Conceal Carry on Campus: An Open Letter to My Colleagues

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To the many incredible teachers, professors, and administrators that I know who are currently upset, confused, and scared by the recent ruling in Texas regarding conceal carry on campus:

First, I respect each of your brilliance and your dedication to your art, your passions, and your students. I also respect your fear and confusion. The recommendations set forth and shared that advised professors to “avoid certain words” and “angry encounters with students” were not only terrifying but also very misguided and worked to cultivate a culture of fear as opposed to discussion.

I want to open that discussion by explaining, if you will allow, the realities of conceal carry, what it means, how it is used, and how it impacts you and your classroom.

I have worked for several years remotely. Before that time, however, I worked in a traditional classroom with non-traditional students. Many of my students were police officers and former marines, working towards an advanced degree and the dreams that would be realized from that accomplishment. I never asked if they came to class with their firearms as well as their uniforms. I assume that many did. This was never a problem or an issue. In fact, I must also admit, I felt safe when my students would walk me to my car. Our night class was taught in a stereotypically “bad” part of town. Gang violence, shootings, rapes, etc. were common. My students knew this. And every class, twice a week, for eleven weeks, they would walk me to my car and watch me until I turned left onto the highway.

I never belittled their concern or their reality with my lofty academic and idealist theories regarding firearms. In fact, I respected the reality of where we were, of what could happen, and I was thankful for their concern, their support, and their protection.

While teaching in Colorado, I encountered many individuals and students who had what is known as a Conceal Carry License.

A conceal carry license offers an individual the right to carry a firearm, knife or pepper spray concealed on their person or in their vehicle.

Obtaining a conceal carry license (CC) is not necessarily easy. The laws for each state differ; I am most familiar with the laws in Colorado. In Colorado, mandatory classes are required. In addition to fire arms training, one must also receive training in the legal aspects of self defense. In many classes, the content is focused on conflict management. The course teaches, very effectively, that an ideal outcome to a potentially violent situation is one in which everyone walks away. One also reviews, in addition to peaceful conflict management, the basics of firearms safety.

Following these courses, one must then undergo an extensive background check and waiting period. In addition to the fees for the proper training, there are also fees to apply for the license. One’s address and all information must be kept up to date. While carrying, an individual must have their license on his/her person at all times. There are strict rules regarding conceal carry and any violation of those rules will result in the license being revoked and criminal charges being filed.

I want to stress that an individual who has devoted the time, money, and resources to obtain a conceal carry license is one who fully appreciates and understands that responsibility, one who takes it seriously, one who understands the law, one who recognizes and values the importance of human life.

That understanding is the reason why many individuals choose to conceal carry -to preserve human life, to protect it.

The individual who has his/her CC is NOT one who will react with violence to a term or idea that you may state in class.

The misguided and mentally ill individual who enters a classroom with the intent to do harm is NOT the individual who has gone through the countless hours of training in conflict management and firearms safety.

An individual who wishes to do harm in your class will NOT invest the time and money in taking the CC course, paying the necessary fees, waiting 90 days, etc. to obtain their license. In fact, the individual with a CC is the one who will defend that classroom from that threat.

How do I know so much about CC? I am in the process of obtaining one.

Recently, a woman in my community became the victim of a horrendous sexual assault. Her story is not unique. I was also the victim of sexual assault twice – once in Wooster, Ohio and once in Boulder, Colorado. In fact, I have found college campuses to be the space where I feel the least safe. No counseling, intellectual ideals, or shiny blue phone has compensated for the fact that in that moment she was unable to defend herself, that I was unable to defend and protect her, that I was unable to protect and defend myself. Following these events, I learned Aikido as a form of self-defense. I also began carrying pepper spray and a knife with me after my night classes. I later learned that this was illegal. To carry any weapon concealed in Colorado, one must have a CC.

It was then that I began the process.

Conceal carry is allowed on many campuses in Colorado, including Western State Colorado University, campuses where I have studied, worked, and taught. I can assure you that this law has not, in any way, inhibited the free exchange of ideas in our classrooms. The law in Texas is not a revolution, nor is it anything new. In fact, CC is allowed on many campuses and has been for many years. The fact that many are expressing outrage over this ruling expresses, I believe, a lack of knowledge and understanding.

