Ana and Chris Final

From BenningtonWiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Audience of One: Kathy McCray

Description

I worked with Kathy McCray, a member of the maintenance staff (one of the housekeepers of Perkins) to first develop and then execute an art project. Since she is a long-time member of both the local community at large, and the Bennington College community, we felt working with her to develop the project would allow us to bridge the gap between these respective communities and prevent us from prescribing something as an outsider, who may very well be ignorant to the intricacies involved.

After generating several ideas over the course of a roughly two-hour long conversation, we settled on the notion of working together to write a series of original children’s stories/poems, a passion of Kathy’s, and then read them to local children. This became our audience of one and audience of many, respectively.

I worked with Kathy for a few weeks, helping to edit and revise her work as she wrote. We discussed each and possible changes over the course of each week, meeting briefly every day or two, and came to finalized versions. Once we had enough (three), we went to Head Start in Shaftsbury (12/6) to read the stories to young children (roughly four years old).

Audience of One: Goals/Intentions

We are trying to push the boundaries of our respective roles in the community (housekeeper and student) by engaging in an exchange of knowledge that leads toward a collaborative, creative effort, independent and even contrary to the established social dynamic, wherein students make the mess and housekeepers clean up after them. We feel this is reductive and often results in blatant disrespect on the part of students, who occasionally do such things as throw up in the kitchen sink and not clean up after themselves.

Particularly, given the turmoil associated with the change in the health insurance plan, and the difficulty in approaching that topic from not only, but especially a student’s position, we felt this collaboration would be a powerful opportunity to show the staff (if only a small contingent) that we, as students, are not oblivious to them, and, though it certainly will not have any direct effect on the plan, at least address the role the housekeepers play here on campus—the full, and often hidden value associated with it.

Furthermore, we hope to encourage and, ideally, empower Kathy to exercise her creative passion. She had said that writing these stories had given her great pleasure, but was a thing of the past. This project is meant to, if nothing else, recover that old passion, and find a willing and enthusiastic audience for her art. Additionally, we hope that she will see the availability of resources around her—how easy it can be to find someone to work with you to improve your craft, as well as an outlet for it.

Audience of Many: Goals/Intentions

We want young children in the midst of their first experience with school to feel as though college is not so far away and distant, that it is not necessarily “above” them. By coming to the school and reading them something we worked on, in a college class, for credit, that is written for them and understandable by them, we want to make the full spectrum of the educational process seem much shorter and more attainable. Hopefully this will inspire them to develop and realize their goals, and that those goals will inform their educational experience, potentially, ideally, even lead to positive decision making (to sort of touch on issues of teen pregnancy and drug abuse).

Furthermore, we want our example to be of a collaboration between (relatively) young and old, students and their housekeepers—dynamics that are neither so common nor conventional—that we might dispel schemas in which such a collaboration is strange or unrealistic, or even help to develop new and accommodating schemas in young minds. Basically, we want to open up doors and possibilities by example.

How did it go?

The collaboration with Kathy went well. We had a positive previous relationship upon which to found it, so entering into collaboration was not also entering into dialogue. I believe this made the process a smoother one. Kathy was very receptive to the questions I had and changes I proposed, with the exception of a single instance involving a clown’s hair. We never really settled the issue definitively, and I’ll get to that in the reflection.

Kathy was very excited about the project, and I think she truly enjoyed bringing in the stories for even just me read them—she as much as said so. Certainly she lit up whenever we talked about them, and we had lots of chuckles. I think she was surprised about how quickly and how easily we set up a date and time to read at Head Start (though it turned out she couldn’t make the original date), as though it suddenly became real to her—it was, I think, the moment of realization that we were looking for.

The reading went fine. The kids were, according to the teachers, abnormally shy. Looking around the room, at the three women who typically work with them, and recollecting the two other women we met on the way in, then glancing to the women to the left and right of me (Ana and Kathy, respectively), I realized that it was probably my fault. I believe I was the only adult male on the premises.

We explained to them who we were (Bennington College students and staff) and what we were doing (reading a series of stories that Kathy wrote, and the three of us worked together to finalize and bring here today), then went into a round of introductions. Each person said at least one thing they liked. Girls like horses and ponies. Boys like superheroes or nothing. I like eating and Ana likes roller coasters.

