Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference–Day One, continued

What a great start! Last evening, before and during dinner I was privileged to have casual conversations with two great writers whom I greatly admire–Robert Morgan and Jane Smiley, both so pleasant and unassuming.

Then, after dinner, Sy Montgomery, the non-fiction group facilitator, joined the other two writers for an incredible discussion of the conference’s theme, a sense of place. Here are a few highlights–

  • Robert Morgan read from an article he recently wrote for Epic Magazine about growing up in the Green River Valley in Western North Carolina and how that physical landscape pervades his work
  • He also talked about the “landscape of language” and how it the luster of language is equally important to a work
  • Sy Montgomery is a writer I haven’t read but now definitely plan to and share with my nature-loving friends. She is a naturalist and writes often about ocean life. She spoke about discovering new languages when encountering new landscapes often alien to humans–like breathing underwater. She spoke eloquently about the transformative power of her underwater experiences.
  • Jane Smiley spoke about learning of the importance of place when reading David Copperfield and how truly great novels are often dependent, at least in part, to setting, which is tied to theme.
  • Robert Morgan mentioned the paradox of writing that can be regional, even local, that is at once extremely specific and accessible to readers universally.
  • Robert Morgan also spoke about how it is sometimes counterproductive to actually visit or re-visit the place of which one is writing–sometimes better to let it live in one’s imagination.
  • Sy Montgomery talked about seeking out people who have lived in a place and interacted with it to discover new things about it.
  • She also said, “Pour yourself out like water and feel yourself with place.”
  • Robert Morgan mentioned that it is important to include details but just enough to accomplish what you need to accomplish

All that and more in just an hour! I am certainly getting my money’s worth.

That was day one. I have much more to say about today–Day Two, but it will have to wait. Tonight we have the banquet, reception and Jane Smiley ‘s reading. Stay tuned!

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Making Sense

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gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com

I’m very excited to be working on a stage adaptation of Frankenstein that is as faithful to Mary Shelley’s novel as I can get it. It is a tremendous amount of work, but is a joy. I don’t think I’ve ever said anything like that before except when I was writing “A Carolina Story.”

Anyway, working hard on the play has kept me from posting on my blog, so when I read a great editorial about the failures of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s educational reform efforts, I had to post. Many state governments have drastically changed polices and programs, poured resources, especially administrative and faculty resources, into initiatives promoted, and only partially paid for, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Now that many of these initiatives are failing, the foundation is beginning to pull out, often leaving the educational systems to fix the mess. Many educators, like me and some of my colleagues, have tried to warn administrators about the potential problems with these plans, but to no avail. Why listen to the people who are in the classroom day after day and work most closely with students? What do they know about education?  Let’s allow people who know little about education but have lots and lots of money and political power dictate to dedicated educators with years and years of experience how best to spend money on reforms. Yeah, that makes sense.

Of course it doesn’t, but this article, printed from the Jacksonville Daily News does:

Quick Fixes for Education Are Scarce

England–Day Six

Had a fabulous day! I had bought croissants at the Tesco’s across the street yesterday. They tasted great with my morning coffee. The hotel coffee service is a bit different than in America because the main bevrage of choice is tea rather than coffee, so all the hotels have a little electric kettle and a tin (can) of teabags and instant coffee. I had been drinking tea, but today I decided to have coffee and, boy, that was the best instant coffee I ever had. I ate a few of the cocoa almonds I packed to give me some protein for my long hike ahead.

British hotel tea service

British hotel tea service

It was raining when I woke up, but by the time I did a little work and got dressed, I could see a few patches of blue. Then I checked google maps and planned my day. Since the rain had let up, I decided to go to Hyde Park as planned. I thought I might take the Underground, but I discovered that the line I needed was closed, so I decided to walk. The directions on Google maps were very good and I saw so much along the way.

I stopped briefly at the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts to take a look at the interesting sculptured trees by Chinese artis Ai Weiwei. The trees, made of various pieces of driftwood bolted together, represent the ethnic diversity of China according to the academy’s website. I was also interested to see that the astronomical society and geograpical society are also housed around the same courtyard.

