Thursday, April 30, 2015

Synergy and Signs

When a small child, I thought that success spelled happiness. I was wrong, happiness is like a butterfly which appears and delights us for one brief moment, but soon flits away--Anna Pavlova 

If you have a whimsical side or even a spiritual side and an open your mind, you might like me, believe in signs. A song comes on the radio during that one thought, signaling to you to go with "it" or in the middle of that thought where you are questioning direction, a butterfly lands next to you as if someone from far away is saying, "It's o.k. I'm here and everything will all work out."  I have a tendency to pay attention to signs; numbers, songs, smells, etc. I sometimes ask for signs. They come in one of two ways usually. In the form of a song or the form of a butterfly. Now before you think that I'm some crazy lady with 14 cats and a crystal ball in every room, I just believe that there are forces greater than ourselves looking out for us who have the bigger picture in mind and who only want the best for us. (I actually believe more in signs and less in cats, but that's another story.)

I was thinking today about synergy and how we use it interchangeably in our activity. In the summer and fall, synergy is often used to describe the coordination between the sections on the field. In winter, it's often referred to in regards to the equipment as it works in tandem with the body. It can come to mean a lot of things depending on when or where you use it. When I go to a show, I am always aware of the synergistic qualities that brought everyone together in that one place for the opportunity to experience art as it merges with sport. If you think about it, the inner workings of a drum corps or guard show require a lot of people working in perfect harmony with each other for months in advance. For the five minutes a high school freshmen gets to perform on the floor, dozens if not hundreds of people have been working behind the scenes for that singular opportunity for her to perform in front of a crowd. If you think for just a second about the immense amount of work that goes into preparation from the band boosters fundraising to judges being booked months in advance to designers planning the show a season ahead, it's a pretty daunting process to consider. Any given show day requires planning and coordination between multiple entities and people well before the first note is played. It's synergistic. In synergy, one can't work without the other and it takes instructors, parents, contest staff, judges, and volunteers to seamlessly pull off the perfect day.

Synergy though, is more than a show day and going back to my opening paragraph about signs, I believe that synergy is also at play years if not decades in advance of any one day we step into a gym or on a football field. I find it fascinating. You become friends with someone and throughout multiple conversations you realize that you have been in the same place over and over again, but never saw each other...or did you? In our activity, thousands of people come together in one single day, oftentimes without the thought of the others around them passing by each other in corridors and in the stands. Warm up and critique. The performer might not meet the judge for ten years and then one day will be sitting next to them judging a show together as colleagues. The first year high school performer watches her first world guard and a dozen years later is teaching with the world performer she once admired when she was wide eyed and youthful. That's how I met Ron. He was a State Street rifle and I was a dandelion. He was Heaven and Hell and I was a seed pollinating the dandelion. True story. When I saw State Street in prelims at the Pensacola Regional, in a time when WGI didn't host a thousand regional's a year, I just had to see the rifle line warm up for finals. So that's what I did. I grabbed my best friend and watched State Ron...warm up for finals. I didn't know it then, but I would be teaching with him, living with him, fighting with him, crying with him, and laughing with him just a mere 9 years later. When I think about that night, I think about the signs that were probably all around me to wake up to the fact that I was about to meet one of my closest friends. Interestingly enough, I haven't seen the high school friend from that night in over 25 years, but have been friends with Ron for over 21.

Recently I've been thinking about friendship. Facebook has done something wonderful for our activity. It brought us together in ways we never could have imagined. When before all we knew about each other was the guard a person marched or drum corps they taught, now we know about their children and careers and heartaches and joy. We are now living with each other as opposed to just competing with each other. The synergy that has been created through our collective understanding is nothing more to me...than a small miracle. When I meet someone from the activity, I now think, "Where have we met before this?" What arena or football stadium? What were you doing? What was I doing? How far back does this friendship really go?

