Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Daughter, the Writer

Today I finished my fourteenth book of the year, but I can't link you to it because it isn't published (yet). I read the book my 13-year-old daughter wrote for Nanowrimo last year. I had already read an early version, but the book is now completely finished, edited, and ready to be enjoyed. Nanowrimo, short for National Novel Writing Month, is a yearly event in which writers challenge themselves to write a whole novel in the month of November. (Here's a FAQ with more details.) My daughter wrote 50,000 words in a month, and let me tell you, it took a lot of perseverance for her to do that. I was very proud of her for completing the challenge she had set herself, and I'm even more proud that she continued past the excitement of Nanowrimo and did the hard work of revision and completing the novel. And yes, I know I'm her mother, but I'm also a writing teacher and a reader, and I think the world is going to be hearing from this author in the future.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Classroom

A year ago today, I posted this, which includes an excerpt from an email from a friend who was in Haiti and had been in my classroom. I missed my classroom so much while I was away from it.

I'm away from it again today, home in bed with something unpleasant and intestinal. I am lying here missing my classroom and my kids and wondering how the sub is managing.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today I posted this about daffodils. Spring was coming where I was, in my place of exile from home. It made me smile. Other things made me smile on March 26th last year, too; I spent the day with family and friends, and it was the first day after the earthquake that I didn't cry at all. I thought about other things, talked about other things, enjoyed being with people I love, and started to feel that life could be good again, that I could be happy again.

I thank God for healing, for renewal, for springtime. Life is so hard, much harder than we are led to expect, those of us who have basically happy childhoods, where we are loved and cared for. And yet, after the worst setbacks, provided we survive, so often we can get up and keep going. And eventually, our "new normal" (people kept using this phrase with me this time last year) can be better than what we had before.

Yesterday we had parent conferences at school, and I spoke to several people specifically about the earthquake and how they and their children are coping. It's not over; we are still recovering, on a personal level and certainly as a country. We still cry about it; we still grieve. In many ways, we will never be the same. And yet, we can and do find healing.

I look at the news from Japan, and I have to look away. It is too much. A parent I talked to yesterday said the same. She said she feels guilty about not reading all about it, as though she is hiding from reality. It's just too much, more than she can bear. Another parent said that he can't look away; he is obsessed with every story and every article. He reads it all and suffers for what the Japanese people are going through. Whichever way we are, the situation in Japan brings back in full force the memories that have still never completely gone away. But we can also say to the people in Japan, Hang on. It won't always be as awful as it is now. There really will be a new life for you on the other side.

God is good; He can bring good out of the worst situations. I thank Him for the way He does that in my life. I thank Him for this day, a year ago, and for this day, today.

I Don't Know Why

On Thursday I was teaching a lesson to my seventh graders, and a fly was buzzing around. I was swatting vaguely but not paying too much attention to it. Suddenly, it wasn't there any more, because it had flown down my throat. I sputtered a little bit, coughed a few times, and then went on teaching.

Mostly I felt proud of myself, though slightly grossed out by thoughts of where that fly might have been. I swallowed a fly and kept right on with my lesson! How professional of me! The kids didn't even know it had happened!

Of course my colleagues and my Facebook friends made every possible joke, from calling me an old lady (thanks, folks) to suggesting that perhaps I would die, to prescribing all kinds of chasers for the fly ("You should swallow a spider next," wrote my brother. "It's the right thing to do."), though someone said I really shouldn't go as far as a horse.

I don't know why I swallowed a fly. I seem to be surviving the experience, though.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Poetry Friday: Sutra

I got this poem in my Poem-A-Day email from last Friday. (You can sign up to receive that here.) I had to look up the word sutra: a sutra is "a distinct type of literary composition, based on short aphoristic statements, generally using various technical terms". Sutras are associated with Hinduism but this one seems to me perfectly compatible with my own faith, Christianity. Marilyn Krysl's words speak to me of a life lived too cautiously, out of fear instead of faith. I don't want to "hoard my days;" I want to live each one abundantly, as Jesus taught. In fact, this poem reminded me of a quote from Brennan Manning: "But Jesus says: if you will let the real God come into your life, then you will experience a huge freedom from the anxiety over survival; none of the usual concerns over livelihood will furrow your brow or weigh you down....Open yourself to my God whose passionate love is unreasonable and trust Him wholeheartedly."

