Why This Australian Enjoys Halloween

As an Australian, I get very mixed responses when I tell people I enjoy Halloween. 

Some see it as an opportunity for the community to share in something fun. In my town, the local Scout group organises the trick or treating so that the kids are supervised. Anyone wanting the kids to visit them for treats must be registered and checked out first. One of the local cafes sets up a House of Horror for everyone to enjoy, free of charge, and various other businesses run promotions. 

Most Aussies, however, respond with something like “Ugh, It’s so American!” or “It’s just more commercialism!” 

While it’s true that Halloween hasn’t historically been a big part of our culture in Australia, most are surprised to discover it’s not an American thing at all. It actually originated as a Celtic celebration of Samhain in Ireland, and from there spread to Scotland, Wales, England and France. In a strange coincidence, the British who landed in Australia in 1788 thinking they owned the place also originated in those places, so there’s that. 

My first real experience of celebrating and embracing Halloween was in Canada, where it was all about community and celebrating the season, rather than commercial opportunism. It was wonderful. People decorated their homes and yards as a sign to kids that they were welcome to visit on their trick or treating routes. People in the streets wished each other a happy Halloween. We visited an apple orchard that offered hayrides and a corn maze, in addition to picking your own apples and enjoying the fare of the kitchen. October was a time of festivity and community amidst the changing of the season and the anticipation of winter’s arrival, made all the more cheerful by the brightness of pumpkins decorating shops, streets, gateposts, homes, and anywhere else people chose to put them. 

Sure, the shops sold more chocolates and toys designed to give to kids who came knocking. But why can’t that be seen as a boost to the economy, rather than soulless exploitation of shoppers? If people don’t want to join in the celebration, they are not obligated to do or buy anything at all. 

It is fair to say, though, that the growing popularity of Halloween in Australia is the result of the predominance of American TV and movies on Australian screens. People can complain about Halloween all they like, but until they’re willing to stop watching all the American shows and films they tune into religiously each week, or binge watch on weekends, it’s quite a hypocritical objection to raise. You can’t complain about your neighbour’s kids dressing up to go trick or treating if you can’t pause the latest episode of ’The Haunting of Hill House’ or ‘Riverdale’ to answer the door. 

Ultimately, people can make their own choices. There’s no obligation to join in, but there’s also no need to be supercilious about it. 

I’ll be celebrating Spooky Season all month, and joining in the Halloween festivities in my town again this year.  And I’ll be loving every moment of it. 

Woulda Coulda Shoulda.

One of the biggest battles I face as a high school English teacher is the plague of “would of”, “could of” and “should of”. 

These incorrect terms have arisen from the corruptions of “would’ve”, “could’ve” and “should’ve”. Of course, those are contractions of “would have”, “could have” and “should have”.

The irony is that people use “would of” instead of “would’ve” because they think they are speaking or writing better English. 
However, using “of” instead of “have” is never correct. 

If you really want to set yourself apart from the masses, this is a great place to start. Say it correctly and write it correctly. Join the resistance, and lead by example. 

Misunderstood Shakespeare: “Star-cross’d Lovers”

Just like ‘Wherefore art thou Romeo?”, this commonly misunderstood famous line comes ‘Romeo and Juliet’

I have witnessed so many people talking about Romeo and Juliet as “star-cross’d lovers” in the sense of their meeting and relationship being their destiny, and that the two were somehow fated to be together. 

This couldn’t be more wrong. 

The actual meaning of the term becomes clearer if one thinks of it in terms of the stars actually crossing them. 

Romeo and Juliet were never meant to be together. The fates were against them, right from the start, and it was never going to work out well. 

It’s important to remember that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a tragedy, not a comedy or romance. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, the main characters always die. There are no happy endings. That’s a convention of the genre, and it is pointless to expect anything else. 

Not only that, but Shakespeare gives us the spoilers right there in the prologue, the opening speech of the play, which is where the phrase comes from. They’re going to die, and as they are laid to rest, so too will be buried the feud between their families, which is what made their love forbidden in the first place. 

The prologue to Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

If, as some believe they do, the stars were to control one’s fortunes in life, the last thing you’d wish for is to be “star-crossed” in any way. 

Dear Internet: That Quote You Love? It’s Not By Shakespeare.

I wrote a few weeks back about the things I enjoy , and the things I don’t enjoy so much, about Pinterest

Since then, I’ve noticed one really annoying thing when I’ve been scrolling through my feed. It’s not actually the fault of Pinterest, but it is there that I am continually reminded of a matter that really needs to be corrected.

There’s a super popular quote that keeps coming up on my feed because Pinterest knows I love Shakespeare. It’s all over the internet, and it seems every second person on Pinterest is sharing it. 

This quote is the darling of the Internet. But it’s not by Shakespeare.

