Saturday, May 29, 2010

Directing A High School Play

Putting on a high school play has many unique blessings and challenges. As far as blessings go, the students are usually very enthusiastic about the show. They are willing to put in long hours after school and on weekends. They are full of inspiring creativity and energy and are often capable of solving problems that crop up in the show by themselves. By the end of the rehearsal and performance process, the students have become a tightly knit group of performers and as their director, I am included in this group. These are the blessings of putting on a high school show.
But oh, the challenges. As I mentioned before, the students are highly creative. However, their sense of the resources available to our program sometimes seems slightly impaired.

“Mrs. Hughes!” They will say, convinced that their idea is the best ever conceived, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we ended the show in a gigantic display of pyrotechnics?! We could have rockets shooting from the stage and the characters flying in from the wind, and fake smoke billowing up through the audience. That would be awesome!”

I take a deep breath and pause for a moment before I answer, “Hmm….that’s an interesting idea. It would be awesome, but I think that might also be illegal. Maybe someday you should work for Disney. They might have the capabilities to do that sort of thing.” I say this in all seriousness, because they really should use these creative ideas somewhere, but not at this stage in our drama program.
Or, I have the observant students who see what other, much more developed drama programs are accomplishing in Kern County.

“Mrs. Hughes!” They shriek in a frantic, get-over-here-right-now sort of tone which makes me wonder if someone needs First-Aid or CPR (which, thanks to the State of California, I am certified in.) As I rush over, I start trying to remember the ratio of rescue breaths to chest compressions. ‘Is it 30 rescue breaths to one chest compression? Or one rescue breath to 30 chest compressions?’

One of the really special things about taking CPR is that they are always changing the ratio. I have been to CPR training three times in the past 6 years, and every single time, they have changed the ratio. Apparently, they just can’t make up their minds. This means that in an actual emergency, I can never be exactly sure just what the best ratio to use is.

“Stockdale High School is doing the musical, ‘Moby Dick,’” they explain frenetically with a newspaper in their hands as I begin to realize that there really was no emergency, “They have a cast of forty students and every night has been packed out. Look at these pictures, and this set. We should totally do a musical next year! How about, ‘Alice in Wonderland?’”

“Ooh, or that new Beatles Musical, ‘Across the Universe,’” another little darling will interject.

“Oookay…I will think about those suggestions.” I reply (‘deep breaths,’ I tell myself, ‘deep breaths’), “You know,” I go on; “I read that article, too. Stockdale has a really amazing program that they’ve had for like 20 years. Their Drama director is a full-time drama teacher, who is practically the best high school drama director in Kern County.

“‘Alice in Wonderland,’ the musical, hasn’t been performed seriously since the 1920’s,” I continue, “and ‘Across the Universe,’ is not actually a stage production, and even if it were, the royalties alone would cost more than we could potentially make in 15 years worth of drama productions . But we will be doing a musical at some point in the next few years.”

The students sadly listen to my reasons and as I see the light die in their eyes, I too wish that we had the unlimited capabilities to perform a stage production of, “Across the Universe,” or at least, include a vast pyrotechnics display in our latest show, complete with smoke and rockets. Maybe next year.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Three of my sunflower seeds broke ground yesterday.

I planted 14 seeds 2 weeks and 2 days ago. It felt like so long since I had planted them that I was beginning to believe that they would never grow.

If you read my post "Building Camelot" you know what the sunflowers mean to me.

In the weeks after my Grandfather died, ordering those seeds and digging the beds for them brought me great comfort.

These are not just flowers to me. These are Hope in seed form.

Somehow, with water and dirt, these tiny seeds have grown into a living thing. It's such a miracle. In a few months, they will be taller than I am- and they live off of sunlight! It sounds like a fairy tale.

Sometimes I marvel at the world God has made.

I wrote a Haiku to honor the tiny sunflower plants' birthday. I read it to them and sang "Happy Birthday."

Sunflower Hope.

A bursting green bud

Breaking through the dark wet soil

My sunflower seed grows hope.

