Somber yet Uplifting, Rewarding yet Frustrating

In the past five years, I have never missed blogging before my final exams. I believe it’s a time of year where it is especially important to take time to reflect, and as easy as it would be to ignore blogging and keep cramming for my exam tomorrow, it’s probably about time I found my way back to The Life of Pinya.

Finals week is never smooth sailing, but this past week has been particularly rough with a whirlwind of emotions.

A week ago today my uncle passed away. Technically he was my great great uncle, but with the way generations work out in my family, everyone just called him Uncle Early. I’m honestly still a bit in disbelief that he passed, even just writing this paragraph in the past tense is kind of surreal. It was a shock to everyone. He was only in his mid-70s and in good health. Just a few weeks ago he was crushing it on the dance floor at his daughter’s wedding and every year he’d still challenge me to a fried chicken eating contest at our family reunion. Then two weeks ago he had a stroke.

He has to have immediate brain surgery, but things were still looking good. He was recovering so well; the last time I went into the hospital his temperature had just come back to normal, the nurses completely took him off of one of the painkillers, and he got rid of the case of strep he caught. Then they found something else in his brain. To be honest, I still am not clear on the details, but he died later that night while I was at the gym coaching.

My Uncle Early was a great man. Perhaps he had a bit of a cynical humor from time to time, like when he called a baby a “chubby little porker,” but he was good-hearted and everyone always admired how he brought people together. As one of my relatives put it, our family is comprised of a lot of halves and quarters and all sorts of combinations, and Uncle Early was one of those people who connects everyone. At his memorial service this past weekend, one of his daughters told us how on the notes in his phone was a list of all the Christmas presents he was going to buy for the people in the apartment in NYC he and his wife lived at once a month and another list of plans for their next family vacation for Summer 2019. It really made me realize just how much he was constantly thinking ahead and thinking of others.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see Uncle Early all that often despite the fact that we were in the same city. We mostly talked at our annual family reunion and the occasional family gathering for birthdays and weddings. Two summers ago my grandma and I also got to spend a week with him and his immediate family at a villa in Italy which was an amazing time. I think his passing made a lot of my family realize how silly it is that we don’t stay better in touch, and now more than ever it’s important to actively work to be together with our main connector gone.

And while you may think that having a family member pass away in the middle of final exams is already emotionally draining, my week only continued to get mind-boggling. On top of my uncle passing away and all of our family coming in town, we also had our first gymnastics meet of the season this past weekend. Thus I spent a good portion of the week in the gym for extra last-minute practices trying to get all of our girls prepared for the meet and the gym ready for us to host. And this only became more challenging once it was official that my uncle’s memorial service would be held in the middle of the time our meet was scheduled for. My mom, sister, and I were all supposed to be working at all three sessions Sunday, and thus when the memorial was planned we then had an extra stressor of trying to figure out how we would cover all three of us not being at the meet – there were a lot of phone calls to old coaches and having to explain to our girls why they would have to have a coach they hardly work with at their first meet.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed to not be able to be at the meet. It’s my first year being an official team coach in terms of actually having a set schedule where I’m the main coach for our youngest girls, so I was kind of looking forward to seeing them compete. Plus I felt bad for them because a competition is already so nerve-racking and I can only imagine what it would be like to then not have your main coach there with you. Not to mention it was the very first gym meet ever for most of my girls as they are on our lowest level of team so they’re mostly newbies to the competition world. I’m proud to say that from what I’ve heard they all had a pretty solid first meet, though a part of me still wishes I could have been there.

I was back at the meet though right after the service because to add another level to this past weekend, not only was I scheduled to coach, I was also scheduled to perform at the meet with my acro partner. While some may say they couldn’t even imagine performing after a memorial service, I’m a big believer in the saying, “The show must go on,” and it was making me more anxious and harder to contain emotions to even think about not performing when I knew I could make it work.

Despite what her mom may have said, I couldn’t bear to think about letting my partner down by not performing because acro isn’t the kind of thing someone can just come in to “fill in” for – if one partner is out, then no one performs. Plus we were both so excited though to show off our new skills and the fact that we finally got everything needed to be an official level 8 pair! (Well officially level 8 besides my tumbling which was a whole other stressor this past week of trying to work past my fear of back tucks while also dealing with my hurt wrists preventing me from other options…) Not to mention, I’m studying abroad over the summer and will miss our in-house meet in the spring, so I’m really not sure when our next performance will be which made me especially upset about potentially missing this showcase.

