The Mind’s Eye

Years ago, I wrote a Christmas newsletter. It started as a parody of those you get from people who talk about how their kids’ books are on the NYTimes best seller list after winning a Nobel Prize. Then the newsletter, dubbed The Mind’s Eye (from my first independent venture, The Rational Mind Theatre Company) became a yearly ritual. It usually goes to only a select set of my Christmas card recipients (and yes, I still do Chrristmas cards, mostly as a medium to send the Eye), but here it is on my blog for all to seem though with a few careful expurgations. (And you may see that I plagiarized a couple of earlier blog posts for this.


News Events of 2022

I thought that I might not write a newsletter this year, and then Joyce began listing everything significant that had happened, and so I thought, okay, here we go!

We did get to go on a vacation this year, but it didn’t turn out to be that relaxing. We heard that Viking Cruises pamper their guests and so we booked a river cruise in Russia. Unfortunately, Vladimir Putin had other ideas about that, and so Viking cancelled that cruise but gave us 110% credit for what we had paid. We looked for another cruise and found the Rhine river cruise.

I have wanted to see the passion play of Oberammergau, Germany, ever since I heard of it back in an undergrad Intro to Theatre course. The presentation began in 1630 when the town, hoping to  avoid the Black Plague, promised God it would present the play every 10 years if the plague passed the town by. It did, and so the passion play has continued every decade—except, ironically, in 2020 when it was postponed due to Covid. This turned out to be the year!

So we booked the cruise, described as “Oberammergau, The Alps and the Rhine; Munich to Amsterdam.” Fly into Munich, travel to Oberammergau for the passion play, then on to Basel, Switzerland for the ship, and sail up the Rhine to Amsterdam for the flight home. In the meantime: experience those wonderful scenes along a beautiful river! Look at those videos!

We landed in Munich, and stayed at a local hotel. The next day we traveled to Oberammergau to see the passion play. My brief review: Yes, of course everyone says it’s a once in a lifetime event, because they don’t want to say anything negative, like “It’s too long!” but at 5 hours (even with a dinner break) it’s long… And in German. They do give you an English version of the script, and luckily I not only know the story from my Catholic school upbringing, but my theatre and stage management training let me follow along in the script without looking at it constantly.

We stayed that night in another hotel. Then it was on to Innsbruck for 2 nights in a hotel. And these were not great hotels. By the end of this we could not wait to get to the ship!

In the meantime, however, we were on buses. Lots of riding. With a tour guide who was a poor communicator and who confused us with every announcement. That was painful. We were happy to get rid of her and get on the ship!

And then we were on the ship—and instead of sailing the picturesque Rhine, we traversed a set of not-very attractive locks. (We kept looking out and wondering if we were in a sewer.) And the ship traveled at night, so the whole picturesque sailing thing was kind of lost. And then we were off the ship and on to more buses for excursions.

This is where it really fell apart. You think of a cruise as a restful respite from life. This ship had set times for meals, and then early morning times for the excursions. Sleep? No! Get up, eat, get on the bus, ride around, get back, eat on schedule. As for the excursions: the cuckoo clock making demonstration was five minutes of how they are carved and how the cuckoo sound is made, and then a sales pitch with how they ship worldwide and how to avoid the VAT! Not much of an excursion. And this is Bavaria, home of my ancestors. I was trying to feel some sort of historic connection, and instead I felt like I’m on QVC.

Meanwhile, global climate change gets involved, and we need to switch ships. So we’re off the ship, onto buses, see something, and in the evening, board the new ship. (I think without some people who may have gotten Covid? I mean, some people seem to have just disappeared.) And the new ship doesn’t have the same staff and in fact, quality goes way down. The excursion I was most looking forward to gets cancelled. And they run out of Riesling, Joyce’s favorite wine. Which is made in Germany. They run out.

Finally in that last leg we did see some lovely river scenes, especially in the Netherlands. One morning, we were supposed to get off the ship earlier than ever for an excursion on to another ship to sail past Rhine castles. We slept in instead. Later, I braced against hearing how good it was from other passengers, but apparently the ship left without them and they were all on buses driving past castles. We instead had 12 hours sleep and were better for it.

In the end, the whole trip was much too regimented and overseen by a cruise director I characterized on my survey as having an ego larger than the ship.

