My Least Favourite Shakespeare Play

The reference to Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the title of ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ is blatantly obvious. 

The irony is that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is probably my least favourite play from among Shakespeare’s works. As I often explain to my students who think it’s romantic and all about love, it’s really not. It’s a tragedy that demonstrates what happens when people do stupid things on impulse and don’t stop to think about the consequences of their actions.

They’re teenagers. They met on Sunday, and by Thursday, they’re dead.

And, as Shakespeare points out in the epilogue, they end up that way because their families both prioritise their stupid feud over the happiness and the future of their children.  How much more like a badly plotted teenage soap opera could it be?

It’s more of an anti-Romance, if you ask me. They’re not in love, they’re infatuated. Romeo really is quite an idiot, and as for fickle… how quickly did he forget his passion for Rosaline the moment he met Juliet? If you ask me, Rosaline dodged a bullet – or a dagger, or a vial of poison, there. 

To be fair, the fault isn’t Shakespeare’s. He based his play on an old story that was very popular back in the day, which was a brilliant marketing move. The other factor that made his play such a hit was the beauty of the language with which it is written. There’s nothing at all wrong with the writing: it’s magnificent. Nothing can convince me otherwise.  If anyone could give a story about two silly teenagers from equally silly families another 600 years plus in terms of longevity, he was the man for the job.

So, is it odd that I’ve used ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as one of the starting points of my story? Not really, because I wanted my story to be something of an anti-Romance, too. 

‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ draws on ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of ‘Rapunzel’ as starting points, then twists and tangles them together to create a mashup of the two stories with a very different ending. Romeo is still an idiot, it still ends in tragedy… but it’s a completely new story. It’s medieval fantasy, laced with faint traces of my subversive sense of humour. 

I like to think of it as the story that Shakespeare and the Brothers Grimm never told. 
But I bet if they’d thought of it, they would have. 

***

A Rose By Any Other Name is available for preorder.

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Being Fontist.

I am a person who takes others at face value. I don’t immediately classify someone as pretty or ugly, gay or straight, progressive or conservative (unless, either way, they are hateful or prejudiced – then the deal is off) , black or white or some other colour, blonde or brunette, or anything else. I don’t care if they’re plain or fancy, nor do I care if they’re pretty or not. I try to take each person as they are and let their integrity speak louder than their features. I like to get to know them before I make any decisions about them.

When it comes to fonts, however, i am nowhere near as open-minded. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of fonts I like, and many others that I will view with an open mind depending on context and purpose. 
But there ARE two or three fonts I really hate. I refuse to use them. I have handed back an assignment or two, asking for it to be reprinted in a more acceptable typeface. It’s true: I am Fontist. 

I wasn’t raised that way.  We didn’t really need to think about fonts back then. When I was growing up, it seemed as thought books were printed in two, maybe three different standard fonts. From memory, there was something like Times New Roman,  a basic Sans Serif, and possibly another standard typewriter-style serif font. There was never a question of what typeface to submit our work in, because computers weren’t a thing and our school work was all handwritten. When I started university, assignments and essays had to be typed and double-spaced, so I used my parents’ typewriter. Of course, it only got to the typing stage when one or two hand-written drafts had been painstakingly written, proofread, edited, and revised. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad those days are over. I appreciate the ease of writing using my laptop as much as anyone else, and I’m happy for my students to do some – but not all – of their work on their devices. 
My underlying Fontism rears its ugly head, though, when someone hands in an assignment or broadcasts a presentation on the screen that screams “ridiculous font” louder than anything the student is trying to communicate. The same thing happens in meetings and seminars where the important information is obscured by the poor choice of font on the screen or handout. 

You might think I’m overreacting. But consider this: I might read fifty student assignments in less than a week, or sit through twenty five student presentations in two or three days. When their font suggests I shouldn’t be taking their work seriously, that’s a complication neither they nor I need. 

Right at the top of my hate list is Comic Sans. It looks childish, and gets increasingly ridiculous as the size increases, to the point where it is almost impossible for me to take anything printed in that font seriously. It is a font that should never be used for school work of any description by anyone older than six, nor should it be used for slide shows and presentations.  Yes, it is “nice and clear for people to read”, but so are about 3000 other fonts one could choose. If your audience is not entirely in the First Grade, choose something else. 

Another font I hate is Arial. Yes, it is also nice and clear for people to read. It is also entirely bland and unimaginative. Arial is the font equivalent of still having that original iPhone Marimba ring tone from 2008 on your new iPhoneX when you have 2500 different songs on your playlists.  It is the font for lazy people who don’t care how their work looks. It doesn’t take much effort to switch so something equally clear but which looks a lot more polished and professional. In a word: boring. 

The other fonts I really dislike fall into two groups: anything over-decorative and wrongly sized formatting

Over decorative fonts have their place, but trying to read a block of text printed in anything full of swirls and flourishes or trippy lines and shadows will make a teacher’s eyes bleed in less than three minutes. Decorative fonts can work really well for titles, or for a special capital letter or character to start a page or chapter, but they fail miserably for anything that needs to communicate information or arguments clearly and effectively. 

