Ahoy!

HMS Pinafore is about to sail, and she is indeed “a saucy beauty”

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“We sail the ocean blue,
And our saucy ship’s a beauty;
We’re sober men and true,
And attentive to our duty…”

It is aboard that trusty, much-loved vessel that I am about to embark on one of the busiest weeks of my school year. Its the week in which the the last fifteen months’ worth of planning, preparing, auditioning, casting, decision-making, organising myriad details, and the rehearsals of the past three months come together and appear on stage as the annual school musical.

This year we’re doing Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. We have a cast of about 45 students who range from 12 to 18 years old. Others of our students have been trained in sound and lighting, backstage management, while still others have helped to create and prepare the set.

It’s a wonderful show that tells a ridiculous story beautifully. I enjoy the moments of pathos, but also the delightful comic moments in which my actors really shine.

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The soloists are amazing, the chorus sounds fantastic, the dance moves are fabulous and the costumes are beautiful. The orchestra’s performance alone is worth more than the price of the ticket. When all of those amazing ingredients come together, the outcome is incredible.

I know this week will be exhausting, but it will also be exhilarating.

I’ll be back to my usual blogging and social media self after the week is done and I’ve had a good sleep. Until then, say a prayer for me. Or… just send coffee.

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.

 

Staggering Over The Line.

Patricia Flavel (AUS) finish line Athletics 2000 Sydney PGWe’ve all seen those images of the long-distance runners at the Olympics who can barely move their limbs, and have to keep jerking their arms and legs to get over the finish line, where they fall into a sobbing heap, barely able to think or breathe.

That was me this week, although not in any track and field event. With a final burst of grim determination and a fair degree of operating on ‘autopilot’, I staggered over the finish line of an 11 week school term. Exams done and graded, reports written, special reporting for students with disabilities completed, and reporting software glitches dealt with, it was all I could do to get home without actually falling in a heap.

Then I was reminded by my very extroverted husband  that we had to go out for dinner to farewell a friend who is returning to The Netherlands.  The very last thing I wanted to do was move, let alone have to talk to anyone.

“Do I really have to go?” I asked. I’d like to say there was hope in my voice, but it was more like desperation laced with the abject misery of the tears I was blinking back.
“Yes!” replied favourite ‘social butterfly’. “We won’t stay long.”

I can’t believe I fell for that – again. Why do I always believe him when he says that?

Anyway, I went along and made a valiant attempt to both stay awake and wear a happy face. Despite the fabulous array of food on the table, I managed to eat some potato and a sausage. I was too tired to contemplate chewing anything, so not even the marinated steak managed to tempt me.  I had reached the point when I just didn’t care.

It was after 9pm when we got hom. I went to bed and, surprise surprise, found it impossible to  fall asleep. Instead, I just lay there in a fuzzy daze of not-quite-asleep limbo for hours, occasionally weeping a little when I had to move one of my limbs.  I had my regular talkback radio shows on, and I know I listened, but I don’t think I took anything in. Of course, given that the last time I went to bed and fell straight to sleep may have been when I was about three years old, this is completely normal for me. But oh! how I wanted to sleep.

2015-12-13 15.45.01 Five Days Of Sleep

Today, I feel like I’ve been hit by an even bigger truck than usual. My Fibromyalgia is keeping a constant check on my pulse and my dodgy spine is being a drama queen every time I move.

So far, I’ve managed to avoid taking any codeine, which I wouldn’t have been able to do before my conch piercings. Despite enormous temptation to overdose on coffee, I’ve only had one, and am focusing on just drinking water and resting as much as I can today so that this doesn’t continue for days and eat up half of my term break.  I have writing that I want to do, and work for school that I must do, so that’s not an option.

Today is a pyjama day. Tomorrow, I’m going to dress up, put makeup on, and go out to take bookselfies for Indie Pride Day. Trust me, you wouldn’t want me doing that today, even with makeup and proper clothes.

