Scattered Notes*

A few years ago — okay, it’s actually a couple decades ago by now  — a friend of mine wrote a play. And, in the summer of 1994, we set out to stage it.

It was a special summer, filled with lengthy conversations over boombas of Bud Light at our favorite watering hole Rumors. Besides typical twentysomething stuff, we discussed and analyzed the characters he had written, intent on creating truth on stage.

My character (Kate) was a little like me. She was the oldest in the family, tightly wound — a little intense, a little uptight, in control. She had a Franklin Planner and excellent organizational skills! Okay, a lot like me. But in the play, she was faced with things she didn’t know how to handle with a checklist. Change. Revelations. Loss.

I remember spending lengthy hours studying the script, striving to create honesty in the character of Kate. I delved deep. It was fun, exciting and challenging to originate a role … but there was one particular moment that was extremely difficult for me. At the end of the play, Kate had to dance. It was symbolic of letting go … of unconditional acceptance, forgiveness, love and embracing life as it was, not how she wanted to force it to be. She — I — had to stand alone in the spotlight and dance.

There I was during rehearsals with my three friends … amazing actors who slightly intimidated me with their own incredible talent and ease on stage. I stood alone in that final moment of the play. I wanted to do right by them and by my friend who wrote the piece and trusted me with this role. And to do right, I had to let go … to find something vulnerable inside myself and release it for them … and a bunch of strangers sitting out there in the darkness … to see.

It was one of the most difficult stage moments of my life.

Those who know me recognize me for a Type A personality — organizing, planning, controlling (in a good way) and managing lists and events are my thing. Allowing myself to open up and be vulnerable in front of others, well, that’s a lot harder.Give me lines, I’m good. Ask me to get raw on stage, that’s harder.

Vulnerability. It’s difficult, allowing others to see and know us for the good, the bad and the ugly. To share something others may not want or be ready to hear. It’s scary to take off the mask, allowing your true self, thoughts, hopes, desires, flaws, aspirations and feelings to be known by others. To uncover the cracks or struggles by opening your heart. To perhaps show that you don’t have it all together. To be vulnerable is to invite potential rejection and pain. On my yoga mat, it can mean I fall out of a pose — and everyone in the room sees or hears that. Off the mat, it can lead to hurt worse than hitting the floor.

Vulnerability means you speak your truth to someone you care for, owning your feelings, dreams and thoughts. You invite potential rejection when you do so and lose some friendships along the way — but you also open the doors to possibility. You make a film, investing your creativity and your self writing a script, casting it, mounting the production and spending hours editing. Perhaps it gets noticed … recognized … honored. Perhaps it’s not quite what you’d planned or thought it might be. You write a play, but no one shows up to audition yet somehow you stage it and learn amazing things about yourself anyway. You start your own business or publish a blog. You put yourself out there and see what happens.

When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you invite in the consequences, discoveries and joys — the good and the difficult — the remarkable and the intense.

Three years ago, encouraged by two friends, I started My Own Little Corner by Jenni. Like the song from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, in my own little corner I can be whatever I want to be — say whatever I want to say and dream my dreams.

But I took my words out of “the corner,” dusting them off and offering them to readers I knew and readers I didn’t. I made myself vulnerable. And, as a result, I grew. I made new discoveries. In my life, I’ve chosen to explore passions and at times experienced the devastating pain of rejection and indifference. I guess, though, the point is if you don’t put yourself out there and allow yourself to be vulnerable, you’ll never know what is possible. You’ll never be free.

SNYou have to allow the Scattered Notes of your heart to play … let go … and dance.

I learned it that summer with Eileen, Paul and Matthew. I learn it over and over again as I open myself up … not knowing what will come. I make discoveries when I open my heart and get vulnerable. Even when I fall down. And, I can’t bring myself to regret those choices.

Kate taught me that. The possibilities that come when you stand in the spotlight, open your heart and your arms … and dance.

— Jenni

*dedicated to Matthew T. Troyer … happy birthday.



Silence, Betrayal & Forgiveness

The Thursday of Holy Week is the darkest day of the year for me. It symbolizes isolation and abandonment. It epitomizes betrayal …

In high school, I performed in the musical Godspell, an upbeat staging of the Book of Matthew dramatizing parables with clever dialogue and integrated music. The most powerful scene for me was The Last Supper when the cast wiped off our decorative face paint, revealing our true selves. It was then that the character of Jesus stated that one of us would betray him. Of course, we all denied it.

