Friday, June 21, 2019

Poetry Friday: Rain

As a Facebook friend put it, "This has been the Aprilest June ever." I'm visiting my parents in the US, and it has been raining and raining and raining. Yesterday when the rain let up for a few minutes, I went outside and took some photos, and kept thinking about Langston Hughes' famous rain poem. It's about April, but I'm going to post it anyway, in a video at the bottom after some of my pictures.

You can read it here.

And here's today's roundup.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Poetry Friday: Heaven

I've been gearing up for days to write a poem, and it still hasn't happened, but a friend posted these Wendell Berry lines on Facebook this week:

The painter Harlan Hubbard said
that he was painting Heaven when
the places he painted merely were
the Campbell or the Trimble County
banks of the Ohio, or farms

and hills where he had worked or roamed:

a house’s gable and roofline

rising from a fold in the hills,

trees bearing snow, two shanty boats

at dawn, immortal light upon

the flowing river in its bends.

And these were Heavenly because

he never saw them clear enough

to satisfy his love, his need

to see them all again, again.

Wendell Berry, from Leavings

I love the idea of those Heavenly things we keep looking at, keep seeing new sides of, new aspects. Maybe a place or an object stops being lovable to us the day we stop looking at it.

Recently my husband and I were sitting at a table in a restaurant. He told me I looked beautiful. I handed my camera to him and said, "If I look beautiful, take a picture so I can see what you see."

When I looked at his picture of me, all I could see were flaws, but it also made me smile because after all these years, he still wants to keep looking at me, to keep seeing me again and again and again, even as time and gravity and childbirth have taken their toll. Like Harlan Hubbard, painting and repainting those same homey Ohio scenes, he still hasn't seen me "clear enough." He keeps looking.

Here's this week's roundup.

Reading Update

Book #51 of the year was The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More, by Bruce Feller. I liked this book and its cheerful, can-do approach to fixing little things that drive people crazy about their families.

Book #52 was a re-read, Brian D. McLaren's Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words. I wrote about it before here in 2013 and here in 2018.

Book #53 was No Summit Out of Sight: The True Story of the Youngest Person to Climb the Seven Summits, by Jordan Romero. This is another addition to my reading about mountain climbing; I wrote a bit about that here. Book #54 is yet another: Within Reach: My Everest Story, by Mark Pfetzer.

Book #55 was Lethal White, by Robert Galbraith, another in the Cormoran Strike series. I like this series and I'll definitely read the next one that comes out.

Book #56 was I Feel Bad About My Neck, by Nora Ephron. A friend recommended this to me. While I liked some of the essays in this, I didn't really feel bad about my neck before reading the book, and now I do. So thanks, Nora.

Book #57 was God's Favorite Place on Earth, by Frank Viola. This book is about Bethany, the place where Jesus often stayed with his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Book #58 was An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic, by Daniel Mendelsohn. Amazon kept recommending this for me based on my previous reads, and this time Amazon got it right. I absolutely loved this book. Mendelsohn is a literature professor, and his dad comes one year to his Odyssey seminar. Then the two go on an Odyssey cruise together. In between, the story of their relationship and the dad's childhood are woven together. I'm a sucker for these examinations of how mythology reflects our lives. Here's a taste of the writing: "It was from Fred that I understood that beauty and pleasure are at the center of teaching. For the best teacher is the one who wants you to find meaning in the things that have given him pleasure, too, so that the appreciation of their beauty will outlive him. In this way - because it arises from an acceptance of the inevitability of death - good teaching is like good parenting." Oh, Daniel Mendelsohn, you are speaking my language.

Book #59 was No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending, by Esther Fleece Allen.

Some of the same themes in this book were also in book #60, a memoir written by a friend from childhood: The Colors of My Country, by Esther Lee Barron. I recognized many of the people and places in this, and I really appreciated how Esther's vignettes let her past be what it was: she didn't try to prettify the sadness and loss. Sure, God can bring good out of the difficulties we face, but they still hurt; they hurt badly. It took so much courage for her to write about this, and I applaud her. C.S Lewis wrote that one of the reasons we read is so we don't feel alone, and when I read about Esther's cross-cultural meanderings I feel less alone with my own. Great job, Esther!

