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.
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 classroom is busy in a studious kind of way. Students are working on the task I have assigned them, and I am making my way around the room, checking in with each student to see if they need any help or clarification. The tone of the room is positive and the level of noise is low.
I know these kids well enough to know some of their hobbies and interests, which ones love reading, which ones are sporty, and which ones are the introverts who would rather work alone than in a group situation. Suffice to say, I know their names.
As I move toward the first girl in the next row, I quietly whisper to myself, “Don’t call her Susie. Don’t call her Susie. It’s Sharon, not Susie.” In the very next nanosecond, I open my mouth and say, “Hi Susie! How are you going with this assignment?”
Everyone in the room has heard me do it – again. A collective sigh, non-verbal but heavily laced with the essence of “Not again!” can be heard. One kid shakes his head at me in an awkward blend of amusement and newly-refreshed disappointment. It’s fair to say that this has probably happened to him before.
Sharon looks at me with an expression that shows she is torn between saying “I’m Sharon!” and rolling her eyes, pretending I didn’t say it, and answering my question.
“I’m so sorry!” I say. “I know you’re Sharon. I don’t know why that happens. It’s certainly not deliberate. It’s just… my brain. It hates me.”
Sharon nods. Unfortunately, she’s heard this enough times to know it’s true. I give her a pathetic, apologetic smile in response, and go back to talking about the assignment.
How can I remember the details of the Industrial Revolution or talk ad nauseum about the literary qualities of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, and still get some poor kid’s name wrong at least once a day?
It isn’t even always the same student. Occasionally, my brain/mouth coordination goes rogue, and I’ll call Kate ‘Lily’ or ‘Rose’, just to keep things interesting. Just once. Just to make things interesting, I’m sure.
This is one of the things that keeps me humble as a teacher. In my job, I’m required to talk to people and use their names in the classroom. And that very basic thing is something that, from time to time but far too often for comfort, I struggle to do.
The ironic thing is that I’m actually really good at remembering faces and names, where I met someone and conversations I’ve had with them. I have to remind myself that not everyone does that when I’m tempted to take it personally that someone hasn’t remembered my name, or having met me before.
I just don’t understand how the wrong name can come out of my mouth so often in every day situations.
The only thing I can put it down to is the brain fog I have carried since I contracted a delightful tropical disease called Ross River Fever in 2011, and which is also typical of fibromyalgia, which I have been left with as the legacy of the RRF. I know the fog is particularly meddlesome when I’m tired or my pain levels are high, but even at times when I am doing okay and enjoying otherwise greater clarity, some autonomous impulse to self-destruct in front of others fires off and I find myself apologising for calling Tom either ‘Dick’ or ‘Harry’.
I think I’m going to have to just start telling my classes at the beginning of each year or semester that it’s likely to happen, it’s not intentional, and I apologise in advance. It’s either that, or resort to calling everyone “Hey You” or just never using their names, neither of which is a terribly professional option, either.
My friend and colleague Kath and I went to the city yesterday for a professional development seminar.
As it finished late in the afternoon, we decided to break the 230km trip home with dinner. We stopped at a place we both enjoy, and had a great burger and fries, and some brilliant onion rings.
Leaving the restaurant, we waited at the lights outside to cross the street. That little red man stayed red for ages, and we must have stood there for at least five minutes waiting for the lights to change. As it turns out, we’re not such law-abiding citizens as all that: it was cold, so in the end we just crossed because there was nobody around. We were expecting the lights to change when we were half-way across, but they didn’t.
I made jokes about him being a very angry red man who was no longer doing anything for anyone.
Kath made jokes about the next car to come along sitting at the lights, which by then would have changed, and the driver shaking their fist at waiting for a red light when there was nobody wanting to cross the street.
Our levity changed direction a little when we got to the car, and found that the car parked behind us had been parked really badly, which has been a pet peeve of mine lately, because I know you actually have to learn to park a car properly to get your licence. Having snapped a photo for posterity, and possibly for Instagram, we got into the car and pulled into the street for the drive home. There was no traffic to merge with – just us, so that was easy.
As we approached that very same set of traffic lights, they were still green. And right before we got there, they changed.
We sat in the car waiting for that red light for another five minutes. And we laughed and we laughed, because we’re English teachers, and we understand irony.
When completing an author interview recently, I was surprised to find a question about my mission statement. My immediate reaction was, “My what?”
My next thought was of Jake and Elwood saying, “We’re on a mission from God!” in The Blues Brothers.
Of course, it makes sense. If I can crystallise my goals in writing into a statement, it’s going to make them easier to achieve.
