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Archive for July, 2011

Dance the Globe

Dance the Globe . . . and take a big scarf with you  

I had a brainstorm this week, and I acted on it.  What would it be like to have my favorite printer, Globe Printing, create a new business card for me?

A few months ago, I told my friend Penney, an artist who paints free and quirky, that I felt as though I could dance the globe, that my feet were that light, that I wanted to fly around this planet on my dancing feet telling my stories and rejoicing in the stories of others.  After yoga that night, she presented to me a gift, a watercolor painting of a purple and green globe with a glorious aqua-gowned figure dancing above it, around it, with her long arms extended to the sky, clutching the largest silkiest catching-the-wind scarf ever!  And the words:  Dance the Globe . . . and take a big scarf with you.  It was exuberant!  It was exactly how I felt.  Penney had painted my dream!

And three days ago, I brought it all to Globe, and voila!!!  New business cards!  Penney’s painting and words on the front.  And my dream job on the back: Helen Haskell Remien:  Storytelling Traveler.  This morning, I’m going to pick them up and I’m going to wear a big scarf!

Dance the Globe . . . and take a big scarf with you

Dancing the Globe by Penney Mellen

Fun is Fundamental

Fun is Fundamental   Doug Hall

It’s still in me as I sit here on a glorious clear morning in late July in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a day in which the trees are singing and the air is bursting with summer.  It’s still in me on Day Two of being back here again – all that adventure, all that sense of freedom and play, all that fun.

My guy and I are home from the Tour de France and we had a blast.  It was as though we were two kids on a week-long play-date, bumbling our way on freeways and backroads from Barcelona in Spain through the foothills of the Pyrenees, to the lavender fields and olive groves and apricot orchards of Provence to the mighty snow-capped Haute-Alps of France.  And if that wasn’t play-date enough – to adventure in unknown territory like Huck Finn in our motorhome raft, to feast on something new around every corner, a chateaux, a castle, a town perched on a mountaintop – we also had a bike race to chase.  Where would we find these bikers extra-ordinaire?  Would we make it in time to the start town of Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux?  Could our legs climb the 15 kilometers up the Col de Galibier to see the most exciting stage ever, and back down again after?  Could we park our playhouse on wheels so it wouldn’t tip over the side of a mountain?

We were kids on an adventure and the whole of France was our playground.  And the best part was that we had a giant tribe of fellow playmates, all of us draped in our countries flags, all of us wearing ridiculous costumes, all of us jovial and cheery and best friends of the Tour.  It was a heady week of hiking and cheering and driving and eating and laughing and yelling at the top of our lungs, “Allez!  Allez! Alez!”  So bless these athletes who peddle with passion.  And bless all of us who find opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to embrace fun, to go with it, to feel as free as we did when we were kids on a Saturday of play.

On the way up the mountain, Stage 18, Tour de France 2011

Helen and Cam on the Col de Gilibiet

The Fun You Have Along the Way

You think the goal is over there, and we say the goal is the journey over there; the goal is the fun you have along the way to over there. Abraham-Hicks

Our carry-on suitcases are packed.  Cam is making us sandwiches.  I still have a to-do list a mile long.  But that’s okay because what I don’t get done can wait – in one hour we’ll be on our way.  To Detroit.  Then to Atlanta.  Then to Barcelona, and tomorrow morning.  This is our plan.  Once we land in Barcelona, after we brush our teeth and wash our faces, to get right in the saddle, to get right in the taxi and make our way over to the depot to pick up that motorhome.  And to believe my mother-in-law when she says jet lag doesn’t exist.  We don’t have time for jet lag on this adventure.  Our plan is to drive over to France, through sunflower country and into the fields of lavender, through our day into evening and the town of Saint-Paul-Trois Chateaux.  And the next morning, to be there in that glorious French village for the start of Stage 16 of the Tour de France, to be there to cheer our guys on.  Then our plan get’s  a little fuzzy.  We know that we want to be on the high slopes of the Galibier on Thursday for the Stage 18 mountaintop finish.  And we’ll see what happens in the in-between.  We’re thinking of parking somewhere near Briancon, the highest village in the Alps, on Tuesday.  And you know what, it doesn’t matter.  It’s all good.  It’s all an adventure.  It’s all a glorious gift.  And I’m going to make it fun.  And I don’t want to miss a moment of it.  Helen and Cam’s Grand Tour-with-the-Motorhome Adventure.

