My roommate tells me about her staff meeting. She says there was a lot of gossip and spreadsheet analyzing. She says there was a lot nitpicking and grievance airing. She says it was long and didn’t accomplish much and only exacerbated the monotony of a 9-5. I say kill me. She says she gets excited about the complementary muffins.
My roommate asks me about my staff meeting. I say we made tools out of egg shakers and 3-D poems out of tissue paper and glue. She says I hate you.
She’s only joking of course (I hope). But she’s right in her jealousy. Our monthly Community-Word Project meetings are unlike any staff meeting I have ever been to, even if they do take place in a bank down on Wall Street. We don’t do a lot of system analyzing or productivity debriefing, although we do handle some business matters towards the end of our two-hour sessions. Instead, we bring all CWP Teaching Artists together and use this time for professional development, which sounds more corporate than it is.
Intro Activity. A slew of varied objects are piled in the center of TD Bank’s large silver conference table. Scissors, tape, drumsticks, slinkies, bouncy balls, egg shakers, paintbrushes, etc. We are told to choose an item. We are told to partner up. In these staff meetings, the Teaching Artists become the students and the activities are led by CWP’s Program Director, Assistant Program Director and Assistant Program Director in charge of Training + Evaluation; Megan Morrison, David King and Patti Chilsen, respectively. We are told to create a tool by combing our and our partner’s objects. The results are hilarious.
“We call this a skissor,” Renee Flagler says. Her partner, Scott Lilly, holds up a pair of scissors duct-taped to a drumstick. “It’s for when you need to poke a hole in something far away.” She holds up a piece of paper a few feet from Scott, who then extends the “skissor” and pokes a hole through the paper.
“It’s a portable paintbrush,” Felipe Galindo says. He and his partner have tied pipe cleaners to a paintbrush and are toting it around like a purse.
Now, this may seem like something infinitely small and trivial, but there is a lot to be said in asking students to rethink objects and their use in the world around them. In fact, I used this exercise recently in a fiction class I teach up at Sarah Lawrence College. My girls (it’s a class of high school girls) are pretty open to whatever bizarre activities I bring in and, although we typically stick to fiction writing, occasionally we break away and write some poetry and/or nonfiction pieces. On this particular day, I tried the tool-making exercise. We did it and there were laughs, but then I had them write a creation myth as if they were a god creating the universe using this tool they’d made up.
“There was light and no light. And then God wielded her Elephant Writer and drew a spiral in the nothingness and the spiral curved and twisted faster and faster until chaos was born. And God was angry, for she had not intended to create chaos and so she took the Elephant Writer and drew a single line and the line struck through chaos and splintered it into millions and millions of white hot lights and she called them stars.”
It’s amazing how a seemingly silly little exercise can spark something much bigger and beautiful.
Main Activity: We split into groups of four and are given a sheet of paper with the lyrics to a rap song printed on it. We are told to pick three “juicy” words as a group. The song, “The World is Yours,” by NAS feat. Pete Rock. Our words, Cipher, throbbin’ and bandit. Our unified themes (plucked from a group graffiti wall of choices) are community and academic focus. The task? Create a 3-D community poem using a clear plastic and trapezoidal box as our base vessel.
As a group, we decided to make a creation myth using our three juicy words as a base. After a discussion about what would come from this creation, we settled on the word time. It would be a 3-D poem about the creation of time.
[The Time Banksta]
In the beginning, yo!
Cipher evolved from that Darkness,
The Bandit created Chaos!
We created a “sculpture” of sorts that depicted the chaos before time came in to order the universe.
Here are some of the community poems created by other groups during the meeting:
It’s never your average staff meeting at Community-Word Project. Rather, it often feels like a free space to create with a collective of open-minded artists. This allows us the freedom to develop and evolve our lesson plans each month, and to expand the ways in which we expose our students to art. These meetings are something like a monthly reset button, they bring us back to the pith of the matter and help us all to focus on and bring together the two things we love; teaching and art.