I just received this via email.... from Lizzy's dear friend Diana...I told her I would post it here in KA...as I felt it would be a way for all those who didn't know her ...to 'see' her
"This was in the Sun a few days ago written by a Moira MacDonald - what an amazing tribute, and a statement on how much a teacher can affect childrens lives. Cheers to the teachers in the group."
and the letter goes as follows....
If we're lucky we've had at least one high school teacher we've happily never forgotten.
Sometimes they are slightly subversive, seeming to toe the line but, once the classroom door is closed, engaging with their students in a joyful, unspoken conspiracy of true learning.
Liz Dixon, one of my high school English and drama teachers, was such an instructor.
We met when I was 16, entering my third year at a Scarborough alternative school. Liz was in her mid-twenties and new. Our alternative school already attracted the subversives, although the board bureaucrats and career ladder-climbers did their best to sink their neutralizing claws into such an idea.
It didn't take us long to figure out Liz was the real thing. She drove a boat-like magenta car she named "Heart of Darkness" after my then-boyfriend studied the Joseph Conrad novel with her. It was apropos too because the car often ferried her rock band members to night-time gigs, as evidenced by the Schooner beer empties we'd see when she gave us rides home from school. She had long brown hair and milky skin but her voice carried a bluesy, Janis Joplinesque rumble that erupted whenever she sang. She could sing.
When it came to literature, Liz was no snob. Anything good was fodder for her class -- King Lear, The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, Charles Bukowski's skid-row poetry, Jethro Tull lyrics. Mostly it had to have heart. When the Grade 13s read Ken Kesey's, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, she made them each choose a character to be for a day. Liz took the part of the controlling Nurse Ratchit. As teenagers, several of us were already bordering on madness. It was nice to earn credit for it.
She brought real writers into our tiny school. There was Roger Caron, the bank robber-turned-author (later turned robber again). There were street poets. Some were her friends.
Drama with Liz was no Mickey Mouse course. By the time she was done, you not only knew the play. You'd also acted at least part of it on-stage, worked on the set, and slogged through countless weekends and weeknights of rehearsals with her sitting on a chair in the middle of the gymnasium, a fierce look on her face, pulling on a carton of egg nog and giving us relentless director's notes on blocking gaffes, how to dig deeper into the part and getting the lines right. Several of us went on to careers in theatre, writing and the arts.
Knights, fools and wenches
The Renaissance Festival was our final production. We wrote a rough, broad script, found music to sing, period costumes to borrow and worked on character roles. Then one warm evening we took it into the Rouge Valley and frolicked as knights, fools, wenches and ugly princesses for several hours, moving among various sites we'd marked out earlier.
Our audience moved with us. Mead was consumed and Liz brought along her friends from the bagpipe funk band Rare Air to accompany us. It was unforgettable.
In the year before I graduated, Liz was experiencing the first symptoms of what would be a lifelong struggle with a severe form of arthritis. It quickly fused her neck, and caused painful joint swellings. She soldiered along, took a job where she was to make sure other teachers were teaching from the correct reading list (we laughed) but eventually went on disability. Then she went to theatre school. As the disease crippled her body her spirit kept thrusting through. An experimental drug gave her relief in more recent years.
Liz died on July 28 at age 49. On top of the debilitating arthritis, she'd been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Shakespeare would surely chalk that one up as a tragedy.
She often talked as a teacher about the importance of always "looking for the magic," in every avenue of expression and experience.
That lesson won't get you a diploma but it helped me get a life.
• You can e-mail Moira MacDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org