Stealing the Empanadas From My Mouth

I need to get out of this funk. I've pretty much been hiding. I believe it was in one of the novels by Camilo José Cela (perhaps it was La Familia de Pascual Duarte) where this great line came from that has for so many years been lodged in my head: “Sometimes the best course of action is to drop out of sight like the dead.”

I have half a dozen projects that I need to get working on, and I mean Right Now! Some of them even pay. But the best I've been able to do these last few days is to hole up and watch movies. It seems this unproductive malaise has been going on for months now.

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The San Antonio Public Library needs to place a large red banner over the main checkout station warning: “If that DVD is even one day late, we will fuck you up.” I mean, what gives? I had three DVDs one day late. I thought, maybe a buck fifty, total. Woman punches some buttons and then demands six bucks. Purely punitive, that's what I say. I could have treated myself to the finest lunch special at Pepe's Cafe, and still had enough for a newspaper or an empanada.

So, I'm off DVDs from the library for awhile. Leastwise until I can get some money coming in to underwrite my carelessness.

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Friday night I got a call from Konise who runs the cinema department over at NESA (North East School of the Arts) — one of the San Antonio arts magnet high schools. Konise wanted to know if would be interested in helping to judge the new batch of kids auditioning for the cinema program. Sure. It was an easy yes. I like Konise. Besides, seeing as I'm entering into year two as project manager for the Josiah Youth Media Festival, it made sense to keep the lines of communications open with the student film programs around town. Also, Konise mentioned that it was a paying gig.

The only potential snag was that it was for the following day. However, that wasn't a problem for me, as my social calendar was only slightly filled for the weekend. It did occur to me that what with Konise's last minute scramble, I probably wasn't choice number one. Ah, well … maybe I was at least choice number two.

Later in the night, I walked down to the Blue Star Arts Complex for First Friday. It was quite nice out — clear sky, cool but not cold — and so I was a bit surprised at the low turnout. A pleasant surprise, I should add. I don't much care for the insane crush of First Friday during the warmer seasons. I stopped by a few spaces and then headed up to Venus' studio She had told me at Pete's show the other week that she would have her studio open. It'd been awhile since I'd seen her open for First Friday, but now that her baby has arrived and, of course, changed her life, she's decided one of the changes will be more time working on the artistic side of her life. We hung out and talked. She'd brought five new pieces — manipulated digital photos of some designs she's painted on sheets of foamcore board. The pieces were framed and up on the walls of her studio — the whole place is painted in a mottled saturated red. They looked great surrounded by red. She'd also made smaller postcard-sized versions of each of the five new pieces, and was offering the copies for sale, three for five dollars. They were flying off her table.

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I was up fairly early Saturday morning. Well, early for me. It helped that I had been to NESA before, so I knew the quick way there.

I pulled up into the parking lot at the same time as Konise. We went to the cafeteria to check in and then we headed to the film class. It was me, Konise, and two other women who work in her department. It turned into a full day of auditions. We met with maybe twenty kids. I don't know how the entire process works. Maybe the kids had already been winnowed through a previous vetting process. Maybe not. I was just this guy hired for the day. But I was impressed with the kids. Most were 8th graders, hoping to get into NESA the next school year. True, most had appalling taste in movies. I can forgive them … I guess, because, well, you know, they're kids. The problems is that many adults are equally clueless. Folks, if someone asks who is your favorite filmmaker, don't answer Steven Spielberg. He has no decreeable style. You have, in essence, just admitted that you like to eat paste — with mayo, on white bread — or that you are giddy from the rumors that Peter Jackson is slated to direct a live action Smurfs movie (you heard it here first!).

I think what most impressed me about the kids was the writing assignment. They were supposed to choose one of three prompts and write a story with the prompt as the opening lies. They had about fifteen minutes. Everyone (except maybe two or three) wrote exceptional story ideas. Their use of descriptive language displayed a facile confidence with playful turns of phrase that I had not expected would run so smoothly from the fingers of middle school kids. What most confounded me was that only half of these talented writers admitted that they often wrote. Many hardly ever wrote or read, that is, outside of school projects.

Maybe what this tells us is that kids are all good writers up to the ages of 12 or 13, and when they enter into high school, that's where their literary talents are squashed. High school english classes have no room for creativity what with all the focus on structure, style books, critical reasoning (whatever the hell that is), and of course preparing the kids for the standardized performance tests. The American educational system is a laughing stock among the rest of the first world. The energy wasted prepping kids for these tests have done more damage than illicit drug use, teen pregnancy, bullying, Pokemon, and fluoridated water.

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