Saturday, January 29, 2011

Gus: The Theatre Cat

When I was little, I used to love hearing my dad read poems from T.S. Elliot’s collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.  These are the poems the musical, Cats uses as its text, but in my opinion, they’re much better read as bedtime stories, particularly when it’s my dad doing the reading.  We especially loved to recite “Macavity, Macavity there’s no one like Macavity...” Dad would put in funny voices for all the characters that spoke (his old man voice is hilarious) and the illustrations by Edward Gorey (if you watch Masterpiece Mystery, you’re familiar with his work) are delightful. 

What has this to do with anything?  Well, one of the poems is called “Gus: The Theatre Cat.”  And when I adopted a cat from the shelter yesterday, there was only one name suitable for him.  Asparagus, or Gus, for short. (In the poem, you see, Elliot explains that Gus’s real name is “Asparagus” but that’s such a fuss/to pronounce that we usually call him just Gus.)

My Gus, the theatre cat even has a bit of an air of an Edward Gorey illustration about him.  He’s all black except for striking yellow eyes and two white whiskers on the right side of his face.  The whiskers, in particular, give him a certain... Gorey-ness.
Gus: The Theatre Cat

I have been contemplating adopting a cat for a long time.  I started thinking about it almost as soon as I found out I had been accepted to UT Austin.  I had to do some real thinking and planning, though, to make sure I could financially and emotionally support a cat.  Now that I have, I already couldn’t imagine life without him (I’ve had him for two days.)

The final deciding factor was finding out about the program Austin Pets Alive!, an animal rescue service that takes cats from the local shelters’ euthanasia lists, boards them in kennels and foster care, and adopts them out to worthy families.  Pets Alive! is an incredibly supportive adoption facility, and as a new pet owner, I feel so confident knowing I can contact their animal behaviorist with questions free of charge.  They even pay for all of Gus’s shots, his neuter surgery, a microchip, and a month’s worth of pet insurance (which will be useful, as I was considering getting pet insurance, and this will be a great way to try it out.)   They are a really, really great adoption service and I’m proud to have supported their efforts. 

Gus is adjusting extremely well to his new home.  So far, there has been an almost suspicious lack of problems.  He uses his litter box just fine (even manages to be a relatively tidy litter user in spite of the fact that he has to spend 15 minutes interior decorating before each poo), he hasn’t scratched the furniture, doors, walls, or floor, and he isn’t too much of a nuisance at night.  He likes to be near people, following me around the house (occasionally yowling to let me know I’m not paying proper attention to him).  He’s not a lap cat, but he’s sleeping right next to me while I write this.  He’s absolutely wild about chasing bits of string.  I bought him one of those sticks with a feather at the end, and we happily played with it together for a solid hour and a half (and only stopped because I got tired.)  I think my strategy to keep him entertained while I’m doing homework will be to balance his feather toy on the couch next to me so it dangles down and he can bat at it to his heart’s content without feeling neglected.

That's all for now. I’m sure in the future there will be many more Gus stories.  He’s the only thing I talk about right now.  I’m trying hard not to be annoying about it.  Maybe this will get it all out of my system... Probably not.

Gus: The Theatre Cat
Gus is the Cat at the Theatre Door.
His name, as I ought to have told you before,

Is really Asparagus. But that's such a fuss
To pronounce, that we usually call him just Gus.

His coat's very shabby, he's thin as a rake,

And he suffers from palsy that makes his paw shake.

Yet he was, in his youth, quite the smartest of Cats--
But no longer a terror to mice and to rats.
For he isn't the Cat that he was in his prime;

Though his name was quite famous, he says, in its time.

And whenever he joins his friends at their club
(Which takes place at the back of the neighbouring pub)
He loves to regale them, if someone else pays,

With anecdotes drawn from his palmiest days.
For he once was a Star of the highest degree--

He has acted with Irving, he's acted with Tree.
And he likes to relate his success on the Halls,

Where the Gallery once gave him seven cat-calls.

But his grandest creation, as he loves to tell,

Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.

"I have played," so he says, "every possible part,

And I used to know seventy speeches by heart.
I'd extemporize back-chat, I knew how to gag,
And I knew how to let the cat out of the bag.

I knew how to act with my back and my tail;

With an hour of rehearsal, I never could fail.
I'd a voice that would soften the hardest of hearts,

Whether I took the lead, or in character parts.
I have sat by the bedside of poor Little Nell;

When the Curfew was rung, then I swung on the bell.

In the Pantomime season I never fell flat,

And I once understudied Dick Whittington's Cat.

But my grandest creation, as history will tell,

Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell."

Then, if someone will give him a toothful of gin,

He will tell how he once played a part in East Lynne.

At a Shakespeare performance he once walked on pat,

When some actor suggested the need for a cat.

He once played a Tiger--could do it again--

Which an Indian Colonel purused down a drain.

And he thinks that he still can, much better than most,
Produce blood-curdling noises to bring on the Ghost.

