Sunday, March 30, 2014

Do You Hear Brill?

I am slowly (key word) working my way through a delicious book, Wonderbook, the Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer. I love it partly because it combines amazing, inspiring art with really useful writing tips, and partly because it has lots of exercises you can do as well as an accompanying website chock full of resources.

One of the first exercises (see? 'slowly' really was the key word) is to write a story about the illustration below. I was shooting for about 1,000 words. After an embarrassingly long time writing, I fell short by about 200 words. I definitely need more practice. I read the example story on the Wonderbooks website, but I have to say, it was a little above me. And I wished I hadn't read it before attempting my own story! 

So try your hand at it! 

Here's mine:

“No, no, no! That is not right a’tawl!” complained Master Hickersnick, as Crumpy raised his fin wings, and belted out the most glorious off-key note to have been sung in the musicarium in quite some time. Master Hickersnick crossed his arms over his portliness and dug his chin into his chest, white beard trembling with indignation.
Crumpy, oblivious, gasped out the last of the unfortunate note, his green and yellow scales glowing, his eyes shining with joy. He stood proudly on the dais, still puffed with pleasure, his strident chords echoing happily in his mind. Only after several very long seconds did Hickersnick’s obvious stance register with the Ichthyoid.  His glittering body slowly deflated, his delicate fin wings drooped.
“Pah!” Hickersnick declared. “What am I to do with that? I have spent the better part of this quarter trying to instill a sense of tone in you. We have studied Edgernaw to Travalent, Brahlins to Hydengott, and this is the best you can do? Pah!”
Crumpy’s form shrank further, his round eyes now balefully studying the ceiling.
Master Hickersnick drew a black feathered quill from the ink pot at his feet and opened a musty journal from a stack that reached from the floor to his waist. “I don’t know. I simply don’t know,” he muttered, “how she expects me to teach one fish to sing, let alone an entire school.”
Crumpy shuffled off the dais, too despondent to air swim.
“That’ll be a 0 for tone I’m afraid, young Halburtson.” Hickersnick wrote in the grade journal, feather quill punctuating the angry strokes. Morpheus and Cambrelle, Hickersnick’s ever present giant parrots, ruffled their feathers and softly squawked their disapproval from their vantage point on their master’s shoulders.
“Oh, Crumpy! I’m sorry!” Deveina blurted as he shuffled out the musicarium doors to the hallway.
“You heard?”
“Yes, but . . . but I thought you were just great! Really!” Deveina’s fin wings fluttered slightly.
“Thanks, but I’m just no good at that” he paused. “I tried! I really tried! I thought I had it this time. I think I failed music” Crumpy groaned.
“That’s why I’m here. That is, I know. I mean, I think I did too. I think we all did!” Deveina sputtered. A loud squawk echoed behind them. “Come on, let’s get out of here. I’ll explain on the way.” She floated gracefully into the air, hovering just above Crumpy, scales flashing with her movement, fin wings raised to air swim.
Crumpy followed, drifting his body next to hers. They swam down the hall, away from the squawking, away from the sour faced Hickersnick. “Well? Fill me in. What do you mean, ‘We all did’?”
“I know we’re not supposed to listen to each other’s music exams. But after Dorsa and Hake came back upset from theirs, I just had to listen in on yours. And I think the same thing is happening with all of us!” Deveina said.
“Which is what?” Crumpy, still upset, was half listening.
“We don’t have tone!” Deveina cried.
Crumpy rolled her an irritated glance. “And this is supposed to make me feel better how?”
“No, no! It’s just that I don’t think any of us have tone. I heard Dorsa and Hake talking and they got marked down for tone, too. So did I!”
“Deveina, what does that have to do with anything? Just leave me alone. I need to go back to the hatchery and check on Ray” said Crumpy, his mind already on what to feed his little brother for lunch.
Deveina spun around in front of Crumpy, stopping him short. His yellow polka dots seemed to freeze on their green background, all hovering now, facing Deveina. “But don’t you see? What if we can’t sing his way? What if Ichthyoids just . . . have our limits with tone?” she said.
“Have our limits?” Crumpy answered. “Come on now. You didn’t get hooked into that nonsense, did you?”
Deveina fluttered her fin wings in frustration. “No! What I’m saying is what if we sing our way? Why do we have exams in Sapien? What if we could have our exams in Ichthyoid? What if we could brill our songs for him? For exams?”

Crumpy considered. Brill is something they had all done since hatchlings. All Ichthyiods did. Mothers and fathers brilled to their young at rest time; Ichthyoids of all stages brilled when they were happy, to make themselves feel better, or just to pass the time. Each Ichthyoid had their own reverberation within the brill, their own particular, nuanced sound. Most Sapiens could barely hear the brill. Some young ones could hear it, but they grew out of it for the most part. It was a shame really, for Sapiens never to hear the brilliant waterfall of brill.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Ninth Life

I wrote this poem, The Ninth Life, (many) years ago in college. Because it's one of my favorite poems that seems to have enduring meaning, I recently entered it in this year's North Carolina United Tribes Unity Conference writing competition in the poetry category, where it won 2nd place.

The Ninth Life
Catwalking into my dreams
at night.
Slinking thoughts of you
to keep me
in limbo  –
never asleep,
never awake.

tiptoe in on black velvet paws,
leaving me dazed
and tumbling
to land on all fours

for the ninth time.
        ---Kara Stewart

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Literacy, The Common Core and Our American Indian Students

I had the honor yesterday of presenting a workshop at the 39th Annual North Carolina Indian Unity Conference. The workshop was geared toward parents, guardians, and family of our American Indian students. I gave a very basic overview of the Common Core State Standards and the English Language Arts portion of the standards.

After the overview of the achievement expectations for our students, we focused on some of the learning tools schools use to get there - in this case, books about Native Americans or that include Native Americans. These are books commonly found in media centers, leveled book rooms and classrooms all over the country. Unfortunately, many of them give an inaccurate view of Native Americans. Using a number of resources, we explored how to analyze these tools students are given to learn, either purposefully or inadvertently, about American Indians, and developed language to approach teachers, media specialists and school administration when we are uncomfortable with the message these tools impart.

Workshop participants had wonderful insights and comments both about the new achievement expectations and about the tools we put in the hands of students everywhere. I hope that I have helped developed advocates for accurate information for all students.

Many thanks to give for this experience:
the Chapel-Hill-Carrboro City Schools district
faculty and staff at Mary Scroggs Elementary School
the Sappony Tribe
United Tribes Board
Indian Housing Authority
my daughter

I am humbled and grateful to be part of such caring, supportive communities both at school, my tribe and family and the community of North Carolina tribes.