Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November Ends

Well, I very nearly succeeded with my NaBloPoMo ambitions - to post every day in November. I only missed one day. Meanwhile, my children fared well with NaNoWriMo; both of them met their word count goals, which were 50,000 words for the ninth grader and 10,000 for the third grader. Since I gave birth to these brilliant authors, I think I am perfectly justified in basking in reflected glory.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I should totally know better than to blog about being thankful for adversity. I should realize that such a post would make it inevitable that I would sprain my ankle today. Which I did.

Thankful for Adversity

I found this story, "Finding Purpose After Living with Delusion," inspiring. Milton Greek has schizophrenia, and with the help of people who love him and are straight with him, he's still able to live a good life.
"He is one of a small number of successful people with a severe psychiatric diagnosis who have chosen to tell their story publicly. In doing so, they are contributing to a deeper understanding of mental illness — and setting an example that can help others recover....'Schizophrenia is the best thing that ever happened to me,' he said. 'I know a lot of people with the diagnosis don’t feel that way, but the experience changed me, for the better. I was so arrogant, so narcissistic, so self-involved, and it humbled me. It gave me a purpose, and that purpose has been very much a part of my recovery.'"
A student recently expressed that she felt thankful for the earthquake because of the new friends she had made as a result. Her classmates reacted harshly and she felt ashamed of what she had written. Maybe she could have phrased it differently - she was grateful for what came out of the earthquake, not the earthquake itself - but I could understand what she meant. Sometimes the most difficult things in our lives can turn into gifts.

Monday, November 28, 2011


NPR did this interesting piece, complete with YouTube videos, on what happens when political candidates cry, from Muskie in 1972, when a candidate choking up was enough to make people think he should drop out of the race, to 2011, when everyone tears up and people have no problem with it. All of their examples are men except for Hillary Clinton, who is quoted as saying,
"If you get too emotional, that undercuts you. A man can cry — but a woman, that's a different kind of dynamic."

I'm an emotional person myself (I know, I know, that surprises you), and I grew up in a family with men who weren't afraid to cry. (Although sometimes this condition was referred to as "sweaty eyes.") To me, tearing up doesn't show weakness, but compassion. (Blubbering, now, is a different story, and that's what generally happens to me, not just a few dignified tears.) I have often thought that it must be difficult to be male in US society, when there is so much confusion about how much emotion is OK. But Hillary Clinton's comment makes a strange kind of sense, too; if you're competing in a man's world, anything that can be construed as weakness is a risk. And I have a policy of trying not to cry in front of my students (though I may tear up from time to time, I'm not telling). There are way more of them than there are of me, and I do feel weakened by my tears, even though I don't perceive others as weak for crying.

I learned in the earthquake that there are people you want on your side when the world is falling apart because they know just what to do. Until you've been tested in a major catastrophe, you just don't know if you are that kind of person. What I want in a leader is someone who can remain completely calm in a crisis. Maybe he or she will cry later, remembering what happened, but at that moment there is an ability to compartmentalize, to do what needs to be done, and to save the falling apart for another time. But disaster is not the kind of thing you can practice for. People tearing up over their cancer or an experience with a child are not necessarily showing that they don't have that kind of sang-froid. Maybe they had it when they needed it. And anyway, a personal, relational experience will hit differently from a national emergency where many people's lives are at stake.

So, I don't mind political candidates expressing emotion. I join right in; when other people cry, so do I. But if you want to be president, I hope you can set emotion aside when you have to.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Do Not Be Afraid

It's now socially acceptable to listen to Christmas music, since it's after Thanksgiving. But I have to confess that this year I started listening to it in September. Usually I try to wait at least until November, even if I don't make it all the way to Thanksgiving. But this year I just couldn't wait.

This Christmas song is one I listen to all year round. It was one I thought about and listened to a lot after the earthquake. It reminds me that there was a lot to fear at the first Christmas, just as there is now, and that we don't have to be afraid. Here are the lyrics (copied and pasted from Carolyn Arends' website):

Do Not Be Afraid
by Carolyn Arends

Half a woman, half a child
Mary lay there sleeping
Never dreaming in a little while
She would hear the angel's greeting
Opened her eyes to see
That Gabriel had come
Opened her heart to hear
"You are the chosen one
And do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Love has found its way to you
So do not be afraid"

Shepherds watching their flocks by night
Guarding against danger
When suddenly there was a blinding light
And then things got even stranger
Angels in the sky
Far as the eye could see
Singing "Christ is born
Oh -- and one more thing...
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Love has found its way to you
So do not be afraid"

Half believing, half afraid
We celebrate the story
But our lives seem about a world away
From angels and their glory
Open our eyes to see
What Mary saw somehow
Open our hearts to hear
Those angels even now
They're singing "Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Love has found its way to you
So do not be afraid"

(c) 2001 New Springs Publishing Inc./(ASCAP)/a division of Brentwood Benson Music Publishing, Inc.

