No, teachers don’t sleep at school like bats. And, a poem!

Went out to get a very-late-night supper for the family (trying to see my lapse in “schedule” as delightfully bohemian) and spotted some of my current and former students sitting in Tim Horton’s. Chatted with the latter (thoroughly enjoyed the rolling of eyes and slumping into chair at my approach) and walked over to the former, who did not see me at first but looked around as though suddenly uncomfortable. When two of them noticed me at last, looming up behind, one remarked, “Geez, I was wondering why I suddenly felt like I was back in English class.” I laughed, “What did you feel the cold chill running up your spine?” The other responded, “Yeah, but we weren’t supposed to feel that for another two weeks.” “Don’t you sleep at the school?” Chimed in the first. Hardy-har-har. Good times!

And now, a poem:

Just three nights before Christmas, (’twas Solstice in fact),

And all through the house the children were crack’d.

Screaming like banshees, running upstairs and down,

Rampant play-fighting, pillows smacked on their crowns.

Dishes lay undone from supper, lunch, breakfast;

Wrapping paper strewn over presents amassed.

Price tags scratched poorly from plastic vacuum-formed,

Ripped bits of scotch tape littering hardwood floor.

When out in the kitchen there rang the wall-phone,

I debated pretending no-one was home.

Away from the tv I slogged with my wine,

Nearly knocked over twice by those children mine.

Loud voices all chorused right when I answered,

From both the phone and my offspring so hyper,

When what in my over-wrought ears did I hear

Six more people will come to dinner this year?

Just little more shopping should do the trick,

A Timelord could do it, and so could St. Nick.

But I gazed at the mess and against the wall sagged,

Gazing blearily at my kids through eyes bagged:

“Now daughter! Now son!

Let’s get to cleaning up!

On vacuum! Do mopping!

Garbage picked and dust cropped!

Write labels for the gifts!

Your playtime is over!

Pretend it’s a photo spread

For a magazine cover!”

Greeting cards flew before whirling brooms and bags,

Animals fled from the snapping of wet rags

We attempted some resemblance of order

Like two Hobbits finding their way through Mordor.

First the clutter: fliers and used envelopes

For listing priorities like getting soap.

Then puzzle pieces, markers, glue and felt bits

Swept into a basket and cleverly hid.

Random socks and hairbrushes, lint and dog hair,

Charging cords, fast-food wrappers, crap everywhere.

In the midst of nonsense, gift wrapping going on,

Turn off the TV; Mom’s productive with songs.

The lamps! How they sparkled! The dust wiped clean away!

The floors clear of debris at least for one more day!

I wondered, how long can I make this clean last?

After all, the mess always returns way too fast.

If Santa showed up tonight all would be well

Visitors tomorrow? Welcome! Ring the bell!

But THREE days of clean to be had, in a row?

The kids stared at my laughter, much concerned now.

We could go to Grandma’s, I thought with some cheer,

Until I remembered — she’s going to come here!

Refilled my wine glass with a sigh as I grieved,

Knowing we’ll have to clean again Christmas Eve.

But our house is warm and snug, that’s got some pull;

It’s lived in and comfy, though cluttered and full.

No magazine spread, nor model home is it,

All visitors welcome, just move stuff to sit!

Good impressions aside, this season’s about life,

Conversation and games, forget stress and strife.

“Off to bed, kids!” Peace finally arrives here.

Quiet joy in the longest night of the year.

(Based on “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement C. Moore)

I survived another school play!

Over the last three or four weeks, I’ve been stressing and worrying and enjoying and laughing my way through what I believe to be my 20th high school production for the public, as an educator. While I’m glad that it’s over, I’m also a little sad. It was so much fun to work with students who enjoyed what they were doing, to bring the play to various locations in our little town (three schools, a long-term care facility, and the LaSalle Theatre) — in spite of the headaches, angst, and schedule juggling, I was reminded of how much I truly love doing theatre. It’s easy to see how some can devote their lives to slogging through the process in off-off-Broadway venues, living hand-to-mouth for the sake of the art. It’s as enthralling as it is exhausting. And now that this performance is over — I posted the video of the final performance on YouTube, if you’d like to see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKvHegX2beA&feature=youtu.be — and I start to put away props and costumes, I half-wonder what to do with myself now.

I’ve got the usual list of chores and required tasks; I’ve got books to read and edit (looking forward to those!), marking to complete (always interesting to see what the students have to say), laundry to catch up on again (never really did get on that after finishing NaNoWriMo), and holiday preparations to make. I haven’t even started my Christmas cards, or wrapping presents. Thank heaven for online shopping, or else I wouldn’t have that done, either, although only half of the gifts I’ve ordered have arrived . . .

