"they say the owl was a baker's daughter. lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be." (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5)

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

This Is Room Tone

I’m not looking my best. It’s been weeks of travel this summer, culminating in one massive trip with a video crew to film my very first documentary. I’ve been living out of a suitcase since June 28, indulgently eating whenever I get a moment, sleeping at odd hours in whatever time zone I find myself, and rebounding from a terrible haircut. All told, you might see me and say, “Hey friend, you don’t look so good.”

But let me tell you. I might look my worst, but I am at my best. This last seven days have helped me to reclaim everything I have professionally lost since that fateful Tuesday morning in May 2011. The meeting in that office when I saw myself losing my religion, felt my passion for my work seeping from my body, puddling on the floor, while my spirit looked on, crushed. But listen up. I'm back.

Last week, I had the opportunity to see things, learn things, hear things, and experience things that I never considered possible. I met people – smart people, passionate people, creative people, kind people, and people who challenged me, inspired me, and dealt me hope in spades.

But most importantly, I worked with a team of master craftsmen. I was able to observe them, witness them, and was invited into the sanctum of their expertise. I learned about lighting, reflection, sound, frames, color, distance, room tones, warmth, depth, lenses, staging, motion, reflection, and vision. Watching, listening, I felt an immediate kinship with these unapologetic colleagues, to whom the details matter, and for whom getting it right is a non-negotiable.

We spent hours and hours talking about the end product, united in an endless pursuit of excellence. We wrote interview questions, shredded them, started over, reworded them, pinched them, polished them, and perfected them. We lit rooms, wired people, tested for sound, combed hair, mopped sweat, and adjusted collars on people we barely knew. A professional intimacy bred from a shared goal. We filmed interviews, nudging conversations towards answers, reworded responses, solicited for more, better, different ways to get to the perfect sound byte. And when we got it, and tape was rolling, you might have heard the director say, “Jeannette, I can’t see you but I can hear you smiling.”

And later, when I momentarily forgot where I was, and what I was doing there, chattering on about my next bright idea, you might have heard the director say, “Someone tell Jeannette to shut up. We're rolling.”

We chased the perfect shot by climbing ladders, lying under windowsills, perching on top of palettes, and crouching in corners. We waited out delayed flights, ate airplane food, woke to catch trains at 04:00, jammed ourselves into taxis with jump seats, and walked endless miles through warehouses and grasslands. We slept, sitting upright, in vans and trolley cars. Split the bill, pay the taxi, grab the gear, set the wake-up call, fall into bed, meet you in the lobby in the morning. Don’t be late. Look sharp.

It is uncommon to work on a team that shares the same, unspoken, commitment to precision; a team on which it doesn’t need to be said -- our best is the only option. My best. Your best. Nothing less. We couldn’t let each other down, because the shame would have been too great. We work this way because we can, not because we must, and in choosing that, we free ourselves to pursue nothing but our own expectation of brilliance. It's a privilege.

In my professional life, I have so sorely missed this combustion of energy when unrestricted creative minds collide with unencumbered technical expertise. It was a perfect storm. The passionate simplicity of design for total effect.

Last week, I was reminded that work can be fun. Last week I was reminded of the enviable exhaustion that results from a fully engaged mind, and a happy spirit, working in service of something greater than itself. This is why we work.

So, to John and Terry, I thank you. Thanks for including me to the fullest extent possible. Thanks for being patient with my curiosity. Thanks for letting me interrupt your every sentence. Thanks for trusting me with your work. Thanks for not getting angry with me when I walked into the frame by accident. Thanks for listening to me talk about my husband all week. Thanks for not making me sit in the jump seat while I was wearing a dress.

Thanks for making me laugh. Six filets eight buns. Undoubtedly, there should be more weeks like this.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Because You Can't Make It Up (3) August 7, 2012

All things overhead. Because you can't make it up.

1. "I don't think we're going to have a problem unless you bring the duck into the bedroom with you. In which case, pretty safe to say, that we're going to have issues."

2. "Well, my grandmother finally graduated from college and moved out, so that stress is over."

3. "That yogurt looks so good, I wish I could have some but I can't eat sugar."
"Really? That's kind of hard to believe because you're standing in front of me right now sucking on a pixie stick."

4. "How much would you pay me if I came to class tomorrow wearing rubber boots?"

5. "Guess I won't be dancing on your glass ceiling in my stilettos anytime soon."

6. "Jeannette! JEA-NNETTE! Get back in the car! It's rolling away from the drive thru window."

