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Making Progress

Bellow are two writing assignments from this semester. They are significant to me because not only am I starting to feel more confident in my writing-- I'm really starting to enjoy it. Also are two images of work in progress in the studio.


Missing From The State of the Union

Fiction writing by Rachael Zur

Background—The State of Our Schools:

The mural on the outside wall of my classroom has books that fly along the arch of a rainbow, and worlds like “believe” and “goals” hang in the sky. The paint is faded and is beginning to peel. It looks the way that dirt does when it has dried on top of a mud puddle and the mud is still moist bellow, making lots of little cracks. Two summers ago, my family and some of my friends’ families helped repaint the mural. They said that the school didn’t have enough money to fix it, so we all helped out. Dad says we’ll probably need to help out with that again next summer.

A big air conditioning unit hangs midway from my classroom window. On a hot day when the unit is running, it sounds like an engine that will blast the students and teacher into space. A field trip worthy of Ms. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus! There are 32 of us in this class. Our classroom is in a portable. It’s a building that was supposed to be temporary until the school could build a new building. My mom actually had this same classroom when she was in kindergarten at this same school! Now it’s my third grade classroom. Our class doesn’t really fit in the portable, making it feel stuffy and crowded.

“Pfff!” and then a sound of gears winding down slowly… The air conditioning just broke. Again. Everyone starts talking and asking questions about what happened. Some kids race to the window. “Class, sit down. I’m going to call the office.” The office can do very little; the man who fixes the air conditioning doesn’t work at our school. We’ve all experienced this many times before, but there is always that group of kids who can’t wait to stop working on their math facts.

I look down at my assignment, a drop of sweat lands on the page, messing up the question. My fingers start to feel slippery holding the pencil, so I wipe them on my shorts so that I can get a better grip. It won’t be too much longer until two o’clock and then I can go home. My friend Jill stays here until six o’clock in the after-school program. I hope that she brought enough water from home. Mom says not to drink the water from the drinking fountain because the pipes in the school are leaking lead. It was on the news last week!

Left off His Infrastructure to-do List:

I’ve been serving as assistant superintendent of business services for this school district for five years now. This follows a long career of working in business services for many different school districts throughout the state. In this district I’ve inherited a substantial facilities crisis not from my predecessors, but from the lasting effects of the great recession. During the recession the school district had to make hard choices about preserving programs and keeping teachers, or fixing roofs. These difficult decisions required strategic planning about which programs to keep in order to meet the academic standards set forth by the state, as well as working with the specific concerns that are unique to our community.

The cost of addressing deferred maintenance in our district is the same dollar amount as our entire annual operating budget. Colleagues of mine working in other school districts face similar issues and worse. “Indeed, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave public schools a D+ in its 2017 infrastructure report card.” At school board meetings, parents come out in force when programs affecting their own child may be cut. (This happens more often than we would like, as we look for creative solutions to try to fund fixing our facilities.) Suggestions from community members often include cutting our own salaries. The public does not seem to grasp that even if these salaries were cut to nothing, that this would not address the multimillion dollar crisis that this small school district faces. The overwhelming pressure of these meetings has become agonizing for me. To get through them and keep my composure with frustrated parents, teachers, and public, I have started taking mental breaks to my safe space – where I walk out of the meeting room and go open a bed and breakfast in a coastal community off Highway 1.

I’m a logical person who looks at numbers and facts to project out what will happen next. Surely years of education being under-funded by democrats and republicans alike should configure a very clear picture. On Tuesday night when I tuned into the State of the Union address, imagine my surprise when the president called on Congress to pass a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package. Schools are one of largest infrastructures in our country, this had to be where some of the funding would be going. I continued to listen, creeping closer and closer to the edge of my seat. I waited for words that would affirm that the tide was changing for schools and that help was on the way. Before I knew it, the address was over. Education left out. I poured vodka straight into what was left of my pint of ice cream, scarfing it down as I began searching Zillow for a Victorian in quaint coastal community.

The Collective Gasp:

MommyMJ73: What does schools being left out of the state of the union mean for charter schools? We were really excited about Trump because of his support of school choice, but now we’re not so sure.


N.McCuskey: With schools, there's been a fair amount of evidence that the money isn't used all that efficiently and that school districts in some cases may not have been as vigilant as they should have been in maintaining buildings to begin with. Your kid’s school would be fine if the people running it knew what they were doing. Just saying.


MommyMJ73: @N.McCuskey we asked that you be respectful if you post on this forum. I think the folks at my son’s school are doing a great job.

Cat82: @MommyMJ73 I think that means that the repairs that you’re worried about at your son’s school are still going to be an issue. Thank goodness he’s not in one of those public schools that have the lead in the drinking water! Yikes!

N.McCuskey: If it's not directly the district taxpayer money, there is some incentive to say,

‘Let's not only look closely as to why we have maintenance problems but let's instead allocate money for the new planetarium,” which may not be all that necessary. Obviously if the government gives schools money to fix a roof they will spend it on something unnecessary like a school garden.


Cat82: @N.McCuskey that’s a rather insensitive comment considering that the mold issue at MommyMJ73 son’s school has been causing him serious health issues.