For now, I’m going to snuggle in my comfy chair and cuddle my enormous sense of satisfaction at having not only survived, but also having met every work requirement and deadline, rehearsed and performed in a play, and then auditioned, cast and started rehearsals for HMS Pinafore in September. And all of that without killing anyone – other than fictionally, of course.  Go, me!

Confirmed: I Am A Very Poor Juggler.

Life is demanding… and sometimes, something’s got to give.

lego-clown-juggling

I’ve been reminded of something important over the last few weeks: I can’t always actually do everything that I think I can. Well… at least, not all at the same time.

The past few weeks have been like someone who started juggling three or four cute, colourful hackey-sacks that could be dropped occasionally and picked up again without causing any trouble, and ended up trying to juggle five or six chainsaws that were both running and on fire at the same time.

Something had to give. And logically, that something could neither be my work, the show I was performing in, nor my mental health.

I knew things were going to get busy, so I tried to get extra work requirements out of the way early. As it turned out, it was actually a really good thing I did that, because it enabled me to find the time for the extra stuff that I hadn’t anticipated.

The show went off brilliantly, thanks to the efforts of cast, crew and a fabulous director who all worked incredibly hard to deliver a production that made showbiz look effortless. Even though last night was my first Monday evening at home in months, I spent most of it feeling sad that there was no rehearsal to go to, and missing my fellow cast members.

Even so, it’s a good thing ithat particular flaming chainsaw has finished it’s run, because the music director and I have already been running auditions for our school musical for the past two Thursday afternoons.
Rehearsals for that start in two weeks – at about the same time our semester reports are due to be ready for proofreading. No pressure, though.

All of this is why I haven’t blogged, read anything except my students’ assignments or written any book reviews. My social media has been reduced to that which I have planned and scheduled in advance, and I am very conscious of my poor engagement with others on those platforms. For that, I sincerely apologise.

Still, it’s all I can do to keep my head above water, so it is what it is. Those things will resume when I get my other priorities under control.

This week, I am going to attempt to conquer the out- of-control pile of papers on my desk that need to be graded, recorded and commented on in writing as constructive feedback for my students.
I’m also going to try to get one of my priority reads finished and reviewed.
I may even finish a poem that I’ve been working on in dribs and drabs when I’ve had a few spare minutes here and there.

Those may not sound like significant achievements, but each of them will be.

Here’s to setting goals and hopefully achieving them.

When Life Gets Out Of Control, I Write Poetry.

What makes an introverted poet breathe fire?

Two weeks ago, I had finished an incredibly busy first term at school and was looking forward to a well-earned break for a couple of weeks.
When people asked me, “Are you doing anything for the holidays?” I gave them my standard answer: “As little as possible.”
You’d think I’d learn not to tempt fate like that, but apparently not.

Family came to stay, visitors called in, things happened. I just needed to rest… but when was that ever going to happen? I wanted to write, but there was no time for that, either. I began to feel as though life was out of control.

And then, I started to get angry. It wasn’t directed at anyone or anything in particular – instead, it was a rumbling discontent within me. As the only introvert in a house full of rampant extroverts, I felt misunderstood and somewhat neglected.

One afternoon, my house fell quiet for a few moments. I sat in the comfy chair in my study with a book, took a deep breath, and before I knew it, I had dozed off.  It didn’t last long.

I woke up to a barrage of sound from the football blaring on the TV in the adjoining room, people talking loudly to be heard over it, and others talking loudly with a phone on “speaker” mode. They could have gone to another room. They could have closed my study doors and left me there in peace. But they didn’t.

That was when this poem erupted from within me.

The imagery of a dragon is not accidental: I wanted to incinerate them them all, or at least toss them around a bit with my tail. Knowing that I couldn’t breathe fire on them all like I wanted to – they are family, after all – I escaped to my bedroom, closed the door, closed the drapes, and promised myself that whoever dared to knock on that door— or, heaven forbid, walk through it— and interrupt me again definitely had it coming. Then, as I generally do, I unloaded my feelings in the most therapeutic way I know: angry poetry.

