Monday, November 30, 2009

Goodnight and Thank You

Thanksgiving was lovely, but full. I cleaned my apartment on Wednesday, which was fortunate since I wound up hosting the family often over the days that followed. It was kind of nice to play hostess, though, and put all of my furniture to use.

My parents drove up Wednesday, the grandparents (all of them1) flew out Thursday, and Andy and Jen arrived on Friday. My parents, Grandma Cook, and I had Korean barbeque on Thanksgiving proper and the whole gang shared a lovely dinner on Saturday up at the condo in the mountains. It was a great weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing everyone.

That being said, I am absolutely exhausted. Part of that is my own fault - I wrapped up the re-writes on the latest version of "Making Waves" last night and had to get it off to FedEx this morning to meet the competition deadline. As in, I was there shortly after 5:00 this morning. Oy and ouch.

I made it to my carpool in time, though, and it's a dang good thing, too. I dozed most of the way to and from school today, so I'm certainly glad I wasn't the one driving.

I was tired last night, too. I went to bed around 9:00, but just couldn't fall asleep. I don't know what's up with that, but I hope it won't be the case tonight. It's 6:00 now; I've had dinner and am heading to bed soon.

The play went off to the Shakespeare festival in Cedar City, who will notify winners after March 15th. While I was at it, I also sent the script to DCTC, who notifies on a rolling up-to-6-months basis. I'm in for a long wait on those, but I'll definitely let you know here when I hear.

Three weeks left of the semester - yay for that!

Okay. Bedtime. Hopefully, in any case.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I'm Blue

Check out my wound!

I have a few others, but not in places that are easy to photograph.

It reminds me of this:

Natasha is not amused. She is also not being petted. This meets with further disapproval.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I Fall to Pieces

I divided my classroom into four quadrants - Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. My speech class was beginning the unit on debate, and I wanted to let them move during the discussion. We pushed the desks into a tight square in the middle to make room and I read aloud the first prompt. As the students headed for their sections, I looked for a place to stand where I could guide the discussion, yet stay out of their way. I spotted it - the conglomeration of desks in the middle of the room had a convenient hole with a chair in it, three desks deep in on any side.

Being in a skirt, I opted to walk over the desks rather than scoot. I'm often standing on top of things in my room, and I'm usually pretty good at standing on the part of the desktop that is directly over the legs. But the chair in the hole in the middle of the desks that I was aiming for was off-center, and an OCD-ness tickled me.

I stretched my left foot down to try to hook the chair and nudge it to be in the center. One of its legs caught on a desk leg, though, and it wouldn't budge. I reached a little farther, then a little bit more...

Then, in sudden slow motion, the desk I was standing on tipped one way, the chair I was adjusting slid out from under my foot the other way, and I toppled Alice-in-Wonderland style, head over heels down in the middle of a pile of desks, papers, my skirt, and that off-center chair.

The students froze for a moment, staring at all they could see of their speech teacher - two black-tight-clad legs and a pair of Clarks shoes waving up in the air from the middle of a collapsed pile of desks.

After the moment of disbelieving shock, several of them dashed to my aid, picking up the equipment and papers that I had knocked to the ground; while I righted myself, giggling. I kept laughing as I reassured my students as they asked over and over again if I was okay.

And I am. A lovely big blue bruise is blossoming on my arm with a companion on my leg, but I'm fine. I keep smiling, though, at the image of myself turned properly upside down.

Oh, and I'm also grateful that I wore opaque tights today.

I Could Write a Book

I'm grading suspenseful short stories from my English class tonight. While the level of writing is certainly improved from last year's grading, they are still entertaining in that "Oh, teenagers!" kind-of-way.

Here's a passage from my favorite so far, written by the same girl who when I was listing candidates for authors of The Great American Novel ("Twain, Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck") she solemnly raised her hand and added "Meyer".

I've had many a chuckle at these papers, but this is the first that made me wish I could read it out loud with Teresa and mercilessly mock it/turn it into a screenplay.

