Saturday, January 22, 2011



To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

This was posted as a comment to my Facebook status, which also included a quote credited to Emerson.

I would bet that most, if not all, people reading this would agree that success is defined by the above examples and yet, in our society we find it difficult to reward those who do most of these very things every single day: teachers.

When I read this piece I instantly thought of the job teachers have: to bring out the best in their students in a myriad of tasks that require a variety of skills; to manage a group of people who are dealing with a wide range of emotional, physical and intellectual needs; to attend to the aspects of their job that require skills in technology, record keeping, informational distribution, and organization; to communicate effectively with their students, their peers, administrators and parents; to perfect new ways of sharing knowledge using methods that have not been perfected all while...

Wanting to laugh often and much, as that is something that their charges are already very skilled at, but being burdened by the weight of accomplishing the above tasks.

Just the other day my own child said she wanted to be either an actress or a school librarian, because the latter are celebrities. Spend time at an elementary school and you will see that she is right. Why do children grasp the truth in the words of Emerson (or whoever it is that said/wrote these words) so much more easily and readily than adults? How is it that we can all - or almost all - agree that these traits are part of the trodden path of the successful, but we do not want to reward this kind of success with our money?

Now, please don't tell me that teaching is its own reward - yes, one has to see beyond the reward of money to be a good teacher, but I will not believe that any teacher would not be thrilled to receive more money - deserved money.

Maybe it is because of this quote by Peter Drucker:
Teaching is the only major occupation of man for which we have not yet developed tools that make an average person capable of competence and performance. In teaching we rely on the "naturals," the ones who somehow know how to teach. Maybe we don't see good teachers as having to work hard, we see it as something that comes naturally, as easy, as a given. It is not easy. It is, as stated above, a constant striving, "to find the best in others." If you can do that, in a society that expects you to do that, without the compensation you deserve - thank you.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Guest Writer: Deb

A huge thank you to Deb, for sharing this experience with me and with those reading this piece. I have the child Deb describes in her first sentence: thoughtful, quiet, introspective type and so I know what it's like to parent that kind of person. I needed to read this and broaden my perspective.

Look At Me! Look At Me! Look at Me!:
Life With Two Kids Who Love Performing
By Deb Renkey

If you would have asked me before I had children which type of child I’d expect
to have, I probably would have said a thoughtful, quiet, introspective type. I would say this because my husband and I are that way. Granted, we have our outgoing, silly, and Type A personality moments, but we are definitely not people who seek the limelight.

Alex has been a ball of energy since I could first feel him kicking during pregnancy. As a baby, he did not sleep anywhere close to what many babies do and was ALWAYS interested in what was going on and wanted to be in the middle of things. As a baby and toddler, he always loved music, wiggling and dancing his way around. With his energy level, I knew we would need an outlet.

I first enrolled Alex as a toddler in tumbling classes at The Little Gym but quickly realized he was not content to just participate. He always wanted the teacher to watch him, along with the other parents and kids in the class. Of course it was a given that I should be watching too!

Thank goodness St. Louis, Missouri is so supportive of the performing arts! There are dance studios, acting classes, camps, music teachers and music studios, plus theaters and performing arts centers with shows ranging from amateur to professional, throughout the metro area. One dance studio, Performing Arts Centre in our part of town, St. Charles, caught my eye because
I saw boys in the advertisement. I didn’t want Alex to be the only boy in a sea of pink tutus.

Long story short, Alex has loved dance since he was 2 ½ and is now in his fifth year, studying ballet, tap, jazz, acro/tumbling, and hip hop. He also plays piano. His other activities outside of school include Cub Scouts and swimming so he’s a busy guy and happy that way. In his spare time, he loves playing with Hot Wheels and other vehicles, Transformers, Legos, reading, and making up characters and plays with Shannon.

Shannon was born a few months before Alex started dance so she has been exposed to dance since she was an infant. As a baby, she would peer in the classroom observation windows or door cracks to see what the dancers were doing in class. She also has high energy like her brother, but she is more of a wiggler than a kicker! Also like her brother, Shannon is happiest when she’s busy.

