Monday, July 27, 2009

Hit the ground running...

Yesterday I arrived from a 26-hour professional obligation in New York City to our house in Homestead just in time for a planning meeting followed by several more smaller planning sessions. My writing focus teacher Meera had a brainstorm on our final project and our class the next day, and I helped the facilitators for our Future in Art class prepare for their elective (which I was basically informed of as I was planning). Then I continued to edit our montage (don't tell) into only a few wee hours. Tonight however is a true wee-hours session. Our relief editor magician Lucas Leyva came in tonight at 11pm to help with our quadruple-video-music-collaboration project. In case I didn't explain, we divided the camp into four groups to come up with a video inspired by the four directions: east, south, north and west. Cindy and Lucas are in the other house working on West and East. Tomorrow will be North and South day, most likely, although the other two will surely need some touch-ups. We need to film a sunrise for East, for instance, the logistics of 1 which I have no real clue about.

That is a point I have been thinking about a bit. Having no clue here is part of the learning; it is almost a requirement. Adam tonight said, in our little goodbye pool party to the seniors, "In high school it was hard to learn that I didn't know anything and now I'm happy to know that I don't know anything." Terribly paraphrased, sorry Adam.
We learn the importance of planning well and the necessity of improvising; riding by the seat of our pants; "hookey-jooking" as the saying here goes. There is an art to the hookey-jook. The ability to stand in front of a mass of expectant young faces and realize that the plan you made is not going to work, or that there is a better plan, or that you have no plan at all. And going. Trusting your fellow facilitators to jump in at a moment of doubt, and trusting your own instincts to tell you where to jump. Heading face-first into that unknown with crazy energy and absolute focus. The hookey-jook unhinges your ideas of your own self-limitation and also humbles you with the actualities of the space and the moment. It is not a technique, it is an approach. How to find your way when you lose your map or realize its been made by a fatigued cartographer with too much to do. How to stand there transparent but full; a wide-eyed clown ready to change the world. And of course radiating positive energy. That is the great savior. That is what keeps the students invested, and its what sparks your mind to realize what to do next.

For me, the next thing to do is to edit this madness.

Long focus time tomorrow, in preparation for the final show.

Second-to-last men and women's group. The women will have a soul-enriching discussion and the men will be outside playing soccer. May the best person graciously accept to win.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

So now then...

It's late already.
We have tipped the scales of our time here, and now are nearer the end than the beginning. Tomorrow is our second, and second-to-last, Friday. That seems absolutely impossible. Like everything in this nomadic life, as soon as you've got the hang of it, it' gone.
Of course, it feels like we're getting the rhythm of this thing but this rhythm is always changing, and I have a premonition that nothing we have done will prepare us for the final week. I have the sense of a surfer who has just begun to ride a wave, unaware of the tsunami rising behind him. In a good way.
Our collaboration projects are reaching the finality of their filming, which means next week will be a windfall of editing. Then there is the final performance, which takes a lot of intra-discipline work, and even more logistical athleticism, moving masses of people on and off stage with order and precision. Then there are the explorations, the affirmations, our writing notebook, and of course the final montage (which I already started working on - don't tell anyone that I didn't wait until the last possible second to begin it this year).
And I, personally, have a strange break in the action: Saturday morning I fly to New York for 26 hours to rehearse a piece for the Ravinia music festival in Chicago, which begins as soon as camp ends. It will be a bizarre change of scenery, like some subliminal message in a film, and I know my mind will be nowhere but here. But hey, gotta do it.
I haven't had the time or the inclination to consider how I will re-submerge into the "real world." I do know I will be a recharged battery, with a wider scope and a more unlimited sense of self and possibility. I may also need a nap.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Everybody's Sick!!!

