[New] Artist Statement

I applied for a grant recently. I didn’t get it, but was forced to detail how I went from a theatrical director to digital media consultant and now straddle writing with my consultant freelancing and being the primary caretaker of my son (Lil’ Pirate Dude).

It’s a little long, which I’ll fix for the next round of grant applications, but I thought it might be of interest to tie together all of my interests.

I am Cindy Marie Jenkins, CMJ to many. I am a Storyteller, Outreach Nerd, Parenting Nerd, Mama to Lil’ Pirate Dude, Theme Park Wife, Former Theatre Director, Fairy Folk Myth Nerd, and Recent Transplant to Orlando (remember the Theme Park Wife part)?

For a decade, I’ve been obsessed with building new audiences for theatre. This began when I realized I was sick of doing all that work just for my family and friends to see. Sure, we can enrich one another, but art within the echo chamber is not enough for me.

        Through a six year project Voices From Chornobyl, I found success in reaching peopleVFC through a theme, a topic rather than people showing up to “support theatre” just for the sake of it, or because our friends are in it, or because we all work in it. At the same time, I was in charge of marketing for a small classical theater who had a stellar reputation but still struggled for audience and funding. It became clear to me that the ways that marketing had worked for decades were not nearly as effective with the age of the internet, and artists were falling behind the times faster than newspapers. Keep in mind, this was way back in 2009 when you still had to convince a theater company to go onto Facebook; the mere suggestion that you had to think beyond a press release was a battle, uphill both ways. I heard many artistic leaders take the simple route of blaming smartphones instead of exploring them, and condemning audiences rather than investigating their strategies, or even talking to them.

           I reconciled my dreams with the fact that the typical theatrical career path is not for me. I always knew that art could serve a real purpose in changing how people think. Through and beyond empathy, showing how others live and think can go a long way towards opening minds.  I didn’t want to direct whatever came my way just to grow my career. I enjoy entertainment for entertainment’s sake, but I want to create art that holds great value beyond the production. I want to use stories as a bridge towards greater empathy in the world. Every time I chose a project based on the greater good it could do for society, I worked at my best and was happiest. Every time I took a gig for any other reason than great passion, I felt limited by the story’s (lack of) need to exist, my lack of connection as to why, and didn’t do my best work.

Then in 2009, through an outreach project called Imagine East Hollywood, I worked closely with the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and identified that local government faces the main two issues as most theaters had: (1) they only reach the same people and (2) if you don’t know they exist, then you can’t show up, never mind get involved. Beyond that lie at least ten hassle factors to stop someone from attending either. Most people didn’t even know they lived in East Hollywood. I used a film project, interactive visual art display, outreach tables at LA wide events and an immersive theatre experience to help people understand the agenda and workings of a neighborhood council, plus learn how their ideas could help their neighborhood and turn them from passive residents into active stakeholders.

These experiences led me to train myself (with guidance from Enci Box and Tamara

Krinsky) in social media, new communications models, and generally critique most vague, short term attempts to develop audience. I became an Outreach Nerd and trained individuals, then groups of self producers, and quickly added nonprofits, the City of LA and small business owners to my clients.

This quest for the audience led me to Manchester England, where I gave a keynote speech to Chernobyl charities on using my play, adapted from a book of interviews, to raise awareness and funds for their work. A 9-minute demo film was used to entice new donors. By 2006, the 25th Anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, two groups in the UK did perform the piece, and my own ensemble led a series of readings throughout LA and San Diego. We also produced a workshop of Voices From Chornobyl Jr at local libraries and the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

This desire led me to brand myself a Storyteller AND Outreach Nerd, to align the idea of writing and stories into audience building, tying my name to “outreach” rather than “marketing” in an effort to change the direction of people’s thinking about their audience development.

This obsession led me to 24th STreet Theatre, where I could focus on acting as concierge for families to find quality art they enjoy together, while finding the correct medium to share stories that happen every day in this converted carriage house in South LA.

This adventure led me to experimenting with arts coverage during every Hollywood Fringe Festival, from interviews over Twitter to Google+ Hangouts, then from a full-fledged arts review show to podcasts and instagram reviews.

