Saturday, December 14, 2013


As we emerged from William’s memorial service in Midtown Manhattan exactly a year ago, Saturday, December 15th, we were embraced by a swarm of drunken Santas.  The irony of leaving the memorial for someone who died due to a substance use disorder, only to encounter the obscenity of a mob of drunken Santas, reindeer, and elves was not lost on us.  SantaCon was in full swing. 
Fortunately the New York Times has spared me having to reflect on this event.  I’m happy to say that Lee Seinfeld, the owner of my local watering hole, wants nothing to do with the event. 

Here is an op-ed piece that captures my feelings nicely.  Thank you Jason Gilbert.

You can also go here to find Times reportage on the event:

Or, for that matter, try the LA Times:

Monday, December 2, 2013

December 2nd, 2013

A year ago on this day William breathed his last in our arms, the conclusion of a twenty-one hour vigil after he’d been removed from a respirator.  We’d played music and sung to him during the six weeks he was hospitalized, especially his favorite, Stevie Ray Vaughn, over and over.  On a trip back to Chicago Elizabeth recorded “I Say A Little Prayer”, by Burt Bacharach, with her roommate, Emily Casey.  When William died, she immediately played their beautiful rendition of the song for him one last time.  I don’t have it here.  Perhaps Elizabeth does and can post it.  She also sang it at Will’s memorial service.    
She then played another song I’d never heard, by an artist I’d never known.  It was Antony and the Johnsons singing “Thank You For Your Love”.   In the days that followed I played it incessantly.  It was a source of comfort and, I think in retrospect, a way of not quite letting go of William and that concluding moment in the hospital.  
As time went by I began to listen to other songs sung by Antony.  That led me to this Leonard Cohen song.   I’d listen to various artists sing the song, but eventually returned over and over to Mr. Cohen himself singing “If It Be Your Will.”
In short order I began to listen to Cohen and many, many other artists sing, “Hallelujah”.  My favorite, the one I listen to now as I write, is KD Lang’s.
It is hard to describe the comfort these songs provided between the time of Will’s death and his memorial service, and beyond.  I’d lie down, computer balanced on my chest, listen, remember, cry and think.  Certainly some of that thinking was given over to our pledge to William.  We renew it again here today.  Thanks to everyone who has helped us make progress.  We will prevail.
“We promise to do everything in our power to educate and inform people about drug abuse and its prevention, to provide ever more enlightened treatment for addicts, to help make treatment options for addicts more readily available, and to remove the stain of shame surrounding this disease.  We ask you all, as witnesses, to give us the same kind of strength and support you have so lovingly offered over the last several weeks, as we strive to honor our word.  Action is eloquence.”

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Right after Thanksgiving a year ago our daughter, Elizabeth Hope, flew back home from Chicago – her third such trip during a month her brother, William, was hospitalized. He’d suffered cardiac arrest after an accidental heroin overdose.  All that month family and friends took turns at his bedside, talking to him, massaging him, playing music for him, looking for any signs of possible recovery.  Hospital staff were remarkable in their tender care and consideration.  “Mr. Williams, we’re going to bathe you now.”  “Mr. Williams, we’re going to change your sheets.”  “Mr. Williams, we’re going to shampoo your hair now.”  There was no lack of respect or dignity, however precarious William’s condition.

I remember the nurses on duty Thanksgiving Day taking turns in a staff room eating their meal from what appeared to be a combination take-out and pot-luck Thanksgiving. Lots of plastic, paper plates, and aluminum foil while they shared  food, time and good will with one another – ever alert to the needs of their patients  nearby. 

William’s Thanksgiving meal consisted of the canned nutrient he’d been given ever since his arrival, now administered through a feeding tube directly to his stomach.  IV drips supplied his fluid intake along with various medications depending upon fevers, infection, and necessary sedation.  Breathing depended upon another tube, running directly to the tracheostomy in his throat.  Survival, and hence our hope, depended upon this umbilical triumvirate.

Shortly after Elizabeth’s return we were to learn that even the best of care was not sufficient to restore William.  We gathered in his room, his mother, sister and I.  I remember sitting at the side of his bed, holding his hand and arm, tears cascading, while a neurologist told us the results of a recent brain scan.  The analogy she used was freshly cut flowers.  Upon entering the hospital his brain was like a bouquet that had just been cut and put in water.  Hence our hope.  The lack of oxygen he’d suffered from cardiac arrest, however, meant that over time the “flowers”, his brain, had wilted and decayed.  William would spend the rest of his life in a vegetative state.  Hope shriveled to grief, then to resolution.
In the days that followed we were presented the option of removing William from the ventilator.  The alternative was to spend the rest of his days, uncomprehending, reliant upon tubes, machines, and the kindness of caretakers.  It was an offer of a life that was not a life.

