Posts Categorized: Reflective Critique

Clown, clown, clown, clown, clown…

I am determined to restore a centuries-deep cultural association with the word “clown.” I want to move us away from its latest turn of horror and return to one of positivity, reverence, and medicinal quality.

Actor Donald O’Connor planted the seed of my mission when he told (er, sang) me to “make ‘em laugh!” Throughout thirty years of my performance training and career centered around theatrical clown technique, I’ve struggled with O’Connor’s directive for at least two reasons. One obstacle is the laughter itself: to make someone laugh means that one must laugh at me. My work to welcome that laughter, onstage and off, provokes a mind-body dissonance that often gets in the way.

What an undesired prospect, to be the recipient of a laugh, says the thorny misnomer deep down in my cells. By the time I learned to read, I already understood and agreed to the invisible social code that laughter = bad. Being laughed at is a nightmare for many, not unlike the dream of arriving at school or work in the nude. I’ve witnessed the same frightening internalization for my niece who, as of grade school years if not earlier, started wilting in response to our familial, loving laughter whenever she’d make an unintended funny.

As I grew, no one explained the physical phenomenon of laughter to me. I lacked an interpreter of those bubbly sounds to reassure me of their delight and appreciation. I missed that type of guidance until my early twenties when it arrived cloaked in the form of a mask and clown coach, and in several clown experts thereafter. They surely would’ve told me sooner that I held a lot of power as one who initiates laughter.

Instead, I was left to my own logical devices and causal associations. The more I witnessed laughter in response to innocent mistakes (on TV with America’s Funniest Home Videos and countless scripted shows, in passing conversations, anywhere), the more critical my internal voice grew. Projecting my internal/intrapersonal thoughts (i.e. “how stupid of me”) onto the intention of those laughing (i.e. “they think I’m an idiot”) has been a recipe for trouble, lots of misunderstanding, and a natural inclination to avoid public/interpersonal laughter.

…to be continued…


The present situation of Covid-19 affecting school closures in the U.S. provides a generous opportunity for citizens to meticulously examine and clarify what defines and encapsulates K-12 education in this country. After listening to fellow educators of multiple grade levels and departments, plus parents and students, I’d like to pose some broad questions to consider.

My goal here is to light a match so we can more courageously look into the “hidden shadows” outside the limited parameters of what’s been the accepted standard. Let’s take the time to collectively imagine an amended educational system which includes every available possibility that previously eluded our attention. If we first identify the ultimate, agreeable objectives of K-12 education, then we can more easily establish and implement the tactics to achieve those goals year after year.

This is a starting point. I have many more questions. I’ll follow this post with a Part Two to elaborate and offer my own suggestions. Until then, you’re welcome to share your ideas in the comments, and/or take this conversation to your families, town halls, city councils, and superintendents. Systemic change may feel both radical and torturously slow in the moment, and it’s nonetheless a necessary pathway to design together.

For the sake of our young people, I ask you…


– What would it take for this country to indisputably prioritize the funding of schools, teachers’ salaries, classroom materials, and extracurricular activities?

– How do we really want young people to spend their precious, fleeting, impressionable K-12 years? What do we want to cultivate in these future generations? What is essential?

– For what does the established, pre-pandemic mode of education truly prepare young people? Is it solely preparation for the end of earning a diploma? For collegiate acceptance? For their guidance in mental, social, and emotional growth? For moving toward the unique dreams of their minds and hearts?

– What exactly do we want to quantify and qualify as learned lessons for the young person’s development?

– Is quantifiable education exclusively about the memorization and demonstration of an encyclopedic knowledge?

– Could education be a dynamic way for young people to learn how to negotiate their own path within a collaborative world of diverse cultures, perspectives, biases, etc?

– How do we fully honor the young person’s lived experience (including realities such as generational trauma) while providing space for them to build skills in stress management, interpersonal conflict, rage, loss, and navigating change?


– When did policymakers require that people ages 5-18 attend school? Was it once the child labor laws were enacted?

