Adaptation

“The key word is adaptation”
-Peter Han, Arts & Communication alum and professional artist

We knew that the new year would bring changes, big ones from a physical environment point of view. ACMA was moving from the comfortable, well worn campus we have called home since 1991 to a new building, the epically proportioned Timberland Middle School. We did our best to prepare for the move, our theater and dance departments packing the costumes and sets they imagined they’d need in the next year or two before we return to our familiar performing arts center in the fall of 2021, everyone else filling box after box and preparing to walk away from a campus broken in like a familiar baseball glove or favorite pair of shoes.

We were going somewhere squeaky new.

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Summer arrived and with it the move itself. The gym at Timberland filled with boxes, piles of them, and the few of us who work year round began rattling around the new building. Planning for ACMA Day, teachers returning, and the opening of school felt different in the new place, and yet…

Change can be good.

I’ve said that we could be ACMA in a circus tent often enough to get kidded for the phrase, but it’s true, and I realized that our temporary relocation is really an opportunity.

Peter HanAt the end of last year Arts & Communication grad Peter Han, class of ‘99, came to speak to our art students. He talked a lot about his time at Arts & Communication and then about what it took to be a professional artist. Hard work, passion, and drawing-drawing-drawing were a part of it, he explained to the students, as was a willingness to always continue to learn and grow. “The key word,” he told them, in being an artist “is adaptation.”

And that’s exactly what we’re getting ready to do.

Dance is taking over a large space currently called (unimaginatively) the “auxiliary gym.” By the time they’re done installing a new dance floor (sprung for safety and as large as the main stage in our PAC), curtains, and some room for seating it will have been adapted into something marvelous.

Theater, who are taking over a grand Black Box Theatre, are doing some adaptation of their own, building their 2019-2020 season to take advantage of the space. When they stage Cabaret, a show designed to blur the line between audience and stage, they’ll show a creativity that incorporates their new home and artistic process. Cabaret is a show that couldn’t have been put on in either our Blue Box or main stage in the same way, and taking advantage of the new space is both smart and artistically daring.

Screen Shot 2018-11-10 at 9.16.29 PMVisual artists, photographers, sculptors, and writers all have an opportunity to begin anew with a blank page, a gessoed canvas, an untouched block of clay. They will create in an atmosphere that is new to them, sailors on a ship leaving port for unmapped seas. What they will discover in the world around them, and in themselves, is an adventure I’m looking forward to being a witness to.

And at the same time, we’re still the same. ACMA is still a collection of wildly creative and caring people. We’re still divergent thinkers, innovative problem solvers, and kind souls no matter whether we’re surrounded by seventy year old wainscoting or yellow trim.

This move provides us all with an opportunity to create with new resources, new surroundings, and a slightly different point of view.

I’m optimistic that the art that we create this year, from Cabaret to The Ballpoint, from the Spectacular to Art is My Voice, will be a little different and still profoundly identifiable as “so very ACMA.” We’re artists after all, always changing, growing, and adapting.

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Bee Loud Glade

That Yeats line wouldn’t leave my mind as I hiked up the hill after my fourteen year old, my boots slipping on the steep sandy trail, insects around me buzzing from flower to flower, a breeze blowing in from the Pacific. It was one of those perfect late summer days, I thought to myself, and I’m walking through a bee loud glade.

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That hike’s gift of uninterrupted time (I was hiking with my teenager, but on fifty year old legs that kept a slower, more poetic, pace) gave me time to muse. When had I first encountered the poem? As an undergraduate? Dr. Steele’s Engl 420 British Literature, 1790 – 1900?  Maybe it didn’t matter. 

I know I’ve visited Yeat’s Isle of Innisfree hundreds of times in the decades since first landing on its shore. Along with a modest raft of other verse, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is one of those poems ingrained in my memory, as real as the cup of coffee at my elbow as I write this or the blisters on my feet after  that coastal hike. Maybe more.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”

And I thought, looking out at the stretch of swaying grasses and meandering bees, that this was one of the many cases where poetry enhances life. My hike was richer because of William Butler Yeats, a fellow born more than a century and a half ago on an island on the other side of the world.

The hills above the Cascade Head trail were not his bee loud glade, but mine, though because he put pen to paper, his bees were as much mine as those living relatives buzzing from blossom to blossom as I wheezed up the trail.

