Friday, August 27, 2010

Silly Bus

A week of hectic nightmarish frantic syllabus-writing/perfecting/copying culminated in my first class yesterday. I told the 27 shiny eager freshman comp students to bring that syllabus to class every day, never lose it, my work of art. They could never understand the painstaking care I put into formatting that eight page monster. The relentless proof-reading and re-wording, not to mention planning out an entire semester's worth of readings, essays, and workshops, when I am used to a more organic blend of vision and spontaneity. Whew.

Thursday morning at 8:00, in a third floor windowed classroom bright with coastal fog, those wide-eyed teenagers could not know that I sat on my living room floor, carefully collating each 8 page packet. That at 10:00 the night before, in the warm inky moonlit, I walked downtown to Kinko's to staple each of them. That at 5:00 that morning, I woke with a heart-thump, remembering the poem that I had, in my syllabus-induced madness, forgotten to photo-copy, and that, according to the syllabus, had to be read by our next class. That I crawled out of bed at 6:52, numb with wakefulness and nerves. That I retrieved my leather teaching bag from the top shelf of the closet, poured my iced coffee into a travel mug, kissed the eye-masked M good-bye, and headed downtown, back to Kinko's. Spent three bucks on 27 copies of the “Wussy Boy Manifesto.”

There are other concerns. Will the textbook arrive by Monday, in time for them to do their first assignment? Will they have looked up the word “manifesto” in the dictionary? Is that guy really using his laptop to assuage his learning disability, or will I catch him on Face-book?

But I can relax now. First class went well. Everyone was on time, or, shockingly, even early. They raised their hands to ask questions. They nodded when I explained the difference between revision and editing. Two of them even stayed after class, to say they are excited about English 101. And, thanks to the syllabus, next week is already planned out. Too easy.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Oh what a fortnight it's been

Home from my travels for two weeks now. Glorious lit-up days, swimming trips to the river, refurbishing old furniture, watching my garden grow. Late afternoon lunches and twilight dessert. Thirty sweaty minutes at the YMCA with a forbidden People magazine. My days spin about on a charmed axis. And yet---that little cretin, anxiety, ever lurking, ever resentful of peace, comes a-trouncing. She whispers to me. Shouldn't you be working on your syllabus? Planning your English classes? Writing brilliant essays about Cuba that The New York Times will trip over themselves to pay you for? Shouldn't you be doing... more?

I wake up in fog and while I wait for the sun to poke through, I lament being home. On the road, I should only ever be doing what I'm doing. I scribble in my dusty journal and I dream large. I let myself sit by a body of water without figuring out how to get across it. I get misty-marveled at the immensity of time, never cowed by its fervent passage.

I travel to escape anxiety, that aggressive little bitch who is never satisfied until she gets a bite out of my heels. She wants me to worry sick over my English 101 class at SSU, teaching college kids, oh my; I want to celebrate with wild dance moves that make my wood floor creak. She wants me to obsess over my syllabus until the letters run together; I want to assign Matt Groening's “School is Hell” and make cookies. She wants me to believe that I'm a pretender; I want to stop pretending.

Yes--- I miss being on the go, carrying everything I need in my back-pack, with all its secrets pockets and zippered pouches. Every last thing, from the extra batteries to the Bubble Yum, nestled in its exact place. I miss wandering into a cafe and hoping for good espresso. But I would be lying if I didn't admit to you (to myself) that I travel, really, so that I can come back home and start anew. Confident in my own powerful rhythm.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Strawberries and yogurt!
Fresh greens, home-cooked pasta sauce and garlic salad dressing!
Clean, soft sheets!
Friends! Sweet, loving friends!
A quiet little neighborhood and a cozy house!
Biking in the noon-time sun!

These are just a few reasons why coming home is so lovely.
It's all so... easy.

And inspiring. This I know--- I am most on fire with artistic prowess, most aware of my creative potential, least afraid of failure and humiliation, when I have just returned from my summer travels. After weeks of reading and simmering ideas in the inky juices of my journal, I'm ready to make stuff! I'm relaxed and confident and brimming with ambition.

I spread my treasures out on the kitchen table---shells, feathers, coins, an amber bottle, candles, ticket stubs, currency, maps, newspapers, all the found and collected spoils, the containers of memory and experience. I survey my photos, hundreds of them, on the computer screen.

I have a new set of eyes for an old piece of writing, and in two days I spin the straw into something silkier and submit it to a bad-ass Zine. I paint an old wooden wine container bright blue and pink, the zygote of an altar/shrine that's been on my mind for awhile now.

I (along with M) dig into the garden, plant begonias, gardenias, impatiens, daisies, and flowers whose names are not as stunning as they are. We also plant three new beds of vegetables---kale, chard, onions, beets, arugula, chives, broccoli, parsley, and an intimidating amount of lettuce. We buy a pineapple at Grocery Outlet and remember Cuba. Our back-packs spill their crusty clothes onto the living room floor and the recycling bin fills up. Home for just a few days now, I am savoring this interim of play, when a Monday means... practicing chords on the piano, starting some hand-sewn curtains, and letting the sun shine inside.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Travel Song

Sometimes travel is hard.
Sometimes it´s endless waiting in lines, delayed flights, lumpy pillows, weird tropical rashes, lobster that tastes like salty pleather, bored waiters who laugh at you, a squeaky chirp that starts around 6 am. Damn cute-looking bird. Sometimes travel is like the day we arrived at Playa del Estes, hopes high, the great yawning void of the unknown wide open with possibility. Who knows where we´ll stay? How we´ll get there? Who cares?

An hour of walking later, our guidebook´s "diamond-dust sand" acrawl with thousands of vacationing Cubans, the soul-crushing beats of Reggaetone mocking our search for peace and quiet, not a casa in sight, and a loud smack of thunder. M´s backpack is chafing him, my sandals are coming apart beneath my feet, and though the rain feels good, we do not want our money, passports, cameras, and ipods to get soaked. M curses my stubbornness, I curse the hungry mosquitoes, as we huddle under a tree, sweat mixing with hot rain mixing with fear. Less than 24 hours later we are on the standing-room-only public bus headed back to Havana, our tummies aching from the previous night´s UFOs (Unidentifiable Fried Options).

Redemption comes in many forms.
A sunset walk on the Malecon, unbroken ocean to the right, Havana´s balconies and French-shuttered homes aflame in gold and pink to the left.
An unexpected pink-marbled casa with real water pressure.
Pineapple pinwheels, mischief-making involving the CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) and a poster, the moon from our rooftop.
Handing out cheap plastic whistles to the kids of Cuba, swarms of them with out-stretched hands and loud GRACIAS!, their piercing cries following our retreating footsteps for miles.
A little boy who tosses a bucket of bath-water from his balcony, a naked still-wet precocious giggle, which just misses us.
His surprise as we toss a whistle up to him in return.

And M, the newer traveler, more sensitive to the stony stares and jack-hammer craziness of unplanned budget traveling in high summer: happy to get back to Mexico City, where the air is cooler, the smiles are more plentiful, and the pianos are unlocked. Our first morning back on the mainland he treated the cafe patrons to his beautiful renditions of Summertime, Imagine, and the Darth Vader theme song. They applauded. And then Lacha, a Cuban artist who lives in Mexico, gave M a portrait he´d sketched on the paper placemat, by way of thanks.