This is what I’m saying folks!
In the past my desk has looked like it threw-up a extensive amount of marked-up papers and got attacked by sticky notes. So I HAVE to ask, “What does your environment do to promote happiness? Really, I want you to understand that the first step in this “exercise” is that you need to set up your space to allow happiness. Yes, Happiness is allowed. Today make an effort to change three things that surround you (if you want to go for more…super!) your goal is to smile more today in your surroundings.
One of my random reaches to smile today and be happy:
I got out a couple of markers, stickers, and fancy paper supplies. I made myself a happy note. I wrote the quote “be kind to yourself, you’re awesome-now get back to work!” and selected a hilarious photo to match then I posted it to my corkboard by my desk. Then I decided to rearrange my paperwork. I just kept on reminding myself that I am working on something that usually displeases me then I look at my reminder again. Productive but with the reminder that I am too damn funny and that I work too hard not to have this moment- it makes me happy to have this laugh with myself.
Consciously try today to do something that reminds you to be happy.
I am not saying you need to constantly engage in the practice of practicing gratitude but really, the more the better. Taking a few moments to be grateful (and record it in some way) really does make you feel happy. Here is my entry:
You know what I like about butterflies? They stop the thought process, even if just for a brief moment. They casually and pleasantly interrupt any sentence and present the viewer an overwhelming serge of complete happiness. Conversations sway from particulars to visualizations of beauty- a small reminder of all that is majestic in nature. Many thanks to the universe for the spontaneous gift that is the butterfly.
Now that wasn’t too difficult. Really any topic will work for you. Suggestions!?? Perhaps write a piece on the epic-ness that is the crunchy cheeto or the versatile advantages of incorporating more raisins into cuisine. Be grateful to all things that surround your life, even if they seem insignificant- you have so many reasons to smile, you have so many reasons to be happy.
Throughout high school, even now that I am an adult, there have been labels or situational defined groups that a person most closely identifies themselves as belonging. Sure it’s easy to say that that jock over there is good at sports, but what about the punks or the weirdoes? What about the geeks and the gold-diggers?
I’m sure by this point you wondering where I’m going with this… so I just want to take this moment to express the fact that I have often wondered what people say about me, you know, when I’m not around.
I know there are some things I, as an individual, should not hear about myself. I admit willingly I have had moments and thoughts against my better judgment. I am absolutely certain I do not want to read minds as I am equally as certain that I would find most people would find me strange if they read mine.
So how do I define myself? If I had to write one word on a label and wear it around what word would I choose? What word would others choose for me? Or the question that until recently, I guess I never really gave it some extensive thought is, what are three words you would use to describe yourself?
I’ll give this some thought, nothing wrong with a little self-reflection… am I right?
Okay here are my words- considerate, productive, and sassy. (I’m going to elaborate, you’re welcome)
I am considerate. When I shovel snow, I don’t block other people in. When I get a drink from a coffee spot, if I happen to spill my coffee while I am stirring in my sugar, I clean up after myself. I hold doors open for other people, I say good morning, I understand people sometimes have bad days, and I generally think about how my actions affect others. People might not always treat me with the same consideration as I treat them, I’m still considerate regardless.
Productive. I set goals. I learn from my mistakes and I get shit done. I hate it when people ask me what my greatest weakness is because when I think I’m weak in a certain aspect of my life, I try my best to improve. I can always be a better version of myself. It is my belief that in order to be both considerate and productive you must also be sassy.
The other day someone told me I was “sassy.” What’s funny is I can, at times, absolutely agree with that.
I am sassy. I have Sassy-ness, Miss Sass- a -Frass herself, that’s me. (Too far?) I think that people say this to me because I am so damn honest. I usually say how I feel about a situation because if you always tell the truth then you never have to remember what you said. Sometimes I wonder what drives people to live double lives, to cheat, to steal, and to lie. The other day I told my neighbors I was going inside because I had stuff to do and I didn’t want to hang out with them anymore. I just used a humorous tone when I said it (that’s sass) but what I said was absolutely true.
I didn’t want to hang anymore. I said it. They laughed. It was honest and we are still cool. I should tell you being honest is really not that hard. Being likable while being honest is the tricky part. To me, it’s all about three things- tone, delivery, and word-choice. You can say anything to anyone if you use proper – tone, delivery, and word-choice. Being conscious and considerate to people and their feelings leads to a humorous but productive environment in my book; mix that with remaining professional and I would work well with you.
There will always be a bit of myself that identifies with various words and groups of people. I just try to balance what I am with what others might think of me- in general, I think I am a good person. I don’t want anyone to consider this conceit or advice, I just took a moment to think about myself. Sometimes it’s difficult to reflect on ourselves without thinking about judgment-anyone know what I mean?
Just remember that being happy is realizing that no matter what judgments you encounter, if you really want to find a person that can change your life for the better, you only need to look in the mirror. Exercise happiness by smiling at yourself in the mirror and reminding yourself that (even if only sometimes) you rule.
Hey you, yeah you, you need to get out more; but really at the right-kind of place with the right-kind of people. Here’s where I went. I wrote you a nifty review, enjoy.
“About Two Hours From the NYC…Don’t You Want to Get Away?”
Let’s have an honest moment. The city is complicated and you need a road-trip to distress. You might consider visiting The Yards Brewery on 901 N Delaware Ave in Philadelphia, PA 19123.
I know. I know. Gas prices. But I promise it will be worth it. Here’s why:
Your visit will make beer consuming history. They proudly boast that they brew craft beers of authenticity, integrity, and character. Their process is rooted in the British brewing tradition and for the pursuit of happiness. You can’t buy many of their selections in the store, so if you want to experience the awesomeness you’ll have to take the drive.
Your taste-buds and brain will thank you for it. Yes. Not only will you consume wonderful beer like the Chocolate Love Stout and the Extra Special Ale, but you can also get an education on the hilarious tour of their brewery, conveniently located next to the establishment. Did I mention that the tour was free and full of delicious samples?
Their décor is the cat’s pajamas. We’re talking pool tables, shuffle boards and a variety of pub grub. Beer-infused cuisine at a reasonable price paired with tasting room that welcomes both the casual and the refined.
Go ahead. Get Away. You deserve it.
Here is the trick to getting happy by getting out- good people. The older I get the more I realize you don’t need a lot of friends to be happy. Just a select few that you can laugh really hard with but also have a serious conversation with. When you get out you vent through experiences collectively with people who are also looking for happiness. You also think/worry about you problems less because you are entertained by others. Consider getting out as an opportunity to “work well with others.”
I wrote this poem for a dear friend of mine when she was going through a rough time. I think that my happiness sometimes revolves around my ability to try and make others happy. Naturally, I want my loved ones to be happy too. It’s a bit corny but sometimes a random reminder that we are loved is the only solution when you can’t deliver the solutions to another’s lack of happiness.
This is a long lost tale about an exceptional dragonfly, whose job was to give gifts and help others get by.
But these gifts weren’t presents in a box with a bow, they were special, unique, and are needed to grow.
The dragonfly granted these gifts when people were good, they were encouragement for them to behave as they should.
In a faraway town their lived a girl who behaved all day and each time she was patient when gifts were given away.
This little girl’s name was Valentina and she would always hide underneath a gentle drizzle where the puddles collide.
She loved books and color and anything enchanted- but through the years she wondered, “When will my gift be granted?”
One day Valentina saw the Dragonfly that she has always known and in slight bitterness she asked, “When will my gift be shown?”
“I know it’s not right to keep asking and be jealous,” She said. “But I feel left out sometimes and confusion fills my head.”