We determined instead to see if William could become an organ donor.  Donorship was possible, though success was not a given.  For a successful donation William would have to succumb within an hour after being removed from all life support in order for his organs to be fresh and vital.  After several days of delay, we convened in an operating room, prepared to say good-bye to our dear boy.  The tube from the respirator came out of the hole in his throat and he breathed on his own.  He’d done this before, on good days, when there was still hope of recovery.  The clock ticked, he survived the hour, and we returned as a family to his hospital room.  He continued breathing on his own for another twenty hours.  Cardiac arrest or no, his heart and spirit were strong until the end.

This year, almost exactly to the day, I drove again to the airport and picked up  Elizabeth for the first time in a year.  Not just Elizabeth.  Elizabeth, our grandchild-to-be, and Johnny Anderes, a father-to-be.  A year later we’re waiting again.  This time until early March.  Like a Russian nesting doll, there is hope inside our Elizabeth Hope.  A proper umbilical cord connects mother to infant, an infant growing toward first breath, first steps, first words.  There’s already a strong heartbeat.  We’ve much to be thankful for.

And Thanksgiving today, like many holidays to come, will also be filled with the remembrance of an uncle this child will never know, but for the stories we'll tell.  Uncle William we miss you.       


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hidden In The Hills

I wrote the following as a Letter to the Editor to The Bernardsville News.  Some or all of our family lived in the town for 57 years, until, as I write, my mother's death two years ago at 94.  

To the Editor:

I grew up in Bernardsville.  My parents were longtime residents, my mother dying at age 94 just two years ago.  I have many pleasant boyhood memories from my early life there. From time to time I  visit.  Most recently, I picked up your Thursday, November 14th issue.  Why?  Because a friend alerted me to the drug related deaths of several young people in the “New Jersey Hills”.  Why would I care?  Almost a year ago  our 24-year-old son and brother, William, died of an accidental heroin overdose.  At his memorial service we made a pledge to William: “We promise to do everything in our power to educate and inform people about drug abuse and its prevention, to provide ever more enlightened treatment for addicts, to help make treatment options for addicts more readily available, and to remove the stain of shame surrounding this disease.”

I fear addiction is hiding in The Hills.  The reality is that drug abuse is an epidemic in our country, and especially in New Jersey.  Because of William’s untimely death, I’ve met a number of families in New Jersey who have also lost children or are working night and day at the recovery of family members. 
I do not know the cause of death of either of the two young men whose obituaries appeared in your recent issue. It is, perhaps, unfair to speculate.  It is no speculation to say that there will be more obituaries of young people in your paper. Their deaths will be due to the silent epidemic in the communities you serve.  I urge The Bernardsville News to do everything you can to bring news about drug abuse to the forefront of your coverage. It is not just a national issue.  It is a local issue that cannot and must not be denied.  You can help remove the stigma attached to the disease, so that families can use their tragedies to help avoid further tragedies amongst their friends and neighbors.

Here are links to two essays I have had published in my current “hometown” paper, The New York Times, on the topic of addiction:,   I regret that my boyhood home suffers from this affliction.  Sadly, I am not surprised.  I do not honor our family’s pledge to my son if I do not confront addiction anywhere and everywhere I come across it, however veiled, unwanted, and uncomfortable a topic it may be.      