And he once crossed the stage on a telegraph wire,

To rescue a child when a house was on fire.

And he says: "Now then kittens, they do not get trained

As we did in the days when Victoria reigned.

They never get drilled in a regular troupe,
And they think they are smart, just to jump through a hoop."
And he'll say, as he scratches himself with his claws,
"Well, the Theatre's certainly not what it was.

These modern productions are all very well,

But there's nothing to equal, from what I hear tell,

That moment of mystery

When I made history

As Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell."

note: If you like this poem, be sure to check out Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats!

Monday, January 24, 2011

"I haven't heard of that guy"

Ok, I confess it.  When I posted a facebook status a couple of days ago celebrating that I had met Jose Cruz Gonzales, I did it partly as an experiment to see how many of my friends had actually heard of him.  I was not surprised to find out that none of them (not even my father, who knows everything) know who he is.  Do you? 

If you do, it's probably because you have either a) been to a production of one of his plays at Childsplay in Arizona, or b) Studied Theatre for Youth. Jose Cruz Gonzales is one of the most prolific playwrights of theatre for youth (another being Suzan Zeder, a professor here at UT Austin).  His work is especially exciting to me, as he writes bilingual and trilingual plays.  Many of his works reflect his hispanic heritage, incorprating elements of magical realism seamlessly into the plot.  Meeting him and speaking to him about language was thrilling. 

Theatre for Youth is a very young field.  Perhaps that is why its heroes are practically unknown to the general public.  Who among you have heard of Dorothy Heathcote or Aurand Harris?  You may never have heard the name "Winifred Ward" (unless you went to Northwestern) but she is the George Washington of Theatre for Youth, the woman largely responsible for shaping the field into what it is today.  She's one of my heroes.  If you've never heard of her, look her up.

There is another, darker reason why you may be unfamiliar with most of these names, and any teacher (especially arts teachers) will relate to it.  After all, those who can, do, and those who can't, teach, right?  For some reason Americans tend to think that because they are children, we can get away with presenting young audiences with bad theatre.  "It doesn't matter, they won't notice.  They're just kids."  It's a deplorable attitude.  We expect the very best out of our schools, so why, when those same students enter the theatre, are we content with mediocrity?  These students deserve better.  They deserve to see high-quality, well-written, and well-produced productions designed specifically to address the issues they deal with and portray the world they live in.  I have seen to much "children's theatre" where the plot is obvious, formulaic, even insulting, and the production value is shockingly low.  I challenge you to become familiar with the names I have given.  Find out if there is a play by Jose Cruz Gonzales being produced in your community.  If not, why not?  It is not enough that those very few of us in the field of theatre for youth are asking these questions.  We must, as a society, demand better theatre.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On Leaving Home

I am headed back to Austin today after a long, relaxing break, and I can’t help feeling a little sad.  Not that I don’t love living in Austin, or that I’m not enjoying the grad program at UT; I am, and I’m anxious to return.  There’s a lot waiting for me in Austin: A move to a new apartment, the beginning of a new, exciting job, the preparations for a conference in Tampa I’ll be attending next week... but its never easy to leave home regardless of how much I might enjoy the destination.

I realized as I was trying to sleep last night, stuck helplessly going over all the various items on my to do list (the way you do when you’re slightly stressed, but not sure exactly what you’re stressed about), that I’m out of practice in dealing with the conflicting emotions involved in a return to school. There is something wildly different about returning to school after a long break versus returning to work (even if that work happens to be teaching in school). There is anticipation: each semester is a new and different animal.  With the change of classes comes a change of work-load and responsibility that I always find my self both eagerly anticipating and dreading.  There is also a certain nostalgia: Christmas is over and there is still the long stretch of January and February ahead before we can begin to think about spring.  I find this is true, even in climates where late winter is one of the most pleasant times of the year.  There is also the inevitable sadness of having to leave my family behind again.  We are extremely close, the four of us, and no matter how many times I’ve done it, it never gets easier to wave goodbye to them at the airport.  For people who grow up in houses that they can’t wait to leave, this can be hard to understand.  It might seem as ridiculous as Michael Palin insisting to a stunned John Cleese that his dead parrot is merely “Pinin’ for the fjords.”  To me, however, leaving my family behind is one of the most difficult things about the return to school. 

Paradoxically, I think it is actually easier to be the person doing the leaving.  Regardless of how much I might dread saying goodbye to my father and sister in the airport in a few hours, I would much rather be the person waving a tearful goodbye while trying to navigate the increasingly complicated security screening than the person being left behind.  I discovered this last year when, in a strange twist, I stayed in Phoenix while Dad and Miriam left.  I’m not sure exactly why this is, but I suspect it has something to do with all those conflicting emotions I mentioned.  When I’m leaving to go back to school, there is always that anxious anticipation to temper the homesickness.

