A Graduation Party with the Brady Bunch

Today, I attended the graduation party of my cousin Leah’s daughter Kelsi.  Kelsi is a very bright young woman who graduated in the top 1% of her class (at a very competitive high school).  She had full ride offers to attend several colleges and universities, but has chosen University of Chicago (who also gave her a good package).  She plans to major in English with a Japanese minor.

The gathering was very vibrant.  The Roberts clan is not known for its vivaciousness.  About the most excited we get is when a groundhog shows up at a family reunion and everybody pulls out their shotgun.  Groundhog makes good stew, you know.

But my cousin Leah married an Italian man, Bob, who is a wonderful father and husband – a hard worker and real family man.  He and his family are much more outgoing, downright demonstrative.  This was especially true during the wonderfully fun yet particularly cut-throat scavenger hunt competition we had.

We were asked to bring various items of paraphernalia related to Kelsi and her school.  Living so far away, and not knowing Kelsi very well, we were at something of a disadvantage, but my sister April and brother-in-law Dan, working with their very creative granddaughter Emma did a great job on the list.  For example –

For a picture of Kelsi in “Daisies”, they copied and pasted her graduation photo onto the body of a young girl in Daisies.

For a t-shirt from Kelsi’s Jr. High (Homer), they painted a picture of Homer Simpson on a t-shirt and wrote “Jr.” beneath it.

My favorite item, though, was in response to the list request to “wear an item of clothing from your alma mater.”  My dad, who is always saying, “I’m nothing but a dumb old Kentuckian with a sixth grade education,” wore a t-shirt that said, “Jabez Elementary – Sixth Grade Grad.”  (Someone told Dad he should wear that to the reunion in Jabez, but Dad declined, saying, “They’d just think I was putting on airs.”)

The competition was fierce as we wound down to the final question – to compose a song about your school choice and sing it to the tune of “The Brady Bunch”.  My sister asked me to write one about Hanover, but I decided nobody would have a clue where Hanover was and this was Kelsi’s day, anyway.  So, my brother-in-law Dan (who also went to the University of Chicago) and I (though mostly Dan) wrote the following song –

 

The Ballad of Kelsi Rarick

 

Here’s the story of a girl named Kelsi

Who excelled in class and everything she did.

Many schools would be proud for her to join them

But which one would she pick?

 

It’s the story of a school in Chicago

Which was famous for its geniuses galore.

They had Nobels enough to choke an army

But they still wanted more.

 

Then the one day when this lady met this college

And they knew that it was simply meant to be

That this girl would be their next star student

Yes, Kelsi Rarick would attend the U of C.

 

We were having so much fun, we stayed until long past my bedtime – almost 9:30.  But hey, it’s not every day someone so special graduates from high school.  It’s worth the effort.

“University of Chicago logo – Bing Images” from John

Our Pre-Game Prayer (or, “Where is Ray Lewis When You Need Him?”)

Before there was March Madness, there was Hoosier Hysteria – the Indiana high school basketball single-class tournament.

It was late February, 1982 in Franklin, Indiana – the first round of the Johnson County sectional.  The Greenwood Woodmen versus the Indian Creek Braves.  Greenwood had travelled to Indian Creek just two weeks earlier and ended the Braves’ three-year undefeated home streak, but the Braves were perennial favorites, having beaten the Woodmen in two consecutive sectionals on controversial last-minute calls.

The team bus from Greenwood to Franklin was abuzz with eager anticipation.  Following the bus was a fan caravan, complete with police escorts, resembling a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade.  Directly behind the team bus was a pick up equipped with a toilet in the bed – a flannel-shirted logger dunking a long-haired, dark-skinned man, complete with sound effects and the sign “Woodmen – Flush the Braves”.

I was in a unique position, with ties to both schools.  I had grown up in Nineveh (one of the towns within the Indian Creek district), but had moved to Greenwood in 7th grade.  I knew all the players and many of the fans on both sides.  But now I was firmly enmeshed in the green-and-gold and to the Indian Creek fans, those were the colors of a traitor.

As the bus pulled up to the entrance, a wall of police had to restrain on-rushing fans to make room for the bus.  With many of the Greenwood fans following us, the crowd assembled was a sea of red-white-and-blue Braves.  They began pointing and making gestures, screaming obscenities and calling us names as we exited the bus.  It was a wall of sound, for which I was grateful.  I couldn’t detect exactly what was being said, and I didn’t really want to know.

We were escorted to the locker room and quickly changed into our uniforms.  Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and  “We Will Rock You” had us jumping around, slapping high-fives and pounding the lockers.

Soon, it was time to gather around the coach for pre-game instructions.  We were given our defensive assignments and some keys to remember.  We were ready to storm out of the locker room and defeat the enemy.

Then, the coach’s voice became really soft.  We quieted down to hear what he was saying.

“Guys, I want you to join me now for a prayer.”

We awkwardly huddled together and knelt down, our heads bowed.

“Almighty Father, we know you have already determined the outcome of this game.  We just pray that you would help us do our best and accept your will.  Amen.”

We raised our heads, and looked at each other.  Was this it?  A pre-determined outcome?  Why bother playing the game?  What about defeating the enemy?  What about claiming the victory?

We went out that night and played perhaps the most lackluster ball we’d played all season.  We were only going through the motions.

We made it close at the end, but we were beaten before it began.

All Is Not Lost: An Example of Good Grammar in High School

girl writing

Earlier, I posted about the “fruits and vegetables” of good grammar in a balanced writing diet.  As has been my habit of late, I wanted to follow up with examples to illustrate my point.  Usually, I search WordPress blogs.  I can spend the better part of a day browsing and reading (someday I’ll have to get a real job).  Today, I decided to ask my cousin Leah to send me some of her daughter’s writings.

