Sunday, February 22, 2015

Leggo my Lego

How do you sort out a bucket of the miscellaneous? 

Teaching children to sort Legos is quite the challenge.  Information architecture is not easy such as is an orange a fruit or a color or both?

Out of context a six dot block is also brown and a rectangle is not round but how it is used makes one question what bin it goes in.

What cup do you put an eight spot green block or a one dot yellow block? Is it one level, two or three?  Is it one row wide and tall or a flat 3x3 to plant a tree?  How can we create a city?

What do we do with the firemen, tires, horses and waterslides?  What happens when the instructions ask for a missing piece? Can we work as a team to be at peace?

Can Dad create an XML vocabulary for Lego parts from which he could use an XSLT process to make perceptions align?  In this context that might be benign.  No schema to be found here.  It would be too rigid and the lego room in the basement is too frigid for me to create and relate. 

If I invest in a robot kit when they can build a "Penrose Staircase" would they be at their best?  Will they get any rest? Maybe we just dig in and have fun looking for that elusive bowl shape thing that finishes off the cafe next to the castle with an outhouse nearby so the astronaut has a space to pee.  That would be fine with me.

Sometimes being a Dad is just about the simple things.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Five steps for a single Dad to have a perfect Super Bowl Sunday.

With the "Big Game" behind us Clan DeFino had a busy day:

1.  Church  (Awesome Service) Casual dress, non-denominational, everyone is welcome. Pastor Bill is energetic, intelligent and inspiring. With a full band setup on stage as a backdrop and good energetic performance afterward, a coffee kiosk and rooms for the children to run around like a mosh pit.  Church is fun when you feel better after the service than when you walked in. The name is "The Rock Church" and there may be one near you.

In my own words; from the lesson I contemplated identity.  How do we identify ourselves?  Forgiveness of past mistakes and the ability to become new really is a human survival necessity. The ability to see ourselves differently allows us to grow and progress.  There are many variations of this with different canvases from which to work from.  In my case one is being a Dad.  When I saw the crown of their heads, when I hear the sound of their soft voices just asking "Why Daddy?". That question might be an inquiry about why old strawberries grow mold or how an airplane flies. When they run across the playground waving their arms in excitement because I am picking them up the little one is like a 47 pound bowling ball being thrown at my shins at full speed ahead.  I love it.

2.  Discovery Gateway - Kids museum.  I just sat back and watched them let their imaginations work.  This is more entertaining than any show on television except maybe "The Big Bang Theory"  They have mastered the puzzle exhibits by now and just like using their imagination with the foam building block room and the house with the grocery store that sells plastic pears.

They were too much of a blur to get a good picture.

3.  Lego destruction.  This is clearly a work in progress but it exercises their spacial recognition, teamwork, and they enjoy it.  Lots of pieces yes, but it is better than markers on the walls and cuts of paper all over the house.

The picture is not a great example. This is more like carnage after building something by the instructions then wanting to do something else. I get to observe their abstract imaginations as they develop scenarios and talk aloud about the characters they create.  Who would think that a cafe would have a flying horse visit while the prince talks to a monkey about computers?  These are the beginnings of the "Hacker Ethic" which is to understand how something works then make something cool happen.  They are exploring their minds through science, music and art. I enjoy this and do my best to give them the room to do so.

4.  Not finding a kid friendly Super Bowl party, we made our own and they insisted that Olaf be invited as a guest.  The kids had more fun watching me break out into a sweat from the "Diablo" mustard than the game so they kept making cracker sandwiches for me. They exceeded my limit and got their revenge for making them clean their room earlier in the day, which is like pushing waves back into the ocean. Their favorite recipe was a garlic pita bread, habanero mustard and pepper jack sandwich that had my eyes watering.  As I was recovering I received "Wet Willies" and the tickle monster had to defend himself.  This was our halftime show.

5. Then there was the end of the game where after hearing my lexicon of fake cuss words I was presented with a lecture about how I should not watch football but play legos instead.  I tried to explain how "This is freaking fun for me and darn it great googly moogly that was just a very ill advised call.  The sasafracken frickafracken coach should have ran Lynch and darn it to double hockey sticks the Patriots who I just do not care for would not have another ring."

They were not buying it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Please....don’t get your kids involved in the arts.

Please don’t get your kids involved in the arts.  I know sometimes I can be a little sarcastic (just like Mount Kilimanjaro is a “little” hill) but, in this case, I mean it.  Please don’t get you kids involved in the arts.

