Loose Thread: Thankful Thoughts

Melody Beattie once said,

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.

For our part, we here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets are, as always, grateful for all of you. And for chaos, and order, and the great creative visions of today and tomorrow.  And for this past month of creativity and for the creation of feast to come.

So once a week, we invite you to share something you are thankful for with the community of Searching Sophia’s Pockets.

What’s your thankful thought for the week?

If you love me, hold not off.

Today’s post is on the work of Prison Performing Arts, which was featured in this month’s Spare Change Spotlight. Meg Sempreora gives us a small glimpse of the wisdom she has shared and found during her work with incarcerated people at Prison Performing Arts. Meg is also an associate professor and the director of literature emphasis at Webster University.

My first prison class was in a small, warm room.  Thirty-one men had given up Monday Night Football to sit in little plastic chairs, each balancing a book and a pad on his lap. They looked a bit like visiting parents in a classroom of small chairs.  The men fully ringed the room, backing up against the chalkboard.

I almost missed this experience, this most rewarding of teaching.  I almost said “no” to the men and women so hungry for this opportunity, citizens who will one day be out in the world with us. I initially thought that my privileged background disqualified me as a source of knowledge for these students.  But because I said “yes” I have experienced—at three Missouri prisons—some of the most rewarding teaching of my life.  As part of Prison Performing Arts, a non-profit organization created by one amazing woman, Agnes Wilcox I began teaching in 2000 with Act 2 of Hamlet, and have now worked on Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Oedipus RexOedipus at Colonus, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest,Gogol’s The Inspector General, and Mary Zimmerman’s contemporary interpretation of Ovid’s The Metamorphoses. As this particular team of actors was not only untrained in acting, but also almost entirely unfamiliar with Shakespeare, a few volunteer professors from St. Louis universities provided seminars throughout the semester on the world of the Renaissance and Shakespeare in particular, on acting and speech, and especially on reading the language of the play. One or two acts of a play is studied for a full semester, bringing the men deeper and deeper into an understanding, not only of the language, characters, and themes of the drama, but also of themselves.

The scholarly seminars are followed by casting and an intense rehearsal period with Agnes, a professional theater director: each line is examined; speeches are memorized; and men practice in the yard and in their cells; Agnes gathers costumes from willing donors or second-hand stores; and finally three performances crown the semester’s work. Fellow inmates attend on the first two evenings, then family, friends, and supporters of Prison Performing Arts from St. Louis.

My self-doubts were answered that first evening; the men taught me so much with their earnest hunger, courtesy, and dauntless willingness to repeat countless times, “What does that mean?”  What I learned that first night and have confirmed after  thirteen years of teaching dramatic literature in Missouri prisons is that I need to ask difficult, interesting questions—the same ones that I ask my undergrads; I need to listen hard when my incarcerated students answer, because they will offer answers that I have not heard before.  Their answers come from a deeper place, or a more remote place, or a hungrier place.

 If you love me, hold not off.

Every class is filled with moments of discovery, of drama.  During that first class, the students were reading one sentence each around the circle in order to hear Shakespeare’s language, ask questions, learn vocabulary, and pull everybody into the enterprise of making meaning.  Many of the men are not readers, and this story is about one such student.  I shall call him Tom.  It was Act 2.2, and Hamlet, not sure whom he can trust, is urging his old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to level with him and tell him if they really came on their own to visit him, or, if they were sent for by King Claudius to spy on him.  (We know that R & G were brought there to be spies.  We watch Hamlet deeply hurt, discovering his friends’ betrayal.)

We moved around the circle slowly reading the scene—Hamlet keeps probing; R &G keep evading his questions. When Tom’s turn came, an urgent line of Hamlet’s fell to him. Hamlet pleads with his old friends to level with him.

