I have always had a fascination with coins. Well, I suppose, not coins themselves, but the idea of coins.
When I was a kid, I had grand aspersions to be an archeologist. My mom was the type of parent who encouraged exploration, so she signed me up for Archeology Magazine, many copies of which still live in my childhood bedroom with gap-toothed pages where I cut out pictures and articles out and hung them on my wall, sometimes connecting them with push-pins and yarn to make my room look more treasure-hunty.
Perhaps it is my wonder about the people of the past that have led me to where I am now– at the halfway point of my last year of grad school– one master’s degree down and another on the horizion, planning for an uncertain future that, at this juncture, has no set destination and not much of a plan on how to get there.
There was an article once in Archeology Magazine about coins. How sometimes, researchers would discover large piles of coins in random places in the ruins of ancient cities, which led, usually, to one of a couple of options: 1. The place had been a bank. 2. The place had been some sort of business. 3. The place had been a shrine or a wishing well.
I always liked the third option best. The thought that a thousand or so years ago, a person was so worried about some problem that they stopped and tossed a coin as an offering or a wish, only for someone to collect that wish in the age of Ebay, for someone else to catalogue and collect again and again.
Discovering the detrius and extraneous stuff of life. Collecting re-claimed wishes.
I think, maybe, in some way, this notion about things collected again and again is why I love Shakespeare. Some people find the notion of playing Hamlet terriying because of all the comers-before that had to Say The Words. Me? It find it reassuring.
For me, it’s like going to church. That moment when everyone stands up and sings a song, but intead its raw, human creativity and emotion captured in iambic pentameter. But with Shakespeare, everyone still knows the words. Shakespeare makes me feel connected to something more important. Who came before.
Tonight, we opened Troilus and Cressida. Five actors, the entire Trojan war. Tonight, for the first time in a really, really long time, I felt that connection. The spark. With my cast, with the audience, and finally, after almost a year of missing the feeling completely, the words.
I am a fan of gestures. Tokens. Signs of appreciation. After my first Titus, I started a tradition of giving ancient Roman coins to my cast mates whenever I found myself in a Roman Shakespeare play. It turns out that the detrius of Rome comes pretty cheap on Ebay.
So I did the same for the T&C cast. Coins from ancient greece and ancient Macedonia, (which is about as good as you can get to Troy). And it felt good. I’m not good at gratitude. I’m not particularly good at giving gifts. I’m awkward and self-effacing, but in this case, with this cast and this play and where I am, now, I felt like I needed to do …something.
So, much like Oprah, errybody got a coin. Simple. Small. But to me, huge.
What fascinates me is not the what– it’s, in the most pedandic way possible, an old-ass coin. It’s not the coin, itself. It’s the wh0, and when. The history its seen. Two thousand years of human history whizzing by at the speed of everything, only to end up, accidentally, with me. The people its met. The places its seen. So much in a couple of milimeters that it tends to get overdramatic and very quickly.
The idea that maybe, impossibly, though I’d never in any capacity ever known at all, that a thousand years before four hundred years ago before the story was written down, the real, live person just happened across it.
Maybe Hector or Agamemnon or Achilles– when they were still real people, before they were legends and before the particularities of their actual existence were lost to time, maybe they dropped this particular coin in that particular well for an archeologist to find and an amateur collector to buy in bulk and for me to end up with 9 small pieces of the past in my mailbox.
A couple of days ago, I was walking out of the restroom at the movie theater, when I got trapped between two mirrors on opposite walls. I hate that. My scumbag brain uses those opportunities to point out every flaw it can, starting, usually, with: “Ugh, you’re so disgusting and fat”, moving on to visible bra lines and ending somewhere around “ugh, your profile is so embarrassing. Look at your huge nose and your weird neck hump”, because apparently my scumbag brain thinks I’m Richard III.
But this time, I just looked in the mirror and thought. “Huh. I got fat again”, and went to join Chris inside. The movie was terrible but the popcorn was delicious.
Yesterday, I woke up, barely, in time for class. I had a migraine and was in that “should I or shouldn’t I go” mode while I waited for my overdose of Excedrin to kick in. I stumbled to my closet, and pulled out the first pair of pants I could find, only to get them about midway up my thighs, where they remained stalwart and unyielding. “Oh”, I thought, “I grabbed the old ones”, rummaged around, found a pair that fit, and rushed out the door.
It wasn’t until I was sitting in class and listening to a heated debate about the textual authorship of Star Wars (because this is what happens when you let a bunch of nerds study Shakespeare) when I realized that something profound had happened– my jeans hadn’t fit –and I hadn’t freaked out.
Normally, this would have set me off on a spiral of self-hatred, shame, guilt and self-harm that would have lasted two or three days. I would have cried, thrown a really attractive tantrum, then eventually resigned myself to relapse, all the while pretending that everything is fine.
It’s really, really hard. That cycle of self-hatred is exhausting, especially when paired with my need to appear at all times like I have my life together.
