April 1, 2020
Since my mother’s death 10 years ago, she has come to me in the form of a bird. Sitting on my balcony railing or on a power wire outside my office window or through moments I spend outside in other regions of the world. I buy birds in most of my work locations and bought this toucan (see picture below) in Brazil just this past month before I headed home to shelter in place in California. My birds are on my shelves, near my front door framing a mirror, in postcards tacked to my refrigerator, and on my office desk – all of them reminding me of my mother. They help me stay centered. Comforted.
My mother took me to New York City when I was 20 years old. It was a trip to see Broadway shows before I left to spend my semester abroad in Florence, Italy. I still can’t believe I just got into a cab at 20 years of age and went to JFK headed for Italy to study Italian, sans a ‘university group,’ but as a solo student, to learn with the Center for Foreign Students at the University of Florence. I spent my 21st birthday in Florence and with that experience (and all the romantic adventures I had with fabulous Europeans 🙂 ) my love of travel began.
My last night in New York, Mom and went to see Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. It was January 1988. We had front row seats. I listened to the stories of fairy tale characters – Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk, the Baker and his Wife, the Witch and Rapunzel, Cinderella and the Prince – and I was mesmerized. From my seat so close up, I saw the actors’ sweat and spit. It was glorious. And then, the next day, I left for my experience of ‘Into the Woods’ – my junior year abroad.
The show starts off funny and charming, and by the second act, when so much despair and sadness rain down on the village, it gets deep and dark. And as fairy tales continue to be, it is remarkable mirror into today’s world. There are SO SO many metaphors I could go into, and if you are up for a discussion, find me – we can drink Negronis virtually and discuss the comparisons…or if you want to really cry, we can sing “Children Will Listen” together. Oy.
Suffice it to say that Sondheim’s work is always on point. The idea of going into the woods – of wolves and giants – and destruction and grief feels sadly, mightily relatable at this time.
As the prologue says –
You go into the woods,
Where nothing’s clear,
Where witches, ghosts
And wolves appear.
Into the woods
And through the fear,
You have to take the journey.
That’s where we are with this pandemic. Uncertainty. No script. No narrator. No prince. No playbook.
AND, there is more to all of this beyond witches and gloom and last midnights and despair. I know that I have been reminded I might wear rose-colored glasses too often, but heck, that’s me and I truly believe there is more to all of this beyond witches and gloom and last midnights and despair.
Let it be remembered in the show there are also old men who bring messages of hope and princesses who help when things go awry and those in the village who assist during the troubling time AND (wait for it) there are birds!!! They help Cinderella get all the grains into the bowl so she can go to the ball in Act 1, and they help out at the end of Act 2 to poke out the Giant Woman’s eyes. Birds save the day.
So imagine I am singing to you from the song, No One Is Alone…
Hard to see the light now.
Just don’t let it go
Things will come out right now.
We can make it so.
Someone is on your side.
If I can, (from my apartment,) help you in any way, please let me know. Find me and we can look at my bird collection. We are deep in the woods on this one AND please know you are not alone.
If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at Jennifer@jenniferabrams.com. I look forward to hearing from you!
A poem for times like these by Maya Angelou, A Brave and Startling Truth, which can be found on Maria Popova’s fabulous weekly ‘newsletter,’ Brain Pickings. As Maria writes, “Brain Pickings has a free Sunday digest of the week’s most interesting and inspiring articles across art, science, philosophy, creativity, children’s books, and other strands of our search for truth, beauty, and meaning.” Subscribe here.
SO soothing. Watch an elephant at a watering hole in Africa or fish swimming by a coral reef or eagles nesting – beyond calming – the list of video feeds is curated by Wilderness Travel, a travel company I have journeyed with before – Nature Cams to Watch Right Now. And Explore.org has great video feeds too!
And, I could actually focus and read this book of fiction, The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre! It was fun and distracting and smart. From the back cover – “Meet Patience Portefeux, an underpaid fifty-three-year-old Franco-Arab interpreter for the Ministry of Justice who specializes in phone tapping. Widowed after the sudden death of her husband, Patience is now wedged between university fees for her daughters and nursing home costs for her mother. When she happens upon an especially revealing set of police wiretaps ahead of all other authorities, Patience makes a life-altering decision that sets her on an entirely new, illicit career path and sees her become The Godmother.”
To continue to grow myself and build up my bandwidth to be of use, I joined the group, Warriors for the Human Spirit. I mentioned them a few months ago. The group is not meeting in Amsterdam as previously planned and has decided to go online for 2020. Meg mentioned in her email to us that “we have kept registrations open, so if you know people who are now eager to join, they should go immediately to our website.” If you were interested earlier but not able to travel to the retreat, now it will be done while you shelter in place. Check it out if you are interested.
About Jennifer Abrams
Jennifer Abrams considers herself a "voice coach," helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague and supervising an employee. Jennifer holds a Master's degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor's degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Jennifer's latest book is Swimming in the Deep End: Four Foundational Skills for Leading Successful School Initiatives. Her previous publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicating, Collaborating & Creating Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked – the Whos, the Whens and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course by the same name.
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Praise for Jennifer
A thousand things are unspoken, implicit, buried in our educational lives. The invisibility of issues enforces the ineffective status quo. Change–personal, educational, institutional–requires that we speak OUT LOUD about what we know and believe. Jennifer Abrams brings decades of experience and years of training across the world to this usually overlooked essential act of finding our effective voice about what matters around learning.