Two Weeks!

With two weeks ‘til show time, our hearty and fearless gaggle of thespians are shivering and shaking their way to the Astor.

Literally.

It’s winter. It’s cold. We’re rehearsing in an echoing vacant warehouse without heat, because theatre is pain! Art is suffering! Beauty hurts! Or something like that. That’s what we tell ourselves when we realize we can’t drink hot coffee and wear a puppet at the same time.

Cameron Dexter has spent untold hours designing our set… with the creative genius of Sue Higgens, Sue Beaumont-Rudderham, Lynn Sponagle and Bruce Harrington… in what we lovingly call The Space (when we aren’t bitterly calling it The Freezer) located above the new Exit Realty office. We have a massive heater that roars like the Volcanic Portal of Doom, but we can only turn it on when we aren’t talking. We have mitten warmers. We wear scarves. We dig deep for theatrical inspiration arising from the chilly fog of our own breath.  (Stay tuned for a post next week about the set and the incredible efforts of Cameron Dexter to create something from nothing… including rocks, sound, heat and music!)

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And it’s starting to come together.

After several bumps and grinds, we’ve gotten our mojo back and with two weeks to go we’re starting to feel like we’re making progress. As I mentioned in my last post, grade 12 student Kate Dexter has stepped in as the mermaid puppeteer. That character has undergone a dramatic transformation from being a human player, to a puppet, to a puppet AND a puppet tail operated by Hayley Zwicker. Kate is both buoyant and agile as she braves the waves and ocean currents to deliver her performance.

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We welcomed Jennifer MacDonald just last week, who has bravely stepped in to play Morna, the young girl puppet of the story. Jennifer walked in to the Freezer, smiled and said “I have a sore shoulder and I can’t lift my arm, but I’d love to do this thing” and she’s caught onto the nuances of a challenging character like she was born wearing an awkward paper maché puppet!

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We also have three high school students who are working the shadow puppets behind the scenes. Grade 11 student Lukas Monte and grade 12 students Olivia Olsen and Hayley Zwicker round out the cast. In the throes of exams and a new semester, these kids show up and smile and shake their heads at these ridiculous adults and their strange hobbies.

And we are lead by our intrepid director, Susan Lane. She is a champion! She arrives from feeding a herd of yogis breakfast at the Inn, plugs in six hours of rehearsal, then back to Lane’s for a wine tasting and a million other chores unique to being an Inn manager. She is never cranky, she is never short with anyone when we forget where we’re supposed to go and what we’re supposed to say, and she ends every rehearsal telling us all how awesome we are, even when we aren’t. She hasn’t staggered once in front of the cast, even in the face of accidents and delays and cast changes and set issues and scheduling problems and how do you make an ocean out of fabric, anyway?

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And Jackie Leonard is my hero.

There are always people involved in these theatrical production whom no one sees. Back stage, behind the scenes, waiting in the wings with a clip board and a list of props and a better sense of the entire play that each player who only really focuses on their own particular moment on stage… Jackie sits beside the director, taking notes, making suggestions, reminding everyone what they need to know. She knows EXACTLY when the shadow puppets should begin and EXACTLY when the boat should move and EXACTLY when the music should start… and then we change it EVERY rehearsal and she just giggles and erases her notes and starts all over again. We would be LOST without her steady hand keeping us all on track.

Lynn Sponagle… the Sponze… and Sue Beaumont are the costume QUEENS. Give them fabric. Give them thread. Tell them you need the most ridiculous and bizarre creation, and you need it tomorrow, and it has to have shiny beads on it and … voilá. Done. I am in awe of their creativity and genius and incredibly inappropriate conversations.

Our producer is another unsung hero… Beth Woodford-Collins books the theatre, then we change our minds, she makes the schedule, then we change our minds, she gets the poster organized, then we change our minds… without Beth’s efforts, no one would even KNOW we were farting around with this little play. All the ads you see, all the posters (which are the creative genius of Greg Tutty and the artwork of Marilyn Kellough), all the media coverage are thanks to Beth tirelessly promoting our wee production near and far.

I could go on. It takes so many people to make a show come together.

