Archives For November 2012

A Prairie Home Companion, 1987

Sometime close to when I graduated high school, my Uncle Doug played me a tape of the final performance of Garrison Keillor’s public radio show A Prairie Home Companion, which currently broadcasts new episodes most Saturday evenings on WBEZ radio in Chicago.

Yep, you read that right. The final performance. And the show is still going strong.

How can a show that is still on the radio have a last show? And wait: wasn’t there also a movie about the “last” broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion?

Yep. I’ll explain all of that “last show” business in a minute.  First, I need to tell yet another story about how much of a nerd I am.

While most of my friends were listening to Bon Jovi, Guns ‘n Roses, or the more alternative stuff like The Pixies (and eventually Nirvana and Pearl Jam), I went through a phase where I listened to that last show almost constantly. Filled with old folk and gospel tunes and goofy radio bits and Stevie Beck, the Queen of the Autoharp, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Like I said: I’m a real nerd like that.

There were other reasons I fell in love with that last show. I started listening to it less than two years after I had returned to Illinois, after living down in Florida for a few years. It was filled with this warm celebration of everything I loved about the Midwest. The dry humor, the lack of pretension, the simple directness and honesty of it. This is the last show, Keillor said, and we’re gonna spend the next two hours singing sweet sad songs about endings and goodbyes and no one can do anything about it. Heck, we’ll even go over the two hour time limit if we want!

Keillor likes endings. As do I. Endings are important, goodbyes are important. They put a proper punctuation mark onto an event. My folks got divorced around that time, and during my grief at the ending of what I knew of as family I romanticized small towns and Lutherans and tried so very, very hard to find meaning and comfort in my tape-of-a-tape copy of that last show.

Keillor delivering the News from Lake Wobegon in 2012.

I lost that copy of Uncle Doug’s tape of that final show a long time ago. but thanks to the miracle of the internet, found it on iTunes. And hearing “Brownie and Pete” after so many years just about wrecked me. (Yes, it’s sweet and sentimental, but it’s also got Chet Atkins and Leo Kottke playing on it, for crying out loud.) It’s so good to hear those songs again, and it takes me right back to the last time I was away from home, living in a foreign city, spending my days in class and my nights watching old black and white films by John Ford and Wim Wenders, wondering what I was going to do with my life.

Out you two pixies go, through the door or out the window!

It’s been a quiet week here in Dublin…

It got down below freezing for the first time last night here in Dublin. The roads were slick, and Linus took a bad tumble off his bike. On our last day of class, people were talking about Christmas, and our upcoming trip to London. I’ll be leaving a week from today for Prague, to see an old student and his family, and then I’ll wind my way through Europe and its many Christmas markets for one last tour until I join everyone on the Embankment sometime on the 13th.

Limelight’s getting ready to put on their yearly radio production of It’s a Wonderful Life, a show I directed and even performed in for a number of years. I’ve started listening to Vince Guaraldi and The Chieftains and The Waitresses, and that brutal version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” by Judy Garland, with the original lyric “someday soon, we’ll all be together/ if the Fates allow/ Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow…”.

I’m eating yet another meal made from packaged pasta, thanks to a refrigerator that died last Saturday. I’m looking over the last of my assignments, and hoping I have the drive to write a decent research paper, when all I want to do is tell stories on this thing.

I’m looking at an empty corner of my apartment and picturing a small tree that could have gone there. And I’m starting to think about home, and the Midwest, and my family and my friends. And I’m realizing that I miss it a great deal. When I got here, I tried to not think about home too much, lest I get too homesick. And I put it out of mind, in a sense. I lived my life here, and I tried not to look back.

Like Keillor, I ended my show, and I moved far away, looking for something different and exciting. And I have seen many things and enjoyed moments I couldn’t have if I was back in Oswego. And I know those will continue, in the years to come, as I return to visit and explore and catch up with dear friends. But now it’s time to head home, and get back to doing what I do best.

Keillor ended his show in his mid-40s, when he married a former exchange student from his high school and moved to Denmark to start a new life. He lived there for three years before returning home, divorced, but back on the air with a new, New York-based radio show called “The American Radio Company of the Air.”

Three years later he renamed it “A Prairie Home Companion” and moved it back to St. Paul, Minnesota. He knew what he did best.

