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November 11th, 2007

Kalamazoo

A lovely city. There's a second-hand/new bookstore across the street from the First Baptist Church, where Ellen & Co. are rehearsing and performing the live radio play, "The Witches of Lublin--a feminist, magical-realist, historical tale of a 17th century women's klezmer band in Poland, written by Ellen and Elizabeth Schwartz and Yale Strom (with a certain amount of kibbitzing by me) and really good tunes written by Yale. There's also a wonderfully welcoming and cosy coffee shop, where I spent a couple of hours yesterday wrestling with Chapter 12 and thinking about how to approach Chapter 13.

The school visits have been wonderful. There was a class that was essentially Freshman Comp that used Grimm's Fairy Tales as the text. They'd been doing all kinds of things, analyzing them five ways from Sunday. Their final paper is to write a fairy tale--a prospect that seemed to fill them with some anxiety. We directed them to Surlalune and Endicott Studio and talked about making a fairy tale your own and ate doughnuts and answered questions. This wasn't exactly preaching to the choir, but at least they'd heard the tune before. The diversity class at UMV was a different kettle of fish.

It was an exercise in diversity, overcoming prejudice, and learning about the Other on every possible level. The class was made up of physical education majors--very much the population of students neither Ellen nor I got along with well in high school. They mostly came from small towns in rural Michigan, they weren't big readers, and they'd never seen anything like us before in their lives. Most of them were guys, and all but one of them were white, with a definite skew towards the blonde and blue-eyed. My initial feeling of panic had nothing to do with performance anxiety and everything to do with, well, prejudice. I mean there we were: artsy, big-city, lesbian, morally relativisitic non-Churchgoing and Jewish Democrats, talking about how the Shoni people sing to their ancestors and how fairy tales and folk lore is relevant to our daily lives.

They were great. They didn't say much, but they really listened, and afterwards, a few of them came up and talked about themselves. I had a guy tell me that he had been born in South Africa to British parents, had lived in England for a while, and then moved to Grand Rapids, where he'd been ever since. He'd never known anyone who'd been born in a foreign country and raised in America before, and was very glad to meet me. After I mentioned that my upbringing was not exactly open-minded (Mama was an equal-opportunity bigot. She disliked Catholics and Germans and the French every bit as much as she disliked Jews and African Americans), a young woman wanted to know how I'd managed to deal with my family. "Poorly," I said. "I tried to tell her she was wrong, and that didn't go over well at all." There was some rueful laughter, and then we talked about how I could have done it better, and would, if I had it to do over again.

In short, it was a very cool experience, and I'd do it again. Although I suspect that the positive nature of the outcome had a great deal to do with the woman who was teaching it, who had clearly set out guidelines about how to talk about stuff that makes you uncomfortable and had persuaded them that it was a valuable skill to learn. When we said something about having had a bad history with gym teachers, she looked out over the class and said, "that wouldn't happen now." And the students agreed. I've seen kids nod like bobble-heads when they're agreeing for form's sake, and I've seen them genuinely agree, and these were agreeing: belittling fat kids or awkward kids or even uninterested kids is not okay. In a dominant culture increasingly focused on sports, thinness, fitness, and team spirit, I found this heartening.

Seeded in there was a library talk (a small but select audience), a group talk at a community college (an even smaller audience--4 kids, one teacher), and a reading at a local used/new book store with cookies and tea. The reading was reasonably well attended, and included two members of the LJ community, who did not leave me with their LJ names, so I can't thank them personally for showing up and talking to us. We were glad to see them.

And then there was 7 hours of rehearsal for "The Witches of Lublin," and the performance last night. I usually have many rehearsal stories, but this time I set everybody up with hot water for tea and then took myself over to a cafe to write.

I've just discovered that the power source on my computer won't work, and I'm about to run out of juice. Damn and blast. I'll post this, then try and figure out what's going on. You may not hear from me for a while.

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