Okay. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of ‘neat freak.’ As a parent, I’m usually the one who moans at the kids: “Hang up your jacket.” Or, I might intone sarcastically: “Really?” pause for emphasis: “Does that empty biscuit wrapper belong on the counter?” Or finally, the classic: “Don’t go to the kitchen empty-handed!”
In fact, I knowingly ‘waste’ hours of my time tidying my office as the prelude to starting a new project. My desk and its environs need to be ordered before I can begin. I pay off lingering bills, file wayward receipts that have been spilling from my in-tray for weeks and, wipe down surfaces speckled with dust and pet hair. Finally, after what may have been hours of seeming procrastination, I’m ready to settle into the real task at hand — whatever that may be.
My wife is the opposite. Her powers of concentration cow me. With a deadline looming, she’ll sit down at the kitchen table, push a pile of bags, books and plates aside to create a small island for the laptop to land on and start right in. Hours later she will have produced an immaculate and well-crafted document amid total familial chaos.
I am far too flighty for such feats of focus. The mere thought of clothes lying dried and crumpling in a dryer pulls me from my intellectual labours.
And so, when I first walked into The Dragon in September, I felt a little unsure about what to expect. Within in seconds, two students greeted me as they carried enormous plates of cookies to the front desk. They’d spent the last day of summer holiday baking hundreds of sweet welcomes for their teachers and peers. The desk itself seemed as though it might belong in an accounting cubical of an insurance company rather than greeting newcomers in the entrance of a school. Wires trailed beneath it, paper lay in a haphazard array across its keyboard and surface. One of the students pushed the debris assertively to one side and placed put a mound of cookies along one edge.
I sat on a wooden bench just by the front door. Beside me a new student quivered with tears. His shyness brimmed over so that his desire to disappear unconsciously filled the hall with a silent tension. As Dragons filtered in, laughter and chaos echoed throughout the first floor. Students gathered in groups and singly, chatting about vacation trips and Pokémon Go. A din grew. Quick and hungry hands denuded the plates of cookies.
Three different Dragons approached the weeping new boy beside me. They independently introduced themselves and invited him to join their cluster of friends. One even offered to just sit silently with the newcomer in empathy. Their efforts and compassion really struck me.
Eventually, the head, Dr. Fox, appeared. She stood in the middle of the foyer shouting for attention and quiet. Teenagers called out to her, interjecting comments amid her welcome to the new academic year. Interruptions cascaded from the upperclassmen perched on the staircase above her. Her speech sputtered and then gradually calmed the boisterous mood. Finally, she dismissed the Dragons to class.
Laughter and stomping feet died away and I was left alone to contemplate the crumb-ridden floor, untidy desk and handful of haphazard chairs.
The halls of my childhood school stand immaculate in memory. But even as I recall their seeming order, they evoke an unease of oppression and boredom.
Within weeks, my new Dragon exuded a love and pride in the school. He quietly harbours a slight neat freak sensibility which he gets from me, but he overlooks the mild disorder of the place because he senses a deeper imperative which structures his interactions and courses.
He stabbed at his chicken at dinner two nights ago, “You know, I’m really going to miss the teachers who are leaving.” He waved a piece of dark meat ungainly in the air with his fork, “No really, I am.” He paused. “The Dragon is not like other schools.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. It’s just different.”
“But you’ve had other teachers leave.” I add, “And, you’ve even left other schools.”
“Yeah, but at those schools I just kinda socialized . . . . at Dragon . . . . “ He searched for words, “I don’t know. . . It’s different.” He chewed thoughtfully and then glanced up through a mop of hair tossed on his forehead and hanging in front of his eyes. “I know what it is!” His left eyebrow arched victoriously and the fork swung back into the air, “It’s a community. It’s a social and an intellectual community.” And as he beamed with certainty, he added, “And so all the people just matter more.
“Yup,” he mumblingly reasserted, “It’s a community.”
As he said this, my mind’s eye drifted to a vision of Dr. Fox’s office – located at the core of the Dragon building: right in the middle of the second floor – a comforting space that seems incongruously to be both her personal sanctuary and the hub of the school.
The Dragon’s floors are not always swept and its furniture lined up assiduously with architectural geometry but it exudes a quiet harmony that my boy has tapped into . . . a quiet but persistent humanist doctrine orders its tutelage, rooms and ethos. And even I will try to settle myself amid its benevolent chaos and absorb its learned devotions. Entropy, after all, orders the universe.
Tuesday Nov 29th The Dragon Academy will be welcoming Kristopher Magnuson to lead a music workshop.
Kristopher Magnuson is a composer from Cleveland, Ohio. In addition to his works for the Cleveland Contemporary Players Series and Cleveland Composers Recording Institute, he has completed works for the Genkin Philharmonic at SUNY Buffalo, guitarist Rob MacDonald, and multiple works for the Cleveland Ingenuity Festival. Since beginning flamenco guitar studies with Ricardo Marlow, one of the most prominent American-born flamenco guitarist of his generation, Spanish idioms have become a frequent focal point in his works. Mr. Magnuson’s “Palos for String Quartet,” based on flamenco song forms, was the 2014 winner of the University of Toronto String Quartet Composition Competition, and received its world premiere with the Cecilia Quartet at the 2015 University of Toronto New Music Festival. Mr. Magnuson holds a Master of Music degree from Cleveland State University, where he studied with Andrew Rindfleisch and Greg D’Alessio, and was the recipient of the Bain Murray Award for Excellence in Composition. He was recently commissioned to compose a work for the Eastman BroadBand chamber ensemble at the 2016 Soundscape Festival in Maccagno, Italy. He is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music where he studies with Gary Kulesha, Christos Hatzis, and Norbert Palej, and will serve as Composer in Residence of the University of Toronto Guitar Ensemble in 2016-17.
