charcoal, cancellations, & social distancing…

Yesterday, I took blank paper and charcoal and zero instructions for my storytelling workshop participants

The situation changes from one hour to the next, and the conversations that I had five days ago are no longer valid this morning. Yesterday, I held my last storytelling workshop in the near future with students at a Pasadena high school. Rather than enter the room with instructions, or even plan a conversation around COVID-19 — which I’m sure the students were discussing in all their other classrooms — I took blank paper and charcoal.

Some of the students had never used charcoal before, and they picked up the sticks to try and draw as if they were using pencils. When they saw fellow classmates creating textured black sheets, they let go of trying to make formal “drawings” and allowed themselves to play with the medium.

The students also had permission from the generous librarian to make all the noise that they wanted, thanks to the generous librarian. As they blackened and sprayed sheets of paper, students shouted words of their choice — hola! freedom! adios! AAAAhhhh! -— at the count of three. By the end of class, Pasadena School Unified District announced school closures for the next few weeks.

“Social distance” is a new word in my vocabulary. A month ago, most people had no context to understand the term. Now, with time stretching before me, cancellation of all my March and April readings and workshops — and probably the rest of the semester and summer -—open space stretches ahead with no end in sight.

San Antonio Book Festival – one of many cancellations this spring