Kathy introduced the first story, and began the reading. After each of the three stories, we talked a bit about the things in the story—clowns (scary or funny—the class was divided), puppies (which the class loved), and stars (which most everyone had seen). Once the kids got talking, it was hard to get them stopped, or to formulate any coherent conversation, which was fine and to be expected.

I then read “The Fox and the Crow” from Aesop’s Fables, which, in retrospect, was probably above the heads of all the children in the room but had pictures, so I think they forgave me.

We asked them if they would like us to read any of their books, of which their was a shelf-full (they also had two toads, building blocks, some crazy IBM-powered computer station, miniature counters—it was, like, the coolest classroom ever). They chose Little Blue and Little Yellow, which Ana proceeded to read to them.

Then we said our adieus, bid our goodbyes, and made our way back to campus. Kathy was pleased. We think she really enjoyed the kids, and was happy that she got to read something she wrote to them.

Audience of One: Reflection

We did what we set out to, but maybe what we set out to do didn’t do everything we thought it would. Certainly Kathy’s passion is rekindled, but for how long it will remain… kindled, and whether or not she will continue writing is difficult to predict. The same issues that kept her from doing it in the recent years still exist, and still vie for her time and energy. Also, we think she saw how readily available such opportunities to present one’s work can be, however, we find it difficult to imagine that she will endeavor to make such opportunities for herself in the future. So she saw the things we wanted her to see, but we aren’t sure they meant to her what we had hoped they would. But, all things considered, she was very happy to be with the kids, and visibly excited when we discussed her work, which was, on one level, gratifying enough.

As far as the dynamics that exist between us, as students, and her, as a housekeeper and member of maintenance: we think this is where, perhaps, the effects of the project are more measurable. Kathy mentioned on multiple occasions over the course of the project, that she would be discussing it with her husband at night, and he would ask her who was doing this with her, again, and she would excitedly reply “my house chair, Chris!” Her use of the term “house chair” here and the inflection she gave it in her telling, suggests that it was unexpected. We think this was important to her.

My (Chris’s) relationship to Kathy was strengthened greatly by the process. We both learned things about each other that the other did not know—that Kathy has four dogs, and an exorbitant amount of grand children, that she used to live in Burlington, that she co-owns a tree removal business with her husband, that she writes children’s stories. The dynamic there became much more mutual and friendly, rather than just respectful and necessary. I think we both enjoyed the time we spent with each other, and the opportunities it afforded us both.

Furthermore, we didn’t just discuss the project, or aspects of both our lives, but inevitably, we discussed life here on campus. We critiqued and occasionally just complained about the college together (the prices in the student center), discussed things that could improve campus (toads, building blocks, IBM powered computer stations), as well as things specific to the house we both share much of our time in—people puking in the sinks and not cleaning it up, and ways we could address the issue that so irritated both of us.

These latter discussions were, I think, as important as those that were about the project directly, because they contributed to our goals as much, if not more, than the project itself. The project was, in the end, perhaps just an excuse to have these conversations, and I think these latter issues will—and already have—resulted in noticeable and definitive changes in the relationship we have within the house. I also think, seeing Ana and I getting in a car and driving somewhere with Kathy, or working in the common room on stories with her, seriously altered the outlook some other residents of the house had on the role of the housekeepers. They would ask me what I was doing, and seemed genuinely surprised and intrigued when I would explain the project. I can only hope that those seeds will foster a much stronger relationship between housekeepers, and maintenance as a whole, in our house, and perhaps be a model for others.

The one big problem I had with the collaboration was the levels we were operating on, and I think this is where the clown-hair discrepancy really comes into play. Kathy did not like the line because "Clowns don't want to have flat hair". My point with the line was that, like the other clown-features, a Little Clown sees his poofy clown hair as a negative thing. So by saying that his hair won't stay flat, he is showing the same negative aspect of his features that he does in the other instances, however he was doing it in a backward fashion--commenting on what he perceives as the flaw in his hair by pointing to what it will not do, rather than what it is doing. This, however, was lost on Kathy, and the different views we had on it highlights a huge discrepancy in, I think, the levels we read at, and thus in our levels of education.

