teaching moment pt 2

So using my martial arts background, I’ve come up with 4 classes I can teach to absolute beginners in a corporate/one-off “let’s just have fun, do something new and healthy” kind of setting. I tested out 2 of the 4 classes on myself this week —breathing/meditation/qi gong and stretching/yoga— and feel confident about my ability to teach them. I also modified my usual beginning tai chi class and today may try out a “kung fu boot camp” type class on myself, which basically just modifies what we did at 108 Heroes Kung Fu and Tai Chi to a more one-off setting.

I’m really digging all this, gotta say. It’s so much fun to think creatively about my various practices and use what I know to make some adjustments so they resonate with specific audiences. I’ve previously felt very dogmatic about martial arts practices and have viewed them as something where I need to not only uphold the forms but also the curriculum of learning and the teaching methods. Now, I’ve figured out a way that I can present that I feel remains true to the lineage, but also gives me room to play and have fun.

I don’t alter the postures or, in certain forms, the sequences of movement, but I have been working with packaging the material into an easy to understand class. There’s certain things I love and enjoy about my personal practice and the practice I’m led through when at a class that I’ve discovered I can’t do when teaching super beginners. I think it’s because the concepts are actually quite complex and if, as a student, you come in with a preconceived notion of what yoga is or kung fu or tai chi or meditation, then in some settings, it’s going to be a steep learning curve for you to get onboard with traditional methods of instruction and thought.

I thought, what if I could present the traditional teachings I know and love, but to people who have a very broad, highly socialized understanding of these concepts so that by the end of the class perhaps they’d be more open to exploring in depth these fascinating practices. Can I be a doorway? Maybe a gateway drug, if you will… ha!

Anyway, it’s pretty fun but as always a challenging balance of being true and respectful of my own teachings while also realizing that I may be able to lighten up on some aspects of the practice as long as I’m retaining what for me is the core. I never would have been in this more exploratory mindset had my own teachers not encouraged this type of approach. I myself was actually surprised that all my teachers had encouraged me to play, explore, and experiment in my personal practice since our bodies, minds, and lives are constantly changing.

Having this freedom has allowed me to not be hard on myself (one of my greatest challenges!) when not being able to do a full practice due to injury or time constraints. I’ve been able to retain and grow my experiences within these practices while being adaptable and not rigidly holding onto the exact same sequence or approach or goal. That being said, the structure of the practices helps me to retain my focus and track my progress on longtime goals. Or if not static goals, just see over time how I’m changing for the better as a result of practicing.

Anyway, creating my own little programs has given me a lot of insight lately and I look forward to seeing what others think too. Fingers crossed that they get something good out of it!

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teaching moments

I taught tai chi to a corporate group the other day and it went really well. People were smiling. I felt great. I think they did too. Such a change from the last couple of times I’ve taught classes and it made me thing, “hey, maybe I’m getting better at this!”

I have to credit teachers I’ve had recently who’ve either displayed or given me feedback when it comes to teaching. I thought about it when speaking with a friend the other day who asked if I’d ever teach yoga. I kinda hemmed and hawed about it, but he pointed out  that at least with beginners, I probably know more than them, so why not?

It’s this same mindset that I’ve become a bit more comfortable with when it comes to martial arts. There’s that old impostor syndrome voice that sneaks up on situations. Coupled with its best friend, Perfectionism, they make a great team of talking you out of anything. There’s a character in my generational punk play who is thrust into being the leader of a scene or movement. She says to a longtime friend coming to visit that she never liked authority and wanted to be an authority figure on anything. This is how I feel a lot of time about teaching.

There’s a side to my open-mindedness that can leave me as indecisive and passive. I think, “Well, I still have a lot to learn. I don’t feel nearly as qualified as my teachers.” I’ve gotten hung up on the idea that I need to somehow manifest the level of experience of those I’ve learned from in order to teach well. I forget what my playwriting teacher used to tell us when in grad school and preparing to teach playwriting and screenwriting the first time, which is that we’ve spent more time digging deep into story dynamics and structure than the students we’d be teaching. And even if that may not be applicable, I do subscribe to the idea that you have something to learn from everyone. Would it be so impossible that sometimes you have something to give others?

