how far will your ripples go?

Last night, I went with my friend Marjie to UC Berkeley to see the Scottish Ballet’s stunning performance of Tennessee Williams’ famous play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” It was my first time going to a professional ballet performance—my only previous ballet experience was attending community performances of “The Nutcracker.” I always enjoyed “The Nutcracker” and was always impressed by the talent of the ballerinas. Still, I was not expecting to feel so emotionally moved and enraptured as I watched the performance last night.

The dancers conveyed so much with their bodies and expressions; I forgot they were not speaking in words. Because they were speaking in movement. Even without dialogue, they were able to capture the aching hope and despair of Williams’ play, and bring his story to life in a new way. What’s more, this performance imagined and fleshed out a vivid backstory for Blanche’s character, inspired by the original title Tennessee Williams considered for the play: “The Moth.” The ballet closed with a vulnerable portrayal of Blanche as a moth, struggling to get close to the light. Illuminated in a spotlight centerstage, one of her hands fluttered skyward like a moth’s delicate wings. A hush descended over the audience and some people even gasped, viscerally moved by the image, and then the curtain fell to thunderous applause.

I wish Tennessee Williams could have been there to see this interpretation of his play as a ballet. I think he would have been pleased to see his story brought to life in this new way, filled with the tension and drama of music and dance.

I have felt a connection to Tennessee Williams ever since last Thanksgiving, when my family and I traveled to New Orleans and tracked down the apartment that he had lived in during his New Orleans days at the end of his life. Serendipitously, while we were outside, taking photos and reading the small plaque affixed to the front wall, a man who lived there just happened to be returning home. He introduced himself as Brobson and invited us inside for a drink; he had lived there for many years and had known Tennessee Williams. He kindly welcomed us inside and shared many stories, even taking us around to the backyard to see the pool where Tennessee used to relax in the afternoons. {My dad wrote a terrific two-part column about our visit with Brobson, which you can read here on his website.}

Before that day, Tennessee Williams had been larger-than-life to me; a name in a list of Great Writers I Admire; a photo on a Wikipedia page. But seeing where he had lived and meeting someone who had known him turned him into a real person. There were surely days he struggled to write, as I sometimes do. Days when he doubted himself. Days when he wanted to give up. “A Streetcar Named Desire” was once merely a glimmer of an idea on the edge of his consciousness. Thankfully, he wrote the idea down, and he kept writing until the play was finished. Even when it was hard. Even when there were a million other things he could have been doing, or would have rather been doing. Even when he wondered if the words he was painstakingly stacking up, one after the next after the next, would amount to anything at all.

Tennessee Williams had no way of knowing how much his plays would impact people and how far the ripples of his creativity would extend. He had no way of knowing that on a Thursday evening in Berkeley thirty-seven years after his death, hundreds of people would be moved to tears from a new portrayal of the characters he had dreamed up.

None of us know how far our own ripples will go. The gifts we create. The lives we touch. The kind words we share. All of these are stones dropped into water. What was once still is now in motion.

You have no idea how your daily actions might inspire others. What you do and make today might affect someone tomorrow, or next week, or ten years from now. Others in the future might learn from you and build upon what you have done, creating something of their own that is entirely new and wonderful, something else that will launch more ripples out into the world.

Back when I was in elementary school, I wrote and self-published a small book of stories and poems. Nearly two decades later, I received an email from a composer named Alex Marthaler at Carnegie Mellon University. He was creating a song-cycle around the theme of childhood and adulthood, and he had somehow discovered my little book. Would it be okay if he used some of my poems as lyrics for the songs he wanted to compose?

Yes! I quickly responded. Yes, that would be amazing!

Would I be willing to write a few companion poems, responding to the themes of the poems I had written as a child, now from an adult perspective?

Yes, yes! What a fun project!