And I think it’s what my uncle would’ve wanted as well. I mean even his own service ended with a party in his honor because that’s the kind of person he was – someone who loved to bring people together for a good time. So my mom braided my hair in the bathroom after the service and I got in an uber and rushed back to the gym. My partner and I had not had the greatest of practices leading up to the meet, and to be honest for one of our routines we had only ever done it successfully with all of the skills once before the show. So besides all the other emotions, I was not in my most calm state rushing into the gym for a quick warm up before performing.

Somehow, thankfully, our performance actually went as good as we could’ve expected! My tumbling was awful, but we made every skill which for this point in the season is good enough for me!

Then Monday came and the whole “it’s the middle of finals week” officially hit me… Between coaching, spending time with family, seeing shows (like my high school director’s annual one-man version of A Christmas Carol, which I hope to never miss, and Elf the Musical – both full of great and much needed holiday spirit), and just trying to stay calm, it was maybe too easy to procrastinate school work…

So now these past few days I’ve been working hard finishing projects, portfolios, and taking tests all the while studying for my one in person exam tomorrow morning before I’m finally done with the semester.

I know I’m a compartmentalizer when it comes to emotions, which is probably evident even in this post, and honestly, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through this week if I wasn’t. But that’s also part of why I thought it was especially important for me to blog tonight. It’s often when we feel we have the least amount of time and/or desire to take a moment to reflect that we need to the most.

I don’t have a problem with talking to people about personal things, but it’s been exactly for that reason that instead, this has been one of those weeks where I just kind of avoided people. I knew I would naturally share with people the chaos of this week, but I wasn’t really in the mood to repeat the story so many times with each new person I ran into. That’s a bit too emotionally draining even for this compartmentalizer. The follow-up comments are just… awkward … There’s no better way to describe it personally. It’s a conversation no one knows how to have or continue or what to say or what not to say. I guess that’s just another reason it’s nice to blog- it’s a way to think without stress or interruption and get it all out there at once, not for the sake of sharing or for the desire of a response, but for the purpose of trying to help take it all in.

This week has seen it all. It’s been somber yet uplifting, rewarding yet frustrating, and a whole mix of other things I’ve yet to fully process, but I think writing some of it down might have helped a little at least to get out of my head and start to piece together just everything that happened this weekend. It’s had a bit of a sleepwalking-like feel which I’m not sure I’ve even quite shaken off yet, but “The show must go on.”

And with that, as the tradition goes:

A merry finals to all,

And to all crammers,

Good luck and good night.

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Hamlet Then and Now

I love when I get the chance to see how much I’ve learned over time.

Freshman year of high school I read Hamlet for English class. In fact, part of how I ended up blogging was due to the fact that our homework for this class included creating a blog to post about scenes in Hamlet.

Now five years later, my coursework for my college English class is again to read Hamlet. It’s crazy to think it’s been five years already… In that time I also performed a fifteen-minute version of Hamlet for a one-act play competition and have read and seen much more Shakespeare in general. Needless to say, I’m much more confident in my reading comprehension in terms of Shakespeare. I also didn’t realize until this class just how much experience I’ve had with interpreting Shakespeare between reading, performing, and spectating shows over the years compared to most students. There are around nine shows I consider myself fairly familiar to extremely familiar with, which is still only a handful of his works, but most of my class only knows one or so shows and only kind of sort of at that.

I’ve only read Act 1 of Hamlet so far this time around but it’s kind of cool to get to reread something you read so long ago and notice how much easier it is to interpret what is going on. I also extremely enjoyed rereading my blog posts about Act 1 from my original blog. Honestly, I surprised myself by actually being intrigued by some of my thoughts as a freshman reading Hamlet; though I also did a great deal of laughing especially with how in these old posts I didn’t specify prompts, thus some of the posts when I speak as if I’m a character in the play sound quite odd in context.

I’m excited to continue reading and reflecting on Hamlet and my old blog posts about Hamlet because it’s really cool to literally be able to see change over time as I also have to post in my current class’ online forum. I so often find myself grateful for the Hamlet blogging assignment I was given so many years ago. A blog truly is a great way to capture and share learning progress.