I'm not sure exactly what to say about this, or where to go with it, but it did make the communication occasionally difficult (at least for me) because I was forced to choose between trying to explain to her why something works one way or the other, what it means, etc. (which always feels like condescending), and deciding when to just let something go so that the collaboration did not get frustrating, or, god forbid, demeaning for her. I realize that this is largely in tone and approach, and I tried to be incredibly sensitive and respectful with those I chose, but sometimes we would go back and forth for a lengthy duration and never come to a mutual understanding.

In the future, I think this would be an area worth exploring, because that dynamic is interesting, and loaded, which is precisely why it scared me off a bit.

Audience of Many: Reflection

I mean, they’re kids. They were much more attentive than I ever could have dreamed, but I still doubt that they felt the full force of our intent, if they even heard most of the words that were read to them. If we could do it again, we would do it with pictures--copious amounts of huge, colorful, mesmerizing pictures. But we worked with what we had in the time we had, and considering we were at a loss in the picture department, I think we still held their attention fairly well, and if it was difficult to measure results with Kathy, an individual adult woman, it is nigh impossible to measure acute results with twelve preschoolers.

They didn't ask too many questions--in some cases we had to pull teeth to get the name and thing they liked out of them. They were, however, super excited to talk about puppies and horses. Still, overall they seemed really curious about us. Whether that is because of the dynamics we were trying to get at, or because we were strangers is difficult to get at--though if push came to shove, I'd to lean toward the latter. We think that we showed them what we wanted to show them, and now we can only hope to the best.

Documentation

Little Clown

Edited

Little Clown, Little Clown,
Why do you cry,
With a funny nose and big red shoes?

“Why do I cry?” Said Little Clown.
“Because my nose is big and my shoes are red.
That is why I cry.”

Little Clown, Little Clown,
Why do you cry?

“Why do I cry?” Said Little Clown.
“Because my hair is yellow and my smile is
upside down. That is why I cry.”

Little Clown, Little Clown,
Let us turn you upside down,
And then you will have a
Smile as big as the sky!

Revised

Little Clown, Little Clown,
Why do you cry?
When your nose is so round
And your shoes are all red?

“Why do I cry?” Replied Little Clown.
“My shoes make me trip and my nose is too big,
And that is why I cry.”

Little Clown, Little Clown,
Why do you frown?
When you have bright yellow hair
And a bunch of balloons?

“Why do I frown?” Replied Little Clown.
“My balloons always pop and my hair won’t stay flat,
And that is why I frown.”

Little Clown, Little Clown,
Let us turn you upside down,
And then your smile will be as big as the sky!

My Puppy

Edited

I have a puppy.
Her name is Molly.
We call her Miss Molly.

Miss Molly is short and fat.
She thinks she’s the queen of the hill.

Miss Molly,
You’re so smart,
You sleep with your nose under my pillow.
I hear you snore all night long.

Oh Miss Molly, you wiggle your tail,
Like window wipers on a car.

You walk like a bowl of jelly,
As you are so fat.

But most of all,
You are mine,
Miss Molly.

Revised

I have a puppy,
And her name is Molly,
But I call her Miss Molly.

Oh Miss Molly,
She is so short
And fat.
Still, she thinks that she is
The queen of the hill.

Miss Molly,
She is so smart.
She tucks her nose beneath
My pillow to stay warm.

I hear her snore all night long.

Miss Molly,
She wiggles her tail,
Like the wiper on a windshield.

She walks just like a bowl
Of delicious jelly,
As she is very,
Very fat.

Most of all she is mine,
My beautiful Miss Molly.

Stars

Edited

A star is born
A star is bright
When a star looks down at you
You will see a smile as bright as a light

A star is born
A star is bright
So don’t turn out the light
Keep it on as the stars will
Watch over you all night long

So when daylight comes
Don’t worry as it will come back
With a smile looking down at you


Revised

A star is born
A star is bright
When a star looks down on you
You will see a smile as bright as any light

A star is born
A star is bright
So don’t shut out the light
Keep it on as the star will shine all night long

So when daylight comes
Don’t worry
Each star will come back
With a smile, watching over you.

