Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Book Is Born

In 2006, I wrote a memoir about my first year creating and running the Shakespeare Club at a Los Angeles public school.

In 2007, I met a literary agent who read my manuscript, called me to say it was "fresh, solid, original and delicious" — who the heck doesn't want to hear that? — and said she wanted to represent the book to publishers.

In 2008, the Great Recession hit and the book was not picked up by any editors.

In 2009, my agent suggested I start a blog — this very site — and I did, publishing posts about my fourth, fifth, and sixth years of running Shakespeare Club.

In 2013 — wonder of wonders — a publishing house wanted Teaching Will: What Shakespeare and 10 Kids Gave Me That Hollywood Couldn’t.

In 2014 — on August 12 — that book is born.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Julius Caesar Act I, Scene II

I'm not claiming to be remotely close to the genius of Shakespeare, but we have at least one thing in common: He had to bide his time, and I identify. He started as a water boy in the theatre. He had to run around doing errands for the higher-ups, all the while watching and listening to the works of others.

Then the Black Plague hit, theatres were closed and he holed up in a turret, writing poems for cash. William Shakespeare kept writing while he was forced to be patient. He honed his craft and we reap the benefits. I wonder...I wonder if he knows that over 400 years later, how many of his plays are on stages all over the world, every single minute of every single day?

I hope he does.

CHILDREN'S WRITES: A Journal Entry
Shakespeare is fun. I like it because Shakespears words are so so pretty. I also like the plays romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Misdummers Night dream. Shakespeares words are so butiful and pretty did I mention that already. I joined the Shakespeare Club for two years because the shakespeare club sonded very fun.
—Emilia, 4th grade

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Juliet of the Subway


It happened this week.

It happened this way.

So I'm told by my friend, the writer Heather Summerhayes Cariou ("Sixtyfive Roses: A Sister's Memoir").

Heather was on a NYC subway train, seated near two middle-school girls. The teens were huddled together and poring over a book. One girl read aloud to the other. This alone was a sweet picture, but what were they reading with such intensity?

Heather leaned forward, hoping to glimpse the book's cover. Writers do this. We live, in hope, that our book may be the one in hand. We live, in hope, that any book will be in hand. As more and more commuters read Tolstoy on their smartphones, it becomes more difficult to gauge what the public is eating up word-wise.

Heather was delighted to see the girls gobbling up a modern adaptation of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." Their interest made sense since Juliet is close in age to these teens, and Juliet is crazy in love with a teenage boy, and Juliet's parents would flip right out if they knew of her crush. Yup, there's a lot going on there for a couple of New York City teens to grasp.

Maybe Heather sat back and recalled her own discovery of Juliet. Heather might have been remembering her days in theatre school working on the role of Juliet. She may have smiled to think of how easy it was to identify with Juliet's passion for the boy Romeo since Heather herself had gone a little cuckoo for a certain tall young man.


In the confluence of a heart's memory on a city train and a young girl spouting the story to her friend, Heather slightly lost her mind. As the train neared her stop she stood, faced the girls, and said:

Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.


Heather told me this story and described the middle-school girls' dropped jaws at this middle-aged American woman briefly transforming into a teenage Italian girl in love. With perfect timing, Heather finished the speech and stepped onto the platform as the subway doors shooshed and closed behind her.

"It was like you were with me, Mel," Heather told me.

"And now you know the feeling," I answered. "Oh yes, kids get Shakespeare, all right."

After Heather told me her story I imagined those two girls rocking on the subway train, wondering if their Romeos would ever show up. And I imagined my friend wending her way home with thoughts of how many Romeos it took to find her one true Romeo.


Oh, William Shakespeare, here's to you at 450 years of age, continuing to entrance and inspire everywhere, all the time.


CHILDREN'S WRITES: A Journal Entry
What I learned today is that Romeo didn't want the name Romeo Montague because he liked Juliet Capulet and the Montagues and Capulets had war.