“I already gave you a gift, but it’s more complex than your friends.” While others lose their gifts, yours never ends.”
“Your gift is to be remarkable and others couldn’t hold it. It’s far too large a gift and you’re the one that fit.”
“Now that you are grown there is something you need to understand. Your gift is to help others as I do and always lend a hand.”
“Sometimes, I think it gets tough to always be remarkable. Because the people around you might seem ill-mannered and dull.”
“People can seem pushy to get what they need because just as you have, they want to succeed.”
“You’ll have days you get tired and say, “Where is the time just for me?” and sometimes a thank you doesn’t follow the time you gave for free.”
“You’ll have days it will be difficult to just relax and have fun. It gets hard being the person who always gets things done.”
“Sometimes you’ll want to take a break and give yourself a rest, but your job as a person is to make the better become the best.”
“Your meant to keep doing what you’re doing- but don’t hesitate to ask, because you might need some help in completing a task.”
“You didn’t realize,” said the dragonfly, “I couldn’t always be around and it was a happy blessing the day that you were found.”
“There are some people in this world who don’t know what to do. That’s why I’m so grateful for someone as remarkable as you.”
After I presented this to my friend we smiled together. It was a beautiful moment and it made me happy. I am not saying go Shakespeare on someone if you don’t think it would suit them. Maybe just work on a random note, token, or sentiment because when you work on spreading happiness it grows for you.
I wrote this essay for a class, after you read it you will see how I turned an informative analysis on a piece of literature to a creative piece about myself. Here is the reality of what I learned about happiness:
I got a B+ on the paper, a grade I would normally cringe at. I was okay to receive this grade because I did not follow suggested format and at times got off-tangent. I realized that being happy is sometimes about defining your own standards instead of adhering to the specifications of others. A very “play to the beat of your own drum piece.”
Inspired by Langston Hughes
I am a writer. But I have never actually written anything. My definition of a writer may vary from the typical. A writer, according to my own opinion, is: a lyrical artist whom creates a project of great creative substance. Till this point in my life, I have never written a piece that was entirely creative. Writers, to me, cannot simply orchestrate their craft with objective writing. This paper will be written entirely according to the qualities I believe a great writer should adhere to; and I will use it to accomplish my goal of writing a long creative piece of art.
I started writing at an early age. I would make my own paper dolls. Each doll was a unique character and each one had a personality and distinct look. I used to spend hours creating a mess of paper all the while chatting a storm up because of some make-believe scenario. When I got a bit older, I sought inspiration in some great writers. I remember reading something that Stephen King had said: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” So read I did, Mr. King! I got lost in literature to no end. I had this idea in my mind that I needed to conduct research on what it takes to be a great writer. I wrote in all my books. Whether it be underlining a great line, asking myself a question in the margin, or sometimes even finding a typo that the editor missed. I loved finding the typos the best; feel free to find some of mine.
Some of my favorite authors were men. Sorry ladies, I do have a few of you that I love as well. But for some reason, in my teens I was all about reading male writers. Some of my favorites: Vonnegut, Ginsberg, Sandburg, King, and of course… Mr. Langston Hughes. I loved Langston Hughes. I loved how his poetry made me dance because it was so rhythmic. I loved how he makes me question and think about life and possibilities. I love how he also writes a hell of a short story, and how his autobiography is the most interesting story of all. Did you know that an English teacher recognized Hughes’s ability to write and she introduced him to other poets, and do you know who those poets were? Carl Sandburg and What Whitman! Talk about being introduced to the right kind of authors to inspire a young writer! I was also inspired by a great teacher. His name was Mr. Cuillo, and he was my ninth grade English teacher. His lessons inspired me to think and to believe in my potential. He was and will always be a model teacher. It was Mr. Cuillo who first introduced me to Langston Hughes, The Blues, and the Harlem Renaissance.
I read about when Langston visited Kansas City in his teens where he became aware of an aspect of black culture, the blues. Hughes drew inspiration from the blues as both an individual and an artist. Apparently Hughes visited a theatre on Independence Avenue where, as his biographer Arnold Rampersad reports, “from an orchestra of blind musicians, Hughes first heard the blues. The music seemed to cry, but the words somehow laughed. The effect on him was one of piercing sadness, as if his deepest loneliness had been harmonized” (Rampersad 17).
I remember Mr. Cuillo introduced me to poetry in one of our text books. He said Hughes remembered this refrain of one of the songs he heard:
I got de Weary Blues
And I can’t be satisfied.
Got de Weary Blues
And can’t be satisfied-
I ain’t happy no mo’
And I wish that I had died…
Although Hughes “neither felt religion nor could sing the blues…, the secular music soothed and diverted him from his sense of solitude” (Rampersad 17). I loved that about Hughes. He found solace in music. Music made Hughes not feel so alone. That is what music does for me.
Music to me is essential. For every time period of my life there is a song that can take me back to a place. Whenever I hear Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You,” I am instantly recalling slow dancing with Alex Ortiz, my first crush, at the sixth grade dance. I can literally picture my dress, his greenish-blue shirt, and I can almost smell his cologne. But reading and understanding one of Langston Hughes poems is more than feeling like you are in a place. In order to understand one of Langston Hughes poems you have to understand the style of how Langston Hughes’ poems were meant to be read.
Langston Hughes poems were inspired by Afro-American popular music; including jazz, ragtime, swing, blues, boogie-woogie, and be-bop. His poetry on contemporary Harlem, like be-bop, is marked by conflicting changes, sudden nuances, sharp and impudent interjections, broken rhythms, and passages sometimes in the manner of the jam session. I completely agree that poetry should be read in rhythm.
And now I will analyze the very poem that I have pin pointed as the mark of what makes Langston Hughes one of my favorite writers. The poem that the above mentioned quote speaks of is called Harlem and here it is:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore— And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over— like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I thought to begin my path of writing something that is entirely my opinion- I would attempt to analyze this poem myself instead of just finding critical assessments that agree with how I feel about it. Okay so first I want to decide what Langston Hughes means when he is talking about dreams. There are two possibilities: either he is talking about dreams when you fall asleep or dreams that you aspire for. So I thought I would begin to ask myself: what happens to you once you are asleep?
When I fall asleep, I dream of beauty, of circumstance, of possibilities and of something better and bigger than my current state. But what happens, as Langston Hughes proposes in his poem Harlem, to a dream deferred? “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore- and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over-like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?” The images throughout his poem are both sensory and domestic and infused with African American music, and Langston Hughes, if you haven’t heard, was remarkable at this style of writing.
Sometimes I wonder how much about my “dreaming process” has to do with how much attention I receive. For example, I had always felt when I was a little girl that my parents didn’t give me the attention I thought I deserved. Is this perhaps why I constantly dreamed of princes and princesses? And then it occurred to me that Hughes is not speaking about a dream that people have as they lie in bed to rest each night. Hughes is talking about the dream that a person has as they rise each morning- the dream that a person carries with them, in their heart.
No doubt; the dreams in your heart get there because of the type of life you have lived. So who is Langston Hughes? To be fair, I would like to briefly discuss how I am aware history excepts can be a bit boring; this being said, I wanted to know a bit about him. By examining a writer’s history I can attempt to understand what motivates them to create. And besides, sometimes you need a bit of objective writing as background knowledge to a creative piece: so here is a bit of mine.
First off, who is this musical author? – (James) Langston Hughes began writing at an early age and spent his life developing his craft. Langston Hughes was born around midnight, on February 1, 1902, in the city of Joplin, Missouri. “The date of his birth he would take on faith, since Missouri did not require the registration of infants, and his birth was never entered officially there” (Rampersad 5). He was named James Langston Hughes. His first name James, after his father, was soon dropped and he grew up as Langston Hughes.