 

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Black Friday

November 24, 2012 — 2 Comments

Or, The Forgotten Penny

There’s this old Christopher Reeve film called Somewhere in Time. Overly-romantic thing about a playwright who travels back in time and falls in love with Jane Seymour. I watched it on cable a couple of times in the early 80s, because duh, it had Superman in it, and hey, time travel!

There’s no magic machine that gets him back to turn-of-the-century Mackinac Island, just positive thinking. He dresses himself in an old-timey suit, removes all traces of modern day from his hotel room, and wills himself back to the same hotel room in the year 1912. It’s a bit flimsy, in terms of science fiction, but really, how many time travel films are there that feel “realistic?”

So he falls in love with the beautiful lady, and despite a few dramatic obstacles, things are going pretty well for him. Towards the end, Jane Seymour playfully teases him for his “old-fashioned” suit (he didn’t get the fashion quite right, you see), and he’s bragging about how awesome it is, with all these cool pockets, and then BAM: he pulls out a 1979 penny, stares at it in horror and disbelief, and he’s immediately shocked back to the present. And as hard as he tries, he’s never able to will himself back to 1912. Game over.

Why am I talking about this decades-old time travel film, when I actually spent Friday watching a far superior (but no less romantic) time travel film?

Well, no matter how hard I try and ignore it, I have to acknowledge my own forgotten penny.

When I started putting this whole journey together, I knew it would be very expensive, and would require certain financial arrangements to be put into place, otherwise I would be drowning in student loan debt for the next ten years. So I took a gamble, hoping that I would get my mortgage refinanced, my car paid off, and I would have a decent raise waiting for me once I completed the new degree.

Even when I arrived here in July, I was already worried that I wouldn’t be able to pull this off. No one wanted to refi my mortgage, since it was so underwater. I had to rent my place out for significantly less than what I pay per month, and therefore had to sell my car in order to have enough money to make up for the difference. I thought about pulling the plug, but people urged me to stay, saying the usual business of “Live your dream!” “It’s ONLY money!” ‘You’ll regret it forever if you don’t do it!!!”

So I put that metaphorical penny in a side pocket, and I forgot about it, and I got on with my life over here. And I’m glad I did. The past five months have been an amazing, unforgettable experience, and I am glad that I went ahead and stayed.

But. The penny is still there, folks. And after crunching the numbers, and looking at what’s coming down the road, I am simply not going to have enough money to afford living over here for another semester. The “back home” account is vanishing fast, and the cost of paying for the whole degree is going to destroy me, financially. The first two segments in the repayment plan, the refi and the no-car-payment, are gone, and its looking like I’m going to have a significantly reduced raise. (I can’t really get into that, because it involves contract negotiations with my school board and my union, and this is not the place to discuss that.)

I don’t like talking about the specifics of the whole money thing, but whenever I talk about this with people, they go back to those default statements of “It’s only money, Brian, live the dream!!!” And I really don’t appreciate hearing that. I don’t think people quite realize the cost of this project, so let me put it to you like this: because I had to sell my car last summer, once I come home I’ll have to buy a new car. Obviously. So I’ll have a new monthly  car payment for the next five years.

Now: to pay for this student loan, I’ll have to pay, per month, the equivalent of three more cars. For the next ten years. Let that sink in a bit. Three more car payments, for the next ten years, on a single teacher’s salary that isn’t going to be going up much over the next few years.

Now do you understand the seriousness of this a bit more?

The next reaction may be, “But Brian, what about the degree? Won’t this all be for nothing if you don’t get the degree?”

And this is where it gets interesting. Because the answer is No.

I already have a Master’s Degree. In terms of salary schedules and raises, that’s the main hurdle you need. After that, it’s just about credit hours. And regarding getting certified for teaching theatre, after this semester I’ll have enough credit hours to get my theatre endorsement. I don’t need any more classes after this.

Actually, what I need are additional certification classes that I need to take back home. At this point, spending the other two thirds of the student loan is just gravy. And here’s another thing: I took four courses this fall, and all that’s left are two more classes (Rehearsal Techniques, which I think I’ve got down, and another theory class that I can live without), and the big thesis (which I have absolutely no desire to write, to be perfectly honest.) And there’s no guarantee that the state of Illinois, or my school district is even going to accept all of these credit hours. They get funny when it comes to foreign credits.

This is starting to get complicated, and I’m sure some of you are skimming through some of this. So let me summarize by saying this: there are no real downsides to finishing after this semester, except for one that’s probably pretty obvious: I would be coming home early, and leaving the life I’ve been living over here behind. And I would have to say a very difficult good-bye to a wonderful group of friends.