The final week of school before the break approaches as I write this. Hours away. I should be sleeping. The trouble is that the last week is very low on focus: we’re all tired, drained, ready for some relief from the daily routines, exhausted by the dark and the cold, and seeking distraction through present shopping, parties, choirs, holiday assemblies, etc. When I was a first-year teacher, I was bound and determined to teach every single class left this week, up to the minute. Thirteen years on, I still would like to use the time. Experience has taught me that the ideal and the reality are often very different things, though . . . At the very least, everyone needs to get in their independent novel studies by the end of the week. No homework over the break, except for the rounds of marking and editing…

Imagine, though, if high schools in Ontario started their school years in mid-August, when there is already a coolness to the air, and had exams in December like the colleges do, ending the semester with a two-week break. I can already anticipate the rush and stress of wrapping up the courses I have in those three weeks after the holidays, marking exams and culminating activities in a hurry while prepping for second semester in a matter of days. What would happen if January started as a fresh semester instead? And if we ended our year at the beginning of June, just when the weather is turning hot? Or if we adopted the system of 6 weeks on, two weeks off, year-round? This is such a long stretch, from Hallowe’en to Christmas (or Samhain to Yule, if you prefer), mentally and physically draining — it’s no wonder that the last week of school is sometimes just a write-off, a festival of in-class “film studies” and assemblies. We do try to get things done, but there is only so much a human being can take. I know I passed my limit some time ago, and that was even without the play.

My husband had suggested to me that I not do a play at all, seeing how tired I was from the pressures at work, but I chose to keep going because it was a positive, affirming activity that got me working with students who wanted to do good things. Kids who were willing to make the effort to bring something awesome to this community, reaching out to the young and the old. Being able to do that makes the rest of it much more bearable. I can’t not do extracurriculars — they are my salvation on rough days in the classroom, even if they wipe me out at the same time.

1 am. I will go to bed, try to sleep although I know how hyper the teenagers will be tomorrow and that it’s going to be both a slow and fast week. I didn’t make it to my staff Christmas party (was doing the play), and I haven’t heard of a Secret Santa gift exchange, and that’s too bad. But there are other things to look forward to, including the staff-student basketball game. I’ve decided to play this year, using my usual dirty technique of simply falling upon passing players like a tree in the forest. Maybe I’ll even bring some props this time . . .

The trouble is that when I’m up late, I can ignore the darkness of the day because I’m ensconced in the womb of the night. So much quieter, more peaceful, easier to think and sort and read. One week to go, and then the break, which will fly by as it always does. I’ll try to fill it with creative activities, too.

Good night.

Meditating on Theatre: Performances For and By the Community, and the Family, plus a bit on the meaning of A Christmas Carol

I wanted to do a post about the psychology of Haunted Houses at the end of October (as in, paid events / activities, rather than dwellings that are said to be occupied by ghosts), but of course, I didn’t get around to it. I put a pin in it until next year. But it’s occurred to me now and again, and particularly this weekend, how much theatre surrounds us at so many moments in our lives. People who go to Haunted Houses are seeking thrills, cathartic moments of excitement and rushes of adrenaline, both from the action of observing the performers and from seeing their friends getting scared. One’s company in a Haunted House becomes just as much a part of the theatre as the scenes they pass by. It’s that way among friends in other settings, too.

All that theatre does — and that’s a big “all” — is formalize something we already do. It reflects how we feel, larger than life, to make us aware and capable of understanding it. It clearly delineates the difference between audience and actors, but that line is so flexible, it’s around us all the time.

Example: my daughter’s ninth birthday yesterday. The party was simple, two girls plus herself, and I gave them a home spa experience. It was while I was carrying out the cake that I was reminded how much a birthday party is theatre. The guests are part of the ritual but observe it at the same time. They’re watching each other as they don the facials and cucumber slices, giggling and commenting on the experience, sharing their discoveries. It’s a play as much as an activity, however informal it might be. They’re the audience for each other, performing while relaxed. I know this because I watched my daughter’s reactions to the live production of A Christmas Carol performed at our local theatre this afternoon, and her delight in the play was as pure and entire as it had been to watch her bestie peeling honey facial stuff from her cheeks.

