Sunday, November 30, 2008

Weekend's End

It's been nice having four days off, but tomorrow it's back to the grindstone. As much as I love long weekends, they make going back to work just that much harder. It's not that I was super busy this weekend. I think I just got used to the laziness of the long weekend -- a weekend spent cooking, catching up on things stored on the DVR, enjoying a second Thanksgiving dinner prepared for me (and a small group of friends) by my friend George (who put my turkey to shame!), drinking a fair share of wine, having a rehearsal today for a show I'm working on next weekend*, and running errands. I'm tired, but I jump back into what is sure to be a busy week of teaching, speech practice, and preparing to host a speech tournament of my own in two weeks (not stressing out about that at all!!!).

  • Well, Christmas break is three weeks away!
  • * George's theatre company is doing a one-time performance of Love Letters as a benefit for a local educational foundation. We did this last year when we were working on the show Luv, and the company did Love Letters last February at another venue. For the show, I put together a slide show of complimentary images that underscore the show, which has been an exhausting project. I took the show I did last February (done when I was in the middle of speech season and directing a musical and so didn't have a ton of extra time) and enhanced it and added even more to the show. I'm incredibly proud of it and love how it provides this sort of visual score to the show. I can't wait to debut the new version of the slide show to an audience!

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!

I woke up this morning to a sight that still brings thrills but even more so this year. Over the night, it snowed. There's just something so lovely about looking out a window and seeing that gentle blanket of snow -- snow when it's still untouched by plow or shovel, when it's in its pure, fresh state. This was my first time seeing my backyard with such a blanket, and it's downright beautiful.

There's another reason I was excited to see the snow -- and no, it has nothing to do with snow days. To be honest, as a teacher, I sort of hate snow days, particularly this time of year. Yes, it's nice to get a sudden "lazy day" during this busy time of year, but I inevitably spent a good portion of that day thinking about how this unexpected day off will run roughshod over my lesson plans, how losing that day may prove costly to my goal of finishing Romeo and Juliet before Christmas, how my speech team can't afford to lose that day of practice. Snow days become stess days for me as I get back to work and struggle to get my plans back on track.

No, the reason why I was excited for this snow has to do with my car and my garage. You see, until this year, I'd never had a garage in which to park my car. I always parked in driveways or on the street and would inevitably wake up on mornings such as this and think, "Crap, I have to go scrape off the car!" I would spend 15, 20 minutes scraping and brushing and freezing as I tried to remove all the snow and ice off my car. But not this year. This year, I have a garage. While people around me will spend their Sunday mornings scarping, I'll just pop right into my cozy, clean car and happily drive off without a care in the world. Granted, when bigger snows come, I will have the new "joy" of shoveling my driveway, but I'll take that over the scraping anyday. (Well, check back with me in a couple weeks and maybe my story will be slightly different.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Let the Feasting Begin!

Tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year. I love Thanksgiving. I love getting up on the early side and watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. I always get a little teary when the Rockettes show up because that was my dad's favorite part of the parade. Every time I see them move into the kick line, I can hear my dad's delighted exclamations (the man was a sucker for a good kick line) and I'm reminded how much I miss the old man. I love seeing the performances from Broadway shows.

At some point during the morning, I drive down to the convenience store and grab the Thanksgiving day paper and some donuts so that we can pore over the Black Friday sales and strategize where we might go the next day. (Yes, I DO brave the crowds. It's like the frickin' Super Bowl!! You just need to have a clear agenda and pursue that agenda with confidence and aggression)

Best of all, I love preparing the Thanksgiving feast. I love to cook. LOVE IT. I love the feeling of making a delicious meal and sharing it with others. Thanksgiving is the high holiday for people who love to cook. I've spent weeks pondering and planning the menu, taking requests, tweaking last year's menu here and there. My mashed potatoes are amazing. My sister loves this cornbread/cheese/corn casserole I make. I love my homemade mushroom stuffing. The only thing I wimp out on is dessert. I'm not sure I'm brave enough to tackle pie crust (I know it's a real art) and by the time I make everything else, I'm a little too tired to then move onto pies or cakes or whatever else. I let the nice folks at the Hy-Vee bakery handle dessert for me this year. Maybe at Christmas, when my cooking is a little less ambitious, I'll make a great dessert.