But in the end, that was going to happen anyway. Whether it’s in July or May or the end of December, it’s gonna happen. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life living here. I suppose I had some vague and naive notions of carving out something more permanent here, but the simple facts are these: there aren’t any jobs over here, and I don’t think I really want to do that anyway.

I’m a Midwesterner, and I think I want to remain a Midwesterner. My family and my friends and my life are there. And my job is there. And it’s a job worth returning to, despite all of the stress and chaos that has enveloped it lately. I’m a teacher, and I’m anxious to get back to doing what I do best. And if I want to make a move to a different teaching position, I have to get moving on those other classes that I have to take back home.

So there it is. This is something that I’ve been pondering for a long time, so please don’t think this is a rash decision I’m making. I have looked at all sorts of different scenarios, but they all end up with the same conclusion: this adventure ends next month.

And I’m okay with it. It’s been an amazing and life-altering experience, living in Dublin these past months. I walked away from everything that I knew and I started over in a foreign land, taking the time to learn new ideas about theatre, and of course, I spent a lot of time with some amazing people. That’s easily been the best part about being here. And it makes me more than a bit sad to be leaving it all earlier than I expected.

But while it makes me sad, it doesn’t make me depressed, and that’s an important difference. Sure, I was pretty down in the dumps yesterday, as I came to this final decision after mentioning it my friends the other night, but today I woke up with a clear idea of what’s to come. I’ve been quietly putting some plans into place, and I’ll be fine. It’ll be a bit rough at times, since I won’t have a full-time job or a house to go back to for a bit, but I have a plan. And it’s time to get to work on the next great journey my life will be taking, and I am optimistic and excited about where it will take me.

To be continued…

Thor’s Day

November 23, 2012 — Leave a comment

And on Thor’s Day, we celebrated the First Thanksgiving.

Just imagine Issy sitting at the table instead of taking the picture.

There is no Thanksgiving in Ireland. Nor in most of Europe, from what I can gather. It is not a uniquely American holiday, but there is certainly something very American about Thanksgiving.

Its origins lie in that old chestnut about the Pilgrims and the Indians sitting down together to celebrate being best buds, but we all know that it’s a lot more complicated than that. But no one wants to dwell on the ill-treatment of the Native Americans by our ancestors, so….HEY! FOOTBALL!

We gather together to eat ourselves silly, collapse in front of the TV, then get up and do it all again a few hours later. (In my family, there can often be multiple celebrations to attend in a single day.) And the foods are these weird combination of things that shouldn’t be mixed together, but are, and are delicious. (I still don’t go near 24 Hour Salad, though.)

These are all the standard traditions and ideas of Thanksgiving that everyone mentions in Articles About Thanksgiving, so I won’t try to analyze it any more, because I’m trying to write something unique about the holiday. And this is the interesting part: I gathered together my Irish, English, and Italian gang of friends to celebrate a proper American Thanksgiving, hoping some new insight would be gleaned from their experience as First Timers, but it just confirmed everything that’s already been said about the holiday.

Eat too much? Check. Everyone brought food, and we tried a bit of everything during the three-course meal. (Well, except for the vegetarians.) They all had to go to work the next day, and everyone still seems to be stuffed from the night before, according to their Facebook status updates.

Marvel at the strange foods? Check. I made green bean casserole for them, which they found bizarre before even seeing it. When I took it out of the oven, I was puzzled by how runny it was, and then we realized that over here, their cream of mushroom soup cans aren’t condensed. So no proper thick, gooey, delicious casserole for us, but it was still somewhat edible.

The last of the sort-of Key Lime pie.

The foods I did get right were Grandma’s cranberry relish, which is served cold, as a nice palate-cleanser. I also made a variation on what we call an “Eagle Brand” pie, which is basically a Key Lime pie, made from graham cracker crust and condensed milk, but is also very, very delicious. And incredibly sweet. I think I gave everyone at the table diabetes last night.

It was all very typical, but at the same time it was one of the best Thanksgivings I’ve ever had. For my entire life, I’ve been an attendant at Thanksgiving, and the other big holiday gatherings like Christmas and Easter. I’m the Bachelor Uncle Guy with the Small Townhouse who doesn’t have to host, or make any food, doesn’t have any signature dishes, just bring a little wine, make a few jokes, then get cranky/lonely/sleepy. It can be rough for the personality when you’re a permanent guest at life’s major celebrations.