Last semester this time, my life was brilliantly together. I was going to the gym four times a week and doing neat crossfit weight lifting things, then graduated in the summer to running the lakes in Winona. I lost about 30 pounds, and I was proud of how I looked. I took selfies from high angles to show off my new, fancy crossfit arms and bought pants a size smaller than I was used to.
Then I started writing my thesis. That transition, from gym rat to library mole, was difficult. I felt guilty. I felt like I was letting someone down. I felt like I should be able to handle it all, do all the things, maintain the fitness and write the thesis and do the hard classes and plan my life– but at some point, I had to admit that I just…couldn’t.
My depression had reared its ugly head, worse than ever before, telling me that I was awful, that I was a fuck-up for barely being able to get out of bed in the morning, that all the good actors wake up at 6am and go to the gym and write three theses a day, so what was wrong with me that handling school was such a struggle? I’m Catie Osborn, it’s supposed to be easy.
I realized, one night, as I cried (all over Chris), that this wasn’t working. Doing it all was destroying me, physically and mentally. I was depressed and on the verge of a major eating disorder relapse. My fuckity back was fucked again, from trying to push myself too hard in the short amount of time I’d found to exercise that day, and my motivation to do anything had just disappeared. I was hurting, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
So I prioritized. The two hours of gym and clean-up time became two hours between classes spent working on my thesis. The five mile runs around the lake became marathon paper writing sessions. And I started to feel better. I admitted defeat on my thesis and shamefully asked for an extension, and had one granted to me with a beautiful message of support and understanding. I was so afraid to fail that I forgot to ask for help in my success.
Sure, I gave up the gym (for now), but I gained a master’s degree (I mean, let’s just hope at this point, or this post is going to be really embarrassing in about a month). I sat, literally, on my butt for the better part of a year researching a play I love and writing something that I’m proud of.
That sitting around taught me about my body, what it feels like when it’s just…there, not being pushed or asked to lift weights or run for miles, and it turns out my body is broke as shit. Literally, total garbage. Who pulls a muscle getting out of bed in the morning? Seriously. I’m working on resolving the medical side of things, but allowing myself to listen to my body allowed me to realize something wasn’t right and prevent further injury.
I studied, I read, and I fell in love with a new area of scholarship, which was a huge deal for me. After a semester of failing to find the motivation to do anything, I am excited about school again and throwing myself into research and academia in a way that I was too afraid to attempt before. I feel more confident in the future. I discovered that I am in love with an incredible person, friend and partner who has listened and put up with me through one of the most difficult years of my life, unquestioningly and with unfailing support.
I discovered, this year, that gaining weight doesn’t mean that I lost anything at all.
A temporary change to my appearance does not fundamentally alter who I am. My body will shift and change from year to year, hell, from month to month based on the quality of pizza in the town I’m currently living in, but who I am at my core does not change with the size of my jeans.
This morning, when I looked in the mirror and saw the bra lines and the change in the fit of my clothes, I didn’t panic. I just picked up my backpack and headed for the library to finalize the last draft of my thesis and get it submitted by tomorrow– the second to last step to finishing this year and graduating with a master’s degree.
It’s a beautiful day.
So The Force Awakens ~finally~ came out. In celebration of this, and because I have woefully neglected my blog this break, I decided the best possible tribute would be to write down my crappy fan theory about Rey.
Obviously, this entry contains spoilers, so I would stop reading now if you are still needing to be kept spoiler free.
You’ve been warned.
One of the BIGGEST questions being discussed right now is just who exactly Rey is.
Lots of people think she’s Luke’s daughter. I am here to tell you, you’re wrong.
While I suppose it COULD be possible, narratively, it would create a situation in which Luke is training his own daughter, who he…for some reason…abandoned on Jakku…and forgot about…and also never told any of his other friends about her…
That narrative is weak. It’s also just shitty writing. Sorry, everyone else in the galaxy, only people directly related to Luke Skywalker and his friends can be interesting characters.
So my theory was developed in the car on the ride home. It is, partly, Chris’s idea as well, but the hypotheticals and implications are mine.
What if Rey is Snoake’s granddaughter?
Lots of people on the internet are currently theorizing that it is possible that Snoake is Darth Plagueis, and if you add THAT into the equation, it becomes an even more interesting dynamic.
They established in the originals that SUPPOSEDLY, Palpatine’s master had figured out immortality using the force. Looking at Snoake, it’s clear that he’s suffered massively catastrophic wounds, but he’s still alive.
So if Snoake is actually Plagueis in disguse/hiding, and he had a kid who wasn’t Force sensitive (Luke generation) and was a huge disappointment to him, then that kid had a kid (Rey), and Snoake, like, finds out that she’s massively Force sensitive and tries to take her, but his son (we’ll say for the sake of argument) either dies or sends her off with Aunt and Uncle Dursely and they dump her on Jakku, it would make sense that the whole movie Snoake kept asking about her/trying to figure out who she was.
