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In the course of creating the 23 minute solo Ballad, I developed more than 60 minutes of material. There is no part of the creative process I find more satisfying than editing. Slice, dice, cut.
A lot of what I cut, I cut because it was crap. Though one segment — an anecdote — I cut because, as I started to work on it, I realized that rather than writing it as something to perform, I’d prefer to write it as something people can read for themselves. The result is below. It continues with a previous theme of my work: teaching children. I hope you enjoy it.
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In 2018, in the city of Los Angeles, I taught the occasional “dance and nature” class to kindergarten students at a private Quaker elementary school. My landlord, who hired me for the job, was the teacher. In my classes we explored biomes, the cosmos, energy, an integrated web-of-life … We danced the seasons, we danced the difference between hot air and cold air, we danced the water cycle. The kids were four and five years old; their imaginations were vast.
On the day in which the class theme was plants, we spent the morning in the school yard communing with all the green growth. The kids each adopted their own special plant, identified its unique features and drew a picture of it. We danced the growth cycle of plants, wrote poems about plants, watered plants, discussed, in five-year-old language, the absolutely vital necessity of plants to the earth’s health and survival. In a nutshell, the lesson aspired to impart to the children a foundational understanding of, and custodial attitude toward, plants.
As the activities of the plant class came to a close, the teacher — my landlord — gathered the kids under a large oak tree to review the lessons of the day via a collective storytelling process. One by one the children generated a story by contributing a sentence that fell under one of two rubrics: “hooray” or “oh no”. The teacher, who we will call teacher Joan, wrote each consecutive sentence on a large sheet of butcher paper, thus creating a written record of the collective story.
The first child to volunteer did a “hooray” sentence and said, “Hooray, the sun came up.” A fine beginning! The next child chose an “oh no”, saying, “and T-rex woke up!” This seemed off theme to me, but teacher Joan recorded the T-rex sentence on the butcher paper as if it were the most natural thing. The next child also chose to share an “oh no” sentence: “The T-rex stepped on baby t-rex.” The child after that said, “Oh no, the T-rex ate the baby T-rex.”
Now. Teacher Joan is one of these amazing humans who dignifies children by taking the blatantly off-topic things they say seriously. She wrote down on that butcher paper each of their sentences. To her credit, teacher Joan did make an effort to get the class back on track by asking, “Did the T-rex eat the baby because it thought it was a plant?” To which the child that had offered the baby-eating sentence answered, “No.” A gruesome story was apparently in the works.
Teacher Joan tried a new tack, asking if anyone had a “hooray” sentence to share. And all the kids who — now that things were getting interesting — eagerly had their hands up shouted “NO.” And with that our fate was sealed. From then on each successive child insisted on an “oh no” sentence and the collective story devolved into nothing but murderous T-Rex destruction, dinosaurs eating dinosaurs, the land burning, mysterious holes in the ground that swallowed flying cats, put them in a space ship to launch them into space where they had no food or water but oddly a space nurse to take care of them. Dark skies, fever dreams, and ever more carnage. And nowhere, not once, in the collective story of dinosaur dystopia was there ever mention of a single plant.
And then it was snack time.
As the kids skittered off for snacks I sat there under the big oak tree, alone in the wake of destruction, and with a shrug I thought to myself: Nailed it. After which, I headed home to plan the next week’s lesson on oceans.