Bill Williams

Monday, October 28, 2013

Life Imitates Art

When the legendary acting teacher, Lee Strasberg, died, another famous acting teacher, Stella Adler, came into her class and said, “I’d like a minute of silence.  A man of the theater died today.”  Following the silence Adler added: “And it will take a hundred years to undo the damage that that man has done to the theater.”  What brought about such bitterness?  Strasberg and Adler had been part of The Group Theatre.  You can read all about The Group Theatre in Harold Clurman’s memoir, The Fervent Years: The Group Theatre And The Thirties.
Begun in 1931, The Group sought to transform American theater from light entertainment to work that was a serious dramatization of the times they lived in.  For ten years they did just that, emphasizing strong ensemble work.  Their work together was based on the techniques of the Russian man of the theater, Constantin Stanislovsky.  The names of Group members and their contributions to American theater are legendary, among them:  Clifford Odets, Irwin Shaw, Luther Adler, Frances Farmer, Elia Kazan, Harry Morgan, Stella Adler, Robert Lewis, John Garfield, Franchot Tone, Will Geer, Howard Da Silva. Michael Gordon, Paul Green, Paul Strand, Morris Carnovsky, Sanford Meisner, Marc Blitzstein, Anna Sokolow, Lee J. Cobb, and many others.
 By the late 1930’s the cohesiveness of the collective began to come apart. Finances, the beckoning of Hollywood, and bitter disagreement over interpretations of Stanislovsky’s work led to fractures that still exist today.  Various members began to emphasize the aspects of Stanislovsky that were of particular interest to them.  Today actors still study the interpretations of Meisner, Strasberg, Stella Adler, and other teachers, all stemming from the Group’s work.  For example, students at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts are assigned to different studios.  They include: The Stella Adler Studio of Acting, The Meisner Studio, and The Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute.  As time has passed, the work of these teachers has been handed on to various acolytes.  Too often the acolytes and the students who train under them are dogmatic and cult like, unable to agree about what they share in common. 
Why, you may ask, do I write about theater on a website devoted to addiction?  First, I have spent my life teaching and directing actors.  Thankfully much of my training was with teachers who took a broader, more eclectic approach, including Larry Moss, whose book on acting, The Intent to Live, could easily be a title for a book on recovery.  Indeed, much of his advice to actors could certainly prove useful to those in recovery.
Since the death of my son, William, nearly a year ago, as I’ve puzzled with the question of how I, personally, might be most effective in advancing the common cause of battling addiction, I’ve had the benefit of two very wise leaders in the field, both exceedingly generous with their time, Tom Hedrick and Robert Lindsey.  They each suggested I could make beneficial use of my background as an acting teacher and director – that working directly with recovering addicts using skills and talent I already possess, to use my art to help enable recovery, might be the most positive thing I could do.
I’ve taken this advice to heart.  I’m heading down the path of finding ways to use storytelling, theater games, and acting to help those in recovery find or regain a truer sense of themselves.
My concern is that the world of addiction education, prevention, and treatment seems to me to be every bit as fractured, divided, dogmatic, and cultish as the world of training and nurturing theater artists.  In my short exposure to the world of addiction I’ve seen too many eyebrows raised about the way “someone else does it.”  There seems to be too much interest in defending turf and not enough questioning of practices that may need refinement or are just plain out of date. The people least served by this state of affairs are the teenagers, people using dangerously, and the full blown addicts, all of whom need our full attention now. The world of addiction has too much to do to enlighten and battle the outside world without fighting itself. 
In his book, Larry Moss writes:  “Not long after Strasberg’s death, Stella Adler called Anna Strasberg, his widow, and said, ‘We should have talked. . . we should have talked.’  Later she wrote Anna a note, ‘In history there are battles that now end in love.’”
We do not have the luxury of saying “We should have talked.”  We cannot wait to see if the battle ends in love.  Our battle must be to find the common ground, to agree there is more than one path up the mountain, and to be willing to blaze new trails with urgency and purpose.  We cannot become shatterproof while the shards of old bitterness lie at our feet.       

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


A year ago today our son and brother, William Williams, was denied inpatient detox treatment by his insurer.  He arrived at the hospital with his bag packed, ready to begin treatment.  He was turned away, although he had benzos and opioids in his system.  He wanted help and was told "NO."  A year later the insurer has still not provided us with the complete records documenting or justifying their denial of service, despite repeated requests.  Four days later he accidentally overdosed, leading to cardiac arrest, six weeks in the hospital, and his eventual death. Support Shatterproof, Partnership at Drug Free, NCADD, or the Where There's A Will Fund, or any other fund of your choice,  but please join us in our promise  "to do everything in our power to educate and inform people about drug abuse and its prevention, to provide ever more enlightened treatment for addicts, to help make treatment options for addicts more readily available, and to remove the stain of shame surrounding this disease."  This is our pledge to William. Thank you all as we continue to strive to honor it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Kitson-Lichtenberg Effect

