Hi All, especially Rebecca,

I wrote this in reponse to your prompt this morning.

Ode to an
Orange Mushroom
 

I see youflashing your bright orange skincalling meLook, look closer.                                              I mistake you for a chantrellyou, you French treasure, in my backyardsold on the market fourteen dollars a poundadding texture, colorto a creamy risotto.Michael is repulsed. It’s a fungu.No taste. No nutritional value.But I know betteryou season my soups 

I see you peeking out from under damp brown fallen leaves.You lift them as you riseyour strengthpushing their wet bodies. 

I see you, but I don’t dare reach out to touch you,pluck you from you baseyour stem your rock. 

I fear you. You, little,easily broken by a greedy handeasily crushed by a careless footYou,you could kill mewith your tricks.I could find your secrets in a bookbut fearful I leave youwhere you wereto reign high abovethe damp leavesthe bugs and beetlesto wait for another travelerweary for a place to rest,a bite to eat.  

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Hi all,

I’m writing this from my bed at home. I just wanted you all to know how much I’m missing being with you, and how sorry I am to be missing Madlyn’s, Odell’s and Terri’s TIW’s. It’s frustrating, to say the least, to be laid up during the SI, when each day is so full and special in its own way.

I’m fairly sure that I’ll be in tomorrow morning, bright and early. My lower back has been in a spasm, but the muscle relaxant I’m taking is starting to kick in, and I’m forcing myself to rest. I don’t want to miss any more time with any of you!

Remember, lunch is provided tomorrow. I’ve ordered it, and it looks great.

Take care,

Rebecca

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Seth was a student unlike any other I have taught.  That fact alone made me want to know him more than others.

 Seth, a 19-year-old senior, had no control over his salivation due to the lack of properly formed muscles in the areas around his jaw and palate.  His ramshackle, yellowed teeth always reached beyond his upper lip and, in a constant effort to cope with what he could feel coming out of his mouth, he would often wipe the saliva from his face with the back of his hand and forearm, in a gesture reminiscent of the sweeping movement an infant might make to clear his face of food.  His back was a question mark, his head the dipping and querulous end tipping forward toward his audience or his direction.  He could only see peripherally from behind his thick, large rimmed glasses, and, as a result, his depth perception was faulty.  This created a need for Seth to lean forward toward whomever he was listening to because of his errant perception of their exaggerated distance, yet, while leaning, he would need to cock his head in such a way that would permit him to look at his audience through the sides or tops of his eyes.  His right arm was permanently curled like a fiddlehead fern and tucked tightly under his armpit, his left, not much more of a functional limb, moved and jumped crookedly as he walked or as he attempted to reach out and touch someone.  Touch was important for Seth; his vision, askew and blurry, was unreliable, and touch, therefore, meant a more accurate way to understand his relation to his universe. 

The problem, though, was that Seth was most definitely heterosexual.  This meant that all of the difficulties above, mixed with a 19-year old undeveloped but happily burgeoning libido, led to some awkward hallway and classroom encounters.  The classroom, and not the hallways, is where I ultimately came to know, understand, appreciate and admire Seth.

My Theatre Arts class was a semester-long elective students could take no more than twice, but Seth’s parents, who knew that his future, if not for public school, meant schools for “those types of children,” had managed to persuade the administration to allow him to take Theatre Arts as often as he wished, regardless of graduation requirements.  The goal for this child – a man, really, whose body and mind refused to cooperate – was to allow him the opportunity to socialize.  Socialization was not something he would get in a more isolated setting, and this, his parents felt, was a more important goal than academic instruction.  Theatre Arts class, then, offered him the opportunity to be with 15 to 20 other teenagers who wanted to perform and who wanted to be social.  He could not memorize; he could not learn in ways other students could; he could barely even read, and what he could read – at the pace of a struggling kindergartner – needed to be incredibly large so as to allow him to actually see the text.