Tom looked hard at his book and read his line silently, then looked up and, speaking directly to the next man in the circle, who turned to face him—as if they were alone reading the scene—Tom said, simply, deeply, “If you love me, hold not off.” The men were silent for a moment.  They had heard not just the words, but also the meaning: Hamlet is a man asking for the truth from his friends; he is invoking their love for him as a righteous means to that truth. Hamlet’s unguarded, honest moment became Tom’s own unguarded moment. As a brave, engaged reader, he risked saying “If you love me” without a smirk, without an embarrassed chuckle, and, because of his effort, the class took a leap.  They all understand conning, betrayal, and the need for true friends. The nature of Rosencrantz and Guildenster ’s possible turning point—from paid deception back to friendship— was made clear to the men in the room by Tom’s authentic line reading. The stakes for these false friends were high: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do “hold off”; they continue on their course of deception and ultimately they perish.

I am grateful that I said “yes” to this experience.  “If you love me, hold not off” my students say to me with their desire to learn and, as adequately as I can, I have answered.


Prison Performing Arts in the Spare Change Spotlight

Today, we introduce another great organization that could use your spare change. Prison Performing Arts fuses creativity and service in a way that reaches beyond individual creativity towards a larger sense of wisdom and love. 

Prison Performing Arts is a 21-year-old, multi-discipline, literacy and performing arts program that serves incarcerated adults and children. In Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.A, Prison Performing Arts works with incarcerated people to write poems, perform Shakespeare and much more.

The work of Prison Performing Arts is the embodiment of creativity infused with service, community and spirit.  But don’t take our word for it. Below you will find the poem of Marcia, which was taken from the inspiring Prison Performing Arts blog, and tomorrow Dr. Margot Sempreora will share her journey working as a teacher with Prison Performing Arts. Financial donations can be made through the Prison Performing Arts website or by mail and you can contact them directly to become involved in person if you live in the Saint Louis area.

“Sound Advice” 
By: Marcia

Aim high
Follow your arrow
wherever it points
Sing your heart out
Love who you love
no matter what
Do what the hell you want to do
since everyone will have their
opinion either way.
Push the envelope
all the way to the addressee
Don’t let judgmental people
or your own inhibitions
throw you off track
Make lots of noise
Kiss lots of boys
or kiss lots of girls if that’s what you like
but love yourself
because it’s better to be hated for
who you are than loved for who you are not.

Loose Thread: Thankful Thoughts

Theologian Meister Eckhart  once said,

If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.

For our part, we here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets are, as always, grateful for all of you, and your creativity. We say a prayer of thanks for art and music, writing and dancing.

So once a week, we invite you to share something you are thankful for with the community of Searching Sophia’s Pockets.

What prayer of thanks do you want to share this week?

Down the Drain

Today’s post is by Maximilian Reid, a Webster University alumni and entrepreneur. He talks about what happens when we are judged for our creativity. The wisdom Maximilian gained from his loss shows us all that our work is valuable , that our prayers matter, and that we must keep the faith, no matter if that faith is in God, ourselves, or just in the stories we create. 

My greatest regret in life was my decision to destroy my hand-drawn Pokemon Encyclopedia in the 7th grade.

When I was in middle school, I was so enamored with the magical, monster-filled world of Pokemon that I dreamed up new creatures with fabulous powers and fitting names. I had so many ideas that I just had to write them down and draw them out. I acquired a stack of colorful construction paper and a handful of fresh pens. I picked a spot on the floor and I created.

Not a naturally gifted artist, I mustered every ounce of concentration into perfecting the details on each of my imaginary creatures. I drew a dragon-type Pokemon with a body as large as a skyscraper and a mouth as wide as a cave. I wrote a scientific description of a new type of Pikachu. I documented the mesmerizing behaviors of my Ghost types and outlined the weaknesses of my Robot types, and I bound the multi-colored pages together into a book. I knew it was a book because I stapled the papers three times on the left. On the cover, I wrote the title in large, bold words: “Pokemon Encyclopedia by Max Reid”.

