Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dog Stories

Two of my seniors created an audio-documentary as a final project for my class, and they gave me permission to share it here. If you are a dog lover, you'll enjoy it.

I couldn't get the player to embed in this blog, so if you'd like to download it, click here. I'm only able to get it to work as a download.

It is an audio-documentary in the style of the NPR program This American Life and lasts about a half hour. It's a nice listen-to on a drive.

One segment of the documentary is me talking about our dog, Casserole.

And another is an old friend discussing the loss of his beloved Blocker.

I can't help but think that they would have been friends.

The two students got an A on the project, by the way. Here's my evaluation:

Hey there.

Nice nice work on the audio documentary. You exceeded my high expectations, and the significant concerns that I had never came to bear.

I'll start with my concerns:

Initially, you recall, I had intended not to approve your project. It was unclear to me how a presentation on dog psychology would fulfill an assignment that is meant to tell the story of a life. But, in the proposal presentation, you tied it to the family model from Mr. A's class by planning to write a mock sit-com. With dogs. Well, okay. I approved it with warnings and reservations.

Then, things started to shift, and most of what you used to justify the authenticity of the assignment fell away: The research into dog psych, the connection to the sit com / family model. What was left was stories about dogs. Interesting, yes, but again the connections to the class were getting pretty unclear.

At this point, it was pretty late in the game, so changing was not an option. I held my breath. I sensed that what you were creating had quality and integrity, I just wasn't sure how it suited the course itself.

But it really did. Listening to the documentary, it became clear that what was being reported on were stories of life, or, more accurately, stories of identity, which is really what is at the heart of the course. These stories, while about dogs on the surface, are actually about how people define their own identities through their dogs. This could seem accidental, but I'm sure it occurred because you edited with a theme in mind. And you ended up with a more authentic and in-depth exploration of identity than many students who approached the assignment more traditionally.

Of course, it helps a great deal that the final product is of such high quality. I would not have discovered the theme had I been distracted by audio noise, a poor mix, sloppy editing, or careless music choices. Your skill in recording, editing, selecting and using music paid off. You chose and excellent model in
This American Life, and you emulated that show's technical excellence while establishing a different context (especially with the risky but excellent decision to eliminate a host.)

One of my great regrets with this course is that we didn't have the time or the means to publish the projects publicly. I would like all of them to have a greater forum, but especially yours. The idea is fresh and original (and risky), the content is funny and moving and meaningful, and the execution is outstanding. You should both be very proud that rather than a senior cruise you took a senior expedition and discovered some wonderful stuff, in stories and in your potential. I'm proud of both of you.


A personal aside: Because you are my students, and because my story and the story of a close friend are included, I would like to post your documentary as a podcast on my family blog. I would need the permission of both of you to do that. Thanks.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Youngest On The Playground

What would you do, if there was a half hour to kill before your big brother's choir concert and you were hanging out at school and your dad had a video camera with him?

I'll tell you what you'd do. You'd show off all the cool stuff you can do on the playground, that's what you'd do.

That's what Youngest did.

This video is three minutes and forty-six seconds of cuteness, with some falling down and one boo-boo. Also, gratuitous silliness.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mormon-looking Lorax Haters

Here's a tip:

If three guys sporting haircuts and ties show up on your doorstep, and they don't ask you if you've accepted Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, then chances are you're going to lose some trees.

At least, that's what happened to us.

We knew when we moved in that only part of the wooded area behind our home was a buffer, and that someday development would take a lot of the trees down. Well, the men in ties were the Silver Surfer to progress's Galactus (super geek reference!)

As the philosopher once said, "And the trees are all kept equal / by hatchet, axe. . . . aaaaaaand saw!" (super geek reference number two!)

It could be worse: There is a forty foot tree-buffer preserve that they can't touch. Also, they are not building a meat packing plant. (Could be better: They are not building a joint women's prison / car-wash.)

(That would be a great movie.)

(Tarantino, maybe.)

What are they building? In our backyard?

Here's a hint: after thirteen years of delivering kids to various daycares, the last year of which required Mother or I to leave work every day to drive Youngest twenty minutes away, we are now three weeks away from never ever needing a daycare again.

Guess what they're building in our backyard?

I'm not complaining. We'll still have a nice yard. We'll still have some trees. And the new daycare will add a lot of traffic, but not an additional driveway, because it will share the driveway with the nursing home that is already there. Between the two of them, it'll be like bookends to the life cycle. And the little kids sure will get a kick out of all the emergency vehicles!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Middle School Choir Concert

Tonight was Eldest's choir concert. Some highlights are below.

