New music: traditional musician works with less traditional musicians. Some moments of absolute brilliance:
The Girl is a fan of summer snacking — what kid isn’t, I suppose. She always seems most attracted to the foods that make the biggest mess.
But then again, what kid isn’t? What’s the point of eating something sweet if you can’t, at the same time, wear it? That is a convenience born of the fact that watermelon and ice cream taste better in the summer. Who would want to clean up such a mess inside? Better to let it drip and leave a small bit of sweetness for the ants.
Ice cream is a different story altogether, and at the same time, it’s just a variation watermelon. Sweet and sticky, they both leave a trail behind. But only ice cream is affected by the clothes one wears.
Sunday dresses always make ice cream taste best.
It’s a yearly tradition for us, going back to our first full summer her in 2006: the Bluff Mountain Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina. A few hundred people get together to listen to old-time music, bluegrass, and a bit of country (not the same types of music at all: the latter two are derivatives of old-time music) under the shade of oaks and magnolias.
There are ballad singers who are keeping alive music that has roots in the original settlers’ English, Welsh, and Scottish culture.
There are bluegrass bands with well over a century of playing experience among the members.
What I’ve always loved about Bluff is the combination of old and young: the sense of continuity and community is encouraging in these extremely divided times.
That sense of ageless community is nowhere more apparent than the clogging floor set up in front of the stage. In years past, there were two groups that clogged: the Green Grass Cloggers (who celebrated their 40th anniversary this year) and the younger crew, the Cold Mountain Cloggers.
This year, the members of the Cold Mountain troupe were unable to perform as a group, spread about the area at various other events, but when the Green Grass Cloggers were finishing up, they invited the dancers present to come out and join them, making for an interesting combination of Western and tie-dyed shirts.
Yet the Green Grass Cloggers only danced periodically. The majority of the time, audience members took to the plywood dance floor.
Watching the men and women in their sixties and seventies come up to relive their youth made me realize how deep the music runs in mountain culture of old. Everyone learns a bit of clogging; everyone learns to play (or play at) some kind of instrument; everyone sings along with the majority of the performers.
At the other end of the spectrum are the children from the audience who see the dancing, hear the itching rhythm of the instruments, and want to move. They get on the floor and jump, shake, twirl, hop, run, skip, tumble, and anything else that comes to mind.
“That’s some mighty fine dancin’ goin’ on down there,” a performer might encourage.
Mighty fine indeed.
We were writing about writing — an odd thing to my class of 25 eighth-graders, but they complied. Heads down, they scribbled for half an hour, turning out some of the best writing they’d done all year.
One young lady, Tina, after fifteen or twenty minutes of writing, declared, “I’m done!” I told her she should continue writing and that she could write about anything she chose.
“Even you?” she asked.
“Sure,” I replied, wondering what I might get. After all, Tina had a reputation, and I could tell from the first few moments of the first class that it might be a challenge to keep her quiet and focused.
In short, Tina said whatever came into her thoughts. If a comment was “stupid,” she let the poor bloke know it. If she realized she was hungry, sleepy, bored, thirsty, excited, amused, or anything else, she shared it with the whole class the instant she realized she was hungry, sleepy, bored, etc.
I’d spoken to her about it a few times. It was easy to lose my cool and simply react to her provocations, but I knew such reactions would serve little purpose. I also knew that, were I to leave her alone, she would quickly burn through all the steps in the school discipline policy; it would be easy then to get her out of class on a regular basis simply by writing administrative referral after referral.
By the end of the first quarter, she’d calmed down significantly. Her outbursts were increasingly rare, and she responded to my mild reminders to stay on task with a smile rather than an argument.
All of that went through my thoughts as I walked away from her desk. Immediately after all students were on their way to the final period of the day, I went through the papers and dug hers out.
Now I’m going to speak upon the Great Gary Scott. Mr. Scott, the best, is my favorite teacher. He may be boring, but he believes everybody can do it if they try. He has helped me so much and I thank him greatly and I have to say he is a great father figure. His daughter has a good daddy at home.
“She probably has no idea how great this makes me feel,” I muttered to myself, so I thanked her as she walked to the bus. “Those were very kind words, and I appreciate you sharing with me.”
She smiled and said “You’re welcome” quickly, bolting away from me as she suddenly saw a friend.
Huntington Beach State Park got its name from the original owners of the property, philanthropist and translator Archer M. Huntington and his wife, the sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. As such, the park also contains the Huntington’s winter home, Atalaya (Spanish for “watchtower).
One’s first thought is to compare it to the Biltmore estate. While it was built 50 years later and is much smaller (probably not even one tenth the size), there are certain similarities. Both Vanderbilt and Huntington got their money the really old fashioned way: they inherited it. Both men were interested in fostering the local economy, with Huntington insisting that all workers must be local. If a skilled craftsman was needed, he paid to have someone come and teach a local how to do it.
Yet there are significant differences. Apart from the size and age, the motifs are different. Vanderbilt wanted his home to look like a château; Huntington wanted his home to reflect the Moorish influence on Spanish architecture.
Vanderbilt hired Richard Morris Hunt, the architect who designed, among other things, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, to design the entire home. Huntington had no architect; indeed, Huntington had no plan. The home was simply constructed according to his verbal instructions.
A final difference, other than the comparative state of current conditions, is intended purpose of the homes. Biltmore is a mansion, built for parties and guests that stay for weeks on end. It’s intended to impress, pure and simple.