But thankfully, for once, last night, I was able to be the host. I got to invite people into my home, carve the turkey, pour the wine, and make the toast. This was Thanksgiving on my terms, and it was an incredible experience.

I don’t mean to come across as selfish or arrogant, mind you. (I’m looking at those previous sentences, with all of the “I”s and “my”s, like I’m a toddler who won’t let anyone else play with the blocks.) My students and actors may be used to seeing me as the Man with the Plan, but in the real world, more often than not I’m just shuffling along, riding in the passenger side of life. It’s what happens when you remain a single guy living within 25 miles of your hometown. You don’t get the chance to create your own traditions.

And so last night, we held the First Thanksgiving, in a small apartment just outside of Dublin. Linus and Arianna brought wine and starters, Elisa made two kinds of potatoes AND made the gravy AND helped me cook the turkey AND made French Onion dip, because she thought it would be something I would like. (No one’s heard of it over here, but Elisa grew up partly in Canada, so she’s able to tap into that North American cultural tradition thing better than the rest. Did I mention the cheesy potatoes?) Ken arrived on his magical transforming bicycle and made dream bars, and Donal and Issy honored the occasion by presenting me with a smallpox blanket and a bottle of whiskey. (It wouldn’t be an Irish Thanksgiving without them poking a little fun at the tragic legacy of the Native Americans.)

Smallpox blanket and whiskey!

I was short on cutlery, had barely enough wine glasses, no proper serving spoons, and we Frankensteined my dining table and my small desk together for the feasting. Linus sat in an office chair and questioned the thick slices of turkey I had carved. (Not sure if I carved them too thick, or if they carve turkey really thin over here.) And I played good American music like Wilco and June Carter Cash and John Prine.

Through the miracle of modern technology we were able to have my family “join us” from Sandwich for a few minutes, and my two worlds briefly became one. And while I haven’t talked about my family too much on this site, I hope they know that I missed them greatly, and I tried to honor them in my own small efforts, with relish and Eagle Brand pie. And I thought about them often.

But for now, I am here, and it is important to stay focused on the here, instead of the “back home.” I’ll be back there soon enough, but I need to enjoy every single moment I can of living in Ireland, because it ain’t gonna last forever. It’s been an incredible journey, in many ways, and for the experiences I’ve had, and the people I’ve shared them with, I am especially grateful on this Thanksgiving Day.

A few more photos…

Starters! i.e. appetizers.

A view from the other side: Mom and Grandma talking to us via Skype.

I have LEFTOVERS!

Woden’s Day

November 21, 2012 — Leave a comment

On Woden’s Day¹, I made preparations for a great celebration.

But first, we shall talk about wisdom. Today’s class was about preparing our major research paper for the fall term. How to structure it, what to keep focus on, what to take out, proper documentation of sources, etc. etc. We have six questions to choose from. It only has to be 3,000 words or so, and I’ve already written one that long on The Merchant of Venice². Plus, the short play I’ve been working on is over 3,000 words, so another 3,000 word essay shouldn’t be too much trouble. Except.

Except this is the one where we have to get really theoretical and academic, with twenty different sources, and that might prove difficult for me. A lot of the people in the course did an undergrad at UCD in drama, and so they have a fairly deep background in theatre theory. Me? Not so much. I’m not sure if this is a difference between American and European traditions, but in my theatre world, we never got around to talking about Foucault or Pavis, or semiotics vs. phenomenology very much. We just did it, and had our own ideas of what “theory” is.³ Maybe we learned this stuff in some of the undergrad theatre courses I had, but darned if I can remember it now.

The other day one of the girls in the course referred to me as the “father figure” of the group. That could either be a compliment or a little sting at my age. I’m not the oldest member of the class, but I’m on the far side of it. So if I’m the Father Figure, then I should have a bit more wisdom about this whole theatre-theory-thing, right? It’s more than a bit frustrating that I don’t seem to “get” what they’re talking about as fast as the others. But when you talk to people in private, it turns out most of them don’t grasp it any more than I do (for the most part.) I mean, I’m not an idiot. I can be insightful about what Foucault was talking about in Discipline and Punish, but it tends to be more about the education world than the stage. (Once again, the teacher side of me wins out in the argument…)

Maybe the wisdom I have is in the part of my brain that says, “Okay, we can talk all day about psychological verisimilitude, or whether or not something is ‘Beckettian,’ but in the end, isn’t it about whether or not the show was any good? It either worked, or it didn’t.” And more specifically, in the youth instructional theatre world wherein I ply my trade, it’s mostly about, did the kids have a positive experience, did they learn something, and did it contribute in some small way towards them becoming a good person? Did it add to their first glimmers of wisdom?