Next came the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus went to pray, begging his Father to remove the pain and suffering he knew was coming. He took us, his friends, along for support. He needed us to share the darkness with him. But we fell asleep, awakening to the slamming of the door. Then, Judas marched down the aisle, kissed Jesus on the cheek, and betrayed him to the Roman guards.

During the discordant music following, we … the friends who had shared years of good times together … we who ate, drank, talked and hung out together … we who only moments before declared we would never deny or abandon him … scattered.

Silence and Betrayal.

I wonder what Jesus felt right then, watching his friends bail on him moments after they promised they’d never betray him.  I wonder sometimes if Jesus’ friends had just been honest with him – and themselves — about their fears, would that have changed the dynamic? Would their honesty have offered Jesus comfort when he was imprisoned and they were gone?

What if when he passed them the chalice and suggested betrayal was in the air they had said to him: “Ya know, Jesus, I like you and truly care about you. But I’m not sure I can handle all this right now. I enjoy hanging out. But it’s getting a little intense and I need to step back.”

Or did they even know in that moment an unforeseen element would shake their relationship to the very core and fragment it? Was it a shock to them too?

It’s this Silence in the dark and the Betrayal that hits me hardest. They fell away without warning. They left him to walk the Via Dolorosa all by himself without so much as a word to someone they had only seconds, hours and weeks before professed to care for deeply. They cut him off and ran. Jesus knew it was coming, sure. But that didn’t make the denial and rejection easier.

I imagine Jesus there, knowing he’s on his own. God is silent. Judas sells him out. Peter denies knowing him and their friendship not once but three times. Every one of his other friends flees, leaving him with memories of words spoken and empty declarations of love. He stands before a hostile crowd, completely alone and — I think — sad too. All that time invested in relationships and all the adventures shared, only to watch those he loved most walk away without a word. Ouch!

Silence and Betrayal.

Yet … despite it all, he forgave them. He knew in his heart they loved and cared about him. Jesus was an expert on subtext! He knew their fears and doubts — the things they struggled with. But he walked the road with them as friends anyway, knowing eventually how it all would end. He loved them still.

Silence and Betrayal. It makes today the Hardest Day of the year for me.

forgieBut in Godspell, I was the Day by Day girl. And, in the scene prior to my song, I learned that we must each “each forgive our brothers, from our hearts.” So even in the darkest of darks 2000 years after that awful betrayal (and 35 years after my final performance of Godspell), Forgiveness is there, more powerful than hate and anger, offering healing.

I’m not alone when I say I’ve felt the sting of denial, silence and betrayal myself. There are friends I’d thought cared deeply about me but rejected and hurt me. I’m no saint, but I can choose to follow the example Jesus set. No matter what happens on my own personal Via Dolorosa — and no matter if people who I cared for hurt, deny or abandon me — I can choose to Forgive.

I still wonder if it would have been just a tinge gentler on Jesus if his friends had talked to him before they left. He would have understood. He would have loved them anyway and accepted their choice. But they didn’t. And I can’t help but think that betrayal cut as deeply as the nails in his hands and feet …

Maundy Thursday is about Betrayal. But Love and Forgiveness didn’t wait until the brightness of Easter Sunday. They are never delayed when truly hoped for. They were there in the darkness of Gethsemane when his friends fled. And they are still here today.



Have Courage and Be Kind

I was raised on The Wonderful World of Disney and my parents took us to see all the animated Disney films in the theatres. Disney wasn’t yet the corporate giant it is today, but the stories and characters fascinated me. Yes, as a little girl, I wanted to be a Princess. Part of me still does …

Back then, there were only three princesses to choose from: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Since my childhood, the Disney Princess Roster has expanded greatly, and I find something admirable in all of them. But those I personally relate to best are Belle and Cinderella.

Recently, Disney released live action versions of both tales. They were truly magical and showcased the reason I admire these two strong women. Belle reminds me of the importance of books, imagination and looking beyond an outer image to find and appreciate the beauty within. To not judge others or make casual assessments that destroy or define something because it is different. But I will address that in another blog.

It’s the live action Cinderella, starring Lily James and James Madden, that I focus on today. There have of course been many Cinderella productions, plays, musicals, ballets, and modern variations on the rags-to-riches tale. But the 2015 film touches my spirit and reflects the reason Cinderella has always been my favorite heroine.