Tai Chi Teaching
Giving mini adjustments to my awesome group of students!

I think what went really well the other day was that I had experience under my belt to manage my expectations about what I could pass on in the time given. I had ideas of class structure based on classes I’ve attended and taught. I definitely know what I like. I know what I think is important. And I have a pretty good sense of what I do well. In the classes I taught at 108 Heroes Kung Fu and Tai Chi, I realized that because my main interest with tai chi is internal energy, I was being REALLY ambitious with how I taught people.

It was a lot of convincing people that internal energy is a thing. (It is.) But gah, how discouraging to keep trying to convince people of it day after day. I’ve been lightening up on what I do for my own personal practices and getting great results, so I figured, “Low hanging fruit: let’s just get people moving differently and introduced to the form.”

It’s like, maybe just maybe I don’t HAVE to do that much other than present this digestible chunk to folks. Talk about understanding your audience better! I really think this is why it was fun for me and fun for the group. So, comparatively, we didn’t get super far into the form and I chose to only briefly highlight internal energy cultivation once so that I felt that I was still remaining true to how I see tai chi, but I know I didn’t overwhelm people with a lot of concepts that were hard to leap to right off the bat.

And now a couple other opportunities to teach introduction classes to other mind-body practices I have have popped up and rather than being scared about knowing how to do that, I feel really confident. It gives me a new space to explore concepts and put together little programs/experiences based on what I know.

In the last week or so, I’ve started to brainstorm four different basic classes I could teach in a group setting that would be wellness focused and totally fine as one-off experiences. I’ve had fun creating playlists of music I enjoy and that wouldn’t be overly distracting. I had assembled my notes and past workbooks of concepts, postures, and forms I know and could teach easily. And I’ve figured out ways to put these different ideas together into 15, 30 and 60 minute programs. It’s not super exotic necessarily, but then I remember something my husband told me, which is probably the best teaching advice of all.

“They don’t want your teacher to teach them, they want you. You have to bring you.”

Talking Up Tai Chi
This is probably the one time I talked about internal energy.

 

 

Commitment

I took a trip to Minnesota recently that came with a lot of unexpected detours. I went to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday and as the second stop on the Jwanouskos Ramos Wedding Celebration Tour.

We had an amazing time seeing the beautiful lakes and forest areas. So green compared to California! However, the time was sadly overshadowed by my grandmother's decline in health.

She was a strong woman with a huge heart — one that unfortunately was born with a defect. Her breathing became more and more difficult during the time we arrived such that she was admitted to the hospital the day after we flew in.

She knew. We all knew what was next. Though I tried to avoid the conversations and the subtle shifts, she was dying. In my head, her death was something that would happen way far off. Not when I was there. As time went on, it was clear she wasn't leaving the hospital. So the best we could do is make her comfortable.

Maybe it's the wrong segue, but I depended on my practices during this time. I have her and my weary family members lomi lomi massage. As the pain medications wore off, I sang her Ka Lei Aloha I Na Kupuna – a Hawaiian chant and lullaby that Brent and I sang for the new expectant mothers preparing for birth. It is a song about being surrounded by the love of the ancestors and understanding that you too are part of that love. I talked to her about my tai chi practice and the book on Russian breathing systems I was reading. I read her my poetry. I talked to her about the business Brent and I hope to create. I talked to her about my step daughter — who she told me to give the beanie babies in her basement. And I practiced yoga in the early hours of the morning to the rhythm of her strong yet forced breathing. I even was able to bind in Marichasana D on my tight side. I think it was even the day or day before she transitioned on.

My Grandma taught me so much about pain, death, and family during this time. I tried my best as a visitor from California to be there and be grounded, be compassionate for my family. And it was hard to do that. It was hard to see them come apart at the scenes and feel like though you wanted to, you couldn't. As if something kept you from it.

I was named after my Grandma and she was one of the strongest ladies I knew, who got things done. She didn't fuss or make a big deal about it. She was a nurse and she was used to long hard hours and endless self sacrifice. At the same time, she was fun and laughed a lot while she called you on your shit. Up until the last days she was talking, she was cracking jokes and speaking her mind.