And it was an extremely fun project, unlike anything else I had done before or since. I looked at the poems my child-self had written with fresh eyes and new appreciation, and I wrote new poems that were in conversation with them. It was like talking to the girl I had once been, and listening to her replies. She helped me remember why I first fell in love with writing to begin with. The magic of setting your thoughts down onto paper, and then releasing those words into the universe. Like launching hundreds of miniature paper airplanes into the sky.

I sent him the new poems, and a few months later, Alex sent me the recordings of the songs. Listening to them, I was blown away with wonder. Who would have imagined that a few little poems I wrote in pencil on lined notebook paper at my kitchen table when I was nine years old, would one day be turned into beautiful songs performed at Carnegie Mellon?

{Me in fifth grade with copies of my first little self-published book}

I love this quote from Brene Brown:

“Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world.”

How will you share your soul with the world? What ripples will come from what you share? One thing I do know is that our world will be so much richer for it.

P.S. You can listen to Alex’s song rendition of my fifth-grade poem “Peanut Butter Surprise” below, and if you’d like a copy of my first little book, it’s available here. And here is a free download of my childhood poems with their adult counterparts, in case you’d like to read them.

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open up a new document on your computer. Here are some questions to get your “free-write” going today:

  • What is a creative project you are currently struggling with or feeling discouraged about? What small step can you take right now to make it feel easier or lighter?
  • Is there a project in your heart that you are afraid to share? What might happen if you released it into the world, in all of its imperfect and messy beauty?
  • What ripples can you create today?
  • Write about a ripple that someone else created that has touched you or impacted your life.

dear amber rubarth

Hi. I’m one of the people who came up to you after your concert in San Francisco this past Saturday night and asked you to sign my copy of your CD. I was nervous, and I don’t think I even remembered to tell you my name. I did tell you that I first saw you play at Zoey’s in Ventura years and years ago, and that your music has meant a lot to me. But it is impossible in a one-minute conversation to feel like one is able to say anything that really goes below the surface. I just felt like any other fan, asking to get a picture with you. You were so kind. And then it was the next person in line’s turn and I said goodbye and Allyn and I walked out into the night. And I felt buzzing with happiness at what a wonderful evening it had been, but I also felt a keen layer of frustration beneath my skin. Because I didn’t feel like I expressed myself clearly to you in that one-minute conversation as you signed my CD.

amber rubarth concert sign

Here is what I wanted to tell you.

When I first saw you play, at Zoey’s Cafe in Ventura, I was feeling a little lost and uncertain. I had just graduated college and moved back in with my parents after my grad school and fellowship plans had ended in nothing but rejections. For my entire life up until that period, my identity had been built on structure and over-achievement. Suddenly, I was floundering. I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how to build a career out of it. I felt like everyone else I knew had “real jobs” and paychecks and responsibilities and exciting lives in new cities. Meanwhile, I was back in time, living once again in my childhood bedroom, unsure what the future held. And I had broken up with my college boyfriend, someone I had loved very much but had realized was not the love of my life. I felt confident it was the right decision, but I missed him. And part of me worried no one else would ever love me again.

I went to your concert at Zoey’s as part of my attempt to get out more and meet people. Zoey’s owners, Polly and Steve, had always been kind to me — they had even hosted a book signing for me back when I was in high school and released a collection of short stories — and I would check their website often for live music shows. Usually, I would go by myself. I went by myself to your show, and sat at the bar because there were no other seats available, and tried not to feel like a loser amidst the crowd of couples and families. Was I the only one there alone? But as soon as you started singing, I forgot to feel self-conscious. I felt myself in your songs. I felt understood. I listened to your beautiful, fragile, strong voice sing bravely and vulnerably about love and hope and healing, and for the first time in quite some time I felt excited to fall in love again. I felt like the world was indeed a wondrous place and that there was magic out in the future waiting for me.

That night, I went up to you after your show and bought both of your CDs and listened to them on repeat for months, driving around in my car, trying to find myself again. I particularly remember listening to You Will Love This Song on repeat and repeat and repeat. The details felt so true. Your song helped me get over my ex, while still remembering with bittersweet fondness the love we had shared, and taking in what it had taught me, and what I was looking for in a future love.