Your son or daughter may have shown an affinity for singing or dancing or play acting when they were very young.  Most kids do.  And some – maybe many – want to foster those skills, to get better and create even more beautifully and skillfully.  But, please resist.

Here is why: Unless you are as committed to your child’s involvement in the arts as they are, the end result will be frustration.  You, frustrated, at being asked to inconvenience yourself on a Saturday morning to drive your child to an early rehearsal.  You, frustrated, when being asked to run lines or listen to a practice track or give feed back on some choreography.  You, frustrated, that an entire weekend is spent in a theater, instead of doing all the things important to you. You, frustrated, at being asked, again, to help build a set or mend costumes or organize props.

And your child, the child who may desperate love something that isn’t very important to you, will know.  He or she will understand that their love of the arts is trivial.  And they will know that they are the oddball for not loving baseball or soccer or hunting or hiking or antiquing or whatever it is that you know to be what kids should be doing.  And your child will know that if they perform, if they love the arts, that it will always be secondary to all the other important things.  And, even if you allow them to perform, the accomplishments in front of an audience will never be quite as significant as their siblings’ accomplishments on the playing field in front of a roaring crowd or the like.  And they will know that while they might want to be both an athlete and a performer, or a hunter and a performer, or statistician and a performer, that to the people who are important to them, the “and performer” part will always be just an add-on.

Please don’t allow your kids to get involved in the arts.  If not for you, then for me.  I cannot see one more child, with tears in their eyes, when they have to explain to their friends that their parents may not be able to make it to the performance.  They had dinner plans or needed to bring the car to the shop or something very important. 

Please explain to your kids how unrealistic it is to study the arts.  Please tell them it’s impossible to get hired into any real job involving the arts.  Please tell them that they need to study business or medicine or law or engineering and that none of those professions would ever rely upon the skills built in the arts – like creativity, public speaking ability, confidence, discipline, work ethic, ability to think clearly under pressure, or even the pure stamina it might take to be successful.  And, please, belittle the importance of “happiness” in your chosen field of employment.

Don’t allow your child to get involved in the arts because you’ll feel like you need to placate them with platitudes.  You’ll feel like you need to give compliments like “how great they were” or “how well they sang” or “how wonderful the dance” was.  But it’ll just be placating.  And your child will know.  And you’ll both walk away disappointed. 

Don’t allow your child to get involved in the arts.  Because, ultimately, years from now, they’ll find it on their own anyway.  And they’ll love it and know that it was where they should have been all along.  And they’ll grow and see life in different shades of color and, ultimately, they’ll be happy.  Happy to be a part of a world that they understand.  Happy to be in a community that supports them.  Happy to have opportunities to grow and learn and achieve and create.  Happy to not be reliant upon you for acceptance.

Please don’t allow your child to get involved in the arts.  You’ll be happier.  And that’s what really matters, right?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Am I a music teacher, pupil or both?

The day care center called and said my youngest daughter was sick and asked if I would come get her.  I cancelled my work plans for the day and picked her up.

Both of my daughters enjoy performing. On the drive home Alexa began to sing the chorus from "If you only knew" by Shinedown.

It's 4:03 and I can't sleep
Without you next to me I toss and turn like the sea
If I drown tonight, bring me back to life
Breath your breath in me the only thing I still believe in is you
If you only knew

The artist that wrote that song (Brent Smith) explained it was inspired after a phone call he received letting him know he would soon be a father and this would involve some very serious decisions regarding his travel schedule and lifestyle.  This is not easy but there are times that we are reminded that every moment we have matters.

We spent the afternoon having fun and she showed no signs of being sick.  She requested more songs so I tried to teach her a few more and was amazed at how my four old picked up on the melodies so quickly. I must also say that both my daughters did great at their recent Christmas and song and dance programs so I think a little heavy rock is not beyond their reach.

Later in the day my older daughter spontaneously said "You may be a teacher but don't you think we teach you also?"  I don't know where that comment came from but after hearing of boyfriends and other uncomfortable subjects for a Dad I had to agree. I then negotiated that for the time being my simple mind would have to stick to the basics; not burning the popcorn before watching yet another "Monster High" movie.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Then I was taught a business lesson...

While doing homework with Kyra my youngest Alexa was managing "The store"; a service counter of shaved ice for neighborhood friends. $.01 each was the terms of sale.

