Another Legacy 1.18

Ira stands at the mailbox

This is the day. Ira can feel it. She’s waited for months to hear back on her scholarship and university admissions applications, and nothing. Not a thing, all through the process of Case getting licensing to become a foster parent. Not a word while they’ve helped Kiki settle in. Just silence. It’s been hard to wait, but Case reminds her that bureaucracy takes time, and that doesn’t mean it’s not working, it’s just working slowly.

Too slow for Ira. But today’s the day. She is sure of it.

And it is. But it’s not the day she’d hoped for. She gets not an acceptance letter, not two award letters for scholarships, but rejection. Dismissal. Turned away. Doors shut. Worse than waiting, the worst news. Not knowing was better than this.

Ira looks dejected

How could she have been so foolish, to let herself dream? To believe that she, Ira Mahajan, could become the first generation in her family to attend college, and not just community college, but university, and not just any university, but a prestigious honors arts program? She was a fool to think it.

Ira looks discouraged

She’d been swept away by being around so many inspiring people–Case and Tina Tinker, who could do anything they set out to do, as if they’d never heard the word “obstacle,” as if just wishing it made you good enough, and so she believed that she was good enough, too, for she wished it, and she thought, for these few months of waiting, that she could be something other than a paparazzi who quit, someone who stayed at home and did, well, nothing. But she should have listened to her family and followed their lead. No one in their family amounted to anything, and why should she be any different? It hurt worse to try and fail than never try at all–that was the secret that her family knew all too well, and she was a fool to think anything different.

I am a community college instructor. I’ve been teaching writing, English comp, and literature at the community college for the past 25 years. It’s my passion. Many of us, including Jill Biden, teach in the community college because of women like Ira: first-generation college students, returning to their education after an interlude. Many of these students feel that they’re at a disadvantage–and they can experience tremendous cultural dissonance as they navigate the regimented scope of bureaucracy and intellectual norms that circumscribe the community college environment–and at the same time, they bring with them a wealth of experience, ideas, and latent enthusiasm that is unmatched.

There is a moment that often happens for these students in the writing and English comp class where their reading mind turns on, their critical thinking becomes engaged, and they find their voice. Suddenly, their passion is ignited–and it’s a passion that stems from a lifetime of living, of being unheard, and often unseen–or at least, not seen for who they truly are–and now, they are finding that their words take light on the paper or computer screen, and others take notice–but what’s even more important, they are hearing themselves. They have something to say, and their words resonate.

I know, for these students, that making it onto the path that leads to this moment can involve a few missteps. Maybe they had to drop out for a semester or two, due to the birth of a child, a husband getting laid off, a sick kid, a death in the family. Maybe they failed this very same class a few times, or had to take an incomplete. But they stick with it. They find, at last, a welcoming class, an approach that clicks with them. The kids are well. The money for rent, or gas, or food, is coming in. Nobody dies that semester. And they make it.

So I’m not concerned about Ira having a setback along the way.

Case isn’t, either.

“That sucks,” he says, when she tells him the news.

Case talks to Ira

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Ira replies.

“You were thinking you’d go to college,” Case says. “You don’t need to, you know. You’re exactly perfect just as you are. You’re the most intelligent person I know, and you don’t need to prove anything. At the same time, college is cool. It feels good to use your mind in that way. And research is the most fun. But just ’cause you didn’t get in this time, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever get in.”

“Yeah, right,” Ira says. “What university would want a loser like me?”

Ira is still upset

“You’re not a loser,” Case says. “You’re my winner. You make everything possible here.”

She snorts. He explains how he’d never have tried for his foster parent license if it hadn’t been for her. If she hadn’t been there, all these years, to encourage him and listen to him and help keep him on his path, he probably would’ve left this job and this town years ago.

He tells her about a colleague, one of the directors at the NGO, actually, who has a Ph.D. but who got rejected from university five times before getting accepted.

“It’s just… it’s like a game,” Case says. “You gotta know the rules. The right words to write. The right references, the right stuff to put on your application. You’ve got most of it already, and the skills you still need to develop, you’ve got time to work on. We’ve got a few months before the next round of applications are due. And I’ll help this time! We’ll get that application squared away so you get accepted right off the bat!”

“You think so?”

“Sure! Piece of cake!”