In the film, Ella (the Cinder part comes later) comes from a loving home, but her mother dies early. Yet her mother’s love and wisdom gives Ella the strength to maintain Hope and eventually save herself. Oh sure, she gets a prince in the end and has a little help from a magical fairy godmother. But she chose how to deal with the life thrust upon her and find her own way out of the miserable circumstances brought on by her father’s unfortunate selection of Wife #2.

The message her mother gives? Have Courage and Be Kind.

When her stepmother oppresses and undermines her, turning her into a servant in her own home, Ella shows grace instead of defiance and makes the most of her situation, befriending both the servants and animals around her. Her life is full of cruelty and she could easily lose her spirit and despair. But in the end with the prince by her side, instead of repaying the aduse she took in kind, she maintains grace. She utters the stronger message, telling her Stepmother: “I forgive you.”

I’ve been cast as Cinderella in three stage productions and I treasure each experience. I love the dress of course. The transformation scene is one of the most magical moments in the story. But it’s this woman’s ability to find Joy and Calm in the midst of adversity that inspires me. She recalls and finds happy moments when all around her is selfishness. She has courage and is kind while the interlopers reject her. That is what I admire in Ella, the girl who deserves so much love yet sleeps alone by the cinders. She finds in herself a way to rise above it all.

Though I’ve played the role, I’m not sure I’ve always had courage or been as kind as I should have been. I have not always considered the feelings of others. I’ve not always been brave enough to hold my tongue, take the higher ground or walk away from a difficult situation. And, as a result, I’ve hurt people — sometimes even knowing the damage I might do I must admit. I’ve been selfish at times and thoughtless.

As I watched the film this morning, I felt inspired once again by the story to follow Ella’s mother’s sage advice. To be kinder and slower to take offense or rise to anger. To show courage in the midst of darkness and rejection or when I’m uncertain and alone. And, perhaps just as importantly, to forgive those who may have hurt me … no matter the cause or reason.

Disney’s Princesses offer valuable lessons that resonate with more than just young girls. A kinder more courageous world where we are gentle and gracious to each other despite our differences is something to Hope for. To forgive when we’ve been carelessly, thoughtlessly or even intentionally hurt … I’m a work in progress here. But, one situation comes to mind today. And my response is to echo Ella’s … “I forgive you.”

No fairy godmother or magic wand needed. Just Have Courage, my readers. And Be Kind.

— Jenni


Sugar & Spice

I packed away my daughter’s dollhouse today.

Sitting on the pink carpeting in her updated “tween”-styled room, I carefully removed tiny pieces of furniture and dusted them before placing them carefully in the box from which I had removed them nearly 9 years ago. Some of the pieces had come from my own dollhouse. Some were new to her. When it came time to pack away the tiny pink china dishes, I felt tears slipping down my face.

She’d once found so much joy in that dollhouse. We’d discovered it on a fluke at a garage sale. I’d planned on building her one, like my parents built mine. But we “renovated” this one instead, together selecting new colors, painting it, adding hardwood flooring, kitchen tile, carpeting and updated wallpaper, and finally decorating it with furniture. Her Lallaloopsy dolls found their home inside those walls. Many were still inside, lounging on dusty chairs and sleeping in the brass bed I treasured once upon a time.

I remember watching her play, moving and speaking for the dolls and creating magical stories only she understood.  I remember the many times she asked me to “play people” with her, and we sat down on the floor and imagined together.

The dollhouse, Lallaloopsies and American Girl dolls have been left alone for a year now. I was in Denial for a while. Hopeful that the days of her exploring the extraordinary, captivating widths and depths of her imagination and “playing people” were not over. But, as I removed dusty furniture and dolls, I knew that time had passed. And I was seriously weeping when I carried the dollhouse to the basement and placed the boxed up furniture on a shelf to save for Paige’s children to discover.

I’d been through this once before, as my son transitioned away from his once coveted Webkinz and Club Penguin membership. He packed his childhood toys away himself, though. One day they were in his room; the next they were in a box in the basement. It’s a Toy Story 3 moment — a film I truly cannot watch as I sob every time.

286592_10150290105123746_6489319_oThough endings come and the days of dolls conc, I know I will have new treasured times to share with Paige. No, she won’t climb on my lap and snuggle — she’d crush me if she did! And she won’t ask me to play people or share a tea party with her AG dolls. But, we’ll share tween dramas, iTunes downloads and boy problems, friendship struggles and pointe ballet performances. What’s ahead, I truly don’t know. But, we’ve already shared the fun of picking out a dress and styling her hair for her first middle school dance.