     I read a column in the New York Times yesterday where Paul Krugman mentioned the Dunning-Kruger effect.  I’d never heard of it before.  Mr. Krugman defines it as follows, “the truly incompetent can’t even recognize their own incompetence.”  In other words, or better – in Mr. Krugman’s words -  why a Congress hijacked by Republican radicals is at an impasse.  Like most of America I’m frustrated by fools leading us nowhere, or worse, toward crisis. 
     I’ve worked with people suffering from Dunning-Kruger, even been “managed” by them.  My attempts to advise them of their disorder failed, miserably.  In fact,  in one instance it cost me a job.  As a wise friend reminded after I’d lost my job, “You can’t fix stupid.”
     I think this condition has a mutant cousin.  I call it the Kitson-Lichtenberg effect. I define it as “the truly offensive and greedy are oblivious to their vulgarity and money-grubbing.”  Brian Lichtenberg is a designer who came up with a series of shirts designed to look like athletic jerseys, each with a number.  However, where a player’s name might ordinarily go, he’s placed Xanax, or Adderall, or Vicodin.  You can go here to see what these shirts look like and to get a sense of the reaction of the pharmaceutical companies that produced these drugs:
     You can go here to see what the The Partnership at Drugfree has to say:
     I wrote to Kitson today.  Here’s what I had to say:

“You fools don't get it. Promising copies of Kristen Johnston's brave book, "Guts", for free with a purchase of your obscene drug jerseys is hideous. While you're at it, make one for heroin and put the number 24 on it. That's how old my son was when he died from an overdose. Of course, no one knows who my son is. Who would want a William Williams jersey, right? So maybe you could make your heroin jersey number 31. That's how old Cory Monteith was when he died. That's probably a better marketing strategy. You'll make more money. A word of advice. Don't use up all the low numbers. Some family member of someone in your company will die from abuse of the very drugs you profit from. You'll surely want a memorial jersey with their drug and number on it. Maybe something like Vicodin 19.”

     So I’m crabby today.  Why?  Because I live in a country where people afflicted with the Duning-Kruger effect can take money from pharmaceutical companies to overlook the damage prescriptions drugs are doing to our nation, while people afflicted with the Kitson-Lichtenberg effect can make a joke about drug abuse and line their pockets. 
     How about some of that money going to The Partnership at Drugfree?  Anybody want to buy a jersey that says Will 24?  We’ll put the proceeds in the Where There’s A Will Fund:  Maybe my friend is wrong.  Maybe it’s time to fix stupid. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Letter to the Editor

The August 21st New York Times had the following article about naloxone, a drug that can help save the lives of those who overdose on drugs.  The title of the piece was, An Effort to Expand Access to a Drug That Could Save Victims of Overdoses.  The complete article can be found here:  Please give it your attention.  Then consider the reaction my wife, Margot, and I had.  We wrote a Letter to the Editor in response to the article.  Unfortunately, it did not get published in the Times.  Nonetheless, here is what we wrote.

“Our son, William, was a heroin addict who was saved on a number of occasions by the swift work of emergency responders in Manhattan using naloxone.  Unfortunately, an accidental overdose at home led to a six-week hospitalization before he eventually succumbed to a vegetative state.  Had we, his family, had appropriate training in the administration of naloxone, with the drug available in our home, he might still be alive today.  We’ll never know.  Paul A. Werfel worries about addicts becoming combative after being administered naloxone.  A combative addict beats a dead addict in our book every time.  It’s time for those who live with and deal with addiction on a daily basis to be combative about the lifesaving potential of the drug.  Combative enough to speed up the pace of public health protection against the plague of addiction.” 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On Point with Tom Ashbrook – NPR

From On Point with Tom Ashbrook – NPR
Dr. Josiah Rich:
“The CDC just put out a notice that for something like the 15th year in a row the overdose death rates have increased. We’re experiencing a tremendous public health disaster – the likes of which we haven’t seen since the early AIDS epidemic or the AIDS epidemic itself here in the US, and also around the globe. The disease is opiates addiction. You know those receptors: they don’t care if it’s heroin or morphine or oxy.”
The entire show can be found here:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bill Williams On Prescription Addiction Radio

My June 18th guest spot on the Prescription Addiction Radio show can be accessed as follows:  Go to     That is the station's website.  Then go to podcast page on menu and look for Prescription Addiction Radio.  Download the 6/18 show.  I'm on in the first 30 minutes.  Thanks for your interest.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Coda - Looking Ahead

For the past six weeks I have been taking an online course:  A Crash Course on Creativity.  It is offered via Stanford University and is taught by a remarkable lady, Tina Seelig.  You should Google her or find some of her lectures on the Stanford website. Try here:
This week our final assignment included a course summary.  I had 22,000 classmates from around the world. Seeing their work, the potential for innovation and change is huge.  The bad news is there are relatively very few people my age taking this course.  The good news is that a huge proportion of those taking the course are under thirty. Below is the coda I wrote for my summary.