I do that all the time as a teacher. I think about objectives, learning intentions and success criteria all the time. So why didn’t I think about my objectives, intentions and success criteria as a writer?To be completely honest with you, I have no idea.
So, I started to work on my mission statement by writing down some basic questions:
What do I want to achieve?
What do I want my readers, or potential readers, to know?
How do I measure success?
They’re actually really complex questions.
What does success as an author mean? Is it selling a million copies of my books? Well, that would be nice, of course, but it’s not just going to happen without me doing anything to achieve that. Who is going to buy my books if they’re not actually any good? My goal has to be one that I can achieve, and it has to be one that I can measure to see if I’ve met the mark. My goal , therefore, is to write something that people enjoy and benefit from, not to become a millionaire. Because it’s more achievable, and measurable through both feedback and sales, it’s far more satisfying and encouraging than hoping for something that might never happen.
What do I want my readers to know? Recluses are mysterious, sure, but that only has limited appeal. What I really want them to know is that I understand what I’m writing about – grief, love, pain, pleasure, excitement, fear, exhaustion, joy. I want them to know that what I’m writing is real and meaningful. I want them to know that if they’re going through something really awful and difficult, I get that because I’ve been through some awful and difficult stuff too. Particularly in my poetry, I want them to catch a glimpse of my soul, or see some blood on the page – metaphorically speaking, of course. I want there to be understanding between us. I want to connect.
So, measuring success isn’t in how many copies of each book I’ve sold, or how many dollars I’ve made. For me, success is in knowing that I’ve touched someone’s heart, or encouraged them, or entertained them. If they read my horror stories, I want to know that I scared them and they loved it.
The beauty of this process of setting goals and working toward them is that I can see with every review that I am achieving my goal, even more effectively than I can with each sale.
I owe enormous thanks to the person who asked me about my mission statement. They helped me clarify my goals in a way that I had not done before./div>
So, without further ado, this is my mission statement as an author:
Joanne Van Leerdam is an award winning poet and multi-genre author who is committed to writing meaningful and thought-provoking literature for the enjoyment of her audience.
Joanne is a thinker and puzzler, a reader and musician, a traveller, and a teacher who has never lost the joy of learning.
Joanne draws inspiration from her own experiences and observations of the world around her, crafting those ideas into works which will encourage those who struggle to persevere and inspire others to see the world from a new perspective. This is as true of her blog posts as it is of her works of poetry and fiction. She aims to continue to grow her readership into a fully global and inclusive audience.
Yesterday one of my students called another a ‘Philistine’. I know he meant to suggest that his friend was uncultured and ignorant, and that is what many understand the word to mean.
So, being the time-and-knowledge-generous history nerd that I am, I took a break from our study of World War I and explained to my class that what he meant to suggest is not what the Philistines were at all.
The Philistines were a cultured and wealthy civilisation that lived in Canaan between the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They lived in and between five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The same region bears the name ‘Palestine’ today – a name derived from the Philistine civilisation. The ancient Philistines enjoyed enough military prowess to hold their own against Lebanon, Syria and Egypt at different times, fighting with spears, straight swords and shields. When not fighting wars, they lived in elaborate buildings and made their own pottery.
It doesn’t really seem consistent with the idea of ignorance, does it?
Sadly, this is not the only case of such name-calling being so ironic.
Barbarian is another term which is used quite wrongly. It’s used to suggest that someone is wild or uncivilised. Historically, the Barbarians were any number of Germanic tribes that moved throughout Europe in what many refer to as ‘The Dark Ages’, even though they weren’t so dark at all.
Really, if you look at them, they don’t look so incredibly different from one another, nor from the folk our history books tell us were our own ancestors. It may surprise you to know that the Barbarian tribes included the Angles, Saxons and Picts who set up shop in Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire and eventually became some of the most devotedly civilised people on earth. The Gauls became the French, the Geats became the Swedes, and the Danes went on to give us Hamlet, pastries and an Australian princess. (Disclaimer: I don’t know if the part about the pastries is true, but they must be called danishes for a reason… right?)
The Vandals, for example, may have left a trail of destruction in Gaul and Iberia, but they only made a bit of a mess of Carthage before taking it as their capital and making extensive renovations. As a military power, they had skill and knowledge – you’ve actually got to hand it to anyone who could not only withstand the power of the Roman Empire, but also hold their own in so many battles over such a long period. And when they weren’t busy fighting the Romans, they were highly cultured, enjoying music and poetry. They conducted a lot of industry and trade in their North African kingdom. It really was not about breaking or ruining stuff at all.
The Goths, oddly enough, did not sit around in dark clothes wearing black makeup. The name “Goth” was derived from ‘Geats’, the tribe famous for its honour and pride in the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf, as told in the oldest English poem in existence.
