I Have Jesus’s Rookie Card

IMG_7786.JPGThe question and answer session was conducted in Polish by an impossibly young priest.

The quiz was not for us; we were only tourists watching the show (and surreptitiously taking photos of the exchange). But we were still nervous.

  • The last time you attended church was?
  • The reason you are giving your donation to the church is?
  • The eldest child is not present this evening; is she part of a parish in her college’s town?

We nearly cheered when we realized we had the answers.

Even we understood the contribution will support improvements to the windows in the church, even we could describe how cold the sanctuary is, how the inside, in winter, is nearly as cold as the outside, how, despite all of the kneeling and rising, parishioners need parkas and gloves.

Even we had noticed, from the jam-packed back of the holiday crowd the Sunday before, the skinny altar boys wore puffy jackets beneath their ample robes.

The family presented the clergy “man” with cash, cake, and delight for his visit.

In turn, he offered us a blessing in the form of something that reminded us of a Topps trading card for Jesus.

***

This week in Creative Writing, the students are developing a dossier for a character.

Like a rookie card, the dossier showcases the protagonist’s strengths, statistics, and trivia.

***

 

 

Sunday’s Child

IMG_8464It is winter, and the language exchange in the Home Depot parking lot continues. We talk about Trump’s politics, the Spring-like weather that has arrived for our class time (though there will be rain the rest of the week), what we had for dinner, what we did on Sunday.

Ariel wants to practice the seasons in English. We learn them and drill on them for a half an hour, mixing these new words with days of the week, months, colors, and questions to make sure he remembers the words. He does.

It is the Monday of midterms and the guys ask, “When will your English-speaking students join us?” I reply, “No puedo adviniar.” (I am not able to guess, predict, divine the answer to this.) And, this is one of the things I love about acquiring a new language.

Before knowing this verb in Spanish, I would utter only: “I don’t know.”

I go on quizzing: “Verano?” “Yes, summer.” “Azul? Okay, blue.” “Invierno?” “Right, winter.” “Viernes?” “Yes, Friday.”

I think about how I was born on Sunday, in the US, in California, in the desert;  I know these are forces that have shaped the happiness and fortune in my life. I say the “Monday’s Child” rhyme out, in English in nearly the same singing way I offered “Roses are red” in a Valentine’s Day lesson.

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Thursday’s child has far to go,

Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Saturday’s child works hard for a living,

But the child who is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonnie and blithe and good and gay.

“Monday’s Child” is a fortune-telling song to predict a child’s character based on the day of the week of her birth. In addition to the day of the week, humans look for astrology, numerology, graphology, palmistry, tarot, crystal balls, runes, tea leaves, ouija boards, pendulums, scrying mirrors, even a magic 8 ball to lend us wisdom into the universe, to help us know more than we do, to divine.

  • What prophets, soothsayers, clairvoyants, seers, or oracles might inform your story?

Odes

coalIn poetry class, you are writing odes, odes to soap, music, somebody’s distant cousin–even the sound S makes as you assemble an alliterative sentence. You are crafting tributes to colors and memories and all of the things you love in the world.

You are in front of the classroom describing how the gray blue tile you hold between your fingertips, a color you have named dad’s truck blue, a sort of primer blue hue, reminds you of dad’s old Chevy Apache. And, you explain how when you initially see this shade it reminds you of your first sleeping bag, but it is, in fact, more the shade of the vehicle that was dramatically flattened under a ginormous tamarisk in the late 70s. Decades later, this  tint can still evoke the explosive sound of the tree untethering from the earth just outside the chickens’ coop.

You read recently about Polish idioms, that Polish people don’t daydream. Instead, they think of blue almonds. They don’t speak bluntly. Rather, they tell it straight from the bridge. They don’t beat around the bush; they wrap the truth in cotton. And, you think this is the poet’s work; you spend entire days thinking of blue almonds, lecturing from bridges, and softening the truth.

You think about all of the odes there are left to write: salutes to Warsaw traffic, praise for pickled eggs and beets and herring, testimony for trust and faith and lust, homages to the lost, to the sky streaked with coal, to drunk people falling softly in snow, to every gilded representation of Jesus, to meeting your husband’s relatives who don’t speak your language–still they look into your face and love, love, love you anyway.

The world is composed of stories…

OLS Writers' Conference 2018 Flyer

The writers’ conference is coming soon!

Even sooner, we are seeking submissions through the end of February for the literary journal. Submissions can be posted online at: https://cosumnesriverjournal.submittable.com/submit

And, my online Creative Writing students are blogging at:

Ha’penny Bridge

hapenny-bridge

Lore has it that more than 25,000 people cross the Ha’penny Bridge daily. Dublin’s bustling pace does not make me doubt this number. I think about the crowds I crossed with and how little attention I paid to my fellow pedestrians perhaps due to the weather, rush, or crush of the crowd.

But late at night, the bridge was nearly empty, practically glowing, and ready for strolling despite the cold.  Its luminescence made me think about what we miss when we are on our rushing way to the next place.

Shel Silverstein’s “Masks” (below, from Every Thing On It)  makes me think of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/44272) and how we intentionally and unintentionally carve our way through the woods.

She had blue skin.
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by—
And never knew.

http://thewhynot100.blogspot.com/2014/05/46-short-and-sweet-shel-silverstein.html

  • What mask is your character wearing? Why? How does it affect her way as she wends through woods?

Ai Weiwei: Political Art

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According to Bertolt Brecht, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”

We could not know we were headed into Ai Weiwei’s brain from the lifeboats hanging from the Palazzo Strozzi. We knew, of course, the rubber boats represented the plight of refugees. We knew of Ai Weiwei’s reputation as a dissident, as a prisoner, as a spokesperson for justice and against corruption and censorship.

However, we were overcome with his grief, rage, and  agitation as we were delivered into his hippocampus. We recognized its horseshoe shape and how the monumental installations we encountered there helped him–and us–to process history and emotion.

In the second piece, Snake Bag, he sewed 360 backpacks to represent 360 children killed at a school when an earthquake in China’s Sichuan province killed approximately 90,000 people; as visible in the companion video that shows the recovery of the inadequate rebar, the massive destruction was due to the government cutting corners on construction.

In another series, we see Ai Weiwei’s left middle finger extended to the White House, the Eiffel Tower, Hong Kong, Tiananmen Square, and the Mona Lisa, among others; these pieces are title A Study in Perspective. His perspective is clear. He even has wallpaper that also has patterns of middle fingers.

An ivory porcelain plot of flowers is centered in the middle of one of the rooms. These flowers represent his rebellion against censorship, surveillance, and control. He further addresses restrictions he faced by recreating the surveillance cameras (in marble), handcuffs (in wood), and hangers (from his imprisonment, in wood).

Film, selfies, pamphlets, 32 Qing Dynasty stools assembled into a circle, 3200 porcelain crabs, Lego portraits of Dante Alighieri and Galileo Galilei and three self-portraits (also in Legos) further intensify the multimedia experience.

I am inspired by this tour of Ai Weiwei’s brain and heart. I am reminded that, especially in the face of oppression and restriction, we must use all of the resources we have at hand to fight for what is right. Art can be mirror, hammer, souvenir, warning, flare, lighthouse, tank, lifeboat…

 

The Mask of Evil

by Bertolt Brecht

On my wall hangs a Japanese carving,

The mask of an evil demon, decorated with gold lacquer.
Sympathetically I observe

The swollen veins of the forehead, indicating

What a strain it is to be evil.

  • Ai Weiwei’s installations and representations function as Brecht’s “mask of evil.” What does your character/speaker have or make to remind her of “what a strain it is to be evil?”