Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ode to a Koosh Ball

This Monday classes finally start. On Monday, twenty-four students will file into my new classroom and my twenty-first year of teaching drama will begin. Whether the class is called Introduction to Drama - as it once was - Fundamentals of Theatre - which it became when the class was changed from a semester-long to a year-long class to meet UC requirements - or Theatre One, which is the title of the current class I will be teaching - one thing has never changed. I have begun my classes standing in a circle, tossing a Koosh Ball.

I have, for twenty-one years, used the same Koosh Ball. Every single student I have ever taught has held that ball, tossed it from hand to hand while pondering what plays they've seen or what their dream role is. They've pulled on the soft rubber-band like spines and squeezed it in their palms. They've tossed it, dropped it, thrown it and held it.

And now, I've lost it.

I can't find my Koosh Ball anywhere. I feel a little like Tom Hanks in Castaway when he lost Wilson. I am mourning my Koosh Ball and thinking about how much we've been through together.

He was with me on my very fist day of being a drama teacher in the auditorium of Cornelia Connelly High School.
He was with me on the first day we started the worskshop on the stage of the Servite Theatre.
He was with me when we started the Friday Tri-School Theatre Conservatory.
He was with me in classrooms, on stages, outside on the grass, and under the stage in the pit.
He rode in the car with me when I traveled from school to school - teaching Drama Class at Rosary, Connelly and Servite all on rotating schedules. Sometimes he rode in the trunk in a crate and sometimes he was stuffed in a back pack. He was faithfully atop my clip board as I began every rehearsal warm up for every play I ever directed.
He even lived in the Muckenthaler Cultural Center Gallery for a while.

I'm not sure I even know how to begin without my Koosh Ball. I'm not sure the words will come out of my mouth or the thoughts will come into my head. I'm not sure I can teach Drama without him.

All things must come to an end. Somewhere a long the way in my most recent move, my greenish, purplish, soiled old Koosh Ball must have fallen out of a box or was mistakenly sent to the rummage.

If a Koosh Ball's life were counted in dog years - then my Koosh Ball served me for 120 years. Not a bad run.

I will miss you, old pal. Once I finally accepted the fact that you were gone - after countless prayers to St. Anthony - I ran to Toys R Us to buy a new one. They didn't have any. I bought something rubbery - it's actually kind of gooey feeling. I tossed it in my hands and thought, well what they don't know won't hurt them.
My students won't know that the ball they will be holding is a poor imitation of the real thing.

Goodbye, old friend. Wherever you are, I hope your landing was soft.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


On this hot August night
as I walked along the moonlit canals of Naples
I remembered
for the first time today
that Monday morning in August
twenty-nine years ago
when I walked down the hallway of my home in Anaheim
to hushed voices
the end of my childhood.

Apply Yourself

I juggle the four remotes in my hands staring blankly at the stack of electronic equipment in front of me. Pointing. Clicking. First one. Then another. A message appears on the screen. Press menu. I look down at the remotes. They all have a menu button. I push one. Nothing. First the Onkyo Box. Nothing. Then the Sony TV. Nothing. Then the Sony DVD Player. Ditto.
Determined I start again. I Point the DVD remote at the DVD player and now thrust it forward as if to send some invisible ray of "on" through the air. I do this several times. Nothing.

All I want to do is listen to a CD while I cook dinner.

In frustration I call out to my son. "Brendan! Can you please turn on the CD player?"

He comes downstairs and in a firm and steady voice says to me, "Mom! Apply yourself!"

Apply yourself. Those words have now become part of my inner dialogue every time I encounter a new technological challenge.

Just yesterday at the "new teacher" orientation, I sat in the computer lab, staring at a computer screen - attempting to reset my password multiple times while four I T Specialists pointed out how to log on the the intranet, how to use the O Drive, N Drive, T Drive, P Drive, C Drive and how to set up our grade books. I just wanted to get on to the darned computer. But I did not panic. I applied myself.
Eventually the locked screen opened in front of me. By that point, of course, the I T Specialists had moved on to taking attendance.