My head jumps from topic to topic. I thought about these even as I enjoyed the show this afternoon, watching the skilled actor Shane Patrick McClurg adapt his performance ever so slightly to avoid alienating a frightened child in the audience (how often we forget that Dickens originally wrote his tale as a ghost story), the subtle shifting between characters as played by that one actor, and the range of emotions portrayed by the incredible Michael Rawley as Scrooge. It’s a morality play, A Christmas Carol, one that beseeches us to treat each other with basic humanity lest we become the worst versions of ourselves possible. It occurred to me, too, that Marley’s Ghost could have an interesting choice worth exploring: if he is able to convince Ebenezer to be a better person, slowly deconstructing the chains awaiting him one link at a time by one act of kindness at a time, does that mean that Marley’s chain falls apart as well? Could unfinished business mean a shortening of one’s sentence in purgatory? A chance at moving on?

Also, I wondered whether Scrooge could be termed a vampire of sorts, given his long-standing need to take from his employees and society without giving anything back. There is a reference to vampirism in the story, as we would recognize it: “. . . . buried with a stake of holly in his heart . . .” is the penalty Scrooge gives to any man who takes Christmas too seriously. (That’s something else I love about theatre: how the interpretation flexes and gives more to each succeeding generation, teaching us and reminding us what we need to know, though not always when we need to know it.) But back to that vampire theory . . . Marley addresses the parasitic Scrooge (who, by virtue of being a parasite, is rather hypocritical) and gives him the tools for change, thereby bringing him back to humanity. That suggests there is always hope for a vampire to return from the state of being undead.

Or, I could just be reading way too much into it.

This week, I’m wrapping up a performance with the drama club students at my school. I developed a script for them, using pop culture references to retell The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. We’ve got seven performances to do in five locations, and the set and costumes still aren’t complete. I sometimes feel like I should do the majority of the work myself to ensure that it gets done, because although it’s important for young people to accept and learn from the challenge of being assigned a task, when the task is left undone it affects everything else that we’re trying to accomplish. And there’s only one of me, directing and supervising an extracurricular play as well as teaching and parenting and dealing with the holiday. Watching the students interact is a theatre in itself. I am the audience in rehearsal, both while the students are on our makeshift stage, and beforehand, as they’re chatting and eating lunch and negotiating and making friends.

And then they watch each other, while they’re performing, offering each other suggestions. The audience and fellow actors are as much theatre to the cast, who must adjust themselves as they work.

Ugh, this ended up sounding way more like an essay than I wanted it to, but sometimes, that’s just how my brain works.

Things to Do after NaNoWriMo Ends

It is done. I hit my goal, as so many of my fellow NaNoWriMites did, and now I am feeling… A bit freefallish? A bit “what do I do now?”, especially as it’s 2:35 in the AM and I want to celebrate instead of sleep. I started to think: what is there to do, post-NaNo?

-consider rewriting the ending of the book tomorrow
-startplan holiday shopping
-properly clean the house
-catch up on non-writing paperwork
-do edits
-eat chocolate pastries (DONE!)
-sleep for three days (sob)
-send chapters to beta reader(s) for feedback
-change ending again
-check details like eye and fur colour
-put up Christmas/ Yule decorations
-plan child’s birthday party that is in a week
-shop for child’s birthday
-catch up on laundry
-sleep more
-get outside for fresh air

I’m open to more suggestions! Meanwhile other projects continue on: I’m directing a play for kids that will debut in mid-December so need to work on rehearsals and props, ads and ticket sales, plus marking and lesson planning, a birthday, Christmas…

Sleep sounds good. Yes.

September Walking . . . with Skittles! Or, Forest Creatures Unbound

Maybe it's not a hat at all -- maybe it's a door, cleverly camouflaged by the screen of brush behind it? An illusion to discourage humans from knocking, but those in the know might turn the little doorknob and venture within the opening that appears in the air around it . . .

Sometimes, you just have to get out of the house. Too often, I know I ought to get out and go for a walk, and end up ignoring that thought — and regretting it later. After all, the dishes aren’t going to do themselves! Nor is the laundry. But walking is good for inspiration, as well as health. Plus, at this time of year, there are fewer mosquitoes and blackflies to make the stroll less pleasant (although leave it to me to attract the last of the sluggish and most stubborn skeeters in the woods . . .) And as much as I’d like to think I’ll get all the chores done that I want to get done, that’s not likely, either. Ever. So today, I got out of the house with my pooch and enjoyed an hour’s jaunt along one of the ski trails behind our community centre.

I hope you enjoy my pics, all taken with my iPhone (with the chance of drizzle, I didn’t want to take my camera) — scroll over each or click to see the captions. :D

Meeting People and Geeking Out: My Latest Adventures in Fandom

Since last we met, dear readers, the summer has passed and I have tried to keep myself productive, with varying levels of success. I’ve made some progress on my next novel, the third and final in The Talbot Trilogy, and my garden has been happily growing, feeding bees, butterflies, earwigs, slugs, and birds. I don’t mind that I’m helping the first two, but the latter three I’d prefer to be rid of, particularly as they like to snack on my lovely Heirloom tomatoes.

