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When your brain committee says, “Can’t you just be grateful for what you have?”

Do you ever ask yourself questions that begin with the phrase, “Wouldn’t it be cool if….”?

Like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could rent a castle in Ireland and our family and friends could come join us periodically during our extended adventure-cation?”

Or, “Wouldn’t it be cool if brownie brittle and vanilla bean ice cream with salted caramel was a superfood?”

Or, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I were thriving as a creative?–working on exciting projects with terrific people and making very good money?”

Too much? That last one? The brownie brittle with the sugar-fat dairy deliciousness seems a little more feasible?

Ya know, you’re not alone here. Confession time.

Sometimes I will sit at the kitchen table and share my wouldn’t-it-be-cools with Melissa, and in the next breath, a chorus of several well-meaning, reasonable, and loving relatives who moved to heaven several years past will say something like, “Why ain’t you just grateful for what you have?”

And I have a lot. My life is stupid blessed. Like, miracle crazy full. So, these voices in concert seem to have a point; and I feel a little ashamed.

The committee will then collaborate with my imagination and paint a scenario in which my selfish dreams send me careening down a path of folly and destruction for my family, and all the time, the well-meaning fear guides are shaking their heads saying, “See? If you’d’ve just been content with what the Lord’s already blessed you with, you wouldn’t be paying the price for all your greedy grabbin’.”

I actually deal with a particular voice that says to me if I reach too far, I will lose all the wonderful things I already have because, clearly, I didn’t appreciate them enough.

This one’s tough, y’all. And even as I write it I’m having one of those, “Oh, I haven’t come as far on that one as I thought I had.”

I’m convinced I get to be a teacher because I need the lessons I teach.

One student of mine is brilliant, and he regularly hides. He makes his energy small, and he looks down. I tell him how I got the note, “Dan, stop looking down at the stage,” well into my mid-thirties. It’s still something I have to be very vigilant about.

I tell this student, “Who are you to decide that you can’t be brilliant? You didn’t make you. You arrived on this planet with these aptitudes and a passion to cultivate them. When you hide, you are cheating all of us out of the one and only you!”

When I turn these words to myself, I feel a challenge in my guts, and I see the places where I’ve decided to hide.

When we expand, the territory is unfamiliar. Read: discomfort. We become trustees of more. Read: responsibility. Then we can give more. Read: generosity.

When we appreciate what we have, we build a foundation to support more and therefore contribute more. And that is humble and kind.

We acknowledge that the things we already have are precious gifts. Who are we to cut ourselves off from more?

Tomorrow it’s December. Let’s commit to open our hearts and minds to all kinds of delightful possibilities in the final month before we say hello to 2020.

And let’s commit to breaking down big dreams into small, manageable chunks. And let’s commit to showing up every day and doing the small things with appreciation and care.

And let’s say to ourselves, “Who do I think I am not to let all the good stuff come to and through me?”

People need your story, your song, your dance, your words. Our privilege is to share them.

What are you going to bring into the world this year?

I’ll go first. I’m going to produce the first developmental reading of the musical I’ve written, Across.

And I’m going to put my body back in the audition room this year.

I want to hear from you. Please share a dream or two that you’re going to start letting through in the comments below.

Or email me what you’re heart-ing about—dan@dancallaway.com–and tell me about what your personal committee says when you dare to say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if….”

Because yes, it would be so cool.

Padre Poem

When I played the Padre in Man of La Mancha with Triad Stage last spring I went full Uta Hagen and asked stage management for a lil Moleskin that I could write in.

Our version was set in a detention center on the US/Mexico border in the near future.

Here’s the vibe:

Great cast, terrific production.

We had a pre-show in which we were living that detention center life, and I decided to fill much of it like any rogue Franciscan: writing poems.

It was a needed exercise in point of view, and Padre preached to me to examine my own cozy life in relation to what so many experience.

I’ll share one of his poems here:

I’m sitting on a wooden bench inside
A prison on the border where I came
To help the stranger and the cast-aside–
But helping is unlawful now–the same
As feeling empathy–code for weak.
Compassion stands for failure these days. God
Forbid we have to suffer so the meek
Might come to own a portion of the sod
We suffocate with asphalt, demarcate
With walls graffitied forty layers deep
With spray-can prayers–acrid incense–late
Laments to test God’s ears, while Christ’s eyes weep.
Inside these painted walls we wait and pray
That more Thy-Kindgom-come would rule the day.

Letting Good Things In

I’m talking about it again, y’all. Trader Joe’s opened here in the Greensboro.