by Marilyn Krysl

Looking back now, I see
I was dispassionate too often,
dismissing the robin as common,
and now can't remember what
robin song sounds like. I hoarded
my days, as though to keep them
safe from depletion, and meantime
I kept busy being lonely. This
took up the bulk of my time,
and I did not speak to strangers
because they might be boring,
and there were those I feared

would ask me for money. I was
clumsy around the confident,
and the well bred, standing on
their parapets, enthralled me,
but when one approached, I
fled. I also feared the street's
down and outs, anxious lest
they look at me closely, and
afraid I would see their misery.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Reading Update

Book #10 of this year was Thoreau's Walking, a free download on my Kindle. While it had some interesting parts to it, and some nice aphoristic writing, I mostly found Thoreau a little irritating in the way he looked down on those who didn't have the opportunity he had of frittering his time away because they were obliged to earn a living. He spent four hours a day walking, and sniffs,
"When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and the shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them - as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon - I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago."
To be honest, I never really got over finding out that Thoreau, such an apologist for solitude, always took his laundry home to his mother.

Books #11 through #13 were a trilogy about Alexander the Great by Mary Renault, entitled Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy and Funeral Games. This trilogy was a gift from my high school Latin teacher and I know I read it when I was 16, but I can't remember what I made of it then. Alexander emerges as a vivid, unforgettable character. The second book is told from the point of view of Bagoas, a eunuch Alexander inherited from Darius' court. The third book all happens after Alexander's death, as everyone fights for the right to be the successor to this charismatic leader who proves irreplaceable.

This post is linked to today's Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Poetry Friday: About Suffering

I posted this poem back in February 2008, excited that I had just learned the word "ekphrastic." An ekphrastic poem is one that is about a work of art, as this one is. It refers to Breughel's painting "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus," which you can see above.

I chose to post this poem again this week because it so perfectly describes what this week has been like, teaching and doing my regular things while all the time grieving over the situation in Japan. Suffering always happens in the middle of everything else, papers to grade and kids to feed and "somewhere to get to." If only we could just stop everything and grieve, but then I kind of did that last year when I was evacuated from Haiti after our own earthquake, and that was really no fun either. I don't know the answer, but I know that it's hard to find the balance between living and suffering. The Old Masters knew that too.

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Here's today's roundup.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fourteen Months Later, Japan

Today marks fourteen months since the earthquake in Haiti. And for the second morning, I am immersed in coverage of the earthquake in Japan. This week's Tohoku Quake was seven hundred times more powerful than the one we experienced here in Haiti. I look at the photos and feel completely overwhelmed by the destruction and by the fact that these huge forces are so far beyond human control.

My husband grew up in Japan, and these images are, for him, images of home. In a sense he is experiencing some of what I went through last year when I was evacuated to the United States and was observing from a distance, that helpless feeling that he didn't go through during our disaster because he was actively involved from the first moment in helping to make things better.

Everything I have been thinking about for the past fourteen months feels even truer to me now: life is precious, people are precious, it could all be gone in an instant.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Poetry Friday: Reading and Writing Need My Help!

Last week I got a breathless email from the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English). It was headed "Reading and Writing Need Your Help Now." It detailed how funding is being cut for the National Writing Project and for Striving Readers, and asked for "an outpouring of outrage" from NCTE members, of which I am one.

I don't want to mock this email. I think spending government money on literacy is an excellent thing to do. If we had literate citizens, we could have more thoughtful dialogue and that would have to be a good thing. And there's a very real sense in which Reading and Writing have my help, since I spend my days doing my dead-level best to teach my middle school students both. (Just to show my good faith, here's a link to the NCTE website where you can find out what you can do to help restore funding for these programs.)