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It doesn’t tell the complete story. It’s really just a brief glimpse of a scene, but it reveals enough for the reader to understand. And I’m sure every exhausted teacher or parent, every person who is exhausted by constant demands, and every introvert who reads it will totally get it.

Awoken

Preparation: Who Needs It?

There’s always at least one in every group who doesn’t follow instructions.

Last Friday, I gave my History class an essay question half a week in advance of their assessment task.

They were to prepare a plan and notes to use while writing the essay in class this week. I advised them that they could use their handwritten notes and their textbook while writing, but they were not allowed the use of any devices. All the information about the task was given to them in writing as well as my explaining everything in class.

I expected that today, when the students came to class, they would be ready to start. Happily for me, most were.

And then, because nothing ever goes smoothly, this happened:

Student A: “Can we type this?”

Me: No. No devices.

Student B: “My notes are at home. Can I use my iPad?”

Me: “No. No devices.”

Student C: “Can you write the question on the board please?”

Me: “I gave you the question on Friday.”

Student C: Yeah but I didn’t write it down.

Me: That makes me happy.
Bemused, I wrote the question on the board.

Student B: “What page is it in the textbook?”

Me: “Do you mean the pages you were supposed to read and study last week?”

Student B: “Yeah.”

Me: Speechless, I allow The Eyebrow to speak for me.

All the kids except two commenced writing. Students B and D, though? They’re still reading the textbook.

Mind Blown.

Mind Blown: A story from my Year 10 history classroom.

The classroom was quiet although full of students; the only sounds were made by a page turning, someone typing, or the occasional movement of a foot on the carpet as students worked individually on the task that had been set for them.

 

One boy sniffed noisily. I glanced at him, but he was too focused on his work to make eye contact with me. At the back of the room, another boy sniffed, gaining more traction so that his friend had done. I could almost feel the lump of whatever that was in my throat, and my stomach lurched. The boy at the front of the room sniffed again.

 

“Okay, guys… the sniffing has to stop. Did you know they make these squares of fabric called handkerchiefs, that you can use to clear your nose? They even make disposable ones, called tissues, so you don’t have to deal with them or their contents again later.”

 

“Sorry, Mrs V,” said the young man at the front desk, looking suitably repentant.
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“Wait!” said another young fellow. “A tissue is a disposable hanky?”

 

“Well, yes.” I grinned at the obvious surprise on his face.

 

“I’ve never thought of it that way before!” Caught in the spell of his ‘penny drop’ moment, his eyes were wide and his smile was one of discovery and wonder.

 

“So, it’s your mind that has been blown, not your nose?”

 

He nodded, laughing along with his classmates, then returned to his work as industry and silence once again took custody of the classroom.

 

I really enjoy teaching these kids. They’re pretty great.
And they seem to genuinely appreciate the fact that I am a comic genius.

 

Serendipity: When Things Just Happen Really Nicely… For Once.

One of the things I really love is when, for even just a brief moment, my favourite things in the world converge.

There are a number of things in life that I’m passionate about. British history, especially the medieval period, has always been my favourite for reading and study, as have the works of Shakespeare, along with a good number of other writers.  A teacher by profession, I love interacting with my students and leading them to those golden “penny drop” moments when something becomes real and meaningful. I have always loved reading. And as an Indie author who understands how hard it is to find readers, and how much harder than that it is to get reviews, I’m committed to reading, reviewing and sharing great Indie books of all genres.  Annie Whitehead To Be A Queen

I was very excited recently to discover, read and review an Indie novel about the life of Aethelflæd, the Anglo-Saxon queen. To my absolute delight, it was well-written and beautifully told. I thought then that several Christmases had come at once.

Now, less than a month after posting that review, it’s happened again, and I find myself at a quite magical point in time where my passions have met and over lapped,  as though life has popped me into the middle of some invisible but very cool Venn diagram.