This video doesn't show Carolyn singing, but at least you can hear how the song sounds.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Photos and Gratitude

There's just nothing like a long weekend, and a festive one like Thanksgiving weekend is better still. This morning I took advantage of some extra time to upload a bunch of photos off my camera, and I thought I'd share some of them. They aren't all from this weekend but they all show reasons I have to be grateful.

I'm so grateful for leisure time. This is something many (most?) women in this world get very little of, being constantly busy carrying water or chasing children or working long hours in a factory. I generally have a stack of grading to do, but my life is so easy compared with the way others live. How blessed I am to sprawl out in my hammock with a book and a cup of tea.

Last Friday was a holiday for us, and I woke up at the time I usually do, but later I went back to sleep, and woke again at 9:30 to a quiet house and a note from my husband saying he'd taken the kids to the grocery store. I guess quiet time by myself must be my love language, because that gesture made me feel deeply loved and cherished. I read for a while and then went downstairs and foraged for some breakfast (also left for me by my husband). Here's a picture of my croissants with butter and jelly:

Later he and the kids returned like conquering heroes, with groceries and also this broom, the longest and most amazing broom I ever saw. It came from a street merchant, and it's perfect for the cobwebs in our stairwell. It's so long that I couldn't take a picture of the whole thing at once.

I'm grateful for my family, and for a house to get cobwebs in. And I'm grateful for eyes to see my blessings and a heart to love.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Poetry Friday: Ode to Broken Things

I always do odes with my eighth graders during Thanksgiving week. I think odes go wonderfully with Thanksgiving, when we are so aware of the huge list of our blessings. We read some examples from Neruda and from students, and I encourage them to write their own. Some people always do. I told you about this last year.

This year as we were reading some Neruda, I noticed this one, "Ode to Broken Things." I've been feeling a bit like a broken thing myself lately. I'm all repaired and glued together, but I'm aware of the fixed places, and I don't think I'm the same as I was before.

This translation is done by George Schade, and is from the book Fifty Odes. Here's Jodey Bateman's translation. I don't read Spanish, so I can't comment on which is more accurate. I like both of them.

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for all the broken things in my life and for the way God makes them into something new, something not the same as before, but still beautiful.

Ode to Broken Things

Pablo Neruda, tr. George Schade

Things are being broken
in the house
as if pushed by an invisible
voluntary breaker:
it's not my hands
or yours
or the girls
with tough nails
and earthshaking footsteps:
it was nothing, nobody,
it wasn't the wind,
or the tawny noon,
or the terrestrial night,
it wasn't nose or elbow,
the swelling hip,
or gust of air:
the plate broke, the lamp fell,
all the flower vases crumbled
one after another, one
in full October
brimming over with scarlet,
worn out by all the violets,
and another empty one
rolled, rolled, rolled
through the winter
until it became
just flower vase gruel,
a broken memory, luminous dust.

And that clock
whose sound
the voice of our lives,
the secret
of our weeks,
which one by one
tied up so many hours
to honey, to silence,
to so many births and travails,
that clock fell too
and its delicate blue
viscera vibrated among
the broken glass,
its long heart

Life grinds away
glass, wearing out clothes,
tearing to shreds,
and what lasts in time is like
an island or ship at sea,
surrounded by fragile dangers,
by implacable waters and threats.

Let's put everything once and for all, clocks,
plates, glass carved by the cold,
in a sack and take our treasures out to sea:
let our possessions crumble
in a single alarming breaking place,
let what is broken
sound like a river
and let the sea reconstruct
with its long toiling tides
so many useless things
that nobody breaks
but which got broken.

Here's some more Neruda I've posted in the past: "Ode to the Lizard," "Ode to the Present," a bit from "Ode to Scissors," "Goodbyes," and a bit of "To the Dead Poor Man." I love Neruda.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here, at My Juicy Little Universe.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I didn't blog yesterday. So sue me. It was the first day I'd missed in November. Oh well, I never signed up for NaBloPoMo officially because I was sure that would happen.

This year I am thankful for my family and friends, for my students, for meaningful work to do, for God's provision for me every single day.