No worries, I told myself. I will simply apply myself and figure out all those things I missed while I was typing the upper case letter, number, and special figure that now make up my secure complex password. There is, after all, a manual.

Back to my office, I sit down at my computer and enter the password. No access. I try again. Still locked. I breathe. Apply yourself, Amy. But how many times can a person type the same 9 letters, numbers and special figures before deciding that no amount of applying one's self will unlock this particular computer? So, I turn it off. Reboot, I say. That often solves everything.

And you know what? It didn't.

I decided it was time to go home.

All night long I toss and turn thinking of how much I need to learn before school begins. If I could have applied myself at 3:00 a.m. I would have, but I can't access any of this stuff from home. So after dreaming about flailing around in an enormous high tide, I wake up and drive back to school, determined to get on to my computer.
I sit in traffic on the 405 freeway for over an hour because four lanes are shut down. I vow to ask Brendan how to check the traffic report on my iphone before I leave next time.

My commute takes nearly two hours. Once at school, I attempt to open the electronic door with the large, three pronged electronic key to go into the building where my office is located. I insert the key. A red flashing message appears: Key failed. Key failed. Key failed.

Of course it did, I think. Because I'm caught in the vortex of hell where all electronic and computerized equipment fails.

I find the charger and plug it in to reactivate the key. Once in my office, I sit down at my computer and push the power button. I type my secure complex password. I wait.

Eureka! I am on the intranet.

Rewarded at last. It only took me 24 hours of applying myself!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Plan

Last night a neighbor strolled up to our house for a "stop and chat" (for all you Curb Your Enthusiasm watchers). It was a perfect evening - the Moon, Venus, Mars and Saturn were in alignment - an astronomical rarity and I was beating my husband at ping pong - a marital rarity. Dinner was on the stove waiting for both of our "children" to return home for a family meal around the dining room table. Our cats slumbered, intermittently stirring to chase an errant ping pong ball.

The waning days of summer. Come Monday morning, my alarm will go off at 5:00 a.m. and I will begin a new commute to a new job where I will work with new people, teach new students in a new school, learn a new bell schedule, a new grading program, a new computer, and how to use a new photocopy machine.
It's called transition.

My daughter, Gillian, will leave on the red eye Sunday night to return to New York where she will move in to her new apartment and start a new semester at NYU.

No back to school for my son, Brendan, this year. Driving the 405 freeway to his job in down town LA will be as close as he comes to USC except on game days.
Perhaps the most painful transition of all....

Coping with change and new circumstances is stressful. Big changes. Little changes. Each requires energy, resilience, patience, and organization. Relying on our past coping mechanisms in order to move through a transition is important. Remembering "how we did it" can put things in perspective and serve as reinforcement of our capabilities.
"I've been through a lot harder stuff than this" can be one of the most calming inner thoughts one can have. After all, the very fact that you are thinking that means you survived whatever that harder stuff was!

I'm a planner. Order calms me. My closet is now organized for the 5:00 a.m. dressing - a new approach this year. All outfits are hung together. Jewelry included. Earrings will be strategically placed the night before to avoid the hunt for the matching earring back. I learned this as a young mother getting my two children out the door for school in the morning. The simple task of putting the shoes out the night before saved me from a frantic search in the morning. Menus are planned for the crock pot. Sunday will be soup preparation day. Lunches will be packed the night before. All of this preparation frees me from anxiety and makes the grind of early mornings and late nights just a bit more tolerable.

Time and space are the casualties of the back to school routine. The pace quickens and the responsibilities multiply. When life begins to feel unwieldy, I invoke Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Live in Quadrant II - Not urgent but important. Stay out of Quadrant IV- Not urgent and not important.

My weekly syllabi are done. My rehearsal schedule is nearly completed. My file folders are in order. Road maps for the ten month journey ahead. A plan gives me the illusion of control - not that things don't come along to upset the plan. Flexibility is also an essential ingredient. But controlling my time, conserving my energy, and striking a balance are all important to my ability to sustain good mental, emotional, and physical health.

Does this sound like a pep talk?

Yep. You bet it is.