One kid had no pennies but another investor was willing to go into debt to pay for it and did the same for another. He left the house and a few minutes later came back with three pennies to pay his and theirs.

I did not get into interest or profit because at this point his honor was impressive enough. When I (The CEO) offered him a free one for being honest he refused because he would not accept what he could not pay for.

Kyra then took the pennies for herself and when I tried to take my executive bonus she said "I never asked you to make those sales". She had taken over and is now the true CEO and I am just middle management. After all the kids were not there to see me, they were there for her product and while she was figuring out what 79 + 89 equals Alexa was on the production side serving the customers.

She did not get paid either.

As a consultant I suggested creating a margin. That we raise the price to $.10 per serving but if demand falls than try $.05 per unit but if your staff cannot be paid they will quit and you will have to do it yourself, give in to vultures or fold. In the meanwhile cost per serving must be calculated because now that Dad has been fired he will longer fund the supply chain without securing his investment.

She just looked at me and said "It is all mine".

Stunned I thought to do the old man lecture of who provided the facility, the equipment and the production line but it would have had no benefit. Dad was happy for her confidence and spirit and just watching these kids in action was amazing. So I let it play out.

Do I have a lot to teach her or is she teaching me?

Who is really the teacher here?

In these times Thanksgiving can be much more than Turkey Thursday. It is a four day swirl of stress and joy. There might be many families to visit, distant family we cannot be with, food prep, football, and impending “Black Friday” to prepare for Christmas before we have finished enjoying the feeling of saying “Thank You” instead of shouting out “I want that!”.

I just completed four days with my wonderful kids and I want to say thanks to them. We kept it modest and toned down. Including a wonderful feast with my Nephew, Sister, and her Husband. We just enjoyed time together and they did not complain once that it is simple and without distractions.

They got three home cooked meals a day, we read books and of course watched hours of Spongebob Squarepants. I tossed in a couple episodes of “Cosmos” (for me) to mix it up a little. This works because my oldest loves science and started a bone collection from the Cornish hen I made on Friday.

We discussed family heritage and both sides of my family as I am proud of them both and they make great bedtime stories. I encouraged my kids to look into Mom's side as well and share it with me.

Then the oldest told me she wants to be a teacher when she grows up. She listed why:

You teach computers
Grandpa teaches destruction (I had to correct that to construction)
Grandma teaches reading
Mom teaches stuff too...

I added:

“Grandpa on your Mom's side ran a whole school district and her family is full of teachers and coaches
Uncle Bill and Uncle Less on my side taught for over thirty years. Honorary Uncles, Larry, Tim, and John also do what I do. But sometimes the best teacher is the person who just does a simple good thing for a stranger. Quite often it comes at a time when they need it most. It wakes you up and motivates you. Such a thing has recently been done for me.”

She then wrote up a sign that she wants to hang on the front door for next weekend to have people sign up for an art class she can teach to neighborhood kids.

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

When keeping fish was a hobby I had Plecos, Oxils and $2 random stuff from sturgeons to petra. One tank was so well balanced I never had to clean it.  

Aquatic / Land hybrids were more challenging.  Eventually I learned that creatures will eat whatever they think they can swallow.  They often over extend themselves.  I pulled a salamander out of the mouth of a toad.  Where was that idiot going to fit that mass?  How did the salamander find itself in that situation?

Sad but true, the Salamander eventually ate the toad and the result was an exit to the next life. I now simplify with a betta fish in his own bowl. "Mr. Bubbles" as my kids call him.  They noticed he makes bubble coverage to protect himself but will not tolerate any one else in his territory.  Then my kids say "Lets give him a girlfriend".

I say "If she likes him then they would be happy together. We would then have bowls all over the house to support offspring. If she doesn't like him she will pick and eat at his fins until he has nothing left..  I am not meaning to sound bitter in what I observe in nature that translates into a Dad's world. I am just calling it as I have experienced it.

The saying goes that girls marry their Dads.  That affects me.  It motivates me to find truth in what I think I am doing well in times of doubt and then value every moment of hugs and kisses I can get. the simple pleasure of the sound of my children laughing is pure energy. When they show me attitude I try to guide while appreciating their spirit yet I worry if they are the salamander that will attack the toad.  Avoidance is the better option and is in touch with instinct or they might marry the man who protects himself too much with emotional shelter and pretends to be something he is not because he does not understand himself.  This happens in both sexes.

