Sunday, November 11, 2012

As You Teach It.....

Editor's note: This was supposed to go to press last Wed which is why I am referring to Sunday as a school day. Sometimes it's hard ot find the right ending. I went through about six before picking this one.

            It was the spring of 1985. VH1 had just been launched. Hagar took over for David Lee Roth. Live Aid was just around the corner and I anxiously awaited the new live album from Styx, Caught in the Act. As I’d sit in Mrs. Clark’s World Lit class, I’d daydream while drawing my version of album covers all over my spiral tablets. I was particularily good at the Men at Work Cargo art work.
"It's a mistake...."

            Mrs. Clark was my favorite teacher at Union County High. It was not so much because I learned so much from her but I appreciated the way she treated me. She was funny and sarcastic but also kind and never hurtful to the students. This was the opposite of how her husband, Mr. Clark, ran the show. He loved to tease but it often went over the point of humiliation.   Mrs. Clark was one of those teachers who if she saw some flame inside of a student. Mrs. Clark would fan that flame into a force to be reckoned with.

            Mrs. Clark loved to assign book reports but would never let you select the book. She would pick it out to make sure it was something new. I remember trying to use one of my Conan books I was going though at the time and Mrs. Clark laughed. “Why would I grade you on something you already know all about? Reading is like a diet. You have to mix it up to get good results.”

            So it was after I read Robert Ludlum’s The Parsifal Mosaic when I became hooked on spy novels. I also realized Mrs. Clark’s statement might have been the smartest thing any educator ever told me during high school. I still live by this notion today and even teach my students this simple idea. I just wrapped up the Game of Thrones series so now I working my way through the Great Depression Circus story, Water for Elephants. I have some non-fiction by Bill Bryson next. 

            My reoccurring theme in this blog is how history repeats itself. Often my recollections revolve around the antics of Roni and Jude. Today is something a little different but after it happened, I understood this must be written down for me.

            About the time I was in Mrs. Clark’s World Lit, she introduced us to Shakespeare through his play, As You like It. It was not the painful experience I had anticipated this process to be. I even enjoyed a bit.

            I handled the play just fine. The issue came when Mrs. Clark had us memorize and recite passages from Shakespeare’s works. She assigned me to perform the “All the world’s a stage speech.  I never bothered to memorize past the first few lines and got a whopping score of 3.

            At the time, I recognized the relevance for me to learn this stuff yet I just put it off. This alwasy bothered me a bit because I felt like I had let Mrs. Clark down by my lack of effort for memorizing the speech.

            One time I was up during for a visit to Mom up at Young Harris. Mary had gone off to college so Mom was by herself. While I was up there, I decided to go by my old high school but never made it after talking with the neighbors. Apparently, Mrs. Clark had died of a heart attack shortly before my Dad had his. I had lost my chance to apologize.
Mr. Sidney & Mr. Richardson show off the winner in Jenkins Homecoming Door Contest

            Paul Sidney is my work colleague, fellow blogger, and friend. We have been working together and teaching Brit Lit for several years. We have gotten pretty good at it and have introduced Macbeth, the cast of Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar  to a new generation of kids. Every year, I crack up at how our students groan and hate reading the passages aloud. By the end, most of the kids are into the way of the Bard.

            Paul and I have just finished our segment on Macbeth and we are moving on to how Shakespeare lived. For our journal today, Paul had come up with using the “World’s a Stage” speech and relating it to our society today. The kids weren’t getting it.

            Something inside of me clicked and I read the passage aloud with drama and emphasis. Afterwards, Paul and I broke it down to relate this to our students’ worlds. As we’d go through each stage, I was transported back to being 15 year old Robby and began remembering all that info Mrs. Clark taught me during my junior year. It worked for me then and somehow that magic Mrs. Clark had with Shakespeare worked on our students.
Sorry for the language but it really does say it all.

            Afterschool, I made my daily trek back to my car up in the front parking lot. Usually, I am tired and ready to get the hell out of Dodge. Today was different. I felt good about the work Paul and I did. I was satisfied.

            I’ve lost my chance to have those moments with Martha Clark of Union County High School and to thank her. I wish I could let her know that because she took the time to open up my world, she not only changed my life but gave me the desire to change others through teaching. I’ll never get the chance to apologize for being so irresponsible for my assignment but I feel like I made up for it today.

Instead of just throwing out a bunch of words and phrase in my short term memory, I used a long forgotten lesson taught by Mrs. Clark. In a way, I didn’t teach my class today, Mrs. Clark did. I hope Mrs. Clark was able to see what I did with my students today and realize that she is still teaching what she loved 27 years later. I often write about how history repeats itself and today I found myself in the role of the mentor whom I have enormous respect for.

As a teacher, I hope that I impart a love of learning to my students. I think most of us are into education for partly that reason. I believe the other reason is more personal. Somewhere in that nightmare we called high school, an adult took the time to make a difference in our lives. As way of saying thank you, I think most teachers want to pass that influence on to their own students and hope they make that same difference.   
I find it ironic how Mr. and Mrs. Clark influenced me as a teacher. Mr. Clark taught me what not to do. My nature is to tease but he taught me the line which Mr. Clark crossed way too many time during his miserable math classes. Teasing is fine. Ridiculing a student is not. Mrs. Clark is on the postive side of the teacher influence spectrum. I am glad to hear her voice in the back of my head when I get a kid to pick up a graphic novel or anthing else besides The Hunger Games.
Thanks Mrs. Clark, for introducing me to Shakespeare.  Thanks for getting me to read outside of my comfort zone and introducing me to as much larger world. It’s an odd feeling to be a teacher now and to realize how some of the smallest lessons you taught me has become a larger part of how I do things. But I guess that is what a great teacher does.
Thanks for reading my blog.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Living up to a Promise of Magic & Surprises....

           My mother has always been on the go. She spends little time at home unless it’s she has to work the next day at Hospice. If she’s not at work, Mom is off seeing shows at the Lucas, trying new places to eat here and around Savannah, and going on long and interesting trips with He-who-shall-not-be-named.

            The Big Guy had a different approach. He worked hard so when he had time off, it was spent working around the house. If he wasn’t dragging me off into the woods to cut a load of firewood, Dad was tinkering/building stuff. As a result, thee house in Young Harris had a river rock raised deck, Mary had a gazebo, and we even had a waterfall. Granted this waterfall only worked after five o’ clock when the citizens of Young Harris started up their dishwashers and showers for the evening. The Big Guy figured out into how to tap the overflow area of the city water supply which ran right beside out house. I’ve priced these fountains at Home Depot which has forced to admit the genius in this plan.

            As I have gotten older, it has come to my attention how I am an amalgam of these two people. I love the idea of going out but when it comes down to execution, I just want to stick around the house in my DC comics pajama bottoms and my oversized long john short I got at Goodwill. I am a closet homebody and openly admit it.

            When I moved back to Savannah five years ago, I used to shrug off going out because I had “school tomorrow” or something “was due for my Master’s.” It became my go to phrase and I actually began to believe it. This all accelerated as I got sicker from not taking care of my kidney disease.

            Realizing that I had been like this for a very long time was just one of the many things I saw wrong with me as I began to pick of the pieces. I looked back at my first marriage with Satan’s Step daughter and recognized I never went out with her very much. Granted the destinations were always her choice but I began to see a pattern. I was becoming a recluse. All I needed was the millions of dollars, long beard and assorted jars of urine.

            That was the old Robby. The new Robby is always on the go. To quote an old Calvin & Hobbes book, the days are just packed. Mondays is Jude’s Karate as is Tuesdays and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays alternate between Roni’s Horseback riding and Girl Scouts.

            The weekends are the best. We are all over the place. This time of year is my favorite in Savannah because of a festival every weekend. So far this year, we’ve gone to Picnic in the Park, the Greek Festival, and of course, Pirate Fest. Or social calendar is booked through Christmas at this point and I love it.
Fourth of July Road Trip to SC

            There is also a ritual that seems to happen every time the Richardson-Yanceys take to the streets. No matter how early of a start, we are always 30 mins late at least. At some point during loading up, one of the kids proceeds to hit a meltdown which launches either Kim or me into Def-con 5. There is usually an argument during the car ride about car temperature/music choice. (I refuse to listen to Pop music which appears to be the official soundtrack to eleven year old girls everywhere.) We arrive and have a blast which wipes away all the frustrations so Kim and I find ourselves doing the same thing the next week.

            There is also another part which has organically evolved and it’s become the best part. We’ll be sitting at whatever function we’re attending and the kids will be off in their own little world. Kim comes up to me, sometimes she squeezes my hand which is always the sign that she is very happy with me, “Thanks for bringing us, Honey. I have always wanted to do this. “

            My reply is always the same. “I know. This is awesome. I can’t believe I’ve never done this before bit I’ve always meant to but never seemed to get around to it.”
Not my best day but it was worth it so she could ride the Mountain.

            I never got around to it because, in my heart, I never really wanted to go anywhere. It’s not like that with Kim. I love spending time alone with her but I also enjoy going out and doing stuff. Looking back at the past, I realize it really does come down to who your travel companion is. Kim is so much fun to go out and do stuff with that I find myself seeking new opportunities.

Honeymoon in Ol' Mexico

            Recently Kim referred to herself as my good luck charm and it’s true. Over the past year, thanks to my lovely wife, I have had the opportunity to not just see two of my favorite authors but actually get to speak with them as well.   

            Last February, Kim worked her ass off to track down the hardest ticket to find during the Savannah Book Festival. Somehow she scored two tickets and we got to see Stephen King during the Festival’s Closing. It was amazing to listen to stories form a mind that has sparked my imagination not to mention cause a lack of sleep. The best moment came when I got to ask him a question during King’s Q&A session. It was a fanboy question but how many opportunities will I have to ask it again? Who made this happen? Kim did.

King is in the background signing. So cool!

            A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to see Neil Gaiman perform some storytelling as part of the Unchained tour. I wrote a previous blog about that amazing night and Mr. Gaiman even retweeted on his twitter account. I even had the opportunity to get my little sister the ultimate birthday present as seen right here. All of this happened courtesy of the former Ms. Wade.

Birthday wishes from Mr. Gaiman

            Now I have can add one more to the bucket list. This morning I not only went to the SCAD Film Festival to view Spider-Man in 3D but Stan Lee did a Q&A session. Once again all credit goes to Kim for making this happen.

            I know I am a real parent now because of something I did during the Q&A. All week, I have been going through a list of questions to ask Stan Lee. “Who’s your favorite character?””Did you not get something published you were very proud of?” “What was the wackiest product pitched to you regarding your creations?” I had a list of go to questions and then it happened as we all raised our hands to get noticed.

            Jude wanted to ask a Stan “The Man” Lee a question, How could I say no to that? Believe or not, Jude is very shy and quiet in front of large crowds and people he doesn’t know. So I rose my and when the microphone guy came over I sent him to Jude. To steal a line from my students, Jude acted like a BOSS! He was great. For one moment, the boy stole the show from Stan Lee which is saying something.

            I have never been prouder. I know we’ll have more moments where I get to swell with pride but today was extra special for me. For a second, Jude was very quiet and I was afraid he was going to back out. He didn’t which is one of the many reasons I was thrilled. Jude overcame a little stage fright to speak with one of his heroes. It was a cool moment because I wanted him to have that opportunity even at my own expense.

            I look forward in seeing that Roni and Jude will have to say about all the places and people we have seen. I am eager to learn the perspective they are coming from. We’ve only been at this for almost two years now. It’s going to be cool to see where this takes us next. But if I know my wife and I am learning, it’s not only going to be memorable but a lot of fun in the process. I’ve come to the realization in life that it’s not so much about going out and doing stuff but the company you keep. And I am keeping some great company these days.


            Thanks for reading my blog.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Every Now and Then, I get a Clue......

Bob and Wanda are my in-laws and have been very wonderful to me. While I recognize we’ll probably never have a normal son-in-law type relationship, they have gone out of their way to welcome me into the Wade family fold. For our first Christmas together, Bob (a renowned Texas artist) painted a watercolor of Kim as a child. It hangs by what is now our bedroom door. I love it.

            Wanda has been a bit trickier. She has been wonderful to me and never mean or cutting like another former mother-in-law which I dare not speak her name. She may materialize from the pits of Mordor. No, Wanda has been great but the problem lies in our personalities being very extroverted. We’ve never clashed but we’ve both had moments of “Huh?” with each other.

            Last Christmas Eve after the surprise wedding proposal, Mom, Mary, and I invited all of the Wades over for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner at my place. Kim would later share with me how Wanda was to remark how much nicer my place will look once someone “with some taste moves in here.” I fear she was referring to my shark head. None of these remarks are ever said with malice so I usually just laugh about it.
How could anyone not love Sharky?

Kim and Wanda talk frequently. Last week, it was a bit of a surprise when Kim shared part of her conversation where Wanda may have said one of the nicest things to me ever.

“That Robby just jumped right in. He’s doing a great job with those kids especially for someone who’s never had children before.”

I haven’t had the chance to thank her but it meant very much to me to hear that. Kim always says I’m doing fine but it’s nice to be reaffirmed. Lately I have a tendency to beat myself up and second guess because now that the summer and playtime is over, our little world here at the Geeky Hut has become less play and more work. Schoolwork.

It’s odd being on the other side of the desk dealing with schoolwork especially when it’s your kids. Jude is doing fine but poor Roni is having a tough time. Sixth grade is where homework gets real and the CRCT kicks in. I also can’t believe what is being taught for sixth grade math. We had it easy. She is already doing basic algebra and geometry. Hell, I don’t get half of what is assigned to Roni for math homework. Thank God, Kim is good in math. I pick up the slack on Language Arts and Social Studies but my lovely wife runs the bases with the hard stuff.

