Thursday, November 29, 2007

Snow Angel...opening night

Tonight we opened our production of Snow Angel by David Lindsay-Abaire. The set was a unit set consisting of three units on wheels: a shed, a tree, and a cafe (not shown).

We had a very responsive audience, a lot of laughs in the first half and then the show settled into some pretty introspective material.

I was proud of the cast and the tech crew. It was a smooth and engaging show if I do say so myself.
The maple tree came from our driveway. Beth gave me permission to cut it down as it was a shooter that had infiltrated the lilacs along the fence.

We opened and closed the show with the tree isolated in a pool of blue light. This photo was taken from the light booth.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

For real...and I'm not kidding!

Pop quiz (pun intended)
Fill in the blank. (Either Tess or Colm can be speaking.)
"This is for real, not for pretend, not joking, not kidding, not lying, not teasing. I'm a _______."
a. a squirrel named Chippy/Twitchy
b. a baby horse
c. a deer
d. all of the above

What I'm most likely to hear from my children if I walk in the room unannounced.
a. "Hi Dad."
b. Nothing
c. "What are you doing here?"
d. "Human!"


Friday, November 23, 2007

From the barn to the bird

We spent Thanksgiving day with Beth's parents, Warner and Charlotte. After watching a bit of football we decided to go outside and catch their horses, Barney and Sadie

who are gentle souls and good for leading the kids around the fields. While the horses were brought into the barn,
Colm and Tess occupied themselves
by burrowing into the hay bales stacked by the stalls.

Then it was out into the fields for a nice long walk around the fields. Beautiful fall day...we scared up a coyote.

All the fresh air primed everyone for some turkey and stuffing, winter squash tarte, cranberry sauce, potatoes and gravy, and apple pie a la mode... all homemade and delicious.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Prelude toThanksgiving

A few images from the holiday season we love best.
Colm costumed in feathers and drumming in his preschool concert performance.

Beth's chef d'oeuvre and her partner (and future Fulbrighter!) Jessica.

Early morning media...Tess and Colm turn on the CD player and sit in front of the bookcase and "watch" Bambi. Notice the dark TV next to them. Our kids don't know yet that the TV is something you can turn on and get programming any time you want it. That's because it doesn't do that in our house (it only shows videos). They'll figure it out soon enough.

Thanksgiving breakfast, losts of color!

Next up a gallery of images from Turkey day itself.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

