cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

A Bit of Bard–maybe a bit late


Depending on where you are located, it’s April 23rd and William Shakespeare’s birthday. Today he is an amazing 453 years old! Last year the world celebrated the 400 years since he passed from immediate view–going out on his birthday in 1616. I believe Mark Twain is another writer who did the same, except being Twain he did so with more flourish by coming in with Halley’s comet and leaving the day it returned.

As for William, his influence is ageless. I’m currently undertaking the starting of a Shakespeare club on campus: Students for Shakespeare. I actually inherited the title of the club. A few years back a group of students who wanted to put on Macbeth at the local theater and by doing so, made enough from ticket sales to create a little nest egg for future ventures. Their tidy profit helped in bringing Shakespeare to our school. With some tight management of funds, I manage to bring in annually Shakesperience, a team of actors who travel around the state performing at schools for a small fee. For some students, this will be their first and only exposure to a live performance of Shakespeare.

In the classroom I no doubt wear out my students with my enthusiasm for Shakespeare. I have his poster up on the wall and once a month I create crazy iMovies that are played on the morning announcements that promote the Students for Shakespeare Club. And four is the number of students I commandeered to be in the yearbook photo since no one has actually showed up for our monthly meetings yet. I shall once more to the breach…

April also happens to be National Poetry Month. I usually provide a poem a day as tribute to the month. I save them up all year. This year spring break happened the first week of April, I succumbed to getting a cold, then became dizzyfied by SAT testing, followed by reviewing for AP exams, became distracted by class registration–well, let’s just say Eliot wasn’t kidding when he said April is the cruelest month. Maybe not cruel. Daffodils are blooming. I get happy when the flowers return. It is a busy month though.

So–my poetry plans fell through, but I shall, as Puck says, try to make amends. Here is a link that is definitely worth watching, especially if you relish really amazing acting. This is Sir Ian in his prime (around 43), performing a one man show of Shakespeare. And this fulfills my poetry and Shakespeare efforts for April since Sir Ian performs both sonnets and play excerpts. Enjoy!

Review Round Up: March 


Nothing like Spring Break to throw off a blogging routine! Take a little R&R and the regiment of writing piffles away. The excellent part of R&R is the time to read instead of time spent grading essays. While I didn’t get down to business on my own writing as planned, I did get into quite a few great books. Here are the top picks for March.


image: Margaret Atwood.ca

There is a slew of Shakespeare retellings out there, and my request for Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, her version of The Tempest, finally came through at the library. The basic plot is Felix, a well-known director, whose overly creative approaches to theatre, is ousted by his protege. Seeking exile in a dilapidated farm house, our hero has a rough time of it until he takes a gig at a prison to bring Shakespeare to the inmates. 

While it was difficult to get into the story at first, Atwood’s version of The Tempest won me over once the inmates began acting out the play. Their fresh approach made The Tempest stand up and become more relevant to present day concerns.

All the new revisionments of Shakespeare’s plays tend to be hit or miss in their approach. More misses than hits. Yet, Atwood, being the maestro of imaginative tales herself, gamely applied her own brand of magic to Prospero’s tale and conjured up an agreeable story within a play which plays upon the story.

The best part of her adaptation was having Felix, the artsy, exiled director, explain the play to the inmates. Valuable education stuff. Should I ever choose to teach The Tempest I shall delve into Ms. Atwood’s classroom references.


image: Goodreads.com

I’m not sure how this book got on my TBR list as I shy away from tragedy stories, especially ones about 9/11. And this story had yet another tragedy story woven throughout–the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911. I got over my initial “read or not to read moment” and found myself involved in an amazing story that speaks well towards the gifts of grace, forgiveness, and redemption.

The parallel stories of lost love due to horrendous circumstances is skillfully and eloquently written. Susan Meissner infuses her stories with rich prose and an underlayment of faith that provides a richly satisfying read. The characters transcend their paper boundary and imprint. I looked forward to my reading time and spent most of one Saturday intrigued by Clara’s choices and Taryn’s painful healing. I cried. And laughed. It’s been a while since that’s happened with a book. 

