Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wisdom from the Desert

     Happy Giving Thanks Day!  Given that it costs nearly $600 to fly back and forth between LA and Pittsburgh around Thanksgiving, and given my monthly income of $400, I decided to spend Turkey Day with a bunch of hippies in the desert. 
The RVs and trailers of Slab City
     Logical, right?
     Maybe not.  But enlightening nonetheless.  The idea was born from my dear friend Amy, who had to do her final photo project during the holiday week and had heard about this hippie community living close to the Salton Sea in a place known to outsiders as Slab City and to residents affectionately as The Slabs.  The slabs consists of old concrete... slabs... apparently left over from a World War II military testing site.  The concrete serves many functions now - as stages, as a place to park an RV, or as a place to set up a community kitchen and serve a Thanksgiving banquet.
The library at Slab City
     We met a whole host of characters, and, I have to say, I felt like I had walked into a very bizarre indie film.  You can't write half the stuff these people said to us.  I was quite fond of a man who looked like he had walked off the set of Lawrence of Arabia.  He towered over everyone else (must have been close to 6'5") and wore a headdress type fabrication made out of something that looked like old pillowcases.  He rode in quite majestically on a donkey, and a pack mule followed shortly behind.  I, of course, jumped at the opportunity to ride the donkey whose name I found out was Rock and Roll.  As I sat atop Rock and Roll, I asked Lawrence about how and why he came to Slab City.  It seems he had spent the majority of his adult life riding horses around the United States, going from place to place.  Evidently he rode one right across the Mexican border and back without ever stopping at a crossing.  As he was getting older (my best guess was late 50s or early 60s), he decided that it was time to try to find a home, to settle down and do some homesteading, as he called it. 
One of the trailers in The Slabs
     It dawned on me later that I had finally met my very own American Don Quixote.  Here I thought my own life would take a rather quixotic turn upon moving to the Gold Coast, and it seems that I found Don Quixote in the desert - on a donkey, no less.  He invited us to come back and ride with him around Christmas.  I might well take him up on that offer. 
     As we were about to leave, we went on the round of goodbyes, and were held up by a woman called Mama Lizzie.  She's been living at Slab City for the past 8 years (most people just pass through for a few months here and there), probably has a diagnosable mental disorder and if not definitely has a drug induced disorder, and she decided that we should hear her life story before departing.  We couldn't leave the desert without some wisdom.  As she was babbling on and on about where she came from and how she came to live in the middle of nowhere, she said something that, again, you just can't write.  "Most people came out to the desert to die," she said, "but I came out here to live."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Poetry with the Doctor

One fish. Two fish. Red fish. Blue fish.
Black fish. Blue fish. Old fish. New fish.
Some are red and some are blue. Some are old and some are new.
Some are sad and some are glad. And some are very, very bad.
     Dr. Seuss, One fish two fish red fish blue fish
      I found out today that my project on the Donors Choose website was fully funded, this just a few days after I got an email from DarienBookAid informing me that I will be receiving three boxes of books from them.  Apparently all you have to do in this world is ask and you shall receive.  My students needed books, and thanks to some wonderfully generous people, they are going to get them.  I have no words to express the gratitude that I have to all of the people that are making my little library possible.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A House Divided

     This past weekend, upon returning from a 3 day retreat in Santa Barbara, the interns convened at a fund raising event in Pacific Palisades.  It was a somewhat shocking change of pace for a few of us, I gathered.  If you don't know much about the economic distribution in LA neighborhoods, Pacific Palisades is very close to Bel Air and Beverly Hills.  A few of the interns are from pretty small towns in the midwest or northeast, and the kind of overabundant wealth in prevalent in Palisades was a bit surprising even for me. 
     It's odd to go from working everyday with the poor of the poor, to asking for money from the rich of the rich, and it's certainly jarring to witness just how off kilter the economic distribution in this city (and in our country) truly is.  I work with students every day whose families sometimes cannot afford the school lunches, and here we were mingling with people who dropped a few hundred dollars like it was pocket change.  Two totally different cultures.  One nation.
Photo by Matt Hansen
    Or is it?  We're facing a nation divided right now, and in the midst of crisis (financial and armed) our divisions are only growing.  A house divided against itself cannot stand, as our great President Lincoln said, and so I worry for our country.  I worry for the unconscious blindness festering in the eyes of the rich who even on their best days fling their money around in the name of charity but refuse to see the suffering of their poor brothers and sisters; and I worry for the resentment building in the hearts of the poor who look upon their wealthy brothers and sisters with jealousy and outrage.  So long as we refuse to recognize each other as people, as brothers and sisters, the gap will continue to increase, and this house will soon fall. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Needed Advice

It's been a while.  Mostly because every square inch of my free time in the last two weeks was spent preparing for the GRE Literature test by cramming ridiculous amounts of obscure literary facts into my brain.  However, as I was studying one night, I found this lovely passage from John Lyly, an Elizabethan writer:

Descend into your own consciences, consider with yourselves the great difference between staring and stark blind, wit and wisdom, love and lust.  Be merry but with modesty, be sober but not too solemn, be valiant but not too venturous.  Let thy attire be comely but not costly; thy diet wholesome but not excessive; use pastime as the word importeth, to pass the time in honest recreation; mistrust no man without cause, neither be thou credulous without proof; be not light to follow every man's opinion, nor obstinate to stand in thine own conceit.  Serve God, love God, fear God, and God will so bless thee as either heart can wish or thy friend desire. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Laughter Works Miracles

     This week has been kind of rough with the kiddos.  It's that critical point in the school year when the students have gotten too comfortable with the teachers and staff, and feel like it's alright to run around screaming in the hallways despite repeated reminders that they shouldn't.
     I'm also running into the problem that I want to give and give and give to my students, which is why I am teaching French lessons after school, teaching a theatre class and giving special coaching sessions to advanced students, running a Green Team in which I am teaching students about ecology and environmental science, and running a Cooking and Culture club in which I teach students about different world cultures through food and language.  Oh, and I'm building a library by soliciting and collecting donations from local bookstores since my school has no library.  I'm also serving as a mentor for many of the students who don't feel comfortable talking to their teachers about personal issues.  On top of all of that our special education learning center isn't working - so I'm taking it on myself to fix it since no one else seems to want to step up to the plate.  I took over teaching 7th grade math today, and made the students a progress calendar.  All three of my 7th graders learned two-step equations today.  (And I learned that evidently I can teach math.) 
     I'm getting burnt out.  A little stressed with all the things that I'm trying to accomplish for my kids, and a little high strung about how to handle some sticky situations.  I've been trying to keep setting aside quiet time for prayer and contemplation, but it's quickly becoming another item on my long to-do list.  So I've been getting frustrated with that too.  Lots of running around in circles it seems, and not much getting anywhere.  More frustration piles on.  Are you sensing the pattern??
     Today though, I was in History with my 6th graders, and we were learning about Khufu, the pharaoh who build the Great Pyramid of Giza, and my little special ed student turned to me and tugged on my shirt and said, "Ms. D, Ms. D."  He then proceeded to start singing "Little Bunny Foo Foo" as he copied his notes.  I chuckled to myself.  And then he told me that "Fufu is a rapper too you know."  At this point I started cracking up.  It might not seem all that hilarious, but when this kid can barely pay attention in most classes without throwing pencils at the wall or drawing on my shirt, it made my heart giggle to hear him associate his class work with prior knowledge.  He and I then spent the rest of the class period giggling in the back of the room.  I gave up the corrective tone, I gave up trying to get him to "be a scholar" and laughed with him.
     It was the best medicine that my soul could have asked for.