Maybe that’s too simplistic of a view on it, but that’s what my gut tells me.

Footnotes!

¹Woden is also known as Odin, the All-Father of Norse mythology. He hung from the World Tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days and nine nights to gain wisdom. And he also lost an eye…for wisdom. Wisdom’s important when you’re the All-Father.

² I turned in this essay a month ago, and haven’t yet found out my grade. I’d really like to know how I’m doing as far as my academic writing goes, because I’m pretty rusty with it. So seeing how I did would be helpful. Formative assessment, people…it’s important.

³ My theories of theatre tended to be, “Let’s just make it up as we go”, and “I’m tired of seeing the same shows done over and over again, so let’s write our own”, and “Let’s just poke fun at everything about this world.” I cite these examples:

Celebrating “50 years” of Limelight. As if we started in 1960 and dressed like NASA engineers. 

Let’s just make up a bunch of crazy Christmas skits and not really rehearse them too much. Yeah, THAT’LL go great! (Um, it didn’t.)

First show! About D-Day! Written by a 5th Grader! (And it was AWESOME.)

And of course, Lumberjacks. A musical based on a backstage wisecrack. More please.

Tiu’s Day

November 20, 2012 — 3 Comments

The Two-Headed Mr. Fauth, created by Emily, a former student.

A few years ago I started really feeling the pressure and stress and consequences of trying to teach 5th grade all day, and run a big theatre company on the nights and weekends, directing shows and overseeing others and preparing for our yearly massive summer season. It got so bad that I actually took a couple of weeks off from school to rest and recharge, lest it all lead towards me turning into some sort of lunatic. (Well, any more than I already am.)

I referred to the two careers I had, and the war between them, as The Two-Headed Mr. Fauth. The teacher, Mr. Fauth, and Brian, the director. I loved doing both, but they were taking its toll. In the summer of 2011 I stepped down from running Limelight, but couldn’t stay away from the stage, electing to direct a pair of shows at a local junior high. I went with a pair of shows I had directed in the past, to save creative energy, but I felt like I was cheating a bit by recycling sets and ideas from the past.

And that brings me to Dublin, where I’ve taken a break from being Mr. Fauth to concentrate on developing skills as a theatre director, to add tools to the toolkit, as they say. And it’s been a great experience, but it still doesn’t solve the lingering equation: which one am I going to be?

Tonight I wrapped up my fall director’s project: a staged read of Chekhov’s The Proposal. Not his most famous (or even his best work), it’s a 20-minute farce about two people who let petty arguing and their shallow principles stand in the way of their potential happiness as a married couple. Tonight went very well, and I’m happy with the results, for what they were. (It was an exercise, not a proper “show”, so no real sets or lights or anything like that.) And I found I had to “teach” a lot more about theatre than I would have imagined, and it was gratifying to see that my skills were needed.

My goal is to leave this place with that great war settled, or at least at a cease-fire. Being away from the classroom has quickly made me realize how at home I am in it, and I’m anxious to get back to doing what I do best. And theatre? Well, I have deeper thoughts on my relationship with trodding the boards, but we’ll save that for another post. I suppose the easiest solution is to figure out how I can teach theatre full-time, and merge the two heads, but that has its own hurdles as well.

To be continued…

The sky as I left for my director’s project.

 

Moon’s Day

November 20, 2012 — Leave a comment

On Moon’s Day, I started finding the limits of my universe.

In the morning I worked on this composition piece for the movement class. I keep telling myself that it’s not dance, it’s not dance, but we had a professional choreographer come in to help us fine-tune the piece, and he kept saying, “Make your dance come alive. Make your dance come alive!”

Now kids, just picture Mr. Fauth trying to do that, and you’ll know what Reaching the Limits of Your Comfort Zone looks like.

My set-up for my composition piece. Of course, it’s a classroom.

In the evening I worked on a director’s project I have for a different class. A 20-minute one-act that we presented to a professional director last week. He gave me some notes, and they were all about pushing it further, to its logical conclusion. As I worked with the college-age actors, and even a “pro” actress, I realized that I wasn’t directing them enough. Yeah, they’re older and more experienced than the younger actors I usually direct, but in the end, all actors still need a director. So we pushed that out to be as big as it could get (it’s a farce), and hopefully I found new places to go with it.