This need to find and engage arts-adjacent folks while feeling increasingly frustrated with theatre as an industry also led me to the longest crisis of faith I’ve ever experienced. Just as I was seeking a new direction, theaters called on my “marketing” (cringe) skills more and more. The more I was expected to just do the short term work that I knew didn’t last and that I so despise, the more I understood that my current path was not working for me. I don’t just want to be the one training artists to change their mindset on audiences; I don’t just want to be the ambassador to new audiences anymore. I also need to create the art that draws new audiences in the door simply by being good and meeting audiences where they live. In many cases, that requires me to move my creative writing as far away from a theater as possible.

Currently I freelance as a Consultant and Writer while raising my beautiful son.

 

Community Engagement: Get out of your box

This article was the sixth in a series of Audience Building articles on Ms in the Biz, where I go into depth on the sticking points, the places where I see people take short cuts but are quite vital.

This is how to find and build new audiences, not just promoting without annoying your family and friends.

When I first began this work in 2009, most people boxed it into “marketing,” “social media,” or “waste of time.” I was careful to imprint the word “outreach” into everyone’s mind. You must reach out and invite strangers. As a verb, “outreach” is even defined “to surpass in reach” or “extend.”

So let’s surpass the reach of what you think audience building entails. The first parts to this series detail finding new audience and talking to them online. Now take it offline.

Photo 1 Cindy Marie Jenkins

I do that, you may think. I go out. I leave the house.

Yes, but do you insert yourself into social and community organizations that are not directly related to your art? It is there you will find the potential audience for your work. When I consult with filmmakers who say their target audience is other filmmakers, warning bells clang inside my head. That is a lazy answer and will never move your work beyond family and friends.

Few strangers have the time, will or knowledge of [insert your industry here]to find their varied choices, never mind find the exact choice that excites them enough to partake of your art and follow your future work.

Therein lies The Gap. The Gap between your potential audience and your art.

Mind The Gap.*

I first encountered this massive gap while working full time at a theatre and a politically-engaged friend of mine encouraged me to talk to the local neighborhood council.

Here’s how the conversations went:

Neighborhood Council Rep: “Oh, that building’s a theater?”

Leader of Theater: “Neighborhood council? What’s a Neighborhood Council?

That is when I saw it. Not just a gap, but a gaseous-asphalt-deadly desert-Mordor-sized gap on both sides of the fence. All too often, we simply are not aware of each other, nor do we understand what potential audience/strangers care about.

Bridge That Gap.

Build a bridge out of rope, tame an eagle, make a canoe, throw a dwarf – just do it. Andsame guidelines apply as online: relationships before promotion.
Here are some starting points:

  1. Neighborhood Councils**. I don’t suggest joining a Board of Directors unless you want a full-time volunteer job, but attend a meeting. Dip your toes into it and just attend a Sub-Committee Meeting. Many councils have an Arts and Humanities or Cultural type of Sub Committee.
    You can meet people.

You can get the vibe.

Maybe down the line, you can ask them for money.

Maybe you just make friends who then may support your work.

  1. NASA Socials. We’ll go into more detail on these soon, but you can apply to attend cool info sessions and viewings of space-related events, and socialize. You do not need to be fluent or even knowledgeable of all the latest science news; that is actually the point.

My first one was the Mars Rover Curiosity launch, and three years later, I’m still friends with these people around the world. They are intelligent, arts-interested folk who support people’s passions. You want them on your side, and many are very supportive of my work since meeting at the Social.

Also: science is fricking cool and inspiring.

  1. Immediate Community. There is an elementary school near 24th ST Theatre who always invites us to their Health Fairs. They consider the arts to be part of a healthy lifestyle, and this is thanks to years of relationship building on part of both groups. From 24th ST’s end, it is the result of Community Engager Allegra Padilla (There is a full time staff member whose title is Community Engager. Let that sink into your brain.)

At one Health Fair, we had a table where Allegra and I:

-took reservations for upcoming performances..

-talked to families who knew nothing about us and described our programs and mission.