Many evenings are spent with much frustration. Roni is upset because she is not getting the math assignment. Kim and I are losing it because we can’t get Roni to listen to anybody else but the teacher. It was very reassuring when I spoke to a few colleagues who share their homework experiences with their own children are quite similar.

Still I tend to internalize my problems and take on the weight of the world on my own shoulders. I always say how history repeats itself. Watching the way Roni and I argue reminds me of the arguments I used to see between the Big Guy and my sister, Mary. I realize much of this is eleven year old hormones, frustrations, and coping with the world but I also refuse to tolerate any child raising their voice to an adult.  Roni is working on it but it is a bumpy road.

Every now and then I get it right and last week, I hit a double with both kids.

Roni was having a tough week and I decided to surprise her. Kim had mentioned how Roni had seen an ornament in the Hallmark store of Sully and Boo from Monsters, Inc. Roni remarked how the ornament reminded her of the two of us.
To clarify, I am the big, hairy one on the left....

Last Wednesday, I was late getting home because I ran by Oglethorpe Mall to pick that ornament up along with a card. I hid it in Roni’s backpack for her to discover while at school. The next afternoon, a little girl got off that bus with a smile so big I thought Roni’s face would break. Roni even wrote me a thank you note which I now keep on me to remind me we are doing fine.

Jude is easy. I pretty much take the same approach with him that I take with my sister. I just think of something I’d enjoy and it usually matches up. Recently, I introduced Jude to comic books and he loves them.

. On Thursdays, Roni has horseback riding so Jude and I are left on our own for the evening. We’ve started a weekly dinner date at B&D Burgers and a trip to the comic book store. I was about his age when I discovered Spider-man and Batman too so I get it.

I think we also share the same reason why we love going to these comic shops. They have cool merchandise besides comics. I love this picture. Jude has fallen in love with the Captain America shield and wants it so badly. I can’t blame him. I am an adult and I want the damn thing.
"Can I have this, pleaaase?"

I also introduced Jude to the magic of the pull box. Comic shops will set aside a special box and hold the comics you requested. Jude was very proud when I let him set one up for us. We are now the proud receivers of Batman, Sonic Universe, and The Walking Dead (The last one is my guilty pleasure; No way Jude will ever read Walking Dead until he is twenty.)

I got my triple and even ran home last night when I made everyone happy. Kim had taken Roni to go see Gone with the Wind a few weeks ago at the Lucas Theater. They loved it and I can’t blame them. While I am not a huge fan of GWTW, I love going to the Lucas.

The Lucas was the first movie theater in Savannah and goes back to the 1920s. My grandfather even did some electrical work there back when talking movies had just started. To walk around the place is to walk through history. The Lucas has been restored and going to see a movie there is an experience similar to how it must have felt back before the rise of the multi-plex and stadium seating. They even have balcony which amazed Jude and Roni.

Intrepid explorers.

Roni had been there previously so she had to play nonchalant to Jude’s excitement.

“Wow, they have a circular couch to sit on!” Jude would exclaim.

Roni replied almost with a yawn,”Yeah, Momma and I sat on it our last visit.”

“Wow, Veronica, look at all the cool stuff on the wall!”

Roni continued as a seasoned veteran of the theater, “Yeah, Jude, it’s all over the place. I noticed it on my last visit.”

Roni and I hung out a bit while Kim took Jude around to explore. This theater is not that big but there are lots of nooks and crannies which I could see being sensory overload to an eight year old. Here is a shot from their trip to the upstairs.

The Richardson-Yancey clan does not often go out to watch movies. I think in our short time together we have only ventured out as a group to watch The Muppets, The Avengers, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I was a bit worried about going to see Clue and how the kids might get bored. I was wrong. They were as mesmerized watching Tim Curry unravel the great mystery of who killed Mr. Boddy as when we watched Thor battle the Hulk and Indy rescue the Ark of the Covenant.
Tim Curry rocks!

I honestly believe part of the magic last night was the setting. There is something magical about a Savannah evening in the Fall. Sometimes I forget how Kim And the kids aren’t from here and they are still learning all the history and culture that comes from being a Savannah resident. My Pop and the Big Guy shared those lessons with me and now I am happy to return the favor with my new family.

Walking out of the theater, Roni sidled up to Kim and began walking hand in hand. Not to be left out, Jude grabbed my hand and held it tightly as we walked through Reynold’s Square. I realized the statue of John Wesley was spooking him.

“Jude asked, “Robby, was this where you used to tell your ghost stories?” Jude was referring to my time as a ghost tour guide several years ago.

