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Archive for Imagination

Counting Down to Year’s End- Strategies For Review, Reflection and Celebration!

 

Almost there, almost there, almost there…  The days are warming up and the students are starting to talk about their Summer plans.  You are in the home stretch, the annual countdown of days has started to be posted on your classroom white board and ending the year on a high note is a priority.  As I sat down to write this blog installment, I scrolled through Facebook one last time for the evening.  I saw teachers asking for advice on how to use independent study time in the final days of the year as multi-level theatre classes are pulled each day for various grade level testing and asking for ways to revive the students through final reviews.  Yes, It is that time of year again and you too may be looking for ways to review, reflect, discuss, and most important, celebrate the learning and growth your students have experienced this year.

Here are a few strategies to engage your students in a variety of reflections that not only close out the year in celebration but help you to take positive steps into even better instruction for next year:

#1. LEARNING TIMELINE:

Start first with a long piece of butcher paper that you will eventually display on the classroom or auditorium wall. Review with the students all the learning that took place during this school year or production cycle. Pick a scribe or scribes to help document, via timeline, the key activities, projects, and content from each unit of study in class or objective mastered in production. Have students create visuals to add to the timeline to help students with recall as they gather from the past school year all the learning they’ve done (for example, display a photo of a project, an image of an author, designs or production photos). Have students write statements on the timeline about how what they learned made them feel or how they see it helping them in the future.  Once completed, this is not only a great way to review for final exams, but also a great introduction to the class for next year’s students when you cover the syllabus at the start of the year.

#2. TWEET ABOUT IT:

After reviewing the year or production experience, ask students to use no more than 140 characters to summarize their experience with units or the class as a whole or productions.  If they have a twitter account you can encourage them to send these reflections as a tweet. They can even create a hashtag that reflects an aspect of each unit you studied in the year or production you created. Do a twitter board in the class where students can physically post their tweets and hashtags and have the whole-class share out so students can comment on the tweets and hashtags of fellow classmates.

#3. SYNERGIZE WITH SOCRATES:

Socratic seminars may be a technique you have used throughout the year or you may be trying it for the first time.  They are one of my favorite ways to engage in meaningful student-led discussion — and reflection. In Socratic seminar, the goal is for students to help one another more deeply understand ideas, values, information, and concepts. Essential questions — or guiding questions — drive the discussion. Consider the following guiding questions:

  • What has been some of your most important learning this year?
  • What has been some of your favorite experiences and learning this year?
  • What learning moment made you feel the most accomplished?
  • What did you think you knew when you entered the class or production but you realized through experience, you had much more to learn?
  • How might you be able to apply what you learned this year in the future?
  • What activities made the most impact on your learning?

#4. LETTERS TO FUTURE STUDENTS OR YOUR FUTURE SELF:

Invite your students to write a letter to a student in next year’s class.

  • What advice might you give him or her?
  • What should the student do in order to be successful in this class or in auditions?
  • How will what they learn help them in other classes?
  • How about in life?

You keep the letters and pass them out to incoming students during the first week of school in the fall. This is a great task for seniors.

Students returning to your program can also write a letter to his or her future self. They record some memories and important learning from their experiences in your class or productions. They can also write their hopes, fears, and expectations for the next year. Keep the letters for them and give them out on the first week of class next year. Before sealing the envelope, invite students to share excerpts of their letters with each other and with the whole class.

Reflection is a great way to help your students process all they have learned in one year.  These activities can bring about awareness of just how much they have accomplished and also help them make a plan for continued study.  As an educator, these activities also engage you in a process that supports your continuous improvement as well as you process what they learned well and areas that need reinforcement.

In all the review, don’t forget to celebrate.  Great learning happened and both you and your students have been inspired.  The slow chug up the incline of the rollercoaster is well worth it when your hands are high above your head, the wind is whipping through your hair and you are screaming with joy at the drop to the end.  Enjoy the final days of this year’s ride!