I’m currently teaching Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ in one of my senior English classes. Not only is the writing and language incredible – there are curses and insult exchanges galore, along with some great monologues – it’s also the one with the hunchbacked evil genius who usurps the throne and has himself crowned king, the princes being murdered in the tower, and a fabulous haunting scene! The historiography of the play may be fairly tenuous, but the audience is left in no doubt of the creative genius of the writer.  All of this means that I am getting paid to be an absolute nerd about the language, the writing and the history, all at the same time. That in itself is pretty darned great.

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Tonight, though, as I was browsing through the Wordpress reader, I found an article about a great new Indie novel about the life of Henry Stafford, known in Shakespeare’s play as Buckingham, the ally and “other self” of King Richard III. When I went to a renowned global digital bookstore to check it out, I discovered the same author has also written a novel and several other books about Richard III.

That may not seem very exciting to some, but for me, it’s fantastic. I get to teach ‘Richard III’, indulge myself in Shakespeare and history to my heart’s content, and to read and review a couple of Indie books about two of the most fascinating characters in the play – and possibly in English history, it could be argued – at the same time.

My nerdy little mind is blown. I think I need to go and lie down.

 

My Favourite Escape.

When life takes an unexpected turn, there is no better place to escape than into a book.

What a week!

It was the first full week back at school with students after the summer break. New students, new classes, new schedules, new demands.  Not only was I ready, I was keen! I was determined to get through the week without falling in a heap.

The first day was great.

Then, just after recess on Wednesday, I got a call from my local medical clinic. My elderly father was unwell – again – and was on his way to hospital in an ambulance. Everything stopped except my mind: Is this it? Is this the beginning of the end? Must let the others know. Must tell the boss that I have to leave work. Must keep breathing. Can’t breathe. Okay. One thing at a time. Call the boss. Explain. No – don’t fall apart now. You don’t have time. 

I got to the hospital half an hour ahead of Dad because I work in town and the ambulance had a 45 minute trip, plus some road works to negotiate. I completed the necessary paperwork for him, and sat down to wait.

Waiting rooms suck on a major level. You sit there, surrounded by other people’s pain and misery, feeling alone and fearful, and trying to keep everything under control in your own overactive imagination – it’s quite some challenge.

reading-wonder.jpegSo while I sat and waited, I took refuge in a book. It didn’t stop me from looking up every time an ambulance rolled in, wondering if that was Dad being wheeled in. It didn’t stop me checking my phone and answering messages and questions from my siblings. But it did give me somewhere to go.

For the six and a half hours that I sat by Dad’s bedside in the Emergency Department, with medical questions answered and initial treatment under way, I escaped back into the book whenever I could. Dad knew I was there, but he wasn’t up to conversation. Reading someone else’s story kept me from focusing on my own, and it kept me from being overwhelmed by the flood of emotions that threatened to sweep me away while witnessing the pain and distress of my increasingly frail father.

After a somewhat tearful journey home, I thought I might be exhausted enough to fall asleep as soon as I got to bed. Nope. No such luck. Yet again, it was a book that came to the rescue. It didn’t put me to sleep, but it did relax me enough to be able to rest.

Taking refuge in a book is something I have often done in the troubled times of my life. Over the past couple of years, that has taken the form of both reading them and writing them. There are times, though, when I can’t write because the pain and fear is actually too close to think about at that level of depth. Wednesday was one such day.

Thursday was a blur of medical consultations, visits with various physical therapists, and further tests for Dad. Thankfully, at the end of all of that, I was able to bring him home again. It will take time for him, and for me, to recover. There will, undoubtedly, be further moments when I feel the need to make the world around me stop by escaping into a book.

Today, I’ve tried to catch up on the things I’ve let slide over the last few days. I haven’t quite managed yet to pick up all the threads again. I use Buffer, so my Twitter feed has kept on rolling, but many other things, including my writing, are at a standstill. Social media has only had the occasional cursory glance. I’ll get there – but not today.

For now, I’m thankful that Dad and I both survived the week, and that things are starting to return to normal.

And to the authors who continually craft such brilliant stories for me to escape into: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.  Your gifts mean more to people than you realise.