The video is about 5 minutes long, and nobody falls down or anything. Still, it's nice.

Oh, also, throughout the video my children - specifically Youngest and Eldest, but not Daughter, I don't think - are referred to by alternate names. These names are bizarre and inexplicable. Please disregard.

Scooter and Bon Bon

When Mother and I were looking to buy a new house, I had a few priorities. I wanted to be close to the school that our whole family attends. I wanted mature trees in the backyard. I wanted a front porch.

Well, we got a house that's close to the school – it’s a bike-ride away, or a good-sized walk. And we got the mature trees in the backyard, and I love them, though many of them will be leaving soon. (Actually, I’m typing this on the back deck, at 8:16, despite what the blog clock will tell you, and my favorite evening sunshine is hitting the trees in my favorite way. I try to get myself out here for that sunlight as often as I can.)

Okay. So I’ll tell you about the trees later.

First the porch.

I wanted a front porch because of my good friend Pat the Cat (full disclosure: he’s not really a cat.) and the stories he would tell about his neighborhood. P. t. C. lives in the kind of neighborhood I dreamed of, the kind where you get home from work, you stand on the driveway for a little while talking to the neighbor, and then another neighbor shows up with a couple of beers, and the kids are playing in the yards and the cul de sac, someone brings some food, and before you know it it’s, like, midnight, and everybody is happy and laughing and having a good time.

See? That’s a neighborhood. And I think that one of the things that creates that sense of neighborhoodliness is front porches. Pat the Cat’s neighborhood has front porches. People see each other.

Well, we bought a house. This was, what, five years ago? Six? Something. Nice house, but no front porch and not much of a neighborhood. (True story: Before we bought the house, I drove around to see if there would be friends for our kids. Imagine. I was in beat-up car, and I drove up to some lady, and though I know her now, at the time I was a creepy stranger, and I asked “Hey, are there any kids in this neighborhood?” I’m sure they were thrilled to see me move in.)

We don’t really know many of our neighbors very well, and I think that is, in part, due to the fact that no one hangs out in front, where people walk by. Everyone gets home, vacuum seals themselves in with their electric garage doors, and only goes outside, if ever, only in the back yard, where the trees are nice but won’t drink beer with you.

After living in the house for a couple of years we had met a couple of our closest neighbors, but there’s a curve in the cul de sac, and we didn’t know anyone around the curve. It’s a small curve, but it’s enough that you don’t see folks when they’re mowing their lawns and stuff. Anyway, I was in the front yard, and a neighbor walked by, we’ll call him Domino. I sort of knew Domino from church. Okay. So Domino walks by, and we’re talking. This was during the ’04 presidential campaign. We were laughing, cuz he had put a Bush sign in his yard, the first in the neighborhood, and so I got a Kerry sign, and the next day he had about twenty Bush signs in his yard. That was funny.

So we’re chatting, and another neighbor drives by, and he stops, because he knows Domino really well. Their kids go to school together. But he lives on the bulbous part of the cul de sac, way past the curve, so I didn’t know him at all. We’ll call this guy, umm, Oral. Okay. So Oral stops, and I’m liking this, because I like to know neighbors, you know? New friend, maybe. I’m thinking about going inside and grabbing a few beers. But then Oral tells me something that I didn’t know.

He notices the sign in my yard, and he informs me – with no irony here, he is not kidding – that if John Kerry wins the election, it will. . .

Ready for this?

It will usher in the Apocalypse.

Yes. Indeed.

And then he starts talking about the end times, and he’s quoting Revelations and stuff. This may not be news to you, but it sure was to me, that when ancient John was in his robe and sandals, sitting in the desert heat writing about beasts and fire from heaven, he was writing about the 2004 election in the U. S. of A.

Oral knows Domino and I are Catholic, so he avoids the whole thing about how Catholics are damned to hell for sure. Mostly he just bemoans the fact that I’ll be voting to support the end of all life on earth.

I’m okay with not having a front porch.

Since then, though, we’ve gotten to know some of our neighbors. We still know Domino, and next door there are Mr. and Mr. Neighbor, we went to a crazy party there once. Oh, twice. And we know the folks across the street, and the new guy next to them seems cool and beer-and-barbecuable. And there is the requisite old lonely guy who backs into other people’s cars and who everyone helps out by shoveling his snow or calling 911.