My kids have taught me more about life than any other experience I have had. After fourteen years of teaching across our country to every walk of life it amazes me how much my two young children can teach me. A Dad is a student. with Principals and Principles.

I just hope I don't try to swallow a toad.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Third Rail of Parenting Conversation

Stick with me here.  I want us to go through a little logic exercise together, okay?

If you held an adult hostage, that would be considered a crime.  Same thing, if it were a kid.
If you kidnapped an adult, that would be considered a crime.  Same thing, if it were a kid.
If you stole money from an adult, that would be considered a crime.  Same thing, if it were a kid.
If your negligence caused harm to an adult, that would be considered a crime.  Same thing, if it were a kid.
If you hit an adult, that would be considered a crime.  Same thing, if it were a kid.  Sometimes.

That "sometimes" bothers me.  A lot.

USP NFL_ Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at TennesseeEarlier this week, Adrian Peterson, a star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was indited for child abuse for beating his son.  Peterson's lawyer released a statement in which, on Peterson's behalf, he called his son's injuries "unintentional".  Peterson's lawyer claimed that Peterson only dished out "the same kind of discipline he received as a child growing up in East Texas."

My guess is, by now, you know where this blog entry is going.  Before we embark on that journey, I'm going to excuse any of you that might be uncomfortable.  What you're going to read will make many of you uncomfortable.  I think we, as a nation, need to be a little bit more uncomfortable on this subject, frankly.  Some parts of this piece may make make you reflect on past actions.  My hope is that it makes you consider future ones.  Time to touch the third-rail of parenting -- physical punishment for children.

Before jumping into the deep end, I want to make something very clear.  I do not think I have all the answers.  In no way do I believe that my parenting skills are superior to most anyone else's.  In fact, on a daily basis, there are countless examples of where I've fallen down in my parental duties.  My views are not meant as a disparagement to anyone else's decisions.  You are not only entitled to your own belief system on parenting, I would openly encourage you to not blindly follow anyone else on matter so important, let alone me.

In Peterson's case, the punishment he dealt out was via a "switch" -- a bare tree branch that he beat his child with.  He left horrendous scars, both physical and mental, on his own child.  Most parents would never consider anything near that level of physical punishment as being acceptable.  But, what is? Where is the line?

I want to, very simply, give you my belief system in regards to disciplining children through anything of a physical nature: It should never happen.  Not ever.  And, yes, I'm including "just" spanking.  My belief on this is pretty simple: if the action taken would be considered illegal if enacted upon an adult, then so, too, should it be for a child.  Yes, even your own child.

If I were a manager in an office and I had an employee talk back to me, I mean really mouth off, call me names, swear, assail my mother's virtue, whatever...  no matter how angry I might become, I could not take that employee into my office and spank them.  If I did -- even if I tried, several different kinds of punishment would instead would befall upon me....

What if I went on vacation, only to find that my next door neighbor had decided to hold a massive party in my house while I was gone.  Things broken, left and right.  Valuables stolen.  Cigarette burns in the carpeting. The house trashed.  I couldn't march next door and hit the guy, let along "spank" him, without the police visiting my home next.

But, in the U.S. today, if a kid talks back to his parent, that parent many times will use physical punishment on the kid.  And if a kid trashes his room, ruins furniture or wallpaper or carpeting, we accept the parent doling out a spanking as punishment.

So, why is it okay for us to do this to our own kids but not to anyone else?  Does it hurt less for the kid to be beat by a relative?  Doubtful.  Is it because the child is the "property" of the adult?  If that were the case, then I guess you could legally sell that child, too -- and you can't do that.  Is it because we believe that it will really teach that kid a lesson?  Study after study study after study tell us the exact opposite -- not only does the child not necessarily associate the punishment with the "crime" committed, it actually teaches the child that violence is an acceptable form of communication.

And, really, it does far more than that to a child.  Kids who are spanked tend to have lower self-esteem and lower IQs, as well as being more aggressive.  Later in life, they are more likely to suffer from substance abuse and domestic abuse.  The lists go on and on about to negative affects of spanking. Yet, it happens.  A lot.  Why?

I know how we justify it.  A perfect an example can be found in Adrian Peterson's response to the indictment against him: He claimed he was only doing to his son what was done to him.  That sounds about right.

