“What if Fancy Cat is a Musical?”

Exactly seven months ago today on January 11, 2022, that was the question posed to me by Sid Ryan Eilers, co-artistic director of Aeris Körper and my glorious collaborator on Fancy Cat. While working on a grant for Fancy Cat, Sid was listening to music Raphael Roter had composed to underscore scene 1 (for the November 2021 development workshop) and was inspired; hence: “What if Fancy Cat is a musical?” I was equal parts thrilled by the question and terrified, but immediately started writing songs – something I thought I’d never ever ever (ever) do again. I wrote Fancy’s theme (“Too Much”), a song for their bullies (“Why Can’t You Be Normal?”), and a reprise of “Too Much” for Fancy’s caregiver, ZaZa. I’m currently working on a solo for ZaZa to accompany a nightmare sequence where they confront their father-figure about their own messaging of “too much.” (or is it a duet? *shrug*)

So, here’s a small taste of my process from winter/spring 2022. “Too Much” is the first song Fancy sings after they start internalizing the messages of “too much” they receive from teachers, classmates, and schoolbus drivers. Fancy is a non-binary human child I’ve been pretty much in love with since Sid brought the original idea to me and I started writing the script and accompanying picture book in March 2021. Like everything Fancy Cat, the music is still in process, with orchestrations to come from the beautiful mind of Raphael.

This mp3 is from February 2022 and was the first thing I sent to Sid after the musical prompt:

“Too Much” in February 2022

And the lyrics as they currently stand in August 2022:

🎵 I wear my culottes, they say “You can’t wear a dress!”
I splash in puddles, they say “Don’t make such a mess!”
I’m too much. It makes my skin feel tight.
Too much. When will I be just right?
I climb in trees, they grumble, judge and frown,
I waltz in gym class, they say “What a foolish clown!”
I shimmy on the suspension bridge and shake everyone down.
I’m too much. When will I be okay?
Too much. It ruins every day.
When will they finally see?
When can I be just me and not too much?
Just…me. 🎵

I’ll be honest: I feel pretty vulnerable sharing my voice and Voice here. Sid and I both received messages of “too much” when we were children and it’s been a lifelong struggle for us to shrug them off and learn to celebrate what makes us each unique. I don’t think we’re alone in that fight and that’s why Fancy Cat exists. We hope that each child and caregiver who experiences our little love letter will come away feeling seen and start on their own healing paths together.

I’m so thankful to Sid for asking the question and for being one of the best collaborators I could ever ask for. I’m also grateful to the rest of the Fancy Cat people who’ve joined us on this journey: Karen Ancheta, Jackie Chau, Dedra McDermott, Raphael Roter, Alten Wilmot, Shannon Kitchings, Mayumi Lashbrook, Jody Boston, Mikaela Demers, and Carlyn Rhamey. I love them all with my whole fancy heart.

Ranger Robin is HERE!

I am delighted by Ranger Robin and I think kids will be, too! Enjoy this new video from *kids in the hive* about hibernating animals. It includes a helpful pro-social message about how we can settle our bodies, as well as lots of fun animal noises with Captain Al and real kids! First in a series ❤ Be sure to like and subscribe to be the first to know when new videos arrive!

Who wants to get lost in the gorgeous Arcata Community Forest with me???

I loved collaborating on the scripts for this series with MaryAnn of *kids in the hive*/ALL PLAY Creations! I look forward to our ongoing work together. 🎥 

All the feelings…

A group of old and new friends is slowly working through a powerful book by Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. During our discussion Tuesday night, I recognized how much training for white body supremacy was incorporated into containing and controlling my I-have-big-feelings-ness as a kid and how much I want to break the hold of that in my adult existence.

That work for me this week included collaborating with friends who raise and care for growing humans to see what feelings their kids need help normalizing and expressing. The result is this “If you’re happy/grumpy/sad/scared/lonely/wild/sleepy/bored/silly and you know it” video. I had a lot of fun playacting all those feelings, but the most important part for me comes at the end. Sometimes, I have to sit quietly and breathe long enough for my feelings to reveal themselves. I believe that’s necessary for us to do as adults, especially as we work to break down big systems outside the walls of our homes and inside the walls of our own bodies. I also think it’s vital to allow our kids the same space.

We have so many big feelings. How do you feel today? Are you happy? Grumpy? Sad? Stop, breathe, and let the feeling bubble up and tell you its name.

If you’re happy and you know it, shout hooray
If you’re grumpy and you know it, make some noise
If you’re sad and you know it, cry boo hoo
If you’re scared and you know it, hide your face
If you’re lonely and you know it, reach out
If you’re wild and you know it, drum real fast
If you’re sleepy and you know it, give a yawn
If you’re bored and you know it, great big sigh
If you’re silly and you know it, dance about

If you don’t know how you feel, stop and breathe I
f you don’t know how you feel, stop and breathe
If you don’t know how you feel, and you really want to know it
If you don’t know how you feel, stop and breathe

If you or your kids stumble over naming emotions, the Children’s Involvement Team of Sheffield, UK has provided a helpful feelings chart: http://www.sheffkids.co.uk/adultssite. I used it last year as a prop for Karaoke Visiting Hour and now it hangs in the space where I do online storytime.

Breathe, friends. ♥️

Animated Discussions

I’ve been known to fall down a youtube rabbit hole from time to time. My latest bunny trail began with a repeated viewing of Matthew A. Cherry’s HAIR LOVE, an adaptation of his picture book of the same name. Love, love, LOVE.

Oscar-nominated Animated Short Film HAIR LOVE

In addition to this Oscar-nominated short (fingers crossed for a win!), my providential e-spiral included MOM – A MOTHER, MISSING HOME (tears), THE PRESENT (tears), DESTINY (sighs), and ALIKE.

ALIKE, 2016 Goya Award-winning short film by Daniel Martínez Lara and Rafa Cano Méndez (update: 23 APR 2020 – no longer available on YouTube)…I feel as if I should show it to people instead of trying to explain why I’m taking my sweet time with There’s an Easy-Bake Oven Where My Heart Should Be. It’s about the same business, just in a different medium. Regardless of our age, we all need freedom of imagination and creativity in order to thrive. I know that I depend on the wonder of children to restore my ability to move through the world with awe and kindness. How do we keep our tiny folks from losing their own access?

Give HAIR LOVE a watch, won’t you? I’d love to talk to folks about it.

Big feet and trash can to fill

In honour of Carroll Spinney, I present to you two of my favourite storytime socks.

Image of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch socks

The cuffs of the socks read as follows:

Big Bird: I like big books.

Oscar: Go away! I’m reading!

Big Bird modeled wonder, astonishment, gentleness, and curiosity for me. Oscar taught me it’s okay to express my emotions, whatever they might be. No surprise then, that these two marvelous beings still sing at me and inform my work four decades later. My favourite picture of Carroll Spinney shows him performing Oscar while wearing Big Bird’s legs. Proof that these disparate creatures can (and often did) inhabit the same body.

I love this tribute to Carroll Spinney from Judy Gold. We are not alone, dear friends.