The mug, day 4, et al. (Day 345/365)

This morning I went back to the studio and made another mug. I worked smarter, using a thinner slab and more appropriate construction techniques. I also left the etching of the labyrinth until tomorrow, when the thing has dried a bit.

It appears to be a much more within-limits size.

I also met with the double bassists and the marimbist to go over my piece. That was fun. The boys had learned it well, and responded very well to my direction on attacks and phrasing. Ryan Smith, the percussion teacher, was there, and Stephen dropped in soon. Between us all, we hammered it out. I think it’s going to be more than acceptable.

The notation issues Ryan had mentioned to me previously turned out to be very simple. Near the end, I gave the marimba some sixteenth-note arpeggios, the same pattern over and over, and just to make it an interesting challenge, I left out notes here and there. Ryan pointed out to me that it was hard to read (which I thought when I wrote it) and suggested that instead of a sixteenth note followed by a sixteenth rest, why not just make it an eighth note? The marimba can’t sustain it anyway, and it would be a lot easier to count. Duh.

I’m going to print out a complete score and parts for all concerned, with the names of the boys listed as “first performed by.”

They’ve scheduled the world premiere for next Friday’s Prism II concert, which is super cool. This is actually the first time I’ve written a piece that is being performed without my being the one who schedules it.

The rest of the afternoon was spent being busy preparing end-of-program paperwork: evaluations for students, evaluations for faculty, dance cards for the Grand Ball on Sunday night.

And then it was finally time for the faculty’s surprise present for the students. The theme for tonight’s dance is “Versus,” which can be interpreted any way you wish: good vs. evil, paper vs. plastic, and in one genius RA combo, sandwich vs. Mary Kate. Having failed to get our act together for the “Fantasy” theme dance, we decided we could use this one for our Hogwarts staff night.

So at 5:00, we began to gather in the lobby: Professors McGonagall, Trelawney, Snape, Lockhart; Albus Dumbledore, Hagrid, Harry; Rita Skeeter, Moaning Myrtle, Tonks. We made our way, in the rain, over to the dining hall, where the reaction was immediate. These sophisticated, oh-so-cool 17-year-olds reverted to their 10-year-old selves without batting an eye. Cameras appeared from nowhere. We were rock stars. They wanted pictures of us, with us, with their friends. (Gilderoy, of course, ate it up, handing out bookmarks for his new book.)

They giggled with delight when I (Snape, of course) snarled at them and ordered them around. They lined up, lined up!, to be sorted by McGonagall and the Sorting Hat. They declared that their lives were now complete, having experienced the ultimate nerdgasm.

It truly was a lot of fun. We did this last year, when the Palms was under renovation and we were being fed in the Old Gym. From day one we called it the Great Hall (when we weren’t calling it worse), and Bill McCullough suggested that we all dress up as Hogwarts faculty for dinner on the day of the fantasy dance. Justin Keith printed out huge house banners, which we hung from the basketball goals, and we set up the head table on the stage.

Like this year, the kids went nuts. I had one request for a photo of “the murderer and his victim,” so Michael Jenkins (Dumbledore) and I stood together, and suddenly there was this long line of kids waiting to take our picture. It was such a hit that we decided to make it an annual thing.

The fun of the thing is that it’s a surprise. We don’t tell the kids it’s happening, and so it’s great to watch their faces as they come into the dining hall and begin to realize what we’ve done. Cell phones come out, and suddenly the place is full. Makes it very hard to get around in my voluminous cape, and the immediate, heartfelt apologies I get from kids who step on it are a hoot.

The faculty has just as much fun. Those who were new to the game this year responded just like last year’s team: they went as all out as they could in putting together their costumes, actually sewing things.

The most amusing were Dave Francis and Tamara Brooks, two Comm Arts teachers who have neither read the books nor seen the movies, yeah, I know, but otherwise they’re brilliant teachers, so whattaya gonna do?, who were completely taken aback at the response of the kids. Especially since neither of them knew anything at all about Hagrid and Moaning Myrtle respectively. Tamara only discovered she was dead and lived in a toilet on the way out the door.