As I gazed upon my completed masterpiece, a shiver coursed through my body and made the tiny hairs on my arms stand on end. I had just written my first book. It had a title, it said it was by Max Reid, and it was 30 pages long. Pages. I wrote something with turnable pages.

I felt I had made something wonderful and original, and I had to share my book with my friends. I brought the Pokemon Encyclopedia to school the morning after I finished it.

“Look what I made!” I said to my classmates. “It’s a Pokemon Encyclopedia. It took me weeks to make. Look!”

I handed my book to a classmate, and he swiped through the pages too quickly to read through the powers and origins of each creature.

“What?” he said. “You still think Pokemon is cool? And you made your own? ”

“Your drawings kinda suck.”

“Why would you make Pikachu transform into that?”

I was lonely, and I didn’t want to be the weird kid. So I shrugged and took my book back.

“Yeah, it is kind of crappy. I made this, like, two years ago. I don’t like it either.”

When I got home, I took the Pokemon Encyclopedia out of my backpack and flipped through a few pages. I just wanted one last look. I took the book to the kitchen sink and held my Pokemon Encyclopedia under running water, and I rotated it until the ink swirled into a grey whirlpool down the drain. I tore the soggy paper into fist-sized clumps over the kitchen garbage can, and I tamped down the pulp into a mess of discarded credit card offers and utility bill notices.

I didn’t run hot water over all my writings because I had one bad day. I was an adolescent who didn’t adhere to or pick up on social cues very well, desperate to destroy all the things that made me weird and unlikable.

Years later after that painful purge of creative writing, I’ve slowly learned to take pride in my work, to take great care not to crumple a draft or toss out an idea too quickly. I see the stories I choose to tell as an emotional, psychological history in progress. I preserve all my ideas – good and bad, insightful and tasteless – and I read through them from time to time to remind myself of my intellectual roots. During my later teenage years, I kept a binder filled with sheets of paper on which I jotted poems, states of mind, prayers to God, lists of goals, and story ideas.

And I know I’ve since done an awful job of taking on a conventional personality, and for that, at least, I’m proud.


For more of Maximilian’s work check out Les MiseraBaristas on YouTube.

Loose Thread: Thankful Thoughts

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said,

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.

For our part, we here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets are, as always, grateful for all of you. And for the hard stuff. And for pretty photos.

So once a week, we invite you to share something you are thankful for with the community of Searching Sophia’s Pockets.

What’s your thankful thought for the week?

Creating Sophia

By: Autumn Elizabeth

Sometimes creativity is about creating a work of art, or a play, or something that the world considers artistic. Sometimes, creativity is about following a small voice to create something new, and this is how Searching Sophia’s Pockets came into being.

I created Searching Sophia’s Pockets, with the wonderful Jenni Taylor, because something inside of me, around me, above me, pushed me to create this site, this place of safe exchange, and meaningful discourse.

It has not been easy, to follow the voice that told me to create this site. Many times I have felt like someone lost in a dense forest. Many times I felt that I was the wrong person to create this site, that I had the wrong skills, too little time, too few resources.  Yet always, that small voice of God returned to me, pushed me to continue, to keep creating something beautiful.

In many ways, this site is the biggest creative undertaking of my life so far. Together with Jenni, I gave birth to this idea, and made it a reality. There is still lots of work to do, and lots more to create but together we are creating wisdom, changing lives, and bringing together people who thought they had nothing in common. We are showing the world the creative power of shared spiritual journeys.  Together, with all of you, we are constantly creating this thing called Sophia.

Creating Spirituality

Today’s post comes from Duncan Kinzie, who an emerging actor, writer and musician in the St. Louis area.  Duncan offers us some wisdom on his love of creative expression, and how that leads him to experience his own spirituality  and how that differs from his experience with religion. 

Today, I wrote a song. I just had a musical urge to sit down and start on a song about how I was feeling, and while it may not have a single word pertaining to my religion in it, it is certainly a testament to my spirituality.