– Why were the (roughly) September-June and Monday-Friday schedules established in the U.S.? Who says that those models of structured time have to continue unaltered?

– Who and what determined the sequential K-12 curriculum as it stands? When was that established, and when was the last time it was examined? Why does that curriculum widely vary state by state?

– Why and when was it decided to assign certain historical, geographical, and language-based subjects (and their abbreviated segments therein) per grade level in K-12 learning?


– How has an attempt at fairness by way of the generality of standardization affected the ability to meet young people where they are with their own inherent strengths and capabilities?

– When did we stop (or why do we avoid) teaching the entire person? How might attention on a student’s emotional development inform the rest of their learning experience?

– What would K-12 education look like if young people were grouped by their learning style rather than age? And what if they were matched with educators who could meet the needs of young people based on their given cultural, emotional, psychological, and additional means of support and understanding?

An Ode to Obamacare

According to the metrics of capitalistic success, under the influential myth of the American Dream, my income might be considered alarmingly low. Even so, I feel like one of the richest people alive because I don’t need much, and I live within my means. Sometime in early or mid-2016, I stepped away from a 35+ hour “day job” in favor of fully investing in contract opportunities for creative and teaching artist work. Part of that process was adjusting my income status on the WA Healthplan Finder website to reflect this change, and the screen froze with this announcement: “Congratulations, you qualify for a community health plan!”

I panicked. My anxiety spiked. I sobbed to the customer service rep on the phone, and he kept reassuring me that having health insurance without a monthly premium was actually a good thing. I could only imagine the nightmare of waiting for hours on end in a dingy clinic to receive the worst possible care — at that point in time when I needed a prescribed surgical procedure, to be performed by a referred specialist.

Somehow, I was convinced that paying hundreds of dollars per month for the silver or gold premiums would ensure my health and safety (and privilege) more so than a “free” community health plan (not free, thanks to taxpayers like myself). AKA Washington Apple Health. AKA Medicaid. Contrarily, since that fateful day at the computer in 2016, the only (mild) hassles have been: uploading paystubs and (maybe?) a copy of my recent Form 1040 to prove my income status; the cost of time and travel to the Shoreline CC Dental School, and to receive an Orca Lift card with reduced bus fare.

To date, since that fateful day, I’ve had two necessary surgeries, four post-op prescriptions, two or three post-op follow-up appointments, three preventative ultrasounds and mammograms, lab work for four biopsies (all benign!), multiple blood draws for preventative tests, two dental cleanings plus x-rays, three primary care annual exams (and maybe an extra visit or two in between for seasonal illnesses), my first eye exam, and a pair of prescription lenses. All of the above with medical providers of my choice, and all of the above at no out-of-pocket cost to me. Wait, the glasses cost a total of $20. Or was it $22? Still, no monthly premiums, no wild prescription prices, no co-pays or other specialist doctor fees, no lab fees.

For my situation, this is balanced with the price of having a minimal income. Now that I’ve received many benefits from this health plan, I do not understand why my fellow U.S. citizens would balk at Medicaid as a model for what politicians are calling “universal healthcare.” I honestly don’t even know the details of what they propose as said healthcare-for-all. From what I can tell, though, my Apple Health plan is the product of a taxpayer-based system.

So…we already do it. We already have a system in place, albeit for low-income citizens, and it’s not hurting anyone. The government already deducts a few dollars per paycheck for this system to exist. Wouldn’t you want that minimal expense rather than flushing hundreds of your hard-earned dollars per month toward healthcare you might not even utilize yourself? Why is it so difficult for us to imagine and implement fully-accessible, non-privatized healthcare for every person in this country?

I simply don’t understand why or how this doesn’t scream as a sweet deal for everyone. Wouldn’t we all benefit—as local neighborhoods, as a larger economy, as a world leader of democracy, as a country of innovation and opportunity—if we took care of all our citizens by way of something so basic?

Take a Bite

I have a genuine question for you: What if I suddenly died today? I don’t take death lightly, despite its inherent levity and spaciousness, so please know that I mean this; I’m really asking. Take a few breaths, a few minutes, and give it some thought.

