The Choices We Make: The Jungle and Here There Are Blueberries

In April, I stepped into a theater transformed. Gone were the tiers of formal seats dividing the stage from the audience. Instead, I was ushered into a tent holding a ticket marked Kurdistan and led through two countries to a seat on the floor of a raised platform. This was The Jungle, a refugee camp that existed from January 2015-October 2016, in Calais, France.

In May, the seats were back in their seemingly rightful place for a different, yet equally powerful immersive experience. Centered around a photo album featuring Nazi perpetrators vacationing at the concentration and death camps Auschwitz-Birkenau, the audience was pulled into a detective story, one where we glimpsed the practice of a curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), and the search for meaning within this unexpected object. This was Here There Are Blueberries.

As theatrical performances, both shows were examples of effective stagecraft. Each production connected audience members to complex stories, and each actor’s performance was designed to ask a series of questions about the broader scope of humanity.

Our humanity.

Continue reading “The Choices We Make: The Jungle and Here There Are Blueberries”

In Translation: Adaptation, Connection, and the Heart of a Story

Last year, as I followed discussions about the new film version of Persuasion, I began thinking about how adaptations are really a form of translation. Instead of moving between languages, adaptation brings a story from one form to another.  

For those doing the translating, it can be a fine balance. On one side there are those who love the original source material, who have built a connection to the story, and the heart of the original narrative. On the other hand, going from one medium to another provides opportunities for new considerations, new ways of creating reflections between story and human emotion. 

Sometimes these adaptations can be incredibly successful. Other times they fall flat for the majority of people, resulting in a wave of consternation that feels deeply personal. And yet, these translations can touch people in different ways depending on the medium through which it is being shared. 

For the purpose of this piece we’re going to look at three different types of adaptation, book to television, myth and oral tradition to visual arts, and book to opera. In each case the translation of the original source material gives us something different to examine, often leading to a renewed sense of wonder.

Glass sculpture by Preston Singletary from Raven and the Box of Daylight at the National Museum of American Indian.
Continue reading “In Translation: Adaptation, Connection, and the Heart of a Story”

Stumbling Stones

In late September 2022, I followed my best friend and her two children through the streets of Möhringen in Stuttgart on a bicycle. As I struggled to stay straight and round corners, I was cognizant of the two children before me weaving in and out of those same street with an adeptness I did not feel. 

You see, memory is an interesting thing. Sometimes you know exactly where you first learned a lesson, and it feels like it should be settled in your mind, something that you retain forever. After all, something that is easy to remember is “just like riding a bike.”

They neglect to say that even though you remember the lesson, there remains a level of vulnerability, where the fear of falling that first held you back returns to trip you up. 

This vacation was a year in the making. Preceded by a week in Greece with one of my oldest friends, I decided to take an additional seven days to explore Germany, visit her family, attend an Ed Sheeran concert, and close it out by experiencing Oktoberfest.

A row of threes lining the horizon with blue skies and a green lawn.
A view of the landscape in Germany on the way back from the Ritter Sport factory/museum.

From the start of the trip, however, things did not go as planned. I had hoped for some serendipity along with some solo traveling, but unexpected news on my second day from home left me uncertain. By the time I reached Germany (with its fall-like temperatures so very different from the warmth of Greece) I resisted all adventure and chose to stay close, attending soccer practice for the kids, and watching Ted Lasso as a distraction. 

However, even with all the changes, there was one thing I wanted to make sure to do. Something that I considered foundational to my work as a public historian and how I first began thinking about how we memorialize the past.  

Continue reading “Stumbling Stones”

2023: Be in Service. Be Useful. Do Good.

Last year I made a clear choice about how I wanted to approach 2022. I wanted to live. Live without overthinking, live without feeling scared, live without taking a (reasonable) risk.  And so I traveled, I celebrated turning forty, I made some big decisions about what I wanted out of my life going forward. I had some unexpected experiences that forced me to adapt, change, and approach relationships and the status quo in a different way. I wrote 50,000 words for a novel I continue to dream about. And while I wasn’t always successful I realized that it was all right to take the unexpected path to reach my destination.

A view of one of the monasteries at Meteora in Greece. This was not on our original itinerary, but at the last minute we booked a tour with a local tour guide. One of the best decisions we ever made.

However, within all that self-reflection and acceptance, there was one thing missing. When I started working with a coach in January 2022 we talked about what I wanted next for my life. Some of it was talking about what I did not want, while other goals were more specific.

But what was a clear through line on the other side of the equation was a desire to be of service to others. And while I know that as a volunteer board member for the National Council on Public History I serve our members and the field, that work is still, in essence, tied to the way I have shaped my life around my profession.

I want that to change.

Continue reading “2023: Be in Service. Be Useful. Do Good.”

Touching Transcendence, Transforming to Joy

sublime /səˈblīm/: tending to inspire awe usually because of elevated quality (as of beauty, nobility, or grandeur) or transcendent excellence. [Merriam-Webster]

There’s a video of me in 2018 walking along the edge of the Grand Canyon in Nevada and I can not stop laughing. I sound almost giddy, with uncontrollable giggles accompanied by a lot of exclamatory, somewhat coherent phrases.

I do not know if that is everyone’s reaction to seeing the glory of this natural wonder, but I can attest that at that moment, I truly understood the meaning of the sublime.  

A view of the Grand Canyon where you can see how far it extends and the stratigraphy along its walls.
A photo of the Grand Canyon does not do it justice. It is only after standing before its magnificent splendor that I felt the power it evokes to all who behold is massive existence.