His first day presented a paradox for me.  How would I involve Seth in a class that expected reading, movement, speech, interaction and memory?  How would I involve him in a way that would enrich his experience while doing the same for his peers?  Teenagers would be intimidated by his presence; this class, though, was mostly female.  The problem glared at me as he sat there, mostly uninvolved on the first day; he would interact his way, complete with touching; they would react in their way, complete with recoiling and discomfort.  I  knew I had to speak with the class, and I knew it had to be done soon.

I don’t remember exactly which day I held this conversation, but I know I timed it so Seth would be absent and, therefore, I would be more at ease to discuss his various needs and my expectations for how the class should handle their feelings toward working with Seth.  This was uncomfortable.  How could I know that what I would say would be interpreted the right way?  That I would be seen as a teacher who cared about all of their experiences as well as their growth from working together with Seth?  That I was not giving in to his obvious handicaps in a way that was condescending or arrogant?

I couldn’t know.  That was the most aggravating part of the experience.  The students, however, came to the table with more maturity than I ever thought teenagers would muster.  One of my students, a young lady with a rich background of theatre experience – her mother was a “theatre parent,” somewhat akin to the “soccer mom” in her vehemence – led the conversation and was clear that she felt no discomfort.  This was echoed by the other members of the class.  This openness and adult thinking immediately resolved one of the issues embedded in the problem of teaching Seth:  the need to have a welcoming social atmosphere.  The second issue was a bit more perplexing:  How would I teach this boy?

I resolved that, at all costs, and no matter the activity, this boy must be included on a physical level every single day.  He must be made to feel as though he was just as much a part of the group as any other student who was not born as he was.

This began a year of growth for me, one that I will always remember.  One day, during a professional observation, the students were taking part in an activity that required them, at first, to say the letters of the alphabet.  The exercise changed as I asked them to do this seemingly simple task under duress:  they were asked to lift a weight while doing it; they were asked to run in circles while doing it; they were asked to jump in place and, then, around the classroom while doing it.  The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that an actor must focus and avoid tension in order to stay “in a moment.”  Seth took part in this exercise, doing the things all of the other students did and laughing the entire time.  My principal, during our post-observation conference, said she had never seen another teacher get Seth involved as I had, that most teachers assumed an inability on his part to perform any task in their curriculum and an inability on their own parts to find a creative way to get him involved.  I was pleased and I felt I had done what was expected of me, both in terms of curriculum and in terms of Seth’s parents’ expectations.

This feeling was short-lived, however.   A lesson I had designed for a day in the following month was centered on the difference between character and caricature.  Hemingway refused to write “characters;” rather, he wrote “people,” noting that characters were actually caricature.  I felt that all the students could do this, although Seth was obviously at a disadvantage.  I brought into class a scene from “Rain Man;” near the film’s end, a moment crops up where Dustin Hoffman, whom we assume has no ability to truly understand his world due to his special brand of autism, leans forward and touches his forehead to Tom Cruise’s…there, in that moment, we lose the “character” and find the “person.”  We see the person, trapped like Rilke’s panther in bars of a physiology that would not allow him to speak in ways the rest of the world could understand, say to his brother in a one simple movement “I love you.” 

The class could not follow the difference.  My lesson was falling apart.  I modeled; they said they were lost.  I gave examples; they said they were lost.

And then I turned and saw Seth.  I asked him to stand.  He did so, not knowing what I was about to do…

Slowly, I bent my back into a question mark.  I tilted my head toward him.  I curled my right arm beneath my armpit. I turned my knees toward each other.  I walked, in his sliding gait, toward him…

And he smiled.  Seth knew exactly what I was doing.  He looked at me and I at him.  He said to me, quietly, “Mr. Schneider…” and laughed.  And then, in a gesture none of us expected, he smiled and sat down.   I sat beside him and, while looking at him, asked the class the difference between what I was doing and what an actor developing a person was doing.  They understood…and so did Seth.  He understood that I saw him, that I saw the boy who was inside, who walked the hallways with difficulty, who liked girls, who felt awkward in the class, who wanted to be seen for who he was, for how he was human just like they were…

Many would say that I used Seth, that I took advantage of his disadvantages to make my job easier.  There would be some truth to that, I suppose.  I did make my job easier.  Yet, there is also truth in this:  my job was to involve Seth in theatre.  The whole class - the curriculum even -  was, therefore, theatre.  Performance.  A reflection of life.  What I gave the students – and Seth – was a brief look at the life within another, a brief glimpse that, through an understanding of the outer life of a character, we can come to understand the struggles of their inner life.  Seth was not the sum total of his disabilities, but his inner life was definitely a product of how those things walked with him during the day.

About a month ago, I received an e-mail from one of the students in that class who has become, of all things, a teacher.  She spoke of many things, but the odd thing was that she mentioned that day, that lesson, and her discomfort with my shoice of methods.  She also said that, now that she had become a teacher, she understood why I put him there, why I used him and not another example.  I wanted to explain, but could not.  I just wrote back that I was glad she remembered, nine years afterward, the experience of being in my class.  I was glad. 

I was glad because I knew, now, wherever he was - at his job, at a school, at home – Seth, too remembered. 

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The breeze is caressing and lulling me into a content, grateful mood.  The water sounds like muffled Sweet Nothings seducing me to dip my feet in to savour it.  The leaves are waving at me enthusiastically as if welcoming me to this spot.  Oh, how I needed this like parched soil, my pores soak up this moment.  I did not know how thirsty I actually was.  I have been provided nourishment of something  I had not known I was without.  How small am I!

God’s mercy is boundless as I sit here and am treated so well with the gifts that  were always before me to grasp, but would never allow myself to see or to touch.  The only barrier to my complete satisfaction  is the steep downward slope of carefully placed granite bolders with sharp angles.  Are they the guardians of the water? I want to speak to the rocks, plead my case, and  ask permission to just slip my Pumas off and join the symphony.   I want to contribute my own splash or screech of delight.  Would it disturb the beautiful melody or would it blend in and become a part of the community song?

 I wish I could soar through the sky with my arms extended wide.   My outfit transformed into feathers.  If I could, I would swoop down so close to the water that the mists would tickle my nose and my face would be splashed as the water encompasses the large rocks along the shore.  At the very last minute, I would pull up into the sky climbing until my laughter sounded like a bird’s cry.  Then, I would twist and pirouette in the breezy, cool sky.  I would leap, spin, and rise on my tippy-toes trying to reach Heaven.

I would propel myself upward, face and headback, eyes closed, hoping the mango orange color behind my lids would give way.  Higher and higher, nothing would stop me.  My lungs would expand and deplete to a rhythm that only my soul knows.  Can I make it?  I wonder.

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There she is,

nose up turned,

blond hair flowing as she cuts threw the white capped waves.

Does she belong her?

hand picked,

carefully selected,

purchased.

Is that why the upturned nose?

Did she not care for those hands,

that plucked her out of the warm ocean waves.

Or is the up-turned nose for us,

we who sit and watch her on those waves.

Does she seek and desire to be set free to watch,

as we voyeurs do, others lives,

others who are truly free.

Does she resent us?

Is it true what Elliot says,  

she speaks only to her kind?

Will she not speak to me?

Cold steal surrounds her

she sits, stranded, isolated.

Waiting until again someone picks her,

selects her,

confines her to another place, another island.

Will this movement throw her off balance, as she is plucked,

dropped.

Can she still swim?

Will she drown?

Her final act of defiance.

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secret-garden.jpgfish.jpgwriting-time.jpglilies.jpgwaterfall.jpgbuddhas-at-stonecrop.jpgjulie.jpgfrog.jpglily-pond.jpgmain-house.jpg

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As a writer, one thing I’ve come to understand, at least as regards my own style, is that the old maxim about writing – “real writers write every day” – is sometimes a falsehood, especially if “write” means “to finish” or even “to envision.” Real writers try to write every day, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the writing is happening in an experience, or a moment…a visit to a place, with friends, talking, growing, changing…

Last Friday was a day that came to an end with a group of friends. We began, however, merely as peers, a fellowship on a common quest. The car ride brimmed with conversation. We soon arrived, after a trip over a bridge whose view felt like we could each be Henry Hudson staring at the grandeur of the river for the first time.