All of my questions here are rhetorical; I’m not fishing for validation. I’m not seeking a reaction at any level, nor am I curious about any post-death logistics to which you might attend. Humor me with my own self-assessment. I ask this “what if” in a deeper sense. If you’re someone who’s been in regular or semi-regular or even one-time contact with me, you have the opportunity to compare the time(s) you’ve experienced “me” to this hypothetical absence.

Imagine the world and your goings-on without my physical presence, despite all our plans to connect tomorrow, next week, etc. Imagine you received a note somehow from my family, or more likely, you learned about my death through social media or another informational grapevine. How would that news sit with you? What would you do? Would it matter to you? Again, I invite you to take this moment to reflect, and I invite you to keep your responses to yourself.

What’s been the specific ripple effect from me to you, if any? What have I added to your life, if anything? Would my death (this hypothetical, unexpected change to your list of friends) possibly inspire you to do or say something previously verboten, seek an untrod path, finally make a big what-if decision, or discover a new perspective? I’m sincerely curious about this field of impact. I’m surveying my work.

Huh. What is this game, this George Bailey mic check? Naturally, I’m thinking about all the farewells I’ll issue in the coming weeks as I pack and prepare for departure. I’m removing myself from the Pacific Northwest, from every place and every community I’ve ever known and understood and found comfort within. So, in a way, it is a death. An end. Like all ends, this, too, is one that transforms into new beginnings. Who knows how temporarily or permanently this geographical change will play out? I certainly don’t.

I’ve uttered a fair share of difficult and surprise goodbyes in the past four months, not to mention throughout the past 23 years, at least. I was in sixth grade when my eighth grade choir classmate drowned in her bath due to a seizure. More recently, in October 2018, I learned of the deaths of three incredible humans in my life via Facebook (literally one per week), all quickly followed by two additional major life “losses” of different forms. Two weeks ago, my 94 year-old grandfather (one of the two main characters of my solo show The Two-Step) died after an extended decline with dementia. In the week prior to his death, I fully faced his decaying body and mind, a very new experience for me. I held his hands and sang his favorite melodies to him one last time. I whispered encouragements of “You can let go now,” in spite of my longing for him to lead me in just one more dance.

What if _______ died today? Quickly consider this for any and every seemingly incidental person who’s crossed paths with you. Or maybe just go straight to the list of your closest beloveds, maybe in the two or three tightest concentric circles beyond your immediate family (chosen or biological). Would you carry yourself any differently if one of these beloveds suddenly died or became otherwise removed from your day-to-day routine? If so, do you currently make an effort to communicate their life’s impact while they’re regularly visible and available to you, as they exist now?

My aunt’s sudden death in 2008 spurred my immediate family members to start saying “I love you” at the end of every phone call and upon every parting, even for a quick run to the store. When Christy Duffy died in February 2009, barely an hour after she stood next to me at the school, a fellow preschool parent sent a message of grief to the “info” email address (my inbox, as office manager) with this note: “We’re all hugging each other a little tighter today.” Chris Stagg’s death in early October propels me to continue his incredible work of filling the world with harmony, peace and acceptance. Compassion. Laughter. Light.

If you, dear reader, are one of the people who’ve declared how much you’ll miss me when I leave Seattle, I ask: WHY. Why do you say that? What does that really mean to you? What would be “missing” of my physical absence, and what will remain for you of my energetic or impressionistic presence in your life and/or way of life? (Believe me, I’m working with how and why I’ll miss you, and investigating what exactly that is per person, and if it’ll exist in another form while I’m across an ocean). Isn’t it so curious how much of an impact the smallest, simplest thing can carry?

And if in the rare chance you surround yourself with people whose deaths wouldn’t affect you, I ask: WHY. I constantly ask this of myself. I’m actively narrowing down and chiseling out a sculpture of community members who matter immensely to me. I want to buoy my life with that level of intention and inspiration. Within an incredible pod, while there’s care and unconditional support, this community offers a raw challenge of open honesty. I’m required to check my ideas, my behavior, my actions, my words, my emotional reactions on a regular basis. I want to push beyond complacency so I can evolve and connect more deeply within myself and to those willing participants of my immediate sphere of influence.

