The Resistance Before the Breakthrough – The Teacher’s Edition

What a difference a week of phone calls can make.

I’ve seen the light.
I’ve come around.
I’ve changed my mind.

And it actually feels good.

First, let me be a sport and give a hat tip to those who done told me so from the start. Gary Chou, the mind behind Orbital, had encouraged me to organize a live gathering of the students in the beta version of the self-study ecourse based on my novel Picture Me Rollin’. The co-facilitators and advisors he brought to boot camp to support us in implementing our projects agreed.

Each and every time, I listened, smiled, nodded and said, “Yeah, but…”

I thought I had good reasons for my resistance to a live component to my ecourse. I mean, it’s an e-course, right? Among the other reasons, I had – all of which I still think are logical – it seemed that extending myself at that level defeated the purpose of using the digital tools available to gather people online.

But logic has its limits, and in those limits are emotional sinkholes. This became evident to me after holding the first round of office hours this week. Having candid conversations with my students revealed how much of my resistance was rooted I concerns that were not logical at all. After reflecting on these conversations, I can now see and admit that my resistance to organizing a gathering of my students was based on an attitude a lot like this.

I’ve known for a long time that the best teachers are willing to learn from their students even if sometimes it’s difficult. Often when it’s difficult because a flaw in your knowledge or pedagogy has been exposed or the power differential has been shifted out of your favor. Essentially, the growing pains comes from having your ego checked.

My students not only reaffirmed what I already knew to be true about the value of a live gathering, they also deconstructed my deepest concerns with clarity, humor and another kind of emotional logic. By the end of the last telephone call, I was actually looking forward to organizing something. Once my resistance crumbled, the floodgates to more creativity – both with respect to this endeavor and a few others on the back burner yet in the same vein – crashed open.

I genuinely believe that the greatest resistance comes right before the breakthrough. I’ve blogged about it before with respect to challenging students, and I often have comforted fellow teachers with this principle when they have lamented about students who dug their heels in when being faced with information that threatens to shatter a way of thinking upon which much of their worldview and sense of self has been built. I totally underestimated that this applies to teachers as well.

TWo office hours, and now I know better.


Better Than Shoes: A New "Chica Lit" Writing Workshop

Love novels like Dirty Girls Social Club, Bridget Jones’ Diary, The Devil Wears Prada and Waiting to Exhale? Have an idea for a novel of your own? Want a supportive writing community led by an author who has actually written and published “chica lit” with major publishing houses?

This 8-week course is for you! Join me and other aspiring Latina writers and begin your journey toward getting that novel out of your head and onto the page. By doing fun writing exercises, reading excerpts from some of the genre’s best and getting supportive feedback, you will learn how to develop interesting characters and entertaining plot lines, all without having to leave your latinadad at the door. And isn’t that far more important than a fabulous yet expensive pair of shoes?

By the end of this workshop, you will have major character sketches, a complete outline for your story, and both inspiration and strategies to keep you writing that first draft to the last page.

What: Better Than Shoes: A Chica Lit Writing Workshop with
Who: Sofia Quintero, author of Divas Don’t Yield and more
When: Thursdays, 6:30 to 8:30 pm from April 14 – June 2, 2011 (8 weeks)
Where: Latino Experimental Fantastic Theater at the Clemente Soto Velez Center, 107 Suffolk Street, Lower East Side, New York City, 10002
Cost: $250

If you want more details you can email thefelttheater at yahoo dot com or therealblackartemis at yahoo dot com. You can also call LEFT at 212-288-3705.


Actors of Color, What is Your Favorite Monologue?

This fall one of the courses I’m going to teach is a high school class on writing and performing monologues. I’m very keen on using monologues delivered by characters of color as examples, and I’m on a particular quest to collect film adaptations so that I can play the performance of these monologues for my students. If you are an actor of color, perhaps you can help me out. While I welcome monologues from plays — especially those by playwrights of color — ideally, I’d love monologues available on video (e.g. the film adaptation of play) and which can stand alone without requiring too much context.

I find that your average book of monologues — especially those geared toward youth — are not very diverse with respect to culture or even scenario. Furthermore, while they may be serviceable for teaching performance, I find them inadequate for teaching writing, especially the unique art of writing the standalone monologue.
Here’s an example of a great monologue I discovered while conducting research for a different writing project altogether. It comes from the 2000 HBO miniseries The Corner which was created by the same talent behind the TV series The Wire. In this monologue, Gary, a 34 year old dope addict is getting high with some friends.

I went to see this movie. The one about what they did to the Jews in the war. Lord, what they did to them people. The Germans decided that they weren’t human no more. They just said, “No, you ain’t human like we human.” And when they said that, hey, man… it just got easier for them to do all kinds of dirt. By the end, all the Germans could do, man, was like get rid of them, you know. Kill them all. ‘Cause, you know, they couldn’t see them being anything better than rats or bugs. But it was real, all right. And I’m sitting there, and I’m watching this movie, and I’m realizing that it’s happening again. We sit here day after day making ourselves a little bit less human, and the world is happy to see it. It seems like they happy to see it, man. I mean, when I was making money, it didn’t matter because I was still a nigger. And now that I’m sitting up here getting high with y’all, it’s still the same. Don’t you see what I’m saying? The Germans made the Jews into niggers. That’s what that was about. And that’s what this is here except we’re doing it to ourselves. It seems like the world just can’t wait for us to finish until we all end up dead.

This monologue is perfect because you can either read or watch it with no context and still understand it. The actual movie had a few lines of interjecting dialogue from the other characters present in the scene, but their lines can be deleted with nothing lost. It’s a great piece of writing (I especially love the subtext), and it gives the actor several moments to mine.

Another good example is a monologue from Romeo Must Die starring Jet Li and the late Aaliyah. In the scene after Aaliyah’s character Trish learns that her brother has been murdered, she tells how she and her brother used to get a kick out of scaring their mother by crying wolf and pretending he got hurt. The scene uses this anecdote to reveal Trish coming to grips with her brother’s death which this time is real and no laughing matter. She experiences how her mother felt the moment she thought her son had been hurt yet. Unlike her mother, however, Trish realizes that she’ll never know the relief of learning that her brother is actually OK.

So if you can suggest any more monologues like these, drop me a line. I’m looking for all ages, genders, sexual orientations and genres. And by people of color, I do mean also Native American, Arab and Asian as well as Black and Latino. If you’ve seen great monologues in any independent films, even better as I’m sure that information will come in handy for future initiatives. At the very least, any other character’s lines should be minimal and can be cut out without the primary character’s speech losing meaning. Again, movies readily available on DVD are ideal so that I can play them for my students as well.

Sadly, as many wonderful solo shows many actors of color have produced in recent years, very few of them have been recorded for sale never mind for educational use. What I would give to Sarah Jones’ Surface Transit, Staceyann Chin’s Border/Clash or Calvin Levels’ wonderful Down from the Mountaintop on DVD. Right now a gal is relying on Danny Hoch’s Jails, Hospitals and Hip Hop, Roger Guenveur Smith’s A Huey P. Newton Story and The Vagina Monologues and even the film The Breakfast Club, but it’s just not enough. Even John Leguizamo’ s Mambo Mouth, Spic-o-Rama, and Freak are hard to find and mad expensive!

So if you’re a person of color who produces or develops solo theatre, do your creative kin — be they emerging and aspiring, practicing and teaching — a favor and plan on eventually making your show available and affordable on video. 🙂