage. I applaud the theatre companies in town. (Some manage well, some do not…but they all manage.) With that said, I have found little joy in my work this year. There was several times where product or personal feelings stifled the creative process. Several times egos clogged the flow of communication and collaboration. The desire to be top dog or to have the “Best” award…fueled the focus and scope of the project. I found myself in the wake many times…because I don’t like conflict.

Some people might view it as “not having any Balls.” Ah, Irony. I don’t view it as such. I just think there is a way that a collection of artists can generate something together without making it solely about them. I’m reading a book on one of my idols Tim Burton…and he talks about how he cannot work for an ego-driven machine. He has to allow the creativity to breathe and live….that’s where the joy comes from. I’ve worked very hard this year…but I’ve found very little joy.

I was sitting here tonight…my wife away to the Utah Shakespeare Festival with her book club…watching a rerun of Hardcore Pawn. While you won’t find me anywhere near the Detroit Michigan back streets…I sometimes wish I could bring the drama that breaks my spirit to the Pawn Shop. Cash it in…and maybe, just maybe, be back for it later, when I can deal with it.

Or, even better. I could rent a storage unit. Pile my frustration, my over sensitive nature…my paranoia….my dread that what I try to create through theatre is amounting to nothing…..pile it into a storage unit…get a sturdy padlock, and put it away. Perhaps never to be seen again. Maybe someday they’ll auction my unit off and I won’t ever have to worry about it again. That would be so nice.

I wonder if that would be the coward’s way. A friend told me that I should be very proud to be a drama teacher, and that it takes a special kind of person to do what I do. I appreciate that. But, I also think it takes a special kind of person to believe in WHAT they do. (And that goes for anything, not just theatre.) I suppose so long as I continue to believe in WHAT I do, then how in pans out in the short term doesn’t really matter. In the long term, I’m building on what I know, and propelling forward to create a better tomorrow.

Bill Cosby said “Yesterday is a ghost. Tomorrow is a dream. All you have is now.” I like that. Kinda supports my Super Pawn Drama idea. Perhaps I don’t need the inner-city Pawn shop…perhaps I can find a way to pawn my frustrations away so that “now” is what is the most important. Creatively, anyway. That makes sense to me.

I wonder…if Picasso knew that his paintings would be sold for millions, do you think he would have bought better brushes or worked in a different light? I don’t know. I do know he wasn’t focused on the future. His scope of work is unending.

I feel like I had an unending year. I’ve decided not to judge it…or cry over spilled milk…instead, I’ll pawn it away in my secret Pawn Shop….and focus on right now.

I’m not sure how much I’ll “get” for pawning it…but it’s more than I currently have.

“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.

%d bloggers like this: