Thursday, June 4, 2015

Maps & mapping

So I'm writing this post after breakfast, after having talked and interacted with people. What does this mean? It means that it'll be tougher to recap yesterday's events as today's events have begun. And for me, when the day begins, it's hard to turn away from this day's excitement in order to look back at yesterday. But I'll try.

The highlight reel:

* Morning lecture felt like a lecture, unlike the previous one which felt like storytelling. Complete with a powerpoint presentation. That took an adjustment of my expectations. Still, it was fascinating to learn about how essential artistic expression has been for us human beings. It has been created by humans as far back as 42,000 years ago (at least I think that was the number). There was a slide of this artifact: a lion-man figure carved from a mammoth tusk, the detail of which was incredible. The overall aim of the lecture was to illustrate how necessary art is, how necessary artists are if we are to survive as a species.

* Workshop was relocated to the Barn. We left our fluorescent-lit classroom for the wide open space and naturally lit Barn (which is literally the larger part a barn, the rest of which have been made into classrooms, so you can imagine the very high ceiling, which is also the roof itself) and sat in cushioned rattan chairs. What a difference setting makes! We all felt so much more relaxed and casual in our conversation about each other's work, really working to excavate the poem beneath the draft that lay before us. Pretty awesome.

* Afternoon class: this was something you could sign up for. A class in which one of the instructors just ran a class, teaching something about writing and/or creating. Today's class? Mapping. Ross facilitated that class and it was a lot of fun. He, being not just a poet but a visual artist (a painter, to be precise), brought in giant sheets of paper and colored pencils. He had us draw two maps: one of a dream we had, one of a childhood place in which many significant moments happened. I was screwed on the first one; I don't have dreams every night and when I do, I inevitably forget them the minute I wake up. So I doodled. What else was I supposed to do? I couldn't even make up a dream! So I just drew some spirals with different colors. The second map was interesting: it was of the street I grew up on, Sunburst Lane. The name alone evokes not just memories, but a natural image: that of the sun bursting with light at daybreak. The breaking of day, the day broken by a sun exploding with light, so much light that it bursts, it explodes. Um, yeah. Sorry. Poet here. That kind of thing tends to happen. Anyway, along with this map of my childhood street, I listed five significant moments that happened there. I had never stopped to think about just how many events happened on that street, literally ON that street. Not in my house or in a neighbor's house. The street itself. A lot of shit happened. And in thinking about memory, I'm asking: how much of it actually happened? How much of it am I making up, thinking that this is what happened? Isn't that the nature of memory? Did I really learn how to double dutch at Alicia's house? Or did I just really want to, and in my remembering, inserted the notion that I actually did learn how to skip dual ropes? I don't know. Does it matter? Isn't the essence the important part of memory?

A third collaborative map was called for. So, we broke up into groups of five and were presented with the task of mapping out a solution. I told my group that we couldn't do something predictable and boring like solve climate change or anything related to nature and the environment. I told them that everyone would be doing that. How boring! (I know: I'm trouble.) So in our brainstorming conversations, we came up with the idea of a stadium stampede as our problem. How to solve this? I came up with the idea of retractable walls that fold into each other, similar to an accordion (I have no idea if this is architecturally sound, but we only had 25 minutes! so whatever!). My group loved it & then took off with their own ideas. It was one of my better experiences with collaboration yet! The results were hysterical and entertaining (To summarize: there was a halftime show in which Janet Jackson was about to make her big finish with a giant boob piƱata, which was to set off fireworks, but something caught fire & the whole thing exploded, thus triggering the stampede. Our protagonist, Joe, got trampled and in trying to escape, was somehow lifted up by the crowd & crowd-surfed his way out of the stadium towards one of two DJs in the parking lot. Would he travel his way towards Queen's "We Are the Champion's" or Kenny Chesney?). Not to worry, we met all the requirements asked of us and understood the lesson Ross was trying to teach us: that maps are like stories: they are not always what they seem as the mapper chooses what to show you and how to show you. (And by the way, the other groups *did* do boring predictable environmental stuff, like how to save the bees.)

Anyway, I gotta run. Morning lecture starts in five minutes! More to come later... maybe!

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