Here is the complete cast and crew list:

CAST

Morna: Jennifer MacDonald

Grandfather: Grant Webber

Esme: Jordyn Duffney

Mermaid: Kate Dexter

Son: Leslie Miller

Mother: Libby Broadbent

Father: Sarah Webber

Puppeteers: Lukas Monte Oliva Olsen Hayley Zwicker

CREW:

Director: Susan Lane

Technical and Set Design: Cameron Dexter

Producer: Beth Woodford Collins Music: Neil Dobson, Thom Monte

Vocals: Jordyn Duffney, Ashley-Rose Goodwin

Set dressing: Cameron Dexter, Bruce Harrington, Sue Higgins, Lynn Sponagle

Costumes: Sue Beaumont, Lynn Sponagle

Stage management: Jackie Leonard Props: Sue Higgins

Poster: Greg Tutty

Poster Art: Marilyn Kellough

We also are delighted to announce that the Queens County Community Choir, directed by Kim Umphery, will be singing at every performance! How lucky are we? This talented group will be adding music and delight to the show… AND… after the Friday and Saturday performances there will be an opportunity for audience members to meet the cast, see the puppets up close and ask questions of the people involved in bringing our little play to life. The Sunday matinee is a “pay-what-you-can” event, which also includes the choir.

Do you have your tickets yet? Astor Theatre online ticket sales

Are we excited? Yes!

Are we ready? NO!

Are we terrified? Yes!

WILL we be ready… damn straight!

Mermaid’s Tears is back!

We’re back!

After a brief hiatus, our merry troupe of thespians is on track to perform “Mermaid’s Tears” at the Astor Theatre in Liverpool on February 5, 6 and 7th, 2016.

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I’m hoping to blog about our progress over the next month, as we approach showtime, so we can share our process with you. Putting on a play is always an adventure… we are all volunteers working around family and jobs and distractions and children and emergencies and colds and weariness and a multitudes of demands… but this play seems to be particularly fraught with challenges because of the nature of the puppets and the set, and the struggle of creating a performance from an original script. Usually, when we do a play, the playwright knew what they were doing when they created the play…

This, is not that.

We’re fixing the bugs as we go. Because Libby don’t know how to write plays! 😉

When we postponed our performance in November (read about that here) we knew it would be difficult to maintain our momentum, especially through the Christmas season, and into winter. Schedules change, time constraints appear, real life intrudes. As a result, unfortunately, our lovely mermaid Lily is unable to continue playing with us. As we pondered what to do about the mermaid… she is kinda important to the plot… we decided to re-create her as a puppet. We love Kate Dexter, who has stepped in be a puppeteer for the new mermaid! This was not part of the original plan, and has precipitated a flurry of mache and fabric and scales and fins over the last few weeks. I’m trying to record this process, since I didn’t do much of that in the building of the original puppets and I’ve been asked several times, usually in the grocery store, how these creatures are put together. The amazingly magnificent Lynn Sponagle, (who I affectionately call Sponzie), is building the tail. (I also call her Sponzarella, the Queen of Tail) She is the seamstress, I am the mache-stress, and between the two of us we hope to create something sparkly! (Call Sponzie if you want good tail!)

Here is a time-lapse video of the final maché of the head. I’ll follow up with images of the tail and all the rest over the next few weeks. The music on the video is an original song written for the play by Jessica Jurgenliemk.

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And please have a safe and fabulous New Year!

(BTW, this is my 100th post on this blog! Getting it in just under the wire before 2016!)

Yea or Nay? That is the question

I feel very nervous. I feel like I’ve just passed a note to a friend, right under the teacher’s nose, and I’m gonna get my knuckles rapped. I’m going to get in trouble for daring to speak when it probably isn’t my turn, and I didn’t raise my hand, and I might be wrong, and I know I’ve misspelled something.

Today, I’m kind of nervous because… well… because I’ve written a soliloquy.

In iambic pentameter (mostly).

Syllabically identical to the original.

Yes… I am a rebel.

This week, the teaching world has been abuzz with debate about our upcoming vote for our contract. Many of us feel bullied, many of us feel oppressed, many of us wonder why we’re even bothering to hold a vote when the result seems a forgone conclusion. Many of us feel exactly like other public servants who are facing similar negotiations with the same sense of being bullied, oppressed, and bewildered (What a fun word, negotiations. The implication of mutual satisfaction is so quaint.)

Yet again, it feels like we’re being told we aren’t good enough, we aren’t working hard enough, and we don’t know what we’re doing. Financial issues aside… several of the items that were on the table have been removed, (but maybe they’ll come back if the table is shifted slightly closer to the door and three crows speak the alphabet backwards at dawn and if we vote NAY…) seem to imply that a solution to our educational woes is having teachers and students spend more time at school. Especially teachers. We should, apparently, never leave the building and thank goodness that there’s an app, or ten, to continually link us to our students so we can respond to their queries at 9pm on a Sunday night… because thrusting a device in every wee hand is surely the answer to our literacy and numeracy concerns… never mind our issues with social skills, empathy, bullying, cell phone addiction

I digress.

