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Friday, June 19, 2009

Maps Of Heaven

For the last five days, Ava and I have given up our morning walks, sunbathing by the pool, and afternoon naps to attend The Writing Institute. For 10 hours each day, we've listened to "motivational" speakers, attended such scintillating classes, as " The Latest and Greatest Books To Springbooard Writing," "Conducting Effective Class Discussions," and "Teaching Grammar With Picture Books." (I must confess, lest you are thinking of nominating one or both of us for sainthood, that the very first day we sneaked off campus to "run errands" and actually ended up at Nikko's Corner, the local wine store, drinking a chocolate wine, left over from Saturday night's tasting, and we were commmonly known as "the bad gals from Mississippi.") Below you can read Ava's final project, a story about moi, and you can see my journal pages, which are based on this story. You are going to love this story.

Maps of Heaven

She was one of the "babies," children five in August but six in September, put in Miss Rayden's room to prepare them for second grade. If they were ready the next year, they moved up. Most stayed with Miss Rayden, not being quite ready to leave the idyll that was their first grade. These children were given lots of scope, plenty of room to maneuver. For example, the babies could take their shoes off and go barefoot all day if they wanted; they could draw pictures instead of writing--preferred subject matter, maps of heaven, drawn with great swirling lines of blue and gold and orange. Since they were babies, they couldn't be bothered to remember grown-ups' last names, they just called Miss Rayden Miss Mary. Sometimes Miss Mary's babies all walked over to her little pink house a half block from the school and visited there instead of in the classroom. Sometimes the babies just all joined hands and floated straight up to heaven--barefoot, using their maps, with Miss Mary leading the ascension.

Most of the babies stayed behind to bond with Miss Mary one more year. Kathy, however, was a very bright little girl; she had, after a brief fisticuff with the 30's and the 50's, learned to count to 100, earning a gold star, and sealing her fate. She was moved to to Mrs. Yates' room. There, Kathy was handed a thick, smelly, stapled packet of mimeographed worksheets. Having never before put pencil to paper except to write her name on her map of heaven, she didn't quite realize they were given to her for completion. After a while, she was tired of them. So she abandoned the packet and knelt down by the desk to organize her brand-new school supplies. She was so proud of them. She took out all the composition books, the plastic pencil holder, the ruler, and the queen of all, the three-ring binder. She sorted them by shape and color, made sure the desk was nice and neat and clear of scraps of paper, and began to put them back when a cacophony of fury exploded just over her left ear. To a noise-sensitive child, it was like the barrage of artillery marking the obliteration of Bastogne. She dropped flat on the floor until the screaming exhausted itself, with a vague idea that it would simply move on like a storm front. When it did stop, she raised her head, only to see Mrs. Yates three inches from her face, glaring right at her. The yelling had stopped, but its aftermath remained, like violent drops of a summer storm. They evaporated, but left a hissing miasma behind.

So Kathy got back in her desk. She was finished organizing her materials anyway and ready to color something, but the packet was still on her desk, obstinate and unappealing. She started doing some of the fill-ins, mildly engaged at first. She spent a pleasant quarter of an hour drawing arrows. She matched some shoes with feet, some hats with heads, gloves with hands. Kathy noticed her desk had holes in the side of the seat, so she stuck her pencil in one of them. It looked like the throttle of an airplane, so she began to maneuver the pencil back and forth, shifting up to a higher altitude, leaning way back in her seat from the g-force, and finally bursting through the clouds to an expanse of glorious sunlight. She thought she caught a glimpse of Miss Mary.

Boom! Her pencil flew out of the hole and Kathy plummeted down, spiraling in a collision path. What she thought was a sonic blast turned out to be Mrs. Yates yelling again, and Kathy had to shake her head a little to focus her vision, then wished she hadn't, because what she saw was a snarling, snapping mouth and two bushy black eyebrows, this time only two inches away.

I wish that for a little while adult Kathy could go back and inhabit baby Kathy's body. Trapped as she was in her second-grade frustration, hurt, and bewilderment, I'd love to see what became her very distinct assertiveness emerge. "What??" she'd say.
"I'm here. I've got my plaid dress on; my crayons are sharpened. What do you want from me? Ask me to color something, bitch." Sadly, in baby Kathy, that quality was either non-existent or inchoate. But I think it started there, with Mrs. Yates' screaming.

