Working for the school district had its perks, one of which was the availability at times, for opportunities to engage in enriching activities, including accessibility to workshops and in-services. One such opportunity came up, beginning at the end of my third year of teaching, and involved traveling to Albuquerque, two consecutive summers, to participate in Art Connects. This was a methodology of teaching reading, which incorporated art into the instruction of some basic language lessons.
This program was geared in it inception, to native peoples, particularly to schools where the native population was in the majority. By incorporating art into the teaching of reading, teachers hoped to infuse some additional hooks in students‘ minds, upon which to hang pieces of knowledge. Using “dollar” words, to expand vocabulary, employing art to complement the word-use, using poetry in a user-friendly manner, and making it accessible to all, were characteristics of Art Connects.
The week-long workshop was held at the University of Albuquerque, and participants were paid a stipend to obtain off-campus housing. In an unrelated series of events, we had refinanced our home, in order to apply for permits, and conform to building standards, that were currently subpar, and included in the money we borrowed, was funding to cover the cost of traveling to New Mexico, with meals and accommodations figured in.
Thus Annie, Casey, Ben, Lito and I headed across country, after first dropping down to Bakersfield, before maneuvering East. In 1993, Casey would have been ten, almost eleven, and about to begin sixth grade, the perfect age for a cross-country drive, in a mid-sized car, with five people trapped comfortably residing within. Annie was the driver, which meant I was not. I was the dad and got to deal with all kid issues, because Annie did not. That’s the way it works.
Now Casey is a lively kind of guy, I think most of you would agree, so our time together in our Trooper, was to become a very special experience. One of many redeeming factors is that the Trooper featured an excellent air conditioning system. By the way, the Trooper came from that same infusion of loot, from those nice folks at the refinancing company, all $17,003.00 of it, the one and only brand new vehicle, either Annie or I have ever owned.
Ben would have just turned nine, and was in the mid-year of a three-year run with Joanie and Lu; Lito was seven and a half, and the most amiable fellow on the block. The challenge was to drive for three days on the way there, with three days on the way home, without doing bodily harm to one another. We expected a little psychological fallout, but figured that was a norm. How could we make this journey, and still expect to function, with any degree of normalcy, at the end?
Annie and I hatched a plan, that involved dangling Disneyland in front of the boys, as an incentive to get them to sit side-by-side-by-side, right behind us, as we made our way across country. If there was ever a recipe for...concern...this might have been it. The Trooper was purchased in March, of that same year, so it was still so new, that food and beverages were strictly monitored inside, which had meant they were not allowed, until we spent three days in the car there, and three more on the way back.
Staying at motels on the way across, provided us, our first glimpse of The Simpsons, a TV show that was certainly different, than anything I could remember seeing. I remember laughing so hard, I thought I had injured myself. Combined with the novelty of motel swimming pools, in July, In Cali, the boys were ecstatic. We had it going for us, and the final component was the point system that required that each young man earn 10,000 points in order to gain entry to Disneyland.
How did you earn points, who assigned points and who kept track of them? You earned points by being nice, by saying kind things, and by being helpful. You could not not lose points, once you gained them, but you had to keep up a steady effort to ensure you had enough. We also planned the two-day visit to Disneyland, for the return trip, so that 90% of the journey was completed, before we had to go it alone, without this system.
Annie and I assigned the points, but anyone could lobby for points, either for himself or another, anywhere along the route. And in case you think I needed to keep track of points with Casey in the car, then you do not know Casey. He kept better track of his brothers’ points, than he did of his own. Casey was very aware of the social injustices of inequality, for not paying sufficient attention to his brothers’ affairs. He took his responsibilities seriously.
We kept the drama to a minimum, as all three climbed steadily enough in points, to ensure that we were on target, with extra points being awarded various additional incentives. A root beer float, in an air-conditioned ice cream parlor, just off Fantasy-Land, comes to mind. Ironically, none of the three ever thought to ask the clarifying question, of just exactly what do you do with a small boy, for two days, who somehow did not manage to accrue the necessary number of points, to gain entry into D-Land?
But what I really set out to tell you about was another rabbit. I formed this clay rabbit out of conventional potter’s clay, in a workshop designed to get participating teachers involved in artistic endeavors, especially in areas where they were inexperienced. We were asked to expand our artistic horizons. Because my artistic horizons, have never surpassed the height of a shoe-box, I was on very shaky ground. My experience with clay (play-doh) was limited to being able to craft ten different types of snakes, all suspiciously alike in nature.
Now I was being asked to create something out of clay, that was not cylindrical in shape. So I found a picture of a rabbit, grabbed a lump of clay the size of my closed fist, and set out to do what I had never done before: form something recognizable out of clay. A funny thing happened in this environment, where time was not a factor, and we were all absorbed in our own pursuits. The instructor provided me with some tools for working with clay, and I did it. I created a rabbit.
It did not take long, and there on the table before me, was the most striking clay bunny, I had ever seen. Yes, he had transmogrified into a bunny, right before my eyes. You see, it was all in the ears. I had just copied what I had seen in the picture, but this time, in this place, with these tools, I had created something that made me cry on the spot. I do not mean that people flocked to me with Kleenix, I just mean what was on the table in front of me was the most beautiful object I had ever created, with my hopelessly inept fingers. I simply could not believe my luck.
Because that was what I attributed it to--luck. Never before, and never since, until I built that addition a year ago this winter, had I created something of an artistic nature. In terms of non-word-related endeavors, it remains a crowning achievement, in a ridiculously small field of accomplishments.
One small hop towards refinement; one huge leap toward inner fulfillment.