We packed up the babies, and we were those people in line before the doors opened on the second day.

There was PARKING, which my LA compatriots know is seventy-five percent of the battle. Get behind me, Prius! And we loaded up our cart like there was a Joe Joe’s and Orange Chicken apocalypse.

For days after as I gazed at the affordable artisanal cheese and wild arugula in our refrigerator, I kept asking myself, “Is this real??”

I seriously felt like I was singing “You. make. me. feel-like-I’m-livin’-a T. J’s. Dream.”

And then I thought about how hard it is for us humans to accept terrific things.

Made me think of a talk I heard while indulging my TEDdiccion about body language and what we normally do when we receive a compliment. We bat it away or deflect it.

The speaker encouraged the audience instead, when faced with the challenge of accepting a compliment, to say “thank you” while bringing one’s hand to one’s heart. I tried this a few times, and you know what? It made me smile.

There’s something sick in us, something in us that decides we don’t deserve nice things. We think we’re judge and jury about what nice things we can and can’t have. What is it, y’all? Control? Prolly.

So, I’ve been telling my students to do this. And I’ve been doing it, too. I didn’t realize I was still well-practiced in engaging my good things force field. It feels nice and a tinge uncomfortable just to let the terrific thing in.

Yeah, sure, the rug might be pulled out one day. But we’ll handle it as we’re getting up off the floor in the moment. Why are we going to mentally rehearse hitting our ass when there’s no way to know which floor or which rug?

So let’s be supes-absorbs good-thing sponges. We’ll get all saturated with stuplendiferous, and then we won’t be able to hold all that Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Dish Soap, so those invigoratingly scented bubbles will have to be shared. Sorry crusty dry sponges, we can’t help it if our sudsy voluminosity makes you a little less parched.

Like the label says, it’s next to Godliness.

How to Wow

We’re going back for a bottle of $2.99-buck Chuck and some English Coastal Cheddar.

It’s TJ’s Value Nombre Trois:

Produce customer wow experiences: We celebrate the special way we treat and relate to our customers.”

 

The description says everything we need to know–it’s all about how TJ employees treat and relate to the customer.

Now take this not just into the audition room but into life.

How would things change if we were focused on celebrating the special way we treat people?

Yes, do the work. Train. Prepare. This is Value Number Two. You bring forward your best work for that day.

Then there is the way we relate to the people in front of us.

Let’s look at an audition. Let’s say we’re singing.

A common internal monologue might resemble the following:

The accompanist is playing a little fast. I knew I gave that tempo wrong. I’ll try to slow down when I sing. Are they looking at my stomach? Should I have picked a different song? She just looked down. Now she’s whispering to the other woman. Maybe they’re saying I’m right for another project. I can’t even connect to the work I put into this. Who’s my scene partner again? My breath is shallow. Take a deep breath. Oh, wait, that might make my stomach look big. Suck in. That note sounded bad. Did that sound bad? Maybe I’ll start over. No. They’re in a hurry. I don’t want to waste their time.

Thank yooooou.

Don’t forget your book.

Who was the protagonist of the above monologue?

As the green lead of Wicked likes to belt, “It’s meeeeeeeeee.”

If I am celebrating the special way I treat and relate to my customers, I am going to open my heart.

I promise you this is as simple as telling yourself to slow the hell down, breathe in some kind of regular pattern, and think about your chest. Yep. Then think about opening that up. It can be a door, a gate, or a circa-1964 Jalousie window.

Now we’re sharing. Now we’re practicing hospitality. We’re saying, “Welcome to my home.”

You’ve done all the cooking and table-setting getting ready to share this time. So, open the doors and turn on the music.

Think about a performer who doesn’t have the prettiest voice (according to whose standard?) or the most conventional technique who leaves you saying wow.

For me, one that comes to mind is Ethel Waters’ “Suppertime” from As Thousands Cheer.

That’s how to wow. In Waters’ case, think of the life and heartbreak she chose to bring forward and share.

Let’s leave this one here today:

God I’m a Writaaaaah!

I wake up around 5 am every morning to work on the musical I’m writing.

I am a morning person. My wifey is not.

I remember when I decided that my best time to write was real early in the morning. I woke up while it was still dark. Melissa rolled over and asked, “What are you doing?”

It sounded kind of like she had just asked me why I was wearing her pink plush robe singing “All By Myself” into her hairdryer.

That’s never happened.

Uh

But I have to say–that first morning when I decided to get up and write was exhilarating. (I just had to look up that spelling after about four failed attempts. Ding.)