This is the argument I hear most.  "Well, I was spanked and I turned out okay."  Really?  With that mentality, we'd never have forward progress in life.  We'd still accept stoning as a reasonable form of punishment for sinners.  I mean, if we punished sinners back in the day by stoning and we're okay as a society, it must be okay, right?  We'd have never progressed into traveling by motorized vehicles. If walking everywhere, or maybe using horses, was good enough for Grandad, then, by gosh, it should be good enough for all of us today, too!  Sorry, folks.  I can't accept the "precedence" argument -- the "I got spanked, so I spank my kids" argument -- as being sound.  It may be how we justify things to ourselves, but that doesn't mean it's right.

So, I ask again, why?  Why do we hit our children when science has proven it to be ineffective and harmful?  You know why?  Because it's easy.

You've heard the old line "This is going to be harder on me than on you" as a parent is about to whoop their child's behind.  Bullshit.

It is WAY harder on the kid.  It's easy for the parent to inflict that punishment on the kid.  I'm not saying the parent doesn't feel pangs of guilt but it is nowhere near that emotions going through the child, not to mention the sheer physical pain involved.  To have your parent, the person who is supposed to care for you, protect you, love you unconditionally, help you, guide you through life -- to have that person betray that trust by being the executioner of the pain inflicted....  tell me again how it's harder for you....

It is easy.  Here is the typical thought process: See a kid do something wrong, smack their behind. The kid will never do that again out of fear of the pain.  So, I ask you, is that what you want for your kids?  You want them to fear you?  You want them to tremble at the thought of you being angry with them?  Is that really what you want?

Or, do you want the behavior to stop.  Because, frankly, that's two different things.  See,  a child who fears you will most likely not perform a behavior that will result in punishment from you if and only if they believe they will be caught by you.  You haven't taught them right from wrong.  You've taught them that you're right and they better not be wrong or they'll receive punishment.  They don't know "why", just "how".

However, if you take the time to teach the child, to show them, to demonstrate for them, to guide them, to explain to them in a way they'll understand, why something is wrong -- with love and patience and kindness -- you have a far greater likelihood of that child knowing not just how the action is wrong. They'll not perform it because they understand why it is wrong.  They won't be doing it out of fear, but out of a moral obligation.  They'll "get it".

Why don't more people do this?  Because it's hard.

As most of you know, I have four kids.  This is not meant to put myself on a pedestal, at all.  I've made countless mistakes, many of which will result in my children laughing at me as adults, probably until the end of time.  The one mistake I've never made, though, is even threatening to spank one of them, let alone actually doing it.

My kids , generally, are not unruly.  They do not have discipline issues in school.  They are polite. To my knowledge, there have been no incidents larceny or vandalism in their relatively short lives. They're pretty good about following "house rules" (except for the one about not eating in your room...but we pick and choose our enforcement battles...).  They don't mouth off to either Blythe or me.  They are not without their shortcomings and are certainly not perfect.  However, I'm proud to say, they're really good kids.

Some people say that's why I can get away with not spanking my kids.  They're "good" kids...  I say that's backwards logic.  In fact, I believe part of the reason they are good kids is because we don't spank.

Our philosophy in parenting, including not ever spanking (or inflecting any other kid of corporal punishment upon our kids), does not come without a price.  That price is time.  Blythe and I spend many, many, many hours with our kids.  Every minute that we can.  We are highly involved with their every day activities.  We know their friends and peers.  We talk incessantly with our kids, to the point the kids are sometime sick of it.  And while we love our kids, LOVE our kids a whole lot, this lifestyle is hard.  It takes a lot of effort.  We purposely and continuously insert ourselves into our children's lives so we can help them understand life better and help them to make good decisions. We do it with full hearts, but it is hard.

I'm convinced this is why more people don't choose to not spank their kids.  Because the alternative means a lot of work.  And I'm not suggesting that the way that I've raised my kids is the only way to help kids through life without spanking, but I am suggesting that whatever other paths are out there are equally difficult.  Parenting is hard work.  It's work.  WORK.  It's the most satisfying work there can ever be, but it is work nonetheless.

And, once again, for clarification sake, I'm not suggesting that parents who spank their kids don't work at parenting.  But I am saying it is more work to avoid spanking than it is to spank a kid. And, from what I've observed, we, as a society, tend to seek ways to work a little less.  In this particular case, I think it is to the detriment of the child to do so.