You all belong here

For a couple of weeks now I've been making the 50 mile drive twice a week over the mountain pass to the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute where I teach a group of inmates excepts from ancient Greek texts such as Aristotle's Ethics, Plato's Republic, Euripides The Bachaae, and Thucydides History of the Pelopenisian Wars. It's the second time I've taught this course in this setting and it continues to afford me with ample opportunities to study and learn in a setting that is by definition extraordinary and exclusive.
The men in this class are there because they crave the opportunity to improve themselves. They are in prison because they have each of them committed a felony (possibly several). It is hard to capture adequately the way the setting imposes itself on you when you enter. The razor wire on the perimeter walls, the impenetrably opaque glass of the control booth, the guards grim and taciturn, their voices rendered inhuman by the tinny speakers, the remotely controlled steel doors sliding and clanging, the surveillance cameras, the empty tile corridors, the smell of chemical solvents, the stairwell leading to yet more locked doors....and then the classrooms and the inmates, dressed in denim uniforms, seated quietly and orderly at desks that look almost too small for them. They look at you directly when you enter. They address you as "Mister ___" and you respond likewise. Some of them smile; others simply look at you noncommittally, reserving judgement. Just outside the room, through the windows which run the full length of my classroom I watch a guard's thick torso and consciously averted head slide along and out of sight.
It takes as long as it takes to say Good evening to begin the process of feeling out. I plunge into things and instantly feel at ease. But there is no denying the peculiar way that words and utterances resonate in here. Words we toss about so diffidently out there on the outside, words like "wrong" or "freedom" or "self control". This is a place that wants to make words mean something, stand for something. It's a place full of bullshitters; therefore it is a place where the truthful utterance has a ring to it all its own.
Lately we've been reading in the The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle and we've been grappling with his views on happiness, moral virtue, the role and the limitations of reason, the importance of environment and habits, the difficulty of holding oneself in that "mean state" between excessive and defective emotional states, the essence of friendship, and the pleasure that surpasses all others, being unique to man, namely, that of understanding.
Aristotle describes a path to happiness that is fraught with variables and complexities. He ascribes responsibilities to society and individual alike, but ultimately he makes the individual virtuous man the arbiter of his own good. It is not a way made easy by simple moral prescriptions or principles; rather, it is the marriage of true or right feeling to an honest and capable intellect, embodied in the actions of a man disposed always to find that path by which he can be most free of those feelings and forces which would diminish or enslave him and thus reduce his ability to choose what is good and beautiful. It is a way animated as much by pleasure as by reason, but it is a pleasure that is triggered by the truly beautiful as opposed that which only appears to be so. It is at its core a way marked by inquiry and study and elemented by the pure and enduring pleasure that comes from learning something true.
If you flip Aristotle's ideas and describe the way to misery what you arrive at is a rather sobering picture that is all too familiar to us but perhaps unsettlingly so to my class of prison inmates. The ways to misery are myriad and seemingly hard to miss... bad upbringing, bad habits, lack of training and mentoring, impoverished experience, corrupted feelings, bad friends, bad luck...the list goes on. Often I see men in the room nodding grimly or smiling in a rueful way. Language like "enslaved by passions", "bad habits", and "good character" all land squarely in the ear and dare one to make light of their content. This is a place where abstractions intersect with concrete, steel, flesh and blood, and memories.
I ask them to ponder a problem that Aristotle may not have a ready answer for...whence come those virtuous passions that reliably orient the virtuous man's moral compass towards true North? How does one come to desire spontaneously that which is truly beautiful and good?
We kick around reactions to the question but it is apparent that the question will not and perhaps cannot be easily disposed of.
One of the inmates wonders if the process of trial and error, of learning from one's mistakes may be the way. If I think something is good and it turns out not to be then I have to reevaluate what is good. But all of this reasoning, I ask, does it give birth to new and better desires? How do we educate the heart? I ask, not knowing myself how I should answer this question.
Another class member suggests that habits have the potential to become ingrained; we can be programmed to feel things. How does this notion sit with you? Does it satisfy your desire to be a free agent?
Finally one of the men offers up his opinion that it comes down to individual character. I ask him to consider whether this would be true at every stage of life...what about three years old? I ask. I do not pose these questions just to be contrary; rather, it seems to me to be important to acknowledge the difficulty of the subject matter and to perhaps remind ourselves that questions are our constant companions in our quest for understanding.
Another man, not prone to participate except infrequently, then suggests that all of us are who we are, for better or worse.
We are marked then from birth? I ask him.
He nods, not enthusiastically but as if he can't imagine any other possible explanation for what seems to stand between man and happiness.
I look at the men, some of whom have exchanged glances as if to confirm a common perception of the man who just spoke... he seems to be one of those with a low tolerance for ambiguity.
The class is nearly over. I ask them if the way we are proceeding in class is a useful method for interpreting the text of Aristotle. One of the guys says that he was nervous at first about it but that he is pleasantly surprised by how much he gets him and how much he even sympathizes with him. "I wrote my sister and told her I was reading Aristotle. She wrote back and said, "Say what?"
Everyone chuckles.
Another student raises a hand. He wants to know if I know anything about a conspiracy theory involving Aristotle stealing his philosophy. I tell him I don't but that I'll look into it for the next class. The student nods and adds that another inmate not in this class had asked him what he was reading in this class. When he told him about Aristotle and the other ancient Greeks, the man had scoffed and said, "You know he stole all that stuff from Egypt."
A classmate speaks up. "He's probably just trying to devalue what you're doing in know how it is."
I notice a few heads nodding at this. The man who initiated this line of conversation nods too but he adds, "I'm just curious that's all."
It occurs to me then that this other man, not a member of this group, has nevertheless somehow become inserted however peripherally into our group. I say, "Just for the sake of argument, lets grant his assertion that Aristotle stole his ideas from Egypt. Why don't you ask this guy which one of these ideas he'd most like to to see returned to Egypt and given credit for?"
This gets some laughs from nearly everyone in the room. Not all though. One guy in particular seems disinclined to laugh. His expression gives nothing away. It makes me wonder.
Our time is almost up. I want to end on an genuinely affirming note. I hold up my copy of the Ethics. "I just want you to know that after these first four or five sessions together, my impression of you guys is that you all belong here."
Inmates from other rooms have begun filing out of the wing and my students rise to follow suit. I turn to gather my things from my desk and as I do I replay the last sentence I just uttered to them. Suddenly I hear someone laughing at a joke or a comment inaudible to me. I occurs to me that perhaps they've misconstrued my meaning...."you all belong here."
It's too late however to say or do anything. They're on their way out, on their way back to their cells. All I can is retrace my steps out of the penitentiary and replay the entire class in my car on the long drive over the mountains.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Road rash... the hazards of making a left turn