I’ll post photos when I get them.

20 days to go.

Piddling (Day 339/365)

For some reason my brain would not engage today. For once I had gotten plenty of sleep, but nothing would make my head start working. I listened to the two songs from Moonlight a couple of times, but nothing new occurred to me. I thought about getting through another handful of pages in the Logic Express book, I’m only on page 141 out of nearly 600, but even just following instructions was too much.

Finally I decided to open up the lyrics for Moonlight and see if anything happened there. Nothing did, exactly, but I decided while I was in there I’d go ahead and create pages for each song.

I’ve been using a little program called CopyWrite to work on the lyrics. Why not just a word processor? I don’t know. This popped up at some point in my life, and its quasi-notebook approach seemed a good place to work. It allows me to scratch out lyrics in the writing window, and keep notes about the song in a little “drawer” out to the side, and since it’s a notebook, I have all the songs at my fingertips. It also allows writers to tag pages with things like “chapter,” “draft,” “character,” etc.

However, it has some shortcomings that have begun to bug me. For example, its text formatting is very limited, with no strikethrough, which is very odd for a project manager, I think. Changing the name of a page, from “Harrison’s song” to “Sheer Poetry,” for example, was a matter of right-clicking instead of just hitting enter like it is everywhere else in the Mac world. Lots of other little things as well.

The last straw was when I went to create a page for “We’ll Run Away” and it wouldn’t allow an apostrophe in the page title. That’s just stupid. CopyWrite saves all your pages as separate files in a project folder it creates, and Finder naming conventions do not prohibit apostrophes, so why was CopyWrite balking?

Online I go to look once again at Circus Ponies’ Notebook. I’ve been eyeing this program for a while, but every time I download it, I think that I really don’t need it. But now I think perhaps I do. I look at all the screenshots, I watch the rather long video tour, and I am impressed.

Just to make sure, I head over to MacLife’s website and double-check for all the similar programs. I’ve looked at most of them over the years, and none of them have ever gotten me excited enough to download them, and Notebook seems to have the edge. So I download it for at least a 30 day trial.

(It also occurs to me that Grayson might find the voice annotation function useful. I know if I were sitting in a political science class being conducted in German, I’d like to be able to take notes while recording the lecture for later listening, on a Cornell note-taking page, no less.)

So I spend most of my morning transferring the pitifully few lyrics I have from CopyWrite over to Notebook, and then tracking down my post where I list all the songs and transferring that information over.

Notebook doesn’t have a little drawer for notes on a page, but I decided to create a separate “divider” for the notes on the songs, then link them back and forth.

I can also drag the Finale files into the Notebook to link each song to its score. For “Sheer Poetry,” for example, I could drag a couple of poetry websites onto the page for quick reference.

All in all, not a bad decision.

In other news, the All-Campus Chorus concert was this afternoon. Vivaldi’s Gloria went off without a hitch, and then the orchestra played Smetana’s The Moldau and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, both of them fabulously. The Moldau especially is just a beautiful piece, a work of genius undimmed by its lush popularity.

And finally, tonight I taught my last Period Dance lesson for the summer, the “ragtime” dances: tango, foxtrot, Castle Walk. The kids have had a great time, and it’s been fun watching the regulars get into it. What’s really neat about the Land of Pan-Dimensional Mice is how hard the kids will work to have fun. My heart is always especially warmed by the number of boys who show up every week to learn these dances. Next Sunday, the Grand Ball!

Land of the PDM (Day 311/365)

All is well here in the Land of Pan-Dimensional Mice. Incredibly well, actually. I have a good staff, the copier is installed and working, everyone has a key to his/her classroom, and I even have my own parking space this year.

And today the pan-dimensional mouselings arrived. That also went smoothly: 700 students arrived on campus (complete with complete families), unloaded all their stuff, and got their cars out of the way, in about four hours.

