Today is my second week anniversary of being in Baltimore, and many people are calling, texting, emailing and assigning me to answer “How was your first week?,” “what are you learning?,” “how are you feeling about it?”
And my response to all involved is, in a word: “OVERWHELMED.”
(Both in good and in bad ways.)
FIRST a terminology introduction (weird jargon I have learned in these past two weeks):
Cohort — the band of a dozen or so women that are comprised of my major in Community Arts program. To me “cohort” sounds like we are a COVEN…or like we are up to no good. I had never heard the term before my first day of Orientation at MICA and then I heard it so many times per day/week I started to question if it was a drinking game (“COHORT!” = Drink!). The word still makes me giggle…even two weeks later.
I am also learning Baltimore LOVES it’s acronyms as words...
MFACA — pronounced “Ma-Fa-Ka.” It is actually a short way of saying “Masters of Fine Arts Degree with a Focus in Community Arts” — MFACA, Ma-Fa-Ka. But this term sounds to me like you are calling someone a terrible name, like “I hate that gal, she’s a ‘Ma-fa-ka.'”
CAC — MFACA is often paired with CAC — and when I read it I want to say “See Ay See” — but it’s actually “CACK.” What is more confusing is it is “MaFaKa Cack” Students. CAC is actually a notation that you are working with the AmeriCorps, specifically their Community Art Collective. So why is it not A-Cack? I dunno.
Speaking of AmeriCorps its “AmeriCORE not AmeriCorpse” — that was actually a notation in our intro packet. I also say that I am a MexiCAN, not a MexiCAN’T.
DMV – this one is spelled out (“D-M-V”), but the person notating this is not talking about getting a license or get their car registered, they are referring to DC, Maryland, Virginia area. Since everything is so close…it has a nickname? But I don’t think I am ever gonna get “Department of Motor Vehicles” out of my head when I hear it.
Baltimorean? — I thought that is a person who lives in Baltimore…I mentioned I was a “new Baltimorean,” but I was corrected as it is a cultural reference too…the loose definition that was given to me was it is something similar to a “cholo” or a “gangsta,” but one who dates around. I am not sure the root of it, or even the exact definition and if it is offensive to ask them if they are one — in the respect/idea “Are you from this area originally?” I am going to stick to simply asking them where do they “hail from” and leave the word on the table, as not to possibly offend.
I question if it is up there with the term “ratchet” — it is a neutral word in some circles vs. a true insult in another.
First…the OVERWHELMING good:
I am overwhelmed with joy that a long-put-aside dream of mine is finally coming true. My first major in under-grad was art education and I have known that I wanted to teach art since back when I was still in high school…AND that was a high-schoolers-age ago. But, I am here, in a city I never would have even dreamed of moving to prior, going to the third best art school in the nation, and doing exactly the thing I have aspired to do for decades. (kiss fingertips and toss away)
It is also doubly amazing to read authors (from the prescribed reading list) — and even to hear my fellow cohort members — debating, complaining, or pushing a proverbial fist in the air against topics that most people in my Red home-state of Arizona would either squirm with discomfort or get angrily defensive about if it was to be discussed openly as I have got to in this past week — i.e. intesectionality , racial prejudice, sexism, preferred personal pronouns, even physical and/or sexual abuse. It is simultaneously deliciously liberating and oddly foreign to be able to truly stretch and strengthen those muscles.
I am also truly astounded by, and HONORED to be counted amongst the MICA student body (and specifically my MFACA cohort). It has been very frustrating to me in both my academic and professional life to have to work with people that were just floating through life, mediocrely talented mainly due to lack of vision/drive, and often times even worse, totally lacking any passion for their life or their work. Coming into this MFACA community and everyone coming out with candor and willingness, while staying curious and humble — it is absolutely awe striking.
In short, I fell amazing blessed to be here and lucky to be so.
Then…the (not so) bad:
I feel a lot like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz…I got sucked up in a whirlwind of events that landed me somewhere I knew little to nothing about. I left my home behind to go in search of a greater mind (or really greater mindS). It is confusing and foreign and I am meeting people along this trail that remind me of the characters “from home.” I don’t know if that is my way of dealing with my culture shock or if it is foreshadowing of something else I will learn. But I am constantly cross comparing Baltimore to things in Arizona and/or Phoenix.
I compare row houses to track houses. Grid street systems to older public city roads that seem to be more living breathing organisms. A walking, talking small-town-feeling metro vs. my former city full of commuters who don’t seem to want to make eye contact with one another. I am also seeing the alignments of the racism and/or prejudice that is neighborhoods/townships…
- In the example of Arizona — Indian reservations, ghettos and set suburbs.
- In Baltimore, it seems to be constructed into the city’s urban planning, almost constructing areas that bottle neck and making it difficult to get out of. Literally and figuratively too.
I think like any new place, it is simultaneously intimidating and FASCINATING.
Like Dorothy, I also lack experience in this new world and I am a little worried about my ability to keep up in the program — especially when I get out in the field in my assigned 1700 hours of volunteerism through AmeriCorp.
- …come from an education undergrad program or background*
- …travel internationally (or domestically) to volunteer as a professional educator*
- …do as much as I could have done in public arts or even public works*
- …put my political money where my mouth was, and speak my truth/identity loudly/proudly*
* – And my fellow cohort ladies all did one or some combination of the above list
Not that anything is truly an apples to apples comparison when you are talking about the skill sets of people, but I wonder if my lack of experience there might hinder me later in this program. OR is my business acumen paired with my curious tenacity get me through. (cough)IhaveNeverDoneALessonPlanBefore(coughCough), (cough)GoshMyCohortIsImpressive(coughCough)
I am both excited and scared for the next six weeks. It sounds to me we will be in a true BOOT CAMP experience. And we will be learning by putting ourselves in some discomfort battle zones.
However, I am a little jealous of Dorothy and her experience in that she had a goal as soon as she came out of the house. She declared it immediately to Ms. Glenda and was put on her path with an Emerald Objective. I guess my “Dorothy” goal is not to necessarily get back to Kansas, but more to cultivate a in the wonderful land of Oz (or Oz as I see it — or the world as I would like to see it). I am on those first steps of the yellow brick road and I have a rough idea of where I would like to end up…but I also am a little crippled by choice. There are so many organizations I would like to work with, so many things I would like to create, so many people I would need to connect with to get it done…and it feels overwhelming on how to choose or where to start.
The world is my oyster, yes, but that freedom isn’t free.