My Beardie is making me eat healthier!

I realized this the other day: because Elizabeth Reptile eats fresh endive, fruits, and berries, in addition to crickets, I’ve been picking up small packets of mixed whole fruit pieces and berries every few days. She doesn’t eat them all, of course — I learned that the hard way, when I thought a tray of raspberries would last for her, and the majority ended up going bad. So we get to enjoy! And it’s much better to keep the fresh stuff on hand than cookies or doughnuts.

I went through an overdose of chocolate right before and the week after Valentine’s Day. Hubby’s been making me big baggies of vegetable sticks (carrots, peppers, celery, cucumbers) to take to work, when he has the time and we’ve been shopping to get them. I should start planning out my box gardens to produce my own, although I won’t be able to do anything for months yet. We might be fortunate enough to see melting in March, but even if the snow goes by April, nothing can go in the ground until May. And even then, there’s risk of frost until well into June.

So goes life in Northeastern Ontario.

It was a lovely day for skiing today, and this is why my thoughts are turning to spring. I may have gotten mild frostbite on my cheeks a few weeks ago, possibly when I was downhill skiing and my face was uncovered. (Skiing plus scarf over face near glasses = Tori can’t see worth a damn going down the hill.) There’s this feeling of dampness, icy and unpleasant, when my face gets cold outside, as if snow is melting there that I can’t wipe away. Or a feeling of mild tingling. I’m fortunate that it’s not worse than an annoyance: I haven’t experienced any peeling or visible irritation, but it’s a reminder to me to be careful and find a better way to protect my skin. I’m going to have to look into vented goggles for next year, too. But the good news is that we’re coming out of February and into March. It’s rather like moving “from the freezer and into the fridge” (Icequake). I’m optimistic that we might have seen the last of the -30 C temperatures for the year. Today it was a balmy -7 C on the hill, just gorgeous. Tomorrow should be more of the same.

I almost didn’t go skiing today, though. Woke up feeling grumpy and wiped out and I wanted to ignore the sunshine and blue sky. But having to pick up the fresh food for Elizabeth, and take Bridget to her ski lesson, got me moving. And at first, I figured I wasn’t up for skiing, myself — I’d just take a book to read, bring my knitting, do some marking. But by the time I got home with the goodies and was loading up the vehicle, I figured I should put my own equipment in the car in case I changed my mind. And by the time we arrived at the hill, after a nice warm drive in the sunlight — after I’d gotten more sun on my face and the fresh air — I was getting my own boots and skis on as soon as Bridget was off on her lesson.

Oh, but funny thing: while I was enjoying my afternoon (that hour of skiing went way too quickly this time, I could have happily stayed out all day), I wanted to take some pictures of the animal tracks I’d noticed in the otherwise unmarked snow next to the T-bar lift trail. So I pulled out my phone and pretty immediately dropped it. No stopping to pick it up — all I could do was watch helplessly, craning my neck behind me, as the T-bar pulled me further up the hill. The young snowboarders behind me saw the the phone (thank heavens I’d dropped it case-up, so its TARDIS design¬†was highly visible) and tried to get it, but they missed. I decided to wait at the top of the lift to see if anyone else would see it and grab it, and fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long. But I decided not to try getting pics again. It’s too bad, because those tracks are really neat. I think I was seeing stories about mice foraging and chipmunks evading capture from foxes. I downloaded an app to help me identify the tracks. Maybe next time, I’ll hold my phone in my bare hand and do video instead — no messing with gloves, no clicking, just keep it smooth.

An absent computer cord, an evening of skating, and a helping of parental guilt.

Left my computer cord at work, so this post is being composed on my iPhone.

I’d rather be typing on a keyboard. Oh, well. 

Had a small attack of the guilts tonight while watching our daughter in her skating show. I was sitting next to our teenager, who expressed a bit of jealousy and a wish that he had gotten involved in skating lessons this winter when I had first offered. So now he wants to try a month in the spring session, which I’m happy to provide. 

The guilt comes from not insisting that he continue the skating after his one year of lessons, when he was 7 or 8, or that I didn’t decide for him that he should be in lessons this winter. I think he would have enjoyed it. At the same time, Jack has karate twice a week and archery on Fridays, so his concern that he might end up doing too much — especially when we added skiing to the mix — was likely valid. On the other hand, he’s a very creative and highly expressive individual. He’s also waffled over going back into dance. 