And then, most miraculously of all, after the student orientation meeting, at which they were polite and attentive, all 700 of them went to the dining hall and were seated and eating supper in about twenty minutes! By the time I got there 45 minutes later, the crowd was actually thinning out.

After the horrors of last summer, with a copier that wouldn’t work even after being installed a week late (and in the men’s laundry room), and a dining hall under renovation so that we were fed in the Old Gym (poorly), and a host of other administrative nightmares, this is fairly Elysian.

Tonight, after the faculty met with their students for the first time, they came back to the dorm all rosy and optimistic, and I’d had about all the perfection I could stand. I reminded them of what Jeff Goldblum’s character says in Lost World: “Oh, yeah. ‘Ooooh, ahhh’, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s the running and screaming.”

And so it begins.

A different kind of nothing (Day 306/365)

I’m claiming much of what I did today as creative, simply because much of what I did today has been based on years of creative problem solving in the role of assistant program director of GHP. No one gets as efficient as I am without figuring out how to make the whole thing flow.

Which is one reason I get very annoyed when others haven’t figured it out. That’s also my overwhelming greenness, of course. However, why should I have to remind myself to send specific emails a week before I arrive so that it will be remembered that I’m coming and that I will need a) keys, b) parking pass of a specific kind, c) a parking place, d) an ID, etc., etc.? Why don’t they have a production manual of their own, so that when that fateful day pops up on their calendar, they have something in writing that tells them: Get parking pass ready. Remind staff that GHP is coming and how they differ from our regular clients. Chill the champagne. I am amazed every year at the breakdowns.

I have one document entitled “What to Print and When,” and it does exactly what it says: it tells me day by day for an entire week which of the 30+ documents I need to print in order to have them ready for the next day or two. If I have it open on my computer, I can actually just click on the names of the documents, which I have linked to the documents.

I have another document, some fifteen pages long, which is literally my production manual. It’s a huge timeline, starting the week before I get here and going week by week through the program, and day by day at rugged points like opening and closing. It tells me things like Unalarm end doors and Prepare a sticky note for each returning staff member with name and preferred room number and Be in the Palms lobby to collect the preference forms.

So what is all this for? It’s so that as my instructional staff arrives, the amount of hassle they encounter is reduced. It’s so they will have the information they need to do their jobs, and within four days, the students will have the information they need to negotiate the opening of the program.

It’s also to protect my sanity, so I’m not caught flat-footed by my staff’s needs. This has taken years of notating and adjusting and readjusting. The Lyles Theorem of Process Development states that “It takes three years to get any process right, if you don’t change the process.”

I reminded myself of the Theorem today as I was trying to make sure all the instructional room keys worked, and trying to figure out which keys we are missing so I can request them, a task I thought I had done a couple of weeks ago when I was asked to submit a complete list of keys we needed, and I did. I reminded myself that part of the process of process development is building in recursion to cushion your process from external loose ends. I reminded myself how to figure out how to do that for this process in FileMaker Pro.

But that’s creativity for another day.

59 days to go.

Yard work (Day 289/365)

In a quotidian reflection of Wallace Stevens’ metaphor of the garden, I spent the late afternoon reclaiming the edges of my lawn. That is, I tore away the growth of grass over pavement and literally re-edged the whole place.

If I had had more time, I would have uncovered the brick walkway. Every five years or so, I’ll get the energy to hack away at the zoysia where it has spread over the bricks and release the walkway from its imprisonment. I think we had been living in the house for five years before I even discovered it.

However, it’s a lot easier to deal with if the soil around it is moist, which at this point in the drought, it’s definitely not. I shall be on the lookout for a good downpour.

76 days to go.

More cleaning (Day 283/365)

Today was the study: sorting into piles, shelving, filing, archiving. Clearing off surfaces. Realigning possibilities.