Perseverance

In the past few weeks, I have had the fortunate opportunity to clinic sixteen shows in different parts of Texas.  I always leave feeling challenged, inspired, and blessed.  This past weekend, I returned with a huge appreciation for the life lessons we teach students while working on a production.  We teach students about perseverance, commitment, and the strength we gain when working with others.

As I have worked with each director, I recognize the toll the long hours and stress put on each of us.  Preparing for the competition season, working within a budget, lesson planning, teaching, grading etc. (not to mention having a family) is draining on all of us.  With the earlier contest dates, we are all scrambling to re-adjust our schedules to be prepared for that first contest.  Even with the best-laid plans, unexpected delays seem to pop up.  I know many of you have had additional, unforeseen complications with obtaining production rights, commitments (or should I say non-commitments) from students, and the flu season.

About the time I am at the end of my stress level and ready to throw in the towel, I am reminded of the invaluable lessons we are teaching our students as we press through all of the obstacles to prepare our production.   When students see us continuing to work hard, staying positive, working around all hurdles, they are learning life lessons.  These are the lessons a student cannot learn from a book, they learn from example and their own experience.  This is why we continue to pick up our bootstraps and keep moving forward.

In the past couple of weeks, I know of three productions that have had to start all over.  All three companies had created their super-objective and commanding image, prepared their scripts, begun costuming, designed a set, gathered props, etc.   Their students had already memorized their lines, were blocking and developing a character.  Then, because of some unexpected obstacle, the current production had to be halted.  I am afraid in today’s society, too many people would give up and quit – but not theatre teachers.  We know how to look at the worst of situations and turn them into the best possible scenario.  What a gift we give our students.

We all could tell stories about companies who pulled together to overcome complications – stories about changing productions with few rehearsals left before a contest or opening night, students who failed to commit, administration that stopped a show or concept, unfortunate accidents or sicknesses.  This list could go on and on.   Very few times can we name the times a company quit because of these unfortunate incidents.  Instead, we have watched as directors and students pulled together to produce quality theatre.  More importantly, we have watched as directors taught young adults how to persevere in life.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going.  We cannot quit in the face of adversity,

As I watched a group of young actors enthusiastically welcome a production change due to the lack of commitment from some of their classmates and peers, I stood in awe.  I never heard one complain.  I never heard one say they could not do it or that it could not be done.  I watched these students embrace the challenge with a contagious eagerness.  Those students are the ones who will survive in life.  They are the ones who will succeed in their endeavors because they did not quit when it was difficult.  They backed up, re-evaluated the situation and embraced a solution.

As theatre teachers, we begin modeling how to persist through adversity early in the production process. When we begin designing a set and have to adapt our vision with the reality of the space, contest or our budget, we are modeling perseverance.   When we find the need to recast the lead actor, we are demonstrating how to work through adversity.   Students watch us face an obstacle, re-evaluate and develop a solution through all aspects of the production process.  I realize now, that every time we adjust our plan of action to meet the needs or restrictions at the moment, we are modeling life lessons to our students.  What a gift we give our students every day without even realizing it.

As you continue preparing for your competition season, don’t disregard the little lessons you are teaching everyday.  Every time you stay positive in the face of adversity, your students are watching you.  Every time you refuse to give up or quit and, instead, continue to work hard, re-evaluate and keep going, you are modeling the lessons in life that make people succeed.   Those lessons are more important than any administrative evaluation or trophy you can win.

 

 

 

Rick, Dad, a Porch, and Art

To start off the school year I made two lists for my advance theatre students. I’ll give them the two topics and ask them to generate their own lists; we will discuss their recordings; then I will share my lists with them.  The first is a list of things theatre teaches.  The second is a list of traits creative people possess. This blog will address my views on the skills theatre instills.porch

The arts in general add to a well-rounded education; as a student I knew I loved my fine art classes but I did not have the vocabulary or understanding of the practices that were shaping me to become more confident, successful and healthy.  Theatre had no value in my rural, Mexican-American, lower socio-economic world. My first exposure to theatre was church Christmas programs and a first grade musical where every grade sang a different song which loosely propelled a weak plot.  So there was not a lot of exposure to theatre from my family or my early school years.  My dad was visiting this week-end, as I was writing this blog; we have great conversations, so I thought I’d get his views on art in his farmer-rancher life. Our conversation provided some insight to begin my list of skills theatre instills.  Throughout the blog I have bold some phrases; their highlight alludes to my discoveries and marks ideas for me to later define as skills.  I hope the bold does not distract from the story-telling, but rather models the process of how I accomplished my list.