Guilt, guilt, guilt . . . I don’t want him to be overwhelmed either, yet I want him to get involved with physical activities that he’ll enjoy and will add to his skill set. Bridget, too. But there were a few years when they were both small where I was barely keeping it together, let alone having enough energy to do activities. So I didn’t insist that he keep going in skating, or guitar lessons, and maybe I should have. 

I told him tonight, though, that it’s not too late to start. So hopefully he’ll give it another shot next month, and he says if he likes it, he’ll do skating next year. 

Or dance. 

I’m so tired . . . 

Meanwhile Bridget did very well. She’s made progress in leaps and bounds (mostly figuratively), and even helped the younger ones. So proud of her! 

I’ll try to post some video tomorrow, once I retrieve my damned computer cord.

And today, a Vlog: in which I explain 3 different ways to Roll Up the Rim*

So I decided to experiment with the vlogging format, playing around with the editing features and software. I often recommend video logging to my students but I realized I really should be trying it out myself so I can give them suggestions, caveats, advice, and so on. Plus, it was kind of fun!

*It’s a Canadian thing. ūüėČ

So, what did you think? I might use this idea for a lesson now and again, especially if I’m going to be out of the classroom. Next time I should try it with the camera pointed at the board, while I’m doing notes or diagrams . . .

Spin, spin, spin, and breathe, you silly woman!

I’m actually catching up on some marking tonight (it’s a miracle!) but the price is I haven’t gotten to work on the snowmobiling story. Yet.

I really need to figure out a title for that WIP.

Been having that hamster-wheel feeling again. The world turning without a break, no time to stop and catch breath. I do anyway and end up wrestling with guilt over what I haven’t accomplished. I’ve made some lists and few items get checked off before more gets put on. The pile of stuff to get done grows like the layers of clean laundry thrown on top of the dog’s cage, waiting to be dealt with and staring me in the face.

And there’s a divide between work stuff and home stuff. Some of it blends — I can make phone calls for appointments on my lunch break or prep period, and I can bring marking home or plan lessons on my computer. I know of some professionals who leave work at work, and concentrate on home at home. I don’t seem to be able to do that a whole lot. I’ve been marking my Writer’s Craft students’ flash fiction horror stories since they were submitted on Feb 9, and I’m still not done. It takes me an average of an hour to an hour and a half per story, going through it for constructive feedback on how well the story communicates the genre and theme, how effectively the writing process and collaboration were used, and the degree to which the individual reflected on his/her process. After one or two of those, I just can’t do any more for the day, or even the next day. Editing fatigue, perhaps. Right now, I’m taking a break on multiple-choice quizzes from my grade 9s, on conflict in literature and points of view, making sure they understood the concepts before we move on. And all three classes have progress reports due on Monday, with summative tasks being submitted on Friday. Plus Friday is my daughter’s skating show in the afternoon and evening, which means I have to run to her school on my lunch to pick her up and deliver her to the skating rink, make sure she’s in the right place (I’ll be asking some friends I’ve made, other parents whose children are in the skating lessons, to supervise¬†her for the duration), and then dash back to the school for my afternoon class.

Even though the 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge is done, and video posted, nothing has really slowed down. The next projects were lining up even before that was finished. (Breathe) I started looking into accommodations for the Ottawa ComicCon trip, only to find out that the ideal location — Carleton U — doesn’t take school groups until after the date of the convention. There’s also Sears Drama Festival, which I’ve committed to helping with (I said I’d organize the maps and goody bags for each participating school, and assist / supervise training the stage manager and the technical needs of the play being done), and I was asked last night if I wanted to run a drama program for a summer day camp in the area, in July. (Breathe) On top of that, I still have to sign off on my students’ IEPs, submit my emergency lessons, assess my students’ blogs, and run off the progress reports.

And Bridget still needs me to help her finish her sewing project.

And Jack needs a shelf for his room.

And the house is steadily declining in the clean we had achieved for my mother-in-law’s visit.

There is good news in all of this, though. After many weeks of waiting, our snowblower was finally returned to us, fixed, and Hubby used it today to smooth and enlarge our parking area. I’m enjoying my new purses — the Bag of Holding Con Edition, and the white bowling-type bag — plus my new Book Bag came in today, along with a Book Pillow for my desk at school. And it hit me the other day just how much I’ve done so far in this school year.

