Sunday, January 19, 2014
In 1993, ten magnet schools were created in my city. Federal funds were used to set them up. There were a variety of magnets: science and tech, math and applied arts, academies where students had to wear uniforms (shudder), a Montessori school, and a visual & performing arts school. I found an ad in the classifieds announcing a search for "community arts specialists" to teach theatre and dance at this new magnet arts school, grades 4 - 8.
At the time, I had been teaching acting at a local performing arts studio for a number of years. The studio offered various dance classes, piano and voice training as well as acting. I was the sole acting teacher, and taught classes ages 3 to adult. I was synthesizing and applying everything I had learned about acting during my years away from Akron, especially the physical training work I'd learned at Earth Onion Women's Theatre in Washington DC and the Leonard Pitt School of Mask & Mime in Berkeley, CA. When current professional responsibilities overwhelm me, I often think of those glorious studio days when I could teach without any interference from administrators, politicians and educrats. In those days, I was free to design and implement each course, focusing on the needs of each individual so that each could develop and grow at her/his own unique pace.
I also had rich experiences teaching creative drama/theatre with the elderly, leading a senior citizen's theatre company as well as teaching drama classes for every senior citizen's community club around the city. I spent two summers working at a CYO summer camp for students with special needs,developing ways to involve every kid in camp, creating radio dramas for the blind students who loved using their voices to act for their peers as well as improvised movement to music for kids in wheelchairs paired up with kids who were ambulatory.
So when I went to interview for the job of community arts specialist, I spoke with complete confidence, stating at the top of the interview that I was the best acting teacher in town, then showing them my portfolio. I brought along some of the masks that I had made over the years, and I think those sealed the deal. I was hired. By the way, the title of my job category meant that certification by the state was not necessary and that I'd be paid hourly. I was not in the teacher's union and I had no health benefits.
Since this was a brand new school with a brand new population and teaching staff, that first year was one of the most challenging yet invigorating years in the lives of everyone involved. Our mission was to not only teach the arts, but also integrate arts and academics in every classroom -- art teachers would integrate academics in their lessons and academic teachers would integrate the arts in their classrooms. All of this meant massive professional development. And we dove right into it! This was our mission -- we were hired to make this notion of enhanced learning using the arts to inspire students who had talent for one or more of the arts. That first year interested students went through an audition process but were selected by lottery. By the second year we were holding auditions for students to get into the school. The state education department granted us that authority.
In retrospect, I do believe that the magnet schools movement in the early 90s was a harbinger of charter schools to come. Here is a fascinating history of the magnet school movement in the United States. Our school was and still is a public magnet school. However, sometimes I think we'd be better off going charter -- more money from the government and less interference!
Next up -- developing my own curriculum and standards.
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
I want to write here more regularly and let my own experiences find their voice in the greater picture of the push to privatize education. But first, I must come clean on my own philosophies of education that grew out of a unique family life and my own anti-authoritarian leanings that began in high school during the US involvement in Viet Nam.
My parents were passionate supporters of A S Neill, whose book Summerhill described life at a radical boarding school in England where students didn't have to learn if they didn't want to and the place was run on democratic principles, with school meetings where staff and students each had a vote in decision making. Our family modeled itself on those democratic principles. This was quite a unique way to grow up in 1950s rural Republican Granger, Ohio. My parents were the only Democrats in the precinct and I can't imagine there were any more left-wing in the entire county!
I was the only one of the three kids in our family to go through K - 16 straight through. My youngest brother went to several different "free" schools, including one started in Akron by a group of parents including my folks. But I was a good student all the way through the regular ranks of rural all white public schooling. The biggest diversity would be along religious lines of Protestant vs Catholic with maybe a couple of Jewish families as the minority population.
I liked reading, writing, science, social studies, drama and art from elementary school through college. I hated math but I loved the cut out colorful felt ducks and rabbits on the felt board used to teach basic addition and subtraction. In second grade, I attempted to avoid math by turning in blank sheets without a name on them when math homework was collected. That tactic did not last very long.
In fourth grade, I appeared on stage for the first time in a play. I was First Mother in the chorus of Rip Van Winkle, a children's operetta. I remember being in the cafeteria prior to the performance and looking around with great wonder and delight at my friends now magically transformed into dwarfs with beards and townfolk dressed in pre-Revolutionary war costume.
In 5th grade, we had a teacher who liked to put us in groups to collaborate upon a variety of tasks. This was revolutionary to me at that time. The teacher, Miss Lyle, was young and energetic. And she earned my undying devotion for putting us into groups to write, rehearse and perform a play based upon a historic event. I wrote and directed a play based upon a youth historic fiction book I had just read about Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile. I made the fatal novice mistake of casting the most beautiful girl in the group as Cleopatra. She could not remember her lines and our performance was a disaster. It was one of the best learning experiences from elementary school.
I ended 6th grade with an F in math for the final 9 weeks. Our teacher had vanished without explanation, whispers went around that he'd been removed from the classroom for inappropriate behavior. We had a long term substitute and somehow for me paying attention to math got lost in the drama of all that was going on.
In middle school, I continued to explore various interests, reading a whole lot, drawing and sculpting with clay. I began to experiment with group pranks for April Fools Day. I also got into Shakespeare big time, going with my family to see so many memorable productions at the Lakewood Shakespeare Festival. I was in a Christmas Play, but didn't get the lead angel -- that went to the girl who would become the high school valedictorian. I directed my own adaptation of the last act in Hamlet in 8th grade. Talked my English teacher into letting me cast it and rehearse it during lunch recess in an empty classroom. We got to perform it for all the other English classes! Clearly, directing was going to be a part of what I do on a regular basis.
