Charcoal Streets: She Wept Flowers

I am a metaphor...

June 18, 2010

This story has an interesting history. The images towards the end of the story are the first passages I ever imagined writing for Charcoal Streets. Almost five years ago, a friend showed me an article on some youth in Miami that created an elaborate mythology for religious iconography. The Blue Lady was one of their creations. Of course, anyone who grew up in a Hispanic culture will catch several of the ethnic allusions in this story.

To those that don’t, don’t worry. There’s plenty to find either way. I will admit, though, that this was a very hard story to write. Perhaps more than The Choices We Make, this story bothered me because of the themes revolving around child abuse. I do hope you find something here to latch on to, perhaps a bit of hope. Maybe you’ll just like the imagery. Whatever the case, thank you for sticking around this long. Now on to the main attraction…

Bush - Land of the Living

Colorful flowers VII by =sa-cool on deviantART

Sandra knew the Blue Lady always watched little children. While Papa undid his belt and took the buckle to her back, Sandra lay on the couch and wrapped her little fingers over the cushions and asked the Blue Lady to take her away. Sometimes she did. Sometimes, Sandra smelled roses while Papa beat the buckle into her soft skin and she imagined she was flying. Papa stood five stories tall and cracked his belt over the marks from the previous punishment. When he finally put his belt back on and the big Texas-shaped buckle latched, Sandra came back and followed the trail of pink and yellow flowers on the floor to her room. The Blue Lady would sit on the edge of her bed and take Sandra into her arms.

She could still smell the roses as she wiped the blood on her back with the Blue Lady’s shawl.

“Why does Papa hurt me?” she finally asked one day.

The Blue Lady didn’t laugh or smile. She brushed the hair away from Sandra’s face and said, “He thinks he loves you. Just put your head down and sleep now, baby. You’ll know what to do next time.”

Sandra put her head on the Blue Lady’s lap and let the smell of roses and clean laundry carry her. The Blue Lady felt like a blanket fresh out of the dryer. Every time Sandra felt dirty and wet from the hits, the Blue Lady’s smell calmed and let her rest.

Alone by ~yamixhikari on deviantART

Sandra had the same dream.

She stepped out of her house and saw the Blue Lady standing in the middle of the street. Sandra smiled and spread her arms out and flew away. At first, the speed scared her and she wanted to cry, but after a few seconds, the wind, the freedom, and the motion made her drunk (she didn’t know what drunk really meant). It was better than Saturday mornings.

The wind pushed her hair away.

The sun’s light burned the scars on her back and they ashed like autumn leaves.

The impact with the ground destroyed the last of her body and freed her.

Falling into grace with you. by ~xoxomassacre on deviantART

Sandra was afraid of the belt at first. Her pudgy little fingers dug into the couch’s fabric every time the buckle hit her and bruised her skin. The smell of roses distracted her. She tried to pick out the number of flowers in the air.

Rose. Lilac. Marigold. Momma grew them all in the garden out back, and Sandra’s game of keeping track of their scents made the belt a nuisance, at least for a few seconds. If she couldn’t name a flower, she just called it a name like “the yellow one,” or “the frilly purple one.” She tried to remember the order in which Momma planted them. If she got it one way, she tried to recite the order backwards.

One day, the Blue Lady held Sandra in her arms and said, “You have to be strong now.”

“I am strong,” little Sandra said.

The Blue Lady wiped the tears from the little girl’s face and said, “Yes you are. But now you have to be stronger.”

Sandra didn’t smell roses from that day on.

Scars of Life by ~grotesque-morbidness on deviantART

Pudgy little Sandra became thin, pink-streaked-hair Sandra. She still dug her fingers into the couch, but she only pretended the buckle hurt. When she bit on the pillow, she did so to keep from moaning and having Papa stop. It took a long time for her to figure out just how much pain and joy were the same thing. The epiphany made dating a lot simpler. She’d never had much luck finding a guy to keep her happy. The first guy she slept with was okay. She had to fake with him for almost a month before he accidentally banged her head against the car window. The surge of pain was all she needed and she finally knew ecstasy. The next day, he congratulated himself to his friends for the way she screamed.

Sandra dumped him a week later and ignored the rumors and stares.