Map Prepared by Louis Henwood for ‘The History of English’ podcast, episode 42
They actually had sophisticated architecture and beautiful mosaic art. They made and wore intricate gold jewellery. They were farmers, weavers, potters, blacksmiths. They followed intricate burial rites, making sure that the graves always pointed north.
Related to the Goths were the Visigoths, meaning “Goths of the west” who ruled Spain for a couple of centuries. They built churches that still stand today, decorated their buildings with intricate filigree art and stone arches. They were skillful metalworkers and jewellers.
It seems to me that we do history a disservice by misusing these terms in such a way. Connotations are not always the easiest things to track through history, but these seem quite unfair. I suspect that such practice grew out of the fear of anything or anyone different, foreign and/or pagan – a concept with which Western society is still painfully familiar.
By the end of all that, the kids’ eyes had glazed over a bit, and there was a fair bit of smiling and nodding going on. I don’t think they will be calling each other Philistines again, though. So… mission accomplished.
If you’d like to know more about Beowfulf and the Geats, you could listen to a fabulous episode from ‘The History of English’ podcast. It’s a great podcast, and if you’re interested in the development and history of the English language, or the relationships between language, people, and places, you should consider subscribing.
For the first time in a long time, I’ve recently abandoned reading a book. I’m usually fairly persistent, but I couldn’t get past the second chapter. It’s so full of basic errors, I’d be giving any of my students who wrote it a D. That book – any book – has no business being for sale on any platform, Indie or otherwise, until it has been properly edited and corrected.
The same goes for what authors – and any other professional writers – put on social media.
If I had a dollar for every time I have face-palmed over glaring errors of spelling, word choice or punctuation in someone else’s social media posts, I would be considerably richer than I am today.
As people who promote ourselves as writers, it’s crucial that we don’t make those mistakes.
I’m not talking about the occasional typo, and I’m not talking about the type of formatting error that can happen to absolutely anyone when converting a book to eBook format. I’m talking about really basic errors – missing punctuation, terrible sentence structure, shocking spelling. Of course, not differentiating correctly between “your” and “you’re” is always going to frustrate people. There will always be people who put apostrophes where they don’t belong and omit them where they are needed. The same is true for commas.
It boils down to the issue of credibility. If I cannot correctly construct a sentence to encourage people to buy my book, what is going to make people believe I could possibly write a whole book? A writer should be able to communicate their ideas and messages clearly and effectively, without frustrating the reader or making their eyes bleed.
Quite honestly, if someone’s social media posts are full of errors, I’m not going to be buying their book. I’m not even going to put my hand up for a free copy. And it’s not going to change my mind if people laugh it off and say, “It’s just Facebook… relax!”
I may be called judgemental or overly critical. That’s okay.
As a reader and a frequent buyer of books, I’m entitled to be.
As a writer, nothing less should be expected.
If we want people to believe that Indie books are just as good as traditionally published books, we have to make sure they are. We must edit, and have them edited, as professional authors. We must promote both ourselves and our books as engaging, intelligent, and literate. The example we set on social media is part of that, because that’s where we hope to find readers.
Please, folks, for credibility’s sake – in the interests of your own integrity – proof-read all your posts. Make sure you’re sending the message you actually want to send to your audience, every time.
Today I’ve been given a Year 8 Maths class to cover for a teacher who is away.
I struggled with Year 8 Maths when I was in Year 8. I have no hope of appearing to master it now, no matter how good an actress or improviser I may be.
So I advised the class: “I expect you to work quietly and stay focused on your work. If you need help, I strongly advise asking one of your classmates, because I am not going to be of any help to you.”
One boy raised his hand and asked incredulously, “Are you saying you can’t do Year 8 Maths?”
“What I’m saying,” I replied, “Is that my career as a teacher should be an encouragement to anyone who struggles in one area or another. You can be successful, even if something like Maths defies you.”
The strugglers in the class smiled, and everyone settled down to their work. They seem to know what they’re doing.
Haters can be so dumb.
I wonder if the guy who made the sign was in a hurry, careless, or just genuinely ignorant of the mistake he made.
Everything about this annoys me. Especially the hate.
I have no time for people who will brand all the members of one group by what a few people, who claim to be the representatives of that group, do.
I resent their attempts to change the fabric of society and the blanket statements they make.
As I’ve said before, IS claiming to be Muslim is like the KKK or Hitler claiming to be Christian.
So I decided to take the sign literally and have a little fun at the haters’ expense. Just because I could.
No offence is intended. Unless, of course, you’re one of the haters.
Then it’s a bonus.