I thought to myself, “Yeaaaah. I’m CRAZY enough to do this! I need to write, just like Rainer Maria Rilke talks about!”

I finished the first draft of the libretto a few weeks ago, and it felt great.

For reals, though, I mighta cried.

When I looked at my (what one of my heroes Anne Lamott calls) shitty first draft, I realized these pages of story grew one 45-minute sit-down at a time.

Over the course of a few months, I got to collaborate with my characters and form this kinda-wieldy ball of clay that we can shape into a coherent story.

Yesterday, I shared with a student that every morning when I wake up in the early hours my brain says, “Ummmm, maybe you wanna keep sleeping.”

That’s when I sing to myself….”God I’m a writah!”

Then I kinda chuckle, real quiet, you know. Then I go, “5-4-3-2-1,” give Melissa a lil kiss, quietly launch my butt outa bed, then I go write.

This amusing and dramatic quote from Cassie’s pivotal moment in A Chorus Line is also a conversation. “God, I’m a writer.”

It’s one of the things I believe God gave me a deep desire to do, to share stories.

One crucial point here. I set up the coffee pot the night before. Getting downstairs to a full pot of hot cawfee–this is key.

Forty-five minutes a day for a thing you’ve got the fire for makes a huge difference in just a few months.

TJ’s Value Numero Two: Product–to bring forward

So let’s get one thing clear.

You are not a bag of peanut butter pretzels, however delicious they may be.

But there are some things we can learn and apply from TJ’s value number two:

2. Product-driven. Our strategy emphasizes price, product, access, service, and experience. We want to excel at one, be very good at another, and meet customer expectations on the others.”

If you have been inside a Trader Joe’s store, you have had this thought:

“Well, well, well…I never knew how badly I needed an Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend. But now I do.”

That’s because Trader Joe’s has a way of presenting ideas that excite us and make us say,

“Thank you! What was I even doing pre-Cinnamon Bun Spread?!”

Product = Solution.

When we’re living true to our values, we present solutions to the table people for problems they didn’t even know they had.

There’s the practical solution: I can sing those notes, say those words, look pretty cute while doing so, and I’m kiiiindofa a joy to be with seven hours a day, six days a week…

Then there’s the shiny, irreplaceable realness of you that comes out when you’re focused on what you love to do and what you care most about. Again, back to your values.

If we’re auditioning for a show, the price for our services is usually in a predetermined range.

We are in charge of the product. The word comes from Latin, and it means to bring forward. I love that. It’s generous.

Then the other three aspects fall into line: access (to our heart and emotional life), service (to the story), and experience (one that is real, human, and leaves everyone better than before).

In Celebration of the Imminent Opening of the Greensboro Trader Joe’s: Integrity

First of all…Greensboro is finally getting a Trader Joe’s.

So, we may be a tad excited about this event. It’s like Santa Claus is real, and he’s bringing seasonally appropriate Joe Joe’s cookies for everybody.

I may have listened to the “Inside Trader Joe’s” podcast on my way to school yesterday to re-myelinate those Fearless Flyer neurons.

I am excited!

What I LEARNED by listening to the podcast was that TJ’s has seven core values.

And I thought to myself, “Self, what if an artist were to apply these seven values to his or her life and career?”

So let’s talk about that.

Trader Joe’s version of Drumstick roll, please……()

INTEGRITY: In the way we operate stores and the way we deal with people. Act as if the customer was looking over your shoulder all the time.

You know how your mama told you, “Character is who you are when nobody is looking”?

Whoops, right?

Well, TJ asks their team to pretend that someone is indeed looking.

What if we approached our art and life in the same way?

Even now as I type, I’m looking a lot more professional and focused pretending you’re sitting here scrutinizing my every key stroke.

Cirrus-ly, though.

Integrity speaks of integration. That means what I say, what I believe, and what I value cohere with what I do.

That’s where the somebody’s waaaatchin’ mee-eeeee principle comes in.

We all spot these areas of dis-integration if we’re paying any kind of attention to our behavior–our actions don’t exhibit what we say we want or believe.

Sometimes that means that we actually need to track it back and examine what our values truly are.

We often live on auto-pilot, animated by background software programmed by influencers with whom we never resonated.

That’s why the intonation is off. We’re not in tune.

So if you’re standing in an audition room, and you think your priority is working in the theatre or getting a job, but your real core value is integrity or respect, you won’t be connected to what naturally keeps your fire going.

The real question should be, “How can I integrate my truest values into what I’m doing here today? Into this song, this poem, this dance, this sink full of dishes?”