And there’s still my third novel to come out. I’m just waiting for the edits to come back to me, and the final copy of the cover, so I can delve into publicity once more. (Breathe)

And that’s why I’m a bit frustrated at myself for not getting back to the Snowmobiling Story tonight. Writing is one of my escapes. This one is particularly important, as I’m using it to reach those struggling grade 11 readers. (Breathe) I’d really like to know, one of these days, why I keep putting these things on myself. I am a glutton for punishment. An auteur of overachievement and guilt when I want to back away from being an overachiever. Maybe I’m trying to assuage some guilt by doing things, or maybe it’s just that doing things gives me an excuse to avoid housework.

One thing I do know: the things I put together with my students make a lot of people, including myself, feel pretty damned good.

They like it! They really like it! (It = the snowmobiling story)

goodnewseveryoneI showed my struggling / reluctant readers what I have so far on their snowmobiling story, and they loved it! They especially liked the dialogue about going to get beer — apparently I nailed it. And when I related the anecdote to the administrator, she said, laughingly, “You know what’s really scary? That you can get inside the head of a sixteen-year-old!”

Made me feel pretty good, I have to admit. But it’s only just starting. They gave me some great slang to use in the story, and explained how to drive a snowmobile. Also suggested that I look up videos on YouTube (why didn’t I¬†think of that?) I promised them dialogue tonight, more movement in the plot, and I haven’t done anything yet. Plus I’m still working on the video that wraps up the 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge, and I brought home marking and I haven’t taken it out of the bag . . .

So I’ll keep this post short, I think. Get the video done, and go to bed early for once. Busy day tomorrow: my daughter has her final skating show practice after school.

Snowmobiling story, exposition continued. Still have to get the students’ opinions…

Case in point: Danny never stopped flirting with Penny, even when he knew it pissed Adam off. Or maybe he did it even more when Adam got mad. His gut twisted thinking about it, and his hands tightened on the handlebars of his Skidoo. Penny didn’t say that she minded it, but every now and then¬†he’d seen a shady look on her face when she moved away from Danny’s hand on her shoulder, pushing him back when he was begging for a hug, or when she caught him staring at her as he sipped from his drink. Adam would shove him or give him a semi-playful smack on the shoulder and tell him to stay away from her, but the guy just laughed it off.

“I’m just kidding! Relax, man!”

Sometimes Adam wondered why they were friends. Or, rather,¬†still friends. They’d known each other since they were two, been to each other’s birthdays every year since then, learned how to fish and shoot together, and Danny had helped Adam to build his snowmobile practically from scratch.

Adam could see his buddy up ahead, veering his 2016-model Summit X T3 880 up the drifted slopes and taking jumps that left wings of powder hanging in the air. What Danny wanted, he got, and therefore a lot of kids wanted to be in his circle.

It just sucked that being in this particular group meant you had to show you had balls. Turning around halfway through a run did not show anything but being a wuss. Adam sighed, anticipating the bad-mouthing he was about to get. But there was no help for it; the needle had already moved on the gas gauge, giving him about ten more minutes before he’d have to turn around.

The good news was Danny had already started slowing down, signalling a stop. If he was really lucky, he wouldn’t be getting back on fumes.

————-

Okay, readers, I’m stepping out of the story here. I honestly don’t know where it’s going right now. Not used to writing in this genre or style and I’m worried about sounding contrived. There are a few directions it seems to want to explore: the harassment of Penny by Danny, the peer pressure, Adam having to go back to town early. I can see the other boys wanting to make it all the way to Rouyn to buy beer before going to a party, and of course, giving Adam a hard time about leaving. I’m not sure how the dialogue should go, though. I’m thinking of maybe printing off what I’ve got so far and then asking the students I’m targeting to come up with the dialogue for me. Or deciding what should happen next.¬†

I’m fairly certain, though, that the inciting incident will be Adam taking a shortcut to save gas and going through the ice on a shallow lake, ending up alone in the dark and soaking wet. He’s got to get to a warm place before he freezes to death, plus based on Danny’s behaviour (and maybe some off-colour remarks) toward Penny, he’s going to feel a need to get to her to protect her.¬†

I also see Danny as being a smoker. But if I write the character like that, am I encouraging smoking? Or seeing the antagonist realistically? 

Last year, I made a list of slang that I heard being used regularly in school, but I know some of it’s changed by now. Smoking is often referred to as “bangin’ darts”, unattractive girls are “ratchet”, and something bad or frustrating is “burnt”. I’m caught up in a cycle of self-doubt on whether I should use these in the dialogue or not. Oh, what the hell . . . The worst that can happen is they tell me it sounds dumb and then I make them rewrite it! Or give me suggestions and I’ll do it.