I have to resist the urge to help the seedlings along; I want to reach out and brush the dirt off of them and lift their leaves out of the ground. But I know I shouldn't. They need to struggle so that they will grow strong. They need to fight to live or they will never grow tall.

I wonder if this is how God feels about us? He would like to spare us the pain and the struggle, but He won't, because He knows we need the fight, or we will never blossom.

Photo Credit:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Green Man/ Proudly Accepted by the Blinking Cursor Magazine!

I think enough time has passed that I can share "The Green Man" poem with you. This is the one that was published by the literary magazine, "Midnight Screaming."

The Green Man

“Run away with me,” said the spirit of the wood
as he whispered down my neck through the trees.
I shivered and shrank, wishing I could,
And leaned into the breeze.

“Why won’t you come?” he asked in my ear,
as he warmed my back with the sun.
I stretched and arched, but still had fear,
Oh, I wanted to succumb!

“Just join me now,” said that cheery sprite,
as he caressed me with cloudy shade,
and how, oh how, I wished I might
give up this earthly glade!

My poem, "Housework," was accepted by a British Literary magazine called, "The Blinking Cursor." To date, that means I've had four poems accepted at various places. Thank you to all those editors willing to give me a chance!

Photo Credit: Green Man by Alexi Francis,
Tree Trail Artist

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Student Stupor

I believe that most educators go into teaching because somewhere along the way, they really enjoyed being students. If you ask a teacher why they went into it, they will usually tell you something about a teacher or a class who once meant something very special to them.

I loved my education. I wasn’t always very happy with my fellow students, and there were a few teachers who I didn’t care for, but on the whole, I truly enjoyed my teachers in elementary school, high school, and especially college. English teachers were usually my favorite. They took the literature so seriously, and they would use big words like, “epiphany,” and “epitome,” and phrases like, “but I digress,” and “bear in mind.”

I had one high school teacher, Mr. Richmond, who constantly spoke in an East Coast accent and was completely obsessed with Hester Prynne, the anti-heroine from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. He spoke about her as if she were some actual living, breathing woman who he was in love with. Mr. Richmond had graduated from Brown University and seemed to me to be the epitome of culture. I found out later that he was raised in Bakersfield, but had picked up the East Coast accent during his time at Brown and never let it go. Somehow this epiphany made me like him even more. It taught me that I could pick any accent or culture I liked and just start acting like that if I wanted to.

I’ve had some very dotty female English teachers, the sort of teacher who always seems a bit frazzled, and is always losing her students’ papers. They were fun, enthusiastic teachers. They would share interesting stories with the class all about their families and their tiny yappy dogs and trips they took to England. These women seemed almost as infatuated with Shakespeare as Mr. Richmond was with Hester. They would talk about Shakespeare as if he were some witty friend they had had drinks with the evening before. And they somehow knew things, like what the inside of the Globe Theatre looked like, when you should use semi-colons, and what Madrigals are.

I like to think that my English teachers liked me almost as well as I liked them, probably because I would sit in their classes and act interested, unlike many of the other students who thought British literature was something Americans should have left behind when we revolted.

But I digress. The point is, I became an English teacher because those teachers taught me to love literature just as much as they did. But now when I stand in front of my classes, sometimes all I can see when I look out over their faces is something I think of as the, “student stupor.” Their eyes glaze over and lose focus. Their mouths hang open and little puddles of drool drip onto their desks. They slouch and seem to have entered into a different mental plane, perhaps one where they are playing video games in their head. I try to share my enthusiasm with them. We act out “Romeo and Juliet,” and discuss the Harlem Renaissance in depth. We read poems, we write poems. We discuss, we practice. But still most days, all I get is the Student Stupor staring back at me.

My first year teaching I tried to read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, with one of my English classes. I passionately loved that book in Junior High and High School. Every few years, I read it again, and I am swept away by it every time. To me, Jane is the epitome of strength, dignity, and liveliness in female form. I especially wanted the girls in that class to get swept up in the story and to learn the lessons that I had learned from Jane.