One of his earliest memories was not in Joplin Missouri but rather in Lawrence Kansas, where he spent the first thirteen years of his life. He lived with his maternal grandmother, “a small woman, brown, slightly bent, with very long hair almost to her waist and only slightly gray in places” (Rampersad 5). Her name was Mary Sampson Patterson and she was almost seventy years old. She read her grandson excerpts from the Bible and from Grimm’s fairy tales.
Hughes’ grand-mother was a prominent member in the African American community in Lawrence. Langston Hughes’s grandfather, was a well-known Kansas politician. Because of the age and poor condition of his grandmother, Hughes never received the attention he needed. Although Hughes’s grand-mother had “nurtured his imagination with tales of heroism,” she did so “without the loving tenderness the boy should have preferred” (Rampersad 4). Hughes grew up confused and conflicted by the notion that he was not allowed to live with either his mother nor father and these feelings of rejection and insecurity resonated throughout his writing. According to Rampersad, “Hughes grew up with a wrenching sense of having been a passed-around child who craved affection but received it only in episodes. This unappeased hunger left him-in spite of his gift of laughter a divided man” (Rampersad 3).
Deep huh? Aren’t you glad you got a little taste of the history? Don’t worry I am going to get back to my analysis of “Harlem” But first…a quick random thought! Please pardon the interruption.
Knowing where I have been and how I got to where I am today, I wonder how my history will affect my desire to pursue my dreams? I wonder sometimes if I will ever fulfill my dream of becoming a famous writer. I wonder how much of “deferring” my dream of becoming a writer is effecting how happy I am in my life. I looked up deferred in the dictionary the other day, which one I am not sure. Sue me if you can figure out which one. The synonyms for deferred are: late, postponed, delayed, tardy, and overdue. “How is delaying my dream affecting my happiness?” you ask.
Well sometimes when I go to Barnes and Noble, as I am walking down every aisle, I dream about what it might be like to see my name on one of the book bindings and I have a moment where no one knows how happy I feel… except me. You might at this point be wondering why I am putting off writing, if I do in fact dream of writing someday. Perhaps my dream of becoming a writer someday was deferred as Langston Hughes suggests because it dried up “like a raisin in the Sun.”
Could this be possible? Did I let my dream of being a writer…dry up like a sun-dried raisin? What a harsh reality! I suppose I did. I mean this is hard to admit, but I really let my dream of being a writer dry up for a while. I always dreamed about being a writer. It was the one thing I could identify with. The one label I was comfortable enough giving myself. I wasn’t popular in school, but that was okay because most writers were not. And they were the only crowd I cared to identify myself with. Seriously, if the planets ever aligned correctly, and I happened to run into Langston Hughes at a bar, I would be friends with him- I just know it. He would buy me a drink, he would be mysterious- and the next time I saw him, he would give me a high-five. Langston Hughes would have been cool…I knew this.
So how did dream of me being a writer “dry up?” Man…what can I say? Life got in the way. I have many excuses. I was too broke and I had to work a double shift at my second job to pay for my house, so how could I find time? This has to be cleaned, mowed, swept, completed, or purchased. I would say, “I wish I had time to write! Or I should have written that down!” I think my dream dried up because I always made excuses for not being able to sit down and actually write something. I mean something!!! It didn’t have to be a piece of great substance! I could be witty or clever. I just hardly ever did it; writing something down all at once. Seriously, if you saw my desk, you would think it got attacked by little pieces of ideas or things that might be clever to write about.
So I can agree, as harsh as it may sound- a dream deferred can in fact, dry up like a raisin in the sun. But does it, as Hughes proposes, “Fester like a sore- and then run?” I can also agree to this. Sometimes the idea of being a writer has seemed like I had a “sore” to deal with and sometimes I didn’t think of being a writer at all. Sometimes in my classroom I would have a moment when I thought this is exactly what I should be doing in my life and if I died never writing something worth reading I would be happy. Then there were other times when writing seemed like a sore because people would tell me, “you should write.” And I am disappointed in myself because I made up excuses for why I have never ended up doing it. I ask myself, “Why would I want to do something that does not involve a weekly paycheck?” or “What the hell am I going to do for money?” I was utterly convinced that if I was going to take myself seriously as a writer I should be doing it full time. But since I had too much to lose, writing became a festering sore, and sometimes it ran away because I did not care to waste any more time dreaming of ridiculous things that will never happen unless I gave it all I had.
Does my dream of becoming a writer ever, “stink like rotten meat?” Would you believe me if I told you it has? Sometimes I become a bit of a snob. For example, when I read something I’d say, “That was okay, but if I wrote it I would have done it this way.” I do realize that who the hell am I to be criticizing a published author especially when I am such a chicken shit that I won’t complete a piece of work? How can I call something anything in the world of writing when I have nothing to present that is worth-while? I feel like one of those people who contribute a political opinion about the president when they themselves have not voted.
To enlighten the topic I will now analyze the line about the possibility of dreams that “crust and sugar over- like a syrupy sweet.” Let me just say, sugar is absolutely delicious in moderation. The way chefs can describe their marvelous creations can literately make my mouth water. And the dreams of me finally being a published author make my mouth water with excitement. I get as excited about writing as my three year old niece gets about cake. I think about writing a lot. I have so many reference books that claim they can teach me to write. I feel like I have done my research; if you could possibly be an expert on a topic without ever experiencing it first-hand. I might suggest that is how I currently see myself.
Feeling like you are great at something that you never have time to do is exhausting. Writing makes me happy. And I keep preventing myself from being happy. Why do I make up excuses? Because I do not have time to write. Therefore, writing can feel like, “it just sags like a heavy load.” If I do put something out there and put so much time into it and people hate it or it never gets published how would that make me feel? The process of writing makes me happy but being a published writer would make me happier, I think. Generally, my feelings about money are as follows. Money as far as I am concerned cannot buy happiness, but it can certainly buy happier. If I didn’t stress about money, I could finally get down to doing things because I want to, not always because I have to. Writing seems like a heavy load sometimes because it requires a lot of unpaid time.
The last line of the poem asks “or does it explode?” and I am having some trouble wondering what Langston Hughes meant by that. How can a dream deferred explode? I know that sometimes I will have a day or two that I just can’t help my urge to write. I need to create! In the past this explosion of writing has always come at a point of sadness. If someone had done something to me that was cruel or hurtful- never did my poetry sound so majestic or flow so easily. Since my intentions are to be both happy with my relative and write, I am going to have to “explode” in my writing without having to be so sad all the time.
I will try writing some poetry myself here:
My writing is a dream deferred.
In the past- I have felt as if it has dried up “like a raisin in the sun.”
And sometimes, when I am hard on myself-
It has festered “like a sore-and then run.”
When I am full of myself- writing, “Stinks like rotten meat.”
When I think about writing, the thought crusts and sugars, “over-like a syrupy sweet.”
My ideals about the writing industry seems to just sag “like a heavy load.”
I am only left to think about my dream deferred, I am only left wondering-
Will my dreams about being a writer, “explode?”
Okay my poetry needs some work. If it makes you feel better, I do consider myself primarily as a short story writer; it is my favorite genre. Because of this- you are about to read my explosion of writing!! Here is a short story, beginning to end, that I have been dying to write! But most importantly complete! I hope you like my first attempt at what I consider a good short story. Later on in life I might have to change the names, since it is autobiographical, but regardless- It is entitled:
“Steve the Conquer and His So Called Army”
Steve unzipped his navy blue Eddie Bauer book bag and took out a weathered burgundy spiral notebook; inside was a slip of pink paper that promised a bad time in my house.
