Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cat Calls

I'm sitting in bed with my laptop, perusing through my email inbox , half-watching the re-run of friends on TBS. This is my usual late-night routine, although sometimes I substitute the laptop and the television for a good book.

My cat, Socks, just crawled up my chest, nuzzling her face into my neck. I tried to get her to snuggle next to me, so that I could continue responding to a few emails. She became more aggressive, pushing her furry face into mine, then actually crawling onto my lap, placing her two front paws on my stomach, nose in my face. Her claws pinched me a bit, and I pushed her away.

I almost cried over her reaction to my shove: she rolled onto her back, four paws in the air, and cried. If you are a cat-owner, then you understand what I mean when I refer to a cat "crying." It's a sad, tiny meow that emerges from the sweet animal, in which she is trying to say, "Please don't ignore me. I just want to be loved."

I haven't had much time to myself lately, let alone have time for my two cats, Socks and Callie. Callie has found a new game to play in the middle of the night. She sits in the living room and howls until I walk out and pick her up and bring her back to bed with me... or until I open the porch door and let her out for some fresh air. She won't stay in bed with me, though. She will start to climb on my nightstands, or worse, attempt to jump up onto the wall-shelvings above my head.

I have tried simply shutting my bedroom door to drown out her cries. When I do this, she simply moves to the door, sits, and howls louder. This has been going on for a few weeks now, possibly longer. And I'm almost positive it's because she is feeling neglected.

My schedule the past few months? Work. Drive home. Change. Drive to (pick one: 4v4 volleyball game/6v6 volleyball game/volleyball practice/softball game). Post practice or game activity. Drive home. Shower. Make lunch for work. Iron clothes. Check email. Sleep. Repeat.

However, the sports season is winding down, for which I'm very thankful. I never thought I would reach the point where I actually just want to go home after work and sit on the couch for a few hours and do absolutely nothing. I'm on my last day of antibiotics, too. I was diagnosed with bronchitis over the weekend, which I'd had for almost 8 days before I made myself go see a doctor. Lesson learned: don't wait until it hurts to breathe to get checked out.

I'm feeling guilty about not spending time with my cats. They watch me rush from one activity to the next, without so much as a glance in their direction. And my weekends sometimes turn into overnight ventures, which means they are left alone even longer. I'm promising myself that in a few weeks, I will return my attention to them, making sure they are getting adequate attention and some fresh air. I feel horrible, knowing that I have probably taken on more than I should have this spring. The summer months will be more relaxing, and with a potential move approaching I will have a few roommates around for more cat-company.

(NOTE: The "potential move" is a whole blog in itself, and I'm sure I'll be writing about it in the near future. I'm just waiting to see how a few negotiations pan out before I get my hopes up in writing.)

Currently, I have Socks on my right side and Callie on my left... both asleep and content with the company I am offerring them. But as soon as I drift to sleep, Socks will become restless and start wandering the apartment... and Callie will begin her incessant howling at the moon.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Peace & Happiness

"Often people attempt to live their lives backwards; they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want." ~Margaret Young

Luke stopped by my office today to pick up some more of his mail (his address change still hasn't gone through) and his tennis racket, which has been in the trunk of my car for months. He actually stepped out of his work truck to talk to me this time, as opposed to remaining in his vehicle with his sunglasses on.

I was surprised at the ease of the conversation. We joked around about silly things that had been happening in our lives. We touched upon a few of his upsetting work issues and I shared with him my elation over my house-hunting discoveries.

It was comforting.

Standing next to him, as he casually leaned against his truck, I felt like I was chatting with an old friend. I had to catch myself a few times, remembering that I was talking to my ex, and not one of my girlfriends. I stifled a smile, at that point; I was finally at peace.

But, at the same time, I felt sorry for him. I feel like I have made so much progress, personally and professionally, throughout the years that I have known him... and he is still in the same juncture in his life that he was when I met him. He's unhappy with his current job. He's trying to finish his Bachelor's Degree. He doesn't have a place of his own. He's not financially secure. He doesn't like his current geographic location. And he's almost 30.

I'm not saying this makes Luke a bad person, because he certainly isn't. He is a good man with a big heart and a loving family. Talking to him today simply reiterated the ways we had silently gone in different directions over the years, neither of us having the relationship maturity, at the time, to recognize such fundamental differences in lifestyles. We always wanted different things from life; we both thought the other would compromise down the road... and that is never a healthy outlook to have.

Our conversations today further emphasized my current state of happiness. And I do truly believe he will make someone happy someday. But before then, I hope he can become happy with himself, and find a place in this life where he can achieve that happiness.

Happiness. I love my life. I'm surrounded by so much beauty and love... my family, my friends, my coworkers.... and Jolyon.

Jolyon. He's that guy. He is the guy who will meet your best friend, in the middle of the night, at an IHOP, because she has no one else to turn to. He is the guy who will buy you duct tape, because you mentioned, in passing, that your soccer cleats were falling apart. He is the guy who cuts out craft store coupons for you because he knows how much you like scrapbooking. He is the guy who tells you to go back to sleep, while he tends to the howling cat in the living room in the middle of the night.

He is the guy who, upon remembering that it's been one "official" month of togetherness, drives across town just to kiss you goodnight and wish you a happy anniversary.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Tribute To Brian Tivnan

As part of my college minor-- Theater & Television Arts-- I took a class called "The Theater Experience." I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I enrolled.