————————-

Adam parked his machine in beside the other three and raised his helmet so he could speak clearly. ” ‘Sup, boys?”

“Smoke break,” Danny told him, grinning. “Want a dart?”

“Naw, you know I’m quitting.” Adam waved him off and looked away.

“Yeah, you keep saying that,” Steve said. “But I keep seeing you in the smokers’ pit at school.”

“That’s ’cause that’s where all you losers hang out, dumbass.” Adam propped one knee on his seat. “Listen, what’s the plan here?”

“We’re heading to Rouyn, gonna pick up some two-fours and head back to AJ’s for a party,” Danny said. He exhaled a long puff of grey-white smoke mixed with the condensation of his breath.

Throwing caution to the wind . . .

Okay — I am diving into the snowmobiling story for my students. I’ll try to do a bit on it every day, keep it to a novella, and see how they respond. Not enough time to do more exposition tonight, but at least it’s a start!¬†

———————-

Adam¬†glanced down at the gas needle and wished he’d had enough money to fill the tank all the way before hitting the trails. He had a good half of a tank in his snowmachine, but his buddies weren’t following the plan they’d all agreed on, turning left at the fork behind Northern College instead of looping around the lake in one quick trip. Danny¬†was in the lead, and Adam¬†knew he had a habit of making changes on the fly. They might be going halfway to Rouyn for all he knew.

Danny kind of pissed him off when he did stuff like that, but it was exciting, too.

If he’d only filled up the tank all the way . . . Adam¬†cursed under his breath, adjusting the speed of his vehicle while leaning into a curve on the track. He had stuff to do that afternoon, stuff that required money. His next paycheque wouldn’t come for another week, so he was trying to be good and make the cash last. Danny, Steve, and AJ didn’t have to worry about working; their dads all had good jobs and gave them money pretty much whenever they wanted. They didn’t have to think about budgeting. Maybe that explained why they could just change their minds at the last second and do whatever suited them.

He looked at the needle again and decided that as soon as they stopped for a break, or if he went down to a quarter of a tank, he’d turn back. No sense in being stupid.

His mind made up, Adam focused on keeping pace with his friends. It was a perfect day for snowmobiling, so no wonder they wanted to do more than a loop and back to town again. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, just an expanse of deep blue overhead that reached from one side of the snow-covered forest to the other. It was damned cold out, but thanks to his mom landing some good deals during Boxing Day sales, Adam’s new skidoo suit and gloves kept him from feeling the worst of the chill. -35 C was too cold for downhill skiing, which is what his girlfriend Penny would have liked to have done that afternoon, but it was perfect for hitting the trails: the Arctic temperatures made the snow sparkle in the sunlight, especially those crisp bits that flew away from the speeding vehicles’ tracks and blades. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Too bad Penny didn’t like hopping on the back of his machine and going with him. It was the one thing — well, maybe not the¬†one thing, there were other things they didn’t have in common — but the main thing that they had different between them. He wished she was with him now, riding behind him, but he understood that he couldn’t force her to like it. Maybe, eventually, she’d want to try it out and he could take her for a ride.

Just not with Danny around. That guy was his friend, but also an idiot.

10 Lessons from my First 24-Hour Playwriting Challenge

I’m still running on caffeine, a bit of adrenaline, and goodwill toward my fellow human beings. It was a long day, but entirely worth the efforts and the hassles.

And there were hassles.

Two of the students who had committed to doing the event were forced to back out in the middle of the night due to unforeseen circumstances. So I met with three in the morning, as well as¬†my partners in the endeavour,¬†Michael Rawley and Shane Patrick McClurg, and we went over the first script while also beating the proverbial bushes for more participants. Meanwhile, my son (one of the remaining three) pounded away on his 10 minute script. Little by little, through phone calls and text messages — and even sending volunteers¬†to their friends’¬†houses — more participants appeared. By mid-afternoon, we were up to nine teenagers and a third play was underway!

I think the hardest part for myself was in stepping back and letting the kids have at it. My instinct, as a teacher and a dramatist and a writer, is to want to take control in some way. I latch onto the vision and I start to want to shape it as I see it, or at least contribute in some meaningful way. But I was able to make myself stick to gentle nudges when the students had gone a little too far out of focus, and by staying in a mostly supervisory and advising role, I saw that they were capable of guiding themselves and accomplishing their goals of writing, directing, and performing ten-minute plays in a day (or less). And their creativity was absolutely wonderful.