([sic] from this point forward)

We were along, defensless. We both had fear streaming down our bodies in the form of cold sweat. My heart skipped one, two, maybe six beats. I might die here. Before he even touches me. He came closer, his empty eyes on mine, I felt them invading even in the dark. I smelled death, and decay. I sat motionless like a manican in the mall. Un-alive. He stopped and said in a low, husky, unfamiliar voice "Kelsey will not be attending prom. And Brad... eh.. undecided" We stood up like light, and ran like never before. My legs pumped like Seabiscuit on the last stretch. I saw the black trees dashing by my head. Heard my hollow breathing. Shockwaves traveled to my feet. I lost the trail, and Brad screamed somewhere behind me. It was blood curdling, it sounded like it came from hell. I shuttered in fear. I dove into the nearest bush. I was crying, no sobbing. Sweating, thinking. Why me? Where was he? What happened to Brad? I want someone. Should I move? I was paralyzed in fear. I saw him walking very slowly in my direction. The faint outline of his body eaten by the dim moonlight. My body shook form the core out. I wanted to die right there before he had the chance to do it. I wanted an escape route, just pass out so I don't feel this painful fear. His breathing deep, a limp in his step, and a clenched teeth expression in his face revealing his strong jaw muscles. He can closer and closer and eventually passed by bush. I prayed for him to keep going. He stopped, and stood in silence. God, this was the most intense silence I've ever heard. His ears moved noticeably upwards like someone scratched his back and sent shivers to his head. He darted my way and I sprung like a bunny from a fox, but he grabbed my hair. I punched, screamed, but, kicked, but he was so strong. Silly strong, like Muhammed Ali, against me , a teenage girls. He was so cold, like a rock, and had blood, sticky blood all over his arms, which wrapped around my neck. Suddenly, I hear a whoosh! Sound. He releases my neck and falls to the ground. Motionless. Brad stood over me with a log. We took off like a top Kenyan marathoner in the last mile.

I need to have a chat with her about similes.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Human Again

I love this snowstorm!

After calling everyone associated with the speech meet to pass along the word/console the disappointed students, I slept for 12 hours Friday night. Upon waking, I made myself some scrambled eggs for breakfast and enjoyed some good lap time with Natasha. Just when I was thinking about getting dressed, brother-in-law Ben called and invited me to get some Japanese food with him for lunch (Rachel was off visiting friends in Ft. Collins). We tried a new place by me that, sadly, was only so-so.

After bidding farewell to Ben, I ran a few errands and treated myself to a steamed milk at Borders along the way. There, I discovered that the new Audry Niffenegger book is out. Finally! I also bought myself a space heater at Target so I could have a toasty bathroom in the mornings when I get out of the shower.

At home I put on some holiday music and tackled the piles of laundry and dishes, hauled out some trash, put together some goulash, and put some magic bars in the oven for Sunday night. Rachel called and I talked her into coming down for dinner, since Ben was gone for the evening. She brought me some pretty fall flowers and we ate, watched some TV, and caught up. It was fantastic.

I got up at 8 this morning to get ready for church. While I was eating cereal, though, Bishop called me to say that church had been canceled due to the storm. I made the necessary phone calls to all the sisters in the ward who hadn't been contacted yet, then did another load of laundry while using my new food processor to make a few baguettes (or at least the dough the will become baguettes later this afternoon).

I'm going to go workout now, then shower, finish scrubbing down my kitchen, put my bread in the oven, and curl up with Her Fearful Symmetry and my cat.

In short, this is the best snowstorm ever; and after weeks of just scraping by, I am finally feeling human again.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Everything Old is New Again

I just got off the phone with my assistant coaches and the head of transportation for my district - given the weather forecast for tomorrow (we're supposed to get slammed in the afternoon, and this speech meet requires going over a perilous pass), I made an executive decision and canceled our attendance at the meet.

Good grief -that means I don't have to get up at 4:00 tomorrow! And I can do laundry and dishes and work out and maybe even vacuum! It's enough to make me feel 50!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a whole lot of phone calls to make.

What a Grand Old Age

I ate dinner at 4:30, and I'm going to bed at 7:30.

Apparently, I turned 90 on my last birthday.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Proud of Your Boy

What I find most important is creating an environment in which students can feel safe and secure enough to allow themselves to be vulnerable.