-met parents and siblings of youth who attend(ed) our After ‘Cool program

-visited every other booth and tweeted, instagrammed, Facebooked photos of the community resources present at the fair

-met the people behind these tables and invited them to the theater. Our presence gave a face to the theatre’s name (if they knew it was a theater at all. Most of the responses we get are “Oh, that’s what’s in that building? I walk by it all the time and always wondered!”)***

-when we made ticket reservations, we gave them a business card that had all the show info on it. This was a pilot program after we realized that no-shows from the neighborhood can’t always their email (so our email reminders wouldn’t work). Here in their hands was a physical reminder including how to let us know if they can’t make it.**** And here is how my favorite audience member arrived, proudly displaying her reservation:

Photo 2 Cindy Marie Jenkins

  1. Local businesses. Have meetings at local businesses and tweet about them. Have a place where you always order lunch or get your afternoon caffeine? Talk to the workers and tell your own online audience about them. The smart businesses notice who talks about them. You’ll get discounts, special treatment, but above all you will build relationships. Soon they’ll donate or discount goods or space. They’ll cross promote, but I suggest you do it informally as a matter of course before asking anything in return. Businesses need word of mouth and you need partnerships and people who care enough to tell everyone they know about your work. Seems like a no brainer if you find a good fit.

These are just starting points to meet the people surrounding your art who could have an interest. If not your immediate project, then perhaps another one down the line. You have to stay involved, though, and attend some of their events as well as invite them to yours.

Comment with your questions or tweet them to @CindyMarieJ. I’ll answer or address it in a later post.

*Come on, I had to.

**Find your Neighborhood Council HERE by adding your address.

***Remember not to judge people for their ignorance of your lifestyle. How many buildings do you pass every day and not notice or know what happens inside of them?

****It takes a lot more than even these actions. Invitations are one thing. Feeling welcome is entirely different. Since kids depend on their parents to take them to arts events, 24th ST Theatre embarked on a massive program to break down the barrier between the adults in their community and the theatrical space.

Popular Stories Written Like Postcards for Plays (Spoiler Alert: they’re boring as hell)

I started to rewrite popular movie/TV log-lines as if they’re on the back of a theater postcard (or described on a website) to hear how boring they sound. It was meant to be a joke on Facebook, but got so much attention that it might become a regular series.

I can’t tell you how often a theatrical production attracts my attention, then my eyes glaze over when I read the description. I have no solution to this chronic marketing problem except for testing different versions with samples of your target audience(s).

I wrote the first three, then friends joined into the fun:

Selfish spoiled playboy Tony Stark has done nothing with his life since inheriting his father’s fortune. After his life changing experience in Afghanistan where he is confronted by both the true consequence of his empire and his own mortality, Stark finally realized how the power of his own intelligence can be used to help the world. His old friends and investors, however, don’t always have the humanity’s best interests in mind, and Stark must make the choice between those he’s trusted his whole life and his own conscience.

*

Dreamer Dorothy Gale has no love for her farm life in Kansas, with its pig pens and farmhands who

IMG_20150818_144347.jpg

If you haven’t seen Thug Notes videos, every artist can learn from how he describes classic literature.

always seem to watch her a little too closely for her comfort as she grows up. When a tornado knocks her out, she finally travels to the world in her head over the rainbow, where she encounters talking beasts, vertically challenged villages and pagan wannabes who challenge her ideas of right and wrong. Will she stay with them and finally meet the mysterious Wizard of Oz, or will she find her way home to seek out happiness among the family she loves?

*

The well off Hobbit Frodo has settled into his calm life of leisure, brews and nature. The biggest challenge is keeping his estate-hungry cousins away from BagEnd. But then his Uncle Bilbo disappears at his own birthday party, and the trusted if suspicious family friend, a Wizard, throws him out the door in a quest to hide a magical (possibly evil) ring in the land of the elves. Constantly caught between his new adventures, true friends, inevitable betrayals and his humble Hobbit nature, Frodo must decide: stay within a group of warriors sworn to protect him or take a small boat towards a destiny that almost surely will prove to be fatal?

