A Travel Guide to My Heart

Posted November 20, 2017 & filed under Notebook, Poem.

 

Welcome to hot, humid Houston. If you travel northeast, you might find a place I love most: my home. You can take a right and find a wonderful white house. It’s so special with my mom, dad, my 5-year old brother, Sam, my 8-day old baby brother, Shepard and my two dogs, Gus and Zeus. Also, two beautiful fish used to live there, but they died.

Come with me and travel west. You’ll find my most beloved grandmother and grandfather. You’ll find them in a red brick house. Please travel east. A candy shop awaits! I could eat all the candy. If I could, I would spend tons and tons of hours eating chocolate. Come up North, flying high in the sky. See clouds as you pass by. Then you’ll see a paradise where you can relax. I will play in the pool all day long. It is a place I call Florida.

by Nellie, 1st grade

The Serbian Express 4

Posted August 21, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

So tonight we wrote the invitations to the closing party of the Belgrade American Corners Creative Writing Workshop. They were very beautiful, and we look forward to giving out two sets of awards: the “Best So Far Awards’ in the morning and the “Best of the Best” Award in the afternoon. The “What’s in my Head” and “What”s in My Heart” assignment went great with some of the teenagers. One of the burning questions came when I asked the students to  tape the two pieces of paper according to how they should exist. Should the work about “What’s in my Head” be beside, below, or above “What’s in My Heart.”  Since the question is too hard for me to answer, even for myself, I love asking other people what they think about it. Generally, all the students refused to put one above the other.  They were willing to tape their two anatomies of their heart and head side by side, but they were firmly unwilling to put one above the other. Is it their age? Is it their culture? Are they right? Alas, I do not know. All I know is that there were not ambiguous about their unwillingness to make one subservient to the other.

This morning we had the author’s chair for the award winners; then we took another chair and had the Harry Potter chair with the sorting hat. This is all from two amazing websites that David showed us called HarryPotter wiki and Pottermore. On Pottermore, you can actually answer some interactive questions and be assigned a house. I was tempted to have the younger children do that and then write about what it meant to be accepted to their university house.  I am still working on thinking about a Harry Potter assignment. Time will tell if it ever amounts to anything.

Tomorrow we also have a skype meeting and this will be my first skype meeting. All of you that are very practiced in skype meetings I wish you were with me now so that I could have your wisdom.  There are four more Creative Writing Workshops in four cities, including a city that is very close to the Hungarian border. So Friday I will be leaving in the morning for one of the cities, though I will be back on Friday night in time for my weekend of wandering around the citadel, enjoying the Serbian endless appreciation of Rock and Roll and Jazz.  I had a big argument with one of the students about the musical value of Bon Jovi.  It seemed that we agreed on the greatness of Guns N’ Roses, AC-DC ,and Megadeath, but when he introduced the possibility of a musician appreciation of Bon Jovi, I suggested that he might as well add Kiss and give them all music lessons.  I hope he is at the party. I liked his passion for Guns and Roses.

Tonight I will walk past this amazing building on the plazza that combines the architecture of Austrian-Hungarian work with Soviet themes. It shows two men holding up the earth.  Now, as a lover of mythology, I hoped that I would be seeing Atlas, the Titan, and Hercules, the hero, sharing the terrible task as Soviet brothers.  But I believe, from the hammer-like image those same figures are working lower in the sculptural messaging.  Alas, today it holds a shop that sells designer bags.  Off I go to sleep, but I will pass Atlas and Hercules, interpreted in the early  20th century by a genius who might not approve of the Marc Jacobs pocketbooks.

by Merrilee Cunningham, Writers in the Schools

A New WITS Mission Abroad

Posted August 15, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

 

The Serbian Express 

Did you miss the Macedonian Express last summer?  Are you ready for more reporting from the Beautiful Balkans?  This is a fair warning. I know last year you must have noticed the absence of blogging from the Balkans and must have wondered “what’s up?”  But here in the last days of Houston summer, as children begin attempting to get their Summer Book List completed at the local library, we in Houston watch one more time as Altuve plays like a madman and yet the Astros still can’t seem to get a win, and parents everywhere try to figure out how to buy and pay for those back to school items that simply must be purchased,  I am off, via London and Vienna, to Belgrade to begin the Serbian Express.

And I would love to have you go with me one more time as we try to expand our wonderful Creative Writing Camp to Belgrade,  Kragujevac, Novi Sad, Nis, and Sabotica (near the border with Hungary).  So, as you can see,  there will be a lot of traveling once we arrive in Serbia, though our first four days will be Belgrade.