Coda – Looking Ahead

In early December of 2012, almost exactly six months to the day as I write, our son and brother, William, died of an accidental heroin overdose.  At his memorial service, our family made a pledge to William.  We promise to do everything in our power to educate and inform people about drug abuse and its prevention, to provide ever more enlightened treatment for addicts, to help make treatment options for addicts more readily available, and to remove the stain of shame surrounding this disease.”  That is where I hope to devote the time and energy to apply what I’ve taken from this course.  It is work that requires the mindset of an innovator.  There are assumptions to be challenged, problems to be reframed, and patient observation always.  It is about taking the chewed gum and dog shit of my life and turning it into something beautiful and meaningful.  The task is ahead of me.  I’ve new tools to use.   

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Purple Unicorns

I began my day today as I often do with the important stuff, the sports section of the New York Times. Then, true to form, I moved on to the Op-Ed section.  There I came across what looked like important advice from Thomas L. Friedman in a column entitled How to get A Job.  He describes HireArt, a start-up designed to bridge the divide between job-seekers and job creators.  Perfect.  I’ve been doing my part to keep the percentage of unemployed up there for some time now. A bridge would be nice.
The problem, as I understand it via Mr. Friedman, is that job-seekers apply indiscriminately – “they apply to as many as 500 jobs in four or five months without doing any research.”  Companies, on the other hand “are all looking for purple unicorns:  the perfect match.  They don’t want to train you and they want you to be overqualified.” 

This may explain why I have enough time on my hands to write this morning.  But I need HireArt to solve a different problem. I don’t mass mail resumes.  I actually think about whether the jobs I apply for make sense for me and whoever is doing the hiring.  Probably two years ago, or more, I discovered (just how I cannot recall) that the College Board was looking for someone to work for them in arts education.  “Well now,” thought I.  “It’s about time. Here am I, a veteran educator with an arts background, including many years at a school that packs students off to all the best colleges. What an interesting and potentially profitable match for both sides.”  Being somewhat old fashioned, I tried to discover someone at the Board I might talk with. Despite employing my best “Who do you know at the College Board?” connections, I learned that the Board processes all resumes through its particular “Resume Reader”.  There seems to be a kind of firewall to avoid human contact early in the process.  Essentially, a computer (perhaps one on down time while it’s not scanning SAT’s) searches, or asks you to enter, key phrases from your resume. It adapts your resume to its particular format.  Then it “keeps you in mind” and sends out announcements every so often of available jobs at the College Board. Where humans with common sense enter the process, I do not know.  I think there are humans at the College Board, because the computer keeps telling me about promising matches for jobs which I presume real people do.  I never heard another word about that job in arts education, from either computer or human.  Maybe the poor computer gets flummoxed from sorting through the flood of resumes. 

Theater teacher/director, freelance writer, teacher of public speaking that I am, here are some of the announcements I’ve received lately:  E Mail producer; Support Center Analyst; Director, Online Instructional Design & Development; Photo Editor; Senior Director – Division Planning & HR Liaison;  Executive Director, Teacher Product Support Services; Senior Director/Executive Director – Marketing Strategy – Assessment Products;Director Mathematics Curriculum Development

Now, I fancy myself as a fairly well rounded, liberally educated person.  But, for the life of me, I cannot fathom how in its search for purple unicorns the College Board’s computer passed me over when my credentials as an arts educator were valid, if indeed possibly even compelling.  Since then I’ve received a flood of College Board openings, each more fantastic than the last when it comes to my skill set. These offerings make a purple unicorn seem absolutely pedestrian by comparison.  The set of jobs announcements above arrived in just the last month.

Maybe I should contact HireArt and let them know that sometimes it’s the company that floods the market with announcements, while a purple unicorn stands in full view and wonders why it’s not being seen.  Maybe HireArt has a job for me.  The art in my resume matches Art in their company name. It’s worth a try.  Gotta go.  There may be another 500 or so unemployed theater teachers with the same idea. I need to be at the head of the line. Unless, just by chance, anybody know anyone at HireArt?   

