Devised Theater: A Venn Diagram

Devised Theater: A Venn Diagram
This diagram was created by the co-producing artistic directors of Rude Mechs to depict the complexity of creating and crediting collaboratively devised work for theatrical performance.

Monday, January 24, 2011

This I Believe #2, 2011

Please post your "This I Believe" essay by noon on *Wednesday, February 2nd.*


  1. Eyes open, meet, close.

    Breath expelled through cave created by chest chasm.


    Eyes open, meet close. One chin up and one down. One continuous curved line crossing ear to neighbor ear. Breath nearly misses neck, brushes earlobe. Inspiration cools places made moist by dew from inside chest.

    Eyes open, meet, close. Arm on side connects through leg, by leg, on leg, beside arm through leg, next to chest on chest to forehead forehead nose nose.


    Eyes open, meet, close.

    Hand traces down spine, dancing fingertips deftly skip from one spinous process to next, muscle tense as lumbar vertebrae reached, relaxing as palm placed on sternum.


    I believe in comfort.

  2. Sometimes, if we had money, we’d buy them for ten bucks a piece. But even Ashland was home to multiple construction sites at a time. And ten bucks only goes so far when you’re building a six foot wide wall ride.

    Sometimes, we’d get lucky. A ten dollar, fifty pound bag of Quikrete or a five hundred dollar, hand-held power tool: as a construction worker, which would you be most liable to put away at the end of your work day?

    Once, we found some ultra fine, super smooth, commercial bags at a site—their sidewalks became our new quarter pipe.

    Once, we finally broke into the local pool and skated it like we had talked about. We did it again and again that autumn. The neighbors’ backyards opened into the pool. A man told us about how he used to do the exact same thing.

    Once, we finally stole that pool coping we had talked about stealing. No sweat, just a hop of a fence, a bit of crowbar leverage, and a speedy getaway.

    Once, we did what kids do on Saturdays in a dying town—we broke into one of the abandoned factories—and found a hundred pounds worth of new skate spots.

    Once, we broke into that same milk factory and began building there: a safe haven surrounded by an ocean of illegal sidewalk. A week later, padlocks appeared and we had to use bolt cutters to retrieve our concrete and rails. A month later, still, nothing had been done with the factory.

    Countless times, I was harassed by police offices for pushing a piece of wood around a parking lot.

    Many times, I went to local government meetings. Watched my mom—a woman with a heart of gold—argue for the rights of her son and his friends to have facilities made available. Tried to speak up with her, to get the old men to listen—to make them think about something other than football.

    I believe in doing it yourself. Especially when others won’t.

  3. during christmas break of the year two-thousand and ten, three siblings coexisted within the same living spaces. they bumped elbows at dinner tables, played video games together on a living room television, and each contributed (more or less) civilly in numerous one-on-one and one-on-one-on-one conversations.

    perhaps this doesn’t seem like such a significant thing for anyone to say. but for these siblings, it illustrated an important development in their relationships with one another. for years, this triad of sisters and brother disagreed, fought and argued, and thoroughly did not get along. even the fact that the three were in the same location for an extended period of time was noteworthy.

    the eldest sister, a caregiver, always feels that she must take care of the younger ones. she is prone to domination, although her initial intentions are always good. she is overly sensitive and tends to be hurt rather easily, especially by those she cares deeply for. she is in college, so the time she now spends with her siblings is short, infrequent, and fraught with conflict and tension.

    the brother, a lone wolf of his own making, is a high school drop-out who refuses to listen to a single word of advice from any source. he makes countless mistakes and always blames others for the consequences. he is the owner of a short fuse and an explosive temper, and he often uses this weapon against the sisters he has grown up with, both verbally and physically. he currently lives with the father of the three.

    the youngest sister, meek and lazy, has had quite a hard time asserting herself. now that she has found her voice, she can be temperamental and hard-headed. she is loving and determined, but these qualities are often lost amongst her teenage angst and her desire to be her own person. she resides in the mother’s home.

    three siblings, torn apart by life and each other. three siblings, torn apart.
    but for a month, for one break, they existed in a rare form of harmony.

    i believe in these three siblings and in their potential to become more than their past has turned them into today.