That's a quote from my dear Meg's blog, and it is a lovely illustration of the techniques I learned at Camp Shakespeare. It's the reason my students and I check in each class. (I think most of you know about "check in" since you either experienced it yourself, or you've heard me describe/rave about it.) I'm a big fan of check in, but even I question it sometimes. I wonder if it's worth the time and the effort it takes to encourage the students who are oh-so-reluctant and complain.
Yes. Yes, it is totally worth the time.

The day after Romeo and Juliet, I asked my students to do the following for check in:
"Give kudos to anyone who deserves props for what they did yesterday. Then give some props to yourself for something you did in the show."

I braced myself for the arguing and the reluctance. But before the last words had left my mouth, the toughest kid in the class jumped in with "I want to go first!"

And he did. He complimented four of his classmates, then congratulated himself on being there, on showing up with his lines memorized.

He passed it to his neighbor. And one by one, the students named each other and named what they had done for their show. I was ready to balance the compliments, to rescue the students who might get left out in the kudos; but there was no need - the kids did it for themselves. Every student was genuinely recognized and validated.

I was so much more proud of them for that than for the show they had created.

The show was good. It was much more farce than tragedy, but the audience loved it and the kids took risks and succeeded.

Somewhere along the way (like when I found out I was going to be directing high schoolers. As in not-middle-schoolers), I decided that the risks the students should take would lead to art, to theatre at it's purest, to beauty and tragedy and Shakespeare as I've always wanted to create.

In other words, I wanted to my students to take the risks I wanted to take, rather than the ones they needed to take.
Which is a big part of my frustration the last few weeks. The show was nothing like I had imagined, and I felt like a failure as a director.

But then. After the morning show, one of the teachers who came to see it sat down to talk after school. She told me the backstory - the details of my students that I had only guessed vaguely at. Here's a rough list of situations I learned about my 14 actors:

- Asperberger's (diagnosed)
- Asperberger's (undiagnosed)
- Just moved to MT a few months ago so the family of 12 could get off welfare
- Parents moved away and left kid to live on own
- Lived on streets when under 5 years old
- Lived on streets for a few weeks this summer
- Constant runaway, including three times in the two weeks prior to the show
- Works at local restaurant to support his family
- Eating disorder (diagnosed)
- Eating disorder (suspected by school admin, but not confirmed)
- 16 office referrals so far this year (that's one kid, not all combined)
- Literally did not speak a word to anyone for entire 8th grade year. That was two years ago.
- Never acted before. Never spoken in public before. Terrified of being on stage.
- Flunked every single class last year.
- Flunked every single class last year.
- Flunked every single class last year.
- Flunked every single class last year.

"They set you up," my teacher-friend said as she wrapped up the narrative of my kids' histories. "They set you up, giving you those kids all together in this class, and you made a miracle happen this morning."

And I suddenly let go of all of my directorial dreams and remembered my dreams as their theater teacher. I wanted my students to take risks, to feel safe, to be successful, to create a play that they are proud of, and I want them to enjoy theater.

My students met every single one of those goals in exactly the way that was right for each of them. And the audience knew it just as well as I did, and they loved the show, too. By that evening, I had the right perspective and the right attitude that time. When Actor F showed up at call time, I knew he had just taken the biggest risk of all, and I cheered his arrival with total joy.

And when I asked them to check in the second day after the show by sharing what they planned to work on for the next show, their goals were the goals of actors.

Food, Glorious Food

Back when I was teaching at DPJH, a colleague congratulated me on losing weight. She said, "You'll see - nothing tastes as good as being skinny."

My first thought: Oh, you poor woman. You've never been to Italy.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Painting Her Portrait*

As I mentioned yesterday, I now have a lovely list of websites to browse. I've been looking, and I've already set my sights on this program. Using medieval stone masonry techniques to restore a village in southern France? Yes, please!

The new plan:

Step 1: I fly into Paris and kick around there for a few days. Maybe with Jason? Maybe with my parents? Maybe with another one of you I can talk into joining me? (Not that that worked last summer when I tried to talk y'all into coming to Spain with me. Or Chicago this fall. But PARIS! C'mon!)

Step 2: I take the train to Avignon to work on the Sabranenque project for a week or two (I'm not sure what the length is). Cut stones and build me some buildings in the morning, take in the Provencal countryside in the afternoon. And I imagine there'll be some good things to eat, too.

