Sail and Rail to London

July 22, 2014 — 1 Comment

It has been, by most accounts, a most unusual summer for Ireland. The sun comes out most days, the temperature sits comfortably in the high 60s/low 70s, and rain has been fairly absent since I arrived in early June. This is not normal. When I moved over here two years ago, Dublin had just experienced two months of nothing but rain, and everyone had this angry, resigned look about them when talk of the weather would come up, victims of a cruel mother nature that just wouldn’t relent.

So this has been a good summer to be here, to spend some time doing Nothing for a while. A good summer for walks, for hanging the laundry on the line, a good summer for letting a cool breeze float through the living room while I work through a pile of books.

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Summer in Dublin: St. Stephen’s Green at midday.

I’m also here to continue my own independent study in the world of theatre, so I headed to London last month to meet up with an old Limelighter of mine named Kevin, to see some shows and indulge our mutual anglophilia. (Kevin’s the real Anglophile, but I have to split mine with an equal love for most-things-Irish, which can make for an interesting and sometimes conflicting set of interests.)

While it would have been faster to fly into London, you can get a cheap Sail and Rail ticket and spend the day crossing the Irish Sea and riding a train into Euston Station, which was my plan. And it was all going well until there was a derailment (not on my train) and left many of us stranded in Crewe for a while. While we waited for news, many passengers wandered around the station in confusion, wondering when the trains would resume service, or if we’d get to London at all that night. I checked for updates on Twitter, and the National Rail app on my phone told me that there were several trains still scheduled for London that night. We’d be fine.

After an hour’s wait and a horrible sandwich from a W.H. Smith, a train bound for London was announced for Platform 12, arriving in a matter of minutes. Everyone gathered wheeled suitcases and oversized backpacks and rushed up the steps, across the walkway over the tracks, and back down the steps to Platform 12, and waited for the train to come.

Suddenly there was another announcement about the train for London arriving on Platform 5, and almost everyone panicked and headed back up the stairs and across to the platforms on the other side of the tracks. Almost everyone. Myself and a couple of others realized there were two trains coming in almost back-to-back on account of the delay. While everyone else crammed into the compartments of the train on Platform 5, we waited patiently until the next train arrived. The the three of us boarded the train via the first class compartment and one guy asked the train manager if it was okay for us to sit there. “If you’ve got a first class ticket you can!” he said back, chuckling. We looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. Hey, we tried.

We walked to the end of the compartment and were about to head to the next one when the manager whistled and said, “Go ahead. You can stay.”

So that’s how we finished the trip to London. Three guys sitting in first class, enjoying free drinks and sandwiches as the sun went down, occasionally giving each other a grin and a little nod. Sometimes it pays to be patient, folks.


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I figure that’s enough for this post. I’ll get to London and the shows in a bit. (Part Two of this story can be found here.)

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I suppose I should tell a story or two about what I’ve been up to for the past six weeks. I’ve been spending the summer back in Dublin in a rented house, with occasional short trips to London and Kerry. I’ve also had visitors.

Right after school ended I packed my things and set off for the airport, a Business Class ticket on Aer Lingus in hand that I had managed to finagle without damaging the pocketbook too much. This meant I sailed through security in 20 minutes and got to spend some time in an executive lounge, where I caught up on some final emails to parents from my classroom and finally started to relax. It was a long year with that group of students, although still memorable, as they always are.

Flight over was a blur of beverage and food and long conversations with a Scottish oncologist on his way home from a conference. Got into Dublin Airport before 6 AM, grabbed the Aircoach into town, then a taxi to the house in Terenure. It pays to travel to places you know well.

A good rule of thumb when trying to avoid jet lag is to immediately set yourself to the local time. I ignored that rule. When I crawled under the covers it was not even 7 in the morning, which was just before 1 AM “my” time. I hadn’t slept on the flight at all, and I was exhausted. And since I wasn’t on a hard vacation schedule, I just decided to sleep a few hours right then and there.

And that’s pretty much what I did for the next several days. Caught up with some friends, but spent a lot of time sleeping in and laying in bed watching Homeland on my laptop, via UK Netflix. For lack of a better word, I crashed, and looking back on it now, I realize how much i needed that week. I spent a lot of the past year stressed and sick, fretting about what I was going to do with myself, work-wise, worrying about Common Core and changing styles and the lack of a North Star in my life.

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The Sunday papers

But then David and Rachel came to town, so it was time to be a proper host and show them around a city I’ve come to call a second home.