This week, I got a robo-call from Michel Martelly, who is running for President of Haiti (where I live). Introducing himself as Tet Kale (shaved head), and addressing me as ti-cheri (little darling), Sweet Mickey (his stage name in his highly successful musical career) informed me that education in Haiti will be free if he is elected. Hmm. I believe that free education is one of the essential cornerstones of a developing democracy, but I have a hard time imagining that Martelly can bring this about. Reading and Writing Need Help in this country of below 50% literacy. So many children never even get to go to school at all.

So all of that preamble to say that I get it, I know that education needs to be funded, I know that many children can't read. But I was just fascinated by the title of the note, and I kept it in my in-box all week, looking at it every day. Reading and Writing Need My Help Now.

Finally I wrote this, using all true examples from my own classroom:

Reading and Writing Need My Help

Reading and Writing Need My Help Now!
Funding is going to be cut!
Literacy hangs in the balance!

A fourteen year old boy writes a Valentine poem.
He says she smells good and he loves her.

A girl grabs eagerly at a note passed by her neighbor.
What will it say?

"If I couldn't text you," writes a girl in the back row
In a poem to her boyfriend,
"My life would be empty."

"Tell my daughter to stop reading so much," a woman begs.
"She hardly sleeps!"

Two boys fight over an Alex Rider book.

There's a moment during Silent Reading
When I hardly want to breathe
As twenty-five brains focus on twenty-five different books
And turn the page to see
What happens next.

Reading and Writing don't need my help.

Ruth, from

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Lenten Thoughts

This time last year, on Ash Wednesday, I remembered that I am dust.

This year I am still remembering, but I am also getting back to normal. I am dealing with the ordinary, everyday, beautiful frustrations of work and family and life. Sometimes I feel guilty for feeling any kind of negative emotions about my obligations, when I think about how desperately I missed my ordinary life when I was away from it.

It was in this frame of mind that I read this article, which reports on a new study that found that parents exaggerate how rewarding parenthood is. Apparently many studies show that non-parents are happier by most measures. And yet, parents talk about parenting as the best thing in their lives. In this study, parents who were given entirely negative information about parenting to read reported higher levels of satisfaction with their lives than those who read positive information. John Cloud writes:
"Why? For the same reason you keep spending money to fix up an old car when it just doesn't work — or keep investing in the same company when it's failing. Humans throw good money after bad all the time. When we have invested a lot in a choice that turns out to be bad, we're really inept at admitting that it didn't make rational sense. Other research has shown that we romanticize our relationships with spouses and partners significantly more when we believe we have sacrificed for them. We like TVs that we've spent a lot to buy even though our satisfaction is no lower when we watch a cheaper television set."
In other words, parents really are not as happy as non-parents, but they can't accept this; they have to pretend they are happy so that they won't feel bad about the foolish choice they have made to have children.

Cloud makes it quite obvious in the article how he feels about this, as does the title of the article: "Does Having Kids Make Parents Delusional?" But could it simply be that God has wired us to be happy when we are sacrificing ourselves? Since we are dust, and since the only lasting importance is found in God and in the human soul, is it possible that investing in our children, and our families, and our friends, and people in general, is the best way to be happy long-term? Even if in the process there is pain and irritation sometimes? Cloud says: "All parents know that having kids is a blessing — except when it's a nightmare of screaming fits, diapers, runny noses, wars over bedtimes and homework and clothes." Yes, I had a war with my son last night over bedtime, but I don't believe I am fooling myself when I say that having kids is a blessing. My life would be quieter, and cleaner, and less complicated, if I had no contact with other people, my children included, but it would also be infinitely poorer.

I am dust. Everything I have could be gone in a moment. All that matters is God and human beings.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


I stayed home today and read and napped and generally had a wonderful day off. Since I can't give any first-hand reports on how Carnival went, here are some articles.

From the LA Times: "Carnival Returns to Haiti, With Some Darker Themes."

From Time Magazine: "Amid Year-Old Ruins, Haiti Resumes its Carnival Celebrations."

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Carnival is Coming

Last year, Carnival happened exactly a month after the earthquake. Instead of the usual celebration, the government called for three days of prayer and fasting.