OBVIOUSLY all we need is a new snow day policy and these problems will get better.

So.

I wrote a soliloquy.

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I recently attended a speaking competition with a group of lovely young women from local schools. One very clever girl spoke eloquently about our addiction to technology. She said (I am paraphrasing here) that if Robert Frost would have had a cell phone he wouldn’t have written The Road Not Taken because he would have been distracted by a quiz on Buzzfeed to determine what his Spirit Animal may be. I love that young woman and want to feed her chocolate and literature and give her a feather quill to write with. She has inspired me to write this soliloquy, because if we have a Shakespeare in our classrooms we may never find him if he’s hiding behind an ipad. We are up in arms about our contract, rightly so, but we have bigger issues throbbing on our doorstep.

I fear we are replacing our children’s natural drive to learn and question and seek answers with the click of a button and an educational standard which allows them to hand in their assignments… whenever they want. We are removing their accountability, responsibility, and sense of accomplishment. We are crippling them for the rigor of University and the demands of the work force. Because, um, we still do expect our students to get jobs eventually, don’t we? Isn’t that still, kinda, like… a thing?

I am nervous in posting this because I am not usually one to stir the pot. I hesitate to offend, and quite frankly, I’m afraid of getting trouble.

But I think we’re already there.

In trouble.

The issues of our contract debate are real and important, but I fear we may be missing a concern that is much more vital. Policies are failing our students, and our contract… yea or nay… will not address that problem. As teachers dress in pink on Tuesday in protest over a disappointing contract, I will choose to wear… red? Maybe blue.

I have a limited wardrobe of protest clothes.

I choose to call Tuesday’s vote our Contract of Blame, because it seems to me that the issues being waved in the air are pointing fingers at the failure of teachers, without questioning the failure of policy. And that deserves some dialogue.

Thank goodness there is Shakespeare, to soothe my jangled soul. Needless to say, these opinions are my own, and I don’t think one can get fired for having opinions…

 

Yea or Nay – That is the Question

A re-imagining of Hamlet’s Quandary

To vote for Yea or Nay – that is the question:

Whether ‘tis preferable to acquiesce

To the slings and arrows of bully tactics,

Or to stand in a sea of uncertainty

And by opposing end them. Vote Nay – or Yea –

Which one? And by voting Nay is to say

We risk the heavy hand of legislation

That denial is heir to. ‘Tis a quandary

Which opposing, shames us. To Yea, to Nay —

To vote — perchance to grieve: ay, there’s the rub,

For in that vote lies fear of what may come.

Our teachers are not schooling’s fatal flaw,

Policy is. And with respect,

We aren’t the calamity of school life.

For we could bear the whips and scorns of those

Who say more time in school is the solution.

Our contract, Yea or Nay, won’t fix what’s wrong.

   ( Students can hand in their work… whenever?

   Students can attend their classes… or not?

   An ipad in every hand… are you kidding me? )

What insolence to suggest: the real

Issues might merit some investigation.

Ask us what we really want? Let. Us. TEACH.

Kids need consequence. Somehow we must bear

Poor policies that thwart our weary lives.

To grunt and sweat under a mantle of

Impotent political correctness,

The undiscovered reasoning: from whose brain

Did these policies spring? It puzzles the will,

And makes us look like failures when we have

No recourse to encourage kids to learn.

Thus policy does make monkeys of us all,

And thus the native eagerness of children

Is sicklied o’er with excuses galore,

And learning of great meaning and import is

Negated by a contract of blame: no more snow days,

That’ll fix what’s wrong… but there’s an app for that…

— Soft you now,

O fair pedagogy – It’s those damn teachers,

And I fear we are outnumbered…

PicMonkey Collage

 

 

 

 

 

The Brothers Evans… again.

I posted this video in January, but I’m reposting today because, well, it’s Wednesday. Wednesday feels like a good day for a story, and since this one is both a video of the story and now, the text of the story, it can appeal to both the reader and the viewer!

Here is the video:

And here is the original post, explaining the origins and the wordiness of the video, just click the image:

ladukeAnd here is the text, for those who like to read along, although you’ll have a hard time reading and enjoying Robert LaDuke’s beautiful images at the same time.

Thanks for indulging me. Happy Hump Day!

