Saturday, August 7, 2021

Pruning the Stone Garden

Pruning the stone garde
n is a phrase that washed over me in hypnopompia - that time when our minds are slipping back into reality after slumber. My head on the pillow, my mind in the clouds, those words kept a continual loop while I tried to decide if I should get up to write them down or repeat them often enough so I'd remember them later. 

They also confused me. What the hell does "pruning the stone garden" mean? I tried to make sense of it as images of a graveyard came into view as though I were a passenger looking out the window of a slow moving car. I wondered, "Is a stone garden a sea of headstones in a cemetery?" It may be, but I knew that didn't tell the whole story. 

I woke up intrigued by the phrase. I may not be clear on the meaning, but I certainly appreciate the way the words and images play together. Someone told me it could mean futility. That makes sense too. 

I do know that it is twisted in with the concepts of life, loss, death, grief, and longing. I continue to struggle with the reality of a life without my mom. It is constantly on the forefront of my mind as I journey on in this diminished state. I can sometimes talk myself into the calmness of believing she is not gone. In those moments, I shift back into who I was for a spell. But, that's not reality and I'm not crazy enough to live in that delusion. 

Perhaps pruning the stone garden means snipping away the hard things to make what is here, what I'm left with, more beautiful. It may mean I need to deal with my shit and appreciate what I've been given in the past and all that I still have. 

What do you think?

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Remember Me

Dickie Hearts with some of the first grade students
Remember Me is a song from the Disney/Pixar animated Dia de los Muertos themed feature film, Coco. The haunting lament to dearly departed loved ones tugs at the heartstrings, especially for those of us currently dealing with separation and loss. 

Yet, grief is a serpentine trickster. For mixed in with the pain is the joy of remembrance. Those bittersweet memories that speak to our core and make us appreciate what was, even as we struggle to somehow process it all. Death, life, memories, meaning, purpose, struggle, and finally the possibility of peace slither through our thoughts. As is often said about many things, "It's complicated". 

This year was filled with loss of many kinds. COVID-19 changed our educational landscape. Children were separated from classmates, teachers, and the school community. However, we all found new ways to connect - remotely through Zoom or in person keeping socially distanced and wearing masks. 

In the midst of all these changes, Kori Rushton of IRT Theater reached out to ask me to partner with her on new project. Our last collaboration was an American Sign Language (ASL) music video for Dear Theodosia from the wildly successful Broadway musical, Hamilton. This time she suggested my first graders record the up-tempo version of Remember Me in ASL and Mexican Sign Language ("legua de señas mexicana" or LSM). I was immediately onboard, so the planning began.

Students sign Recuérdame (Remember Me) in LSM

To start, we needed a Director of Sign Language (DSL) to interpret the song into ASL. Dickie Hearts, an actor, screenwriter, and filmmaker, who is also Deaf, openly gay, and trés charmant was a perfect choice. Dickie recorded his wonderful ASL interpretation and I taught it to the in-person children, while my friend and coworker, Maria, taught the remote students.  

The class embraced this project with gusto. Every morning for weeks we spent time perfecting another line, adding the right facial expression to go with the movements, breaking down a complex sequence, or working on timing and fluency. At night, parents told me their kids reviewed it on their own with unbridled enthusiasm. The project brought excitement and purpose back into the stressful reality of our daily lives. It was something joyful we could create together.

Kori and Dickie enlisted the help of Gabriel Arellano for the LSM translation. Everyone (students included) met for a Zoom workshop with Gabriel to learn general information about LSM and, specifically, how to sign the Spanish verses of the song. 

Recording the song in four languages (English, Spanish, ASL, and LSM) was Kori's idea...and challenge. Miraculously, we pulled it off! Well, we did it with lots of work and lots of practice. As time went on I began to realize just how much I was asking of my students. It was a lot, but they were champs. That was never more apparent than when we started filming. 

Our Director, Alana Campbell (left), setting up a shot

Enter our indefatigable Director/Director of Photography, Alana Campbell. Alana is a documentary filmmaker who's worked at NBC Dateline, NBC News, National Geographic Channel, PBS, Oprah Winfrey Network, and more. She came up with the story or framework to contextualize the song. Her vision placed the lyrics as an ode, not only to lost loved ones, but also the loss of social interaction brought about because of COVID. 

In the video, students begin on Zoom, removed from one another physically. After months cooped up in their apartments they were feeling antsy and restless. The video strives to capture that forlorn period of time, as well as the thrill of being back together once again. As the camera moves back and a row of happy, smiling children stand alongside Dickie signing and dancing, it feels, to me, like an exhale. 

Take a look...

REMEMBER ME | ASL Cover from IRT Theater on Vimeo.

Now watch it again to see if you can spot the Curious George "Easter eggs" I've placed in the background.


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