Leah’s daughter, Kelsi, is a senior in high school.  She plans to attend a college or university next year and study English and perhaps Japanese.  Her current vocational goal is to become an editor.  I knew she had done some creative writing of her own and, while I had not read any of it, suspected it would be good.

I was right.  All is not lost.  There is still at least one high school student (and I’m sure many more) with a command of the language and a concern to use it well.

Below is an exerpt from a piece she wrote called “Remember”, which I’m posting by her permission.  I think many of you who read this blog (young and old) can identify with the dilemma she describes so well.

… Occasionally, my brain and my mouth make a connection, usually unwarranted. What is it that I remember which needs to be blurted out right this minute? It’s typically some random observation, some obscure fact that no one else would remember, something that happened this morning that I’d forgotten about until now, something that happened on page 625 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Oftentimes it’s a song. I find myself singing the same lyrics over and over, sometimes at the top of my voice. But now and then I’ll get halfway through a song and a lapse of memory will plague me again. It’s gone.

Just as often, something else occurs to interest my easily distracted mind. As soon as I turn my attention to something else, whatever thought I had is out the window, and when I look back to find it again, it’s already on a train to Timbuktu. So I move on to the next thought, the next distraction, back to the spinning vortex, the organized mess that is my mind. . .

Now what was I talking about?

(image “Student writing in her workbook” from www.primeeducation.com.au, some rights reserved)

Interview with Author and Playwright Rob Diaz II

rob diaz

I first encountered Rob Diaz when he commented on one of my posts.  I’ve since come to know him as one of the masterminds or partners-in-crime (actually, contribuing editors) of the community blog Today’s Authors that has publically opened the day of this writing.  I did an e-mail interview with Rob which resulted in the following –

What is one piece of writing (book, story, play, essay) that has changed your life?

     The phrase “changed your life” makes this question pretty difficult for me to answer.  My initial gut instinct was to say that the book that changed my life was actually a math book given to me by my fourth grade math teacher when I was bored with the regular curriculum and wanted more challenging work (math was and continues to be a passion of mine).

But math books tend to be boring prose, so what my real answer to this question will be is:  Foundation by Isaac Asimov.  I read this book for the first time when I was in fifth grade, about ten years old.  It is the first book in my memory which made me want to read another book.  And then another (and not just the books in the Foundation series, either!). It was also one of the first books I ever wanted to read a second or third time (I’ve probably read it a dozen times now).

The book focuses on the math involved with Psychohistory and its predictions of the downfall and rise of the Galactic Empire.  As I said, math was a passion of mine from an early age and to see it have such a prevalent role in a masterful book such as Foundation, it changed my outlook on reading and, in turn, on writing.  I would certainly be a different person today if I had not become as much of a lover of words as I am a lover of numbers.

How is seeing your plays produced different (and/or similar) to producing other forms of writing?

     Scripts have a special place in my heart and in my writing.  It’s not that I prefer them over other forms of writing, it’s just that at the time I wrote my first script (when I was a freshman in high school), I had been on the verge of giving up on writing at all.  A teacher of mine encouraged me to participate in a Playwrights Workshop that was being held in my school and despite my hesitations I did so.  And I loved it.  The positive feedback and interactions with the other writers and the instructor were so amazing that it rekindled my passion for writing in many ways.

The first script I wrote was horrifically bad (though it was incredibly funny at the time).  The second one I wrote, Bad Impressions, was produced on stage at my high school when I was 16 in a series of one acts (mine and four or five professional scripts were done).  It was incredible and nerve-wracking.  I’ve had two more scripts produced since then and the feeling has been the same: super levels of excitement to see the words and stories transposed onto the stage coupled with lots and lots of anxiety about the audience reaction.

I think the difference for me is simply that when I have a story published in a book, the audience is disparate.  Readers can be anywhere and everywhere and for the most part they are not in one place, reacting at the same time.  A script that is being staged, however, has an audience of many, sitting and experiencing the story together for the first time and at the same time.  For me, I find myself worrying when something I found funny in the script doesn’t get the volume of laughter I expect or something I found dramatic doesn’t get the collective intake of breath that I expected.  Does the audience not like it? Do they not get it?  Do they regret their investment of time and money to see it?

Similarly, I feel energized when they do laugh or catch their breath or applaud.  Honestly, I have all the same fears and excitement with other forms of writing. I suspect the reason it feels different with plays is just the fact that there are so many more people reacting at the same time and in the same place.  The reaction is more real and more direct, if that makes any sense.

“Today’s Author” is now officially launched.  What are your biggest hopes and greatest fears for this blog?

      My hope for Today’s Author is probably much like the hope of everyone else involved with it: that it can be a safe place for writers and readers to interact, that it can be a source of inspiration and entertainment and that it can be a place to share our collective knowledge and experiences with the written word.  Honestly, if we can inspire even just one person to take a chance with words – to tell their story and let the world see it – then I’d think Today’s Author is a success.  I think the openness of the editors and contributors on the site to share their successes, their failures, their hopes and their fears will lend itself to encouraging our readers and participants to do the same.

On the flip side, I think “fear” may be too strong a term for my feelings but I do worry. I worry about making sure that we at Today’s Author are providing content and prompts that are relevant to our readers and useful enough to keep readers coming back.  Readers and participants of the site should drive the direction the site takes as time goes on, so I worry about making sure we read and understand the feedback we get to make sure we react and anticipate the needs of the community we are building.  Ultimately, if we don’t build an engaged and vibrant community, we won’t have the success I hope to have with Today’s Author.

Thanks, Rob, for devoting some of your New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to conduct this interview.  Look for more of Rob and read a generous sampling of his work at his blog Thirteenth Dimension.

(picture of Rob from Today’s Authors, used by permission)