A few years ago, I posted something on Facebook along these same lines.  And the reaction was everything I knew it would be.  Generally, I'm a pretty easygoing guy.  On this subject, I feel like more people need to speak up and raise awareness.  Kids don't have a real voice in this debate. They should, though.

I know, again, there will be much dissent on this subject.  Truthfully, I'm not very interested in debating the merits of spanking.  Many of you find it acceptable.  I don't.  If my argument against it in this blog piece didn't sway you at all, then, likely my words in rebuttal to any comment you make won't either.  And, this isn't one of those topics where writing comments to "enlighten" others who might read it would be appropriate either.  If you're interested in doing that, might I suggest you start a blog... In other words, I'm not looking for a fight.  I can't tell anyone else how to parent their kids. But, if you are someone who does spank their kids, I hope my words at least give you pause.  Their future is in your hands.

Friday, August 22, 2014

New Beginnings

For many people, January 1st represents a fresh start -- new year, new commitments, new opportunities. For those of us with kids, January frequently comes in August.  This year, for my family, our "new year" began on August 20th at 6:00am.

Alarms rang.  Parents arose, forcing grogginess aside.  Dog walked, lunches made, showers taken, and then the real work began.  We woke the kids.  Mayhem ensued.

This year, our new beginnings include something significantly different.  Now that he's big-boy-3, Sam is starting school.  He is being initiated into the early wake-up/get dressed/eat breakfast/hit the road routine. I'm proud to say, although he did have the deer-in-headlights look about him, he did great.  Only roughly 5,972 more days like that until high school graduation.  We're on our way!

The other kids have new beginnings, too.  Emma has made the transition from "little girl second grade" to "big girl third grade".  Will took the gigantic leap to middle school...all the way across the street at our school. And Jack has made the somewhat easier transition to King of the School as a reigning 8th grader.  He's seen all; he knows all.  We're luckily he's benevolent.

But the kids aren't the only ones who get new beginnings.  Parents sometimes do, too. Since my last blog post, back at the end of the school year, there has been a "new beginning" bubbling.  This is really the first time I've spoken of it.  Keep reading and you'll understand why.

Sometime last Spring, the writing bug hit me, as it does often.  This blog is a Godsend to me -- as a guy who feels the need to write like other people feel the need to sleep, I get a public outlet for whenever the urge arises.  However, the blog has its limitations, and there are times when the writing bug is compounded with the creativity bug and, in those moments, nonfiction, semi-autobiographical prose simply will not do. It's then that I knowingly hit the "new" option in Word, stare at the glaring white page, and start to shape ideas. Sometimes I know where it's headed; most times I don't.

Back in the Spring, I had an idea that needed some room to grow.  I wanted to write a vehicle for my kids. As most of you know, my kids love musical theater, as do Blythe and I. The writing bug hit. The creative bug hit. The blank page stared at me. Why not write a musical for the kids?

There was one problem.  I can't write music.

Never being one to allow silly little obstacles like 'not being able to write music for a musical' get in my way, I came up with a work around.  I would write a story in which the characters would sing some of our favorite songs that were written for other musicals.  Basically, I was going to re-purpose music. This idea really made me I was, writing something my kids would love, using music that we all love, and I was going to create and write and all was good in the world. Genius!

Here's the thing.  Apparently, someone long ago decided that you can't just take other people's music and use it without asking.  There are laws written for this kind of thing.  In my mind, it's really ridiculous.  I mean, if those authors would want to use my words, I'd gladly lend them.  But, it seems, nearly all professional musicians and writers want to actually be paid for their work, whether used as intended or "re-purposed".

There was hope, though.  My friend, Seth Travaglino, the gentleman who pointed out the potentially lawsuit-inducing flaw in my plan, suggested an alternative.  Seth is a terrific guy, one of the most talented people I know (and a great dad and teacher, too -- He's a triple threat).  He graciously read my script and made two suggestions.

Seth is ingrained in the theater arts community in the Tampa area. He offered to bring in someone who could write original music to fit the script.  I jumped at the offer.

Seth also suggested something else.  Every year, our Junior Thespians troupe at school (I've written about Thespians before, but in a nutshell, think Competitive Theater for kids) performs a One Act at competition. Seth asked if, perhaps, we could edit my script, add music and have the kids perform this original piece for the One Act competition.

Butterflies.  No, butterflies doesn't describe the feeling correctly.  Adrenaline?  Anxiety? Not quite right either.  I'm sure there is a more accurate word.  I'm just not sure what it is.