It also answers the question of how Snoake would have established himself as Supreme Leader that quickly. If he’s been lurking around since before the Death Star and helped Palpatine rise to power, that gives him a pretty fantastic backstory and motivation to want to get back at the Rebellion.
Then, when Rey revealed herself to be hypothetically more force-powerful than Kylo Ren, Snoake got SUPER interested because he has a shot to find her again and train her in the dark side.
It also makes Rey’s relationship with Kylo Ren really interesting because he obviously is trying to please Snoake, and it opens him up for the possibility of a proto-sibling rivalry type thing with Rey where he eventually gets really pissed at Snoake for being so focused on finding her instead of Kylo’s training.
THEN that also means that if if Luke is training Rey, then his padawan is descended from the line that trained Palpatine, which could cause all sorts of interesting internal struggles and conflicts in Luke about repeating history (see: Vader).
The ultimate showdown will (probably) involve Luke, Rey, Kylo and….someone for Luke to fight. So what if Luke is pitted against Rey’s grandfather who is also one of the most powerful Sith lords in the galaxy? How will Luke respond to the profound call of the Dark Side?
YOU GUYS ITS SO GOOD THOUGH.
Sorry, I’ll stop now.
Disclosure: This has taken off in popularity in a way that I never expected. I am profoundly touched. However, in reading this, I realized that I was not originally clear in my message. This was never about Disney’s casting practices (as some people very rightly seemed to take away) but more about my own insecurities. I believe that writing is a living thing, so I have opted to edit this to reflect as such.
I have never particularly liked my body.
I have always particularly wanted to be a Disney Princess.
Keep both of these in mind, they become important later on.
Last summer, my boyfriend, Chris asked me casually if I might want to go to Disney World sometime. Roughly two weeks later, he surprised me with an invitation to tag along with his family on their trip this year. I was floored at the generosity, but even more excited when I found out that we’d be going during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party– the one time of the year that Disney allows grown-ups to wear costumes in the park.
Naturally, I was excited. Costumer problems.
We decided, after some debate, that we would do a group costume. Chris would be Lumiere, his brother would be Cogsworth, his mom Mrs. Potts and his dad would be Gaston. I would be Belle.
When I was a kid, Belle was always my favorite Disney Princess. She was the one who read books (just like me!) and people thought she was weird (just like me!) and wanted adventure in the great wide somewhere (just like me, cuz someday I’d be old enough to drive!). It’s cliche, I know. But I love that movie. I still remember falling asleep to the soundtrack and dancing around in the basement, pretending to be Belle.
I am not proud to admit that when Chris suggested the group costume, my first thought was not excitement, it was “But I’m too fat to be a princess. Will people take me seriously in the costume?”. Even after four years of being in recovery (with slips and trips and failures along the way), it is startling how fast my mind goes into Eating Disorder Brain whenever I’m confronted with dealing with my own size.
Disney’s requirements for playing Belle at Disney World are simple: be a decent actor, know your character, be between 5’4″ and 5’7″ and, most importantly, for the purposes of this story, fit a size 10 or smaller.
I am a size 12.
As such, my scumbag Eating Disorder Brain has a literal numerical value by which to compare my own body. According to “the numbers”, I don’t measure up. (Ha ha ha get it). My Eating Disorder Brain latched onto that number and that voice of self doubt in my head constantly told me that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t pretty enough, I was too big to be a princess. I wasn’t “right”.
I have been, over the course of my journey with an eating disorder, anywhere between a size 0 and a size 20. As I have gotten further into recovery, my body has settled into the range of a 12. I’m not particularly stoked about it, but I have found that trying to be much smaller results in the danger of relapse and any larger makes me, well, in danger of relapse. It’s a tightrope.
So we made the costumes. Over the course of three weeks, I meticulously built the costumes from scratch, drafting my own patterns, staying up late and sewing during spare moments between classes. About a week before we were slated to leave, I tried my costume on. It didn’t fit. It was about 4 inches too big in every direction. I was pissed– I’d spent a solid day building the dress, and it didn’t fit. I cried.
Chris looked at me and said “Maybe it’s time you reevaluate how you see yourself”. I hadn’t trusted my own measurements– I couldn’t possibly be THAT size. I added inches for safety becausee I didn’t want to face the humiliation of putting on a too-small dress. Instead, I’d wasted a week of work because I couldn’t accept that might actually be the size written on the tape measure.
I fixed the dress (well, completely remade) and off we went. On the night of the event, I was convinced that the dress wasn’t going to fit, that I’d somehow gained 40 pounds on our trip, that I was going to break the zipper, that people would laugh at me. Eating Disorder Brain is an ugly thing. The dress fit.
All night, people kept stopping me. Frankly, I was surprised, since Chris had told me not to expect much attention since most everyone was going to be in costume. I’d expected maybe a couple smiles, but the minute we stepped out of our hotel room, kids were whispering and pointing.
