16 November 2010

Reflecting on "Are We Not There Yet"

I'm currently enrolled in what the LMU English Department calls StreetWrite, which sounds like some sort of far-out urban scribe class but really just happens to be a student teaching program. Interestingly enough, next semester I'll take RoadWrite, which just so happens to be some sort of far-out urban scribe class.

The fellow who teaches the StreetWrite class is Chuck Rosenthal, a rather respected author who has written several books and has his own Wikipedia entry, though he has to compete with some district attorney from Texas on the disambiguation page. He's a cool guy, which is more than just an offhand compliment from this California kid.

My first impression of Chuck came during the first class meeting in August when his 6'1'' frame lurched into class, his silver hair a medium length on the cusp of where you could describe him as "long-haired." He wears a broad goatee that covers his weathered face, a weathering that reveals much more experience than age. I think he resembles a drunken, haggard pirate, but in a good way. I think he's 50-something.

Our class meetings only lasted a month, the time spent working on poetry exercises we would eventually take out into the community and teach ourselves. Since then another student and I have been trekking to Port of Los Angeles High School in San Pedro Tuesday mornings and teaching poetry. I emulate Chuck's approach as well as I can, encouraging creativity over substance, fun over desire, silly phrases over brooding truths. One of the poems calls for the writer to experiment with metaphors. Chuck loves the ones that don't make sense. His favorite of mine was "I am a daft lunchbox." I think it's much more interesting than "I am a silent wind" or something like that. The best we came up with as a class was "obdurate lemon."

Chuck (it feels weird calling him that but I feel he's much too amiable to want to be called Dr. Rosenthal) recently had a book published about his travels with an LMU study abroad program (he was in charge but not in control, as he says) for four months in the Himalayas. I came across it in the library (one of the benefits of working behind the desk is you become very familiar with authors and titles) and decided to give it a read. I have to admit part of it was "this guy's my professor and it might impress him if I read his book." Another big part is my interest in travel memoirs, one of which is sitting in raw form on my nightstand back in Castaic.

Ever since reading Gregory David Roberts' Shantaram, India has fascinated me. Traveling India is to find yourself, to be on an adventure, to explore the great unknown. It's romantic and courageous and eye-opening. My buddy Trevor and I dream of taking in an afternoon cocktail at Leopold's in Mumbai, inhaling the essence of the other. I want to experience as many "others" as I can in my time on this Earth. India is near the top of that list.

I just finished the book and what I liked most about it was the perspective Chuck took in telling his story. He's skim on the exposition - we know he's there with the study abroad program and he gives a basic layout of where he's traveled, but most of the nitty gritty about his characters and the nature of his stay are unimportant in the long run. What is important is the experience itself, the knowledge and understanding that goes along with being, whether it be being in West Bengal.

I recommend the book - there are plenty of little quirks and insights similar to the Roberts book, although tweaked in a very real and human essence. It makes me want to really pursue publishing my journal from Europe, though there are probably some chapters I'll want to leave out.

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