Tuesday Part 2: Working with "100 Years of Solitude"

You can read Arnie Aprill's write-up of these workshops (with lots of photos) here

Kurt led this workshop. He began by finding out how many of us had read 100 Years of Solitude "within the last six months", assuring us that it hadn't been a requirement and it would be fine if we hadn't. Then he reminded us that invariably, if we expect people to have read at home, some of them won't have done it, and suggested the following exercise as a means of all entering a text together:

1. Everyone gets a slip of paper with 1-3 sentences of text written on it (these turned out to all be excerpts from the same passage from 100 Years of Solitude (a description of how Úrsula realized she was going blind and concealed her blindness, but that wasn't clear to us initially.

2. Get in a circle

3. Become an "expert" in your text (this just meant reading over it a few times and making sure you had an interpretation and a "wondering". Obviously, the depth of understanding would vary wildly between people who had read the full book recently and people who hadn't!

4. Count off 1-2-1-2

5. "Ones" step forward into the circle, then turn to face a two - you now have two concentric circles, as in "paseo" and "speed dating"

6. Read your excerpt to your partner, say what you know/think and what you're wondering. Then, your partner does the same. 

7. Exchange slips of paper - you are now an expert in your partner's excerpt

9. Outer circle moves one to the right

10. Read your partner's excerpt to your new partner,  say what you know/think and what you're wondering. Then, your partner does the same (You are providing your own interpretation and wondering about the excerpt, not repeating your partner's).

11. Repeat 4-5 times (as a teacher, you'll have a feel for how this is going and when to stop)

This flowed smoothly into the next bit, but I'm isolating it because the concentric circles took place outside and then we went inside. Also, I think this would stand alone very well as a method for entering text as a group. I loved the elegance of this structure - as you move from partner to partner, we literally develop a shared (but incomplete) understanding of the text, which (for us at least) grew a powerful motivation to read the full text. I finished reading 100 Years of Solitude only a week ago and I still wanted to re-read the passage because I heard excerpts that reminded me of details I'd forgotten, but didn't fully explain those details. For example, I read one line about Úrsula bumping into Amaranta and getting upset because Amaranta wasn't sitting where she normally did, and another about Úrsula now being able to tell where Amaranta was sitting by the date, but couldn't remember why she was able to develop that skill.

12. The group reads the story together. We all had copies of the story in our binders already, one in English and one in Spanish. We read in English. Kurt's initial concept was for everyone to read the line they were holding, but this seemed not to work so we just had people spontaneously read one sentence each. We had the option to read our own line, but we could also read when the spirit moved us. I read my own line because I felt (not that it mattered to anyone else) more comfortable cutting someone off if I was reading a line that I felt ownership of (and I in fact,  totally started reading that line at the same time as someone else and cut them off). 

13. Choose a line from the text and frame it using sharpie - we were instructed to use a straight edge to do this, so the lines would all be straight. We were told these were going to become part of an art piece, but the piece hasn't been made yet.

14. Find a partner you haven't worked with yet, and take their hand 

15. With your partner, discuss the text using the "See Think Wonder" protocol

Had a fascinating conversation challenging the idea of Úrsula as "strong" being an essentially conservative take on her position, which relies on her being "in the home" and very much partakes of the "feminine mystique." In the words of my interlocutor, "If we saw Úrsula outside the home, her loss of power in other spaces would create space for social critique that's missing in the book."

16. Write one of your wonderings on the text with a colored marker

17. Give the page to the "curator", who will be putting it on display with everyone else's

Lunch Time (pork pibil tacos, nopales salad, frijoles, watermelon juice, homemade lime jellies for dessert)

During lunch, choose a passage from the cordel (a string hung between trees outside, with texts hanging from it by clothespins.

  • Every text on the cordel is a passage rich in description of a character from 100 Years of Solitude. I chose the passage about "The Catalonian"

18. Read the passage you chose, and frame a line with a sharpie

19. Find someone else who read the same passage as you and do a "walk-stop-talk-walk" (this just means walk around and chat). My partner and I went outside, which was a great move. We talked about language, words, war, and the different intellectual landscapes of Mexico and the USA.

20. Back inside, write a question next to your "framed" line with a colored marker (like you did in step 16)

21. As a group (with facilitator scribing on a whiteboard) make a list of techniques that Garcia Marquez uses in order to make portraits of his characters

Some ideas we came up with:

  • characters often identified by a single trait that is "iconic and elemental" - Mauricio's butterflies, Rebeca eating dirt...
  • The "temporal zoom" (many years later, he would...). The most obvious example of this is the book's first line. 
  • "Like a carousel" - minor characters suddenly move into focus, are the center of the book for a few pages, and then move back out. 

It occurred to me as we did this that an interesting (albeit kind of crass) exercise would be to design a logo/icon/brand for each character.

Then we paused for a quick game:

  1. Each table appoints a leader
  2. Everybody stands up
  3. Leader makes a sound and gesture.
  4. The table repeats the sound and gesture.
  5. The room repeats the sound and gesture.
  6. Each table does this

And then everyone sets back down. 

Now, the final work of the day:

Patricia and Cynthia led this. We went back through the list of "things that I'm from" from yesterday, circling or starring things from the lists that could be visually interesting. We were told we'll be creating self-portraits tomorrow. 

Cynthia and a small group of volunteers then modeled masks they'd made earlier. Then, we were turned loose with construction paper, paper-cutting knives, scissors, sharpies, and string. 

For the rest of the afternoon, we designed and created masks (or paper jewelry, or whatever else we wanted to make). I became utterly absorbed in my paper-cutting, like Colonel Aurelian Buendía and his golden fish in 100 Years of Solitude. Here's what I made:

The lion is inspired by an incident when I was about eight years old and my family wen to Disney World. Though I don't remember this being an issue, my health was declining precipitously and I'd soon be flying to Birmingham, Alabama, for major heart surgery (major enough that my cardiologist recommended against doing it near home in Washington, DC. Anyway, I was desperate to go on Autopia, Disney's "racetrack", and to drive my own car. It turned out that I could only reach the pedal by lying on my back, and that the cars used actual gasoline, so the fumes were intense. Three-quarters of the way around the track, I couldn't keep going, and an attendant rescued me, driving my car back to the start. I got out of the car, took a few wobbly steps, and dropped to the ground, my eyes rolling back into my head. I lost consciousness for long enough to terrify my parents. When I came to, my dad was carrying me and shouting for help. 

I remember what I saw while I was unconscious: everything was black, except for a lion that I could see in profile, facing right, in the lower left-hand corner of my field of vision.