Friday, May 22, 2009

My final visit of 2008-'09 rocked!

I just returned from a school visit at Great Oaks Elementary, in Round Rock, Texas. Their music and arts program (MAE Day), is an annual end-of-the-year program, and the kids were very excited.

I spoke to the entire student body in three groups — 7 classes of 4th-graders; 13 classes of kindergarten and 1st-graders; and 15 classes of 2nd- and 3rd-graders. Following the last presentation, an unplanned autograph session broke out. My son, who'd acted disinterested all morning and sat unimpressed in a corner, suddenly came to life and became my spokesman. He answered questions intended for me, and then whispered in my ear that I hadn't mentioned him enough during my presentations. He corrected that.

One student was so impressed, she asked my son for his autograph, too. Suddenly, everyone wanted his autograph, so he proudly signed along with me. It was so funny to see my son standing there surrounded by a bunch of 3rd-grade girls, with their arms extended to him for a signature.

I almost forgot that schools no longer teach cursive writing. The kids were so impressed that my son — same age as them — could sign his name neatly in cursive! Many of the students complimented him on his beautiful writing.

This was my son's first time visiting a public school, and I worried. My son attends a small Christian school, with a student body of about 215 students total. His school has two 2nd-grade classes and one 3rd-grade class. His school has a tiny library. There is no gymnasium at all, and the students wear uniforms. I worried he'd feel like he was missing out on something. But afterwards when I asked if he'd like to attend a public school, where he could wear his favorite street clothes and the desired mohawk, he responded with a resounding "no!" He liked the school and the kids, no doubt. But I think he was overwhelmed by the number of kids.

This was my last school visit for the 2008-09 school year. I'm looking forward to returning to schools in the fall, though I've decided to change my program. I use my original art at these presentations, and the pieces have taken quite a beating. Eventually I'd like to sell a few pieces, maybe exhibit them somewhere, but can't happen if they're dinged-up and torn.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Novel inspiration from an old friend and days gone by

Every now and then, I Google the names of my friends from high school and college. Most of the time, I never find anyone. But today, I found the name of my very best high school buddy, Jimmie M.*

I was elated when I saw his name, but I was saddened to discover that, three years ago, he was sentenced to a twenty-five year prison term for conspiring to deliver a controlled substance, a Class B felony. Although his name is common, I knew it was him. He was a small-time drug dealer in high school, our school's main supplier. Guess he never gave that up.

To this day, I don't know how I, the shiest — and probably the most timid — kid in high school, ended up best friends with one of the most notorious kids. But I was. In fact, it was Jimmie who gave me the nickname Devas T. (devastate-ing) that I use on this blog.

Jimmie was popular. Whatever the goings-on at school, Jimmie was at the center. If there was a fight, Jimmie was in it. The big story of the day, Jimmie was the subject. A rumor, it was about Jimmie. Everyone knew and loved him, and even though most of the student body was self-segregated racially, Jimmy was just as popular with the white kids as he was with the blacks. I wasn't popular. In the mornings and between classes, when Jimmie and the cool kids hung out in the hallways, I took the side stairwells and hid out in my art or photography classes.

Jimmie had a nice car. He leaned hard in a burnt, cherry red, '69 "Stang" with hot-rod rims and black leather, bucket, seats. Later, after his older brother died in a car accident, he inherited a large sum of money, and his parents let him buy a used Monte Carlo. He gangsta'd it out with gold-spoke rims and black tinted windows. His car was the talk of the school, and when I was in it, I leaned just as hard as he did (leaning was what you did to be cool -- lean down in the seat, on the arm rest, as far down as possible). When I wasn't riding shotgun in Jimmie's car, I drove an old Plymoth Duster that I purchased from a junkyard for $300. It ran off-and-on, occasionally.

Jimmie was a player, too. He had so many girl friends, he didn't know half their names. Girls would carry his books for him to classes, and oftentimes they would do his homework. He would throw his arms around a group of girls in the hallway, and call himself a pimp. He bragged to me about things he would do with them late at night, but since we usually hung out after school, and worked a burger joint together at night, I couldn't figure out when he had time to do all that stuff. I had a couple of girl friends, too, here and there. But never the harem that Jimmy had following him through the hallways.

We had nothing in common, really, but for whatever reason, we stuck together like tape our entire four years in high school (back then, high school was 9th through 12th grade).

When I think back to the situations I allowed myself to get into hanging with Jimmie, it scares me. It's only by grace that I didn't end up in jail myself in high school, or worse yet, dead.

After graduation, Jimmie and I went our separate ways. With his good grades and inheritance, he attended a big name, predominately, Black college in the south. I stayed home and went to a local community college, mostly on Pell Grants. He was in school less than a year before he dropped out. I was excited when I found out he had returned home, but disappointed when he didn't contact me. Turned out, he was hanging with a group of guys I'd have been much too scared to hang out with anyway.

When we finally did get together, I noticed something had changed in Jimmie. He had hardened. I don't know what kind of people — or substances — he had gotten himself mixed up with while away in college, but he wasn't the same person I'd known all those years.

It would be another 10 years before I crossed paths with Jimmie again. I was at the mall with my young daughter when I saw him from a distance. As he approached, I called out his name and waved to get his attention. I was ready to catch up, maybe even repair our friendship. But his eyes were like ice. Even though we were face to face, I wasn't sure if he saw me. He appeared to look right through me. I looked away and kept walking.

Excuse me for blogging off topic, but recalling my old friend and long-gone high school experiences, I think I may have found that bit of inspiration that's been lacking, that something I needed in order to pick up and resume working my novel (after I finish painting the Effa story).

*name changed, of course.