I’ve long hoped myself an exception to Mary Wollstonecraft’s line: “The generality of people cannot see or feel poetically, they want fancy, and therefore fly from solitude in search of sensible objects; but when an author lends them his eyes, they can see as he saw, and be amused by images they could not select, though lying before them.”

A couple of shelves in my office are filled with volumes of poetry, an anomaly I’m told for a high school principal, and I look at them as much as I do any allegedly professional tomes. Surprisingly (to some) there is a wisdom there that applies to my job more often than some might expect.

So as I walked, so much time, fresh air, and the steady hum of bees around me, I wondered what it would be like to make this school year a year of poetry.

What would happen, if anything, if I was purposeful about pulling books off those shelves and reading old, new, sometimes fresh, and sometimes forgotten words? How might the world feel different if I made space to reflect a bit in this salmagundi of posts and maybe even make a connection or two to the work I do as an educator?

Would it feel any different to my little art school if the principal made reading poetry every week a part of his life, and was willing to share a bit of what he read? Could I start a staff meeting or two with a poem? What if…

There was only one way to answer what if. 

A quick count when I got back to my office told me I’d have a deep enough well of verse to make it until June (and beyond). As the rush and tumble of the school year began, I walked to the shelf and pulled down a book. 

So, patient reader, if you’re a regular visitor to this blog, please know that over the next nine or ten months there will be a bit more verse mixed in with my modest prose, a “Year in Poetry” post once a week (as best as I can muster). Water lapping in my deep heart’s core.

 

I’ll start next week with Margaret Atwood’s Two-Headed Poems.

Sorcery

The going from a world we know
To one a wonder still
Is like the child’s adversity
Whose vista is a hill,
Behind the hill is sorcery
And everything unknown,
But will the secret compensate
For climbing it alone?
                     —Emily Dickinson

Any artist knows that true magic is just another name for art. Art compels us to think differently, feel deeply, and see beyond the world we already know.

Artists are the sorcerers of our age, and as our ACMA community leaves the campus we’ve known as home for nearly three decades, it will be our artists who will reassure us that as we climb the hill …to our temporary campus on 118th Avenue. All will be well. Much will be magic.

This, I think, will be true in part because, unlike in Dickinson’s poem, we are not climbing the hill alone.

In our school we have community. Our school is filled with kindred spirits, challenging foils, and fellow travelers. Yes, we are moving away from the comfortable environs of our original campus, but we’ll be back, and when we are (in the fall of 2021) what experiences we will bring with us from our wondrous sojourn up that hill beyond our former vista.

I know, I know, it’s just a big empty building, gargantuan space that will open as a middle school proper in the fall of 2021. One look at the yellow trim and aqua lockers and you’ll accuse me of purple prose. I’ll own that.

Because I think it’s the artistic spirit that clings to the students and staff of our quirky art school that will transform our temporary home into something more.

There is a sorcery to what we do akin to Prospero on Shakespeare’s island. There is a fairy dust that will make the wide hallways sing, turn the auxiliary gym into a dance studio, and make the canary yellow trim glow like a sunrise.

Well, maybe high noon. It is really yellow.

And as much as I will hold a place in my heart for our original CE Mason Elementary building, I know that it isn’t our campus that makes us who we are.

It is us. Together.

On the final day of our last school year a student handed me a drawing.

We are ACMA

We are ACMA.

That’s the truth, and it’s a reassuring one.

Climbing the hill of uncertainty together, that truth in our collective heart, we are invited to think about our journey in a way we might not have before. Yes, we feel the elixir of emotions that come with change, and… this new world is a place ready for art. And us, the sorcerers.

Brilliant Color

No matter how you cut it, the summer weeks at a school happen in grayscale; it’s only technicolor on campus when the students are back.

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This summer at our school was busy, no doubt. We packed up our whole campus, said goodbye to a building that we loved (despite, or at times because of its funkiness and old age), and moved eleven minutes up the road to a beautiful new campus that we’ll call home for the next two school years.

“ACMA at 118th” we call it, a reference to our temporary address, and a reminder that in the fall of 2021 we’ll be back to just being “ACMA” again, that quirky, creative, and amazing little school tucked away up on Center Street.