Continue reading “Touching Transcendence, Transforming to Joy”

A Fortune for the Future

                                                                                                                     August 2022

Hello Friend, 

I know that you’ve been with me every hour, every minute, and every moment of the last ten years, but I hope when you re-read these words at the turn of your half-century on this Earth, that they make you smile.

You probably remember how, two weeks before our fortieth birthday, I cracked open a fortune cookie to find the words “You will soon be inspired to make a life-changing decision” on a tiny slip of paper.

A rectangular slip of paper commonly found in a fortune cookie with a phrase and a series of numbers.

“Life-changing” feels like a loaded phrase with many meanings. Perhaps, I needed to let the universe guide me towards spontaneity and adventure. Maybe, I should accept the path I was already on with a measure of certainty that success would certainly follow. It could also be encouragement to take a sharp left turn into the unknown.

However, you know me. I have said over, and over, again that change is not something I take lightly. 

I do not jump. I plan. 

I do not step off the path, I take the sure and steady curve to get where I need to go. 

Continue reading “A Fortune for the Future”

There is No Crying in Baseball

About two weeks ago, in the middle of a random Tuesday, I found myself crying. It wasn’t unprovoked, rather, it was in direct response to an unexpected situation that my brain, and my body were not prepared to process.

So, for about ten minutes, I lost it.

During the following hours (now weeks), I thought a lot about those tears, considering how I have been dealing with emotions over the last two and half years. Obviously, the stress and worry of the global pandemic, social uncertainty, and its ramifications have hit all of us in very, very, different ways. While I won’t claim to not have not been a crier before, I will say that it was an emotion not so close to the surface.

Then out of the blue I remembered Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own yelling “There’s no crying in baseball,” at the top of his lungs. While the character is flailing about because the women on his team are upset and he is unable to to deal with it, the sentiment still struck a chord. (Obviously, we know that people cry over sports all the time, but stay with me).

I realized, while the event precipitating the crying was upsetting, I was angrier at myself for losing it over something I was actively trying to be less emotional about. Just as Jimmy Dugan (Hanks’ character) was convinced crying was something you when playing a sport, I fought against a situation where crying also felt taboo.

And then my career coach, Kate (illustrating how well they know me) said—you need to write out your feelings. Which brings us here, to this piece, which ended up being less about me and my mental health, and more about crying, emotional language, and storytelling.

Continue reading “There is No Crying in Baseball”

Why I Write: Beyond Writer’s Block and Toward Meaningful Storytelling

Over the course of a writing retreat this past November I was listening to a MasterClass with the author Amy Tan. While sections of the course were directed to writers that were just getting started, I paid close attention to the lesson focused on writer’s block. 

While 2021 was so much better than 2020—and 2022 even better so far—I still found myself choosing to spend what spare time I had sitting on the couch watching television instead. I know we are not supposed to be hard on ourselves, to be thinking about missed opportunities from this ongoing pandemic— after all, we can’t all be Brandon Sanderson—but I can’t help but consider how much of my real blocks are about more than just the state of the world. 

During this lesson Tan talks about writing rituals, about methods to block out distractions, and then she looks straight at the camera and says: “Ask yourself: Why did you decide to become a writer in the first place?” 

Her purpose, of course, was to encourage us to move past the imposter syndrome that leads into a cycle of NOT writing. To remind you about what the initial impetus was for first putting pen to paper. 

A quotation propped against one of the bookshelves at my writer’s retreat.
Continue reading “Why I Write: Beyond Writer’s Block and Toward Meaningful Storytelling”

2022. Hello Forty.

Over the last ten years I have shared—on or around January 1st—a vision for my future. These have never been ordinary resolutions. Instead I wrote mantras, hopes, and wishes for what I want my life to stand for, what I want it to mean. More often than not I talked about taking risks and leaps, harnessing optimism, searching for kindness, and in some of our tougher years, encouraged myself to dig deep for a well of defiance.

Earlier this week, as I continued to think about how to approach this piece, I saw a suggestion (by an old high school friend) to not look to resolutions, but rather to make a list of things you were proud of in 2021. So here’s my list:

Glittering poles with flowers and greeneries and shoes as witnesses to lives lost.
“Come, Take a Moment” is an installation by Devon Shimoyama meant to encourage visitors to the Arts and Industries Building’s exhibition called The FUTURES to pause and reflect on the “tumult and tragedy brought on by racial violence and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

We all know it wasn’t an easy year, but unlike 2020 it had moments of brightness made possible by the COVID-19 vaccine. I know taking a vaccine is an odd thing to list as an accomplishment, but when belief in our ability as humans to take care of each other feels like a challenge, taking the three shots in 2021 felt like something I could do not only for myself, but for others. More selfishly, taking the vaccine allowed me to hug family, and friends, and to fly across the country to meet my new nephew just days after he was born.

Continue reading “2022. Hello Forty.”

Home is an Ever-Fixed Mark

In August I said goodbye to my childhood home. 

I say my, as if I was the only one staying there, but these are mostly my recollections tripping over one another in order to be shared. 

My first memory is of us girls, ages 4-7-10 running up the carpeted stairs and staring in wonder at the double sink in the master bathroom. When we arrived, it was a new house with my older sister getting a room for the first time, while Trisha and I embraced the bunk bed (though we all really cuddled together at the bottom bunk saying our prayers while holding each other’s ears for comfort). But bit-by-bit we transformed the house as we transformed ourselves.

Continue reading “Home is an Ever-Fixed Mark”