Trying to reassure the little guy, I answered,” I did used to tell some stories but not here in Reynold’s Square. It’s actually quite boring and nothing to be afraid of. “

I could see Jude processing all of this while trying to fight his imagination. I figured I needed to say something else. “I am not going to tell you any stories which are going to scare you. I know how you feel about the dark and ghosts. There is nothing here to be afraid of. “

Apparently, I hit upon what was worrying Jude. He squeezed my hand and then kissed it.

“Thanks, Robby. I know I am safe with you.”

We walked back to Kim’s mini-van. Occasionally, Jude would ask a question about certain buildings and what it was like to grow up here as a kid. I happily shared those answers with him. We caught up with Kim and Veronica. I realized a few things on the ride home.

I do have a real family just like I always dreamed of. I have an amazing wife who still captures my imagination just as much as my heart. I am helping raise two amazing kids who have the almost super-hero like ability to make me second guess everything I do as well as melt my heart. I may not be their real dad but love doesn’t recognize genetics and none can take that from me.

I have been beating myself up and I need to quit. Parenting is not an exact science and mistakes are going to be made. The kids didn’t come with a text book to follow but they did come with a mother who is an expert. I just need to relax and follow Kim’s lead more.  

While it may feel like a lot longer, sometimes years depending on the day, I have only been doing this step-dad thing for barely six months. Much like riding a bike, playing the guitar, and completing the Red Dead Redemption Gunslinger Challenges, I am getting the hang of this and my confidence in my parental abilities is growing no matter how much I grumble at myself. Don’t take my word for it. Ask my mother-in-law.

On a side note, I have recently passed the two year mark on writing the Afternoon Tide as a blog. I wanted to take second and show my appreciation to all of you stop what you are doing and read my ramblings about pop culture, piracy, storytelling, and attempts at parenting. It means the world to me.  Thanks for reading my blog.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

If Adventure Has a Name, I Wish It was Georgia Richardson

            On our first date, Kim came by the house and we had picnic plans at Bonaventure Cemetery. She arrived just as I was caught up in watching a broadcast on USA of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Indiana was safe aboard the Bantu Wind with the ark burning off all signs of Hitler’s regime. Marion had just finished kissing all the places that didn’t hurt and Indy had just elaborated with my now famous mantra of,” It’s not the years but the mileage.”

Kim arrived right after Marion clocks Indiana in the head with the mirror.  Kim started laughing because she admitted to loving this movie and had a son who wanted to be Indiana Jones. I remember replying something like how all males want to be Indiana Jones. And I still do.

I discovered Raiders of the Lost Ark in the original Kroger’s on Abercorn across from the mall during the early spring of 1981. It was that weird transition from being a kid to being a teenager because I was closing in 13 but still enjoyed much of my childhood toys. I was thumbing through the magazines trying to find a current issue of Starlog or a good comic book when I came across a magazine boasting,” Spielberg and Lucas together for the first time!”

It was one of those movie mags and I quickly found the article. My mom began calling for me so I had to go but I had skimmed to infer the movie’s story. I figured that Han Solo and a bunch of guys were trying to pull some sort of heist during WWII. I laugh at myself when I  remembered how little interest I had  about seeing this. I was too pumped about Clash of the Titans to care. Give me a Greek Myth back in those days!

About the time I was spending my annual few weeks in Savannah with the grandparents, I saw my first trailer on the TV while watching Batman on Channel 28. Night and day, people. Night and Day. Suddenly I had a new mission which was to go see and see this movie. I still remember the taglines which read, “From the director of Jaws and the maker of Star Wars”. The image of Indy grasping onto  Army truck as the BMW hood ornament crumbles is forever burned into my mind.

I can even hear the soundtrack at this moment
After conning my grandparents into taking me to the old Weis Cinemas located where the Cargo Freight is by the Publix on Abercorn, I finally saw the movie. I even scammed Mark Horton who my grandma made me take for “safety” regardless of the fact that I hated being around  Mark because he made farting noises all the time. He made my weirdness look normal.

Grandma bought me the comic adaption so I knew when Marion was “dead: she was actually in the hands of the Nazis. Capitalizing on the need for some more raisinettes I said to Mark,” I bet that lady didn’t die.”

“Robby, you’re an idiot. The truck exploded and that cowboy guy is broken up because she’s gone. Stupid! PPPHHHHTTTT!!!!” farted Mark.

“Wanna bet?” I had laid my trap.

Mark smiled greedily, “Oh, I am always up for some more comic book money.”

“How ‘bout loser buys winner something form the concession stand?” I asked

Mark just kept grinning. “You’re on and you’re dead too.” I kept waiting for Mark to make his famous fart sound but somehow he spared me of this. Twenty minutes later, I was pouring raisinettes into my popcorn much to Mark’s chagrin.