Colm and I went for a bike ride on the weekend while Tess and Beth were off at a birthday party. We took a different route to the high school from the usual one - I let Colm do the navigating. We hung out in my classroom for a little while; he passed the time drawing aliens with dozens of eyes sprouting from long Medusa like tendrils than covered the entire width of the chalkboard. While he did that, I caught up on some classroom stuff.
When it was time to go, Colm made a bee line to the elevator and got ready to push the buttons. We counted the numbers on the display tracking the elevator's progress "3....2....1," and then just before the doors opened we chanted, "Open sesame!" From there it was a walk down the tile floors of long, dark corridor of the old school building, during which Colm pretended not to be scared when, after running ahead of me he turned and couldn't quite see me in the shadows where I hid pressed against the student lockers. He looked so little and alone down there in that pool of light at the end of the hall that I didn't have the heart to lay on the ghost effect too thickly.
"What?....Daddy?" he said.
I just stepped into the middle of hall with my arms outstretched a la Frankenstein and walked toward him growling slightly. When I reached him Colm affected a diffident pose and informed me that he had seen me.
We retrieved our bikes at the entrance to the gym and headed for home. Colm wanted to race. Since it was slightly downhill, he picked up speed quickly and as is his wont when he is in the lead he kept turning his head back to check on his lead. I decided to reel him in so as to keep his eyes focused straight ahead. Indeed, I could make out a car a couple of blocks away that had come to a stop sign. Taking the center of the laneI pulled up on the left beside Colm who was pedaling furiously. We rode parallel like that for a few seconds, the chilly air whipping our smiling faces and then for some reason that I couldn't fathom Colm began to crowd me in the center of our lane. I moved left to keep from tangling with him but that move put me on the center line. That car I'd noticed had just cleared the stop sign and was heading our way.
"What are doing over here, move over Colm!" I said. Normally Colm hugs the right shoulder, but this time he was oblivious to my urgings. Instead he cut in front of me, I was able to brake a little before his back wheel clipped my front wheel. He wobbled but didn't go down and I saw even as I began to fall that he was making a left turn on the same street that we had taken to get to the school earlier. I was powerless to do anything but hit the pavement. I landed on my right side smack dab in the middle of the road, one of my clogs flew off my foot and landed ten yards away. I looked up and saw that the oncoming car had stopped, a woman sat behind the wheel staring impassively at me. Colm had made it to the curb on the other side and was now standing looking over his shoulder at me. I could tell from his eyes that what had just happened had completely surpassed his understanding. Calmly and quietly and told him to wait for me there while I got up trying very hard to ignore the pain running the length of my body. I put my clog back on lifted my bike, crossed to Colm and waved to the woman in the car. She drove past looking equal parts relieved and worried.
"You fell down, Daddy."
"Yeah," I said. I laughed and added. " You cut me off."
"You didn't cry."
I felt my hip and thought, maybe later.
After a bit I led Colm back into the street and practiced making left turns and I tried to tell him about the whole concept of oncoming traffic. My intent was simply to open up his eyes a little bit. The way his focus had narrowed so suddenly on that left turn, the way he had been overtaken by a single purpose, consumed by a single idea to the exclusion of everything else in the world bearing down on alarmed and frightened me. His physical competence with the bike disguised for a time his inability to see what he was looking at. I too had not seen clearly and the ramifications of that failure sat heavily on my heart as we rode the rest of the way home without incident, Colm chirping on about how far and fast we had gone.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Getting into hot water...and loving it

