Category Archives: assumptions

When Does the Heart Rest? asks the slam-poet…

[ When Does the Heart Rest? ]   by Taylor Mali

Our Science Teacher asked the question,
and we laughed at the kid who said:
When you sleep?

I raised my hand with what I was sure
was the correct answer –
When you die—

and then put it down quietly
when Angel got it right.
Between beats.

That didn’t seem like enough time to me.
Still doesn’t.
But it was Angel again in the schoolyard

standing up for the heart
when the older kid said the strongest muscle
in the human body was the jaw.
No, it is the heart.

The bully said we should have a contest—
between my jaw and your heart—
and we all laughed because it didn’t seem like a fair fight.

And it still doesn’t.
Because the heart rests and keeps working.
Between beats.

And my money is on Angel
and his heart,
not the bully and his jaw.

And anyone who thinks otherwise
can eat their heart out.

(Excerpted from a collection published in NYC 2009 called The Last Time as We Are, courtesy of writebloody publications)


Craft (not a pejorative)

We think we know what our deliverables are.

A report written, edited, and turned in to an editor. A prospectus written and published. An application drafted, polished, published, submitted to the grantor. A photograph captured and edited and submitted. A garden weeded. A dinner cooked. A team built? A boat launched?

You and I have different jobs, most likely. We each have a way of crafting a solution to our professional problems. Stand and fight. The Socratic Method. Machiavellian Strategy. The Golden Rule. Citing the Federal Code or the company manual, or what have you.

How ever you do it, this is my contention:  “craft” amounts to how you solve a problem. How you learn about the possibilities and come up with an elegant solution. How you try to make your life, your world, your job, your team, or the assignment you are now working on a little easier for the next person to come along.

Not a pejorative. Not as in “You are so *crafty,* aren’t you?” (spoken in the same tone as the phrase ‘Oh, that is so *Berkeley*!’)  Not.

Craft as word and as concept should stand alone. It is brave imagining; it is careful and thoughtful construction. It is dignified. It is true artistry. Think of it as in ‘the craft of writing.’

Anyone who thinks of craft’s true definition otherwise deserves to be put on the cast of a Reality TV program called When the Zombies Take Over Your Local Mall.

Electric Rainbow Jelly: appearances still manage to deceive us

Way back in 2003, I worked at an organic cotton spinning mill in the base of the Iron Triangle in Richmond, CA.  We made organic cotton yarn from naturally colored fiber: Foxfibre®.

During that period I also worked at several teaching jobs and wrote some community service grants. The cotton mill gig was < 30 hours a week, and I was hungry for more work at the time. One of the best jobs I had at the time was teaching home-school kids in mathematics and applied (read:kitchen) science.

Home school kids seem to be part of a special group, at least all the ones I’ve met seemed so. Very bright, very engaged with the world. They want to *know* things. Very exciting students to have.

One of the classes I taught was offered at a private home in West Berkeley, and it didn’t last long,  because I couldn’t keep up with it.

It was two hours or more of preparation for every hour of class time, and usually more. It was assembling a lot of materials and technology and schlepping them all over to someone else’s kitchen and working in an extremely tight space (a beautiful space, but extremely tight) with seven or more brilliant 9-year-olds. This is my favorite age (the age of enthusiasm and inquiry, but the magic is still there), and these were great students. It was a hard class to give up.


One of the great things we did in class was an experiment called Electric Rainbow Jelly. It came out of a book in the library with the same name. Great book. Not a hard experiment, either, except a little tricky to assemble everything.

For instance, did you know that AA batteries have little carbon rods inside them? Well, if you are going to make Electric Rainbow Jelly you need to: you’ve got to hacksaw the end off of one or two of those suckers and pull the rod out with tweezers. You’d like the rod to be intact, so be careful.

Buy the book; you’ll see….

One of the supplies I had to assemble for that experiment was “indicator solution” so that I could prepare gelatin which would react to having various different pH(s) in various places, creating a rainbow. Indicator solution is commonly used in swimming pool test kits, in hydroponic gardens, and in various other places where you need to test the relative acidity, neutrality, or basicity of a solution.