The prince said "We must stop this fighting".

The Capulets and the Montagues fighting remines me of my mom and dad.

William Shakespere was telling us about themes because people just can fight and fight until their son or daughter dies.

My character is Juilet. She lives in a castle.

—Belinda, 3rd grade


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I Get It

A few years ago I strolled past a fourth-grade classroom where a word had been tacked up:

EMPATHY

with little kid essays hanging below.

I stopped cold because I hadn't learned the value of this word when I was nine. Oh no, I didn't learn the value of this word until I was well...well into adulthood and my therapist pointed out I was lacking in empathy.

"But my yoga handstand is improving..." I argued.

She delivered the steady gaze all psychotherapists must practice in therapy school.

In the lower-middle-class suburban home where I was raised, empathy was not on display. Instead, we lived with these behaviors:

CRITICISM

DEVALUATION

DISPARAGING

MOCKERY

Sympathy showed up in our household in chats about the circumstances of a neighboring family struggling more than we were. We felt sorry for those people. We grimaced at their lot. And we stayed distant as if touching would be contagious.

This is not empathy. It's not even good sympathy.

Empathy evokes compassion. Empathy is putting ourselves into someone else's shoes. Empathy is the kind ear of identification.

Maybe these words are a road map to empathic behavior:

OBSERVATION

FEELING

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Here's what that fourth-grade teacher knew:

We are never too young to reach beyond ourselves in empathy.

Here's what I know:

We are never too old to reach beyond ourselves in empathy.

Here's what we both know:

Empathy can and should be taught at every age.

CHILDREN'S WRITES: A Journal Entry
I feel lonely at home then I read a book then I feel more lonely.

The meaning of lonely is being somewere without people talking to you, not being with you, and most of the time when you are lonely you are sad.

—Kate, 4th grade

Saturday, January 25, 2014

And a Child Shall Lead Them

I've been to my share of school meetings led by union presidents, school supervisors, politicians, principals, teachers and parent leaders of booster clubs.

I've heard my share of the rally cries, and those cries are more often than not:

"It's all about the kids! We must keep our focus on the children!"

Yippee, right on, you bet, and down with the sourpuss who doesn't agree with and espouse this credo, this battle cry for change and advancement in all aspects of educating the next generation.

A-hem.

That's me clearing my throat.

Blink.

That's me shaking my head.

Ah-choo.

That's me with a sneeze and a thought.

For many years, when I ran The Shakespeare Club, filled with eager-beaver kids willing to leap the high bars of the Bard, our club was bullied by a teacher who, for whatever reasons, devalued our work.

This teacher did lots of things to stand in the way of our efforts and I'm not going to whine on and on to promote sympathy because that's not the gist of this story.

I will tell you one of this fellow's habits: his practice of delaying students for 30 to 40 minutes after class. He specifically liked to hold back the ten Shakespeare Club members on our meeting days.

Now, I only had 18 weeks of Shakespeare Club meetings per year and each meeting only lasted two hours, so if you added it up I was losing a lot of time with these children, they were losing a lot of their rehearsal time, and other members were losing their acting partners.

Of course, I tried with Mr. Teacher. I flattered, I made deals, I begged, I stood at the class door while he (with his feet crossed on his desktop) shrugged, smirked and said, "They like me!"

I pled with parents, the principal and the booster club for help. I suggested they form an army and stand outside the fifth-grade classroom at 2 p.m. every Wednesday and usher the students out.

"Because," I argued, "isn't it all about the kids? Isn't everything we're doing here about advancing education, encouraging maturity, awakening awareness? Shouldn't we teach the importance of commitment to the team?"

The kids...isn't it all about them?

Here's the irony.

During my last year with this school, as the club neared Performance Day and a huge chunk of the fifth-graders' practice had been eaten up by this teacher, I looked up one Wednesday at 2 p.m. to find all the fifth-graders walking into Shakespeare Club on time.

"Whoa...hey...great to see you guys," I said. "What happened?"

