Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Curtain Call

 To everyone involved in our two Shakespeare productions this year- Thank You!
 I know that you enjoyed it because we laughed, every day in class we laughed until we fell onto the floor.  We took this impossible thing and made it our own.
 All the lunch practices, all the after school meetings, all the rehearsals ... I know I made you crazy, but it was worth it.
 When nobody believes in you... when you're surrounded by people just trying to cover their backside, when teachers and administrators all have agendas that seem to endlessly back-stab you... I just wanted you to know, that I was so proud of you.
And yes... your smiles made it all worth while.

Taming of the Shrew Pictures!!

(Still More Taming of the Shrew Pictures)
Yes, sometimes I think the costumes are the most important part.
But everything from music to running lines to practicing sword fights and dance moves...
You all did a fantastic job.
Yes, even the dancing suitors!
I hope it was a great memory for you.
For most people, Shakespeare is like a second language. So for all of you, reciting these lines was amazing.
I tell the parents, you may not understand everything your child is saying, but that's good. It is Shakespeare after all, that's what you want, because the students comprehend.  They have studied and learned this new thing.  All your hard work is worth it.  Now your child has surpassed you.  That's all a parent could ever dream, for them to become something greater.

Lances and Straws and Taming of the Shrew in Asia

“My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more.”  -Taming of the Shrew

(More Photos from the Hartenstein Class Production of William Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew)

“To bandy word for word and frown for frown…”  -Taming of the Shrew
“But now I see our lances are but straws.”  -Taming of the Shrew
“Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare…”  -Taming of the Shrew
“That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.”  -Taming of the Shrew
“Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband’s foot.” –Taming of the Shrew

“In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.” –Taming of the Shrew

Ode to the West Wind. DuJuan Typhoon Taiwan

 “O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.”  -Ode to West Wind, Shelley

Laying by the window last night listening to the typhoon wind howl and screech through every locked crack and sealed crevice of the house.  Blistering, screaming wind.  Once again I’d moved all the balcony furniture inside, and how could I sleep when the metal barbecue is sliding across the floor towards panes of glass, we are on the 23rd floor after all, I just keep thinking… this is it.  Truly, a harrowing night.
 “Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed.”  -Ode to West Wind, Shelley

This current typhoon, Dujuan, (No, it’s not named after a black athlete) was not as powerful as the previous, Soudelor, (No, not named after a Persian rug company) but still packed a punch.  
 “The wing├Ęd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow.”  -Ode to West Wind, Shelley

It was a national holiday and we had groups of friends come over in the early hours of the typhoon to eat and drink and marvel at the wind.  Such immense wind.  We all went onto the rooftop to try and stand in the pounding breezes, which was laughable.  Leaning forward, up high over the city, with no shelter to brace, no shield to fend off the force, feeling the power of nature around you.  It was quite a task just to open the door against the pounding gales.
 “Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!”  -Ode to West Wind, Shelley

We stood there looking down over our little city.  As tree branches snapped and huge cement pillars crumbled and electronic signs fizzled and tumbled into the air, it’s as if all thoughts are blown away and the mind empties.  It’s like when you’re a child and you don’t like the roll of the dice so you flip the board game over.  Little Monopoly pieces of green hotels and question mark Chance cards and colorful paper bills soaring across the living room.  Is that what Mother Nature does, hit the reset button?
“The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”  -Ode to West Wind, Shelley

Awaking the next morning, (Yes, I finally did sleep) and stepping outside to the remains of  downed power lines and scattered telephone poles, the streets littered with severed tree limbs, the mind becomes active again with gratitude.  You’ve passed through something.  A season.  It’s only been one night, but you feel a hundred years older.

Monday, September 21, 2015


 "Baby, if you've ever wondered, wondered whatever became of me."

Woke up this morning with this old song in my head. Try as I might, I just couldn't shake it.  What a sweet little tune from an old TV show.
 "I'm living on the air in Cincinnati, Cincinnati, WKRP."
 "Got kind of tired of packing and unpacking..."
 "Town to town, up and down the dial..."
"Maybe you and me were never meant to be, just maybe think of me once in a while."