Be Yourself

Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are. Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain is an unlikely mentor for me, a gal who missed out on the popular culture of the eighties and early nineties.  The eighties found me nursing babies and baking bread and stenciling the walls of a three bedroom ranch, and, later in the decade, it was all I could do to juggle my back-to-college schedule with the activities of our two busy boys. When I wanted to find a bit of Nirvana in a hectic life, I hummed to the tune of Raffi’s Baby Beluga and the Deep Blue Sea and Mr. Roger’s wonderful neighborhood.  I had barely heard of Kurt Cobain.

But it was Kurt who popped into my head a few weeks ago on the morning of my most recent one-woman show at Joy Center.  Kurt Cobain!  I woke up remembering a performance I had watched five or six years ago.  I was surfing from channel to channel one evening, and I think it was MTV where I landed, in the middle of a song.  An amazingly good-looking young guy was sitting there with his guitar and his voice and a song, honest and raw and unplugged.  I was mesmerized.  For the next hour or so, I was drawn into something deep and real.  Something like Nirvana.  And before any credits rolled across the screen, I, who had missed out on fifteen years of popular culture, knew with every fiber of my being, that I had just met Kurt Cobain.

So I remembered this a few weeks ago, the day of my performance.  As I woke up, Kurt Cobain was talking to me.  Not the strung-out plugged-into-heroin anguished Kurt Cobain, but a Kurt Cobain, who, on the evening of this particular performance (a performance that has lived on years after Kurt’s death) dug deep and plugged into something real in his own soul.  And this lovely sensitive young man, the one who had made such an impression on me years earlier, said to me, “just be yourself, Helen, up there on stage, unplugged and real.”  And I did.

And isn’t that Nirvana?

Just go somewhere else!

Just Go Somewhere else!    Spoken by Elizabeth at an Alan Arkin Improv Workshop

What had I been thinking?!?  It had seemed like a good idea, the impulse that had flashed through my mind two weeks earlier as I sat in the movie theater watching Little Miss Sunshine.  There he was, on the big screen, playing the irreverent grandfather – Alan Arkin, the guy who had been leading improv workshops for years, not improv for Second City Players, not improv for Saturday Night Live actors, improv for regular people like me who want to play and have fun and feel more free.  “I think I’m supposed to go to an Alan Arkin Improv Workshop,” I whispered to Garee, my friend who was sitting next to me.  And it was Garee who cheered me on, who looked online that October evening nearly five years ago and found it: Improv with Alan Arkin: twenty participants, no acting experience required.

And here I was, two weeks later, in Half-Moon Bay, California, on Day Two of a two-day workshop, sitting next to my friend, Laura, from Bozeman, who had stepped right on board.  (“I think I’m supposed to go, too!  My father went to school with Alan Arkin!”)  Here I was, me, Laura, and eighteen other participants, all actors with improv experience.  Day One had started out okay.  I was the first to introduce myself as we made our way around the circle, “I’m Helen,” I said, “and I want to fly!”  I had said it with confidence and a smile, not knowing at that point in the intro process that I was in flock of seasoned flyers.  With a little less confidence, I had survived the next exercise where we tossed imaginary balls around the circle, and the first skit where my only role was to sit in a sandbox and be a kid.  But after lunch, things went downhill fast.  When it was my turn to be up front on that workshop stage, no clever and witty came out of my mouth, and my feet were bound to the floor.  I just stood there, my flying wings nowhere in sight.