Thus, to my amazing friends and colleagues:

My career in academia and my instructors – you – have taught me to approach disagreement with knowledge, to fight conflict with information. You taught me that, when an idea, a person, an issue, or a point of view causes me discomfort that I have an intellectual and human obligation to maintain an open mind, to learn the facts and details, and to base my reaction on knowledge and compassion – not emotion or stereotypes.

If a student, professor, or administrator is carrying concealed, you will not know it. That is the point of a conceal carry license and the act of conceal carrying. Carrying a firearm does not inherently make one more violent or more prone to violence. Self defense and self protection is a constitutional right which we all have and should use and celebrate.

That being said:

You have every right to have a no-gun policy in your classroom – any teacher does. A classroom is a space where you and your students should feel safe to exchange ideas, to celebrate discussion, to promote learning and individual growth. However, you also have an obligation to understand the law and to educate yourself regarding this policy. You have an obligation to promote knowledge – not misinformation and fear.

I hope to start that process by first, reaching out to you to break the stereotype that many in the academic field are promoting.

An individual who has earned a CC and who chooses to carry is not mentally ill, is not a criminal, is not a “right wing nut,” is not violent, is not eager for a fight, is not _____(insert negative adjective/stereotype here). What we are is far simpler:

  • We are concerned citizens who respect and celebrate human life, who are willing to take on the responsibility to protect and defend life.
  • We are highly educated and aware.
  • We are responsible and reliable.
  • We are highly trained in fire arms safety, conflict management, and self defense.

We all hope to live in a world where we never need to defend ourselves, where there is no threat of violence from anyone – no war, no poverty, no crime, no loss. But we are not naïve. That world does not exist nor will it ever exist. We do live in sometimes violent world. There are people, and there always will be people in society, who wish to cause immense harm and suffering to others. Rather than ignoring this reality and hoping against it, I have chosen to take the steps necessary to protect myself and those around me, to constantly work towards compassion, love, and peace while being prepared to do whatever it takes to defend that peace and to protect human life.

Conceal carry does not inhibit discussion or free speech. It does not make our world any more violent or dangerous. In fact, I believe a CC does just the opposite.

Rather than promoting the gross generalizations and stereotypes which you taught me to defeat and dissect, I would encourage you to examine this law, to speak with CC license holders, to analyze and discuss the reasons why someone would choose to conceal carry, and to then form your policy and your position.

I am always one for intelligent and meaningful discussion. Please reach out to me at any time if you have any questions or if you would like to discus and compare our visions and experiences.

Sincerely,

Professor Kristi K. Yorks

Assistant Professor English Composition

Thoughts on Time Management: Write or Die

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It has been a long time since I have posted and written. I feel an explanation is in order.

I aged years in a span of months.

While practicing for a downhill mountain bike race, I lost my concentration, balance, and health, in an instant. A vertical collapse from a ramp onto a rock below shattered my ankle into eight, puzzled pieces. My remaining bones dislocating and explored their sudden freedom by testing the walls of my muscle and skin.

A kind man with dreadlocks jumped down and carried me up to a waiting truck.

Maybe it is just sprained, he offered.

The recovery required multiple surgeries and three months in a cast. The nights were excruciating. I watched reruns on youtube, clips of shows I’d already watched, while chewing on pills and tea.

The only bathroom in our house is upstairs. Showers and bathroom breaks were events that require careful planning and pep talks – more pills.

The sharp aches were ever present – like buried knives breaking the surface, reaching through like fingers until the air splinters, and everything is a shade of red.

I assumed that I would do nothing which I did – with great effort.

When an athlete can no longer “athlete,” when a rider can no longer ride and the world within stands alone, watching the world  without move on, there is nothing to do but wait and distract. It seems, like laziness, a suspended state of near sleep that others will condemn and ridicule. But it is, in fact, survival. Let the body heal, let it stitch itself into new shapes. Let it absorb and sink into the couch, the pillows, the sky. There are pictures that I live in.

I assumed that, during this time of suspended animation, I would dedicate myself to my craft and write. I would write and not stop – write or die, my escape, my therapy.

What else would I do for months on end? What else could I do?

But I didn’t write. I didn’t do. I was but I was not. Caught in between, a place of waiting, I stared at empty screens and empty nights and waited.

I realized then, that my craft needs chaos to thrive. It needs to be pressed, hiding in minutes that I do not have, stealing seconds and hours away from the night. Faced with stillness, the voice within shutters and sleeps, it rebels and creates nothing but questions and excel spreadsheets – eventual projects, possible ideas, maybe gains, most certainly losses.