Over the course of the night, about a dozen people stopped me for photos. Many more stopped me to ask if I worked at the park. Several people didn’t believe me when I told them I didn’t work there, one cast member approached me and told me I looked more like Belle than the Belles she works with.
One guy insisted that we track down a cast member who could connect us with the casting department. “Your entire outfit is your audition, you should be working here”. My Eating Disorder Brain whispered “They won’t hire me, I’m too fat”.
A group of parents came over and asked me to take a photo with their kids. I told them what the people at the gate had told me to say: “Just so you know, I’m not the REAL Belle, I’m just dressed like her tonight– the real Belle is somewhere else, you should try and find her tonight!” They took their pictures with me anyway. My Eating Disorder Brain wondered if I looked fat in the pictures.
Several of the moms pulled me aside and thanked me, they were relieved to have a picture with “Belle” (even a fake one) because their daughters had desperately wanted to meet her and they couldn’t afford the park hopper pass that would have taken them to the other park where the “real” Belle was appearing that day. My Eating Disorder Brain assured me I would never have groups of little girls hoping to take their picture with me.
What particularly frustrated me was I happened upon a (park official) Gaston, who was legitimately the worst actor I have ever seen. Not only did he barely know enough about the character to converse with the little girl who was interrogating him about his desire to murder the Beast, it was abundantly clear that he didn’t really care– he wearing the costume, therefore, he was the character and that was good enough.
But he fit the costume, so he got the job. My Eating Disorder Brain told me “see? It’s not about your talent, it’s about your size”.
Later, two little girls bum-rushed me, hugged me around the waist and yelled “OHMYGOSHITSBELLEYOUARESOPRETTYCANWETAKEYOURPICTURE?” I told them my Official Disney Rules Statement within earshot of two Disney cast members. One of them looked at me in confusion and said “I thought you worked here!”. The little girls got their picture, their dad shook his head at me and said “If you don’t work here, they are doing a terrible job in casting”. My Eating Disorder Brain whispered “Size 10”.
My favorite moment came when we went to go take a picture at the Be Our Guest restaurant. We watched several people ask to go inside for photos, and they were granted access. When we asked, the cast member out front paused and apologetically explained that we couldn’t go inside– our costumes were too good and he didn’t want people to have the impression that “official” actors were visiting to do meet and greets. He took our picture outside for us…..sort of. (Potato camera is a potato).
It’s stupid, I know. And probably not even worth a blog entry.
But there’s something important, I think, about recognizing the damage that Eating Disorder Brain can do, even when I am eating healthily and maintaining recovery.
But I am, still, a size 12.
Not everyone has Eating Disorder Brain, but I am fairly certain most of us struggle with self-doubt. How can we ever be the Disney Princess when Disney tells us that only women size 0-10 can be the princess?
I have considered many times trying to lose enough weight to meet the requirements and showing up an an audition, just to say I did. Just to see what happens. Maybe I’d get the job, maybe my nose would be too weird for them and they would say “thanks but no thanks”. I don’t know.
Disney says that Belle has to be a size 10. That’s fine, and their right as the owners of her image. But what I learned is that number doesn’t magically make someone a princess. I’m not calling for some massive political movement, or really even change. I am the size I am, and that is okay. Disney says that to be a princess, you have to be not the size I am. And I suppose that is okay.
But a couple of nights ago, I felt beautiful. That is not often the case.
No little girls pointed and said “she’s too fat”.
Instead, a couple of nights ago, little girls stopped me in my tracks and begged to take my picture.
A couple of nights ago, I was a Disney Princess, size 12 and all.
Not many people talk about the recovery end of Eating Disorders as something ongoing. Most people think that it is a “go to rehab and you’re cured” type thing. And that’s not the case. Every day, I struggle with that gnawing, shitty voice inside my head that tells me that I’m too fat, not good enough, not pretty enough– recovery is learning to ignore that voice, to silence it, to find ways to remind yourself that you are worthy. And it sucks. Because even in truly magical moments, being at Disney World, dressed as a character I have admired my whole life, feeling beautiful and strong and confident and excited with a man I love more than anything in the world and his incredible family, that voice still tried to tell me that I wasn’t good enough, I could never be a princess.
I am honored that this post resonated with so many people, and so many people have shared it among their friends.
Somehow, through one of those shares, this got posted on the internet in a public forum. Thank you to whoever shared it, I am happy that you thought it was worthy of the Internet’s attention as a whole.
However, a bunch of people have jumped on the bandwagon and started criticizing me, saying that “I feel entitled to the job” and that “just because a few kids liked my costume, I think I deserve to work there”. That is assuredly not the point. My point is that just because Disney has mandated that their princesses are a certain size, everyone has the right to feel beautiful. Everyone has the right to feel entitled to the space they fill. Everyone, of any size, has the right to feel respected and included and valued. I often fail at many of these.
Disney can hire whoever they want.