Sea Fever and the Taichung Lantern Festival 2015

 "I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and sky."  -John Masefield

(The following photos were taken this February during the Taichung Lantern Festival. The poem Sea Fever, by John Masefield, is an old favorite.)
 "And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by." -John Masefield

 "I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide..." -John Masefield

 "Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied." -John Masefield

"And all I ask for is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, and a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over."  -John Masefield

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fingernail of the Moon Water Park...and Common Sense

 My long running feud with the absurdity of Asia continued over the weekend with an epic battle between myself, Chinese life guards at ...(wait for it) 'Fingernail of the Moon Water Park' in central Taiwan...and basic common sense.
 Fingernail of the Moon Water Park is pretty awesome... massive wave machine, fun rides, even a raunchy Filipino Maroon Five cover band!  (Oh yes... They are at a pay phone trying to call home!)  But of course, this being Asia... I was once again harassed by human stupidity.
 It all started with a bathing cap, a rubber bathing cap.  I don't like bathing caps.  They are tight and itchy and rubbery and scratchy and look silly. Asia you must wear them at all times at the water park.  Even if your long hair is running down  your back, you sill must put on the appearance of a bathing cap.  If you don't, you can't step into...even the three inches of a wading pool where your kids are splashing.  I know this because  I've quarreled many times with lifeguard over the years... (the life guards don't have to follow this rule but I must).  So this time I wore my bathing cap (which put me in a foul mood) and was standing in two inches of water when the kid blew his whistle and yelled at me to get out of the water.
"Because you're wearing a t-shirt," was his answer.  He blew  his whistle again.
Apparently, standing in two inches of water is a high crime if you are in swim trunks, a rubber bathing cap, and a dreaded t-shirt.
I asked the kid why?  He started laughing.  I asked the other kid why?  He said..."No!" Then blew his whistle at me again.  The other boy started laughing.  I asked what the rule was and I got a long list of rules in Chinese.  I asked why are these rules?  They said, "Because it is a rule."  Then he blew his whistle again as if an exclamation point.  I looked at this kid and said, "So, YOU can stand in the water in a t-shirt and without a rubber bathing cap with YOUR hair to YOUR shoulders, that's o.k., but I can't."  The boy said, "Yes, because I am a life guard."  Then he blew his whistle again, emphatically.
 (Roasted Pigeons) 

So I looked around, lots of people were wearing t-shirts and long sleeve swim shirts...this is tropics after all, it was over 100 degrees.  I pointed out to the life guards, (now there were five of them, none in bathing caps, all wearing whistles) that many of the patrons were wearing shirts in the pool.  The sun is blazing.  It's almost ... dangerous.  Now all five laughed.  "No.  No.  No.  We said no.  We are life guards.  Those are REGULATION shirts.  This is the rule."
I looked at my cotton T-shirt.  "This is not a regulation shirt?"
He was about to blow his whistle in my face again, but I gave him a look that said he'd be digging it out of his stool tomorrow...and he dropped his hands at his sides.
 (Asians love America, but are not ready for independence)

So I relented instead, I stepped six-inches to my right, now I was actually out of the wading pool and onto the concrete landing, and asked, "Is this better?"  The Chinese life guard said, "Yes, now you are OK."
 (Chinese helmets and gloves) 

I looked at this kid.  This ridiculous Asian kid with his green hair down to his shoulders and his whistle (give an Asian person a whistle and .... look out!) and his work gloves...why was he wearing rubber work gloves?  All I could do was shake my head.  Truly... it's time to get out of here.
There are times in Asia where I think I'm actually going crazy.  I really try to follow the rules here.  I really do.  Some day, common sense will arrive here, but I will be long gone.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

If Wealthily then Happily in Padua

 “Twixt such friends as we few words suffice…”  -Petruchio

Home School Rant #3:  Screw the Seating Chart

Our Shakespeare Performance this year was divided into two plays:  The lower level class studied the tragedy Othello, which is about jealousy and friendship and knowing what qualities to look for when choosing people to surround yourself with.  (Perfect for high school.)  The advanced class studied Taming of the Shrew, which is about power struggles and keeping family happy through compromise.  But Shrew is a comedy, and thus the conflict is driven through, often bawdy, language. (Our favorite).  Both plays are about knowing how and when to compartmentalize.
 “Therefore, if thou know one rich enough to be Petruchio’s wife…”  -Petruchio

I come from a long family line of teachers.  I have one relative in particular who has been at the same institution for so many years that her previous students have grown into parents and sent their kids to be recycled to her again.  In fact, she has been doing this job for so long, her instincts have become so honed that she can accurately predict the life course of a student after about a week of first grade.  This kid is a future doctor.  This kid is a future lawyer.  This kid will probably dance on a pole.  This kid will most definitely serve time behind bars… (you get the idea.)  Teachers profile kids.
This is done on the very first day when making… you guessed it:  A seating chart.  
 “As wealth is burden of my wooing dance…”  -Petruchio 

There are deliciously delightful and deviously decadent characters in these two plays: Scheming Iago, defiant Kate, lustful Roderigo, and raucous Petruchio… and great teachers know their great kids.  But when it comes to a classroom seating chart, teachers are forced to narrow students into two categories:  Instigators & Neutralizers.  It’s a matter of mere pedagogical survival.  The “Quiet Kid” (most often a great student, attentive, organized, thoughtful, considerate, and passionate about learning) is placed precisely between two “Knuckleheads” (most often…the kid that can’t sit still, the kid that lays on the floor, the kid without a book or pencil or completed homework, that kid who cheats, or picks his nose or touches himself inappropriately or throws spit wads or carves on the desk or punches somebody… I’m confident you’ve met enough knuckleheads in your life to catch my drift.)
 “Be she as foul as was Florentius’ love, as old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewd as Socrates’ Xanthippe or worse…”  -Petruchio

