Write a Poem using Dactyls. A dactyl is a three-beat foot of poetry which uses a waltzy, juggling sort of rhythm. The Dactyl goes BUM-ba-dum. Longfellow uses it a lot in “Evangeline” and Tennyson uses it in “Charge of the Light Brigade.” Use a few feet of dactyls sprinkled here and there, or make a whole dactylic poem.
Here’s my off-the-cuff attempt (you could waltz to it):
Here we are, singing and dancing like fools, wandering into the woods and the leas, leaving the stores and the churches and schools: Follow your fancy and join us now, please.
(I just had a thought: Write a Terribledactyl poem. You know, like pterodactyl? Heh.)
Gratitude List: 1. Yesterday was tough, energy-wise–I had a big energy crash in the middle of the day, fortunately during my prep and lunch periods. Still, I am grateful that I am recovering, and this morning I feel a new surge of returning energy. I’ll conserve energy again today, but it’s nice to start out strong again. 2. Last week, one of my beloveds gave me some hand-me-downs. I LOVE hand-me-downs! And whenever I wear a shirt or a pair of pants or shoes that she gave me, I think about her during the day, and it makes me feel happy and connected. 3. Yesterday in Creative Writing, I introduced the unit project of each of us creating a chapbook with the best of the poems that we write during this unit. Halfway through the day, one of my CW students had emailed me a slideshow, beautifully designed, with several poems, just to check if she was on the right track. I love when they’re inspired by the projects. 4. Also in Creative Writing, I have given more extensions on the short story project than usual, not because people were overwhelmed or procrastinating (though there’s that element, too), but because they’ve gotten deeply into the stories, and want to extend them. There have been several earnest requests describing their process and their visions for their final stories. I feel a little like the students in these two classes are themselves elevating the class to a college level. 5. In one of my English 101 classes yesterday, the students began a spontaneous conversation on the differences between curse words and slurs. They’re very articulate and open-hearted and woke. They said they love this class because they can talk and have discussions. I tried to tell them it’s really them, as much as it’s the class–they just have this way, as a group, of building on each other’s ideas.
May we walk in Intention.
“Grief is normal. It’s not like you’ll have a life someday with no grief. Life is all about loss, but grief is the medicine for that loss. Grief is not your problem. Grief is not the sorrow. Grief is the medicine. The people that have grief cultural awareness are always turning all of their losses into beauty in order to make more life instead of just trying to get through it and then forget about it.” —Martin Prechtel
“The only weapon we have is our bodies, and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn.” —Bayard Rustin
“My turn shall also come: I sense the spreading of a wing.” —Osip Mandelstam, Russian poet and essayist
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” ―Washington Irving
“Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not necessarily something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, a-priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life.” ―David Whyte
“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness—and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. “The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling—their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. “Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” ―Arundhati Roy, War Talk
“And this brings us back to the Hen Wife—that figure of magic who dwells comfortably among us, not off by the crossroads or in the dark of the woods; who is married, not solitary; who is equally at home with the wild and domestic, with the animal and human worlds. She is, I believe, among us still: dispensing her wisdom and exercising her power in kitchens and farmyards (and the urban equivalent) to this day—anywhere that women gather, talk among themselves, and pass knowledge down to the next generations.” ―Terri Windling
A friend who is gathering data for his doctoral research asked me to do a project for him related to mindfulness. When I agreed to log my reflections for a week, and chose the first week of 2021, little did I know exactly how important mindfulness would prove to be.
Monday, 4 January 2021 A Welcome Space
As I thought through the process of this project, I decided I wanted to let the images and reflections happen without a lot of prior planning–a somewhat in-the-moment mindfulness. I was in my silent classroom in the morning, teaching short lessons via Zoom, with longer spaces between the periods. My classroom has a sort of joyfully cluttered visual aesthetic, and my bulletin board is an example. I tack up my own doodles and collages as well as student artwork, notes about books they tell me I need to read, quotes to remind us of our work in the world, along with the schedules and the lists of the business of school. I am hoping the message my students take away from this is the importance of celebrating each moment, no matter how mundane (and life in school gets draggingly mundane). I hope they see my own artwork not as pieces to be admired but as reminders to express their own inner worlds in art and poetry. I hope they are reminded by the quotes and posters to seek justice and to work against the -isms that break our social contracts.
I include here the little close-up of the collage with the woman and the phrase: “Look how many of us there are now” because I think it’s a reminder to connect to others who seek peace and justice and goodness and kindness, and also because–minimal as it is–it’s one of my favorite word-poem collages.
Tuesday, 5 January, 2021 Mending and Making
In the riot of images and posters on my walls and the books and objects on my shelves, I want to make my classroom a place I want to be, and where my students want to be. Even when the work is overwhelming or I am experiencing challenges that make me dread the day, I want my classroom space to be inspiring and engaging and restful.