Today isn't a day to feel sad, but I do feel a little sad: for the separation that is inevitable in this world, the people I miss, the brokenness that I see everywhere. And yet, in the middle of all of that, there is so much that is beautiful, so much to be thankful for.

"Friendship and goodwill a sweet invitation
Kindred in spirit and eager to share
Love in familiar and long conversations
There is the wonder, there is the wonder...
Press mud with holy fingers
Light the ineffable
Fused in the ordinary
So much to wonder, so much to wonder..." - Sara Groves

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Now You Tell Me...

Robert Preidt writes,
"Ever go into another room for something and then forget what you were there for? A new study suggests that simply passing through a doorway can cause you to forget why you came into a room or what you wanted to find.

'Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an "event boundary" in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away,' Gabriel Radvansky, a psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame, said in a university news release."
(You can read the rest of the article here.)

So I guess coming in and out of my classroom erases my students' memories. This explains a lot.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Talking about the Earthquake

It's been a long time since I have talked much with anyone about the earthquake, and this week I had a few conversations about it. It surprised me how I reacted. First of all, the factual details are fading. My memories of that night and the week that followed are very episodic. There are moments and hours that are extremely vivid, but then the connecting times are a blank. But secondly, the emotional memories are as strong as ever, and I found my heart thumping, my breath coming more quickly, and even feelings of nausea. I started to cry in one of the conversations.

I thought I was past this. I thought I was all better.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Middle School on This American Life

A Facebook friend posted that her son's middle school English teacher asked all the parents to listen to this episode of This American Life, which is about middle school. Fascinating stuff, and it provided me with something to be thankful for: we don't have middle school dances at our school.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Poetry Friday: To Toussaint L'Ouverture

Image credit

Today we have the day off school. November 18th commemorates the Battle of Vertières, a decisive victory over the French during the Haitian Revolutionary War, so I decided to post a poem about Haitian history. The Haitian revolutionary leaders captured the imagination of the romantics, including Wordsworth, who wrote a poem about Toussaint. Toussaint didn't fight in the Battle of Vertières, but after you read the poem, scroll down to read more about his story and how his influence affected the will for victory of his fellow freedom fighters.


by William Wordsworth

TOUSSAINT, the most unhappy of men!
Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon's earless den; -
O miserable Chieftain! where and when
Wilt thou find patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There's not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man's unconquerable mind.

The first line of the poem, calling Toussaint "the most unhappy of men," is a quote from Toussaint himself, who wrote, "I am made the most unhappy of men; my liberty is taken from me."

Actually, Toussaint was already dead by the time the Battle of Vertières was fought. Here's a passage about the time leading up to the battle and a description of the battle itself. You can read it here at its original website but if you do, there will be a lot of loud martial music playing while you read, so I've cut and pasted it below.
"[T]he capture of Toussaint, one of Leclerc's primary agendas, would help shatter the revolutionary spirit of the rebels in Napoleon's mind. But, what Napoleon didn't know is that by capturing Toussaint, he would simply pave the way for a ferocious Jean-Jacques Dessalines who was fighting not against the restoration of slavery, but for the total independence of Haiti.

On June 7, 1802 Toussaint Louverture was captured during a conference set up by General Brunet. There have been different theories surrounding Toussaint's kidnapping. However, whatever the view, a captured Toussaint was believed to be Napoleon's biggest mistake due to the fact Toussaint was considered the most moderate among the rebels' generals. [Toussaint died in prison in France in April of 1803.]

The toughest and meanest of the Black Generals, Dessalines, was chosen commander in chief of the indigenous army at a meeting of the army high command. According to historians, Dessalines' unshakable position was pursuing a war of extermination until the enemy is driven to the sea. "Koupe Tet, Boule Kay" (Cut their heads, and burn their houses!) was Dessalines' strongest order. He had no room for prisoners of war.

Meanwhile, General Leclerc would later succumb to the deadly yellow fever and was replaced by his second-in-command General Rochambeau in a desperate attempt to put down the revolt. By early October 1803, Dessalines's bloody offensives against the French forces had generated results. Port-au-Prince, Les Cayes, Le Cap fell under the control of the slave army who fought their last battle at Vertières on November 18, 1803. Haitian General François Capois later called "Capois-La-Mort" had also proved himself as a fierce and unshakable fighter among the rebels as heavy cannon bullet killed his horse. The Black fighters attacked ferociously the remaining French soldiers, and the latter, demoralized, defeated, and numbering no more than 3,000 were driven back to Mole Saint-Nicolas, where they gave up to a fleeing British fleet rather than facing the wrath of Dessalines' forces.