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The highlight of the last few weeks — and a point of particular stress — was taking my family to FanExpo in Toronto. Our great end-of-summer hurrah, as it were. Weeks of preparation, developing an itinerary and choosing accommodations, creating costumes and explaining the passage of time to my daughter. And with that much anticipation, it’s no wonder that the time we spent at the event flew by, though enjoyably so.

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I will admit, there are some aspects of FanExpo that I had hoped to be more satisfying. I thought a lot about the power of anticipation on the way home — how the expectation of something grand and exciting can outweigh the experience of the thing itself. Like the chase feeling more fun than the catch, or the trailer more tantalizing than the film. I’d set up photo opportunities for myself and my family with some of our favourite actors, and we looked forward to those intensely, but when the pivotal moments arrived, I was too shy to make the most of them. I saw others having fun with posing, and props, but I was too keyed up with the glamour and shock of actually being there to do what I’d dreamed of doing: asking for a quick hug, or standing between a pair of actors rather than slipping to the side. An expensive learning experience, to be sure. Photo ops are a long wait, and a quick doing. I’d thought that they would be better and more personal than an autograph, but after sharing some nice, quick conversations with two other actors (and waiting only 20 minutes for each), I think my opinion is reversing itself.

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Freddy! He also had a great guest role on “Chuck”…

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The 11th Doctor himself! And a few seats away, Rory, the Last Centurion…

Michael Rooker was a delight to talk to, a real highlight...

Michael Rooker was a delight to talk to, a real highlight…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Relax, dear,” Bruce Campbell says to me. “It’s not a mugshot.” “I can’t,” I told him, “You’re too awesome!”

 

 

 

Still, there is something to be said for spending two days in the company of thousands of like-minded individuals. I saw people of all ages and faiths, ethnicities and educational levels, mingling happily in a sea of science fiction and fantasy merchandise, celebrities, icons, and workshops. Cosplayers are among the kindest people you will ever meet. They’re much like Shriners, in fact, in my experience: very friendly, open to conversation, willing to help or point you in the direction of help, highly creative and generous of their time. 

I think that the attendees and volunteers of FanExpo are perhaps the best part of the event.

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It’s a place for waiting, you see. You wait in line to meet someone who’s been part of your favourite fiction, for a fleeting chance to tell them how much you appreciate their work and if you can afford it, take away their signature as a treasured souvenir. You wait in line to obtain a precious bottle of water or a slice of pizza for your hungry children, acutely aware that you’re grateful that it’s there and you live in a country where a long line is a minor inconvenience. You wait to find a place to squeeze through the crushing crowd between tables displaying information about philanthropic fan organizations raising money for Sick Kids, and pick up advice on costume repair or spy a coveted tea pot while you’re there. You wait to meet your significant other, who is trying to get to you from the other side of the building. And yet the adventure keeps happening around you, while you’re waiting.

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You’re seeing superheroes and creatures of mythology rubbing elbows with fantastical recreations of anime characters and video game villains. You’re glimpsing famous faces at the end of one of those long lines, smiling and shaking hands with the fans who support them, and delighting in the proximity. You’re making way for a grand Gandalf with his perfectly Hobbity wife, steadily moving forward with the aid of a walker, while an infant barely a month old is wearing the onesie of a comic book heroine, swinging in her father’s arms. It’s hot, and it’s loud, while a gathering of gaming fans cheers on competitors in a virtual race, and the people stream in breaks and eddies toward the doorways that funnel them to the next part of the convention centre. It’s beautiful, dizzying, and maddening, all at once.

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You make friends at FanExpo. I had lovely conversations while waiting in line, with a nice young couple who’d just finished school. The lady (whose name I was too shy to ask) offered to pilfer a Sprite from an unwatched case on behalf of my thirsty self, and I promised her we would bond in jail. (Don’t worry, we didn’t steal the pop.) And then I chatted with a terrific gentleman who was the only person I’d seen with the wisdom to bring a folding stool for the waiting. (Hello, dear Man-with-the-Stool, if you held onto my card and have gotten to read this!) 