7. "You can now tell people you've been beaten with hot bamboo sticks."

8. "Oh right, like the two of us are gonna want to go a topless bar with you."
"What!? Not a topless bar! A tapas bar, you moron."

9. "Wow! You work a death job? I never heard anyone say that before."
"No. I said I work a desk job - a desk job, not a death job. Come to think of it, there's not much of a difference actually ..."

10. "If I leave now, you will never see me again - never."
"Is that a promise?"

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Who Else?

There's a moment, you know. A moment when everything snaps into focus. A moment you know you will never quite forget, with all your senses captivated, your mind busy memorizing every sensation. A moment when time literally stands still and you can feel it, see it, and you reach out and grab it, claim the moment as your own.

"Do you want to do it, baby?" he asks me.
"I'm not sure," I reply. Hesitant.
"Come on, it will be fun. Ok?" he encourages.
"Ok, but you're driving," I say. Obstinate.

He hands over the credit card and it meets the machine. My eyes, younger, take the receipt, read the tiniest, faintest print, approve the charge, and sign. My hand takes the waiver and signs our names. Both of them. We'll pay for any damages. We won't go out too far. We understand that they are not responsible in the event of accident, injury, or death. Copy all. Yadda yadda. Here's a used life jacket. It conceals my beautiful bikini and I instantly look like a tourist. A dreadful turn of events.

We walk out. My husband in the lead. Always in the lead. Seaweed catches my ankle. I watch him. Easy. He swings one leg over. I approach. He's taller and stronger. I can't quite swing my leg over, so I grab the arm rest, push down, and leap up, springing out of the water, both feet at once, landing on the back of it, like a gymnast sticking a vault.

"I could have pulled it into shallower water for you," says the attendant.
"Why would you do that? I got this," with an air of offense I toss the remark at him, over my shoulder.

My husband, he knows how to operate the equipment. He doesn't need a lesson, but he suffers through it, for the sake of compliance. He isn't listening. I can tell. As soon as the attendant is back on the shore, he pulls the accelerator. Caution be damned. And it begins.

Speed. A throaty roar. A tightened grip around his waist. You were right, baby. This is fun.

We tear off towards the flat line of the horizon with amazing and confident acceleration. Is it any wonder that Columbus thought the world was flat? It's just a continuum, just a flat line that you can never reach. Catch us if you can.

All around us is turbulence. We cut figure eights through the water, we jostle around in our own wake, we straighten and we accelerate more. Holding on tighter. It's time to jump waves.

Picking up speed, we approach, faster faster faster, louder, the engine, and then a roar, and we lift. We rise up as my stomach drops, my body lifts off of the seat, still holding on, silence but for a second, and we're airborne -- until we aren't any longer. And we come crashing down, bouncing off the surface of the water, bouncing and ricocheting, but still holding on. Loud melodious laughter. That laugh that comes from deep in his chest that no one, no one but me, gets to hear. Echoing off the water. And then we're still. Pull the kill switch. Cut the engine. Shhhh.

There isn't anyone else. No other watercraft. No other people. Nothing. Just us. And time stands still. Look around us. Everything is of our own making. The turbulence. The chaos. The adventure. The thrill. The calm. The peace. The partnership. Just the two of us with nothing but salt water as far as the eye can see. And an endlessly flat horizon, tempting us. Inviting us.

"Ok baby. Now you drive," he says as he stands up, steady now, balance, and moves behind me.
"Me?" I ask. Incredulous.
"Yeah baby," he says, "Who else but you?"

I scoot up. I pull the accelerator, lean forward, all in. Determined. Here we go. We race towards the waves, picking up speed, and we're airborne again.

Switching seats one last time, we go faster than ever and we almost dump it. Too far too far too far to the left, and I'm almost thrown off the back. I don't release my grip, so I feel his weight coming with me, but we correct, somehow, without words, we balance it back, and we course correct, and we steady it. And we're still again.

That's how I'll always remember us. That's the memory I choose to keep. Just the two of us, leaping waves and sitting still, drenched in salt water and happiness unrestricted.

Metaphorically, those thirty minutes could be have been our entire lifetime together. Propulsion, force, speed, confidence, arrogance, encouragement, chaos, peace, partnership, balance, and strength. You, me, and an innocent, unsuspecting, jet ski. We gave it the ride of its life.

"Yeah, baby" she smiled, "Who else but you?"