David is a cousin of mine, much younger than me, so there’s a bit of an uncle-nephew relationship there, too. This was his first trip overseas, and he and his girlfriend Rachel arrived in the Dublin port from the UK where they had just spent several days in London and Bath. My friend Linus was kind enough to help whisk them from the port down to Terenure, where we dropped bags and then headed back into town* for dinner and a short walk around a few of the more well-known areas of Dublin.

We spent the next day down in Glendalough, hiking in the soaking rain, but enjoying the chance to be outside among some fairly dramatic scenery, the kind we just don’t get in northern Illinois. The next day I showed them more of the city, including the Little Museum of Dublin, which I highly recommend for people interested in something not catering to the typical band of tourists.** We parted ways so they could visit the Guinness Storehouse, which I had seen on my first trip over in 2002 and didn’t need to visit again.

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MacPhisto and Me

The next day they took a day trip out to the Cliffs of Moher and I took care of some school business, but I met them later for dinner and pints in Neary’s, my personal favorite place to have a drink. Their final day was Kilmainham Gaol and an obligatory visit to Carroll’s souvenir shop to get silly gifts for friends and family back home. (I waited outside.)

While I liked giving them tours around the area, I suppose I enjoyed just hosting people, and taking care of them for a few days, making sure they were well fed and always had a drink in their hand. “When you’re at your Grannie’s, you can do what you like.”*** Hosting guests is something I don’t get to do very often back home. It was nice. And I would get to do it again two weeks later.

Next up: Shakespeare and getting “Punchdrunk” in London with a fellow Limelighter. 

 

*While we might say “I’m going downtown” or “into the city” to describe heading in to Chicago, over here if you’re heading into Dublin proper, people just say “I’m going into town.”

**The Little Museum is not above capitalizing on certain aspects of Irish culture in order to turn a profit, mind you. The third floor is devoted solely to U2, and they’re currently featuring something “Mrs. Brown’s Boys: D’Exhibition.” Don’t ask.

***Wise words from a most excellent host. 

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A little shout-out to Uncle Lar’s Pizza.

Must Be Nice

February 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

Let’s just come straight to the point: I’m a teacher, and I get my summers off. And not everyone is as lucky as I am to have that much time off.

This is not going to be a screed about how we teachers “deserve” that time off from all the extra hours we supposedly put in, nor will it be an itemized comparison of salaries, job benefits, or a whine about how we’ve become corporate America’s favorite whipping boy. I’m not interested in that argument right now, because it’s not an easy one to win on either side. We get our summers off. Must be nice. ‘Nuff said.

In my fifteen years of teaching, I’ve taken a total of one summer completely off from working: 2012, when I packed up everything and moved to Dublin for six months to study theatre at UCD. Every other summer was spent working very, very hard for my theatre company I started. That usually wrapped up in late July/early August, and then I’d take my summer cash and travel overseas for a couple of weeks before returning to start another school year.

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Directing “All These Will Be Worthless”, Limelight Summer 2010. Photo by Amy Weiland.

Last summer I worked for Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development, a program for gifted youth offering classes in everything from advanced math and science courses to the playwriting course I taught. The program gears more towards the STEM realm of study, and so they’re not offering my theatre course this year. There is a possibility of me teaching a documentary film class, but I haven’t heard from them in over a month about this, so at this point I’m ready to start thinking of other plans.

And those plans involve heading back to Dublin for a while. Things haven’t really been the same for me ever since I headed back, and I’m finding it harder and harder to get excited about The Future over here. Some in my profession are getting excited (or are at least preparing for) all of the Big Changes that are coming, but I am afraid that I am not one of them. Certainly not from a desire to keep doing everything as I was fifteen years ago; I’m not one of those teachers who fear change or progress. I guess I’m one of those educators that looks at it this way: we’re just swapping out one set of rules and instructions for another, and we teachers love our rules and instructions. I’ve always been one who takes a casual glance at the instructions, then works from my instincts the rest of the time. This works for some, but in a profession that tends to be populated by rule followers, it means I’m also one that exists on the margins of things, as my habits can be frustrating to some.

I had my turn when I was the guy on all the committees, the one deemed worthy and important by the Ruling Gods, the last time we had our Big Changes come through. We made new rules and new instructions and those lasted a few years until the Old Gods went away and New Gods arrived. And now we’re dancing to a very familiar tune and it’s a song I never liked much the first time I heard it. I’m dreading all of the “here’s how you do it now” memorandums that are coming.

