Mike Can Draw
By ice rivers
Some stories are so lovely that I hesitate to write them. Some legends are so fragile and delicate that I'm reluctant to reveal them. Here's a lovely story and a delicate legend all in one.
I'll try to do them justice before the memories fade completely as the blur increases every day.
I remember his first day in class. He was fresh off the boat. I mean that literally. He was a boat person from Viet Nam. He was in my English class.
He didn't speak a word of English.
I didn't know what to do with him that first day so I somehow signalled/sent him to the main office to pick up an attendance sheet.
The secretary at the main office was expecting a student from another class named Mike. When my student arrived, whatever his name was, it wasn't Mike. Helen asked my new student if his name was Mike. He didn't know what Helen was saying but he knew a question when he heard one.
He nodded his head up and down.
Helen said "Here, Mike", and gave him the papers.
He returned to my classroom a few minutes later without the attendance sheet but with whatever administrivia Helen was supposed to give to "Mike". I took the paper from him. I said thanks and asked him what his name was. He said "Mike"
I said "Hi, Mike"
That's how Mike got his name.
Aside from the single word "Mike", Mike spoke no English. We were a pair, Mike and I.
Mike would come into class, take his seat and listen with great patience and attention to the academic tumult engulfing him. I knew something of the concept of linguistic immersion wherein a person learns a foreign language more quickly by surrounding himself with it. I believed this was happening with Mike although I didn't know for certain. I did know that in this case English was the "foreign" language to Mike and he was surrounded.
One day after a couple of weeks, I noticed that Mike was taking "notes" of what I was saying. I couldn't imagine what Mike's notes looked like so I casually made my way to his desk to sneak a peek. Mike's "note" was a surreal and photographic drawing of a rose. As I looked at the rose, I was amazed as much by its sensitivity of rendering as I was by its virtousity.
Near the drawing, I wrote the word "rose."
Then I said the word "rose"
I spelled the word "R..O..S..E"
Mike smiled and said "rose"
I took a risk. I had a feeling the risk would be approved by Mike.
I announced to the class. "Check this out, everybody. Mike can draw."
Everybody crowded around Mike's desk.
Everybody look at the rose.
Everybody flipped out.
Everybody started saying "Mike can draw"
Eventually Mike got the message.
He spoke his first English sentence in English class.
This is what he said.
"Mike can draw"
Time stood still.
I'm here to tell you, Mike could draw.
Many scholars praise the efficient linguistic style of Julius Caesar, how much he could say with how few words. All of France is divided into three parts. Has anyone ever said more with fewer words at the beginning of his story.
This is the beginning of Mike's story.
Mike Can Draw.
Mike not only continued to draw but he also continued to listen with purpose and intention. Mike observed not only with his eyes but also with his heart and mind. Mike's vocabulary began to grow as he listened and observed. Nouns first then verbs then adjectives.
Here's the story of the first adjective I can remember.
One day, I walked over to Mike's desk and noticed that he had been sketching a portrait of himself.
On his portrait, I wrote a bunch of nouns with arrows like "mike" and "nose" and "eyes" and "ears"and "head" and "neck" and "body".
I pointed to each word and said it. Mike repeated the word with me.
Then I added the adjective.
I wrote "famous"; drew an arrow to the picture of Mike and said the word.
Mike hesitated a second and then asked "Mike famous?"
I said "yes, Mike is famous"
Mike startled me with his reply.
"no, Mike not famous. You, Mr. Rivers...you famous."
I realized that Mike's language skills were blossoming with as much beauty as his drawing skills.
From that day on, every time I saw Mike I would always say.
"Here's the famous Mike."
And Mike would always say, "Mike not famous. Mr. Rivers famous."
We would laugh.
We were connected.
Sure enough, Mike WAS becoming famous, at least in my class. I was running the school newspaper at the time. I asked Mike, still using arrows, objects and printed words if he would draw a comic strip for the paper. He drew the strip. The school read Mike's comic. His character was a lion, The school loved it. Mike's fame grew. His audience expanded.
By this time, everybody in my class knew something rare was happening with Mike and his art, kids were always crowding around his desk to see what new drawings were coming alive.
About this time, Mike develped a crush on Kathy.
I discovered this when Mike showed me a picture of Kathy that he had been drawing.
Mike was stylizing Kathy rather than photographing her with his rendering. I immediately recognized Kathy even with her stylized, over sized Disney girl eyes. I wrote "Kathy" on Mike's paper and drew an arrow. Mike blushed and smiled.
I could tell Mike wanted another word from me, an adjective perhaps so under Kathy, I wrote "beautiful" and drew another arrow.
Mike put the drawing away. His portrait of Kathy was not an image that he intended to show to the class. Not only were we connected; we had a secret.
A couple of weeks passed and Mike's language skills kept growing.
One day, he took out the picture of Kathy and showed me something new that he had added. He showed me that he knew how to change and adjective into a noun.
Under my printing of "beautiful", Mike had printed a word of his own.
This is the Mike had printed in painstaking calligraphy.