Friends joined into the fun, too. From Sound Designer Vincent Olivieri:

Twentysomething hacker Neo has a boring job and no family to speak of. One day, a mysterious cell phone arrives on his desk, and Neo has a series of interactions with fascinating strangers, eventually leading to his immersion in a topsy-turvy turbulent alternate universe. The previously apathetic Neo is forced to confront his own humanity and role in the human race as he enters an evil computer program and hacks it from the inside out! Contains drug use and adult situations.

From Director Kate Motzenbacker:

After encountering a rebellious group of women in a post-apocalyptic landscape, guilt-ridden drifter Max is forced to confront his own humanity. Exploring themes of environmentalism, reproductive rights, and the human condition, this piece asks the question: what is the responsibility of an individual in the absence of civilization?

From David Jette, Artistic Director of Brimmer Street Theater Co.

What does it mean to be a father? What does it mean to be a son?

These are the questions tackled by this compelling and transformative new work about a young orphan living with his uncle and aunt on a farm far from ‘civilization.’ He spends his days repairing equipment and pining to join his friends on their adventures. Until one day, one of his machines is lost in the desert and is found by an old man, who, long ago, knew the boy’s late father and how he died. The two set off to return the machine to its original owner, and after encountering some truly zany characters, find themselves at odds with the society in which they live, and in search of the force that binds them together.

*

Lot and his family live in a great little part of town, but something about this town is… unique. Unique? More like crazy! His neighbors are total hellions! Until one day, a gorgeous man in white arrives at Job’s door and asks to stay the night. When his neighbors knock on the door and make an ‘indecent proposal,’ and after a strange weather pattern settles in, laying waste to everything he loves dear, Lot and his wife decide it’s time to get out of Dodge. This dramedy about loss and faith is for the whole family, and surely worth its salt!

*

Ever have one of those days? What about one of those YEARS?

Job is a pious man, with one problem – the God he worships is kiiiiind of a dick. After making a bet with the devil (played by One Life to Live’s Kevin Conway!) Job’s deity decides to really mess with his life, in the most unexpected ways! Join us for a night of laughs, and tears, brought forth by this timeless story of the saddest man that God forsook.

Do you have ideas on this? Add your own versions or ideas in the comments.

Music That Saved my Sanity During my Son’s First Year of Life

I don’t often write here about being a parent, but I like sharing how different art forms enhanced the first years of our son’s life. And often saved me.

When it comes to lists of “Things You Definitely Will/Won’t Need” for a baby, I don’t think I ever read one about music. There are tons of articles about how music helps a baby’s developing brain, but very little guidance on what specific music can teach your child about life. I don’t mean deep-seated meaning of life songs, I’m talking about a way to connect what you’re doing with why you’re doing it. You know, for that little human being who knows absolutely zero about the world and has to catch up fast.

Thus I give you, in roughly chronological order, the albums that saved us from multiple meltdowns and helped our child through the many mysteries and transitions of his first year.

  1. Baby in Tune: Good Morning My Love

This is the album that started it all. When my son was about two months old, I went to a class called “Bonding with your Baby.” To be honest, the deal-breaker for me was that we got a free CD along with the $25 class fee. Vered was a visiting musician from New York and although her presentation was a little awkward, her songs continue to rule our daily routines. We always used to sing “Good Morning my Love” before getting out of bed; “Bathtime” quickly became a staple; “Sleep My Baby” was a magic elixir during those hard first nights, and continues to be one of his favorite Get-the-f*ck-to-sleep tunes. I even bought my nephew the album and he’ll play it to self soothe during a meltdown.

2. O Baby Mine: Sing a Song of Shakespeare

You don’t need to know Shakespeare at all to enjoy these songs. They range from stories about The Bard himself (“Shakespeare Said it First”) to summaries of plays (“Do You Think You Had a Twin?”). The title song (“O Baby Mine”) is a lullaby sung by both deep and high voice, so either parent can easily take it. “There Are Bees” makes for a beautiful celebration of enjoying life and getting into the outside world around us. Lately I’ll sing it when we go on our nature walks to set the mood.

3. They Might Be Giants: Here Comes Science

It’s likely that you’ve at least heard “Istanbul not Constantinople,” made famous by the video on Tiny Toons. Here Comes Science makes hard concepts easily digestible for both parents and kids. I could never remember the order of the planets to save my life. That is, until I heard the song “How Many Planets” from this album. My absolute favorite line has to be from “Science is Real” though:

I like the stories

About angels, unicorns and elves….