High school could be an entire blog post by itself -- or not, depending upon what sort of a mood I am in. High school was not a good time for me as I really didn't fit into the structure of it -- the great sorting into societal roles. Suffice it to say at this time -- I continued to draw, write, sculpt, act and did well in English, Science, History, Latin and German. Geometry was fun but Algebra was a misery. I refused to take Algebra 2 and Calculus, signing up for Journalism and Typing instead, two classes that have served me well over my life time.
I must say that college was my best educational experience! I started my freshman year majoring in visual art and supporting the Black United Students take over of Buchtel Hall, and ended that first year as a theatre major, camped out on Jackson field. The campus was closed down and hundreds of students put up tents on the athletic field, camping out and mourning the deaths of students on the campus of Kent State University, some twenty minutes away from the University of Akron. Those were heady days to be on a campus anywhere in the US.
I am still very inclined toward radical philosophies of education. I never set out to be a regular teacher in a public school. I did find out quite early on while in college, that I enjoyed working with young actors and began teaching creative dramatics at summer camps at the Akron Urban League. I've been doing similar work ever since, and getting better at it along the way!
That's the context, something Common Core doesn't want your child to be studying. No context, nothing but the facts. More will be forthcoming on how I developed my drama practices over time and how I use them today and how I expect they will be changed if the education reform madness continues.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
As for writing, I've always been into self-publishing. There was the notorious underground newspaper in high school, then The Dumpster Times zine in the DIY Punk era, and finally this blog that began as an examination of what I could do to live a more sustainable life in my hometown.
Now what I'm looking to sustain is my own life's work and career as a public school drama teacher. There are precious few of us about who teach grades 4 - 8 exclusively. There are very few public urban school students who get to take drama every day of the school year with a licensed drama teacher. To further set us apart from the norm, our students audition to get into the school and must be selected on the basis of their talents, not their test scores or GPA.
To be given the great gift of working with these incredibly talented and eager young students is one that very few teachers are given. As a teacher, I am constantly looking for new ways to challenge not just their skills, but their creativity and their abilities to work collaboratively and individually. They have taught me so much in multiple ways and of course the reverse is true as well. It has been my dream job.
For the first eleven years of our school's existence under the founding principal, we all worked in a utopian educational real life dream come true world! I kid you not! Trained in consensus decision-making techniques from the beginning, we worked collaboratively as a staff to create unique lesson plans that engaged students by integrating arts and academics in every classroom. Our staff received amazing riches from a wide palette of professional development in two extra (paid!) teacher weeks every school year. We learned how to use Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences to allow all our students to engage with their learning strengths. We were encouraged to collaborate throughout the building, working with an annual theme to inspire our creativity. We would do big shows based on the theme with acts from all the art areas as well as from academic classes : Broadway Revue, Sci-Fi Spectacular, Under the Sea, etc.
In those early years, standardized testing was not a big deal, but when it finally became a set of tests given by the ODE every spring, our students were more than well prepared. They were tops in our district and among the very few in the state to receive "Excellent with Distinction." Even after No Child Left Behind kicked in and the rules got tighter and the tests got more onerous, our school continued to outperform other schools. Some people said it was because we could take the cream of the crop, but we were not looking at academic scores at audition time. In other words, the kind of cream we were looking for may or may not bring a high GPA with it. It may also bring students with learning challenges and those on IEPs. We also have the challenge of taking students from a wide variety of prior learning experiences and cultural backgrounds from those living in poverty to those who live in affluence and everything in between. Our students are the most diverse in the city. From urban to rural to public, private and charter -- our unique approach and success continues to attract students from across and beyond the district.
Next post -- how CC and RttT is changing everything, and none of it is good!
Saturday, December 07, 2013
I have learned that teachers can be suspended without pay for handing out info on the Opt Out movement. Yikes! Good thing I've been too busy to even think of promoting that. some parents have posted links to various Opt-out pages, but I don't comment on them.
I have also learned that 4th graders had to do a language arts unit on child labor laws, and 8th graders are reading non-fiction as well on the topic of forensic anthropology. one of my brightest students was complaining how boring the work is. Yes, lets abandon all our innovative arts-integrated curricula based upon Howard Gardner's theory of the Multiple intelligences and replace that with Pearson-produced modules that assume teachers do not know how to teach.
Taking bets on how long RttT mandates and state education "reform" laws will continue before being replaced. We need to be ready with some research-based holistic education anti-system re-positioning.
Three hours in to our Grade-in. A very nice Mall cop stopped at our table and thanked us for all we do as teachers.
I did some work on student portfolios, my own solution for drama student assessment. I keep falling behind, distracted by all the incessant distractions and demands for me to stop doing what I know will be best for my students and instead, waste my time on bunches of acronyms provided by the state to ensure that I don't do what is best for my students. For me personally, this has be become a moral dilemma of the highest order. Do I comply with laws I know are created to push out master teachers who teach in unique ways? Will I be replaced by a raw Teach for america recruit or by someone fresh out college in need of a job to pay off their massive student loan debt? Whoever it may be, they had best be compliant by nature.
As someone who came of age during the turbulence of the 60s and early 70s, the word "compliant" reeks of authoritarian overtones. I can collaborate with those who operate under the rules of consensus-seeking. But compliant --no!
Friday, December 06, 2013
Friday, November 29, 2013
All the BATs have been invited to write letters to President Obama. Here is mine:
November 29, 2013
Dear Mr. Obama,
I had the great honor of voting for you for President of the United States twice! You have made some major progress in areas that have my full support, such as the Affordable Care Act and standing up for marriage equality. Most of the time, I have your back, but I must ask as a public school teacher -- do you have mine?
