Disdain For Public Event in Capital City

This week, the assignment for my online class with The Writer's Studio was to write a lyric poem that described a public event or space. The goal was to capture the feeling of the public event as well as the speaker's attitude toward the event using descriptive language. I don't particularly care for most public events: crowds make me uncomfortable, and I can't handle loud noises. I couldn't come up with anything warm and fuzzy about parades or ball games. But I do have a few feelings about crowds and tourists in DC. 

Disdain For Public Event in Capital City

From myriad undetectable sources emanate
tobacco, fresh from anywhere but CVS;
body odor, from the fledgling adolescent,
too old to spurn deodorant,
too young to know the difference;
sweet salty butter, from the sallow vendor,
sickened from the radiation of microwaves;
These swirling scents
suffuse the once-breathable air
with the flurry and torrent of the
patriotic visitor enamored with an American pastime,
the zealous hockey fan donning the overpriced, oversized jersey,
Bellies splay over snug mom jeans,
Toes out of long-ago-appropriate sandals,
Tiny hands out of last year’s winter garb.
The influx,
the hordes and hordes and hordes
who communicate their whereabouts
to each other via speakerphone,
and park hulking bright-white Suburbans in fire lines,
and drive like their grandmothers
down Pennsylvania Avenue
and then
shut down Rock Creek Parkway,
scurry to and fro, unawares and anxious:
to overwhelm the bleachers,
to root for the underdog,
to sing along with the choir,
to cheer for the honoree.
Wrinkled, hoary vendors shout
like the forest green Starbucks Siren,
luring in an unsuspecting tourist
to fish in his fanny-pack for cash,
exchanging it for overpriced t-shirts
made in China,
on sale to commemorate said rituals
sponsored by
multinational, multibillion-dollar corporations
that lobby for business tax breaks
and graciously provide unlivable wages to employees,
forcing their children to consume the processed breakfasts,
the packaged peanut butter and jelly pies,
that are distributed every morning
at their crumbling, leaky schools.
Ritual after ritual after ritual,
for this hero and that one:
all men
honored in this fair city,
this unrepresented district.
The tourists, eager to commemorate said occasion
and justify the expense of air travel
by solidifying the memory of being
at this place in this very moment,
sport those new matching shirts
which boast the clever, turquoise logo of the event.
The tourist, together with the rest of the tourists,
builds blockades of ignorance
across the cobblestone sidewalks
and often-out-of-service escalators,
pausing to ask Siri how to navigate
this capital city, this city built on a grid.
The anthem, the cheer, the wave, the chant,
the flag, the tweet, the memento, the selfie:
the collective act of commemoration.
What if there were
silence and sterility instead;
nothing purchased,
nothing hummed in unison;
no celebration,
no solemnity;
a dearth of earnest guests
without their souvenirs
... no one intruding,
creating nothing, leaving nothing behind?

My Uncertainty

What does it mean to know somethning? How can I know if I know it? How can I know if I'm teaching it? When and how do I determine whether my students have learned it? Is there such a thing as "it"?

I took my title from a book I'm reading, My Dyslexia, by Philip Schultz, founder of the Writer's Studio, an organization in New York that offers courses in creative writing. I am starting one of their online courses now; it's about how to teach creative writing to students with LD. 

Schultz discovered he was dyslexic when his son was diagnosed with it as a second-grader; at that point, Schultz was 58 and was already an accomplished poet. Reflecting on his youth with this knowledge, he writes, 

I understood that I was different from other kids. I lived in a world of differences measured not by appearances, wealth, or even intelligence. The world I lived in involved struggle for control over my thoughts and actions. My differentness felt freakish. My brain wouldn't obey me, nor my parents or my teachers ... Everything a teacher said would make me angry and distracted ... I hated rules and tests of all kinds. I almost never understood what was being asked of me, and I almost always suspected its motives. (37) 

That's terrible enough, but to not have a reason must have been agonizing. No recognition that it wasn't it his fault, no affirmation that he wasn't stupid. 

That's part of why I want to take this course, to do everything in my power not to recreate this experience in my classroom. Of course, my students' circumstances are vastly different from his in that they are in a supportive enivronment, are recognized for their strenghts, and the whole school works to meet their differing needs. Nevertheless, learning can be so arduous. My fear is that my students, or any LD students, will lose their inherent curiosity the longer they remain in school. 

How do I know if they're learning in such a way that will allow them to be open to future learning? Do I present them with facts to memorize? Do I provide opportunities for discovery? Do I model, and model, and model? But what if that leads only to copying? I want to know how to teach thinking, and I feel confident that teaching writing is the best access we have to thinking, the closest thing we have to evidence or verification of thought processes. 

I'll leave you with Schultz; here he expresses the sheer challenge of understanding how his mind operates: 

It's a tricky business, trying to understand the labyrinthine and subterreanen circuitry of one's own mind, tricky but also necessary for someone for whom thought itself must often be translated, interpreted, and censored before being transmitted. part of me has always lived in fear of the way my mind thinks, and behaves, as if it weren't entirely in my control, or belong to someone who wasn't always sympathetic to me. It's a fear as old and helpless as my earliest perception of myself. (41)