Back to School

Freshman Dorm

One room: two beds, two desks, two closets, two large squares of cork board covered with colorful squares and smiles, tacked in place by plastic push pins. By the window, the ultimate convenience invention: the microfridge.

Plastic crates are stacked under the desk and by the microfridge, holding notebooks, pens, pencils, textbooks, and Hot Pockets.

Somehow, within a few square feet, I have squeezed my high school bedroom into this new shared space.

I’m looking out the window, overlooking the quad, seeing the families unloading their minivans; daughters and sons carrying their laundry bags and Doc Martens.

East Halls, Penn State University, my new dorm.

Freshman year.

My parents drive away and I walk to the dining hall with my roommate and friend across the hall, and it begins to sink in.

I’m here.  I made it.

 

I was the first class of the Musical Theatre BFA at Penn State University.  They called us the “guinea pigs” because every semester they were trying out curriculum on us, and our feedback was the deciding factor on keeping the course as it was, or adjusting it to better serve the program and the following year’s students.

This made for a very adventurous experience, and also our input was deeply appreciated.  Our successes and challenges were not only important for our personal artistic growth and craft, but for the development of the program as a whole.  We were the sounding boards.

My time at Penn State was rich and full.  I graduated with top-notch skills in my dance, acting, and singing.  I had a book full of audition songs, a well written resume, and professional headshots.  I had choreographed extensively during my time on campus, both locally and professionally, and enjoyed football games, deep friendships, and love.

I had the tee-shirt, the hat, and the Nittany Lion Roar, “We are PENN STATE!”

I was blue and white proud, and ready for my career, marriage, and post-collegiate life to begin.

Look out NYC…..

 

I returned to Happy Valley in 2001, three years after I graduated, to choreograph Pennsylvania Centre Stage’s summer production of Little Shop of Horrors, and loved being back in the theatre building, and a part of the arts scene there.  Campus hadn’t changed much since my graduation, and I knew a lot of the cast members.

And then a long time passed, a lifetime.

I didn’t return until the fall of 2013 and the surroundings had deeply shifted.

The HUB, or center building on campus had expanded out immensely, undergoing renovation and add-ons.  The building was new, enormous, and offered tons of dining choices, more space for students, and a larger main bookstore.

Streets that used to go though the middle of campus were now just walk-ways to accommodate the growing student body, and I lost track of all the new buildings rising from the once barren grasses.  The actual scope of the campus had enlarged, taking over a golf course, and fields.

I had rented a car to visit the campus, and drove on new roads.

There was so much that had been added, and as I drove all I felt was loss.

I was driving alone now, where for 15 years I had navigated from the passenger side of my marriage, changing the radio and enjoying companionship.

That companionship had begun here, within the blue and white cheers, and theatre parties.  Here I had fallen in love.

I had come into town to see my mentor’s one-woman show and dreamt that night of a massive flood, the waters washing me away.  I was held by a guardian angel and friend who wiped my tears, but I wondered when or if I would ever return.

There was so much change to process. Everything was so new.

 

Last week, I was camping with my parents and brother’s family at Little Pine State Park, over an hour outside of Penn State.  My brother and sister in law also grabbed their cap and gown in Happy Valley, so we planned a day trip to re-visit.

The morning of, I could feel the memory of my last visit forming a knot in my heart, so over breakfast, I looked at my mother and said,

“I’m scared to go back to campus today, and may need your support.”

She grabbed my hand and we both began to cry, as she reassured me she was there for me and always has been.

Just saying the words out loud released the tight ball, and in giving permission to feel it all, I exhaled and scooped a forkful of homemade quiche into my mouth.

Maybe I was going to be ok.
Maybe this visit would be different.

There had been heavy downpour that morning, and as we drove to campus, my parents windshield wipers worked feverishly back and forth to clear my father’s sight.  In the back seat, my mother and I laughed over emails and Facebook posts.

We parked in the Creamery Parking garage, and made our way in under umbrellas to partake in a college tradition:

Ice Cream.

Celebrating it’s 150th anniversary this year, the Penn State Berkey Creamery housed our family as we licked our spoons around the white circular table.  I didn’t even consider another choice, and eagerly asked the server to scoop my favorite into the cup, Bittersweet Mint.

Outside, new students were moving into East Halls.  Families were helping their sons and daughters carry their belongings and laundry bags into the stone and brick buildings.  Convocation was in two days, and the parking lots were full with suitcases and bins.

Much like years ago.

East Halls stood exactly the same, the same square lines and buildings.  What changed was who was entering them.

I savored each mouthful, remembering countless times I would buy ice cream after tap class or after rehearsal, and always the same flavor:  Bittersweet.

 

We left and the skies cleared, as our feet stepped through puddles on the concrete. We closed our umbrellas and began to see blue peeking through the dark clouds above.