For the next couple of days, I drove my grandparent’s nuts by wearing one of Pop’s old dress hats and attempting to make rope swings all over their property. Many bruises later, I began to scheme ways to get a real bull whip. I remember asking my Pop who just started laughing and then walked into the pump house where he was always piddling on a project. I could still hear him chuckling from inside. I took that as a no.

                        I honestly believe Lucas and Spielberg found that proverbially lightening in a bottle with their creation of the Indiana Jones Trilogy (Yes, I said trilogy. Crystal Skull is the family equivalent of the creepy cousin in jail for selling meth to schoolchildren whom no one mentions at holidays). Henry Jones Jr. has these qualities which become endearing to both sexes. I honestly believe every guy wants to be Indiana Jones if they could.

            While working on this blog, I shared some these notions with my good friend/teacher/fellow blogger, Paul Sidney.  Paul mentioned how it’s not just the adventuring and the manliness but the prospect of discovery that strikes a chord within us. He went on by sharing how whether its’ fixing a pipe or discovering a treasured artifact, we are always seeking something which will lead to our betterment somehow. Interesting observation and another reason I love working with this guy.

            A few weeks ago, the Richardson-Yancey party made the two hour trip to Jacksonville so we could watch the restored IMAX version of Raiders on the really, really big screen. It was an EPIC time. On the long ride back, the discussion began. Kim shared some of her observations. Most dealt with the characterization of Indy. She felt it would have been so easy to make him an over-the-top super guy who always comes out on top but yet Lucas and Spielberg resisted. Rarely does Indiana Jones walk into a situation where is not already out-gunned, outmatched, or outmanned but it doesn’t stop him. This makes him so relatable because how many times daily do we feel this way? Somehow Indiana Jones is always in over his head but somehow fights his way to the top doesn’t just make him vulnerable but almost irresistible to women. He’ll come and save you yet he is not a cad about it.

            Every generation looks to the big screen to find those qualities they feel are what epitomizes manliness. We’ve have Gable, Bogart, Hemingway, and Steve McQueen to name a few. I contend our generation has Indiana Jones. He is not the infallible tough guy like McQueen was but reflects that early 80s rise of the anti-hero we have come to embrace while also showing characteristics which make him like us. Sure, Indy can sport a dusty fedora but he also looks cool in round glasses and a tweed suit. Everybody looks good in a fedora but not everyone can pull of the “professor look.”

            I watched my son and daughter engrossed in the first adventure of Indiana Jones and it was almost as much fun as the action on the big screen. Kim and I made a point to watch them during the big scare sequences and their reactions mirrored our own as kids. My heart swelled with pride as I watched the boy fight alongside Indy as he tried to steal the Iron Wing to whisk the ark and Marion to safety. Roni had a blast trying to creep me out during the Well of Souls because she knows all too well how much I hate snakes too. (Sadly the only thing I share with Indiana Jones)

            Part of the fun I have in writing this blog is how I get talk about the world I share with my kids and how much fun it is to rediscover the magic and surprises left for us. Seeing Raiders on the IMAX screen was twist. Normally, it’s all about Kim letting me be my big Geeky self, Jude gets excited, and Roni makes her comments but secretly digs it too. Indiana Jones is a character which is universally appreciated so Kim and I shared this together with the kids.  We got to do this as parents and I loved it.

We got ours and even gonna frame it!
            Another aspect, I re-visit in writing this blog is watching history repeat itself. Kim jokingly refers to Jude as “Little Robby” because, in many ways, it’s not a stretch to believe he could be my actual son. True to form, Sunday morning and I am drinking coffee while playing Arkham City on the Xbox. Jude joins, watches, picks his moment s and says,” You know what would be cool, Robby?”

            I am dying to hear what the Little Man is up to. I can tell by Jude’s manner it’s going to be good. “What would that be, Jude?”

Jude flashes his award winning smile in high hopes of breaking any resolve.”We should get a bull whip. A real one like Indiana Jones. We would have so much fun together. Think of the time we’d spend!”

            “Yeah, think of the hospital bills. Jude, guys like us aren’t meant to have bull whips. It’s a recipe for disaster,” I replied. I got up chuckling as I walked into the kitchen to freshen up my coffee in the pirate mug. As I poured another cup, I flashed back to that 13 year old kid trying to talk his grand pop into also buying a bullwhip and the chuckle grew louder. I gave the right answer just like my Pop did with me. As I added cream and sugar, I was a little proud that I acted like a grown up and said the responsible thing. But quite honestly, I also realized something else.

            I really do want that damn bull whip.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Night I met an Influence, Re-ignited a fire, and Learned a Lesson

             Living in Savannah has afforded me many opportunities that I somehow was missed back in the Atlanta days. I actually get to teach in the same county where I reside, I met my soul mate who also had to move to Savannah too for this happen, and I have gotten to meet three of my top five authors. Last was number two, Neil Gaiman.

