Ask the Oracle

Using kids' own writing to divine the future

Just up the hill from Downtown Seattle is the Hotel Sorrento, elegant and old, the kind of place that just stepping into the lobby feels like a vacation, even if you rode the bus there through your own home town. Luckily for Seattleites, there are plenty of occasions to hang out in that lobby, including the Silent Reading Party (currently online and which I have somehow never made it to, even online, as Wednesdays are not my day), and a reading series called (something like) Ask the Oracle.

The premise was simple: an elegant room full of people eating fancy snacks write their most pressing (or absurd) questions on slips of paper. The MC (KEXP’s Johnny Horn) pulls a question out and poses it to the Oracles (three writers sitting on stools). The Oracles flip open their own books to random pages and read the answers that pops off the page to them.  Wisdom, absurdity, and unexpected poetry ensue.

I made it to one of these fabulous events – this was pre-parenthood and pre-pandemic – and got to hear Rebecca Makkai and Ramon Isao and someone whose name is lost to the shrouds of time (I mean, bad memory), and it was amazing partly because it was the Sorento but also because the writers were really having fun and so was the audience, which is rare at many Serious Literary Events somehow. Afterwards I ended up at Dino’s with the Oracles and the MC. Dino’s is the inverse of the Sorrento, a time capsule of historic sleaze, also wonderful, and I can’t remember what anyone said as we ate late night fried things in a dark booth, but it’s one of those memories that gives me pandemic suburban early parenthood oxygen. This is life beyond these four jam-smeared walls!

And anyways, fellow parents, we can hold our own Oracle readings, right here in our sticky living rooms. You can use any texts – there’s a long tradition of looking for guidance by flipping open wisdom texts that this riffs on – but it’s especially fun, once they have a notebook of writing, to let your kids draw from their own work. There’s something really satisfying about flipping through a book, even spiral bound, that you wrote yourself and making grand pronouncements. It could also be fun to have different Oracles have very different kinds of texts – maybe some esoteric poetry, a kids’ chapter book, and an appliance manual?

Have everyone write a bunch of questions, put them in a hat, and pose them to the Oracles. The Oracles flip to a random page and read whatever jumps out at them – a word, a phrase, a sentence. Divine whatever meaning you can. At some point, rotate to new Oracles so everyone gets a turn. Costumes, fancy snacks, and loungy music encouraged.

Happy 2021! Let’s see what this future holds.

And if you like A Few Crooked Words, please share. I know there are more parents out there in their own jam-smeared houses doing their best to instill a love of writing (and handwashing) in their children. Let’s do it together.

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