Book Camp, Day 3

Something entirely new. That was today’s lesson. An adaptation seeks to create something entirely new–not out of nothing but out of things that already exist.

Baking

We can make apples into virtually anything: pie, cobbler, cake, cookies, sauce, jelly, butter, tart, bread, sausage, juice, smoothies, and on and on. Can you leap to something entirely new?

As I prepared for book camp, I searched the web for novel apple foods. Listen, y’all make apples into e-ve-ry-thing. I downloaded a recipe for chilled apple soup and one for creamy pumpkin apple pasta sauce. Both would at least be new to us. But what could we possibly make that might be truly new?

I searched for apple pasta. My search returned spiralized apples, apple-pumpkin sauces, and apple-tomato sauces. But I did not find a flour-based pasta made with apples.* There were recipes galore for adding herbs, spinach, beet or carrot juice, or squid ink. So, of course, we tried.20180613_162811And we asked ourselves a question: What might we have to deal with as artists when we break the mold and make something entirely new? Here are some of the kids’ answers:

  • judgment
  • criticism
  • and failure.

I agreed. We might get pushback from others. Critics saying we didn’t know what to do or how to do it. People telling us to stay in our own lanes. But there are other things too:

  • critics wowed by something unexpected
  • greater demand for our work
  • people copying the work in admiration
  • and people seeing themselves represented for the first time in a meaningful way.

Risking failure and criticism opens the door to…more.

We made that pumpkin-apple pasta sauce with great ingredients. As one thirteen-year-old put it, “It tastes like vomit. It is vomit!” Perhaps in other hands the recipe could work well, but we found only criticism and failure and waste of ingredients.**

That apple pasta, though. It is less than perfect and more than beautiful. So many hands kneaded the dough. We rolled it. Little hands folded the dough and cut it into long strips. Some narrow, almost broken. Others wide and sturdy. Patted with flour and curled into a nest. It was a risk. Five young artists, young bakers, had never before made pasta and emerged from the day with apple-flavored lengths of delight.

Hamilton

I asked the kids, is Hamilton: An American Musical a brand new thing or not? They answered as I would. Yes. And no.

Musical theatre is not new. Hip hop and rap are not new. Using hip hop and rap in musical theatre is not new. Alexander Hamilton himself–definitely not new.

But Hamilton used hip hop and rap to tell a story about something other than hip hop and rap. It employed performers of colors to portray historical figures who were white.

Hamilton was not a brand new thing. But it so was. Miranda faced all the risks and rewards incident to doing a brand new thing.

What each of us must decide for ourselves is whether to create something conventional or something out of the box. Do we want to accept the risks of the brand new thing or tell the same stories in the same ways, bake the same pies with the same apples, sing the same love songs with the same beats.

Writing

Today the kids began their adaptations in earnest. They had chosen their source materials and their formats. Today they worked on core story elements–the ones they need to keep–and the elements they would distort, change, rearrange, or introduce.

Not every creator wants the brand new. For those who do, the risks can be enormous or may be tiny. But the risks ought never be the deciding factor for the creator who seeks a new creation.

Apple Pasta

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup applesauce

Whisk together wet ingredients. Mix in flour with hands. Form into a soft ball. Knead  vigorously 12 minutes on a floured surface. Let rest 30 minutes. Divide the ball into quarters. Roll out one quarter to your desired thickness, then fold and cut in strips. Flour each strip to prevent sticking. Repeat with the other three quarters of dough.

If using immediately, boil for 2-3 minutes. Drain. Enjoy!

If saving for a later time, flatten the noodles and stack them. Seal the bunch in an airtight container. When ready to use, boil for 10-12 minutes or until cooked to desired doneness. Enjoy!

*Please do not send me to all the sites you happen to know with perfect apple pasta recipes. It’s too late. We already finished. Plus, you missed the point.

**Please do not offer helpful hints to improve the pumpkin-apple pasta sauce. It tastes like vomit. It is vomit.

Stranger Danger Doesn’t Cut It

For me, growing up in rural Oklahoma throughout the 1980s, stranger danger was meaningful. I mostly drifted within the sphere of strangers when I traveled with my family or once a year during our town’s Rattlesnake Derby. Our town of about 2,500 residents exploded to about 40,000 people during exactly one weekend a year. A stranger was a rare but existent occurrence and I could understand the danger.

For my kids, stranger danger is somewhat meaningless and outmoded. It’s not simply outdated. Our daily lives encounter or have the capacity to encounter millions of strangers every day. Our modes of transportation, schooling, research, community, play, and communication are fundamentally different now than when I was a child. I feel deeply inconsistent when I talk to my kids about strangers.

“Don’t talk to strangers.”