But when I’m seeking knowledge

Either simple or abstract

The facts are with science

Electric cars, CAD (Computer Assisted Design), testing a hypothesis and paleontology are just some of the topics they cover. We’ve tied these songs to trips to science museums, planet books, and I even sang “The Bloodmobile” at his first year appointment when blood had to be drawn for the first time. It definitely calmed him down and gave me a really specific way to describe to him why this had to happen. Even if he didn’t comprehend the connection between the lyrics and the blood technician’s actions, he heard a familiar melody and trusted it. I remember him releasing a lot of tension and relaxing against me once I sang that song.

4. Lori Henriques: How Great Can This Day Be & The World is a Curious Place to Live

Lyrics range from upbeat (“How great can this day be/I’m alive and I am free”) to hilarious/useful (“Chew chew chew chew your food/You’ve got to chew chew chew with attitude”) to sublimely sad (“Dinosaur…you used to be here but you’re not anymore”) and also educational. Our Good Morning playlist begins with “How Great Can This Day Be” and I am not exaggerating when I say that it helped me survive some very difficult months in my first year of mothering.

Individual Songs also play their roles. These two together work wonders:

“It’s Time to Say Goodbye” is apparently a staple for children’s music classes. I heard it once and started using it to signal that it’s time to go, and my son’s transitions improved significantly. To this day, If he cries about leaving a place he loved, I just sing this and he calms down. I stopped saying “It’s time to go” and lead with “It’s time to say goodbye,” then begin the song. Now he even takes the initiative to put down his toy, raise his arms for me to hold him and wave goodbye as we exit.

Once that song is over, I go into “If I Had the Wings of an Eagle” by Ziggy Marley, which is pretty soothing and also about flying away to be at peace. (Only while researching it for this post did I learn it comes from a psalm and he replaced “dove” with “eagle”). It didn’t take long for our son to start spreading his wings to fly as we walked to the car. Belting him into his seat got a lot easier once this became a regular part of our routine.

The world is pretty scary for a new person, especially if everyone else understands the rules and you don’t. I like to give him clues and know what to expect by essentially — and consistently — singing him through life.

Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives – The Minstrel

I am obsessed with what we were taught vs what we learn to be true.

There's a book? Oh, now I need to buy the book.

There’s a book? Oh, now I need to buy the book.

This BBC program “Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives” combines a Monty Python animation style with myth busting about history. I watched The Minstrel episode for research into my Scribe Shoppe series, but it’s pretty illuminating as to which stories prevailed and how people were portrayed within them. The Minstrel/Troubadour was the PR Man of the Day, says Terry Jones. This episode goes well with The King, and what we think we know about The Richards vs the reality.

My mini-review on No Proscenium Podcast

Right before I relocated to Florida, Noah Nelson deputized me to check out the immersive theatre scene in Orlando for his newsletter/podcast/medium publication No Proscenium.

I started by seeing The Republic, an ambitious and popular immersive experience. Although I saw it during its last weekend, their website says it will return in 2016.

When they do, I hope they’ll take some of my experience into account. Hear a bit of it at this No Proscenium podcast, and read the full review on medium.

The Republic: Turn the Page, Dead End

I Hope He Recalls the Hotels

We were in line to see the Pompeii exhibit at the Natural History Museum and our son was six months old. A gentleman there (presumably with his grandkids) pointed to Lil’ Pirate Dude and said pointedly:

“He won’t remember it.”

My husband recovered much faster than I did from the rage and tactfully answered, “Maybe not details, but it sure will make an impression.”

Cut to fifteen minutes later and at each display, our son screeches in delight (also blew some raspberries, but I think he was just in that phase).

We have always lived life with LPD (Lil’ Pirate Dude) under the belief that he comprehends his surroundings. He, in turn, surprises us daily with what he understands (now seventeen months old).