The next five guys she dated didn’t really count as boyfriends. They fucked. They were something to pass the time, someone to hurt her when Papa didn’t catch her stealing a cigarette or coming in late from a party. She had to convince two of them to really hurt her, squeeze her, run fingernails over her chest. The other three did so with joy.

She got tired of them and looked for others. Eventually, she found a girlfriend who gladly hurt her because she loved Sandra. Sandra remembered seeing Alice at one of the parties in one of the newly built houses some kid on the football team broke into to install a few kegs, a sound system, and places for the students to hook up. Alice liked camo pants and tank tops: the sexy dyke look, she called it. Sandra didn’t think about her as a woman. Alice just had energy Sandra needed.

The first time Sandra fucked Alice in the vacant master bedroom at one of the football team’s parties, Sandra could feel the energy in the girl like a river rushing from one to the other. She loved Sandra. Every bite on her thighs was a testament to that love. They were more beautiful than silver, Saturdays, or the smell of roses.

pretty in pink by =prettyfreakjesper on deviantART

The pink streak in Sandra’s hair went away before she graduated high school. She let the streak grow out a few inches, then cut her hair so it barely covered her ears, and she started wearing t-shirts and jeans instead of skirts and stockings. Alice didn’t like the new look. She said she felt like she was dating a guy with long hair.

They slept together one last time before Alice finally broke it off.

Apathy on the Rise by ~Colepocalypse on deviantART

The low grades that barely let Sandra graduate meant another round from Papa’s belt buckle. It looked smaller lately. So did he. She remembered him as a titan. He was barely taller than her now. When she lay on the couch and lifted her shirt, he saw she didn’t wear a bra and beat her harder. She’d stopped muffling her screams and just let them ring throughout the house.

He hit her harder.

She took it and enjoyed the rush. A few bandages later, she snuck out for another party. Sandra decided to walk the five blocks to the construction site.

Along the way, she met the Blue Lady again. She wore a dark blue hoodie with a zipper in the front instead of her regular shawl. Sandra marveled at her flawless chocolate milk skin, the deep, raven hair, and impossibly black eyes. The Blue Lady was a girl no older than her and maybe an inch shorter.

“What do you want?” Sandra asked.

The Blue Lady smiled warmly. She was very beautiful, thought Sandra. She wouldn’t mind fucking her instead of going to the party. The quiet ones were always the freaks.

She caught Sandra looking her up and down and said, “It’s been a long time since I heard from you. I just want to know what you want.”

“You should know. Same thing I’ve been asking for since I was two.”

“I remember what you asked for. I just have never heard what you want.”

Sandra pulled a cigarette out and fumbled for a lighter. Her Zippo was out, so the Blue Lady touched the tip of the menthol and it sparked to life. When Sandra inhaled, she tasted tobacco, menthol, and rose hips.

The Blue Lady hooked her arm and said, “Let’s walk.”

Sandra’s curiosity got the better of her and they continued walking down the street. The Blue Lady said, “How’s your back?”

“It hurts.”

“When he hits you?”

“All the time.”

“I figured. Did you let your girlfriend see the scars?”

“She’s never seen me with my shirt off. None of them have.”

They walked for a few minutes before the Blue Lady said, “I’m sorry I left you alone. You were growing up and seeing the world for what it was. You weren’t a dreamer any more. I told you to be stronger, but I wish I could have done more.”

“Yeah, you should have. But it’s okay. I get it now.”

The Blue Lady stopped walking. They were back at Sandra’s house. Sandra hadn’t even realized where they were walking. Hours had vanished. It was early morning, well past her curfew. The scars along her back tingled.

She tried to get away, but the Blue Lady held her in place, saying, “What do you want?”

Sandra clawed at the Blue Lady but only broke three nails while the Blue Lady’s face remained smooth and perfect. She continued, “You’ve never told me what you want. Go inside.”

The grip released. Sandra stumbled back a few steps and started to walk towards the house before the Blue Lady put one hand on her shoulder. Sandra turned and the Blue Lady gave her a marigold. Sandra took it in her hands as though it were made of glass. She held it in a barely-closed fist and walked inside.

Papa waited for her on the couch. His lit cigarette had already filled half the room with smoke. Sandra inhaled and waited.

