Optimism, Resting

It’s almost July and after a year of busy weirdness I’m going to take a week or so off. The sun is hovering over Oregon, the days long and the nights still cool, a perfect time to step away for a few days. 

I hope to find myself in a kayak, walk the dog in the woods, and maybe even sleep in past six. I’d like to have a week where the only problem I have to solve is figuring out clues before Maigret or Dalgliesh.

Moving trucks will pull up at our temporary campus next week and by the time I get back we’ll be back on Center Street in a beautiful new building ready to start beginning to begin starting to start to begin to get ready for a new year. 

Truth be told, the planning for next year has already taken its first steps. Back in May we held our annual calendar meeting, where we laid out dates for the shows, concerts, and events that bring artistic life to our school (so many of which had to be put aside in 2020-2021). There’s an optimism on campus that we’ll be back on stage and in front of audiences when we return in the fall. The details and final plans are still on the shelf —a shelf that is not my shelf; we’ll be told the rules as we get closer to the first day of school— but that optimism is real and something some of us haven’t felt this much since before March of last year.

But as real as it is, our collective optimism is still June-tired. We all need to recharge, breathe deeply of some summer air, and find a cold river where we can get our feet wet.

That’s my plan for next week and throughout the summer. You’ll see fewer posts on this Skins of Ill Shaped Fishes in July and that’s okay. It’s summer after all and all of us could use a little more popular fiction than my silly musings.

So thank you, gentle reader, for visiting this modest apothecary. I wish you all a bit of rest, a bit of fun, and the hope that comes when optimism gets a good night’s sleep.

And in the end…

Summer starts next week, the rapids of the end of the school year slowing as the river of life widens into the more placid flow of summer vacation. We’re all ready, I think.

The days are more reliably sunny now, stretching well past nine o’clock, a bugbear to parents of elementary school kids who have no interest in bedtime before dark, but a harbinger that summer is coming soon.

In that spirit, a couple of weeks ago a friend reminded me of some lines from a poem by James Russell Lowell, “The Vision of Sir Launfal.”

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays:
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there’s never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature’s palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o’errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,—
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?

Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop over-fills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
‘Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes, but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky…

The notion that “every clod feels a stir of might” is one to cling to as we put the school year behind us and look forward to a deep breath of summer air and then a return to school with a new energy and renewed connections. 

Before that… time to “sit in the warm shade and feel right well.”

Lowell is swell and all that, but it’s about this time of year that I think of another couple of poets, Lennon and McCartney, who told the world that “in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

This pandemic and the last year and a half of adjusting to it in ways unexpected and unrelenting is a reminder that in the end it’s love that really matters. Now, in this “high-tide of the year,” I look forward to some days when “whatever of life hath ebbed away / Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer.”

Traditionally Different

This year will look different, of course. Commencement, like everything else since March of 2020, isn’t the same as it always has been.

It will look different than last year too, when we had to do everything online, much to the disappointment of more than a few seniors.

Graduation for the class of 2021 will be a series of firsts for ACMA. The first outdoor ceremony. The first time we aren’t celebrating at our home on Center Street and the first time graduates will sit with their families (in socially distanced pods of chairs).

There will be a few things that feel the same. We’ll begin the ceremony with bagpipes and end with Joe Avery’s Second Line. The heart of the day will be student speakers and a thoughtful staff address, and we’ll livestream it all for relatives who can’t make it to campus.

We’re putting the finishing touches on the ceremony this week and as the principal, with the honor and the obligation of addressing the class, I’m working on what I’ll deliver as a speech.

In years past I’ve been unconventional (a poem by Cavafy, a video, a three word speech) but this year it feels like I ought to make a nod to something that looks more familiar. Now this doesn’t mean I’ll be quoting Dr. Seuss or riffing about the definition of the world commencement, but I do feel like the structure of a speech might need to feel more traditional.

I’ve toyed with a few ideas, and as the hours tick away before I need to send something to the ASL translators who will be working the event I think I’ve just about settled on something that (I hope) brings to the fore what is most important about our work: the people.

One of the lessons most brought home by this pandemic and the reshuffling we’ve had to do for the past many months is that it’s not the building or the classes that define our school, it’s not the performances or pieces of art we produce (though both of those things are important too), but it is the relationships shared by the people (adult and student) who make up our school. It’s those people and relationships that I’ll do my best to speak to on Saturday. It will take me more than three words, I don’t have a poem or a green screen, and…

It’s okay to be different, particularly this year.