And next to the old guy, there at the corner, live our favorite neighbors, our very good friends. Here, I will call them Scooter and his lovely wife, Bon Bon.

With the arrival of Scooter and Bon Bon three years ago, I got the neighborhood I'd always wanted.

We met them shortly after they moved in. I was mowing the lawn, and they walked over to say hi, and I invited them in for a beer, and they left at three AM.

Since then, we have shared many beers and nights on the deck and martinis and margaritas and holidays. We watched them become a family of three. Their kid loves our kids and they love our kids and we love all of them and even our dogs are best friends, how cool is that?

We love Scooter and Bon Bon. They are family.

The other night, Saturday, I was out front fixing the mailbox. (Okay. About the mailbox. Fixing it had been on my to-do list ever since I broke it. I broke with the moving van. When we moved in. So I’m not so good at working through my to-do list.)

Scooter comes over with a beer. I like beer, and mostly I like good beer. But what is it about a free Bud Light on a beautiful afternoon when you're working in the sun? I'm no beer snob, much. It was freakin' delicious. And I totally did not get paid for that endorsement.

Mother was out of town.
(Me: “Welcome home, honey! I fixed the mailbox! With new brass numbers!”

Her: “Wow, honey! That looks terrific! Let’s have sex!”

Only through such delusions do chores get done at all.)

The kids were riding around the cul de sac on Razor scooters. That one delicious beer was followed by another, and then pizzas, and then Margaritas. This occurred over a long period of time. Drink responsibly! It was a perfect neighborhood night.

Have you every ridden a Razor Scooter? Razor Scooters are crazy fun. Another free endorsement. And our cul de sac is a bit of a hill, so you can really get going fast.

We were having Razor Scooter races. At one point, we even pulled out a roll of toilet paper for a finish line. Youngest won that one.

Look at my dog there. She's awesome.

At another point, Scooter pretended to fall, and he didn’t move, and his poor almost-two-year-old daughter completely freaked out, screaming “Daaaaady!” and crying, thinking he was dead. Fun!

After she went to bed, my kids took turns reenacting that scene.

Scooter and Bon Bon have the kind of relationship in which they pretend to be annoyed with each other all the time, but actually they adore each other and take care of each other in a way that is sweet and beautiful and maybe even borders on cute. It’s nice. Like this: whenever Bon Bon was riding a Razor, Scooter was a little nervous.

The three of us, Scooter, Bon Bon, and me, went to the top of the hill. We were going to race. the kids were quite excited.

I assumed Scooter and I would be holding back, because he had been a littl nervous about Bon Bon riding. Cute. (Plus, I thought it would be fun to watch Bon Bon.) But when the kids yelled “Go!” from down the street, Scooter took off like a shot.

My competitive instinct took over. We left Bon Bon in our dust and raced down the hill. We were flying. Somewhere, miles away, animals tilted their heads at the sound of our distant sonic boom.

It became clear, as we approached their mailbox / finish line, that I was not going to catch up to Scooter. He was going to win the race.

Then he did something a little, um, I dunno. Stupid, maybe?

He turned up Old Guy’s driveway. Actually, at this point, he was looking pretty slick.

But then he hit the turf.

Then he flew for a little while.

Then he planted his face in the sidewalk.

At this point, it was not funny. Scooter wasn’t moving. I admit, I was a little scared. I ran over to him (to be clear – this was AFTER I crossed the finished line)

(To be clearer, the finish line was RIGHT THERE, so I wasn’t a complete jerk.)

(It's not like I left him lying there while I finished the race. Really, it could be said that it would have been impossible for me not to cross the finish line. I mean, it was that close.)

(Still, I DID win)

(He didn’t. I did. I won the race.)

and he still wasn’t moving.

This was scary. Then he moved.

Oh. Ha! He’s kidding! Like he was before!

No. Not so much. He rolled over. There was a lot of blood.

There was a lot of blood.

Suddenly, I got all take-chargey. I was George Clooney on ER. But without the hair. I was Anthony Hopkins at best.

“Eldest, go, fast, (I said “fast.” I wish I had said “stat.” But I didn’t.) and get some wet paper towels. Daughter, take Youngest inside, watch a movie. No! Don’t come closer. Just go. Everything is okay. He’s fine. Don't look.”