“Allow this nurse you may have only seen maybe once a year stick a sharp needle in your arm.” [Yes, we immunize. That’s a different topic.]

“Go to class with this lady/gentleman we just met five seconds ago during a mass orientation.”

“If you’re in trouble, find an emergency worker or responsible adult.”

“Don’t be afraid to make new friends today at the park.”

“But, remember, don’t talk to strangers.”

As the adult, I’m confused. These rules are no rules at all. As a parent, I consciously strive to hold my kids accountable to rules only if I can comprehend them. You go to school because it is the law. You do not bully because it is wrong. Don’t think differently of people with differences because all our differences are just DNA. Learn and obey pedestrian and bicycle traffic laws because they keep you safe.

I cannot comprehend stranger danger as a rule. It makes no sense to me, so I know I cannot reasonably expect to explain it understandably to my kids. And this is not like math. I cannot simply send my children to someone else to learn stranger danger. Or, at least in my mind, I shouldn’t.

Almost exactly two years ago I started teaching for Amridge University in the Criminal Justice program. I teach about public safety and security, terrorism, emergency planning and preparedness, and other related topics. Turns out, teaching these subjects has been a tremendous help to my anxiety disorder! When you teach, you learn new things over and over.

I could go on for days about safety and security matters, but I’m here to share just one strategy I use with my own boys to help them learn situational awareness. The state of the world requires us to be situationally aware. I plead with you not to leave your own security to the fates of national alert color schemes and freebie password managers, but I urge you in the strongest possible ways – teach yourself and your children the most basic concept of situational awareness.

The Boyd Cycle Chart is a modified rendering of the Boyd Cycle, credited to John Boyd. Mr. Boyd counsels that situational awareness occurs cyclicly with these steps: observe, orient, decide, and act. After teaching students in the military, emergency services, and private security careers, I have taken their input and modified the cycle’s steps to: observe, orient, decide/act, and assess. For the purposes of the chart and my kids, I added a fifth step, called begin again.

In any situation – at home, at events, at shopping centers, at the zoo, at work, with friends and family – I want my children to be safe. That’s given for most of us. But safety happens only two ways: 1) accidentally and 2) intentionally. Sometimes, all the intentional steps in the world will not keep us safe, but if we do not intend to be safe our chances decline rapidly into accidental ranges. The Boyd Cycle works equally well for a child or a military officer, because each uses it at her own level of understanding, scope, and responsibility.

In every situation, I want my children to observe their surroundings, orient (aim, adjust) their thoughts and behaviors toward their surroundings, decide and act based on their surroundings, assess their decisions, and reevaluate. I don’t merely want them to identify strangers. I want them to identify friends and emergency workers. I want them to be aware of the situation.

But let me write for a moment about applications beyond stranger-danger safety. I want my children to be aware of where they are or where they are being led. I want my children to be aware of who should be allowed to touch their bodies under very controlled and understood circumstances (for example, health and wellness). I want my children to be aware of safety hazards like deep water and weapons. I want my children to identify emergency exits wherever they are and to make a plan if something goes badly wrong.

Beyond my own kids’ safety, I want these boys of mine to be aware if someone around them is hurting physically or emotionally. I want them to recognize when they or others are having fun at the expense of someone else. If they are not aware, they can neither help nor get help. The Boyd Cycle empowers them to take stock. To aim their actions toward a specific outcome. To decide to stop or intervene or get help. To evaluate the situation so that a dangerous situation FOR ANYONE becomes less so FOR EVERYONE. This is “no means no” (which we also practice) on steroids. This is, if one person’s not having fun, no one is having fun. This is empathy and strategy and windows in dark situations.

I will use the chart to keep talking to them as they grow. They should gain capabilities in situational awareness age appropriately. Eldest is 10, and I don’t yet put in brutal focus ‘no means no’. Instead, we talk about a game of tag when one brother or friend says to stop chasing. No means no. Hear it. Aim yourself at compliance. Choose to stop chasing. Reevaluate. We talk about his rights to say no and to expect it. If anyone (even an adult, even a parent, even in good natured, ‘harmless’ fun) is doing a non-essential thing to him (think: tickling, chasing, sneaking up and scaring, or truly horrific things), he can and should say no and the adult can and should abide. As he ages and matures, the same cycle can be used to discuss any circumstance – high-risk, low-risk, and no-risk – that I can imagine.

I must entrust decision making to my little boys. And they are still little boys. They are not always with me. I cannot and will not make all their decisions for them. I can train them to use the Boyd Cycle, but I cannot guarantee they’ll make the best decisions with the information they glean from it. None of us is perfect.

But if we keep trying – all of us, old and young, every nationality, every religion, every DNA, every individual – don’t you think we have to get better at this thing called life sometime?