To write required movement – not stillness. It demands activity, light, experiences. It demands dirt and bruises, the collapse and the rising. It demands breaking and then rising, never enough and then just enough – the carving out of a day, a fictional space, imagined and dreamed into reality with sweat and blood and night.

Too much time equates to too little possibility. Only now, when there is too little of everything is there too much to say, to be, to do and thus, to write.

Writing equates to living and to live one must move through the world, give chase to the future while racing from the past, throwing pages away as we scatter.

Passion, Possibility, and Ingenuity

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What does it mean to be an artist? Stripped of its mystery and its poetry, the word still inspires awe. There is no one thing that defines what an artist is or what an artist creates. The word remains a shell, a void, emptied so that the world may burn and shine through. An artist is a catalyst, the space carved out and reserved for possibility. With fire and grit, with science and chaos, lines and language, something known becomes unknown, and within that mystery, creation flourishes.

My father is an artist – the architect. I remember sitting for days curled beneath his drawing board. I traveled with him to vacant lots and corn fields, mounds of dirt and rotting brick. I saw nothing at these sites. He, however, saw walls, rooms, a swing set, a library – he saw possibility. He documented that possibility on napkins and scraps he kept buried in his pockets. Then, late nights, fueled by Pepsi cans, pots of black coffee, and packs of cigarettes, followed. He set out translating a home, its future memories, to lines and numbers, geometric shapes and scales.

When he was done, he had created something, but he was not yet an artist – just a man with lines.

Creation happened only after he had relinquished his rights to those lines and sketches.  Only after he handed them over to a contractor would those lines be read and used to imagine and create something.

My father was still not an artist. Only months, years later, when the structure was complete, when he could reach out and touch it, when he took off his shoes and tripped over the toys of a young boy’s new playroom, was the process complete.

What does it mean to be an artist? Perhaps a better question would be: what does it mean to be human? To recognize and celebrate our humanity, our passions, our possibility – to see the world, strange and new, to find hope, to ask why, to see how, to constantly be moving forward?

Artists work through many mediums:  movement, music, words, sound, food, wood, steel – the mediums are endless and the process is universal.

We create and inspire. We make the familiar strange and wondrous. We ask questions and reveal possibility. We empower those around us to ask why, to imagine how. We give, we hope, and most importantly, we dream.

Artists create; we remember. And the cycle continues.

Writing Back: A Way of Moving Forward

Thoughts about the ethics of writing another. 

We write fiction, but within all fiction lies the truth that inspired it – a moment, a character, a memory, a setting. There is no purity in fiction. Its themes betray it. It came from somewhere, from someone. There is no hiding it. Then, what are the ethics of stealing bits and pieces of reality to reimagine people, words, and narrative lines?

I took a class several years ago with the brilliant and distant Selah Saterstrom. We were discussing space, purpose, and location within the art of contemporary fiction – a fancy way of saying that where we were inspires and dicates the mediums through which we write. There is no escaping it. The past, our past, concealed within the veil of fiction breaks free and finds a way to emerge, regardless of our vain attempts to keep it buried. It returns again and again, each time a little more disfigured, more deformed, less human. It devours the present – a necessary sacrifice for the yet unknown future. 

All fiction is a zombie. 

There is another sacrifice, of course – those who populate the past and persist within the present. Friends, family, strangers. Do they know that you will write them as you remember them? Do they realize that their lives, choices, words, and memories are foder for your desperate prose? Would they approve of being written, being re-imagined in the mind of a reader? Can they stand being misinterpreted? 

I have made the decision, but have they? What right do I have, as an author, to reimagine lives that are still living? 

It was an ethical concern. There were two extremes that emerged from our discussions. One – that relationships are just another sacrifice to be placed on the altar of fiction. A good story, a real story, a meaningful story, is more necessary, more important, than the will, emotions, and connections between human beings.

The other? That there is no right within fiction to steal and recreate the lives of others.

I fell somewhere in the middle. Selah confided in us that, after the publication of her first novel, she lost the trust and her relationship with several members of her family. While true, while beautifully written, they felt betrayed and naked, laid bare upon the altar of fiction in pursuit of grants, teaching contracts, and literary fame.

When writing dialogue, sitting in a coffee house, eyeing characters who could be borne unexpectedly from the gait and bodies of strangers who had caught my eye, I felt guilt. How dare I steal his hat, his face, her words, for my own potential mis-use? How dare I write them well – or badly.

