Friday, June 24, 2005


death in one class, life in another (and breakfast in a third)

The days are starting to glide into one another now, in the loveliest way. I'm fully acclimated to the schedule now, and I'm starting to mourn the fact that it's going so fast. I'm having a brilliant time. Laughing. Having great classes. Making new friends. Gawking at the eagles perched in the fir trees. Drinking coffee at the Back Door. Feeling at peace. It's all going too fast. I don't want to come home yet.

I love this place. Magic happens here.

It's astonishing to me, every year, how students trust me, trust each other, in so short a time. Within four days, they become a group. And we create this sacred space together.

In fiction (9 to 10:30), we told stories and laughed, wrote and shared pieces. Every day, story times grows a little longer, because they're all so eager to speak out their moments. And now that they know each other, every story spurs another one. On the first day, I have to rely on the students I have taught before to lead the way. By now, I have to cut them off. They would stay in the library all day and tell stories to each other, if I let them. We generated lists of strong verbs yesterday, sensory verbs that flash an image in our minds with their presence, words that create characters immediately. Finn and Anthea were kind enough to step up and be our actors. They stood by the map rack and acted out a scene spontaneously. We went around the circle, each student shouting out a sensory verb, and then one of the actors would have to demonstrate it, creating a relationship. And damned if they didn't do it. No matter if the word was gesticulate or lull, pounce or quiver. Within a minute, we had a scene, a relationship, and a conflict. Genius. We finished out the class by describing our favorite breakfasts, which they had no problem doing in loving, lavish detail. And then we went around the circle again, each student picking another student's description and making guesses as to personality based on the choices. Damned if they didn't have each other right. We ended the day giggling.

After lunch, in Advanced Writing (1 to 2:30), we had the most extraordinary class I may have ever taught. It moved me so deeply that I don't think I can write about it well. But since most of what I teach in writing classes is about pressing against the ineffable, I'll try. I had asked the class to write pieces in response to some form of art that had moved them deeply. (The Advanced Writing Workshop is a seminar in personal essays this year.) Tamsin read her piece about watching a film of the last man executed by guillotine. It was a clear, strong piece, gorgeous and simple. And without being didactic, she was clearly questioning the multitudes of cheap violence on tv. This one felt real. After anyone reads a piece, I say, "Comments? What did you notice that you liked?" Usually, they talk about the writing, a turn of phrase, an effective metaphor. But this time, the only boy in the class, Baxter, said he had been moved by the piece, because he had seen the same film on the History Channel, and had been deeply disturbed. This opened the discussion to violence on film. And then, with a subtle shift, born of deep listening, they began to talk about death. The students talked about visiting the Holocaust museum, the visceral images that forced them awake. About grandmothers' death. About the death of friends in middle school. They shared poems and stories and tears, because we all had tears in our eyes almost immediately. One of the girls said, with great difficulty, "My grandfather died last summer. But that wasn't the hardest part....The hardest part was watching my father cry...." And her face turned red, and her eyes sprung shut. She pulled her knees up to her chest and tried to roll into a ball. Her voice quavered so deeply that she could no longer speak. I teared up immediately, frustrated that I was across the table and couldn't touch her arm in sympathy. But before I could move, hands reached out to touch her, appease her, make her feel loved. Hands patted her shoulder, smoothed her hair, and held her hands. And we all understood. WE had all been there, alone, and now we were together. And now it was okay to cry. So there we were, 14 girls, one boy, and one teacher, in the upper mezzanine of the Stratton Library, the cars splashing through the rain outside, and we were alive.

But how to follow that? We all hugged each other. I know the students felt a sense of communion, at having shared this together. And I know they felt grateful, for having the chance to talk about what spilled out of them, since we avoid talking about death in this culture. But if you never recognize death, how can you be alive? So they shuffled out of the space, slowly, reluctant to go, tears smearing their faces. Four of them stayed, quiet in their seats, because they were also in poetry, which started immediately after. (2:30 to 4) The new students filed in, skipping and giddy to be there, but stopped short by the sight of their campermates crying. I told the four to take a break, walk around, collect their thoughts. And we began reading poems. But about halfway through, just after we finished writing, I looked outside to see the rain. It pounded down rain outside, unusual for Sitka, where it usually mists. Big puddles splashed on the tennis court outside. I had intended to take my class outside, to write about this place, to smell it and drink in its sights. But after the raw connection and remnants of tears from the previous period, I knew we needed something joyful. We needed to be rinsed clean. "Let's go outside and feel the rain on our faces," I said to them spontaneously. And instead of complaining that it woudl be cold and they'd be smirched by the experience, they all leapt up. I love camp kids. We ran into the cold, fat raindrops and danced. Some twirled. Some splashed, jumping the water onto their pants. Some ran. Some turned their faces to the sky and closed their eyes. Berett ran to the top of the hill and twirled in slow circles, opening her arms wide to the world. Just as I noticed her, Adrienne did too. So the older sister ran toward her younger one, as fast as she could, to meet her, and join in the moment. It filled me with joy to see it, to see all of them, giddy and accepting, laughing together. Kari lay down on the grass, her pink pants darkened with rain drops immediately. She gave her body to the ground and lay there without moving, just to feel the rain upon her face fully. Beautiful. I ran to Maya, held out my hands, and we spun each other around and around, until we were so dizzy we had to let go. Adrienne ran to me, and we grabbed hands. I looked at her face as we twirled around, her smile wide. I don't think she could have stopped smiling at that moment if she had tried. And then I looked past her shoulder to the world circling around me. The harbor. Sailboats. Mountain. Eagles floating by. Green trees. Water. Mast. Boat. Tree. Feet. Ground. Grass. Sky.


It was a moment of utter delight, no thought. Just breath and twirl and smile and yes.

So one class was death. And the other was life. (And the one before them, breakfast.)

That's camp.

I am so glad that you are having such a good time. I started to make a mini-seroes last night. and it looks like I am going to have a scanner soon, that means that I can start a blog and start showing my stuff to people like you.
Call me when you are back in Seattle
ok so I joined this blogger world.....................

you suck so so so very much, loser
I agree with the previous commenter and will go so far as to add the following:
"You are a fucking hypochondriac lunatic!"
You did not have the proper testing done. You self diagnosed. You are a danger to REAL celiac sufferers. You and your histrionic victimization makes people wary toward REAL illness.
Oh and by the way. You are so far on the otherside of GIRL you barely pass as feminine. I am cringing in embarrassment for you.
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