“Get on the couch,” he said.

She knelt on the sofa and lifted her shirt. Her bandages were still wet from the earlier hits, and as a drop trickled down her back and made her shudder, she lowered her shirt again and faced Papa.

Chimera strange dream IV by *Animalerrant on deviantART

The Blue Lady stood outside the house and waited. It was a hot night and her sweat turned to pink, yellow, and white flowers when it hit the ground.

Sandra came out and looked at the Blue Lady. The moon was fantastically bright and painted everything sky-blue. When the Blue Lady walked over the grass towards Sandra, marigolds blossomed at her bare footsteps. Their sweet fragrance was better than any cigarette, shot, or lover Sandra ever had. The entire lawn smelled like licorice as the Blue Lady took Sandra’s hand and held her close. There were no more bandages under her shirt. Sandra inhaled and took in the smell of roses and fresh cotton one more time. The Blue Lady cupped Sandra’s face in her hands and kissed her forehead, then said, “There were other ways.”

“I know,” Sandra said, “but it’s better for everyone this way. He loved me.”

“I know he did.”

“I’m broken. He loved me so much he broke me.”

The Blue Lady took Sandra’s hand and looked at the slow whirlwind of marigold petals floating in the air like confetti. The two walked arm in arm as marigold petals danced through the air.

In the house, Sandra’s father cleaned his belt buckle and resigned himself to look for a shovel to clean the mess in the living room. He smelled anise and licorice and saw the crushed flower in Sandra’s hand. He smelled roses and marigold.

Want to read more? Just visit the main Charcoal Streets page and take a look at the complete stories, samples, and other fun features, and stay tuned in 2011 for the release of the first volume of collected stories!

No More Pencils, No More Books

No more teachers... or opportunity, advancement, motivation, and all those nasty things you get from educators.

April 26, 2010

Imagine it…

You wake up. Eat whatever you want. Maybe some cookies and milk. Maybe granola. Instead of rushing off to catch the bus or wondering if you did all your homework, you pick up that novel you were reading and finish it. Maybe you want to go out for a jog. Hey, you planted that garden in the backyard and you need to find information on making sure the crops will make it through the incoming cold front. Better do a little reading.

Welcome to the world of unschooling.

I’m actually surprised I’d never heard of unschooling until recently. Home-schooling is teaching kids at home. Parents become the educators and create or use pre-built curriculum for children to learn as well if not better than they would at public schools. At least, that’s the goal.

Unschooling, on the other hand, is letting the child find his or her own passion and do the learning his or herself. In essence, the child would learn in much the same way a baby learns: through play and exploration. An even more extreme form of unschooling called radical unschooling means that the parents will not even discipline a child in the hopes of not stifling creativity or imposing barriers.

And I want you, my dear reader, to understand the difference between these three philosophies, because this is about unschooling. Not homeschooling.

I have a bit of a problem with it. And by “bit of a problem,” I mean, “Sir, we’ve hit an iceberg. And there are meteors falling on us. And Great Cthulhu has risen and is eating the crew. Just thought you’d like to know.”

Cthulhu’s Approval by ~hwango on deviantART

When I first heard of unschooling, my first thought was, “You’re going to tell kids they can learn whatever they want, whenever they want, at their own pace? And they’ll learn better than formally educated students?”

The hell they will!

Think about it. How many people in this country, or the world for that matter, have the natural curiosity and inclination to just learn at-will? I can count in my hands the number of people I’ve met over the years that might make it through the unschooling system as good if not better than they would fare in the public education system. By giving the child that much responsibility for his or her life, it makes it so that the child will learn nothing unless he or she wants to learn it.

I don’t know about you, but when I was in first and second grade, I wanted to watch Looney Tunes. And that was it. You place that much power in the hands of someone who doesn’t have a clear concept of responsibility and consequences and you’re asking for trouble.

Who is going to do this teaching? A book? The internet? There are certainly people who think that just reading books and going online is enough. I present to you Dan Brown (no relation to the author, I think) who gives a fairly complete look into this philosophy.

Let’s break this down. Schools only teach facts now, but since you can get facts from the internet or from books, you don’t need schools. I’ll admit it’s a great description of a bad school, but even a bad school still forces you to learn things you wouldn’t want to learn on your own. I never had a passion for mathematics. Still don’t really like it, but it’s through math and reading that I found my passion for science, specifically physics and astronomy. I would have missed out on that if I was left to my own devices.

