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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Pen Pals, Part Two

Just before I woke up, I dreamed that I was on a crowded patio, waiting for a seminar on writing (or maybe MFAs) to start. It was one of those days that was supposed to be warm, but the temperature had dropped, the wind had picked up and everyone was under-dressed. And the seminar was late in starting. People started chatting and woman nearby made a comment about my MFA plans being a good basis for "going on." Which I took to mean going on to a Ph.D. I told her that while those who wanted to teach English or writing often got an M.A. and then Ph.D, that an MFA was considered a terminal degree, and that, depending on the school, a person with an MFA could teach at the college level. A man sitting across the table made a face at someone sitting above and behind me, as if to say, "What does this woman know? Nothing." Which made me wonder the same thing: what do I know, really, about writing or about what doors an MFA will or will not open? Or about anything at all? After all, the "man" later became a woman. Then the wind got worse and it started to snow, and I decided I didn't need whatever information the seminar was to provide badly enough to suffer the weather and left. Or woke up. Again.

Bubba was hungry this morning. Bubba can be very pushy when he thinks someone should be feeding him. Bubba is 21 so he gets away with a lot. On weekday mornings we get up at 5:30 and go for a walk. Bubba doesn't eat until 5:40 or so. On weekends he thinks we should get up at 5:30 and will often start talking to us about rectifying the situation. Still, I managed to ignore his cries of imminent demise from starvation and sleep (and dream) for those last few minutes. Cats don't do time changes. Which, in the spring, works in our favor. Last Sunday I was able to sleep until 6:30. It was wonderful. But he's figured out the schedule now, so here I am.

Yesterday we had our third meeting of WHEW! at the prison. WHEW! is the new name of the prison writing group (aka Creative Writing class, as the COs call it). Crackly announcement, intended to be heard everywhere on the grounds: "Creative Writing Class is meeting in 202." I like the way the women put it: "Writing Class is on the grounds." Creative Writing Class is punctuated by similar announcements:

"Parents Anonymous is meeting in room 201."

"The library is now open. (At 10:30) It will remain open until 11:30."

"Bible Study is now meeting. Anyone signed up for Bible Study can now come to the Admin Building."

"Those in Bible Study 2 can now go to Unit 4. Bible Study 2 is meeting in Unit 4."

I find it very distracting. I don't know how the women manage to take the announcements in and yet not acknowledge them. Practice, I guess. Frequently there are also announcements asking that "Inmate Smith come to the visiting room. Inmates Smith, Jones and Doe come to the visiting room." Actually, I'm making those names up because generally I can't begin to understand what was actually said. Half the time it sounds like Miss Othmar got her hands on a bullhorn.

Yesterday was the 25th birthday of one of the women. She showed up in her usual denim and fleece, all in shades of blue, but with her normal ponytail had been replaced by I-have-a-visitor-today hair, all braided and curled. She looked very pretty. Her father, whom she hadn't seen in four years, was coming to see her, but she had told him not to come until after class. Every time the announcement was for someone to come to the visiting room, I tried a little harder to make out the name called, but it was never hers. She didn't seem to be concerned, didn't even seem to be distracted. I hope she had a good visit. I really hope she had a visitor.

We got some gorgeous writing yesterday, particularly in response to a poem called "Where I'm From." (Which I can't share with you, so don't even ask.) I have used this exercise before, but have never gotten such wonderful writing, nor have I ever much liked what I've written. But yesterday was different. JC, the other facilitator, led the exercise, asking us to close our eyes if we wished while we listened to her read. So I did. And it made all the difference. Usually I think, "I don't even know where I'm from. I'm from Detroit and Georgia and Virginia and I don't know any family history and..." You know, I resist the precise thing I'm asking the other writers to do. Yesterday, images of Detroit came to me, and before I knew it I was writing through tears. I was completely taken aback by my emotional response to a poem I've read many times.

I am from grey city streets, broken concrete hard beneath my hopscotching feet, streets where houses, left behind by the flight of whites to the suburbs, stand abandoned and barren, surrounded by waves of encroaching grass. Where the embers fanned by the flames of the 60s still smolder among the scarred ruins of a once-proud city. Detroit, city of my birth, soul of my mother, symbol of the worst of the worst. I have abandoned you in body and repudiated you in spirit. You are no home of mine. And yet, you are the sing-song chants of my childhood, the innocence among the rising menace of approaching crime--and the only place I ever believed that my family was real.


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