Step 3: Train back to Paris and from there fly to Africa to do some more volunteer work for three weeks!

Why Africa?

Honestly, I don't know. I had been planning for Thailand, and India's been a temptation, but lately something's pulling me to Africa. Although the preliminary plane ticket searches I've been running hardly support that idea - Paris to Dar es Salaam is not cheap, my friends (initial results: $2340). Still, I'll try for it. I'm not sure which program yet - working with humans? Working with animals? Working with teenagers?

Oh, and one of my friends from Pueblo Ingles just reminded me that I need to come visit him in London. Again I say: Yes, please!

So, I've got somethings to think about for next summer. I'm not sure if I can save up that much by then - at least $7000 for the two-legged trip I'm hoping for. But it's nice to have something like this to research right now.

(Warning - self-discovery and long-windedness ahead!)

I've been planning a trip for next summer since, well, about halfway through my trip last summer. 'Tis my nature. But it came to a bit of a crisis mode last month for me. A few different things triggered a bout of feeling very much not married.

When I'm thinking rationally, I'm fine with being single. I'm happy, and I have a fantastic life - I have a good job, I own my home, I picked where I live, I have a terrific family and good friends, and I get to plan vacations to Paris and Africa and such.

Still, I never planned on being single now. In high school, all of my friends kept telling me what a great mother I'd be. And that's what I planned - I would go to college, get married, then be a great mom and maybe teach or write on the side.

And then I went to college, and I didn't get married.
And I went to teacher college, and I didn't get married.
And my sister got married, and I didn't get married.
And I started my career, and I didn't get married.
And I finished grad school, and I didn't get married.
And I moved to Denver, and my brother found an awesome girl, and I made a life of my own, and I still didn't get married.

Gah. Part of me hates that list. I don't want to measure my worth by what I haven't done. See the footnote for the title of this post. Moreover, I don't want to even consider for a moment that I have failed because I haven't gotten married. What kind of person defines herself by that?

What kind of person? Well, frankly, a Mormon person. For Pete's sake, they group members into wards based on two factors - 1) geography and 2) marital status. In church yesterday, I heard a phrase I hear every week - the speaker referring to us as "singles," literally identifying me and the people surrounding me by that one (ONE!) facet of our lives.

Look, I want to get married. I'd love to date, to learn that kind of relationship and to have that level of friendship, trust, and love with someone. It's something that everyone tells me I should have, and it's something that I can't get, and I can't figure out why. It's like I'm in school again, but this time I can't figure out why I'm not getting the answer that matches the one in the back of the book. Back then, if I didn't get the right answers in Calculus or Physics, I'd check my notes again, get some help from my dad, and do the problems over until I figured them out (albeit with some tears and a lot of scratch paper). And I always figured them out.

So I approach this the same way - what's the problem, what mistake am I making, and how do I fix it?

The well-meaning advice I get from people suggests the same kind of philosophy - "You're too smart," or "You're too independent," or "You're successful - that's intimidating," or "Men aren't attracted to heavy girls," or "Pray that you'll learn what you need to learn in order to move on to the next level," or "Just stop looking - it always happens when you stop looking."

I appreciate the advice, but here's the thing: all of that advice tells me that it's me - I'm doing something wrong. Or, worse, that it's something about my very nature that's wrong. And, I'm sorry, but I just won't believe that it's not possible for someone to love me.

It's exhausting to constantly shout down the doubts and deprecations. There's a lot more voices saying that it's me, I'm wrong, than the ones saying that I'm doing something right.

But then, quietly, last week a thought occurred to me - maybe there's just more that I get to do first.

Did you catch that? It's such a subtle shift - a slight change of tone, a more precise vocabulary. Maybe there's something more I get to do first.

The thought caught me off-guard, like a fish you're trying to grab with your bare hands brushing right up against your fingers (I don't know why you're trying to catch a fish with your bare hands. It's my metaphor - just go with it). I've been playing the thought over and over in my head this last week, trying it on secretly and admiring it.

