Monthly Archives: April 2009

Randy Ford Author- More drama in the dungeon

      Sometimes Ted would take other people down into the dungeons with him.   It often offered him a fresh point of view, and it worked well for him.   It almost became a ritual.   When he went down there one Saturday afternoon between the matinee and the evening performance, he found a nun down there, donned in a habit of white.   She was a small bright-eyed woman.   For some reason…perhaps because she had wandered off from a group touring the shrine…she was down there alone.   With Ted, and his outgoing personality, he was as friendly as always, but then his inquisitive nature got the better of him.   After briefly introducing himself, Ted reached out and touched her.   She was about to leave; it seemed as if the only way he could stop her was by touching her.   He went on from there in a delicate way, knowing that touching a nun was wrong; but she could see the tears in his eyes.   He wore shorts; he always changed into shorts for his work behind the scenes.   He stood a little too close to her for comfort, and with the low rounded ceiling, good god (help him God), claustrophobia.   (Let him out of there!)   It could also get oppressive.   (No longer dank or stank, thank goodness, but oppressive.)   She wasn’t upset with Ted, when she could’ve so easily been.  She just looked at him.

      Susan and he talked afterwards about it.   Susan said, “You reached out to a nun.   That was very significant for you.   I’m serious.   You almost certainly wanted her to recognize you and that you belonged down there.   We held prisoners down there.   The nun would’ve known that.   The rich American returned for a nostalgic tour.   She probably thought you were a tourist.”

      He accepted Susan’s explanation for what it was worth.   But his encounter with the nun had greater significance for him than he could explain.   Referring to the nun, he said, “You’d think she would’ve reacted.”   Who could help him out?

      He began to play with his emotions.   From playing came images or pictures, pictures and images that stayed with him.   They were all his own; and he couldn’t share them yet with anyone.   And as the weeks went by, and his ideas for a drama in the dungeons began to take shape, he began to find his way through his own shit.

      His speech was too big to ignore.   The President may have wanted the people with microphones and loudspeakers to go home, but they hadn’t come to listen to him.   There were, according to conservative estimates, 50,000 of them, and many of them were dying of boredom.   They had gathered that afternoon in front of Congress supposedly to hear the President deliver The State of the Nation Address.   Militants succeeded in disrupting the speech by chanting and waving placards and throwing anything they could get their hands on.   Crumpled balls of paper and paper airplanes, pebbles, placards, bottles and rocks, all became missiles.   A cardboard coffin representing the death of democracy; a cardboard crocodile, painted green, symbolizing greedy congressmen; a burning effigy of Ferdinand Marcos: Ted could imagine it all (though, not wanting to get involved, he was not far from there finding solace and solitude in the dungeons of Fort Santiago).   The first scuffle was brief; first the struggle over the mikes and the rowdy irreverence; then the chanting and shouting against fascists and imperialists, the rants against America and Marcos; with the cops charging and clubbing; and the militants spoiling for a fight, throwing rocks and bottles at the cops, and both sides suffering causalities.   Mayhem and bloodshed, the makeover of a country; but the drama Ted had in mind for the dungeons had to, in some way, directly involve Americans, turn the cards on them by imprisoning them in the hole or the cells, as he had been with the nun.   He had come that far.

Randy Ford

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Deborah Ellis, THE BREADWINNER, Youth Literature

      THE BREADWINNER, by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood Books, 2002)

      Set in Afghanistan in the mid 1990’s, much of the story takes place in the small apartment where a young girl named Parvana lives with her family, and in the marketplace where her father markets his skills as a reader and scribe.  Through Parvana’s experiences, the impact of Taliban rule on everyday life is conveyed, as is the ability of the human spirit to confront and conquer adversity.  See also the sequel PARVANA’S jOURNEY.  (Middle School and up)

      The Middle East Outreach Council established the Middle East Book Award in 1999 to recognize books for children and young adults that contribute meaning-fully to an understanding of the Middle East.  Books are judged on the authenticity of their portrayal of the Middle Eastern subject, as well as on their characterization, plot, and appeal for the inteneded audience.  Awards are announced in Novemenber for books published during the period from January of the previous year through September of the current year.  For the purposes of this award, “The Middle East” is defined as the Arab World, Iran, Isreal, Turkey, and Afghanistan.


