Monday, June 30, 2008

Something to Carry in Your Pocket

In sixth grade, I had a theatre arts teacher named Mrs. Stuart. I wasn't crazy about her -- she had a nasally sharp voice, seemed a bit snooty, and didn't seem that crazy about me. I remember her first name, Sue, because it turned out to be appropriate; It seemed that anytime a kid accidentally bumped into her she would scold them "You could have really hurt me. I could sue you, you know."

Despite this, Sue managed to teach me something I consider pretty darned useful. My guess would be that she had no idea I would take what she taught me and use it the way I do. I'm pretty sure she'd be even more surprised to learn that I regularly think about her, with gratitude, as a result of this little something I carry around in my pocket.

To someone who is 11 or 12, everyone over 20 looks ancient. Given that my memories of that time were filmed using 'tween lenses, I can't really say for certain how old Sue was. It's very likely she was around the age I am now. In honor of this, I'd like to share. Kudos to Mrs. Stuart, by the way.

Our class was set on the cafeteria/auditorium stage; our cue was the bell and we made our entrance through the black curtains, upstage right. The setup was minimalist -- three fold out tables and a number of fold out chairs gathered around them set the scene.

To be honest, I remember little else about the class in general. Instead, almost all of my memory revolves around the time that Mrs. Stuart taught us about method acting. I don't think that's what she called it, but based on what I know now I would say she was teaching us what's referred to as "emotional recall".

She asked for a few volunteers and, after asking them to act sad, demonstrated how sad really looked. She then went on to explain what she was doing. In essence, she was recalling a time when she genuinely felt the emotions she was trying to portray, then letting those feelings charge up her portrayal.

The lesson over, each student returned to their folding chair to work on a class assignment -- sadness. We were to think of times in our lives that we were very, very sad. Looking around at all the furrows and frowns, I could see we were getting somewhere. In fact, after reaping my short life's collection of sorrowful woes, I found I could bring myself close to tears with little effort. Then came our next assignment -- happiness. Again, after hand picking some choice funny moments, I found I could easily bring myself to a grin, a smile, or even to laughter.

She gathered us once more to review what we had just learned. As she described what a powerful tool this was and explained how it could be used to infuse our acting with the emotions of our choice, I had an "Aha!" moment.

Why not use it to infuse our everyday lives with happiness?

At that moment, I committed to collecting positive memories and storing them in my pocket for easy retrieval. It worked! Whenever some negative thought had its grip on me, I could shake it loose by dusting off of my pocket collection. At first I started with funny memories, but over time expanded to include happy, proud, grateful, competent, loved... anything that might help remind me out of whatever dark corner I might find myself in.

If you've ever experienced the dark of a power outage, you know how much easier it is to make your way around if you have access to some sort of light source. The same goes for life's dark places.

Take this second to place a happy memory in your pocket. And, when you're done, practice fishing that happiness out of your pocket and using it. Guess what? Now you have a little flashlight.

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