This event marked the end of slavery as well as Napoleon's plan to conquer North America. Haiti was born and the first black independent nation in the new world was established on January 1st, 1804.

The Haitian Revolution served as a model of courage. It sent tremors throughout the Caribbean and the United States slave plantations. Therefore, many slave revolts were sparked in the Caribbean including the Lesser Antilles such as Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia and Jamaica. In the U.S. the leaders of the three largest slave revolts, Gabriel Prosser (1800), Nat Turner (1822) and Denmark Vesey (1831), were inspired by the success of the Haitian Revolution. In addition, the most profitable aspect of that revolution was the purchase of the Louisiana territory by the United States for $15,000.000 (15 cents an acre for more than 2 million sq km (800,000 sq mi) of land extending from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains).

Napoleon Bonaparte had to cede Louisiana to Thomas Jefferson, then President of the United States, as he realized without Haiti he had little use for Louisiana where he wanted to extend a great French Empire. He also needed funds to support his military ventures in Europe as he was facing renewed war with Great Britain. This greatest real estate bargain of all time more than doubled the size of the United States, making it one of the largest nations in the world. There is no way that Napoleon would have surrendered New Orléans and all of Louisiana to Thomas Jefferson but for that Haitian Revolution. If Haiti had lost the war in 1803, many could indeed acknowledge that the United States might be different today!

Nevertheless, not that many people know about such this extraordinary event that took place more than 200 years ago and changed as well as redefined the world. The Haitian Revolution connects to all those whose people were enslaved or whose lands were colonized. The November 18, 1803 battle is still reverberating today and reminds us of real freedom although Haiti has been paying for it ever since."

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here, at The Opposite of Indifference.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Don't you love that word, whinging? I was using it around my family recently and was surprised to learn that they didn't know what it meant. Someone even asked if it was a new word. Nope. According to Merriam-Webster, "Origin of WHINGE: Middle English *whingen, from Old English hwinsian; akin to Old High German winsōn to moan. First Known Use: 12th century." (Source.) Anyway, whinging is what I feel like doing. It means moaning, complaining, whining.

I'm thankful that this is the last school day this week. (Tune in tomorrow for a post about the holiday we'll be celebrating.) For whatever reason, I've been struggling a bit with my teaching lately. I hate to even admit that, but I was talking to a colleague and she used the word "defeated" to describe another teacher's recent mood, and it struck me that maybe we don't talk enough about how difficult it is sometimes to keep coming back day after day to teach kids who don't seem to be getting it, or in some cases, don't want to get it.

So here goes.

I know better than to take the vagaries of middle-schoolers personally. I frequently advise other teachers not to. I know that the only way I can be loved by the majority of my students is in retrospect, and I take great pleasure in the visits of high school students who inevitably walk into my room, look around, sigh nostalgically, and say, "I miss your class!"

Nevertheless, in spite of knowing I should hold out for high school students to express that they remember my classes fondly, and not expect any appreciation from students while they are under my care, I do find myself taking the hostility personally sometimes. And I've been doing that lately. When the kids would rather talk among themselves and pass notes rather than pay the slightest bit of attention to my lessons, when they ask me the same question seven or eight times, not because they didn't understand but because to them I sound like the teacher in Peanuts ("Wa wa wa wa wa wa."), when they vandalize my bulletin boards (OK, "vandalize" might be a strong word, but they do pull out the staples and sometimes even remove parts of the borders from the bulletin boards in the hallway, which aren't under my direct surveillance), I sometimes take those things personally. I just want everyone to love me! Is that too much to ask?

Well, clearly it is too much to ask, and in my more rational moments, I know that. What's important is continuing to do my very best, teaching as well as I possibly can, treating the kids fairly and consistently, providing many opportunities for them to practice reading and writing. And that I will continue to do.

But I might still whinge occasionally.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

You Smell Just Like a Book!

Perfumer Christian Brosius hates perfume. He even named his company "I Hate Perfume." Here's part of his manifesto:
I hate perfume.

Perfume is too often an ethereal corset trapping everyone in the same unnatural shape

A lazy and inelegant concession to fashionable ego

Too often a substitute for true allure and style

An opaque shell concealing everything – revealing nothing

A childish masque hiding the timid and unimaginative

An arrogant slap in the face from across the room

People who smell like everyone else disgust me

(You can read the rest here.)