Lessons like:

truth and righteousness are more important than romantic love;

you have to choose what’s right for you, no matter what anyone tells you;

it’s important to forgive people no matter what they have done to you;

follow God's will for your life no matter what.

I tried to instill all my fervor about this book into them, and yet, when we read and discussed it together, I was met with nothing but resistance, and the deadly Student Stupor. I doubt if I will ever try to teach that book again. It hurt too much to watch them trample on something that I see as lovely.

Last week, we read some Irish poems in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day. I read them out loud to the students. Bear in mind, I have been to Ireland, I read all the Irish literature I can get my hands on, and I have several Irish television shows I love to watch. So although my Irish accent may not be perfect, I think it sounds pretty cool, and it’s certainly better than any of my students’ Irish accents. I read the poems in my best Irish imitation with all the emphasis and inflection I could muster.

I stopped after, “The Wearin’ O’the Green,” and looked at them, hoping that there might be the faintest glimmer of interest in their vacuous eyes. A moment passed. A few drops of drool fell from one of their mouths, and the others blinked dully. Somewhere in their brains they were killing aliens or terrorists or pedestrians in some bloody video game fantasy instead of thinking about Irish poetry. I, their teacher had just spent five minutes speaking in a completely different English dialect and they did not even notice.

Oh, Student Stupor. Out of all my struggles and battles as a teacher, perhaps you are my worst nemesis. At times like this I wonder, what would Jane Eyre do? And then I remember that she was after all, a fictional character. Of course, not every day is like this. Some days, my students do seem to enjoy what we’re discussing. But this has been enough for one article. I’ll write about those days another time.

Monday, May 17, 2010

50th post, and a Prolific Blogger Award!

My last post, the poem, "Grief" was my 50th post on this blog. I feel like that is an accomplishment. Huzzah!

Another source of pride is the Prolific Blogger award I recieved from Ryan, the writer of the blog, "Scotland Here and Now."

The originator over at Advance Booking has attached the following rules...

1. Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers. Spread some love!

2. Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which he/she has received the award (see above).

3. Every Prolific Blogger must link back to This Post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.

4. Every Prolific Blogger must visit this post and add his/her name in the Mr. Linky, so that we all can get to know the other winners.

So for the seven winners I'm choosing these great Blogs:

1. Carole Ann Carr- She is such a sweet, supportive blogger- thank you for all your kind words, Carole Ann.

2. Lost in the Frame of Life-This writer, Robert Bourne, updates frequently, and I think he's a very interesting writer.

3.Daily Drowning-
by Christina- she sometimes updates 2 or 3 times a day, and shares some really thought-provoking stories and poetry.

4. At Home in the Ozarks- this blog is full of stories about rural life in the Ozarks. Lots of interesting information here, if you like homesteading, which I do!

5. English Wilderness- What a lovely blog! Full of photos of the desolate, wild places in England. If you're slightly obsessed with the UK (like me!), you'll like it. Would the word for people who are obsessed with England be "anglo-phile?" Or does that just mean you love white people?

6. The Thoughts of Forrestasauras- Enjoyable, edgy free-verse poetry.

7. The Writing Nag- Chock full of encouragement and tools for fledgling writers.

Friday, May 14, 2010


I wrote this poem the day after my grandfather's funeral.


I woke up this morning with raccoon eyes,

My head heavy with the fog of the day before.

In my closet, I glanced at my winter blacks,

And reached instead for bright blues and reds.

I am tired of the blackness, darkness, grief.

The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and my flowers are growing.

I want to shed this sadness like an old snake skin.

But the scales still remain around my heart.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Proudly Rejected by Kaleidotrope Magazine/Someone Unpredictable

Someone Unpredictable

Wandering home late from the club one night, Pollyanna found herself in a maze of dark streets and darker alleys. She should never have been out so late alone, but none of the handsome men with whom she had danced had really interested her enough to let them walk her home.

