Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Seanisms" and Blogs

From Joyce I learned to have what Gladys at toastmasters calls a "Seanism." ...

Nestled in the Canadian Rockies is Canada's Banff Centre for The Arts, a world-class summer school. There I once watched a dance class. The students, from all across Canada, were learning to do the move where people hurry across a room spinning as they go. "Hey, like on fame!" they said, referring to an opening credits scene of the old TV series. The trick is to pick a spot on the wall. Some of them veered off because they didn't keep focusing during every spin.

I was able to observe because I was visiting their instructor, my old college teacher, Joyce Grey. From her I had taken drama classes, and I had managed to get into her demanding Creative Movement class for theatre majors. Drama relates to movement because a drama class is not an acting class, and it requires no work on stage. Rather, drama is preparative growth, a no-audience Zen thing, which every actor takes. Joyce noted we students were learning to have "energy" and "concentration." Students begin the drama semester with doing nonverbal movement. An advanced drama class, I suppose, could include theatre sports, as on the recent Hollywood TV show, "Who's line is it anyway?" with Drew Carey.

The students in my classes, both drama and movement, frequently presented "movement studies," usually in teams. Immediately Joyce would criticize. She always began with, "That was good," or "Nice study" or something like that. I think Joyce saw her students as youthfully vulnerable. After presenting their team study they would be in terrible suspense— "Did we do OK?" A quick "That was fine" allows them to exhale and then follow the rest of the criticism.

Since graduation, down to the present day, my favorite method of giving criticism, for manuscripts and work meetings, is to cover three things: what worked, what didn't work, and how it could be better. For giving evaluations where people are more vulnerable, such as for public speaking, I might vary it by using the three things of the "sandwich technique": good stuff, bad stuff, and then good stuff.

Speech evaluations are an integral part of Toastmasters International, where for every speech there is an evaluator. But after the speech, and before the evaluation, we have a minute of silence. That's when members fill out their own special little mini-evaluation for the speaker, using a special little slip of paper. We call it a "love note." Remembering Joyce, I always start out writing "Nice speech" ... Even if I don't have anything else to say.

One day a fellow toastmaster, Gladys Sabayan, pointed out to the club that she had come to expect the "Seanism" of "nice speech" on her notes. I was pleasantly surprised— this reminded me that everything we do in life gets noticed, on some level.

Now I am wondering if my blog is being noticed. I'm not waiting to exhale, not when I'm a seasoned middle aged writer, but still, a simple "nice essay" comment would do me good.

Sean Crawford

~Reminder: By clicking through "older posts" (at the bottom) you can find new essays not found on my old web site.

~Although it's totally and absolutely ignored in terms of comments, (sigh!) a popular related essay of mine, based on the monthly number of hits, (clicks) is Criticism and Professionals from March of 2010.

~Update: in my "taking stock" post of June 2013 I noted that blogs are fading in popularity—I expect no comments, I write for my own purposes.


  1. Nice essay! :-) My own philosophy on feedback is that the most useful comments are specific, tied-to-the-line reports on what a reader was seeing/feeling/thinking/relating to at that moment--in other words, useful feedback gives the writer a chance to take a little road trip through his/her work in the passenger seat of the reader's car. So it's all about information (not about judgment or even evaluation): what associations, questions, ideas arose along the road?

    In this essay, I got to go to Canada (yay!) and simultaneously revisit childhood ballet lessons--something I have not thought about for decades--when you gave that spinning detail of focusing (or not) on a spot on the wall. I could feel my little toes cramped down in ballet slippers, could feel the disorientation of losing that focal point when spinning, which made me consider that there might be a metaphor at work here with regard to poise in chaotic times.

    The second paragraph taught me about drama and acting studies, something I know nothing about despite having been married to an actor in one of my former lives. (He must have been one of the exceptions to the "no-audience Zen thing"; the only preparative ritual he practiced was to down a few swigs of mouthwash before going in to an interview). :-) His headstone reads "A fine actor, weather permitting." But the main effect of your story on me was a nostalgic rush about the importance of teachers: I could feel the subtext tenderness toward your own teacher and understand the impulse to visit her even if I didn't know the reason. I thought of the most important teacher in my life, and of how he affected my own teaching and remembered, again, how a single individual who believes is us before we can believe in ourselves can alter the course of our lives. The positive feedback of "Seanisms" is similarly affirming.

    So yes, I agree that "everything we do in life gets noticed, on some level" even if we never hear about it. The way we relate to each other, including how we respond to students, actors, teachers, readers, and other writers, is what shapes the world.

    P.S. I think it's also a good thing, from time to time, to ask for whatever we know will do us good! (At least my therapist keeps telling me so, although I steadfastly ignore her advice.) :-) So thanks for the role model on that, as well as for this insightful post.

  2. Nice comment!:-)

    After I read your comment I went up to mine—now I get your opening. I had thought at first you were copying my comment on your blog yesterday.

    I read in that order because I was reading out loud to my client.

    I love how we writers are so interested in the world.
    Regular folks would have done a short comment.

    I will reply on your blog, but not just now, as my client and I are going shopping.