The Brothers Evans

                           A Wee Tale of Love and Heartbreak, by Libby Broadbent

Based on the artwork of Robert LaDuke

They both loved her, Miss Theodora MacKenzie of Schenectady, New York, for how could they not? When Everett became mutely confounded by the lush foliage of her russet hair, Ezekiel would elucidate the marvels of her aqua eyes. Should Everett mention, in passing, at the breakfast table, that Miss Theodora’s skin rivalled the rich buttermilk their mother served them with their biscuits, then Ezekiel would, naturally, parry with a muttered analogy between chocolate drops and the freckles which blessed that very buttermilk skin, making passing allusion to their daring descent down the deep declivity of the breasts in question, whereupon Everett would be obliged to rise thunderously to his feet and demand propriety when in discussion of the woman he was going to marry. He would invariably break a plate in his ascension.

Ezekiel would hurl his napkin to the table, declaring his own intentions for the hand of the freckled maid. A tea cup was often a fatality of this expressive gesture.

Everett would sputter and stammer, as was his way when agitated, his face creeping red and blotchy, his eyes watering as his passionate heart palpitated. He had been known to crush a juice glass in one large fist when in such high temper.

Ezekiel would recite poetry, as was his way when agitated, much to the annoyance of their mother, the Widow Evans, who despised both poetry and passion and would just like to see one of her sons marry the woman before all the crockery in the house was broken.

“I loved her first: but afterwards her love, Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song, As drowned the friendly cooings of my dove.”[1] Ezekiel felt no qualms at altering whatever poem happened to come to him, to suit his needs, as he knew full-well that his brother could barely read the delivery sheets for his rounds, never mind be familiar with the greater lyricism of the bards.

“I… you… she…” Everett flexed his shoulders, his massive arms straining at the fabric of the shirt which his beloved had once mentioned as being a lovely shade of blue which matched his eyes. Although the boys had shared their mother’s womb, the Widow Evans had often suggested, being a tiny waif of a woman barely sturdy enough to withstand a strong wind, that Everett had consumed the lion’s share of the meagre nourishment her gestating body could provide, while Ezekiel had absorbed the wisdom of the ages from the scraps his twin left him. Ezekiel was the brains, Everett the brawn, and together they made a fine man. Miss Theodora MacKenzie was tearing them apart.

“Quit your blubbering, both of you, and go deliver the bread.” Mother would calmly interrupt their testosterone infused gallantry, deftly picking up shards of crockery with her dishtowel. “And neither of you even bother arguing over who delivers the best bread. Bread is bread. Girls is girls. Only one of you can have her, so you’d best just flip a coin and get it over with.”I loved you first: but afterwards your love “””’’’fsdmfldsmfkdlsnsdklngksdl    Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song As drowned the friendly cooings of my dove.

“Phillips’ bread is soft and delicious,” Everett would mutter under his breath. Everett had been delivering Phillips Bread, in his green and orange truck, for almost ten years. Ezekiel had delivered Amalie Bread and Rolls, in his black and yellow truck, for exactly the same length of time.

“Amalie Bread and Rolls are as soft as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills[2],” Ezekiel was about to pontificate further on the texture and color of his far superior product but his words were abruptly startled out of his chest by the meat of Everett’s fist being laid rather forcefully between his shoulder blades. Everett often had a physical reaction to Ezekiel’s poetry.

“Philips’ is better,” Everett stomped past his brother, grabbed his white delivery jacket off the coat rack and rammed his Philip’s Bread cap on his large head. His hair bristled around the brim like exclamation points frightened out of his scalp.

Ezekiel followed rather more slowly, gently encouraging air to return to his lungs. The twin brothers, one large and one small, climbed aboard their respective bread delivery trucks, parked side by side in uneasy collusion in their mother’s driveway.

“Out of the night that covers me/ Black as the Pit from pole to pole/ I thank whatever gods may be/ For my unconquerable soul[3],” wheezed Ezekiel, brushing a speck of dirt off the dash of his Amalie Bread and Rolls delivery truck. Ezekiel shook his head at the folly of whatever God it was that had contrived their fate; sharing the same womb, loving the same woman, and delivering the same product. He only wished there could be more poems about bread.

***

Miss Theodora MacKenzie was not, as might be supposed, a winsome or delicate member of the fairer sex. She stood almost as tall as her dual suitors and could look both in the eye with only the merest tilt of her freckled chin. Her hair, as has been suggested, was a wild and untamable mane of auburn splendor which she invariably hijacked into submission with a twist of twine twirled tightly at the base of her sturdy neck. Her hands were large, her shoulders broad, her breasts mighty stalwart peaks that had caused poor Ezekiel, on more than one occasion, to moan “Were there, below, a spot of holy ground/ Where from distress a refuge might be found/ And solitude prepare the soul for heaven/ Sure, nature’s God that spot to man had given… between Theodora’s bosoms.”[4]

Everett, silently clamping his hand tightly around his brother’s wrist, on more than one occasion, and hurling him over the settee, was inclined to agree.