I can’t emphasize this enough, this profiling occurs in every class as a matter of mere teacher survival.  (Even in advanced, super intellectual classes.)  The child that is loved, nurtured, prepared, pampered, and thoughtfully cared for, is used by teachers to thwart, misdirect, and temporarily neutralize the miscreant behavior of the majority.  I mean…are you kidding me?  Of course it happens.  One teacher / Fifty students.  We’re just trying to keep the inmates from climbing the walls
 “She moves me not—or not removes at least affection’s edge in me.”  -Petruchio

Furthermore, if you knew this… if you knew that your child was constantly being pestered to… loan a pencil, let their work be copied, explain a concept, give a sleeve for a booger wipe, be the butt of a joke…then why would you subject your child to this arena?
 “Were she as rough as are the swelling Adriatic seas.”  -Petruchio

Critic Harold Bloom, who penned: Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human Being, theorized the Bard's characters were the first to truly demonstrate self-awareness, doubt, and a conscience.  Before Shakespeare, characters were stock figures in recognizable costumes catering to a canned reaction, but these new characters, through their language, awareness of motive, examination of fear and personal insight, forced the audience to examine their own life and actions, to better themselves.  
“I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; If wealthily, then happily in Padua.”  -Petruchio

Generally, being a parent is about making concessions, considerations, and compromises to keep your child on the right track.  After teaching in Asia all these years, I’ve truly been blessed by the challenges of living here, but jaded also.  Pulling my children out of public education, for a certain amount of time, is something I’ve pondered and prepared for years.  Can a new kind of human be created?  Can a deeper level of understanding be achieved?  Truly, with all the facts, the timeless question of how far a parent is willing to go for their children’s education remains… one for the books.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Iago's Virtue

 “Virtue! a fig! ’tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners.”  -Iago

Home School Rant #2:  Select Your Socialization

I’ve had a lot of crummy jobs.  I’ve cleaned toilets, sorted vegetables on a factory belt, bucked hay, landscaped grass, humped warehouse boxes, tossed newspapers, worked a video store counter, pumped gas, and done in-store security.  I know the value of a hard days work.  One of the best things my father ever did was send my sister and I to the berry fields during summer vacation.  Up before dawn with the migrant workers to stand and freeze our fingers off in the dark, then burn our butts in the sizzling afternoon sun.  All for a couple bucks a day.  But the benefits paid off.  I’m as comfortable now on a flatbed truck as I am at a college podium, church pew or bar stool.  There’s wisdom in this:  Being a person with in foot in different worlds.
 “Why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills.”  -Iago

I used to think this logic carried into the classroom as well, that there was great benefit to pairing the future doctor and ditch digger together in a study group.  This was true American educational democracy, this perfect window of time in a magical classroom where it didn’t matter a student’s social class or family income or parent’s educational degree.  I believed in allowing students this experience, providing them an opportunity to learn from others of diverse backgrounds.  Boy… was I clueless!
 “We have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts.”  -Iago

After twenty years of teaching I can honestly say that the process of socializing students through a 12 year educational cycle is brutal.  The constant bullying, the ever present threat of personal violence, the enduring of overworked and over stressed educators pelting them with pointless and minuscule state-mandated tasks, the totalitarian adherence to discipline and rules, the marginalization of personality… and I taught at high performing schools!  Furthermore, gentle reader, I’m not even including my experience teaching overseas…with fanatical government testing and the social pressure for a 15 to 17 hour adolescent school day.  It’s no wonder the alarming suicide rate here that is directly connected to simply… forcing students to work together.
“If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions.”  -Iago

I think of Iago.  Not every student has the capability to carry out their deepest desires or plans of attack.  Not every student has a heroic virtue inside them.  For most, when placed in an oppressed position, more often than not, the worst and most horrific side of people surface.   Yes, we can idealistically believe that our child will rise from this mire… but honestly most kids just sit and suffer and pray that it will end quickly and painlessly.  When a parent doesn’t have options, they tell their kid: "Suck it up!"  But… what if a parent does?  Perhaps picking and choosing your child’s “opportunity” to battle, is the higher wisdom.  We live in an age now where selecting your child's social group has such powerful results.  Pair them with other like-minded hobby enthusiasts, devout them to activities outside the school district, link them with families that share values.  Your child will grow up happier... and thank you for this.