Of course, the real purpose of tomorrow is not about parades and shopping and cooking. It's about giving thanks. I think often about the pilgrims who inspired this holiday and what they had to endure as they set up their homes in this strange new land. Their courage and perserverence paved the way for countless generations of immigrants to come here and make this their home -- and eventually our home. I am descended from those first pilgrims (from John and Priscilla Alden) as well as Irish immigrants who fled famine and Swedish immigrants looking for a better life. I am thankful for their courage and sacrifice that ultimately gave me a pretty decent life. I'm thankful for the friends who sustain me with their love and humor. I'm thankful for a career that challenges and fulfills me and allows me to make the world a better place each day in my own small way. I'm thankful for the creative outlet theatre has provided. And I'm thankful for the chance to share my meaningless little ramblings with all of you.

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2008

"There Art Thou Happy"

While I've been busy getting back into the swing of speech season with my team, I've also been able to relax into my favorite unit of the year -- teaching Romeo and Juliet. Each year, I take classes full of reluctant freshmen by the hand and introduce them to the glory of the Bard. Just about every student enters the R&J unit with trepidation. Let's face it: the dude has a bad rep. Add to that the fact that I often have classes full of students who don't treasure reading and theatre the way I do, who don't, quite frankly, treasure learning the way I do. It can be a struggle as we start the unit.

Here's the thing that people sometimes don't realize but that I figured out right away the first year I taught R&J. Shakespeare is filthy! His plays are full of double entendres, dirty jokes, and scandalous goings-on. He wrote for his commoner audience -- the exact kind of audience a lot of my students would have been back in 1592. I realized that all the kids needed was to have the poetry translated for them and they would discover the Shakespeare I loved -- the naughty poet.

Examples of said naughtiness? Well, I'm glad you asked.

In the very first scene of R&J, the servants of the Capulet and Montague houses get into a huge fight in "downtown" Verona. The cause of this fight? As Abraham and Balthasar are walking by, Sampson bites his thumb. The kids are always confused by this. "Who cares if this dude is biting his thumb?" a student might ask. That's when I explain to them that biting your thumb at someone was the 16th Century equivalent of giving someone the middle finger today. The kids burst into laughter as suddenly the exchange that follows makes sense -- hilarious sense.

Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
I do bite my thumb, sir.
Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
[Aside to GREGORY] Is the law of our side, if I sayay?
No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but Ibite my thumb, sir.

And they've now learned a great new insulting gesture!

We later get to the conversation between Benvolio and Romeo where we learn that Romeo is depressed. The kids seem to grasp right away that Romeo's depression stems from romantic problems, but together we dig deeper to discover the real cause of the lady's rejection of Romeo.

Well, in that hit you miss: she'll not be hit
With Cupid's arrow; she hath Dian's wit;
And, in strong proof of chastity well arm'd,
From love's weak childish bow she lives unharm'd.
She will not stay the siege of loving terms,
Nor bide the encounter of assailing eyes,
Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold:
O, she is rich in beauty, only poor,
That when she dies with beauty dies her store.
Then she hath sworn that she will still live chaste?
She hath, and in that sparing makes huge waste,
For beauty starved with her severity
Cuts beauty off from all posterity.
She is too fair, too wise, wisely too fair,
To merit bliss by making me despair:
She hath forsworn to love, and in that vow
Do I live dead that live to tell it now.

The problem is that Romeo's lady has taken a vow of chastity. In other words, Romeo's not getting any. Again, once we work through this idea of the lady's chastity and the kids realize what such a vow means, they're once again highly entertained. "So basically, Romeo's horny?" one will ask and, cool teacher that I am, I just nod and say, "Yup."

On top of having the opportunity to hold a class of freshmen in the palm of my hand for 50 minutes each day that we read R&J as they wait eagerly to discover what new naughty gem awaits them in the pages of the play, I also get the joy of reading Shakespeare aloud every day. While I have students assume various roles, I always keep one or two good parts for myself. During the course of the unit, I get the thrill of playing just about every major character in the play -- Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio, the Nurse, the Friar, Lord Capulet. And believe me, I give it my all. The kids were shocked yesterday when I played Lord Capulet and shifted from gracious party host to bullying uncle in the blink of an eye. (I did feel a bit sorry for the poor kid playing Tybalt who had to be on the receiving end of "my" fury) It's times like these when I stop and marvel, "Damn, they PAY me to do this."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Missive from Speechopolis

Fear not, dear readers, I am still out here in the middle of the corn toiling away. Although it's been a week since my last post, I'm okay. I've been fighting a bit of writer's bloc, at a loss of anything particlarly deep or profound or entertaining to put out there. In addition, I've just been super busy trying to manage my speech team.