She transitioned on surrounded by her family and so much love. I knew by the end of the week I was in the exact spot I needed to be and I was giving what I was meant to give.

In the days that followed, I didn't know what to do or how to help. So I began my day with yoga and tai chi. I figured that maybe if I could keep steady, my family could keep steady.

My family on my mom's side is a range personalities and A LOT of feminine energy. For some reason, people look at me and they go, "well of course Barbara does this crazy artistic thing that we couldn't think of or do." And I just am so adamant that the answer to that is, "yes! You can do it. You are capable of more that how you see yourself!" I probably get to be a little airy fairy for people if I start talking about it, so I try to just hold my tongue and not say anything unless people ask me.

But then the strangest thing happened… People started asking me about meditation, tai chi, yoga, eating vegetarian, art, music, storytelling, social justice, keeping in shape, martial arts and breathing. What? Me?

"I just do what I do."

So I started connecting more with my cousins, aunts, and uncles and on Instagram and Facebook, I'd post snippets of my practice. Mostly because without regular access to my teachers, I wanted to see and understand for myself what I needed to work on.

I even watched a yoga practice session with my brother who lightly chided me for moving too fast. He said to take my time with it.

"Yeah, see, when I was practicing, I loved up dog, you should take your time with it more. You're missing out on that stretch."

My cousin would ask me advice about breathing in yoga and how to get started at home because she wasn't ready to start going to a class. Another two cousins and I bonded over plants and essential oils. She is growing the Oxheart tomatoes that come from my Italian great grandfather (my Grandma Barbara's dad), who loved these tomatoes for sauce and just everything. In fact, my Grandma still has two living older sisters (96 & 106) and she said that the secret to her longevity was to eat tomatoes and have a little brandy every so often.

Here I'd been so secret about these holistic and artistic practices, considering myself to be the family anomaly and just like most things, I was looking myopically. My family was so supportive of me. Not who I tried to be or wanted to become, just everything I was at that moment, they saw as valuable and worth emulating. For that I am eternally grateful.

Part of me wonders about the synchronicity of this experience and wonders what my Grandma may have been trying to say. While I haven't always called or been able to visit, I never doubted for a second that she loved me deeply and truly saw me for who I am.

A couple hours after she passed, I was sitting in the family lounge with my relatives enjoying the memory of her and what she gave us. I was going through my email trying to find something about her ancestry to give to my cousins and I came across a lot of forwards of prayers and wishes and beautiful pictures from her. Then, I came on a direct message from her to me. She saw an email I sent about my upcoming play production and was sending me some money and wishing me luck. Matter of fact, supportive, and loving. I read it and it was a confirmation of everything I already knew.

So, "my practice" has taken a turn because I can longer see it as just for me and a source for my comfort solely. I see my family, my friends watching me and taking something from the one thing I do think I'm okay at — continuing to show up. This has made all the difference to me and propels me forward in dark times so that I can see those faces saying to me that they saw what I did and tried it for themselves.

Thank you and thank you to my beautiful Grandma for showing me how to continue day after day through the hardship with only love to guide you.

❤️

ok fine i’ll write about martial arts and stuff 

You got me, Universe or whatever. I’ll write about it. Mainly because I need to get it out of my brain. I can only talk about it outloud so much before people’s eyes glaze over. No, you don’t understand! I really need an outlet, so you are it, blog.

It really shouldn’t be so hard to just throw this stuff onto a page, but I have worked myself into knots thinking I’d be capable of just shutting up and silently doing my own thing. But I can’t, okay? I am not capable of that. I’ll freak out. This stuff is just so endlessly fascinating. I could talk about it for DAYSSSSSSS 😍. 

And if you want to know the truth, I’m kinda constantly thinking about my various practices. It’s always on my mind.

Sometimes it’s how they work together. Sometimes it’s just sheer confusion of how can I get better at this thing I’m still not good at? Sometimes it’s the surprise I feel when I lost something I had down. And sometimes it’s the ease with which I’m able to jump back into it and beyond. It changes.