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Carousel

In the final episode of Mad Men, season one, Don Draper talks about nostalgia as translated from the Greek, meaning, “the pain of an old wound”. A delicate but potent emotion, the twinge in your heart that is far more powerful than memory alone. And I can’t agree more with the sentiment.

I have an unrelenting nostalgia for early motherhood. That twinge pulls hard when I think of both my boys learning to walk. I would get down on my knee and open my arms real wide from across the room. They would come toddling towards me in their soft shoes, arms up, gaining speed and then toppling into me. So proud to have arrived at their destination! So proud of their new tricks!

I look at them now, still young but not babies, and I can’t reconcile their growing bodies and lanky legs, the ways in which they move, swagger, and saunter. One wants to be in a garage band. One wants to play Texas hold’em. They both want to learn to cook. And a twinge pulls.

Maybe it’s made worse, as I stand by and witness my adult stepson, embarking on his own great adventure, and my husband so infinitely able and full of grace, as he lets it unfold. All as it is meant to be. He’s calm and confident. And I watch him and I swear that just by taking the phone in his hand he gets larger than life, and while I listen to him talking to his son, I hear his words building strength in us all, so that we don’t collapse under the weight of the nostalgia. And instead of sadness, we are calmed by the inevitability of this next rotation on the carousel. We spin. We spin together from wherever we may be standing on this great wide world.

And so I learn (because he teaches me) that every moment since they first learned to walk, every moment has been a tiny spinning carousel. More about my getting down on one knee and opening my arms, and turning my boys, one degree at a time, so that they can run, move away from me and towards a different destination, arms up, into the great wide world. And on these tiny carousels that we create out of the safety of our arms, there are ups and downs, other passengers get on and off, but it never stops moving. Tiny motions, ever turning. Here … let me show you the way, point you towards it, ease your condition, guide you, love you, release you, protect you, honor you, welcome you home. The motion is delicate, and with each potent degree turned, the nostalgia lessens and confidence replaces pain, the twinge pulls less as the pride swells, and the carousel spins.

In the same episode, Don Draper says this about the carousel, “It’s a place where we ache to go again, to travel like a child travels, around and around and back home again to a place where we know we are loved.” And with that, I am hopeful that my children -- all of them -- know that as their carousels endlessly spin into infinite adventures, at its center, unmoving and steadfast, is home.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Because You Can't Make It Up (2) June 8, 2012

I had to leave some great quotes on the cutting room floor this week. I'm trying to keep the list to a maximum of ten, all of which were overhead, spoken directly to me, or arrived in conversation via text, email, or Facebook. They're all real. Did YOU -- or someone you know -- make the list?

1. "We want to show you something we've been working really hard on for the past three weeks. We're really psyched about it. Here, take a look. What do you think?"

"Oh, you'll have to explain it to me. What is it?"

"Um, it's a bingo board."

2. "The zombie apocalypse? Ha ha ha."

3. "Liam, I'll worry about cleaning up this room while you worry about cleaning up your act."

5. "Why aren't you texting me back? Are you asleep?"

6. "And a little later, we'll do a propane torch demonstration."

7. "This is what happens when you do it wrong; bad things, not good things."

8. "I trusted you because you're foxy."

9. "They're just going to collapse under the vast weight of the future anyway."

10. "I'm sorry. Her hair is simply beyond."

"One word. Sideburns."

"I know. Aren't the called lambchops?"

Friday, June 1, 2012

Because You Can't Make It Up (1) June 1, 2012

If I thought I would have the discipline, I would say that I would run this feature every week. Alas, let's settle for when the mood strikes me. Here are my favorite quotes of the week. Can you claim any of them as your own?

1. "Clearly, she did not go back and check her work. You always got to check your work. Just like math class."

2. "I would be about as proud of doing business with them as I would be of my wife if she were a circus clown."

3. "White socks and white sneakers with shorts. It's guy code for, "I've got nothing left to lose."

4. "Seriously? One more time and I will come to your house and cause a storm on it. You think things are rotten in Denmark now? I will do that. I would not be scared to do that to Denmark."

5. "Eamon, the cable just went out so probably the shower isn't working either."

6. "Exciting things are just not going to come in here and happen to us while we're sitting on the couch!"

7. "Just because they cannot reach the bar, does not mean you should keep lowering it."

8. "Well, the fact that we're sitting here with a Project Manager, a Program Manager, a Product Manager, and a Production Manager and no one can explain why is kind of funny, but it really isn't funny at all. Actually."