I approached the subject by asking my dad, “Where’s your old saxophone?”

My dad, Aureliano (Willie) Garcia, dropped out of school in the 6th grade.  He blames my grandfather who lured him to stay home on the family ranch with a new tractor which needed a skilled operator. Farming and ranching are the only life he ever knew; he is now 85 years old. He is passionate about working the land and it pains me to see his frustration because he can no longer climb onto his tractor as easily as he once did. His back can no longer endure the arduous, rhythmic hours of back and forth tractor U-turns.   With only a 6th grade education, my dad is the smartest man I know. Dad was also a very skilled alto sax musician.

On my front porch over-looking the Texas hill country, oak trees, some near-by grazing deer, fawn and buck we sipped our early morning coffee and I asked him, “Where’s your old saxophone?” His face changed. I saw his eyes drop.  Like me, Dad has a very serious face. My friends were scared of him saying he looked mean.  I now recognize Dad’s constant expression as one of deep thought and wisdom.  His eyes and wrinkles were not reflecting meanness, but instead a sign of earnest thought and contemplation. Dad is quick to opine and often interrupts, but not this time. I saw his lips tightened, hesitating. It was as if the muscle memory in his lips tasted the old wooden saxophone reeds.  It was as if his lost gaze scouted dancers circling a wooden dance floor.

“Well, when your mom asked me to quit the band… (pause) she asked if I loved the band more than my young kids?  Well, I put the saxophone under the bed and that ended the band.”  He’s silent again looking down the old rock side walk that leads to my porch, but that’s not what he’s sees. I know that he sees what is not there; he sees a corn colored saxophone case. He feels the old royal-burgundy velvet lining that cradled a shiny brass artifact.  That beautiful saxophone is his symbol of a passion stronger than old stepping stones. He understands symbols. His silence breaks, “Years later, I gave the saxophone to your brother, Frank, when he started band in school.”

Dad and his fellow cotton farmer-rancher-brothers, played in a band named Los Hermanos Garcia.  My grandfather, a land owner, in Spur, Texas, owned a dance hall on the south end of Main Street and on weekends the music of Los Hermanos Garcia provided a much needed escape for the barracks of migrant workers and local field hands who hoed weeds or picked cotton. “What was your favorite song to play?”  With no hesitation he surprisingly answered, “Five Minutes More.” He even sang a bit of the refrain for me.  I was expecting him to announce a conjunto title, not a Frank Sinatra tune.  The conjunto sound originated in south Texas and was influenced by the German setters who introduced the accordion and oompah-pah rhythms. Los Hermanos Garcia played conjunto-polkas, jitter-bug, and country and western. They covered the music of Isidro Lopez, Gene Autry, Lefty Frizell, and Conjunto Bernal.

Dad loves to tell the story of how he met my Mom, Lupe Gaona. He was on stage playing his saxophone, when he saw her from a distance and knew he’d better go dance with her fast before another guy beat him to her.  He bowed out of a song or two to request a dance.  He says, “I held her as delicately as I held my sax.”  Dad was slick.

“Did you take music lessons?”  He laughs and shakes his head at how ridiculous my question was.  As a child he imitated his Uncle Martin’s finger placements and taught himself to play the violin.  “Me and my Tio Martin’ were hired to play the fiddle for White people’s parties,” he brags.   He later saw a travelling band come through Spur and heard his first saxophone. His father bought him a sax and once again, Dad taught himself how to play.

“How?” I ask.

