Fabric

Class
In Spanish class, my second teacher asks me about the intricate, creative lessons my first teacher plans for me. And then he says he has prepared nothing, but there are two words on the whiteboard, leftovers from the last lesson, and I am welcome to take one.
He recommends tela, fabric, and says, okay; write.
I think, yes, it is really that easy to just go, no fancy instructions are necessary (though they are appreciated).
I want to take a side route and get all of the cliches out of my system, the fabric of life bits that float to the surface of this broad prompt.
The hard thing about writing in Spanish is the limitation on my words and what I have the capacity to narrate.
In Oaxaca fabric stores line one of the streets off the zocalo. I am often drawn into these labyrinthine businesses as hummingbirds seek petunias, impatiens, day lilies, and lupines.
I do not know the names of these flowers in Spanish. Thus, they are banished from the poem. And, I’m off in search of another inspiration that will match the 20% claim I have on this language. I assess the value at 20% because people consistently ask me to quantify my language knowledge in these terms, something i go along with (therefore, reporting 20%), but I insist it is absurd.
Even if I really did know 20% of the language, my lack of knowledge of idioms and culture would cause me to register at a negative number (-40% or something equally preposterous).
The dictionary guesses I want Portuguese and reports that tela is screen. I think of telanovellas (soap operas), the television screen, and the broad cloth that makes a movie screen like my teacher’s white board that contains this broad prompt and that becomes its own large cloth, like a sail, to send me off into the ocean to sail.
  • “The fabric of existence weaves itself whole.” –Charles Ives

How does “way lead on to way,” as Frost warned/reminded in “The Road Not Taken,” how does the fabric seem to weave itself?

Misunderstanding

IMG_9890
During English class in Arrazola, we played with cootie catchers* to practice the future tense: you will find your true love: you will find satisfying work.
I did not know what the word cootie was. It turns out to be lice (and that’s a whole different conversation, involving lice eggs). Anyway, I said, it’s what my mother told me boys have.
And one of my students, impatient and confused, politely inquired, “Excuse me, do you mean a dick?”
Certainly blushing, I said, “I can see how you arrived at this question, but no, the word I am looking for is lice, piojo.
The young man’s fortunes were hilarious (mis)fortunes (perhaps curses): you will be eaten by a shark, you will lose your job, you will have ten sons. I asked why he hadn’t added “you’ll be bald and toothless.”  He simply lacked the vocabulary, not the cruelty.
We were still laughing about this activity when my friend, who’d arranged this exchange, arrived and commented that the terraza had been filled with laughter all afternoon.
We agreed but dared not offer any explanation.
Instead, we laughed some more.

* A cootie catcher is also known as a fortune teller, a chatterbox, and because of its appearance, a salt cellar (picture it upside down), a whirlybird, and a paku-paku (think Pac Man).

  • Show how misunderstanding can lead to hilarity. Show what happens when our limitations in vocabulary and/or understanding can lead us to great laughter.

Small Talk

IMG_9907

You are happy because strangers trust your Spanish enough to make small talk. They tell jokes about the vendor who’s clearly selling more than the bright blouses his stand pretends, his teal cowboy shirt unbuttoned to his nipples, his how ya doin’ English skills.

The way he scans you as if he can see all of you.

His neighbor warns: He’s a little grandma killer.

You do not worry, even a second, that he murders.

You retort: Womanizer, eh?

The vendor himself confesses with a shrug that translates to: What can I say?

And he invites you to a celebration, promises you a sky filled with fireworks.

  • It is natural to engage in some small talk in any language, but double meanings, flirtation, and jokes are far more difficult to navigate. Create a character (perhaps clumsily) attempting to navigate this.

The Mexican Art of Double Entendre

Questions

IMG_9679

I

This morning, you saw an anarchist on his way to work, and you wondered whether he, all covered in black, with a bandana covering his face to his eyes, was running, as you  would, because he was late, or if, perhaps, he was already on the job.

How would you know?

II

Most of the rest of the city is quiet, fans gripped to television sets and any news of the nation’s soccer scores.

How can we care about the world when our team is down three and time is running out?

III

More than two dozen people plead for me to buy something I don’t want.

Isn’t there a better way to support a family?

 

IMG_9838

IV

Women in wide skirts and men in sandals folk dance on the plaza as if there is something to win in the moves.

Is there? And…

if so, who will tell me?

V

How can I know whether these are even the right questions?

 

  • Another question: And what happens if we all don’t vote? 

IMG_9892

Use questions to drive a tense monologue.

 

 

Painting with Water

IMG_8940

At the beginning of summer, I traveled to China: Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai. At the Summer Palace in Beijing, I watched this man calligraph with water, painting logograms onto the sidewalk. In the warm afternoon air, his words evaporated before our eyes.