So when we knew we may pack up the only life he’s ever known and move from Los Angeles to Orlando for a new job, we involved him in the process the whole way. I bought three books on moving (one with stickers!) and posted a huge countdown calendar on the wall. If we’re being totally honest here, the countdown calendar was as much for his parents as LPD. I knew we could prepare him pretty well for the packing, and the moving truck, and the big emotions he would witness from his parents. Those topics are well covered in children’s books. He got really good atwaving goodbye through all the parties and personal lunches. Just like the times we’d drop his father at the airport for business trips, LPD sometimes got serious but seemed to understand it was just a change. Not necessarily good or bad, just a change.

There is one aspect of our move, however, that is not covered in any book: the four of us would spend about two months living in a hotel: two very stressed out, homesick adults, one toddler and one fourteen year old, grumpy dog (Did I mention our dog had been diagnosed with cancer the week before we left?).

I debated adding those pages between The Berenstain Bears packing up their moving truck and arriving in the big tree house in Bear Country, but never got around to it. In hindsight, I wish I had done it; again, more for me and my husband than our son’s benefit.

Well, our first hotel (yes, I said first. We are currently in our second) was pretty lackluster.** It was clean enough and the employees were super nice. It was cheap and close to my husband’s job, and let me just say again: it was cheap. I was so concerned about our dog when I booked it that I didn’t realize we had two twin beds and no room for a pack N play. To keep our son from falling off the bed, I co slept. (To put this in perspective, before we left LA, he was sleeping by himself 9pm-5 or 6am in his crib and then co-sleeping until 7 or 8am. I called it “snoozing” him to get a tad more sleep.) But in that scenario, we all shared the bed as a family. In the hotel, my poor husband slept alone. And as much as I love co-sleeping, I had begun to really enjoy those few hours when my body was my own again.

Also, for someone who just moved his family cross country so he could pursue a job opportunity, I do believe my husband could have used more warmth overnight. Not to mention that time to reconnect as a married couple is pretty vital. [Hey Mom and Dad, skip this next sentence] We found time to just be with each other, even if we had to be quiet about it. But it was less the sex we needed and more of the togetherness. We met in Los Angeles. We had almost fifteen years of friendships and had stumbled into being parents there. Just as every night before we left, we had to ask ourselves “Are we really moving to Florida?” to ensure we were both in this together, keeping that connection and dedication during that dreary first month would have helped.

Not sharing a bed aside, the main problem is we just had no room. Even downstairs, there was barely a lobby and one elevator. There were two burners that sort of worked and one table for both eating (reminder: toddler) and working out the details of our new life.

My husband and I had our own coping mechanisms: coffee in the morning and wine in the evenings. Of course, it took us weeks before we bought actual wine cups.

Oh yeah, and my son was still recovering from pneumonia (almost couldn’t fly here on schedule) and both my husband and I had bad coughs while our lungs got used to the new air.*

Every day, LPD and I drove Dan to work, walked our dog, ate breakfast and got the hell out of that hotel because otherwise our dog would just growl at us all day. There was literally no place in the room we could go where we wouldn’t be in her way. Some days we found playgrounds that allowed dogs and that made it better. As great a companion as Sadie had been, she’s just old. She’s in pain, and she needs space. Staying in a hotel room just gets boring for a dog.

An interesting aspect to the hotel life is meeting other guests. The breakfast they offered was minimal, but LPD liked seeing all the people. So we brought avocado, eggs and other healthy food downstairs to eat. I looked at LPD as he stared in fascination at other hotel guests. He was fascinated with the languages he heard around us. He tried to get the kids his age to play with him. He mostly just charmed the parents whose kids were older.

I looked at him as he wiped the table the way he’d seen me do a million times, wiping away the avocado from his face, then smiling at me. I wondered how much of this experience he would remember, and if not detailed then how much of an impression it would make on him. What kindof impression would it make on him?

I surprised myself with my lack of fear over the possible answer. He treats everything as an adventure, and even in the weeks to come when we’d find harder times, our little boy thrived. He played with his trucks and he played hide and seek and he asked to take baths and he watched his father somehow cook a tasty, healthy meal for us in the kitchenette that was smaller than a shower. If LPD wanted quiet time, he pointed to the chair by the window and sat there, staring in silence sometimes, gabbing to us about the trucks parked there overnight, watching the wind rustle through the trees and noticing the signs of an impending thunderstorm. You get a lot of practice at recognizing thunderstorms in Florida summers.