“Is that it?” I took the piece of paper from his quivery, clammy hand.
“Yeah,” he said.
“I wonder if she’d realize if you didn’t give it to her at all. She can’t possibly keep track of all the parent-teacher’s conferences that we have. I mean, there are three of us; that’s like so many!”
Steve always said he liked that about me, that even though sometimes what I said never made sense, it was always said with good intentions. Like once he was upset because he wanted to ask Diane McNeal to be his very first girlfriend, but he couldn’t get her attention. I told him to borrow my grass skirt and jump on her lunch table in the cafeteria and do the hula; there was no way she wouldn’t notice him then.
“So are you going to give her the letter Steve-o?”
“Yeah, I guess.” But Steve-o never gave my Mom the letter and what happened next was even worse. She had found the letter…on her own. My Mother was always finding things in places that are called hidden for a reason; even when I got older in my high-school years. I remember when she said to me, “I found these cigarettes in your bag! I know you are smoking, how could you be so stupid!” So as the situation goes-it’s okay for her to be mad at me for smoking- but it’s not as important and definitely not an issue that she “accidentally” stumbled upon the inner zippered pocket of my purse.
Logical? I can see that. But that is always the problem with parents- you can fight it if you want, but in the end-especially if you’re a kid, they always get the best of you. It is so strange that when you’re a kid, like a driving force, forever fighting you try to win, but in the end, you seldom ever do.
It was really bad, though, when she had found things on her own. Because not only was she mad at you for whatever reason but also because she thinks you wouldn’t have told her on your own if she hadn’t found it. And that’s just what you need when you are about to be in trouble, a grown up that is twice as mad.
The teacher meeting was on Tuesday night…one day away. What annoyed me was how school words the letter in general: We invite such and such to attend the annual conference where parents and teachers can unite in discussion of educational enrichment. Please contact the administration if you would like to take part. Sounds to me like there should be some kind of coat check at the door and when you get there you’ll be sitting down to an elegant dinner with real silverware and crystal water goblets. In reality- it was just a situation to add to the handful of things that in my house- almost always guaranteed a beating.
Let me give you the low-down: if you did something in my house, there were no “time outs” in order. If you were bad and you knew it, even if you didn’t know it, and Mom found out, you were going to get it. If you were really bad, you got yours from Dad. Yup, parent teacher conferences were the inevitable; you were going to get it; it was only a matter of time. A matter of time because I think mostly teacher conferences were such a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.
If you were a good kid in school- the teacher liked you but the other kids would think you were a brown nosing nerd and beat you. And if you were a bad kid in school- the kids at school thought you were cool, but the teacher didn’t like you and she’d tell on you to your parents. Then your parents would beat you. I think these school meetings are held for teacher amusement really. Either way- you still got beat.
Right after my Parents left for the meeting, Steven began to sweat. His glasses kept fogging up and his rugby sweater was nearly sticking to his sides. He was a lot older than me; six years almost, but we were always together then, mostly me following him. My other brother, Craig, and I weren’t nearly as chummy even though he was closer to my age, but he was always there when I needed him and I knew he could help.
“Craig, wake up!”
“Craig, wake up!”
He sleeps with his mouth open, crusted at the sides. He doesn’t snore or anything-just breathes loudly. He doesn’t look like Steve-o and I; he has darker skin and lanky features. He could sleep anywhere.
“I said wake up!” I pushed his upper torso again and again until I decided to cover his mouth and hold his nose, because I figured, hey, he couldn’t sleep if he couldn’t breathe.
“Ah! What are you trying to do? Kill me! Erica, what do you want!?”
“Steve is in a bind; tonight is his claim to fame.”
“What are you talking about? Get out of my room!”
“Craig! We have to do something… Mom and Dad just left for parent teacher conferences. Remember what happened last time? You couldn’t sit for almost a week!”
Craig let out an exhausting breath, followed by various huffs and puffs.
“Alright…where is Steve anyways?” They shared a room; usually Steve would be right in front of the television playing video games. If you were trying to sleep, he’d even play them on mute. I got up to look around the house, but I didn’t have to go far, Steve’s toes were sticking out from underneath the drapes- only a few feet in front of us.
“What are you doing behind there?” He didn’t answer, “Steve-o, I can see your feet under that drape, you’re not kidding anyone.”
“Um, hey, I was hoping you guys didn’t see me.”
There were only a handful of things you could do to at least try to avoid a beating. Steve understood these things and so did we. The options were all momentarily comforting but they all yielded the same result.
You could hide- they’d eventually find you though and even get progressively angrier while they tried to look for you and kept calling your name but you didn’t answer. You could clean up your entire room- shower, do all your homework, and then pretend to sleep and they would inevitably wake you up. Or you could spill your guts before your parents even left- for an immediate beating which didn’t last as long because they were slightly happy that you decided to tell them, but still upset because you were bad and waited until the last possible minute.
I usually combined the three. I would hide under all my bed covers and pretend to sleep, make sure my room was clean, and tell my parents that the teacher didn’t like me before they left. It’s funny how fast you can clean your room on parent-teacher night because of all the nervous energy and how fast paced you feel right before the ultimate moment arrives when you know that in seconds you are going to get it. For us, that moment was the sound of the garage. When you were upstairs the sound was gentler, a smooth transition of closed to open, “MMMMMMM.”
Whenever we heard that sound, it was time to take our positions, to make your final decisions of how you are going to try to approach the situation, and to pray.
“What am I going to do? What am I going to do?” Steve began to walk back and forth, back and forth in desperation.
“You could run away and go live in the city! Here is three dollars; it’s all I have.” That’s what I had said; I guess Steve-o was right all along about me never making sense.
“You can’t survive anywhere with three dollars, least of all, the city.” Craig was always a clear thinker in times of desperation. “Why don’t you just face the music and take it like a man?” Craig was always saying things like that. He was always that guy who saw a problem and tried to go through it-instead of around it. If you ask me, you might as well hide; you are still going to get it. What the hell is pride anyway when you are fourteen? Your Mom still has to pick you up at the movies.
We decided to go to the drawing board, which was actually just a big yellow notepad that my Grandfather had left behind when he moved to Florida. I got out a bunch of discolored magic markers and we began to write down ideas. After about ten minutes of questioning and bickering since none of the ideas would ever work, we decided to search for places to hide.
Craig came up with the brilliant idea of going underneath the sofa cushions. We had this painfully old brown sofa in our playroom; the cushions rested on about four rusty springs at one point but we had taken them out because it was close enough to the springboard anyway. This way we could build excellent forts. There was just enough space between the cushions and the springboard to hide; whenever we played hide and seek with new friends, someone who knew would always hide there. Steve crawled in the space and we covered him with the cushions. I told him not to worry, because if he hid there for the night- I’d bring him breakfast in the morning.
“What if Mom and Dad sit down?”
What if Mom and Dad sit down? What if they found him? How long was Steve planning on hiding there, forever? But it did seem logical at the time. What if Mom and Dad did sit down? So we did a test run. After Steve was underneath the cushions, Craig and I sat on top of him.
“Are you okay under there?”
“Yeah, hey, I don’t feel anything!”
“How about now?” Craig and I started to jump up and down.
We got off the sofa and uncovered Steve. “We could even put extra pillows on top of the sofa so Mom and Dad wouldn’t think to sit on me.” Yeah, and you wonder why this genius is doing so poorly in school.
“Why don’t you just use these pillows like armor or something?” At first I thought the boys were going to tell me that once again I was no help whatsoever. But they were sort of interested in what I was going to say.
“What do you mean like armor?” the both of them looked at me and I felt smart.
“I mean, if you were wearing armor and they hit you…you wouldn’t feel it.” Finally a new concept- getting beat but not feeling it.
We didn’t have much time. So we started with the key areas. The butt and back; surely if we were going to cover something those places would be the most ideal. We didn’t have many means for getting this armor on Steve, about a half a roll of masking tape from Craig’s last book report, an old vertical blind cord from the family room, and about half a down old shoelaces. We knew that armor just wasn’t going to do the trick- What Steve needed was protection.
“What are we going to do? It’s not enough!” Steve began panic mode. “It’s not too late! I can still clean my room, where should I hide?”
“I have an idea!” Craig got lots of them. Hell, they were more logical on average to mine, so maybe he was on to something. “Get in the corner; we are going to get you a mighty army!” It was really a great concept, but who? Surely the two of us were no competition for what was waiting for Steven.
Nevertheless Steve sat in the corner relentlessly waiting for Craig to bring his so-called army. Craig made a dash into the room sliding on his socks beneath him.
“Here it is! Here it is!”
“Craig then dumped an entire box of action figures at our feet, “What are GI Joes and ninja turtles going to do for Steve-o? We are running out of time here!”
“Not just them.”
“Craig, what are you talking about?” Steve began to get impatient again.
“Think about it. Steve- you stay in the corner and we will barricade you in there: once Dad gets to the corner he will be tired from moving so many toys. Once he gets to you his hits won’t be that hard because he is already tired; plus you are wearing the armor so you will barely feel this at all. It can’t fail! I know it!” Holy Crap! He did have a point. We all thought Craig was a hero after that one, and he didn’t seem to mind the praise as we embarked on our mission.
Steve-o sat in the corner, feet first. He looked like a sumo wrestler wearing a hockey mask. Directly in front of him were the transformers, those robots in disguise were sure to fool them. At a quick pace Craig and I began to funnel in all the toys we had. We knew afterwards that the cleanup would take hours but it was a risk we were willing to take. All the great toys were there; even the not so great ones. All the thunder-cats, each block from don’t break the ice, all of my Barbie dolls, and even Teddy Rupskin; he didn’t even work, but he was still there. They were all there-fighting for him.
We even had time to plan for out of the ordinary hiding spots for Craig and Me. you know that as soon as my parents got home, if they saw us, they’d say, “Craig Brooks and Erica Barbara,” I hated when they used our full names, “Go to your rooms!”
We needed to find hiding places that were far away enough from getting it ourselves, but hidden enough as well; plus, what is the point of planning something all night and being so far away that you can’t see what was going to happen. I chose the wicker hamper; though itchy, it had enough holes in it that you could peek out but not enough to clearly see what was in there. I lined it with clean clothes that were posing as dirty ones…for effect. Craig climbed into a pair of Steve’s pants because they were much bigger than his. His feet were inside sneakers disguised as shoes instead of feet; he would be peeking out of a half-way opened zipper.
Steve-o was secure kneeling in the corner, looking out to us as we placed the remaining toys in their “war stance.” Just then the gentle hum of the garage door swept through the room. Craig and I took our positions. Steve swallowed one big gulp, “It is time.”
Instantaneously the door from the garage that made its way into a tiny foyer facing the kitchen – slammed. And there was silence…the scary kind. You could hear everything: my Father throwing his keys on the marble counter tabletop, each tick tock of the Batman wristwatch on Craig’s forearm, and seemingly even the beads of sweat from Steven, dripping in a slow trickle down his spine.
“Steven! Get down here!” My Father’s voice echoed with rage through the hallway. And Steve didn’t dare but to answer. “Don’t make me come up there!” The tone in my Father’s voice was getting angrier by the moment.
“Thud Thump Thud.” Quicker and quicker more intense with each step as my Father began to make his way up the stairs. His footsteps were like keys from a piano; deep notes pressed with passion, just like the music from the film Jaws. “Thud. Thump. Thud-Thump. Thud Thump…Thud! THUMP.” The door knob twisted with a fast pace and swung open hitting the wall, shaking the nearby mirror.
“What the hell is this!?!” My Father began kicking all the toys and trying to step over and between them, tripping on the soldiers, and his own feet. “When I get over there…you’re going to get it!” Tears of fear and pain ran down the sides of Steven’s cheeks, hitting the cushions that were fastened to his limbs and nearly blinding him at the same time. “You’re crying? When I get over there- I’ll give you something to cry about!” I couldn’t stop crying myself; I couldn’t help it. This was one of those times growing up that you would later try to forget. Sometimes it is hard to remember a point in your life when you hate yourself and you wish you had been born into another family and sometimes you wish you had never been born at all.
My Father threw a plastic wiffle-ball bat across the room. It hit and knocked over a glass number one statue that my Dad had given Steven at his little league championship game. The statue hit the floor and shattered into a million pieces. Just then- something remarkable happened. My Father began to get tired. He began to think logically. He began to see that his behavior was irrational. Yes, it is true that he was upset at Steven; but we had found a loophole. Because of the prolonged anger my Father felt- he had actually started to feel sad…for Steven. He let out a deep breath and stormed out of the room. Faintly in the distance you could hear my parents arguing, “This is all your fault!” “No this is all your fault!”
Moments felt like hours and the light underneath my parent’s door accompanied the darkness. I crept out of the wicker hamper because I was usually the guinea pig to check whether the coast was clear; and it was. My parents had fallen asleep, it was nearly eleven thirty. I came back into my Brother’s room and closed the door. Standing in the middle of the shaggy carpet, I said, “The enemy has fallen asleep, we are victorious!” I think I heard that on some He-man, Masters of the Universe television show, but I had always wanted to say it.
Steven climbed over what was the remaining pile of mangled toys and made his way to the closet. “Craig-you can come out now.”
“Are you sure the coast is clear?” This is coming from the same guy, who just a few hours ago had said,
“Why don’t you just take it like a man?”
Craig and I glanced at Steven and, to this day, I will never forget what he told us: “Craig, Erica, the beatings, they will come. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day, but for tonight, for this very moment…I am God.”
Steven walked a little taller that night, and we had to tip our hat to him. It was a night we would always remember, the night that we had fought back and won.
I guess Mr. Hughes, or should I call you Langston? A dream deferred to me, can sometimes dry up, fester, stink, taste sweet, and sag. But does it explode? I cannot entirely answer that; perhaps it can explode to a twenty-two page paper that took a surprising, off topic, yet adorable child-hood adventure spin- at best for now. But I hope for you your dreams did explode, into what you considered great writing. And I hope for
me it continues to do the same.
I wanted to produce a creative piece rather than the traditional objective piece of writing. I thought about giving the standard interpretation of Harlem and then proposing my own interpretation but adhering to the standard essay was not my angle nor was targeting a specific audience. I am the audience or rather people whom desire to achieve their dreams. Langston Hughes’ dream was to become a writer, as is mine.
This essay is dedicated to Mr. Langston Hughes- your poems have inspired an explosion of writing. Thank you, for helping me reach my goal- one complete piece of creative writing.
Work on the belief that by acknowledging how things can get better you are contributing to the process of happiness. Write an un-sent letter to a topic or group of people that need to work on certain things in order for you to be happy in their company.
Dear passionate practitioners of learning,
I’m not bitter about education. I don’t entirely feel that as an educator I was, “damned by the man” or “suffocated by the system.” I have met many students and educators that I was honored to know. I’ve experienced constructive observations and innovative blended-learning lessons. I’ve have developed content for learners on all levels at perilous districts and in achievement schools. I consider myself an avid learner of the newest technologies and well versed in a variety of design formats. I can both complain about education and commend educator’s effort(s) for reform.
