mental spotlights

At Sweat Records, the music labels are hand-scribbled in magic marker ("Portishead is named after a town in England.") Last Wednesday, a group of wordsmiths, painters and poets got together in the record store. We talked about merging pictures and words. It was the first meeting for Miami Book Arts. The goal is to team up and create broadsides: (old-timey illustrations adorned with prose. Think: London's Telegraph in the days of Charles Dickens).

We stood on a stage, surrounded by a burbling fishtank, rock posters and velvet couches. A projector flashed our names on the wall in alphabetical order. I read before John Dufresne, one of my local literary heroes.

"He's like our elder statesman," whispered my friend, David.

Both of us read scenes from our Everglades stories. After a while, I closed my eyes and listened to the voices blur together. The weapon of choice--typewriters or paintbrush--didn't matter anyone. When you write or draw, it's like shining a spotlight on the important details: parrot feathers and gator teeth, sawgrass and Santeria, rum and cortaditos.

On Saturday, I taught a teen writing workshop at the Pinecrest library. I thought about mental spotlights while listening to the student poems. I encouraged them to concentrate on the five senses. "It tasted like rocks and coffee," wrote one boy (a powerful combination). It sounds like a baby crying. It feels like your hand on a swollen belly. It smells like mac and cheese.

The kids had just completed a "botanical illustration" class. The auditorium swarmed with Crayola-colored flowers. We wrote down our earliest memories and I tried to show them the difference between concrete (like the sketches taped on the wall) and "floaty" abstract language ("That's the stuff you can't see," said one girl in a "we're homeschooled" t-shirt). Special thanks to librarian-poet, Kathleen, for the invite.

Another quarter of school has ended. As I finish up a marathon-grading session, I can't help grinning over sentences like, "Everything from my childhood is gone...even my teeth." It makes me want to tell them, "It's not gone. Not as long as you remember."

Shine a spotlight on it.