  4. The kids today are lazy and jaded.
    They watch too much tv, have horrible taste in music,
    and play too many video games.
    They do not understand the value of even the basic education they are getting.
    Kids today are heading down a bad road.

    They whine and complain when they have more than even we ever did.
    They are not aware and do not care about the world's problems.

    This and more is what we often hear not always of ourselves,
    but of the generation after us.
    Perhaps we're the ones saying these things about them.

    'The kids today' includes at least one boy, who helps
    to support his family while going to school
    Hanging with friends
    Playing soccer on the varsity team
    Picking up his mother from work,
    And helping to make sure that his family's world keeps turning.

    He pays for many things we say 'kids these days' expect without thought to the price,
    with money from the job he works more hours than he spends with friends.

    He is not flawless, and often does want things
    which are beyond the reach of monetary possibility at the moment.
    But he knows not to expect these things of the people in his life.
    He works hard for everything he has.

    He is seventeen years old. Definitely one of those ungrateful kids.
    But he is also proof that the way we talk about 'those kids'
    puts them into categories which do not allow us to see the amazing exceptions
    to the stereotypes we've created for them.

    Maybe the kids today are just living in a different world.
    Maybe they are fifteen
    and seventeen
    In an environment that is beyond our grasp from that perspective.

    Maybe we should remember that they're people.

    Probably people who're overwhelmed,
    just like the boy who sometimes has to walk home from work because someone else needed the car
    In the middle of his shift.

    I believe in my brother.

  5. I believe in travel

    Half-way through my father’s stay, my husband posted a status update on facebook: “Just sent my father-in-law, visiting from Bulgaria, on a 13-hour Greyhound journey to St. Louis. Beginning to feel uneasy about this arrangement.” Though he prides himself on postings that are funny or, preferably, absurd, his humorous status update barely veiled his uneasiness. We had spent hours trying to persuade my father to fly. We offered to purchase his ticket and drive him to the airport, but he would not budge. He seemed committed to spending 13 hours on Greyhound buses, to stopping in places with no tourist appeal: bus stations that extend little kindness to travelers whose English is weak.

    My father boarded his first Greyhound bus on a steamy morning in June. He had packed two butter-and-salami sandwiches made with rye bread: the closest locally available approximation to the coarse-grain bread he eats in Bulgaria. He had folded a dark-brown cardigan and a pair of wool socks next to his sandwiches. Because I grew up with a grandmother who believed that open-window drafts caused sickness, I was kind to my father’s packing ideas.

    Upon his return, my father told me these stories:

    Taking the only empty seat available on the first bus, my father sat in the back row, between a bathroom and a mother with two sleeping children. He talked with the kids when they woke up, asking their names (he did not think it was appropriate to ask the mother her name): Melissa was 18 months, Annie, his informant, almost 4. Soon, they all fell asleep.

    Upon arriving in Cincinnati, the driver told my father that he should board the bus to Dayton at Gate 5. Expecting the bus to fill again, my father went to Gate 5 right away. He noticed Melissa and Annie outside with their mother; she was smoking. When they came in some time later, my father informed the line behind him that “We traveling together” and invited them to stand with him. He said goodbye to them in Dayton as they boarded a Greyhound bus to Detroit, a city he had read about. He ate both his sandwiches for lunch.

    In Indianapolis my father purchased a hotdog and a medium coke with a straw: an American meal that cost him $4. He asked the vendor if he made coffee and had his only disappointment on this trip: the soft-faced young man did not sell coffee. Though my father suspected the man was gay, he was nice to him.

