Knee Deep in the Hoopla

I could always walk the hall from end to end in five minutes. Starting out in front of the office —after hitting “play” on the morning music— I would go up past the mural of Leonidas, turn the corner and say hello to Mr. Kindblade, who was always standing outside his classroom greeting students to start the day, and walk up the sloped hallway beneath the dog Mona Lisa mural saying good morning to students while managing most days not to spill my coffee. I’d keep going past the Tom Marsh Gallery and on up to the end of the hallway where I’d usually open the doors to the outside and say hi to the students coming out to the music portable. From there I’d retrace my steps, music still filling the halls (as much as our antiquated speakers would allow, too loud in some spots, hardly audible in others) weaving through the thinning crowd as I passed a large mural of Pegasus and our iconic flannel clad Mona Lisa, turned the corner near the student store, and ended up at the doors to the library.

Dog-a LisaSometimes —oftener and oftener to be honest— the music didn’t sound so great. Sure it might be a fantastic tune, a little Billie Holiday or David Bowie, but the PA system had seen its best days end back when Jimmy Carter was president, and all too often it was hard to if the Bangles were really telling us to walk like an Egyptian or Johnny Cash was actually talking about a burning ring of fire.

That said, I loved seeing nearly every student every morning, even if the crowds could be dense, the songs filled with static, and my coffee always just one rolling backpack away from disaster.

Moving to a new building this year, those of us in the front office knew that we wanted to keep the ACMA tradition of morning music in lieu of a first bell alive. Touchstones like that are important as we work to keep our sense of ACMA strong.

We were excited to have a better internal sound system, and we spent the summer working with everyone we thought might help us be sure we could play five minutes of music every morning to start the school day. Herculean efforts by my amazing assistant, whom I’m certain got more than a few sideways looks when she tried to explain to people unfamiliar with ACMA how important it was that the principal be able to play a Starship song at 7:25 AM, paid off, and by opening day we were able to start the morning by explaining to our students in song that “we built this city on rock and roll.”

pegasus.jpgThe song was so clear in the hallways of our temporary campus, and I even heard a student on that first day laughing and telling a friend “I don’t know why, but I love this song.”

Me too.

And as the opening weeks rolled out (to the sounds of Miles Davis, Styx, Ella Fitzgerald, and Buckshot LeFonque among others) I realized that no matter how fast I walked, I couldn’t make it from one end of our borrowed building to the other in five minutes.

What to do?

I tried being equitable, walking the C Hall one day and the B Hall the next. I attempted to circumnavigate from the giant painting of David Bowie outside the front office up the stairs, down the B200s, over the skybridge, down the stairs, and up the C100s. Bob Dylan stopped singing about “Mr. Tambourine Man” before I made it back around.

SpartansIt’s still early in the year and I’ve got good walking shoes. I believe I’ll figure it out.

When we move back to our new campus on Center Street in the fall of 2021 things will be better. There will still be more ground to cover than our original campus, but we’ll be closer again, our doorways not separated by sprawling hallways or empty classrooms, but clustered around an open area ready made for art. 

In the meantime…

I’ll relish walking (on sunshine) the halls every morning, hearing (really clear) music from across the decades, as diverse as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Cher, Chet Baker and Katrina and the Waves, Aretha Franklin and Tom Waits; as diverse as the creative souls who fill our school.

I’ll still say good morning to the kids, still see teachers out in front of their doorways, and still do my best to avoid spilling my coffee. Things might be a little different, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be as good as they always were, and maybe even better. We’re still together (and now without portables). We still dance when we hear Cindy Lauper or Panic! at the Disco come over the PA, now clearer than ever. We’re finding out way together, building this city on…

August Eyes: Julia Randall

The 1965 edition of Julia Randall’s The Puritan Carpenter on my bookshelf is my wife’s. It was given to her by a college professor who inspired us both, and inside is an inscription from that professor that includes “a mutual hope that in us lies poetry as ‘cold and passionate as the dawn’ or that at the least, we have the yes to see ‘in a poet’s sight.’” It’s a beautiful aspiration from an amazing teacher.