 

Then, I began writing a novel. It will never be complete. But still, I am writing it. And while it is fiction, it contains my memories, each character drawn up through the darkness and reimagined in the present. My grandfather, my mother, my father – I have taken their words and trust and betrayed it. I have outed them – a hopeless alcoholic who hides behind empty promises of redemption, a strong man with hard hands who finds meaning under the hoods of cars and up the skirts of young women, a workaholic trapped and rolled between sheets of sketching paper, a genius lost and buried in a small town where he is comforted by mediocricy, a woman who runs and runs in circles through her mother’s past, running as far as possible from any future…these are our secrets.

My own are even more desperate, darker, bitter. There is humor and there is also joy. Can I write it all, preserve it in all its glorious, messy humanity? If I write the past, I liberate and thus realize my future. But at what cost? What is a good story worth?

I turned to nonfiction, composing articles for several magazines, conducting interviews. Upon publication, the subjects of our stories were happy and yet, removed and discontent. They didn’t like the way that they were written. A story of redemption was too sad – I’m not like that, she told me. I’m not a sad person. 

But you were, I thought. You told a story of failure and struggle, a struggle that lead to eventual triumph and possibility. Your past was not one of joy, but rather, one of despair and redemption through art. 

I can’t escape the question or the dilemma. Whatever medium I compose, writing itself depends upon a balance between sacrifice and truth. How much truth is too much? How much are we willing to sacrifice for the integrity of a story? A good ending? A best seller?

There are no answers – just questions. As I prepare to finish that desperate, terrible yet wonderful novel – my mother’s island, my father’s dream house, my grandfather’s cabin lost by the lake – have I stolen too much, taken too freely, from someone else? Am I a thief or am I simply a writer? 

Writing Back

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There is a science to it, an art, a process. The architecture is concrete, is absolute. Men drill holes and fill the Earth with glue and weight, bearing down, pressing out until everything inside is hard and buried. There is no where to go but up. Space fills and expands, searches for an escape, and discovers within the struggle, a new way to define itself.

It builds windows, then, doors, hallways. It paints itself, a mirror projecting itself out as it draws itself in, further.

It is warm and cold and damp.

There is an architecture to space – what we choose to reveal, what we choose to conceal.

The hidden pulse, the unsaid

defined mysteries

a kind of magic

every time

a switch turns and,

the world is light, red

chords in an alley

stringing along

We are building a house. The ink on the papers has dried. Back dealings with banks and strategies, calling forth favors and friendships, placing bets against an imagined future outlined in little orange flags and dotted lines.

“I hate closed spaces. I hate closets. I hate hallways,” I tell my father, the architect. “I hate entryways too. And columns and too many rooms and doors. You can save money by forgetting the doors.”

He scribbles and scoffs and sighs. This is going to be difficult.

“I like open things,” I tell him. “And light woods that look weathered and blue and grey. I hate red accents.”

There are many things that I hate, I discover. Having never done this before, I am very particular. I know what I like.

Interpretation is like  wave; everything solid becomes fluid within the process. Absolute certainty is interpretation and interpretation is a tide, a washing back and away towards the source.

Physical memory – the houses of my youth. John R. Stilgore writes in the foreword of The Poetics of Space:

…every house is first a geometrical object of planes and right angles, but…[how] such recilinearity so welcomes human complexity, idiosyncrasy, how the house adapts to its inhabitants…Inhabited space transcends geometrical space.

We build the house; the house builds us. We all pour out, extend, transform – a series of wires and secret places, attics and crawl spaces, walls and doors – closed or shut, depending.

Old French, light woods, weathered woods, beetle kill, blue accents, cold and white and clean. Make room for chaos, life pours through with the light, like a wave, washing it clean, leaving a mark, and passing on. Like a mirror.

“Like a coffee house. I want to feel like I stepped into an old bookstore in Paris.”

How many secret rooms can you leave unopened? How many secrets can you design?

I desire everything – but only from a distance – in the third person. I project myself and a sheet and watch the wind move me. My origin is a space of conflict – the birth of chaos. It comes as a void. There must be a void for me to persist against all my imagined borders. Rapture and demons – a necessary collaboration.

“And big tall ceilings and windows…everywhere. And each room should connect and no real hallways…as few of those as you can. It could be just one big room with corners spinning off…”

“You want a barn…essentially.”