See, I’m not a particularly religious person. I prefer instead to think of my spirituality more along the lines of philosophy. I like to get what I can out of what’s around me, and devise meaning from what I’ve experienced and what I know to be true, rather than being told what is real and true by others. Often times, the what I have been told and my experiences seem to  have common themes, but  I discover more and truly understand more by sticking to what I experience for myself.

I’m a creative type, to be sure. I’m strongest in the fine arts and things I can succeed in through several different paths or methods.  I often have times I just need to sit down and express emotion through art. I can vent my emotions through several different forums: music, writing, acting, and occasionally sketching. Whenever I do fall to one of these creative moods, I usually start by expressing raw emotion, and wind up drifting into one of those more philosophical zones. If it’s a stressful situation I’m describing, that deep thought can often times help me figure out what to do, or at least make me feel better.
So personally, creativity is my religion, or at least creativity is how I get in touch with my spirituality. For me, spirituality is about getting in touch with life and really milking it. It’s about finding that good stuff and that not so good stuff, and taking advantage of both in order to be a part of the human experience. What comes after this life is, and always will be, a mystery, so I’m going to focus on what I can derive for myself in this life. I do that through creativity in art and my little philosophy deal.
I think the reason I stick to that, and not religion, is because when I’m writing a song or a script, or when I’m jumping around a stage spouting Shakespeare, there aren’t rules. I can express myself freely, and no matter what conclusion I come to, it’s correct. I got there by some process or another, so in some sense, it’s always right. I’m not sure religion can always say the same.

Loose Thread: Thankful Thoughts

Elizabeth Gilbert once said,

In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.

For our part, we here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets are, as always, grateful for all of you. And for your generosity. And leaves that rustle. And…well, you get the picture.

So once a week, we invite you to share something you are thankful for with the community of Searching Sophia’s Pockets.

What’s your thankful thought for the week?

The Girl in the Mirror

By: Jenni Taylor

Hey, little lady. You are rockin’ that up-do. Don’t look so sad. Let me pick up this doll for you- here. You know, I look at myself that way in the mirror all the time.  I’ve tried hairstyles with a million bobby pins and red lipstick and new eyeliner. I’ve looked at the magazines, read the tips, dreamed of the dresses I would wear on the red carpet. I usually end up in front of the mirror, looking just like you.

Scootch over kiddo. Want me to do your hair for you? Here, let’s just poof it out in the front a little bit, add a pin here- good. Now a little bit of lipstick. Stick out your lips for me. There.

Honey, you’re beautiful. Playing dress up is fun. But don’t look at yourself like that. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience. Do you have any idea how beautiful you are? It’s okay if you don’t, because I do. I bet your mom knows, your dad knows, and even if they don’t, there’s someone else that knows.

There’s this guy out there, an artist, you see. And he’s told me all about you. He said you are fearfully and wonderfully made- fearful in the same way you put those pins in your hair, carefully and perfectly. He’s got plans to prosper you and not to harm you kiddo, plans to give you a hope and a future. He’s enthralled with your beauty, and calls you glorious. He chases after you, he calls you His. And bottom line, he loves you.

Do you feel loved, beautiful girl? Do you love yourself? It’s okay if you don’t. You see, because even if you don’t feel it or believe it, it’s there. You ARE loved. It never goes away, it never changes, it never grows. It’s just there. From the beginning of time, to now, to the end of the world. That love makes you part of infinity. Pretty cool, huh? Because of love, you were created to be part of the whole universe. Lipstick or no.

Baby, you’re not just beautiful. You are love incarnate. Every skin cell, every bone, from the tip of your nose to the ends of your toes, you’ve got swirly, sparkly, love DNA all over you.

When you look in the mirror, that’s what I want you to see. Your freckles are stars, and each one has a name. Your fingerprints are rotating galaxies, each one different and unique. That blood pumping through you is life, the miracle of the universe.

You are not one of many, love. You are much, much much more than that.

So let’s take these pins back out and have a tea party in the sunshine. What do you say? You and me kiddo. Forever loved.