Puritan CarpenterThe Puritan Carpenter is a perfect book for a teacher to give a student entering adulthood. At times formal, at others subtly structured as if to lull the reader into an imagined sense of informality, Randall’s poems know tradition and convention enough to honor the past even as they challenge it to adapt to more modern truths.

“I think, old bone, the world’s not with us much,” she writes in “To William Wordsworth from Virginia. Conversational, allusionary, smart… for the brilliant young woman my wife was when given this book, the gift of The Puritan Carpenter is in part an acknowledgement that as a reader the student has the chops to laugh at the right time, nod knowingly when appropriate, and appreciate the juxtaposition of structure and sass.

Even as Randall toys with rhyme and tucks a self reflective narrative voice in amongst allusions to the classics, she fashions poems that whisper truths about the human condition.

Rereading The Puritan Carpenter with that professor’s words in my mind made me appreciate the confidence she had in my wife and the certainty that while she might not get every reference at eighteen, she would sometime soon. That kind of belief, so precious in the world of education, is something every parent hopes for her son or daughter may someday experience. As a principal I know that when a teacher believes in a student, really believes, and shows that student trust and support, the results can be profound.

But as frequent and occasionally obscure as the Randall’s allusions can be, her poems ring with a music knit together by powerful language and polished rhythm and rhyme.

I wish you were not flying, and I wish
Women were not fond, and men were not foolish.
Who’d ever invent
Wings of wax, that had godsent
Patience-plumes to plumb her element?”

The bell may ring with a clearer peal if one has Icarus in mind, but the timbre is rich even if the specificity of the reference sends one to Bullfinch and they simply realize the bell is bronze.

But like so much poetry, Randall provides verse that invites personal connection. 

This summer my school packed up and moved to a temporary home across town as the original building, a sturdy building from the late 1940s, was razed to make room for a modern campus. Many of us felt the loss of the grand old structure, which meant so much to us in spite of its flaws and age, and the poem that resonated with me as we ended the school year and gave the building over to the bulldozers and backhoes was the first in this collection, “Rockland”

Masters, be kind to the old house that must fall,
Burn, or be bulldozed. The apples have grown small
And the ivy great here. The walk must be moved once more
Beyond the holly. Do not use the side door,
The lilies have broken the step. If you fix it,
They will break it again; they live under the stone.
There is blown glass
In three windows; hold them up with a stick.
The smoke is always thick
With the first fire. The Landseer in the attic
Was tacked there when I came. There is a snake
With a red tongue in the terrace; he has never been known
To hurt. The worst leak
Is in the bedroom ceiling. So. It was a good house
For hands to patch, a boon to August eyes. And when
The moon lay on the locusts, and the stream
Croaked in the bottom, muted by high grass,
Small rustlings in the woodlot, birdcries, was
A minister like music. Should I say
This—with the apple tree—was Sirmio,
This—with the two-year parsley—Twickenham,
Aldworth, or Abbotsford, I would only mean
We lease one house in love’s divided name.”

Good poems can provide comfort and perspective (just as good poems can challenge, jar, and instigate) and The Puritan Carpenter offers a smart set of literary gems for the student willing to put in the work of unpacking them.

I wish for everyone a book of poetry that makes them feel and makes them think and a teacher who believes in them enough to recommend something as beautiful and challenging as The Puritain Carpenter.

 

Continuing this year of poetry next week with Octavio Paz’s’s A Draft of Shadows.

“ACMA isn’t a building.”