July saw the gym fill with boxes, nine semi trucks deliver high school sized furniture that had to be put together, and a team of dedicated professionals clean the school from top to bottom. In my quarter century in education I have never started the year with a more spick-and-span campus. It was beautiful and despite the aggressively yellow trim, grayscale.

Until the kids arrived.

The first few came in during early August, our student government execs brimming with ideas and excitement about the year ahead.

A week later a small burst of new students arrived for the morning, phoned by our registrar to be given the good news that a spot had opened and their names had been pulled from the waitlist. They were ACMAniacs, if they chose to accept it. They did. Smilingly.

National Honor Society kids came next. They’d be tour guides on ACMA Day, and I got to take them around the school. “This is amazing,” one commented. “And huge.” Seeing them see the spaces they’ll use to perform plays, create art, and keep our ACMA spirit alive was fantastic.

IMG_0864More students arrived to help hang artwork, posters of the murals that had filled our original building and would provide a familiar sense of home at this new building.

Others volunteered to help unload boxes, sort keys, and be the hands of ACMA as we prepared to start starting to prepare starting for the first day of school.

These slices of color began to brighten our school, still a translucent rainbow against the gray, but the start of the color to come.

Then, just two weeks before the first day of school, ACMA Day brought more than 600 of our students onto campus to pick up class lists, take tours, and get their photos taken (both for their ID cards and silly photos for the yearbook). For a day campus felt as colorful as a Tahitian painting by Gauguin, a preview of the year ahead.

IMG_0873Back to School Night came a week later. Here at ACMA we to it before the first day of school, and it was fabulous. Seeing so many students and their families on campus, meeting teachers, seeing the spaces where they’ll be learning, and filling the building with optimism and energy was inspiring.

Today every student new to ACMA came to campus. We filled the commons for a welcome, broke into groups to get to know each other and our school, and let the kids go through their whole schedule to help take away some of the anxiety that accompanies starting at a new school. ACMA will feel familiar soon, and it’s up to us to help build that sense of welcome and community.

20190903_084228Tomorrow everyone arrives, and with them ACMA blossoms with the full range of colors. If the year is a painting, and at our little art school that feels like as apt a metaphor as any, then tomorrow is when we pick up our full palette and get ready to put brush to canvas. Our year together begins, and with it a brilliant explosion of color.

Truth

I was up at 2:00 am and then again at 3:30. By 5:05 I was out of bed, and by 5:30 I was standing outside my school marveling at how dark it was with no exterior lights on anywhere. This is my 25th year as an educator, my 13th as a site administrator, and I still can’t sleep before the first day of school.

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Now truth be told, there weren’t many kids on campus today; this “first day of school” for me as a principal is the day my staff comes back from summer. They’re a wildly nice bunch, almost all of whom I’ve worked with now for years, and… and I still couldn’t sleep last night.

It’s not that I was nervous, not exactly. I had confidence that the day we’d put together would be a good one (starting with breakfast and ending with a scavenger hunt), and… it would be a lie to say I was relaxed, or calm, or not nervous. And I think that’s okay.

I write a lot in this collection of posts about what it’s like to be a principal, and about lots of the good stuff that comes with being an educator. That’s all true, and… I hope that for anyone reading who is an administrator or teacher, or heck, a student or parent too, that I don’t give the idea that this is easy. It’s not.

Doing a good job in this important work means being a little nervous, not just in your first year or your second, but in your 25th, and I’m sure 26th, and I’d guess until the last first day of school at the end of your career.

It doesn’t mean that fear has to be a part of the job, or anxiety, or panic. Then what did you have, you’ll ask, healthy insomnia? Well, at least an understanding that it’s okay to care so much about getting off to a good start that waking up a couple of times before that first day is okay, human, a part of this grand adventure. At least for me.

Then, several cups of coffee later… today went well.

My staff was rich with kindness, deep with caring, and light with humor. They smiled generously, participated in our work together willingly, and reminded me as they always do why I’m the luckiest principal in the world.

I hope all of the principals out there, and assistant principals, and teachers, and all of the educators who feel their blood pressure rise a little before the curtain goes up on another year can take a deep breath and believe that as challenging as this whole thing is, they’ll be okay. Sure, you might be a little short on sleep that first day back, but all will be well. Honest.

I’ll bring coffee.