"Well, Ms. Ryane," said Ellie, who looked to have grown an inch or two that week, "we just said, 'We have to go now.' We just said, 'It's Shakespeare Club, Mr. Davis, and we have to leave.'"

"Then what happened?"

"Nothing. We're here is all."

Yup.

CHILDREN'S WRITES: A Journal Entry
Shakespeare is fun. I like it because Shakespears words are so so pretty. I also like the plays romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Misdummers Night dream. Shakespeares words are so butiful and pretty did I mention that already. I joined the Shakespeare Club for two years because the shakespeare club sonded very fun.
—Emilia, 4th grade

1st photo from Seeds and Fruit

Friday, December 20, 2013

Book It

Way back in 2005 I started an after-school Shakespeare program for little kids. The idea grew from two sources:

1. I was disturbed at high statistics of kids dropping out of school because they couldn't read;

2. I was creatively starved and needed a place to be.

By 2006 I'd written a memoir of my first year with The Shakespeare Club.

By 2007 in a heady swirl I was signed by a New York literary agent.

And then....

I ran the Shakespeare program for six years, I started this blog in 2009 to chronicle my adventures with the kids and I waited and waited as a recession took grip of the economy and my book didn't sell.

I learned for the billionth time that nothing happens in our time frames.

I kind of forgot about the book. I kind of gave up. I kind of moved on.

Last August while in New York City I met my agent for dinner.

She said, "I have some interesting news."

TEACHING WILL: What Ten Kids Gave Me That Hollywood Couldn't sold in August 2013 to Familius Press with a planned release of autumn 2014.

I'm currently waiting for editorial notes. And waiting for two of my novels to sell. And waiting for Santa to come down the chimney.

Note to self: NOTHING ever happens in your time frame. Give it up.

But kind of hang on too.

CHILDREN'S WRITES: A Journal Entry
I would like a life of peace. Because my mom always says that she wants peace. When she gets her peace she feels better. I also want peace because I want a good job, a good family, food to put on the table and I want to be able to pay my rent. Most of all I love Peace. I like me too! Me me me me me Peace peace peace peace me me me me peace peace peace peace me me me me

I learned things while being the narrator. One thing I learned was that when I am on stage try not to laugh at the people who are acting funny parts. Another thing I learned that don’t be jumpy be centered. Ms.Ryane says that is cheesy. Before we did our last performance Ms.Ryane had us say "I am centered I am focused."

—Belinda, 4th grade

typewriter photo from The Classic Typewriter Page

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

From the Galaxy: Quvenzhané Wallis

This sometimes happens. A breathtaking talent sent from the stars to become a star among us. A supersonic arrival delivered to shake us up and make us wonder if, indeed, reincarnation exists. Because this child, this actor, this wonder landed on our movie screens full to the brim with something to say and the instrument to say it.

As if she'd burned up the stages of Europe in another era and wasn't finished. As if she demanded an encore and, five years after being (re)born in Houma, Louisiana, shouted, "I'm ready. Bring it on. I'm taking on the Western hemisphere."

Quvenzhané Wallis is the star of Benh Zeitlin's visual jewel BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. It is inconceivable to imagine the film without her. This is not to say she's not surrounded by talent — to be sure she is, most notably in a performance by Dwight Henry as her father — but it's this child's ferocity and immediacy that hold each frame in place and hold our hearts tight.

In an interview, Henry claims she would give him direction on the set. "Do it this way," she would say, then show him. In an even slightly older actor such behavior would be conduct unbecoming, but from a tiny girl one can forgive and be amazed.

I'm ambivalent about Wallis receiving an Oscar nomination. On the one hand, of course she deserves the honor and the red-carpet attention for her work. On the other hand, I fear for her future in the hands of Hollywood handlers.