Lehman Hot Springs is about a forty minute drive from here. Stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Today we had blue skies and chilly air temperatures

and a three day weekend...the definition of a no brainer.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

In memorium

Trying to say anything at all seems utterly inadequate to the moment and the sense of loss and disbelief. Not to try however seems even more insufficient to the need at least to register a note that might resonate somewhere in the empty void where we find ourselves living without our friend. Six months ago he was the picture of health and bound for another adventure overseas. Two days ago, he died, succumbing to leukemia.
Phil Donaghy 1972 -2007
He reached out to us when we were alone and seeking friends in France. He gave freely of himself and made us grateful for his friendly ministries. He loved his wife and two little children. He was curious by nature and unafraid to explore the unknown or the unfamiliar. He thought a lot about how to live well, and he devoted himself to the task of bringing those thoughts into harmony with what he did and said. He was in so many ways an excellent and an exemplary young man. He lived a short time, and he left us all too suddenly, but he left an indelible mark on all of us who knew him. It is a mark that signifies life's love of life. We honor that mark and so he lives in us.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sometimes a great notion

sometimes I live in the country
sometimes I live in town
sometimes I have a great notion
to jump into the river and drown

The song Goodnight Irene has always been one of my favorites, and now it resonates even more strongly because we are contemplating a move into the country. It's the all too typical American dilemna, life in town vs life in the country. When I was a kid there was a sit com called Green Acres that had some fun with the retreat to the rustic life.
This isn't the first time we've been struck by the relocating usually passes in a few days but not without us having to draw up lists of pros and cons of our current house vs the house in question, financial assessments, and a reevaluation of virtually everything in our lives.
So here's a short list of facts as I see them.
Current Home:
  • Tess and I walk ten minutes to school/work in the morning
  • We live in a quiet neighborhood with sidewalks
  • We are walking distance from the university, downtown, Saturday Market etc...
  • Our house is cozy and has a great back yard, deck, trees and a garden
  • We know people here
  • Our home is smallish with no room really for a studio or an office or a garage unless we do something fairly drastic with an as yet unfinished basement
Hypothetical Home:
  • 2 acres with a house, a garage/studio with a woodstove, an orchard and several very large maple and oak trees, a barn, a pond (tiny) and picturesque views of the valley and the mountains
  • It is a twenty-five minute drive to La Grande - longer when the snow flies
  • the house needs roof shingles and new siding and the inside begs for's a project but structurally sound.
  • the house has a large bedroom downstairs and two upstairs - three bedrooms more or less though the upstairs space could be configured as a master bedroom, bathroom and an office
  • the house sits oriented toward the south, light pours in all day long through the living room window.
How does one put a daily morning walk to school with one's daughter in the balance with the prospect of spending at least an hour in the car every day? Or conversely, the opportunity for the kids to raise a goat or a pig (maybe even a horse) and to work and play in a beautifully pastoral setting versus the in-town distractions of Saturday theater class and bike rides across the university campus? As the kids grow older will they chafe at the bit and yearn for what's available in La Grande? If so, will we then become prisoners of the shuttling kids to and from town syndrome, forever coming home to our beautiful home too late in the day to even catch the sunset?
Oh yeah...My dad calls these 2-5 acre lots "heart attack lots" because of the upkeep they require.
I need help with this.

their world's a stage

This weekend I finished the major construction of the set for Snow Angel that I'm directing at the high school.

I brought Tess and Colm over for a little romp in the theater before getting in the car for a longish drive to my folks.

The kids love the theater space especially when I darken the auditorium and bring up the stage lights. They immediately transition into make believe. This time they were pretending to be on the telephone with each other while walking about the set. They're very grown up on the phone except of course in real life when it's for me.

Could that be me?