Now on Day Two, sitting here next to Laura, I was ready to quit, ready to sign up for the surfing lessons being offered a block away.  I had said as much to Alan Arkin during the break a few minutes earlier.  “I just don’t get it.  I guess improv isn’t for everyone.”  He had told me to stick with it.  “You’re here for a reason,” he had replied with kindness and an Alan Arkin twinkle.  Our assignment for this day was to create an event for ourselves.  He had given us free reign.  And people were creating events for themselves, and many of these skits were funny and poignant, and, these seasoned actors, I realized, were trying to find their wings, too, to create something meaningful for themselves.  And that’s when it came to me, a skit that was perfect – just be real, Helen, just be where you are.  It would be a simple scene, only two of us on the stage, Elizabeth – an actor with a friendly smile who didn’t seem to care that I wasn’t clever and witty – and I.  And it would be Monday, the day after this workshop and I would be signing up for acting lessons and Elizabeth would be playing my acting teacher.  I was ready.

And here we were, Elizabeth and I in front of the class, sitting in chairs in her pretend office, me being me, the inept improv girl, telling her how I just didn’t get it, this improv business.  “I need lessons,” I said.  And she said, “Just go somewhere else.”  “What?” I asked.  And she repeated herself, “Just go somewhere else!”  “You mean like this?”  And I got up and I did it; I went somewhere else, a few steps away.  And she cheered me on.  And the audience cheered me on.  And I jumped up and down and I flailed my arms. And I asked, “Now what?!?”  And she said, “Just go somewhere else!”  And I’m not sure how it happened as I hopped and flailed, going from place to place, how I ended up on top of a table, raising my arms high into the air and singing at the top of my lungs in my tone-deaf voice, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” to the most handsome guy in the group, but I that’s what I did.  And I can tell you that it was exhilarating, it was a wild ride and a good full-out flight.  “Just go somewhere else!”

Can it be that easy?  When we’re stuck with our feet bound to the ground and our minds full of thoughts that feel heavy, can we take off, can we wiggle our toes and move our hips and our shoulders and think of thoughts that feel a little bit better?  Can we just go somewhere else, and somewhere else, and somewhere else, until we find ourselves flapping those wings and singing our hearts out?

How Good Can You Stand It ?!?

How good can you stand it?  That’s as good as you’ll get!         Sonia Choquette

It began on Tuesday, that ground-shaking quiver I feel when I know I’m about to do something out of my box, something that seems impulsive and a little crazy.  Our son, Chris and his girlfriend, Diana were visiting from Salt Lake City where they both are in graduate school, and, this particular morning, we were watching the Tour de France.  I had tried to avoid it this year — over the Fourth of July weekend, purposely keeping away from the lure of the TV and that race.

Although we’re not a family who watches many sports on TV, it was Lance who drew us in years ago and then it was the race itself, that three week spectacle of day to day grueling pelaton effort on a course traversing the towns and countryside and mountains of glorious France that captivated us and made us addicts. We love it all – we love Phil and Paul, the British announcers, love watching the racers fly by the sunflower and lavender fields, through the medieval towns, by castles and cathedrals, up into the snow-capped mountains and on into Paris. We love it so much that, last summer, Cam and I rented a motorhome – we had never driven one before – and followed that race, Lance’s last, right up into that final week, up into those Pyrenees and the epic climbs on Le Tourmelet.

But this summer, we had made no such plans.  This summer we were staying closer to home, saving money, being responsible.  Until Tuesday, when I was pulled into the sound of our British announcers, pulled into the pack of colorful racers, pulled into our new HD TV’s wide-angled views of Normandy and the crowds of spectators, pulled into my addiction for the thrill and the chase and the adventure.  I was right there, back in France with my man and our love for fun.  At the Tour, last year, this man and I were in our youth.  We were the ones who hiked twenty kilometers up the famous Tourmelet, to cheer our guys on, then twenty kilometers back down again to our semi-broken motorhome.  We were the ones who squeezed our way through crowds of journalists after a stage in the sunflower town of Revel to claim a moment with Cam’s hero, British announcer, Phil.  We were the ones who laughed so hard we cried with joy when we ran along side Lance on one stage when it seemed like he had a chance of pulling it together one last time for a stage win.  We loved it all, the brutal days of hiking, our broken motorhome, a week with no showers. It was exhilarating.  And it was not in the cards this year.

