Potted Potter: A Great Dose of Fun

potted-potterOur posts for January are about health, and if laughter is the best medicine, you can get yourself a great dose of fun by going along to see Potted Potter.  You will have to hurry, though; the show is in its last week for its run in Toronto.

Beth-Anne, Carol and I took our boys to see the show in December, and I have to tell you that it was one of the highlights of my lead-up to Christmas.  “Attend” is my word of the year for 2015, but of course, I had had the word in mind for a while before writing about it for the blog.  Writing this blog has brought us many wonderful things, including friendships for which I am eternally grateful, but another thing I’m grateful for is Opportunity.  We are invited to interesting events and occasions, and I will be honest and tell you that I weigh each and every invitation very carefully.  It takes a lot to get me out of my routine and my happy place (pajamas, bed, book).  When the opportunity came to see Potted Potter smack dab in the middle of the chaos that characterizes the weeks in mid-December, I thought long and hard about accepting; I think we all did.  Like you, we all had a lot on our plates, but I wanted to get an early start on my word of the year, and I chose to attend.

I’m so glad I did.  It was such a gift to witness not only my nine year old’s belly laughs, but Carol’s and Beth-Anne’s too!  We all had a hoot, and you really do not have to be a Harry Potter expert to enjoy the show.

The premise of the show is that two actors act out all seven books in the Harry Potter series in 70 minutes.  It’s a fast-paced physical comedy that brings into play humour both broad and subtle.  There’s a straight man and a funny man, there is a wild and wacky frenzy as the two attempt to act out as many of the major roles as possible.  Unexpected costumes, props and choreography add much to the fun.  There are jokes pitched high and low, and the actors appeared to improvise references to everything from Frozen to Toronto’s Gay Pride Parade and disastrous Mayor Ford.  The jokes come at you a mile a minute, and while the kids are still laughing at the ones pitched to them, the adults are laughing at the subsequent allusions pitched to them.  There is even audience participation, as members of the audience are invited to participate in a Quidditch game, while two kids get invited up onto the stage.

Before the show, you can order a butter beer from the bar (the recipe is secret, but they will alert you to possible allergens).  The lobby and the sidewalk outside the Panasonic Theatre are quite small, and it felt very crowded very quickly, so you’d be well advised to arrive and take your seats early.   It’s just steps from the subway, so getting there and home was a breeze for those of us on the TTC.  Parking was not easy to find, so, again, arrive early to give yourself wiggle room.

I had one very special night with Middlest, and we went out for dinner after the show, just the two of us, and it felt like just the right way to kick off the winter holiday.  It would also be a great way to kick off the new year.  Here’s to attending!

Potted Potter is at the Panasonic Theater, 651 Yonge Street.  It runs until January 11, 2015.

You can get tickets here.

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Nathalie’s Word for 2015: Attend

attend (v)

1. to be present at (an event, meeting or function)

2. to apply the mind or to pay close attention

Origin of attend: Middle English, from Anglo-French atendre, from Latin attendere, literally, to stretch to, from ad- + tendere to stretch

First of all, I love that the etymology for this word includes “stretch” because for weeks and weeks “stretch” was my word for this post.  I even wrote it in the sand at the beach this summer to photograph it for this post, then I changed my mind.  I like to feel I’m having it both ways now.  More than that, it felt like a gift to discover that the word I finally settled on has nestled inside it the word I had been contemplating for so long.  It made the decision feel right.

And having it both ways is kind of what this word is about because “attend” points in two very different directions for me: to venture out and to pay close attention to.

I want next year to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone and to attend many more events and functions and plays and games and gatherings outside of my home and my comfort zone.  I am a home body, and I need a lot of time alone at home, but this blog and my children’s growing older have both opened up a lot of new opportunities to loosen the tether to home and the comfortable safety it offers.  I want to say yes a lot more often to occasions to be away from home.  Often, this means that someone else will have to attend to my children, and I’ll be honest, sometimes the effort of replacing myself just doesn’t seem worth it.  Well, I want not to weigh that question of worth quite so often next year.  I want to find out for sure, and I want to begin to belong in circles, places and spaces that define a different part of me.

But I also feel strongly bound by the sense of the word that means to pay attention, to attend not only to the world and the people around me, but also to my gut.  It’s an inward-looking, close to the self kind of meaning, and I want to pull the world in at the same time that I venture out.  I have begun that in a really rewarding way already with photographs from my daily walks.  (I post them on Instagram, if you’re following us there, and they pop up on the side bar if you’re reading us on the computer.)  Somehow, giving myself the task of capturing one image from my day has made me attend to my surroundings in a whole new way.  I’m looking for opportunities to frame and capture a moment, a colour, a flash of light.  I am never the subject of the photograph, but somehow they reflect me and how I saw the world that day.  “Attend” came to me while I was on one of my walks, and it really does capture how grounded and right in myself I feel while I’m walking.

I listen to podcasts while I’m on my long exercise walks, so attending also means paying attention to another person’s story.  I often joke that education is wasted on the young and that I could happily be in school for ever.  Well, with podcasts I am attending lectures for as long as my walk lasts.  I have met so many amazing authors in interviews recorded with the CBC, BBC, The Guardian, NPR, LRB, and others, and I’ve been utterly captivated by what I’ve learned about science and history from “Quirks and Quarks” and “A History of the World in 100 Objects.”  My taking photographs and listening to podcasts began in earnest in November, but I know it’s something that I want to make a top priority for 2015 because they both feed my soul.