One thing I archived was all the William Blake stuff. This is very strange, not looking at any work coming up that has to do with William Blake. On the one hand, there’s no point in doing any more thinking or creating or orchestrating until we are sure there’s a definite leader for the WBOC. (Which we are not at this point.) On the other hand, it’s a little unnerving to think that all that could start up again, perhaps immediately, perhaps later in the summer.

Still, I have other things to do. I pulled up my Day in the Moonlight folder and took a look at the very little there is in there: the script, some notes from Mike, some midi files from Mike, a couple of lyrics I’ve started. Not a lot at all.

I had decided to sit down and reread the script for Moonlight, but if I ever printed it out, I cannot find it. Add it to my list for tomorrow.

I know I need to make Moonlight next on my list. After all, Mike has theatres waiting for the musical version of the play. Still, I have that orchestral texture running through my head, and it’s pulling me toward the symphony next. Moonlight requires actual songwriting, music and lyrics, and that’s a whole different brain. What’s a busy quasi-composer to do?

Cleaning up (Day 281/365)

No, not cleaning up at home. I’ll probably do that tomorrow. Today I cleaned up in my office at school.

I’m getting a Promethean board in the media center, and it involves a wholesale turning-upside-down of the entire media center. I hope it’s worth it. Part of what’s involved is moving where I work, on a table out in the media center, over to where the Promethean board is going to be.

Since I haven’t really used my office (nor the old Mac on the desk) in a couple of years, I decided that I would move my desk over to my new workspace rather than the library table I’ve been using. To do that, of course, I had to tidy up.

I began yesterday, hauling stuff off the shelves and throwing away tons of outdated stuff: Beginning Internet for Teachers; Using Filemaker 3.0; The Mac Demystified (don’t know why I had that one); old school improvement frameworks; the QCC; that kind of thing.

Today I continued, consolidating materials and tossing. It’s great fun. I am reminded of Wallace Stevens’ “Peter Quince at the Clavier,” among other Stevens’ poems, in which he uses the garden as a metaphor for creativity. He usually makes one of two points: first, the universe is a chaotic mess, a wilderness, and we humans organize as much of it as we can into gardens, and creative people are always looking for an exit from the garden, so that we can find more wilderness to organize. His second point is that gardens die and must be torn out and replanted in order to continue to be gardens.

So before I can move ahead into the wonderful future (?) of the Promethean board, I have to in many ways remove some of the old. This was certainly true of the technology stuff I’ve been throwing away.

84 days to go.

A logo (Day 280/365)

Mindful of the issues of using the complete title of A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, I began playing with ideas today in PhotoShop. (Yesterday I downloaded four or five new fonts to play with as well, although this particular font is one I already had called Fifteen36.)

That’s one solution, although I would want a much fatter (though still elegant) background font.

Looking at it now, here’s an idea: make the A Visit to lengthened, stretched into the distance, like William Blake’s Inn‘s shadow.

I downloaded the video that Jonathan shot last week. The sound is not the best, but our two staged works come across quite well. The music actually stands up to inspection. I can’t wait to hear it for real, one way or the other, with a chorus that has been rehearsed by someone who knows what they’re doing. (Dragging on “never part day from night” there… tsk, tsk…)

Relay for Life (Day 275/365)

I had never been a part of Newnan Crossing’s Relay for Life team before. I’d supported it, donated to it, but back when I was still at NCTC, there would be a show to take care of, and then I just never motivated myself to get on board.

However, since my friend Mitch Powell’s death last fall and his wife (and my friend) Anne’s recovery, I felt shamed into doing something more active. And so I went to the organizational meeting for the team.

We made plans to raise money via our friends, our students, their parents, anyone we could think of. During that meeting, those who had been part of the team in the past lamented that Ken Chambless, our former PE teacher, had gone to Welch Elementary. Who, oh who, would be our team’s Mr. Relay?