Maybe there's something more I need to do first. Maybe there's something more I get to do first. Maybe it's not that there's something wrong with me that I need to fix. Maybe I'm just different in a totally-okay no-need-to-fix-it kind-of-way and that means that I get to take a different course. Maybe I get to go work with orphans in Russia and teach English in Spain and direct middle schoolers in Shakespeare and feed lions in Africa and maybe all of those things count just as much as being married does in the end. And maybe I get to do those things, not because there's something wrong with me that I haven't figured out how to fix yet, but because I have something else to offer the world.

So that's the new philosophy I'm trying on. It doesn't really change anything, but it kind of changes everything for me. And it's okay if you don't get it - you don't have to. This is about me figuring out what comes next.

* "(Jane, to herself) 'Listen, then, Jane Eyre, to your sentence: tomorrow, place the glass before you, and draw in chalk your own picture, faithfully, without softening one defect; omit no harsh line, smooth away no displeasing irregularity; write under it, 'Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain.'

"Afterwards, take a piece of smooth ivory--you have one prepared in your drawing-box: take your palette, mix your freshest, finest, clearest tints; choose your most delicate camel-hair pencils; delineate carefully the loveliest face you can imagine; paint it in your softest shades and sweetest lines, according to the description given by Mrs. Fairfax of Blanche Ingram; remember the raven ringlets, the oriental eye;--What! you revert to Mr. Rochester as a model! Order! No snivel!--no sentiment!--no regret! I will endure only sense and resolution. Recall the august yet harmonious lineaments, the Grecian neck and bust; let the round and dazzling arm be visible, and the delicate hand; omit neither diamond ring nor gold bracelet; portray faithfully the attire, aerial lace and glistening satin, graceful scarf and golden rose; call it 'Blanche, an accomplished lady of rank.'

"Whenever, in future, you should chance to fancy Mr. Rochester thinks well of you, take out these two pictures and compare them: say, 'Mr. Rochester might probably win that noble lady's love, if he chose to strive for it; is it likely he would waste a serious thought on this indigent and insignificant plebeian?'"

"I'll do it," I resolved."

Sunday, November 08, 2009

What I've Been Looking For

I was talking with my parents tonight about how I needed to figure out where to go next summer. Then, I went to dinner at my bishop's house, where some people were asking me about the trip I took last summer. Pam, the bishop's wife, said she had a book I might want to see.

Just What I Wanted!

Dude! It has exactly what I was looking for!

Friday, November 06, 2009

A Miracle Would Happen

I don't have time to write the full story today (tomorrow brings another early speech meet). Hopefully I'll be able to tomorrow. But the last entry was so negative, I wanted to put this out there.

The show went really, really well.

I put credit in three places:
1) The kids stepped up. All of them.

2) I changed my attitude. More accurately, I remembered what my philosophy of theater education is.

3) The absolute miracle of theater that makes everything work out.

"Everything will be all right."
"How will it?"
"I don't know. It's a mystery."

(Man, I love that movie.) (Bonus points if you can name it!)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Send in the Clowns

Romeo and Juliet is tomorrow.

It's going to suck.

Those of you who know me (or know theater) know that there is always a phase where it seems like the show won't work, it will never come together. Usually my dear mother gets the panicky phone call about that, and she talks me down.

This isn't the same thing.

When I recognized the star-crossed fate of this show, I went into survival mode - I stopped caring about it.

Seriously, no panic at all. My speech class asked me today when I would get all stressed out, if the show is tomorrow. I said that this is it - this is me stressed pre-show. And I smiled at them, then continued class.

No last-minute crafting of props. No fretting. No running about frantically to get it all done. Nothing.

I do feel regret that this is my first production at MTHS. I have certainly been less-than-enthusiastic in promoting the show to my colleagues - I don't want them judging my abilities based on this.

I was very tempted to give the directing credit in the program to Alan Smithee.

I feel bad for some of the kids. The girls are great, truly fantastic and trying their very best; and one of the guys has been incredible. He memorized all of his lines early; then, one day a month ago when one of the punks didn't show up to class again, this guy offered to fill in for the scene and did so almost flawlessly. When asked, he told me that he had started memorizing the punks' parts "just in case."

Those kids deserve a good show. Damn it, I deserve a good show. I've put my time, energy, money, and name into (onto) this thing.

So why won't it work?