But I guess I’ll just start by starting…

THESE THOUGHTS ARE FREEFORM RAMBLINGS BY AN AMATEUR!! I’m just gonna go off but like I can’t be thinking every two seconds about how someone is going to evaluate me on how or what I say so anyway… the grammar and my terminology and all this stuff probably needs work thanks

So, I do Ashtanga now. I remember reading this comment on instagram by Sharath Jois (head of the main school, grandson of the founder) who was {paraphrasing here} saying how sometimes you can do a certain really hard posture and sometimes you can’t. He was saying how your practice morphs and changes.

I’m kind of obsessed with certain things like tai chi. But you know really I should say internal martial arts because I practice more than tai chi. I guess I could say energy centric practice like my teacher. I just like to say “tai chi” because I think most folks have a close enough reference point. Oh, but they don’t know… 

If they only knew!

That’s so annoying to say because everyone who is new to something has no idea. Gah, where do I get off? The experience of practicing tai chi tho, it’s like… It’s just really really cool. Really eye opening like whaaat? Like this whole time this is available to us? Why? How? Wtf? Yes, I think about this hourly. Ah, if only I got paid for these thoughts I’d be like Scrooge McDuck swimming in my gold coin swimmimg pool. 

Anyway, today I was really getting down on myself because I’ve sorta been lazy and not practicing as diligently as I usually do. I get this way with writing too. I think about it all the time and then if you don’t have a project you kind of scare yourself into thinking that writing is hard and onerous and you don’t have enough time to do what you want to do with it. All true. So so so very true… 😭

I had an “ohhhhhhhh THIS is why teachers tell you to never stop practicing do something everyday even if it’s a little bit” kind of realization (not new, I have these once a month if not more frequently). Man, it sure does takes a second to get back to where you were. I think you gotta be really diligent and humble and nonexpectant about it when you jump back in.

When I went off to school for a dramatic writing program I’d been doing martial arts for a year and some change. It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly my skill, my athleticism, physique, etc., etc., began to shift because my priorities changed. I had to focus on writing and recovering from the writing. In retrospect, being more disciplined about my practice might have helped me roll with writing shit that comes up and school stuff, but ah well so it goes. I didn’t do that then.

When I moved back, I expected to jump back in with all my skill in tact like hey! READY! Nope. Did not work that way. It took months and maybe YEARS to get and surpass where I was when I left. Gah! Never again!

Things are shifting again. I no longer have a school or even a regular time that I practice at. This is a problem. I am worried about losing what I have gained through focused yet short practice. So I must get it back.

What I thought about today is how with writing whenever I feel like shit this is not working, how just doing something that I truly love –like have so much fun doing, brings me back. Recallibrates me. Today, I was like no, i HAVE to do tai chi during my lunch hour. Say what you like, but I can take at least 20-30 minutes and do a couple things with that. 

I did some of the stuff I usually do like I often start with a timed quiet standing. I time it so I don’t have to think about whether I’ve done it long enough. But really I do it so I can make sure I can still feel something when I do energy centric practice. I do 2 minutes though I feel something instantly in my forearms. Cool, checkmark. Then I just see if I can extend the feeling beyond my forearms. I try that until I figure out that my timer is going off and I’m not paying attention to it. I move on to something harder to do after this. Well, harder for me to do at least…

I ran through the whole Zheng Manqing 37 form. I usually don’t do that. I pick out a section or postures. Sometimes a sequence. I don’t always do the form as a whole because I feel more of a sustained stronger charge when I do postures or drills. When I do the whole thing, there are parts that are somewhat physically challenging while trying to do what I’m trying to do. At those points, I can lose my charge and literally be going through the motions. Not fun. I am less interested in that. It’s just not my thing to go through choreography. Which is why I do smaller sized movements and try to go deeper with them. 

So here was the learning today– I can get trapped into thinking that because I usually get what I’m looking for from the shorter practices that I should just concentrate that for my practice. Like when I’m really diligent with a certain drill or sequence, I can get a lot out of it. It’s not beginner’s luck, this happens every time I practice. Then, I go through a form and get overly critical about the parts that I’m not that great at. Like in this ZMQ37, I’m really not good at the whole Weaving Lady part AND IT PISSES ME OFF!! Okay, well, maybe it’s not that serious, but I don’t get much there energy wise as I do in other parts of the form. Which is totally fine except that I’m a perfectionist, haha… No but, going through the whole form was interesting. It got me thinking about different aspects I hadn’t considered and ways I could revamp my training.