Book #61 was Pacifica, by Kristen Simmons. This is another in the dystopia/post-apocalyptic genre, about a world drowned by climate change. I had read another book by Kristen Simmons before, but this one was much, much better. It was atmospheric and believable, and I liked the characters. The book reminded me a lot of Paolo Bacigalupi; I wrote about his books here, here, and here.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Poetry Friday: Living in Two Places

Since last Poetry Friday I have traveled to a different planet; it's impossible to believe that the United States and Haiti are in the same galaxy, and though I know they are, and am well aware of the implications of that, for a moment I like to pretend otherwise. (Here's a post on the falsehood of that "two planets" theory I'm trying to keep alive in my head.)

where we are
by Gerald Locklin

(for edward field)

i envy those
who live in two places:
new york, say, and london;
wales and spain;
l.a. and paris;
hawaii and switzerland.

there is always the anticipation
of the change, the chance that what is wrong
is the result of where you are. i have
always loved both the freshness of
arriving and the relief of leaving. with
two homes every move would be a homecoming.
i am not even considering the weather, hot
or cold, dry or wet: i am talking about hope.

Michelle has today's roundup.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Connection

Today's host Ramona asked us to write about connection. Connection is very important to me; I value my friends and family and wish for more time with them. But so much of my experience of connection involves separation. I feel pain because I am far from those I love, because either I leave or they do. Sometimes it feels as though it would be easier never to make connections, since it is so difficult to lose them.

Henri Nouwen, in his book Life of the Beloved, addresses this problem. He talks about how we are "called to give our very lives to one another and that, in so doing, we become a true community of love," but adds that we can give ourselves away because we can
"trust that our little lives will multiply themselves and be able to fulfill the needs of countless people....The fruitfulness of our little lives, once we recognize it and live it as the life of the Beloved, is beyond anything we ourselves can imagine. One of the greatest acts of faith is to believe that the few years we live on this earth are like a little seed planted in a very rich soil. For this seed to bear fruit, it must die. We often see or feel only the dying, but the harvest will be abundant even when we ourselves are not the harvesters. How different would our life be were we truly able to trust that it multiplied in being given away! How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every bit of joy and peace will multiply and multiply as long as there are people to receive it...and that -- even then -- there will be leftovers!"
If we do believe this, we can invest ourselves in the people God puts in our lives at any given time, even if the connection is short and soon broken. We can trust that God will keep giving us people to invest in.

You know what? That is a lot easier said than done. I have recently lost several close friends, and it's challenging to keep making new friends at all. Anybody who's read this blog much at all has seen this as a recurring theme in my life. Nouwen's words help me think about it and deal with it.

Be sure to visit Ramona's blog to see how others have responded to this prompt.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

What I Learned in May

I started last year's "What I Learned in May" post by writing, "I don't think people learn much in May, at least not the school kind of learning. May is mostly disrupted schedules, noisy celebrations, chaos of many varieties. There were projects and exams, yes, but mostly, if you haven't learned it by now, you probably won't, not this year."

I feel the same way this May. Yesterday in our last meeting of the year, my colleagues and I were invited to reflect using a series of questions. What were we proud of? What was a time we felt joyful and inspired? What was the most valuable thing we learned? I couldn't answer those questions very well. I did better with the negative ones. What was frustrating? What caused stress? What was the biggest mistake we made this year and how can we avoid making it again in the future?

May isn't the time for feeling good about my teaching. I just read all that work, posted all those grades. I know exactly what we accomplished this year, and what we didn't. Give me a few weeks of peace and quiet, and I'll be enthusiastic again by August.

I do have a small file on my desktop of links from this month, though, so here goes:

My brother sent me this podcast about language use in France, and specifically how you can and can't refer to race. So interesting, especially when listened to in Haiti, home of one part of France's stinky history of slavery and inequality.

Rachel Held Evans died at 37.