Finally, I want to learn to attend to my own instincts more generously and viscerally.  I second-guess myself all the time, and, usually, I think that’s a positive thing.  I think it’s good to question yourself.  I like humility and the ability to see things from multiple perspectives, and I value how second-guessing myself will give me both.  But I’m also a bit tired of how often hindsight will show me that I should have been more rooted in my own values and priorities.  I will catch myself scrambling around in ways that reward others much more than they reward me, and I want to rein that in, to attend to what feels right for me.

So, a word that stretches me in some ways and extends what is already there and working well.  I’m happy I settled on it.  I feel at home in it.

 

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Carrie Snyder’s Word for 2014

I’ve been choosing a word-of-the-year for nearly a decade, a tradition I’ve shared with a friend who initiated it; several years ago we invited another friend into our circle. I look forward to our annual meeting—in front of a wood stove on a dark winter’s night—like I’m preparing to unwrap an exciting gift. We meet to reflect on how we used (or didn’t) our chosen word from the previous year, and then we reveal our new words, along with the hopes and baggage and dreams and fears and intentions going forward.

My word of the year for 2014 was “success.”

As always, I tested out several different words in the weeks leading up to our meeting, believed I’d landed on one, and at the eleventh hour switched to another. This is a consistent pattern for me. We’ve observed over the years that words can carry with them their opposites, their shadow sides, and I approach my choice with a certain amount of caution as well as excitement. Last January, I decided to go into what frightened me, and dig deep.

Just a few months earlier, I’d sold my third book, and first novel, Girl Runner, to a number of publishers around the world. This was the culmination of twenty years of discipline, work, and outsized dreaming, and to be perfectly honest, I was terrified of what would come next. I couldn’t begin to see it. The word “success” seemed to encapsulate my fears: success carried with it a weight of expectation, and the potential for failure on a previously unsuspected scale. It sounds perhaps silly and ungrateful to fear success, but I was acutely attuned to all that could go wrong. I did not want to disappoint anyone, most especially myself.

What did it mean to succeed? Why did the thought of success fill me with dread and fear, anxiety, even shame?

I spent the year unpacking this, as I’d hoped. In fact, this year was the first that I extended the word-of the-year project to include regular written meditations. Over the course of twelve months my thoughts on success changed in ways both subtle and radical.

At first, I focused on identifying the positive aspects of success—the notion that an achievement is a starting point, not an end, and that success offers a platform to look beyond and tackle even greater obstacles. I thought of Nelson Mandela, who wrote, “But I have discovered the secret, that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb,” which helped me cope with the paralyzing anxiety—that I might have nothing more to say, having achieved what I’d set out to achieve all those years ago. No. What looks like success might, in retrospect, prove to have been simply a catalyst for possibilities as yet unguessed-at, which can only be explored using all of the tools that brought you to this moment. In other words, go bravely into the darkness.

When my book was published in Canada this past fall, success took on a harsher shade, a glare. I was fortunate to receive good media attention and good reviews, and to be invited to festivals and events to share my work. But with the attention crept the doubt. Was I deserving? Did I have anything interesting to say? Had I written the book I’d hoped to write? The more comfortable I became with being on stage, the less comfortable I became with being alone. I liked the light. Was this dreadful of me, was I becoming a spotlight-hogging narcissist? Was I losing myself? Was my self so superficial that it could get lost this easily?

Well. No. (Although perhaps temporarily, yes.)

When prize season rolled around and my book was a finalist for a major literary award (but not for the glittering-est and most coveted), and when it did not win, I underwent some very unpleasant, even ugly, internal emotional battles. Did my notion of success hinge entirely on external acknowledgement? I countered the ugliness by practicing gratitude and savouring the pleasures that came with being nominated. I tried to be mindful and careful to name the pleasures, even if only to myself, so that I would not get caught up in envy or greed or self-loathing.

I knew that my idea of success—the success that I wanted to embrace—was not about envy or greed or self-loathing (which may seem an odd addition to the list of ugly internal emotions, but there it lurked).

Over the course of this year, I’ve learned what I probably knew all along, but needed to know even more deeply, needed to live inside: that success is not only about work. I do love my work. And that is a great fortune. But I consider myself successful when I share my life with people whom I love, and when I respond to needs and responsibilities with care and love—within myself, within my family, within my community, and within the larger world.

It isn’t about what’s visible, necessarily; success doesn’t always get acknowledged. Success, ultimately, is extremely personal.

Here’s what I’ve learned this year: It doesn’t matter if the world tells you that you’re successful if you don’t believe it yourself. And, likewise, it doesn’t matter if the world doesn’t notice your success if you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished. Success is progressive, cumulative, built on deep layers; it doesn’t anoint you in an instant. It isn’t a place. It isn’t a thing. It isn’t definitive.

Finally, while it’s good to remind myself that acknowledgement is not the same as success, it’s also good to remind myself to express gratitude and thanks for acknowledgement when it comes—that is something I need to work on, a lot. I need to work on accepting acknowledgement with grace, gratitude, and, um, acceptance (to repeat myself). Know what I mean? What I noticed this year is that I doubt acknowledgement—I disbelieve the sincerity and assume people are just being nice—because I see every flaw in my work and efforts, and I don’t love my flaws very much, at all. (Hm… new word for next year, buried somewhere in there?)

As the year comes to a close, I think I could easily spend the rest of my life exploring the idea of success, which is the way it feels at the end of a year when a word choice has really struck home.

But onward, friends, to a new year and with it a different word, with a different flavour to spice our intentions and reflections.

Walk into the fear! Go deep! Unwrap with excitement.

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Carrie-Snyder-e1412714186377Carrie Snyder is mother of four, writer, dreamer, planner, mid-life runner, teacher, photographer, blogger. She is the author of three books of fiction, most recently Girl Runner, published this fall in Canada and coming this winter to the US, the UK & Australia. She looks for the light and embraces transitional moments: winter solstice is one of her favourite days of the year.