Like Rick Always Said…

Every August as I prepare for the start of the school year (planning the opening staff meeting, making piles of new staff t-shirts, and figuring out what I’ll say when I get to welcome or welcome back the amazing staff and students) the words of one of my former superintendents come back to me: “Happy New Year!”

He started every welcome back administrator meeting with the line, smiling in a way that didn’t insinuate he was trying to be clever, but rang with genuine excitement.

IMG_0689Because every fall is an exciting beginning to a new year. Last year’s struggles have had the summer to slip away. Last year’s mistakes have had a couple of months to turn into something like wisdom, experience at least, and the pain of those errors and missteps have (we hope) transmogrified into cautionary tales.

Gone too are last year’s successes. Those events that went right, those challenges we rose to, those too are beginning to take on the sepia of age. If we’re to make the most of this year, we oughtn’t stay back in the past; those same fields of victory could prove disastrous if we imagine that we can simply repeat what we did before without thinking about it. 

The one exception to this slow fading are the relationships we’ve built. The friendships, the respect, the begrudging acceptance that we forged in the fire of year past are our new starting point in August. These are the faces who know us a little better today than they did last August, the good people who may even smile when we turn to them in the next week or two and say: “Happy New Year!”

So to all of my educator friends, to all my students and parents too, to everyone who, like me, is getting ready to shake the sand from our shoes and put the sunscreen away, I wish you a year of adventure, of connection, and of community. I hope your lessons go as planned, or better yet that they surprise you in wonderful ways when they don’t go as you planned them.

I hope you laugh often and much as you move through the hallways and that your laughter is shared with others. I hope that when you look up in December and then again in June you can say to yourself that the good days outnumbered the tears.

Because there will be tears. They’re a part of the process of being human, and maybe, just maybe, being better humans at the end of the year than we were at the start. Empathy and compassion happen under the direction of stress, and while I can’t wish my friends a year free of hard times, I can hope that I (and others too) will be there to help dry those tears, patch the cuts, and look forward with you at a future bright with possibility.

That promise of something better fills schools in August. It motivates us to develop big plans, imagine great enterprises, and say to each other, with real excitement: “Happy New Year!”

Tempest Tossed

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.” –The Tempest

We hope to be good neighbors. Honest. We see that the homes around our new campus are close. Really close. Like look out your window and nod at the white cat perched in the sill of the townhouse across the way close. 

We know that this neighborhood has never seen the likes of us; a well ordered cavalcade of elementary school students have tromped through the halls of the campus that we’ll call home for the next two years, a very different crowd than our spirited, quirky, iconoclastic teenaged ACMAniacs. And we hope…

We hope that the neighbors will see in us a celebration of creativity. We hope that they will see in us hope, and inspiration, and fun. We hope that the first time a mom or dad pushing a stroller past our home on 118th Avenue sees us they will notice our multicolored hair, unicorn onesie, furry tail, rainbow backpack, fabulous makeup, Cher concert shirt, hooves… and walk down the hill humming the refrain from Prince’s Paisley Park.

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With just a couple of weeks to go before students fill campus with an energy that is difficult to capture in words, I want to whisper those lines from Caliban to our neighbors: “Be not afeard.”

Because while our metaphoric isle is full of noises, ACMA strives to “give delight and hurt not.” Our twanging instruments and sometime voices, our dance and art and film, our poets and potters, actors and animators all strive to bring dreams to life, to share our creative souls with those around us.

Those neighbors that are so close included.

And as we begin our year it is incumbent upon us to reach out to the homes around us and introduce ourselves. We are the colorful people whose hair on one side is swept back, a wild conglomeration of poetic spirits who are finding ourselves and our place in the world, and who for two years will be plop in the middle of a lovely neighborhood of orderly houses, wide sidewalks, and people walking dogs.

We will sometimes make more noise than an elementary school. We will host big performances that fill our parking lot with the cars of audience members. We will have student drivers.

And…

We welcome you to come see a concert, watch a play, marvel at a dance performance. We’d love to have you come to Art is My Voice or February’s ACMA Spectacular. If you do, we can promise to give you the best art we’re capable of, something that might just inspire you to believe that our world does contain magic, and the future of our planet is in good hands with the youth of today.

Then, two years from now, we’ll be gone like a dream.