Friday, October 21, 2011

Calling for Words

Last spring, I attended a training session given by Mimi Herman at Penland School of Crafts for a program called SUBS with SUITCASES.  The premise of the program is that artists (and others) lament the fact that  because of budget and staff cuts, arts education is diminishing in schools.  So, instead of just sitting around whining about it, they've come up with a brilliant plan to work within the existing system:  namely, substitute teachers.  What the program does is train art professionals to be subs, then when they are called, they are already prepared, suitcase full of materials in hand, to give an art lesson.

If teachers know when they're going to be gone, they can work with the sub ahead of time so the art lesson is related to classroom content.  However, even if you call one of these subs last minute, they will have prepared lessons ready to go.  As a former classroom teacher, calling in sick was always something I dreaded... because it usually meant more work than the misery of being in the classroom while ill.  You had to prepare all this "busy work" for the sub and then grade it all afterwards!  But with this system, teachers would have far less to pre-absence (and post-absence) work, making choosing one of these subs much more desirable.  PLUS, think about the children!  Instead of busy work, they're using a different part of their brain, appealing to other learning styles, and adding back in a missing component of their education.

Most of the subs in this program are visual artists, though there are some musicians... and then me, the writer.  It's is somewhat difficult to distinguish between "arts writing" and regular "school writing,"  but I am coming up with some any-age creative writing activities to pull out of my suitcase.

The one I'm working on now is a spin-off of magnetic poetry, but I'm just going to have the words on laminated cardstock.   Right now, I'm trying to figure out what words I should include.

So, here's how you can help:  
1.  If you have old Altoid tins, give them to me.  : )  I'll need about 25.
2.  What words spark your imagination?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Open to the New

Here is evidence I am open to something new in my life.

The other day, while my daughter was at soccer practice, I walked down to the post office to mail off a writing-contest entry.
Upon entering, I saw they had the old-fashioned mailboxes, some which even had combination locks to open them instead of keys. I gasped internally.  The slant of late afternoon sun made them appear like a bank of golden carvings.  At night, I still routinely dream of opening my college mailbox, turning the dial in anticipation of what might be inside. I think it also goes back to my fascination with small containers. (See the post below.)
Regardless, as I stood in line waiting to weigh my package, I noticed that one of the mailboxes was available for rent.  It was even one of the doors that required a combination.  If you look closely, you'll notice there aren't numbers to mark the revolutions, but letters!

I left that day without renting the box--just to make sure I really wanted it--which it turns out I did.

So, you may now send me mail at:
Britt Kaufmann
PO Box 863
Micaville, NC 28755

I promise to write a return note/postcard to anyone who sends me mail there.  (I can hardly wait!)

I also blame Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See which tells the story of two foot-bound Chinese women who are sworn friends for life. (Link for photos of foot-binding--not for the faint of heart.) For centuries, Chinese women were not able to walk from the house to converse with old family and friends, so were essentially confined to the homes of their husband's for life.  To combat the loneliness, they developed a secret written language.  Nu shu was taught in the women's room, mother to daughter, a written phonetic language... unknown to men.  A written language, created by women, for women, to maintain their friendships, to chronicle their lives, joys and despair.  While the nu shu is still being taught to preserve a cultural heritage, it is no longer a secret, nor does it have a practical application, since women are mobile and permitted to learn men's language.

As a lover of words and sneakiness, I find this heartbreaking.  (Though I would not advocate the return of such circumstances that found this language useful.)  I guess, having my own post office box is an attempt at reclaiming a part of that intentional communication.  These nu shu writings, embroidered on handkerchiefs or written on fans, were often burned upon a woman's death to carry messages of her into the afterlife.  But some are preserved.  Nu shu was written with great care, in concise, formal, numbered syllabic patterns. As much as we now depend on blogs, email, and facebook to communicated to loved-ones far away, I lament the temporality of it all.  (And I readily admit the fact I'm addicted to all three.) This "writing" will not last, even as nu shu has done.  As a writer I wish for communication where we thoughtfully consider what we write, focus on the intimate details of self-expression and audience... not simply reposting willy-nilly the blatherings of others.

Also, there is something to be said for an artifact in hand--for anticipation, instead of instant feedback: spin the dial between my fingers, feel the resistance of the cogs, the hinge swinging open... a letter from a friend sliding out into my waiting imagination.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I'm sure I was a hoarder in another life, but in this one I've managed to keep it mostly under wraps.  But anyone who's been to my house knows I have a thing for small containers.  Sometimes I threaten my demands upon death will be cremation and then dispersal of my ashes into all my various boxes.  Then anyone who wants a piece of me is welcome to it.
Lately, I've been thinking about death a lot.  Or maybe not so much about death, per se, but about our quality of living, about our expectations of life... and about grieving.  A friend of mine from college found out a month ago she has... oh, I probably won't get all the terminology right... but suffice it to say, she's got cancer bad.  She has three young kids, like me, lived on the same dorm floor I did in college, got married the same summer I did... we even had our first teaching jobs at the same high school... and she took my mother's old job, when my mother  became conference minister.  I read her blog every morning.  Read how she hopes her youngest son will have memories of her.  (I keep a tissue box next to my computer now.)  It's reconnected me with some college friends... and it turns out my old roommate is also dealing with the impending cancer death of her mother-in-law.  And then, news reached me that one of our college professors was murdered in his home.

And me.  I am far away.  With enough time to contemplate how tenuous it all is. I could lock my doors and get a security system, yes, but that wouldn't keep out cancer. With all this time I have, I wonder if I am doing enough in this world or if I am doing too much.  Most days, feeling both is the only balance I achieve.