This life is shockingly brief, so let’s fill it with substance and meaning and movement — movement of the soul.

Let’s dig in.

What Else Can We Say

I attended a weekday matinee of Idris Goodwin’s And in This Corner: Cassius Clay! at SCT. The script covers pivotal moments of Muhammad Ali’s life from his 1950s Kentucky childhood through his 1960 Olympic victory, and several scenes unapologetically address racial prejudice and acts of domestic terrorism toward African-Americans. During the cast’s talkback session with the school group audience, a child about eleven years old asked: “Do you like the part you got to play?” Direct and lighthearted, asked of the entire cast of nine, most of whom were people of color.

The one white female actor immediately drew in the full room’s attention when she audibly inhaled; we could also see her react physically, resituating a couple times on her chair. Despite her failed attempts to form words, she didn’t pass the invisible mic to her fellow cast members, so we watched her wiggle and writhe for what felt like five minutes, waiting for her to nod or do something definitive. She was costumed as the diner waitress who angrily refused service to the protagonist. Something about that imagery combined with her visible discomfort created something tense and electric in the air; I doubt I’m the only one who detected it. And it’s always much easier to note moments like this as an observer, not as the person in the middle of it. This moment of uncertainty and confusion, of saturated racial subtext, stood out — screamed wildly — as an enormous, brilliant opportunity for a real conversation.

Allow me to press pause and speak directly to her for a moment, as a witness to the entire charade, as a side-coach to cheer her toward her edge. A Ghost of Conversation Present, if you will. Pssst. I saw your impulse to speak before the rest, and you (and I mean me and all of us people seen and treated as “white” who sit in that chair with you — making this a collective “you” in addition to the singular “you”) needn’t be the first one to jump in. I appreciate that you seemed to catch yourself because we need to stop being the dominant voice in the room. Especially when we feel exposed or uncomfortable.

Pssst. Here is an opportunity to address the reality of the situation, even if you can’t yet identify what’s going on or to what you’re reacting. (Sound familiar, Clown Lab folks?) How about speaking to these 300+ young people from a grounded albeit raw place of awareness? Take a brave breath, mentally check any feelings of shame or guilt (those common representations of a white person’s internalized racial superiority), and say something like, “Wow, I just got really uncomfortable. Did anyone else feel that big shift? Did something get weird? What was it?” We’re all in the same room, so the acknowledgment would be extremely satisfying.

When I press play and review the event again, there were in fact TWO opportunities. The initial one was within her ten-seconds-or-ten-hours of confusing silence, which was thankfully interrupted by the actor who played Cassius Clay; he chimed in that he loves his part and he’s very happy about it. But then, remarkably, I watched both cast and audience check back in with the white actress. Why? She had a second chance to tackle this generous, gentle elephant pacing the stage in a broad parade of “Over here! Pick me!” The audience, the majority of whom were children of color, waited again in another elongated moment of suspense.

Unfortunately, the moment played out as an opportunity thoroughly missed. In the second go-around, she eventually muttered something like, “No, I didn’t like my part,” gesturing down at her blue and white ’60s waitress costume as if it was covered in vomit, as if it should’ve been obvious to us that of course she wouldn’t like that role. Why did she only mention that bigoted character when she’d said she played a “bunch of characters” minutes earlier in her introduction?

Her smoothest option was to detour completely: “Yes, I liked playing the boxing match commentator.” Or, more bumpily and boldly: “Yes, I’m glad I got to play a bigoted person because she is part of our country’s history” — hopefully with the addendum — “and I’m working on understanding how that history continues to affect the pervasive racism that people of color still encounter in 2018.” Better yet, with another: “And how I as a white person play a part in that system right now.” I can think of at least twenty more options to have either included or varied within this short snippet of an answer. An answer that would’ve ideally acknowledged her character’s impact (then and now), rather than one that indicated an embarrassment of embodying a racist everywoman who walked the earth back in the day (and who, incidentally, continues to occupy all fifty states).