Yes its true. Some virus with a predilection for humanitarian educators has descended upon our house. We found out today that many of the YAs are sick as well. I feel that we are officially teachers now - it seems a right of passage for teachers. I, knock on healthy wood, still feel fine. But it's taken a toll on a fair percentage of our small group, and noticeably affected the overall energy. Even so we had a very productive day today. Our collaboration music-videos are way more successful than I, for instance, anticipated. We had two elective classes today: Art Appreciation and Live Art, in preparation for our field trip to the museum tomorrow.
Both were very unique classes; one a seemingly-academic introduction to the various classifications of art from the Classical Period to Street Art, the other an exploration in Site-specific art. We are planning to create a site-specific theatrical piece tomorrow, somewhere outside the museum. Lots of bodies moving in seeming chaos, then into distinct choreography, with an AIA twist. Should be fun.
This year's high-school experience, I have realized, is all about the work. More than the last time I was here, the teachers are focused on stepping up the artistic proficiency of the students. Teacher-student relationships and the therapeutic virtues of this work are in our approach and vital to it, but the work itself seems to be an equivalently strong priority this year. Perhaps that is why we have gotten feedback from some students that this year is more"serious" than years previous. Yet it is also why each teacher has reported remarkable breakthroughs after the first week, in the classroom and out of it.
So as long as we can stay healthy, we can continue and augment the path we are on.
Thinking about how little time has passed, and how little there is actually to go, it seems impossible we've accomplished this much. But when you are in this work, the time is different. Each day is overloaded with little chapters. So we are confused with what day it is, what time it is, because we don't think in hours and days as much as moments, tasks, tiny beautiful second-long epiphanies.
That said, it does get late quickly.
And early even faster.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Almost done with our first week. There is so much to say that this will be my shortest post. We have had a full, full, full week. The work never stops, from breakfast till pass-out.
Our focus groups have been very successful, as have our electives. This week our electives included a fight combat class, a step class, a clown class, and a theatre games class. Tomorrow we are planning an "inspiration" class, where we explore what has inspired us as artists. I have found that the YAs are very interested in us as professionals, and our life is revealing to them, not just about us but about the world outside as well. That is one of the many things that makes this experience especially unique; none of us are exclusively teachers by occupation; we are active professionals in our respective fields.
Also, despite our tiredness, we are increasingly energized by each other, and by our awesome students. I have become more and more sensitive to the energy of a room; how much more work it takes to motivate a room that is reluctant and tired than an excited room, even if that class requires more athleticism.
Our music videos are taking shape, slowly but surely, and I am as trepidatious as excited about editing all four of them during the last week.
Our group is together virtually 24 hours a day - we are building a totally unique relationship, in class and out. And getting along remarkably well, considering all the time and intensity. I am motivated to begin the next week. And to chill out Saturday and Sunday.
There are many challenges, which are proven microscopic when compared to the rewards.
Time to burn a dvd for tomorrow's showing of our 2-minute films (which we shot in an hour each) and then my welcoming though slightly neglected pillow.

Monday, July 13, 2009

First YA day!

Amazing first day. Our high schoolers are simply wonderful. I can't wait to see what amazing-ness we come up with over these next three weeks. Conversations were easy to start, there was a general willingness to participate and, from my point of view, a growing curiosity in what the teachers brought to the table.
The group does still need some time to gel. The spectrum of energy-output is vast, which is to be expected. This is an experience requiring much collective agreement, a lot of bravery on the part of the individual, and a lot of trust on the part of the group. Our young artists are at varying levels of experience; both in their art and with AIA. The ones who have come back (and there are many) have so many wonderful memories of years past, and the ones who are new are full of fresh energy. Ditto with the teachers. So there is a wide variety of experiences and expectations, and it is our challenge to create an entirely new experience, as vivacious as previous years yet all its own; unprecedented.

Also, we are going to challenge our young artists to do the same. We are full of love, compassion and passion. But we are also full of belief in the potential of our students, and we have decided to be relentless with them in our insistence of their fulfilment of that potential. All the members of this camp have come here for a reason. It is our obligation to be honest with them, and tell them the truth of the artist's practice and lifestyle. Art isn't always pretty. And it is often hard and unpleasant. It is a daily practice. It is like love, which is not all romance. I am still learning it. So it is what I will teach.

We do not need to be masters to teach. What we need is to be active participants, living what we teach. I do not know what a master is - it sounds boring, immobile. I thrive, we all thrive, in the continuanal striving toward further, deeper, more profound, more detailed discovery.

"If something's in you burning, and you're not paying attention, are you living?"


I am inspired by our Young Artists, and am so thankful for them. We all are. I am already rejuvinated in the artistic cavern of my soul, not to mention the humanistic one.