The afternoon class gave me the biggest revelation, though. I presented the next scene in the short play I’ve been working on for the writing class, in a roughish form. (We get feedback and then bring it back in a week with revisions.) “All the pieces are there”, I was told, which is a nice compliment. But McPherson noticed that I was doing the same thing as with an older piece I showed him: I have a tendency to have my characters always heading towards resolution, and that’s the last thing you want to have happen in drama.  It’s great advice, and it’s true, I noted. Then the lead professor said something even more illuminating:

“It’s probably because you’re a teacher.”

And that was dead-on. In a classroom, I’m always trying to push my students towards greater understanding of something, towards the beginning of wisdom, and to be the best possible people they can be. You don’t want your characters in a play to do that! You want them to contradict themselves, create conflict, and move towards irresolution.

They’re two completely different skills, and not very compatible with each other. And they probably lie at the heart of a character I call The Two-Headed Mr. Fauth. We’ll come back to him another day. Right now, I’ve got to put the pieces of this scene in the right order, and head up to the main campus for the final presentation of my director’s project.

The main campus of UCD, dusk.

Sun’s Day

November 18, 2012 — Leave a comment

On Sun’s Day, it was the beginning of the end.

The semester ends in two weeks. November 30th is the last day of class, where I get to present a six-minute movement piece starring myself. Yesterday I finally got a clear idea of what to do with it, but it’s still been the assignment that I dread, and that I just want done. Hopefully it makes sense. There’s a nice bit of metatext (as we call it in the academic biz) where the piece’s theme is about a student pushing against the constraints of traditional schooling. Take that for what you will.

Today I did as I normally do on a Sunday: sleep late and read the news before getting on with my day. I usually buy a Sunday Observer and read that throughout the week, as I’m always being pulled back to my assignments. I think the quality of the newspapers is going to be one of the things I will miss the most, once I leave here. Ours have been gutted and trimmed back, but over here they’re still stuffed with great writing and lengthy articles.

And as usual, I had a hearty breakfast and helped further clog my arteries with Superquinn’s award-winning sausages. The eggs from Tesco come in this lovely bright green carton that I never get tired of seeing in my fridge. Seriously, how can you not enjoy looking at something like that? It’s almost a shame to crack ’em open.

Free-range eggs from Tesco’s, with mini-milk jug!

I cleaned up the place a bit, organizing some of the receipts and little bits that had collected on my desk and coffee table. I found my used train ticket from last month’s trip up north, and instead of throwing it away I tossed it into my desk. I can never throw away train tickets. If you’re lucky, the train ride itself can be as much fun as the place you’re traveling to, and it’s yet another one of those little objects that are unique to being “over here.” I miss having a car sometimes, but I never, ever get tired of taking a train somewhere, even if it’s just out to my friends’ place in the northern suburbs of Dublin.

 

I threw a load of laundry into my tiny washing machine and walked into the village to buy a few groceries. Talked to the butcher about a turkey breast for Thursday, and as I left the clerk, a young Polish girl, smiled and wished me a Happy Thanksgiving. It made me happier than I could properly describe.

The afternoon and early evening were spent writing another scene for a short play I’m writing for another class. While I grumble about the movement piece, and privately express some severe frustration with some of the other classes I’m taking, I’ve been rejuvenated by the one class I wasn’t expecting to take. (Remember, I’m auditing the course.) It probably helps that I’m not writing on a deadline, or that I’m trying to write for young actors. I’m free to put down whatever I want, and so far it’s going well. We’ll see where it winds up.

If my computer had eyes, it would see THIS for several hours every day.

Once upon a time, Ireland was ruled by the High Kings of Tara.

Before that, there were the gods and heroes and mythic tales of Ireland: Fionn mac Cumhaill, the Tuatha de Dannan, Cu Chulainn, Queen Maeve and the Brown Bull of Cooley.

Later, there were the English kings and landlords, and then the Church.

And also, there were the Vikings.

Ireland has a long history of leadership switching from one hand to another. And it has been a difficult history. Right now there is anger and heartbreak and more anger about what kind of country Ireland is to be in the 21st Century, but out of respect for my young readers, I will not be talking about that today.

Instead, let’s go visit the Dublin Viking museum.