Here’s what I think: I believe that education (the state-mandated curriculum) has been saturated with too many need-to-know particulars and concepts that leave very little room for the expansion of a learner’s creativity and opinion. I have written so many acceptable objectives that I was told must be measurable. I was often concerned about my lesson’s projected assessment-driven results.
I get frustrated sometimes because the answer to what students need in order to be successful is complicated. Given the advancements in technology and the increase of population and demands- I know this: moral and intellectual exploration need addressing most in this highly competitive world.
Can education have a sophisticated infrastructure and adhere to a worldly vision statement? To be honest, I believe it can- but the process is going to be one hell of a bumpy-ride. I think that what is deemed as relevant content needs to be criticized and examined as well as foster lively, meaningful, dialogue that aids the envision process. For example, when The Crucible is taught, half the lesson should address characterization and plot and the other half should encourage the students to learn about themselves (or what they can create), while applying the content’s theme of divination. For this to happen, districts need to spend more time on allowing the student’s to absorb what they can individually learn through literature rather than how many titles can be added to existing cannons.
In life, we are in search of meaning and entrepreneurs on a daily basis. I do not know the direct-answer to education’s reform; but I think we need to collectively lean a little more towards what our students are capable of learning and what it means to them as individuals and a little less towards what our students are capable of memorizing and regurgitating. For this reason, formal education has taken a backseat- I am now, more than ever, curious about what innovative companies can bring to the education reform table.
I acknowledge that the topic of education reform is broad and encompasses many approaches/understandings. What I suggest is approaching education through resources that specialize in digital tools and computational models to pursue humanist research.
To all the educators and entrepreneurs (like myself) who are passionate practitioners of the quest for learning- Good luck in the delicate balance of what is to be expected and the unforeseen potential. Sometimes I get exhausted with mission of education’s reform; but I would rather struggle through a process of something I believe in, then never to have tried at all.
I might not be able to find a solution to what concerns me today, but today I can acknowledge my concerns and in return feel happy for my progress.
I made a film and the process made me happy. Work on trying some kind of creative process, your end result might pleasantly surprise you- here is mine:
When I first contemplated writing my final thesis paper for the MALS program, I originally thought I should choose a piece of literature that I was fascinated with. Naturally, being a bit of a free spirit, I strongly considered analyzing Alan Ginsberg’s Howl and how it has influenced me as a writer. After careful consideration keeping in mind the notion that I wanted to also make a documentary, I decided to change my topic to something that has influenced me not only as a writer but also as a person. I have decided to pursue the topic of my heritage: Cuba. More specifically, I am planning to examine social roles of citizens from Cuba in the 1950s.
To gain an understanding of the social roles the citizens of 1950s Cuba I made a documentary. The film consists of music, art, architecture, photographs and interviews as well as original one-of-a-kind photos, footage and testimony of Cuban immigrants; it was filmed in Miami, Florida, March 16th-March 18th 2012. The reason I made a documentary is because I wanted to address history, loyalty, pain, and memory when I interviewed the citizens of Miami on my trip. What I discovered was the outcome was rather unexpected; the process I underwent of writing specific questions so I could get an understanding on how people lived during that time period evolved on my journey. I was curious about how Cuba used to be during the early 1950s and how it has changed during Castro’s regime, but I found the immigrant’s personal lives to be more rewarding especially since most people are familiar with Cuba during Castro’s regime. There is much to learn about Cuba during the 1950s, and I was eager to know it.
When you write an essay there is an introduction, a body, and a conclusion; a documentary is also written in that fashion. I choose to sub-divide my body into three distinctive parts: Part one- “Background knowledge” A brief history of Cuba. Part two-“Embracing my heritage” The journey begins. And Part three-“Talking with friends” Recalling 1950s Cuba. Part four was entitled- “My reflections” An analysis of 1950s Cuba; this was my conclusion.
Part one was a necessary component of the documentary because the viewer needed to gain understanding of Cuba’s history in order to justify why Cuba is worth their attention and it provided them previous knowledge of how Cuba has arrived to its current state. Part one supplied the viewer with Cuba’s history and Part two supplied the viewer with Cuba’s present. I showed the viewer in Part two how Miami was influenced by the Cuban people who currently reside there. It created a foreground of art, music and customs that the Cuban people have displayed throughout Miami. Part two also provided the viewer, with an education of certain aspects of Cuban heritage.
I felt that Part three was the most exciting part of the documentary. Interviewing citizens of Cuba from the 1950s provided great insight of Cuba’s social life during that time. I did not go into the process of interviewing alone. I had a crew with me through my process and each member had specific tasks. I was the director, producer, as well as the lead interviewer. Jim DeMaio, was the lead camera man as well as my film’s editor. Steve DeMaio operated the sound microphones and was our second camera man if one was needed. Omar Gonzalez, my Maternal Uncle, was the film’s interpreter and our guide through Miami. Ivis Gonzalez, his wife operated as our microphone operator when Steve needed to use a second camera.
The interviews were conducted in various locations throughout Miami such as parks, in the market places and in nightclubs. They people were divided into two categories: Cuban residents and members of my family. Omar, my Uncle severed as a member of my family as well as Nora Fransico- she is Ivis’s mother. My parents (Jose and Ciomara Yvonnet) were filmed in New Jersey. Cuban residents/ other interviewees included : Dr. Mariano Loret de Mola, Dr. Jose Hernandez, Juan Garcia, Latrice Lorette De Mora, Rose Bagley, Eloisa Echazabal, Ernesto Garcia Pedreado, Gabriel Machado, Ignacio Martinez, and Tony Cabaerio.
Part four, served as a conclusion to my findings of the entire documentary process. This part was written through reflection each evening after filming and then again when I returned home from my trip. I have discovered that the process of making a documentary is different in every sense of the way than the creative writing process. My words in creative writing are a collection of my personal experiences mixed with a hefty thesaurus whereas documentary writing is a process demands perceived fluidness as if it were previously edited and then written. Before my documentary I made unfounded assumptions on how I thought I would feel. My interviews provided my script with unexpected raw emotion and unseen surprises. I also discovered how easily my mind allowed me to go in uncharted directions, so consequently, my script’s direction changed. Initially I wanted my script to be a conceptual description of dialogue and action, but ultimately it became a shell for a complex production.
Documentaries, just like books and feature films, have an intended audience. I wanted people to feel sentimental about my family’s history, but I also wanted them to seek answers within themselves. Before writing this thesis I read a book called They Say I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Berkenstein. Chapter seven of the book is entitled “So what? Who cares? Saying Why It Matters,” describes what to do and not to do in regards to knowing your audience. It outlines the importance of your audience’s desire to learn about your subject matter and asks them to consider your story about larger issues then your own. I believe I took this chapter quite literally by directing my audience to the importance of Cuba in the 1950s, I literally asked my audience- Why should people care about Cuba in the 1950s?
Films do not just consist of words
Along with writing an effective script for a specific audience, a documentary also consists of color and audio elements (in my case consisting of both voice-overs and music). Choosing the best way for a film to look and sound can be a daunting task. A typical scene involved a dozen decisions- “What should I wear? Can you hear me? Did I say that clearly? Do you think this sound is too up beat? Is there too much light, too many shadows? Should I raise the volume to a 12 or a 16?” I could go on forever. In the beginning of the film I wanted the audience to feel playful and interested in the film from the very beginning- striking, colorful images and engaging, toe-tapping audio made this possible.