Off Again

It’s that time a year where people start going back to school, or off to a new school for those college freshmen out there. I still have another week before I start school, but several of my friends are starting to move back in already this weekend.

It’s hard to say goodbye again each year. One of the best parts of this summer has been reconnecting with old friends that I’ve not really gotten to see over the past year. Next year is going to be especially weird because now I also have friends who are studying abroad this semester. Some of my high school friends and I went to the lake this week as a last hurrah before we all go off to school again, and specifically before one of my best friends, who also goes to college with me, goes off to France for the fall. It’s crazy to think that it’s the longest I won’t see her since the 6th grade; as we all joke, “Who’s room will we have last minute study parties in?!?” (That may or may not have been a thing before every physics test we took last semester…)

At the same time, it’s been so odd to see my friends who are rising freshman starting to go off to college. I went to see the final performance of the 2 day Drama Bootcamp that MVPS hosted and I got the chance to see a lot of my younger friends, including a few who are recent grads themselves. Seeing the kids I remember as middle schoolers who we would pull into high school shows occasionally now as juniors and leaders in the theater troupe is kind of insane. Not to mention, see the recent grads was kind of a reminder that I’m now a sophomore. A whole year of college has gone by already, and now there are all sorts of new challenges ahead with year two. Starting off with living in an apartment instead of a dorm…

It was kind of a wake-up call these past few days of realizing that I have to be ready to move in next week and yet I’m nowhere near ready. Besides my mess of a room, I still have to try and change my schedule and get together with my roommates to figure out stuff for our apartment. It’s time to head off again and I’m curious for all the new challenges of another year in college.

Every year, no matter how old we get, presents new challenges and it’s good to remember to take time to consider how you will prepare for them. My first big challenge is move in and thus I’m off to clean my room and pack now.

Honor the Rest

I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve been told, “Honor the rest,” on one hand. The first time I heard this was in band because there are times when the music calls for a rest or even just a breath mark is included, and if it is included, it’s there for a reason. The composer took the time to write that pause into the music and it needs to be acknowledged for its entire amount of time. If you skip the rest or don’t hold it for the right amount of time, it can completely change the song.

I’ve heard this again in theater. There are moments when it may be written or it may not be written in the script to pause for a moment, and it’s important to not just skip over that moment. A lot can be said in the silence. The pause provides emphasis. It draws attention to the bigger moment happening around the pause.

Even when working within the Innovation Diploma we would talk about pauses and silences. Whether we were giving a large presentation or just interviewing someone, we would often say, “Don’t be afraid of silence.” Sometimes we need a minute to think or to let an idea sink in, but if we try to fill the space up instead of letting it be, then the moment becomes washed over and cluttered and lost.

All of these activities are connected by the fact that they are modes of storytelling. Music, theater, presentations, interviews; there are all sorts of different stories being told within these arts.

I believe books can also share in this art of honoring the rest. I find that it’s natural to read a book and feel all the little moments happening. The moments where you catch yourself holding your breath because you’re in such shock, or you don’t know what will happen next, or you’re so excited you just don’t how to react.

Really I believe any art form values the ideology of honoring the rest. However, I think some storytellers do a better job at this than others and it makes a big difference.

For example, I often struggle with watching movies that are adapted from books because I don’t think they honor the rests and pauses built into a story nearly as well as the story did in book form. It’s hard to take a 500 some page story and tell it all in two hours. Things have to be cut, and often an easy way to shave off time is to cut the little moments; the pauses, breaths, and rests. It’s unfortunate though because those moments add so much to the story in terms of character development and how characters interact with each other.

The rests matter. They should be respected. Movies based on books can still be good at times, but it’s always unfortunate to watch those quiet moments skipped over.

Tired of Magicians

I’ve found that as I get older I discover random strong opinions that I didn’t realize were developing over the years. For example, I don’t like magicians.

Today we saw an illusionist’ magic show off-Broadway and as we watched I realized how bored I was, which made me realize how I always get bored at magic shows. It’s kind of unfortunate because I’m impressed to some degree by what magicians do and the time and effort it takes to get good at what they do; however, something about knowing that it’s really all a bunch of logic and mind tricks makes not enjoy the tricks much. I spend more time trying to figure out tricks then I care about the coolness of the tricks; then I get bored.