Dublinia is one of those places you always see mentioned in the tourist write-ups about Dublin, but I had never bothered to visit until now. I figured it was something that was geared more towards kids and school groups, and I was pretty much correct. I took lots of pictures, though, to use in possible future lessons. If I continue to teach Viking history, that is. Never know where I’ll wind up after this year.

If you were a student in my classroom, then you know all about the Vikings. Viking history wormed its way into my lessons despite the rather scant mention of them in the 5th grade textbook. And why? Vikings are cool, man. I was attracted to them because they were, primarily, a rather misunderstood people. There are the Vikings we imagine when we picture them in our heads…

What all Midwesterners think of when they hear “Viking Fan.”

Violence!

But history will tell you they were a lot more like this:

Vikings doing that Democracy “Thing.”

Sure they raided monasteries and coastal towns and took slaves and got a bit violent. But, um, that’s pretty tame considering what other European cultures were doing at the time. The Norsemen had no standing army, practiced an early form of democracy, were excellent traders and navigators, and oh yeah, they made it to America 500 years before Columbus did. 

The Vikings were a way for me to teach kids that what you think you know about something isn’t necessarily true. That, in truth, things are a heck of a lot more complicated than the simplified way we tend to view history and current events.

The Vikings helped create Dublin into a proper city. In the beginning, it was mostly an easy place where people crossed the River Liffey. Baile Atha Cliath, the official Irish name for the city, translates as “The Town of the Hurdled Ford.” When the Vikings arrived in the 9th century, they set up a trading center near the ford and a small dark lake referred to, in Irish, as Dubh Linn, the “black pool.”

The Vikings ruled Dublin and portions of Ireland until the Normans invaded in the 12th Century. Then King Henry II and the English came and set up shop until the early 20th Century. As I mentioned above, Ireland has a long, rough history of being conquered and ruled by foreign powers, and even today, as a free Republic, there is still a resigned frustration and a deep-seated sense that the Irish people still aren’t making decisions for themselves. (Again, since I have young readers, I won’t get into the tangle of history and politics and religion that comes up when you try and explain all of this.)

So let’s just look at a few pictures of creepy Viking mannequins, yeah?

Worshipping Odin the All-Father. (Anthony Hopkins not pictured.)

“Even though you are dead, remember: I still had a better-looking shield than you.”

Helmets! Without Horns!

Inside a Viking home.

Viking woman. Just creepin’ in the corner.

The Futhark, the Viking alphabet. I love how my last name is more or less made up of the first three letters.

It was a fine Friday to get out of the apartment and forget about theatre for awhile. My great love is history, and of course teaching it, and I need to remind myself that I’m also hear to learn more about the culture and history of the different places I go to.

Oh, and also to run into a bunch of dudes singing to a cow in the middle of Temple Bar.

Reenacting the Táin Bó Cúailnge?

The Journeys of Haroosh

November 12, 2012 — 13 Comments

Alright, so after reading this post, some of you may have wondered: who or what is a Haroosh?

Well, this is Haroosh.

Haroosh and an Apple Buddy

Haroosh belongs to Kyle, a former student of mine. He was a sort-of sidekick for Kyle, you see. Sat on his desk, listened to me read-aloud, went on aventures. He’s an example of what’s great about being a fifth grader: you’re starting to get a little older, but you still have enough of an imagination to create an entire life for a fake baby chick.

Haroosh was also around when Kyle ran the light board for a pair of shows I directed at his junior high. At the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, after everyone knew I was heading to Ireland for a year, Kyle presented Haroosh to me and said, “I think Haroosh should go with you and see the world.”

Now, some of you may read this and think, “Aww, how cute!” and leave it at that. Well, for me, it was a very solemn, serious moment. This was someone giving up their sidekick, their animal familiar, their trusted friend. Haroosh was an expression of Kyle, from a class that was particularly good at expressing themselves in unique ways. (See: Apple Buddies, above.)

And so Haroosh has come with me to Ireland, to see what I see.

Haroosh stares out the window of 316.

He’s mostly been cooped up in the places I’ve lived, but he should feel very privileged to have been a brief resident of 316 S. Circular Road. Our first home, and “a remarkable place altogether.”

Haroosh watches the 2012 Olympics

Before school started, we spent most of our free time watching the BBC coverage of the 2012 London Olympics. Haroosh was quite the fan of Jessica Ennis.

