Saturday, January 31, 2015

Freewrites Borne Out Of Portland, Oregon

Last week I returned from a visit to Portland, a city where I spent my college years. My purpose was multi-pronged: to see friends, connect with professors and to sniff out a hunch that now is a good time to return. I didn't know what I was hoping to find out but I felt I could learn something. But, we'll get to that.

There is nothing much better than seeing friends. Being able to regard them in person rather than through a computer or telephone is important for the health of your friendship. We hold a certain mental image of a person in our memory when we are apart and over time that image loses its accuracy. As people change, the more necessary an update so your understanding of them stays relevant. I zig-zagged all over town pretty much every day to see as many people as possible. I tried to have a quiet moment with everyone so that we could talk about what's real in their life. Some are graduating soon. Others are working jobs they acquired after college. At times, I thought I detected a degree of uncertainty in them that they were grappling with.

And I wanted to tell them it was a good thing. I wanted to bolster them, to say that life happens all around and inside them, regardless of place or purpose. Wherever we are, there is a way to be the person we want to be. "Patience achieves everything." The pace of growth is always so much slower than we crave. We worry and malign ourselves because we always seem further behind than we expect. But ultimately it's an artificial ruler we're applying to ourselves because no one can really say how long it's supposed to take to fulfill the aim of a life. It's kind of supposed to take years and years. So, if we work at shaping ourselves in our own peculiar corner, in our own days, we are already learning how life works. We should trust ourselves to know what to do, even when we are suspended in uncertainty. No, especially when we are uncertain. Not knowing what to do doesn't mean we won't ever know. It simply means we don't know now and, in the meantime, we attempting to discern a reasonably suitable option from the universe of available options. But in the end, my point is that no course can really be a mistake as long as you are listening to yourself. Even if it's a wrong turn, doesn't matter, had knowledge.

I had the pleasure of seeing my old accapella group, Momo and The Coop, and dropping in on one of their rehearsals. It's amazing to see people who were once freshmen/sophomores in the group now in the position of leaders leading their own underclassmen. I was heartened to see the younger crowd was in love with accapella, just as I and all my other classmates were. They speak their minds freely and forcefully, shaping the State of Momo. The same framework of democracy and freedom of speech that was present in my time is still in place. There are some differences though. I had the honor of singing with them in rehearsal and I experienced first hand their new sound. It's cool, crisp and clean, more bass than in the past. And their arrangement choices showed off the direction their taste and preferences are going.

I spent a day as a ghost on my old campus, walking the grounds a younger version of me once explored as a new frontier. I dropped in at the English Department to see my professors. Ostensibly I was there for advice but what I really needed was just to see and hear them. I had forgotten the power of the particular brand of intelligence that comes from writing and reading literature. Experiencing the presence of my professors again was a touchstone, a reminder of why I had wandered down this way.

One of my professors, Susan, invited me to dinner with her. It was a lovely evening of conversation accompanied by wine, cheeses, and a roast. Over the course of 4 hours, I described to her all that the walk involved. It was great fun investigating various elements of the walk with her, alternately lapsing into contemplative silence and thinking aloud. Most importantly, we approached the walk from the same angle: how to write about it. And together we arrived at a framework, a vessel to hold a story in. In my mind now there exists a mental structure that wasn't there before and I felt a distinct sense that this is why I had wanted to come to Portland.

We'll see what comes of it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Newsworthy Aftermath

A neat article about the Soledad Highschool poetry event and my talk appeared in one of the local papers, The Californian. Read it here.

Here's a link to some photos!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Soledad Highschool Poetry Project

Tomorrow I am speaking to a local highschool about poetry and the walk. 

Oh, boy.

Here's how I wound up in this position. A month ago I was contacted by Jayanti, the director of the Monterey County Library System, and she brought to my attention the existence of poets in Soledad, the town next door. And not only do they exist but they are many; there are some 250 Soledad poets, a veritable garden of them growing in my backyard! This is a result of the effort of two English teachers, Ericka and Heather, who, along with all the other things you typically find in highschool English classrooms, have been teaching poetry. For the past semester, their seniors have been reading and writing poems!

Under ordinary circumstances this may have been the whole story. But, here's where it gets interesting. Last year, one of the county libraries hosted an author named Dom Testa. He gave a sponsored talk but later returned the money to the community. It turns out he runs a non-profit organization called the Big Brain Club, a foundation that "helps students become the best version of themselves." In concert with Soledad Highschool and the Soledad Library, the Big Brain Club is supporting the publication of Soledad Highschool's poetry.

By now, most of the students have submitted poems to be considered for publication. I got a chance to read about 150 of them. To celebrate the success of the project, Jayanti wanted to host a speaker to encourage the students/poets and talk to them about where poetry could take them. Originally, they had signed on some professor from Hartnell (a community college in the area) but she bailed. After hearing about the walk and reading my poem "To A Stranger," Jayanti invited me to fill in. So, that's how I got here.

I'm amped about tomorrow. I've got everything prepared, just tying up a few loose ends and ensuring I have all the props I need (Yes, I am employing numerous props. No, this is not a questionable move. Shush). I know I possess the words to say what I wish to say to these kids tomorrow. Whether or not they march in an orderly fashion depends on how calm I remain. When they call my name, when it's the exact moment for my stupid words to fill the silence, the kick of adrenaline that hits is tremendous. It bites the horse I'm trying to ride, and he gets to bucking. Caught up in this internal struggle for composure, I lose a certain degree of self-awareness, usually right in the middle of my talk. My mind's general can't seem to marshal his thoughts into cohesion (Order! Hold the line!) and the mouth, sensing weakness, seizes its opportunity for complete autonomy. Language spills nonstop from my rapidfire mouth and I can hardly hear--much less comprehend--the words over the dull roar that thunders under my helm. It's a goddamn siege.

There's nothing to be done except: CHAAAAaaaarge! Sally forth from the gates!