Musings

Stories Will Save Us

These days, I am immersed in several pieces of literature, three of which have uncanny connections to the current socio-political atmosphere.

Having just finished analyzing To Kill a Mockingbird with my English 101s, I am struck again by Lee’s portrayal of a culture on the cusp of change, of the willful ignorance of a people deeply entrenched in their own social privilege and power. I want to keep aware of the book’s faults when it comes to teaching a diverse body of students in the 2000s: Atticus as the white savior, the fact that it’s yet another white child’s coming of age story, the use of the n-word (even in the context of the story). Still, I think it’s a powerful tool for helping 14- and 15-year-olds understand not only the history of systemic racism in our country, but also the social context, of how people deliberately ignore the imbalances of privilege and power. I want them to make the connection to ourselves, to explore how systems of privilege and power still affect the ways in which we see ourselves and others today. Sometimes I feel as though I am teaching three books at once: it’s literature, it’s history, it’s social commentary.

In another class, we’re finishing up an exploration of Julius Caesar. Again, I keep feeling an uncanny connection to the politics of today–not the assassination bit, of course, but the ways in which the powerful act for their own ambition while saying they work for the good of the country, the ways in which the mob can be manipulated to do the will of those who have power.

At home, we are reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. We just read the bit about the Death Eaters who attacked and terrified and mortified a family of Muggles after the Quidditch World Cup. All I could see, as the boys and I were talking about it, was young men marching through Charlottesville with torches. It’s the same story, really, about people dehumanizing those who are not like them, drunk on their own social power, using fear and threats to intimidate. Each time I re-read her books, I am more deeply aware of how Rowling understands social systems, how she portrays systemic injustices even as she’s creating a magical world. I’ve often thought that young people ought to be required to read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The student resistance at Hogwarts resembles the European resistance movements in World War II. What do you do when your own governing structures have been infiltrated by Death Eaters? I am more aware than ever now how Rowling began setting up the complex social and political systems even in the early books.

Stories will save us, if we let them. We choose the stories we follow, like we choose the voices we listen to. Of course, stories can be misused, if we abdicate our responsibility to think and question and process because we rely on the tired plots we know, if we simply let the old stories keep telling us, if we refuse to participate in the creation of the new story. Still, stories can be dangerous to the status quo, making us question our roles, helping us to identify more clearly who we want to be in the current plot, offering us maps and possibilities so that we can take the current where it serves us.


Satuday’s Musings:

“In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.” —Phil Ochs
***
“The sense-making in poetry is about getting behind the brain. A poem is a door. Sometimes poets make sturdy, locked, exclusive club doors that you can only enter if you are one of ‘us,’ or if your can speak (or pretend to know) the password. A really good and satisfying poem is an open and inviting doorway that frames the view in a particularly compelling way. ‘Look!’ it says. ‘Stand and stare. Take a deep breath. Then tell me what you see.’

“Good poetry, I think, holds a paradoxical perspective on language itself: it acknowledges the inadequacy of words to completely map an inner geography, and it also steps with reverence and awe into the sacred space that language creates between writer and reader. Words are both inadequate and holy.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider, 2014
***
“Where does despair fit in? Why is our pain for the world so important? Because these responses manifest our interconnectedness. Our feelings of social and planetary distress serve as a doorway to systemic social consciousness. To use another metaphor, they are like a “shadow limb.” Just as an amputee continues to feel twinges in the severed limb, so in a sense do we experience, in anguish for homeless people or hunted whales, pain that belongs to a separated part of our body—a larger body than we thought we had, unbounded by our skin. Through the systemic currents of knowing that interweave our world, each of us can be the catalyst or “tipping point” by which new forms of behavior can spread. There are as many different ways of being responsive as there are different gifts we possess. For some of us it can be through study or conversation, for others theater or public office, for still others civil disobedience and imprisonment. But the diversities of our gifts interweave richly when we recognize the larger web within which we act. We begin in this web and, at the same time, journey toward it. We are making it conscious.” —Joanna Macy
***
Why Are Your Poems So Dark?
by Linda Pastan

Isn’t the moon dark too,
most of the time?
And doesn’t the white page
seem unfinished
without the dark stain
of alphabets?
When God demanded light,
he didn’t banish darkness.
Instead he invented
ebony and crows
and that small mole
on your left cheekbone.
Or did you mean to ask
“Why are you sad so often?”
Ask the moon.
Ask what it has witnessed.


Gratitude List:
1. Sunshine
2. Story
3. Sleep
4. A clean house
5. A blue true dream of sky

May we walk in Radiant Beauty!