He looked pretty gruesome. Big scrape on the side of his face – huge! – and a deep cut on his chin. Scrapes on all of his knuckles. And he thought he had broken his toe. Fun!

I took him to the ER. We had to wait a while. I had a Snickers bar. It was fantastic. Another unpaid endorsement.

I was glad to be with Scooter at the ER. It was important that he be cared for, and it was important that I be there to make sure he told the actual story of what happened, and not, as he tried one time, to tell a nurse that he had saved some old lady from getting mugged by ninjas.

He had to tell the story about twenty times. It was fantastic. And every time, I was there for him, adding this:

Me: “And what is the age of the owner of the scooter?”

Scooter: “Five.”

Me: “Very good.”

Three hours, five stitches (True story:

Scooter: “Is this going to hurt?”

Doctor: “No, no. I won’t feel a thing.”)

and a tetanus shot later, and off to home we go.

All in all, a great night in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Family Portraits

Within the past few weeks, three depictions of members of the family have caught my eye.

The first was emailed to me by Brother-In-Law. Last winter, our family visited their family to make Christmas cookies. Here are Mother and me:

And this one, the cover of an invitation to join Daughter for a day of school. I was honored to be selected as her "special friend." I'm glad to see I've got my i.d. badge on my belt, but it looks like I could use a shave:

And finally, Youngest drew himself and Mother, sporting their new shoes. Youngest, like many five-year-olds, prefers his skies in cross-section. And that's not a ghost standing on the right. That was an abandoned first attempt on the other side of the page. Apparently he didn't get the new Spider-Man pajamas quite right:

I Was Once a Child Soldier

This is not the blog entry to read if you are looking for a quick, light diversion. What follows is a long and tragic work of historical fiction written by Eldest.

Eldest has been working for several days on a story for his seventh-grade English and social studies classes. Studying the civil war in Uganda, he read personal accounts of children who were forced into military action. He used the context and details of those stories to create this fictional account.

As a proud father, with Eldest's permission, I share it here, unedited:

I Was Once a Child Soldier

“Mother, wake up,” I whispered as I shook my mother’s shoulders. My mother stirred, yawned, and opened her eyes.

“Anaji,” she whispered, “Let’s go.”

We tiptoed through our home and woke up my six younger siblings sleeping on the mat on the floor my mother, father, and I slept on a breaking bed that was actually less comfortable than the mat. Once we had woken all of my brothers and sisters, we all slipped on our car-tire sandals. My mother placed my youngest sibling, Iniko, a brother born just a few months before into his pouch and slung him onto her back. We had heard that the Lord’s Resistance Army took even extremely young people, and we didn’t want to take a chance, no matter how odd it seemed. I thought of Iniko’s name, which means “born in dark times”, and how right his name seemed at the moment. I also thought of how lucky he was to be so young. Being thirteen, I now value youth and the happy ignorance younger people still have. I also grieved for the childhood that I never had, I had heard stories of America, and the long, happy childhood that most children have there. Mine was over before it had begun.

We ducked out of our tin-roofed hut and started our long trek to the bigger city. As we reached some more of the main roads, we were joined by more “night commuters”, which eased the pain of the nightly walking. I met a girl named Adamma, which has a special meaning of it’s own, “beautiful girl”. We talked about our lives, and I made the mistake of asking about her parents. She whispered as though I had struck a deep chord inside her heart, “They died of the monstrosity of AIDS.”

I instantly regretted asking that question, but my embarrassed feeling wasn’t able to last for long, as three armored vehicles started to surround us. Children and their mothers fled in all directions. Those who were nearing escape were shot in the back as they attempted to run. I tried to protect my siblings alongside my mother, and we gathered them in a huddle behind us. A man charged towards, his intention clear, to bull over my mother and I and reach my siblings. He pulled out a knife and slit my mother’s throat as she was pounding his head with her fists. Tears stung my eyes, and in a fit of rage, I sunk my teeth into his arm. His blood mixed with my tears, and as he screamed, he whirled around and with his free hand, bashed me in the face.