We don’t have a swimming pool supply store handy in West Berkeley, and the hardware store didn’t have it (not the ones I checked anyway), and… oh hey, the Berkeley Indoor Garden Center!  So I went over there to get some after calling to check and see whether they knew what it was I was after and whether it was in stock. Its a few doors down from where I got my very first measles shot at West Berkeley Health Center, but that was back around the early Miocene Era.

It looks like the storefront of the Indoor Garden Center might actually have been a hardware store once, or a feed store (West Berkeley used to have a lot of horses, but not for about a century now), or even a grocery. It is a wooden building with great wood framed windows, a hardwood floor, and a lot of very bright full-spectrum lights in certain places. I’d never been in a Indoor Garden store before and didn’t know what to expect, but I got the solution and took it home and added it to my stack of supplies.

Later that day I was working over at my ex’s house, and he gave me some electrical leads I needed for the experiment too. He used to do a lot of the work on his own car, and didn’t mind loaning them in the interest of science. I told him about getting the pH test solution at the Indoor Center, how I’d never been in a hydroponic garden store before.  I mentioned how odd it was to me to be in that store earlier that day, confusing even. He inquired what exactly I meant. I said:  “Well, everyone working there was really young, extremely white, and they all had…. really long natty dredlocks!”

It is difficult to describe the look he gave me, almost a look which changed pH as it grew on his face. But it went from wonder to disbelief to incredulity, and then he was laughing uncontrollably. At me. He rarely laughs uncontrollably, so I took notice, and thus figured out that I was actually the object of his incredulity and that somehow I had both amused and amazed him.

Then I figured out  _why_ he was laughing at me. Then I started laughing. It was a great moment of connection in our relationship (now a simple friendship), all of it pre-verbal. We understood.

Sometimes I am confused by the Look of Things, is the Moral of the Story. Appearances still mislead, or rather, appearances sometimes cause me to question my assumptions about Everything Else.

So, its interesting that Electric Rainbow Jelly (the experiment, which the kids really loved and was way fun and was the closest I ever came to having the feeling of teaching a team of young Wizards, by the way) — taught me something about myself I hadn’t expected to learn: that I had these assumptions about garden stores and what they sold and why they sold it, and all that, … and that those assumptions were based on nothing very reliable (past experience in garden stores? leading a fairly Rebecca-of-Sunnybrook-Farm lifestyle? whatever!) or useful in certain situations.

Always good to learn something new, even after tripping over a wheelbarrow full of assumptions.

So it is with great humility that I read / remembered some of what happened on Day 2 of the Mosaic Mural Class… a friend had written me and asked how it was going, and this is what I wrote back:

Yesterday Isaiah was talking about the grout “rivers” we are making on the building (using concrete mixed with 3 parts sand and ICI pigment and water), saying how Laurel True (who runs the school we are taking the class in) hates them, hates going over them, buffing them, filling them, using them.
“I don’t want to do it, Daddy. Daddy Isaiah!  I don’t like it!  I don’t want to do it!”

Earlier in the day he said something, quoting himself and his Mosaic Bible and (irony, humility, and self-deprecation all present) saying that the quotation was in the Book of Isaiah, and then we laughed… after I said, “…. you mean its in the Old Testament?  Is that why they call them the Mosaic Laws?  Don’t eat mosaic grout pigment on Sundays? Like that?”

Its an erudite group. They laughed.

So, when he did this routine about Laurel hating the grout rivers, calling himself Daddy Isaiah, I said:  “Now you sound like a rapper!  Daddy Isaiah! Whoa!  We’re going to have to find you some bling, dude!”

He laughed. All his bling is all over the walls of South Philadelphia, Jingletown, and the world.

Isaiah Zagar:  rapper, mosaic law daddy, prophet in the temple of the pharisees, teacher, visionary, all that…. no question. No assumptions there.

Julia Zagar: daughter of the one of the Disney dream team, visionary, lover of birds, mosaic Momma, traveller, gallery owner, great hearted giver, patient artist, all that. Also no question.

Appearances sometimes still manage to deceive me. Not for long, though. Not for long.