I could just feel it.  I don’t know; I just tried it ‘til it sounded right.  You have talent teaching and with drama; everybody has a talent. ” Dad is also a deacon at our family parish church, St. Michael’s in Ralls, TX.  His explanation segues into scripture as naturally as notes blend into harmonic chord progressions. “The arm can’t do what the legs can do; the eyes can’t do what the ears can do.  People have different skills. But it takes the whole body to make things work.”

“Do you miss the saxophone?”

“I sing at church.  I like when the guitars play at church.”

“But do you miss playing the saxophone?”

“I miss driving the tractor more,” he laughs.

As a student of art, a student of how creativity works, or just as an artist, I know that sometimes words are not enough to express a feeling.  Art tries to capture that mammoth inexplicable emotion via color, via line, via dance, via the images and poetry of theatre. Does my dad miss the saxophone music he created? Of course he does, but a simple yes or a shamed no is too easy.  To store one’s passion underneath a bed is… is … is too emotional to describe.

“When we played at those Saturday night dances, I knew we made people feel good, relax, dance, have fun. When I played the saxophone I got into the music; I could feel it and the music made me forget how tired we were. My body got into it; I use to swing the sax up and down while I played, not dancing or showing off. My arms just had to move with the music.  The people thought it was show, but it wasn’t.”

As an artist, I understand how art gives people pleasure and an escape and a collective gathering of universal themes and spirit. Art also gives people the opportunity to improve the quality of life in a community.  Art provides for social and emotional development, even in a dance hall in Spur, Texas. Remember your first dance?

“Were the Mexican migrant workers ok with ya’ll playing Country and Western and Jitterbug, not just Spanish music?”

“They loved it!  Everybody liked to Jitterbug.  It’s good too for a band to have different songs, some slow ones, some fast one, some English ones, some Spanish ones.”

As an artist I know how the arts can teach empathy and cultural diversity, multiple perspectives. I understand how the collaboration of theatre reflects equitable opportunity.  Art teaches that there is more than one way to reach the same goal.   The world is complex and art teaches that small differences can have huge effects.  Dad did not know that Conjunto music has its origins in German roots, “No; Conjunto is Mexican music he argued.” Once I explained and had him listen to some oompah-pah on You Tube, he said, “Well our Mexican food is better.” Competition is also a wonderful American right.

“Let me ask you a question Rick,” my Dad interjected, “You don’t listen to the radio when you drive. You don’t have a television in this house; don’t you like music?”

He’s correct; I’m the family odd ball when it comes to loud parties and music.  “I like quiet,” I explained what he already knew; “I need time to shut out everything around me and listen to what’s inside my head.”

“I pray too,” my dad added creating a harmonic jump in our theme. “You like to write; you tell good stories. When I’m writing my homily for church, I meditate.”

“I learned to tell stories from your sermons,” I complimented him; “I can tell the congregation loves when you talk.  I learned by listening to your stories.”

“God gave you that gift, not me,“ he corrects me.

As an artist I understand the spirit that the arts fulfill. I get lost in the passion of directing a play or writing or designing; I forget it’s late and do not even need sleep when the inspiration clicks.  My dad says he could feel the music.  When one synchs with one’s passion, it’s holy and complete.

Aureliano Garcia wanted all his sons to grow up and be farmers and ranchers.  Although not one of his five sons followed, I, the least likely candidate, am now the caretaker of our family ranch. I was a horrible teen farmer; I broke everything.  Dad once told me it was going to be cheaper to put me through college that to keep me on the farm.   This morning I asked him if he remembered how several years ago I wanted to implement some changes at the ranch. He shook his head no. I described how I wanted to reroute some of the ranch roads and do some landscaping.  I explained how I thought the road would be prettier skirting the hillside bluffs and winding around some trees by the stock tank.  I wanted to put some flowering bushes at the entrance gate.  He still did not recall this.  I remind him of his reaction, “This is a ranch not a park!”  We both laughed.

Like an artist, I know Dad understands the need for beauty and aesthetics.  He loves to tell the stories of how straight he cultivated his fields; “and we didn’t have that GPS,” he reminds me.  He often critiques the amateur lop-sided structure of round hay bales he sees in fields. My dad has much pride in his work.  He sometimes mentions the inconsistent color scheme of mixed-breed cows in some rancher’s herds.  Art gives individuals a connection with a deeper beauty. 