In addition to dance (she’s in her second year of ballet, tap, hip hop, and tumbling) and piano, Shannon also loves to pose for the camera. One of my husband’s hobbies is photography so he is always taking photos. Shannon happily poses for photos, often striking poses reminiscent of models and actors. She is ALWAYS in character. Be it something from movies (How To Train Your Dragon is her current favorite), something she read, or something made up from her imagination, she is always in dialogue and pestering Alex, Greg, me, or her friends at preschool to play the characters she assigns and follow her script!

Greg and I have talked about getting the kids an agent for years, mostly because they are very outgoing, always want an audience, and love to perform. It doesn’t faze either child to step out on stage in front of (literally) several hundred people at their dance recitals. In fact, they love it and shine onstage.

We put off the decision to pursue an agent until recently. We wanted to make sure Alex and Shannon were old enough to decide for themselves, rather than us deciding for them.

Greg did some research online during the 2010 holiday season, found a talent/modeling agency in St. Louis with an open audition scheduled, and asked both kids if they wanted to try out. Alex said, “No” but Shannon said, “Yes”.

Shannon attended the audition, along with several other kids, varying in age from preschool to high school, and was (in typical Shannon fashion), cute, outgoing, and fearless.

Callbacks to find out acceptance to the agency were the following day and we were floored to find out Shannon, at age 4, was one of only 12 applicants (out of 365 people of all ages) to be accepted! So, now on to the next phase of Shannon’s performance experiences: modeling, and possibly acting.

We are new to the entertainment industry and are learning as much as we can, from the financial, legal, professional, and personal perspectives. Fortunately, our local library has lots of books on the subject (see the “useful resource” list I’ve added below). These are just some of the books that contain a wealth of information on the business of show business.

Like our observations and intuitions suggested, the books I have read indicate Shannon has the right personality type for show business. She loves attention, is outgoing and aggressive enough to perform in front of an audience (large or small), and is willing to do her best, even if it means she doesn’t get the job.

Oh, and before I forget, Shannon loves the song, “There’s No Business Like Show Business”. It sums up the business quite nicely and Shannon doesn’t mind a bit. That’s a good thing. Not all aspiring performers will be stars. If being a star and/or being rich are not your goals, but performing for the love of it are your motivators, then you’re cut out for the work. It seems we are taking the right approach. In other words, we won’t quit our day jobs and Shannon will keep doing her usual activities and school while she pursues this venture on the side.

The best advice I have gleaned from the books I have read is to treat a career in performance like you are in sales. You are the product, marketing yourself and your performance skills, and even the best salespeople experience a lot of rejection before they make a sale final. As they develop a clientele and gain more experience and credibility, salespeople usually earn a decent living. The same is true for actors, models, dancers, or other performers.

Perhaps Alex, once he sees Shannon in action, will want to pursue performance with an agent himself. Perhaps Shannon will tire of auditions and decide to pursue other activities. Perhaps she will do very well in the industry. Whatever the case, we will provide a grounded home life where our kids will have love and stability.

We are curious to see where our kids’ paths will lead! They are colorful people and have certainly spiced up our lives! On with the show!

Useful Show Business Resources

1. Children and the Entertainment Industry, by Karen Miller
Pages 90-157 address children employed in the entertainment
industry; the beginning of the book examines various effects of
entertainment on children as viewers.

2. Wake Me When It's Funny: How to Break into Show Business and Stay
There, by Lori Marshall
Memoir of Garry Marshall; lots of great information throughout the

3. Get That Cutie in Commercials, Television, Films, and Videos: Breaking
Your Talented Child into the Entertainment Industry, by Kandias Conda
Lots of great information throughout the book, geared toward parents.

4. The Business of Show Business: A Comprehensive Career Guide for
Actors and Models, by Cynthia Brian
Great information throughout, with lots of details about union
operations and dues, audition process and tips, etc.

