Monday, June 21, 2010

Reflections on Last Summer: "Un Libro"

I'm headed back to the Dominican in two weeks, and, as I was making a list on my clipboard tonight of various things to do and to pack and to buy before I leave, I stumbled across a list of stories I wanted to incorporate into my final project for Senior Seminar-- a long, thirty page collection of stories and thoughts and poems from my summer in the DR that I wrote in November and December. As I prepare to go back in a couple weeks, it seemed appropriate to explore some of those memories and ideas and write about them a little bit. So, here is a reflection...

Everyday while we were still eating lunch together, a boy named David would come up to us and say, “un libro, un libro,” “a book, a book.” We would tell him “later, later” for a while and finish our lunch, until one of us had to go read to him. I loved reading to him. We would walk over to the bookcase in the main office and choose a book. Usually, I chose the book. Some of the books my mother had read to me during my childhood, like The Cat in the Hat. I was delighted to find such books there, on the bookshelf in the office. One day, I chose the book Ping, that my mother had read to me. I remembered her doing the call of the master of the boat “la la la la lei” in a sing song voice, and I couldn’t wait to read it to the kids. The children who asked for books were younger than the ones in my classes—they were probably four or five—and they would cuddle up on either side of me, sweaty and sticky. They would climb on each other and struggle so that they could see the pages, and they would talk through a good portion of the reading. My voice would get tired, or I would get frustrated at them talking or fighting with each other to see or trying to turn the pages before we were finished with that page. I wanted them to read the book my way, and sometimes it became a struggle of the wills. Are we going to read this book the American way or the Dominican way? They wore me out. Sometimes they broke the rule and went into the office themselves and took down the books. Once, a kid took a book and wouldn’t give it back to me, no matter what I said. I became like a third grader, and he teased me, roughly pulling the book just out of my grasp even while I said, “a book is a privilege, you can’t treat it like this.” Sometimes I had no idea what the books said. I said the words, but I had no idea about the rhythm of the phrasing or what I was actually saying. Towards the end of the trip, I found The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on the shelf, and I asked if I could borrow it. I thought it could help me learn more Spanish. I read probably only the first three chapters before the end of our trip. I talked to Wander about it. He asked me what I was reading, and what a wardrobe was. I told him that he should read the book. When I go back this summer, I want to bring a book for all the fifth graders, but I don’t know what’s appropriate for them to read. I don’t know how the magic of Narnia plays out in a Hatian cultural context with a real witch doctor living across the creek in the batey. Would the gospel come through, or be distorted? What’s a good book for these children to read? Because they need to be reading and writing.

My fifth graders from last summer:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Scott Cairns, Why we make art

This was so good and profound that I had to put it up here. It comes from Scott Cairns' book The End of Suffering that we're reading for creative nonfiction. 

He says, 

our taking pains to make anything well could be understood, in one sense, as a consolation for things around us that appear to be poorly fashioned. 

Any well-made thing--whether held in the hand or viewed from afar-- stands in stark contrast to the shoddy around us: a manifestly disastrous economic system, for instance, or criminal corporate strategies and structures, or cyclical erosions of our political and legal institutions , or-- just so you don't think I'm simply pointing fingers here-- the chagrin of our own faltering, sputtering lives, dissipated in self-defeating habits and distractions. 

Good art is something of a consolation; good art is potentially something more-- bearing what might turn out to be a corrective, a remedial agency. 

Good art certainly serves as a consolation for those relatively few who make it, especially for those exceptional folk who struggle to make it well. Laboring over the wheel, the canvas, the written page, or the musical score can being to the laborer a powerfully consoling sense of purpose... (he quotes and summarizes some Steiner and the transcendent)... 

For Steiner, then, the act of making art, of writing literature, and of composing music demonstrates an implicit expectation of a reality that abides beyond (and perhaps within) what is apparent, a reality that provides the necessary context for any significance, any meaning making. 

For the artist of any art, therefore, it is not surprising that these labors can provide a deeply satisfying consolation, giving witness to one's own subconscious hope, one's own implicit-- avowed or disavowed-- faith. 

From pp. 26-29. Read more. He goes on to talk about the benefits of art for the ones receiving it/viewing it.