At this point, long-time readers will point out that I have my own set of qualms about the current educational system. Well, yes, I do. I think it’s broken, but even a broken system is better than no system at all. A measure of control is still required to show a student how to learn.

The unschooling crowd proudly yells, however, that you don’t need to know as much as you think. Once you find out what you want to do, you focus on that and there you go. I studied art on my own and have taken only one formal class, yet I think I’ve developed some pretty good skills. The logo on this site, the eye with text, is one of my works.

Randomology by *dagger3000 on deviantART

Sadly, this unschooling argument goes back the level of intellectual curiosity in a student. You can nurture this instinct and good parents can push a child to learn more than the standard curriculum allows. My parents were two such examples, but they are far, far from the norm.

As it stands, unschooling kids suffers from two major drawbacks. First of all, a parent is still required, especially in the younger years. How many families can afford to have one parent at home? If only one makes more than enough to provide for the family, great! Hurdle avoided, but we’re not done yet.

The second problem is that you can’t learn only from books. You do have to go out and experience things. I know unschoolers will say that their kids do go and experience the real world. They can farm, they read, they travel, and they do all the things they love to do. However, what happens when they decide they want to be doctors? Engineers? Who’s going to teach them these professions? How are they going to get into a college, get these kinds of certifications, if they don’t even have a GED? I read everything I could on writing before I got to college. Everything. Once I got to DePauw, however, I realized that knowing all these things did me no good if I didn’t interact with others, share my thoughts with experts, and otherwise learn proper structure before going off and doing whatever I wanted.

I will admit something. The idea that children learn best by play is not a new concept. In fact, I and many other educators embrace it. Whenever possible, I try to make class as fun as possible while still ensuring my students learn. I try not to lecture if I can give the students hands-on examples, activities where they interact with others, share ideas, and discuss. They have to apply themselves, think, put it together themselves with my guidance, and in the end they’ve basically done the same thing they did as babies. They played. And they learned.

But it doesn’t mean that you leave children to their own devices. Children are dumb. They are. I’m sorry if you think your kid is special. This rationale that children want to emulate parents may hold part of the time, but children are children. They don’t want to read a book and learn mathematics. They have to be pushed into learning or they seek out their baser instincts and satisfy only those that give immediate satisfaction.

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Let’s imagine, for a second, that we did embrace the idea of unschooling. Everyone had the chance to do it. How long do you think it would take for a massive gap between the educated and the uneducated? Many people are more motivated than others. Within a generation, we’d have one group of people that can do everything needed to survive and has no incentive to go further. Then we’d have a much smaller population that drove forward and and had the resources to learn from experts.

But that’s good, isn’t it? Those who want to learn will learn and those that don’t stay where they are. Everyone gets what they work for…

Let me be as clear as I can here.

This is perhaps the dumbest idea in the world. And this is coming from a guy that once came up with the idea of a giant gun that fired Ewoks with Jawa tracers.

Quiet. There was bourbon involved.

The bottom line is that a formal education is necessary to both be exposed to different ideas and to push students to learn. We aren’t born with the intuition to just learn. We learn what we can to survive. That’s it. Anything else is extra once we meet basic requirements. I’m all for the rights of the individual, but we can’t possibly know how to learn or even what to learn if we just go out on our own. A few gifted individuals may be able to do this, but we’re not all geniuses. If we’re not pushed, we don’t get anywhere. Personally, I’d advocate a mixture of the traditional and Learn by Play methods. Implement better teaching strategies and teachers at school, but also make sure parents get involved. The idea that forcing a child to do something he or she doesn’t want to do will somehow crush the spirit is ridiculous. If you were told “no” when you were a child and lost the will to achieve later in life… I’m sorry, but look at your priorities.

The educational system is broken. I’ll be the first to admit it and get behind efforts to make it better, but to say that you need to just take your kids completely out of formal, structured schools is the educational equivalent of an auto-immune disorder.

Sorry, but until we make some fundamental changes in the ways parents work with kids and kids themselves learn, unschooling will be the equivalent of Lupus.