There’s something simultaneously alarming and exciting about that simple statement, you know. Act VI? Already? Yikes.
What are you babbling about now? I hear you mumbling. Well, glad you asked. Let’s start at the beginning: as you can see from the quote at the top, Will (Shakespeare, Of Course, Dummy) wrote one of his most famous monologues in one of his comedies, a play called As You Like It. (Yes, he wrote comedies. Yes, he can be very funny --- and not just to dead Elizabethans, either. Now stop looking at me like that and stop interrupting.) The weird thing about the monologue being in one of his comedies is that it’s actually fairly melancholy, with an ending that is, to be frank, downright depressing (more about that later). I won’t print out the entire thing here, but will provide you with my own summary of Will’s take on our lives:
Act 1 – Babyhood
Act 2 – School Daze
Act 3 – Young Man/Woman
Act 4 – Startin’ Out and Establishing Yourself, Career/Marriage-Wise
Act 5 – Later On and Bringing it to a Close
Act 6 – Retirement
Act 7 – Decrepitude and Shuffling Off This Mortal Coil
And as of the end of this month, I will officially be transferring from Act V to Act VI when I leave a 34-year career as a secondary school teacher. Without even the benefit of a rhyming couplet at the end of the scene to signify the conclusion of Act V. (Sorry. English teacher humour.)
It’s alarming because it’s something new: the second last act in the play. Which means the end of the play is a helluva lot closer than it was two acts ago. Yeah, I know things could have conceivably ended at any moment --- kind of a grand cosmic ringing down the curtain, so to speak --- but it’s way more likely to end at the end, if you know what I mean. (Like most people, I have no recollection of Act 1, a few jumbled and probably largely inaccurate memories of Act 2… and Act 3, despite the fact I naively think I can recall it, is largely obscured in a purple mist of hormones.) But I do recall Act 4 commencing like it was yesterday. And it seems hard to believe that here we are, on the other side of that gaping chasm which appeared to be, three and a half decades ago, an utterly uncrossable and unbridgeable divide.
It’s also exciting because it’s something new: I’ve run the wheels off the old model of my life, and this represents something quite different, which is, yes, a little (okay, sometimes a lot) unsettling, but also full of potential and new opportunities. I ran into a guy at work the other day; I’ve known him since high school, although our acquaintance was more the casual kind than BFF. At any rate, he’s now retired, but is substitute teaching as a means of bringing travel money into the kitty, and he assured me there is life after teaching. Which was really good to hear. (I can’t imagine substitute teaching after retirement… not at this juncture, anyway. While it’s fairly lucrative work, money-wise… well, I subbed way, way back when Pontius was a Pilate because it was the only way to get on full-time --- a means to an end, I guess you could say --- so I did it with dedication but no real enthusiasm. It does allow you to leave at day’s end with no lesson planning or marking, and you get to avoid the endless, pointless meetings, but the trade-off is that one of the big things about teaching is the rapport you build with your kids, and quite obviously, in subbing, you don’t have that. In terms of school-daze social status, you are down near the bottom of the ladder, sandwiched unhappily between caretakers and school bus drivers. I still vividly recall, way back in Act 4, at one school where I subbed regularly, being in the classroom one morning, reading the lesson plans I had been left, and kids streaming into the building. One kid poked his head into the room, saw me, and yelled to his buddy in the hall, “Hey! We got a sub!” Yikes. Words to make any substitute’s heart sink way down to his toes. His buddy, answering the summons, came to look, saw me, and smacked the first kid. “That’s not a sub, you dummy, that’s Mr. Ranshaw,” he loftily informed the first kid. God bless him: I knew, at that moment, I had made the critical shift in that kid’s subconscious from cardboard cut-out teacher to real person.)
At any rate, I anticipate and hope Act 6 to be one of rejuvenation and re-invention. In good ways. My wife has always noted that when I come home from school for the summer at the end of June, I undergo a Jekyll/Hyde transformation --- the Jekyll side, I hasten to add, although she doesn’t call it that: she refers to me in the summertime as “Island Niles,” a reference to the TV comedy classic series, Frasier. The series protagonist, Dr. Frasier Crane, has a perpetually uptight brother named Niles, who, in one episode, goes on a tropical holiday and comes back very uncharacteristically relaaaaaaxed. So, yeah, I could see myself as Island Niles.
And Act 7? Well, Will’s take on it is very bleak, even for an Elizabethan --- but you’ve got to remember he was writing four hundred years ago, when most people didn’t even make it to Act 7. Life was, as Thomas Hobbes wrote around the same time, “nasty, brutish and short.” Although none of us know exactly what’s in store, I hope my Act 7 is much better than what Will projects.
So here’s to a long and lustrous Act 6 (and hopefully Act 7, too)!
I’ll keep you posted.