I learned a lot from this experience, though, and I need to get these thoughts down before I forget them. So here are some of my do’s and don’ts for organizing a 24-Hour Playwriting Challenge for teenagers:

  1. DO set up a schedule or agenda of deadlines, and have it printed or visible for reference. It’s good for participants to gauge their time and work out how many run-throughs they can get in, a very practical exercise of time-management and goal-setting.
  2. DO be flexible with the schedule and deadlines — except for the opening of the house for the audience! Stuff happens. Even with the best of intentions, individuals may arrive late, have to restrict their roles, or struggle with completing a task like writing a script, especially if it’s their first time. They’re being introduced to the challenges and rewards of theatre, so being overly strict can be discouraging. If time is passing too quickly, offer guidance in problem-solving by suggesting alternatives, providing scaffolding or templates, and delegating jobs.
  3. DON’T let students get away with distracting each other. There’s fun, and then there’s driving each other off-topic. For the most part, they’re going to respect that the writers need to write and the directors need to direct, but in the process of going outside their regular roles and inhibitions, it happens that the goofiness can go beyond constructive creativity into interference. Give the kids who are waiting for scripts some jobs to do, or food breaks, so they don’t get on each other’s nerves.
  4. DON’T organize it alone. Enlist at least one other adult to assist in coordinating, advertising, supervising, and mentoring the participants. There are a lot of errands that will need to be run in the weeks leading up to the event, and on the day itself. It’s too much for one person to do, in my opinion. I would have liked that extra help a few weeks ago, and was extremely grateful for the additional adult personnel today.
  5. DO become a human bullhorn. I had individuals arrive late today who had forgotten or mistaken the date (e.g., thinking it was next week), and a few who didn’t know about it at all in spite of the radio and online advertising. I think my registration form should have been a pamphlet rather than a flat sheet of paper, just for convenience, and I needed to canvass more kids at school. It would have been good to set up an information table at lunch hours with reminders and maybe even some swag or merchandise to promote it more visibly or effectively. But again, to thoroughly approach those most likely to want to participate, more than one adult needs to be involved.
  6. DO have access to a printer on-site. I ended up running back and forth to my house over and over to print scripts, which cost time and was draining on my own energy (although in looking back, maybe it was better that I had those little breaks).
  7. DO provide a “tickle trunk” of costume pieces¬†and props. Although it’s good for kids to be resourceful, not everyone can simply run back to their own homes to retrieve what they need.
  8. DO let your students use their scripts in the performance. The objective is to access creativity and help them to realize what they can do on their own. Forcing them to go off-book when they might not be prepared is not a good idea. They can relax more and go with the flow if the script is in hand.
  9. DO charge your camera battery. Nothing is worse than losing power in the middle of photographing and / or taping the process and final show, and you do want to document the teens’ achievements. It was great that we had a professional photographer come and document the work as well!
  10. DO invite other local artists to contribute. We had singer-songwriter Mellow Lily perform for us as an introduction and an interlude between each performance. Bringing in other performers raises the status (I know there’s a better word for this* but I can’t think of it off-hand; caffeine is wearing off) and reminds the students that their work is going to be held in high esteem.

*Calibre — the word is calibre! Thanks, Kim!

I’m sure that there are other things I’m going to think of later on. For one thing, I’m debating whether it’s wiser in future to have a small admission fee instead of charging a ticket price for the audience members. The admission fee could be divided between things like materials costs, t-shirts (imagine if everyone who participated got to take a printed t-shirt away with them! Mind you, t-shirts could also be made available to purchase separately . . .), food, drinks, and go toward the building maintenance costs (or in our case, the refurbishing of the LaSalle Theatre). But as my students told me when I canvassed them, a fee might only discourage participation because few of them can afford the extra money at this time of year, especially if they’re saving for spring trips or college tuition fees.

There’s also the question of whether it would work to have the 24 hour experience happen all in one place. When I was in high school, I attended a couple of wake-a-thons involving staying awake for a whole night in order to raise money, and I’ve supervised or participated in events that required staying up until dawn to walk for cancer research or awareness of world hunger. In this case, staying awake all night would provide the writers with time to complete their scripts before the day of rehearsals, and the actors and directors could pull double-duty in creating costumes and props and set pieces. But they’d still have to have time to sleep or their final performances would be affected. We’d have to provide quiet sleep-zones, supervisors to sleep in shifts, and more materials and food. We started our inaugural event at 7 pm last night, met for two hours to go over the expectations and requirements of the 10 minute play format, did a little team-building, and then went our separate ways to sleep. The writers ended up staying awake later than the rest, and had to be up early the next morning because they were also going to participate as either actors or directors or both. Keeping all of the students together might provide more motivation to get the scripts done, but some individuals need quiet and privacy to write. Everyone sleeps better in their own beds. Then again, sequestering the whole group in one building for the duration of the event makes it even more of an adventure. It’s something to consider.