This gifted actor was born for center stage with qualities that are unteachable. It's impossible to teach an actor to have an emotional instrument. It's there or it isn't. It's impossible to give an actor timing. It's there or...it isn't. However, these qualities in her are still unrefined. If this bundle of talent sets sail without developing her craft, it would be heartbreaking. And there's the rub.

Hollywood is about profit. Wallis is now nine years old and a commodity. Hollywood managers, agents, directors, producers and studio heads tend to think, Don't damage the goods. There's an archaic view in the industry that raw ability will lose its punch or spontaneity in an acting class.

This opinion is infuriating. First and foremost, because she'll need the armor of craft to see her through a career. There are too many working directors who don't actually understand what an actor does or is capable of doing because they've never studied the craft. She'll need to know how to play her instrument like the Stradivarius it is. She'll need technique to give her backbone, to hold her strong and steady in the heady clouds of the Hollywood Hills.

I wish we could collectively embrace her in a blanket of protection. I hope she's being advised by one of the few smart ones in this town. I want her to fly as an actor for years and years, not just this year or next.

Quvenzhané Wallis is already gold. She doesn't need the statue. Not yet.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Free to Leave

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the word to the action....
Hamlet Act III, Scene II

2012 marks the seventh season of The Shakespeare Club and the first year of the club without me.


I watched from the sidelines as Rachel, who had assisted the club for three years, took the reins and hit the trail. I helped where I could from my new position in the background. I gave Rachel a weekly curriculum with the admonition that she should tweak and toss as she saw fit. I gave her templates for letters to parents, teachers and the principal. But mostly I gave Rachel encouragement to venture forth into the role of director because I knew she would succeed.

On May 24, 2012, I attended two of the Shakespeare Club's performances of "Much Ado About Nothing."

It was, I promise you, much ado about something. My eyes teared up to see little actors wrestling with big text. My heart leapt as they discovered power. And I sighed with the surety that the club can and will go on.


The Shakespeare Club was an idea formed in 2005. A thought, a musing and an experiment...but it was never mine to keep. It was a seed meant to grow.

And it has. This was a relief. It can blossom anywhere, under different auspices and different leadership. This is most heartening.


At the end of last year I told the children I was leaving to travel and write. I have spent 2012 doing exactly that.

To sit in the audience and bear witness to the club flourishing was pure satisfaction. The kernel of an idea that popped into my head in the middle of the night seven years ago was worth pursuing, nurturing and passing forward.

When Rachel ran onstage after the final performance to embrace her cast and crew, I recognized the enormity of their pride. Olympians, all of them.

Here's what it took:

  • 1. Community support.
  • 2. An adapted script.
  • 3. Will.

That's all: Teaching Will.

You can do this.

CHILDREN'S WRITES: A Journal Entry
Yes, I fifilled my goal because even though I didn't get the part I wanted to, the part I got I made him into a real person. I learned that Shakespeare was a grat person that wrote plays and was married and that he had kids. I also learned that Henry the 8 had 6 wives and remember all 6 I did, Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.
—Kamili, 5th grade

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An Open Book


O, cut my lace in sunder, that my pent heart
May have some scope to beat....
Richard III Act IV, Scene I

In addition to gathering critical acclaim, the AMC series "Mad Men" is introducing a new generation of women, many of whom loathe the moniker feminist, to the lives of women in another time.

And as "Mad Men" is to advertising, so Janice "Jenny" Van Horne's memoir, "A Complicated Marriage" (Counterpoint Books), is to the mid-century era of modern American art.

I am crazy about this book. What young person leaping into adulthood doesn't wonder Who am I? and What's going to happen to me? Jenny Van Horne took me on a adventure that recalled my own questions and my own search. I was with her all the way through both the pain and exuberance of life in the city, in the country and coast to coast.

In compelling fashion, Van Horne takes her readers by the hand and, beginning in 1955, leads them decade through decade on a fascinating odyssey of time, place, culture and a marriage as modern as the art on the walls.

Jenny arrives in Manhattan as a Bennington graduate and at a cocktail party meets Clement Greenberg, the man who would become her partner and husband — and pariah to her anti-Semitic family.

