Hamlet in Prison

This American Life Hamlet in Prison, screenshot

Jack Hitt’s hour-long report  for This American Life on Hamlet performed by prisoners, originally broadcast in 2002, has inspired me all week with its deep insights about Hamlet and encouragement for my own students, a few of whom have come from prison.

Nobody points out the ex-cons in my classes–I wouldn’t know that detail if they didn’t confide in me themselves. A couple have broken my heart by returning to prison or to the streets, but most are determined to take their second chance and become a blessing to their families. Like this reporter, I don’t necessarily want to know what they’ve done in the past. For me, their life begins here and now.

And I’d love to have all of my students think of my class-as one prisoner/performer said of his experience with teacher/director, Agnes Wilcox–“For a few hours a week, we get to feel human again.”


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011

Friday Flick: Music with Shining Eyes

If you’ve never loved classical music before, give Ben Zander twenty-one minutes to change your heart. If you’ve loved it already, share this with someone who could use a little healing. Ben conducts the Boston Philharmonic and speaks about his transformative experience with Landmark Education–a beautiful combination. This is Benjamin Zander’s TED talk.

Benjamin Zander at TED: Music with Shining Eyes
Benjamin Zander at TED: Music with Shining Eyes


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011

Image YouTube screenshot

Scheduling Improv

Listening to Krista Tippetts’ interview with musician Bobby McFerrin, it first surprised me that he ever considered joining a monastic order, and that the main attraction was the silence! He also loved the scheduled cycles of each day, the listening for God. Then it made sense.

He describes himself as a “conveyer of song. I think of myself as a catcher of songs . . . . to grab it, and pull it down, and have it come out of my mouth.” He distinguishes this process from an attitude of performing, which he recommends avoiding, even if you’re “catching song” from a stage.

He’s known for his improvisational freedom, but did you know he practices it? He recommends setting a timer for ten minutes. Then open your mouth and sing, and don’t stop, even when your body screams to stop.

That works for writing, too. Set a timer for a little longer than usual, and keep going even when everything in you screams to stop. You can work up to longer sessions and greater improvisational freedom.

(I watched the unedited version, and I plan to listen to the edited version as well–not to miss the things that will be trimmed for radio length, but for the music they’ll add. There’s another great way to look at revision!)

Bobby McFerrin Catching Song


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Friday Flick: Flashmob on Recycling

Can you imagine if every gesture of conservation and kindness received such a welcome? Do it anyway.

Flashmob on Recycling a Bottle
Flashmob on Recycling a Bottle

Friday Flick: Drew in Concert

Full disclosure: I raised this amazing composer. And I would still love his music even if I hadn’t.

Drew Nichols is a “third stream” composer, combining classical and jazz, so to experience a piece of his, you’d better stick around for every note! Here he is conducting “Initiation.”

Drew Nichols conducting his Initiation Screen shot
"Initiation" by Drew Nichols, conducted by the composer


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Friday Flick: Virtual Choir

We’re so glad Eric Whitacre did not make it as a pop star. Here’s a TED talk on his composing and creating influences: Mozart and a fan on YouTube. It’s also about the lengths to which humans will go to connect, and how well we do connect across technology. Enjoy!

Eric Whitacre Virtual Choir on TED Screen shot
Eric Whitacre Virtual Choir on TED


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

My Secret Recipe

Cookies copyright Lauri Patterson iStock_000008692571
Photo copyright Lauri Patterson iStockPhoto #8692571

Yesterday, I was spinning with so many demands, I had to remind myself to stop and write my Morning Pages. (Thank you, Julia Cameron.) I’ve learned to think on paper so well, it’s surprising I manage to think anywhere else.

It turned out I was eager to bake cookies–and first thing, too. I had agreed to bake cookies (white chocolate, macadamia was the request) to thank a college musical ensemble for performing my son’s piece at the composer’s concert. I planned to bake that afternoon, after about four professional tasks, but Morning Pages ordered me to start now.

Morning Pages tend to know things I haven’t guessed–like how I was almost out of my favorite (gluten-free-but-you’d-never-know-it) baking mix. And did Morning Pages know it would take four stores to find it in stock?

The cookies turned out so well, they made Facebook headlines. 😀 (They were almost as good as the concert.)

I could have gone to the bakery–and I reserve the right to do that without notice. But this particular day, Morning Pages gave me permission to claim that luxury to make them myself, to serve my family in that way. Later I learned how stressed my son had been feeling, and I was glad I had been sending him some love. And other son was also in need of support. My mother heart was putting them first. Morning Pages know when to do that.

By the way, cookie-baking can be controversial in these modern times. Remember the press putting Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton through a First Lady cookie recipe contest? (Mine would have won.)

It’s tempting to become the hoarder of a secret recipe, but why? So I’ll be too busy baking cookies to write? Don’t think so. I’ll share; you bake the cookies.

Simply follow the recipe on the back of the giant bag of Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix, measuring precisely, using real butter and extra love–except I use pecans instead of walnuts in the chocolate chip version, and I made another batch with white chocolate and macadamias. I use a 1-1/2″ cookie scoop to form each ball and leave them rounded, baking on parchment paper. They turn out perfectly after only 12 minutes in my oven.

Full disclosure: nobody has done a thing for this unsolicited endorsement except create an exceptional product. Pamela’s features brown rice flour and almonds, and makes such good pancakes I was using this mix before our gluten diagnosis. (No wonder we felt great after eating them!) I can also rave about their corporate communications; their website and newsletters are outstanding examples of each. Additional disclosure: if Pamela’s finds this post and chooses to send me presents, I will greedily accept.

This might be a good time to add my own post script to Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Cookies books: “Writing. Telling friends and strangers how to bake your delicious cookies.”


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Photo © Lauri Patterson iStockPhoto®  #8692571