Anyway, those are my uppermost reflections. My work on this project is not quite over — I still have to upload and process my videos to share on social media and burn for kids whose parents couldn’t be at the performance, create and print and sign certificates, and a few other wrapping-up tasks. And sleep. I get to sleep in tomorrow morning!

Aaaaand just when I was about to hit “Publish” . . . Ah-hah! I knew there was one more thought floating around in my brain: refreshments and post-performance reception / cast party! I think it would have rounded our evening off nicely to have had coffee and tea and pop, cupcakes and brownies and whatnot, to thank everyone properly for their involvement and support. And then the adults would slip away for a more grown-up down-time event. That’s what’s missing the most from tonight. I have that post-performance high and it would have been fantastic to go out for a celebratory beverage with my fellow supervisors / mentors / coordinators. It didn’t even occur to me to suggest it, though, perhaps in part because my own children were tugging and pushing for all of us to go home together.

I think that’s my final take-away from this experience. I love working with energetic, creative, thoughtful and generous teenagers, showing them how awesome they can be and what they can achieve, but I need to balance that with participating in performances with my own peers as well. It would be really nice to develop and produce a play with adults and follow it up with a cast party that I can enjoy on a different level. Frankly, it’s not appropriate for me to do a cast party with students. They can go off and do that on their own (and they probably have). But I could do it if I was in a play with people of legal age, and it would be wonderful just to put together a show like that as well.

Well, that’s enough for now. Going to tackle my wrap-up tasks tomorrow, after I’ve had my good night’s sleep, and let these learnings percolate for a while. Next theatrical project: Sears Drama Festival, in about two months or slightly less.

LaSalle Theatre 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge is underway!

I was hoping for 12 participants, but the five students who came out for the two-hour organizational meeting are enthusiastic and motivated — can’t ask for better than that, especially the first time around. As far as I know, our town hasn’t had a theatre project like this before. I’m hoping it becomes an annual event.

There were some glitches, of course. The theatre space is still under renovation, so it wasn’t nearly warm enough to stay more than 45 minutes in the lobby where we hoped to perform and I’ve had to book a different space in the event that it’s still uncomfortably cold tomorrow night. We tried moving the space heaters currently in use, and then we tried using blankets and quilts to make a blanket fort over the space heaters, but that required sitting on the floor. It kind of worked to capture the heat, but then the cold radiated up through the concrete and tile. Finally, we said “enough” and retreated to the nearby Tim Horton’s (after putting everything back, of course).

For their patience and fortitude, I rewarded the kids with hot chocolates on me.

We had some great ideas coming forward, and now the writers are working away on their scripts. I’m hopeful that there will be three scripts prepared for the morning. Then we will dive into a full day of blocking, memorizing, and rehearsal to the performances at 7 pm. Thankfully, I won’t be the sole supervisor — the theatre’s artistic director and his assistant will be there also to lend a hand. And maybe some of the kids will be able to bring friends with them to bulk up our cast and crews.

I have to say, it was really cool sitting around the table at Timmy’s, talking theatre with these young people. Just general guidelines for what they’re doing tomorrow, the schedule of activities, what is expected of the directors and actors, and the possible contingency plan for the performance space. (The latter has been taken care of, thanks to an open and friendly local church with a terrific space for presentations in the basement.)

But I am disappointed with my inability to get the posters out. I’m trying not to berate myself, accepting that I’m only one person with a full schedule of my own. And yet . . . I know it wouldn’t have taken long to canvass local businesses to put our posters up. So why didn’t I do that? I was able to post the event listing on Facebook and create an online sign-up sheet, coordinate students to record a radio ad and I did an interview with the radio news as well.

I think that I hit a limit, though. As much as I want to be like Leslie Knope, a powerhouse of getting things done, I’ve come to a wall. There is a reason why theatres (or other organizations) have publicity teams in addition to coordinators. It’s a hell of a job, getting the word out about an event or project. It can be a very fun job, too, for someone who is outgoing and has a lot of energy. And if that is your sole focus, the work is even easier. I tried to psyche myself up to go out after school, carried posters in my bag, asked students to help me out, too. I had some lovely offers of help from other adults last weekend, but I think at that point I was feeling like it was too late to put up notices with the event less than a week away. Good advertising needs to happen at least three weeks before the thing, not six days before. Actually, I don’t even know if that’s true for all things, but for theatre, I think it is, especially in winter and during a cold snap when people think carefully about their plans before making them.