Gratitudes, Musings, Poems

Minds Like Still Water

“On teaching:…the job seems to require the sort of skills one would need to pilot a bus full of live chickens backwards, with no brakes, down a rocky road through the Andes while simultaneously providing colorful and informative commentary on the scenery.” ―Franklin Habit
*
“We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.” ―W.B. Yeats
*
“We’re all lovers and we’re all destroyers. We’re all frightened and at the same time we all want terribly to trust. This is part of our struggle. We have to help what is most beautiful to emerge in us and to divert the powers of darkness and violence. I learn to be able to say, ‘This is my fragility. I must learn about it and use it in a constructive way.'” ―Jean Vanier
*
“I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire. 
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid, more accessible;
to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.”
―Dawna Markova


Gratitude:
Not so much a list tonight. A recognition, perhaps of the thrumming of the web, the sense of connection and holding spaces for each other. The warmth of face-to-face connections and eye contact. Twinkling eyes. The fierce protectiveness we feel for the ones in our care, and the sense of being cared for just so fiercely by others. The way lines on a page–a screen–can be drawn between us, so that we can come away with a sense that we Know each other, that we Belong in each other’s circles. That mystical sense of knowing that someone is
praying
spelling
dreaming
sending energy
holding the light
carrying stones
on my behalf, on your behalf, on behalf of the world.

May you feel yourself upon the web.

Gratitudes

Mirror in the Hands of God

“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.” –Rumi
*
“Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children.”
~ Khalil Gibran
*
“If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” –Desmond Tutu
*
“In a moment of pure frustration today, I realized that there is no angry way to say ‘bubbles.'” –Anonymous
*
“God is an artist. It invented the giraffe, the elephant, and the cat. It has no real style, it just goes on trying other things.” ~Pablo Picasso


Gratitude List:
1. Yesterday afternoon, a monarch making lazy loops through the echinacea patch behind the old classroom building at school.
2. The day before, a pair of goldfinches twittering in the same patch of echinacea.
3. A very pleasant (if a little hot) first day of school. All those thoughtful, shining faces!
4. My thoughtful and compassionate colleagues
5. Love and Learning. Love and Learning.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes

Changing the Rhythm

This is the last morning of my summer rhythm. Tomorrow, a new thing begins, a new school year. I am ready, eager for the day tomorrow with my colleagues, then welcoming the students on Tuesday. I am not entirely sure what will happen in this space. The leisurely search for quotations and ideas that summer offers will thin and dissipate like morning mist or dawn birdsong. Something will happen here, most likely daily, but I am not sure what that will look like until I am living it. Here’s to the new adventure!

“We never really grow up; we just learn how to act in public.” ~Bryan White
*
“I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter ’til they bloom, ’til you yourself burst into bloom.”
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes
*
“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die… By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heavens knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” –Charlotte the spider
*
“Love your enemies, and pray for the ones who persecute you.” ~Jesus
*
*“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” ~Doris Lessing
*
“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” ~Irish proverb
“We can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know from what we originate. The loss of purpose that so many of us feel is greater than the trajectory of our careers and personal lives, it is a cultural ailment which arises out of forgetting. Our lives are like the fruit of a heritage seed: Each of the generations that has preceded us has contributed to our life’s survival. There is an ancestral momentum to which we are beholden, and which carries us forward when we are in step with it. To hear this momentum, we must turn towards the soul. There, in our dreams, are the clues to what we love and what our lives long for.” – Dreamwork with Toko-pa
*
“To teach is to create a space in which obedience to truth is practiced.” –Parker Palmer, from Abba Felix tradition
*
“As technological civilization diminishes the biotic diversity of the earth, language itself is diminished. As there are fewer and fewer songbirds in the air, due to the destruction of their forests and wetlands, human speech loses more and more of its evocative power. For when we no longer hear the voices of warbler and wren, our own speaking can no longer be nourished by their cadences. As the splashing speech of the rivers is silenced by more and more dams, as we drive more and more of the land’s wild voices into the oblivion of extinction, our own languages become increasingly impoverished and weightless, progressively emptied of their earthly resonance.”
-David Abram


Gratitude List:
1. I met a woman named Paloma yesterday. She was very gracious when I gushed at her about how I loved her name.
2. Yesterday when I pulled in to a parking lot, I stayed in the car a while to listen to an interview with an incredibly thoughtful and articulate student leader from UVA. While I was sitting there, I began to notice the swallows. They must be migrating. There were dozens of them, making little flights between the trees, scooping up insects as they flew, the morning sun golden on their wings.
3. Today will be time with one of my beloved communities, celebrating a group of young people.
4. Playtime with cats. We have a box where we keep their toys, and Thor likes to go look in and choose which toy he wants to play with. They both love laser pointers.
5. That incredible spider. It creeped us all out when we found it in the Lego bin, but it was amazing. It didn’t seem to be as robust as a wolf spider, but it had a few inches of legs, and it was furry.