When I took over as coach of the team 2 years ago, I inherited a relatively small team of about 10 kids. As assistant coach, I'd worked with the kids and felt like I had a pretty good handle on how to run a team on my own. Of course, I didn't take into account that I would not have an assistant. (My term as assistant coach was mostly an "apprentice" period to prepare me for taking over the team when the head coach retired. It was our clever scheme to make sure that the team would be passed onto me and not onto a new hire.) I also didn't take into account the fact that the team might grow. Last year, the team was about 15 kids strong. This year, we're up to 20. So the team has doubled in 2 years. And there's little old me spending a good 2-3 hours after school every night trying to groom those 20 kids into award-winning prose readers and dramatic interpreters and impromptu speakers and more. I'm exhausted! And the season is only 2 weeks old!!!
Of course, the young season has already provided its share of tears, drama, and laughter. I've already shared the story of Jodi, my homeless student, who debuts her piece this weekend, who cried when I told her the speech team would pay for her speech team t-shirt. There's Malik, one of the team's star seniors who had a slight breakdown at his debut last weekend, putting pressure on himself to top last season's success (which included being the only member of the team to break into finals at Sectionals). There's Matthew, one of our "newbies" who, in his own case of stage fright and worrying he would forget his memorized piece during performance, wrote it on his hands -- and then flashed his hands, covered in blue ink, to the judges. There's Emily, another "newbie" who is trying her hand at impromptu speaking. Emily's first speech that she practiced with me was roughly one minute long. For her second speech a day or two later, her topic was "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," a proverb she clearly had never heard before judging by the speech she delivered that involved her rambling about tame birds and wild birds and somehow devolved into a discussion of petting dogs and the need to wash your hands afterwards. Emily is very sweet and earnest but it's clear she's lacking in exposure to culture and vocabulary. (A more recent practice involved her relating the plot of a book she'd read for a book report where a young woman was raped and "was really not happy about it.") I've recommended she start keeping a journal where she writes down books and stories she's read, to start spending time on the internet reading about historical figures and sayings. I even recommended she spend some time on SparkNotes (which caused one of my juniors to gasp in horror) to learn about some more "literary" novels than the ones she's reading for her book reports. There's no way this kid could probably handle reading Anna Karenina, but she may be able to handle the SparkNotes for it -- and add some intellectual heft to her speeches that they might not otherwise have.
This Saturday, I'm taking all 20 kids to a tournament just outside Peoria. For some, it may be the start of a successful season. For others, it could be an ego-shattering experience. But through it all, I have to remain the rock and keep my own ego and competitive spirit in check -- something that's easier said than done, I know.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Kids Are Alright. (Well, at least the speech kids are)

As many of you know, in addition to being an English teacher and drama director, I'm also coach of my school's speech team. I love my extracurricular duties because it allows me to really connect with my kids in an entirely different way and really feel the difference I'm making in a more immediate way. My speech and drama kids are a terrific group of kids -- very funny and loyal. I jokingly call them my minions, but it's sort of sadly true. I have kids who just come into my room after school to hang out. They're pretty devoted to me -- and I'm pretty devoted to them.

The nice thing about my kids is, while they're a very tight group, they're also very open to newcomers. They're excited when new kids join the team and are so kind about helping them out, even if that new kid is technically their "competition" in a particular event. I'm really lucky that they're so supportive, and I've never felt luckier than I did today.

Backtrack about 2 weeks. I was in my classroom before school when a young woman walked in. Jodi was dressed in that sort of punk/emo/goth look that kids sport nowadays with the Nightmare Before Christmas t-shirt over a short skirt and striped tights and Chucks. She had been a student at our school before but had moved this year, only to come back. She told me that she wanted to join speech team, so I gave her a list of events and asked her what she thought she might like. She picked an event where I had an opening (and even already had a script cut and ready to go), took the script I gave her, signed up for practice times, and went on her merry way. Jodi came in for her practice today. A couple other kids were in the room waiting for their times to practice and so they sat and waited and listened while Jodi practiced her rather tough monologue, a cutting from Blackbird by David Harrower.