    One hour into the final leg of his journey, my father got cold and put on his cardigan and wool socks. Fourteen hours after leaving Lexington’s Greyhound station, he saw the “Gateway to the West,” illuminated in the darkness. It was just as he knew it from the novels he had read: beckoning with promises of hidden wonders. Though he felt the coming of a cold (he was convinced it was the air-conditioning, stronger than his Bulgarian cardigan, which made him sick), he knew he was lucky: he had ventured West and had reached safety through his own ingenuity.

    My father believes in Greyhound and the magic of long journeys. Like him, I believe in travel.

  6. Laura could climb all sixteen steps from the ground to the deck of my cousin’s tree house in less than two seconds. She was fast and unencumbered by long hair with the glossy sheen promised by television commercials that featured well-groomed dogs eating as if they had been starving for weeks. Though faster than me, Laura lay still next to us—my brother, my cousin, and myself—as I learned to flex the muscles that rose from spindly 8-year old arms under the roof my cousin had made from recycled plywood, peppered with small holes like the night sky.

    8 years later I squeezed into another tree house: a mildew-scented secret lair that held Jed’s antique collection of adult magazines. Handmade, floral-pattern curtains moved little in still air and scattered piles of used crayons were brushed aside for the stained cardboard box marked “do not open” in large letters, letters scrawled by a man with poor vision, now dead.

    Years later I climbed into a room built from donated scraps of lumber near the top of an 80-foot-tall white oak tree. I had walked through 16 bedrooms, a dining area, a basketball court, and a chapel as I ascended into the canopy of a forest: ten stories of staircases colliding with the sun. Erected with divine commitment, the tree house held the vision of Minister Horace Burgess and a spoken promise that he would never run out of lumber, a promise he received from God.

    Though made invisible by a mirrored skin reflecting the sky, Howard Finster’s tree house perches atop four truncated trees, 6 feet from the ground. Surrounded by two acres of polychromed remnants of the man’s dreams to create a museum with “one of everything ever invented,” the interior of this tree house is quiet.

    Thirty years after flexing my muscles beneath a dripping, plywood roof, I own a home with insulation, electricity, plumbing, and bills. Now more than ever, I believe in tree houses.

  7. Maroon Pieces of Plastic

    Shwoop, and the red laser light scans over Sam’s face.

    “See, when I scan you, nothing comes up on the computer screen. Now, let me see that library card you just signed.”

    Sam, standing on his little tippy-toes and grinning in his mischievous way, hands me his card with a 5-year-old’s pride. Quickly scanning the barcode, I spin the computer around and point at the Patron Name section of the check-out work form. “What’s that say?”

    “SAM! That’s my name! Mom, Jack—look it’s my name!” After letting Jack, the older brother have his turn to see his name on the computer, I get back to the question at hand.

    “Today is a very important day. Today, for the first time, you’ve gotten your Very Own Library Card. And when you wrote your name on the card, and on this piece of paper, you agreed to take very good care of the books you check out, so you can bring them back and share them with other kids. That’s what the library is all about—sharing and caring.”

    A library card.

    Your all access pass to walk through the magic door, or little door as some parents call it, into a place full of stories. Stories that can take you any place in the world, or even past the world as we know it. Stories that are a magic time machine. Non-fiction that can answer the questions you hadn’t even thought of yet. Novels that help you make sense of your own life, your story.


    Trust, a human connection between me and you, when I welcome you into a community—a larger world—of readers. Trust, the belief in the basic good of people. Trust, hope that you will bring our books—the beings that librarians cherish more than anything in the world—back to us, and that you’ll have taken the care with them we would have. Joy and beauty, and all the good things in the world come with this library card.

    Best part of my job, hands down (even better than reading stories to small children): signing families up for library cards.

    I believe in sharing and caring.