9. "You might be an unstoppable force but I am an immovable object."

10. "If I were you, I would have leapt from that window a long time ago. A loonnggg time ago, sister."

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reflecting on Eleven

I just picked up my son at baseball practice. Is it possible that this is the boy who was not yet born eleven years ago? Eleven years ago when his due date had passed but the doctor was not yet willing to induce labor. Yes, that's the boy. He was worth the wait.

With lights high above the field, I watched him pull fly balls out of the air, like he was stealing secrets in the dark. He darted, and shifted, and lunged, and caught. His skinny legs in his baseball pants. So much my child. Those long lanky skinny legs. Standing still they look just the like the number 11 - two long parallel lines in the sands. His legs:my legs. He's a Munroe after all.

And he's just like me with that hint of over-assuredness, yet his is measured by a gentleness I never quite mastered. And he's just like me with that cocky swagger, yet his is softened by an occasional retreat into anonymity - a path I never traveled. And he's just like me with his hungry mind, yet his is satiated by sleep - a remedy to which mine has always been immune.

I have made mistakes in motherhood. Many. But I have not failed. And I know that much is true. For as my son climbs into the car, he talks to me, and he says words that I say to him when he is feeling sad. He encourages me in the same way that I encourage him when he needs hope. It's like an echo. I can only hear myself but I'm not speaking. And I check the rear view mirror and all I see is a witness to every brilliant moment of motherhood I never knew I had.

And he's just like me, because he wants to be better - and he's not afraid to try. (He also loves the Beastie Boys. #Word)

Happy (almost) birthday to my boy. Let's "turn it up to eleven" this year.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Effort, Hope, and Love

I've been thinking a lot lately about some distinct memories from my earliest days of motherhood and what they might say about hope, love, and effort.

When my boys were little, just 4 years old and 6 months, they attended a small childcare center about 1/4 mile from my office. I was guilt-ridden about working and not being with them during the day (but I didn't have the option to stay home with them). Tough days even now, to remember. I can still feel the pain in my heart of dropping them off each morning, and the tingle in my nose and my cheeks as I choked back the tears in defiance of the advice, "It will get easier, trust me." It doesn't get easier. Trust me.

I didn't take a single vacation day for three years. Instead, I spent all of my leave time taking longer lunches to visit them during the day. Sometimes I would get there at nap time and be able to lay on the mat in the nursery room floor with my 4 year old and rub his back until he fell asleep. Sometimes, I got there in time for lunch, and I would get to squeeze into one of those teeny-tiny preschool seats and enjoy a string cheese or a GoGurt. But it was never enough time. I always had to leave again. Every interaction was in anticipation of the leaving.

But the two memories that I can't escape are these.

1. For the fall festival during their first year at daycare, I volunteered to make a zucchini bread and an apple pie. I bought all of the ingredients on our way home the evening before the festival. By the time the babies were fed, bathed, read to, and tucked in, it was already late. I had some work to finish up, so I did that too. I didn't get started on my baking until close to 9:30 PM. I pulled out the recipes and started making my pie crust (from scratch), sliced the apples, and prepped the pie filling. It wasn't until then that I realized that I had no rolling pin or counter space to roll out the dough. So, I spread out some wax paper on the linoleum floor in my miniature kitchen and grabbed a bottle of olive oil. I turned the cap on tight, and started rolling out the crust. Sitting on the floor, with an olive oil bottle, wax paper, and my homemade pie crust.

I got that in the oven, and set to work on the zucchini bread, and realized all too quickly that I didn't have a shredder. So, I sat back down on the floor and started shredding three cups of zucchini with a paring knife. It was late, or rather early morning, by the time I got that in the oven, the kitchen cleaned, and into bed. I was satisfied. My children would know how much I loved them because of how hard I worked on these homemade delicacies from my imperfect, ill-equipped, kitchen.

We got to fall festival and I proudly entered with my beautiful, homemade desserts. I approached the table, behind another mom, just as she dropped two giant bags of Wendy's cheeseburgers on the table in front of me, and proclaimed, "The drive thru is the best! I only spent $20 and I got 20 cheeseburgers, my kitchen is still clean, and I'm not late. Phew, best investment I ever made."