Then I did some xingyi and so that is always been hardest for me, but I like to see where I can get with it. I did this drill from one of my teacher’s recent books and I’m like huh, I think I’m getting better at this! I feel more of what I think I’m supposed to be feeling. 

The thing is that today, while not necessarily a sort of omg I made such amazing discoveries!! 😍sort of moment, it was nice to just do the form and experience what popped up as I tried my best.

All this to say, that sometimes with getting back into practice, it’s good to just do it and pick something you either really enjoy doing or you know gets you results. 

Okay, I can pause here… For now. 

It’s Been A Long Time

“…I shouldn’t have left you without a dope beat to step to…”

 

9v8za

And here I am, back on this crazy thing and ready to give an update on all that’s happened. The biggest thing was that for the past two years, I’ve been off at Carnegie Mellon University pursuing my MFA in Dramatic Writing under Rob Handel’s direction. The amount of writing we were doing in this program made life for the past two years fairly intense, so it was hard to keep The Dynamics of Groove up to date. That’s not to say I was an internet hermit. I still contributed to the blogs with San Francisco Theater Pub and 108Heroes.

Here’s the top 25 things I’ve accomplished over the past two years in no particular order:

  1. Wrote and helped to produce “It’s All in the Mix”, a coming-of-age love story about DJs with All Terrain Theater at Vamp Records in Oakland, CA. Directed by Brady Brophy Hilton, Stage Managed by Robert Neopolitan, Sound help by The Selector DJ Kirk and Kris Barrera, featuring Champagne Hughes and Courtney Nickolson as JUNE, Kris Barrera and Tommy Nyugen as BIZ, and Johnny Manibusan as PAT. Special Thanks to Tracy Held Potter, Sean Sullivan, and more. ItsAllInTheMixPostcardFinalFRENCHe2
  2. Wrote 31 plays in 31 days in the organization’s inaugural year (some of the eye sores are on this blog…)
  3. Moved to Pittsburgh and found an amazing apartment in Squirrel Hill.
  4. Wrote a one-act comedy, “Hera, The Pregnant Man Play” for the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which was voted an Audience Favorite the night it was read! A filmed version of the staged reading is available here. Produced by San Francisco Olympians Festival (Special Thanks to Stuart Bousel), directed by Amy Claire Tasker, Claire Slattery as HERA, Nick Trengrove as TERRY, Ben Grubb as CHAD, Eric Hannan as RYAN, Arie Lavine as ALICIA, and Brian Martin as ZEUS. HERA The Pregnant Man Play
  5. Got a mention in the Huffington Post by George Haymont for “Hera, The Pregnant Man Play”.
  6. Tested and received my black belt in Shaolin kung fu.
  7. Wrote a ten minute multimedia comedy, “Donut Erotica”, which was selected for publication by 31 Plays in 31 Days. You can listen to a podcast recording of an older version here. Produced by 31 Plays in 31 Days (Special Thanks to Rachel Bublitz and Tracy Held Potter), directed by Claire Rice, featuring Colleen Egan as LINDSAY, Peter Townley as KEV, Michelle Talgarow as the CASHIER LADY, and stage directions by Caitlin Evenson.
  8. “Donut Erotica” was then selected to be performed in CMU’s Playground Festival in the spring of 2013 and I had the chance to work with some amazing collaborators. Directed by Alex Franz, Video Design by Jordan Harrison, Sound Design by Ian Julian Williams, Set Design by Dan Daly, LINDSAY – Olivia Brown, KEV – Scott Coffey, SHOP OWNER – Petr Favazza. And special thanks to Laci Corridor, Jonah Eisenstock, Britain Valenti. DONUT EROTICA by Barbara Jwanouskos
  9. Made all the donuts (including vegan and gluten-free ones!) for the Playground production.
  10. Wrote an introduction and provided copyediting to the forth-coming collection of plays from the second annual San Francisco Olympians Festival, “Heavenly Bodies”.
  11. Started writing a bi-weekly series for San Francisco Theater Pub called “Higher Education” about what it’s like as a theater artist going through a graduate program and the lessons learned while there.
  12. Helped shoot and edit video for the 108Heroes re-launch promo. Check it out!
  13. Taught “Introduction to Screenwriting” at the university level in the fall of 2013.
  14. Wrote two ten minute plays for the San Francisco Olympians Festival, “Ajax Minor” directed by James Nelson, featuring Richard Wenzel, Caitlin Evenson, Carl Lucania, Jan Marsh, Karlie Blair, and Eli Diamond. And “Neoptolemus”, directed by Charles Lewis III, featuring Eli Diamond, Ben Grubb, Richard Wenzel and Carl Lucania.
  15. Worked with Disney Imagineering Research and Development as a writer by contributing 40 short scenes to their emotional speech database project.
  16. Was identified as a semi-finalist for the DISQUIET Literary International Short Play contest for my ten minute comedy, “Naughty Cheetah”.
  17. Was identified as a semi-finalist for the Bay Area Playwrights Festival for “i stole lance armstrong’s bike”.
  18. Taught “Advanced Playwriting” in the spring of 2014.
  19. Wrote and collaborated to help produce “The Imaginary Opponent” as my thesis play production at Carnegie Mellon University. Directed by Quin Gordon, Production Assistance by Dan Giles, Set Design by Britton Mauk, Lighting Design by Daniel Bergher, featuring Cathryn Dylan as ERIKA, Austin James Murray as MAC, David Patterson as SIFU ADAM, Sawyer Pierce as GABE, and Annie Yokom as MASTER LYNN. DB_ImaginaryOpponent_24
  20. Submitted “The Imaginary Opponent” and “Day Drinkers” as my thesis for the CMU library.
  21. Graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with an MFA in Dramatic Writing.
  22. Met with theater, screenwriting, TV and other entertainment professionals at the LA and NY Showcases for the class of 2014.
  23. Wrote “Time to Wine”, a short comedic libretto for the Baria Project with Roger Zahab and the Opera Theatre of Pittsburgh to be performed in July 2014.
  24. Collaborated with Stephen Webb to write the libretto to “For the Time Being”, a short opera love story about a being from another dimension, composed by Daniel Arnaldos and to be performed in February 2015.
  25. Returned back to the Bay Area!