* * *

I woke up to a scene of carnage; bloody bodies lay everywhere, and children cried for their mothers. I held my throbbing head in both of my hands as I looked around. Nausea overcame me and I turned my head and threw up on the ground. I lifted myself off the dusty road with my hands, and felt a sudden sense of terror. My siblings! I started running around in a frenzied panic, checking every body for a sign of my family. Then I came across my mother. Her body had clearly been dragged across the road for a few yards, and tears swelled in my eyes as I remembered what had happened. The gash across her neck didn’t help my nausea, and I spilled whatever food I had left in my stomach on the ground. I couldn’t find the rest of my family, and starting sprinting across the road, checking bodies. I didn’t notice a tall, broad-shouldered man in front of me in my fear, and slammed into his powerful abs. He wore the uniform of an LRA soldier. My stomach dropped through my feet. He grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and dragged me over a hill, his gun over his other shoulder. He threw me over the last part of the hill, and when I lifted my face and spat dirt out of my mouth, I gasped. There, on the other side of the hill were a hundred or more children being counted by ten or so grown men. The man who had dragged me over the hill yelled to one of his comrades, “Hey, I found another one running through the bodies.”

He kicked me down the rest of the hill, and in a crumpled heap, I landed at its base. My sister Ayanna (“beautiful flower”) ran over to me and helped me to my feet, Iniko in her arms. The man who had forced me here and another one pushed us into the group of children. I hugged all my siblings and greeted them warmly. The man I had become to hate cuffed me on the back of my head to shut me up. A man wearing a different type of hat than the others started giving us a speech, but I only understood two words, “child soldiers”.

A girl, hearing this term, ran out of the pack, and started to run into the open. She was quickly chased down, and was beaten with a stick. The man who had caught her shoved a handful of red peppers into her mouth, and kicked her in the side, his hand still on her mouth. She gagged, and he let go. As she spluttered, he dragged her over to the leader, and they whispered for a few minutes. The leader turned to us and shouted, “As an example of what happens to ‘runners’, you will kill this girl with sticks, and drink her blood.” Gasps echoed through the children. I didn’t gasp, I was trying to figure out why this girl seemed so familiar. That’s when it hit me; it was my friend from the night before, Adamma. I couldn’t kill her, or anybody else! Men started shoving sticks into our hands, and trained their weapons on us as a threat. One man shot a child, and the rest of us starting running towards Adamma in fear. I let myself fall to the back of the group; I couldn’t bring myself to kill her.

I cried after she had been murdered, and I glanced at her broken body, this time, my body didn’t have anything to lose, so I coughed and spluttered where I was. Unfortunately, I couldn’t refrain from having to drink her blood. A man brought a tin cup filled with it and sneered, “I noticed you didn’t beat the girl, you have a cup of blood.” He grabbed the back of my neck and bashed me in the face. As I cried out in pain, he shoved the liquid down my throat and I gagged. He chuckled and walked away. I spat the blood onto the ground when he was out of sight, and started gagging again, unable to lose anything else from my stomach.

Next, the men ordered us to march, and march we did. We walked until smaller children collapsed. I told my siblings to remain close, and held Iniko on my back in his pouch. I was incredibly relieved at the fact that none of my siblings had died or been slaughtered. It seemed that everything else had been taken away from us, and we weren’t about to let us drift apart from each other. After marching for days, and sometimes carrying three of four of my youngest siblings in my arms or on my back, we finally reached a large encampment. I collapsed on the ground, and my siblings spilled out of my arms. Only Iniko remained on my back. Instead of crying out in complaint, my brothers and sisters who had fallen lifted my head in an attempt to lift me up. I propped myself up with my arms, and pushed myself the rest of the way up with my weak legs. I teetered back and forth, but Ayanna steadied me with her tiny arm. I thanked her with a warm look, and she smiled back at me. A man with a gun came up behind us, and ordered us to walk over to where the other children had gathered. He jolted me roughly in the back with the front of his weapon and we marched. When we reached the huddle, more men started pushing us into crude lines, and I was curious as to what the lines were for. I was at the back of the long line, so my curiosity would have to wait. When I neared the front, I noticed a large, wooden crate filled with weapons. Ayanna, who was in front of me, reached the front of the line. I gasped when the man standing by the crate pulled out a gun and handed it to her. She stared down at the killing machine in her hand, and then gazed at him. He pushed her away and into the mob of children who had received their weapons already. When I got my gun, the man looked at Iniko, who was peering over my shoulder at the man. He asked me, “How old is that child?”

