Occupational Therapy

Meaningful Occupation (Doreen and Me, Part 4)

The start of a new calendar year leads many of us to reflect on what we’ve been doing, and what we want to be doing. It’s a chance to check in with ourselves about what is important to us, and whether we are on the path to doing more of what is meaningful, and wasting less time on what is not.

As an occupational therapist (OT) I believe that us human beings need/are driven to engage in the occupations* that are important to us in order for life to be its most meaningful and joyful (*occupations in the sense of activities, ‘things that occupy our time’).

Actually doing things is incredibly important to the concept each of us has of ourselves as a person.  The joyful “I DID it!” of a small child mastering doing up a zipper or putting on shoes is the distilled essence of the importance “doing” things has for most of us.

Spending time with Doreen Brownstone frequently leads me to reflect on the power of meaningful occupation.  I can’t help but see a link between her health and vitality at 91, and the fact that she makes a point of engaging in meaningful occupations every day: she bakes and knits for friends and acquaintances; she cooks for herself; does all the other activities she needs to do to run her household; she occasionally throws fabulous teas and coffee mornings; and, when she gets the opportunity to, she acts.

Acting is a meaningful occupation to Doreen, but she doesn’t let it (or lack of opportunity to do “it”) to define her; if she doesn’t have the opportunity to act, Doreen picks herself up and carries on with what she wants or needs to do; what will make her feel useful and alive.

Undoubtedly Doreen has her down moments: even 91 year old dynamos are human, after all. But her perseverance is remarkable and constantly inspires me: to do more; to engage in more productive, meaningful activities; and, of course, to pursue The Doreen Brownstone Feature Film Spectacular project.  This is a great example, actually, of how an activity can become meaningful depending on the context. Raising money is not, on its own, something that I would ever describe as a meaningful occupation; however, making it possible for us to make a film starring Doreen—a movie that will be fun and delightful, and preserve her joy in performance on video forever—well, that’s a meaningful occupation.

I’ll be blogging again tomorrow. In the meantime, check out our Indiegogo campaign page if you haven’t had a chance yet (click on any of this blue part for the link).

IGG Doreen image

There are only 24 days left in the campaign (!!).  There are more ways to participate than you might think, and participating in what might seem like a very small way has a greater impact than you might guess.

Hey, that sounds like a topic for the next blog post…


PS: Such Creatures opens in Winnipeg tonight–featuring Doreen Brownstone–and runs for only 4 shows (more information here).

PPS: Wondering just what an Occupational Therapist is, or does? I sometimes describe my job as an OT as enabling  people to do the things that they want, need or are expected to be able to do; the curious can find a longer and more graceful definition of OT here, at the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists website.

Doreen and Me Part 2: the Eureka moment.

On a Saturday afternoon a few years ago I went to Prairie Theatre Exchange to see a reading of Joan MacLeod’s Another Home Invasion (part of PTE’s Carol Shields Festival of New Work).

From the description I’d seen, I knew the play was about an 80ish year old woman, that it probably had something to do with a home invasion, and that it was going to be read by Doreen Brownstone. I liked Joan MacLeod’s writing, and I liked Doreen Brownstone’s acting, so I thought I’d go.

There was an armchair and a rug and I think some kind of a coffee table on the set.   Doreen walked out and sat in the arm chair; Bob Metcalfe introduced things, and sat down off to the side. Perhaps the lights changed. And then it started.

I was so utterly taken in that I didn’t even notice it was being read, and by the end, I was crying. Hard.  As a general rule, I have a harder time getting completely immersed in a reading than I do in a full production. But, as they say, exceptions prove the rule.  As is often the case with theatre, it wasn’t a single thing, but a number of elements coming together that turned this reading into a seminal moment for me.

The first was the play itself. I will resist the urge to synopsize the plot, or say much about it at all: if you want to read a well-written, pretty spoiler-free description, you can do so here (it is published, and I own a copy—I bought mine at McNally Robinson).

The second element was the production/performance.  Doreen’s reading was so simple, so absolutely perfect.  Part of the magic was that she wasn’t playing age, she was just playing the role. But the biggest part of the magic was that Doreen is just a really damned fine actor. And what struck me that day was that she seemed to just be getting better and better.  And why not—she keeps racking up life experiences, and performing experience—there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be continuing to get better, right? And yet just how excellent her performance was surprised me, which brings me to the third element: me.

The themes of the play resonated extremely closely with me because of my work as, and what you could call my world view as, an occupational therapist. The excellence of Doreen’s performance filled my actor-self with admiration, and transported my audience-self into Jean (the character)’s living room for the hour of the show, and also spoke to everything I believe in as an OT (the topic for another blog post, perhaps).

I left the theatre thinking and feeling a lot of things but the one that overrode the others, and has ultimately come to inform what I’ve chosen to spend my time on for the last few years, is that Doreen Brownstone is an excellent actor, and I wanted there to be more opportunities for audiences to see her, and for people like me to get to work with her.

So, that was the more recent beginning of this project.

It is also why my next blog post is going to be about a fabulous opportunity to see Doreen perform, which is coming up in less than a week, for only four performances, which I think anyone in Winnipeg should take the opportunity to see.

More about that later this weekend.


Comments? Questions? Thoughts? Please post them below–I’d love to hear them!