The class was held in the basement, underneath the campus dining hall. It was a dark, cold setting for a class, though apparently this was the location for all the acting and theater classes on campus. The desks were arranged in a circle around the room, leaving a large performance space in the middle.

The class, about 35 of us, all seniors except for myself (I was a junior at the time), kicked off with some improv activities. One by one, we were called to the center of the room, and given a situation to improvise in front of everyone. Those who went before me were funny and flawless; they clearly had acting experience, and had worked with our professor/acting coach before.

I was terrified. My previous acting experience? 'Jane' in my 4th grade production of "The Phantom of the Music Room"and' Kid Number Five' in "A Christmas Carol " in 8th grade.

Fortunately, I didn't have to partake in the improv on the first day. He only called up about half the class at random. Afterwards, he introduced himself as Brian Tivnan, acting coach and director. I then found out that our class meetings on Tuesday would be held in the basement, focusing on improv and monologues.... and the Thursday class meetings would be held in the campus center in the dance hall, where we would have dance class.

Dance class? I definitely didn't recall reading that in the class description during enrollment. Apparently we were going to learn several hip-hop routines from a professional choreographer, and then part of our final exam would be based on an interpretive dance that we would perform to the public.

Interpretive dance. Holy hell.

Fastforwarding. I ended up loving this class. It became my favorite class of my junior year. In four months, I went from being terrified to look stupid in front of my peers, to making 35 people laugh outloud over an improv skit, to performing a ten minute dramatic monologue in front of 70+ people at the end of the semester. I had become a strong actress, though I wasn't acting. I was merely expressing a part of myself that I had never uncovered before. The stories that I told in class and in rehearsals were stories of my life; my life was my theater experience.

And the dancing? I actually wasn't horrible. And, I must admit, 90 minutes of dancing as opposed to 90 minutes of some of the other courses I had to take for my degree... well, it could have been worse.

I credit Brian Tivnan for curing my public speaking phobia. He just has this way of getting to your core, eliminating your insecurities, and drawing out your inner self. For my Magazine Writing Workshop, I wrote a feature on the man who touches the lives of many on a daily basis, while existing in a cold basement on a small, college campus.

I'm sharing that article here. I may go back and edit it someday, as I wrote it in February of 2004. But for now.... enjoy.


Look Closer: Behind the Scenes with Brian Tivnan

It’s 4:00 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon at Assumption College. Brian Tivnan stands in the Atrium of the Testa Science Building. His students surround him, adorned in authentic Renaissance attire. Whether they practice sword fighting today or simply rehearse their lines, one thing is clear: today they will be inspired.

It’s not uncommon to find Assumption’s Theater Director conducting play rehearsals in odd locations, such as the upcoming Romeo and Juliet to be performed in the Atrium of the science building. Without a theater on campus to call his own, Tivnan resorts to his own creative ingenuity to bring his productions to life.

“My value to this college is that I can run a theater,” Tivnan said. “I can create something out of nothing, which is basically what we have [at Assumption], and the administration knows this. But I’m very resourceful; I can fill that gap.”

At Assumption, Tivnan lives a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare. He can be found beneath Taylor Dining Hall, in an office that could double as a storage closet.

“The theater department is this room here,” Tivnan said, motioning to the walls around him. “Theater has a very quiet presence on this campus, which is why I like to do productions that are eventful; for example, performing Romeo and Juliet in the Atrium. We’re not using traditional spaces.”

Senior John Plough credits Tivnan with the ability to create art when the resources are lacking.

“Brian is an extremely talented, compassionate, and dedicated artist who is surviving in an environment not exactly receptive to the Arts,” said Plough. “He is the nomad professor, working out of a cave in the basement of Taylor, and sharing space in the Media Center for his classes. When he puts on a show, half the struggle is securing a venue. But Brian is a magician at transforming spaces into performance areas. The Athletic Department complains about the state of the football field - and it's a valid concern - but Brian doesn't even have a home to complain about.”

English Professor Becky Dibiasio agreed.

“Brian does a terrific job, both with the theater program and as a member of the community here,” she said. “He has tremendous energy and creativity and a really positive outlook. It would be easy for a director to be daunted by the challenges of staging plays on a campus without a stage, but he really seems to enjoy the challenge of finding performance spaces.”

Tivnan’s love for the theater began well before his arrival at Assumption in 2000. Tired of his longtime role as a probation officer, he started getting into theater when he was 27 years old.

“I was a probation officer for seven years and I was bored out of my mind,” Tivnan said. “I needed another outlet—so I turned to acting.”

He enrolled in acting courses at Foothills Theater in Worcester, MA, where he grew up. According to its web site, the Foothills Theatre School “focuses on developing the creative talents of each individual by teaching the skills and techniques all performers must possess in order to be a valuable member of an ensemble.” At Foothills, Tivnan learned varied techniques used to train actors around the world.

“I was completely turned on by the whole thing,” Tivnan said. “It never occurred to me that [acting] was one of the things I could do, or even wanted to do.”

Tivnan’s first onstage role was in a musical called Babes in Arms, which starred Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

“I was in the last five minutes of the show,” said Tivnan. “I remember being back stage, practicing my few lines all through the first act, and most of the second act. The whole time I was just waiting to go onstage and I was limp; I was so nervous. And then the [curtain] opened… and it was like I belonged.”

Tivnan’s first leading role was in a musical called Pippin, even though he had never sung before. But once he started taking voice lessons, he began to like his voice.

“It was nice,” Tivnan joked. “It was kind of raw. But I got great reviews.” He claimed that it was at that moment when he realized he wanted to be involved in theater for the rest of his life.