I got into grad school for fiction writing and moved halfway across the country, from my native California to a small college town in Indiana. If I thought I had felt lonely and uncertain before, I was on a whole new barometer of loneliness now. For the first time, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment by myself. I missed my family with aching fierceness. I felt overwhelmed with my new responsibilities and making friends had never seemed more difficult. I wondered if there was something wrong with me. I dreaded Fridays because it meant an endless weekend stretched before me; sometimes, a trip to the grocery store was my entire social interaction. It snowed and snowed. I wrote epically long emails to my friend Holly. I read and read and tried to write, authentically, for myself, even though criticism from my peers in workshop resounded loudly in my head. I went on a couple of unsuccessful blind dates and developed one or two hopeless crushes and listened to your song 23. I learned to cook for one. I listened to your CDs as I drove around in my same old car in this unfamiliar new town. Your songs made me feel a little bit less alone, a little bit braver. Especially Chrysanthemum Song.

I eventually met a guy, and we were together for a little while, and I was so grateful to have someone that I lost a lot of myself in the relationship. When everything fell apart, suddenly and irrevocably, I found myself again in the rubble. My brother came out to Indiana to help me regain my footing that first week, and he is also a fan of yours and he would put on your music. When I was sad, I listened to In The Creases and cried. But I simultaneously felt washed anew in a bright, sure happiness. That summer, I listened to your song The Edge and felt like you were speaking directly to me, to what I was feeling, to this new life that I was standing on the crest of, looking out across the landscape.

I moved back to California, this time to the Bay Area. I fit the pieces of myself back together again, trying on some new pieces too: zumba, yoga, green smoothies, long hikes, online dating. I met my sweetie in late January and falling in love with him was like nothing I had ever felt before: swift and yet not rushed at all; patient and trusting yet filled with surprises; gentle and passionate and balanced and consuming, all at once. As you sing in When It Fits, when it fits just right, it takes no time to know.

We spent that summer apart because he moved to New Orleans for three months for an internship. I went out to visit him and we spent three glorious weeks together, eating beignets and walking around the French Quarter and snapping photos of alligators during a swamp tour. The morning I left, I gave him a mix CD I had made for him. We listened to it as he drove me to the airport. I remember rolling down the window and breathing in the cool morning air — it was still dark out and the streets were deserted — as your Song to Thank the Stars played from his car stereo. The rest of the summer, whenever I was missing him too much, I would listen to that song and the ache inside me would ease a little into gratitude.

When one of my best friends died in a car accident, music and books were two of the only things that brought me any sort of comfort. The first six months, I was in a daze. I felt like I was living underwater. I remember listening to your song Pilot. The lyrics from that song run still through my head sometimes, on days when I feel in need of a spark.

Five months ago, my love proposed by serenading me with a Jason Mraz song on the guitar: Quiet. It seems fitting that one of my favorite duets is a song by Jason Mraz and you, which also makes me think of my sweetheart; I’ve been listening to it on repeat lately, as I plan our wedding.

A couple months ago, Amber, when I saw you were going to play a concert in San Francisco, I was so excited. I told Allyn that was all I wanted for my birthday: to go to your concert. So he bought tickets, and I circled the date on my calendar, and we went. When you came out onstage and began to sing, I felt transported back to that night six years ago at Zoey’s cafe. So much was different then. So much has changed. I think back to that shy, nervous, uncertain girl I was, and she seems so young and far away. And yet — hearing you sing your older songs made me feel connected to my previous selves. Sitting in that concert beside Allyn made me feel like I got to share those memories with him, in some osmosis sort of way.