After the season is over, I do what many probably do and reflect on the successes and failures. I evaluate my performance as an instructor and judge, but also as colleague and friend. I look at the activity at what went right and what we could do better. I also think about the combined efforts of all involved and how hard everyone worked. When we sit around at headquarters in Dayton on Saturday night drinking our cocktails and beer, I feel that's it's just so much more than the end of an amazing weekend of winter guard, but the symbiosis of a lifetime of moments when we all stood in the same place lacking an awareness of the other's presence. When you watch the 1996 video of the guard 'Everybody' perform their famous Peacock show in Dayton, you can see the guard I was teaching, 'Shaktai' standing in the tunnel waiting to perform. When I think back to that night, all I remember is wanting to beat the peacocks. I wasn't aware that on staff were two friends I would end up teaching with 9 years later and sharing our lives across the miles. On a hot summer day in September in 2001, I stood in front of the Alliance of Miami for the first time to run a basics block for auditions. Standing in that basics block was a person I barely knew. His name was Mike and he was 10 years younger than I. About 10 years later he would be with me holding my hand during one of my darkest hours. Without knowing it, stepping into a gym in Miami changed my life forever.

We never know who we will meet when we step into a gym or football stadium and as I think about the signs that probably swirl around us telling us to pay attention, I'm reminded of the butterfly. Butterflies are deep representations of the rebirth of life. From the cocoon comes the beauty signaling transformation and hope. As my mind closes out another winter season and awaits the start of drum corps shows I'm anxious to see, I can't help but wonder who crossed my path in the Dayton Marriot or UD Arena, who I'll be having a drink with ten years from now asking the questions, "Do you remember the first time we met?"

As my final winter guard blog post comes to a close, I want to tell all of you, the friends I love and friends I have yet to meet to have a fantastic summer and I'll see you in the lightness and playfulness of the butterflies of summer. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

At Some Point Everyone Comes To Room 148

You know when you send someone a text message relaying a piece of crucial information and all you get back is, "K,' but you really wanted them to respond with something just as thoughtful or at the least, "O.K..," but "K" was all they were able to manage? Well that irritates me. I mean, out of all the love, affection, and turmoil good friends go through, I believe strongly that we should at the least be able to add the vowel to the consonant. This is how I feel about life sometimes. We get so busy being in the middle of it all; family, work, and bills, that we forget to enjoy the people and beauty around us. We forget to put the "O" in the "K." As I've been writing this blog over the past three years , I've come to realize that being personal with you the reader and my friends is important to any story I'm trying to tell, as my ultimate goal with all of this is to make sure we are reminded that it's not just flags in a gym. This activity is the height of love and passion and Dayton is my yearly reminder to live fully and spherically or in other put the "O"  back in the "K."

148. It was my room at the Marriott for Dayton 2015. On Friday night it was the place to be. The liquor flowed freely and the laughter was boundless. I couldn't even begin to tell you how many people filtered into that room between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m., but it was many and I can't say I knew everyone that walked through the door, but I feel that I understood them and knew why they were there. 

Someone once said that at some point in Dayton, we all wind up at the Marriott; Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night...or all three. As I sat on the bed watching people stream in and out of the room, I couldn't help but think of the antics and escapades that have been committed in the name of pageantry within the walls of this hotel. If we were to be honest, it strikes a chord of, "What happens in Vegas...," but it's more than that and we all know it. Sitting in the airport on Sunday afternoon awaiting my flight out, a friend stated that the Marriott is like a hotel filled with ghosts of your past and present self. The performer turns to instructor and the instructor turns to judge. It's a place where the circuits from around the country convene and all of us from the alumni just there to watch to the people who work so hard to make sure each guard is given the same chance to succeed, assemble in this one place to say,"Hi'  and "I've missed you." Some of us even use the dreaded "L" word. You know that word...LOVE. We see that friend who stood by us in all our ups and downs and we say,"Oh my God how I've missed you. I love you!"

Life is a constant moving wall for me, It goes up. it goes down, it goes stays up. Don't show to much, don't share too much. I've recently realized that there really aren't many people who know me...really know me. I do what we all do. Only show the positive side or the successful side. Only show that you're happy. Be witty, be smart. I have found throughout time though, and most recently that my system...well my system of personal interaction sucks. It seems to me that it's in Dayton where my full range of emotions emerge and sometimes it's scary and sometimes it's freeing. The wall comes down and in an unforeseen fashion the real me appears...if only for a moment. I love emotion and the smiles you see on the faces of long lost friends and the tears from a friend over that one drink where they finally stop lying to you and say, "No. Things aren't going that well in my life." My guess is that it's a mixture of stress, lack of sleep, a flood of memories, and too much alcohol, but whatever it is, I'm glad to say I'm a part of it when the walls of those I love come down.