             I first mentioned Mr. Gaiman's impact waaaay back in a previous blog. A very old friend who would quite literally run away and join the circus first introduced me to him back in 1989 with a comic called The Sandman. The well paced story telling combined with smart writing quickly made this my favorite read every month. Soon, Mr. Gaiman would expand to writing books which I read voraciously. Neverwhere, American Gods, and Stardust are just a few of his works that I was willing to shell out 20 bucks or so which was a lot for just graduated college student. Needless to say, big fan here.

            Last night, Gaiman was here in Savannah performing on a story telling tour called Unchained with several other very interesting people. Kim and I bought our tickets last month for the chance to see Gaiman. He was amazing. I even go to meet him and shake his hand. We spoke for a few brief moments. It’s always nice to see someone whom I admire turn out to be a nice guy.

            We had tweeted back and forth a few times over the week. I am teaching Brit Lit with my esteemed colleague, Paul Sidney. (Check out Paul’s blog. It rocks) Gaiman wrote the screenplay to Beowulf and we had hoped to get him in to speak to the kids. Gaiman tried but his schedule just didn’t match up.

            At one point, Gaiman even tweeted back when I mentioned several kids in my class wanted to come but were underage. He replied that I was 18 and over advisory. I am proud to say three of my students were front row and to the right. Melissa, a huge Gaiman fan, even sat about five feet from the Brit author at one point but she never knew because she was mesmerized by all the other storytellers who performed.

That is how the night went for us. Several of us where there because Gaiman was speaking. About every fourth or fifth person in the rows was holding a Sandman comic or Neil Gaiman related item. Gaiman did well. He is a skillful storyteller or raconteur as they liked to be called. Yet, I found myself enjoying the other raconteurs just as much and in some ways, even a little more.

So much in fact, I was moved to start writing this blog at three in the AM when all of this came together. See way back before Kim and the kids, I started writing The Tide to work on storytelling skills. It’s my dream to be a published author and professional storyteller but life keeps happening and I put this dream to the side.

I sat mesmerized by hearing these performers spin their craft and was a little jealous too. They were good. Really good. Dawn Frasier told a story about her twin with Down syndrome and how he displayed the ultimate act of sportsmanship and kindness at the Special Olympics. It made me cry, dammit.

Edgar Oliver, a Savannah native but now Ney York transplant, had the most unique voice I have heard while he shared a hilarious account of his days as an officer at Benedictine Military School.

 It started out as a tale about getting down and dirty with his girlfriend, yet somehow Peter Aquero masterfully made it a beautiful account of what love is.

This was all put together by another Savannah native, George Dawes Green. He has authored several books and started up NPR’s The Moth which promotes the art of storytelling. He changed it up a bit and actually preached a sermon about the evils of the internet which I hate to admit was right on target. “Switch it off he said, and open a book especially one bought from a local book store.” I ‘m paraphrasing but you get the idea which is quite a valid one in a time where kindles and I-pads rule.

Then Neil took the stage. Peter Aquero Emceed the event and I loved his introduction. Mr. Aquero simply stated how Neil Gaiman is “just a guy.” Oh, and he wrote a book about some sand.” The audience erupted with laughter. But he was right. Mr. Gaiman came out quite unassuming then shared a beautiful story linking how circus elephants are taught to embrace their chains rather realizing they can fight them and how he carried his own chains which prevented him from being happy.

I came for Neil but somehow found so much more last night. It is my honest belief in which everyone has a story to share. Last night I watched five people not only do that but also openly express to the audience something very personal, at times humorous, and even a little dangerous. It was a pretty brave thing to do and I walked away hungry to figure out this art form.

 I am already scheduled to some storytelling at Oatland Island for their Harvest Fest on Nov 10th. Please mark on your calendars and come out to this. It’s awesome but more about in a later post. I think I am ready to get back to working on my craft, if I may steal line from Robbie Rankin, my old theatre director. And I will.

It was also a powerful night in another respect. I knew I’d be writing about this night before it even happened. My assumption was I’d be talking about the lovely chat Neil Gaiman and I had. (We did and it was AWESOME!) Something else happened and I have to share because it moved as much as the raconteur fire which was lit inside of me.

You know all about the tweets between Neil where I invited him to teach Beowulf. When my turn in line came this was the approach I took.

“Hey man, I am the teacher who has been tweeting you all week. Thanks for considering visiting us even though it didn’t work. We all got a kick out it., “I said with a shaky voice.

