In Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, Natalie Goldberg gives readers first response practice via mini tests sporadically placed throughout her text. Test questions require three minutes of thoughtful first responses, for according to Goldberg, first responses are the most honest, and therefore, creative and engaging. My response to her Test II are below.
1. Mrs. Raffa, my third grade teacher at Miami Lakes Elementary (MLE), became angry with me and my classmate, Linda Bethel; we were the only two black students in her all-white classroom. Linda and I were horseplaying after class, hitting one another with our bookbags. As trivial as our behavior was, Mrs. Raffa thought it newsworthy enuf to play towncrier and run and tell my mother–who was one of the few African-American teachers there. (My mother and some of her black middle school classmates integrated MLE in 1965.) I think Mrs. Raffa, who didn’t seem as white to my 8 year old self as she does now, had been itching to find a reason to chastise my black classmate and me.
2. I first learned to read–or perhaps became cognizant of my inability to thoughtfully do so–about ten years ago when I first entered the high school classroom as a 10-12 grade English teacher. Part of my job was to assist learners with their reading skills. All too often teachers (and their students) assume that calling out words is sufficient reading practice. However, reading transcends speed and word pronunciation. Reading well includes the ability to comprehend and make meaning of direct and indirect messages. It means wholeheartedly (mind, body, and soul) engaging an author as awell as her characters.
3. Natalie Goldberg says, “Teach me something.” My response: “I’ll teach you how to breathe.” I teach what I love and what I need more practice learning myself. Breathing is vital, and it reminds people that they are alive in this very moment. As a matter of fact, Thich Nhat Hanh says that the present moment is the only place wherein one can achieve freedom. How AWEsome is that? To be alive? To be here, right now, with no expectations or obligations, except to simply breathe and be. So, Natalie, I’d teach you how to breathe. For if one learns to focus on her breath, especially during difficult times, she will gradually detach from stressful feelings and behaviors and experience freedom.
4. I remember my bald-headed grandfather, Samuel. He was a deacon at Antioch Misssionary Baptist Church, and besides my own father, he was the man of my life. He called me “Slow Motion,” ’cause he claims I took my time learning how to walk. “Slow Motion, come over here and sit on Granddaddy’s lap.” He was such a small man, but he insisted on our intimacy, and it was absolutely big and warm. He died while I was in elementary school, and I have not known such comfort and ease in a man since.