As an aspiring actor, Tivnan ventured to New York City in 1981. His first job was as a singing waiter in a restaurant. However, Tivnan noted his talent did not get him this job.

“The owner of the restaurant was a cop, and I told him how I had been a probation officer,” he said. “I guess we bonded in that sense. So, for the first six months, I sang for my supper and took acting classes.”

After a lot of hard work, 29 year-old Tivnan landed his first role in a New York City production, The Fantastics. Though it wasn’t Broadway, “it was in Westchester County, and that was good enough for me,” he said. Tivnan also added that playing the role of an 18 year-old “was great for my ego.”

Unfortunately, the day before his first rehearsal for The Fantastics, Tivnan grew very ill. Having been living on the floor of his kitchen in a studio apartment, he was hospitalized with hepatitis from bad shrimp.

“Here I was with my first job in New York City, my first paying acting job, and I couldn’t get off the floor,” he said. “But at least I was living on the floor next to John Lennon’s house.”

Despite his good humor about his illness, Tivnan decided to leave New York City when he was informed that missing rehearsals would result in his not being able to perform. He took his sickness as a sign.

“I learned that I just wasn’t ready,” Tivnan said. “My acting skills just weren’t proficient enough.” He noticed that at his various auditions, there were many people more talented than he was, and even they weren’t being chosen. Dispatched from the hospital, and knowing that he needed more training, Tivnan packed his bags and left New York.

His friend recommended that he go to the Trinity Repertory Theater in Providence, RI. According to its web site, “the Trinity Repertory Company has been considered one of the most respected regional theaters in the country. It balances world premiere, contemporary, and classic works, for a total annual audience of over 185,000.”

“It changed my life,” Tivnan said, recalling his experience at Trinity. “They taught me to be serious, since we did theater stuff all day and all night. They taught me the process of how one becomes trained as an actor.”

Tivnan credits the Trinity Theater Company for his ability to teach and direct at Assumption. His source of inspiration is Adrian Hall, who taught at Trinity. Tivnan watched his manner of directing and his teaching style for three years.

“[Adrian] taught me that acting is a craft, a process,” Tivnan said. “You do it because you want to do the work, and you want to be good at what you do. Some students get very frustrated with it because they want me to put the steps on the blackboard and give them handouts. But you just can’t teach acting in a traditional, academic manner.”

At the Trinity Repertory Company, Tivnan learned that a person who studies acting should not focus on gaining fame or fortune. He feels that if a person is good, then someone will eventually recognize him or her.

“My daughter, Claire, often tells me, ‘Daddy, I want to be famous,’” he said. “And I respond to her, ‘Well, then do something really well so people will think you’re famous. Do it really well, and do it for its own sake. Not because you want to be famous.’”

After three years at Trinity, Tivnan returned to Worcester and opened up his own theater for the city. He ran the Worcester Forum Theater for 14 years, where he was involved with everything from acting to producing to designing various sets.

“I’ve been able to make a career— a life’s work— out of [the Forum Theater],” Tivnan said. “I wasn’t in New York City, but in a way, this was better. I’ve always been in control of my own destiny, whereas actors in New York are at the mercy of everyone except themselves. Acting is a deadly profession. Be your own boss. Create your own work.”

Tivnan calls one particular experience with the Forum Theater the “zenith of my professional career.” In 1996, he created a summer long production of West Side Story using 40 inner city kids from Worcester.

“These were real kids,” he said. “We trained them for acting, singing, and dancing for a six month period,” he said. “We had Puerto Ricans for the gangs and we even involved the Worcester Police Department, where I asked the Worcester Chief of Police to play Sargent. Krupke.” Using Worcester natives worked extremely well for Tivnan, especially since the personal backgrounds of the kids mirrored the premise of West Side Story.

Tivnan’s production of West Side Story received a lot of press. 60 Minutes aired a story about Tivnan’s involvement in the Worcester Community. While trying to put the play together, Tivnan had film crews following him around and was interviewed during his spare time.

Additionally, Hollywood producers called Tivnan, in which one in particular said to him, “We want to buy the rights to your life! We want to make a movie about what you’re doing.”

“I laughed at first; it was kind of silly,” Tivnan said. “But then I realized they were serious. They wanted to do a kind of Stand By Me, or a Mr. Holland’s Opus.”

After speaking with a producer from International Creative Management, Inc., Tivnan was flown to LA to meet with one if their producers. According to its web site, ICM “represents creative and technical talent in the fields of motion pictures, television, publishing, music, comedy, commercials, new media and live theater.”

Tivnan was offered a yearlong contract, $300,000, and the chance to be the “consulting director” for the movie ICM wanted to make about Tivnan’s life. In the end, however, the movie didn’t get made, due to a legal issue with the people who own the rights to West Side Story.

“But it was still the zenith of my professional career,” he said. “And I can truthfully say that I had an agent in the most powerful Hollywood agency at ICM.”

After bringing the Forum Theater’s budget from $5,000 to $400,000, Tivnan became burnt out. In the fall of 2000, the Assumption administration asked him to fill in at the College because the Theater Director, Maurice Plasse, had fallen ill.

“Two days before they had asked me to come to Assumption, I had bought a restaurant in Worcester,” Tivnan said. “I always had this fantasy that I was going to have this little Bed-and-Breakfast, or a little coffee shop. I bought this place and ran it all by myself. Except I didn’t know how to cook, and I made no money. But I had fun.”

