Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fall Session Writing Lab - Week #2 - Labor

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Fall Session)

Writing prompts
  • Describe the conditions for your ideal line of work
    OR
  • Write the story of your own labor history

"Because if you don't like it, there's the door. You're free to go. It's a free country right?" Alice said in the basement level office of the executive chef which we called "the dungeon". It's faded brown concrete floors and tattered yellow walls made this feel like a prison interrogation as she continued to berate me from behind the desk of stacked paperwork, recipes and timesheets. This wasn't any supervisor. Alice Bates was the general manager of the industrial chain grocery I worked for.
"I've heard of your reputation for tardiness and your general dislike of authority. I can see you're not happy here," she said condescendingly. She's right. I wasn't happy. No doubt about it, she called me into what felt like the principal's office for an all-out intimidation session. It was clear her mission was to instill fear and ensure I would think twice before speaking out again.
This time it was her star pupil, Deborah. Deborah was brought in from another branch location and almost immediately hand-picked to undergo management training, or should I say management grooming. Deborah came into the ranks of management as new blood; cheerful, chipper and always willing to smile and nod in agreement with exactly what management wanted to see or hear. All the workers in production loathed her because she went from chef expo to the upper office in a matter of weeks while they have been toiling away in the underground catering freezer for decades.
Then Deborah slipped up...(to be cont'd)


*Disclaimer: All names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty

Friday, September 9, 2016

Fall Session Writing Lab - Week #1 - Connections

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Fall Session)

Writing prompt
  • Describe a profound connection you've made with someone or something, recent or historical

"How do you spell that?" I asked.
"R-A-G-A-Z-Z-I. You can look me up," she said, "I'm the only Ragazzi in the phone box and have been for as long as I can remember."
I first met Deborah Ragazzi in her neighbor's front yard next to the second-hand shirts, plants, blouses, and skirts  strung up on the rusted wire clotheslines, beside the tin trinkets of past holidays and other occasions. I had just finished a meal on the St. Mary's strip near Trinitiy University along the outreaches of the Monte Vista neighborhood. I decided to go for a walk and found myself meandering down Mistletoe Avenue. The sign read YARD SALE. It was fall and she was wearing strapped open-toed sandals with faded black capri pants and a floral printed three-quarter sleeve v-neck shirt. Her whispy salt-and-pepper hair strayed stiffly from a black felt summer hat she wore so low you couldn't see the expresson on her face, at least not from my height. "What do you want?" and "What are you looking for?" was all you could get from a weathered, raspy smokers' voice until you stepped closer to engage her. I was surprised the sale was still going, I said as I walked up to the table of used wares.
"Oh, yeah we made a whole thing out of it," she said, "Food, music, but not too loud."
There were the typical big box television sets from the '90s, checkered tablecloths, wooden chairs with legs missing, children's clothes, bibs, and play things.
"Anything in particular?" She asked.
"No, not really," I said.
Remember, this was evening in the fall when the sun sets sooner and we found ourselves in what photographers call the "golden hour". Everything had been set aglow by six o' clock, casting a spell of enchantment over the entire residence. In fact, the reason I walked over to the sale was for a friend I kept in mind who found the greatest joy in rummaging through the antique shops and thrift stores. "Antiquing", she called it. Performing a cost-benefit analysis of the resale value of this kind of stuff was the furthest thing from my mind and so I continued to turn things upside down, inside out and all around.  And that's when they appeared: The little things.
"Oh, your friend's a miniature collector," Deborah said.
"A what?" I asked.
"Miniatures," she said, "the little things. That's what the little things are called."
Indeed there were tiny train cabooses and a hand made ceramic jug to fit in the size of my palm and other figures scattered about the maroon sateen table cloth.
"How much do you wante for them?" I asked, thinking small size - low cost to myself. This pleased Deborah greatly.
"Oh, are you kidding me? Everything's got to go today. Here," she said as she placed the items in my hand and folded my fingers to secure a fist, "I'll give them to you, instead."
And there was the connection.
"What else have I overlooked?" I asked with a sly smile.
She began to pull other collectables hidden in plain sight from underneath the table cloth: A painting from a student taught by her ex-husband, an artist.
"...there's this shirt (pointing), and here's the feet," she said. "And he drew the same thing over and over and over again."
She spoke highly of her ex-husband: "He was an amazing artist."
She spoke lowly of her ex-husband: "But a starving artist, you know."
I felt there was something special about Deborah Ragazzi and mabye she felt something from me as she began to open up and share her story with me.
She's lived in San Antonio, Texas her entire life. Ragazzi was her married name. Her ancestors crafted all the stained glass windows inside Temple Beth-El on the corner of Ashby and Lewis next to San Antonio college in the Laurel Heights neighborhood. Sternwirth? Stern-something. I can't recall so I'll ahve to make a trip to the temple to see for myself. (to be continued...)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Summer Session Writing Lab - Week #6 - Portals

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Summer Session)

Writing prompt
  • Write how you've opened the door to a new understanding

Have you encountered a sacred space where your transformation was held for court?
Let's say the portal itself was a years-long passage.
Think hall of mirrors.
Think dusty smoke screens and haunting shadows and lingering ghosts.
Think death with no escape from acceptance and the light of meaning bathing your resurrection.
Think perseverance amidst the utterings of doubt.
Think endurance carrying you in a perpetual state of grace until salvation day.
Think specturm and which side you were on when your name was called to dance.
Think deconstruction and how many times your own understanding was neatly demolished leaving you naked and gatherin what still remains of the ashes piled high underneath the heap of rubble.