What I hoped to do was start a conversation regarding the self-doubts that many people feel regarding body image and the pressure to be a certain size. I think I have done that, to the best of my small ability. My experience is my own, and I can only speak for myself. Do I think my costume was balls awesome? Yes. And I will admit to being proud of it. But this isn’t about getting a job at Disney. I’m not asking for a job.
What I’m asking is for the people who read this to consider how many times their self-doubts negate the truth. How many times are you told “you look beautiful” and wave it off? How many times have you looked in the mirror and only seen imperfections? How many compliments do you reject as flattery, not truth? It’s not about the job, or the costume or really, even about being a “princess”. It’s about learning to accept myself–ourselves– as we are. It’s about recognizing the beauty and humanity that others see, even when we are too clouded with our own self-doubts to see it ourselves.
Love yourself. You are beautiful.
Last night, I was mustering up the motivation to actually do some real work on my thesis when an email popped up.
” I came to your blog by the way of Reddit. I sniffed around the /r/WilliamShakespeare subreddit for anything and everything Titus Andronicus and found your comments. I was cast as Lavinia in a production of Titus Andronicus! ….I just wanted to say: Thank you. Thank you so, so much.
As you know, Titus Andronicus isn’t produced very often, and even then, there’s not very much about Lavinia. Aside from the “oh she’s pretty and quiet and just sits there”, which of course infuriates me. Being able to go through your process was absolutely amazing and I know I’ll return to your blog as rehearsals start up.”
I waited until after Chris had gone to bed and I snuck back to my computer, intent on sending the Best Email Ever to this girl, to offer her my support and advice, but instead, I cried.
In it, I am describing how Iambic Pentameter works to a group of students from a Children’s Theatre in Minnesota. The reason, in particular, that I was giving this workshop is because they are doing Titus Andronicus this year, and wanted a workshop on it.
I love giving workshops. Teaching Shakespeare in a an environment where I can casually crack jokes and answer questions and go on weird tangents about the timelines of Shakespeare plays feels, to me, so very ‘right’ that I have a hard time not launching into Education Artist Mode whenever asked about Shakespeare. I’m good at it.
I have never really believed I am *truly* good at a lot of things, but I believe that I am good at this.
Anyway, on my Facebook, I posted this statement along with that picture.
I still have a moment when I think “Wait, me? you want ME to do this?!?”– because I’m still not used to being the one who knows things, I’m used to being the awkward kid who’s way too excited and has way too many questions. And every time I present a workshop or teach a class, I wind up in a room full of incredible people– sometimes kids, sometimes adults, sometimes students, sometimes retirees who always give me new insight into this thing I love. I get really emotional about it sometimes, but it means the world to me that I get to do this, that the people I work with understand the passion and fire I feel about Shakespeare and trust me to impart that on others in a way that speaks to who I am.
One of my friends, one of those insanely talented, clever and witty women I seem to have been blessed with commented back, admonishing me, in her friendly way, to “start believing it”.
That was hard to read. Because she was right. She was really quite right.
Earlier this year, I got turned down for an education job that I really wanted. I’d put a lot of work into my audition/presentation and when I was turned down for the position, I was told, essentially, that I move around too much and, basically, got too excited and so didn’t appear professional enough to represent their organization. I was too excited about Shakespeare to teach Shakespeare.
That. Hurt. I was devastated. After spending so very long in my adult life trying to first figure out and then accept who I am as an artist and a teacher, it felt like a very direct personal attack. I wasn’t good enough for them: not because I didn’t know the material, but because I couldn’t turn off who I was. Now, to be fair, it was also a very fair assessment. I do move when I talk, quite a bit. I pace, I gesticulate wildly. I shift back and forth. I tend to wander. I like to look everyone in the eye. I like to use the space I’m given. I make a point to try and fill it with the energy and passion I feel about what I’m teaching. I get excited. I get distracted. That’s just who I am.
And then I watched this video:
Amanda Palmer is one of my personal heroes, sort of the quintessential non-traditional Strong Female who helped me to stop being embarrassed about how my voice sounds and whose voice, writing and lyrics served as sort of the “if she can do it, maybe I can do” type-muse in regards to my poetry and art. She’s awesome, basically.
But Amanda Palmer can’t stand still. She wanders. She paces. She shifts back and forth. And still, Amanda Palmer has a TED talk with 3 million views. And she is not afraid to be herself.
On the drive back to Virginia, I listened to her audio book– sort of a 12-hour version of this TED talk, interspersed with biography and personal musings and stories. It’s a brilliant, lovely book. One of the first things she talked about was giving the TED talk. Nowhere does she mention being critiqued for moving around too much, she only talks about the audience members who came up to her weeks and months and years afterwards, thanking her.
This summer, I got to give a short 15 minute lecture on King John before each performance. I’d been asked to put together the educational materials for it, and along the way, someone looked at me and said “why don’t you just do it?”