5. An Actor’s Business: How Show Business Works and How to Market
Yourself as an Actor, by Andrew Reilly
The author is a bit jaded but there is a wealth of information in the
book; definitely worth reading.heather.albeescott@gmail.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bring It On Ben

"Our limited perspective, our hopes and fears become our measure of life, and when circumstances don't fit our ideas, they become our difficulties." Ben Franklin

I read this quote yesterday and read it and read it.

I know Ben (I feel I can go by his first name) was talking about how we view our own lives, but to me this quote makes me think of how I judge others' circumstances. I have ideas of how a happy life looks and when someone tells me they live their life in a different way, I assume they must not be happy. I absolutely hate this quality about myself. I hate it because I know better.

When I was about 8 years old, a friend from school invited me to her home. Her father worked in the factory of the mill that my father managed. My family lived in a relatively nice house, wall-to-wall green shag carpet, Atari set hooked up to the color tv, 2.5 bathrooms and plenty of space for each person to be in a separate room with rooms remaining. Her home was a one room trailer in which 9 people resided. I don't remember judging the conditions of her home in my 8-year old brain, just taking them in, and I was soon immersed in too much fun to ponder how vastly different her living quarters were from mine.

That day we ran around outside with my friend's 6 brothers, her father showed us how to get sap out of the trees, her mom goofed around with us in the kitchen and something that really sticks out: her father brought her mom a lily for Easter and it was lovely. When my own mother came to pick me up I remember the joy I felt at having spent a day in such a loving environment and how kindly the whole family treated me.

I am sure, nearly 30 years later, that if most adults were to visit such a home, they would probably talk about how sad it is for children to be raised in such conditions and how the parents shouldn't have had so many children when they obviously can't afford to take care of them properly. I don't doubt this family had their struggles, I KNOW they did, but they also had such an abundance of happiness that they were able to let it encompass a visitor - an 8-year old kid who was fortunate to spend the day in their company.

So I read Ben's quote as a way for me to stop looking at the circumstances of other people's lives and judging them against what I have been taught is the ideal standard. It doesn't do anybody any good to feel sorry for them or to think they must not be happy, because they have had difficulties in their life. We all have difficulties and we're all fighting that silent battle of which Plato spoke (Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle) and judging another, tsk-tsking their choices just doesn't open our eyes to the joy and splendor those people do feel. Everyone has difficulties and everyone does amazing things. My hope is to focus more on those amazing things and to judge less those difficulties.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fifty Years Together: A Riposte to Election Day's Dark Side & Inaugural Myopia...

This post was written by a new friend in my life, Dani Meier, and its eloquence is apparent, I believe, in the way Dani lives his life. Thank you Dani! There is a link at the bottom to see the post on his blog, which includes beautiful photos.

Several winters ago, my wife and I took our year old son for a long weekend, and escaped the Midwest to New York City, my old home town. A highlight of the visit was reconnecting with old family friends, Frank and Pat, an elderly couple who’ve known me since birth. They were, at that time, 85 and 78 years old respectively, and had been together nearly 50 years, most of which they lived in a Greenwich Village high-rise apartment overlooking NYU and Washington Square, with a stunning Manhattan skyline all around them. After visiting for a while in their apartment, they drove us down to Ground Zero to view the progress on the site since my wife and I had last been there as Red Cross volunteers after 9/11. Sitting in the back seat of their old Cadillac as we headed downtown, they picked on each other as older couples often do over who drives better and about what was the best route to their destination.

“Hurry up and make that light!!! Geez, Frank, you drive so slooowly!”

“And if you were driving on these lousy pot-holed streets,” Pat would respond, “We’d have four flat tires and a broken axle.” With good-hearted smiles, they’d both roll their eyes. Underlying the bickering, their affection was clear.

Frank and Pat are both men.

Frank is a World War II veteran. He joined the army in 1942 and served his country with distinction. After the war, he attended the Sorbonne in Paris on the GI bill and returned to the U.S. to become a teacher. In those days, teachers in his home state of Maine earned $2,000 a year so he went to California where teachers made double that. After a year, however, the death of his father brought him back East where he stayed to help his widowed mother. Following her death, he moved to New York where he worked as a manager in the same company, a loyal employee for forty years.