You’ll want to save the date, Wednesday December 7th from 6:00 to 8:00 at The Dragon Academy. This Open House focusses on our arts integration, with special guest Dr. Kristopher Magnuson, who is working with us on a reboot of our music program. See the attached poster for details. Parents, students, family are all welcome.
We’d like to share this moving Remembrance Day post from the father of a Dragon grad.
On this day of Remembrance, and during a week that is deeply upsetting to many, I want to tell a story. The picture attached is in Amsterdam, on the Nieuwmarkt, in front the Waag (a medieval gate and weigh-house) – this area was also the Jewish Ghetto and this fence is that border during WW2. I lived a few dozen metres from this area on the Geldersekade and my local grocery store would be located just to left side of this picture. In the summer of 2002 I had made a huge life decision to move back to Toronto, as it made no sense to move Alex to live with me in Amsterdam. Admittedly I was gutted at the thought of leaving a city and friends I’d come to love so dearly. A city and people who had profoundly changed this Canadian boy – alone in a new world. I had been reading the history of Amsterdam by Geert Mak and I had just read about how the Jews were separated from their families – at this very spot – and sent to their demise. It was deeply, deeply moving and heartbreaking, haunting me when I walked there daily and thought about what had happened.
So on a late September afternoon, I had just begun packing and planning and yes, I was excited to be home again in Canada, and especially back with Alex, but I was hurting. I had become so much of who I had needed to be in this amazing city, and it agonized me to think of leaving my friends – all of whom I love and cherish to this day. It was a stunningly warm fall day, the streets alive with bikes and cars and folks in busy Amsterdam. If I remember correctly there was a market that day on the Nieuwmarkt.
I was sad, deeply anxious about the move, stressed about the details and of course, what the future would hold. As I left the Albert Hein (grocery store) I crossed the very cobblestones in this picture on the far left, and walked over the line where this fence once stood. Uncannily I only recently found this picture, and never knew at the time a fence had stood there. It was pretty much just past this long-gone fence line that I stopped dead in my tracks, surrounded by so much bustle, and burst into tears. I had one of the most profound epiphanies of my life.
I cried alone, my arms straight down holding my groceries, rooted to the spot. I realized in a flash that I had chosen to go home. I had made a choice to be with my son, be with my family and as heartbreaking at it was to leave, I had a CHOICE. I realized in a split second that families had once been ripped apart and destroyed – without choice – on the very ground I was now standing on.
My tears were not sad, they were joyous and spontaneous. I’m shy and not public and yet I was only dimly aware of the stares and side-looks I was getting – because I felt light, and alive, and profoundly grateful. From that moment on, through the tears and sadness of saying goodbye to my wonderful friends in the days ahead, I knew I had everything in this world. I had choice. I chose to leave and come to Canada and be with Alex, my family and friends again.
So…. if we have choice we have it all. We can choose to be positive or we can choose to be negative – but exercise and revel in that choice because there are many, many people in this world for whom choice will never be an option. I try – and it’s hard some days – to live in gratitude and the knowledge that love conquers and positivity will always triumph – if I choose to live it that way.
This year marks the return of the Dragon Academy’s bi-annual senior Arts and Culture trip to NYC! From April 11-14th, 2016, grade 11 and 12 students will be travelling to New York City to see exhibitions at amazing cultural institutions, major landmarks and diverse neighbourhoods; eat at authentic restaurants, and rest together in a Brownstone house. This year, we’re planning excursions to Queens, (to visit The Museum of the Moving Image and PS:1), and Manhattan, (to see the MoMA, Whitney Museum, High Line, the Jazz Museum, Empire State Building and Central Park), while making Brooklyn our home base, (where we can do our shopping, eating and maybe take a trip to Coney Island). Bring your cool hats, seniors! We’re going to the Big Apple!
Sometimes our devices control us. We have all become so used to constantly messaging, texting, checking, posting, “researching” and just plain fooling around that we forget to interact with the living people around us. That’s why, every year, Dragon Academy hosts Screen Free Week. We put aside our intrusive technology and refocus on the real, instead of the virtual, world.
This year, from February 29 to March 4, all devices will be on airplane mode. We’ve got a wonderful roster of planned activities to remind us of other pleasures.
MONDAY – ANALOG CULTURE DAY
Bring your records/record player, tapes/tape player, etc. Bring healthy treats for our Healthy Eating Potluck.
TUESDAY – COS PLAY DAY
Dress up! There will be a Polaroid photobooth, a costume contest, and if you forget to bring one, you can create your own mask.
WEDNESDAY – CLIMATE CHANGE DAY.
The whole school is going to the KORTWRIGHT CENTRE, where renowned climatologist Professor Jose Etcheverry will share his wisdom.
THURSDAY – CRAFT DAY
Bring a portrait of yourself—we’ll be collaging self-portraits for inclusion in the yearbook; at lunch there will be origami works. And if you have your own crafts to share, bring them to teach the rest of us.
FRIDAY – GAME DAY
Join our chess workshop and board games at lunch and after school. We are not hopelessly hooked! (See Weisberg’s great article in the New York
Review of Books: http://www.nybooks.com/contributors/jacob-weisberg/