Greenberg, an art critic many considered the best of his generation and perhaps of all time, was the man behind the artists who drove American modern art on to the world stage. These artists exploded like rockets into the stratosphere, and holding tight to their tails were their wives.

Quiet women at the ready to prop up their geniuses as the Scotch and vodka flowed and self-importance rattled forth. One of these wives took to humming as the men jabbered. Was she quelling her own madness?

In an ironic turn, many of these artists' wives have found their power as artists' widows. They are now the guards at the gate and the curators of the work. Now they can be heard. Now they can be respected.


Jackson Pollock


Van Horne quietly slips into the milieus of Greenwich Village, East Hampton and Provincetown. Jammed into the smoky atmosphere of Pollock, de Kooning and Kline, she paints delicious verbal pictures for us. We join her in tasting, hearing and feeling the silent desperation of a woman in search of purpose.

Once engaged, Clem informs her they'll marry "as long as nothing changes" and announces they'll enjoy an "open marriage." Of course, everything changes, and the concept of an open marriage is as foreign to this young wife as are the dazzling paint splashes of Jackson Pollock. Small wonder that "Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes..." became their song.

At acting classes at the HB Studio, then under the prickly scrutiny of Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio, Jenny Van Horne finds her voice. As ensemble theatre takes hold, with actors and audience grappling in drug-induced protest against the war in Vietnam, she finds place. Change happens. Clem introduces the freedom of that open marriage and Jenny follows with her own experiences and unearths self.


Morris Louis


Jenny Van Horne's roles as wife, mother, actor, singer, writer, editor and witness transport us from the fifties through the nineties and into a new millennium, where introspection and forgiveness are offered.

Van Horne and Greenberg marry, divorce and marry again. Whatever drew them together in 1955 anchors the twosome to the end. It can be a tricky business to grow as an individual within the institution of marriage and I can't say this book convinced me that an open marriage is the ticket. However, I was left with the sense that Jenny and Clem knew themselves, respected and accepted each other and nurtured a deep affection...over a very long time.

On completion of this vivid read I wondered, "What now, Jenny Van Horne?" because I wanted more. More words, more pages, more people....What now, Jenny Van Horne?

She may well whisper, "Live your own life." And this too is the signature of a good book.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fear Not


Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings.
Macbeth Act I, Scene III

A couple of years ago in the Shakespeare Club, I staged "Macbeth" with ten-year-olds playing the royally ambitious Him and Her.

Even younger kids played other heroic roles and all of them digested the plot as we discussed the moral choices of Shakespeare's characters.

Let me emphasize these were elementary public school children reading, journaling and acting out this bloody drama.


Leaders in Thailand have decided their adult population cannot handle "Macbeth" and have banned a film about a theatrical company performing the play.

The film's director, Ing Kanjanavanit, is as dismayed — as any in the free world might be — to have learned that higher-ups are afeared her updated, relevant telling might incite "divisiveness among the people of the nation."

Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire?
Macbeth Act I, Scene VII

Thailand bans "Macbeth" adaptation as too divisive (AP/CBS News)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Say Amen to Theatre



A line of a hundred and five students filed by, pausing to make quick knee dips. For an instant I had an impulse to bow in return, but of course they weren't genuflecting to me. They were honoring the man of the house as they'd been trained to do.


I'd been invited to teach two hour-long Shakespeare workshops at a local Catholic School. A last-minute venue change had to be made as the result of a water main breakage flooding their auditorium. Would I mind using the church?

Mind? With those acoustics? It's the next best place to a theatre. So, in they came, the first group consisting of third-, fourth- and fifth graders — an age group I was familiar with after six years of Shakespeare Club.

I'd designed an interactive curriculum of Calm, Curious and Courageous, three items found in an actor's toolbox. We started with meditation, followed with writing and finished up with sharing their words and reading a scene aloud.