Miss the banana bread though.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


This was our first day off, and it was nothing of the sort. It was a day of planning and revelation, of frenzy and a calm coming together of the group. We discussed some inter-group issues which needed to be discussed, and came out of it refreshed. Then we worked on the chant, and came together one last time as a group, just us, before we let the world in. There was so much love in the room that everyone walked out in a kind of stupor, as if just waking up from a cathartic dream.
This camp is a party. An exhausting, difficult, unyielding, monumental, overwhelming party requiring superhuman amounts of work, but a party nonetheless.
And tomorrow our YAs come (young artists, if you are not up on our lingo) and we will realize what all our work has been for. And we will dedicate all our waking moments to them, and they will end up teaching us more than we ever expected.

Also, Mauricio was here for like a second and a half and made us banana bread before he left, which was devoured in as much time. It was kind of the biggest thing about the day, besides the collective revelations and emotional epiphanies and all that normal everyday stuff.

Tomorrow, it really begins.

Friday, July 10, 2009

It's really happening.

Our First Friday.

After a leisurely yesterday at Miami beach we had a full thirteen hour day today, of almost non-stop creation.

We began with our collaboration projects. Teachers of different disciplines all designed a half-hour class for the rest of the teachers with the objective to create ---something.

And in those two hours we made songs, avant-garde performance pieces, a travelling theatre experience, a silent film, a short dialogue between an angry William Shakespeare dog and a blind motherless bird in the shape of Cindy Salgado, and a Rudyard Kipling poetry extravaganza. It was a good learning experience from the inside and out - it was an experiment in structure in the creative process, for me at least. When to intervene with the creativity and when to be "hands-off." How much structure is too much for the creative juices to flow, but how much must be in place to let the expression have a focus.

If I were to say to you, "Write a story about something interesting," it might be hard to come up with anything. Plus, that's a lot of pressure. If I were to say "write a story about a man who gets married to a woman and has kids and then lives on a farm in Montana, lives a happy life and tends to his cows daily," well then where do you go from there? Who wants to write a story about that guy anyway? Too much structure. The poem we got from the Rudyard Kipling group, it seems to me, was about finding the middle ground. Here it is: (come on, don't scroll down, read it. When's the next time you're going to read Rudyard Kipling? he's the guy who wrote the Jungle Book, give him a chance).

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream -- and not make dreams your master;
If you can think -- and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings -- nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run --
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And -- which is more -- you'll be a Man, my son!

Man, while I'm at it, I have to put in this amazing Neruda poem I just read. It's called Poetry. It's like the best poem ever.

And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived

in search of me. I don't know, I don't

know where

it came from, from winter or a river.

I don't know how or when,

no they were not voices, they were


words, nor silence,

but from a street I was summoned,

from the branches of night,

abruptly from the others,

among violent fires

or returning alone,

there I was without a face

and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth

had no way

with names,

my eyes were blind,

and something started in my soul,

fever or forgotten wings,

and I made my own way,


that fire,

and I wrote the first faint line,

faint, without substance, pure


pure wisdom

of someone who knows nothing,

and suddenly I saw

the heavens


and open,


palpitating plantations,

shadow perforated,


with arrows, fire and flowers,

the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,

drunk with the great starry


likeness, image of


I felt myself a pure part of the abyss,

I wheeled with the stars,

my heart broke loose on the wind.

Yeah, that's what it's like.

Open house tomorrow - parents come with the students. - we stayed late working on our performance for them. Hopefully we get a good turn-out. There is that exciting/slightly nervous energy pervading the air of "This is really happening." That is a good energy. If there is any drug I am addicted to, it is that one. That pre-performance/pre-class/pre-creation bubbling sensation which comes before anything you are truly passionate about. At a most primal level, that is what keeps us coming back, I think.

So wish us many broken legs!

(quite un-literally, please).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Goats and smoothies at Robert is here.

You can't see the bites so well, but they're there.

Us. Diva, I mean Gerald, front and center.

Adam: Always fashionable, even in disguise.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Day Three!

Written yesterday, July 8, 2009:

I was reminded of my California home today, when I looked at my forehead in the mirror and saw a formation of mosquito bites distinctly reminiscent of the San Bernadino Mountains. Seriously. My face was covered. Like crazy. Like oh my god where is Finn's face.

We went to a palm tree farm and were shown how to take the weeds out of the baby trees. Our docent was a farm worker who was a friend of the farm's owner, only working there as a favor to a friend. We learned that a typical two-year tree has a market value of 9 dollars. This blew our minds - to see all the labor and time (and bug-withstanding) that goes into the care of these trees, and yet how cheaply they are sold. Sold, most likely, to a company like WalMart, who may very well sell them for three times that amount.