Several years ago, I considered moving back to the ranch; the romantic isolation might provide a better setting for my writing. I discussed it with my Dad.  He wisely noted, “We would like to have you here, but you belong in the city.”

The artist in me taught me to take risks and leave “la familia”. The artist in me allowed me to turn the obstacles of poverty and void of college education in our family into resourcefulness. The artist in me teaches me to shake things up, remain curious, and to fail and still look up.

Like my brother, Frank, I also played a saxophone in the Ralls High School band and was a small part of what, in unison, created something big. I also performed in our school’s theatre; learned to experience other worlds; learned to walk around in someone else’s shoes.  I designed and built sets; I found satisfaction and pride in my work, it made me proud of blue collar construction skills learned from life on a farm. I wrote in our school journalism program and craved the creative writing opportunities in English classes. All arts bring a project to fruition.  It taught me to connect the dots and see what was not already there. 

Dad was not a patron of the theatre.  He saw all my football and basketball games, but he never saw me on the high school stage. He didn’t see me perform until I was 30 years old in Cucuy, The Mexican Bogeyman, a one-man-show I had written, directed, and performed.  The show was an autobiographical piece about growing up rural, Mexican, and poor. It was about the artistic traits that alienated and labeled me ugly names in a country town. The play also wove traditional Hispanic folklore into my personal ghost stories, my skeletons in the closet.  Just before the show, my mom came backstage and said, “You know your father’s in the audience.”  She was referring to a piece in the show which recounted Dad’s absence from home and alcohol abuse.  Mom continued, “We are real proud of you, but I don’t like the way you talk about your father and I don’t like the way you talk about Jesus.”  The show went on with no edits. I was 30 years old the first time Dad saw me perform.  My Dad saw a show about me, about us. He cried. We cried together.  I’ll never forget his words that day, “You’re better than anything I see on television.” Art also heals. 

I’m writing but I do not see words; I see a saxophone underneath a bed.  I spell check and check grammar, but I can’t perfect the emotions beyond my fingertips; I can’t explain how art saved me and how art saved my relationship with my father.  I can’t communicate how the artist son now sees the beauty and metaphor in the farm and ranch he hated and dared leave.

My fingers tap on a keyboard, but that’s not what I hear; I hear a low saxophone note, F sharp, underscoring my Dad saying, “You’re better than anything I see on television.”

 

Theatre Taught Me

  1. To see the big picture, there’s more than one way to reach a goal, see multiple perspectives
  2. To fail and learn from that failure and keep your eye on the passion and the goal
  3. To communicate what cannot be spoken, think through images, music, dance, poetry, savor language
  4. To practice good judgment vs following how-its-always-been-done-rules, take risks, remain curious
  5. To feel empathy, respect those different than you, respect views different than your own, understand universal connection, recognize equitable opportunities
  6. To create community, participate in civic obligations, grow socially and emotionally
  7. To bring projects to fruition
  8. To create silence and meditate
  9. To recognize and create beauty
  10. To utilize and respect labor skills, take pride in one’s work
  11. To cooperate and work as a team
  12. To embrace one’s passion, respect another’s passion
  13. To think abstractly, understand symbolism and metaphors
  14. To become resourceful when there are lack of resources
  15. To Heal

More Than a Job

“Why do you want to go back to theatre?”  This is the question I have been asked many times over the past few weeks as I leave my English teaching assignment to return to teaching theatre and directing again.   I usually answer with something like, “It’s my love,” or “I am a better theatre teacher than English teacher,” or sometimes “I can retire in a few years and why not finish out having fun.”  While these are true, they do not truly articulate why I continue to return to teaching theatre in the classroom and on the stage.