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Randy Ford Author- a grande dame of the Philippine Theater and the dumb-ass Texan

      Sonja was a medium-size dynamo with her dark hair kept at medium-length.   She spoke perfect English; she grew up with English in the home.   The attractive woman attracted people to her.   She showed promise as a thespian at a very early age.   Everyone in Manila who heard of her thought that she was special and knew that nothing would stop her from gaining whatever she desired.   Sonja, who was raised by a single mother, won scholarships and went to the best parochial schools.   One Catholic priest spotted her from the outset and mentored her even before college.   It was the beginning of the girl’s drama career, the beginning of her passion for native variety shows, the beginning of her love for Philippine dance and music; she started out as an actress. No one pushed himself or herself harder, and that she would continue her studies abroad seemed likely.

      In Texas, around then, Ted began to go to musicals: it was something he got hooked on after seeing his first one.   Ted and Sonja could relate to each other in a way because they ended up at the same graduate school and attended the same classes, deep in the heart of Texas, she as a foreign student from the Philippines, he as a dumb-ass Texan.   Ted didn’t know her very well, though he knew her work; that was kind of the way he was then; he mainly concentrated on his own stuff.   And Ted never thought that they would ever meet again.   He looked forward to a very successful career, in professional theater, somewhere in the States, preferably in New York, while Sonja planned to start her own theater once she got back to Manila.

      Her mother was your genuine aristocratic matron.   She had a strong constitution, and was said to have survived the siege of Manila and escaped Intramuros in time to avoid being raped, but no one knew how true that was.   She was starved, and lost her husband when the Japanese shot him… only she knew how that happened, and she would never say…and, after the war when she was raising Sonja, she avoided entanglements with men, which enabled her to give herself up to her daughter.   She went through life carrying herself with the greatest of ease.   She knew who she was and what life demanded of her, and she rarely complained.   It was impossible to fault her for her few quirks only because they were so few.   But the fact was she clung to Sonja, if not out of necessity, then out of fear of losing her.   Over her daughter, she was lost with “wonder.”   Her daughter also worshiped her.   When Sonja went to Texas, her mother started out calling her two or three times a week.   No one had ever told her that Sonja could make it on her own and it came as shock when her daughter told her one day, “I know calling me all the time gets expensive.”   The implication was absolutely clear, and it did so shock her mother that she began limiting her calls.   Sonja also might’ve said, for instance, “I’m off to New York next week.”   And her mother would’ve had to bite her tongue, and in so doing, reply, “Hope you have a good time.   Be sure to see Neil Simon while you’re there.”   She would say no more, and offer no more advice; and she would never bring up that trip to New York or Neil Simon.   And never, not once …mentioned here simply as an observation…did she tell Sonja that she missed her.   Instead, she would ask her something impersonal about the theater.   Sonja, at the same time, would make it clear that she loved her mother, while stressing that she could live and make it on her own.   She felt that her mother had been her greatest asset, while her mother’s possessiveness seemed tyrannical.   Yes, tyrannical, but she couldn’t say anything.   She could only hint and hope her mother would pick up on it.   Back in Manila, she would have to get someone to confront her for her or avoid her mother.   Avoiding her was easy because Sonja was so, so busy, as she dove immediately into her project.   She had exclusive use of the theater she created at Fort Santiago; and those early productions, with all the spit and polish they could muster, helped her earn her reputation as a grande dame of the Philippine Theater.

      Ted and she would also have their run-ins.   And, since the run-ins were never hostile or aimed at each other, they were always polite, so could you really call them run-ins?   As a foreign guest, Ted would’ve been clueless; and if he hadn’t been (clueless), he probably would’ve walked off the set.

