n. infantile pattern of suckle-swallow movement in which the tongue is placed between incisor teeth or between alveolar ridges during initial stage of swallowing (if persistent can lead to various dental abnormalities) v. [content removed due to Bush campaign to clean up the internet] n. act of nyah-nyah v. pursuing with relentless abandon the need to masticate and thrust the world into every bodily incarnation in order to transform it, via the act of salivation, into nutritive agency

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fabulous Graphic Comic

This is a writing/graphic piece from one of my students this summer. Although he got started in class, he took it home over the weekend and completely finished it. Then today he started on his second book. Can you say future (and present) graphic artist? I'm all proud of him n' everything.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

yep and yep

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Workity Play & Austin Heat

It's daunting to try to tackle the last two weeks, so I'm not going to even try to get it all.

As mentioned before, I am in Austin, teaching eight- and nine- year olds in a writing summer camp. I get twelve kids, half of whom turned out to be boys and half girls, for half a day every morning... and bammity bam, are there ever tons of things for me to do!

This program has a few unique and totally awesome features that are soooo good for the kids, and also exciting for me to do with them, but that also take time and have been challenging to say the least. There is a lot of record keeping, no doubt good for the grants, but also the organization publishes a truly beautiful anthology of the students' work at the end of the summer. Most of week 1 and half of week 2 has really been this kind of intense push to get the students writing up a storm so there's something for them to submit (1/2 way through) to the anthology. It's a sweet idea to get the kids involved in the process, to give them an opportunity to look at their galleys in week 3 before they leave, but it seems like it has taken most of the students a goodly amount of time to just get into the flow of the writing, and to understand how summer camp works.

This past week has really involved a number of breakthroughs with students who were unable to write much the first week, but suddenly seem to understand that there're not being graded, that this can be fun, and that they can write whatever they want. I also have two or so students who haven't had that breakthrough yet, and it's partially just timing, but also partially due to the fact that I'm new to this, so making it up as I go along. I don't know yet all the techniques one can try with kids to get them to loosen up and get involved... so it's really hit or miss which of my exercises work well.

For instance, exercises that worked well: conversations with pets or imaginary animals, using their five senses, monster creation (although we needed another day to nail this down), tall tales (JS volunteered to do this one for me), making bird masks coupled with bird stories, an exercise where students talked about things other than writing tools that can be used to write (like stardust), and anything involving hyperbole.

Exercises that didn't work: emotion poems (totally tanked!), taking the time to make hand-made books together (we never have enough time to do anything more than assemble the papers), "if I were a..." stories (I gave them too many options), and spy books (too few instructions).

All in all, I've learned that what works best is having highly specific steps to follow - multiple steps that we can do over time, often not on the same day - and then allowing for great flexibility within that structure. Starting out less structured, and asking them to "write whatever" about a certain topic is a sure fail.

I've had a few great moments, like yesterday at the Blanton Museum of Art. They were so good about writing, and behaving themselves, and when we went to the abstract art section, they really tried hard to access their imaginations. I set this up in a way that seemed to work, but was something I just stumbed into. A few days earlier when we were talking about emotions, we had read the story "The Red Tree" by Shaun Tan, which is this beautifully illustrated, devastating story that I still read whenever I am having a shit day. They reacted so interestingly to it: "I hate this story," page turn, "I hate this story," page turn, "I hate this story, it's sad," page turn, "I love this story!" I think the images scared them at first, but then they realized it was a happy ending story, and suddenly they were okay with all the sad, scary weird images that came before.

Anyhow, the last image in the story is just a red page, with lots of texture, and by the time we got to it, all the students had a pretty good idea what it meant (joy, happiness, the heart, good things happening, magic, and the less accurate blood). So, I told them ahead of time that abstract art was like that page, and that whole stories happened beforehand. And to understand the art, you have to discover the hidden story, which would be different for each of them, that lead up to "the final page." So, anyhow, at the Blanton, I had them write "the hidden story" of the abstract pieces, and many of them did really really well. And I'm pretty proud of myself because I tend to think of abstract art as being very hard for younger peoples to gain access to.

Also, my grandmother went with us to the Blanton, and not only did I love having her along helping, but the kids totally loved her, and I think appreciated that I included my family in their writing. They called her Grannie Jagger: "Go get Grannie! We have to show her this!" Warms the heart, for sure.

So... I actually seem to wake up and go to sleep thinking about my kids, and have been busting my ass for them. It turns out that I might not get paid for this, which sucks ass... the organization I'm working for is apparently going through some "troubles." But thinking about this experience as a true learning opportunity, and a chance to make a difference, and also a chance to get out of my rut back at home... it's been more than worth it. I am finding out new things about the corners of my heart, and my abilities, and I haven't felt any anxiety about my life or my place in this world since I've been down here. I would really like to take that back with me... perhaps as something I might consider better than "breaking even" in pay.


As a segue into the second part here, I should say that my friendship with NM appears to be dissolving even further... as NM today told me that she is not willing to work to keep (or revive) our friendship. She sent me a message last week that seemed to indicate she was thinking about it, and then backed away when I told her, guess what, I'm still pissed and it's not going to be easy or just 'happen' like magic.

