Saturday, November 24, 2007

More Sun Dogs!

We saw sun dogs today while walking home from the reservoir. This display had three chunks of rainbow and you could see the arc shape quite well on one of them. If you imagine the face of a clock with the sun in the center, there was one rainbow dog at the three o'clock spot, one at the twelve o'clock spot, and one at the nine o'clock spot. The twelve o'clock dog had the largest arc, reaching to connect to the others in a faint ring.

Then we saw one very deeply colored lone sun dog later in the afternoon, lighting up a fluffy cloud-top poking out among the thin high clouds.

Teaching Art

I've been hired to assist the freshman art class at the local charter school as an artist-in-residence. It's been a real trip!

I sat with one of the introverted students and encouraged her to draw her hand; she did it in class, and then that night at home. She came back the next day with doubled improvement; I was elated! This girl has a narrow thread she is clinging to in order to communicate and to develop self esteem, but I could see that she responds well to simple, well-defined goals. I looked at her sketchbook. In it she had drawn the little bathroom in her apartment with such jauntiness and affection. It was fabulous, and I told her so! So I knew she had it in her to sink in and make something she cared about. I want her to be challenged and engaged in this class.

At the moment I am most interested in the kids that are in danger of falling off the map. They are half the class. They respond well to my one-to-one visits with them. I ask them to draw. I offer to set them up with paper and pencil if they don't have it, and I look them in the eye and put my hand on their shoulder. I never draw on their pictures but I sketch when necessary to show them how to pay attention by looking, measuring with their eyes. Observation is a skill that is a life tool and is never wasted. So whether they become artists, detectives, firemen, teachers, dental hygienists, or asphalt pavers, observation is important.

I am pleased when the students are drawing and really looking. I feel that they can always doodle on their own time (or in math class!) but in this class I want them to observe from life and sharpen the skills that come with that practice. When the kids doodle or refuse to work, they yack, and the room gets very noisy and ridiculous for concentrating. This becomes destructive for the kids trying to work, and takes down the whole room. When the kids are bored, or overwhelmed by busy-work projects, the desire to escape or slack off becomes pervasive. At these times the whole room can have the feeling that art is just babysitting, that art doesn't really matter.

I am interested in seeing the students held accountable, but in a compassionate way. I try to approach them with an I-believe-in-you-I-care-about-you vibe along with an achievable goal. Small daily victories build self esteem. I have found this to be true in my work. The students all have drawing ability and I tell them improvement is rapid and will surprise them when they put in the effort each day . . . but using their eyes, not their memory!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sun Dog, Comet, and Shooting Star

On Sunday we were driving to rehearse in Chester CT, and we saw two sun dogs in the sky. When we put on our sunglasses the colors were even more luminous; there were two slices of rainbow on either side of the sun. I wanted to signal to strangers driving on the highway to check it out. If I had been walking I would've gone up to people and shown them. After our rehearsal the sky was clear and full of stars. Bill remembered we should be able to see the comet and showed us where. We all took turns looking through binoculars and we found the comet lined up with a star directly overhead. It looked like a cotton ball surrounding the star. As we stood there straining our necks staring at the stars in the dry cold darkness I saw a shooting star leap by!

No Need to Be Alone

This morning I couldn't move my arms without pain in my shoulders. I felt like I had rusted, like the tin man in The Wizard of Oz. It was time to loosen up in the pool. In the locker room there was a woman who I chatted with. She had pale green eyes. She told me her husband had died this past February, after 62 years of marriage. I told her I was sorry. Her eyes became slightly teary. She said she had just started dating a man she knew for a long time because he was her painting teacher. I said how wonderful; good for you for circulating. She said it wasn't easy, that she had a lot of guilt. I said I bet your husband would have wanted you to be happy. She paused and said well, I know he wouldn't have stayed alone! And we both laughed.

Rings in the Pond

This time of year it is so easy to get caught in spin. I do and I am. Receive mode is about pain, anxiety, doubt, fear, but also the poignancy of vulnerability, and compassion. Sometimes my steps into the outside world reveal the little victories among people; the bits of daily drama and life that embody courage and love. Other times I am overwhelmed by the never-ending poverty, abandonment, and suffering I see at every corner! At these times I need to be reminded to participate in making my weensy piece of the world more humane and more loving and more compassionate. I want to believe that the rings in the pond formed from my tossing the stone will radiate out and touch others.

Musical Lathering

The last jam I played in was a musical healing. I arrived in a state of emotional anguish for no particular reason except that life is this way for me half the time. I had a brain washing, a true musical lathering and rinsing of the best kind. I am continually amazed by what making music can do to the emotional centers of my brain. Speaking of which I am reading the new book Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, the neurologist, and he has amazing stories about music and the brain. I hope to lather up my gray matter for as many Thursday night jams as I can.

Out of My Head

I am feeling the agonies of the world, the pain of my neighbors' lives, and everything I lay my eyes on seems to be groaning back at me in anguish. Understandably I get spoiled rotten from three solid months of unending energy and joy. But there are two sides to the coin and I've learned to respect that. I've been reading lots of books lately and walking for miles. Today, with deadlines looming, all I want to do is stare out the window. So I am! And that isn't so bad really. A bit of that is good for all of us, but I'd hide in my house for the next three months if I could. I need to get out and laugh, get out of my head.

On Language and Healing

I think language gives us courage. Poetry gives us courage and faith to live with open wounds. Poetry gives us the means to understand pain in a meaningless age. Language gives us insight into the darkness that we all stumble into today. So, I don't know if it heals, but I do know that it provides us with what we lack. Language provides us with something that we desperately need. Not to close the wound, but not to forget it. Language makes us not forget what we went through. I've been shot. I've been stabbed. I got scars all over my body, and my face. My jaw is wired. My teeth have been kicked out by the narcos. My jaw was beaten . . . was knocked out by the police. My head is full of cracks from the guards. My stomach is all scarred up. I've been shot in the legs, and those are just the visible signs. The wounds that I carry inside of me are even deeper and graver. Language is the only thing that I can go to and drink from, and feel invigorated and feel happy about living. It carries the magic of my people's heart. It carries the magic that I'm in love with. If you took language away from me, I would immediately pick up a gun and go to the mountains and become a rebel. There would be no doubt whatsoever, no hesitation. So, I use language as something that connects me to beyond the world I live in, that connects me to a cosmic kind of destiny that helps me towards living a good life. So it heals me in that sense. It heals me in the sense that I'm able to love living and I'm able to look at the living. Language provides me with a journey I would not have otherwise had . . . a journey into myself and my people.

     - Jimmy Santiago Baca, from an interview with
       Gabriel Meléndez


I took Honey for the big loop walk, which is the walk through the Precious Blood Cemetery and around the reservoir in Blackstone. It's a three-mile loop through mostly residential neighborhoods.
I forgot how necessary looking around and seeing signs of life is for me. I hunger for it when my energy has switched back to being internal. I spotted carved pumpkins and spider webs and lots of hand-made decorations in peoples' yards.

I saw a three-year-old dressed up as a bumble bee with gold wings on her back, and I saw a full-grown adult dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz go into the pizza parlor with pony tails and a blue-and-white checked dress over a puffy white blouse. She looked so matter-of-fact, like she forgot she was in costume. I saw an empty house for rent and I imagined people living there. I saw an empty rabbit hutch and I imagined having rabbits. I have fallen into my internal place but I don't want to dig a dark hole which is so easy to do. I want to walk and swim and read and keep working with my new head.