I’m caught up these days in the concept of making and mending, both in the physical world and in the inner work. Then of course there’s the layer in which the physical act is itself a symbol of the inner work that becomes a ritual or prayer for the work of social justice and of teaching. One of my social media pleasures has been following makers and artists and crafters on Instagram. I find images of mending and handwork and art to be soothing and settling; they help me to shift my inner space into focus a little better when things in my work-life or the state of the nation cause me anxiety or sadness.
I love my striped scarf. I wear it several days a week, even though it was torn. In the fall, I made a couple dresses out of old men’s dress shirts, and I noticed that the one striped fabric was similar to my scarf. At first I zigzag-stitched pieces into the holes, but as that began to fray, I embroidered a blanket stitch over top to make it more secure, creating what my Instagram maker heroes call a “visible mend.” The other piece in the photo with my scarf is random embroidery on a piece of denim, which I made up as I went along.
Sort of like teaching, that: Even after a couple decades of teaching, I am still making it up as I go along, beginning with an idea of what I want to see, but shifting and adapting in the moment depending on the alchemical mixture of students in my class, current events, and the mood of the moment. And sometimes the thing I try to do frays, like my initial mend in my scarf, and I need to add another layer, letting the “mend” itself become part of the pedagogical design in the moment, making the process conscious. Perhaps a visible mend is like our metacognitive processes, where we analyze how we think.
Wednesday, 6 January 2021 How the Light Caught Our Shadows
When I took this photo, I was feeling a vague anxiety about the upcoming events of the day in Washington, DC, chatting briefly with students at the beginning of classes about the significance of the ceremony of counting the votes.. I teach in a Christian school of the Mennonite denomination, and so having religious images like the Madonna of the Streets in the classroom is acceptable. I had also brought along my mala beads, a more Buddhist or universalist tradition. I made them this summer as a way to ritually and prayerfully ground and center my attention when busy-ness or anxiety threaten my peace. Every morning when I enter the classroom, I spray the sage-based Clear Space Mist–its scent reminds me to let go and teach from my center.
Little did I know how I would need the calming of prayer and image and scent by the end of the day. Just before the final period, I had been watching the Senate discussion of Arizona’s votes, when people began to rush around in the chamber, the VP tried and failed to call the room to order, and the screen went blank. I thought it was a glitch, and went on to begin Act 5, scene 3 of Lear in my AP Literature class, listening to a student read Edgar naming Edmund a traitor to his family and the state, standing up to his brother’s treachery. I still have not sorted out the timely irony of this. When class was over, a colleague came down to my room with the news that the chambers were overrun by violent insurrectionists, and that she was feeling more anxious than she did on 9/11.
Despite all my mindful intentions of the morning, I gave in to the anxiety. My calm frayed.
Thursday, January 7 2021 REVOLUTION / ReLoveUtion
This is January’s calendar page in my Amnesty International Calendar. It’s an image of a people’s march in LA, women marching for missing and murdered indigenous women at the 2016 Women’s March. After a protest that became a bloody insurrection on Epiphany yesterday, I focused on the images on my calendar for grounding. I attended that worldwide march in 2016 in Washington, DC on the day these women called for a ReLoveUtion, called for recognition and action to investigate brutality toward indigenous women. For that March, when we felt our vote was disenfranchised, we knitted pink hats, we danced and sang with strangers in the streets, and we admired each other’s signs. We cleaned up after ourselves. We helped each other find good perches from which to better hear and see the speakers.
Yesterday was different. The morning’s anxiety became the afternoon’s reality.
Today I grounded myself in one of my art/spirit practices. Last year, I began doing found poetry and image collages on my calendar pages at school, so today, I sat still, took a deep breath, and pulled strips of words from a can I keep in my classroom. My friend Mara gave it to me, full of strips of words cut from magazines, as a wish for good fortune when I took this teaching job. I need to replenish it, I see. Mara and I call ourselves strippers because we make poetry from strips.
This one reads:
The dark night begins when we realize that all our spirit-heritage did not get along outside our house, for the maps inside a chamber whose wall seethed with a spaceless carpet of creatures, assigned to us in the doldrums like parts in a movie
you can relax and calm the waters a bit Writing has been my cell
As I put it all together, I could feel myself moving out from the weight of the seething spaceless creatures and into the calming waters of my monk’s cell. Writing. Relaxing.
It’s a difficult week for mindfulness, an essential week for mindfulness, when all my practices are being tested. I am thrown off-balance, grateful that I don’t have to be in the pressure-cooker of in-person classes, but wishing I could generate more discussion in the Zoom-rooms. At least my 8th period AP Lit class was eager to talk, even on Zoom, sharing a range of honest reflections about yesterday’s events, clearly repudiating the violence and openly complimenting the midnight speeches from both sides of the aisle.