Tivnan visited Plasse at his house after accepting the position to teach at Assumption.

“He was dying,” Tivnan said. “He wanted to talk about how to run the theater. When I left his house, he shook my hand, and said that he felt good. ‘The theater is in good hands,’ he told me. And I really think he meant it.” Tivnan added that Plasse died shortly after this conversation.

Tivnan understood and respected that Plasse was from a different era of theater.

“[Plasse] was into the era of pretending, whereas I come from the school of truthful teaching,” he said. “Nowadays, if you want a character with a big nose, you don’t pile on the makeup to create it. You go out and find the guy with the big nose. After all, the one thing the audience must do is believe you. If they don’t believe you, then you’ve lost them.”

During his first semester at Assumption, Tivnan ran his restaurant in the morning, and taught classes and directed the play, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in the evening.

“We had to do the performance in the Maison conference room because there was no theater,” said Tivnan. “I had a small space to work with, so we did ‘theater in the round,’ which had never been done. It was like my ‘hello! I’m here at Assumption!’”

To bring his professional acting experience into the classroom, Tivnan follows the philosophy of David Mamet. Mamet, a famous American playwright and screen writer, won the Pulitzer prize in Drama in 1992 for his play Glengary Glen Ross. Mamet also wrote the play Oleana, which Brian directed at Assumption this past fall.

“David says three things: ‘you have to know who you are. You have to know where you are. And you have to know what you want, or have, to do,” Tivnan quoted, “ ‘and you have to do everything in your power to do it. And you have to know how you feel about it. And that’s acting.’”

These three items form the foundation for Assumption’s course “The Theater Experience,” which Tivnan teaches each spring.

“I call it ‘Every Picture Tells a Story',” Tivnan said of Mamet’s philosophy. “You create something that’s yours, and you are a part of it.”

For the past four years, Tivnan has begun his semester in Theater Experience by having his students create sculptures— using themselves— to answer the following three questions: How do you see yourself? How do you think others see you? And how do you want to be seen? To answer each question, each student must strike a particular pose, which Tivnan then photographs for later reference.

“After my students complete the Theater Experience course, I like to believe that they leave thinking to themselves, ‘Wow, my life is interesting, and I have the power to tell my stories in interesting ways. I don’t have to pretend to be someone else,’” Tivnan said.

Tivnan believes that a director has to continually give his students scenes to perform, and demand that the students follow Mamet’s philosophy of knowing who you are, where you are, and how you feel about it.

“He always says, ‘Stop ‘acting.’ Be truthful,’” said Senior Sarah Gower, one of Tivnan’s students. “We listen to Brian because he proves himself to be an incredible director every night. He gives up his weekends, his nights, his mornings, in order to hold rehearsals whenever the college student actors are available. He has the ability to teach people to listen to one another and be honest on stage.”

Plough, who is currently doing productions at Foothills Theater, attributes his success to Tivnan’s directorial style.

“Brian has been one of the most supportive people I have ever known,” Plough said. “He has this rare quality of being able to make someone feel as if they can do anything. Along with my parents, it has been Brian's belief in me that has enabled me to achieve much more than I ever thought possible. He can take a person— no matter what their skills and talents are— and work with them at their level. And at their pace.”

Jennifer Agbay, a choreographer and dance instructor, has worked with Tivnan over the past four years. She has choreographed two of the school’s musicals—Guys and Dolls and Footloose— and has worked side-by-side with Tivnan in the Theater Experience course.

“Brian fosters an environment where his co-workers and performers can learn as well as collaborate openly and he welcomes the blend of many artistic points of view,” she said. “One intangible of working with Brian is his ability to convey his intended direction for a piece in such a way that the choreography seems to come naturally. He has shown me that all things are possible, as long as you have the will and the passion.”

One of Tivnan’s most memorable Assumption productions is The Boys Next Door from the fall of 2003. Tivnan saw one version of the production at Fitchburg State College. According to Tivnan, the Fitchburg students didn’t perform it from a truthful standpoint.

“They were doing too much ‘pretending,’ which in the end was disrespectful,” he said.

To prepare AC students for the role of playing mentally retarded adults, Tivnan took his cast dancing at Shabooms on nights that were open only to individuals with mental retardation.

“These guys rock; these people dance,” Tivnan said. “I took my students so they could go down there and just observe. They dance. They sing. They’re just like us. There’s no pretending needed. How do you play someone who limps? You limp.”

In addition, this past fall’s production of Oleana proved very successful.

“I've seen the play twice and I enjoyed the audience interaction with the actors and director in the "talk back" at the end of the play,” said English Professor Becky Dibiasio. “It is a controversial play and all of us are challenged by the subject matter. By setting it in a college classroom, Brian heightened the tensions between both characters and actors, the subject matter, and the audience.”

On many occasions, Tivnan likes to have Assumption professors use the productions in their disciplines. For example, Oleana deals with many religious, gender, social, and legal standpoints, all of which could be grounds for a class discussion.

“I try to engage the audiences beyond just coming to watch a play,” Tivnan said. “I’ve often had post-performance forums where the audience can talk to the cast and experts talk about the issue. In Oleana, the audience reaction was strong, because they sided with one or the other.”

Dibiasio participated in one of the post-performance forums.

“On the night that I attended, the audience included several people who are not Assumption students or staff, and some students from other Consortium colleges,” she said. “I encouraged my students to attend and I used the performance as a means of getting first year students to write about interactive learning, so I benefited from the play as well.”

