Every once in a while, I meet particularly astounding people who make my jaw drop and say, "Wow."
Denise Stewart is one such person I had the pleasure of meeting at a blogger conference I keynoted back in April. As a writer and actress, she has a commanding presence that is both vibrant and profound. With an MFA in Playwriting from the University of Virginia and a BA in Theater from Catawba College, Denise provides her audiences with profound messages wrapped in her quick wit. After reading her amazing list of accomplishments, including her recent play DIRTY BARBIE AND OTHER GIRLHOOD TALES, I got curious. Could I approach her with the power of slow? She warmed to the idea immediately, admitting that mindfulness is what she promotes every day as both a playwright and wellness coach.
She graciously agreed to an e-chat, which I have recorded below.
CLH: What made you slow down in your life (or have you)?
DS: Despite what looks like a really busy schedule, and despite the fact that I still complain about not having time, those seem to be just moments when I forget that I am time, that I fall into our every day talk about busyness. A few things have helped me slow down:
1. My son turning 17 this year and talking about college has made me slow down because I don't take it for granted that this is going to be his last year at home.
2. Studying food and nutrition has opened my eyes to the power of eating slower (in social situations and alone), and it's helped me distinguish between my peaceful moments with food and my violent interactions with food. My own curiosity in my history with food and my body has helped me slow down to say, "Oh, that was an interesting choice with the coming in the door and the standing there at the counter and chowing down on the cheese and crackers. That's interesting, Denise." That interest stops the shame cycle, gives me some detachment, which usually leads to humor, which leads to lightness, which leads to a chance to do the next best thing.
3. Theater has always helped me slow down. When I go to rehearsal, I am totally there. I am not worried about what just happened or what's next. I'm just there, and I tend to be very happy at rehearsal, even when it's been a long day. I don't watch the clock when I'm rehearsing or performing (duh, right?, but oh, if we "acted" like that the rest of the time -- amazing potential).
CLH: What gave you the incentive to set aside time to do what you love?
DS: I attended a workshop with Robert Kegan, the author of Overcoming the Immunity to Change, The first question he asked was "If I asked three people close to you what they really thought you should do or change, what would it be?" I thought of those three people in my life, and I could picture them saying to him, without hesitation, that I should write more. That really encouraged me to make time to write. When I gave up the idea that there was going to be a "perfect" time later to do what I'm really good at, that helped. That little fantasy that life or your schedule will "clear up" like it's the weather and then there will be space for what you want. The weather's gonna do what it's driven to do, and so am I.
CLH: Why did you write your latest play, DIRTY BARBIE & OTHER GIRLHOOD TALES?
DS: I wrote a few blog pieces about my childhood, and the responses from my family and friends were very powerful. My husband said he thought they were the best things I'd ever written. Then a request came from a theater asking if I would like to submit a new play for their season. I thought of the blog posts, and told them I would get them a show by the deadline. I've always wanted to write a play or a book or a movie about my childhood. Frankly, there's enough material to do all three!
CLH: What inspired you to actually perform it?
DS: I've always been a storyteller, and I've always wanted to do a one-woman show, but this is the first time that I've performed my own play. Maybe it was just time, but I knew I was the only person for the part. It's a very personal work, and I love performing.
CLH: Where can people see you perform it or other things?
DS: Upcoming shows of Dirty Barbie and Other Girlhood Tales: Nov. 30 - Dec. 3 in Charlottesville, VA at Live Arts. You can visit the Facebook page is DIRTY BARBIE AND OTHER GIRLHOOD TALES and I'll be posting other upcoming shows there as they are decided.
CLH: The power of slow reminds us to invest time in our dreams. Thank you, Denise, for living yours as it empowers others to do the same.