The truth was, she was bored of them all. She was tired of Mark with his rugged good looks and reliable dependability. Whenever they went bungee-jumping together, he insisted on following all of those pesky rules and regulations, and the last time they had gone lion-hunting, Mark had practically forced her to keep her gun on safety unless she was planning to shoot something. Boring, dull, hum-drum Mark. A girl could never really feel alive around a man like that, she mused.

And Luther, well, Luther was only a little more daring than Mark. He had taken Pollyanna base-jumping off the cliffs in South America a few times, and she had found it interesting, but only vaguely.

They’re just so drab, thought Pollyanna as she wandered through the dark, moonlit city. When will I ever meet a really entertaining man? she wondered with a sigh. Slowly, Pollyanna became aware that she was being followed. A dark slender shadow trailed behind her silently. Her heart sped up and she willed her dainty silk-clad feet to move more quickly. The shadow shape behind her matched her pace.

Pollyanna broke out in a run. She was panting now, partially from fear, partially from exertion. Her delicate bosom rose and fell like the wings of a stressed out hummingbird.

She turned corner after corner in the darkness. She was running, but no matter how quickly she went, the dark shadow followed behind her…until she found herself in an alley with no exit.

Pollyanna pressed against the wet, mossy brick wall at the end of the alley. She cried out, “Whoever you are- don’t come any closer!”

The shadow crept along the dark wall and finally stood in front of her in the pale moonlight. Pollyanna gasped.

“You’re…you’re just a teenage boy!” She exclaimed. His pale face rose above her with a leer. She noticed his poor posture, sagging pants, bad hair, and horrible pimples.

“I hate to be indelicate,” Pollyanna continued, “But you have horrible acne. Isn’t there some kind of medication you can take for that?”

“I know about my acne!” the boy snarled. She shrank back when she noticed a glint of moonlight shining off his unusually long canine teeth.

“Well, I was only trying to help,” Pollyanna continued, “You really don’t have to be so unpleasant about it.”

“You trying being an undead teenage boy for three hundred years and see how you like it,” he whined sulkily. “And for your information, I have tried a lot of different medications, and none of them work on the undead.”

“Undead?” She gasped, “So you must be….”

“That’s right! I’m a bloodsucker, a leech, a mosquito…I’ve been called every name in the book. I’m a vampire!”

“Ooh!” Pollyanna squealed. “Have you come to turn me so that we can live undead forever?

“Well…” He said quietly, looking deeply into her limpid eyes…“No. I’m just going to kill you.”

Aah, finally a man who’s unpredictable, thought Pollyanna.
It was her last thought.

The above story was freshly rejected by Kaleidotrope Magazine. The editor, Fred Coppersmith, said, " It was not un-amusing, but it was quickly predictable, less a story than a quick joke. It just never really worked for me because of that."

Well, Fred, thank you for your honest opinion and your speedy 14-day turn around time. As much as rejection hurts, honest feedback like that is about the most valuable thing a writer can recieve. Most editors can't take the time to tell me why, they just reject without any reason, if they bother to tell me at all.

I liked the story when I wrote it, which is why I sent it off right away, but I might have done better to wait a few weeks and re-work it a bit. Or maybe it was a weak premise to begin with and the whole thing just needs to be scrapped.

Mother, I'm an award winning poet!

I got a call last Tuesday from the Kern Valley Library. Their librarian, my dear friend Adriane Holguin, called to tell me that my poem had won our local poetry contest.

My writing has never won anything before! I posted about the contest at the beginning of April, because I was unsure about even submitting a poem this year. Last year, they weren't impressed with my poem one single bit, but I decided to try again with a much more conservative piece, since the judges seemed to like that from the winners last year.

There were fewer participants this year- only thirteen poems were submitted for my category.

As a prize, I will be published in the Kern Valley Writer's Association annual anthology, and I will get a free copy.

Here is the poem that won. It is a sonnet, and I thought of it one day when I saw some whispy clouds trailing across the sky. It's extremely conservative (possibly boring), and by far it's not my best poem, but I think I learned an important lesson about submitting a writing style that will be popular with the people evaluating it (i.e. publishers, judges).