There will be many Sugary moments in the coming days, weeks, months and years.  Life is like that. The discomfort of Spice as relationships twist and turn and sometimes fall away is hard to endure. Endings are difficult. Sometimes you don’t see them coming. They sneak up on you, unexpected. One moment you’re immersed in sweet Sugary playtime and experiencing incredible joy. Then, the story changes. You reach the end of a book without realizing it. Some experiences — like childhood — can’t last forever, no matter how many stars we wish upon.

As I packed away Paige’s childhood treasures, a part of me was packed away too.  But, having been here before and made it to the other side with an amazing 17-year old soon to graduate and go to college son, I know there’s Hope. My daughter and I have always been close. And though her Tween to Teen years may present a lot of Spice, I know there will be Sugary Joy and Special Memories along the way.

And, for the record, after I cleaned out, vacuumed and dusted her room, I settled down on the floor to change all Paige’s American Girl dolls into Spring dresses and enjoyed a tea party of my own with them …

— Jenni

The Kindness of Strangers

In my spare time, I’m involved in community theatre. I have been performing since the age of 3 when I played an Angel in my church Christmas Nativity play and tried to steal the scene from the Baby Jesus. Since then, my passion became the stage.

16298804_10155079499963746_8308319323543457934_nCurrently I’m playing a role in a comedy entitled The Red Velvet Cake War, written by the authors of the famous 80’s sitcom The Golden Girls. Set in Texas, the play centers around three “unique” cousins and contentious — albeit comically crafted —  family relationships that lead to a cake baking battle and a family reunion wrought with challenges. It’s very funny, very silly, and filled with crazy characters that — despite their Texas drawls — probably resemble someone you know.

Comedy is tricky. During the 10 weeks of rehearsal, you receive little feedback. The director and stage manager hear the same jokes day after day. You work your lines and try different variations along the way. But you wonder as you approach opening night, will people laugh? Are we funny?

Last Sunday, as my friend and fellow cast member Kathleen and I departed the stage door, a sweet older lady in a wheel chair stopped us to say, “Thank you for a wonderful afternoon that gave me so much joy. I laughed and laughed … I really needed that.”

Now, as much as I crave delving into the crazy nooks and crannies of the characters I create, I needed to hear that. As much as I enjoy the creative process and the rush that comes from standing in the spotlight, I needed the validation. And this one woman who I’d never met before — this stranger — gave it to me.

I think many people are like that. Perhaps that’s one reason social media thrives. We post photos on Instagram and Facebook, comments on Twitter, moments on SnapChat and Blogs on our web sites. And then we wait to see who Likes, Follows, Comments, and Views our stuff.

Let’s be honest, ya’ll. Don’t you Look at your posts after you put them out there to see what response they received? How many times do you check for Notifications to find out who liked that Facebook photo or commented on your post? As human beings in the midst of busy lives, we crave connection and a reminder that someone out there cares and notices us. And, when a total stranger bestows upon us a gracious look, a thoughtful remark, or a gentle hug, that is powerful.

Like Blanche DuBois from Tennessee Williams Streetcar Named Desire — a role I’ve always longed to play (hint hint) — I too have “always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Sometimes, these strangers give me the best gift of all. Recognition that I gave them something. For me, it’s not simply the creative role and character development, the applause, the on-stage/off-stage friendships formed, the cast parties, the footlights, the Aqua Net, the costumes, and the roles that fuel my passion. It’s knowing that somewhere out there is somebody who needs a moment of escape. A moment to not think about the challenges of their life or the world today. A moment of laughter in the darkness where I am their light.

I’m an artist. And like most artists, I need validation. I like it when I have a friend out there in the audience to support and celebrate my passion for performing. And, I like to know if what I’m putting out there resonates or gives joy.   I’m pretty sure many people feel the same way. We need the kindness of strangers — and the kindness of friends and those we walk through life with — to let us know we’re on the right path, support us, and applaud our efforts.

In this show, the laughter feeds my spirit. The smiling faces I see as I leave the theatre tell me I’ve given them something. And that gives me great satisfaction … as do the Likes and Comments I receive on items I post on social media that my friends take time to notice.

But to those people in the dark … those strangers … Thank you …

— Jenni