Mr. President, I don’t understand why education must be “a race to the top” -- what exactly is “the top”? Is it moving up from number 17 to number 1 on international standardized tests? What happens when your students have physical, emotional and/or cognitive challenges that make it impossible for them to join in the race, let alone get to the top? Why are we racing children at all? Each child develops at her or his own unique pace. I know this from 20 years of teaching 4th through 8th grade drama at a public magnet school for the arts in Akron, OH. My students come in as adorable munchkins and depart as almost grown young men and women, and I can assure you that their journeys through puberty have been anything but a slow and steady march forward in unison. They grow in fits and starts and two steps backwards then great leaps forward and so on.
Our school was created with federal grant money. Ten magnet schools were formed in Akron Public Schools. Our school is the only one that survived and succeeded beyond expectations! From the beginning, our founders had a clear vision of using the power of the arts to transform academic instruction. Our teachers, both arts and academic, have had continual professional development in arts integration, incorporation of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory in lesson design, and in collaborative processes such as project based learning and consensus-building. Our school has been consistently at the top with test scores, while not spending time teaching to the tests.
All that has changed with the Race to the Top mandates. All of our carefully developed unique curricula based upon arts integration must be set aside for the Common Core, a set of standards written without input from teachers, never field-tested and put into place at the same time that the new teacher evaluation system goes into effect. We are being told -- your district/school/teacher/student “grade” is going to be lower this year. No kidding! Give students a standardized test on a brand new set of standards being taught for the first time and yes -- it’s a good bet that grades will go down.
At our Open House this fall, parents with kids currently in private schools were asking, “How many standardized tests will 4th graders in your school be taking next year?” The answer is ten standardized tests in one year. Most of those tests won’t be to help teachers assess students, but rather for the state to collect data on our students and our teaching, as if there is a way to quantify quality teaching via correct answers on a multiple choice fill-in-the-bubble test. And by the way, those parents who asked how many tests responded very negatively to the idea of fourth graders taking ten sets of tests throughout the school year.
Now all teachers must go through a huge expensive waste of time process to make sure we are all being equally humiliated. We must make up our own “student learning objectives” and come up with a way to collect data to prove we are moving our students one year forward every year even in subjects like gym and drama. We must come up with these plans and carry through with them, even as precious class time is taken away in shortened class periods to accommodate “professional learning circles” and when students are pulled from our rooms to take computerized tests.
Teachers must now undergo two evaluations every year plus four “walk-throughs”, whereas before when a teacher achieved tenure that meant one evaluation every three years. I am open to re-thinking the teacher evaluation process. I would like to see exit reviews from both parents and students as a piece of it, as well as a more thoughtful rather than regimented principal review process. A beginning teacher would need more mentoring and observing while veteran teachers who are experts in their fields should be allowed to do what they do best -- teach!
What has to go is the Value Added nonsense. A teacher in our building received a score of Ineffective because her students scored 94% this past year on math compared to a score of 95% the year before. How can scores from two different groups of students ever be compared in any sort of fair way? No two classes are the same and each class has varying combinations of positives and deficits. And how absurd anyway, that the teacher is labelled “ineffective” when her class scored way above the district and state average in 4th grade math!
I have never seen morale so low in our building. We used to be proud arts and academic integrationists, leading the way in developing those 21st century skills that the arts are famous for: collaboration, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, personal and social responsibility. Now everyone is fearful for their jobs, worried about their careers. Teachers still in their prime are retiring in droves. I thought I could go until I was 72 and was going to the gym twice a week to stay in shape to keep up the vigor needed to teach middle school drama. Now I wonder if I’ll make it to the end of this school year.
I hope you find the courage to look critically at the results of actions taken by your Department of Education. If you want to “fix” education, look to take action against poverty and then real strides can take place.
Wendy S Duke
Sunday, November 03, 2013
We were told that our goal this year is to close the achievement gap by 50%. Don't know if that is our building's goal, district-wide or state of Ohio -- the number seems both arbitrary and impossible. Do we wave our magical CCSS wands and magically, all our students get A+ on every single MAP, ZAP And CRAP test?
Anyone who doubts poverty has an effect upon child development needs to read this.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Dear Senator Brown,
I am writing to you because it has become obvious that many Democrats
have abandoned the public school teachers and have sold out to the
forces of "reform education." These forces are billionaires like Bill
Gates, the Walton Family, Exxon Oil, Pearson Corp among others. They
are promoting a mandatory set of standards that were written by
corporate interests without one PK - 12 educator on the writing team.
Those standards were never field tested but instead were made mandatory
in every state that signed on for relief from No Child Left Behind,
another grandiose mandatory plan put in place during the Bush years.
Federal stimulus money was given to any state that signed on to Race to
the Top, a bait and switch that has now given the states the right to
judge teachers based upon their student scores on high stakes tests.
Billions of dollars are going into the pockets of the test and
curriculum makers in order to bring down public education as we once
Union teachers are being replaced by Teach for
America recruits, recent graduates that go through five weeks of
training in the summer before being assigned to teach in public schools.
They get a great deal -- loan relief and a job straight out of college
-- without having to earn a teaching credential. This is an insult to
every union teacher who has gone through a required course of study,
spent time observing and training, and finally made it through student
teaching before entering the job market.
Please take a moment
to remember the teachers who moved you forward the most. How many of
them taught from scripts manufactured by an education corporation? How
many of them ever worried whether they were teaching the same thing on
the same day as a teacher in another state? The best teachers focus on
each student and provide each student with what is developmentally best
for that individual.
Please don't abandon us, Senator Brown!
I sometimes think that teachers have become targets because we have
traditionally been a job in which a majority of us are women. We have
always suffered from low pay and low status and fought hard to be
represented by unions. Now tenure has been over-turned by RttT. We are
at the whims of the scores our over-tested students who are tuning out
because the curriculum is now pre-packaged and pre-scripted. Teachers
are being turned into automatons.