I think, too, that I was holding myself back on the posters because I was terrified (and still kind of am) that the project will flop. For days, now, I’ve been afraid to hear the ad on the radio. It’s difficult to put your enthusiasm and energy into a great idea knowing that it’s not going to see the response that you want, yet I know it’s still important to try. The five kids who came out tonight made it worthwhile. I swing between being determinedly optimistic and flatly despairing, pushing forward because I said I would, and because they’re having a good time and a good experience from it.

Plus, an up-side to all of this is the learning experience for myself. I’ve never done one of these and it’s been interesting to feel my way through it, research other similar projects, suss out the potential problems and find ways to close the loopholes. Scary and challenging and exhilarating all at once. I said to my son (who is participating), maybe it’s better that we are starting with a small group.

And anyway, isn’t that how grassroots events and movements begin? Could this even be termed a grassroots event?

I really just want to go to bed. But my son is typing away on the other end of the couch and I cannot abandon him . . . I know what it’s like to suddenly have a creative writing deadline, and I greatly admire and respect him for taking this on. 10 pages of script when you’re 14 and you’ve never attempted to write a play before! It doesn’t seem like much, not at first. Sitting around a table in a doughnut shop, or in a circle of chairs in a theatre, what’s 10 pages?

It’s when you’re staring down the blank screen and trying to come up with character names, actions and dialogue, remembering that the story should ramp up on page four and that it needs to connect with a specific theme — that’s when burgeoning (or professional) writers need support. Once the roll gets going and the words are flowing, it’s all good. The hard part is getting into the flow. And for myself, the hard part is also keeping my mouth shut so that the words are all his. All¬†theirs.

IF you happen to live in or near Kirkland Lake and want to show your support, the students’ performances are tomorrow night (Saturday Feb 21) at 7 pm, likely at Trinity United Church. I’ll put a note on the door of the LaSalle Theatre to confirm the change in locale, weather depending. Tickets for the show are $10, with proceeds going toward ¬†refurbishing the LaSalle, and I know the students would sincerely appreciate the support.

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If I could harness my subconscious to do my will . . . plus problems with writing from imagination vs experience

Do you ever have one of those dreams where you’re not sure if it was real the next day? I get that once in a while. Last night I had¬†another.

I had taken a summer job working in an office, doing some kind of bookkeeping, and several of my colleagues were there — mostly women, though, including friends of mine named Kam, Colette, Kim, Monica, and maybe Golda. I wasn’t happy about the job, but I needed the money. My daughter was hanging around and I could see that my boss disapproved, so I had to send her home. In addition to feeling badly about that, there was a big meeting and the managers announced that everyone was expected to participate in some kind of super-high-efficiency diet involving seeds, alfalfa, kale, and other nutritious but gross-tasting foods. We weren’t allowed to bring anything processed or fatty or sugary to work for lunch or snack breaks.

I was really pissed off at this point. I refused to play along, declining to accept the starter-pack that was being given out and throwing the stink-eye at the smelly tea that Kam was trying to drink down, and I knew I was in trouble. Thankfully, I was sent out on a professional call, so I determined to bring back some real food to save my friends’ tastebuds.

Right before I left, one of the other employees — a petite blonde — tried to give me a ring that kept turning to a gummy in my hand. She looked at me desperately, and I realized that if I concentrated, the ring would keep its form. Once that happened, I knew that what was really going on was some kind of trap, prison, or spell: each of my employees was really a fairy-tale heroine, locked away from their own worlds in this sterile office and forced to eat crappy raw grains and seaweed. It would be my job to help them remember who they were and break free. (At this point, I realized that I was combining¬†Parks and Recreation with¬†Once Upon a Time, but I wanted to help my friends, so I kept it going.)

So I left the office with its maze of partitions and cubicles and meeting rooms and drove down a block of closely-constructed townhouses. There was a railway crossing and I was having a hard time stopping the car. I hit the brakes, and I’m right on the line, so I start to reverse. A school bus (empty) pulls around me and tried to get over the tracks but got hit by the oncoming train. I was thankful that we hadn’t been smucked, but then I see in my rearview mirror that a police officer is waving me over, having video-taped the whole event.