Monday, May 6, 2013

Calling All Problem Solvers

Okay Friends: I need your help to solve this problem for an online course in creativity. Give me your suggestions here OR e-mail me at; Here's the problem. Put on your thinking caps and help me solve this problem. 

Create as much "value" as possible, with value measured in any way you like, starting with chewing gum.

You can use any type of gum you like, as little or much as you like, and measure value in any way you want.

Use this as an opportunity to "reframe" chewing gum... What is the most interesting, valuable, and creative thing you can do with it?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Faculty Meetings

I’ve been reading two books lately, Brain Rules – 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, by John Medina and inGenius - A Crash Course On Creativity by Tina Seeling.  I recommend them both.  Oddly enough, they’ve gotten me thinking about faculty meetings. Not, lest you jump to conclusions, as hotspots of creativity.  As a veteran teacher, I’ve sat through more of them than I care to count.  Mostly at one school, but not entirely. A few thoughts come to mind.  The first is that faculty meetings seem to be structured and run the way many classrooms are. The organization and the presentation are about as original as what goes on hour after hour, day after day, in many, many schools.  The “sage on the stage” is the principal, division head, or whatever other titled person is leading the event.  The faculty is arranged in orderly rows.  The leader is the adult/teacher, the faculty is the youth/students.  Everyone slides neatly into his or her role.  The faculty is talked at, given all the “vital” information, anecdotes, and instruction they require. In short (or long), a lecture. Question and answer, or “discussion” follows, linearly, hands rising for recognition like needy fifth graders. Everyone plays their role:  class clowns clown, good students ask for a review of the facts, head nodders nod, people with off the wall ideas get looks of scorn, emoters emote, note takes take notes, note passers pass notes, the devil’s advocates advocate, the peacemakers pacify, some whisperers pretend engagement, the tired strain to stay awake or nod off, poor listeners ask questions that have already been asked, and everyone sighs deeply when the long-winded drone on.  Eyes are on the clock. For years I have been at a loss for words as to how so many smart people can convene at a meeting and collectively become so dumb.  Little, if anything is changed, except by administrative fiat. Herewith, a stab at wrestling with this conundrum, inspired afresh by Medina and Seeling. I claim no particular originality.  These thoughts have to have occurred to many of my colleagues sitting in a meeting at one time or another – when they were supposed to be paying attention!

Medina’s first chapter is titled “Exercise”.  What if people were encouraged to move around a bit, before, during or after meetings?  Watch the leaders at the front of the room.  They get to stand, roam, gesture, and move about as they see fit to help deliver their message.  The people who need the oxygen to help stimulate their attention and thinking, are asked, even required, to sit still.  As noted above, faculty meetings are much like classrooms. How much time do faculty get, or are encouraged to take to exercise during a meeting?  During the day?  Assuming, of course, they are permitted to leave the building. What if a meeting began with five minutes of dancing?  Simple yoga?  A chance to just stretch and breathe?   

Medina rightly points out we don’t pay attention to boring things.  “Before the first quarter-hour is over in a typical presentation, people usually have checked out.”  I can’t remember how many years ago I checked out on topics like dress code, gum chewing, attendance taking. Vital pedagogical issues, to be sure, but too much information on these or any issue leads a brain straight to the check out counter.
I’m NO fan of PowerPoint presentations, especially those that are simply cue cards for a speaker.   That said, a few pictures might save time and get a message across.  Got a dress code? A few pictures of violators might illustrate the point quickly.  A couple of shots of gum under desks, squashed into rugs, tacked on a wall, might be a more forceful reminder to address that issue. It could even become a community response by asking students to generate a dozen or so gross shots of “gum pollution” to share with faculty.  A public service project for a photography class perhaps. Use music, use food, use a prize – some hook to help presenters to make their point (if they must) short and to the point, and then move on. In a not so subtle way I’m encouraging leaders here to consider TEACHING, not as a task their underlings do, but as something they can do to model for those they collaborate (?) with. Including recognizing that we learn with more than just our ears and putting that knowledge into practice.
When do faculty meetings occur?  At the end of the school day when Medina describes what he calls “the nap zone”? Not just a cute name, but a time identified by sleep research.  Medina couldn’t be more explicit when he says, “If you are a public speaker, you already know it is darn near fatal to give a talk in the midafternoon.”  Or perhaps your school schedules meetings before the regular school day, bringing grumpy, underslept faculty to the gathering, before they head off to encounter grumpy, underslept adolescents.  Sleep, healthy sleep, especially for adolescents, is an issue worth discussing at...a faculty meeting? Now there’s a dilemma worth tackling.  When do you schedule the sleep issue meeting?