As many of you know, I have resisted teaching theatre for many years.  Wait, I have never minded teaching theatre classes, I love teaching them. (Truthfully, I do not love teaching tech theatre, but I love the rest of it.)  Where else can I foster self-confidence and teach literature in a way a student “gets” it.  What  I have resisted is directing.  We all know the long hours directing a production involves and the toll it takes on our relationships.  We miss many events with friends, and sometimes family, because we have a show, or we have rehearsal, or we need to work on costumes, set, music cues, light cues, etc.  Over the past few years, I have tried to find other pastimes to enjoy; and in this quest, I have realized directing is the pastime, or hobby, I most love.  So, now instead of apologizing for being at rehearsal, I am going to compare it to playing golf, or painting, or wine-tasting.   When someone asks me what I do with my spare time, I am going to answer with “I teach theatre – that is my hobby.”

Hobbies are things that fulfill us, motivate us, make us happy.  Merriam-Webster defines a hobby as 1.  a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation,  2.  an interest or activity engaged in for pleasure.  I like the second definition much better.  Why must our hobby be outside of our regular occupation?  How much more rewarding is it if our hobby is our J-O-B.  I no longer want to dread going to work, I do not want to sit and wait for a final bell to ring.  I want to finish my career being engaged in activities that I find fun and fulfilling.  OK, maybe directing a production is not relaxing, but it will keep me excited and young at heart!

So, why theatre?  I love the creativity.  I love reading a script while I envision it coming to life on stage.  I love collaborating with students to produce the best product for that particular company.  This is why we can return to shows we have directed, because each show is different.  We cannot recreate the same show we did with other students, because it is a different group of creative energy.  I cannot think of anything that is more rewarding than watching the final night of a performance.  That is the only night I can really relax and enjoy the art unfolding on that stage.  That is magic for me.

I love how,  on a stage, students learn about themselves, other people, and the world around them.  Jacki Maenius, theatre director at Mason High School, and four time UIL State OAP champion, best described it, “In theatre, I think we [theatre teachers] send kids out into the world with a better perspective on humanity and THEIR purpose.”  We teach kids to be open-minded, to accept others as they are and not what we want them to be, and to look at the world through multiple perspectives.  We all know that literature opens a student up to seeing the world.  On the stage, students learn to dig deep into a playwright’s words and “chew” on them.  I know from teaching English, very few students do this in the classroom, but on the stage they thrive on digging deeper into the meaning of each word and action.

In my theatre class, I begin the year with activities to encourage self-discovery. So many students do not know how to look inward to uncover who they are.  I wish someone would have encouraged me to discover who I was when I was in high school.  Truthfully, it was not until I began teaching theatre that I began to analyze myself and started to grow as a person.  In my theatre classes, I begin the year talking about how students cannot become someone else on stage if they do not know who they are themselves.  To me, this is one of the biggest gifts a teacher can give a student – the freedom to discover their strengths, their weaknesses, and their dreams.  I love how we can do this in a theatre classroom and on a stage.  I cannot wait to begin this process with my new students and encourage them to be playwrights, writing their own stories, and seeing those on the stage through our Maestro Talk Theatre performances.

I know this sounds like some Utopia and I definitely know that is not the case.  I remember how I agonize over choosing a script, casting students, communicating with parents and administrators, preparing for opening night, and the long hours spent working on a production.  I also remember how difficult teaching technical theatre is for me.   Technical elements are not my friend.  But, I do know, sometimes the best learning happens when teacher and student are learning next to one another.  Truthfully, that is why I love directing; it is me and a group of students learning about that playwright’s intent, motivation, and lessons – together.  Nothing can replace that experience to me.  I have missed learning with students on a stage and I welcome that feeling with open-arms.

So, as I begin my twenty-eighth year of teaching, I am returning to joining students in an educational journey for all of us – in a classroom, a small scene shop and on stage.  I am nervous, excited, and at peace.  I feel like I am putting on old shoes that I loved but had misplaced.  Recently, an ex-student reminded me of a poem we used to say at the end of our rehearsals and before performances.  J.B. Priestly’s words best sums up the way most of us feel about our job/hobby/pastime/calling in life.