Dina Nayeri writes on how family separation at the southern border is "a literal hell constructed for children." That description makes it sound like a ranty political piece, and it's not, at all: it's a beautiful, reflective description of what Nayeri knows about how little kids' minds work, based on her own translation of her two year old daughter's ways of seeing the world. Who is listening to little kids who are separated from their parents, she asks?

Here's another one from, this one about mothers who are writers, and to what extent our children's stories do and don't belong to us.

Jean Vanier died at 90.

That's all I wrote down in my "What I Learned in May" file. No doubt I learned more than that. I started an eBird account, for example, and learned to identify some birds. I wondered, reading about mass extinctions, whether I'd just started paying attention to birds right when they all were about to go away. I started making plans for a birdwatching club next year at school, even if I'm the only one out there peering up into the branches.

I cleaned out my classroom and ended another school year.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Poetry Friday: Naomi Shihab Nye and Summer

Just over a month ago, Tabatha suggested that we should have a Naomi Shihab Nye day on Poetry Friday. A few days later, I read that Naomi Shihab Nye had been awarded an honor even greater than our attention on Poetry Friday: she is the new Young People's Poet Laureate.  I even suspected Tabatha of having some inside knowledge that this was about to happen, but she says no, it was just a coincidence.

I have loved NSN's work for a long time, but when I went looking on my poetry shelf, I only found one of her books. The others I have read have been borrowed from the library, it seems. So I chose the poem I'm going to share today from that book, Fuel. It's appropriate for today in many ways, as we clean up the last debris from our students, rushing off to their summer plans.

The Time
Naomi Shihab Nye

Summer is the time to write. I tell myself this
in winter especially. Summer comes,
I want to tumble with the river
over rocks and mossy dams.

A fish drifting upside down.
Slow accordions sweeten the breeze.

The Sanitary Mattress Factory says,
"Sleep Is Life."
Why do I think of forty ways to spend an afternoon?

Yesterday someone said, "It gets late so early."
I wrote it down. I was going to do something with it.
Maybe it is a title and this life is the poem.

I have many NSN posts on this blog, and here are two: this one from National Poetry Month in 2017 and this one from this year's NPM festivities. Both include links to multiple NSN poems I've posted over the years. I can't wait to see what she does for poetry during her tenure as Poet Laureate!

Here's a photo from our campus at this time of year, and here's an ode I wrote last year to the flamboyant tree.

"Summer is the time to write." I did tell myself that in the winter, and now to see if I can find some words in this season. Hoping for productive summer writing for all my Poetry Friday friends!

Mary Lee's got the roundup today!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Poetry Friday: Climbing

We've been climbing in seventh grade. Metaphorically, as we scaled the heights of the school year, but also literarily, as we ended the year with a reading of Peak, by Roland Smith, and then a supplementary non-fiction Everest account, Within Reach, and this video story about an expedition that flew a hot air balloon over Everest, so we could get more insight into stuff like how noisy the streets of Kathmandu are, what yaks look like and how a Gamow bag works. (I also read No Summit Out of Sight, by Jordan Romero, but didn't have time this year to share that with my students. Next year I might swap it in for the other one, because I do like the idea of comparing a fictional account with a non-fiction one, and Jordan is closer to my students' age than Mark Pfetzer, who wrote Within Reach.)

I'm not sure why I have, in the past few years, developed such an interest in Everest. It's not because I want to climb mountains. I'm scared of heights. I can hardly read about the ladders in the Khumbu Icefall without covering my eyes. I get breathless and shivery as I go through these adventures vicariously. Plus, it's expensive to climb Everest. Even if I had that kind of money, there are so many other things I'd do with it.

Partly it's because I've fallen in love with Nepal. I've never been there, but I feel as though I have from all the books I've read. We were reading Peak in April 2015 when the big earthquake took place there. At that point my students remembered our 2010 earthquake very well, and they, and I, were struck hard by the event. We read articles together and lamented what those people were going through, and my kids had a bake sale to raise money, which they sent to a high school friend of my husband's who was working in Nepal. The accounts I read (and they were many) sounded just like ones from Haiti, except that in Nepal it was cold; my students and I couldn't imagine. I cried, imagining.