Yet, despite the young Miss Theodora’s undeniable physical lustiness, there lingered in her heart a vigor of an entirely different ilk. Theodora’s heart yearned for independence. For success on her own terms. For adventure, and freedom, and emancipation from the shackles of womanhood her unfortunate possession of a womb had her tethered to. Miss Theodora MacKenzie wanted to be a farmer. Not, notably, a farmer’s wife. Nor a Bread and Rolls delivery man’s wife either, for that matter. But Theodora was not insensitive to the missiles of testosteronic affection being hurled her way by the twin brothers, just as she was not insensitive to the desires that burned in her own loins when she watched Everett casually toss fifty pound crates of bread with one well-muscled hand, or when she cracked open her window on a sultry July evening to the dulcet tones of Ezekiel reciting sonnets below her casements, causing the fervent heart encased beneath her magnificent breasts to beat with the wanton pleasures of youth. Oh, she wanted them both, did young Miss MacKenzie; one for the brawn, the other for the brain… the problem arose in the choosing, and then in the ridding, for she had no intention of keeping either man. The dependence and oppression of marriage ran counter to her dream of becoming a Liberated Lady Farmer, and she had no intention of squandering her ambitions for a muscled bicep or a cleverly worded haiku, no matter how heated her blood became at the thought of either.

It is not to be known what it was that lead her to it. Was it the complexity of youthful folly? The restrictive snugness of her undergarments limiting oxygen to the decision-making lobe of her feisty brain? The innocent desire to spare both men the despair that her neglect would most surely have caused? Whatever the reasoning, young Theodora MacKenzie began a vigorous, albeit ill-advised, seduction of both of the Brothers Evans with no intent to wed, no intent to woo, no intent, indeed, to mislead but merely to cool the overheated conjunction of her thighs in as merry a way as possible whilst she continued to dream of acres and fertilizer and husbandry… in the most agricultural sense of the word. She dreamed, mostly, of cows.

***

Everett bought her a horse. This, after a particularly rousing afternoon spent in her company when she called him her “swaggering cowboy” and made most complimentary comments about the size of his… belt buckle.

Ezekiel, not to be outdone, purchased for her a truckload of pumpkins. This, after a most salubrious afternoon in her company when she called him “a silly pumpkin head” after an ardent poetical recitation wherein, after each phrase, he kissed a hammer-like toe on her sturdy foot:

“T’was brillig (kiss) and the slithy toves (kiss) didst gyre and gimbal in the wabe (kiss)”[5]

When she suggested, with dewy breathlessness, that he could gyre and gimbal in her wabe, his poetic efforts had stuttered into more guttural utterances of bliss.

Everett, dimly aware that his brother seemed uncharacteristically ebullient during dinner as his poetic ejaculations drifted so far from the classics as to include a seemingly endless recitation of an Aerosmith ballad;

“Don’t wanna close my eyes I don’t wanna fall asleep ‘Cause I’d miss you, baby And I don’t wanna miss a thing…”[6]

… in response, Everett bought his lady love a tractor with which he squashed several of the hundreds of pumpkins she seemed to have scattered over her yard.

Ezekiel, then, bought her a house, which he delivered on the back of a flatbed truck. On a plaque he had affixed to the kitchen wall, just above the countertop where she thanked him most enthusiastically for his gift, he had inscribed, in curling cursive wound through with leaves and blossoming flowers: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference”[7], implying perhaps, as he suggested between panted breaths as she bestowed her appreciation upon his narrow frame, that he was the road she was meant to take. She took him… but made no promise regarding other roads she might traverse.

Everett bought a plane.

“Mum. I bought ‘er a plane,” he said, in a rare moment of verbosity. “’T’is a fast plane.”

The mother of the twins, Widow Evans, as we have come to call her, sighed. It was a sigh that threatened to undo the tenuous connection between her ribs and her spine, being, as she was, a mere waif of a woman, subject to extreme disruptions of the spirit caused by the conflict between her two sons. How she longed for unbroken crockery, and unbroken peace in her home.

“Girls is girls, Ev. Find one you don’t have to buy a plane for.”

It was sound advice, as mothers’ advice often is, and it went unheeded, as mothers’ advice often does, and Widow Evans sighed, as mothers often do, as her burly son roared off in the squat airship with which he hoped to win the hand of the freckled maid.

