For My High School Homies.

posted in: Art, Paean, Poetry 0
Sample card.
Sample card.

I’m at Washington, DC’s palatial, awe-inspiring Union Station, waiting for my Amtrak to Richmond, VA. I’m lecturing and teaching tomorrow and very much looking forward to it; not only do I get to earn a living in a soul-affirming way, I get to hang out in Union Station and then take a train for a couple hours, which is neat. I feel a bit lightheaded and dizzy today, but who cares when there is actual gold leaf on the domed ceiling high above my head. If I pass out I’ll get a great visual before everything goes dark.

Next week is almost entirely on the road. QuiltCon approacheth in Austin but before and after that, I’ll be in Chicago doing a number of poetry gigs for high schools and one middle school. In February and April every year there is lots of creative writing programming in schools in the Chicagoland area. You could say I’m on the circuit; I’ve been a visiting writer-performer at these sorts of events for many years, now.

Because I get paid to do them, they are jobs. But barely, because I love them so much. The gigs  typically consist of me performing poems and reading stuff I’ve written in a big auditorium; sometimes I teach a workshop or two. There’s one high school I love the best — I feel like I shouldn’t say which one but you know who you are — because the students are incredible and the teachers are fiercely invested in their jobs. When I tried to figure out how many years in a row I’ve been to this particular Writer’s Week, I got pale: I think it’s nine. Nine years has zapped past me? Oh, boy.

Each year I do school poetry/writing gigs — and this goes for all the schools — I try to do something totally different. Last year, I climbed up on a ladder and set a poem on fire. I do a Neo play where I kiss a student (on the cheek) and one year I put on big sunglasses at one point and covered a Lady Gaga song as though it were a poem, which it is. This year, because I’m feeling mortal, I’ve decided to treat the gig at my favorite school as though it were my last ever. I certainly hope it is not, but I asked myself: “If I never got to come back to this school that I love so much, what would I tell these people?”

Giving a physical gift to an audience member makes a huge impact; I learned this from my years as a Neo-Futurist. But I don’t want to give a gift to one person in the audience; I want to give a gift to every last one. So what I’ve done is copy off little cards that say what I would say to these students if I never saw them again. But giving a slip of paper is lame and since I happen to be a quilter with way, way too much fabric in my scrap bag(s), I am stitching fabric to the back of every card (see scan above.) There are, um, thousands of these to be made. I’m about halfway through the stack. After I get back from Richmond, before I go to Chicago, I’m gonna have to race to finish them.

But it’s worth it. I’ll make some tea. I’ll turn on my podcasts. I have a lot of other work to do on Tuesday, but I’ll make it. Not every student will care about these cards, and I know that. Plenty will get tossed in the garbage, which is lousy, but come on: it’s high school.

Sorry I didn’t do a spoiler alert to those students who read PaperGirl. But I promise my “show” will be good and hey, if you care to, you can make a little space in your wallet ahead of time.

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