Honestly, I’d rather a show of someone showing me how they came up with weird illusions because we all know it’s fake anyway and it would be far more impressive in my mind to see the trick and then know how it works. I mean I’ve always thought it would be fun to be around while magicians help make theater and movie tech become really epic; that’s probably the best job a magician could have in my opinion but it involves sharing the secretes to tricks.

I realized also that I’ve been to a lot of professional magic shows which I didn’t think was abnormal until today when I stopped to think about it. Perhaps if I had seen less magic shows in my life I would find them more engaging because they would have more of a unique quality to them.

It’s an odd thing to have such a strong opinion on, but despite not liking magicians, I’m at least grateful for tonight’s illusionist amusing me with myself and my new self-discovery. Learn something new every day, and sometimes it’s about yourself.

A Story Retold

I’ve been wanting to see Come From Away for months, and in a last minute decision my aunt and I decided to go see it tonight- it was incredible!!!

 Come From Away is great in the way that it’s based on true stories that I never would’ve thought about: What happened to all the passengers on flights that weren’t allowed to enter the US after the terrorist attack on 9/11?

The city of Gander in Newfoundland was turned upside down when 38 international planes carrying 7,000 people from around the globe were all forced to land on the tiny island while the United States closed its airspace for five days. These strangers spoke different languages, practised different religions, and ate different foods, and yet this small town took in everyone providing them with food, shelter, and a change of clothes. Together they created a community all their own that transcended the differences.

Schools became shelters. A mascot costume and some balloon animals became Disney World. Grills were collected for a giant barbeque. A chimpanzee had a miscarriage. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to have your town’s population double in size in a mear few hours, but somehow the people of Gander provided everyone with everything they needed free of charge. Their response was just, “You would do the same for us.”

It’s amazing the kindness that can come out of people when it’s really needed most.

I love how theatre can introduce you to stories and perspectives you may normally miss upon first glance thinking about a situation. There are so many amazing stories out in the world that sadly go unshared, so it’s nice to see a true story re-told every now and then.

In On the Joke

I once had an English teacher who told my class on the very first day, “The real reason that we read, and especially the reason we read old literature, is really just so that we can feel smart when we understand references at a cocktail party or other conversations.”

At first, we were all shocked that our English teacher wasn’t trying to give us some long speech about how brilliant old writers were and how we need to read them to understand our history and how it affects our future, yatta yatta, etcetera etcetera. After a moment though, and especially now that I look back on this statement, I have come to realize just how true it is. The best part of reading is feeling “in on the joke” when some obscure reference is made. And I noticed this especially true in terms of me spending time taking Latin as my foreign language.

Let’s be real, we all know few people in the world even speak Latin at this point, but the reason I took it is because it’s all about stories. All the myths and histories wrapped up and mixed into one. When we were in class we would be translating actual novels and texts from ancient times that get referenced all the time in modern literature. I find myself being more appreciative of this middle school decision of mine all the time.

Tonight was a great example of feeling “in on the joke” when I saw the new musical “Head Over Heels.” I’m having a hard time finding the right words to describe the show, so I think I’m just going to use the description provided online. (Which was all I knew about the show going into it because it’s still in previews, therefore, no reporters can comment yet.) :

“An inspired mash-up of posh and punk, Head Over Heels is an Elizabethan romp about a royal family that must prevent an oracle’s prophecy of doom. 

To save their kingdom, the family embarks on a journey where they are faced with mistaken identities, love triangles, sexual awakening and self-discovery.

Set to the iconic pop music of The Go-Go’sHead Over Heels delivers an experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen.” – tdf description 

The show was hilarious in itself, but I feel like I was really able to appreciate it that much more because I felt “in the know” when it came to certain references due to my background taking Latin. Now while I know I was never all that great at Latin, I did stick with it all through middle and high school and thus was quite amused with myself this evening for being able to pick up on the references in the show made to ancient works/general themes you just find funny for some reason after talking about them for years.

I just love witty writing and this show had a ton of that on top of the twists turns and dramatic gestures that come along with giving an ode to the olden times.

This whole post was a lot more fluent in my head while still at the theater, but I suppose everything is as it should be because I clearly saw a good show based on how my mind is now blown and dead with thoughts and challenges spirally around inside not knowing how to manifest themselves into coherency just yet.