The Secret Dream
The hunger that can never be fulfilled
To come out of a late rehearsal and smell the lilacs
To have a play done as well as it can be done
By dear friends and tired colleagues
And not indifferently produced on all the stages of the world
Ah! Some of my friends will be onto it before you can say “knife”
To tell me that such a place cannot exist outside a daydream
But some of us,
As we go,
Hold to a notion quite different
For ours is the secret dream
 

Chapapote and Remolino

I was always fascinated with the Old Testament stories where God performs sci-fi like miracles. In Exodus 17, Moses hits a rock with a stick and BAM, water flows in the desert to give his people a drink. Of course, Moses’ same stick parts The Red Sea and gives Hollywood spectacular design challenges. I wanted to write about quit complaining…stop griping all the time…hit a rock with a stick and remember the living waters you do have and what you have had all along. But the story to teach that theme just wouldn’t happen this week… I’m directing a show,  over-seeing two other shows, researching a third show which auditions in two weeks, progress reports are due, faculty meeting, new budgets due (which I’ll do next period,  new lobby furniture follow up, senior college auditions, late rehearsals…) And I couldn’t write… Instead I complained and griped, instead of hitting a rock with a stick. I love to write; it shouldn’t be a burden. So I reminded myself of the skill I know I have, I’ve always had. I reminded myself that I love what I do. The Spring is the busiest time of year in the school year. Hang in there. I provide this model for how I got out of my slump and whine mode to write:

When I’m preparing to write, I often give myself a warm-up exercise to get the creative juices going. One of my favorite warm-ups is to take a funny sounding Spanish word and use that word as a prompt to write a short poem: I chose two words to begin writing this; the first was: chapapote’; the second word was:  remolino. Funny sounding Spanish word poem number 1:

chapapote’ (translates as asphalt or tar)

 

Chapapote’ suffocates the grass

Cha-cha chapapote’ you nasty; you sticky, you stinky too

you cha-cha change the landscape

you bad chapapote

I step on you:  hot

I drive my big Dodge Ram all over you back:   Ram tough

You Impervious funnel of poison to Barton Creek

Cha cha choking the land

 

I now use this poem as a spring board to continue writing. That exercise took me to my love and respect for nature and land. So I decided to write about my special place, our family ranch north of Abilene, east of Lubbock.

My Grandfather, Luis Garcia, was a hired hand on that ranch until his boss pass away in 1932, and my Grandfather purchased the 3200 acres. The ranch has always been a symbol of success to our family, The American Dream. He worked hard and in subsequent years, he acquired much more land. When I was at UT, he liked to brag that he had not attended college, in fact had no formal education, yet he was asked several times to speak at Texas Tech University. In the early 1960’s he was the Spanish to English translator for several Mexican Universities and Texas Tech Agricultural seminars conducted between the two countries.

I spent my childhood on my Grandfather’s ranch. Summers were special. The Garcia ranch was for me and my cousins a personal family summer camp:  swimming in the stock tanks, hiking through the creek beds, discovering new wild berry patches, climbing hills, and my favorite:  searching for an ancient cowboy wagon buried with lost gold. My Uncle Jack told the story of cattle rustlers and thieves who had robbed a bank and buried the gold in the hills long before it was Garcia land. My Dad still points to a precarious rock crevice on the property saying, “I think the gold is buried there.”

I always reply the same thing, “Dad, this entire ranch is gold.” But I say it in Spanish, “Dad, este rancho es el oro.”

That rock crevice that my Dad points to is a rocky barren cliff. But in the cracks of those rocks, grow green cedar and small shin oak providing shade. The cracks in the boulders are wide and to a 10 year old kid, very deep; as kids we played “killer earthquake” scenarios. We would spin around as if the ground was shaking, “hurry jump to the other side or you’ll be dead!”

The red, clay dirt below the crack is always damp and muddy from a spring, nothing spectacular, just small little muddy puddles. Water and springs are rare in that part of the state. We kids often took shovels and hoes and picks and dug and dug trying to uncover the underground spring. I imagined uncorking that last rock plug and a huge geyser would spew, exploding as if we had hit oil. We dug and dug; it never happened. Some wet years the spring water did gather into a small pool and water flowed a bit wanting to become something bigger, like a river, but it never did.