It’s been a long journey, but I’m ready to take this all to the next level!

 

 

31 Days: The August Challenge

I haven’t been the best about updating my blog lately, but if you’ve read the last couple of posts, you’d know that there’s so much going on! I just haven’t made the time to focus on writing, but since I’m leaving behind a lot of folks in the Bay Area, one of the things I’m trying to make a commitment to is updating this a little more regularly. I’m not promising much, but, hey, you gotta start somewhere, right?

August for me is all about new beginnings. I’ve accepted the 31 Days, 31 Plays Challenge. I’m continuing the Artist’s Way practice of morning pages, and even trying to incorporate the Artist’s Dates more regularly. And even though I’ve written about it before and felt like I totally bombed, I’m trying to commit to at least five minutes a day of practicing kung fu and tai chi.

These three activities are intensely important to me, not just because I love doing them, but because they ground me and keep me moving forward. As I shift my life pretty dramatically in August 2012, it’s important for me to start it out right. That means building these three things into my everyday.

That being said, you gotta have goals. Certainly the top priority for me is just to be consistent and diligent about incorporating these three activities into my life, but without milestones, an assessment of what you do well and what you’d like to improve upon, it’s hard to really move forward realistically.

The morning pages, because they are already a part of my daily lexicon, were not hard to start out with. The kung fu practice and writing a play were a lot harder. So, I decided to do a little writing brainstorming about it. I took a page of my journal and divided it into three’s. One was titled “writing”, the next, “kung fu” and a third, I added called, “personal”.

I added the “personal” column because I realized that there were some larger ideas and concepts that I wanted to get better at in all of my life. In kung fu, we talk about reaching the next belt level and there are certain focus points that you should have attached to your training, whether that be balance and focus or clarity and confidence. For adults practicing the art, achieving another belt level is not as simple as passing a test, or this tangible thing that marks your progress into a more advanced level, but it can weave into something in your personal life that you are trying to work on.