In the clearing we took fun pictures on the Nittany Lion statue.
In the clearing we reminisced stories looking at our classroom buildings.
In the clearing I was able to visit with a friend who is now a professor, and hug that guardian angel who held me so tight two years ago.
In the clearing we went to the bookstore and I bought a new hat and long sleeve tee.

The clouds returned again, and rain poured down the slanted sidewalks towards the traffic lights on College Avenue.

I looked around at the students, the teachers, all preparing for a new school year and all the lessons ahead, and I felt the rain soak my skin.

I’m here.  I made it.

Back to School.

Kissing Nittany

Creative Recipe

Yoga Toes

Purple against green, my yoga mat lays on the forest floor, over roots and dirt, on a slight uphill slant.

My hands raise to a prayer high over my head and above me, a circle of sky through the tops of the trees.

I dive down to the mat, fingertips placed for a moment as my ears hear the bees buzzing happily in the August morning air.

I shift my legs to a wide parallel second and lower down to stretch my back, and gaze at the world upside down.

And take it in, releasing my head, releasing my spine.

Before me the trees, before me the sky, before me the life of the campsite as I flow in my breath, and this dance to waken the body.

Thank goodness.  I was starving.

 

Last week I sat in the company of Tony award winning Broadway and TV/Film actress Joanna Gleason.  I was invited to a brunch with her and two other playwrights, and swooned over her stories and beautiful energy.

As she shared her history between writing, acting, singing, and teaching, I asked her which form of creative expression she loved the most.  Her face lit up with her quick answer:

Teaching

With over 20 years of experience, she told us what her first assignment is for her students:

Roasting a chicken.

“Actors today are suffering from sensory deprivation.  I give them this simple answer to get them back in touch with their senses.  They roast this chicken and come back to the class so alive with so much to talk about. Then we begin working on their songs.”

As my fork dived into crisp pear slices with fresh arugula, I took a moment to take in the taste and texture, remembering how rewarding it was the first time I roasted a chicken, alongside leeks and apples.

The meat fell off the bone, and was a delight.  My apartment smelled glorious and I felt some accomplishment in a new area.

I felt I had grown.

At the time, I was also having a blast as dance captain in a new show and loving the experience.  I had never considered the correlation.

Joanna shared her inspiration for the Baker’s Wife in Steven Sondheim’s Into The Woods was all on the page.  She simply took what was given and used it.  This performance garnered her first Tony award, and a long and fruitful career on stage and screen.

But how did she know how to translate the words on the page into such rich acting?

Did this begin with her love of cooking?

 

Arriving late on Tuesday night, I joined my family vacationing at a campsite over an hour from my alma mater, Penn State.  I climbed into bed in the dark, after a long day of travel, including waiting for a bus in the blazing sun on West 34th Street for two hours.  I was exhausted, frustrated, and really worried about my skin.

On my feet, arms, and legs, were several raised red large bumps.  My purse housed Benadryl and alcohol swabs, in efforts to soothe the itch and discomfort of these incessant bug bites in the late summer humidity.

Constant in the past few weeks, a new bite was arising almost every day or so.

I woke up Wednesday morning to a pretty swollen right foot, while the other bites were starting to go down.  My body was really reacting to something.

What was going on?

I’ve always been allergic to mosquito bites, but this has been a throwback to my six year old days in Kansas, with bites as large as my back.

After dousing myself in bug spray, my family and I went out for a hike, and I could feel my shoulders relaxing, as we took in the dam, mountains, and barn swallows swooping over our heads in playful arcs.

Before me the path lined with pine trees, and sunshine shooting through the branches, creating yellow squares and rectangles of warmth as we walked in the canopied shade.

We walked down into a clearing, a valley of green, and all I wanted to do was spin and sing,

The hills are alive….with the sound of music…

We enjoyed grilled chicken for dinner, and I stared deep into the campfire after devouring s’mores, while my nephew serenaded us with his guitar.

My sleep was deep, and my dreams vivid.

 

Waking on Thursday morning, I allowed extra time to sit in meditation, and then looked at my yoga mat rolled up and decided to give it a go.  I’d been given the the green light by my chiropractor, and after two dance classes was feeling my back was ready.

The swelling in my right foot had come down considerably and the former red welts had disappeared on my arms and legs.

I found a spot to roll out the mat and began my practice, loving being outside and feeling the temperate air.

Yoga Trees

It wasn’t until I was getting dressed for our day that I realized I had been outside on my mat with no bug spray.

I also had no new bites.

My mind returned to the roast chicken and Joanna’s vibrant eyes, talking about how much she loves singing to opera, or writing her screenplay, or watching her students add specific behaviors to their scene work.

Looking around, I knew this was my kitchen here, in the tall pines and rolling hills, and the frustration and block of my travel day felt miles away.

In this space, all I wanted to do was create.

And my body reflected the shift.

 

Where are you starving?

What feeds your senses?

Where is YOUR Kitchen?

Tree Canopy