The first night I gave the talk, I was terrified. All I could think of was how I’d been turned down for a job just like this. I stumbled. I stammered. I lost my place. I literally lied to the audience and told them the wrong king was in power. (Richard the Lionheart is Richard I, not Richard II, as I had mistakenly typed). After the talk, I thanked the audience for their attention and let them know that I would be available for questions and comments over at the merchandise booth after the show.
I went back to my little merchandise table and sighed. What the fuck was I thinking, like I have ANY right to be here, to do this? I was selling the t-shirts for fuck’s sake, I wasn’t some notable scholar. I was just…me.
And then, during intermission, people started coming up and thanking me. They thanked me for the presentation, for the educational materials we hand out– most of them were overjoyed to learn that I’d designed them for all of the shows, not just this one, which is why they all sort of matched– and, most meaningfully, for my energy and passion. The first night, about 15 people came up.
Well, I figured, it WAS opening night. The fancy donors and board members tend to come to openings, and they are usually a little more vocal. It was a fluke. Except it wasn’t.
The next night, the same thing happened. And the next night, the same thing. People coming up, thanking me for explaining the show, for helping them understand it, for being “so excited about Shakespeare!”. I heard that one over, and over again.
Slowly, I started to believe it. I was still terrified that someone would call me out as an impostor, that I’d drop my note cards and humiliate myself in front of 60 people, that I’d be laughed off the stage….but instead, something entirely different happened. Every night, people listened as I talked about lineage and symbolism– interspersed with Star Wars jokes and shitty puns. It was entirely mine, and the audience laughed with me– not at me.
And I wandered. I would gesticulate wildly, drawing diagrams in the air of relationships and plot points, often getting so excited that I would wheel around 180 degrees mid-sentence, to address the end of the thought to the audience on the opposite side of the 3/4 thrust, only to turn again a split second later to send a joke to the lady in the first row. It was Shakespeare Education: Catie Style.
And it worked. It worked so well that some people, not content to just thank me, personally, started seeking out my boss or the artistic director to compliment me. It was a really, really cool feeling.
Maybe, I thought, I was good at this.
Getting rejected from that first job didn’t ruin my life or drastically change the course of human existence, it was just disappointing. But ultimately, it wound up being the best thing that could have happened to me. I had convinced myself that I wasn’t fit for teaching, that no one like ME could teach, that no one would take me seriously or trust me as a teacher.
But instead, this summer, I was given that trust, fully and completely, because other people believed for me. Not only did I get to teach, I got to create the workshops that I taught. Not only did I get to teach Shakespeare, but I got to be funny and silly and nerdy while doing it. I learned that someone like ME can teach, because I was doing it, every day, and the response I got was nearly unanimous: that what I was doing mattered, and that I was good at what I did.
I have jokingly told people that my life’s goal is to become like, the internationally recognized expert on Titus Androncius. I want to be The Titus Girl, the one you call when your theatre is doing Titus so she can come teach her goofy Titus Workshop to your actors and make your production phenomenal. I’m like 90% serious about it at this point.
So last night, in the middle of a pretty big bout of depression and self-loathing for my inability to focus on Real Important Work, I got this email, from a stranger on the internet, asking my advice about being Lavinia, because she’d found some comments I’d made.
And something about that was just…profound to me. In probably a really douchey, eye-rolling way, it was profound. After spending all summer worrying about if I was really worthy of this, if someone like ME would be taken seriously— it wasn’t a fancy workshop or teaching seminar, it was a few simple, pointed statements that I’d made on an internet forum, where I hadn’t worried about how I sounded or how I presented or if I wandered around too much– I’d just spoken honestly, with the passion and joy I feel about Shakespeare, and someone had trusted me enough to email a complete stranger and ask her opinion and her view.
And so I cried.
I think, sometimes, the Real Important Work isn’t just my thesis, or research papers– it’s found here, on my blog, where I talked about the process and my personal experience, where, even when I wrote it, I would think things like “no one is ever going to want to read this” and “this is so self indulgent”….
But maybe it’s not. Maybe the most important work we can give is the work that comes not from a writing prompt or a looming thesis deadline. Maybe It’s the most honest work that is truly important. The work where we get to be ourselves, where we speak truth into the void, –truth filled with Star Wars jokes and shitty puns– and trusting that there is an audience who will hear us, as we are, and recognize that our individual voices and stories –stories told with wandering feet and wildly gesticulating hands-are all remarkable, all valuable, and all worthy of sharing.
I am starting to believe.
Oh and if you feel the need to check out or support that all-women Titus, check them out and send them some love.
Almost exactly a year ago, I was sitting in a dorm room in Winona, Minnesota, working as an intern at the Great River Shakespeare Festival while I waited to start grad school. Today, I am sitting in a dorm room in Winona, Minnesota, working as an intern with *slightly more responsibility* at the Great River Shakespeare Festival, and my desk has a big pile of papers and notebooks on it.
You know. Because I’m writing a thesis.