Time for some truth about writing and me.  I love writing. Since you're reading this, I'm guessing you kind of figured that on your own (but it is still very meta to mention, right?)  Sometimes when I write about writing, it generates some very reassuring responses, which are all very kind, but it makes me feel like I'm pandering for response.  I'm not.  That's not to say the responses aren't incredibly appreciated -- more than you'll ever know, really.  But, again, that feels like pandering which is what I'm trying to avoid in the first place.

I mention the butterflies/anxiety/adrenaline/neurosis and my response to response because when Seth suggested we take this to competition, I was flooded with two contradictory feelings: overwhelming excitement and overwhelming fear.

When I'm done writing this blog post and I hit "publish", my heart will race.  "Going Public" with thoughts, feelings, memories, emotions creates the same feeling in me as if  I'd ingested 15 cans of Red Bull.  I'm excited and tingly and nervous and edgy.  I imagine this must be what my kids feel like on stage.  The vulnerability of it is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. And I get like that for a simple, mundane blog post. Now, put yourself in my shoes and extrapolate that feeling -- knowing the words you write are going to be performed, publicly on stage by people you know and love, along with extraordinary music (thank you, Blake Conley -- your art is as inspiring as it is masterful) in front of an audience of strangers.  A thousand thoughts and feeling crisscross all at the same time.  Great big huge, hairy, fang-bearing, blood-sucking butterflies.

Yes, this is a kids' show.  Yes, I understand some of you will accuse me of being overly dramatic (not the first time I've been accused of that.  Probably won't be the last.) The incredibly high quality work that Seth creates on stage would change your mind, I promise.  Kids show?  Yes.  But it is not trivial or trite by any means.

In my show, one of the story lines has a boy coaching his friend on how to ask out a girl.  The boy being coached is concerned because he's never admitted to this girl his feelings for her.  He's afraid of her response.  He is having a hard time being vulnerable.  His friend gives him this advice:

"Close your fist. When your hand is in a fist, nothing can hurt the inside. But nothing can get in, either.  Now open it up.  Sure, it’s vulnerable now.  But it doesn’t keep everything out, either. (Puts a piece of candy in his hand) It’s one or the other.  Have an open hand.  You won’t regret it."  

I took my character's advice.  Here I am with an open hand.  It's exhilarating and terrifying.  I can't wait to see this thing on stage. It's exhilarating and terrifying and it's exactly as it's supposed to be.

But let's back-up a little bit. Before we get to the point where this story could be performed as a one act, it had to actually be one act.  When I wrote the original script, pilfering other people's music and bending it to my will, I wanted to fit in as many amazing (and apparently illicit) songs as I possibly could. So, the script was a traditional two act show.  Okay -- not exactly a "traditionally" two was a long-ass, jam-packed two act show.

You might think, well, it shouldn't be that hard to edit a two act show down to one.  Cut some story threads here and there.  Take a major character or two and push them to the background.  Make sure you hit the themes harder and faster.  No big whup.  Right?  Right.

And you'd be absolutely correct.  If you weren't the writer of the piece.  And if you were, you'd stress. You ask, "How can I take out a single perfect word?"  Then, you make deals with yourself.  You find ways to turn three sentences into one.  You condense descriptive words into a single describer.  You find less important themes and untangle them from the story.  You make it work.  And with every cut, with every reduction, you agonize.  It's analogous to pulling out every hair on your head, one hair at a time.

And after the multiple surgeries, you prepare to take off the bandages -- a read-through without editing. A read-through to ensure the spirit of the piece lived through the process.  To ensure your characters were still who they were supposed to be.  To see if the retold story is the story you want to tell.

So, I did all of that.  And when I was done, I realized, the process was the best thing to ever happen to my writing.  If necessity is the mother of invention, she must also be the aunt to creativity.  This process forced me to find an economy of words.  To ensure each word had impact.  To ensure each word had necessity. To make the very best story as tightly wound as possible without extraneous thoughts or notions or verbiage. It helped me make something better than what I had made before.

And so, it was then, when I handed over this new one-act creation of beauty to Seth and we started to discuss time restrictions (One Acts can be no longer than 40 minutes, from set-up to strike) that the realization struck me -- my beautiful, finely tuned, dare I say 'perfect' editorial effort was, well, at least twice as long as could be allowed. Crap.

