Monday, August 31, 2015

When did you start enjoying writing?

When did you start enjoying writing?

One of my new students wrote this question to me on a form modeled after an exercise I borrowed from educator Lee Ann Spillane:

What strikes me about the question is that I have an answer beyond a basic "Oh, I have always loved writing" or "This one teacher inspired me..."

I started to enjoy writing when writing started to me. Not for school. Not for any assignment. When I started to write for me I started to enjoy it.

It happened organically. 

I was in graduate school and I fell in love for the first time. Sure, I had crushes and girlfriends in high school and when I was in middle school. College too. But this time, falling in love unhinged my bones from my muscles from my nerves from my breath. Love made me a puddle but she did not know me well. We were not a couple.

So I started to write to her.

Outside of The Rodin Museum--the first museum I loved.
It was all I could do. Yes, I talked to her--but I was a puddle, remember. Writing let me be sincere. Writing let me experiment with letter writing, poetry, sketching...everything. Writing helped me sort out of the jumbled mess of bones and nerves in my gut and it allowed me to take a breath, reorganize myself, and reach out to her--my audience of one.

This is when I started to enjoy writing. I found out so much about myself. It was at this point where I started to try other art forms even though I had no experience with them: painting, sculpture, sketching with charcoal.

Writing opened doors for me--not only to express myself to my first love but also it encouraged me to try new things. It gave me a new perspective. I thought about things differently. I realized, as a writer, that even though I still knew so little, writing (and all of the arts) could be a way for me to explore and learn so much more about the world.

Since then, I have not stopped writing or trying new things. I believe being a writer has introduced me to ballet, the orchestra, opera, different types of theater, photography, in addition to all kinds of painting techniques and artists.

I love writing today, yes, but when it all started for me it all started with a girl.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Reading the World: 8. Argentina

Two Riders Resting, by Johann Moritz Rugendas
German artist Johann Moritz Rugendas travelled South America to paint. While crossing Chile and Argentina, he suffers injuries during a storm on horseback which render him grotesque. Once recovered, he continues to sketch and record the landscape.

Soon, one of this two wishes (to experience an earthquake or an indian attack) appears. Hundreds of indians raid a settlement used to these attacks.

Rugendas, suffering debilitating migraines from his injuries, records the raid from a distance with charcoal and red pencil. The story ends long after evening has fallen with the artist entering the indian camp, sitting with his sketch pad, a drawing each of them up close.

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, by Cesar Aira is a work of fiction which brings a portion of nineteenth century Chile and Argentina to life. The book, patient and deep, establishes just enough of a background to understand who the artist is and why and where he is traveling.

What interests me is the artistic journey of a landscape painter towards wanting to sketch and paint the fearsome indians up close. Landscape, by its nature, is the wide angle if the viewer is sitting in a dark theater--we are at an arm's length from the subject matter.

The closer an artist represents his subject the more potential for the psychological. The closer we are allowed to approach as a viewer or reader, the more likely we slip into the clothes of the actors onstage...and share the experience.

As the story evolves, Aria thrusts Rugendas as deep inside nature--beautiful and fearsome--as one could be. He writes Rugendas into the middle of a lightning storm. On horseback, alone in the middle of the night, rider and horse are by lightning:
The charge was flowing out of the animal too, igniting a kind of phosphorescent golden tray all around it, with undulating edges. As soon as the discharge was compete, in a matter of seconds, the horse got to its feet and tried to walk. The full battery of thunder explodes overhead. In a midnight darkness, broad and fine blazes interlocked. Balls of white fire the size of rooms rolled down the hillsides, the lightning bolts serving as cues in a game of meteoric billiards. The horse was turning. Completely numb, Rugendas tugged at the reigns haphazardly, until they slipped from his hands.
Maybe I am completely wrong with what I take away from this book. The interplay of landscape and close-up, artist/writer and viewer/reader strikes me as a central theme--and strikes me as something I'm dying to talk about.

I really enjoyed this story--the writing was a pleasure and the episode was detailed enough so that I not only gathered what happened but also why it mattered--I was allowed to share in the experience. This is a story about being an artist as much as it is about any viewing any one artist from a distance.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reading the World: 7. Australia

from The Arrival, by Shaun Tan
Immigration has become a topic of great interest to me--and feels very much like a life-long interest. Immigration, tied in with culture and family, comprise the bones of the story.

Tan writes about his experience developing The Arrival on his website, "I was reminded that migration is a fundamental part of human history, both in the distant and recent past.

In Tan's story, a father from an unnamed land travels to another unnamed land. He leaves his wife and daughter behind as he attempts to earn enough money to send for them to join him.

We encounter giants, shadows of monsters, strange fruit and vegetables, indecipherable language, astonishing vehicles, foreign customs, and a feeling of being a complete and total outsider.

The fact that there are no words in this book did not bother me in the least. The progression of images connected me closer to the main character, the immigrant father. I learned with him. I felt confused and uncertain. I lived his struggle to find food and a semblance of a steady income.

Actually, I can't imagine this book being "written" any other way.

from The Arrival, by Shaun Tan
And I suppose the feeling I encountered as a reader, is the backbone of my experience. I felt more than I saw or digested as traditional text. The uncertainty which each page brought was welcomed.

The main character not only succeeds because of his grit and perseverance, but also because of the kindness of strangers. He encounters people with their "silent" stories to share. These people sympathize with his circumstance and help him make it.

I am looking forward to placing this book in my classroom library and asking students what they think this story is about--I really can't wait to hear some of their take-aways from The Arrival.