Atalaya had more utilitarian aims: it was a place for the Huntingtons to work. Granted, it’s not work in the way most twenty-first century, middle-class people think of work: he wrote poetry, she sculpted, and fiscally, they were fine if they never made a dollar from either venture. Still, the Huntingtons never had overnight guests at the home (let alone the summer-long visits common at the Biltmore), and Atalaya was most decidedly not built to impress (though it does all the same).
A practical effect of this was that the Huntingtons turned over the home to the Army Air Corps during World War II, and the Corps set up a defensive battery at the home.
But I still come back to the similarities: apparently Huntington had no idea how much his home was costing him and never tried to determine it.
The ability to live like that is so far removed from anything most of us know.
If you’re going to pop up warnings that say “Windows Security 2011 has found critical process activity on your PC and will perform a fast scan of system files!!”
and finally ask me if I’m sure I want to leave because my PC is at risk of infection, saying, “Your system is at risk of crash. Press CANCEL to prevent it,”
here’s a suggested addition to your script: check the computer’s operating system. If it’s running Linux, why are you even bothering?
Additionally, check your grammar.
“Can I take a picture?” It’s a common refrain whenever I bring home the small point-and-shoot I use in the classroom.
The Girl especially likes going for photo walks in our back yard.
I tag along with a camera too big for her even to hold, taking pictures of her taking pictures.
Back in the house, we transfer the pictures to the computer. I straighten a few of hers, delete several blurred ones, and correlate them with my own photos.
“You’re silly, Tata,” I hear behind me, “Taking pictures of me taking pictures.”
Thursday I said my goodbyes to the fourth group of eighth graders I’ve taught here in Greenville. I shook countless hands, gave numerous hugs, and reassured many crying students, all the while thinking how blessed I am to have such an honorable job.
I understood their pain. Endings are so painful when we’re young. Each transition is filled with such uncertainty, and like everyone, I’ve been through my share of painful transitions. In 1999, I was on the verge of tears as a friend drove me through the Polish village I’d called home for four years on the way to catch the train that would take me to Warsaw to catch a flight home. That longing all my students felt only briefly Thursday afternoon was so intense twelve years ago that it eventually led me back to Poland, back to the same village, back to the same students whom I’d left as freshman and returned to as seniors. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
But I know the secret: we start again. Every ending is a beginning. Every chapter is followed by another, and if we do it right, the next chapter is always better. I tried to tell my students that Thursday. I’m not sure I was successful: no one can ease a pain that’s almost voluntary. Adolescence loves misery in small doses, especially the pain of loss.
I like to think I’m still an adolescent at heart, so now I sit, smiling, looking through pictures I snapped the final day, feeling honored that I had the privileged of working with such incredible kids, wondering what the future holds for those fourteen-year-olds that I grew to love. What do we know when we’re fourteen?
I know many of my students, due to the tragedies and misfortunes they had no part in, know more about pain than I know though I’m twenty-five years older than them. I tried to make the daily fifty minutes I spent with them a pleasant experience, but I know I let them down. It haunts me, and it’s the bitter part of the bittersweetness of the end of a school year.
Thursday evening I met a former student — I’ll call him Ed — who gave me utter hell when he sat in my sixth period class. “I gave everyone hell,” he would say if he read this. “I was just making bad decisions. I just wanted to be bad,” Ed explained Thursday night as he explained the path his life has taken in the intervening three years. I finished that year thinking I’d let him down, swearing I’d never do it again, and now I know I have done it again. And I’ll do it yet again — probably next year.
So I sit, scrolling through pictures, wondering where the lines of these kids’ lives will lead them, eager to get to know next year’s batch, wondering if I’ll ever lose this sadness I feel at the end of school years, and hoping I never will.
How could I, when students leave notes like this on my board?
“They were laughing at us.” L had just gotten off stage, and K, backstage to help with the recital, was there to greet her. Indeed, we in the audience were laughing a great deal through the night, but it obviously bothered some of the children, our daughter included.
Why did we laugh? I fumbled about with an explanation yesterday, but I went to bed thinking about it and woke up with it still on my mind.
If adults had been doing this, we might have called it a disaster. They stumbled about sometimes. They often looked to the side, desperate for a cue from someone wiser. Some stood, looking at the others, trying to remember what they should be doing at this or that particular moment. They were only vaguely uniform at some points, with some putting their arms down as others just began raising theirs.
Yet because they were children, everything changed. Disasters became masterpieces: flubs became arabesques; stumbles transformed into bourrée; miscues became fouetté; hesitant jumps became grand jetés.
Further, if these had been adult dancers, they never would have appeared on stage. Ego would have prevented it, and that’s part of what we mean when we say that these children are cute because they’re innocent. They’re not so concerned with unattainable perfection, and they’re filled with joy just to be dancing.
I think we laugh, then, because we see ourselves in these little dancers and realize that, in so many ways, they have more courage than we have, and we laugh at the joy that courage brings us.
Parenting is often about firsts when there’s only one child. First this, first that — first dance recital.
I’ve never been interested in dance, but even if I were, I’d pick a small-town dance school’s summer recital over even the greatest ballet. There’s a charm and an innocence in the young girls that unifies an auditorium filled with strangers and makes us all feel truly optimistic for 120 minutes.
Of course, it was the Girl’s scene that stole my heart.
Later, we had a sad conversation. “Tata, they were laughing at us.”
How do you explain the joy behind the laughter? How do you explain that the audience was enjoying the performance so much that it brought them to laughter? K and I tried, but I’m not sure we convinced her.