After getting a ticket, I went back to the office and went in preparing to do battle. To my surprise, everyone was eating pizza. Real pizza! So I looked closely at the boss, and there was a glint in her eye, something that suggested manipulation . . .

And then I woke up. I really wanted to go back in and continue the story, see if I could free Snow White, etc. from the web of lies and deception, but I’ll never find out how it ended. See, I can’t just pick up a dream the next night from where it left off. I can think about it as I’m relaxing into sleep, but then my subconscious will just take over and do whatever it wants. Most annoying are the times when I’m walking along endless highways, or the thing where I realize I’m driving a car from the passenger seat or backseat and I have to try to slide into the proper part of the vehicle.

Tomorrow night, the 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge starts. I have some registrations but I have the feeling that a few students might join up at the last minute. I’ve never done something like this before, so it’s going to be a learning experience, hopefully with a steep curve. And lots of coffee. We’re not staying up all night, but still, I’m going to need it, I think. Then Saturday will be the all-day part, with rehearsal and whatnot — definitely going to be a coffee day. I feel like I should be more stressed about it than I am presently, but it’s going to hit me tomorrow with full force anyway.

I’ve also promised some struggling students in my grade 11 english class that I’ll write them a story involving snowmobiles, because that’s what their main interest is and it may help them connect to reading. The only trouble is that I don’t do snowmobiling: my experience is limited to three incidents:

— I was around 9 or 10 and taken for a brief ride on the back of a parental friend’s snow machine. It was loud and stinky.

— My brother tried to take our dad’s new-to-him snowmobile for a quick run around the yard (without permission) and got it stuck in the deep snow where the yard sloped. My friend Karen and I had to help him get it out before Dad came home. I think we did it — I have no recollection of any yelling or other upset from that night.

— I went ice fishing two or three years ago, as part of a staff social event, and got to ride in a sledge pulled by a snowmobile. It was, again, loud and stinky.

So I’ve told my students that they’re going to have to help me with the story. I mentioned this idea to my vice-principal, that I’d write a story and have the students decide where it will go or what the details are, and he didn’t seem overly thrilled with the concept. His thought was that we need to give the students “more agency” and encourage them to do these things on their own. That’s all fine and dandy, I agree with that very much, but when you’re working with kids who get antsy after being surrounded by four walls for half an hour, who aren’t into writing or reading beyond the absolute necessity, why not work together on something creative so they can get the feel of it? It’s still part of that “gradual release of responsibility” concept. And one student in particular, B, is excited that I’m going to write something¬†for him, that he will get a say in but not have to tackle on his own.

I need to get going on this project. I’ve set the goal, a high-interest, medium-vocabulary read about snowmobiling, with a word count of 20,000 – 30,000, at least. The problem now for me is the plot. I talked it up with some of my lunchtime crew yesterday, gathering some ideas. I could do a story about a poker run — never done that — or getting lost or stuck on the trails, or breaking through the ice (have heard a firsthand experience from a friend). I have a vague idea about having to win the poker run in order to gain the cash prize that will allow the protagonist to achieve something important, like money for a sibling’s class trip to Toronto or something else that kids up here would recognize as having value. But beyond that . . . I’m at a complete loss. My head is blank. I can have these freaky dreams about crap from TV shows and stuff, yet I can’t put together a simple plot about a kid with a snowmobile?

I keep coming up with concepts, and that’s as far as I get. And they all feel so cheesy:

  • A kid who has built his own snow machine from scrap parts and discarded pieces in a junkyard races against kids with brand-new, top-of-the-line Skidoos, with the prize being a next-year model. Your typical underdog story, in which he learns the value of hard work, appreciating what he has, blah blah blah . . . (not feeling it, can you tell?)
  • A teenager who has witnessed a crime and escapes into the woods on his snowmobile, only to realize he’s being followed by the criminals. His only recourse to get away is to use the maze of the trails, but night is falling / blizzard comes up / warm weather has weakened the ice on the lake, so his dilemma worsens . . . (maybe this one, I could get excited with this)
  • When a girl takes her boyfriend (who’s just moved up from a southern town/city and has little experience with the snow/cold) for a run and their machine goes through the ice, she has to give him a crash course in winter survival as they trek back to the closest house / store for help . . . (after all, it’s not just for boys, right?)

Maybe I’ll just throw these suggestions at my students and see which one¬†they like the most. Take it from there.

And I should probably get someone to take me snowmobiling at some point, so I have that experience for the writing.

(shudder)