My second book by Meissner. I’ve now loaded her other books on my TBR list. I can take a bit of tragedy in my reading when the story had such a powerful message attached.
image: Goodreads.com
As a sequel to The Shakespeare Stealer, the story continues in following the historical fiction of Shakespeare’s acting troupe. While the action is not as lively as the first book, there is still plenty of intrigue as readers follow Widge’s determination to find his place as a player in the Chamberlin’s Men. The primary audience is middle readers or even young adult, yet I’m always game for a Shakespeare story.

The black plague is a definite presence throughout the story and Blackwood’s attention to detail creates an engaging insightful look into the times of England’s Renaissance.

Shakespeare Knew Unrest


Peggy O’Brian, director of education, of the Folger, recently queried how former Folgerians were doing. Seeing the Folger is neighbors with many prominent Washington DC power sources, such as the Supreme Court, her question holds some resonance of consideration. 

I paused and thought. How are we doing? The “we” for me being the school environment because school is a large part of my life and serves as a reflection of how the world out there is affecting the lives of present and future citizens. I will say this: there is unrest. 

Here is my partial response to Peggy’s question:

We are feeling the bite of unrest. Students are forming clubs that reflect their need to express their views. We have a club that celebrates the 50.5%, formed by young women (and young men). Another club is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, young men who want to explore what it means to be a male in today’s society. We also have Interact and Key Club, which reaches out with fundraisers to meet the needs of the community. The administration has a mentor class of student peers who lead discussion groups.

Class discussion topics for my AP Language class bring forth interests such as “fake news,” and how women are portrayed in the media. Students exchange ideas and debate views. We share. I remind them their voices can be heard. They march. They write letters and articles for the school paper. They are involved. I am fortunate to be part of their conscious desire to be the change they want to see in the world.

And in all this, I keep teaching Shakespeare. He saw injustice, corruption, love, hate, death, prejudice and he put pen to paper, and words became actions upon the stage. Students see that 400 years later we still have the same issues, even if they are expressed in a different manner at times. My students see that one man continues to have a large influence upon the world. Shakespeare truly is a man for all time.

Shakespeare is one way I illustrate how times of unrest are reflected through the arts. And it’s frightening to learn that funding for the arts is being threatened.

I’m hoping our voices will be heard up on the Capitol’s hill that the arts are important and the people want them to remain a vibrant voice. 

We especially need our voices to be heard in times of unrest.

Sully and Alien Parents


For those who appreciate writing contests you will want to scamper over to Mike Allegra’s site for his Sully Writing Award Competition. Lots of nice swag if you’re a winner. 

NOTE: this Sully is not to be confused with the heroic pilot from the recent Tom Hanks movie. This Sully is from a salamander. Yeah, I know. What was Mike thinking? I hope the hero Sully has a sense of humor. 

Part of the competition is to pingback Mike’s site. I think we’re supposed to post our entry here as well.  

So here is my entry, an excerpt of a work in progress:

ALIENS AT THE BREAKFAST TABLE

There were aliens sitting at the breakfast table. I don’t know when it happened but aliens came and took up residence in my mom and dad’s bodies. Admittedly, they looked and acted quite a bit like my parents. They even got that one mole that sits on my dad’s neck just right. It’s raised and kind of hangs there, like a fleck of ear wax. They copied how mom’s left nostril is larger than her right one as well. All in all they are very good imitations. Not like the guy from Men in Black, whose skin didn’t fit right. No. These look, sound, and act like my parents. I still think they are aliens.

    Why?

    The real question is why I didn’t notice earlier. Maybe there is some sort of cosmic ray they used to shoot my milk with so I didn’t notice. Now that I’m in junior high I don’t drink as much milk. It may do my body good, but it’s havoc on my intestines. Lactose intolerant. Bad gas is not cool in eighth grade. Sixth grade maybe. Not eighth grade. Okay, in the locker room. Not in science. Especially standing next to Heather Fortuna. I may not end up marrying her, or even like her by the time we get into ninth grade. All I know is drinking milk at lunch with my pizza slice has its consequences a half hour later. Which would be in science class.  

    Let’s get back to my alien parents.

    I think when I stopped drinking so much milk I caught on to the fact my parents had changed. They may be onto to me so I better stop staring at them and slip into my usual morning scowl of indifference.

