Blindness Overcome

This is, in part, a story about my own fight to see.

My own blindness.

Just under eighteen years ago, as a junior in college, I struggled to keep my eyes open in class. It is a vivid memory, with the realization that something wasn’t right during a small seminar on Early America with Dr. James Horn. We were in Blair Hall at the College of William and Mary—one of my favorite places in the world—where I often sat perpendicular to the glorious golden sunlight streaming past the projector screen into my eyeline. At the time I thought it was due to a lack of sleep, but after few weeks of going to bed early, and covering my eyes in windowless rooms, I realized I had actually developed an intense sensitivity to light.

Doctor after doctor thought I had a corneal ulcer, or an aggressive form of a common eye virus, but one weekend, as a friend and I drove from Virginia to State College, Pennsylvania, that ulcer turned into a, very visible, very painful, white ring around my cornea.

Have you ever tried to watch Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in a movie theatre while having stabbing eye pain? I have. And by the end of the weekend, I felt as if I was staring into a white fog. I felt unmoored and terrified. An experience I never want to replicate again.

If You Can See, Look

Blindness at the Donmar Warehouse 57 | Credit: Helen Maybanks
Continue reading “Blindness Overcome”

Living with Intention in 2021

Over the course of ten months, from March to December 2020, I walked almost 152 miles listening to podcasts, audio dramas, and 15 books about a female detective named Maisie Dobbs. This series, about a former nurse turned psychologist and investigator who solves crime, is set against the backdrop of post-War (and eventually the start of World War II) England. Through her cases, we learn about repercussions from World War I, the 1918 flu epidemic, social unrest, anti-refugee sentiment, and as Dobbs becomes more involved with British Secret Service, the growing threat of the Nazi regime.

View of woods in Virginia.
A view from a hidden wood near my home. For so many nature brought a level of peace in the madness.

As I walked at sunrise, sunset, lunchtime breaks, and post work wind-downs I couldn’t help feel, as time slowly slipped by, the looming disaster to come. I knew it wasn’t only of the fictional (yet historical) world created by Jacqueline Winspear, but also the constant hum of chaos that was 2020.

There are no real positive things to say about this past year. In a lot of ways our fault lines and the cracks in our civic society have been laid bare for all to see. There was so much death and pain, that I often struggled to find a silver lining.

Continue reading “Living with Intention in 2021”

Fly Me to the Moon: Lessons from the Crowd

When I started this piece many months ago I intended to write about the ways in which technology and multi-disciplinary storytelling has changed the way we engage with our senses. The plan was to look at two, equally compelling, modes of storytelling about a single event in history, and tease apart the ways in which each were constructed to build meaning and connection. 

The first of the two experiences was Earthrise, a musical, presented at the Kennedy Center from July 18-August 4, 2019. The second was the National Air and Space Museum’s Apollo 11: Go For the Moon, July 19-21, 2019, which used projection mapping to create a one of a kind experience on the National Mall

In both cases, the audience was central to the experience. The crowds, the people we stood and sat next to, built tension and enhanced the production in unexpected ways. 

But we are now in mid-November, almost a year and half past, and the world is a very different place. 

Continue reading “Fly Me to the Moon: Lessons from the Crowd”

What the Constitution Means to Me

For the past eight months we have talked a lot about self-care, a state of being where we look inward to center ourselves, to focus on our own mental health in order to make it to the next day, and the next, and the next. We read romance novels, and binge re-watched all of New Girl. We learned to bake bread, and more recently began the easy process of mocking holiday movies on Cable TV. We gave ourselves leeway to not be productive, to deal with our emotions, our fear, and the uncertainty.

Mike Wilkens, Preamble, 1987. Smithsonian American Art Museum. I used this image as a central piece in a 2005 essay I wrote called the Visual Representations of the Constitution.

And amidst all that self-care we’ve realized—well most of us at least—that we need to be more aware of what is happening beyond ourselves. That in a lot of ways what America is, and what we will become, depends on that single choice. To care more.

We have all been changed by this year, and we cannot go forward without acknowledging that a single election, for good or ill, will not fix what is broken. While we wait with baited breadth for the results that will begin to roll in on November 3, the real challenge, no matter the result, comes after: the next day, and the next, and the next.

But let’s take a step back.
Let’s talk about me.

Continue reading “What the Constitution Means to Me”

2020.