Haroosh and Squid Pig

Here Haroosh joins a couple of other items that came with: Max’s Viking mug that I got for Christmas last year, and Squid Pig, another pet from another student. Hope Madison reads this and knows that ole Squid Pig made the journey as well.

Haroosh and I enjoying a small rail museum in Dundalk.

And of course Haroosh came with when I headed up north to Carlingford last month.

Haroosh looking across Carlingford Lough to Northern Ireland.

I’m starting to plan another trip that I’ll be taking once classes end in a few weeks. The Masters students are all headed to London in mid-December to catch a bunch of plays, but I’m planning something extra as well (as long as the budget holds), and Haroosh shall hopefully be reunited with one of Kyle’s good friends from that class.

And when I finally head home, after this journey is done, I hope Haroosh finds his way back to Kyle. And I hope that Haroosh stays with him, sitting on his dresser or his desk, watching him do homework, or tucked away in his bag as Kyle grows up and heads off onto his own adventures. It’s important to have reminders of who we were when we were young, when the only thing that mattered in life was a few good friends and a big imagination. (Maybe that’s all that still matters?)

When we grow up, we put away childish things, and we get serious. But that can be so, so boring sometimes. Maybe that’s why I was so good at teaching 5th grade. I never forgot what it was like to be eleven.

And I hung on to the things that matter.

Doggy goes where I go.

 

The Fjord of Carlinn

November 5, 2012 — 1 Comment

The Lovely Bleakness

It was time to put the books away, to step away from the seminar room and the rehearsal room, and to see some new places.

It was time to get on a train and stare out the window and watch the world pass by. It was time to get lost in thought, and perhaps discover a new story or two along the way.

It was time to see mountains.

Last Tuesday I woke up early, loaded up my backpack, and headed for the train station. Bought a cheap ticket (thanks to my student discount!) and went north.

I ended up in a small town named Carlingford, located on a fjord right on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I’m not going to take the time (for now) to explain the history and reasons why there is an “Ireland” and a “Northern” Ireland. But you need to be aware of the fact that they are two separate countries, and “regular” Ireland is NOT part of the U.K., while Northern Ireland is.

I may try to explain this in a future post, but for now I recommend heading over to my favorite travel blogger, The Everywhereist, and allow her to explain the difference.

Carlingford is named for the fjord (or inlet) the town sits on, and has something to do with Viking settlers. Going further back, it’s name in Irish was Cuan Snámh-AighneachSnámh-Aighneach or Cuan Cairlinne. (Don’t ask me to pronounce that.)

Viking mural next to the primary school in Carlingford.

But I’m not here for a history lesson. I’m here to talk about the joys of wandering, of traveling to unknown parts, of being completely alone and having that be the best thing in the world.

Sometimes.

When I’m working on a new play, I like to get away from familiar places, from my shelves of books and DVDs, from the usual streets and faces I see every day. And now that I “live” in Dublin, I had to get away from my small Blackrock apartment as well. There’s something about going to a new place, the way your mind drifts while you watch the landscape rush by while you’re on the train, that has always been very helpful for me as a writer.

Or it could just be that you have nothing else to do BUT write. Most of my really good ideas came to me while sitting (alone) at dinner, or in my Bed and Breakfast, after a day spent walking the town and the hills, or up the Slieve Foy as far as I could go in my non-waterproof sneakers. (Really wish I had packed the hiking boots, but they’re sitting in my parents’ basement at the moment.) Sometimes you have to get to a certain point of loneliness and/or boredom for the words to start flowing.

The Slieve Foy Mountain. Highest peak in Co. Lough.

And so after a couple of days in Carlingford, I had the outlines for not just one but two new plays. One’s a dark satire about marriage (I think), and another’s about a fifth grade music prodigy. And I think they share some of the same characters, and even some of the same events, but I haven’t gotten that far with them. Sometimes when you write, the story leads you into directions you didn’t expect, so we’ll see where these end up.

Came back to Dublin in time for a friend’s 40th birthday, and it was wonderful to be among good friends in my temporary home.

Take THAT, 40! (Photo blatantly stolen by me from Elisa’s Facebook page.)

And today I read the opening scene from that new play to our guest professor, and he thought it was great stuff.

Ahh! I almost forgot the best part! I made a video, kids! It’s a little travelogue of my trip to Carlingford and back. Check it out!

You can also see a lot more photos of Carlingford and the rest of my trip here. It’s a public Facebook album. Hopefully I did it right.

Four weeks of classes left.

And whither then? I cannot say.