The dream:

An impressive tidal wave set to overflow in your valley. A boy steps in, constructs a wall with pale and shovel and bricks and mortar. Still, the water flows and the wall is smashed. Next, an even higher tide appears. This time a young man steps in to build, quicker and more diligent and able-bodied. The wave demolishes again. Then, the raised water returns. It looms now. This time, a man appears, his methods more calculated and articulate. The water overflows and his understanding built into the brick and mortar comes crasing down. Now the tide stands so tall only darkness resides. An old man steps out with no tools to build, no blueprints to lay out, no clay to paste. He's doomed, downtrodden, surely to be swept away with all of what he's accomplished. With nowhere to turn and nothing to hold he lifts his hands with tears of surrender running down his cheeks. His open palms grow wider and larger and by the time the tide rushes in his hands have cupped all the water there is to hold and splashes his face. He now stands to look in the mirror and with one deep breath a smile emerges.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Summer Session Writing Lab - Week #5 - Truth

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Summer Session)

Writing prompt
  • Write how you live your truth

Kant wrote lies injure us. Not those little exaggerations told to pump ourselves up on the playground, but the terrible omissions and manufactured manipulations necessary to maintain cycles of repression and subordination and slavery in the age of mass democracy. You know, the big lie.

There's much I've learned from books and newspapers but the truth is if you keep your head pointed down long enough you'll strain the muscles in your neck redering it incapable of looking up to hear what others are saying around you. Murmurings of truth, murmurings of revolution flutter in and out of framed windows and glass doors and coffee mugs and frying pans. We know we can't go on like this; stuck in an intellectual prison yearing to break free from the tyranny of irrationality and exploitation.

It's something my coworkers and I agree upon quite regularly. It's something cellular, underneath the skin, we feel it in our bones. It's nearly sacrilege to put any of it down on paper, it moves freely. The truth needs no defense. It stands alone. Some lose sight and collectively we grieve for what we've lost. But still we would welcome them with amrs reaching and hands oustretched the moment they chose to give up defending the lie. Slef justification is always worse than the original offense.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Summer Session Writing Lab - Week #4 - Fear

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Summer Session)

Writing prompt
  • Write of a time you've faced your fears

What is a phobia? A traumatic encounter with the personification of dread or terror seared in your memory in such a way it locks up your willingness to venture beyond into the unkown?

They say you're better off living with no regrets or that your only regret in life would be not having lived it. If that's the case then what would ever stand in your way to hold you back? I'm not afraid to die, I can say that much. Perhaps death is the only certainty. If not this, then what do I fear and how do I face it?

I fear one day I'll look up around this beloved frontier town and see none of its old faces or hear its languages spoken or drive by its dilapidated boarded-up storefronts.
I fear the culmination of culture this town has harbored for generations would fade away into the background, overshadowed by the monied and educated interests with their half-baked ideas of urbanism.
I fear my friends would have lived a life not knowing the wonders of its open plazas and outdoor music festivals and off-the-map eateries.
I fear for the children growing up without the experience of a lazy Sunday afternoon spent at Woodlawn lake feeding the ducks with bread crumbs in one hand and an El Paraiso paleta in the other.
I fear for the families absent along the river's banks who will never know all its healing powers and flowing mystical waters.
I fear the political structure will continue to elect and delegate and administer, in their twisted definition of "good faith", while the homeless and students and coworkers are left naked in the street begging with open hands.

How do I face this? It starts right here on this page as I turn and face you. Stand with me. Tonight we begin.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Summer Session Writing Lab - Week #3 - Shadow

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Summer Session)

Writing prompt
  • Cast a light on your shadow. Write what comes into view

I see those consumed by the shadow and where it leads them: all limbs splayed out on the bottom four corners, sucking dry the last drops from the edges stained glass bottle, slick tongues so wicked to conjure all the unwarranted slander and libel and gossip by night while doling out prison sentences and propaganda by day, the child's stunted wonder and maimed imagination growing not by the reach of the trees baptized in spring but in between the number crunching of another wasted school semester's commercial breaks.

Meanwhile, I sit still and long for the sun to pass overhead at the right angle. Any given agle I wait for and I've waited a long time. Thirty years I've waited. I'm all the ages I've ever been.

The shadow appears carrying with it all the lifteimes I've known and haven't known and will never know because not all wounds grow to heal. Was the shadow ever broken as I? Who else was going to pick up the pieces? What does the shadow lament? Still, I sit and wait and see: the shadow gives shade. Others run to my side escaping persecution from the sweltering heat, from the mid-day burning. They dance overjoyed to rest in my presence. I have no water for them, the sweat off my brow is too salty to share. They don't mind. All they wanted was release, relief. They don't see the signs of my shadow looming. All they know is the shade.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Summer Session Writing Lab - Week #2 - Light

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Summer Session)

Writing prompt
  • Write what burning you've endured for your light to shine

Do I leave room in my days for radiance? For brilliance? If reality is perception and perception is fantasy then our memories become flashes of light told in story form. Camera obscura means dark room and what's needed is for the light to enter to begin the recording. The camera captures the light in a flash. I remember.

Put your fingers to the flame. You feel the burning, don't you? All night I admired the fire the way my ancestors would. You know they burned the intestines of sacrificed animals in their campfires to discover the prophecies of the events in the lifetimes to come. They didn't burn the brains because they knew any true knowledge came from the heart, from the guts.

As the days go on part of me remains eager for the light switch to click, but then I remember. Have you ever had a bonafide epiphany? I mean, the kind you read about in books. You know, the kind where people would say you've lost it if you ever revealed to them, tried to deliver through language some sort of coherent and comprehensible explanation? Who would ever label the rivers as emotionally unstable? Who would scold the sun to watch its temper? Even the hardened stones at the bottom of the river bed, weathered by years of the river's shifting currents and elongated periods of drought, gleam in the brilliant sunshine.

You emit light. You do. I create space, make room. This room. Yes, I do.