While living in a hotel (still) stresses out me and my husband, LPD takes it all in stride. He loved all the houses we visited while hunting for one to buy, but never seemed weirded out when we returned to a pretty dismal, yet adequate place to sleep.

Behold the magic of the box.

More than anything else, he saw me and his Dad hold on to our family and count on each other for support to get through this time. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to feel how unhappy we were with our living situation. The only indication LPD made that he needed more space or privacy was when he claimed an empty diapers box as the place he would put “his things.” One evening, he simply packed all of his toys, shoes, anything loose into this box and it became his place. Sometimes he would turn it over and just have a toddler sized chair in which to sit. We got two more boxes eventually and they became building blocks. You never saw a happier kid than LPD with his boxes. We packed up the whole room and moved to a nicer hotel for the second (hopefully last) month of temporary living and he made sure his boxes safely made the trip.

He also learned how to use an elevator (counting on his fingers up to two) and began actually peeing in his potty (we had introduced the idea because he was interested but never pushed him into “training”). His imaginative play skyrocketed. Hide and seek among bushes outside the hotel became the funniest thing on earth. We learned that at one of the many Splash Pads (an extravagance coming from drought-stricken Los Angeles), kids would play with you if you had a ball and/or a bucket. So we brought both. He saw people playing basketball and guess what? He loves it. When we needed to run errands and check our mail, he was perfectly happy exploring the mall near our PO Box, eating breakfast at the tables outside the Publix market, watching this new world begin their morning.

None of this comes as any surprise to those who know LPD. The part that surprises me, and in ways we can’t even fathom yet, is the emotional maturity he’s gained in these six weeks. He knows when his Dad needs an extra hug. He knows that I’m there most of the time he’s awake and so he’s free to explore within my sight and socialize or take his own quiet time to sit in the grass. He understands that Dad goes to work; so he wakes up, then marches directly to his father (even when that is the shower) so he can spend all the precious time possible with him. He makes sure that his Dad has his wallet and work id and glasses before he leaves the room.

Even on the hardest days, either emotionally hard or because he and I are only running errands to finally close on this damn house, LPD laughs even louder. He sees the adventure, brings the joy and appreciates all the love we have for one another. He thrills in pointing out new lighting fixtures, tall domes and ceiling fans. He hears me and Dan get on each other’s nerves faster than usual, then talk it out or drop it because we know it’s the stress, not each other. He sees our spontaneous embraces and giggles before running into our legs, making himself a welcome part of our hug. When he’s frustrated or angry, he tries his best to communicate and we try our hardest to listen, to interpret sounds that haven’t quite made it to words yet. Hell, sometimes that’s better than how me and Dan communicate.

By September, we will hopefully be living in this really cute house we found. LPD will have his own playroom, I’ll have a writing office and Dan will have a spacious kitchen. We will make a house into a home and continue our adventures as weird ass free range West Coast parents in the Southern United States. We’ll save to make the most of Dan’s international business trips, turning some into family adventures. We’ll work on having a second little pirate.

Many difficulties during this hotel life will be distant memories and some may carry into the transition. Whatever impression it’s made on LPD, it will be part of him. After these first few weeks, I believe it has made him even more resilient and empathetic. I believe the bond of our little family, even when our grumpy dog is grumping, sticks with him and makes him more secure in the knowledge that we are here for one another. We trust each other and we are building a life together.

And this life requires us all to be strong when we feel strong, and be willing to admit to one another when we feel sad and, more importantly, when we need help. It requires us to embrace the positive as we acknowledge the negative.

So I really do hope he remembers the hotel life. I know it has made an impression on him; by virtue of his own good nature, he has made it a positive experience.

— — — —

**I want to acknowledge the fact that compared to this story about a five year-old experiencing life in a budget motel, these are very first world problems.

* When I moved from NYC to LA, everyone warned me that I’d cough for two weeks as I got used to the air. Well, the same warning applies to Florida.