Friday night the kids and I walked over to the university stadium to see the high school's final home football game. By the time we got there the Tigers were already hopelessly behind. We stood down by the endzone, the kids perched up on the rail and me standing behind them. Pretty much the whole second quarter got played right there in front of us as our team struggled without success to get out of their own end of the field and the other team kept scoring touchdowns. Standing right beside us were three very vocal middle aged men who energetically warned the players on the field and the coaches on the sidelines about breaking developments. The weird thing was that being as close to the field and sidelines as we all were and with the crowd generally quiet and subdued owing to the one sided nature of the game, everything these three men yelled was plainly audible to players, coaches and refs.
"Get a play in! Come on! Get a play in!" Each broadcast was typically followed by murmuring elaborations among the three men over what they had witnessed and in some cases tried in vain to forestall.
Tess was intrigued by their behavior. Yelling one moment, murmuring amongst themselves the next only to explode once again a moment later. She stared at them and then at me, smiling as if to say, "Are they crazy?"
I smiled back at her.
"He's hurt! Get a new quarterback in there! (Why don't they get somebody in there?) He's hurt! Get a sub in there!" (Ah, finally...why do they take so long...when we played, somebody was ready to come in.)
"Call timeout! Call timeout! (Can you believe this. How much time is left?) Why don't you call timeout?" (You tell me what they're thinking about.)
"Come on now!" (He should a cut the other way - touchdown....yep, he doesn't have the experience.... or the vision.)
(Oh baby, that hurt.) "Injury! (He's hurt.) Stay down! Don't get up!" (He's gettin' up. I always told my guys to take your time gettin' up.)
"Get your head in the game!" (These guys can't make a play. ..You got to make a play if you want to win.)
I watched the men. They were oblivious to our stares even though we were only five feet away. They seemed to believe that their alarms and encouragements were instrumental to the actions and decisions being made down on the field. Neither the coaches in front of us on the sidelines nor the players behind them or the ones on the playing field gave any indication that they were listening, even though everything the men said was clearly in earshot. Yet the men carried on energetically, fervently, as if something important were at stake.
It was odd...sort of like watching a silent movie with an accompanying audio track of the subtitles being shouted in your ears.
For my part, I tried to interest Tess and Colm in a few of the visible and obvious aspects of the game. I pointed out where the ball was and which color team had it and which direction they were trying to go. I told them about running the ball and tackling the runner. Colm mistook the term "tackle" for "attack" and comented often on how players were attacking the one the one with the ball. I didn't correct him. The kicking game was fun to watch because they enjoyed tracking the long high arc of the ball and then the helter skelter of the return. There was one run that came right towards us and ended in loud collision with about five players piled on top of the runner. It was a bit like witnessing a car accident right up close. Colm looked up at me, his eyes wide with wonder.
"When I get big, am I going to play football?" he asked me. I looked at him and realized how at the age of four he sensed that out there in the external world there were salient clues as to who he might be someday. Running through his mind always, the question, could that be me?
"Maybe you'll play football, Colm," I said and then I heard a sound coming from the other end of the stadium. "Or maybe you'll play in the band."
We looked down the sidelines and saw the marching band assembled in the far end zone. They were preparing to take the field. They were respendent in their blue uniforms and their instruments glittered in the crisp dark night air.
"Look they have two white tubas!" said Tess.
Tess and Colm both jumped off the rail and headed toward the band. "Come on!" they shouted to me.
I left the muttering men and followed my children.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Indian summer

I spent the better part of Sunday splitting and stacking a couple of cords of wood. Did it the old fashioned way, a splitting maul and a wedge. Nothing quite like finding the sweet spot on a big old round of Doug Fir and hearing it crack all the day down. There's also nothing like swinging a maul with all your might and having it rebound like a rubber ball. Or pounding a wedge into a round and burying it clean inside the wood without it splitting in half. As the guy who sold us the wood said, "When you buy it in the round like this you get the double heating effect. Once when you split it, once when you burn it."
I quit about four in the afternoon so that we could go to Morgan Lake on what seemed like it might be the last best day of fall.

The lake was ringed with blazing light.

We walked all the way around it, and then we went home and had supper, read some books, and hit the hay. One of the best days ever.