After her practice, Jodi asked me about this weekend's tournament -- what time we'd be leaving, when we'd be getting back, and what to bring. I said, "You're responsible for your own meals, so you'll need to bring some money for lunch or just pack a lunch."

Jodi's face fell as she said, "Oh. That might be a problem. You see, I'm homeless. I live at Starting Point." (Starting Point is the local homeless shelter)

Before I could even say a word, Rachel (whom you may remember as my super AD from The Matchmaker) jumped in and said, "Oh, don't worry. I always bring a TON of food*. We've got you covered. You won't need a thing!"

It was all I could do to stop myself from hugging Rachel, who can sometimes me a little blunt and a little lacking in tact and doesn't always think before she speaks. Had those words come from Katrina, who was also standing right there and whose father is a minister, I wouldn't have thought a thing about it since Katrina is probably one of the nicest people in the school. But for Rachel to show that kind of generosity . . . that kid's going to be all right. They're all going to be all right.

* Note: Rachel's statement BARELY qualifies as hyperbole. She packs for a speech tournament like she's going on a yearlong cruise around the world -- backpacks with multiple changes of clothes, food, blankets, games, etc. I had to give her the talk about how since we were taking a smaller bus this weekend, she was going to have to pack a little less thoroughly.

Monday, November 10, 2008

This post brought to you by the letter "M"

(With apologies to Sgt. Pepper):

It was 39 years ago today that Big Bird asked us to come and play . . .

On November 10, 1969, Sesame Street made its debut and changed the face of children's television and education itself. Generations of children have since grown up learning the alphabet , numbers , manners , and picking out the freaks in a crowd with the help of a happy band of furry, fuzzy Muppets. We've laughed along with the sneaky antics of Ernie, craved cookies along with Cookie Monster, and felt the power of unconditional love and friendship courtesy of Big Bird.

The initial goal of Sesame Street was to provide educational opportunities to inner city children who didn't have access to the sorts of opportunities that middle and upper class suburban children enjoyed. Sesame Street, while a friendly neighborhood, was clearly a bit "ghetto," giving inner city kids something with which they could relate more so than the cozy cottage where Mr. Rodgers lived. In addition, those children could see faces that looked like them. Sesame Street was populated with black, Hispanic, Native American, and white kids -- a rarity for television in 1969.

The show clearly exceeded its own goals, not only reaching its intended inner city kids but pretty much every kid in America. Within a few years, the Sesame Street characters were a dominant force in children's television. Brilliant marketing took the characters from our television sets and into our homes whether via books, Colorforms, dolls, Speak-n-Says, disco albums, and more. The characters went on tour. I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Cookie Monster live at Six Flags in the summer of 1976, and let me just say that you have not experienced the magic of "C is for Cookie" until you've seen it live! Of course, that excitement was nothing compared to what I experienced two years later when I saw the crew live . . .and on ice!

I've often thought that a lot can be revealed about a person by his/her choice of favorite Sesame Street characters. Cookie Monster fans clearly suffer from eating disorders. Big Bird fans are kindhearted but perhaps a bit naive. Ernie fans are mischevious. Fans of the Count have OCD. Those who prefer Grover are perhaps more imaginative and creative. And those who love Oscar, while a bit misanthropic, are intelligent and fiercely independent.

Of course, I am an Oscar fan. That grouch cracks my shit up!

So today, fellow Gen-X'ers and Y'ers and Millenials, take a moment to remember those kindly Muppets who taught us about the alphabet and how to count and, yes, how to recognize the freaks. Sure, we have crappy attention spans, but at least we can count!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Party's Over

I am either a genius or an idiot when it comes to scheduling. In September, I made the decision to have our fall play at school fall three days after Election Day. I have to admit I didn't think about the fact that Election Day would fall during Tech Week; I just looked at the dates that would work best in terms of avoiding scheduling conflicts for my music students who participate in IMEA (Illinois Music Educators Association) and the start of speech season. The date sort of chose itself. Who knew things would get so stressful?

