Chimera Song Mosaic
Thursday, June 26, 2003
Mainly, what I have to report today is that my cable Internet stuff is finally fixed—hopefully for good. Now I can resume my life online—thank goodness! Real life was getting a little hairy.

Grade-Free-Zone Kids

For example, today I went to the McAllen Museum of Art and volunteered to lead a two-hour writing workshop for kids aged 7-13. That’s all the information I was given, and since to be honest some days I have been dying to get out of the house, I agreed. Even though I spent a year in Montana working for the Missoula Writing Collaborative—a Kenneth Koch-ian Writers-in-the Schools kind of thing—I still got a little panicked. My youngest student for the past four years has been 16! The young ones are a little different, and unfortunately my discipline policy with them is less follow-me and more wait-and-see.

They got a little rowdy toward the end, but overall, things went okay. The museum was swarming with kids today, and a couple of them kept interrupting and asking me, “When are we going outside?” and “When are we going to see the snakes?” I guess they were a little confused. There was no way we could have made it to the snakes or the playground or the art even because these things were all filled to the gills with summer-anxious kids. When we left, I suggested to the coordinator that next time I would like to take the kids to the art and have them write about it, and she looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Yeah, that sounds great—but not during the summer festival.”

As part of an activity to pay attention to details, I asked them to name their five senses for me (yes, this is a little babyish, but I even ask my 40+ year old college students to do this, and they seem to like to draw on their prehistoric schemas), and I was delighted when they forgot the obvious one: sight. I told them that they were amazing because most adults rely so much on sight that they forget to think about how their other senses impact their judgments and perspectives.

We had a perfect example of this in the center of the conference table (we were gathered around it like executives in the museum’s library): a life-size, extremely realistic cobra in a wicker basket. I asked them how we determined that the cobra was not in fact a real cobra, but a fake one. Did we smell it? Did we taste it? (They thought the idea of licking the cobra was really funny.) You’re not going to grab a snake to see if it’s real or not, are you? So we witnessed how much humans really on sight and maybe sound to make judgments (some kids were really good at making cobra noises).

So we wrote about the cobra (or the non-cobra—they liked the idea of it not really being a snake), and most agreed that it looked most realistic from the back. I would have liked a more structured atmosphere without so many kids showing up very late and joining the group and having to leave early and perhaps a bit less of the paper airplane action at the end, but I think with a mixed-age group and a museum free for all fun-fest, that’s a little hard to do. As it was, we had the snake poems, name acrostics, name poems (I read Sandra Cisneros's excerpt about Esperanza called “My Name” from House on Mango Street, but the kids were more interested in hearing the poems by my former 3rd and 4th graders in Montana—they love to guess the grade level of the writers! Also, they make much distinction between being real fourth graders, third graders, or kids entering fourth grade), and “Where I’m From” poems (based on a poem of the same name by George Ella Lyon). Next time I will read more poems—they liked that the best.

I thought Pokeman was outdated, but they got into the most heated debates about characters and functions of characters and other cartoons. They all knew what they were talking about. I kept saying, “Wait! What’s that? Tell me about that!” Next time I might have them write about their favorite cartoon heroes and villains.

Finally, CineSol

This weekend I am going to South Padre Island for the CineSol Film Festival opening weekend! It’s a festival that features Latino films—shorts, documentaries, full length. I have seen many of these before, including a wonderful short called “Dirty Laundry” about a young girl living in El Paso and discovering her newly sensual body. But they have new ones every year, and I’ve never been able to go to the special event on the island. But this year will be different.

Don’t get me wrong—tomorrow before the first film, I am going to play in the waves all day and get in some serious hammock time, not to mention some tasty brew pub experiences—but I plan to see films all day on Saturday. I’m really looking forward to this. If I miss any films, I will be able to make them up in the showings at Cine El Rey in McAllen, Border Theater in Mission (wonderful historic venues), and even some in Rio Grande City (which is a beautiful, hilly town about an hour west of here with some shockingly juicy history). I can’t wait!

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