What elevated the ceremony into something to be remembered were the powerful and heartfelt words of the three ACMA students who spoke at the groundbreaking for ACMA’s new campus, the many students and staff in attendance, and the smiles and laughter when the kids (all of them who wanted to) got to pose in front of the heavy machinery holding ceremonial shovels. 

kids 1

In the fall of 2021 Arts & Communication Magnet Academy will open our new building on the original Center Street location where we have been making art and making memories since the school was born. The transformation will be profound, the mid century elementary school building that warmed our hearts with nostalgia, but whose antiquated radiators could no longer reliably warm our classrooms, replaced by a modern building designed to be an art school.

At the groundbreaking on Saturday, Heidi Chuc-Garcia, a senior, spoke first, providing her thoughts in verse:

I’m from a hallway with murals on the walls.
I’m from classroom that reflects teachers personalities.
I’m from having lunch in the hallways, classrooms, portables, and outside.
I’m from a strange place,
A hallway with dim lights and slightly colored water
Where some classrooms were too hot and some were too cold.
I’m a burrito smelling class in Walker’s room after lunch
To the broken windows in Kraxy’s, Alby’s, Gottshall’s, and Lupe’s rooms
And being bushed and bumped by seniors in sixth grade
And falling and tripping over rolling backpacks.
And I’m from music blasting from some of the school speakers
From 7:25 to 7:30
And watching four teachers push their carts up and down hills
And through the hallway.
This is a place where artists were pushed and inspired.
I was always mesmerized by the art around me.
I’m from a place where teachers have a passion for what they teach
And is shows, it really does.
I’m from supporting staff and teachers who believe in me.

The truth is, that while this location represents those memories,
It’s not about the building, and never has been.
You see, I’m still making these memories
With my friends and teachers at the new building
Because ACMA is its people
Its students and teachers and staff.
This place only encapsulates some of those memories
It renders them, and that’s okay
Because we carry them.
It’s been a long journey, and today’s an important day
Because it’s the commencement of a new chapter
And although I won’t be here when it’s finished
I can’t describe how excited I am for the returning students.

So I guess it shouldn’t be ‘I’m from this place…”
Or ‘I’m from those memories and those experiences…’
It should me more:
‘I am ACMA!’
‘You are ACMA!’
‘We are ACMA!’

So we better take care of ACMA
At our current building and its future home,
Filling it with love, admiration, and the respect it deserves.”

Better perspective, and from a student who will herself never take a class in the new building, cannot be imagined.

Lauren Camou spoke next. The only student of the three who will graduate from the new campus, she looked forward to the changes to come. She said:

I have been here since sixth grade and will be the second class to graduate in the new building. ACMA has been a very welcoming and safe environment for me and I couldn’t be happier to be here for the seven years I get. I love all of the staff and all the students I see everyday. 

Where we are standing now, was our school. This building that is no longer here was a big part of us. The one hallway that kept us all so close, united us. The Tom Marsh, the Batcave, the different class murals, and even the hidden parts of the building that most students never see kept our history in the walls of this building quite literally. 

And although we were able to take the class murals with us, the building is gone. But we’re still the same. We still help one another and spread kindness everywhere we can, just in a bigger and temporary building. In two years, we’ll be here again, in our new space. 

We’ll still be ACMA, of course, and we’ll still support each other, because that’s just who we are, and that won’t change.”

Such wisdom in youth is the reason I’m so optimistic about the future of our school and our world.

Annika McNair finished the set, beginning her speech with a well chosen quotation from Tolkien.

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all a patter and a pitter.” That’s a quote about Bilbo from JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I share this quote because it largely describes ACMA students on their approach to the temporary school.

We’re still a little heartbroken from leaving the old one. We’ll never be able to see the same halls, or the trees outside the windows of class, but I think in the last week or two we’ve had a little bit of a redeeming realization. ACMA isn’t a building; it’s a home we carry with us, and maybe it’s the people we meet or the passion of arts that we share, but we’ve created a sense of family that extends beyond the sentimentality of a building.