Many of my teacher friends
and colleagues have bailed out. I was thinking about it until I read
Diane Ravitch's book, "The Reign of Error." I also discovered the
teachers' resistance movement is alive and well. 30,000+ have joined
BATs an national online organization since forming in July and there
will be a march on the Dept of Ed next July 28. I plan on attending and
joining with other BATs to take back our profession from the big money
I will not be supporting any political candidates
who are in bed with the big corporate "Education Reform" interests. I
have always supported your campaigns from the time you were my US
Representative through both your senate runs. Please let me know that
you are still on the side of union teachers here in Ohio.
Drama Teacher, Grades 4 - 8
Miller South School,
a public magnet school in Akron, OH
It is obvious I have a need to write about how my dream job is turning into a nightmare. I am happy that I am not alone in this endeavor. Not every teacher has drunk the Common Core Cool-Aid. There's a group called Bad-Ass Teachers and can be found here and on Facebook here. The FB group is private -- you will need to ask to join. The group is at 31K teachers and was only formed in July of this year. Spread the word. Solidarity is needed now more than ever.
Bill Gates money is reaching out and spreading fast, though. Teachers get paid to go get the training so they can lead their colleagues forward into rigorous data mining and constant testing. And teachers are by nature compliant and cooperative folks. The national education unions have given into the lure of the billionaires' money. It is indeed a sad and woeful time in the history of education. That is why I am moved to blog once more. The resistance is growing and some strong voices are raising up valid objections to the scary course being set by the Education Corporations.
I will start posting all my links and letters to politicians, educators and policy makers.
Long Live the Public Schools!
Sunday, January 09, 2011
Welcome to the finished and happily lived-in eco-bathroom! As you enter the new maple-wood door (purchased from the ReStore, a wonderful source for recycled building materials), you are in a spa-like atmosphere that was created out of recycled materials with fixtures designed to reduce the use of water as well as provide a safe and healthy environment for personal day to day living.
I wanted my eco-bathroom to be a home to plants that would thrive under low light conditions. A philodendron grows up and over the glass block wall and hangs down into the shower. A Snake plant thrives in the corner on top of a recycled crate. Aaron created a custom built set of shelves for my towels, that fills the space between the shower and the corner wall. All lighting is LED. The blue recycled mosiac glass tiles on the walls was purchased on Ebay.
Inside the shower, the flower mosaics are made of barn slate purchased from a guy in Medina county who salvages barn and farm materials (the slate was $1 a piece -- approximately 1 ft by 2 ft in size), recycled glass and showercork, representing the three materials chosen for flooring, walls and shower stall. Waterpik EcoRain 2.0 and Waterpik hand-held shower head provide considerable water savings as well as ease in personal showering.
A corner seat convenient to sit upon while scrubbing feet or for perching on while washing the dog. A shower nook holds Dr Bronner Peppermint Soap and Aubrey Organics Shampoo. You can see the variations in color contained in the barn slate.
View of the Toto sink and Toto Neorest Toilet with Washlet seat. Purchased online at almost half price. The toilet has a fan to remove odors, washes fore and aft with varying temperatures and pressure modes, and finally dries you -- no more need for toilet paper! The Toto sink had a low flow faucet and a very modern shape. The medicine cabinet and light fixtures on either side are the only features retained from the original bathroom.
Instead of buying towel bars, we recycled an old ladder found in my garage left behind by prior owners. Above is access into the non-functional and previously non-accessible attic. We had to open it up to install a bathroom fan. Once there, Ilya, the Household Handyman, asked me if I wanted him to put in insulation as there was nothing up there but beams and a whole lot of coal dust from the early 20th century coal furnace. We went to Lowe's and found non-itchy and non-toxic eco-insulation. End result -- this year's monthly heating bill (gas) has been reduced almost in half!
The clothes hamper is a fair trade basket from The Market Path in Highland Square. The flooring is ShowerCork, and the most expensive material purchased for this project. However, I am glad I sprang for it -- cork is sustainable, anti-microbial and non-slippery when wet!
A closer view of the Neorest 500, ordered via National Building Supply online for considerable savings. The control panel for the toilet is mounted on the wall next to the window on the left.
Aaron's custom built tempered glass shower doors. The original plan was to use recycled windows for the shower door, but we couldn't find anything that fit the opening.
Found this old step ladder at the Hartville flea market for ten dollars. It functions as a plant holder and bathroom reading material holder. Zippy the Pinhead currently resides on the bottom rung.
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
My old house was built in 1921 and the first resident was an Akron rubber worker. It is essentially a small upright box covered with aluminum siding.
When I bought this house in 1999 it cost 45K. I figure it is worth about 25 cents in today's economy. But for me, the value is in its location -- one mile from my place of employment. Having a low monthly mortgage payment is also convenient, as it has allowed me to put money into home improvements. I will confess that not everything I have had done to the house is eco-friendly. Some of my first improvements were dictated by cost rather than by sustainability.
My latest home project is creating a bathroom with the best available water saving fixtures, along with sustainable flooring and tiling. It took weeks of research to find the materials and the construction workers to carry out the project. This week, the work on the bathroom begins! I will be posting pictures and commentary as the work commences. Stupidly, I forgot to take "before" pictures, but I'm pretty sure the tile guy took some pictures of the bathroom before the tear out began. Hopefully, he will share those with me so I can post some proper before and after pictures when the job is finished.
Below, a view of the medicine cabinet, vanity and toilet. The medicine cabinet is the only original fixture I am keeping. Everything else will be replaced. No more water-wasting bathtub, rather a magnificent shower with water-sense shower head. A very cool state of the art Japanese toilet and lavatory will reside here as well. The walls, the flooring and the shower area will feature recycled materials.
I will be discussing my sustainable choices as the work progresses, along with photos. Stay tuned!