The problem is, while it sounds like something Shakespeare might have written, those lines do not appear anywhere in the plays or poetry of the Bard… not even close, actually.

The quote is a translation from an Italian opera by Arrigo Boito titled ‘Falstaff’, based on one of Shakespeare’s plays, and which uses a number of lines from several other plays, too. Given that Boito borrowed from the Bard quite freely, it’s not really surprising that other lines from the libretto have been wrongly attributed back to Shakespeare. Some might suggest it’s karma, but it’s really just careless.

I’m more than happy for people to continue posting pretty images of the quote, but it would be great to see them attributed to the right person.  

Too much to hope for?
Yeah… it probably is. 

Tuesday Trivia: Who Played Mark Antony in an 1864 Production of ‘Julius Caesar’?

‘Julius Caesar’ is a play by William Shakespeare about the assassination of Caesar by a group of his senators.

Given that the play clearly demonstrates that the assassination was morally wrong, and that the conspirators did not prosper as a result of their actions, you might be tempted to think that anyone who knew the play well enough to perform the role of Mark Antony would know better than to assassinate someone. 

And if you thought so, you’d be wrong. A famous actor and a member of a prominent family among theatre circles,  John Wilkes Booth played Marc Antony while two of his brothers played Cassius and Brutus in a production of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ at The Winter Garden theatre on November 25, 1864, just four months before he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. 

Obviously, his decision to shoot the president brought his acting career to a screeching halt. What a shame that he took more inspiration from Brutus than he did from Mark Anthony. Less violence and more brilliant rhetoric might have served us all well. 

‘Top Four Shakespeare Podcasts’: The Most Successful Blog Post I’ve Ever Written.

It is a constant source of amusement to me that barely a day goes by without someone reading a post I wrote over two years ago. As hard as I try to write posts that are interesting and engaging, and have some relevance to either readers or other authors the one post that shows up in my blog stats almost every day is ‘Top Four Shakespeare Podcasts’, posted in June 2017.

While I have had some posts that got a great response at the time, othing else I’ve published on this blog has had that kind of perpetual popularity,

The funny thing is, it’s only got three likes, but more people than that visit that post every day. Perhaps WordPress needs to make the “like” button bigger and brighter so that it’s easier to see and click.

Given that it’s the most successful blog post I’ve ever written, I thought it was worth posting again for all the followers I’ve gained since then. Enjoy.

WordyNerdBird

Promo WordyNerdBird Shakespeare Podcasts

I love podcasts, and I love Shakespeare. In these four podcasts, you’ll find the best of those two worlds combined.

#1: No Holds Bard. An informative and entertaining podcast by Dan Beaulieu and Kevin Condardo, directors of the Seven Stages Shakespeare Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  They discuss the plays, words that people in the 21st century might not know, different interpretations, and various performances of Shakespeare’s plays.  They even have a segment where they’ll answer homework questions sent in by students. 

You can follow on Facebook and Twitter.

#2: Folger Shakespeare Library: Shakespeare Unlimited. A podcast that explores the associations between Shakespeare’s writing and the world today through the words we use, ideas we discuss, and performance of the works of Shakespeare and others.

You can find more information on their website.

#3: Chop Bard – In Your Ear Shakespeare. This podcast explores different parts of the…

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Dear Facebook… Yet Again.

I quote, verbatim, this afternoon’s status on my Facebook profile.

Dear Facebook,

You have been temporarily blocked from accessing some of my features.

I’m not telling you why. 
I”m not going to listen to your appeal.

But you can bet your algorithmic little hiney I’m going to have my eye on you for quite some time. Possibly forever.

Joanne Van Leerdam, June 25, 2019.

So, it seems that I’ve run afoul of the Facebook algorithm yet again.
Now they’re suggesting I’m a robot.

You read that right. A robot.

I haven’t made identical posts in forever. I vary what I post from page to page. l really don’t know what brought that on.

And let’s not overlook the irony of an algorithm calling me a robot. It’s beyond ridiculous.

They can’t still be sour about my “What I Do and Don’t Like About Facebook” post… can they?

One suggestion that has been made is that when I’ve posted about things that annoy me, some well-meaning people have responded with the “angry face” reaction because they’re angry at the nonsense that a certain social media platform is throwing at people lately.

Apparently, for all its cleverness, the Facebook algorithm is unable to comprehend that it’s actually Facebook people are angry at. It interprets this reaction as those people being angry at me.

This is good to know.

Because who could be angry at Facebook or its ever-changing algorithm?

It’s fair to say that Facebook is not doing a single thing to recommend itself to me right now.

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.

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 Trouble With Names.

A teacher confesses her most regular, and possibly most embarrassing, classroom faux pas.

Your Teacher Apologises

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.