I didn’t answer the man, so he grabbed Ayanna, and held a knife to her throat. I cried out in desperation, “Not more than fourth months old!” The man nodded, and threw Ayanna face first back into the swarm. He grabbed Iniko off my back, and I attempted to shoot him in the face. The man chuckled, and punched me in the face. I toppled over, and was dragged into the crowd of other captives. I stood up and looked at the man, he had placed Iniko in a plastic bag, and was suffocating him to death. I berated myself for not realizing that he was too young to serve. I screamed and charged him in a teary frenzy. I smashed at his legs with my gun until two more men grabbed me by my arms. They threw me back with my siblings, and held me until Iniko had died. The man threw the baby’s body to the side, and I broke out of the men’s hold to clutch it in my hands. The men didn’t care so long as the baby was dead, and allowed me to take it.

* * *

That night, we were assigned to a tent to sleep in, and I snuck out to bury Iniko. I prayed to God for his soul to be taken to heaven, and cried by his grave. I stayed up all night by the makeshift grave, and had to sneak back into the tent when a patrolman came back to check the camp.

The next morning was the first time we had had food in two days. The first act of kindness from the LRA soldier’s came with breakfast. Apparently, they either decided to be nice, or they had all gotten drunk the night before. But I didn’t say anything, I was happy with food, but I still felt white-hot hatred when I came to the man who killed Iniko. He chuckled when I walked by him, and made a choking gesture at his neck. Later that day, the men drove us to a new location, and my siblings and I were again forced into a line. This time, the camp was a city. I saw tents set up already, and figured they were for us. But when I got to the line, the unloaded killing machine still in my hand, the man pushed me off to the left, and Ayanna to the right. I screamed, realizing that we were being separated, and the man butted me away with his rifle. I fell on the ground, and Ayanna’s screams were drowned out as she was pushed onto a bus. I was thrown onto another bus, and was relieved when two of my siblings wound up with me.

When we got to our new destination, a bullet ripped through the bus and pierced a child I didn’t recognize in the head. Blood flew all over the walls of the bus, and the children all screamed and ducked to the floor. I shivered at the feel of warm, human blood on my clothes and face. I then realized that we were about to fight, without being warned or briefed. One of the men ripped open the door of the bus and started dragging us off. More men came and were hurling us to the ground and telling us to jump into the bushes and trenches. I chose a trench and ducked low to the ground. All my siblings, besides Iniko jumped into the same trench as me and ducked as well. None of us wanted to fire our guns and spill more blood. They were enough rivers on this battleground. And we didn’t fire, until children around were shot through faces, stomachs, arms, and legs, and we were sitting in puddles of blood. That was my first shot. I poked my head above the trench and pulled the trigger. Nothing. I still didn’t have ammo! The men had forgotten to give it to us. I spied a crate over to my left, and crawled over to it on my stomach. I lifted the top and pulled out plenty of cases of ammo for my siblings and I, and snagged a couple of grenades. When I reached my siblings again, they all loaded their guns as the men had taught in an earlier class at the camp where Iniko was buried.

After the gun was loaded, I fired into the midst of trenches of the enemy. I felt a cold shiver run down each vertebrae in my spine as a man’s head exploded from the shots. I fired again and again, killing many men and adding to the mass of blood and organs on the ground. Eventually, the enemies saw our trench as a threat, and grenades were lobbed towards us. We ducked further into our trench and saw the grenades fly over our heads, exploded harmlessly yards away. But our luck didn’t hold out. One man had a nice shot and we gasped as the grenade rolled down the side of our protection. We froze. The grenade exploded. We all cried out and our blood flew into the air. I felt an immensely sharp pain in my left leg, and passed out with that.

* * *

I woke up in the same trench, caked in blood. I struggled to lift myself up with my arms, and gasped in horror. The tears and nausea came before I saw the whole gruesome picture, my siblings body parts were flung around the inside of the trench, blood covered the dirt and made it red rather than brown. I threw up all over the ground, mixing my food with blood. That’s when I looked down at my own mangled figure. The bottom half of my left leg was gone, not even anywhere in sight. It had been obliterated. I cried for my own loss this time, and crawled out of the trench. I was careful not to rub the stump I had left, for pain seared it every time it was so much as scraped. I threw dirt into the trench to bury my siblings, and once again prayed for hours.

When I had prayed all that I had left in me out, I crawled along the dirt further, looking for something to help me walk. I finally found a piece of wood that had been used to build a defense, and propped it under my arm. I lifted myself up with it, and began to hobble my way to only God knew where. Many times I fell, and I cried out in pain as my leg was battered against the ground, causing more blood to flow from it. To halt the bleeding, I ripped off my sleeve, and wrapped it around the stump, and over my shoulder. This stung insanely, but it was either that or die of blood loss.