“I should write her a poem,” wheezed Ezekiel, entering the room to the fading roar of his brother’s flight to romance. “I’ve never written my own before. I believe it I should be worthy of… well… worthy of the name of Bard. Whaddayou think, Mother? Will she marry me if I am… Bard Ezekiel?”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, sweet son, but I believe young Miss is looking for Hard Ezekiel, not Bard, and having done with that I believe she may be done wi’ you.” Widow Evans had been around the block a time or two, if you know what I mean. She was no stranger to the heat that burned bright in Miss Theodora MacKenzie’s loins, although her own fire had been quenched many a long year before, and had been replaced, most satisfactorily, by an appreciation of fine china. She missed the Mister Evans more than she dare say, but she had her eye on a set of Wedgewood which simply wouldn’t withstand the ardour of her sons’ infatuation. She needs must do something to stop the madness.

***

For her part, Miss Theodora MacKenzie was satisfied. Several times satisfied, in fact, yet there ached in her heart a yearning for freedom, for emancipation, for liberation from the restrictions imposed on her by her own libidinous soul. The horse was nice, the pumpkins round, the house cosy and the plane… well… it was a plane… but she still yearned for something more. Her quandary over the Brothers Evans deepened as she explored every crack and crevasse of that fraternal crucible and she found it ever harder to decide… which one? But not which one to keep, rather, which one to discard first?

She determined, in the obstreperousness of her whimsy, to engage her lovers in a series of trials which would serve the dual purpose of entertaining her and simplifying her choice of which man to make redundant first. Do not think, gentle reader, that our heroine was completely lacking in social graces, empathy, kindness and morality. Quite the contrary, Miss Theodora MacKenzie congratulated herself on her altruistic approach to man-handling with the entirely reasonable reasoning that both men had had the milk for free, therefore it would be unkind to expect only one to buy the cow.

As it turned out, it was the Widow Evans who bought the cow.

***

Theodora’s first challenge was to encourage the Evans Brothers to race, in race cars, across the barren salt flats in pursuit of her favor. It ended in a tie.

The second was a marathon between car and plane, over bridges and valleys and mountain ranges. Again, the brothers proved each other’s equal within a hair’s breadth of each other.

The third was a battle with a bullet where Theodora donned her most snug, most revealing, most enticing bathing costume and, raising her rifle to her capacious shoulder, shot a single bullet down a straight thoroughfare, past the house Ezekiel bought her, past the pumpkins of Everett, creating a fright and stampede from the horse Ezekiel had gifted her with, and landing, with a chilling twang, in the tail wing of the plane which Everett had used to woo her passionately into his massive arms… but neither man was able to race the bullet, as the trial demanded, due to the intoxicating distraction of the bathing costume. Theodora called it a draw. It was, after all, a very fetching bathing costume.

Throughout all of the trials and tribulations of Theodora’s undertakings there followed a steady shattering of pottery in the kitchen of the Widow Evans. Everett’s door slamming, Ezekiel’s exuberant remonstrance regarding his brother’s alleged predilection for cheating, Everett’s insistence that Ezekiel’s face would look better crushed beneath one of their mothers’ china platters… all culminated, in an apocalypse of earthenware destruction, to Widow Evans’ decision to intervene.

“Theodora MacKenzie,” the venerable Widow hissed outside the door to the house her erstwhile and amorous son had bequeathed to the strumpet in question. “Come out here this instant, before I go in there and drag ye out by her damnable tresses… or, as Ezekiel is wont to say “O fleecy hair, falling in curls to the shoulders! O black locks! O perfume laden with nonchalance!”[8]

(Let it be known that while Ezekiel’s predilection for poetry was not appreciated in his household, it was, perhaps, genetic.)

“I’ll nonchalance ye, all right, ye wee hussy,” Widow Evans muttered under her breath as the cinnamon cascade of curls in question came into view.

“Widow Evans,” Theodora simpered.

“I’ve bought ye a cow. Leave my boys alone.”

Indeed, in the yard there stood a cow chewing its cud in blessed bovine ignorance of all matters of the heart, the hearth, and the hussy.

“A cow?” Theodora blinked.

“A cow.”

“How did you know I needed a cow?”

“Because you don’t need either of my sons.”

“No,” Theodora agreed. She smiled the smile of innocence and youth and concupiscence. “But they are smashing good fun!” For Mother Evans it was as if an entire shelf of porcelain came crashing down at her feet.

