Let me start by admitting that I have never played a video game. My impression of what they are like goes way back to the arrival of Pacman and even that doesn’t compute for me. I picture a screen with a gobbling character chomping along consuming everything in front of it until it gets to a barrier of some kind and it has to change direction. I have no idea what the goal was or how the player got points. All I know is that suddenly my memory is like a video game.
Especially if I am telling a story out loud, I see in my mind’s eye what I want to say, but when I start to tell the story, those names and specific details disappear as soon as my Pacman mouth approaches them. I can be telling the story of how I met an amazing couple from Florida named Nina and John, but as I begin to speak, the names Nina and John suddenly disappear behind a pop-up screen. I am stopped mid-sentence and have to figure out how to proceed. I can either say that I can’t recall the names, make up fake names, or just skip the names. It’s a problem because the whole flow of the story is stalled.
I know that Ron is faced with the same predicament, because he will tell me rambling stories about trials and tribulations at work that go something like this: “So I was talking with ????. You know who I mean. That guy from you know?” Then he digresses while he struggles to recall the guy’s name by going through the alphabet. When he finally retrieves the name it turns out I don’t know him anyway, so he could have continued with the story regardless. By this time I have already started thinking about something else and can’t recall what he was getting at. I nod and smile anyway.
I was telling someone about a book I am reading by one of my favorite authors, Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood, which is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I could remember neither the name of the book nor the author’s name. I wanted to say that it brought back to mind my happiest moment while teaching at juvie.This memory is indelibly written in my brain, though, so I won’t ever forget it. The main character of the novel teaches theater at a juvie prison and adapts The Tempest for them to perform. He videotapes the performance so it can be played for the entire population of the facility, whom they don’t dare bring together in the same room for fear of fights.
Jennifer Pickering of LEAF offered me the opportunity to host an African drummer from the LEAF in Schools and Streets program at juvie. He worked with a group of students inside my classroom for a week before LEAF. Then somehow I convinced the head guy to let me take that group outside the gates to the festival to perform in front of an audience. He got us a bus and appointed some guards to go with us. When we got to the festival the boys’ fear was palpable. They were among the few Black people in a swarm of well-to-do White people. They clustered around me like baby ducks. We threaded our way among unguarded campsites to the venue, the Red Barn, where the audience was already seated. The boys took their places on stage and started their routine with their teacher on stage with them. They were stiff and awkward at first and I was nervous for them. After a few minutes, though, they got their stride and forgot about the audience, losing themselves in the drumming. The result was music that came from somewhere deep inside them and that was way better than anything they had done
When they stopped there was silence at first and then the room erupted in applause and yells and whistles. I told the stunned boys to stand up and take a bow. They stood in shock, gazing out at the standing ovation and taking it all in. These boys who had done bad things and who had been in trouble from their early years, were being celebrated and lauded by a sea of strangers. I could see on their faces that they loved themselves for the first time.