I don’t know if the children shared my disappointment, but the overall lack of pachyderm-pointing unleashed a deflated exhale with the reality check that we still have a lot of work to do together, just like when one hopes for the most incredible professional magic trick and instead has a cold coin dropped on their shoulder by their amateur uncle. Is there an internal obstacle interrupting or blocking her — my, our — ability to show up as a whole, articulate human in the room? I ask this insistently and lovingly of everyone who benefits from systemic racism. I’m not looking for accolades by asking, either; I seek answers. Real, authentic answers, which inevitably lead to deeper questions.

If the child’s inquiry set off a sub/conscious reaction within the actress — indescribable and incapacitating as it may have been, perhaps linked to the constraining costume she wore and confusions she bore — then the onus wasn’t on her to facilitate this opportune conversation. The onus was on me and whomever else witnessed her discomfort, particularly any of the other twenty to thirty educators and chaperones in the room. We all shared the responsibility to notice that she was stuck, then take the baton to the finish line as a team.

We (I) could’ve sustained the question, voiced the energy shift in the room, and given time for each actor to answer. We (I) then could’ve returned to the bigger picture to ask what happened within ourselves the moment the actress inhaled. What stories did we (I) instantly project onto her that heaved a weighted suspicion out of a child’s innocuous question? Here was an opportunity to be honest, non-expert role models to the children, and regard the arduous work of undoing white supremacy in the US. Can we please give these youth an ounce of hope that the process is underway?

Speaking of which, are we committed to that work, or not? Are we ready yet to observe the fact that white people (myself included) owe our lifestyles of increased comfort and safety and accessible provisions to the millions of people of color who’ve had the concept of being “less than” literally beaten into them? Perhaps not on purpose, hopefully not consciously (though certainly not all white US citizens can be credited with good intentions), we nonetheless all participate in and profit from the imbalance of power informed by prejudice, as fellow “separate but equal” products of the systemic racism that founded this country. We are complicit. Yes? Yes.

As a teaching artist, I missed my opportunity to feel uncomfortable and pipe up from the back row. Why did I expect and wait for someone else in the room to address the issue when I was fully capable? I sat out the chance to invite everyone to maintain a childlike curiosity throughout their day-to-day lives and within their personal interactions, especially on the topic of race. If this work is so important to me, why didn’t I use my voice?

I have to thank Kevin Jones, co-founder and Artistic Director of the August Wilson Red Door Project in Portland, for his deft pivot of my out-bound mirror back toward me. Not one of my white family members or friends who proofread this blog pointed out my own miss in the moment. To those beloveds and everyone who identifies as white, let’s relieve the educational load from our beloved country-people of color who’ve never volunteered to take it on, yet who’ve been struggling — and dying — every day under the incessant pressure of racism for at least three hundred years. Let’s happily (or earnestly) take on the task of learning for ourselves where we have been anesthetized by centuries of systemic racism and where we’ve disconnected from own humanity.

The common, ongoing white denial with words of “I don’t like playing her” which is to reject association, as in “I’m not her” which is to squirm “I’m not racist” — these are all thorny evasions and veiled lies obvious to an innocent-yet-wise audience of children. We have to agree that these avoidance tactics are old. We have to agree that these maneuvers must lose their footholds as more and more white people accept accountability and finally insist upon evolution (and revolution). We have to agree that there’s no time to squirm and shrug in the held focus of hundreds of intelligent, impressionable young minds — who already know of and personally experience racist words and actions, whether via microaggressions or macro — because their lives are at stake. We have so much work to do. Let’s please begin by answering a simple question with a “Yes, and –”




Note: I invite readers to participate in community conversation, and I understand that this topic can shake up emotions and confusions and defenses. Since I am responsible for this platform, any cruel, violent or otherwise harmful comments will be deleted. Let’s embrace the work with our hearts and mindful thinking.