Mr. Gaiman smiled and said in a lovely British accent, “Ahhh yes, the teacher doing Beowulf. Sorry about that but wish you luck.” We shook hands. Coolness for me.

I had a moment and seized it. “Mr. Gaiman, I want to introduce you to my students. This is Melissa, Jordan, and Holiday. Also very big fans and thank you again for coming to Savannah. It’s been amazing to hear you and your fellow artists.

Neil Gaiman continued being a delightful individual and spent a few moments with my students. All three looked like those girls form the news footage of the teeny boppers watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.

Our moment was over and Mr. Gaiman moved on to the throng of fans waiting for their moment too. I was on Cloud Nine and even spent a few moments with that Peter Aquero fellow asking ways to get into racontuering. He hugged me when I complimented on his velvet burgundy jacket. He was a big guy but I can respect when a large man like me is willing to show emotion so I happily hugged back. Neat guy. He talked like the northern version of my good friend and mentor, Tony Daniels. Just that alone, makes Mr. Aquero cool in my book.

Kim and I mingled. We said some hellos to our various friends from all our circles. Kim even got in line to have Mr. Gaiman sign my old copy of Stardust which I gave Roni back in the early dating days. I watched the proceedings from a far and wasn’t the least bit jealous when Neil Gaiman gave Kim a big smooch on the cheek. Ok, maybe a little bit.

Kim and I walked out into a one of those evenings in downtown Savannah where the humidity was fighting with the oncoming Fall chill. We were passing Mellow Mushroom as I got lost in my thoughts about those days of being a ghost tour guide when we came up on Holiday and Melissa. I asked if they needed a ride but they said they were fine.

Matter of fact, Holiday had to come over and show me the Neil Gaiman book she bought from the Blue bus (Please click onthis link. Gaiman talks about their bus and it's very cool) which transports the Unchained players and a Salvador Dali book she bought for one of my school’s art teachers. They started talking to Kim and I got distracted by a group of SCAD kids.

It was a pack of about five-six students and they definitely had that “I’m here for Gaiman Punkish Goth look. One of the guys who sported a variety of face piercings came up to and asked very politely,” Excuse me, sir, are you a professor?”

I almost burst out laughing. Robby the professor? I visualized myself in front of an Oxford style classroom wearing that fancy corduroy jacket with the little patches on the elbows. More stifles of laugher. Then the notion of getting some round gold glasses where I’d look like Professor Indiana Jones. I began to realize I could get used to that notion. Whip crack!
"Dr. Richardson?"

We shook hands as I replied, “Sorry to disappoint, guys. Just a high school sped teacher.”

A young lady with alternating shaved designs and dyed teal places on her head spoke up. “It doesn’t matter. Either way what you did was an inspiration.”

“What?” It was the only word in my head. Rather than vocalize, my face said it for me.

The first guy goes on. “We watched you take the time to make sure your kids got to meet Neil Gaiman. It’s not many teachers who’d bring their students to something like this and make sure they met their hero. Man, we need more teachers like you out there.”

I am always amazed at our abilities at how we humans can be so destructive to each other yet so uplifting at the same time. This pack of crazy looking Punk rock Goth kids said the very words I needed to hear to remind what it is that I do and why I put up with the fucking bullshit to to do it.

See, I have fallen out of love with teaching. It has become mired down in the stupidity our elected officials have instituted to get re-elected (This is not a conservative v. liberal issue. They are all guilty) piled with some many jobs that I rarely get to actually have the opportunity to connect with a student in an academic manner. I could give examples but it would just take away from the point these wild looking SCAD students reminded me.

I love teaching and I love my students. It’s OK to hate the outside forces that reign down on me to make my job all the harder. This is where I am supposed to be right now. I helped three very awesome and unique kids have an experience that might be the catalyst which gives the world the next great author, artist, or something great. I did what a teacher is supposed to do.  I showed those kids the world was little bit bigger last night the same way Mrs. Clark and Mr. Oliver did for me back at Union County High School in 1986.

I dream daily of being in front of an audience where I regale all with  my anecdotes of being that hopelessly dorky kid growing up in the mountains of North Georgia the marshes of Savannah with his unique family. I’ve had some amazing shit happen to me in my lifetime and the best part is I am finally finding my voice where it all ties together to make a good story. I dream of putting all this on paper and this is also slowly forming.
"You've got big dreams......"

At the same time, I recognize I may have hit a point where I can respect and appreciate the moment I am living in. It may not consist on hearing the applause I dream of but, thanks to a motley group of SCAD kids, I have been reminded that I did take a stand made a mark. I believe this is the best thing we can achieve as human beings.

I’ll get there. I am hungry for it but at the same time I have a responsibility to some kids over at Jenkins High School.
           And that alone will make a pretty good story