Regardless of our comprehension of what the images represent, we were a rapt audience.

The creative writing students are blogging again this semester. And, we need you to help us expand our understanding of audience. Please follow these bloggers, like them, and tell your friends about Cosumnes River College’s diligent and creative writers.

  • CRCMindImages.wordpress.com
  • ThePlayList2018.wordpress.com
  • LettersFromSacramento.wordpress.com
  • GoSeeDoWrite.wordpress.com

IMG_8939

  • You Go to School to Learn
    By Thomas Lux
    You go to school to learn to
    read and add, to someday
    make some money. It—money—makes
    sense: you need
    a better tractor, an addition
    to the gameroom, you prefer
    to buy your beancurd by the barrel.
    There’s no other way to get the goods
    you need. Besides, it keeps people busy
    working—for it.
    It’s sensible and, therefore, you go
    to school to learn (and the teacher,
    having learned, gets paid to teach you) how
    to get it. Fine. But:
    you’re taught away from poetry
    or, say, dancing (That’s nice, dear,
    but there’s no dough in it
    ). No poem
    ever bought a hamburger, or not too many. It’s true,
    and so, every morning—it’s still dark!—
    you see them, the children, like angels
    being marched off to execution,
    or banks. Their bodies luminous
    in headlights. Going to school.

Where do you go to learn? What are you really being taught?

Little Prayers

IMG_9413

The streets are nearly empty, but the sound of the game hovers over the city, blaring over the playground with children squealing, flinching, cheering in unison; roaring from shop windows, whispering from cell phones for circles of people as if assembled for a campfire. Even the strays seem to listen for the score will ArrrArrrArrrrooooo as the Mexicans protract Goooool as an opera singer stretches a note. I am rooting for Mexico, for the joy of the whole city, for the pride of a nation.

There is an electric jubilation in the streets that makes the hair on my arms stand at attention. We all have goosebumps for the potential.

Another Oaxaca politician has been murdered. The newspaper reports the 150 bullets fired into the truck, the other casualties. The body is unabashedly published in black and white.

The people at the cafe watch the game on the iPad cash register. The Irish bar above the cafe waves the Mexican flag today. The patrons chant and cringe and watch together, eschewing real problems.

I wonder how many people are praying for a win. I wonder whether this is the right thing to pray for. Even more, I wonder if it will work.

When something makes me nervous or upset, like having an unexpected argument, I switch my mind to other things. The music on the radio, the breeze blowing through the windows, how delicious cinnamon is in savory dishes. This is how I cope with the tension in the air.

Even the gum sellers wear patriotic green. The baristas take the news of a point scored by the opposing team as they practice pouting expressions and milk to form designs on top, filming the process.

How long is this game?

I can’t take the groans from the Irish pub. I can’t bear the dismay of the baristas, I escape the cafe, but even Constantino, the man who sells rugs, is certain it’s already over.

Part of me knows that a sport should not mean so much. Part of me knows the value of metaphors and charms.

What happens when my lucky jersey doesn’t bring a win—when prayers aren’t answered?

Beard

IMG_9891

Spanish pronunciation is, unlike English, predictable. A “bird” in English often is pronounced “beard” by a person who speaks Spanish. The “I” makes the sound of a long “E.” Thus, “pitch” comes across as “peach.” I could go on…

While pronunciation is predictable, most of the rest of being in Oaxaca is not.

At the intercambio at the Oaxaca Lending Library one recent Saturday, I was reminded of how important understanding cultural norms is.  I was sitting with Rubi, Paulina, Eduardo, and Iris.

Iris is from China; she speaks Mandarin fluently and is a new Spanish speaker. She knows no English and was not interested in the English portion of the language exchange, so she was only with us for an hour. The Spanish speakers (who want to learn English because, to them, it seems everyone in the world speaks English (or Spanish) could not fathom that Iris (a nickname) does not know English.

Iris could not believe that I, a Caucasian American, speak another language. (We were already breaking down stereotypes!) Iris is a calligrapher by trade and showed us some of her beautiful images. She tried to translate them by breaking down the words into pictures and telling us what the pictures meant and how they came together. (It reminded me of the Hawaiian language.)

As we chatted, our Spanish focused on the basics: food, family, and fun. These are always good (and usually safe) places to start.

Iris explained that she is an only child, and, as a female, feels fortunate to be alive. The Oaxacans were neither familiar with China’s one-child policy nor the preference for males, and they wanted to know what the Chinese would do if the family has a farm and needs helpers.

Iris emphasized, “One child.” She asked how many siblings we have. I have a sister, so does Paulina. Rubi has two brothers and a sister.

Eduardo is in the middle of twelve children.

Iris was astounded, and another hour of Spanish elapsed too quickly.

  • What can you learn about another culture’s food, family, and fun that might inspire an entire story?