Monday, July 26, 2010
Growing up, we had all the usual name brand products under the sink and in our medicine cabinet. Powders, liquids, sprays, creams and lotions -- all brought to us by the magic of modern chemistry. Consumers continue to buy these things because we are taught that we must look good and never age. Our homes can only become sparkly clean through the assistance of a powerful Comet or a heroic Ajax or a winking macho genie. None of those products were necessary. The box of baking soda in the cupboard, the bottle of vinegar next to it, along with the juice of a lemon and a bit of elbow grease are all that anybody needs to keep our homes clean.
Recently, scientists examined whales and found high levels of heavy metals and toxins, indicating that the oceans are hopelessly polluted. We consume, we excrete and toss away tons of leftover chemicals. By we, I am talking about the 6.8 billion human beings dwelling on this planet. It is no surprise that the whales are full of toxic chemicals. We all are.
What to do? I've been reading every list of ingredients before buying anything. If the list is really long and in incredibly tiny print, I put the product back on the shelf. I spend long hours online researching and contemplating choices. Quite frankly, living in the 21st century requires the opposite of "convenience" in terms of every day living. Tomorrow I will begin to report on my own personal course of action, but meanwhile take a look at this movie from the folks who brought us The Story of Stuff. It is the The Story of Cosmetics and I hope it inspires you to take action -- on the personal level and via political action.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
My mother began a blog which inspired me to start my own. She loved to read other people's opinions and always had very strong views of her own. To re-engage with this blog is way of honoring my mom, and ultimately a means for seeking deeper understanding of life itself.
My mother died from acute liver failure due to cirrhosis of the liver. She never drank a drop of alcohol in her life; in fact, to light the Christmas plum pudding she would use McCormick's imitation rum flavoring rather than buy a bottle of real rum. She was physically fit, exercised regularly and ate simply and sensibly. How this disease could strike her down is a mystery, and her form of cirrhosis is therefore idiopathic.
One of the liver's functions is to eliminate toxins from the blood. In my mother's case, her liver became unable to eliminate ammonia, which stayed in the blood and began to affect her brain. This is known as hepatic encephalopathy. Her doctors prescribed a medicine to control the ammonia and for a few months, she was able to function fairly well. But then she came down with a sinus infection that ultimately weakened her and brought about acute liver failure.
I expected my mom to live into her 90s, as did her mother and many of her relatives. Even when the liver problems were first diagnosed, her doctor said she had many years ahead of her and that she'd probably die of something else. I also found myself putting "faith" in modern medicine, for even as she was admitted to Cleveland Clinic for her final weekend of life, the doctors began to evaluate her for a liver transplant. We knew that since she was not an alcoholic, she had a good chance of being considered for a transplant.
She was admitted on a Friday, evaluated on Saturday and by Saturday night was placed at the top of the transplant list. By Sunday morning, her condition had worsened to the point that a transplant was no longer possible. She was all yellow and comatose. We agreed to a "natural death," which means only providing to prevent suffering. She was given morphine (which the nurse kept calling "medicine," as in "I'm going to increase her medicine." All other curative measures were stopped, except for her breathing tube, as the nurse said without it she could suffer from choking on fluids and coughing up blood. I think this last measure was more for those of us there for the death watch, as there was no chance at this point that she would come to and be aware of anything surrounding her.
Years ago my mother decided that after death, she wanted to donate her body to science. She was a teacher, and was happy in the realization that her body could be used to further learning. She also had a wicked sense of humor and delighted in the idea of "cheating the undertaker out of his fee!"
And so the Cleveland Clinic was gifted her body and which also gave her family the gift of not having to go through all the usual immediate and emotional hoopla of coffins, calling hours and funeral rites. Instead, we had time to mourn for ourselves, while relatives, friends and former students posted comments online and sent thoughtful cards. About a month later, we had a memorial for her at the University of Akron, the place she found herself first as an employee, then as a student and teacher. By then, all of the immediate family had time to compose our thoughts and words for her final tribute.
Last week, the Cleveland Clinic called to say that they were ready to return my mother's ashes. They came back to us in a small cardboard box and we had them placed next to my dad's ashes in Glendale Cemetery. On her gravestone, the following epitaph (borrowed from Henry Adams) will be engraved:
Monday, February 15, 2010
Which means it is time to go dig out the driveway one more time before the new snow arrives. I don't have a snow blower. Don't like the idea of running a machine in the middle of wet snowy weather. Plus buying something of that nature for use a few days per year doesn't seem very eco-positive.
So we dig out again and again this el nino winter season. Do some stretches prior to going outside. Dress warm with thick warm socks inside waterproof boots. Hamlet hates the snow shovel. It is a beastly intruder in his backyard snow agility wonderland. He prefers to engage in dog plowing round and round his race track.
One thing is for sure, Hamlet's coat is perfect for this weather.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I've left up a few of the jumps, so he can stay in shape agility-wise over the break. Classes resume in January. Meanwhile, Hamlet has worn a path in the snow around the sleeping vegetable garden. No matter how cold, he is up for a game of chase the ball, return it by jumping over a hurdle and dropping it at my feet.
After a warming game or three of chase the ball and retrieve, dog and human head back in to savor the joys of winter break. Snow muffles the city sounds and promotes hibernation behaviors like wrapping oneself in a comfy blanket to hunker down with a good book, a furry dog and a cup of java at hand.
Monday, December 28, 2009
The EPA finally backed Akron into a corner and made it impossible for the city to continue avoiding cleaning up our antiquated sewer overflow system.
