As we adapt and innovate to stay connected, Artistic Director Matt Guidry shares some of Upstream Arts’ best practices so that those who are sheltering at home, out of school, or isolated from usual activities can practice creativity and social connection. Welcome to In Small Moments, where Matt offers tools and tips for practicing Upstream Arts activities on your own and with your loved ones at home.
Welcome. Take 5 minutes.
This first welcome from me to you, and this first deep dive into our practice, goes out to all the parents, siblings, extended family members, caregivers, guardians, group home staff, and anyone else who has a close personal relationship with someone with a disability. This is for all of you who care so deeply and have such tremendous worries about what is happening and how it could, might, will possibly impact the health of your loved ones. And the truth is, it’s already affecting their state of well-being. I know. I’m there with you.
This new reality has made me look at why we’re doing our work, how it connects us, and why we need to keep doing it. In this constant state of adaptation to new rules, Upstream Arts is fairly comfortable. We adapt our curriculum activities all the time, with the many varied populations we work alongside. The same activity is done dozens – if not hundreds – of different ways. And every time we adapt, we’re trying to find, and stay true to, the essence of the activity. In this moment, we are looking at the essence of the whole work of Upstream Arts, the essence of a practice of connecting, in small moments, through creative interactions. We believe that it’s through these small moments we can grow.
The truth is that we all need to practice connecting in this new realm. We need to practice a new way to connect with those close to us, with whom we now share space on a different level and on a different – much longer – time frame. And, we need to practice a new way of connecting with loved ones through a screen. Loved ones who do not understand WHY you cannot see them in person. WHY you are not visiting. Or, WHY you can’t leave the house. But they do understand that you are not. Visiting. Or leaving the house.
Our world has shrunk. And the fact is that many of our loved ones with disabilities already lived in a realm that is much smaller than ours.
So, I want to start small. I want to encourage you, as I do with all our Teaching Artists, to see and believe that growth happens in small moments, repeated over time. We work alongside the participants in our classes only one hour a week. Each individual probably only gets 5 minutes of individual attention during each class. Yet we can develop rich relationships by practicing being creative together. It’s our game of learning how to connect. And it’s fun! Believe me. I have seen the biggest resisters to our version of play turn on a dime and have the time of their lives.
Imagine what you can grow with 5 minutes a day of play. Practicing to play. It’s spring after all! It’s a time to grow.
STEP 1: Take 5 minutes. It’s there.
Trying to connect with our son Caleb, who lives in a group home, and who normally comes to our house for a visit every weekend, has been difficult. Because now it’s through a screen. And brief. 10-15 minutes at most. None of it real quality time. And those minutes leave me unsatisfied and uncomfortable. But I’ve still tried to video chat with him almost every day. And though it hasn’t really been successful, it’s a practice that I believe will grow into something more. And, indeed, the last week and a half have proven to be productive. We’re getting a little more comfortable with the process. We’re learning what works (for us it’s multiple people on a call, vs. one on one… many people is much more interesting). We’re still not there. But with each visit we have a moment or two that connects. And we’re building on those small moments of 10-second successes.
So find 5 minutes to connect with your loved one, in a new way. Every day. We hope our videos can inspire your innate creativity. But just take 5 minutes. And look closely for those momentary connections.
STEP 2: Do some mirroring
Look and listen with your whole self.
We’ve posted a couple videos already with mirroring as the practice. I encourage you to try these activities with your loved ones. It can be done in person, or through screens. Do what your mirroring partner does. Be who they are. Try to experience the same moment with them. See what happens.
Mirroring, mimicking, copying. It’s how we first learn as infants. Developing our mirroring neurons. Gathering information by trying it on for size. Mirroring, in many forms, is a staple of our curriculum. When 2 people move together in unison it is beautiful. Meditative. Mesmerizing. It can be big. It can be very small (the shift of an eyebrow). And it can be uncomfortable. It can make you feel vulnerable. It can be soothing and calming. It’s fundamental. It can feel like looking and seeing for the first time. But we do it all the time, really. If someone close to us is sad, for example, we often mirror that sadness in our own body and face.
We believe to mirror is to acknowledge that we see, that we hear.
And that’s where we start. It’s where Upstream started. When Caleb first mirrored a group of dancers, and a conversation began. Give it practice.
I hope you continue to come back and practice with us, and with those around you, through our studio ACCESS videos. I’ll be back with more behind the curriculum thoughts soon.
Until then, keep practicing being creative.