Friday, May 15, 2009

Prom Decorating Lessons

(News-Herald, May 14) It’s May, and that means Prom season. I started working with Proms way back when I started teaching. As with any large scale undertaking, there are lessons to be learned that apply in life as well as the project at hand.
*Planning matters. The more prepared you are, the better you can cope. It pays to take an early look at those instructions for making the working model of Mt. St. Helens out of cardboard and cream cheese. Preparing to do the job and having some idea of how it’s going to work makes doing the job much easier.
*However, once you’ve made a plan, don’t get married to it. Something will go wrong that you don’t expect, and something else will be ready to go right in ways you never imagined. You must be flexible enough to deal with both of these opportunities.
*Fear water. As a decoration, water is seductive, sensuous, and beautiful. But it is also fickle and capricious; it doesn’t go where you want it to, and insists on sneaking into places where it is not welcome.
*Clothes matter. Folks of my generation sometimes like to pretend they don’t. They do. Masses of teenagers really are better behaved in tuxes and gowns than in jeans and t-shirts. If you dress them up, it really is easier to take them out.
*There is only so much you can do yourself. It is not always easy to find people that can help, and yet another step to motivate them to do so, but you can only get so far on your own. After that, the road must be traveled with companions or not at all. However:
*You cannot hand something to someone else if you will not let go of it. You do not get help with, “I would like you to do this, but I expect you to do it exactly the way I would if I were there.” Find someone you trust, and let them do the job. (If you do not trust anyone, you should not be in charge.)
There are two reasons for this.
First, the only people really worth working with are people who know how to apply their own smarts, talent, and judgment to the job. The best way to motivate people with smarts, talent, and judgment is to let them use those qualities. The best way to unmotivate them is to forbid the use of those qualities.
Second, you are not there. You may have had a very specific vision for how the top of a cream cheese volcano should look. But only people who are actually there discover that high-stacked cream cheese tends to slough off in gooey chunks. (This is where not being married to your plan becomes important.)
*Know the difference between big, important details and little, piddly ones. If the cream cheese is canted at a 45% angle instead of 47%, the volcano will still look volcano-ey. If the entire volcano crashes through the gym floor, that may be more of an issue. (If you use water and it causes a short-circuit leading to fire and explosion, that’s bad; this is why you don’t use water.)
*Despite all the planning and fretting involved, almost everything is a little piddly detail. If you have a space where everyone can get together, music they can hear well enough to dance to, and a place to dance, you’re okay. Focus on the main point. Everything else is gravy.
Note to parents: Your child does not by any stretch of the imagination “need” to be flown by private jet to Paris for a catered meal while being serenaded by Celine Dion (okay—nobody needs to be serenaded by Celine Dion) followed by a private party in a hotel room with booze. If you are dropping a few grand on this elaborate high school dance, I shudder to think what Junior’s wedding will be like.
*Clothing, decorations, planning, the little extras—it’s all to help foster a sense of Occasion, to suggest that these three hours are somehow different, more vibrant and exciting than any other three hours. As an organizer, you learn how to prompt that sense. But attendees should remember that the more you depend on external cues to get that special sense of Occasion, the fewer Occasions you will have. When you learn how to create that sense on your own, you can have an Occasion any time you choose. This may seem like one of the smallest lessons of Prom, but wait till you get married.

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