It’s also worth asking how stress intersects with faculty lives.  Medina suggests that individually, the worst kind of stress is the feeling that you have no control over a problem – you are helpless. I refer back to my point at the beginning.  Classrooms and faculty meetings can be indistinguishable.  Especially in the current testing environment where teachers and students are being asked, no forced, to teach, learn, and regurgitate on terms dictated by others, up to and including our president.  It’s worth questioning whether a meeting will add or reduce the stress in any teacher’s life. Or any student’s life?  How can a meeting add to rather than reduce a teacher’s sense of professionalism?

I fell asleep recently (in my own bed, not at a faculty meeting) musing on a suggestion of Tina Seelig’s, “ask questions that start with ‘why’”.  Children do this all the time.  How many times did my children ask me, “Why?”  Why is this meeting necessary?  Why is it necessary to present information in this way?  Why now?  Why will this meeting make school life better?  The point of asking why, of “reframing” as Seelig calls it is because, “’why’ questions provide an incredibly useful tool for expanding the landscape of solutions for a problem.  Of course, this presumes that the point of a meeting is indeed to engage a faculty in solving problems, finding solutions, creating new ideas.  Just like they do in their classrooms. Or not.               

Thursday, April 25, 2013

From Sprout To Gardener

I was lucky enough to stumble upon A Crash Course on Creativity taught by Tina Seeling at Stanford University.  I've read and seen some of her work before, but a fortuitous glance at Twitter told me about the course and I enrolled.  Lucky me.  First assignment for me and my 17,000 or so classmates: "...create and share the cover of your autobiography, including the image, title, subtitle, and a 200 word bio." I set about it like an anxious schoolboy.  Had to get some help with design on the computer from the very talented Thomas Holton.  I knew what I wanted but not how to execute it.  Then I got to witness yet again what working with a real professional is like working with a dexterity I can only dream of.  

Here is what I wrote, my 200 words:  In the most basic way, I make my living as a storyteller.  I delight in being told, dreaming about, reshaping and retelling the tales that make our culture; tales that outlive their tellers.  I spend much of my time with theater students learning to decode, compose, illuminate and narrate these tales.  My great good fortune is in getting to play alongside those I teach.   I’ve repeated the exercise of putting together a play many, many times.  In many places.  It never ceases to delight me. 

I am happiest in the rehearsal hall and in my upstate New York garden.  Both allow me the chance to meditate, to dream, to ponder, to contemplate life, to form it into a more satisfactory vision.  My life has not gone by without ample opportunity to ponder.  Life has posed challenges to health and happiness, to the head and to the heart.  The theater and the garden are sanctuaries where I repair to take up against the world.

A high school history teacher taught me the price the gods demand at the Gates of Excellence is sweat.  The garden, the rehearsal room and the classroom are where I pay my dues.
And here is the cover of my autobiography:


Pax William

When our son, William, died in early December 2012, my good friend, Barry Walsh, spoke at William’s memorial service.  Here’s part of what he said:
“ You know those Googlemap videos when the shot starts with the entire planet and zooms into a town, a street, a specific house? Imagine it in reverse, with it going from William to humans in New York, to the entire state, to the country, and then expanded to the entire globe.
“And beyond that to those in this generation, and then to those over the past thousand years, and even on to our entire 200,000 years as humans on the earth.
“In the big picture - the lifespan of all those humans: some are stillborn, some live to age 5 or 24 or 75 or 113. In the big picture those ages aren’t so different. 5, 24, 75, 113. Some burn on and on until the lightning flash of the verb to be is extinguished after 100 or so. And some die at the mere age of 24. Some are stable stars in the pantheon; others are shooting stars that burn bright and flame out early.
“Burn on, William. Many will carry your torch. Many will strive to challenge addiction in all its pathetic, sad, furious, twisted, noble, fierce yearnings. Some good will come of this; it will be found and seized and planted.
“Good bye as your father calls you, “beautiful boy.”

Pax William, I mean it.”


This short video, Powers of Ten, is an example of what Barry talked about.  I encountered it while taking Tina Seelig’s Crash Course in Creativity.  Somehow the video and the course give me hope about William's continuing to “burn on”.