Long (long...LONG!) story shorten....this happened a few times.  The script needed further edits for time. And each time I edited it, I thought I could find no further way of cutting it without losing the integrity of the story.  And yet, with each round, somehow, I felt like it became more pure and really what it should have been to start.  Through this process, I learned to write a better story (none of those skills are on display in this particular blog piece, though.  So sorry.)

There is another really important part to the story of the short but eventful life of this one act, and that is the collaborative process that helped it become a real show. Our partnership deserves a blog post all of its own -- it was magical and reassuring and awesome in so many ways. Seth Travaglino brought in Blake Conley, our uber-talented composer and lyricist.  This is not an exaggeration -- the first time I listened to a song Blake wrote for the show, my jaw went slack and I was speechless.  As you all know, for me, that's a true rarity.Last night,  I played a song for the kids that Blake recorded recently -- Will, by far my most discriminating child and harshest critic, very seriously told me that Les Miserables has been replaced as his favorite musical by this show.  It wasn't my writing that affected him.  It was these amazing, addictive songs. Blake, my friend, your talent astounds me.

And the driving force through this process was Seth himself.  Every team needs a rock, someone to give vision, keep focus, and lead.  Seth is so good at all those things, it's hardly noticeable when huge leaps of progress are achieved.   Working with both Seth and Blake, I am humbled by their enormous artistic and humanistic abilities.  And I'm grateful to have been a part of this group effort.  As I wrote earlier, this topic really deserves an entire blog post, but until I can make that happen, it would have been criminal not to give them the utmost credit I possibly can. From the depths of my soul, thank you, Seth and Blake.

So, onward this little show goes -- today, kids received the script and music to start the learning process. By November 8th, it'll be a full fledged one act production, brought to life via the talents of co-directors extraordinaire Seth Travaglino and Micheal Vokoun. This should be an amazing ride.  On occasion, I'll post an update or two.

Welcome to life, "Understudies".  You're in good hands.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Auld Lang Sine, Corbett Prep School Year 2013-2014

The last day of school, to me, has always felt a little bit like the end of the holiday season in December.  So much to to grateful for, so much to look forward to, and a little hint of sadness to see the previous year go. So, as we look back, and look forward, and are a little sad, let's take a moment to take it all in.

Congratulations to all our Corbett Prep friends on another terrific school year. We're so grateful for this wonderful school community -- the learning and experiences our kids have taken part in. 2013-2014 was an amazing school year in so many ways.

As we enter 2014-2015 with an 8th grader -- only one year from high school!!!, a 6th grader, a 3rd grader, and (gulp) the littlest guy entering Corbett as a PreK 3 student, the expectations are high for an amazing ride!

Beyond the classroom, beyond the lunches and car rides to/from school, beyond the homework battles and last minute touches on seemingly every major project, beyond the memorization of lines and living room dance recitals, beyond complaints of the restrictions imposed by the dress code and constant battle to figure out where one of the kids might have left their lunchbox.... Beyond all the craziness, all the endless, frenetic, constant, "wouldn't have it any other way" craziness... This year wouldn't have been so special without our tightly woven net of Corbett Prep friends, both child and adult.

Years from now, when we look back on these days as fond memories of simpler times (they're
always simpler in retrospect, right?), it won't be the homework nor projects nor lunches nor dress code that will be featured. It will be the times we laughed about the homework, and the times we commiserated about the challenges creating the picky child lunch", and the moments we debated amongst ourselves whether a logo was or wasn't dress code compliant, and the memory of discussing creative ways to ensure a project was up to snuff.  Homework, projects, lunches, dress code, grades, field trips -- they are the framework of where our memories will live, but it is our friends who we will always remember bringing beauty to that framework.

Thank you all for being a part of our family's school experience this year, for allowing us to be a part of yours, for being there in moments great and not-so-great, for laughing with us, for helping us through moments when we were on the brink of tears, for having our back so many times and allowing us to return the favor on occasion. Thank you for sharing your kids with us, and for the loving way you have accepted ours in your life. Thank you for your friendship and so much more. 

Saying goodbye to this year is tough and exciting at the same time. It was an amazing year of growth. But just like the inevitable turn of the seasons, the end of the school year is followed by a joyous summer break, followed by the start of the next adventure. And we go into it knowing we have each other, not simply our Corbett Prep friends, but, really, more accurately, our Corbett Prep family.