I mean, I knew I'd be obsessed with the election. I'm a political junkie. OF COURSE I'd be obsessed with the election. I just don't usually suffer from such high levels of anxiety connected with the election.

I didn't account for the amount of stress this show would bring. With the last-minute casting changes, the squirrely freshmen, and other issues going on, this show seemed to carry more stress than usual. During tech week, we had to make yet another casting change. A senior who had a pretty small part (let's call him Zach) "decided" not to attend the first two days of tech week, and the last time I HAD seen him in rehearsal, he had no clue what his lines were. I consulted with my AD Rachel and gave her a choice: she could step in and play Zach's part since she knew the lines and the blocking pretty well (she stepped in and played the part the first night of tech that Zach missed) OR we could ask Will (whom you may remember as the person I'd tapped to be the understudy when Ethan was missing rehearsals left and right) to play the part. She chose to ask Will first and said she would do it if Will didn't want to. She said, "Will's a senior, so he should have the opportunity first." Will took the part and we all relaxed into that challenge being met.

Our first two tech rehearsals were pretty shaky. Lines were still a struggle, particularly for Ethan. After the second day, I had to kind of lay the smack down, which I hate to do. I'm usually a pretty supportive, nurturing director, so it's hard on me to get tough and "yell" at the kids, but I had to. And boy, did it make a difference. The third day of tech, the kids came in and suddenly the show was there -- lines were smoothed out, characters were there, I suddenly had a tremendous amount of optimism. It's hard to remember that sometimes, the kids do respond better to tougher love. As one of my students said to me after I delivered the "get it together" lecture, "Despite your harsh words, we know you still love us."

Now that the acting was taken care of, we suddenly started developing technical issues. (At this point, I should probably mention that the "drama department" at my school is essentially a one-person department. It's me and the kids that do everything. We have no tech director or anything like that. I design the set, the kids and I build it, light it, give it sound, etc. That has been probably the hardest transition for me coming from collegiate and community theatre where there's this huge support staff there to help take some of the burden off your shoulders.) On Monday, the boy who had volunteered to run the follow spot (let's call him Douche, no let's call him Greg) told me that he couldn't be at Friday night's performance because he had to go to football awards. I tried to impress upon him that a PERFORMANCE should take precedence over awards, but he steadfastly refused and actually was quite nasty about it. I told him that he would not be allowed to work on any more shows if he abandoned this one and he said that was fine. It actually ended up maybe being for the best because we found that we could not plug in the follow spot without blowing a fuse and losing our sound system. For about a half hour before tech rehearsal on Tuesday, we had no sound and I was in a slight panic, but we managed to get the fuse located and flipped and sound came back and I nearly collapsed in tears of relief.

So we were cruising along fine . . . until Thursday. We came into Thursday already at a disadvantage. It was parent/teacher conference night, so I had already told the kids I would have to be in and out of rehearsal because I had conferences scheduled. On top of that, the kids normally use my classroom and another teacher's classroom as dressing rooms (since we have no actual dressing room space). Since we were going to have parents in our classrooms, I felt like we had no choice but to run rehearsal without costumes since I couldn't have parents in my room (or the other teacher's room) with clothes lying all over. (I have one girl who can't quite seem to grasp the notion that maybe leaving her bra lying around isn't a good idea -- I had visions of parents walking into a room that looked like a tornado had hit it and there would be Cassie's bra right in the middle of it all.) We started the first scene and THAT'S when I remembered the anticipated absence slip I'd signed the day before for Julie, who has a very tiny part in the first scene. Rachel the Super AD was upstairs taking a Latin quiz. I was in the back of the auditorium without a script. Thinking she would be helping, Cassie came walking onstage saying what she remembered of Julie's few lines. Seeing Cassie playing the part made Ethan, Brian, and Will all start to laugh.

So the giggles had arrived.