Tivnan notes the rewards of teaching theater. He has seen many of his students come into class petrified to perform an assignment. He watches them overcome their emotions, and watching them succeed is his greatest reward.

“Last year I had a student, basketball player O McGee-Sharp, stand up in class to defend his grade,” Tivnan said. “He apologized to the class for being late to rehearsals, and then he said, ‘I never knew how good I would feel, how powerful this feeling could be to be on stage…’ And he started to cry. Right there in front of the class. And it was beautiful.”

Tivnan plans to move AC Theater to its next level. He has proposed an upper-level course called Performing Shakespeare, which he hopes to see in the department next year. In addition, the English Department is currently conducting interviews for a new faculty member for the English and Theater Department.

“We have the talent here,” Tivnan said. “It’d be nice to get to the point where people choose to come to Assumption because of its [theater] offerings. I want to bring visibility to AC and allow the talent here to shine.”

Tivnan’s determination and inspiration have not gone unnoticed.

“This campus, and much of the growth and happiness I've enjoyed at Assumption, owes so much to Brian's perseverance and vision,” said Plough. “I have yet to meet a student who didn't have a good experience in one of his plays or one of his classes. And that's a testament to an unassuming man who keeps plugging along, teaching and mentoring with as much or as little support as he gets in return. I have been blessed with many good teachers in my life. But I am certain I will remember Brian long after most of my school memories fade.”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Soccer Sickness

I didn't let a sinus infection, head/chest congestion, and an ear ache deter me from my previously planned weekend of fun. In retrospect, I probably should have rested more... but it was worth it.

It was worth it to watch Larry sing karaoke on Saturday night. Larry, one of my coworkers (actually, one of my Leaders, due to his promotion), and also a member of my volleyball and softball teams, sang several songs on Saturday night. My mentor, Jane, and her husband, Rich, had invited a few of us over their house for a small dinner gathering at the last minute. (I was very thankful to be able to attend, since Jolyon and I originally had plans to be in Tampa for the afternoon/evening with his family.) Rich has a high-tech karaoke machine, and encouraged all of us to take part after we'd eaten our fill of the buffet and had several drinks. Mild-mannered Larry, previously opposed to karaoke in our past outings, actually volunteered to sing and put on quite the show. Sadly, I remained an observer of the sing alongs, as it was still a struggle for me to talk without sounding like a man.

Additionally, I was very excited to finally get to see Jane and Rich's house. Jane is a very exotic woman, and her house was exactly as I had pictured it-- European paintings and antique-style furniture... plus she has her own arts and crafts room, in which the room was aglow with a green lava lamp. I had bought Jane a small lava lamp for her desk at work last year for her 40th birthday. I had remembered a conversation we had when I first started with the department, in which Jane stated she had always wanted a lava lamp. I made a mental note of that, and 10 months later, I bought Jane her first lava lamp. She loved it, and thus had to buy a few more for her house.

And today... I played soccer.

I had tried to set up a practice with the team I put together for the 5v5 tournament that Disney is having next month. It ended up being Robin, Alan, Jolyon, and myself... but we had a good time. I was struggling to breathe, thanks to the sickness, shortly after we started playing two on two... but it felt great to be on the field with a soccer ball again. I tried to do a little goalkeeping, putting on my old gloves, which would need to be replaced if I ever started playing full-time again. My keeper skills are rusty and my ability to read a strike is very off. Catches and dives that used to come easy to me now take a conscious effort. I suppose this is to be expected, since I haven't played in a legitimate soccer game since 2005, but it still made me a bit sad.

Growing up, my life was soccer. All my friends played soccer, and our parents became friends on the sidelines, cheering us on. I played year-round, usually balancing two teams at a time-- the town team and a premiere travel team. If I wasn't at school, or doing homework outside of school, I was at soccer practice. Summers typically meant the town soccer camp, my premiere team's soccer camp, and then a national goalkeeper overnight camp, usually a few states over. I wonder how much money my parents shelved out to help fine-tune my skills over the course of 12 years...

I didn't play soccer in college, though. I had the opportunity, especially since I could have essentially walked onto the team, since the current goalkeeper was a senior the year I was a freshman. But I was burned out by that point. Senior year of high school had been rough, for many reasons, since I was trying to balance my job as an Assistant Store Manager at the mall with schoolwork, college applications, and the Varsity team. But college meant new experiences. I joined the school newspaper, helped out on the campus television station, did volunteer work at the Boys & Girls Club downtown and at the local animal shelters, and wrote and edited for the campus literary magazines.

I wish I had played college soccer. Sure, I played indoor intramurals for 4 years, but it's not the same. I remember chatting with my high school friends who had gone on to play college soccer, and I remember feeling envious, though I had no reason to feel that way. It was my choice to retire my cleats and hang up my gloves. But as the years progressed, I yearned for the smell of a sweaty locker room, the sound of a kicked ball, the arguments with the referees, the cheers from the sidelines, the adrenaline during a shoot-out in double-overtime, the team bonding....

Without soccer in my life, it always felt like something was missing. I attributed this inner-lonliness to the fact that I didn't have a solid social group in college, like I did in high school. But the reality was, I missed the sport that had shaped and developed my life.