Such issues and more were the stimulus for our discussion around the lunch table, following a nap on my part and a healthy application of hydrocortisone. This to me is the truly exhilarating thing about this work - it never stops. We are always behind schedule because our energy as a group is like a fountain with over-pressurized pipes - it keeps overflowing the edges. Our meetings and discussions always go into lunch or dinner, and then a discussion sparked by that meeting or discussion carries into lunch and dinner, and after the day is done, into a late night random discussion with someone you've never really talked to...

Because in our daily lives I find we are most stifled by three things: monotony, purposelessness and isolation. And here, all of those obstacles are removed. First of all, nothing is ever the same here. Even if we are in the same three rooms all day, with one venture into the real world (whether to a palm farm or WalMart), still, every sequence of the day is new, vibrant and unprecedented. Full of purpose - all fueled by the definite goal of affecting our students. And you are never alone. Literally.

We all got a taste of each other's classes today - Drama, then Writing, then Dance, then Music, then Visual Art.

Here are the, um, "themes" I got from each (illogical, mind you; just the thought I wrote down for each):

Drama: Energy. Connection. Then what happens?

Writing: Look at a little piece of your soul you never saw before. Share it.

Dance: Your body is capable of worlds more than you think.

Music: Add your self. Add your rhythm. Jam.

Visual Art: Laugh, then look. Then, without premeditation, make.

Okay. There is much more to say about today. This is the general rule. When I can actually sum up a day in AIA in a blog, either I will have become a superhuman writer or the program will be quite compromised. After showings: schedule, committees, teacher's performance rehearsal.

In general, our group is intricately coming together, with a common vibe that is both relaxed and engaged, but not overdone. It is a very down-to-earth group. Unflashy, in a way, yet efficient, precise, and collectively incredibly creative. I am grateful to be a part of them.

I think we are realizing our collaborative power. I think we are going to be able to give our students three weeks of true profundity. And silliness. And forward motion.

And don't worry - the San Bernadino mountains have been greatly depleted on my forehead. Still, instead of a palm-farm tomorrow, perhaps I'll go to the beach...
Strike the following, reverse it to be:
"Show" was misprinted in the previous blog as "shoe." That negligent secretary is really close to getting fired.
Correction: Shoe was misprinted by my negligent secretary as "Show."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Day 2

Exhausted. Mosquito-ridden. Exuberant.
We are leaving the house at 7am tomorrow to go wash trees in a nearby farm, or field, or some place with trees that need to be washed. I believe the purpose is to step into the shows of the people who live here, most of whom are field or farm workers.
We had a truly inspring showing today, with everyone giving an inspired performance for the whole group. Later in the day we had a jam session, which I may or may not have dreamed. It was abstract and amazing enough to be a dream, if my subconscious were like the coolest thing in the world.
Okay, this is where we're at:

That, so far, after much diligent debate and profound deliberation, is our Mission Statement.

A small note to Mr. Mission Statement: As we, your simultaneous parents and pupils, are changing every day (hopefully for the better) so you may change quite often (hopefully the same).
Or you could be perfect, as my mother would say, "Just the way you are."

We shall see how we feel tomorrow. Which is coming very soon.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Here we go...

Hello! Just a quick note to say that AIA High School 09 is officially in what many refer to as
We are exhausted and exuberant to be here. Yes I speak for the whole group. Most of us flew in very early, had a famous Salgado barbeque, played a very original version of Bingo, which consisted of us all madly questioning each other as to which "little known fact" belonged to which person. Then we ate more, then we played Celebrity (an AIA classic) then we ate more (or at least I did). Now we are all collapsing onto our respective beds one by one in preparation for an 80's aerobic session with Cindy tomorrow morning. Yes, I say respective beds, because we all actually get our own beds this year! We are certainly moving up in the world. In general the facilities all seem excellent in our new home - lots of open space. Though I can't help but have a tinge of nostalgia in thinking about ArtSouth (one that isn't particularly shared when remiscing on our old motel) I know we will make the new space our own.
More to come - stay tuned! I can taste the excitement in the air - I will try my best to put that excitement into words over the next four weeks. And often!