Mother Evans reached out one cadaverous arm, the thinness of which caused Theodora to glance around for a hearse or an undertaker or at the very least a doctor should the suddenness of the gesture and the diminutiveness of the perpetrator result in tragedy. Mother Evans reached out her tiny arm and struck Theodora a shocking blow on the cheekbone, snapping our young heroine’s head back and causing her to stagger against the doorframe.

(Let it be known that while Everett’s great strength and musculature were not always appreciated in his household, they were, perhaps, genetic.)

“Boys is boys. Cows is cows,” Mother Evans intoned. “Leave me boys and me crockery in peace.”

And so it came to pass, due to a tremulous fear instilled by a waif of a woman whose looks were deceiving and whose bite was at least as bad as her bark, that the young Theodora MacKenzie embraced her new life as a Liberated Lady Farmer, disregarding the attentions of young men near and far in favor of the pleasures of buying her own cows and having the milk for free. The Brothers Evans, meanwhile, were baffled by the sudden cessation of the affections of their mutual inamorata.

“I understand,” Ezekiel whimpered to his mother, “…why she would stray from the Pre-Cambrian pummelling offered by my brother, but what could have possessed her to reject me?”

“It’s a mystery,” agreed his mother, massaging her right hand.

“Tonight I can write the saddest lines. I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too. Through nights like this one I held her in my arms. I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.”[9] Ezekiel moaned.

“Ok,” agreed his mother, cradling a teapot in her withered lap.

Everett slammed the door. The teapot shivered.

“She dump you?” he asked his brother.

“Indeed. I am bereft. ‘She walks in beauty like the night…’ ”[10]

Everett clamped his large hand on his brother’s thin shoulder with such force that Ezekiel’s teeth clinked together like delicate china teacups. Their mother shivered.

“Me too.”

The two boys stood in momentary and fleeting commiseration, Everett pondering random acts of violence, Ezekiel rhapsodizing his loss in silent recitation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, while the Widow Evans quietly replaced the teapot on the shelf, smiled, and began polishing her newest collection of Wedgewood fine china.

The End

References

  1. Aerosmith, “Don’t Want To Miss a Thing”. AtoZLyrics.com, A to Z Lyrics, January, 2015
  2. Baudelaire, Charles. “La Chevelure”. (1857) Charles Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal, Supervert, January, 2015
  3. Lord Byron. “She Walks in Beauty”. The Poetry Foundation, The Poetry Foundation, January , 2015
  4. LaDuke, Robert. Robert LaDuke, Daily Paintworks, January 2015
  5. Carroll, Lewis. “Jabberwocky”. The Poetry Foundation, The Poetry Foundation, January , 2015
  6. Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken”. The Poetry Foundation, The Poetry Foundation, January , 2015
  7. Henley, William Ernest. “Invictus”. The Poetry Foundation, The Poetry Foundation, January , 2015
  8. Neruda, Pablo. “Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines”, Poemhunter.com, Poem Hunter, January, 2015
  9. Rossetti, Christina. “I loved you first, but afterwards your love.” The Poetry Foundation, The Poetry Foundation, January , 2015
  10. Wordsworth, William. “Daffodils”, The Poetry Foundation, The Poetry Foundation, January , 2015
  11. Wordsworth, William. “Taken during a pedestrian tour around the Alps”. Bartleby.com, Steven H. van Leeuwen, January, 2015

 

[1] Christina Rossetti, I Loved you First

[2] William Wordsworth, Daffodils

[3] William Ernest Henley, Invictus

[4] William Wordsworth, Taken during a pedestrian tour around the Alps

[5] Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky

[6] Aerosmith, I don’t want to miss a thing.

[7] Robert Frost, The Road Less Travelled

[8] Charles Baudelaire, La Chevelure

[9] Pablo Neruda, Tonight I can Write the Saddest Lines

[10] Lord Byron, She Walks in Beauty

The apocalypse is nigh…

About three weeks ago, I put up a tent in my classroom.

Not to hide in, although the thought was tempting. And not to zip wayward teens into to prevent them from running with scissors, another major temptation. No, this tent was my attempt to bring the Apocalypse into my students’ lives.

Why, you may ask?

Desperation, man. Sheer desperation.

The Apocalypse Tent is a result of facing an apocalypse in my career over a year ago. I called it a “pedagocalypse” this week when I presented my ideas to a group of fellow pedagogues as part of the NSTU Provincial Conference Day. My pedagocalypse infected me in the form of unengaged students… kid who would rather read text messages than novels, kids who would rather tell me they “have a life” than do homework, kids who would rather fail than complete the most basic of assignments.