They shook them off until the second scene. This scene takes place in the hat shop. We have a "house" flat that we are able to fly in and out for scenes like this. A house flat that's probably been flown in and out of scenes for close to 30 years. The door to the house is often sticky and hard to open. The boy who has to open the door towards the beginning of the scene sometimes has to hit it pretty hard to get it to open. Thursday, he hit the door, it opened, and then it proceeded to fall out of the flat, frame and all. My sound board operator (Michael) and I sped down the aisle and up onto the stage as another actor (Malik) tried to hold it up. (Malik is a tiny, thin boy -- it was like a toothpick trying to hold up a boulder). While the kids continued through the scene, Michael, Rachel, and I tried to figure out how to repair this door. Needless to say, this was a huge distraction, and the two freshmen in the scene took this as an opportunity to goof off.
The floodgates were open.
We had yet another set malfunction during the second act. By this point, the time had come for me to leave for conferences. I was distraught, knowing I was leaving a rehearsal that was completely off the rails. I thought about sending them all home, but I ultimately decided that they needed to at least run through the lines one last time before we opened the next night. The rumor is that Rachel and Michael practiced a lot of tough love -- going so far as telling them they couldn't leave until they at least did the curtain call without any mistakes.
I walked into Friday a little nervous. Could we shake off the craziness of Thursday (and the whole week) and put on a good show? My predecessor would be in the audience that night, the person who had mentored me and supported me and lobbied for me to be his successor. I couldn't bear the thought of him seeing a sloppy show. Theatre friends of mine were coming to see the show. I couldn't bear the thought of them seeing a sloppy show. Parents, the principal, the superintendent of schools . . . all there.
Of course, I'm sure you know how this story ends. The show was . . . . terrific. The kids came together and created a fabulous show, full of life and laughter. They remembered their lines (or covered well when they skipped stuff). They handled the physical humor with style. The people seemed to love it.
I told the kids during green room that doing The Matchmaker has long been a dream of mine. It's one of my favorite plays and even though my original dream had involved playing Dolly myself, directing it was dream enough. During green room that night, I thanked them for helping make my dream come true. And they really did.
And now . . . on to speech season!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

One Step Forward, One Step Back

Well, last night was a momentous night in American history. I can honestly say that I wasn't sure I would ever live to see the day when a non-white male would be elected president. Sure, I sat in my living room four years ago watching Obama's star-making convention speech and said, "That guy is going to be president," but there was this little voice inside that said, "Come on, Mel. Get real. This country will never elect a black guy president! We can't even seem to manage to elect an intelligent one!" But here I sit, four years later, still getting a little emotionally overwhelmed at the thought of President Obama. Damn. Doesn't that sound great? President Obama. (And hey, don't forget about Vice President Biden.) I was so immensely proud of this country for rising above bigotry and nastiness to elect a good, intelligent, decent man to be our leader, for writing a new chapter in our history books where race is concerned, for voting wisely and hopefully rather than stupidly and fearfully. I still believe that this country is a great nation, but we have become mired in complacency and arrogance to such an extent that our beauty is often obscured by ugliness.

Unfortunately, the battle for decency and acceptance still must wage on. One vote does not put an end to the ugliness of bigotry. On the same night that we, as a nation, elected a black man to the presidency, a portion of us also decided to deny basic civil rights to a large segment of the population. California voters approved Proposition 8 which bans gay marriage. (California, I thought so much better of you than that!) Arkansas voters voted to deny unmarried couples the ability to adopt a child, a law clearly targeted at gay couples. America's intolerance towards homosexuality is perhaps our next great frontier in fighting bigotry. The "us and them" mentality that laws like this promote is shameful and just as harmful and divisive as the Jim Crow laws of a century ago. Just because I won the "sexuality lottery," I get to marry, adopt, and enjoy privileges that seem so basic that I don't even think about them. Meanwhile, my gay friends are told to make do with civil unions and other options that are separate from my options yet not quite equal. It shocks me to my core that we have decided that we can legislate love and place some sort of value judgment on who our hearts choose to love.

And so the battle wages on to keep striving for that more perfect union. There's still more mountain to climb.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yes, We Did

There's not a lot I can say right now as I watch John McCain make his concession speech. I've been crying for about 20 minutes now -- after a night spent getting teary off and on since about 7:00. Words fail me as I consider what tomorrow will bring. Since the convention, U2's "Beautiful Day" has been my "wake-up" track on my alarm clock, inspired by Obama using it as one of his campaign themes. Tomorrow is indeed going to be a beautiful day, and it'll be the first time in a long time where I can wake up secure in the knowledge that hope still lives and thrives in this nation, that wisdom and optimism can be our guide, and that light is starting to glow just ever so slightly at the end of this tunnel. I haven't felt this way since 1992 when I stood on the balcony of my campus apartment, Fleetwood Mac blaring from my stereo, and a glass of champagne in my hand. We did it. We really did it.