If the city had faced up to its responsibility, oh say 15 years ago, rates could have gone up at a very reasonable increase per year to pay for the huge fix-it project. One local pundit said on TV that sewer system improvements are not beloved of politicians because you can't see what the money bought after it is built. I would say this reveals an utter lack of imagination upon the part of politicians, because I have no problem imagining what is happening without this massive sewer project. Any time of increased water flow, from storms or flooding from snow melt off and the current system can't handle it, the overflow goes straight into the Cuyahoga River. Imagine anything that can be flushed down a toilet or washed down a storm drain and then think about those substances making their way into the Cuyahoga River's ecosystems.
So because the politicians balked for so many years at spending money to fix the problem, the EPA took legal steps to make the city clean up its sewage system. And we citizens are stuck with big increases all at once.
My solution was to give up the land phone line. Sorry AT&T, but your service is superfluous and your corporate ideals non compatible with mine anyway, and costs me almost exactly the same amount as the projected sewer rate increase will per month.
So now we are totally cellular here on the Village Green. My current carrier of choice is T Mobile. They have a cool cell phone made out of recycled plastic bottles, the Renew. And the service plan is half of what I was paying before.
So bring on the sewer bills -- I'm ready!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I've been avoiding politics of late, here at the Village Green. Many things have kept me busy and away from blogging. Work is all-consuming of time and energy, and there is a young dog here who is in training and doing well.
We hit a snag in agility training in September. Hamlet's physique developed dramatically. His center of balance shifted as his chest expanded and lowered into adult form. This messed up his sense of balance on the contact obstacles. He started balking at the A Frame, the Dog Walk and the Table. As you may imagine, this was no fun in the middle of a regular agility class with long lines of dog-human teams waiting to run the course.
So we are now going on a night that is for teams who need to work on specific things. It's much more relaxed and I'm doing as our regular trainer, Terence Cranendonk suggests, which is using turkey and the clicker to desensitize Hamlet to the obstacles that he used to run happily over when he was but a young pup
So tonight I took a big baggie full of turkey, a favorite squeaky squirrel, the clicker and a positive attitude. Hamlet was more comfortable with the new indoor digs. The club is year round and during the cold months, we are in an old factory in Wadsworth. It has lots of room and special flooring so the teams don't end up with leg injuries. But the echoing can be mind-numbing when lots of dogs are barking.
Using the turkey as a lure, I tossed bits of it in the direction of the A Frame. We had it lowered to about three feet at its apex. Clicking his every step toward the A Frame, and creating a trail of turkey bits, I was thrilled when he finally ate a piece that was on the bottom of the frame. By the end of the evening, I had him placing two paws. on the frame in order to reach the turkey. That's some fear that would make a dog hesitate before going for the tasty food!
It's all about patience and remaining calm. Hamlet will not function when forced to do things. He likes to go step by step. As we worked tonight, when I saw that his stress was building at any point along the luring path, I would direct him away to a tunnel or jump which he'd do quite cheerfully.
The other folks there tonight were very encouraging, sharing tales of dogs that refused to do this or that for half a year or more and then suddenly one night the dog was running the course without a problem.
There's another blue merle at the agility club who everyone calls Hamlet's Mini Me. That one is four years old and a champion agility dog. The dog is learning to work with a new human, who is new to agility. Some of the humans there have had numerous dogs in agility over the years. Hamlet and I are entering this as total newbies, however Hamlet is the one in our team with the real talent and potential.
Hamlet loves the tunnels and chutes and is doing great on the weave polls. I've been raising the bar on his jumps here at home and he soars over. He clearly loves jumping which gives me hope for the contact objects, as jumps require nimble foot work as well. All in all, for only 9 months of age, he's dong very well indeed.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
And I'm not just talking about the steel grey clouds and the damp chill hanging over NE Ohio today. I am living in a state in which the only way ahead for funding public education hangs on the hopes of gambling casinos. That's how much we value education in Ohio.
Here in the city, various recreational activities offered up for seniors and youth have been cut back or eliminated. Gotta have enough money to plow the streets in winter so that those of us who still have jobs can make it in to work.
I read that one county councilman has refused to take a pay reduction for the final two months of the year. It would inconvenience this fellow's plans for bulking up his pension.
...Crawford, who is paid $23,903 a year, said his county check is committed through this year to buying state retirement benefits — a perk afforded to government workers to boost their retirement income and health benefits. His check amounts to $23.50 every two weeks because of the payroll deduction, he said.
The voluntary pay cut amounts to about $60 withheld from each council member's check.
If he agreed to the pay cut, ''I would have to pay the county money to be working,'' said Crawford, who works full-time as an insurance agent. ''I'm not going to write out a check.''
Guess we are all concerned about our pension plans now, aren't we? Everybody in a union is facing reductions and being asked to make concessions. Only the firefighters in Akron voted to make no concessions, and thus sacrificed their most recent hires so that their elders might not face postponement of their longevity bonuses.
I wonder how much will be left of the State Teachers' Retirement Fund by the time I put in my 30 years. Will I ever be able to afford retirement? Check this news report:
The State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) reported that it would take 41 years for its investments to catch up with the costs of meeting its obligations to retirees -- and that was before the worst of the financial crisis.
STRS reported last fiscal year that its valued plummeted 31 percent. The worried word used in its most recent annual report, on how long it would now take for its investments to put the fund back on track, was "Infinity."
Wow -- I don't think I have until infinity before I retire.
Since there will be no health benefits offered until some golden time beyond infinity, a public health plan would make the most sense for me and a whole lot of other people. But it seems that we must spend an infinity waiting while the corporate, governmental and financial institutions, building barricades around their interests, scramble to maintain a system of wealth for the few at the expense of the rest of us.
Monday, September 07, 2009
Many years ago, when AWATS was first released, Todd's tour stopped at the Civic and I was fortunate to get a really good seat for that event. Highlight of the performance was Todd singing "Neverland" while perched on top of a towering stack of amps.