Friday, 8 January 2021 Feather of the Day
In the summer after I got this job, as I was preparing to teach, I realized one day that I had found a feather every day for a week. I began to keep my eyes peeled. The streak continued. For about eight weeks, with only a couple exceptions, I found a feather every single day. Of course, we lived beneath two giant trees, a poplar and a sycamore, with wonderful places for owls to sit and eat their midnight meals, so there’s that. And I was out in the fields every day, harvesting vegetables, so I was out in nature more than I was in the house. Still, as I tell my students when I relate this story: It’s my life, and I get to choose the meaning I wish. So, I chose to honor the gift of feathers as a reminder, in a time when I was making a major job shift in my life from farmer back to educator, that I would have the resources I needed to fly. I began posting photos of my daily feathers on my social media, along with short poems I wrote.
This morning, as I am lost in the fog of the week’s terror, I happened upon a crow feather on the sidewalk on the way in to the school building. I choose to take it as a sign, a message that I can still rise through the fog, and like the crows, beat my wings in the winds, still find joy.
I opened my computer, in the hour before the day’s Zooms, to find a letter from a parent of a student in my 8th period class, worried that I had wasted precious class time yesterday in discussing politics, which has nothing to do with the subject at hand, and which made her daughter anxious. She and her daughter decided to close the Zoom before we got to reading the last few pages of Lear. Sigh. I believe it is urgent that teachers offer their students an opportunity to respond to the events and crises in their real lives with the same analytical and critical lenses and skills they use for their literary analyses. I’m not sure how I will work with this in that class in the final week of the semester. The mother did ask that I dismiss her daughter from class if the talk turns to politics. I DO want my class to feel like a safe place for everyone, but I think we need to talk about unsettling things that happen.
There’s a tension today between the almost glib tone of Monday’s reflections about creating safe space in the classroom, and the knowledge that my careful and intentional teaching created a space that felt unsafe for a student. Part of me wants to shrug and say, “Can’t win ‘em all,” but isn’t that sort of the whole point? We’re trying to win ‘em all–not let any fall through the cracks. I’ll start by reflecting on the differences between unsafe and unsettled.
Saturday, 9 January 2021 The Rhetoric of Insurrection
Here is a poem I wrote about the insurrection. I needed to find a way to put some of the rage and confusion into words. I will not read this one to my students. I don’t even know anymore how to sort out what is acceptable to say in the classroom. In a school connected to a peace church, I want to help my students analyze the events of the week in terms of how to be peace-builders in this most harrowing of situations. And here I am, sitting in my own puddle of rage at the peace-breakers. I have been so careful not to speak ill of this president who galls me to my core. But now, when his lies have brought us to this point, when I want my students to look with clear eyes and hearts toward the building of an equal and just society, how can I talk about this event without drawing the lines? Here’s the poem:
The Rhetoric of Insurrection by Beth Weaver-Kreider
The landscape is littered with lies, seeded with falsehoods like landmines, like bombs hidden in the halls of justice. The fabric of reality is stained, torn and twisted, threads cut and tangled.
It’s nothing new, this rhetoric of insurrection. For years now, they’ve been spreading it on, lie by lie, suggestion by suggestion, layer by seditious layer, whipping the masses into a frenzy of rage and disenfranchisement.
Now is the time for clear-headed cleaning, gathering threads of Truth where we find them, patching and weaving, healing the fabric, stitching and mending, finding our way to the source of the lies and destruction.
Long before terror and chaos pillaged the building, the lies were laid to pillage the truth, to bend the will of the gullible and power-hungry masses to do the silent bidding of the suited pirates who have laid the groundwork of sedition.
Calling for calm and understanding only veils the carnage, drawing another layer of lies to cover the wreck. Now is the time for the stark strands of truth to stand out and carry the narrative back from the brink of destruction.
My peace has been broken, my balance shaken, my mindfulness marred. And yet, if there’s ever a time when spiritual practices must be meant for, it’s now. Gratitude. Mindfulness. Grounding and centering. Visualizing and affirming peace. Why practice the disciplines only for the pleasant and easy times? The whole point is to create inner spaces that cannot be destroyed by outer earthquakes. I’m not in shambles, only shaken. And that itself is a spiritual discipline, a mindfulness practice, to–as they say–feel all the feels. Like Rumi’s “Guesthouse,” I want to welcome them in, meet them eye to eye, know them as part of me. Only then can I start to clean up the shattered pieces that the earthquake knocked to the floor.
Sunday, 10 January 2021 Three Strands to Braid
Strand 1: My teaching actually brings me to mindfulness today. In Themes in Literature class, we’ve been studying The Zookeeper’s Wife, a story of a Warsaw woman who, with her husband and her community and a widely-effective Underground Resistance, saved hundreds of lives of Jewish people and resistance fighters during the Nazi occupation of Poland. We’ve been considering the characteristics of people who, instead of getting caught up in fear, turn toward the terror, and do the work that comes to them to do, to save and protect and rescue.
