Wednesday, February 20, 2013

To Keep Me Humble

As far back as I can remember, I have always loved words.  One of my favorite subjects from all of my years of school was a Middle School textbook series known as "Wordly Wise", in which vocabulary words were presented, complete with information on the word's etymology and roots.  Many of my peers hated "Wordly Wise", but I devoured each lesson.  I looked forward to each new set of words--more arrows for the quiver!  I was quick to try out my newly-gained vocabulary, both in writing and in conversation, and relished the compliments that I would receive.

This love for words and for writing grew throughout high school and college.  I learned that I could skillfully inform, persuade, or entertain, all depending on just how I phrased an idea.  I must admit that as time went on, it became ever the more difficult to be grateful to God for my gift.  I began to think of my word-smithery as something intrinsic to me, and me alone.  Why share the credit?

Perhaps this is part of the reason why God has called me to a setting where, outside of my job, my skill in the English language is meaningless.  When I say meaningless, I don't mean to belittle the gift; simply, I mean that I can go to City Hall and speak in my most eloquent English, and not only will it fail to impress the city employees, it will have little to no meaning to them.  My rhetorical abilities in English, which I'd taken for granted as a natural advantage for me for so long, suddenly seem less impressive... less worth becoming arrogant over.  Instead, I am brought back to the basics of learning elementary grammar and vocabulary in a language that poses a genuine challenge to me.  I must be content with making mistakes, with saying things the wrong way, with mixing up my vocab words, with sounding slow and inarticulate.

It is not through some internal, innate awesomeness that I make gradual progress in learning the Japanese language, but through God's grace.  Really, learning my native tongue was no different, though I was too young at the time to remember: I made many mistakes in the process of learning English, too, and it was by God's grace that I grew and gained fluency.  All of my skill with words belongs to God and not to me, and I must give it all back to Him.  Likewise, I can do no better than to lay my current language training at His feet.  Learning humility is not easy, but I suspect that it is necessary in order to grow and thrive.  May God's grace overwhelm my tongue and my mind as I struggle to learn Japanese and to accept my own lack of grace and elegance.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Longing for the stage

Yesterday and today, I had the opportunity to watch CAJ's Valentine's Day musical revue twice.  While not a traditional production, it was a delightful pastiche of Bernstein (or Bernstein-esque) songs which showcased the considerable vocal talent of the students (and instrumental talent of the jazz band, who accompanied in the pit).  Clocking in at just under an hour, it was a fun show to watch and listen to.

Watching the show made me realize just how much I miss the stage.  Participating in plays and musicals was a big part of my life during my high school years and though I had the opportunity to continue to pursue some of my other interests all the way through college (journalism and singing, for example), my official acting career ended when high school did.

Not that I actually had much of a career--I was quite self-conscious when I was in high school, and although I got more comfortable in my own skin as I got older, I never matured to the point where I felt at ease on the stage.  Among friends, I was a decent actor, constantly doing impressions, impersonations, accents and in general speaking in an exaggerated theatrical way to try and entertain.  However, on stage, I could never be fully in the moment or in character as part of my brain was always stuck in "Nate mode", worrying about how I looked, or worrying about what one certain girl or another might think of me.  Comedian Patton Oswalt once wisely said that true wit cannot have an agenda, and indeed with my concern about how others (and particularly, girls) might perceive me up on the stage, all my wit, charm and ease of performance evaporated, leaving a gangly youth with an at-best mechanical sense of stage blocking.
I can't believe it's been 10 years...

My biggest acting role came in Spring of my Junior year as a member of the barbershop quartet in "The Music Man".  For being four high school guys, we didn't do half bad, and in the process, we learned a ton about singing in a small ensemble.  Particularly, the experience taught me the value of using my ear as much as my voice while I sing, a skill that I continued to develop through my college years and am tremendously grateful for today.

However, that aside, I tended to be cast in bit parts or chorus roles.  I was awkward in auditions, and also awkward in the minor roles I was given.

It's 2013 now; 10 years since my role in "The Music Man" and 9 years since my last role as a Bow Street Runner in "Oliver!".  In that intervening decade, I've grown up.  I know who I am, and I'm now comfortable in my skin.  I've survived those first key years of being a classroom teacher in which self-consciousness is fried out of a person much in the way that grease is fried out of ground beef.  I've acted in nearly 30 student video projects in the time that I've been at CAJ.  I even teach a little bit of acting in my Junior classes, particularly as we go through Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" and I've heard students remark several times that I must have been a great actor in high school.  Maybe it's for the best that I was a late-bloomer, and maybe this will help me to recognize potential in my own students who are, as I was, a bit awkward and self-conscious and help me to better encourage them.

At any rate, watching the show yesterday and today made me wish I could have another crack at acting.  Sadly, there's not much opportunity, aside from singing the occasional solo from Les Miserables to my students (I'm not kidding... I have actually done this).  The tragedy of being a late-bloomer, I suppose.