For me, adding a “personal” column was a way to focus on the areas of my life where I would like to see growth. Instead of just wishful thinking, however, like “I wish I was more fit” or “I wish I didn’t get angry so easily” or “I wish I knew how to hold the nunchaku without constantly hitting myself in the head.” All these can be fuel for goals and are achievable when a bit of action is put behind it.

In this list-making exercise, I decided to free-write as fast as I could to get at the aspects of each of these areas of my life that I wanted to improve upon. After everything was written down, I noticed that in each column, and overall, there were certain ideas, activities and concepts that were a theme. These were the ones that I highlighted as I read back the list. Additionally, in each column, there was at least one goal that I had written that I gravitated towards, but was not necessarily a part of any pattern or reoccurring theme. I made note of those too.

The Things I Want to Get Better At
If you don’t know where to start, sometimes a self-assessment is the best place to begin.

My approach to goal-setting came from my work at the Food Bank where as the Grants Manager, metrics, goal-setting, and deliverables were part of my daily projects. In a lot of nonprofit work, there’s an idea of creating deliverables that are SMART (duh…), but in this case, SMART stands for “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely”. Even though I didn’t put my goals in this specific format, I thought it was a good way to think of what I wanted to carry out in the next month and not just set out to do something because it will be “good for me”. Well, something is only good for you if you understand what it is improving upon and if in practice, it is actually effective in moving you forward.

Once I had looked over the list and identified themes as well as what jumped out at me, I decided to make a couple of focus points/goals out of the results. Because I want these to be achievable over the next month, I picked only three in each group, with one “fun” goal that I added in as a marker for a personal best.

Here were my top three goals (and one fun goal) in each category:

Writing

  1. Consistency of writing practice (both in the morning pages and playwriting) and greater stamina in my practice. I would say I’m defining consistency as being able to write three morning pages every day and one play a day (that is at least one page and has a beginning, middle, and end by 31 Days, 31 Plays standards). I’m defining greater stamina in the morning pages by not stopping the morning pages until finished (not getting distracted by other thoughts or actions) and in playwriting I’m defining stamina as working towards an ending. So, whether it’s a one page play or a 15 page play, working towards an ending and going back to the play to finish it after taking a break.
  2. Incorporating wonder into my plays and writing about interesting topics. Admittedly, this one is a bit amorphous, but I figure part of this goal requires that I get out of my comfort zone with topics and perhaps take up one of Julia Cameron‘s Artist Way activities, “The Artist Date,” to fill my imagination bucket with images and experiences. I also find that Naomi Iizuka‘s list-making tool around objects, facts about oneself and the known universe are helpful in germinating a seed of an idea.
  3. Practicing heightening conflict and character development in my writing. So, this is something that has frustrated me in the past because it has often taken several drafts and several attempts for me to find the conflict that characters have with one another and in the play. I think focusing in on this aspect, asking myself what the conflict is while writing will help (hopefully).
  4. FUN ONE! So, this goal didn’t have anything attached to it, but in meeting my friend, Sean’s daughter, Shaye, the other day, I realized that I would LOVE to write something that young people like her, and kids would be interested in. So, I might try writing a couple plays that I think she (or her generation) would dig.