So here’s hoping that where ever you are and where ever your travels might take you, you embark on the journey with a healthy mix of excitement and sadness.  May the road rise up to meet you.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Layout Change

Yes, the layout has changed.  It's criminally easy to do, and I decided I wanted the blog design to focus on the actual entries rather than an eye-bleeding pattern.  If you have any comments or suggestions about the layout, please let me know.  I have complete control over things like font, text size, color, etc.  So if something makes the text hard to see on your computer, please let me know!

Concerning an Annual Conundrum

Every year around this time I come up against the same question: to resolve or not to resolve?   More specifically, do I make a New Year’s resolution this year, or do I give up on the idea altogether (before I have a chance to break that noble resolution)?

Normally I’d almost immediately jump to the “give up” part, but this year, having spent a semester talking about setting goals in grad school, I’m starting to think that setting a few attainable goals for the year isn’t too horrible an idea.

That then raises the question, “Which goal?”  For help, I google searched “Top 10 New Year’s resolutions, 2011” to see what other people are doing.  The results were unsurprising, but disappointing.  Most had something about loosing weight, which is always one of my goals (so why bother making it a New Year’s resolution?).  “Getting organized” was also popular, generally followed by “Procrastinate less” (this makes me feel much better, knowing the rest of the world is just as disorganized as I am, and just as liable to put off eventually getting organized...).  Of course, I promised myself I’d set attainable goals, and let’s be honest, organizing my life isn’t a really attainable goal.  I thrive in semi-organized chaos.  Most lists also included something along the lines of “enjoying life” which just seems like a cop-out.  Identify what it is that’s preventing you from enjoying life and change that.  I don’t intend to waste my time with vague, sappy resolutions.

So we’re back at square one.  Clearly, google doesn’t think about New Year’s resolutions the same way I do.  However, after some careful consideration, I have come up with 3 goals for the New Year that I think I can accomplish:

 Maintain a daily yoga practice.  “A daily yoga practice” could mean any number of things.  I do intend to participate in the 40 day challenge again next year, but the rest of the time I try to practice yoga in the studio at least 3 times a week.  I start most mornings with a short set of sun salutations, meeting the “daily yoga practice” goal in a way I might actually be able to maintain.  I should also mention that I’m supplementing the yoga with some more aerobic walking and jogging.

 Keep in contact with friends and family.  This is my one concession to google’s “top 10” lists, but I’m REALLY bad at calling people.  Everyone who knows me knows this.  I absolutely hate talking on the phone, and I use that as an excuse to just... not do it.  Well, friends, this year, I’m going to fail equally badly at calling you, but I’m trying to change my ways.  Luckily, we also have email, skype, facebook, and all sorts of other ways to keep in contact. 

 Learn how to bake a superb pie crust.  This will probably be my summer project.

Well, there you have it.  Notice there’s nothing about grad school or future career goals in there.  I figure I’ll be setting enough of those types of goals through my grad school program that I could drive myself crazy if I try doing it for New Year too.  We’ll see how well I do. 

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year?

Celebrating the New Year has always seemed a bit strange to me.  While I might be up at midnight most nights, on New Year's eve, I am compelled to be up at midnight watching a ball lit with LED lights drop in Times Square (and since I live in Arizona, I watch this event "live" on a time delay two hours after it has actually happened.)  There is nothing about this holiday that is not ridiculous.  Who on earth decided that the right way to ring in the New Year was by setting off a lot of explosives in a place full of drunk people?  See?  Ridiculous.

There is this strange pressure to attend a really crazy party on New Year's Eve.  I find, especially now that I'm back in school, that in the weeks leading up to Christmas, everyone I know asks me "What are you doing for New Years?" expecting me to say something like "Going out to paint the town red while freezing in a sparkly gold evening dress and high heels. You?" If this is something you enjoy, good for you, but having experienced standing, freezing all night waiting for a few minutes of fireworks while listening to some bands play songs I've never heard before, I think having a happy New Year for me involves staying far, far away from firework displays and large crowds of drunks.  This may seem boring to you, but I find I LIKE spending the last hours of the old year on the couch, watching movies with my parents.  If I must celebrate the passing of a second, I intend to celebrate said second's death in the manner of my choosing.

Most of my New Years are like that.  For as long as I can remember, my family has celebrated New Year's Eve by sitting on the couch together eating excellent food and watching movies.  For years, we only watched musicals.  I saw classics like Singin' in the Rain and Funny Girl  for the first time on New Years Eve.  Eventually, we began running out of classic musicals, and figuring out what to watch became difficult.  One year, we rented Fiddler on the Roof, which seemed like a good idea in the video store, but proved to be so depressing we rang in the New Year in tears.

This year I had a particularly unusual New Year.  I was the virtual guest at a party where my closest friends were celebrating.  They were all in Kentucky, and being in Arizona, I was unable to attend the party in person.  Instead, I ended up talking to them on Skype (using the video chat).  My friends carried "me" (that is, they carried the computer) around the party, took pictures, even poured me a drink (which I'm rather glad I wasn't actually able to taste).  It was a bit surreal, but completely awesome.  Occasionally technology is a wonderful thing.