      The “debate” between the two of them started when Ted shared his production ideas for the dungeons.   It would become protracted over a period of several weeks.   So it was comparatively short; it could’ve gone on much longer, way longer than either one of them could’ve stood.   It started with Sonja questioning Ted’s motives; and she wondered why an American would’ve been so against America (and not only anti-whatever but pro-sedition).   All of that had become unsettling to her, which, when you think about it, was perfectly understandable.   She had to think about the consequences of offending Emelda.   Though she didn’t think anyone would dare trample on her rights as a citizen, particularly the one called Freedom of Expression: not Emelda, not Emelda’s husband, though Sonja knew in her heart that the president sometimes broke the law.   So the “discussion” between Ted and Sonja seemed to go on forever.

Randy Ford

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Daniella Carmi- SAMIR AND YONATAN, Youth Literature

      SAMIR AND YONATAN, by Daniella Carmi (Scholastic, 2000 (English adition).  Translated from Hebrew, this story is told in the first-person by Samir, a Palestinian boy who finds himself awaiting surgery in an Isreli hospital.  The relationships that develop between Samir and some of the Israeli children in the ward testify to the possibilities for individuals to transcend the violence around them and make peace.  (High School)

       The Middle East Outreach Council established the Middle East Book Award in 1999 to recognize books for children and young adults that contribute meaning-fully to an understanding of the Middle East.  Books are judged on the authenticity of their portrayal of the Middle Eastern subject, as well as on their characterization, plot, and appeal for the inteneded audience.  Awards are announced in Novemenber for books published during the period from January of the previous year through September of the current year.  For the purposes of this award, “The Middle East” is defined as the Arab World, Iran, Isreal, Turkey, and Afghanistan.

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Cherokee Sky- DIRTY LAUNDRY, a poem

      Cherokee Sky


Eternity seeks screaming why,
Six decades transitionally fly.

Dirty laundry, family and friend,
Tarnished innocence never to mend.

Unspeakable hushes from who cherish,
Hush little girl or you may parish.

Dirty laundry hidden by vanity,
Buried in peace lies with my sanity.

Unspeakable silence behind crying eyes,
All exists, all has been, and truth now flies.

Dirty laundry upon soul sets heavy,
Tears held back could burst any levy.

Unspeakable once spoken, can they not see,
My heart, my soul, oh so broken I must flee.

Eternity seeks still screaming why,
Six decades, Angels to transitionally fly.
       I was born into the time zone where we were told, hush, we don’t air our dirty laundry in public.  Child abuse of any kind was treated much like someone with epilepsy.  It was hushed, hidden away, no one was allowed to tell.   Why wouldn’t they believe a child who never lied.  Fathers can abuse the innocents of their charges.    Innocent ones have Angels watching over, carrying them through.   I write from within, life can have many road blocks.  If one gets knocked down or trips and falls, it is we who the Angels teach to fly.
      Cherokee Sky

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Randy Ford Author-Social realism, and look who’s playing Virgin Mary

      Susan’s teachers…or the people she worked with every day…tuned in for her debut on national television.   Through most of the drama she portrayed a statue, and she couldn’t twitch or scratch an itch.   What if she itched?   She couldn’t do or say anything.   She only came alive at the very end, and if they had given her lines, she wouldn’t have taken the part.  During the rehearsal, she had to also sit.

      The rehearsal and performance took most of a day; and the number one rule of a live performance was that you had to live with your mistakes, so you tried like hell to avoid them.   An hour’s show, with three breaks for live commercials, was timed to the second; that meant material had to be trimmed or expanded accordingly.   They lived and died by the clock.   Susan would’ve  die if she had to scratch.   Mr. Araya showed up at the studio ahead of time; Ted almost didn’t make it.   All the teachers after that could say that they had seen Susan on television and that she was the most beautiful Virgin Mary ever.   Ted and Mr. Araya wouldn’t/couldn’t disagree.

      Susan saw this experience as exciting and scary.   It was like the first time she flew in a plane, a relatively short flight to San Francisco (a stopover before a much longer flight to Hawaii and then an even longer one to Manila).   The flights were pleasant enough for her once she got in the air.   From within the pressurized bubble of the cabin the risk of flying seemed minimal, proving to Susan’s that her worse fears were an exaggeration, and it took her several hours to also relax in front of the camera.