For this first group I covered the Bard's life, the lives of Elizabethans, the plague and some of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Boys in the audience groaned at the idea of Elizabethan-era boys wearing dresses, and girls found it unfair girls back then couldn't be actors.

If I was an Elizabethan girl, I would like it that I didn't have to go to school, one child wrote. I would like to be at home to cook and sew.

I gave them the prompt OBEY, as Hermia was being asked to do. "When did you have to obey? What happened when you obeyed?"

"I wrote about Hermia," a small girl said by my side up at the altar. If I was Hermia I wouldn't obey. I would run away with Lysander.

"Wait a second, have you read this play?"

No.

"That's exactly what Hermia does. You should play Hermia."

The older kids — sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders — filed in for the second session. I was now into fresh territory. The atmosphere rang, Cool, so cool, way too cool for this stuff.


"I want to tell you about this kid...he's a teenager with a wrecked hand and a lousy foot, and if that weren't bad enough he's got a crummy hump on his back. It's not his fault, he was just born this way. Imagine this teenager, Richard, stumbling around the cafeteria looking for a place to eat while other kids call him a 'bottled spider' and 'bunch-backed toad.' Anyone here ever feel like they didn't fit in, or weren't cool enough, or that other people were calling them names?"

A couple of hands went up.

"To all of you with your hands up I say, You may well be a writer, an actor, a director, a painter or musician — because artists have to understand what hurts."

More hands flew up.

With this group I covered themes of Power, Revenge and Love. They wrote but were less than eager to share. The first time I asked only one boy stepped forward.

I would like to have power to make my own decisions about things. I would like to make my own choices but I would probably make terrible decisions, David read aloud.

"I think we can all identify with what David has written. Who wouldn't like to decide whether or not to attend school, or to sleep in, or what to eat? But David, I don't agree with the last part of what you wrote. Look out here. See all these kids, your classmates?"

Nod.

"You're the only one, of all these hundred kids, brave enough to come up here and share. You've already made a brilliant decision."

And so it went with Hamlet's need for revenge, Viola and Sebastian's search for love and Macbeth's lust for power. Jaws hung open as tales of murder and bloody gloves shared a space usually reserved for God's word.

More kids wanted to share their writing. More hands flew up to read aloud a scene with Hamlet and Gertrude or Viola and Olivia.

A young fellow bravely read to us of love for those in his life who had passed on.

It doesn't seem fair a thirteen-year-old should have to write of death. There's something wrong with a child losing loved ones and yet, if anyone would have understood, it would be William Shakespeare.

What I could offer these kids was power. The power to be understood, to be heard and to be acknowledged. Anywhere, anytime...who doesn't want that?


Friday, January 13, 2012

An Interview: Carina



carina: Um, my name is Carina and I'm in third grade and I played Tom Snout and in the play within the play I played the Wall.

mel: Why did you audition for Shakespeare Club, Carina?

I auditioned because I like to act and perform in front of audiences.

What surprised you about Shakespeare Club?

Um...yoga.

You didn't think we would do that?

Yeah...'cause I knew that yoga would help sometimes when you perform onstage but I never thought that you would do it.

Do you think it's important....Do you think we should do it at all?

Um...yeah, I think we should do it because it helps you be calm before we act onstage...it helps me learn my lines...it helps me think of them in my head when I do yoga.

What do you think about the meditation part we start with?

I like it because, um, it warms up my mouth and it helps me enunciate.

What do you think about our rules and mottos?

I like them...I think they're right because a lot of actors whine and they don't have the courage to be silly.

What did you learn about you this year?


I learned that I'm one of the kids who actually can do Shakespeare because some people think that kids can't do Shakespeare.

Did that surprise you about yourself?

Yes, very much.

What did you think about Performance Day?

Cool...and I thought it came out pretty well.

What was your favorite performance?

Um...probably the last one because that one you gave us all the notes and we remembered them and then we didn't need any other notes because it was the last one.

Were you nervous performing in front of the other kids in the school?