But anyway. For now I am presented with a summer free from youth theatre, free from responsibilities, free from committees and summer school and recertification demands. I will make sure that I am ready for the Big Changes that are coming for next school year, but I am more interested in following my instincts and a desire to chase that side of me that craves wandering and creating. This is a rare gift to have, this time to myself, and I am aware of how lucky that makes me, in a time where so many are struggling.

I’ve carved out a deeply-important second life over in Dublin, and so I’ll return there to catch up with old friends, explore old places and new ones, and always, always to search for some sort of guidance or inspiration for whatever I’m going to do with the rest of my life.

You know, like always, with me.

Haroosh’s Last Trip

November 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

In Which Haroosh and I Take One Final Trip Together, and Some Lessons Are Learned

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Are you packing your suitcase again?

Yes.

Does this mean you’re going on another adventure?

Yes, Haroosh.

Wonderful! Do I get to come with?

Yes, of course. I think it’s important that you come on this one. You might learn something. It’s time to teach you about things greater and more important than Adventures.

Where are we going?

Florida.

For a holiday? I mean, a vacation?

Not exactly.

Oh. What is it, then?

I”m not sure what to call it, exactly. We’re going to see some family. To pay our final respects.

What does that mean?

It means that someone has died. In my family. And so my uncles and my mother and I are going to go say goodbye, and be with some of our family for a few days.

Oh. And I get to come with?

Yes.

It doesn’t sound as much fun as the other trips we took.

I know. This one is different. This is a trip we need to take together, my uncles, and my mother and I. The last trip, perhaps.

The last trip? For me?

For many of us.

Oh.

Are you okay, Haroosh?

Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. I… I thought we were going to take a lot more trips together.

I know.

We were supposed to see the world. That’s what Kyle wanted you to do. With me. See the world.

I know. And we did. A small part of it. But that’s all done, for now. I have responsibilities, and it’s time you got back to Kyle. I’m sure he misses you.

I haven’t seen him in a long time. Will he be different?

Probably. He’s a little older now. He’ll be in high school next year.

Oh.

Will he still want to have me back?

I think so. I think you’ll be with Kyle for a long time.

I hope so.

So, we’re going to all drive together? All the way to Florida?

All the way to Florida. Without stopping for the night.

What’s it like down there?

It’s warm. Very warm. I used to live there, a long time ago. We’re going to say goodbye to my cousin, who we used to spend a lot of time with, her and her sister and her parents, when I was younger. We went on camping trips together, rode horses together, had pizza on Friday nights. She used to drive me to school. I had to sit in the backseat, but sometimes they’d let me play some of my music on the car stereo.

Was she nice?

Yes, she was very nice. She was a teacher, like me. And she loved animals. Horses, dogs, cats, even pigs. She would have liked you very much, Haroosh.

I bet I would have liked her too.

Are you ready to go, Haroosh?

Yes, I’m ready. Let’s go. 


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The photos are from the last time we visited Lorri and the rest of her family, in 2004. We went down to spend Christmas with my sister and her family, and took a day to drive over to St. Cloud to see the old neighborhood and to catch up with Lorri and Jenny, Jane and Mike.

I’ll write a bit more about the trip, and Lorri, in the next day or so.

In case you’re wondering who Haroosh is, I suggest starting here and then reading the rest of these entries.

Done and Dusted

November 1, 2013 — Leave a comment

Well, that was a month of posts. Every day a new entry, for thirty-one days straight. I’m surprised I made it, actually, but I’m glad I did. Even though sitting down every night to write these meant I was putting off time to just “relax”, I found the daily habit to be relaxing in itself. And now I have a nice document of a typical month in my life. As you can see it mostly involves teaching and being sick.

Way back on October 3rd I wrote about being sick all the time and here it is a month later and I’m as sick as I was then. I’m on a second antibiotic after a second doctor’s visit and today my cough was absolutely terrible, that full-body one that comes from deep down the throat. I’ve been up since 4:00 in the morning, and I seem to do that a lot lately. Out of the past 31 days, I probably had five or six days of “real” sleep. I’m a mess.

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I’m going to halt the daily writing on this site now, but I hope to keep it up on a more consistent basis, maybe two-three times a week if I have anything interesting to say. Overall I had good readership on here, although all the commenting takes place over on Facebook. But it was nice to have people reading and enjoying them. (Something strange is happening with Facebook’s publishing format, though, and I can’t tell if people are noticing that I’m writing these as much. Oh well. Never watch your stats counter, they say.)