The word Balkans means mountains and  so I am very excited about seeing the beautiful land  that was once the central part of old Yugoslavia but is now its own country with many significant cities. So I will be flying into Nikola Tesla Airport, named after the great inventor who worked alongside Thomas Edison (and may have gotten a few ideas stolen from him during the relationship).  I love airplanes, and I love to be in airplanes that are traveling to exotic places, so, even though the trip will take about 18 hours, I am very excited about the ride.  For one thing, I will be returning on a plane from Houston to London to pick up the folks who have been at the Olympics and want to bring those  medals back to Texas. For another,  I am such a bad cook that  I love British cooking (alas, global warming has not gotten to the point where even British Airways can serve British wines).  For another,  since I am an Associate  Professor at University of Houston-Downtown, I always fall behind on my movie watching, and I get to catch up on my flight over the pond.  I know you  might think that these overnight flights were made for sleep, but I have no desire  to sleep on a plane.  I want that window seat so I can feel myself traveling thousands of miles to teach Creative Writing–the WITS way. It’s one thing to be alive, but it’s another to feel that you are alive or to know that you are alive.  I will be thrilled with airplane culture of a few hundred people traveling at 33,000 feet over the Atlanta on the way to the Old World. No doubt, from time to time, I will be humming  William Blake’s” Chariots of Fire”  before we set down in London on the way to Belgrade. (I have learned that the more stops you are willing to take, the cheaper your fare  if you amortize it by fun  and the more fun you will have).  If I can help British Air get their plane back to London in time to bring those medals home and they will reward me for it, I am willing.

Once there, the adventure starts.  Come with me in these dog days of summer to a place just as hot, but where great writing is about to take place, Haiku Houses are about the be built celebrating Basho,  plays will be written and presented,  and a world of imaginative use of words will rise like the ascents of those planes that I will be traveling on.

by Merrilee Cunningham, Writers in the Schools

“A Tall Tale” from Creative Writing Camp

Posted July 18, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

WITS Writer Elizabeth A. M. Keel

One of our Creative Writing Camp instructors is Elizabeth A. M. Keel-a local novelist and playwright. Her plays have been produced by the University of Houston, The Nova Arts Project, The Scriptwriters/Houston, Big Head Productions, Bootown, and Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company. Her first novel, Running Into Trouble, was published in 2010. Elizabeth currently works as a teaching artist for the Alley Theatre, helping local teens write and produce short plays.

From Elizabeth’s Classroom:

 

A Tall Tale

Well, I was born out of an alligator’s mouth. When he tried to eat me, I punched his gut. When I went fishing, I would tie myself to a branch and fish with my bare hands. Once I tried staring down a fish. And it worked! Everyone wanted me to stare down the biggest fish this side of the Mississippi so I went and found it. I stared at it for five days and nights but it was just a rock.

by Jackson, 4th grade

This summer Elizabeth taught at our AOS campus, and had this to say about the above piece:

 As a playwright, I love hearing stories told out loud. Some of my favorites are the wild, exaggerated Tall Tales that came out of Texas and the rest of the American West. The camp lesson we formed incorporated colorful metaphors and the power of hyperbole – which, of course, can be more fun that a sack of badgers! But also offered the students the opportunity to write in a new voice: one of over-the-top, zany fun. Jackson’s Tall Tale portrays a classic surprise twist and a sprinkling of the humility that helps keep a Tall Tale hero in his place!

WITS Travel Journal: Belgrade

Posted June 17, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

Belgrade is called the white city, probably because of the whiteness of the Ottoman Empire fortifications against Bulgars, Hungarians, early Serbians and others who would have liked to control and tax the trade at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. I have been here for three days, and they have been more than busy. I have given two workshops in creative writing for children at the libraries associated with the embassy American Corners program. Along with that were four interviews for cultural features in magazines and newspapers. One of the best questions that I was asked is “Can you really teach creative writing?” I was surprised at how passionate a response I had for the reporter, stressing how important it is to teach creative writing in a way that will actually achieve both writing and creativity.

In my first lesson with the children, we used brown paper bags. (I have a small suitcase with my clothes in it and a large suitcase with my colored paper, bags, note cards, pencils and other supplies.) My writers (there were about 30) were very happy to be writing, and in this paper bag project, they wrote about something that they would like to get rid of. The youngest of my writers had a list of carrots, pears, bugs, and teachers that he would like gone from his life, at least over the summer.

Yesterday at noon was my scariest audience. I gave an hour lecture to the Faculty of English and Creative Writing at the University of Belgrade. Though I was a little nervous, and had spent the entire night working on my lecture and getting no sleep, they were all very generous about what I said and friendly. They would like to establish a relationship with Writers in the Schools Houston. Afterward, I was invited to lunch with several of their writers and I want to discuss more about that meeting with Serbian authors in the future. I have about 7 novels by Serbian authors and as soon as I have read more than one, I will blog on the state of great modern Serbian authors.

Today the embassy attache is coming to take me in an embassy armored car to the south of Serbia where I will meet with public school teachers and their creative writing students this afternoon and tomorrow. You might be wondering about the armored car. On February 28th or so of this year the American embassy was set afire about recognizing the independence of Kosovo and later Montenegro. Yesterday marked the official independence of that state so things are very tense here concerning both these events and the ambiguity of the recent elections.

Tomorrow evening I hook up with Amy Storrow, and we begin our simulacra of the WITS Summer Writing Camp in Macedonia. Amy has prepared, to say the least, an ambitious schedule, but I have every intention of keeping up with her and it. Once a WITS Writer, always a WITS writer, I say.

I will keep you in the know about what is going on here. Belgrade is fascinating, often beautiful, always interesting, with book stores everywhere. People are very serious about what they are reading. I look forward to my drive south through the green countryside of what was once part of the Byzantine empire. More anon.

Love,

Merrilee, WITS Writer in the Balkans

[photos of Belgrade by Akcjia / Katarina 2553 on flickr]