Pat, meanwhile, is a singer who at 78 still performs regularly in weddings, funerals, and leads the choir in a local church. Now 82, he still does all that. Because it was Easter week and Pat had choir obligations on Thursday, Good Friday, and, of course, Easter Sunday, he had to leave us to rehearse. Frank offered to baby-sit for our son, allowing us a few hours in the city without a stroller, which, as we revisited Times Square at rush hour, was no small gift. Frank offered to baby-sit as much out of his own grandfatherly instincts as out of any generosity towards us. He doted on the baby like the sweetest grandfather one could imagine as he’d doted on me over forty years earlier. I only wish he lived closer so he could be the Great Uncle Frank I know he’d be to all our children.

As the senseless crusade against gay marriage creeps on, like spikes in the Ebola Virus, as abominations like Prop 8 and the Arkansas ban on adoption by unmarried couples erode our American democracy, I think often of Frank and Pat. I don't get how anyone could see people like Frank and Pat as a threat to the institutions of marriage and family. They represent among the best role models I’ve ever known when I think of values like love, commitment, and, yes, marriage. It saddened me then, it saddens and angers me now to contemplate the barriers these two would face if they were young men today, wanting to commit themselves through marriage. Frank and Pat have much to offer many straight couples who may, say, read the bible and have children, but are terrible spouses and awful parents. Marriage, in my book, is about love and commitment, something a lot of us heterosexuals screw up. Marriage is not about exclusion based on whom you love.

Frank and Pat don’t use the word gay to refer to themselves nor can I imagine they ever considered marriage. And though they’ve lived in tolerant communities in Paris and New York, they have always been closeted to the outside world, keeping a low profile when it comes to their relationship. As long as I’ve known them, they’ve kept separate bedrooms and they refer to themselves, at this point, as really good, old friends. Out of respect for their privacy, I include no pictures of them here. And the names are pseudonyms.

I left New York inspired and grateful to have these wonderful human beings in my life who have given so much to their country, their church, their community, each other … and to me personally. To honor all they’ve given, my personal commitment to social justice will always include making this world a place that’s safe, inclusive, and respectful of all people including those who may love differently than I do.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Thoughts on Thoughts

This article was in the local paper in Logan, Utah:

I applaud this study by Dr. Twohig, because I am aware of this type of OCD and I can imagine it is quite common in Utah among LDS members. As I've said before, there are many wonderful aspects to the Mormon religion and I was very fortunate to witness and partake in these aspects. I also felt there was the notion among LDS members that if a person lets down their religious guard they may fly off the handle and commit complete atrocities. If a person does not guard their actions and their thoughts, they will be doomed.

As an agnostic, I had friends ask me what kept me from doing "horrible" things and I was baffled, because didn't it seem obvious - I didn't do those things because a) they're against the law and b) they would hurt other people. I was told by my religious friends that if they didn't have their religion, they feared they would do the "horrible" things.

I think religion can add a healthy component to one's life, especially in the offering of a community, but I do not think it should make one feel that without it the person has no control over their actions. To me, that is a belief based in fear, not hope, not love, not joy.

Many religions teach that a thought is as bad as the deed and that is just ridiculous! We all have crazy, random, completely frightening thoughts and most of us can just let that thought ride its course. A person with OCD fixates on the thought, not because they are going to commit the atrocity of which they are thinking, but because to them, in this scenario, having the thought is just as bad as committing the act, so they feel they are already guilty. It saddens me that a religion would teach these things and confine its members in such an unhealthy way.

Yes, we all want to do good things, things that we can dwell on, things that can change the course of our thoughts, but we all will have thoughts of angry revenge, jealous rage, sad suffering and that is completely normal. Our religion should give us comfort when those thoughts prevail, it should not make us feel worse for something of which we ultimately have no control.