After three days of ambling and falling, I finally reached a large city. My first initiative was to find a church, and water. When I reached the church, I pushed open the door and fell onto the ground, thinking that I would give up right there and die. I closed my eyes and went to sleep, not wishing to wake up.

When I did wake up though, I berated God, asking why he couldn’t just kill me. I opened my eyes and looked into the face of an elderly nun. She muttered something that my disorientation didn’t allow me to comprehend, and rushed off. When she returned she was carrying a gigantic bottle of water. I grabbed it greedily from her hand and downed all the water in about two seconds. She then helped me up and took me back out of the church. All of this was very confusing, and my exhaustion only made matters worse. We crossed the street and went into a building. After three flights of stairs she walked me into a room with hundreds of children. I realized what was going on, and finally accepted something for the first time in months, my whole family had been killed, and my father had been nothing but abusive, so this was the best place for me.

She dragged me past all the children and into a small office. She said to the man behind the desk, “This poor child has lost his leg and wound up in the church.” The man nodded and motioned to a chair. He thanked her for bringing me here, and she left the room briskly. He told me that as soon as he heard my story, I would receive help from a doctor.

“And that’s where I am today,” I told the man.

“Thank you Anaji, the doctor will meet you in here in five minutes or so.” He left almost as quickly as the nun had, and gave a reassuring smile before he closed the door. When he had gone, I pondered everything that had happened in the previous weeks. I thought of how true Iniko’s name had been, and how ironic mine was. Anaji: he who triumphs.

Exit Stage Left


With set strike yesterday, I’ve completed what will be my last production for a while.

I direct the high school plays here at The School. Or, I did. But with the end of this show, I will be taking a leave of absence of at least a year to decide whether directing is more in my blood or on my back.

For the last twelve years I’ve directed a fall play and a spring musical as part of my job here at The School. That’s a lot of plays. (I did take off one spring when Youngest was brand new.) Two of the musicals were original, one a musical adaptation of Shakespeare, and the other this one.

Remember how admirable it seemed when Seinfeld's show went off the air while still at its peak? Well, I maybe stuck around a little too long.

Simply put, after twelve years the grind was getting to me. Not the working with kids part; that's not the grind. Rarely will you find teachers who get burnt-out from working with kids. That’s the creamy nugat center. It’s all the other stuff, the crunchy outside. The million little things that have nothing, directly, to do with what the kids are doing, and learning, on stage. It's the reading of twenty plays to find one, the scheduling of limited resources - like, oh, a theater - the eleven or twelve hour days for most of the school year, the daily walks in the dark to the last car in the parking lot.

Most especially, it is the frequent and increasingly long conversations in which my judgment is questioned. This is a natural part of being a director, and I don’t begrudge the questioners.

And I’ve watched myself start to play it safer just to avoid the long emails and meetings required to justify choices. That, in part, is why I ended up choosing and directing the show that I just wrapped. It was a popular success, as was expected. More students auditioned than ever before. We had to add a matinee, we sold more tickets than ever before, and everyone; cast, crew, and audience; seemed to have a good time. But it's fluff. Fluff's okay. And I had no problems. But it didn't really expand any minds or advance theater as an art form. It isn’t the kind of show I dreamed of directing when I was studying educational theater.

Something needs to happen to invigorate the program. That something is either the arrival of an invigorated person to head it, or for me to return, invigorated. But it isn’t me staying.

As expectations in each field have increased tremendously, it is no wonder that the English Teacher / Theater Director animal is virtually extinct, or at least endangered.

So I’m going to concentrate on the English Teacher half, and explore other ways to grow or to be creative.

I was grateful to one colleague who expressed it this way: It takes courage to walk away from something with which you have had success and acclaim. That's a nice way to think about it.

Look, lots of people - most people - have it much worse than me. They work harder and longer for less satisfaction. I am grateful for my opportunities and happiness here. Mr. Neighbor once said to me, when I first met him, "The only people I know who like their jobs are teachers." I'm one of those people. And I certainly have no intention of leaving The School. It's not perfect, but it is an amazing place in countless ways, and it cares the most about the most important things. My whole family is here. We're lucky for that.

And to be clear: My job here as an English teacher is secure. I’ve asked for, and was given, some time off from leading an extra-curricular program. I appreciate that very much. And whether I return to directing or not, I know I’ll be glad I climbed out of the rut to decide.