The big day arrived! I’d chosen the 8 am spot, first thing in the morning. It dawns on me immediately that I have not anticipated the layout of the room I’d assumed rows of desks. Nope. More like an executive boardroom table, with twenty students around it in a circle. Ok, we can work with that. There are plenty of whiteboards if I feel so inclined. And a projector for the computer. We have some trouble getting connected, and my son literally has to hack into the private school wifi so I can project, but we get it working. And I’m on.
In hindsight, I think I did pretty poorly. I had it in my head that the most important thing to cover was, how did I get here? Who am I? What’s my story? That translated to, “Hey, you’re actually a software engineer, keep reminding them of that.” So I started telling them my life story. From memorizing the balcony scene in ninth grade to going to college and working on a (failed) videogame that required me to read all the plays, to creating the blog in 2005 because I had no Shakespeare friends. In my head, it all made sense. In my head, it was all a consistent theme -when you find something you love, don’t let other factors steer you from it. Follow it and see where it takes you. In reality, I probably babbled endlessly for thirty to forty minutes (of seventy!) with very little Shakespeare content.
Finally, we got to show some cool stuff, so I brought up Bardle. They were fascinated. Wait, you wrote this? “Yes,” I told them, “I wrote this. And by that I mean, in the tradition of all great software, I stole it.” I tell them the story of how the original Wordle came online and how you could just do a “View source” and save all the code because it was a single-page application. The few computer science kids in the class were fascinated. But again, where’s the Shakespeare?
We played a round, and unfortunately, the word was aspic – there was no way they were going to get that. So that was disappointing. But I did remember to start giving out Shakespeares. After the first student offered up a guess, I tossed him a tiny Shakespeare and heard an audible gasp from the room. “I want a tiny Shakespeare,” I heard a small voice say. “I’ve got enough for everybody” I tell them before immediately contradicting myself when the next student’s guess unveiled no letters, and I said, “No Shakespeare for you.” But then threw him one anyway. I quickly lost track of my Shakespeares and eventually pulled a bunch of them from the bag, tossing them onto the table – and they disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Then I showed them Blank Verse. Wait, you wrote this, too? Did you write all this stuff? This time I can answer more honestly, yes, I did. I wrote this one all by myself. We have fun playing with that for a little bit. Awkward moment when the puzzle called for a noun, and they shouted, “trodden.” What? “Trodden.” “But…trodden is an adjective.” Turns out it was a student’s last name. “But…your name’s an adjective,” I complained. We put in his first name instead.
Time was flying. I took a break to have them ask me questions – something that I do when I’m interviewing candidates at work, too, by the way. It gives me a chance to reset if I’ve gone off the rails by getting back to providing information that the people listening actually want. “What’s on your blog?” they ask. Oh, lots of stuff, I tell them. Product reviews. Travel stories, Geeklet stories. Then I go into a lengthy story about my geeklets – remember, my son’s sitting in this class, hopefully not getting too embarrassed. I tell the story of how they learned to sing Sonnet 18 because it was my ringtone. Or how I told The Tempest to my daughters as a bedtime story, but how my son wanted to hear Hamlet and King Lear.
I am nearly out of time, and I want to dig into my bag of tricks. I pull out the Shakespeare Death Bookmarks I had printed for the occasion and have the students pass them around. I wanted to make sure that everybody had memories of the event. I’ve told them multiple times that I will leave my mini Shakespeares with the teacher because it bothers me that somebody may not have gotten one. But the bookmarks are a stack, so I can just pass that along and let everybody take one.
The prize! Had anybody found the easter egg? I had the prize with me, all wrapped up. I even showed them the post on the blog so they could read it for themselves and see that I wasn’t cheating. Alas, no one had seen it or had the answer. However, it was one girl’s birthday, so she got the prize. What was it? I knew that they were reading Othello in this class, so I found a nice full-sized edition of the Othello board game. These days it’s called Reversi. It’s surprisingly hard to locate an Othello version. They let the trademark lapse years ago.
My game! I spent all that work on I Survived A Shakespeare Play, and we aren’t even going to get to it. Quick, everybody, stand up! Here’s where the CEO desk gets awkward because I’ve got to walk around the outside of the room in a circle, getting kids to pick a card. The first card is from Romeo and Juliet, and they get it immediately, and the student is saved. The second … is also from Romeo and Juliet. Who dealt these? Saved again. The third is Goneril from King Lear, which I know they haven’t read. But there’s a student holding a Goneril bookmark on the other side of the desk, and she’s saved. Uh oh. I did not think that through. At one point, they had pooled the bookmarks on the table and were scouring them for the answers to save each other. After one round, only four of the twenty students had actually died.
Just like that my time was up, The bell had rung, and the students got up to file out, all politely saying thank you. Scrambling to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, I dig into my bag and start tossing 3D-printed stuff onto that table. “Did everybody get a mini Shakespeare? I have cookie cutters!’ The teacher spies a cookie cutter and says she’ll claim one for herself. “I have something different for you, actually,” I tell her, having forgotten that as well. I find the lithophane and take it to the window to show her how it works. I hope it’s still in her classroom.
Before I knew it, I was out the door. I left a number of my books – the baby books, the graphic novels – with the teacher to show the class at her leisure. We discuss whether I would just do this for all her classes, whether my kids were in those classes or not. It’s a tricky question for me because I know that if I ever did make it a regular thing, something about it would change. But who am I kidding, if invited, I’d come. I think with practice, I wouldn’t make half the mistakes I made today, and that’s a good thing.