The notion of me, Catie Osborn, writing a thesis is still hilarious to me. Compile it with the fact that people have recently been asking me, in absolute seriousness “So, are you going to go for your doctorate?” makes the whole thing hilariously bizarre.
No one ever told me that “being an adult” is something that gradually occurs. Much like the fact that I was SHOCKED to learn in high school that my “grown up” handwriting was never going to kick in and I was stuck with the monkey-scratching that my dad taught me when I was six, I have suddenly realized that there is no ‘moment’ of adult-hood. Well, actually, I HAD that moment. I was slightly tipsy and standing on stage at my favorite karaoke bar, gangster-rapping a Miley Cyrus song while doing the Pee-Wee Herman dance when I had this sudden epiphany that this was the adult I had grown up to become.
I don’t know how I feel about that. I thought that Becoming an Adult meant suddenly understanding how to do your taxes and being able to manage money, but apparently for me, Becoming an Adult means being able to buy my own swords and choosing to leave a really solid job to pursue a Master’s in Shakespeare. I’m not complaining– it’s just not what 9-year-old Catie ever thought her life was going to be.
So. Grad School.
Year One of grad school went off without much to-do. It’s funny– so many people told me that OH MY GOD GRAD SCHOOL IS GOING TO BE SO STRESSFUL AND YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!! Honestly, 90% of the time? I thought grad school was pretty damn easy.
I was actually disappointed with how easy some of my classes were at the beginning– I understood the issue– a program built for both sides of “English Major” and “Theatre Major” spectrum meant spending some time getting everyone on the same page, but goddamn was it boring sitting through classes on what Iambic Pentameter and a sonnet were. In a graduate program. About Shakespeare.
Eventually, I realized that I needed to shift my attitude. So instead of being annoyed, I decided to be grateful that my little band of Prenzie Players had given me, over my time with them, the (free) equivalent of a year-one graduate school education because they care so much about the language. That helped, a little.
I also conquered a monumental task for myself and appeared on stage (vaguely) naked. That was a bizzare, weird, challenging but ultimately empowering experience. One of the second years was doing her thesis on nudity in the theatre, and I, for some reason, agreed to be part of her project. She was doing Troilus and Cressida and asked me to play Cressida. Of course I said yes. And so it came to pass that I showed my boobs to my professors before Christmas break of my first year of graduate school. Everyone was super supportive and professional about it, which was nice, but it was just such a weird experience getting naked backstage before going on. It was like that dream you have where you go to school without clothes on, except it was absolutely supposed to be like that.
Towards the middle of the year, I fell pretty hard into some serious depression. I’ve dealt with a little in the past, but the combination of frustration with the program, being away from home/friends/the Blue Cat, the lack of creative outlets for “my thing” (read: slam poetry) meant that I fell pretty deep into a funk for a couple of months.
I fell out of recovery for awhile, which sucked, but as shitty as I was feeling it was just another failure on the fail pile that seemed to be my life at the time. Today, as I write this, I think I’m at 30 days or something– sticking back in recovery has been challenging, but I’m working at it. Finding my creative outlet helped. A lot.
Thankfully, one of the local creative types who is friends with Chris approached me and asked me to be a part of her miniature performance series. Her name is Carmel, and of the fearless, fantastic females that I have the privilege to know, she is very, very high on that list. So depressed and fed-up Catie found herself involved in a group of incredibly talented and creative women, performing slam poetry in a goofy costume in a bookstore on Sunday afternoons, and slowly, the clouds began to lift.
I also worked my way into being the semi-official program photographer, which has been a saving part of my existence in grad school. I didn’t know how much I loved photography until I started doing it, but it has become my creative outlet. It also serves as an excellent service— getting to archive the productions this year has allowed me to both improve as a photographer, but also as a director– if it looks good in a picture, it will look good on stage.
Getting to perform/take pictures at the American Shakespeare Center is also incredible. I mean, THIS is the view from the stage. I become a better actor just by standing there.
Around the same time, casting for the first year show, Much Ado About Nothing, happened. Now, anyone who knows Much Ado can tell you that there are exactly two roles in that play that any Shakespearean actor wants on their resume, and they are Beatrice and Benedick. So when the cast list came out and I discovered that I’d been cast as Borachio, my first instinct was to look up the character because I had no idea who the fuck he was. Great. My first “official” school show and I got a shitty little part.
It turns out, whether by choice or happenstance that Borachio was exactly the character I needed to play at the time, because he was so far outside of my wheelhouse that I spent the entire process trying to figure out *how* to play him. That casting forced me to work a hell of a lot harder than I would have being cast as, essentially, myself. And so Catie learned a valuable lesson about judging the worth of a character based on line load.