Ira and Case talking--Ira is inspired!

Of course she doesn’t have to go to college. She’s amazing as she is. But she wants her moment. She wants to find, for herself, that she can speak and be heard. That she can read those academic journals, like Case reads, and make sense of them. That she can see how where they are now, in time, and history, and culture, and dialogue, and collapse, and rebirth, and rise, and decay–how it all fits into the big scheme. She wants to feel her moment in this grand intellectual life.

And Case says she can do it. And she thinks, maybe she can.

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Another Legacy 1.14

Ira, Ulrike, and Tina in the tiny kitchen

On the night of Case’s birthday, while Case lies in his tent imagining what it would be like to lose your job on the docks because the warehouse shut down and to have to move because the land where your apartment house sat was determined to be below the impending flood line and all the properties in the hills above the flood line rented for thousands a month or sold for half a million and now you’re left with nothing, with not even a semblance of what your life was before–while he imagines all that, Ira cleans up after the party. She’s surprised they even own that many dishes, as she carries the toppling pile of dirties to the sink.

“You missed a cup!” says Tina, who’s stayed behind to help. “Never mind! I’ll grab it.”

Something Tina says gets Ira thinking

At last they dry the final one.

“I left your wine cup on the table,” Tina says. “There’s still some wine in it.”

“You’ve been such a help!”

“It’s my pleasure,” Tina says.

Ira and Tina engaged in conversation

They sit together at the tiny kitchen table. Tina pours herself a cup of wine.

“You know, I’m always working,” Tina says. “It feels good to take some time to just sit and relax. I like that feeling of having worked so hard, and my feet and hands are tired, and then I just sit, and let it all go. Look! My fingers are dishwater prunes!”

“I’ve never been much of a hard worker,” Ira says. “I’ve sort of just let life come to me.”

“But you’re a big photographer! At least, you were.”

“No, I just fell into that. I took photos of celebrities and sold them to tabloids. Nothing to be proud of, just a way to make some money without really working hard. I have no interest in that any more.”

“What would you like to do?”

“I’m not sure,” Ira says. “Something with art? Something visual. How did you get into the recycling innovation field?”

Tina explains how, ever since she was a little girl, this has been her passion–to find new uses for things and combine them in ways both practical and inspiring. “I just can’t stop doing it,” Tina says.

They talk long into the night, and when Tina finally leaves and Ira heads upstairs to her narrow bed under the west window, her mind swirls with dreams–nothing specific yet, just a feeling. A feeling of being useful. Or maybe, inspiring.

The next morning, Case is up early, eating leftover cake for breakfast.

Case sitting at the table

“Case,” Ira asks, “how did you figure out what you wanted to do with your life?”

“It never felt like a choice,” Case replies. “Individuals are born into a certain time. In that time, there are certain things that need to be fixed, to be changed, to be made OK so that life can be better, or at least continue. I’m just doing what the time I was born into asks.”

Ira is blown away. Her entire paparazzi career, if she could be generous enough to call it a career, fizzles. It was never anything she was called to do–it wasn’t what the time had asked. It was what society had asked, and that’s something entirely different, when the portion of society that’s doing the asking is sick, twisted, and delusional.

She wants to do something different.

She’s sitting outside, letting her mind empty so it can be filled with new visions, when Aadhya walks up.

“How are you?” Aadhya asks.

“I’m inspired!” Ira says.

Ira talks with Aadhya

“Inspired?”

“Yes! I think I’m on the verge of taking a big step, personally.”

“Well, good for you,” says Aadhya.

In the tiny kitchen, Ira dishes up leftover cake.

“So I guess congratulations are in order, you two?” Aadhya asks.

“What?” says Ira. “We’re not a couple.”

Ira and Aadhya talk in the kitchen

“My mistake,” Aadhya says.

“It’s a common one.” Ira explains the arrangement: best friends, room mates, her needing a place to stay, Case being a generous friend.

Aadhya becomes quiet, but before silence settles in, Tina steps through the front door.

Tina joins Ira and Aadhya's conversation

“Tina!” Ira exclaims. “I’ve been thinking about our conversation last night! I’m making up my mind to do something with my life!”

“Really? I mean, you’re already doing something with your life by living, but I mean…”

“You inspired me.”

“I did? For what?”