Your concert was beautiful. Your joy was contagious. The audience adored you and we cheered and cheered until you came back out and played us an encore. My breath caught in my throat when your final song was A Song To Thank The Stars. I held Allyn’s hand and felt filled to the brim with grace and love. When you signed my CD, I told you how happy I was that you played that song. You confided that it was the only song you performed that was not on your set list, that you felt compelled to play it at the end of the night for some reason. “You must have been sending lots of mental vibes for me to play it!” you said, laughing. The song felt even more like a gift after hearing that.

me and amber rubarth 2

I guess what I’m trying to say with all of this, Amber, is that your music matters. You don’t even know my name, but your music has mattered immensely in my life. It has helped me feel less alone in my lonely times, and more grateful in my joyful times, and it has made me think and made me feel and helped me to be braver and kinder and more attuned to the tiny details of the world around me.

Thank you for your music. I hope you always keep making music. I am so excited to hear what you create next.

Love,
Dallas

fabulous friday #8

Happy TGIF, friends! It’s been a beautiful sunny week in the Bay Area, though the weather has been drier than ever — which means wildfires are a very real danger. Please send your thoughts & prayers for rain!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service on January 20th. I can’t think of a better way to remember Dr. King than a national day of service in his honor. I’m excited to get involved with a community service project on Monday. Here’s a wonderful link about the Day of Service with a helpful guide to find projects happening your area! Or, do an act of kindness!

2. Morning yoga. I’ve started going to a yoga class that meets every Tuesday & Thursday morning. I may not be the most talented yogi in the land {a not-so-nice instructor once told me, “You are the least flexible young person I’ve ever seen!” Ummm, thanks? At least I’m trying!} … but I always feel way energized and refreshed after yoga class. And I’m improving, little by little, day by day. I’m even contemplating adding a morning Saturday yoga class to my routine!

3. Big ol’ salads. {Which always makes me think of this Seinfeld episode!} One of my health goals for this year is to eat a salad or a green smoothie every day. My body just feels better when I feed it good fuel. Right now I can’t get enough of crunchy toppings like fresh bell pepper, celery and edamame. YUM.

big salad

4. My aunt’s two poodles, Lucy & Rocca. This week I’ve been writing at her house during the day to keep her dogs company so they don’t get too lonely. Mr. Mur-dog will always hold the key to my heart, but these two dogs are pretty dang sweet and adorable, too! {Just don’t tell him I said that.}

poodles

5. This “revamp my spirit” playlist by Heather Waxman. My current favorite playlist, guaranteed to start my day off on a great note! I especially love the first track, “Riptide” by Vance Joy.

Now, your turn:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • Any fun plans for the weekend?
  • Are you going to participate in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service on Monday?

fabulous friday #3

Happy Friday! What fun plans do you have on the horizon? I’ve been battling a cold this week, but thanks to plenty of rest, green tea, and Grandma’s homemade soup, I am feeling much better … ready to embrace the weekend!

Here are five things I’m smiling about:

1. The USC-Cal Berkeley game! I’ll be heading over bright and early with some new friends from the East Bay Alumni Club. I’m so excited to tailgate and cheer on our Trojans! It’s been five years since I’ve been to a USC football game — crazy!

One of the last games I attended, back in college ...

One of the last games I attended, back in college …

2. Pumpkin spice English muffins are back on the grocery store shelves! YUM. Is it too much to slather these with pumpkin butter? Because you bet that’s what I’ll be eating for breakfast all week. 🙂

pumpkin spice english muffins

3. My Grandpap’s birthday is tomorrow! We’re all getting together to celebrate on Sunday. Bianca and I are planning to make these funfetti cookies {thanks for the recipe Sarah!} and Grandpap’s favorite dessert, cherry-cheese pie. Photos and recipe to come!

grandpap bday

4. Two new songs that I’ve been listening to over and over:

tswift dcoke

5. Whitney’s blog posts reflecting on her recent trip to Africa … wow, you guys. Read her words and gaze at her photos and prepare to be inspired. She makes me smile, she brings tears to my eyes, she makes me feel filled with grace.

Questions of the morning:

  • What are you loving today?
  • What do you have planned for this weekend?