     Sometimes Susan only wanted to be taken care of…taken care of and feel safe, so different from her experience in Manila.   Her nervousness, therefore, was understandable.   But she didn’t want to show it.   She didn’t want any questions raised about being unable to handle her job.   And it wasn’t her job as such that stressed her the most; more than anything else she worried about Ted and his situation at the university; the little she knew scared her to death.   And very quickly, she had to shield herself.   After a while…after school…she began to show up at Fort Santiago…and this helped her in a way…because now she knew more of what was going on, and that the theater at the ruins was in no way connected with the university.   They were so, so busy there, too, too busy, to mess with that stuff.

      It was with this in mind that she often met her husband at the gate of the fort with their dinner.   It was always nice to experience the Luneta in the early evening as the sun went down over Manila Bay; but they usually had to scarf their meal.   In that way Susan was able to manage her fears or half forget them, but back at home with no Ted she would have to cry.   She had never been enamored with the theater.   She knew the woes of a theater widow well.   She knew that there was nothing she could say that would change a thing.   There was nothing she could do about it.   To have him home for a whole evening, or to have him come home before midnight, would’ve seemed like a victory.

      These demonstrations and/or riots, which by then occurred almost daily, distressed her.   She never saw one first hand, and she only heard bits and pieces.   Ted being out there scared her.   The news scared her.   It all scared her.   What she heard sounded terrible, terrible for everyone, with all sides losing out.

      Ted, on the other hand, was jazzed by it all.   He was also running as fast as he could and felt as if he could outdistance almost anyone.   Something inside him also said he had to be full of ideas.   He was never sure where a particular idea would lead him, whether it was going here or going there, but regardless he had to get it out there.   So he approached Sonja and approached her not with one idea, but with half a dozen.   Here are a couple of them.

      Why not take something out the past that would be relevant today?   Why not raise the Katipunan flag once again?   Yes, the one with a black letter k.   And a red background for blood.   Then show the brutality of the American and the goodness of the Filipino.   What it will really boils down to is lighting a fire.   The tinder is ready, and the fuel has been growing for generations.     

      The play begins in the dungeons…the very dungeons that were used at the time (in which we place a cast of Filipino prisoners, held without trials by the Americans).   That gives the play relevance.   Call it social realism.   People understand chaos and resistance, so we hardly need to emphasize it.   But for the last hundred years or so there has been constant struggle; and time after time these dungeons were put to use.   This time, after being throw scraps to sustain their lives, the prisoners are left on their own, to live or die, to lose or gain ground.   That’s it.   Where the play begins and ends, in the dungeons

So what do you think?

Randy Ford

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Elizabeth Laird- A LITTLE PIECE OF GROUND, Youth Literature

      A LITTLE PIECE OF GROUND by Elizabeth Laird (Haymarket Books, 2006; originally published in England by Macmillian UK in 2003).  A LITTLE PIECE OF GROUND focuses on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and hopes of easier times ahead through the eyes of a twelve-year-old Palestinian boy in Ramaliah.  Plot elements such as Karim’s aspirations, sibling rivalry, and efforts at maintaining friendships transcend the conflict and physical setting.  Elizabeth Lair, with assistance from Palestinian author Sonia Nimr, also show Karim’s and his friends’ frustrations and fears as they manage daily life with curfews, unpredictability in access to schools, and challenges in finding a place to play soccer.  The strength of family, relationships among various groups of Palestinians, and encounters with Israelis are presented with complexity and in ways that will cause readers to think about the violence in the comflict and the responses of those affected by it.  (Middle School)

      The Middle East Outreach Council established the Middle East Book Award in 1999 to recognize books for children and young adults that contribute meaning-fully to an understanding of the Middle East.  Books are judged on the authenticity of their portrayal of the Middle Eastern subject, as well as on their characterization, plot, and appeal for the inteneded audience.  Awards are announced in Novemenber for books published during the period from January of the previous year through September of the current year.  For the purposes of this award, “The Middle East” is defined as the Arab World, Iran, Isreal, Turkey, and Afghanistan.


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