AWATS is my favorite of all Todd's work. It contains amazing variety, with Todd at his most clever and beautiful in terms of musical composition. From "Da Da Dali" to "Zen Archer" to "Rock and Roll Pussy" -- the music and lyrics captivate without a single let down moment. "Sometimes I Don't Know What to Feel" is astounding in its emotional liquidity, the song flows over and under you, and you just don't want it to end, but then the recording morphs into something else and you have to finish it and play it all over again to recapture the feelings and images swirling in your head.
I did play that album endlessly, using it as musical inspiration for countless drawings. This was the album that made me "see" music in a visual way and forever after AWATS, music was integral to my creative process as a visual artist. It wasn't just background sound. Musical notes and the interweaving contrasts and harmonies all began to take on a visual life within my work. AWATS also taught me gobs about color and not just lessons learned from staring at the album cover while listening to the recording for the umpteenth time.
So when I heard that Todd was going to be in Akron for two days, I got online at the start of ticket sales and managed to get a row Z ticket for opening night. Months later, and the performance date was here! It was wonderful arriving at the Civic last night, as the sold-out audience flowed through downtown headed toward the brightly lit marquee. This was the way it used to be and ought to be again! What great concerts used to be held regularly at the Civic! 'Twas there I saw the Kinks for the very first time, as well as Todd and many more greats of the day. Let us hope that more and more artists find their way back here.
Opening for Todd was Utopia! Totally unexpected, and what a soaring run through favorite tunes! "Abandon City," "Back on the Street," "Last of the New Wave Riders," "Libertine," "Hammer in My Heart" -- all made me want to run home and pull out the original albums. Yes, vinyl albums, because I never got these on CD. Some I know I bought on cassette tape and played them until the tapes choked. Guess I'll be doing a big download festival of Utopia tunes later today. Roger Powell and Kasim Sultan sounded as good as ever last night! What a treat!
My pix from the concert are not the greatest, as I don't have professional photo gear, but a few shots came out well enough to give an idea of what the concert was like.
AWATS opening with an International Feel.
You Don't Have to Camp Around:
Battery running out of juice and I end up with this hallucinatory vision of Todd at the finale:
Let's all sing "Just One Victory" one more time!
Saturday, September 05, 2009
We were given a demonstration of how the company develops their work and a sneak preview of their latest project called "Gilgamesh" which is, in case you didn't know, one of the oldest stories on record. The ensemble have been immersed in their Frankenstein project for over two years now, so it was fascinating to see them working with source material so far removed from Mary Shelley and those surrounding her summer of ghost stories.
Cheers to the company for consistently inviting audiences in to respond to their works in progress. I remember seeing Frankenstein in its infancy, then watching various performances of it over the course of the past two years. By the final weekend of the Play Festival, the actors reached greater depths than ever before, while the flow of the piece was nothing short of electrifying.
The festival ended with a lovely party in honor of Mary Shelley's birthday. A fantabulous time was had by all! Let's do it again next year!
Sunday, August 23, 2009
We've been hitting the dog park at peak times the past few days. Today was huge -- dogs and humans of all shapes and sizes! A veritable Dogstock, a gathering of representatives of the many canine clans.
Some folks were settled at the various benches chatting, while their dogs made their rounds. Other humans were scattered about the park, as dogs swirled around them. Hamlet's mode is to check everyone out and then find one dog to play with, preferably a puppy or any dog that likes to run and play. Doesn't matter how many dogs are running about the park, Hamlet wants one best buddy to romp with.
He's very adept at avoiding conflict, going into Mr Submissive poses when aggressive dogs get too dominant. He'll either roll over on his back to show his literal lack of balls or run behind a bench or throw himself into a down in the grass, his sudden stillness confounding his aggressors. Upon arrival today, a big black dog started following Hamlet around, barging in between him and any potential playmates.
I remembered this dog from earlier in the summer. "Gertrude" (name changed to protect the innocent) had fixated on Hamlet and kept bowling him over. Gertrude's human was armed with a spray bottle, chasing this dog all over the park, spraying it and yelling at it. Intermittently, the human would catch up with Gertrude and force her down onto the ground with some sort of Vulcan dog-pinch. I'd never seen such bizarre dog handling strategies, which obviously were not working at all. Eventually, I realized that this human was operating under the outdated assumption that dogs should be handled as if they were wolves and should be sprayed with vinegar and given regular "alpha-rolls" to teach them who is "leader of the pack."
Gertrude's human didn't have a spray bottle today, and so was forced to run around after the dog helplessly calling after it "no" and "stop." I heard the human say to a companion that Gertrude probably thought Hamlet was a member of her "pack" and that is why she was chasing him ("bullying" would be a more appropriate word) around. Gertrude was one wound-up aggressive .. er .. bitch and I'm sure my expression began to reflect my opinion of her owners, as they finally wrestled a leash on her and got her out of the park -- lightening the mood of everybody there, especially young Hamlet.
After an hour or so of Dogstock, we departed for home and supper. Hamlet was not ready to rest though, so we went out back to do some runs through our new "Agility in a Bag" set up. Yes, you too can set up an agility course in your back yard, even in a small yard like ours. I found the equipment online and ordered it to help increase training opportunities as fall brings a change in schedule for this human and her dog. Back to school means that training opportunities must be creatively inserted into the day. With our own hurdles and tunnels set up in the backyard, Hamlet and I can practice agility at morning, noon and night! Below you see Hamlet as a blur of action leaping across a hurdle. The cue is "hup!"
When I unpacked the set, the first piece that sprang out of the box was the tunnel. I set it down on the floor and Hamlet was instantly going in and out of it. It has an attachable chute so it can be used as the official "Tunnel" or "Chute" obstacle. I will probably give into temptation and get a nice long tunnel to use out at my mom's house. She has a lovely big protected yard area where I can set everything up at proper intervals.