Let’s take integrity and respect and put them into an audition.

You can enter the room having done the work, learned the sides, made authentic choices rooted in your point of view and your understanding of the author’s intentions.

From there, you can collaborate and offer your heart energetically and generously for the solution to the role you’re playing in that moment.

When you leave the room, you’ve come through for yourself. The outcome is (and has always been) out of your hands.

You feel satisfied that you’ve done excellent work that’s authentic to you and integral to your values. You’ve respected yourself and the table people.

Back to TJ: If you are thinking of how you can best serve your customers in everything you do, how would that change your art? If you think about who it is for, how will that inform what you do?

It’s already highlighting some areas I want to change.

Happy integration, you all! Stay tuned for tomorrow’s value: Product-driven.

***A career coach led me to a great resource that helped me clarify my values. It’s a forced choice matrix that helps things become very clear. Here you go:

http://www.value-test.com/

And FYI here are my top ten:

1. Faith(17 votes)
2. Peace(16 votes)
3. Gratitude(16 votes)
4. Kindness(15 votes)
5. Significance(13 votes)
6. Trust(13 votes)
7. Wisdom(13 votes)
8. Joy(10 votes)
9. Respect(10 votes)
10. Growth(8 votes)

You’re Not Breathin’

My friend Kristin called me out for being a rabid T-ball dad one day at rehearsal.

My MO was to help the young actor essaying the role of Jerome in South Pacific to perform his part in the thrilling opener “Dites-moi.”

I held his 9-year-old shoulders in an encouraging manner and said, “Listen, you’re not breathing. You’ve got to breathe.”

Kristin spotted the parent-coach archetype in this scenario and reflected back my less-than-helpful instruction.

Listen to me, son. You’re not breathin’!”

(This would eventually lead us to craft alter-egos Dick and Francine, a small-town North Carolina power couple who run a studio cultivating triple threat talent. Dance Moms meets Duck Dynasty.)

There ends the story. Here begins the lesson. The first thing we stop doing when we’re in an adrenalized state is breathing.

Auditions, performances, tough conversations, a traffic stop. We stop breathing.

Maybe it’s because we go into grab-it/control-it mode. Our adrenaline and cortisol spike, our frontal lobe checks out, and our nervous system says, “get the hell out or kick something’s ass!”

Neither tactic will be helpful in the above scenarios, especially the traffic stop.

Here’s the good news. We can remember to breathe. And not just breathe, but to count and breathe.

Science has shown us that breathing in a regulated pattern brings the frontal lobe back on line and gives us the ability to think and see while the adrenaline is on full throttle.

In three, out three. In four, out six. In four, hold four, out four. All of them work as long as there is a consistent pattern.

It’s imposing order on autonomic chaos.

Anecdotal evidence: It worked well the other night when our three-month-old wouldn’t settle. He screams, I stop breathing.

But then I said to myself, “Self! You’re not breathin’!”

I tried three-in, three-out while performing the special baby bicep curl bounce that usually calms him. In a minute he chilled, and so did Daddy.

Be aware when tension or cortisol increases. Remind yourself to pick a pattern and breathe to it, and see how it works for you after a minute or two.

If you have eighteen minutes, here is a TED talk by Dr. Alan Watkins speaking about this same thing.

Pentecost

Pentecost

What was the moment like when fire crowns danced
On all the gatherd’s heads and outsiders traded
Tongues like keys to cities? What force entranced
Or spirit inebriated them? Pervaded
By supreme intelligence, their brains
And mouths translated wonders unspeakable,
And understanding fell like spring rains
Visiting the desert, sprouting unseekable
Truths from dormant seeds. What must that feel
Like, to give over your mind and voice
To the unknown language, syllables only real
On other soil now grafted by your choice?
The prophets said the spirit would be poured
On all, and what looked ruined would be restored. 

The conduit from heaven to cell

The conduit from heaven to cell

I read the story today about the woman
Who bled for twelve years and believed her healing
Arrived when Jesus came through (like an omen),
And if she could just get near enough, steeling
Her nerve through the throng, using what small 
Reserves of vitality she had for that day–
A widow’s mite–to spend for the chance to crawl
Through stronger, bigger bodies that looked away
From her in the streets since she was, after all, unclean.
She must have been low to the ground when her finger
Brushed the rough, dusty fabric — unseen
By her hungry neighbors, but felt by the life-bringer.
Was her faith-filled hand the conduit from heaven to cell?
Since the Healer said, “Your faith has made you well.”

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