Anyway. There it is. Tales of students old and new, and Halloween costumes old and new. With a minimal amount of grumbling.

I’ll be back in a day or so with a reflective piece about My Favorite Night in Dublin from last year. Yes, still thinking back on the times spent Over There. Can’t help it.

Thanks again for those that have been reading. It means a great deal when I see that old “Like” indicator next to a post I just wrote. Nice to know you’re out there, as this can be a lonely job.

Now onto my own version of NaNoWriMo, where I attempt to get some serious work done on a play or two. And I’m more than ready for Daylight Saving’s Time to end, just so I can get an extra hour of sleep on Sunday. Plus, I’d like my morning commute to work to not look like this: 
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See you soon, everyone…

Bear with me, because all of these pictures are of ME, but its MOAR Halloween costumes, so if you’re into that type of thing, dig in!

We had a lot of fun with Halloween during college. One year we all headed down to Missouri to visit the brother of one my roommates. I had gotten a hold of some vintage clothes from my step-dad, so I went as a 1970s tough-as-nails cop. 

Uncle PonyThe year before I was working at the local movie theatre and we were premiering the film Gettysburg on Halloween. (So this was…20 years ago today. Dang.) I spent way too much money on a Civil War general’s uniform from a nearby costume shop and wore it to work that night. I went, of course, as General Admission.

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General Admission

This year, as I mentioned yesterday, the fifth grade team decided to go as the four seasons. I jumped on Autumn right away, as half my wardrobe is in autumnal earth tones. (The other half being black or grey.) All I had to do was buy some leafy garland, a bushy Viking beard from a costume shop, and some safety pins. A couple of hours’ work and I had this:

IMG_0727The garland wrapped around my head to make a nice autumnal crown of gold and yellow. I wanted it to have a deep, old magic feel to it, like some nature god out of the depths of time. But also nattily dressed in wool and tweed. Had I more time, I would have loved to have made my skin look a bit more bark-like. And of course the beard doesn’t flow nicely into the skin, but it didn’t help that I had another beard underneath that one.

Here’s the whole team all together. I think we look pretty good, actually. I didn’t get to see many of the other grade level’s costumes, but we definitely had some Minions, but they did a good job with them, and I’m sure the little kids loved it.

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Now for you crafty folk out there, I thought I’d zoom in on a few details. Note the Maple leaf pocket square, and the cuffs of the sleeves. The beard had acorns and leaves nestled in it, but I didn’t want to get too crazy with it, since it will be recycled next week. The staff was a walking stick I had with more leaf garland twirled around it and tied down at the ends.

IMG_0752I’ve got trick or treaters coming in small waves to the house, despite the rain that’s been falling since last night. It was roasting in my classroom all day, as the temperature got up into the mid-60s, but the heat kept running in the school. Don’t ask me why they can’t just turn it off. It seems to be one of those eternal mysteries, or perhaps revenge by the custodial team for having to clean up after all those holiday parties.

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I ditched the beard while answering the door. It’s a bit frightening to the young ones.

And that should be it for tonight. Thanks for staring at my hairy mug for photo after photo. Happy Halloween everyone!

This is Halloween

October 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

Halloween is almost here, and my sister’s going nuts over on the social media sites. The woman apparently loves Halloween almost as much as I do! She and her family live out of state, so I don’t think I’ve ever seen my nieces and nephew in full costume, like…ever, I think? At least not on Halloween. My nephew will occasionally transform into Captain America at the drop of a hat, and one of my nieces likes to impersonate my mother from time to time.

Work is always crazy this time of year, so putting together a good costume can be a real challenge. Today report cards went home, and I had to learn the new online system on my own, so naturally I forgot to enter their “Handwriting” grade. Honestly, I forgot we even bothered with that, since it’s been years since anyone has bothered teaching cursive where I work. And I’ve felt terrible all week again, with my third round of sore throat/hacking cough taking over my life. Went to see my doctor yesterday afternoon and he gave me a tougher antibiotic. Hopefully I can get rid of this before next week when we start parent-teacher conferences.

But enough about my failings as an educator. Since no one wanted to hear me talk about Peter Brook yesterday, let’s check out some Classic Mr. Fauth Halloween costumes!

