I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
February 1, 2022: Donna Miscolta
“Welcome to Kindergarten” is the first story in Donna Miscolta’s wonderful linked collection Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories, and just like that, we’re off to school with Angie. In thirteen stories, one from each grade, we have a front row seat as Angie figures out the world around her.
When we first meet Angie, it’s the sixties. Her father is in the Navy, and the family has travelled to Hawaii. Angie is on a quest to see a Hawaiian person.
In the morning welcome circle, Angie could see all the faces of her classmates, all of them pink, pale, or freckled. Then there was hers–toast, well-done…
In this land of Hawaii where she had yet to see any Hawaiians, Angie was aware that in the classroom, the three of them [Angie, Canuto who was Filipino, and Mrs. Pai the teacher] were somehow the same.
In the second story, “Monster,” when Angie is in first grade, a friend asks if she is Hawaiian. “No, Mexican,” Angie replies, and she is promptly requested to say something in Mexican. When Angie wears a party dress to school, everyone assumes it’s her birthday. “Angie wondered how she got here in this lie, in this dress.” But in her pretty dress, instead of being the last one chosen during dance, the boys cluster around. “What a difference a dress makes,” she thinks.
“Social Studies,” when Angie is in fourth grade and living in California, is one of my favorites. Take a look at the way Donna describes unhappiness.
At lunchtime, Angie picked at half of her egg salad sandwich. Why didn’t her mother remember that she hated egg salad? A squishy mouthful would surely make her gag. Resentful and cross, Angie shoved a hunk of sandwich in her mouth, thinking that she would willingly let the chips (or egg salad goo) fall where they may. But while the sensation was definitely unpleasant, the urge to upchuck did not materialize and now Angie was happy to suffer the slow torture of chewing and swallowing the gooey chaos that swamped her tongue. Sometimes unhappiness has a texture.
“Help,” is my favorite of the younger Angie chapters. The Beatles song is a perfect backdrop for sixth grade, and Donna’s timing as she integrates the song into the story, both as itself and as metaphor, is perfect. I underlined so many passages, but I’ll give you this one. Eva is Angie’s older sister.
As she sang along to “Help!” Angie watched Eva take off her shoes and stockings and lipstick, watched her unmask herself, hoping to see the old Eva appear, the one who once showed her how to shuffle a deck of cards, ride a bike with no hands, track the arc of a fly ball so it landed smack in her glove.
“What are you staring at? Eva snapped.
Angie moved her gaze to the ceiling and kept singing.
Eva turned off the record player.
“When did you get so mean?” Angie asked, but she knew the answer, knew that it was the junior high costume, its poor fit, the feeling of being trapped in those stockings.
Okay, one more. Angie’s mom has just told Angie and Eva to be quiet and asked them when they’re going to grow up.
Eva stomped to her room to play Neil Sedaka and Angie escaped to the back yard and sat in one of the swings that even Anthony now shunned. She scraped the dirt with her heels as she thought about her mother’s question, which was the wrong question. Angie knew the when of growing up was now. The real question was how.
I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that the last two chapters, which take place in eleventh and twelfth grade respectively, provide a terrific ending to this collection of linked stories and to Angie’s days at school.
Donna is also the author of the novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced and an earlier collection Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories, which won the Doris Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman, an Independent Publishers Award for Best Regional Fiction, and an International Latino Book Award for Best Latino Focused Fiction. Donna was born in San Diego and grew up in National City, California. She now lives in Seattle.
Come back on FEBRUARY 1st to read how DONNA MISCOLTA spends her days.