I set up the weave poles inside the house, so that in order for Hamlet to reach the kitchen from the living room, he has to go through the weave poles. I figure a week of doing that -- many times a day -- should imprint the pattern into his body and brain. In a week or so, I'll try taking off the guide wires and see if he's got it. It just took a bit of turkey to get him to go through the weave path the first time and after three times through that way, he was going through on cue for a treat at the end of the poles. That was last night. Today, he automatically takes the weave pole route when going to and from the living room.
Here Hamlet poses at the end of a weave run. He's so good at posing. Just a simple "stand" and "stay" and he remains focused on the camera until the picture is snapped and he's given the "OK" release.
And a final shot, rear view, showing him on the twisting path from living room to kitchen.
Check out the the week's activities:
Join in the fun at PLAY! the Akron International Festival of Alternative Theatre. The schedule for the final week is:
Monday, August 24, at 7:30pm in Studio 194, Guzzetta Hall, New World Performance Lab will present an open rehearsal demonstrating the initial phase of their work on Gilgamesh, the ancient epic. Tickets are $5. Free for University of Akron students.
Wednesday, August 26, at 7pm in Studio 194, Guzzetta Hall, in celebration of UNESCO"s Year of Grotowski, join NWPL's co-artistic directors Jairo Cuesta and James Slowiak, co-authors of the book Jerzy Grotowski, for the screening of a recently released film concerning Grotowski's life and work followed by a discussion of the Polish master director.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday August 27-29 at 8pm in Sandefur Theatre, Guzzetta Hall, NWPL's internationally acclaimed production of Frankenstein returns for three more performances. If you haven't seen this production, don't miss it. If you have seen it, see it again and bring your friends. Critics have called it "a showcase of the actor's craft," amazing, provocative, and compelling.
PLAY! ends on Sunday August 29 with a "Friendraiser" in celebration of Mary Shelley's birthday! For information, call 330-867-3299.
For other tickets: online at www.BrownPapterTickets.com or 1-800-838-3006.
Come out and PLAY! All performances are on the campus of The University of Akron.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Megan has created a program from the songs of Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Kurt Weill. It is a tribute to the journeys made by immigrants to this country early in the 20th century. According to the program notes, " This work is a love letter to my grandparents -- themselves immigrants and the children of immigrants. It was from their living room stereos and kitchen radios that I first heard the remarkable melodies of these four men." Stairway to Paradise can be seen again at 8 PM on Saturday, August 22. Sandefur theatre is located in U of A's Guzzetta Hall.
Also on this weekend is a piece suitable for younger audiences and their older relatives. The Beetlebug and the Bad Worm is created and performed by Faye Hargate and Jeremy Paul of Cleveland's Theatre Ninjas. The perform "original works and interpretations that draw on elements of film, dance, improvisation, physical theater, graphic novels and music." Looking forward to seeing their work Saturday at 6 PM and Sunday at 2 PM in the Daum Theatre, Kolbe Hall, U of A.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Wow, weekend one of the P L A Y International Festival of Alternative Theatre is over and I am stuffed full of amazing theatrical experiences.
Frankenstein finds the NWPL cast in top form, the piece has sharpened its glittering edges and draws the audience in to the core of the creative forces that came together in the making of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Having watched this piece develop over the past almost three years, I can appreciate the organic nature of its creation and see that the flow of the acting has never been more precise with nothing wasted.
If you are looking for a scripted version of the Frankenstein novel, this is not the place to find it. You will find an ensemble of actors who push their own and each other's limits beyond anything you might imagine.
And speaking of the imagination, Looking for Alice is NWPL's ongoing children's theatre piece. I usually have problems with adaptations of Lewis Carroll's masterpiece. This one stayed true to the master of children's fantasy. A cast of five portray the key figures in Alice's adventure underground via the rabbit hole. Again, the acting here is superb. Each character is clearly delineated and utterly charming! Costumes, sets and props were delightfully rendered. I understand this production is ready for touring and available for schools and community groups. Contact NWPL for further information.
Next weekend, P L A Y continues with two different productions. Frankenstein will return for three final performances on August 27, 28 & 29. Hope to see you there!
The Beetlebug and the Bad Worm August 22 at 6PM and August 23 at 2PM in Daum Theatre, Kolbe Hall, ($10, $5 under 18 and UA students)
Friday, August 14, 2009
New World Performance Lab rocked the audience for Thursday night's P L A Y Festival opening. The applause was long and very appreciative. Lots of great buzz going round the lobby after the show while waiting for the actors to emerge.
The women of the company emerged in fabulous cocktail wear, ready for the opening night reception. Drop whatever you are doing and go make reservations to see what these women do in Frankenstein: a De-monstration. Truly unforgettable mind-blowing work!
Below are from left to right: Megan Elk, Debora Totti and Jamie Hale.
Then on to Bricco's for the after show opening night social event. What a wine list! And very nice buffet as well. Company members mingled with friends, fans and physical theatre aficionados. That's Chris Buck, Frankenstein himself, enjoying a well-deserved liquid refreshment.
Below: Jairo Cuesta, undoubtedly the greatest actor I've ever been privileged to see perform, has a quiet conversation with a NWPL patron in a dark corner of Bricco's. Jairo is a master acting teacher as well, who has profoundly influenced my own teaching. My students spend hours and hours each year working the space and their awareness within it doing exercises I learned from taking many workshops over the years with Jairo.
Tonight at 8 PM -- Frankenstein, a De-Monstration, Sandefur Theatre in Guzzetta Hall, U of A
Saturday at 10 AM -- Looking for Alice, Terrence Cranendonk's adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic tale. In the Daum Theatre, Kolbe Hall, U of A