May we walk in Beauty!

Uncategorized

Green Tara


Two years ago, I spent some time meditating in an alcove at the Jesuit Center where Green Tara rested beneath a painting of the Madonna. Last year, she wasn’t there. This year, I am going to search for her again.

Today’s Quotes:
Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.”
*
“We have to consciously study how to be tender with each other until it becomes a habit.”
—Audre Lorde
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“Acknowledging our love for the living world does something that a library full of papers on sustainable development and ecosystem services cannot: it engages the imagination as well as the intellect. It inspires belief; and this is essential to the lasting success of any movement.” —George Monbiot


Gratitude List:
1. (What wakes you up?) Stiff, aching muscles from a 2.5-mile walk with my youngster yesterday. While the increasing aches of aging are challenging for me, this stiff-and-soreness is because of a delightful walk in the evening, where we just kept going. “Shall we see where the road construction began? Why don’t we just walk up Poff Road now?”
2. (What inspires you?) The friend who keeps running, keeps walking, keepings signing up for those half-marathons. Reading last year’s reflections on an educational seminar I took.
3. (What catches your eye?) Daylily, Chicory, and Queen Anne’s Lace are a-bloom again. Contrasting colors of orange and blue, and that lacy white among them.
4. (What keeps you in the moment?) The oriole calling from the honey locust trees by the parking lot.
5. (What draws you into the future?) Yesterday’s conversation with a teacher friend about the past year, about what sort of teachers we want to be. The gangly growth spurts of my children. The anticipation of next weekend’s solitude retreat.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes

My Candidate

josiah for president
Finally, a candidate I can really support!

Gratitude List:
1. Co-thinking discussions.  I love conversations in which the unstated premise is that you are taking the information or idea offered by the other/s and building upon it or re-interpreting it in your words, then leaving your piece out there for someone else to mold and shape and build upon.  I always feel like I come away from such conversation with a deeper understanding of the world than I went in.
2. Just doing the tourist thing.  We spent yesterday morning with friends being tourists in Lancaster County.  Despite the “touristiness,” it was fun to watch people and to consider what about this place makes people want to come here.  I love Lancaster County.
3. Those phoebe babies getting ready to fledge from the forebay rafters.  Nobody can look madder than a baby bird.
4. Moving into the next stage of summer.  There was the finishing up and recovery time, and then the relax a bit and play time.  Now comes the get down to business time.  It’s true that the second year of teaching in a new place is easier than the first.  It is also true that the difference can be sort of minimal.  But now, preparing for my third year, I feel much more energized for the preparations.  I can see the planning all mapped out in my head much more clearly, as opposed to simply hopefully.
5. We are not alone.  The world gets so heavy sometimes, but it’s at the heavy times that you can look around you and see all the people who are stepping out to the front to get the Work done. Sure, there’s a lot of fluffy and ranty clamor that distracts, but keep your eyes and ears open.  They’re there, stepping into the fray, holding people, presenting clear and thoughtful ideas, loving their neighbors and the world.  Often, they’re keeping their mouths shut, though sometimes they are the ones writing cogent and articulate pieces that help to shape the conversation.  Listen and watch.  The Workers are out there.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes

Blue Fire

DSCN9003

Gratitude List:
1. That spring-singer out in the trees.  Cardinal: “Pretty, pretty, pretty!”
2. Yesterday’s sunrise.  The sun came into the hollow not golden as usual, but magenta and rose.  I felt like I was inside a heart.
3. Teaching is such a balance of the giving of instruction and input, and getting out of the way of the process.  Yesterday’s Drama class was a powerful example of how the real magic often happens when the teacher slips off to the sidelines.  There’s no real formula for making that happen.  Each group is different and each day is different, but yesterday was a shining, shining Moment.  A gift.
4. The flashes of blue fire inside my labradorite beads.
5. The green eyes of that small boy over there.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes

Stretching

2013 August 175
This is a firebird in a campfire, but it feels like it belongs with the sunset thunderbird story.

Gratitude List:
1. Thunderbird Firebird Sunset: Can we do another sunset here?  It’s just that last night’s sunset was so much like a portent, like a message.  The sky behind was shading to tender aquamarine, the way it gets lighter and brighter before it darkens into night.  The clouds in front, layered lines of tufty fluff, were tinged with magenta on the bottom, with the realest indigo above, and true violet between.  The sky where the sun had just been was the glowing orange of coals.  But the most striking thing about it all was that in the space where the orange was, there was the clearly delineated shape of a thunderbird, like the ones carved by the Susquehannock people in the rocks of the River.  It was rising up out of the earth into the sky, a bird of flame.
2. An empty box: Last night, I picked up an empty cardboard box to take upstairs (we store the strongest ones in the attic).  I noticed that it was the box where I had kept the notes from my first teaching job, at Butler County Community College.  I had brought it down to put my papers in the recycling bin, and they went off in the truck early this morning.  And there’s an odd weight lifted from my shoulders.  Getting rid of my old notes and papers (which I never look at) means that I can now completely trust my own inner resources and my ability to find answers in the present day.  I can believe that what I learned in the past is part of me today, and I don’t have to keep papers as a link to my past to remind myself of what I might have forgotten.
3. I’ve got this: That’s my mantra for the time being.  I realized that although I think of myself as a fairly positive person, I have been continually feeding myself shameful messages about how I never seem to be able to stay organized and on top of things.  At the same time, I would set unrealistic goals about what I might be able to get done in any given amount of time.  In this coming season of my life, I will be setting realistic goals, and I will feed myself the message that I can do it.  Talking to a colleague yesterday, I mentioned that I am trying to keep my messages to myself positive, and without knowing my mantra, she said, “You’ve got this!”  Yes, yes, I believe I do.
4. Shakespeare and teenagers: We’re studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream in English 9 right now.  Yesterday one girl came to me after class and said, “I thought this Shakespeare stuff would be boring because it’s so old and hard to understand, but I really love this story!”  This is why I became a teacher.  Those words are a bright, bright, shiny stone that I will carry around with me for a long time.
5. Why am I at a loss to find the fifth today?  There are so many, many things that I am grateful for, but nothing seems to be quite the one that finishes this list.  Stretching.  That’s it.  Stretching.  Slow, careful, breath-infused stretching.  Yes, and that means more than it means.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes

Snow Crocus

snowcrocus
Not a particularly clear photo of the white crocus in the snow.  Among the masses of deep purple and bright violet crocus is one golden crocus who was completely covered by the snow, and this lovely white one, camouflaged in the snow.

Gratitude List:
1. Crocus in the snow
2. Crow in the snow.  There is some inward thrill I can’t quite name about those black wings flying through a field of dancing white flakes.  Also, I love seeing black wings against a field of golden corn stubble.  Black wings against a blue sky.  Black wings through misty air.
3. Yesterday’s conversations, Part A:  For my opening moments in class yesterday, I followed the lead of another teacher friend and showed a video about a high school student who was disturbed by the unkindness of tweets between students in his school.  He began a Twitter account in which he began tweeting sincere and heartfelt compliments about his friends.  People began talking about it, and it began to snowball.  I was afraid my students might be cynical, and the one class that I was most concerned about began talking about it in a slightly cynical vein, and then suddenly they were sharing about the things that hurt them, the ways they respond to unkindness, the ways they try to include each other.  We didn’t really get to my actual lesson for the day, but I am pretty certain that learned more in that spontaneous, student-generated conversation than anything I could have offered them.  I need to keep remembering that once in a while the best thing a teacher can to is just get out of the way.  Language Arts is about expanding the communication skills of students–so I consider that class a success on the academic as well as the psycho-social level.
4. Yesterday’s conversations, Part B:  I ended up getting home much later than I had planned to because a Chinese student stopped by after school to talk about how to improve his English grammar.  We went through his most recent paper in detail, and talked about how to make his sentences flow.  While we were working on the paper, we also talked about imperialism: Japanese imperialism in China at the time of World War II, and Roman imperialism at the time of the Caesars.  I love being back in the world of academia and watching my students beginning to piece together their ideas and learning.
5.  As I typed that last, I had a sudden vision in my head of my grad school professor, Dr. Zancu, who would set up a discussion, then sit back and smile and nod serenely at us as we went at it.  I feel myself in the stream of the many good teachers I have had in my life: my mother who was my Kindergarten teacher; Miss Guntz, my fifth grade teacher at Locust Grove Elementary, and my other teachers there; my teachers at LMH; professors at EMU and Millersville and Sunbridge College; Sarah Preston, who has taught me so much about putting my roots into earth and my branches among the stars.  I am incredibly grateful for my teachers.  I feel a convergence, as though all those streams of learning are meeting now.
6.  Since those last few were several parts of one theme, I am going to give myself a bonus gratitude this morning:  Rising to the occasion.  I have gotten used to saying, “That’s not in my skill set.”  And that’s great protection–it has served me well and kept me from getting too caught up in too many things that I can’t quite manage.  But there also comes a time when it seems right to say, “I am ready to grow in that area and develop those skills.”  Scary stuff, that.  I am going to take on the symbol of the mountain lion for a while, to help me focus on the inner growth that I want to develop.

May we walk in Beauty!