November 20, 2010

Week 4, ILRC Fall 2010

The last class of the first-ever Write To Connect series ended the way it began—cold and rainy on the outside, warm and bright with creative energy on the inside.

Melissa steered her electric wheelchair into our meeting room, drops of rain scattering from her lavender poncho. I was thankful that she had come to the last class, seeing as how it was so stormy out. I admitted that I had been fantasizing, earlier that day as I drove my mobility scooter along Market Street while getting drenched,  about the possibility of zipping myself into a giant plastic bag—the kind that comes with dry cleaning.

Sarah Funes was able to take some time out of her busy schedule as a disabled youth advocate and an intern at the ILRCSF to join us. I first met Sarah this summer when I wrote this Proyecto Vision article about her. In class yesterday, she read Elizabeth Barrett Browning “How Do I Love Thee” to us. When I asked her why she had chosen that poem, she told us that she had first read it in a novel by Lurlene McDaniel. McDaniel is a well-known young adult writer whose novels focus on terminally or chronically ill teenagers. Later in the class, after a journaling exercise I gave everyone, Sarah read to us about her new way of making life choices after having recovered from a brain tumor a couple years ago. She also wrote about being constantly mindful of death as both a way of being grateful and a way of honoring her friends and family who did not survive cancer.

Jennifer Gibbons shared one of her favorite poems, “Birthday Girl” by Linda McCarriston, and we discussed its similarities to Tillie Olsen’s I Stand Here Ironing. During the journaling exercise, Jennifer wrote about the experience she is having of getting muddled up between process and product. Work as a ghostwriter teaches her to expect a constant product from any writing task she takes on, so much so that it is difficult to steep herself in the creative process and let new, if uncooked, writing emerge.

I am constantly having to remind myself of the value of process, of the actual nutrients a body takes in, from process. I lead the class in a hybrid exercise that felt a bit awkward. In trying to make the exquisite corpse (a ubiquitous creative-writing-class-activity) accessible, I decided to mash it up with the game of Telephone and the game of Keep It Up. Some students could not whisper, others could not read print— I thought I found an eloquent and quirky way to flow around these differences. In fact, what there was was errata, shuffling, forgetting and “diddly.” Yes, “diddly.” At the end of the exercise I said, “OK guys, that was truly an experiment.” Which, I realized—when I listened to Jennifer read the last lines of her in-class writing referencing the animated classic The Point—was exactly the point.

We did meditations on movement and stillness, after I read from Larry Eigner, and Melissa journaled about climbing the 21 steps to a lover’s door. Then, we brainstormed about how to represent motion and open space in poems such as Eigenr’s for the blind reader. An idea of a large expanse--like a wall—and Braille labels—or simply a tactile key—took shape in the group discussion. 

Kacie, who is a visually impaired college student studying ASL, shared the journal entry she wrote in class. It was about a Deaf social that she attended at Project Insight last week.


Dance
Last night I went to a place where the air was rife with the energy of motion, the flurry of expression. Last night I stepped into a world whose natives fill me with equal parts intrigue, terror and joy. It was bright with supermarket fluorescence, loud with shuffling feet and chairs scraping across the floor. It was quiet with the flicks, claps and sighs of subtle conversation. This world was filled with hands. Dancing, flitting, jerking, twiddling, flowing. There were many people. I was hustled around the room to make introductions, my hands hovering gently to follow each greeting. I traded names with many. “Hi, my, name, is, K-A-C-I-E. Nice, to, meet, you.” This was my mantra. Some were hesitant to talk to me. Most were not. There was a little girl there, 5 years old. She needed a bit of encouragement, but soon her tiny fingers pressed into my waiting palm. “My, name, is, L-I-L-I-A-N-A. How, are, you.” Soon I was approached by a young woman. Her shadow glided in front of me, her hands patiently filled mine. “Hello, she said, “you have a beautiful face.” (Blush). “Thanks, I responded, “You have nice hands. Big, strong, soft, good signers’ hands, I like.” I could almost hear her smile. “Thank you so much!” After the ceremonial trading of names, I wondered if I’d just had a pleasant brush with the enigma of this world’s culture. All too soon the lights briefly blinked. Off, on, off, on. Time to go. 


Write To Connect will continue in different places and spaces soon. I hope to have a WTC series in the East Bay to make it more accessible to folks in the disability community who live-in that area. I am also open to having it at a coffee shop or another location. If I do not already have your email or phone number, please be in touch so I can keep you in the loop about dates and times.