In a similar vein, text printed too small or too large is equally frustrating. If it’s too small and condensed, it’s hard to read and… you guessed it, bleeding eyeballs. At the other end of the equation, students may think they can fool me into believing their 337words meets the 500 word minimum word count if their work is formatted in size 15 Helvetica, but my teacher brain knows better. My teacher brain has been doing this a lot longer than they have. 

So, I guess this is me coming out of the classroom cupboard and acknowledging the ugliness of the deep-seated prejudice that lies deep within me. It is equally as rampant and undeniable as the grammar nerdism that I make no attempt to hide.

Call me fussy. Call me Fontist. I’m okay with that. But don’t call me to complain if I’ve asked your teen cherub to reprint an assignment so that I can read it without tears. Trust me – it’s better that way, and I’ve tried to be nice about it. Well, I’ve probably been nice.. 

Maybe. 

Unless they are a repeat offender. In that case, there are no guarantees. 

Poem: ‘Going to School’ by C.J. Dennis

I learned this poem when I was in 5th grade. My teacher loved poetry sand set us all a poem to memorise and recite. ‘Going to School’ was mine. 

Published in ‘A Book for Kids’ in 1938 with a collection of similarly excellent poems, this is a fun poem with a very musical rhythm and rhyme pattern that are instantly engaging. It conjures images of a time when kids in Australian country schools might ride a horse to school if they loved too far away to walk and didn’t own a bicycle or three. 

Dennis was a man of many talents: in addition to working as a journalist and poet, he also illustrated his own books with delightful pictures that were almost as much fun as the poetry. 

Image: C.J. Dennis working at his desk c.1938 . Public Domain via The State Library of Victoria 

Going to School

Did you see them pass to-day, Billy, Kate and Robin,
All astride upon the back of old grey Dobbin?
Jigging, jogging off to school, down the dusty track-
What must Dobbin think of it – three upon his back?
Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,
Billy holding on behind, his legs out straight.


Now they’re coming back from school, jig, jog, jig.
See them at the corner where the gums grow big;
Dobbin flicking off the flies and blinking at the sun-
Having three upon his back he thinks is splendid fun:
Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,
Little Billy up behind, his legs out straight.

Dennis’ images for ‘Going to School’ from ‘A Book for Kids’
Public Domain via Project Gutenberg

If you’d like a copy of A Book for Kids, Project Gutenberg has it available in a variety of formats, including for Kindle and other eReaders, free of charge. This is a legal download as the copyright on both the work and the illustrations included has expired. 

Shakespeare’s Birthday

Every year on April 23rd, my family celebrates Shakespeare’s birthday with cake. I always do some reading from a play or sonnet, but my husband isn’t so fond of that as he is of the cake, so it’s usually either a solitary activity or one I share with my dog. It’s a well-established fact that Abbey the Labby loves the Bard… and cake.

This year, though, my homage will take the form of several hours of rehearsal for a different comedy – Monty Python’s Spamalot – before I am able to indulge in birthday cake. It does seem fitting that the show is a little bawdy, somewhat irreverent, and absolutely hilarious. 

While the precise date of Shakespeare’s birth was not recorded, the date of his baptism was registered as April 26th, 1564. Because it was traditional for babies to be christened three days after they were born, it is generally accepted that William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd. 

In an ironic twist, Shakespeare died on the same date in 1616. Some people think that is awkward, but I think it’s a pretty cool achievement. I’m not sure how common it is for people to die on their birthday, but one of my grandfathers  did, so it’s a feat that has always been a point of interest for me. 

So, here’s to The Bard, his works, and his legacy.

The Facebook and Instagram Outage Crisis of March 13th, 2019

Despite the crisis that had unfolded overnight as I slept, I woke this morning to find that the sun had risen, gravity still worked, and the earth continued to turn on its axis. 

I had breakfast, got ready for work, and headed into a very busy day. Surprisingly, I found that the work deadlines and professional requirements that were in place yesterday still existed today. 

My students, however, were despondent. 

Them: Facebook is gone! Instagram doesn’t work! 
Me: Imagine how much work you might get done in the meantime!
Them: You’re not very sympathetic. 
Me: And that surprises you because…?
Them: Rolled eyes and sighs. Some lovely moments of dramatic pathos that I shall try to draw on in drama class. 

This left me wondering: what on earth does the world do without Facebook and Instagram? 
It seems the general response is to complain. 

Many of the real social media junkies responded by rushing over to Twitter to complain and commiserate with their followers and the social media world in general. 

In all honesty, some of the responses are pretty funny. 

Others demonstrate that many people are much worse at dealing with this kind of thing than they should be.  
I mean, really, Australia?
Emergency services?
That’s… pathetic.

This one has to be my favourite. It cuts through the whining and combines the sublime and the ridiculous with glorious snark.
Jenny Bean Edwards gets an A+ for World Studies.

Cheer up, folks.
I’m sure Facebook and Instagram and their enormously profitable algorithms will be back soon.

Until then? You may actually be forced to either read a book or have face-to-face conversations with real people.

Alternatively, you can head to twitter and follow me!