I had fun with Borachio. By the end of the process, I sort of liked him. He morphed from a skulking, inherent villain to, basically, Jean Ralphio from Parks and Recreation. Most of the cast started calling me Jean Borachio. The day I “discovered” Borachio happened by total accident. I was really struggling and was in that sort of mood where I felt like everything I did sucked. Since the method of the process was a lot of “do it on your own”, I was getting little to no feedback and was really unsure of where I was going with the character. I had a meeting with one of the faculty directors, who told me that he wanted me to look at the New Romantics for character inspiration. At first, I was REALLY annoyed because it was directly opposite of EVERYTHING I had been working on with the character. All of the in-class viewpoints work and character exploration I had done was 180 degrees in the opposite direction, but fine. I went home and watched an Adam Ant concert from the 80’s.
The next day, almost as a joke, I put my hair into a huge, ridiculous 80’s pompadour. I was sitting in the theatre, waiting for rehearsal to start, when aforementioned faculty member came in and started cracking up. Apparently, I’d chosen correctly. So I had the look. Next came the Great Shoe Debacle. Borachio was a dude, and they wanted me playing him, as, you know. A dude. So with that came a pair of men’s dress shoes, which I had never worn before.
During the masked dance scene, we had a big, elaborate dance number that began with all of the dudes entering into the space. The first time we ran it on stage in costumes, I was a bit late on my entrance, so I ran in, tried to stop, and accidentally did a Risky Business slide through the door. For whatever reason, our other director noticed that particular moment, thought it was a choice, praised me for it, and in that moment, Borachio was born.
A stupid hairdo and a slide morphed, almost suddenly, into a pretty decent character. We performed for One Night Only, and I remember being SHOCKED at how much laughter I got. I took risks, I made big choices, and I don’t think I sucked. Which is really unusual for me.
I was so proud of everyone in my class– the process to putting the show on was brutal, but we opened (and closed, I suppose) to a packed house and a standing ovation. It was a good feeling.
I also took a directing class and (I know you will all be shocked) used a scene from Titus Andronicus as my final project. If I could choose one moment from this first year of grad school to remember for the rest of my life, it would be the day that the co-founder of the American Shakespeare Center casually turned to me in class and deferred to me on a question about Titus Androncius. I’m not saying I’m obsessed, but I am saying that people understand me here.
I also started going to the gym on the regular. Okay, I will publicly admit (once), that I started doing Crossfit, but it turns out that it’s exactly what I needed. Turns out I love weight lifting, and the added bonus of it never being the same thing means that holds my interest. I haven’t exactly turned into a She-hulk yet, but making the commitment to trying to be more active and healthy at the time I did wound up being an incredibly good choice. And now I get to lift big giant weights with the Swolebros at the gym. I think at some point I might actually be good at it. I’m not sure. But I like it. That’s enough for now.
And life…went on, except instead of working at a casino in Iowa, I was in graduate school in Virginia. I drank a lot of coffee, stopped drinking coffee, and started drinking coffee again. I bought shelves and tried to organize my closet and got bored halfway through. The clothes are still on the floor. I bought poster frames like an adult and learned to sew a french hem. I bought way too much fabric and spent too much money.
I got a job doing overhire at the ASC in the costume shop, which was really wonderful, but also slightly disgusting since now Chris (who is, by the way, still around and just might be the love of my life), is still the propsmaster, so we became the propsmaster/costume shop couple, which is just too cute to be real life.
We watched a lot of Netflix, ate a lot of chicken, saw a lot of movies and I wrote some really terrible poems. I read a lot of Shakespeare, I performed a lot of Shakespeare– I fulfilled a dream I’ve had for a long time and got to play Mephistopheles in Faustus, which was awesome. (Oh, and I entered on a sardonic slow-clap, which might have been the best part of the whole thing).
That same evening, I also got to play a Rosie-the-Riveter-esque Maria from Twelfth Night, which was a separate challenge– I’d never gotten to be ‘funny’ before. But man, I loved that costume.
And that was about it for my first year. The showcase was over, my classes were done, and I was, technically, a second year. There was a brief class that we had to help us gear up for writing our theses, which was bizzare, because suddenly it was real and Holy Shit I’m Writing a Thesis Now. I chose my topic, then changed my topic, then changed my topic back to the old topic and changed it again and changed it back the other way.
And now, I’m sitting by a lake in Minnesota. Last week I got to teach a stage combat workshop at a school for about 100 kids, on Tuesday I’m going to be doing the same thing, but this time, with the artistic director of the company. No pressure, right?
Next semester, I’m taking an acting class with one of the best actors I’ve ever seen at the ASC, and two classes on early modern history. I’m writing my thesis on swords. Our apartment is covered in tudor gowns and broadswords and the walls are covered in comic books and movie posters.
Sometimes, I eat entire watermelons for lunch. I have amazing friends, some new, some who have known me for almost half of my life. Sometimes I forget to pay my phone bill until they send me an email. But most importantly, I still have moments where I pause and realize that I’m getting to do the thing I love most in the entire world. I may not ever be rich, or famous, but I am learning about the thing that holds my passion and working towards a career in that same field.
Being an adult is extraordinary.