  8. I believe in failure. “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” as the saying goes. For a person that is more adept at failing than succeeding that should make me pretty strong. From physical failure to mental failure, this lump of suck has seen quite a bit. I’ve failed others, my morals, and myself on occasion. This was mainly during my youth, of course, but if it weren’t for those failures, would I even be the same person I am today? This, of course, could be a good or bad thing…I consider it to be a good thing. In fact, I believe that it is failure that helps shape a person’s life and not what accomplishments he/she has attained. Failure is one factor that helps change our personalities from perhaps a destructive or crass one to something mature and experienced; I think my own changes in personality can help attest to this.
    Through reflection, I’ve seen the many problems that I had were the direct result of my ability to be a loser (it should be noted that I HAVE won before; I may say that I fail quite a bit, but that doesn’t make me a sob story.) Even now, my short attention span gets me into positions that I’d rather not be in. With all this, though, I’ve got to look at how I treat people now as compared to then. I see where before I was very rude, loud, and rather obnoxious has given way to a quieter, calmer person…nothing like Mr. Anger Management that used to be my persona. I simply stopped being “that guy” as people like to put it. Of course this shift of personality also brought insecurities such as “I look like a thug; I hope people don’t think of me in that light” etc. etc. Even with these new problems, I prefer this personality to the old me; the insensitive guy that held no reverence for much of anything.

    Everybody loves a winner and losing is a harsh experience for all. I don’t like to lose…I consider myself to be very competitive. Winning is great, but failure and simply losing can offer so much more for the body and mind; without losing, would I have the friends I have now? Who’s to say that I would be in this university if it weren’t for my changes caused by losing? I do not know for certain but I like to believe that I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my grand losing capabilities. Failure is a constructive result…without it, the world would be a place for winners which may sound great but imagine how arrogant and pompous everyone would be!

  9. Paul, I really like your reflection: subtle, sensual, poetic.

  10. Clay, the reflections that you write out of your life in Ashland are absolutely beautiful. I hope you are aware of that, of how much where you come from means to you, even if it's a dying town.

  11. April, you know we all love this reflection. It is playful and serious at the same time, and so true (I imagine) to what happens in public libraries around the country. Again, I wish that you could share it with more people. Perhaps you could send it to the people at the library where you work? Or somehow use it in one of your education classes (not sure just how)... Great job!

  12. Katie, yours is a powerful hope. I imagine you are talking about your own siblings, your own past, your own ability to become someone different. Have you thought about sharing this reflections with your brother and sister? Though it might seem awkward to send them emotions that are this visible, you never know what conversations this might begin...

  13. Paul, your essay illustrates the issues that I find with this format:

    I think I would rather hear you read this than read it myself (I know you read well and hope you will join us at the This I Believe reading event this year)


    I wish you could have the formatting freedom that would be allowed by Word, that your words were not visually confined to the format of blogspot (for this purpose, I hope you consider submitting this to the Transylvanian)

  14. Clay, the rhythms of this essay are great. I wonder if you have thought to tailor rhythms in an essay like this to the the rhythms of skating, of kicking against the pavement, of passing back and forth across ultra-fine, super-smooth concrete?

    i wonder if you thought about changing "countless times" to "many times" so the paired opening sentences found closure with paired closing sentences, all four of them surrounding a series of one-time events?

  15. Katie, your indirect (and relatively direct) statements about the indivisibility of siblings are powerful. I appreciate the idea of "one-on-one and one-on-one-on-one conversations."

  16. Blair, I hope you give this to your brother. Kremena asked me to give a similar reflection to my sister and it was among the best things I have done for her in years.

    I hope, too, that you consider writing "who are" because the contraction you have created (who're) is unfortunate for a few reasons and this kind of essay does not need to be confused with issues that fall so far outside the sentiments you are sharing.

  17. Cody, your final paragraph says, "Failure is a constructive result…," and I think (hope) you meant to say that failure can yield constructive results.

    If this is what you meant, I agree and know this can be true.

    I also know that language is powerful, that you should not define yourself as a failure or the product of failure. There is a lot of room between "failure" and "winners."

    If you are not comfortable defining another person as a failure (or the product of failures), then you should not define yourself that way either. Somehow I do not imagine you could define another person in that way.