This is from my first year of teaching, Halloween 1998. 4th grade, East View Elementary. And I went as Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers. Hooray for Captain Spaulding!

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Hello, I must be going.

Can’t talk about that class without mentioning Liz’s fantastic Halloween costumes. Here she is as a basket of dirty laundry.

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That werewolf sure hates neglected laundry!

(I have lots of pics of other former students, and would gladly feature them as long as I knew they approved. Or their parents approved if they’re under 18. Them’s the rules. Liz and I are still close, so I know she’s cool with being practically a supporting character on this site. So if you’re reading this and are itching to be featured in a future post, drop me a line.)

And here is my last East View costume from 2003, ten years ago to the day, practically. When I wore this hardly any of the kids knew who Speed Racer was. I don’t imagine the Wachowski sibling’s film did much to change that.

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The shoes I found were spot-on, but man, did they hurt my feet!

Last year I wasn’t doing anything for Halloween, and the year before I had a just-okay, slapped-together Neil Gaiman costume, since I was reading The Graveyard Book for Read Aloud. Goofy wig and a black suit. Not my best, not my worst.

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This year one of my teammates suggested we all dress in a theme. Usually I just do my own thing, because I’m always looking to do something interesting and original and “clever,” and group costumes rarely go that way. (Expect LOTS of Minions this year…sigh…) But I like this team, and I wanted to make a gesture. So we’re going as the four seasons. (When I mentioned this in class, one of my kids shouted out, “You could be Frankie Valli!!!” Bravo, kid. Bravo.)

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Here’s a sneak peak. I got autumn. But I’m channeling it via Alan Moore. So either the kids will think I look cool, or terrifying.

The Magic Carpet

October 29, 2013 — Leave a comment

A year ago this week I hopped on a train and spent a few days in the quiet town of Carlingford, just shy of the border of Northern Ireland. We were off school that week, so I took some schoolwork with me and took walks and worked on a play and read some books on theatre theory. Made this video to document the trip, for those that never came across it, and like shots mostly filmed out a train window:

One book was buy a guy named Peter Brook. Now, most serious people will have heard of him, and I remember learning a bit about him back in my undergraduate theatre courses. But when you spend a dozen years or so doing youth theatre you don’t talk much about famous European theatre practitioners. You’re more concerned with just getting the kids close enough to the microphones so the audience can hear them.

But a big reason I took all that time off was so I could go study Serious Theatre, and that’s certainly what I had the chance to do. And Brook was brought up over and over again in class by multiple professors. The big quote I remember came from Patrick Mason, about how Brook knew “how to cut to the heart of something, and strip everything else away.” I heard firsthand accounts of his famous productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Cherry Orchard, and after reading two of Brooks’ books, I’m starting to get an idea of what he was after. When it comes to teaching, at least, I too prefer to get rid of anything that isn’t essential.

Brook could have taken over directorship of any of Britain’s (or even Europe’s) most famous theatre companies, but instead he spent part of the 1970s wandering Africa and the Mid-East with a small troupe of actors and a bare carpet. They would lay the carpet down in a public space and begin performing different works of theatre. He was trying to distill the magic of theatre down to its essence, and along the way reinvigorate himself and his love of the craft. After his travels, he settled into a run-down theatre in Paris called the Bouffes du Nord and there produced many of his legendary productions.

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Carlingford, Ireland. October 2012.

Many people ask me what I’m up to, theatre-wise, these days. Some want to know if I’m going back to Limelight. Some wonder if I’ll take over a junior high program, or go to a high school, or start a new company. And I don’t really have an answer for any of that. I suppose at this point I’m traveling on my own magic carpet, working with different groups of kids here and there, studying overseas with some lovely and talented people, watching and learning from the different productions I occasionally attend. I applied for, but did not get, a high school position that was open. There were some certification issues I can’t really overcome at the moment (it’s a bit tricky to jump from elementary teaching to a high school scenario), but part of me wasn’t really sure it was the job for me. At a high school, theatre is about The Spring Musical, and in my final interview I told them that I wasn’t really a musical guy. Sure, I’d do a great job, but I didn’t have the passion that others have for that particular kind of theatre. If they really needed me, I was their man. Whatever’s best for the program and the kids at that school. But if they were interviewing someone that loved musicals, I told them that they should hire them. And so they did.

