Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ojibwe Camp Part 4 (Day 2)

We woke up in the morning after a night of bad dreams, the first dreams that I remember having on the trip. The counselors had let us sleep in so we caught the tail-end of the breakfast rush. The second workshop we were teaching would start after lunch, so we had the morning to plan our strategy.

Brian and I went over some of the story ideas gathered from the campers on the first day of the workshop. The boys had decided that they wanted to be in a play entitled “Teenage Mutant Ninja Platypi”, an epic featuring the Platypi, their sensei, Mr. Potato Head, and his evil arch-nemesis, Peeler. At first glance, a solid premise. The girls’ inceptive idea? A zombie versus vampire musical set in a high school. Also, a promising start. Sadly, neither fulfilled our expressed original intention to devise a theater piece that would put traditional Ojibwe stories into a contemporary voice.

After some discussion, we decided to split them up by gender again. Brian took the girls to crate sculpture from found objects while I tried to get some more story ideas from the boys. After a few minutes of grumbling and the exchange of some choice words, our give and take went something like this:

“You look silly with that hair.”

“Thank you.”

“What are you?”

“I’m a playwright.”

“What’s that?”

“Someone who writes plays.”

“Why don’t you just say you write plays then?”

“Hmmm. That’s a good point.”

“Why do you wear glasses?”

“Cause I want to look smart.”

“Wannabe! Wannabe! “

Fighting sarcasm with sarcasm doesn’t work against 12- year-olds because if they feel you backing them into a corner, they’ll just use their immaturity to frustrate you.

“It’s time to start talking about the play you guys want to write”

“That sounds boring.”

“Trust me. It won’t be.”

“Trust me. It won’t be.”

“Are you seriously doing this right now?”

“Are you seriously doing this right now?”

“Okay, fine.”

“Okay, fine.”

“I’m an immature little brat.”

“I know you are, but what am I?”

It went on like that for a little while. When order was finally achieved, we began to go over the “Ninja Platypi” storyline. I figured that if I could make them think enough about the story they might get bored with it and move on.

“So, we’ve got three ninja Platypi, right?”


“Where did they come from?”

“The sewer.”

“Okay. Good. What made them become mutants?”

“A meteor from outer space?”

“Cool. So, not a meteor from Colorado?”

A collective nonplussed stare from the guys.

“Okay, never mind. So, why are they fighting people?”

“They’re protecting Mr. Potato Head from Peeler.”

“Obviously. I like the metaphor there.”

“You’re a nerd.”

“I am what I eat. Wait, why does Peeler want to kill Mr. Potato Head?”

“Cause, stupid, it’s…just…like what he wants to do, or whatever.”

“I don’t think that’s good enough. You know how in most comic books, there’s usually a reason why everyone is fighting.”

And, then the magic words:

“This story is stupid. I’m bored.”

“Okay, fine. What are some stories that you guys like? Something from your own tribe.”

“I don’t know.”

“Come on. Think.”

Then, a lot more arguing, some light name-calling, and finally:

“I don’t know. I guess there’s the story of how a bear got a short tail.”

“All right. Cool. Do you remember the story?”

For the next half an hour or so, we talked about different Ojibwe animal myths, and then one of the campers said that he knew another story, but he couldn’t tell me. I thought he was being annoying and said so, but then he informed me that the story could only be told when there was snow on the ground. Later, this was confirmed by one of the elders. It’s always fun when you over-assert yourself and then find out that you don’t have a leg to stand on.

Then, it was time to switch groups; the pack of girls descended. I tried to do the same thing with them, but they were far less cooperative. I’ve been trying to remember some of the things that they said to me, but I think the trauma of the moment has prevented me from reliving that memory.

After about a half an hour of abuse, I decided to let the girls draw. Again, feeling that I should participate, I pulled out a pen and wrote “Chekhov” in fancy, graffiti lettering. This caught the girls’ interest. They all wanted me to do their names, so I got to work on “Annette”. One of the girls took a black marker and covered the front and back of her left hand in ink. Then, she pressed her hand against one of the sheets of paper. At that moment, Brian walked over, and he and I both commented on how much we liked what she had done. She, immediately got up, walked over to the campfire, and burned her piece. I said that I wanted to at least take a picture of her with her black hand. Three minutes later, she was back having visited the ladies room to wash the ink off of her hand. Obstinate to the bitter end. Later that evening, Brian told me that while he was teaching his half of the workshop, that same girl had told him that, “If you’re not Native, you die.”

At the end of the three hours, we were both exhausted and our self-confidence cups half empty. The dinner bell rang, and everyone raced up to the main cabin for food and juice. They were serving wild rice, a staple of the Ojibwe diet, and pork chops, again. I had a lot of wild rice and a few dinner rolls, again. Then, we all piled into a school bus and drove out to the lake for a post dinner swim.

While we were at the lake, two girls who had decided to abstain from water sport began throwing rocks at the kids treading water by a submerged picnic table. None of the other counselors were around, so I tried to gingerly assert my authority. I told them that if they wanted to throw rocks, they should aim elsewhere so they wouldn’t accidentally brain someone. They told me that they were trying to hit one of the boy campers. I said that they shouldn’t. They didn’t listen. One rock sailed dangerously close to the boy’s head. He started to egg the girls on.

Half of me wanted to stop them. I am disappointed in what the other half was thinking. Finally, I stood really close to them, and since my presence had an effect similar to a skunk, they moved away. It feels good to finally be able to exert some influence around here. On the way home, one of the campers affectionately nicknamed “Little Dell”, threw up on the floor of the bus. One more thing I can check off on the bucket list.

1 comment:

  1. I am especially intrigued by the young woman with ink on her hand. There could be an entire novel written about that solitary encounter (like the woman's gesture at the start of Milan Kundera's Immortality). Anyway, great post; keep it up! Art!