Throughout the week in room 148, things became ridiculously funny. Ongoing inside jokes of years past and the jokes of the present  made me laugh so hard that in one instance I fell backwards out of a chair. 148 was filled with music of shows of the past and the dream of shows to come. We also had serious conversations about life and even cried once or twice. In 148 no one is off limits. You better have a sense of humor and be able to laugh at yourself. 148 isn't the room for you if you expect an early bedtime or noiseless experience. At one point, someone asked the question of how many rooms we've all collectively seen throughout the years. How many strolls have we made down those hallways to find the doors with a latch holding it open welcoming an unfamiliar set of strangers to become new friends? How many people have shared in room 148, but who are no longer with us? How many are sitting at home longing for the connection of pageantry days of the past? We are so lucky!

Upon checking into 148 on Thursday afternoon, I had a sense of welcoming as if I was walking into the past of an old childhood home. The room was clean and beds were made. That would be the last time we would see it that way. When I awoke on Sunday morning to empty liquor bottles from the two night party strewn around on tables and cabinets, outdated itineraries, and used tickets from finals the night before, I couldn't help but think, "'s all over. Another Dayton in the books." For just a moment it made me a little sad and already longing for next year. Reality would come back soon and the wall would go back up. It was Sunday morning that made me realize that sometimes we forget to enjoy life when we are sitting in the middle of it. Buddha stated that the trouble most humans have is that we think we have time. We always think there is more time to live and laugh, but one day there won't be another Dayton and someone else will have checked into room 148.

The great Billy Joel once said:

Though I'm living and I'm singing
And although my hands still play
Soon enough it will all be over 'cause
Tomorrow is today 

While in Dayton, from the time I land to the time I take off again, I'm looking at the clock. The time ticks away and as Wednesday passes to Sunday, I realize how precious our time together is. I don't want to see Saturday night end and I fight sleep for as long as I can. Sometimes I think, "Should I be allowed to be this happy? How did I get this lucky? How did I win the universal lottery?" It seems almost unfair, but then I think that we, all of us, created this world and by each passing year we recreate it all over again. There's a quote I once heard from the 18th century french writer Vauvenrgues. I have always loved it. He said that we discover in ourselves what others hide from us, and we recognize in others what we hide from ourselves. It seems to me that Dayton brings out the hidden truths of our hearts and minds. All that we hide and the fronts we put up come crumbling down in Dayton as the raw emotion allows us to open up to those that have always loved us. 

So to all of you my friends, I will see you next year and keep you in my heart throughout the changing seasons and I hope you will do as I promise to do and keep the "O" in the "K."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dayton...It's a Verb (!)

I was 16 when I attended my first Dayton. I have found that over the years I have a hard time calling it "WGI." I call it "Dayton." Even in the years we were in Milwaukee and San Diego, I called it Dayton.

"It's coming up on Dayton time."
"While performing in Dayton..."
"It's time. Dayton's here."

Technically, the word Dayton would normally be considered a proper noun. A place people go. A place to be. For me, Dayton is an action verb. Dayton is something we do. Dayton allows us to experience a moment or a thousand moments. My friend Ron Comfort describes Dayton like this, "At the end of the week, we find that everyone's experience was unique and personal," and then he asks, "So, how was your Dayton?"

It was 1987 and it was my first ever Dayton. It was one of those years that people still talk about to this day. It was a time when the mannequins came to life and we played inside the fun house. Circle, cycle, circle...what? Dayton came alive with colors and we all learned to toss a rifle while making the square root symbol underneath. We explored Heaven and Hell and it was 1987, when I experienced triple finals for the very first time. At that time World Class was called Open Class and Open finals took place on Sunday.

Dayton. It's the one time a year when ordinary teenagers become rock starts and adults who spend their days as teacher and accountant, become icons. The alcohol flows freely and the laughter is boundless. I love Dayton and by the time Sunday morning rolls around and the last medal has been placed around the neck of the winners and the confetti cannons have been emptied out, we wake up to a reality that seems surreal and a little sad. We say goodbye to our friends with all the love in our hearts and tell them that we'll see them next year and we will miss them.

Dayton...the verb. It's a week filled with preparation from the moment you buy your first new outfit, to the final touches to a colorguard you are teaching. For many of us, Dayton is the time of the year where we leave the problems of home, the stress of the job, and the realities of day to day life, to go and play in a world where art convenes with sport and friends from long ago find their way back to the center of their soul. Dayton, the city...well, Dayton the city is nothing short of a a hell hole. I'll admit it. It's dingy, brown, and constantly under construction. It rains every single year. I find nothing interesting about the city of Dayton...the noun, but Dayton the verb? Well, it's a world that I live and breathe.