The final nail in the trip: the return flight through Newark was a mess with changed gates and lost luggage, which made the rumored complexity and chaos of the Amsterdam airport seem like a pleasant dream.

And also! Joyce probably had Covid on the ship and I got it on our return. So we wrote a long complaining letter to Viking, who called us and got more details. They did offer us $600 toward a future cruise. Really? Is that all? So no more Viking for us, unless they get that St. Petersburg to Moscow river cruise happening again.

On a positive note after the cruise, we did get Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman elected as Governor and Senator. We were worried there for a while. As of this writing, we still have our election signs out; I think we get to gloat without it being a cult!

Coming up in late January is Joyce’s back surgery. She’s had three before; during the second, the surgeon nicked her sciatic nerve, and that’s created some ongoing issues. Then #3 went very well, and she was pain free (when I met her!) until she was in a hit and run accident that messed her up again. She’s been in a lot of pain since, so we’re hoping this surgery—to be done by the same surgeon as #3—will alleviate the pain that affects her daily.

By far, my biggest news has been retirement. Getting that all lined up (along with activating Medicare and Supplemental Insurance, annuitizing my retirement funds, applying for Social Security) was quite the endeavor; I don’t know how some people do it, not to mention the incessant sales calls for supplement plans..

Also, setting my retirement date caused a bit of a gyration. When I informed HR…she asked what date I chose. I said June 30, since I would turn 65 that month, and that would also be the end of the campus fiscal and academic years. What a practical thought! But no: I could only choose April or August. I said April was a problem, because I wasn’t yet 65. Let me repeat myself. So it would have to be August.

Then there was some confusing question about still being paid through August. “Since you are not paid over 12 months” appeared in one email, and then I replied that I have, for seventeen years, been paid over 12 months. That somehow made sense to HR, and so August 31st was set as my official retirement date.

It seemed odd to me, though; the end of the semester is as it always was: a crazy rush to get things graded, handed back, and assessed. When I reached the end of classes and commencement, it all seemed like business as usual. Every semester ended like that. And then, since I never taught at Pitt-Greensburg during the summer, the summer seemed completely normal. But when I heard everyone else talking about going back to school and I didn’t have to, the joy set in. That included doing a happy dance every time I received an email about something (recruiting event, first year convocation, faculty senate meeting) I didn’t have to go to. Huzzah!

Two comments about my last semester, incidentally. I taught Playwrighting with a normal sized class but Intro to Theatre only had three students (although it started with six but three crashed and burned right out of the gate). But Shakespeare, since I was teaching it for another professor on sabbatical, had 23 students who were mostly engaged in the class. I began to see faces for the first time (now unmasked!) and I really enjoyed teaching that class. I was hoping to go out on a high note, and this class was that note. Also, when I looked at the student evaluations for it, I had what may be the highest scores for any course ever. And then I couldn’t write about it anywhere (but here) since I didn’t have to write an annual report *insert happy dance here too*.

The campus did have a retirement party for me… Eventually I got my retirement watch (but: problem! since I asked it to be engraved with Dr. Stephen A. Schrum—so many characters!) and if I see Bigfoot I’ll give it to him, since it might only fit a sasquatch wrist. And the secretary did create a cool Powerpoint of photos of my career.

Better, however was the party arranged by Elaine Fisher and Karen Ricco. It was a total surprise, and quite glorious, actually. Students from all seventeen years and many Pitt-Greensburg shows attended, and had some amazing things to say about me. I couldn’t hold the tears back when I was asked to speak. It was an incredible tribute, and proved that my true legacy is my students.

They did hire a successor for me…so the program continues, and I get to go to the show (“Only once!” as Joyce points out with glee), sit back, and not have to worry about any of it.

Bad Student Writing

This is the final installment of this section, since I am now retired. And there weren’t many examples to choose from since enrollment was down, especially in my Intro to Theatre course. However, one of my Playwrighting students rose to the occasion and provided these gems:

(Hank stands up and moves towards the expo window and starts whipping it down with a rag.)… [Wiping may have been more effective.]

Hank: I didn’t talk to Perry much that day. He had been offley busy, but when he came to ask me for a smoke I could tell somethin’ was up with him.

Detective Patterson  “is lent up against a dumpster…”

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and we hope a Happy New Year!

Published by stephenschrum

Associate Professor of Theatre Arts; interested in virtual worlds, playwrighting, and filmmaking. Now creating a podcast called "Audio Chimera."

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