And while she didn't make the connection between Mrs. Yates' termagant behavior and the unfinished packets until she was about forty or so--really--Kathy grounded her plane and settled down to drudgery, following a dim perception that the worksheets that might be something she was actually expected to do. They weren't great flowing swirls of color that led to heaven, but they did finally lead to third grade, and a kinder, gentler Mrs. Lacey.

Look at her. Right this minute. There she is, in the back of the South Gwinnett High School Theatre. She's got her writing journal open and she's working. She's listening to the lecture, but she's writing, too, writing in undulating lines of turquoise on a saffron-painted page embellished with pink swirls and green scallops. Scraps of paper flutter down periodically from her lap, and land on the carpet like confetti. Somewhere, from up in heaven, Miss Mary blows a party horn, waiting for Kathy to ascend to celestial heights and join her and the other babies there.

for Creative Therapy

"Dreams are today's answers to tomorrow's questions.” for Saturday Surprise

for One Powerful Hour

for My Artistic Life


Kim Mailhot said...

We are such kindred souls, you and I, Miss Kathy ! In grade one, Mrs. Gough (rhymes with cough), yelled at me and tore up my entire page of carefully printed letter "a"s because I put curls on the ends of them. Thank God, we both found out that being creative and getting the doodles and swirls out of us, was way more important than making some authority figure happy ! What a role model for your kiddos you are !!!
Happy Friday !

Ozstuff said...

What an absolute treat it has been for me to wake up on a Saturday morning here in Oz and find Ava's exquisite chronicle and Alberta's stunning journal pages. Kathy's experience has probably been felt a billion times over by small children whose creative minds are held back by "the system" which insists on every individual toeing the same line. The love shown by a sister for her younger sibling shines through in every word - incredibly beautiful and touching writing.
Thankyou so much for sharing with your Blogger friends.

indybev said...

Yeah. What Ozstuff said. Me too! I couldn't say it better....as I sit here on a stormy midnight, transported to other times by a couple of extremely talented people!

TonyaA said...

Fun and inspiring pages!

Sandy said...

Wow these are fantastic.
I love your journal pages. Brilliant design and work.

Nettie Edwards said...

This is such beautiful writing and imagery. I'm especially attracted to FLY: this will be my thought for the day!

Marit said...

OH.MY.GOSH! I found your blog via NancyB, and found a lot of inspiration here! Your art is marvelous! I have to stop by more often to look/read further, can't do that all at once!

Terri Kahrs said...

Thank you SO much for posting this beautiful tribute. I've relished and felt every word. Art and daydreams were my sanity in school.

When my son's second grade teacher chided him for painting a purple tree on a green background, I'm glad I had the sense to inform her that "Maybe it's twilight"! And maybe, just maybe, the road to heaven is lined with purple trees!!! Hugs, Terri xoxo

Sandy said...

I just love your colorful art! Thank you for participating!

Gayle Page-Robak said...

I love seeing your artwork, your use of color is excellent and so many pieces are playful. We join so many of the same challenges and I am now following your blog. I extend an inviation for both of you to join my followers list as well. Enjoy your weekend.

Barbara Hagerty said...

This is great beyond words! You are such an inspiration, in every way! Thank you for sharing your talents in blog-land. I can't tell you how much you enrich my life!! XOXO

Lori Saul said...

Beautiful inspiring pieces, thought provoking and visually stunning! I so enjoy visiting your blog- a true place to dream!

Faye said...

Wow, Ava, your writing is fantastic. You have a style that just won't allow one to stop reading. I have to admit that you used one word I had to look up in the dictionary. In almost 72 years of reading experience, I have never run across "termagant."

Alberta, your art is beautiful and expressive. I also had a Mrs. Yates, but she was Miss Morton, my 3rd and 4th grade teacher. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving your kind note.

TheresainMS said...

So glad I cruised through by way of Tumble Fish Studio. When I saw 'gals from Mississippi' I had to stay awhile. I'm a MS girl myself; still live here. I've really enjoyed my visit and I'll be back to check in again soon. Have a great week!!

Luisa Migon said...

As the child I was and am yet :O) and as a teacher, I say: beautiful, brilliant!!! Touching!!!
Thanks, girls!

PS: You have been awarded the One Lovely Blog Award! Come visit my blog to accept your award!