I love to see new faces in Dayton of the freshmen who are performing for the first time and the parent totally taken aback. I always wonder if their first Dayton is transpiring to be as exciting as mine was. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember driving by the arena for the first time and David Baker my guard instructor saying, "There it is." I remember thinking...AND? And is right. To this day, that first moment of the arena sighting is like waking up on Christmas morning. I remember triple finals in Dayton and watched as Union did the mannequin show and if you weren't there, you can't possibly understand. It was stunning and mesmerizing and haunting. I knew then, right then, that I would be back. I often ask friends, "So what was the guard that did it for you?" I remember Sunday morning Independent Open Finals and sat in amazement watching Miller's Blackhawks and the colors come to life. When the boys entered on red...well...let me just say I was a 16 year old girl thinking..."They are so hot!" Then there was State Street Review...Heaven and Hell. Some of my best friends today were in that show. That's another thing about Dayton. You never know who will walk out on to that arena floor that you will eventually be having a drink with later in life. It's the Universe saying, "Pay attention. Your best friend just walked into your life."

When I went to Dayton for the first time, the souvie tent was less commercial. It seemed that it was more about the colorguards there to share a piece of their season. You could buy their show shirts or a button to wear in support. I had a button that said, "My color is red."   It was a time when warm up was in the tent. God I loved the tent! There was a special feeling about walking into the tent. You knew that it was on. The time was now. You were in the tent.

When I teach, I often use the phrase, "I'm not telling you it will be easy, but I will tell you that it will be worth it." The road to Dayton is a difficult one for every single person involved, whether it's the performer, the staff member, the judge, the contest staff or the parent who sits on the sidelines for support. Each and every one of us work hard and often struggle to get to that Dayton moment, whatever that Dayton moment may be, but the struggle my friend...Oh it is so worth it.

From the moment you arrive in Dayton, to the moment you say goodbye to the arena as you drive by for the last time, it's as if time stands still. You are lost in a sea of faces from the past and memories of shows and headquarters antics, that rush you upon the first step you take into the Marriot.

When I think of Dayton, I think of it as a black and white photograph from long ago. Dayton reminds me of a time I've only read about, but have spent a lifetime imagining and romaticizing. Landing in Dayton after a year away and seeing the arena, while eagerly anticipating the exit to Edwin C. Moses Blvd. is to me, like knocking on the secret door to a speakeasy in the underground of 1920's Chicago. Only a few people know about it and you have to have a secret password to get in. It's our world and it's our underground. We are the lucky few who found the oasis in the middle of a prohibition. We found the party when the world around us stayed dry. Music is the cornerstone to our nightclub and is a place where dance and beauty converge. Artisty lies in the dress of the attendees and the cocktails flow as if we only have today. It is magic and it is love. It is life!

There is one song, that when I hear it, I think of Dayton the verb. I think of the people and the shows. I see the arena and the Friday night party at the Marriot. When I hear this song, I think of every friend I've known and the history and love we share between us. When Sunday comes and the speakeasy closes among a sun rising on Dayton, we see that the verb has become the noun and the world is a little less interesting. So my friends, I would like to close with this song and know that I'll be waiting for you in this sweet hideaway called Dayton and let's make it one for my baby and one more for the road.

Quarter to three. there's no one in the place except you and me.
So set 'em up, joe. got a little story
I think you should know.
We're drinkin', my friend, to the end
Of a sweet episode.
Make it one for my baby
And one more for the road.
Got the routine so drop another nickel
In the machine.

Oh, gee, i'm feelin' so bad. wish you'd make the music
So dreamy and sad.
You could tell me a lot. but it's not
In a gentleman's code.
Let's make it one for my baby
And one more for the road.

You may not know it,
But buddy you're a kind of poet.
And you've had a lot of things to say.
And when i'm gloomy
You always listen to me,
Until it's talked away.

Well, that's how it goes.
And john i know you're getting
Anxious to close.
So, thanks for the cheer.
I hope you didn't mind me
Bending your ear.

For all of the years,
For the laughs, for the tears,
For the class that you showed,
Make it one for my baby
And one more for the road.
That long long road.