ScoutDad26: @MommyMJ73 Since the Trump administration has made school choice such a priority we also thought that there would be some funding coming to charter schools since we don’t receive very much local or state funding for maintenance.

MommyMJ73: @ScoutDad26 that’s what we thought too.


Fictional writing in response to:

Will Trump Help Rebuild America's Schools?

By Lauren Camera, Education Reporter Jan. 31, 2018, at 11:46 a.m.


pictured: work in progress spring semester


Beauty is a Problematic Word

Talk Poem by Rachael Zur

Inspired by the Work Of David Antin

dave hickey is feisty he just jumps in to champion beauty in his essays he doesn’t bother to define it right away and beauty is a problematic word it quickly ignites debate in the art world, we don’t have an agreed-upon rubric for what beauty is hickey is so up-in-arms to protect beauty which might be okay (if his beauty is the beauty I like )

i want to try and get to……at least a rubric that works for me of how i would define beauty and i think it’s something that’s not just aesthetics i’m thinking of things that are well accepted as being beautiful

so, a sunset for instance a sunset is something that a lot of people would agree is beautiful (or can be beautiful) hickey would probably say it’s beautiful a sunset is something that stops us in our tracks, because of its beauty, (unless I’m driving, or it’s just an okay-ish sunset) there’s an action to a sunset hickey says it’s the pleasant surprise that we find beautiful I don’t think that’s quite it

a sunset is not surprising we know under the right atmospheric conditions it will occur

and further when it will happen

(5:45 pm I’ll set my clock to enjoy 10 minutes of beauty later today)

a sunset is not something passive, it’s an action it’s this moment of transition and then-- it’s fleeting then it’s over its changing before our eyes somehow enhances it

another thing that people universally, (not universally, frequently) find beautiful can be nature and thinking about the experience of being out in an ecosystem the trails that i like to hike there’s nothing passive about that environment trees fall down and start to decay--- out of them the new trees are growing right out of [where] the old trees [were], it feels like a sort of strange cannibalism on the trees are whole other sets of worlds of fungus and licorice fern plants and animals making their homes on each other, at each other’s expense at times it’s not passive i think hickey would champion this as beauty certainly so if it was a painting

(he also champions blue skies and open highway as beauty in his writings honestly, I could do without the highway and CO2 emissions)

sometimes in art theory people will describe landscape paintings as something beautiful that we can enter into a landscape painting makes it beautiful even if it’s a space that we can enter into we are not looking at something that is passive ecosystems are dynamic and fierce (i live with a scientist, these are the sort conversations we have about the aggressive behavior of plants) viewers need to remember when they are looking at a landscape it’s a space of things constantly breaking down and one animal eating another animal so it can survive And yet when we go out into nature onto these trails, it’s beautiful i think everyone understands, even if it’s just a little, that the wilderness can be dangerous is the danger part of the beauty? (no i think that’s the sublime i’m thinking of)

in nature, things weather each other down, water weathers rock and there’s a violence to that, but it’s not a violence with malice it’s not something operating with a human set of morals per se it’s the work of gravity it’s something very basic

maybe beauty is so hard to describe because it’s something that we know it when we see it, or when we feel it, maybe it doesn’t actually have a physical embodiment, maybe what’s physically there that we are calling beautiful is the evidence the evidence that beauty was there maybe beauty is more like an action like love is an action love is not an emotion it’s the work that we put into something or someone i feel like for the people i care about it’s the sacrifices that i make for them or the situations that i put myself in that are uncomfortable or to go the extra mile for them that’s when i can tell that i love someone it’s getting up in the middle of the night to take care of someone who is sick to inconvenience myself for someone and be thankful the pleasure in helping them feels like a form of gravity

i’m also wondering too if beauty and the word attractive have been laced together too many times Rightfully we question—question beauty—when it is linked to physical attractiveness in people with physical attractiveness, we know from biology that it’s symmetry in the human face that people find attractive symmetry in the face, that’s just a roll of the dice with genetics it’s not earned (i kind of want beauty to be something earned then as my face loses its symmetry with age, i’ll have earned that through surviving

like an aggressive plant in a forest that stakes out its turf)

i know for myself that i can be talking with someone who has a face that has attractive (symmetrical) features if they say something particularly mean spirited i stop seeing anything beautiful in their appearance in that moment or conversely when someone doesn’t have attractive features but they do or say something particularly noble it does seem to change the way that the person physically appears making their every feature alive with a quality that honestly the only word I can think of is beautiful

i really want to come up with a definition for beauty, because it seems really bizarre to me that there is this argument of its legitimacy yet we have such difficulty in pinning down what this word really means if it just meant attractive, there would be nothing worth defending i’d like to think that hickey’s feistiness is proof that he knows beauty is something more under its surface, it is more rich and complex than a dictionary definition

it’s not the same thing as love, but i think it’s similar whatever its essence really is perhaps we locate it by evidence of where it has been to me it’s the things that insist on their survival something gritty that refuses to be broken in humanity that unbrokenness is refusing to give in to the easy apathy of the world. when i see that in a work of art to me that’s beautiful when i see that in a human being it is perhaps more so but there’s more to it than that and I can’t quite pin it down

at this time all I can really offer is the proposition that whatever beauty is may perhaps more akin to a verb than adjective

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