Alllrrighty then. Back to snakes. Pardon the detour through Arkansas.
So on Wednesday we were back in AR, this time in Fayetteville to stay with my good friend Rob Kenyon and his family so that we could be in Sarcoxie, MO on Thursday. We really had a great time hanging with them, and Fayetteville was very enjoyable. We’ll be back.
I was scheduled to perform for the whole school, grades 5-12, in advance of a day off before a big week of academic performance testing starting Monday.
First of all, let me say this about the students in Sarcoxie, Missouri. We’ve done this show for thousands and thousands of kids of all ages across the country but this was a standout group. Sharp as a tack (sometimes my humor can be a little hard to keep up with) and they went a couple of steps beyond any group we’ve seen.
One, they went on my site before we arrived and picked out their favorite snakes to actually make posters for. I have the whole set. Funny thing is, I get pretty focused once the show begins and while I could see people holding them up, they were a little hard to read at that distance up in the bleachers (my vision’s not what it used to be and I’ve been in a little bit of denial about it) and I didn’t really catch on to exactly what they had done until the end of the show. I thought the guy cheering about Andy the Anaconda when I mentioned him, who was holding up a poster I couldn’t read, was saying his name was Andy too. Momentary cluelessness. Sorry ’bout that.
Even worse, three people picked Evie to make a poster about, which is entirely my bad. She was a wonderful part of my show, but she passed quietly away a little over a year ago after a prolonged battle with recurring upper respiratory issues. We miss her. She was a great story too. A friend of mine donated her to me after a roommate of his moved out and left her behind. The roommate was, ahem, a dancer – and Evie worked for her. I don’t know what her name was back then (I wasn’t there for her early career) but something just seemed appropriate about a large female serpent named Eve.
I shall henceforth endeavor to update my animal roster forthwith. It doesn’t even mention Capone, and I know he’s a lot of folks’ favorite.
Second, I had more help getting the show loaded in and out than I’m used to, and it was entirely, well, helpful – if you know what I mean.
But best of all, and Julie was the one to notice this first, when we let quite a crowd of them interact with several of our animals at the end of the show, the level of care and gentleness they used in touching, holding and moving them from person to person was exceptional. Usually we have to explain repeatedly that a snake will let you guide him with an open hand, but will dislike being gripped and controlled by a closed one. The tongue is for tasting the air, not the fingers. The back of the head or under the chin can be touched, but only gently and without sudden moves.
These kids already knew. When Julie and I drove out of the parking lot, she said, “That group was awesome. They actually gave me new hope for the future.” I heartily agreed. I love doing schools, but this one really stood out.
The underlying concept of this version of my show is relating the origins, side effects and cures of a learned fear like ophidiophobia to another one, the fear of taking academic performance tests. I can seriously relate to that. It happened to me. Just like working with a venomous snake that needs to be safely removed and relocated, increases in my heart and respiratory rates and the moisture level in my palms all used to hit me come testing time back when I took them.
Today, the stakes are higher. A school’s standings and available resources can also be affected by how well all of the students do on testing days. Only attendance (stay in school!) has as much bearing on access to funding. Just like seeing a grown man about to mow you down because he’s just seen a snake, it can all be very scary. But fear is transmutable.
Fear can be, with surprisingly little effort, transformed into focus, clarity and insight. Just like overcoming the fear of snakes, accurate information and a generous helping of humor can make a closely held phobia melt away like ice on a warm day. For more on overcoming ophidiophobia, check out my blog entry from July ’08. On the other side of the fear, power is waiting.
I remember back in my own school days, the test that intimidated me most was the IQ test, because here were a few pieces of paper that were literally going to judge me, relative to all other humans, as to how smart I was.
I later came up with a little trick that overcame both the fear and the focus problems with IQ tests. Faced with a time deadline and all those questions to answer and problems to solve, I devised a system. If I thought I knew the answer but wasn’t quite sure, I marked my best guess and put a check mark in the margin beside it.
If I didn’t have a clue as to the right answer, I took a wild guess and put a little circle (like a zero) in the margin next to it. I made no extra marks next to answers I was sure of. Then, when I finished the test and had minutes to spare, I was able to easily revisit the check marks first, to see if my mind, now freshly looking at problems I had waffled on before and no longer bogged down by the remainder of the test, could come up with new insight into the answers. It often did.
Then, if I had the time after double checking the checks, I took another look at all the circles – problems I had been clueless about earlier. Frequently even these became easier to work now that the entire test was behind me. Sounds weird to say it, but this trick actually raised my IQ.
Come to think of it, if everyone in a school were to use the same system, the teachers grading the tests would be able to tell exactly how well it was working for each student. Pretty cool.
So now we’re feeling completely involved in the efforts of this excellent bunch of students in the coming week. Go Bears! We’re rooting for you in Texas.
Take it easy on the Easter candy today so you get a good night’s sleep, but recent research says that gnawing the head off of that chocolate bunny tomorrow morning (after a good breakfast) will actually raise your scores. You have a great school – one to be proud of. Now – get in there and prove it to the rest of The Show Me State.