One thing I've never understood about this world -- something yet for me to understand -- is how people can really really want the good types of 'intensity' (like loyalty or going out of your way for another person) without having to deal with the difficult parts of intensity. I admit that I am an intense son of a gun. I am not for everybody. But I usually seem to pick friends who are every bit as intense as I am, although in different ways. So you'd think hypothetically it would usually work out, but then there sometimes comes this moment when it's like "you're too intense," which totally neglects the history of it always being an interaction between two intense people! Friends who want to receive all the loyal love, but so little of the giving of loyal love.

Now, this is a segue because I am not bitching here. As I said, my anxiety is next to nil down here, and I have been so happy and nearly epiphanous in my daily life. I have had these moments of feeling like the most blessed person in the world, and truly liking myself.  And I am realizing that life is about beginning and endings, about shifts and shuffles. That is all it is... for everyone. Everyone has friends who treat them like queens and friends who let them down, sometimes even the same friends. Everybody has tried loving someone over and over again, and yet not have it work out. This is the rich texture to life, and there is nothing wrong with it.

That is, if NM is ready to move away from our friendship, then that is the path the world will take, and I know for sure that I am still alive, that I am still good and kind inside, that I am also sometimes bitchy and mean inside, and that the next day will slowly peel open like an unwinding orange, the rind curling, the spritz puffing out in a citric mist. I will never be utterly alone in this world, and yet I may still always be alone... as long as I make room in my head for joy, then alone really doesn't even suck a bit.

And that joy in my head has been there. As part of my stint down here in the gruesome Austin heat (mostly near 100 degrees Farenheit), I decided to hit as many different watering holes as possible, and so have been going bi-weekly with JS and sometimes FS to different spots.

The first spot we went to together (I went to the first spot at Windy Point along Lake Travis alone. It cost $10, a fact that JS won't forgive me for mentioning here, and probably wouldn't be worth it unless you spent the day and went with friends as it was more of a picnic/reunion/party type place) was a Barton Creek pool... the whole creekbed was utterly dry and parched, to the point that JS and I thought we must be heading the wrong direction. But then, there it was: a 5-foot deep pool with willows overhanging. While swimming, I saw a turtle, a branch that looked exactly like a lizard, a green heron, and several fish that went in and around my arms when I rested on the bottom of the pool. It had pockets of cool water although was mostly warm, and some interesting rock structures around the sides.  I give it a one point nine thumbs up.

The second spot we went to was along Bull Creek, and it receives my all five thumbs up. This creek wasn't rushing, but wasn't dried up like Barton Creek was, and had a number of different pools and small waterfalls to chose from. We went along it a ways, and selected this pool that was about 4 feet deep, underneath both trees and some overhanging rock, where it was cool and refreshing with pockets of warmth. Overhead, a happy oak tree, but I got all excited because the banks were positively littered with frogs... they moved about the sandy-clay much like small crabs run about in tidepools... you had to kind of sweep the ground before you put your foot down, or you were bound to smush a few. Most were about the size of a fingernail, but I found one tree frog and one frog about the size of my fist... all within a ten by ten space. Also at this place, I figured out a combination of actions that I am nearly ashamed to have not discovered before: floating on back reading. The only other combination that I can imagine competing in terms of sheer pleasure is Costanza's famous eating while having sex combo (okay, that might be the winner, but this is very very close).

And yesterday, after the great Blanton trip, I met up with J and F again and we went down to Lost Creek Falls, which is represented in both the picture to the right, and then the picture at the top of this post. This spot gets three thumbs up...  It was a bit of a walk in the brutal heat. I thought I was about to die right about five minutes before we got there, and then... there it was. The falls act as something of a natural dam, so along the top is a swampy field... actually pretty deep and cool. I was excited to explore it until JS said "um, are you afraid of water moccasins?" and then I smoothly removed myself. Below the falls are a couple of connected pools, no deeper than five feet. The water was pretty warm, which was disappointing, but there was a small cave under the falls about 4 feet by 3 feet wide that you could swim into, and that made the heat worth it.  Also, while we were there, in rolled the thunderclouds and we were all caught in this torrential downpour that had everyone gasping and whooping and laughing... well, most everyone. A couple folks looked like miserable drowned rats. But not me... it was cold hallelujah and praise the lord. FS and JS spent the time making "nipples so hard they could..." jokes, and for some reason we all got caught up in a Vietnam river analogy. Truthfully, it was bliss.

At all three places, I had those moments I was telling you about. Joy, that feeling of "if I were to die now, I would know..." Putting my hands through the waterfall, watching the oak leaves rustle up above, chasing down frogs and being with friends, getting to hear their laughs, and to chill out with a beer in hand and talk to them about inconsequential and consequential things alike, getting to ride the wake of their passions, and be included... All I can say is thank-you.

So, I've had time with friends, yes. I went out to a bar one night and out to a great bbq joint another night. Music and gossip. And then getting to spend some real, quality time with my grandparents... I haven't had three solid weeks with them since I was seven years old, and likely it helps that I can get out of their hair every now and then to visit J and F. I've been driving their big ol' truck around; it's a bit like sitting high atop a semi, and one thing I can say in favor of it is that I don't worry a bit about asshole drivers around me. If they want to endanger themselves, fine, but there's nothing they could do to that truck! I also have been feeding my grannie's resident deer Phoebe, and sitting in front of the Olympics next to her (Grannie, not Phoebe) with a gin/tonic in hand and trash-talking NBC's coverage and commentators while enjoying some crazy athletics.

Okay... I've caught up a bit, and now JS and I are going to join my Grans for a film in a theatre that serves BEER and pizza during the show. Hooooorah!