“Will there be room for a piano?” I ask. “Can you put a piano in a barn?”

I watched a poem the other day in which a young poet sang of shrinking women – how she has been taught to shrink and the house has grown, fed by all that space. I want to begin with enough space to grow. I can expand out, then, to fill it, and when I get too big – I can open a window.

I have a story I cannot tell…

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To my writer friends…below are musings on impossible stories, those moments that demand language, sensations that pour from us. What makes a story untell-able? As the lines between reality and fiction blur, I have to ask, at what point does a life, a loss, become off-limits? What are the stories that you cannot write? that you cannot share? Where is the line? If there is a line, should there be?

 

I have a story to tell.

I wrote it in a fury at 2:00AM.

It’s a true story – a memory. It slips into fiction, finds and expands its own metaphors, creates characters, explores plot lines, finds objects and colors to paint with.

It’s the best bit of language I’ve created in months.

It’s a story that needs to be told.

And it’s a story that I cannot publish…

I’ll carry her with me. She will be in every story, every character, every movement. A ghost-language, haunting each page, empty words, filled with empty sounds, shared – we create; we destroy.

Life happens or it doesn’t.

It’s simple.

To create; to lose.

Then deny, deny, deny, every reality, the moment it broke, shed its possibility, and exposed itself.

A dark spot between my legs.

Pour out of me.

All the words I cannot speak – they are not mine.

I have a story to tell that I cannot tell.

I need my girl.

All her fictions; now, she can be anything.

But why…can’t I tell her, narrate her. Why must I mask pain with metaphor? Loss with allusion? Pain with poetry?

I carry her – sounds, colors, textures – but I cannot share her.

I cannot write her death, I cannot write the room, metal forceps, sterile gloves.

There are very few things in our world that are un-mentioned, few necessary secrets.

I am a liar, then. Creating fantasies to protect unnecessary secrets, the blood on the bed,

The sheets they will throw away.

Why do I believe in silence?

In a world of men, the losses within my flesh are not polite conversation.

Nearly 40% of women will lose her, name her, and carry her ghost.

Where are they? False smiles, crossed legs.

You did nothing wrong…men say, and yet…

Silence. Banished forums and women’s groups. Hushed tones.

Why are there some stories that cannot be told?

I can narrate war; I can steal words, over heard conversations; I can create life from nothing, imagine possibility, destroy it, rebuild it. I can narrate genocide, anti-heroes, and lost love.

But I cannot write this.

I cannot find the line…that line…

I drink too much. I take another pill.

I feel empty, less than complete, which irritates me. I take to reading “The Bell Jar,” and Adrienne Rich. I remind myself of my worth which exists beyond procreation. My ability to create life is a part of me, but it is not all that I am. And, I think, I can create life in other ways, with words, with conversations, with lectures and lesson plans, with stories and poetry.

The words come easily, a pouring out. Emptiness is best expressed through the shell of language. I associate creativity with loss, genius with guilt, writing with unauthorized pain. I write stories that I will never publish.

I have a bottle to go through before the week is out. I wonder how I’ll sleep when it’s gone.

The line…where is it…the stories that belong to me, the stories that bury what I cannot create, what I cannot mask through the broken rhymes of language.

Someone once told a story – her family disowned her.

She used it as a lesson in a writing workshop – something about cost, a responsibility to a reader and to the ghosts that swell within us.

I drink too much. I take another pill.

I have a story to tell that I cannot tell; it does not belong to me.

Thoughts about Poetry

I’ve been thinking – about lines that form frames, sharp edges, boundaries that cannot be crossed.

I’ve been thinking about resolve, about dreaming, about presence, and the illusion of choice.

I’ve been thinking about love (how unpoetic) – beautifully defined by Elad Nehorai as “a verb…the act of giving.”

I’ve been thinking about hate as something that can also be given, shared, and even lost in the darkness of apathy and settling.

I’ve been thinking about rams, about loss, about bridges, and narrow walkways.

I’ve been thinking about change, my own desire to grow out, to trespass, to be alone.

I’ve been thinking about mirrors and choices, about possibilities and the need to believe that everything is still possible, that no choice is final, that all doors are still open.

Should I close one? Where should I hide my dreams, my infinite possibilities? How should I grow out?

Deserving questions thought up within the bellies of tea and midnight ice cream contrasted against dark skies and vague horizons, deserve poems.