How do you know what sounds to choose, when to speak and when to explore color? That I was not sure; when I heard the right song, when the scene satisfied me visually, and when I was content with a decision I had made, I just knew- there is no reason why. . . it just was. I listened to so many songs and I looked at hundreds of images. In the end I just chose the ones that most appealed to me and the message I wanted to convey. I wanted people to see my documentary and think each detail was a conscious effort on my part to tell them a memorable story about Cuba in the 1950s.
There are different approaches that can be adjusted in making audio and color successful companions to a story. Images, for example, shown traditionally, resemble somewhat of a slide-show. To give images a more film-like feel, movement is of vital importance. The key to accomplished eye pleasing movement is variation; sometimes an image needs to move to the left and sometimes a zoom in appears to make more of a statement. When I wanted to show my audience how important an image was, sometimes a freeze-frame was needed to place emphasis on what was being seen; this gave them a minute to consider their feelings. I also used the freeze-frame to interject humor or as a transition to another thought; music was also used in this way.
Music contributes life to colors and sounds. A song can make or break the mood a director is trying to convey to his or her audience. I found the lyrics and bass to be the most distinguishing parts of the appropriate songs. When I first introduced the audience to the film’s title for example, I choose the loud horns from the “Mambo Caliente,” this made my topic come alive. I wanted to get into the minds of my audience and fuel their interest through music. Sometimes this task was difficult when length came into consideration. Often a song was a bit too short or sometimes a bit too long for a scene. Because of this, a start-point or an end-point needed to be selected and determining on where the song needed to start or end was circumstantial. Fade-ins and fade-outs added to this dilemma at times but not on all occasions. When a song did not fit, sometimes it had to be modified or another song had to be selected. This was also the case with pre-selected video clips.
A visual or audio clip was sometimes stretched or modified to create the right kind of mood. In Part Two of my documentary, for example, the art was purposely timed on a four count and if the art was large it was given an eight count. The counts refer to the number of beats assigned to the rhythm of a song; traditionally in contemporary music, the beats are measured in fours (1-2-3-4). In this matter, there needed to be at least four counts of footage for a visual; moving footage is easier, but for an image four seconds can feel like an eternity. As the music played the visuals seemed to dance for the audience, which is in contrast to most wedding footage is so boring. Wedding footage is boring because it is not edited along with music and therefore the footage only becomes fun for the people who were personally involved.
Editing and organizing till the cows come home
Edit. Edit some more. And when you think you’re done, do it again. If I knew how many sleepless nights I would experience thinking about how I could have edited a scene differently I am not sure I would have made a documentary at all. The way scenes appeared on the computer was different from the way they appeared on the big screen. Sometimes I would play a scene, and it would appear to sound crisp and have clarity. I would then transfer the edited scenes to a DVD; only to discover that the vocals had a crackle sound to them and the music needed to be lowered or raised. Notes upon notes needed to be written to aid the editing process. I created an active storyboard for precisely this reason.
No matter how many handy apps are created to help a creator organize his/her own thought process, never underestimate the advantages of a great storyboard. I personally, used two storyboards. Each consisted of multi-colored index cards in both full and half sizes and arrows indicating the order of the scenes. The index cards were pinned so they could be easily arranged. The concept of a great storyboard is to arrange your ideas accordingly while seeing the entire picture at once. I bought five stacks of index cards and I used seven different colored highlighters as well as a variety of markers and pens. Color within my storyboard facilitated my organization; I assigned a certain color to distinguish certain components of the documentary. Every time I used a pink highlighter, for example, it was understood that the music for that scene had already been chosen.
In the editing process, consistency needs to occur. For a documentary to have audio and visual uniformity throughout, every detail needs to be considered. Every time words are written on the screen they need to have the same font as the previous scene. In my particular case, I chose Jellyka Estrya Handwriting, because it felt both personal and professional. I had a sticky note on my storyboard to remind me about my font. Other sticky notes were also created as reminders. I remembered to place the music during the background scenes during the introduction at -19.5 because once something worked, I wrote it down so I could repeat my previous success. To speed up this process I also created abbreviations for myself. Every time there was a freeze frame I wrote (FF), a title page (TP), no audio (NA), alternate audio (AA) or a sound clip (SC) on my storyboard so I did not have to write out all these concepts; abbreviations assisted with my organization and editing because they relieved unnecessary congestion on my storyboard.
I knew my documentary needed structure for the story to make sense and achieve fluidity. The introduction needed to hook the audience in immediately and it had to be carefully organized to achieve this goal. I chose pop culture to address my topic and asked the audience to “play a word game with me” in order to provide structure from the beginning of my documentary. The task appointed to the viewers was to hear a word and say the first thing that comes to their mind, once prompted, the word was of course Cuba. When I organized these critical scenes, I surveyed people to tell me “what was the first thing they thought of when they thought of Cuba.” The results were then displayed on the storyboard in groups to find similarities; these similarities became the pop culture scenes. These words were displayed on a carefully considered template to resemble old film; I choose this template to create a 1950s mood.
Each part of the documentary was distinguished by a title page, in particular a traveling donkey image with added movement. These title pages needed music – I chose a theme song from a popular Lucas Arts video game – and consistency. All of the font sizes, shadows and outer strokes of the letters needed uniformity and this was labeled on the storyboard as well. Such detail can stunt the expedience and lengthen the editing process.
Curiosity also prolongs the editing process. Sometimes I would see an image or a song that seemed fitting and I would wonder could I find something better if I changed my search criteria. When you type “map of Havana” in the search engine you obtain certain images; then you might type “city of Havana map” and suddenly you have entirely different images. This was frustrating because I felt like I was constantly editing my decisions just because I was curious if something could look better, half the time changing an image back to my previous selection.
Curiosity prolonged my editing process in another way as well. I would create a scene and become more curious about a topic then have to add something like a voice over in the scene – this made the details of the scene clearer to the viewer. At one point in our journey, Jim, Steve, Omar and I, went to a clothing store and shopped for a typical Cuban shirt. After completing the editing for my scene, I would watch it repetitively and wonder, “How much do I actually know about Cuban clothing?” I would then go back and re-edit my scene adding a voiceover to complete the scene and each voiceover needed to be researched, written, recorded, and then placed in the documentary.
Quality vs. quantity and deciding what fits
Deciding what to place in the documentary brought a set of challenges I did not anticipate. Sometimes I would find something so interesting but it just did not fit with my story. I learned two lessons about quality in a documentary. The first is that sometimes you have to look through hours of footage to find a quality shot of something. We took almost ten hours of footage and ten hours became less than one hour if you account for the images also within the documentary. The second lesson I learned is if something is boring or unrelated, it needs to be omitted.
I eliminated three scenes that I found extremely interesting from the film. They were called “the plans for progress scene,” “the Edgar footage” and “the bird analysis scene.” The “plans for progress” scene consisted of Omar’s mother-in-law talking about a bridge. When I asked her, “did Cuba have any plans for progress?” she responded with a story about how she had heard the French had intentions of building a bridge from Cuba to Miami. I remember thinking, “wow a bridge to get to Cuba from the United States- that would be truly amazing.” I decided that although this was an interesting rumor not only could I find no evidence of such a plan, but I was also off topic as I was asking them about their social lives. Unless all citizens in the 1950s built bridges it did not affect them as of yet; therefore, it needed to be cut.