I'm not sure anyone can truly understand this, unless, you, too have ever fallen in love with a sport. There are days when I miss it like it were an actual person. Soccer wasn't just something I did during my free time, or something I juggled with other activities. Soccer was, essentially, my life. It defined who I was. I used it as an escape from life's challenges, a refuge where I was safe because I was in control. I commanded the field and I owned that net. I wasn't unstoppable, but my presence always indicated otherwise. Competing travel teams knew who I was, and I remember my parents arguing over which team I would try out for, because multiple coaches had been calling them.

Those were my true glory days. I worked and trained hard. It wasn't always fun (those 5am runs in the dark before breakfast during overnight camp, when you were so sore from the previous night's training), and there were a few practices where I swore I would never come back (suicide sprints until you threw up).

But now? I would give anything to be in the shape I used to be, and go back in time for one more practice, one more overnight camp, or one more game...

I never knew how much it could hurt to miss a sport.

Friday, April 18, 2008


I have kept a handwritten diary since I was eight years old. Every now and then, I go back and read a few passages, or skim through some pages, with a fond smile. I'm thankful for the memories I have captured on paper.

Since I'm a bit under the weather at the moment, I've spent a majority of the afternoon perusing through some of them, laughing out loud at my childhood innocence, scoffing at many of the things I did in my early teenage years, and crying over a few passages I have intentionally never revisited until tonight.

I want to share some passages, in no specific order. None have been edited for grammar or syntax, either.

November 29, 1996
Marques and I had a blast today! We picked him up at 4:15 to go bowling. We were dropped off at the bowling alley and played three games-- I won all three (one game was 132 to 32). He's not a very good bowler, but he was a good sport about it. When we were getting ready to leave, he turned to me and said, "I'm paying. My dad told me to."

December 3, 1996
Life is great right now. Except I lost my drafting papers for Tech Ed. I really hope he doesn't make me do them over, or worse, yell at me in front of the entire class. I hate that man. I'm doing so bad in math. We got Progress Reports on Monday and I have a C average. I've never gotten a C in anything... except penmanship in 3rd grade, which is a stupid subject anyway. I'm going to be horrible at math for the rest of my life; I just know it.

November 25, 1994
Right now I'm in the car and we are driving home. New York was the pits. There was nothing to do except play the piano and I had to eat fruits and vegetables that I'd never had before and they were all disgusting.

December 20, 1994
John Brantle's locker is right next to mine, so his door closes over my locker a lot. He is taller than me, too. Well, he opened his locker and held the door over mine so I couldn't get my bag and books. Why are boys so dumb? I tried to move his hand but unfortunately he is surprisingly strong. I then asked him nicely to move his hand, and he did. John's really a nice boy; you just have to know how to handle him.

October 2, 1998
Mom is gone now. Well, not gone, but she doesn't live in the house anymore-- she's in her own apartment in Shrewsbury. I went and saw it when she had all her stuff just thrown around. I acted happy with a "wow, nice place!" attitude... but inside I was in hysterics. I didn't want my mother living alone in an apartment. I wanted her in the house, in bed with Dad, like things used to be a long time ago-- almost two years ago. I walk in from school, now, and my footsteps echo-- the living room/dining room furniture is gone. Everything echos. My heart echos.

December 19, 1998
I can't deal with this anymore. Everything. I miss my mom. I miss four people sitting at the dinner table. I'm crying now; the page is a blur. I miss being held in daddy's arms when he reads a story... mom fixing my bed... I hate this... I can't deal with this. I want my family back. I like Kim, but she's not my mom. I like her kids, but they're not my sisters. I want to disappear. Somebody just kill me now, please? I'm so fucking depressed. What the hell is wrong with me? I must hide it pretty well... either that or no one cares.

January 9, 2004
Luke has been a real asshole lately. His little outbursts and temper tantrums have always been one of his worst qualities, and I've repeatedly told him it's unattractive. But maybe that type of behavior is unalterable. The question is, am I prepared to deal with that in a long-term relationship? I'm not so sure. He's been snapping at me lately. I originally thought this new anger resulted from his sister's death last month; I know anger is part of the grieving process, and if he wants to open up to me, he will. I should try to get some sleep; he will probably wake me up early. God forbid he actually socialize with Dad and Dawn in the morning without me. That will have to change, too.

January 16, 1998
School was cancelled today! I did nothing but watch TV and go online. Andy called around 3:00, and I have his pager number now, which is pretty cool. There are so many long silences when I talk to him, and I don't like it. Plus, he doesn't laugh at my stupid sayings, which makes me feel more stupid. Oh well. Boys are dumb.

June 24, 1997
We leave for Disney World tomorrow morning! Mom and Dad are still having problems. They say it's been going on for a couple of years. I think Mom wants a divorce. She says Dad thinks she is with someone else. I don't want to think about it anymore. I just want to have a good summer.

July 25, 1997
I went to the beach with Andy and his family today. It was a blast! After the beach, we went back to his house to have dinner. Lobster. Gross. But, his mom let me have Fruit Loops instead. His family made fun of me throughout dinner. I didn't care. I like Fruit Loops!

August 10, 1997
Two days ago Dad told me and Jack that Mom is suing him for divorce. He is going to fight for full custody, but it will be expensive, and will cut into my college savings. I will need to work harder and get a scholarship. We are in New York right now to get away for awhile. And today is my 15th birthday.

August 16, 1997
Soccer tournament in CT was hot! I felt like I was gonna pass out on the field. Mom and Dad both came to my game, but they sat on opposite sides of the field. It was awful. I couldn't focus.