Probably it's mostly the metaphor. Everest is the ultimate symbol of an almost unattainable goal. George Mallory is famously supposed to have said, when asked why he wanted to climb the mountain, "Because it's there." But cavalier as Mallory was about it, plenty of people have not come back from their attempt to summit. Mallory himself was one of them. He disappeared during his climb in 1924 and his body was found 75 years later, in 1999. There are about 200 dead bodies still on the mountain, lying where they fell, still dressed in their brightly colored climbing clothes. Because of the cold, their corpses don't decay. (Here's more of the "gruesome truth" about that.)

In addition to being difficult, climbing Everest is about preparation, about sitting around a lot waiting for things to happen, and about being stopped by circumstances completely outside your control. You're only on the summit a few minutes; those few minutes are fueled by years of fund-raising, exercising, acclimatization, and scaling lesser peaks. And chances are good you won't make it at all. You might not get there because of sickness, someone else's foolishness, political upheaval, frostbite, bad weather, or dozens of other problems large and small. One guy in Within Reach dropped his mitten and couldn't get it back; that put an end to his summit attempt.

Sounds like life, doesn't it?

(Also, in climbing as in life, you definitely won't make it without other people's help. These books and the video all explore the role of the Sherpas, who work harder than the climbers from outside for less recognition.)

Early in our reading of Peak this year, we read Irene Latham's poem "The World According to Climbers" in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School as our poem of the day (we read four poems a week, Monday through Thursday, and then listen to a song together on Fridays).
Could it be that there's a middle school English teacher who doesn't have this book yet? If so, you should really go order it right now. I'll wait.

The World According to Climbers
by Irene Latham

They place their trust in a firm
handshake, steel-toed boots

and hats with wide brims.
Rope fibers groan as they cling

like beads of dew on mutton grass.
They don't lament the lack of wing,

only the fact that they can't fly

without them. They forget why,
shift their focus to how.

They carry on. There is no
such thing as tomorrow.

Irene's poem became a touchstone for us as we continued to read the book. I would often say, or one of the students would, "Hey, that reminds me of 'The World According to Climbers.'" An example is when Peak's mom tells him, in a somber call on a satellite phone, that he has to become selfish to succeed in summiting Everest. If he doesn't focus, he won't make it. She explains how she had to give up climbing because once she became a mom, she found her focus divided. (And that's a class discussion waiting to happen!) We talked about how climbing happens step by step.

The PFAMS suggests asking, "What risks are worth taking and what risks are not?" Everest puts that question front and center, but my kids face risks in their lives in Haiti all the time. In some ways, they are far less sheltered than American kids their age, living in a country with few safety features. In other ways, they are super-sheltered, at least some of them - check out this post to see what I mean. Talking about risk is always an interesting thing with these students.

I wrote to Irene and told her what her poem had come to mean to me and to the class, and she wrote back with some more background. She sent me the photo she used as inspiration when she wrote "The World According to Climbers."
She was writing poems at the time using photos of United States National Parks. (This one is from Mesa Verde National Park.) She intended to put them in a book but never found a publisher. She also said that her brother used to be a climber, "so I watched and worried and marveled over his adventures many times!" (Now he's become a cyclist, which I guess is marginally safer.) My students love it when I tell them the authors we read are friends of mine. Thanks for sharing all of this with us, Irene, and giving me permission to share it with my blog readers, too!

So we made it to the summit of our school year - today is the last day of classes, and we have three half days next week of exams and then all the graduations. In my newly-acquired free time in the next couple of weeks, maybe I'll write my own climbing poem. When you get to the summit of Everest, you have to head back down right away after posing for a few pictures; the human body can't survive for long at that altitude, called the "Death Zone." My mountain is a little less extreme. For right now, I'm just going to enjoy the view from up here a little longer before I head back down to the valley and start gathering supplies and strength to climb again next year.

Here's today's roundup.