Actor A - one of the better male actors; not the least bit memorized. We talked one-on-one about memorizing techniques and tricks. Didn't try one of them. At his suggestion, we reassigned his part so he only had one beat with lines. Still didn't know a word by heart. Has missed 75%+ of class. Told me he might not show up tomorrow since the next day is his birthday and he plans on getting drunk to celebrate.

Actor B - Joined the class three weeks ago, bragging about his past acting experience. Hasn't memorized a word of his parts; spends rehearsals goofing around and talking backstage, despite specific instructions to sit in the audience and run lines. Informed me today that he has to work tomorrow night.

Actor C - Joined the class three weeks ago. Hasn't memorized a word of his part. Doesn't follow along in his script, so when it is his turn to go on stage, there are awful long stretches of an empty stage before he strolls in, flipping pages in his script, trying to find where we are.

Actor D - Has been in the class the whole time. Claims he's memorized, but constantly forgets his lines on stage and totally drops character when trying to remember what comes next. Has had three tantrums on stage (over things like my telling him "try that part again, this time say the words in character, with emotion") - he flounces off-stage, locks himself in the bathroom, and refuses to rehearse for the rest of the class period. Is sarcastic and mean to me when I help him one-on-one; claims he doesn't need to say the lines in character, since he'll be fine as soon as there's an audience. Seriously. 16 years of theater, and I've never met a diva as big as this guy.

Actor E - Refuses to look anyone in the eyes; refuses to touch another person, which means instead of handing Juliet a bottle, he throws it at her; vocalizes the lines well, but lapses physically into either examining his fingernails, fidgeting with clothing, or just sits down on whatever set piece is nearest. Brought on a rubber severed leg as a prop yesterday for his scene as Romeo, because he thought it would be funny. Didn't understand why that was wrong.

Actor F - Gets distracted if he doesn't talk for more than 5 seconds. Often walks out on stage in the middle of other people's scenes to ask me questions. Has been suspended for about 60% of the year; was suspended for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week.

Oh, and? The actor I mentioned who has been great? He's been out of school for a week with the flu.

I know these kids have issues. Family, social, metal, emotional, behavioral, academic, legal issues. You know what? So do the others who are doing a good job on this show. And I just don't have sympathy for those excuses.

I'm fighting against a tradition of very low standards for theater here ("We don't need to be quiet backstage now. We always get quiet for the performance itself.") (Yeah, right. Because habits are so easily broken, especially when you're under pressure?). They don't see why it's wrong cross the stage itself (mid-scene) to get to the other side. They don't get why I stopped prompting them when they ask for "Line".

Here's the danger of a small group of kids - 3 punks in a group of 30 kids? Not a big problem. 3 punks in a group of 12 kids? Huge problem.

So when Actor B informed me today that he's working tomorrow night, I just pointed out the consequences to him and then turned back to rehearsal. I really didn't care. There was nothing I could do.

But here's what I love: At the end of the class period, two of my actresses met me at the front of the house with a script in hand. As soon as they had heard what Actor B said, they had decided to divide up his part between them and memorize as much as they could tonight. They asked if that was okay. I said that was fantastic.

Those are the kids I do this for.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Be Happy

We took first place as a team at the meet yesterday, even though we only competed in half of the events.

I'm kind of annoyed with the kids, though. Most of them sulk if they get anything less than first individually. I pointed out that there were 22 schools in competition yesterday, and taking 5th, 4th, or 2nd place is pretty awesome. "Whatever. I better get first next time," will be the pouty reply.

They are 1) spoiled by having done well in the past and 2) basing all judgment on how they did on the opinions of random individuals (and, seriously? The judges are often idiots. One of the wrote "my itetion was caught' (attention?) and another wrote "You were the cutest competitor in the room!" on two of our ballots.) (They used student judges at this meet, so that last one isn't quite as creepy as it sounds.) (But still).

I don't like it.

I want to go away next summer. I'm booked to volunteer in Thailand, but I'm not sure if that's the right place to go. Africa is enticing. I want to see a new place, to do some good work, and I want to look forward to something next year. Place tickets are pricey. The program I'm booked with is also expensive. What I should do is research other volunteer programs. I've done a little looking here and there, but I'm too tired to do the research I should.

I don't have a point to that last paragraph. Thanks for reading, though!

I'm going to bed. Good night!