Safe to Challenge

There’s only so much that can be covered up with flashy lights and crazy tricks. Performers are storytellers and sometimes the artist can only take the story so far; at the end of the day, you also need to have a good story for the performance to truly be worthwhile.

Broadway right now has a lot of flashy shows with big fan followings and it just seems odd and almost a little sad to me. I want more original stories. Don’t get me wrong I saw Frozen in theaters 3 times and thought the musical version was a pretty good adaptation, and I’m still wanting really badly to see Mean Girls the Musical; however, I miss being surprised by a totally original story. No gimmicks, just good old fashion storytelling.

Today I saw SpongeBob the Musical, and somewhat to my expectation, it was a bit too gimmicky for me. The cast had some really impressive actors and vocalist who I appreciated very much for their efforts, but unfortunately, I don’t think the storyline did their talents justice. The set and costumes were also very intricate and fascinating to see, and I feel like I’d almost suggest seeing the show just for the sake of experiencing everything technical that somehow get’s pulled off. At the end of the day though, I just really wish there could have been more substance to the show. It was pretty one level the whole time and I didn’t find myself connecting to the characters or story, which you don’t always notice during the show with everything going on, but afterwards your like “eh,” and that’s never a great way to feel at the end of a performance.

I’m excited to see more shows that I don’t know that much about later this week and then when I’m back in town two weeks from now. I really appreciate how fortunate I am to get to see so many shows. I know I can be a little judgy sometimes when it comes to theater productions, especially with so much of my family being in this business, but it’s just because I value the art of storytelling and feel the need to give my honest opinions on the shows I see.

I was having a conversation with one of my aunts the other day about how someone tried saying, “Isn’t the theater suppose to be a safe place?” In actuality, though it’s almost the exact opposite. Theater that doesn’t challenge ideas, beliefs, and/or opinions is typically the boring kind. The theater is all about making big and bold statements that make you think and question; safe statements don’t tend to leave you thinking or questioning your core values. Theater is “safe to challenge,” it’s a safe bet that anything and everything might be said and you have to be okay with the fact that you might not always be comfortable; that’s the best part is when you leave with your mind blown.

Always New Firsts

I love how life can always bring new adventures.

I may have not grown up in NYC, but I visit much more often than the normal person. I’m typically here between 3-5 times a year for about a week visit each if not more. And yet, every time I come here there is something new I try or do. I constantly find myself becoming hyper-aware of growing up based on my adventures in NYC and the independence I develop.

I’ve found that kids in the city tend to have a remarkable amount of independence and seem to mature quickly from learning as they go. Sometimes it seems silly to me when I get excited about my first time doing something in the city by myself because I know city kids have been doing the same things for years before me.

Like today for example, I was really excited about how for the first time I was the one to wake up and head to the TSTK line (day of discounted Broadway tickets line) and last minute get my grandma and I tickets for a matinee show.

Then later in the day, my grandma had a first when we ended up entering the lottery to try and get last minute tickets to another Broadway show. She was so excited about watching other people win that I can only imagine what would’ve happened if we had actually won. She wants to do it again just because of how entertaining she found it all!

As we get older, sometimes it feels like we’re more often focusing on the last time we do things, but it’s nice to remember there are always new “first times” that we can experience.

Little and Humble

It’s been a long time since I last heard/saw the story of Charlotte’s Web. It’s really such a cute story though about friendship overcoming the odds.

My little brother performed in the jr. play version of this story all weekend and today I got the joy of watching it. The kids were pretty talented surprisingly. They only had 10 days to put on this performance and they’re all only like 3rd-8th grade. Not surprisingly there were some mistakes noticeable and everything wasn’t silky smooth transition and dance wise, to say the least, but overall it was a good show! It’s not always about the little things, sometimes it’s just about overall storytelling and I was very impressed with how these kids got me buying into this story.

To think, if a little spider and a humble pig can shake up an entire town, even changing the perspective of a traditional farmer, then it feels like there’s no stopping anyone of any age or size from making dreams into realities.

It was the perfect show to see before heading off to the International Seminar by UP For Learning on “Amplifying Student Voice and Partnership” this Tuesday morning for a few days. I’m so excited to team up with learners young and old from around the world to talk about the vital role students play in the process of transforming education!!!