*********

This story idea is based on the fact that teens and parents are truly different species. I know this. Not because I’m an anthropologist, but because I’m a high school teacher and I work with both teens and their parents. After 20+ plus years of observation, I’d say they are truly from different planets since they do not understand each other, and certainly do not speak the  same language.
 

Will see if this is Sully worthy…

Bardinator Mission


Tuesday, over one hundred teens experienced live theatre for less than the cost of a latte. For $2.00, a group of middle schoolers and high schoolers decided to take a break from class for one hour and invest in Shakespeare. 

The Shakespeare Festival troupe travels around the state performing for students and this year’s play was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I think it important students experience live theatre. It’s such a radically different experience than watching a film. That connection with the actors as live drama enfolds right there in close proximity is such an invigorating, unique experience. 

I almost feel it’s my mission as a Bardinator to encourage as many students as possible to see Shakespeare performed. He was never meant to be read from a textbook, or watched as a movie. That’s one reason the acting troupe advertises the event as Shakesperience. Experiencing Shakespeare as performed theatre should be a requisite of education. 

Currently it’s a once a year option and it’s a tough sell to get students to buy a ticket, to invest in a memory that costs less than their daily caffeine candy in a cup.

Last year the audience was barely fifty students. A few years ago we used to have double performances with a full house of 250 each.  It makes me wonder if trying to infuse culture on our campus is a lost cause. This year’s jump in attendance gives me hope. And I will continue to make the arrangements for the yearly visit (even though I vow to not do it again).

I shall prevail. After all, as it’s been said, “the perchance to dream.” And Tuesday’s performance showed students that life is but a dream. A magical one they will remember for a long time.

Image:libbeybowl.org

The Star Trek Cold Cure


Have you experienced that annoying out-of-nowhere cold? The one that follows you home one night after work and stays the weekend? Yes, I recognize those nods of acknowledgement.

Thursday:sore throat tickles prompted me to get into “stave off cold mode” by sipping my immune  tea and eating good old homemade chicken soup (thoughtfully prepared by the hubs–what a keeper). Nasal wash (a dreaded relief). Go to bed early after a healthy dose of OTC cold medicine. You know the kind–bizarre color of blue or orange that gets poured in a tiny plastic cup and when downed the after taste makes your toenails curl in aftershock. 

Friday: Failure of tried and true preventative results in waking up with a full out head cold. Surpringsly enough, since I work in a germ factory called a public high school, I rarely get sick. Fortunately, it’s an in-service day and after the required staff activity my benevolent principal allows me to go and work from home. What teacher doesn’t anyway every night? I go home and sleep the rest of the day.

Cold Cure Crew?


image: comingsoon.net

Saturday: The cold, having flirted with going into my chest decides to totally clog my sinuses. Breathing like a trout caught out, napping with my mouth open causes coughing and no rest. My brain can’t focus on my book. The solution? A movie festival. Trotting over to the public library I decide on the original Star Trek series I-VI. I spent all day Saturday camped on the recliner, entering grades while traveling where no man has gone before. By 11 o’clock that night I was so dazed from my Special Edition spree that sleep came easily.

Sunday: Waking up with breathing in tact and somewhat rested, I made it out the door for early service and returned an hour later and slept until 5:30 pm after taking a decongestant for my clogged up ears.

Monday: After going to bed at 10 pm, I’m up at 2 am. Not so great. I plump up the pillows, and plug in ocean waves white noise–hope for the best until the alarm at 6 am.

I really think sitting through four Star Trek movies, (I had watched #1 earlier that week, and skipped #4) complete with special feature documentaries, sped the course of this unwelcome cold. Maybe it was the overexposure to cheesy acting and low budget special effects that wore down or even annihilated  the remaining cold forces. Maybe my brain and body became so anesthetized from  watching so much space drama it was immune to the cold settling in for a longer stay.