This year, Carnival is on again. Not everyone is happy about it.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Poetry Friday: Dizzy in Your Eyes

For today's Poetry Friday, I have a book review. feels funny calling it a book. I haven't actually held this book; instead, I downloaded it onto the Kindle which I got for Christmas. I have enjoyed reading on my Kindle much more than I thought I would. I've already read two complete books on it. But reading poetry on it is just not the same experience.

I have two books of poetry on my Kindle. The first is the complete works of Emily Dickinson. This was one of the first things I downloaded, and I even paid for it. And I was a little disappointed. I wouldn't have expected that the appearance of the page would matter much to me; it's all about the words, I would have said. But I find the layout of the book annoying. I don't like it that one line of a poem is on one page, and then I have to turn the page (this is an expression which will soon be gone, I guess, or just persist in the way we still say "dial a phone number") to see the rest of the poem. The great Emily's words are still fabulous, and I love having all of them at my fingertips, but I think I'd rather see them on an actual page.

I can't resist sharing this Emily Dickinson poem, by the way, which I just read while looking at the Kindle and composing the above paragraph:

We play at paste,
Till qualified for pearl,
Then drop the paste,
And deem ourself a fool.
The shapes, though, were similar,
And our new hands
Learned gem-tactics
Practising sands.

Sigh. Isn't it wonderful? But it did annoy me that the last line was on the top of the next page.

So, anyway. The second book of poetry which I downloaded for my Kindle was one which I had seen reviewed on someone's blog and put on my wish list. I'm always looking for poems that my students will love and relate to. I give them lots of classic works, but it's always fun to introduce them to something a little more accessible. So when I got a gift certificate for my birthday recently, I used part of it for Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems about Love, by Pat Mora.

As I said, I haven't held the actual book in my hands, and perhaps in the book the form descriptions actually are on the page preceding the poem itself. But I doubt the last line of the first page of the preface is on a page by itself. These things are small annoyances but they do affect my pleasure in the poems, even if only slightly.

However, I did find pleasure in the poems. They are all about love, but many different kinds of love. We see the boy hedging his bets by courting three girls at the same time, with disastrous results. We listen in on the self-doubts of adolescents struggling to figure out how life works and how to love themselves. A girl writes to her father, remembering dancing with him at her cousin's wedding. Another watches her brother's best friend from afar and muses:

I watch Billy's hands
hold the basketball, and I imagine
my hand in his, my eyes
floating in his brown eyes.

No one has felt like this. Ever.

That poem captures some of what I love about teaching middle schoolers; it's such a privilege to get glimpses of the experiences they are having for the first time, when it really does feel as though nobody, ever, has felt the way you do.

Other poems in the book talk about the loss of a friend, misunderstandings, breakups. And Mora plays with forms: a sonnet, a sestina, haiku, and more. These will be fun to share with students.

Ultimately, the poems are about the words, and I enjoyed these. I'll probably swallow my petty annoyance and keep downloading poetry to my Kindle.

Others are posting poetry on today's roundup here, at The Small Nouns. Take a look!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


This morning the seventh graders were full of the news that there was an aftershock this morning. I can't find it on the USGS website, but apparently Haitian radio news reported it. I didn't feel it this time.

I did feel an aftershock yesterday afternoon, though. I had an interview with my college alumni magazine and had the opportunity to retell the story of the earthquake and what happened to my family in its wake. This is a story I have told a hundred times, at least, and I didn't anticipate how I would feel this time. I teared up a few times during the story - that's normal - but when the Skype conversation was over, I was sitting at my computer and glanced at the time. It was 4:51. The earthquake happened at 4:53. The words "earthquake time" came into my head and I started to cry, hard. The rest of the evening, I felt shaky and extra-emotional. (I thank God for the people He sent me to talk to.)

Aftershocks. When will they end? Will I feel them forever? I laugh at myself when I read what I wrote last year (Here's what I wrote a year ago yesterday.), and how I seem to be congratulating myself sometimes on how much better I'm doing. Almost fourteen months after the 12th of January, 2010, I am still fragile, still shaken. Still suffering aftershocks.

Theme Day - My Favorite Part of Town

It's the first of the month - theme day. Take a look at the favorite parts of town of the Daily Photo bloggers.