August 19, 1997
I'm at Aunt Martha's house tonight. No Mom or Dad or bro. It's cool. I have a room and the computer (aol) to myself. I'm glad I won't be home for awhile, 'cause in the morning Mom and Dad go to the court. The lawyers are going to decide the temporary living conditions (i.e., Dad moves out or Mom moves out). I'm so scared. But I have to be strong for my brother.

August 20, 1997
Instead of going to Canobie Lake Park tomorrow with Garrett, Jack and I have to go to court. We have to talk to the judge and some social workers. They'll ask us questions, one being "who do you want to live with?" I want to live in Disney World, where everyone is always happy.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New Read

I'm currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert's intriguing novel, Eat, Pray, Love, a creative nonfiction book about a recently divorced novelist who is in the process of re-evaluating her life, ultimately seeking inner peace and happiness. Her quest takes her across Italy, India, and Indonesia.

The book arrived via snail mail a few weeks ago from my cousin, who insisted that I read it, promising that I would take something away from it. I'm only about 30 pages deep into the book (just started it this afternoon), but it has already hooked me and I'm sure it'll be finished before the end of the weekend.

Two passages I have enjoyed thus far:

In reference to the man she involves herself with immediately after leaving her husband:
But, oh, we had such a great time together during those early months when he was still my romantic hero and I was still his living dream. It was excitement and compatibility like I'd never imagined. We invented our own language. We went on daytrips and road trips. We hiked to the top of things, swam to the bottom of other things, planned journeys across the world we would take together. We had more fun waiting in line together at the Department of Motor Vehicles than most couples have on their honeymoods. We gave each other the same nickname, so there would be no separation between us. We made goals, vows, promises, and dinner together. He read books to me, and he did my laundry. (The first time that happened, I called Susan to report the marvel in astonishment, like I'd just seen a camel using a pay phone. I said, "A man just did my laundry! And he even hand-wahed my delicates!" And she repeated: "Oh my God, baby, you are in so much trouble.")

.... Obviously, I'm relating my enjoyment of this passage to personal, recent experiences.
I explained to Iva my personal opinions about prayer. Namely, that I don't feel comfortable petitioning for specific things from God, because that feels to me like a kind of weakness of faith. I don't like asking, 'Will you change this or that thing in my life that's difficult for me?' Because-- who knows?--God might want me to be facing that particular challenge for a reason. Instead, I feel more comfortable praying for the courage to face whatever occurs in my life with equanimity, no matter how things turn out.

.... I, too, pray for strength, but never for God to intervene. We're given Free Will for a reason.

A good read so far. I'm sure I'll have more to review as I progress through the book.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


I've been having some amusing conversations with a few of my male friends regarding "deal-breakers," aka, something that would make him stop dating someone.

For example, my friend and fellow volleyball/softball enthusiast, Jeff, states that a deal-breaker for him would be a woman who "likes cats" or "doesn't eat meat." He loves to cook, but says that it would be too much of a hassle to create vegetarian entres.

Dan told me that any woman who adorns fake nails is automatically x'ed from his list. And Mike says that he couldn't continue seeing a woman who disapproved of "Guy's Night Out" or who scoffed at the idea of playing video games or watching sports.

These days, I'm much more in tune to what I want in a relationship; thus, on the flip-side, I should probably have a decent idea of what I don't want, right? What would I consider a deal-breaker? And if I label it as such, how long would I tolerate the act or "flaw" before I threw in the towel? All fun questions to ponder, though I'd never really given it much thought until recently.

That being said, I've been musing over my personal deal-breakers. I started thinking about past dates and relationships, which helped build my list. My list seems pretty reasonsable, on the surface. I don't think I ask or expect too much. I mean, I would never go as far as a Seinfeld episode and shun someone for having "man hands."

Shelly's Proposed Deal-Breakers

~ Inability to accept a vegetarian lifestyle (I would never ask someone to stop eating meat, so don't expect me to change, either.)

~ Dislikes the beach

~ Impulse buyer (red flag reading "can't save money")

~ Uncomfortable in group settings, or uncomfortable in social situations in general

~ Dislikes animals

~ Dislikes the outdoors/nature

~ Glass half-empty attitude during tough situations

~ Dislikes playing sports

~ Relies on me to plan things all the time (I love planning, but I also don't like having to do all the work... meet me halfway.)

~ Disinterested in reading my writing

~ Plays mind games... the main one: acts one way toward me behind closed doors, then treats me like I don't exist in public.

~ Depending on the stage of the relationship, daily communication is key. A simple, "hey, how was your day?" or "how're you doing today?" seems pretty basic, no? I don't take this for granted, and I don't expect my partner to, either.

~ Withholds emotion/affection due to fear (Love is always worth the risk, in my book.)

Obviously, there would be factors to consider within each of my proposed deal-breakers... this is just an on-the-surface list after a brief mental review of guys who didn't make the cut back in the day. The simple traits such as disliking animals, the beach, and sports probably could never be overlooked, as those are essential in my life. But the actions (mind games, communication, and withholding emotion) would probably require confrontation and a little coaching. He won't know what I want or need from him unless I tell him, right? I'm still working on grasping this notion, but I get a bit closer every day...

Deal-breakers: such a casual way for us to label what we don't want in a significant other. The term has a mocking connotation to it. "Wow, dude; that's a deal-breaker for me." And so on. The term almost gives us an out.... an easy way to admit to our peers that we deserve better, and that we actually recognize that fact. Maybe we're joking when we hone in on a deal-breaker and verbalize it to our friends... but there's a little truth in every joke.