“I’m not sure yet?” Ira answers. “I mean I’ve got an idea, but I’m not quite ready to put it into words. Or action. I don’t know, maybe the action will come before the words.”

And all day, Ira seems like she’s two-inches-off-the-ground, just floating with a buzz. Her mind is turned on.

“I can be anything!” Case sings. “I can do anything! I am me! I am me!”

And Ira closes her eyes and joins him.

“We can be anything! We can do anything! We can be me! We can be you!”

Ira and Case doing singing a funny chant together

Quick on the heels of Case’s 33rd birthday comes Ira’s, like a game of tag and now she’s it.

At first, they plan a party for the evening, but that morning, something goes horribly wrong with the composting toilet and it actually combusts.

Ira on fire in the bathroom

Ira shrieks, Case rushes in, and before it even truly registered what is happening, he has the flames out.

Case puts out the fire

Or maybe not?

“Don’t stand there!” he yells.

“I-I-I-” yells Ira, “aye-aye-aye!”

Case talking with Ira while the fire dwindles

“There, OK. It’s out. Or nearly. Put water on it, OK?” Case says.

“Yeah, it’s out now. Nearly. Geez, Case. I think this design needs work. It’s supposed to be a composting toilet, right? Not a combusting one!”

Ira laughs from relief

They’re both a bit shook up. Plus, since they don’t have a working toilet at present, they decide it’s probably best not to invite guests over.

“I’m still a bit partied out, anyway,” says Ira. “If it’s just us, my mind won’t get crowded out, and I’m still buzzing inside!”

Case bakes a vanilla cake. “Candles?” he asks. “Or is it too much after this morning?”

“No!” says Ira. “Candles! I’m not scarred! I’m excited! I’ve got to make a wish! Thirty-three, man! This is going to be my year!”

Ira blows out the candles

The candles are lit and blown out without incident.

“I think I’m going to skip the grill for a while,” Case says.

They sit out front together as the sky darkens. Clouds have rolled in, and soon, they fall silent to listen to the drip-drips of rain on the awning.

“I’m gonna dance!” Ira calls. “Want to join me?”

She grabs her umbrella and runs out into the rain.

In an evening rainstorm, Ira dances in the rain

“I can do anything! I can be anything! I’m me! I’m me! I’m Ira! Free to be!”

Case spins in the rain, tilting his head up to the clouds and watching each drop gather and fall, growing larger and larger, falling slower and slower, the silver against the night, spinning, spinning.

Ira stops her dance and looks up with him. “It’s a mystery,” she whispers, as they watch the droplets spin and fall.

“I never had someone watch the rain with me before,” Case says.

“I’m glad I could,” says Ira.

“Not everybody stops to see what might be so amazing,” says Case. “I’m not used to sharing that with someone.”

Case encourages Ira

“Is it OK?” asks Ira.

“Oh, yeah,” says Case. “I’ve always wanted to share that.”

Ira’s quiet the next morning. It’s clear and hot, and she smiles while she sits at the little desk upstairs. Case doesn’t ask what she’s writing. He trusts she’ll share when she’s ready.

She folds it up carefully, slides it into the envelope, and addresses it to University of Britechester. Her admissions application. She applies for two scholarships, too. She’s going to go to college. She’s going to be a real artist. She can do anything. She can be anything. She’s Ira!

Ira puts her college application into the mailbox

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GloPoWriMo – Song 21

Portal Dreams

through the portal–white-flat-white
to a world with no sky, no water, only
flat cold and stone, everywhere, stone
with the gaping maw, the hunger, the
stark loneliness of terror–that gape
in the gut, that hole that pulls down
into the abyss of the world where no
one no no the hole it gapes and then
the portal the light the bright the
pull the pull the whole brightness
of the sun and everything is golden
and sunflowers sparkle into the pull
of another portal where the sky is
covered in gears and the inside of the
clock is outside and the insistent
tick of time remember this is not
timelessness this is

mortality

this is not a dream. A dream is
a quiet home in the roots of a
graht oak with a fire in the pit
and a hammock near the window

this is not a dream–

it is a hero’s life.

Daily Prompt: “write a poem that… incorporates wild, surreal images. Try to play around with writing that doesn’t make formal sense, but which engages all the senses and involves dream-logic ,” from Na/GloPoWriMo.

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NaPoWriMo 2019