Story Reading at Headstart

Audience of One: Chris Porter

Description

Ana initiated a series of conversations with Chris Porter, a Bennington College Dining Hall employee. We got to know each other; we talked about his opinions of the student population, his relationship with us, his experiences working here and living in Bennington, and what his interests are. I also talked a little bit about myself, what brought me to Bennington and my plans; I thought a more equal exchange would allow for both the dialogue and thus the relationship to become natural, low-key, and not forced.
Chris discussed his education, interest in math and science, his future plans, and inquired about courses here. As an employee, he is offered a free class, and wanted to take advantage of that, come this spring.
This developed into the planning of meetings with faculty members (Betsy Sherman and Andrew McIntyre), and a math student (Hannah Simmons) with more of an “insider’s scoop” than I have. I wanted Chris to have the opportunities to talk with people that could best explain the realities of courses, and determine which best fit with his schedule.

Goals/Intentions:

We wanted to push the boundaries between student and staff on the Bennington College campus by initiating an ongoing dialogue that could lead toward a collaborative project. I was interested in his unique perspective on the age dynamic, because Chris is a 21 year old employee and his interactions with the students are naturally different than those between older employees and the students.

In addition, I simply wanted to get to know him better. We all see him everyday working hard to serve food, restock, and wash dishes for us, but our interactions rarely go beyond a brief exchange of greetings. We wanted him to feel like a more valued member of this small community, and have the opportunity to talk about his opinions, views, and interests with another person his age, despite the gap created by our roles here.

We were interested in these divisions of self and other (student and staff, student and resident) and hoped that the unique nature of an open-ended trajectory for collaborating would allow for a genuine and more personal result.

How did it go?

Our conversations went well. We have been casual and relaxed, and he has expressed support, interest, and gratitude in the topic and ideas raised in general.

The first conversation started with describing the nature of the project and the goals I had in mind. We talked about classmates’ work and our other Audience of One project. We then transitioned to talking briefly about his experiences growing up in Bennington, what he does in his free time—dirtbike, ski, volleyball, hang out downtown, hike—and what it’s like working at the college. Chris has worked here for one year, 40-50 hours a week, mostly in the dining hall and sometimes cleaning dorms during the off season. He generally has enjoyed his experience here, although there are some things that bother him. He acknowledged that there is a big division between the interests (and looks) of residents and students, some of us more outgoing and friendly with him than others. Because he’s the same age as the students, he is able to talk with us about common interests. He admits that while some students are indifferent, none are deliberately rude to him.
Chris mentioned his plans of attending UVM next fall, and interest in taking a course here in the spring. He went to school for two years to study engineering, but took time off to make money and clarify where his interests lie. We concluded the conversation looking at the Spring curriculum. I found potential in this topic and followed up by planning two additional meetings, only one of which occurred.
Chris met with Hannah Simmons, a math student, and they talked about options for the spring and his past math and science courses to determine where he might be best suited. They also discussed scheduling conflicts and work load; Chris was concerned with the issue of working full time on top of taking a four credit academic class. Chris preferred to write a reflective response, and is working on it currently. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had an assignment. I want to do it well.”

Reflection

Chris and I now not only are more acquainted with each other, but we understand the other’s perspectives. For whatever reason, I expected him to be more judgmental of us as students, which was fortunately not the case. It made me feel completely silly; assuming he assumes things about me and the student body when he doesn’t. We both acknowledged how largely age plays into the expectations and roles of social contexts, but is also a vehicle for breaking from other contexts.

We met only in the dining hall, where we both feel comfortable. But by talking about his experiences of working in the dining hall while sitting in it, this created a very present and immediate additional layer; our conversations may have been too comfortable out of context, via email for example.

These dialogues were successful because they were open and casual, while addressing not only ideas pertinent and relevant to Chris, but also investigating the somewhat more tense, uncomfortable or odd nature of relationships between self and other, specifically Chris’s interactions with students. I would not say that we came to a grand epiphany of why these boundaries exist, but the simple act of talking did begin to unpack them, which in this context was a new experience for both of us.

My interactions with Chris revealed to me most prominently that not having an end goal in mind can be just as much, if not more powerful in some situations. Although a collaborative project planned by Chris and I was discussed, it was not fulfilled. But instead, we tailored the project to fit his interests, which he says was the most interesting. I also was forced to let go of knowing what was going to happen, and the desire to be in the driver’s seat, and it worked out fine. (Surrender control, if you will).


Documentation