Because this is the art of poetry, a space to grow out, to imagine, to live within our dancing fictions, explore their chaos, experience their reality, share in their possibility.

And so, writing poetry at 2 AM on your belly, imagining all the rounded parts of you that slide and roll, that cannot puncture or break through, and minutes become hours and hours become language, unintended metaphors, allusions, sounds.

That’s how writing begins, how a marriage begins and how it ends…perhaps. With a dream, a loss, and the image of something round and heavy tangled in sky.

To Read “Marriage and Motherhood, In Eight Stages, click here.

Marriage and Motherhood: Eight Stages

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I.

When you think of us, think of rams suspended on a vertical wall, horns tangled, knees locked. You push each other back, then forward. You sweat against the rock. You dislocate your shoulders, tear yourselves raw, crack bone, bend flesh. You cannot accept that the mountain will not be moved, that you are falling.

Sometimes, you call this love.

Sometimes.

 

II.

This is marriage. Every organ becomes a drum, the solid pieces of you become fluid, and the force of your surging cracks the walls of your skin.

This is love, a bleeding out as your body empties, exposes its delicates, festers in the sun and allows the wind to move you.

This is loss, finding pieces of you in the concrete, buried in the sand and the dirt and the grass.

This is motherhood, a body filled with the grass and dirt you couldn’t clean off, you couldn’t leave behind.

This is forgetting – you will never run out of reasons to write, stories to tell, scars to re-open.

These are the chasms, the endings that become beginnings – there we build bridges, dare ourselves across.

 

III.

Keep the pictures. Keep the clock, the coffee mug, a single chair.

Keep the dress hidden in the closet, wear it at noon while drinking black coffee.

Dream in your belly; leave the hunger there, let it grow. Name it Adelia after Paris.

Dream of Paris in the rain.

Keep your fictions, let them be real at noon.

Don’t choose. Yet. Make every possibility yours.

See doors. Write swing sets, humid porches and soaked suns, Christmas lights, boys with guitars, and white sedans.

See beer. Drink coffee. Dream of wine.

Write your hands, your back, your shoulders, your thighs, all the rounded pieces of you.

 

IV.

Careful words, careless

Careful men, careless

Like some painted sky

The almost perfect are never careless

Pointed tongues, sharpened toes

 

Share your poetry

Deny every round thing

Be framed, always

Pointing out

 

V.

Be wrapped in motel fans

Stay to write everything impossible.

 

Like glass

In the trash

Piece by piece

 

Pick one, begin

Continue you have

Miles of asphalt and grazing lands

Barb wires and spontaneous trees

Vague horizons

 

Like static

persistent in the dashboard

Minute by minute

 

Pick one, stop

Reflect – you have

Narrow rooms and dirty dishes

Chewed pillows and cloudy windows

 

Like dreams

Create space, the world is

Too small and you

Too large to fit

your appetites.

 

VI.

 

You begged to be a man

You cried when nothing grew out

You only grew in,

Storing space,

For real men

To occupy.

 

VII.

 

Angry words

You deserve

Everything

You bury

 

The rain in the window

The rain in the walls

Everything you keep

 

Damp

 

Imagine sand paper

Imagine concrete

Imagine glass

 

Brace yourself

 

VIII.

 

Stay. Live.

Let him leave.

Let Adelia kick, give her a nickname.

Ade.

Dream of her, instead.

 

Into the Desert: Lessons in Education

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Last fall, myself, my husband and several of our close friends descended into the Moab desert for a week of red sunsets, red sand, granite towers, and sharp sunrises. We pulled onto a dirt road encased in slick rock and heated shadows. The sand boiled beneath our feet. I erected our tent, organized blue coolers, and jugs of frozen water.

Sarah jumped on my back. “Can we play now?” She asked.

“No,” I told her. “Not yet.”

“You’re moving too slow on purpose,” she pouted, slid back down into the sand, and tucked her head beneath her knees.

desert

Sarah is seven. She wears her mother’s blue eyes along with her father’s energy and endless curiosity. Her father climbs mountains, reading routes, exploring rock lines, curves, and the edges of human endurance; her mother’s passion for adventure is enhanced by her ability to see others, to heal with a touch, to evoke calm with little more than her presence.

