Tag Archives: Teacher

The Sticking Place

Preschool“We’re lost.”

Bridget looks at me, her big eyes filling with tears.

She’s right.  I look up towards the crest of the canyon and the fence we hopped a half an hour ago.

Then, I realize: I don’t care.  Because I am four-years-old.  And I have just staged a prison break from my preschool.

I was never a rebellious child.  Okay, I did start that petition in the fourth grade denouncing mandatory recess activities.  So, political?  Maybe.  But, rebellious?  Never.

This preschool prison break was special, a moment of divine timing.  Sitting on my stiff scratchy school cot the day before, prepping for naptime, I noticed that the teachers did not check to see that all of us kids had made it in from the playground.

My mind began to race, the escape plan formulating quickly.

The next day, I approached the playground with a very specific agenda.  Phase #1: Act natural.  Phase #2: Take cover.  Phase #3:  Wait.  And that was as far as the plan went.

I played tag that day like my life depended on it, so as to not arouse any suspicion.  I carefully watched the teachers out of the corners of my eyes, tracking their positions.

After what seemed like an eternity, like, ten minutes, the bell rang.

It was naptime.  Phase #2 was a go.

I sought cover.  My fellow munchkins were now picking up sweaters, juice boxes and big red bouncy balls.  I waded through them upstream as they filtered back into the classroom.  I knelt behind a rock.

Time for Phase #3.  I pretended to tie my shoe.  A good cover story.  All I had to do now was wait.  The playground was emptying.  Almost there…

“Come on.”

Bridget’s voice startled me.  She wore a pink sundress and stared down at me from behind dark, mousey hair.

“You’re gonna miss naptime.”

“I’m coming,” I said, hoping she would take the bait and run along ahead of me.  She didn’t.  She waited.  Staring.  My time was running out.

I hadn’t planned on taking hostages, I mean, on having an accomplice.  I considered her.

“What’s your name?”

“Bridget,” she said.

Hmm.  I glanced at the classroom door where a teacher was ushering the last of the preschoolers inside.

Bridget would have to play ball.  Right now.

I grabbed her hand and pulled her into hiding.

“It will be fun,” I told her, because that is how you convince anyone to do anything when you are four-years-old

Bridget looked at me dubiously, but did not protest.  Minutes later, the rest of our classmates disappeared and the teacher shut the door, without a second glance outside.

And in that moment, we were free.

It was a feeling of freedom I would later come to recognize as the first-day-of-summer-vacation free.  Or the I’m-in-love-with-someone-who-actually-loves-me-back free.  Or the yay-I-have-health-insurance-again free.  And on that day, in that moment, with my accomplice Bridget, on the precipice of an adventure, it … was … glorious.

And then it was…confusing.  Now what do we do?

“Let’s hop the fence!” I suggested.

The preschool was perched on the edge of a canyon, a cavernous wasteland, full of strange adventure, portals through time and space, dinosaurs and aliens.

I yanked on Bridget’s arm and we darted across the empty playground.  She hesitated.

“What about the crows?” she whispered.

The teachers would sometimes take us on short walks through these badlands and if there was one thing we all knew for certain, it was that the canyon crows would eat you alive.

“I think they made that up,” I told her.  “So we wouldn’t run away.”

A few rusty metal scratches later, we were on the precipice of a new world.

The thought that we might get lost hadn’t occurred to me.  However, I wasn’t concerned.  At four, I would often ask department store clerks to announce my name over the loudspeaker because I had spent too long hiding inside a circular rack of dresses, pretending it was a fairy woodland, and I’d lost my mother.  I knew how to handle myself when things got dicey.

But, Bridget was about to lose it.  Thankfully, that’s when we stumbled upon a canyon oasis: a creek!…which was actually storm drain run off, but to us, an exotic swimming hole.  When you are four, your undergarments can always double as a bathing suit.  We immediately stripped to our skivvies and dove in.

And we swam.  We swam and dove and jumped and frolicked…right up until the point when the cops showed up.

My mother had come to pick me up from preschool, and for the first time the teachers realized that Bridget and I were nowhere to be found.

I tried to make conversation with the burly policeman who wrapped me in his big puffy jacket and carried me back up the hill.

“Hi, how are you? What’s your name?”

He didn’t answer me.  For the very first time that day, I wondered if I had done something wrong.

I look back on this now and my first thought is always the same.  Who WAS that four-year-old in that canyon?  And, more importantly, when can I get her back?  Because if there is any of her courage and confidence left inside of me somewhere, I’d really like to harness it and channel it into dating and job interviews, and I don’t know, taking over the world?

But that’s what’s great about childhood.  That’s what’s great about four-years-old.  When you run across these moments of truth, you do nothing but listen and believe.  The world has not told you any differently yet.  It will, eventually.  Eventually it will teach you about self-doubt and insecurity and the limits of your own safety.  But maybe not yet.  Maybe not at four.

April VAMPMaybe at four, you still believe.

This piece was written for So Say We All‘s April VAMP
“It Was Just a Phase,” performed on April 25, 2013
at the Whistle Stop in San Diego, CA.