Every January I take a moment to consider the year we left behind with the hopes of taking any lessons and thoughts forward into a clear-eyed vision for how I want to live.

But 2019 was a year of contradiction.

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Just hanging out on the Millennium Falcon next to Darth Vader. No big deal. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

On one hand, I built a track focusing on Celebrating Women’s History at my annual conference, something that included a session that ended up on CSPAN, not to mention a keynote at the glorious Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado (see below).  I bought a home. I capped off an almost twenty-three year love of a little space opera by attending Star Wars Celebration in Chicago. I spent time with my amazing, wonderful, caring family with nieces and a nephew that I watch grow with awe.

But it was also a difficult year. Not just because of the state of affairs beyond our control (you know, the world), but also because I was forced to address the balance between realities and my glass-half-full perspective on my daily life. I had to confront my own understanding of what makes me happy and to push myself in a way that was, and continues to be, hard.

Continue reading “2020.”

On Cultural Heritage & Loss

Sometimes I feel like my brain is filled with puzzle pieces. Separate and distinct elements that fit together into something bigger, something essential, some larger than life truth that only I can pull together

This latest puzzle has been a tough one to crack. Like any good puzzler I have been looking for the connections. The similar pieces—those with flat edges, or colors that appear to mesh in just the right way.

The elements of the puzzle are widespread. They include the near destruction of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Susan Orlean’s The Library Book and the damage to swaths of intangible heritage with the Universal Music Group fire, where the masters of a whole range of popular (and lesser known) music were engulfed in a flame. There is an even clearer picture when you toss in elements from Yesterday and the The Band’s Visit into the fray.

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Gargoyle’s look out over Paris from their perch on Notre-Dame in 2013. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

And perhaps all of these are funnels into my reaction to the film The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which collectively summarizes the idea of loss and cultural heritage in a single remarkable package. Continue reading “On Cultural Heritage & Loss”

Kate Hamill: Vanity Fair and Adapting the Classics from the Female Gaze

This post originally appeared on FANgirl blog

Published in 1848, Vanity Fair falls within a broad category of novels often referred to as “classic.” Some may have read the novel as students, while others stumbled upon William Makepeace Thackeray’s serialized story through the Mira Nair film (starring Reese Witherspoon) or the recent mini-series on Amazon. Whatever the medium, the story of Vanity Fair details the life of Rebecca (Becky) Sharp and her friend Amelia Sedley, two women who come from vastly different circumstances and are thrust into — or take on, depending on your interpretation — a society that isn’t very kind to either of them.

Vanity-Fair-play-Kate-Hamill

Thackeray’s intent was to be satirical and to be a mirror on society. However, like many classic novels it is often dismissed as lacking relevance in the here and now.

That expectation is what led to a challenge: How do you take a book like Vanity Fair and translate it to the stage, creating a more realistic and identifiable Becky and Amelia that serve, also, as a reflection of our times? Continue reading “Kate Hamill: Vanity Fair and Adapting the Classics from the Female Gaze”

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: A Farewell to Michael Kahn

This is an extension of a hand written letter I sent Michael Kahn on the eve of his final production as artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. You might call this an ode to my love of storytelling on the stage, or more specifically a personal reflection on the importance of having access to theatre as a young adult.

Dear Michael Kahn,

I would like to start this message simply by saying thank you. For over a decade my experience with the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) included joy, wonder, terror, and awe — mostly in part due to your deft handling of the company’s artistic vision.

I don’t know when I began to truly love Shakespeare. It might have been when I was in middle school watching Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet or even later when I joined a college troupe of players known as Shakespeare in the Dark and ran props. But for a few years after that, subsumed beneath the weight of graduate work, I stepped away. Continue reading “Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: A Farewell to Michael Kahn”

What Would You Save? Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity

From the playbill…

Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity is set during a war that has lasted one hundred years and devastated the entire world. Yet, three women from opposite ends of the conflict still manage to find common threads of humanity through the majesty of a painting. The idea that a beautiful work of art could transcend what seem to be insurmountable boundaries seems like it could have been ripped from today’s headlines and leaves the mind swirling long after the show has ended.

Despite its long title, this play was meant for me.

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In nine words, the title captures not only the imperatives of oral and intangible history of telling untold stories, but also with the final word — humanity— a dose of reality about what is at stake. I’ve written about my feelings about dystopian narratives, especially as they force us to take stock of the world while acknowledging its fragility.

Continue reading “What Would You Save? Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”