Dale, that’s who. I happily agreed to this position, knowing, and suspecting, nothing. They did mention that Ken had worn Daisy Duke shorts and a feather boa, but since I gathered that the position was essentially a team mascot to attract attention and donations, I figured that I could wear my kilt and a Hawaiian shirt and make a similar stir.

In actuality, it’s not “Mr. Relay,” it’s “MISSter Relay,” and it’s a drag contest. I found this out almost by accident a couple of weeks ago. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound. The theme was Hollywood, so I decided on the infamous, iconic Bjork swan dress.

[I almost backed off that particular frock, what with William Blake’s Inn swallowing all my available sewing time. I thought I had my teal dinner gown from the drag ball murder mystery hanging in my closet (heh), but couldn’t find it. Laurel Alford, president of NTC, kindly found it in the costume shop and brought it to me as my backup.]

I spent the week in my media center madly gathering netting and stitching it onto a circular skirt. Yesterday, I painted the swan head (leftover foam from the Toast Heads) and hacked out a slipover, one-shouldered bodice to tuck into the skirt. Voilá, an incredibly ugly version of Bjork’s ridiculous but elegant gown.

Add some makeup (lipstick and nails to match the swan’s beak), Ginny’s Mame wig, and I was good to go.

I have to state at this point that this sort of thing is way outside my comfort zone. Yes, I know, my fellow staff members were astonished to hear that after it was all over, but it’s true. I have never done drag in public before and have in fact avoided it. (The murder mystery was in-house, so to speak.) Part of it has to do with my incredible lack of macho-ness, I guess, and the idea that people will simply purse their lips and raise their eyebrows and make assumptions they ought not to be making. Why I should care, I don’t know, because God knows I don’t give a damn in any other area of my life. Why I can greet a fellow actor with a kiss on the cheeks, or lips, even, in public, but not put on a tacky costume, is perhaps a personal failing I need to look into, but there it is.

So anyway, this pitiful act of bravery, motivated by the unnecessary death of an old friend, had me lining up behind the stage with all the other gentlemen, many of whom had made an sincere effort to look good. I was clutching my Snape cape about me, along with a large purse and a champagne glass filled with ginger beer. We were called onto the stage one at a time, and when it was my turn, I handed my champagne to the announcer, turned my back to the audience, dropped the cape, and swirled around.

The crowd went wild. Quite gratifying. Then we all walked the track for an hour, accosting innocent strangers and demanding money from them. Those guys who had gone with the high heels were soon regretting it; I wore sensible white walking shoes. One more detail: the leotard I wore under the whole thing was lined in the bosom area, so I inserted a dog’s chew toy under the swan’s head. Lo, a boob that squeaked!

Anyway, I hauled in $777, which was not bad, but not good enough to beat BB&T’s Scarlett O’Hara, who came in with $1500.

Another detail: I began hearing bits and pieces early this week that there was talent involved. I could get neither confirmation nor denial , so I went on a search for a karaoke song I could sing. At first, I thought “Sempre libera” from La Traviata would be perfect, but it has a two-octave range and I couldn’t make it work. (That was from an opera karaoke website, believe it or not.) Then I found “The Lady is a Tramp,” but I didn’t know it well enough and didn’t have time to learn it. This was during this week, remember, when I was also preparing the backers’ audition in every non-school moment.

Finally it dawned on me that I could input any song I wanted into Finale and make my own karaoke track. Doh! I quickly picked “I Get a Kick Out of You,” spent Friday morning getting it laid out, exported, and burned. Driving back and forth, I worked out my own special stylings, and I was ready.

And then they didn’t have us do anything! The whole evening ran behind schedule, so they cut our talent. Philistines.

Finally I was off duty, and I quickly changed into my kilt, washed my face, and finally relaxed a bit.

The rest of the night was uneventful, but so cold as to make it most uncomfortable. I finally had to put my jeans back on and wrap up in my cape. Some sleep, but not a lot, and throughout the evening I and everyone around me were occasionally startled by my vivid red fingernails. What a strange way to be reminded that you are alive and conscious.

90 days to go.