Thursday, October 12, 2017

Poetry Friday: Impossible Friendships

I have two poems today, one by Adam Zagajewski and one by me.

Impossible Friendships
by Adam Zagajewski

For example, with someone who no longer is,
who exists only in yellowed letters.

Or long walks beside a stream,
whose depths hold hidden

porcelain cups—and the talks about philosophy
with a timid student or the postman.

A passerby with proud eyes
whom you'll never know.

Here's the rest of the poem.

And here's mine:


I dreamed about you last night,
but I can’t remember it.

There was something about looking for you,
and not being able to find you,
and being abandoned and lost and forgotten.

The usual.

And when I awoke,
Even the dream was gone.

Ruth, from

Irene has the roundup today.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Poetry Friday: 'Tis Loneliness That Loves Me Best

A friend is keeping a bedside vigil for her husband, who is in hospice care, and I have been reflecting on the truth that whenever we love, we lose.  Here are some words on this subject from wiser writers.

by Willa Cather

Where are the loves that we have loved before
When once we are alone, and shut the door?
No matter whose the arms that held me fast,
The arms of Darkness hold me at the last.
No matter down what primrose path I tend,
I kiss the lips of Silence in the end.
No matter on what heart I found delight,
I come again unto the breast of Night.
No matter when or how love did befall,
’Tis Loneliness that loves me best of all,
And in the end she claims me, and I know
That she will stay, though all the rest may go.
No matter whose the eyes that I would keep
Near in the dark, ’tis in the eyes of Sleep
That I must look and look forever more,
When once I am alone, and shut the door.

Henri Nouwen wrote: "Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply. You might be afraid of the pain that deep love can cause. When those you love deeply reject you, leave you, or die, your heart will be broken. But that should not hold you back from loving deeply. The pain that comes from deep love makes your love even more fruitful. It is like a plow that breaks the ground to allow the seed to take root and grow into a stronger plant.

Every time you experience the pain of rejection, absence, or death, you are faced with a choice. You can become bitter and decide not to love again, or you can stand straight in your pain and let the soil on which you stand become richer and more able to give life to new seeds."

To summarize, it hurts to lose love, but we will; it's worth it to love anyway.  

Monday, October 02, 2017

Reading Update

Book #68 of 2017 was written by one of my husband's teachers from childhood, Frank Stanley Placzek.  I read I Surrendered All aloud to my husband, and we both enjoyed the unmistakable missionary flavor, down to the details of how much family vacations cost.  I appreciated the way Placzek was honest about struggles and difficulties.  Of hurt feelings decades ago he writes sadly about how an apology never came.  But on the other hand, he tells about unexpected positive outcomes of struggles that he could see more clearly years later.  Reading this book together reminded my husband and me that our difficult times may look very different when we are publishing our memoirs in our eighties.  That's a hopeful way to think.

Book #69 was Luncheon of the Boating Party, by Susan Vreeland.  This is the story of the creation of the famous Renoir painting.  We learn about who is posing for the painting, how they got their clothes, how Renoir bought the paint - all the details.  At one point I got a little bogged down in all those details, but I persevered with the book and was glad I had.

Book #70 was Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng.  The first line of the book is "Lydia is dead.  But they don't know this yet."  We spend the rest of the book learning all the things that people never tell each other.

Book #71 was Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, by Seth Haines, and book #72 was his wife Amber C. Haines' book Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home.  I enjoyed both of these memoirs.

Book #73 was Two If by Sea, by Jacquelyn Mitchard, a story about survivors of the Christmas Eve tsunami in 2004.  While there's some weird magical realism in the story, what interested me was the exploration of the way people recover from grief.

Book #74 was My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier.  I'm pretty sure I've read this before, but it had been a long time.  I downloaded it from the library to read at the beach, and it was the right combination of light and creepy.

Book #75 was The Jane Austen Project: A Novel, by Kathleen A. Flynn.  This combination of Jane Austen and time travel was surprisingly good.  I'll never give up on reading these Jane Austen spinoffs, and this is why: occasionally I find one that I really enjoy.

It's interesting how often I find while writing these reading update posts that there's a theme to my recent reading.  This time it's this: "Just wait.  You don't know how all this is going to turn out.  You don't know what everyone is thinking and you may not be correctly interpreting what everyone's doing, not entirely.  Be patient.  Give it time.  Some day it may look very different from the way it looks now."  Whether or not that's the message of these books, that's the message I need to hear in my life right now, so I'll take it.  