But not being able to joke around with me? Well, that's a deal-breaker, too.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sunshine Smiles

I didn't want this past weekend to end. It was amazing. I can't describe it in full, because I almost fear my insufficient words will trivialize it...

Nonetheless, I had a wonderful day at the beach with Jolyon on Saturday. We walked hand-in-hand, along the shoreline. We talked about silly matters and important issues. We ate amazing ice cream, sharing two awesome flavors-- strawberry cheesecake and chocolate peanutbutter cup. We shared inside jokes and teased each other relentlessly. We played in the ocean and in the sand like two children who had just been set free with a day's worth of nothing to do. We were completely free.

"We forgot where we were and we lost track of time
And we sang to the winds as we danced through the night..."

That's how it felt for me. Everything stood still that day. As silly as it may sound, when we embraced in the ocean or on the sand, I didn't care who walked by. I was barely conscious that we were sharing the beach with hundreds of other people; it certainly didn't feel that way. Nothing else matters when I'm with him. I know that's cliche.... I'm just now truly understanding what it means. My friend commented to us the other day that we are "in our own little world." I laughed it off, but then thought about it and realized he was right. And I love it.

The beach is soothing. I am always at peace by the sea. I love that my current home is 45 minutes from the east coast of Florida, and under two hours from the beautiful gulf coast. Being near the ocean is essential for me, whether it's to spend the day splashing in the waves or building sandcastles... or a daytrip to go ocean kayaking. My next adventure will be sailing, and I can't wait. It is something I have always wanted to do, or learn how to do.

To share my favorite place with a very special person intensifies everything. I love the way our minds are on similar tracks, without an effort needed. We're simply rolling along, like the waves of the sea... clear, fresh water and a few rays of sunshine to light our way...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Overly Accommodating

I am not responsible for the happiness of others.

I am not responsible for the happiness of others.

I am not responsible for the happiness of others.

I have difficulty allowing myself to be happy when I know that others around me are suffering. I can't completely let go and enjoy myself if I'm with someone who may be adversely affected by the situation. Therefore, I change my actions to accommodate for others so that I don't hurt them... but in doing this, I'm not being true to myself, and I'm certainly not enjoying the moments I am given.

I don't want to do this. I shouldn't have to cater to the needs of everyone all the time. I shouldn't feel obligated to accommodate everyone. I am my own person and I make my own decisions. I have the right to be happy, even when others are not.

I need to learn how to establish boundaries. I can't allow people to be dependent on me, or make me feel guilty if I make a decision they don't agree with, or if I change my mind. I have the right to change my mind.

I want to care less about how my actions affect others. I want to completely let go of my self-awareness, at least temporaily. I want to fully experience my feelings. I want to express myself publicly and not worry about hurting someone. I don't want to walk on eggshells around people.

Of course, this is all very difficult for me because I don't like to disappoint anyone, or worse, hurt them.

I'm currently trying to work through, with my therapist and my parents, why I stayed in a relationship that I knew was not right for me. I wasn't happy with Luke. There were many moments in which I said to myself, "I know this isn't going to work. I need to get out of this relationship." There were a lot of red flags over the years, which I ignored. Of course, hindsight is 20/20.

The first conclusion we have drawn is that I clearly have a fear of confrontation and hurting people. Luke's life revolved around me, and I accommodated that. I allowed him to become dependent on me for social situations, for money... for everything. I didn't encourage him to pursue a life of his own.

Yet, I was able create a life of my own, especially after moving to Florida. I made new friends. I coached soccer. I joined a softball team and a volleyball team. I networked and landed a decent job. I did all of this while Luke simply floated along beside me, never adding anything. He just existed.

My biggest mistake in that relationship? Allowing Luke to follow me to Florida. He accepted the College Program internship because I had been accepted. He didn't want to lose me. I wanted new experiences and a new location (I was starting to feel very smothered at my college at this time). I wanted to meet new people. I don't think I ever told that to Luke directly. In my mind, if the relationship was meant to work out, 7 months apart wouldn't change anything. But having him on the same internship as me, living in the building next to me... I felt trapped... I didn't feel like I could fully experience everything I wanted and needed. He had been attending college at a good school in Boston.... but dropped out to follow me to Florida.

I never should have accommodated him to the extent that I did.

That being said, I'm learning how to not accommodate people now.... in friendships and relationships. We create our own worlds and then we live in it. I can't create another person's happiness. People need to be motivated and confident enough to create their own lives, and then welcome others into it.

I want to be with someone who has a life of his own. I don't want to be stringing someone along on my life's journey, simply because he has nothing better to do with his own existence. I don't want to change his life, or vice versa.

I don't want a man who is going to "complete" me, because that phrase suggests that I wasn't whole at the start. Instead, I want a man to enhance my life, and vice versa. We should both bring unique interests and experiences to the relationship, and we don't rely heavily on one another, though we stay in synch through open and honest communication. And we need to laugh. A lot. Laughter is key to getting through life's inevitable pitfalls.

And I have found this.

At this very moment, I am happier than I have ever been. I am happy with myself as a person. I am more accepting of my weaknesses and insecurities; they don't define me, but they are certainly part of what makes me, me.

I'm happy and I know what I want.

I had the courage to lay my cards on the table a few weeks ago and announce, "This is what I want. It's what I have always wanted. It's all right if you don't feel the same, but it would have been worse if I had continued to deny my feelings and live in silence."

Open and honest is continuing to get better each day. I'm happy, I know what I want, and I won't settle for anything less.

And I want the world to know it.