Morning Song

Like a gift that has yet to be opened,
Ribbons trail against the sky.
Like a paper that covers a package,
Sleep still covers the eyes.

Like a parcel concealing a treasure,
Mountains are shrouding the sun,
Like a present that soon will be given,
A new day has almost begun.

All of creation is waiting,
Waiting for this brand new morn,
When anything is possible,
And new things can be born.

Like a gift that’s been bestowed,
The sun bursts forth and this land glows.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Building Camelot

Building Camelot

The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there's simply not a more congenial spot
for happily-ever-aftering than here in Camelot.

If you had visited my grandparents’ property in Springville fifteen years ago, my grandmother might have challenged you to a game of cards or dominoes, and my grandfather might have taken you on a tour of his trees.

“I planted this apricot here about three years ago,” He’d say. “It should start giving fruit any time now.”

Or, he’d say, patting another tree’s bark so hard that the tree would shake, “Well now, this peach tree gave us a lot of peaches last year, but there weren’t many blossoms this year so there won’t be many peaches.”

My grandpa planted nearly forty trees on their two acres of hillside. At the bottom of the hill, there was a pond with lots of bluegill, some bass, and a few catfish. There was usually a dog, sometimes a cat, and once, while my sister and I lived with them, a pygmy goat.

In short, for a child like me, my grandma and grandpa’s property in Springville was just short of heaven. The place was beautiful, but it was really my grandparents and their gracious, welcoming spirit that made it wonderful. I always thought of them as who I wanted to be, and if I could live anywhere when I grew up, it would be there.

Once, my grandmother mailed me a sunflower head that my grandfather had raised. I hadn’t known that you could grow things like sunflowers and actually eat them. My grandfather always liked sunflowers because they were cheerful and hearty, and because interesting birds would come around their property just to eat the seeds.

My grandma has called their time in Springville, “her Camelot.” They were friends with all the neighbors on their hill, and despite my grandfather’s bouts with cancer and heart trouble, the ten years they spent there were some of their best.

They didn’t need some love triangle between Guinevere and Lancelot to help them lose their Camelot, though. My grandfather simply got too old to care for the property anymore. My parents convinced them to sell the place and move closer to them. For the first five years, they lived in a house in Bakersfield, and my grandfather planted trees and sunflowers and vegetables there, too. Then, that got to be too much again. They moved into a very nice pre-fabricated house behind my parent’s house, and they’ve been living there for the past five years.

Again, my grandfather planted trees, vegetables, strawberries, and of course, sunflowers. But every year, he just got a little weaker, and a little more confused. Sometimes he didn’t understand why they weren’t in Springville.

He’d say, “Juanita, why are we living in this trailer? When are we going home?”

Or sometimes he’d say, “Let’s check out of this place and go home today.” My grandmother would have to explain again that this is where they lived now, and he’d just sort of nod his head sadly and accept it.

He passed away a few weeks ago. Many of their friends and neighbors from Springville came to the memorial service to say goodbye, and to comfort my grandmother. They remembered me from when I was a kid, and graciously hugged me and said it was good to see me. They sat with my grandmother and talked and laughed with her, and I knew she was remembering happier times.

The day after the funeral, I didn’t want to do anything. I wanted to curl up in bed and stare at a wall for the whole day. I felt such a sense of loss that this beautiful dream, this idea I had of my grandparents- was coming to an end.

But life progressed, and I had church to attend, laundry to do, and food to make. I muddled through in a dark mood.

For some reason, I thought about sunflowers- about how my grandfather had liked them, and seemed to always have some growing.

Who will plant the sunflowers now? I thought. Which is when I realized- I will. I can plant sunflowers, and tell people about my trees, and invite people to play games. I am blessed that my husband and I live on about 15 acres of a hill, belonging to his parents where we are building our own house- and there are gardens and fruit trees.

Even though my grandfather is gone, and that house in Springville was sold long ago- I will build my own Camelot.