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Poetry Friday: What You Missed

Last week in a newsletter from On Being, I read a poem that apparently Krista Tippett uses for her email signature (she doesn't email me, so I wouldn't know).  It addresses the secret fear that everyone else knows something you don't.  (And maybe everyone else is getting emails from Krista Tippett.)  The irresistible title of the poem is "What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade," and it's written by Brad Aaron Modlin.  Below I'll share the beginning, then a link to the whole thing, and then my favorite part, the very end.

What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade
by Brad Aaron Modlin

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,

how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.

After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s

Here's the whole thing. 
And here's the end:
And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,

and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person

add up to something. 

Laura has the roundup this week.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

When You Feel Like It

Today I had my seventh graders working in pairs coming up with lists of reasons why you would start a new paragraph.  I get tired of the answer "every five sentences" that I often get from them, because as I point out to the students in the book we're reading together, some paragraphs are one sentence long, and some are fifteen.  It just depends.

We hammered out a list including the basics, like "new idea," "new place," "new time," "new speaker," but then one student announced, "You should start a new paragraph when you feel like it."

I explained that you shouldn't just randomly start one; you need to have a reason.  I have a couple of kids this year who put a period suddenly in the middle of a sentence, just because they feel like it.  Some don't always feel like capitalizing proper nouns.  A few don't feel like writing at all. 

But the more I thought about his answer, the more I liked it.  It doesn't belong on our list, but it is our ultimate goal: that the kids would just know when a new paragraph is needed, not because they go through the list in their heads, but because they have read - and written - enough good prose that it's an instinctive choice.  That day is still a long way away for many of my students, but this conversation reminded me of why I am constantly working on putting models of good writing in front of my classes, and why we are always writing and revising. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Poetry Friday: Ocean Dream

Ocean Dream

I dreamed
we were swimming in the ocean,
and the whole surface of the water
was a jigsaw puzzle,
blues and whites fitted together
and floating around us.

You said you’d done it,
turned the ocean into a puzzle,
because you were sad.

In the dream
that made perfect sense to me.

Sapphire, navy, turquoise,
each piece carefully connected,
each just where it belonged,
bobbing on top of the waves.
The ocean:
Controlled, flattened, finished.

“Brilliant,” I told you,
and you looked around
at what you’d accomplished.

But under the pieces,
the waves still moved restlessly,
and you,
treading water next to me,
still seemed sad.

Ruth, from

Amy has today's roundup.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Poetry Friday: Forget Me Not

I have been thinking a lot lately about forgetting, and especially about forgetting people, and being forgotten by other people.  I kept thinking about a line from a poem, which I remembered as something like: "Better to forget me and smile than to remember and be sad."

"Wow," I thought, "I'd rather be remembered, even if it caused some sadness."

I'm not talking just about dying, either.  I'm talking about living a life where you constantly have to say goodbye, and wondering if those people forget you, if it's out of sight, out of mind.  Fearing that it is.  Feeling that being forgotten means you don't exist. 

I thought the person who wrote that line must be very selfless, and I wondered if I could ever be that selfless, to wish to be completely forgotten, to wish happiness for the people who used to love me instead of a tiny memory of me that could make them sad. 

Until I looked up the poem.  Then I found that I'd been remembering it wrong, and that Christina Rossetti felt just as I did about being remembered.  The title of the poem is "Remember."  And that line I was quoting referred to a situation "if you should forget me for a while and afterwards remember."

Here's the whole poem:

by Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
         Gone far away into the silent land;
         When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
         You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
         Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
         And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
         For if the darkness and corruption leave
         A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
         Than that you should remember and be sad.

Whether I'm alive or dead, being forgotten seems like a terrible fate to me.  I want to be remembered.  It's OK to forget for a while; I don't want anybody to be miserable, I'm not asking for perpetual mourning.  But neither do I want to cease to exist on earth in the eternal way that will happen when nobody remembers me any more.  I know it will happen someday, but meanwhile, I want to be remembered.  It makes me feel better to know that Christina Rossetti wanted the same thing.

Michelle has the roundup this week.