Strand 2: My husband’s father died on Epiphany, twelve years ago. Last night, my husband was going through some of his papers and came upon some letters and writings his father had tucked away from his days as a Seafaring Cowboy, one of the hundreds of young American men who, in the wake of WWII, tended cattle and other livestock on ships bound for Europe, to aid in rebuilding after the devastation of the war. This photo is of a series of postcards he brought home, images of Gdinya, a town near Gdansk, where they docked. In his letters, we learned that he took his first ever plane ride to visit the destroyed city of Warsaw. He wrote of the devastation of the city and the farmlands, noting that the retreating Nazis had blown up dikes, which flooded the arable farmland. Here, in this trove of papers, my own life intersects with that of Antonina Zabinski, the zookeeper’s wife, in a very small way.
Strand 3: And then, just before I went to bed last night, I happened upon a Facebook post about Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Jewish Hasidic rabbi who escaped Warsaw mere months before the Nazis began bombing the city. Hasidism, according to Diane Ackerman, the author of The Zookeeper’s Wife, is a strand of Judaism that emphasizes living in radical celebration–not a partier’s absorption, but a life of wonder and amazement. She mentions Heschel only briefly, in the context of Rabbi Shapira, another Hasidic rabbi, who stayed in the Ghetto and ended up dying in a concentration camp, who had to hold for his flock the tension between the horror they were living, and the call to be deeply engaged in the life of the spirit, deeply, mindfully celebrative. He developed meditations and mindfulness techniques to offer his people a way to bridge that space without denying the everyday terror, but also maintaining a heartful connection to everyday beauty and wonder. Here in the US, Rabbi Heschel, a scholar and professor and anti-war activist, became a supporter of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and joined the Civil Rights Movement.
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. . . . Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” ―Abraham Joshua Heschel
On the way to and from school, on the days when we’re all in the carpool, we listen to audio books. Lately, we’ve been listening to Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle. Her writing is clever and witty without being chummy or manipulative, her stories are compelling, and she can introduce characters who make you wince and cringe, and then make you love them with a deep and unswerving loyalty. It’s narrated by Will Patton, who can create a character with the smallest shift of tone in his voice.
Yesterday, just as we got to school, we came to a little phrase, “the muzzy mist.” I don’t think I have ever heard the word muzzy, but it grabbed me. It means indistinct, befuddled, unclear. In Creative Writing, we are creating Word Pools, collecting words that interest us, and then doing interesting things with them, like taking pictures of things that we label with them, or making poems and short stories with them. So “muzzy” went right into my word pool.
Here’s a little poem I wrote with using “muzzy” and several other words in my word pool. The idea is to push ourselves to use words in different ways than we normally do. I found myself breaking up the sense of sentences with greater ease than normal.
Today I am a muzzy fuzzle, brain a-muddle, all verhoodled.
Yesterday I was eagle-eyed, a green rogue, and wild divine.
Sharp I was, sharp as dash but now I am dangerous blood, with an elephant on my chest.
Last week, we introduced ourselves to the class with Acrostic Poems about our names. Some students simply chose a different adjective for every letter of their name, and these were beautiful and tender. Others wrote poems with longer lines and phrases beginning with the letters of their names, and these were elegant and flowing. Some even allowed themselves to practice a little enjambment, breaking up the flow of a phrase across a line. In one of my classes, the first four of us to read ours used the word Anxious for our A. I wonder what the implications of that are. Here’s mine. I used my whole name:
Every time I Look in the mirror I see someone different: Zealous Anxious Bold Eager Timid. How can I be all these things And one person at the same time? Names and rhythms, New and intricate rhymes Work within me. Each one of us is An ocean, a Veritable Ecology of Adjectives, Revealing layers of human attributes. Kindness and Revolution can Exist in tandem. Individual truths are Defined by complex webs Experiences within me. Reality is many-faceted.
Gratitude List: 1. Weekend! 2. Clear moments that remind me that I am where I should be. Teaching can be rough, especially in the fall and winter, especially when the grading piles up, especially when I am feeling inadequate. Sometimes I wonder if I am where I should be. And then there are weeks where it all aligns, where I can see how even the really challenging bits have led up to a particular moment. How I am changed and transformed by this work. How I actually have some internal characteristics and skills that make this a good fit. (So synchronous: my sister just sent me a text at this moment that added one more little golden thread to this sense of rightness.) 3. A little bit of snow 4. Getting it done 5. Words. Word pools. Word hoards. Word spews.
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.
“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
without the dark stain
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
4. A clean house
5. A blue true dream of sky
“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.”
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
holding the light
on my behalf, on your behalf, on behalf of the world.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 *
“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.
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.
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.