Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Years Before We Wore Our Bossypants

I have been thinking about childhood and adolescence this week-end.  Donna Vorreyer wrote this great post about her childhood, which launched me into musing about mine.  She remembered long days spent outside, dirt and skinned knees and elbows and drinking from a hose.  That made me think about my own childhood of exploring drainage ditches and riding our bikes--without helmets or sunscreen!--all across the neighborhood.  We weren't allowed to stay out all night, like those kids in the new movie Super 8, but we did have more freedom than today's kids.

We played Little House on the Prairie, and my garage was the house; the back, underneath the storage racks, was the sleeping loft.  When we were really lucky, my dad would set up the pop-up camper, and we'd use that for any number of sets.  We didn't film what we were doing, but we were creating narratives, and dressing in costumes, and designing sets.

Yesterday, I devoured Tina Fey's Bossypants in one giant reading.  What a treat!  I loved her memories of her adolescent drama troupe.  She's got great insight into managing people, into gender differences in the workplace (men pee in cups; women don't--happily, that's not true at my workplace, at least, not that I've ever seen).  She gives us great advice about doing improv, advice which easily translates into other aspects of life:

"Always agree and always say yes. . . .  Start with a YES and see where that takes you.  As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no.  'No, we can't do that.' 'No, that's not in the budget.'  'No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.'  What kind of way is that to live?"

"The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND.  . . . It's your responsibility to contribute.  Always make sure you're adding something to the discussion.  Your initiations are worthwhile."

"The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS.  . . . In other words:  Whatever the problem, be part of the solution.  Don't just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.  We've all worked with that person.  That person is a drag.  . . .  Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions.  . . . Make statements with your actions and your voice."

"THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities.  . . . In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents."                                                                             (pp. 84-85).

The whole book is full of insight, often in places where we don't expect it.  It's got some ringing feminist themes, and the kind of wonderful humor that Tina Fey has always given us.

Here's a nugget for us creative folks:  in talking about Saturday Night Live, she says, "The show doesn't go on because it's ready; it goes on because it's 11:30" (p. 123).  In other words, not everything you do/create must be perfect.  Sometimes it's better not to overthink the process and the result. 

She tells us why she won't take another cruise and sums it up this way:  "Luxury cruises were designed to make something unbearable--a two-week transatlantic crossing--seem bearable.  There's no need to do it now.  We have planes.  You wouldn't take a vacation where you ride on a stagecoach for two months but there's all-you-can-eat shrimp" (p. 100).

Her stories about her dad will also be very familiar to those of us of a certain age, with parents of a certain age.  I was born in 1965, and I often think that my parents were the last of a distinct type of parents.  They weren't afraid to set very stern parameters.  Yet I also had lots of freedom to explore my neighborhood and lots of freedom to create in all sorts of ways.  My parents were much more friendly and supportive than their parents had been when they were children (their Depression era parents--my grandparents--were not exactly warm).  But the world of my childhood had clear demarcations:  there was an adult world and a child's world, and they didn't overlap much.

Maybe I also have childhood on the brain because yesterday I made cookies from a recipe I haven't used in decades, the imaginatively named Boiled Cookies.  We used to make this recipe when we hadn't put butter out to soften.  Now, of course, the microwave has changed all that.  No need to think ahead to soften butter for baking or to defrost a hunk of meat for dinner.

Revisiting this recipe, I was surprised that it's relatively healthy for a cookie:  high in protein, high in whole grains because I made it with old-fashioned oats, not the quick cooking oats that would have been in the kitchen of my childhood.  The cocoa has anti-oxidant properties that chocolate chips probably don't.

It's easy, quick, and at the end, you've only got one dirty pot.  It satisfies my chocolate craving, and my spouse, who doesn't usually like the chocolate intense recipes that I do, likes it too.

So, in case your Sunday needs sweetness, here's the recipe:

Boiled Cookies

1 stick of butter
2 C. sugar
½ C. milk
4 T. cocoa

Bring the above to a boil and boil 1 ½ minutes. Remove from heat and add the following:

2 ½ C. quick cooking oats (old-fashioned works, but results in chewier cookie; steel cut will not work)
2 tsp. vanilla
½ C. peanut butter
½ C. chopped nuts (will work without this addition)

Beat until well-blended. Drop onto wax paper and let set.


DJ Vorreyer said...

Thanks, Kristin! We didn't play Little House, but I think we covered almost every other 70s show - Brady Bunch, to be sure. And there definitely was a distinction between the world of adults and that of kids. The authority of that adult world was rarely questioned, either,

Bossypants is on my summer reading list, and your description just makes me want to read it more! And, um, way to go with the chocolate recipe - you made me very hungry.

Kells said...


We played Charlie's Angels (I was always Kelly). ;-)

If you liked Little House, you might enjoy "Nellie's" book-- confessions of a prairie bitch. She said people just HATED her from the show (I know I did!) ;-)

I loved Bossypants. So funny!
thanks for this summary of improv. I was reading that part to my family. (Always begin with a yes was a good one.)

Kristin said...

I, too, played "Charlie's Angels," and I was always the Jaclyn Smith character. I can't for the life of me remember the plot lines we created--none of my friends was allowed to watch the show.

Why did we not play "Brady Bunch"? I LOVED that show and my big act of defiance was watching reruns at my friend's houses in the afternoon after my mom sent me out to play. She was a big believer in fresh air and sunshine. But we lived in Montgomery, Alabama, so it was quite hot! Nope, my mom would have none of that argument.

Thank you both for the wonderful memories you've inspired!