I still don't think I have recovered from that experience. Watching that lazy pile of cheeseburgers disappear into greedy hands and happy mouths, while I stood there beside my untouched monuments to maternal effort. Seriously, wouldn't you rather have a Wendy's cheeseburger than a slice of zucchini bread? I just wanted my boys to know I was trying. I wanted my effort to be visible, unmatched, and demonstrative of my commitment to my children who I sensed I was failing daily. In that life where I could never find balance. For whom was I doing this? For them or for me? What would have happened if I had never rolled out that pie crust on my floor with a bottle of olive oil? Probably nothing. Surely nothing. The world would have continued to spin, whipping my maternal guilt around with it and my children's happiness would have been no greater and no less. So the question remains, "For whom do we try?" How does our hope mingle with effort, as we try to manufacture the outcome we so desperately want?

2. Here's another memory I can't seem to shake. Same apartment. Boys are slightly older by a few months and it's our first Christmas together. I was broke (both in the financial sense and the spiritual sense), but Christmas was on our doorstep and time waits for no man. Driving home on an evening in December, I pulled into a lot to buy a tree. We picked it out together, me carrying my younger son who was certainly big enough to walk (but reluctant to do so), and holding my older son's hand. We strolled through the rows of trees on display and settled on one that was a suitable size for our apartment and our lifestyle. It cost $15.

We tied it to the roof of my Subaru and when we got home, I cut it off and carried it all the way upstairs to our second floor apartment. All by myself. And you know what, I can still feel that tree in my hand. And that feeling of doing something for the sole purpose of creating happiness for someone else just flooding over me. And the amount of effort I poured into creating the illusion of prosperity for my boys, all revolving around that fifteen dollar Charlie Brown tree and the snowflakes we cut out of typing paper and taped to the windows. What other mother hasn't done these things? The endless effort fueled by the hope that others will know they are loved.

Effort, hope, and love. They can't be untangled. And when I think about my husband, and my big kids and my little kids, and my family, I think that is all there is to say. It's not perfect, but with a generous dose of effort, and inextinguishable hope, love will always find its way.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Shaping Space

Have you ever considered the space between? The space between any two people and how it gets there, or how it dissolves, or how it expands and contracts, or how it shifts, or how it establishes its own rules of engagement? Or how the balance of power sometimes simply hangs in the balance. Or how it grows warmer or colder, or lighter or darker. It's nothing more than space, and it sometimes seems that everything, all of it (whatever it is), is all trapped in there. Sometimes it is suffocating snared in confinement. Sometimes it is free-floating lost in vastness.

And it's a constant negotiation. Who we let in to it. And on what terms. Who we keep out of it. Any why. And for how long. The price we make them pay. The determinations we make about what debts to forgive in exchange for proximity again. The debts we create to fortify our own indignant convictions.

The imperfections we accept in people just to have companionship. The demons we create in others just to force them out. However you configure it, one axiom remains. The space is the guardian of the truth. This in-between space is the only space in which the truth can be tolerated. The space where the truth is pure. The space between.

Perhaps Peter Senge is an odd man to quote a time like this, but he said it best-- There is no enemy out there. You and the cause of all of your problems are part of the same system. It's all the same. Because wherever you go in this great spinning world, there you are. And the space remains. You can never leave it. You are always half of it. You own that much. You just drag it around with you. And all of its truth, however inaccessible, however unknown to you, are forever in your shadow.

So, how do you enter it? Do you dip your toe with guarded caution, stand in rigid self-righteousness, or immerse yourself in that space in hopeful promise? How do you shape it? Do you pour in anger, build around your self-manufactured drama, or sculpt it with grace? How do you interpret your own intentions? What do you want from the person on the other side? Are you trying to pull her closer or push him further away? Do you want it more than he does? Will you look with more than your own eyes, will you feel with more than your own heart? Or will you strand yourself in your own reality, unable to connect, compromise, or consider an alternative? Your truth is just one version of many. Can you accept that?

And we're all in it together. Turning to face a new space with a different stranger, turning to shape an old space with an intimate ally. This imperfect world on which we spin. Trading space for emotion, bartering for control, dealing out of pity, making withdrawals out of vainglory, or exchanging out of need.

One day you might turn and find me on the opposite side of your space. One day I might turn and find you. What will happen in that space at that moment? In what currency will we deal? What tools and what materials will we use to shape that space? And what emotions and expectations will we bring to bear on it? And when the truth emerges between us, will we know it when we see it?

"The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough." ~Colum McCann

Friday, January 6, 2012


"Now I am quietly waiting for

the catastrophe of my personality

to seem beautiful again,

and interesting, and modern.

~Frank O'Hara as quoted by Don Draper