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First Friday Five – Dominic Carrillo

On this Friday, an addendum to the First Friday interview from last week.  Enjoy…

Gentle Reader – I have always been fascinated by the specifics of a creative’s life.  As one who seems to handle no less than four or five employment or volunteer opportunities simultaneously, I have found that the nuts and bolts of accomplishing my personal creative work sometimes seem elusive.  In short, I dread making routine out of what I feel should be reserved for the realms of inspiration.  Cut to my unfinished novel.  It is therefore my intention to grill First Friday writers mercilessly on their particular writing habits in hopes that, one day, my muses and I may agree on a somewhat habitual appointment schedule for our meetings.  – TT

Five Questions for Dominic Carrillo

1.  Novel writing takes tenacity.  What keeps you/kept you coming back to the page?

What helped at first was the illusion that it wouldn’t take very long to finish a novel.  I imagined a few weeks of getting it all on the page, and then maybe a few months of revising.  I was also forming To Be Frank Diego by piecing together some stuff I had already written, so I thought I had done maybe half the work and the rest would be easy.  So, I was delusional, really.  I naively believed it would be a much easier and shorter process.  Once reality kicked in though, I still believed I could and would finish the novel—and thought I had finished it on at least three different occasions.

Once I started really “seeing” the story, it did become easier to write and want to finish it.  What I mean by “seeing” is that as I kept writing and revising, visual images of the scenes in each chapter became more and more vivid, which made the writing more enjoyable too.  I saw the story unfold in a certain way—kind of like a movie–to the point where it felt as if I were simply retelling a story that actually happened.  Towards the end, about a year and a half into it, my motivation was mainly in finishing it and making it better. The homestretch wasn’t fun and it wasn’t pretty, so I had to set deadlines for myself and seek professional editing help.  I’m by no means dependent on the encouragement of others, but I’d be lying if I said that didn’t help too.

2.  Is your writing style different now from when you began writing the novel?

My writing style is different now than it was two years ago, yes. I find myself self-editing more as I write because I know my tendencies and bad habits a little bit better.  For example, I know I can be redundant.  I’m also more aware that I sometimes overwrite, or make sentences more complicated than they need to be.   And the list goes on.  But the point is that now I edit as I go in an effort to make my voice clear, simple, and occasionally funny.  I think when I wrote my first draft, I used a lot more grad school type words (ubiquitous and repudiate and such) in an effort to prove my literary chops, or intellect, or whatever you want to call it.  After re-reading it I thought, “Not only do I not talk that way, but I don’t really like it when people talk to me that way either.”  So the tone of my writing has come down to earth a bit more. It’s less academic.  I’m no longer trying to impress anyone with my word choices.  Now I’m simply trying to tell a story that flows, feels authentic, connects to people, and has some sense of humor.

3.  What is your typical writing schedule?  (time of day/duration/location/music?)

 I don’t know if I have a writing schedule.  When I begin a big writing project—and this is a grand total of three times in my life so far—I isolate myself for at least a week.  I get obsessed with an idea that’s been marinating in my head, and dive into writing about it with little regard to the time of day, my food intake, other humans, etc.  Once I emerge from my cave, I let the story sit for a week or so, and then return to it for a few hours each day.  I’m not a morning person, so I like writing in the afternoon or at night, either in silence or with instrumental music on in the background.  And I need to be alone at the beginning of the process.  For re-writing or revision, I like to go to a coffee shop like the one I’m sitting at right now.

4.  Did you have a vision of what this project would be before you started?  Did the book fulfill that vision or depart from it? 

I wanted to write a novel for maybe seven years, but I had no strong vision of what it would be.  About four years ago, the idea of Frank Diego’s story began to develop.  At first I visualized only a few scenes, then (about two years ago) the story concept came together and I wrote 80 pages in two weeks.  Since then the story and its characters have evolved quite a bit.  Many chapters have been added and cut.  But I knew from the time I wrote those first 80 pages that it would become a novel– mostly because I knew of the online self-publishing industry, and I knew anyone could “publish” a novel these days.  Now that it’s in printed book form, it’s just a question of: Is it decent and interesting enough to be purchased and read by a large audience?  That still remains to be seen.  So, the initial vision of To Be Frank Diego has been fulfilled and has evolved far beyond my first concept of the story.  But the project itself will not be finished—or fulfilled– until I’ve promoted it far beyond my friends and Facebook contacts and had some anonymous critical feedback.

5.  Who was your most influential teacher? Author?

I have flashes of many good teachers who’ve influenced me.  First, there was Dr. Bennett, who somehow made me feel like I was smart back in the eighth grade when I felt pretty dumb.  He was encouraging and inspirational.  I also remember my first writing teacher my freshman year in college.  When we met and discussed my creative writing assignment, he sounded very sympathetic and told me he was sorry about my traumatic childhood experience I’d written about.  He explained that he could tell it really happened to me.  When I told him it was pure fiction, he was a bit embarrassed, but it gave me an indication that I might be a decent writer.

Jervey Tervalon was my creative writing teacher at UCLA.  He was the first published author I’d met, so when he encouraged me to write more, it meant a lot.  He also advised me to write what I know about most, based on personal experience, and that’s stuck with me.  But the most influential teachers over the last ten years have been, hands down, my own students.

Dominic Carrillo will be signing books at the Art Bar in New York City on Thursday, July 19th, 6-8 pm.  You can read more about him and To Be Frank Diego here.

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