Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Between Goodbye and Hello

I seem to have something in common with Mary Poppins. Of course I insist upon good manners and live out of a bottomless suitcase, but there's more. Let me explain.

I recently choreographed Hello Dolly at a Lutheran High School in Queens. I had no previous connection with the school except that  the choir director went to college with me. When their first choreographer resigned due to a death in the family, she contacted me to choreograph the whole thing in less than three weeks. So I did. In the process of teaching teenagers from Queens how to waltz, I had the privilege of being a small part of their community. What I saw was everything a high school musical should be - committed adults encouraging teenagers to take a risk and explore their talent.

As I walked away from the school after the opening night ice cream party, I realized how often I join a community, invest in it with passion and purpose, and then leave. Just like Mary Poppins. I challenge young people to work hard and pursue excellence while they sing and dance. Just like Mary Poppins. I hope that the people whose lives I touched continue to bond together, even after I have gone on to the next adventure. Just like Mary Poppins.

A life of adventure is full of excitement: new people, new places, and new experiences. It is also a litany of saying hello and saying goodbye. Between the hello and the goodbye, Mary Poppins and I truly enjoy the people we meet and do our best to have a positive impact. Between the goodbye and the next hello is when Mary most needs Bert, that consistent friend who is connected to her throughout life's journey. I am thankful for my "Berts". Without you, this would not be possible.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

You, Learn Something New Every Day

"You learn something new every day."

Usually the expression is used right after someone has been proven wrong or exposed to truly unbelievable information. It conveys either surrender, surprise or a combination of the two.

I put a comma into the phrase and take it as a direct command. "You, learn something new every day."

OK, I will.

I check books out of the library and read them during my commute, stop to read historical markers on old buildings, arrange long conversations with interesting people, figure out a new route between here and there, eat an unfamiliar food, attend an art gallery opening on the spur of the moment.

And now I pass along the advice: "You, learn something new every day."

Friday, May 14, 2010

America's Leading Expert House Guest

I would like to respectfully submit that I am one of America's foremost experts at being a house guest. I calculate that I have spent nearly two non-consecutive years staying in the private homes of other people all over the world, but primarily in the United States. This does not include times that I house sit or sublet and the owners are not there, which would add another year. I am talking only about staying in the guest room of gracious people who open their home to me.

In the absence of well-circulated ettiquette books on the subject, I shall now endeavor to impart my wisdom on the art of being a house guest.

A quality house guest is keenly aware of her impact on the rhythms of the household and strikes a delicate balance between staying out of the way and adding value. For example, one should offer to help with meal preparation, but step aside graciously if the host prefers to present the meal without your involvement. On the other hand, pay attention to the chores that need to be done, and pitch in without being asked.

Throughout your time together, offer witty and interesting stories but make it your primary goal to hear the host's story and see the world from their point of view. While you are in their home, you may have a lively debate but you do not need to convince them to join another political party or religion.

Do not expect the host to entertain you at all times or fulfill your every wish. They will need to check in on their real lives, which is a cue for you to go away and entertain yourself for awhile. This is why I bring a good book, a Diet Coke, a small snack, and a warm sweater for cold bedrooms.

Before you part ways for the night, be sure to ask how to turn off the lights and how the shower works. I have spent many a late night trying to find a light switch in a rewired basement. I have also found that every shower has a story: pull this handle, open this drain, don't let the water leak out here, the fan switch is in this remote corner by the window, and don't use this towel because we dry the family dog with it.

A true test of house guest etiquette is in the use of the bathroom. Always ask when you may dominate the bathroom at a time that it does not inconvenience others. Even if you have your own guest bathroom, the water heater may not be able to handle two people taking a shower at the same time.

Please contact me if you have further questions. Alternatively, invite me over and I'll show you how it's done!
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