You see, I’ve done that already. I’ve directed a few musicals in my day, and produced many more, and I just don’t see any challenge in it. Limelight offered an infinitely more interesting canvas on which to paint. You could do a kids’ show one year and write a personal story with high schoolers the next. And while I miss it, I’ve also done as much as I probably could do with that organization, at least in its current form.

So for now I’m just spending my days with the fifth graders, and taking it easy in the evenings and weekends. The short theatre class I taught at Northwestern this summer was a lot of fun, and gave me an idea of where I can go with all of this talent, old and new, I have stored up in me. And so I’m following Mr. Brook’s observation he gives in his essay “There Are No Secrets”:

“We prepare ourselves by the options we reject until the true solution, which was already there, suddenly comes into the open. One lives within a pattern: to ignore this is to take many false directions, but the moment the hidden movement is respected, it becomes the guide, and in retrospect one can trace a clear pattern that continues to unfold…As always, one has to go into a forest and back to find the plant that is growing besides one’s own front door.”

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Writing in Carlingford, Halloween 2012.

Monday Miscellany

October 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

I had an Amazon gift card donated by a parent in my class that HAD to be spent, so I got some new books for the class. Since we’re close to my annual Viking Day event, I thought I would get a couple of books to help with the actual content we’ll be learning. I picked up some other books that they asked for, and of course I had to get a Neil Gaiman book, although this one’s a bit silly for fifth grade. Still, there’s nothing like having a stack of new books to read, and (most) everyone was fighting over who got to read what.
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It’s my mom’s birthday today, so Happy Birthday to my dear Mother. I attribute most of my good qualities to her, whatever they are. Although I wish I had her positivity. She would probably claim to be much more pessimistic, but very rarely do I ever hear her complain or fret and speak ill of others. She’s good people, that lady. Everyone in Dublin was so excited about having her come visit over the Christmas holiday, but then I went and spoiled it all by heading home early. Maybe another time.

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I don’t have very many recent pictures of Mom and I, but here’s one from last Christmas. I brought back a few oddments of European Christmas traditions, so we’re drinking German gluehwein and wearing a paper hat from an English Christmas cracker.

For the past two days I’ve had a sore throat (again), and I’ve been getting headaches for at least three or four days straight. So it’s back to the doctor for me tomorrow afternoon. I’m pretty wiped out, so I’ll keep this entry short. Missed a family gathering this evening due to being sick, but I figured I didn’t need to be around people if I’ve got something nasty.

The Hero’s Journey

October 27, 2013 — Leave a comment

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Once upon a time, I took a job that I thought I always wanted.

Almost ten years ago I left my fifth grade classroom at East View and I became a “gifted” teacher. I would spend all day, every day, pulling small groups of very intelligent children out of their “regular” classrooms and I would challenge them with higher concepts and more rigorous assignments. I was assigned two schools, two subjects, three grade levels each: Math and Reading, third, fourth, and fifth grade.

And I ended up hating it.

I only saw the kids an hour, maybe two a week. I was off by myself in a small room with no windows, in two different schools. There was a weird attitude that came with the job, a sort of “Oh, well you’re gifted, so I’m sure I don’t need to tell you anything.” That very American kind of disdain for the intellectual set. The assumption that just because I taught “the smart kids” meant that I thought I was intellectually superior to everyone else around me.

(Those that know me well are welcome to now chime in and give me a lot of crap. That was an alley-oop right your way.)

It was a difficult three years of my life, partly because I had a lot of other stuff going on in my life, and partly because the job just didn’t wind up being what I had hoped it could be. It felt like a Band-Aid type of class, something to appease the parents of gifted children that really wanted something deep and different. My teaching job with Northwestern’s summer gifted program this summer showed me what it could be like, when I had a bunch of junior high kids devouring Hamlet and The Cherry Orchard in a matter of days.

But I’m getting off-point. What I really want to talk about is a group of students that became some of the most important people in the world to me.

In early September of 2005 I had recently returned from a disappointing trip to Ireland (although, ironically, that’s the summer I met The Dubliners, now also some of the most important people in my life), bought a house, and was starting Year Two in the gifted job. (We tend to call it A.T., for Academically Talented, but to be honest I hate both names.) I like to sum up the start of that year with this story: One day I headed into work, walked into my classroom and discovered that it’s been turned over to the School Picture People. The principal never bothered to tell me. So I took a sick day and went home to unpack. I had just bought a house a few days earlier and things were a little scattered in my life.

Sometime around then I met a group of five third graders and my life was never quite the same again.