I find it interesting that the Garcia myth of a lost gold treasure is housed in the real treasure of West Texas water. Earthquakes, gold, and water, water wanting to escape the ground like a metaphor of hope and faith and family honor.

 

Spanish word exercise #2

Remolino:  translation whirlwind

Remolino dances a nasty dirty twist

Scarves of dirt, like ballet folklorico in monochromatic browns

Wind and earth spinning like a breath in a saxophone wanting to become a song.

 

The word saxophone took me to write this:

My mother is 82 my dad is 85. My mother has begun decorating the Garcia ranch with small wooden signs that she paints. She puts them on stakes in the ground all over the ranch. The signs started as miles and direction arrows. In our picnic area of the ranch she put signs that read “Garcia Street”  “Spur 5 miles, Lubbock 62 miles.”  Her painted signs have progressed into funny signs like she painted a pot of gold and wrote “Gold” (with an arrow pointing to the rock spring. Other signs say “Cows Sleep Here, Shhh,”  “Don’t Feed the Rattlesnakes.” She actually painted the word “Rock” on a large rock. Her latest is a sign that has a large yellow smiley face and the Spanish words, “Pues, Ni Modo”. Loose Translation:  “Oh Well”

My mother was a migrant worker. Her mother, widowed at a young age and her two sisters travelled from south Texas to work in the northern cotton fields. My Dad’s family was land owners in those West Texas, High Plains. Many migrant families worked my Grandfather’s cotton fields. My Grandfather also owned a dance hall in Spur, TX. My Dad and his brothers had a band, Los Hermanos Garcia; they played Tejano and Cunjunto music on Saturday nights.

It was at one of those Saturday night dances that my Mom met my Dad. She was watching him play his saxophone on the stage; he was watching her. My dad says that he told his brothers he was going to sit out a song to ask my mom to dance. He confesses that he thought another brother might move in and steal her. My dad says when he danced with her that first time he held her delicately with his fingertips. He held her with the same skill and touch with which he held his saxophone. Dang my dad was slick.

Dad was 19, my mom was 16 when they married. My mom had married into a family of land owners, “The American Dream”. She must have looked at all the other poor 15 year old migrant worker girls and smiled like a big yellow emoticon saying, “pues, ni modo,”  “Whatever.”

In the years to come they had a large family; I’m number 4 of 8. One of my favorite memories is when we lived on the farm and it would rain. Rain is a special commodity there. As a kid I didn’t fathom rain as a natural resource for our farming existence. I saw rain as a day when it was too muddy and wet for my dad or us to work in the fields and so we would come home early.

After a rainfall he and my mother would take us on a walk so that my dad could go out and gauge the depth of water in our cotton fields. We would go for what seemed like miles, take a long slow walk as far as the property line. At that particular age, my dad was not an affectionate man. But this was one of the few times I saw my Dad actually hold my mom’s hand as he guided her through the slippery mud. He would lovingly hug and hold her as we kids ran and skated around them in the mud, jumped and splashed water from the puddles, so much laughter. It was a special time when it didn’t matter if we got dirty or muddy or made a mess. It was a special time for my mom to have her husband home and to feel his fingertips.

Now my mom and dad hold hands and kiss much more publicly at age 82, and 85. Back then rain brought us crops and rain brought us glimpses of my parent’s love and the unity of family. Rain washed away the exhaustion and complaints of work and routine. Rain brought love and trust. Rain like family is gold.

I stopped complaining. I stopped making excuses and reminded myself of all I have in my life. I like how chapapote and remolino carried me to water. Hang in there. Spring Break is around the corner. Hit a rock with a stick and let your thirst be quenched. I also hope you followed my stream of consciousness style of writing and can hopefully use this as a model to encourage writing in your classes. Athletes do a warm-up; actors do warm-ups; writers too can warm-up. If you are using our book and utilizing our prompts for journal writing or are creating your own TALK THEATRE piece you might consider developing your own writer warm-ups to stimulate your young playwrights.