Ai Weiwei's Tree sculpture in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts

Ai Weiwei’s Tree sculpture in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts

I continued my walk and found myself eventually on Oxford Street, the longest stretch of my walk. I was stopped by a young woman collecting money for a group called Oxfam that helps communities in developing countries have access to clean water. Here is the website adress: http://www.oxfam.org.uk. We talked quite a while, and as she did I was reminded forceably of the tradition of reform and charitable spirit that weaves its way throughout British history and literature. After I said goodbye to Georgia and continued walking along, the sun kept peeking out from the clouds and by the time I got to Hyde Park, the sun came out. To get to the park I passed through the impressive Marble Arch. Then into the park!

Marble Arch near Hyde Park

Marble Arch near Hyde Park

I love Hyde Park, and I just saw a little of it. I took many pictures and walked to the lake. There is a little restaurant right by the lake and it was warm enough to sit at an outside table. I have been so good and exercised so much that I treated myself to fish and chips and a half pint of beer. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I walked it off by walking through Picadilly Circus where the famous statue of Wellington is, along with other war memorials. I kept walking to Leicester Square where I’ve been before.

The Serpentine Bar and Kitchen where I ate some great fish and chips.

The Serpentine Bar and Kitchen where I ate some great fish and chips.

I decided to watch another movie. This time I watched Spectre, the new James Bond flick, on the big, big screen at the Odeon Theatre that is famous for its premiers. In fact, Spectre had premiered there on Sunday when my friend and I saw The Suffaragette. It was a totally outrageous movie but I do love a good action flick. When I came out there was another premiere going on at another theater, but I couldn’t get close enough to see much, but I think I saw the top of Bradley Cooper’s head!

The Odeon Premiere Theater

The Odeon Premiere Theater

I took the Underground back and now I am once again safe in my room, watching, what else, Harry Potter! Tomorrow I plan to go to the British Museum and maybe a little museum called the Soane, which is close to the Thames. Then, I have tickets to see Imelda Staunton in Gypsy, my last big show! Many of you will recognize Staunton as Dolores Umbrage in Harry Potter. I’m very excited to see her as Rose in Gypsy. Looking forward to my last day in LONDON.

TTFN

England–Day Four–The Day

I did not eat the black pudding or baked beans

I did not eat the black pudding or baked beans’

I’m a day late posting because it was such a big day yesterday. We started off having a traditional English breakfast, just a bit modernized to be healthier. I had bacon, more like smoked ham, with veggie sausage, a poached egg, cooked tomatoes, mushrooms and a pastry. Yum!

Next was a solo trip to Trafalger Square and the fabulous National Gallery of Art where I saw artwork by Titian, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, DaVinci–the British masters, like Turner, Gainsbourgh, Stubbs–and my favorites–the Impressionists–Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas and Van Gogh. One of my favorites was Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. I also liked Geoge Stubbs famous horse paintings. One of my favorite paintings was by an artist I did’t know of a tall, thin knight who had a wounded foot and knee, so he couldn’t fight anymore. Just the look on his face and all the details. It was magnificent.

Wounded Knight by Meroni

Wounded Knight by Meroni

I saw too much to write it all here, but the eras that the gallery spans makes this a great place to visit for just about any book in the English canon that my students might want to make the subject of their travel project. And entrance is free! After I wandered the halls with my trusty audio guide (very helpful and easy to use–only a few pounds), I went down to the gallery cafe and had a pastry pie, a traditional favorite. Then bought a few gifts in the gallery store.Then I wandered around the square a little while, taking in all the sights. I especially enjoyed the musicians playing in the squares and the character actors–Yoda, the wicked witch and tin man.

After I made my way back on the Underground, we rested a while, and it was off for the big night! We took a cab to the Barbican, which is a modern entertainment complex, away from the main theater district. Our seats were fantastic, about five rows back.

When the curtain came up, there was Benedict Cumberbatch, right in front of us, and he was strong the whole way through. The whole cast was good, but my favorites,other than Cumberbatch, were Horatio, Ophelia, and Polonius. The gravedigger always brings some needed comic relief.

Stage early in the first act

Stage early in the first act

The staging was also fantastic. Everything was stylistic, ranging from Victorian Era through the 60’s. The main set was like an Old Victorian Mansion that continued to decline during the first act. At the end of the third act when Hamlet is banished and Cladius is alone on stage, all this sooty material blows through the doors. When the second act begins, there are just piles of rubble allover. It was impressive–one of the best night’s at the theater. I’ve ever had.