Um...no. Because I act a lot and I usually don't really get nervous.

What do you like about acting?

I like that I can be other characters...not just me...like I can be Tom Snout.

What were you proud of with this play?

I'm proud that I actually learned about Shakespeare because I didn't know who Shakespeare was before I came here.

Do you have any tips to make Shakespeare Club better?

Well, sometimes some actors were saying other actors' lines and they shouldn't really do that.

You mean while they were onstage?

Yeah.

Do you know what that's a sign of? Because sometimes adult actors do that too.

What?

It means they're not really listening to the other actor.

Oh.

What do you think Tom Snout's goal was in the play? What did he want?

He wanted to, um...make the King and Queen happy when they saw the play.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

An actor...no an actress...an actor...no an actress, yeah.

I think they're the same thing. If you wanted to be a doctor no one would say, "Oh, Carina wants to be a doctress."

[Carina laughs]

What kind of acting would you like to do?

I'd like doing things that show up on TV.

What do you think an actor's job is?

To stay focused and perform for the audience.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Word from the Wise


I was in emotional turmoil leaving The Shakespeare Club. The jumble of rage and sadness made for sleepless nights and bewilderment...until I heard from a sage.

My friend and writing teacher, Eunice Scarfe, called me for a chit-chat and I poured out the details of my hurly-burly. How unjust the world could be...how crummy...and sniff, sniff...just a sec...blow...and also this and that and...for God's sake!...and did you ever?...and can you imagine? And—

"Mel?" Eunice cut me off in a gentle voice.

"Yeah?"

"It was inevitable."

"What? What the...what?!"

"Look, you're neither a parent at the school nor a district-endorsed teacher. You never had to adhere to state testing. You didn't have to go in every single day to an overcrowded classroom. You were able to teach whatever you wanted, in whatever creative fashion you wished and, for whatever reason, you were able to afford to do it for free. And then it was a success. We are people. Just people with human feelings. The reaction you received from a small minority was inevitable."

Eunice's words were sound. They rained over me like balm on my burns. Most especially that word of wisdom: inevitable.


I wished I'd had the common sense to have figured that out earlier and held my stormy experience at bay, but I didn't. I was too caught up. I was self-righteous in my indignation and caused myself more angst than was necessary. But there you have it.

The truth is after six years it was time for me to change things up. I have travel and writing I want to do. I have been invited to teach a day of Shakespeare workshops at another school in February. And this week The Shakespeare Club will start a new season under the leadership of Rachel, and it will be a sensation.

I created and was given a peerless opportunity. I was able to encourage, inspire and love so many. It was my privilege and I am grateful. That is my takeaway.


CHILDREN'S WRITES: A Journal Entry
My goal for Shakespear Club. My goal was to have the best time of my life. I accomplished my goal. I love being on stage. My fun jorny through education and acting has come to a stop (with Ms. Ryan). I will stay on the Shakespear but Ms. Ryan won't wich makes me sad but we still have Ms. Rachel. Farewell friends of 5th grade. Future 5th graders keep your memerys strong.
Bailey, 4th grade

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Volunteering Thing



It's well documented many prison inmates came from tragic, skewed and messed-up homes.

A wrecked childhood can certainly lead to a wrecked adulthood, where anger supersedes all else.

On the other hand, it's worth noting how many adults, every single day in every single city, make children's lives better despite their own shattered experiences.

I don't know how this happens. How can two people with similar circumstances arrive at opposing lifestyles?


A teacher, a coach, a parent...a citizen with little reason to see the upside ventures forth anyway to make some kid's life a better one.

It can take so little to offer hope. A smile, a word, an acknowledgment...things will get better because you have worth.

It is both bewildering and uplifting to read of these children passing it forward one sandwich at a time. Where did they get this goodness?

As we launch into a new year with so much to fear and enrage us...maybe there's time to deliver the gold.

Two fourth-graders find a way to share school's food (LA Times)