Election Day Stress Relief

Like many of you, I'm in a bit of a state of fear/stress/excitement/anxiety/joy -- whatever you want to call it. I woke up this morning with butterflies in my stomach. I walked into the voting booth with tears in my eyes. And I can't stop thinking today about what tonight will hold. Another teacher recommended checking out this site . I spent some time this morning playing around with this and it was a lot of fun and made me feel just a tiny bit less stressed. For total excitement, try the "All States for Obama" option and behold the glory of an entirely blue nation. :)

NOTE: According to my tinkering with the electoral map (starting with a fresh slate, not just building off CNN's projections), the electoral count is Obama 313, McCain 225. I'm eerily good at predicting the scores on Dancing with the Stars (although Brooke and Derek's perfect 30 sort of threw me for a loop last night), so maybe that talent extends to electoral maps!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hail to Alma Mater (I think I've used this title before, but I just can't think of anything better other than to add this sort of meta disclaimer)

So this weekend was my 15th reunion from college. It seems so odd to think that it's been that long since I was in college. Sometimes, it seems like just yesterday. Other times, it seems like a lifetime ago. I often think about that bright-eyed, idealistic girl who received that diploma 15 years ago and wonder what she would think of the life she's living 15 years later. Would she be disappointed? Happy? I wonder if I did right by her -- and if she did right by me.

Homecoming is such a weird phenomenon -- a time steeped in nostalgia and revisionism. Suddenly, you find yourself having these long conversations with people that you barely spoke five words to in the course of the four years you shared the same home. That '93 beside your name is somehow this marker that assures your fellow Homecomers that you are safe, good, and worthy of attention. You find yourself reminiscing and missing things that you loathed when you were living it firsthand -- the classes and buildings you once dreaded are suddenly fond memories. You long to roam the halls and sit in classrooms you once shunned. The hours you spent slaving over term papers or tech week are now joyful little memories -- you laugh at how stressed those little things made you. The cafeteria is a mecca of fine cuisine even though fifteen years ago you spent hours giving in depth critiques of all the culinary crimes that transpired there. Looking back now, you realize you had it made. There was this place on campus where you could just walk in and your food was ready for you. All you had to do was eat it. No cooking, no dishes, no worries.

College is really a magical time, a beautiful transitional phase where you begin shouldering what seem like tremendous burdens and responsibilities but are really these little placebos to get you ready for the real thing. Think about it -- you get four years to read, write, learn about whatever suits your fancy, build wonderful friendships, and partake in one adventure after another. When else in your life do you get such freedom with such a limited amount of responsibility?

Often times at Homecoming, I get caught up in thinking about what I wish I had known then and wonder how it would have changed my life. I wonder what it would have been like had I chosen different classes, a different major. What if I had traveled abroad? What if I had gotten involved in different organizations? Would my college experience have been any richer? Could it have been any richer? In the end, I'm left with few regrets and just the occasional melancholy "what if?" I can live with that.

In the end, Homecoming carries with it a certain amount of reflection but its chief feature is celebratory. It's a time to pay tribute to the place that made you, to pay tribute to the people who helped shape and mold the person you are today -- whether it's professors or friends. It's a time to celebrate the opportunities that this place gave you, the doors it opened, the courage it gave you to go out into the world and try this crazy thing called living. It's a time to celebrate the friends who held your hair when you threw up after one too many shot of Jack Daniels, the friends who were still there to hold your hand as you faced grief, the friends who applauded and cheered for you when you found success, the friends who stood by your side as you faced life's trials and tribulations, joys and sorrows. Homecoming is a time to take stock and spend some time remembering who you are and embracing all those who took that journey with you. In the end, you realize that you were Home all along because those people and experiences have never left you -- and never will.

The Choice is Clear

Hey, Undecided Voters, let Natalie Portman and Rashida Jones help you make that decision the rest of the country made months ago.