(Before I go any further, I hope any other former students or former actors reading this know that EVERY student/actor I have matters to me. Don’t think I’m playing favorites. I could probably write a million stories about a lot of other students I’ve had, but tonight it’s about these five.)

Right away I knew this group was special. They loved talking about stories, and had a good head for the classic tales of Luke Skywalker and Rocky Balboa. They were officially assigned to AT Reading and AT Math. Two hours a week. That was it. Before long, though, we decided to add a third course that wasn’t on the “official” AT curriculum. They gave up their lunch and recess and we met for a weekly, unofficial AT Writing class for the next two years. We focused on that type of story Joseph Campbell referred to as “The Hero’s Journey”, and we learned about The Call to Adventure, The Ordeal, and The Reward. I gave examples of the best kind of storytelling, the deus ex machina, and I threw out the assigned reading curriculum to delve into Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart.

That time we spent together became the purest example of what can happen when you’re left alone, you throw out the rulebook, and you let the kids help decide what they’re going to learn.

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During one of our final sessions together we took a few photos and shot some film, some of which you can see in a video I made last year. I try to keep it quiet, but it’s a good summation of my life of travel and teaching.

I can’t even remember why we decided to take the photo* above. I do remember our last day together, reading “Instructions” by Neil Gaiman, having some tears, and understanding that there was a lot of love in the room. I was going to head back to teaching fifth grade, so I could have one school and one group of students. It was a rough, rough farewell, since we could have spent one more year together in that room.

Despite the traumatic goodbye, all five of them ended up joining my theatre company at one point or another over the next couple of years, so it wasn’t really goodbye. Although, as I look at that picture of us, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Morgan, and Cammy moved away to Ohio years ago. Attrition happens, and it’s down to Sam, Tyler, and Sydney these days.

So for the next several years we did plays together, or separate, and I vowed to Sam that I wouldn’t leave her twice. And then I went and did just that and left Limelight four years after I quit being her A.T. teacher. I knew I was heading to Dublin soon, and had to start making my farewells.

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After Hamlet at OEHS. Sam played Ophelia after starring as Olivia in my final Limelight production of Twelfth Night, summer 2011.

Life moved on. Dublin had to wait for a year, so I did some theatre at a junior high and reveled in teaching them Shakespeare and Cleary. I prepared to start a (temporary) new life in Ireland, and during one of my final days in the states, I met Tyler, Sydney, and Sam for ice cream. They spent most of the time being giggly high school kids, but at the end they gave me this:

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It had been five years, but they took the time to take the story they had worked on, collectively, for two years in our unofficial writing class, and had it professionally bound.

I took it with me to Dublin, and it sat proudly next to my copies of Chekhov, Shakespeare, and Friel.

And so now here we are in the fall of 2013. They’re juniors in high school, writing their own musicals, reading Jane Eyre, and obsessing about One Direction. Tonight we reunited and hugged and laughed and we were joined by so many others, Limelighters and Grande Park Grizzlies and Hermia and Helena and Oberon and all these kids I’ve known from so many different places. We were all there. Together again. I was called Life Coach, and Wizard, whatever that means. Sydney showed me the sketch of the tattoo she wants to give: “Deus ex machina” across the top of her foot.

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So, so awkward in this photo, trying to crouch to match their height.

Sam and I have a shared love of The Lord of the Rings, so she’ll be the one to most appreciate these final comments. Oftentimes my friends and family probably get frustrated with me, wondering why I’m not around and available for them like others are. And I never know what to say to that. I’m a bit of an introvert, and after a day or week or month of teaching more often than not I just want to have some time by myself. It’s not that I don’t love my parents and my sister and my uncles and aunts and my grandmothers and my nieces and nephew and my friends old and new. Sometimes there’s just nothing left in the tank. Apparently I’ve got a gift, so I spend it on the people who need it the most. And so I end with this:

“Onen i-estel edain, u-chebin estel anim.”

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An impromptu recreation. Cammy and Morgan are missed.

*As an appendix: If, for some reason, I die before I have the chance to weigh in on my own funeral, I would like this photo of the six of us to sum up my years as an educator. It doesn’t say everything, and certainly doesn’t feature the hundreds and hundreds of kids I’ve known through teaching and directing, but it encapsulates enough of what I was trying to say as a teacher. So print a big copy or display it on my tombstone or digital urn or whatever crazy stuff will be available when I shuffle off the ole mortal coil.