I can’t recommend the Star Trek is a guarantee cold reducer for everyone, and I still can’t believe I sat through four plus movies. I do know that I will reconsider my choice of series should I decide upon this cure again. Maybe watch Lost in its enthralling entirety? Hmmm…

Reader Roundup: February


Achieving last year’s goal of 101 books I’m game enough to try again this year, which means I need to keep to my quota of reading around 8 books a month. I definitely read more in January while still on Christmas Break. Grading essays, unfortunately takes precedence over my own reading choices. Good news being I’m not behind schedule. I’m just managing so far two months into my new reading year. Maybe I can get to those books languishing on my TBR list when Spring Break pops up next month and even get ahead.  Here’s February’s top picks:

 Will’s Words by Jane Sutcliffe/illustrated by John Shelley 

image:janesutcliffe.com
Absolutely delightful. A fine feast for Shakespeare aficionados, blending facts about the Bard with Where’s Waldo-like illustrations reflecting life in Renaissance London. Readers learn about the theatre, actors, acting, and a bit about the playwright. A great read for all ages.

Sense and Sensibility
by Joanna Trollope


image:Good Reads

So far, I haven’t been enthralled with any of the Shakespeare or Austen projects. The authors usually try too hard to parallel the plot with awkward adjustments or they try too hard to shake things up that it becomes teeth gritting to turn the pages there is such a disregard for the original story.

Not so with Trollope’s rendition of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The first few pages were a bit teeth gritting as I found Marianne, Margaret, and Elinor transported into the 21st century complete with smartphones and potty mouths. So unlike Austen. But then Trollope puts her own spin on it all and it begins to stand on its own having echoes of Austen instead of mimicking her commentary on money/marriage society. Trollope even sticks in a meta-comment about women who hanker after meddling into people’s lives, suggesting things haven’t changed much. I suppose not. Except gossip in the culture circles is made faster with texting and Facebook updates.

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty 


image: Good Reads

Maybe I started out with greater expectations in reading my first Eudora Welty novel. I chose the slim Delta Wedding as a tryout and found it difficult to connect with in terms of following a plotline. The story blurb explains that a young girl travels to her relatives house during the week before her older cousin’s wedding. Set in the 1930’s in Mississippi ‘s delta country, I looked forward to the relationship tangles and intricacies of a Southern family. Instead, the story has no firm point of view and is a kaleidoscope of images, thoughts, flashbacks all jumbled together in fits and starts. No smooth reading, and it became a chore to get through it. Hearing much about Welty, I’m looking for another of her novels in hopes of a better experience.

The snows February are still lingering which means little chance of going outside. Spring is supposed to be just ahead. And I will be glad to leave winter behind and get outside once again.

Lite vs Literary 


It’s often my dilemma when I’m shopping at my local library for my weekly rations of reading material: do I go lite or go literary?

Almost sounds like choosing cheesecake, doesn’t it? Go for less calories and sacrifice taste? It does apply to reading.

Before I offend too many people (hoping I haven’t offended anyone yet by saying your reading material choice is tasteless), let’s define literary merit. This is from a 2010 article by College Board’s Advanced Placement folk, the same people who run all those smartypants AP classes that students take and hope to learn enough to do well when they take those really tough and excruciating exams in May:

The Definition of Literary Merit in work of literature: 

  1. Entertains the reader and is interesting to read. 
  2. Does not merely conform to the expectations of a single genre or formula. 
  3. Has been judged to have artistic quality by the literary community (teachers, students, librarians, critics, other writers, the reading public). 
  4. Has stood the test of time in some way, regardless of the date of publication. 
  5. Shows thematic depth: themes merit revisiting and study because they are complex and nuanced.
  6. Demonstrates innovation in style, voice, structure, characterization, plot and/or description. 
  7. May have a social, political or ideological impact on society during the lifetime of the author or a erward. 
  8. Does not fall into the traps of “pulp” ction such as clichéd or derivative descriptions and plot devices, or sentimentality rather than “earned” emotion. 
  9. Is intended by the author to communicate in an artistic manner. 
  10. Is universal in its appeal (i.e., the themes and insights are not only accessible to one culture or time period.

My students tend to get in a snit when we start discussing novels appropriate for in-depth study which they can refer to on the May exam. Inevitably Harry Potter comes up. I’m certainly not passing judgement on the popular wizard-boy–I just hold the book up against the list. The snitting does not quell. Potter fans do not easily diminish their devotion. I always leave the decision up to them. After all, the exam is three hours and nearly a hundred dollars, if Harry means that much to them, they can exercise their option. Personally, if going for risky entries I would choose Bradbury’s F451. 