Until Tuesday, when I started quivering, when that inner voice started saying, “Oh come on.  What do you really want to do?!?  Follow your heart.”  I tried to ignore it, this quivering excitement, but it was too strong.  And when I told Cam about my intuitive tug, he, too, began to quiver.  “But, I’d have to re-arrange a whole week’s schedule,” he said.  “But, I don’t think we can afford it,” he said.  “My head feels like it’s going to explode, “ he said.  Once again, I tried to dismiss it.  “You’re right,” I said.  “But wouldn’t it be fun!” we both said.  And then I checked airline tickets.  There it was — bargain tickets to Barcelona, and a motorhome, one that is smaller, easier to drive, maybe one where the fridge and the toilet worked this year.

And here we are, on Sunday, the other side of my shaky feeling, the other side of Cam’s bursting head conflict.  Here we are in the second week of the Tour.  As I write, Cam is downstairs, watching Stage Nine, wearing a Skoda hat he caught in a pre-stage parade in a sunflower town.  He’s surrounded by maps of France and the official tour guidebook and descriptions of those final stages in the French Alps. The French Alps!!!  We did it – moved though those jitters and right into a new adventure, this year in lavender country, then up onto the windy country roads of the highest mountains in France.  In one week, we’ll once again be strapped into the seats of our motorhome, chasing that Tour through its final days of racing, once again we’ll be chasing our dream, and going for fun.  How good can you stand it?  That’s as good as you’re going to get!

Helen & Cam enjoying a stage finish at Tour de France 2010

Helen & Cam in Revel, France 2010


Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working     Pablo Picasso

A year and a half ago, my husband, Cam, and I flew over to Barcelona for a New Year’s week of adventure.  In the raw cold days of early January, we traipsed the winding cobblestone streets, walked our way from seashore to the hills above, explored the entire thriving thrumming city.  We were exhilarated, warmed up on wet thirty-five degree days by the creative fever of a forward-focused city filled with out-of-the box inspiration.  Buildings, so alive and colorful and oddly shaped that they seemed like they could pick themselves up and dance with you, fashion that you just wanted to zip yourself into and laugh forever, art on walls, art on buildings, art in the music and the parades and the foods on your plate, art in the hearts of the lively people of an over the top city – it was all heady and inspiring, thrilling and new and unfinished, not a polished poem of a city, something colorful, playful, filled with whimsy and fun.

On one especially cold and rainy day, we found ourselves in the Picasso museum.  It wasn’t any particular piece of art that inspired me.  It was the whole of it, a small museum showcasing Picasso’s paintings, his journals, his pottery, showcasing how Picasso worked at his art, every day, how he tried new things, new mediums, and grew even more prolific as he aged.  According to an essay I read in the museum, Picasso, in his nineties, died with a paintbrush in his hand.  So, yes, Picasso, worked at his art, just as Gaudi did and Miro and the fashion designers and food creators and artists living today in Barcelona.  When in the presence of this art, however, when witnessing Picasso’s process in his journals, I don’t sense a heaviness, a laborious kind of work. It was a joyful, passionate, letting-life-flow-through-you type of play.

I don’t want this blog to feel like pressure, that it has to be shiny and polished.  I want it to be fun and forward-focused, a Barcelona-type song of exploration.  How many times do the creative brainstorms arise, and we stop them for fear that they will not live up to our expectations?  Creativity is the whoosh of life flowing through us, and it needs a vessel, a vehicle to find its expression.  So, how fun to do the work that doesn’t need to seem like work at all – to set up that easel and canvas and make that first brushstroke, to put on your favorite music and dance your heart out, to sit down at the computer and just start typing up a blog for the day, for this day, a sunny July day in Upper Michigan where all of a sudden you find yourself back in Barcelona in the heart of winter, remembering how alive the unpolished living breathing art of life can be.

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