Wearing both their triumphs and their failings, Sarah is a fire. Already bathed in the burning sand, her eyes scan and absorb the skyline, finding questions buried in the rocks. She scales a boulder to see what the world really looks like then chases a lizard down into the sand. My husband, a man with impossible endurance, who will commit without hesitation to the chaos and uncertainty of mother nature, scaling granite faces with his hands, charging through miles of rock gardens and cliff bands on his mountain bike, or exploring unseen trails and peaks on feet, can keep up with Sarah’s furious questions and energy for an average of five minutes at a time. Asked to entertain her while I prepare lunch, he returns alone a few minutes later, his face ashen and unhinged.

“I’ll cook,” he whispers.

Sarah and I play games throughout the day while her parents explore the desert. We climb a granite face and analyze the crooked lines in the rock. We chase lizards, researching them and the desert landscape on my husband’s phone to discover their secret hiding places. We find insects, draw them from multiple angles, and then tell stories of our exploits over hot tea and s’mores.

Sarah is, in my mind, a genius. Her eyes are hungry for more, filled with questions, always ready to leap beyond, into, out of. She is a force and the knowledge she gains will be meaningful, purposeful. We must learn about lizards, she knows, so that we can catch them. We must learn how to write and draw so that we can teach other kids how to find them. We must, she proclaims, learn why the sun burns like that, why the sand is red, how that stone came to rest here. The rituals of memorization collapse into an expanding dance of discovery.

I remember the joy when, as a child, I realized that I could ask “why” to anything. The world then, was possible, was infinite. There was no end, no answer – just the joy of wandering, discovering a taste, a smell, a sight – the joy of creating, breaking, making, imagining. Our endless forests and deserts, our shifting languages, and dirty feet and hands – this is the education I hoped to discover as an adult, to rekindle the sudden fascination, the ability to ask, “why?” Something that I had lost, that I had forgotten…

desert2

Memory – Selections from “Marriage” (a work in progress)

Memory

My mother sends me photographs that I scan into a screen to preserve. We pulled them out of boxes that were stained and damp. We washed them in the bath tub, scrapping the mold and dirt from the edges, filling the eaten white dots with ink and magic markers.

Alone in the screen, I watch each frame download and pass from my hands into it. I send them, each image in scattered waves into it. My name resonates. I imagine them, creating waves, ripples that ebb – this constant, ceaseless streaming.

This is who I was. I show him and he recognizes me, barely, and only in name.

I spend hours negotiating questions of memory and movement.

The strange realization that the memory of myself never includes myself, that the perspective of memory can only look out, constructing the world surrounding my body, the void of myself remembered and defined through external experiences.

I cannot see myself from within my mind’s eye. There are only the photographs.

I remember the world around me. That picture of myself and my stuffed squirrel, the color of the wallpaper and counter top, the scratched walls and cheap tile, the hard and thick carpet, the couches covered in sheets to hide too many juice stains and accidents, places where the dogs pulled and ate the interior stuffing, the television that flickered in the background.

I remember the world around me, its reaction to me, the sensation of it acting upon my senses.

Memory is then a receptor recording/documenting external “touch” to construct and project the illusion of myself in the present moment.

I live in memory, the memory that builds my world as it simultaneously establishes meaning and purpose – my place within that world.

The corner that I hid within, that space beneath the counter, beneath the table where I curled myself under a checkered blanket with my stuffed squirrel and waited to be discovered and removed to bed.

Art can be defined as any creative process expressed and extended out beyond the physical limits of self and body – the manifestation of memory in external elements through the medium of history, storytelling, and imagination.

My father was the architect. His cigarette ashes filled half empty pepsi cans he left, scattered in packs. His desk was lit by a single lamp that cast an uneasy shadow of his head and hands across the concrete floor. He carved in lines, pencil and pen, with rulers and charts. His letters were in perfect angles, perfectly straight, connecting with invisible edges. I wrote about this, once, watching him sketch a piece of land that rose out of the earth to disrupt and scatter the skyline. He built the walls and the floor; he carved the kitchen out of stone and granite, carved it into the earth as though it was meant to be there.

Considering the power of memory, questions of self and identity, the natural hunger for expression and remembrance.

I live in memory, extended frames of reference across time and space. This was me then; this is still me, now, hiding beneath another man’s drawing board, wrapped in blankets, listening to the sound of his hands and the dreams they inspire.

The words that build me, imagining how they will be interpreted a hundred years from now.

I imagine that he is the man I wrote, the man the world will remember him as.

Forgive me for changing you to preserve my fiction.