Kung Fu

  1. Truly knowing the material that I will need to test to first black over. This one is maybe my top priority in this category because I’ll be leaving soon and will need to take all the material I know and the couple of forms I don’t know yet with me. I want to have the material down to a point where I really feel like I’d be a good black belt. Like I really earned it. And to do that, I need to focus on my newest material and make sure the memory and application of it is there.
  2. Lowering my stances and building my endurance. Similarly to my writing practice, I want to be able to do more in my kung fu. I want to build up how much I can actually take. Right now, I know there’s a couple of things I could work on with my posture. For instance, sometimes I feel really wobbly and un-grounded and I could do the stance for a little while, but probably couldn’t hold it solidly for very long. I’d like to get better at that so that it’s not just show, but, yes, I can actually hold a low bow or bird stance or whatever and feel comfortable fighting from that position.
  3. Doing the breathing techniques I’ve learned in hou tien chi and hsien tien chi while doing the forms/techniques. I sort of turn this on and off now, and I wish it were a little more instinctual and natural to really feel the breath and energy moving through me the way that the forms are meant to be done traditionally. I don’t want to just go through the motions, but to think and focus on everything I’m doing. Breathing properly requires you to pay a lot more attention to what you’re actually doing.
  4. FUN ONE! I really want to try to get it so that I can do the Yang Tai Chi form in one hour. Right now, it takes me about 13 minutes when I’m moving slowly. I could probably go for even longer if I slow down even more. Going slower will also help with the memory, the stances and positioning and thinking about the applications too.

Personally

  1. Develop my focus and awareness in all areas of my life. I think, like a lot of people, I try to do too many things all at once, and I end up doing a not very great job at any of them. Rather than work that way, I’d like to try to really think about what I’m doing in the moment and be aware of what’s going on around me or within me as well. I feel like if I got better at this, I wouldn’t be so blind-sided by people’s actions sometimes.
  2. Getting better at “letting go”. As an example, I’m literally trying to give away, sell or get rid of a lot of the “stuff” in my life that I’ve accumulated over the years as I prepare for this move to Pittsburgh. It’s been hard knowing what I might need and what I might want in the future. I know I have had a tendency to hold on to things for too long. The thing is, that’s emotional energy that’s associated with all that physical stuff too. That’s more energy and time that I could be putting into the activities and people I really do want around me. I’m trying to get rid of as much as I can, especially before I leave the Bay Area, because I’m not sure when I’ll ever have this gift of time again. In the process I’m also trying to be a bit more choosy about what I do welcome into my life and my world. If it’s hard to deal with than I’m not as inclined to keep it.
  3. Taking better care of myself more consistently. July was rough. I ended a job I had for over five years and said good-bye to a lot of people who have had a profound impact on my life. I opened a play that I started writing over nine years ago. I did a double-test into a new belt level that is just one test away from black belt and hence discipleship into the art. A lot of huge things. In the midst of all this, I ended up eating crappier food than usual, not getting enough sleep, and not giving myself the quiet time and space to re-charge. I’ve gotten pretty good at taking care of myself, but I drop off the ball sometimes. I’d like to be consistent about taking care of myself when times are hard and stressful, because things will always get harder, while at the same time other things will get easier. I need to be able to truly be present to the people I love and the activities I do, and that starts by taking even better care of myself.
  4. FUN ONE! Reading more often. I don’t read nearly as much as I would like to, or probably should considering I’m going back into grad school. If I can read a bit of a book a day, I will feel much more aware of the world and hopefully that will enrich everything else I do too!

So, there you have it. My top goals/focal points for the moment. I’m trying to be better at using my blog as a tool by which to assess myself. Hopefully, it will happen!

Self-Transformation
Change is not only possible, it’s inevitable!

I’m Still Going

Guys, you totally thought that this was going nowhere, but I got you! I have been practicing! Let me update you since my last post:

Friday: it was looking grim, but then a wonderful thing happened! I had to wait! Waiting is the perfect time to go through material. While waiting for my mom to get off work, I went through the Yang Tai Chi form. Then, later, for my co-workers, I went through the 24 posture combined Tai Chi form.

Saturday: Long day of training in class in the morning. Then, went down to Brendan Lai’s Martial Art Supply Store for a straight sword in preparation for the Skewer the Sun Sword festival on April 7th. It’s a beaut! But later on I still managed to go over the new brown belt form I learned. From memory! Even though I wrote up notes, I didn’t need them!

I'm kind of a bad ass...
Yeah, that’s right, I own a sword.

Sunday: Admittedly, kind of a slow day, but I still managed to practice the new form.

Monday: Started the day with six i chin ching postures from memory. Stopped at six rather than 7 because I forgot the 7th.

Later on, this evening practiced my new form in my folks’ backyard in the dark. Then, went through the tiger form too. Tried to practice hou tien chi while driving (that didn’t work out so well).

So far, so good!