Back to my off duty reading choices. 

As an AP literature teacher, I try to practice what I teach. After a long and fulfilling week of extolling Hamlet to my students, I’m ready to unwind with a plot of my own selection. I have a long list of meritable titles I want and need to read, yet I’m sidetracked by titles that require minimal effort since the plot is as thin as the page it’s printed on. It’s rather nice not having to struggle through ponderous diction, and nuances of layered theme. Coasting and flipping. Much like reaching for that cheese danish when I should sit down to a salad.

I end up with a compromise. For every book that meets most of the Lit Mer test, I drop in a mystery or a Chick Lit, or a dystopian YA. Or even a Kid Lit because I have yet to fully embrace grown up reads as being my only option.

And I hope my students don’t surprise me in the checkout line. Then again maybe I would earn cool teacher points when they realize that reading is the ability of flexible options. That is nothing to be embarrassed about.Shakespeare does manage to find a way into my reading–be it historical or a plot where Ophelia finds herself a happy ending with Horatio.

Why We Say


 

STUFFED SHIRT

 

“Oh, don’t pay any attention to him and his boastings. He’s just a stuffed shirt,” Laurie whispered to Ana about their linguistics professor.

For some reason I thought being a stuffed shirt meant being an old fuddy-duddy, someone who insists on doing things exactly and according to the rules with no wavering, to the point of being quite boring. The truth of the matter is:

An actor of the 1899 era, John Gates, was believed to pad his shirts to give himself a more impressive impression, a bit like shoe lifts or padded shoulders, except more applied to the front area to have an admirable physique. So in actuality, a stuffed shirt refers to someone who is pompous, who thinks himself more important than he really is. And those kind of people can be quite boring, when you think about it.

SWAN SONG

Image result for swan song

“That was her last performance,” the reviewer mentioned in her article of the famous actress. “Performing as Cleopatra was her swan song.”

When I hear the expression “swan song,” I think of it being the last effort of a person, the culminating moment of achievement or something that brings the downfall of a person. Not being terribly sure of its meaning, I’m cautious about how to use this expression.

Apparently, according to thoughts going back to Plato’s time, the swan not being able to sing like other birds would burst into one last song just before dying. In reality, while swans don’t sing, they do make a variety of noises. This is a case of “mything the mark.” Even Shakespeare got it wrong, when he has Portia say in the Merchant of Venice: 

Let music sound while he doth make his choice; then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end, fading in music.

Being Shakespeare, we’ll let that one go.

SWAPPING HORSE IN MIDSTREAM
“Even though we don’t agree with some of the decisions of our new boss, it’s best not to swap horses in midstream,” Bart told the group, as they headed out to the parking lot.

This one makes sense, as it would be uncomfortable, awkward, maybe even unsafe to try to get on one horse while on another traversing the river. The few times I have traveled by horseback I think staying in one saddle is hard enough without having to try to switch to another horse and another saddle, let alone while trying to do so in a river.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with this saying. With his wry wit he made a speech during the Civil War that it best not to switch allegiance of presidents by swapping horses midstream. This was alluding to how many people were unhappy with his wartime politics and wanted new leadership.Fortunately, people took his advice and stayed put in their saddles.

Click Picture for Larger View

image: abelincoln.com

Why We Say: A monthly series that explores a variety of sayings and expression that are common or are interesting, based on the information found in Why We Say by Robert L. Morgan.

POM: February


Just a wee past Valentine’s Day, yet I thought I would let all the mush bucket poetry have its spotlight. I offer up Yeats for February:

 

Aedh Tells of the Perfect Beauty

W. B. Yeats, 18651939

O cloud-pale eyelids, dream-dimmed eyes,
The poets labouring all their days
To build a perfect beauty in rhyme
Are overthrown by a woman’s gaze
And by the unlabouring brood of the skies:
And therefore my heart will bow, when dew
Is dropping sleep, until God burn time,
Before the unlabouring stars and you.

Image result for Aedh Tells of the Perfect Beauty

Academy of American Poets image

 

This a love poem for poets. Yeats expresses well how poets work their words to exalt the beauty found in rhyme and rhythm. Not exactly Valentine’s Day–which is why I waited. This is a poem for lovers who love words. And that’s all year round for me.

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