Valentines Day Greetings for Couples Who Have Lived Together for a Very Long Time

It’s Valentines Day. 

I know some people make a big deal of it, but that tends to diminish over the years when a couple have been together for a long time. 

As half of one of those couples, I decided to create some attractive yet practical greetings that might come in handy for couples like us. In the interests of quality assurance, these have been road-tested on my husband, who laughed a bit.

You’re welcome to use any or all of these in order to win favor with your beloved, or just for a bit of fun. 

That’s Jo, not Joy.

This weekend we’re attending a family reunion in Anglesea. Just before lunch was served, we sat in a room full of relatives and listened as one of our cousins shared a reflection on relationships among family.

He said, “Think about tthe friendships and relationships you have. Consider the negative, the strained, and the unhealthy…”

“Never mind about the unhealthy,” I muttered. The cousin sitting beside me laughed.

“Can you imagine if they all went Marie Kondo on me?” I continued.

“Does she bring me joy?”
“No, she brings sarcasm, snark, inappropriate humour and painful honesty.”

Seriously, I’d be here with maybe three people.

Six Weeks Post-Op Post.

Current Status: My neurosurgeon is happy, and so am I.

Today I saw my neurosurgeon for my six week post-surgery check up.

The short story is that he is extremely pleased with how I have healed and the way in which I have managed my recovery.

He showed me the MRI scan that prompted him to have me sent to Melbourne for surgery. Holy Toledo, I had no idea a disc would make such a mess when it ruptured. There is a very good reason they used the word “debris” to describe it.

He said the pain I still have is normal for the healing I still need to do, especially given that I am also dealing with fibromyalgia which can add to the inflammation of absolutely anything in the body at a moment’s notice. I still have to rest and pace myself, but any pain from the surgery should be gone within three months, which is good to know.

There are, however, some things he has advised me not to do, in the interests of maintaining my other lower lumbar discs as they are a little degraded. No gardening/digging, no vacuuming or cleaning the loo, minimal bending to the floor and no heavy lifting. If something causes discomfort, it is to be avoided so that I preserve the other discs.

All in all, the outcomes are very positive because a. I can walk, work, drive, and be independent, and b. I don’t actually like doing any of the things the surgeon told me not to do.

So, this is most likely going to be my last “update” on my adventures with Explodo-Disc. It’s nice to be able to say that it should be all onward and upward from now on. I’m looking forward to that.

Current Status: Thumbs Up!

A riveting précis of my return to work.

Today I returned to work for the first time after my surgery.
As I left home this morning, I told my husband that I was mostly confident and a little bit afraid.

As it turned out, there was no need for fear and my day went pretty well.

I only had to stop once each way to take a walk and stretch as a break between driving.

I cleared/responded to 93 emails from my inbox that were not messages I could just delete.
I also sent a bunch of emails chasing students for work they hadn’t bothered to hand in while I was away. Some of them actually responded by submitting their work!

Very conscious of keeping my spine healthy by not sitting for too long, and still really only comfortable sitting for about fifteen minutes at a time, I completed all my email and admin tasks using my fancy standing desk, located right behind my regular desk. All I have to do is stand up and turn around.

I also stood while I taught my classes, as I often do anyway.

I know my students were happy to see me because they all asked me not to cough in class again, please. I shrugged and commented, “I have more discs” but they didn’t seem to think that was funny. It was, though, because the one kid with a sense of humour as subversive as mine laughed out loud.

With a strange sense of deja vu, I told the kid who always sniffles to blow his nose, and told the kid who chews with his mouth open to chew with his lips together. On both occasions, all I had to do was say their name. It was almost as though they knew!

I entertained Year 9 with puns. It was just like old times.

I sorted the exams, papers and assignments I have to grade into neat bundles. I plan to start on those tomorrow and hopefullly finish them by the end of the week. It was good to get things organised and leave my desk tidy again so I can make a good start in the morning.

By the time I got home, I was all worn out like a Norwegian Blue parrot after a long squawk, so I embraced my bed and had a lovely little nap for a couple of hours.

Ovetall, my first day back on the job gets a thumbs up.

Hopefully, tomorrow will be just as satisfying! 

What’s In My Head?

A memory that has become a family tradition.

I love a good family story or tradition, especially one that gets etched into the conversation patterns and banter for years to come. A moment of humour or a funny experience becomes part of who we are, both individually and collectively.

One of those stories half belongs to our great friend, Lindsay. He is a super nice person, and we’ve been friends for at least twenty years.

On one particular occasion maybe fifteen years ago, maybe more, he and I were outside doing some work on the farm that my husband and I were living on, and where Lindsay was a regular and most welcome visitor. I can’t remember what were talking about, but I remember this part of the conversation vividly.

We laughed. We told my husband the story. And it stuck. We still “do the routine” at least once a week. It honestly never gets old.

Monday was one of those days. After the lines were said and the laughter was had, I thought for a while, as I have often done before, about how clever a comeback it was.

I also thought about exactly what I am full of. It wasn’t much of a surprise to me when those thoughts began to turn into a poem. That’s what my thoughts do.

You can read the poem titled ‘Full’ at WordyNerdBird Writes.