“The Edgar footage” was also cut but for different reasons. When I was in the park taking footage of a Jose Marti memorial what we thought was an obnoxious teenager kept interrupting my audio, both mocking me and screaming, “Viva Cuba!” At first I played off my discontent with his rude interruptions with laughter, slightly giggling, “hey man do you mind. . . we are filming.” We then realized he was not a teenager at all but, probably in his thirties. He inquired what we were filming about and I told him Cuba in the 1950s. He explained that he just recently came to Miami from Cuba and that he might be able to offer insight on that time period. We filmed him just in case, even though we knew he was barely thirty because we thought, “you never know what we might get,” from a willing interview. His story was fascinating because he discussed life under the Castro regime. The problem was that his story was too political and I was not going there.
The last scene, “The Bird Analysis Scene.” I wanted to include because I felt it described my grandfather well and it also made me understand him as a person. My Uncle spoke about a business transaction my grandfather conducted in regards to exotic birds. Apparently, my grandfather made a great bargain for some birds and gave a bunch to the neighborhood, keeping one for the family as well. One day they thought the bird escaped, but it just flew into a guava tree in the backyard; from then on it made that tree its home. When my uncle left Cuba, he left that bird behind, and briefly he muttered, “maybe that’s why I like birds so much.” It was a great line and a moment of great self- discovery. The problem was the story was delivered slowly and it had gaps- it took forever to finally conclude. This scene was cut because of its “long winded” delivery.
I wanted my characters to be people of quality. The tricky part about creating dynamic characters is to make them likable but also a little strange. When I introduced Omar, for example, I chose to exhibit his strange but likeable qualities by using a western song that is typical for the comedic saloon villain’s entrance. To show a strange character I played footage with a voice over. I selected his exotic bird collection and all of the various guns he owns as footage to display him as a collector. In order to add likeability to Omar, I choose a comedic clip where I tease the cameraman explaining that, “Omar is like the mayor, he will talk to anyone.” Throughout the documentary, Omar and I were the primary characters. Showing art and footage with Omar involved gave my documentary a friendly tone, especially because Omar is a large man with a mustache. To re-emphasize my friendly qualities, sometimes I would dance or make a funny face.
In a documentary, the funny footage not meant to be used was extremely useful. Sporadically in our trip I would naturally react to a situation or moment in my own way. I realize, that compared to the average person, I indulge in funny facial expressions and random dance moves more often then the general population. At on point during filming we noticed chickens walking down the street. I thought it would be funny to chase them for a moment. I know that chasing chickens has absolutely nothing to do with 1950s Cuba. Although I was aware of this notion, I knew it had to be included because I found it hilarious. Incorporating random fun footage allowed the audience to feel as if they were taking a journey rather just than watching a film.
It was bizarre to find out that when I conducted the interviews, some people talked about the same things; I added a humor element by stressing this to the audience. Television, new cars, and education were hot topics to many interviews. Identifying the other key topics was in particular, very trying to the editing process. The only solution to remembering everything that happened was to watch all of the interviews again and take notes. I burned the footage after dumping the camera’s memory card, from the computer, to a DVD. I proceeded to bring my portable DVD player wherever I went and I literally re-watched all of the footage. Each interview had its own index card or set of index cards depending on the length of the interview, they were labeled with the people according to personalities, not names. Addressing people by their personalities made the editing process easier because it helped avoid confusion. If I mentioned, “the guy with the police story,” instead of, “Juan Garcia,” my editor knew which footage I was referring to. Even though my interviews were organized and edited, sometimes they were just too boring to be included.
Making footage interesting and exciting
If footage seems dull and indifferent, changing the viewpoint, interjecting images and adding voice over humor, can really add excitement. For the major interviews such as Omar, Nora (Omar’s mother-in-law), and my parents, there were two cameras. The reason you film a scene with two cameras is to create an illusion of conversation. One camera will film me talking to the camera while the other will show the both of us. Another method to change a viewpoint is to zoom in on faces at emotional moments. There were conversations that made people in a sense “light-up;” for example, when we asked Nora about music, she said that she used to love to dance and she was skinny because of it. This created a visual for the audience- they literally pictured Nora dancing as a young teenager; to enhance this visual an image of a personal photograph was interjected.
Interjecting an image during an interview can make a powerful statement; the right image reinforces that the story really happened. While Nora was talking about herself when she was young, I placed an image next to the footage of her interview in the form of a personal photograph. When my parents talked about their lives and memories- images of their stories were interjected so the audience felt as though they had experienced the events as they occurred. A visual interjection does not always have to be a personal photograph; sometimes it can be a photograph taken of a monument or an object or even a silent clip. When I filmed the scene where I was explaining about a Cuban sandwich to the audience, the footage was of me eating a sandwich. Although I eat a pretty impressive sandwich, the visual of my consumption gets old. In this case, I interjected footage of the waitress, the café, and photographs of Cuban cafes, sugar mills, and cigar factories.
Adding a voice over for humor can make for quality footage. It can be as simple as interjecting a joke, like when my father said, “My name is Jose Yvonnet, I am Erica’s father . . . very proud.” I interjected a voice over a freeze frame claiming, “My dad is adorable.” Voice-overs can also be effective when they are used for transitions. For example, when the doctor discusses how the University of Havana was free, I interjected with. “Free? Like free? Wish I could say the say thing about my university; which reminds me . . . .” This is when I transitioned into my Kean University footage. Everywhere we went people wanted to know why I was making this film. Originally they thought we were a television crew and apparently I look close enough to be mistaken for a Cuban celebrity. When I told them it was for Kean University some of them said, “Oh, hello, Kean University.” I decided to change my approach of extracting answers by capturing three of these on film.
Quality footage can be obtained because perspective on boring footage often evolves. As the editing process continued and my goal to obtain quality footage evolved as well. I tried new ways to display the footage each time. When I displayed Omar’s likable but strange characteristics for example, to transition between footage I said, “We should make this presentation seem like a case study.” I obtained a picture of a typewriter suggesting it should display the nicknames. It just was not a quality scene. In order to make it a quality scene, I interjected the letters of the nicknames one at a time with a typewriter audio playing simultaneously. This scene, in my opinion, was a valuable scene after these factors were added during the evolving editing process. But of course they took time.
It takes time to make a quality documentary. A small change can take hours and hours worth of footage can become seconds of actual viewing time. I cannot express how many times we repeated the phrase, “In ten minutes we will break for food.” Coffee and hamburgers were often eaten cold and late night drives became even later. In addition to the Florida trip, the editing time took days. We began on a Friday night and completed editing on the next Sunday night, making the final editing time: ten very long days and nights. After viewing the rough copy that I was going to give to my professor, I still needed to make sound changes- time is never the film-maker’s friend. If there was no end of the semester deadline, I think I would have returned to Miami and re-taped some footage.
How will others feel about my documentary
Showing this documentary to others is a sensitive topic for me. I have watched so many documentaries, read so many books, highlighted so many index cards, and made so many coffee runs at two in the morning that I take criticism personally. I do not want to be so sensitive of what people say or think about what I have created because I know it could ultimately be helpful. My friend Tom saw the documentary and he suggested adding subtitles to some of the interviews; while this is something that might make the viewing more enjoyable, there just are not enough hours in the day. Sometimes it was absolutely necessary to change parts of the documentary based on people’s feedback. For example, my friend asked, “What is in a Cuban sandwich?” It was then we interjected the voice over explaining the sandwich’s components.
After viewing the documentary, I needed it to address if my thesis was defined- did I truly examine Cuba in the 1950s on a social level? My objectives included educating the audience about 1950s Cuba and discovering my ancestry through the process. In the end, I felt like I had both taught something and learned something as well. I taught the audience about the country, the culture, and the people, and I learned about my past. This truly was one of the most rewarding experiences in my entire life.