Even so, when we gathered to watch the live feed of the demolition it wasn’t hard to miss the loss we all felt. We were in a place that allowed us to love and so we learned to love the place. Today we are gathered to celebrate what is going to be the new ACMA building. When it is finished and we move again, trotting along like little Bilbo, I’ve no doubt the new building will provide the same space to keep our home.”

The rest of us adults who spoke did our best to commemorate this momentous occasion. We’ve all been on the planet long enough to know that days like this are rarer than we’d like, and that having something so grand to look forward to is a treasure beyond measure. Some of us also know how important this is for ACMA; a groundbreaking on a building like this could scarcely be imagined in the early years of Arts & Communication, and I’ll suggest that a few of the tears in the audience were in honor of the journey our little art school has taken in the past (almost) thirty years.

But while we adults were earnest and articulate, I know that what people will remember from the day is the words of the kids. As they should.

Because, as I mentioned in my brief remarks, we are not building this school for any of the adults at the podium. ACMA is for the kids, the dreamers, the artists, the future.

everyone

If you missed Saturday’s soiree, you can find a video of it here!

Unshelled Turtle: Margaret Atwood

Anyone who knows Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale knows that she’s a wickedly smart and unflinchingly daring writer of fiction. Watch her video introduction for an online writing course she teaches and you’ll see that she’s also wise, passionate, and funny as hell. 

Atwood bookIn 1978’s Two-Headed Poems all of those traits shine through twenty nine poems as diverse as the author’s many attributes. This is a powerful woman of words, and Two-Headed Poems a slim, but strong example of her craft.

Atwood cuts deep. Poem after poem she carves away what is unnecessary and leaves her readers with something real. In “The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart” that reality is the heart.

I do not mean the symbol
of love, a candy shape
to decorate cakes with,

***

I mean this lump of muscle
That contracts like flayed biceps,
Purple-blue, with its skin of suet,
Its skin of gristle, this isolate,
This caved hermit, unshelled
Turtle, this lungful of blood”

Reading Atwood’s poetry is like experiencing her novels distilled. In the beautifully cold “Marrying the Hangman” Atwood describes the historical reality that in colonial Québec an imprisoned man might be freed if he agreed to become a hangman, and a woman in prison might be pardoned if she married a hangman. Rooted in research, much as were the most horrific details of The Handmaid’s Tale, “Marrying the Hangman” plants universal truths in the extraordinarily specific example she chooses as her subject.

The narrator of her poem tells us:

My friends, who are both women, tell me their stories,
which cannot be believed and which are true. They
are horror stories and they have not happened to me,
they have not yet happened to me, they have
happened to me but we are detached, we watch our
unbelief with horror. Such things cannot happen to
us, it is afternoon and these things do not happen in
the afternoon…”

Stories “which cannot be believed and which are true,” Atwoodian in poetry or prose.

IMG_0657The fierceness that is Atwood looks out from the author photo on the 1980 edition on my bookshelf. Her’s is the face of a writer with purpose, a poet with as much muscle as grace, a cipher to the great accompt of real human intimacy. Hearts in Atwood are flayed biceps and unshelled turtles, each a lungful of blood.

For someone like me, in the business of education, reading Atwood is a reminder of the complicated lives of those who fill our school and populate our school community. Students, parents, teachers, we all carry within us some of that conflict and contradiction, the doubt, desire, compulsion to create and fear of falling short.

Who was it told us
so indelibly
those who take risks
have accidents?”

And as she closes this collection with the poem “You Begin,” delivered (at least it seems from my particular perspective) from a teacher or parent to a child:

This is the world which is fuller
And more difficult to learn than I have said.”

I see in those lines a promising truth. Yes we face difficulty, and risks, and the accidents that come from taking those risks, and our stories which cannot always be believed are true. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, the world (Atwood’s and our own) is full.

 

Continuing this year of poetry next week with Julia Randall’s The Puritan Carpenter.

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.

Screen Shot 2019-06-27 at 8.56.17 AM

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.

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.

IMG_0636

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.