Teaching isn’t easy. Snow days notwithstanding, it’s a stressful, soul-wrenching, all-consuming career and we wear our students like Hannibal Lecter wore Clarisse… wait, did he make those gross skin suits, or was it that other guy? I watched that movie through laced fingers. I have no idea what I’m talking about. Just… teaching is hard. Trust me.

The idea behind the Apocalypse Tent is to plonk my students into the setting of the novels I hope they read. This year, I have put aside my old trusted friends … The Crucible, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Kite Runner… in favor of Apocalyptic Fiction such as The Age of Miracles, Station Eleven and Hugh Howey’s Wool.

Why?

Because of the Walking Dead, man.

And World War Z, The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games and even Wall-E.

Don’t get me going about Wall-E. It gets ugly.

Apocalyptic fiction is everywhere, disturbing and dark as it is, but if that’s what’s flickering under their covers at night then I want to be the flashlight to illuminate it with them. We teach tough content all the time in the English classroom. Try to tell me Hamlet isn’t heavy. Go ahead. Have you read The Kite Runner? What about Speak? As English teachers we have the privilege and the challenge of deconstructing tough content for our students with every novel we teach, and the End of the World is no different.

tent

The Apocalypse Tent

The Apocalypse Tent is installation art that models a Survival Encampment from the Apocalypse. There’s a map showing the invasion, there’s a dissected zombie hand, there’s a journal of The Book of Days, there’s a communication device, there’s a dead zombie girl… most of the artefacts in the tent are taken directly from the novels the kids are reading. We did some theatrical activities, we did some monologues, we pondered the meaning of Authority and Obligation and Dependence.

Did it go over well?

Meh.

The custodians seemed miffed.

My darling Liam, from Art Club, insisted on adding a pee-jar with the rationale that since the world was crawling with zombies, no one would dare to go pee outside. A practical lad.

My English students were, for the most part… uncomfortable. It seems they want to enter a class, sit in a desk and be told what to do. I can do that. Read this story, answer these questions, find these definitions, and you learn… what exactly?

Squat on the floor of a hot smelly tent with zombie sounds emanating from beneath the flaps and write a monologue telling me what your character is feeling. Use quotes from the novel. Wear a costume. Make it real.

I dunno.

I, obviously, don’t have a life…

But I took this tent, and these ideas, and my incredible nervous terror to the ATENS Conference on Friday and I presented to lovely teachers who smiled and nodded when I spoke of my fears for my career, and my fears for the literacy of our kids, and my fears for getting it right in the face of a twenty year old curriculum and all these shiny new “Millenial” children.

Presenting for the Association of English Teachers of Nova Scotia

Presenting for the Association of English Teachers of Nova Scotia

I used a puppet. Apocalypse Annie. I like her a lot.

It’s super cool to be able to hide behind a mask and speak in a really lousy south shore Nova Scotia British accent with a hint of Pakistani that slides around from one nationality to the next while a crowd of people sit on the floor and laugh. It was great!

I am trying to get over my Pedagocalypse… I have twelve more years to go, people. I can’t throw in the towel just yet, so I’ve decided to throw in the zombies instead. Just to see what happens.

I am asking my students to consider three main Essential Questions with their novels:

  1. When is it acceptable, even essential, to question Authority?
  2. What are your social obligations, especially in times of extreme unrest?
  3. What are the consequences of dependence?

I ask myself these questions as well. Am I the authority in my classroom, when they can google any question, anytime, and get a response before I can even find my glasses to read what they are waving at me on their tiny, tiny phones? I lose my glasses ten times a day. Their phones seem to rule their universe. Authority has changed, respect has changed, kids have changed. I have to change along with them.

I have a social obligation to meet my students where they are, and work from their interests to build literacy. Where are you, kids of 2015? I am asking, I am searching… maybe I’ll have to google the answer.

And I have to let go of my dependence on my traditional ways of teaching that included such classics as the “Chapter Questions” and the “Vocabulary Building Activity”. Sigh. I will miss you, Vocab friend, perhaps we will meet again…in Teacher Hell, where the lunch bell is always late and the photocopier is always broken and there are always ten less pairs of scissors than kids…

I’ve taken the Tent down now… apparently it was a fire hazard… but the lessons continue. The uncomfortableness of being asked to participate, and to think, will continue. But maybe, if the Apocalypse does come, my students will understand the zombie’s point of view, and their motivation, and their Essential Questions…

Or at least they can google the answers.

On their tiny phones.

While me and Annie (Annie and I, duh) hide in the tent.

PicMonkey Collage