Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An Amazing Show

As you know, I am no stranger to amateur productions. I've been involved in some Mackinac plays that I thoroughly enjoyed. Of course they were a bit more polished than the Black History Month show I just attended. Yet I was surprised at how well these 10-12 yr. olds managed to do.

Imagine a large gym with terrible acoustics. The stands are packed with students happy to be out of class early, and excited about seeing their friends perform. Harried teachers try to keep kids under control...while the usual spate of spontaneous vomiting or bloody noses offer potential excitement.

To my right, the fifth and sixth grade band are seated. They are very young and new to their instruments. At the Christmas concert everyone was very happy that they all stayed in tune and on the same time. To the center is the stage, curtain drawn. To my left is the choir---or a large group of giggling girls.

The general themes are a combination of intermittant 'scenes' from the Rosa Parks/Bus Boycott times; informative vignettes about famous African-Americans; and the history of Motown.

I will never forget the girls hamming it up as Diana Ross and the Supremes. Or the young lady gamely portraying Gladys Knight---with empty microphones on each side because no fifth or sixth grade boy wanted to play something called a "Pip".

Or young J. singing "What's Goin On' in his own voice and sounding very much like Marvin Gay. While he stood stock still frozen terrified through the song.

The crowd went wild when they introduced 'Michael Jackson'. No one around here forgets that the Jackson Five lived about twenty blocks north of here. When M. took the stage we all thought he'd sing something like "Thriller'. Apparently (I learned later) that song was after Michael left Motown. Instead, he started singing "Ben". Every adult groaned. Then we were laughing as he purposely cracked his voice (or maybe not purposely) through the high pitched song. He slowly turned in circles while a classmate drug a giant 'Fivel the Mouse/Rat' around the stage representing 'Ben'.

There was a salute to "Soul Train" -- a show that aired in the Chicago area when I was growing up, described as the 'black American Bandstand'. As I watched about fifty students dance around the stage in costume...complete with Afros and platform shoes et al.......there was no doubt that some grandparents had kept their clothes from that era. And taught the youngins' a few of the old moves...

Michelle Obama had visited this school last year (I think in March) and spent about an hour in this same gym. So we had the "Obamas" onstage too...Malia and Sascha were played by two of my library aides. One student as President Obama made a touching mini speech about how history isn't just old stories about bus boycotts and whites only signs. That dreams come true and barriers are broken every day. It was a really nice touch and I think it helped bring history to life a little more for the kids.

Well, the band stayed on tune (I think) although I was never clear what they were playing. The choir was probably good--between background noise and bad acoustics I couldn't hear a sound they were making. It was the first 'Black History Month' anything I've attended. I had only planned to stop by for a short time, but stayed for the whole program. I'm glad I did.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Riddle Me Where I'm Meant To Be

On the other hand, I know that I'm meant to be here right now. Not for much longer I hope. But the series of circumstances that landed me down here and in my current job are way beyond coincidence or pure chance.

I almost died. You already know that, and I'll post more about that another time.

When this current job became available, everyone said I "didn't have a snowball's chance in hell'. Not because I was unqualified. Because it's a union job in a very tough union area. Unions run on seniority. I had none. In fact, I just qualified to become a member! Yet I landed this position. I handle the daily operations for a
large Media Center

I like the job. I wish I could work there, then magically step out the door and be home on the Island. The challenges are enormous and fascinating. My school is JUST fifth and sixth grade, and there are 1200 students. It's designed to draw kids in and make them want to be in a library. Our students are mostly from lower income families. Not welfare poor, but not too far away. (Of course nowadays that describes us all).

I have my only little 'group' that touch base with me each day. The kids need someone they feel safe to talk to. Right now the kids are abuzz over the Black History Month program. Rehearsals and lots of hard work have been going on all year. The program is tomorrow, it will be fun to see the kids put on their show.

However, the role that has made me hugely popular is that of 'The Riddler'. (Don't be jealous Rick). As anyone who knows me knows, I like riddles but I'm not great at solving them. I like the idea that they get the kids to look at things a little differently. Shortly after I started I suggested the idea to my boss and she gave it her enthusiastic support.

On Wednesday (tomorrow) the signs go up and the riddle 'forms' appear. All day Wed. and Thurs. students will fill in their guesses and drop them into the highly decorated box. On Thursday night I take it home, weed through 300-400 entries, and then divide them into 3 piles. (3 lunch hours, 5 winners drawn for each lunch hour). Winners get a free Lounge Pass for a week. It's a big deal. Their daily lunch is to sit in the cafeteria. They don't leave. They can't sit with their friends. There is lots of background yelling while teachers and aides try to keep all the kids under control (and it's not an easy task). There are some library passes available for lunchtime but that's not a Lounge Pass!

That lounge area is actually the "Boys and Girl's Club" after school. It has ping pong and pool and Foosball tables and lots of other stuff too. Of course only a small number of entries win a pass. That's part of the fun. But they truly seem to love the challenge too. I've had them tell me 'they won't be able to sleep tonight if I don't tell them the cool is that?...

Anyway, tomorrow's riddle is: "What has rivers without water, cities without houses and forests without trees?"


It's in a bit of a crisis, my identity. For almost twenty years I hoped to live on the Island. Then for fifteen years, I was a year round resident. For health and financial reasons I had to leave it all behind. It's taken months for me to get this far. Until now it was hard to look at a picture, read an article, or even talk to an old friend on the Island without lots of tears. I know it's not perfect there, but it's where I want to be.

The point of this blog is to help me explain who I am and have been to some of my current co-workers and acquaintances. And to help me reconcile the two lives---that one, and the one I'm living today.

Here I'm just another region rat in greater Chicagoland. I'm working in the school system I attended as a child. My boss has multiple college degrees and a Masters. Yet she was a Senior in High School here when I was a freshman. There are many other alumni around here. Or relatives of former classmates

On the Island, people knew ME. When it came to my blood family, they almost seemed non-existent. Few visits over the years offered little clue to the vast family I belonged to down here. Although most have died or moved away, nearly everyone I meet from the area recognizes my last name. And knew one of my cousins or siblings. When I meet someone here, my name suddenly becomes part of my identity in a way I never understood. I gave up my maiden name when I was very young. I took it back when I moved to Mackinac.

I tell everyone I meet that I worked as an EMT for many years. None understand how much that was part of my identity, how much I miss it too. I don't have many pics oof me in EMS mode. I used to work hard to stay out of pics.
i remember when we took this one---to show the new training tools from the M I M C grant. And as Mark pointed out later, not one of us in our uniform shirts or wearing protective gloves. Grin. I miss Mark.

Here I am currently in a situation where I must keep my quirky side under wraps. I'm not kidding. And I have just barely been quirky, just barely showed a small teeny bit of me.....but already it's been too much. I've been told...........well I'll talk about that another time. Meanwhile,

I'm remembering some of those wacky plays, like "Metaphasia" with C.K. and P. M. at my side.

Occasional nights of drinking and good times, like this one with J. and I at the Grand. All those 'Euchre' nights, and even those volleyball games years ago.

Yes, my glasses have some rose coloring thank you. But there's a lot of 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone' in there too. I took for granted that I would always be there. My bad!