The first thing that popped into my head was the sense of beauty and rustic glory this place night offer, as the road into the garden was unpaved, its rocks tinging the bottom of Julie’s car as we approached the parking lot. The entrance pavilion, an A-frame pagoda, opens onto a small, worn path that winds its way away from the parking lot and into a thicket of willows and underbrush. This led us into an opening where we were faced with a garden house that is a replica of a 19th century French country house. The place was already magnificent, and we had yet to begin discovery.

The walk through Stonecrop Gardens took us through patches of trees, flowers exploding in red, blue, lavender, yellow, orange and pink brilliance. There were small stone flowerbeds rich with calcium carbonate that helped the moss to grow within them; there were delicate, yellow flowers that dangled their bell-shaped blooms inches above the ground…there was a smell of clean beauty so overpowering that one could lay in the grass and forget that life with all of its filigree and tension did not actually exist, would never exist, would only grow as complex as the smell of pine and the sound of a croaking bullfrog.

And then, after our walk, it came time to “write.” I left the group (we all went our own ways) and found a spot on a boulder that was set, serendipitously, in the center of a lake set beside a large pavilion entangled in Wisteria

[NPThe Lake1]

It was like a painting from ancient China. Nothing could disturb this place. Not even my presence, squat, legs crossed, inert on a boulder in the middle of the lake. As I sat on that rock, I began to feel a sense of “oneness,” as cliché as that word has become, with what surrounded me… The air was intoxicatingly fresh. I closed my eyes and just listened…to the water, the air, the sky…my breath… I could feel a world – a universe – of cares lift and float away.

But I had to write

And I couldn’t… I wrote “Nothing is coming up…” And nothing did. Hemingway said that “worry destroys the ability to write,” and this was worry. What was expected of me? What would happen if I came back to our group and then…a hush falls over the crowd…I accomplished nothing…they know it…I am embarrassed…and I hate to look ridiculous… I had to force myself to stop, to calm down, to focus on my breath… And then it hit me. I was composing as I sat, as I panicked, as I wrote nothing I was writing. Because I used no paper made no difference. Because I “produced” little made no difference. I was writing because I heard the bullfrog; I was writing because I noticed the turtle no larger than the palm of my hand; I was writing because I was thinking. Hemingway also taught us to write the “one true sentence,” and that every good writer needed to be gifted with a “foolproof bullshit detector.” If I had written much then, it would have been disingenuous bullshit. The fact that I could sit, there, on the rock, in that lake, at that moment and be nowhere else was more of an act of true composition than anything my struggling imagination could muster. I closed my notebook, leaned back onto the rock and closed my eyes. My work was as done as it would get, and there was nothing I could do about it.

The remainder of our day was spent in conversation, on the veranda of the pagoda, in the car, in the restaurant over Mexican food and mojitos…

We all wrote a story that spoke no words but resonated. We had our moment together as “real” writers. We left and went home, to our lives, our time, and our worlds; no one could tell us, then, that writing had not been done.


[NP1]The bush in the center foreground…the boulder sits directly in front of it.

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Meticulous

Stone by stone layered upon

Stone

Blade by blade cut precisely

Just so

Each dragonfly, tree, path

All serve a purpose

Each statue carefully molded

Ancient becomes modern

At a second glance

don’t turn too fast or you’ll

Miss it, “There, look!”

“Where?”

Who are these people who

Crafted and cultivated our vision?

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A simple gravel path
So narrow my legs brush the lush curtain of green
Bumblebees forage in fragrant blossoms
As I gingerly make my way
Trickling water draws me further in
Rivulets snake through handcrafted forms of stone
Man and nature in partnership
My heart opens with gratitude
For these treasures

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OK, gang;  here’s a first line…you fill in the rest:

I handed the gift to her, its red bow puffed and stiff atop the gold paper.  Christ, I thought, she’s gonna think I want to marry her.

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