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Adding to this the experience of strolling downtown in a metropolis in full creature or hero gear, passing sports fans on their way to the Blue Jays game and boarding the subway with evening commuters, and you have a summertime adventure that simply cannot be equalled or diminished, even if the photos weren’t quite what were originally envisioned and the legs and feet take days to recover from hours of walking and standing on concrete floors. After all, adventures aren’t meant to be perfect. They’re occasions in which to learn about ourselves, to take risks and push boundaries, and later to share with others by story and photograph.

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Travelling by subway…

 

We first went to FanExpo last year, and we enjoyed it so much then that we determined to make it a family tradition. Already, my husband is planning how to improve his costume for next year, and my son is considering his cosplay options. I’ve learned the value of carrying a large, colourful or easily recognizable staff — it might seem cumbersome, but it’s incredibly useful for identifying someone across a crowded convention hall. I’ve also learned the value of the revealing, light-cloth costume in an environment heated and humidified by thousands of bodies. So the next trip should be even better than this one.

 

 

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My daughter immediately embraced the first Elsa cosplayer she saw, and refused to let go for a good five minutes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But though I feel a layer of disappointment here and there (which may also be a mark of my own anxieties making themselves known — always worried that I haven’t done things exactly right), I know that my family had an excellent experience, and that makes it all so very worthwhile. 

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Theatre Review: Mass Appeal, by Bill C. Davis, performed at the LaSalle Theatre by Michael Rawley and Shane Patrick McClurg

“Father Farley has been a priest for awhile and he certainly knows the preaching ropes. But when young Seminarian Mark Dolson is assigned to him by the rector, Farley is challenged by this bright eyed student to remember that it’s more important to have the congregation as your family in your heart, not the palm of your hand.”

Presented in the lobby of the historic LaSalle Theatre here in Kirkland Lake, Mass Appeal is superbly performed by the able talents of the estimable Michael Rawley and Shane Patrick McClurg. I’ve seen the work of these fine gentlemen in two previous performances — together in their first two-person show A Christmas Carol this past winter, and Shane as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as directed by Rawley. And as before, I was absolutely drawn in by their characters. In A Christmas Carol, McClurg tested his chops by quickly changing characters in Scrooge’s story, while Rawley played the crotchety old miser. In Mass Appeal, though, Shane plays the young, idealistic and enthusiastic Seminarian, and Rawley presents us with performances-within-the-performance when his Father Farley challenges Mark Dolson to think outside his comfort zone in role-plays. 

One of the beauties of performing in the LaSalle’s lobby is the flexibility of the space: the glass doors, curtained openings, and mirrors provide a setting both avant-garde and intimate. For this production, the space is decorated to resemble the environment of a Catholic church, complete with stained glass windows painted over the glass doors. The theatre takes place on the slim stage, within the audience, and behind us, wrapping us in the creative energy of the moment. It can be confusing at times, being addressed by a gowned priest at a pulpit in a small room thus decorated, but Rawley keeps the pacing quick and measured, reassuring us that we are observers participating with our eyes and ears alone. One may feel tempted to answer his questions in the opening dialogue -sermon, and I’m certain that if an audience member so engaged Father Farley, the response would be improvised and appropriate. But after the first scene, there is little doubt that as audience, we are being given the privilege to glimpse behind the altar and into the inner workings of the organization of a small-town Catholic church. 

And this is where the performance sharpens. In the first scene, Dolson challenges his soon-to-be-mentor by answering a question that was perhaps meant to titillate his parishioners, or at the very least, be rhetorical. After this introduction, we are brought into Father Farley’s office, and his decision to both counsel and confront Dolson with the realities of the ministry. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, he goes on to reveal; much of the priesthood is politics, knowing what to say and when, and an ample helping of psychology. This is not a reality that Dolson wants to accept, however, and both men are rapidly challenged by their opposing ideals, perceptions, and moralities. 

This play invites its audience to enjoy it on many levels. It’s a character study, an examination of what it means to someone to represent his deity within his faith, and what happens when his integrity is put under stress. The wit is quick and the laughs are many, disarming us so that the next revelation hits with even more significance. There is pain, too, which may not please an audience  member who has experienced personal tragedy of the kind mentioned in the dialogue, but that is what theatre is for: it’s a mirror for our lives, suggesting how each of us lives and responds to the human condition of love and loss. 

There are just four more performances of this show to be seen: Wednesday, August 6; Thursday, August 7; Friday, August 8; and Saturday, August 9, opening at 8 pm each night and running approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes (no intermission). The cost of each performance is $15 per person ($10 per student), with tickets available at Stage Left (the new theatre store next to the LaSalle), and all proceeds go toward Save the LaSalle. I highly recommend Mass Appeal for your summer entertainment this week. It’s worth the drive to Kirkland Lake in Northeastern Ontario!

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