Instead of mass-produced perfume, Brosius makes individual creations. And one of them smells like a library. He writes:
Whenever I read, the start of the journey is always opening the book and breathing deeply. There are few things more wonderful than the smell of a much-loved book. Newly printed books certainly smell very different from older ones. Their ink is so crisp though the odor of their paper is so faint. Older books smell riper and often sweeter. Illustrated books have a very different odor from those with straight text and this smell often speaks of their quality. I've also noticed that books from different countries and different periods have very individual scents too. These speak not only of their origin, but of their history to this moment.

In the Library is a warm blend of English Novel*, Russian & Moroccan Leather Bindings, Worn Cloth and a hint of Wood Polish.

If you want to smell like a book (and who doesn't?) you can buy this perfume here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Twenty-Two Months

Saturday was the twenty-two month anniversary of the earthquake. I've mentioned before how the twelfth of the month doesn't crush me quite as much as it used to. I started thinking about how that happens with any milestone; as it gets further behind you, the commemorations tend to get further apart.

Twenty-Two Months

At first you count every hour;
This baby is four hours old, you say.
And then it's days;
You were born yesterday!
For a while you count weeks
And then for a long, long time,
Each month you take pictures
And write special letters:
You're three months,
Six months,
Ten months
Fourteen months..
Until one day you realize
That you're only counting years.

I love you just as much, my child,
Even though I don't know
How many months old you are.

At first you count every hour;
Four hours ago I survived an earthquake.
And then it's days;
Days since I last slept peacefully,
Days since everything I thought was firm
Shook and fell apart.
Then it's months:
For almost two years the 12th of every month
Was the earthquake anniversary,
The first thing I thought of that morning,
My constant memory all day.
Three months ago,
Ten months,
Fourteen months...
Until one day you realize
That you're only counting years.

You changed my life just as much, earthquake,
Even though I don't think about you
Every single day.

A mom's precious twenty-two month old
Is someone else's grimy toddler
About to enter the terrible twos.

Twenty-two months since an earthquake
Sometimes feels like forever
But I never know what unexpected moment
Will bring back the sick fear,
The adrenaline,
The time when I counted hours, then days, then months.

Ruth, from

Monday, November 14, 2011

Jane Austen, a Blogger?

I absolutely can't resist an article whose title begins, "If Jane Austen lived today..." And this one is especially irresistible, due to the conclusion of said title: "If Jane Austen lived today, she'd be a blogger."
Dear reader, if Jane Austen lived today, she'd be an avid blogger, she'd be on Facebook, and of course she'd also be tweeting away -- but mostly about other people, not herself.

That's because Austen had a passionate fascination with people and what made them who they were, an interest that keeps the modern world fascinated by the woman who wrote novels set in small villages nearly 200 years ago, said Laurel Ann Nattress, editor of an anthology of Austen-inspired stories.

"She would definitely be on Twitter, out there having fun. Blogging, connecting with people. Facebook," said Nattress in a phone interview about her book, "Jane Austen Made Me Do It."
The book sounds great - I immediately put it on my wish list - but I think if Jane Austen were a blogger, she'd be an anonymous one. Her whole style is based on watching people while they don't realize it. When she was alive - actually alive, as opposed to an imaginary version of her - she would hide her writing when anyone came in the room.

It's interesting to see how different authors manage blogging. I just recently started reading Meg Wolitzer's blog and I've read lots of author blogs for a long time (see sidebar). Some authors post a lot, and others hardly ever do. One author blog I read went into lurid detail about the woman's private life, and then she stopped writing on it because she said it messed up her "real" writing - it didn't allow her the privacy she needed to ruminate over ideas and digest them.

I am terribly impressed with Jane Yolen as a blogger. She is such a generous online writer in general, often sharing her amazing poems as comments on other people's posts. She has really inspired me to wonder what I was saving my writing for. While I'm not in her league as a writer, and I'm not nearly as open as she is, yet, I'm going for more freedom as an online writer and less self-protection.

Back to Jane Austen. I agree with Laurel Ann Nattress (here's her blog, which has some other amazing amazing news, that P.D. James just wrote an Austen-themed novel), that if Austen were alive today she'd be a journalist or a psychologist if she weren't a novelist, because she was very interested in human beings. Her characters are some of the best anyone ever wrote. My family and I are in the middle of watching the latest BBC version of Sense and Sensibility, and it is seriously wonderful.

So would Jane Austen have been a blogger? I don't know. She was a novelist, and I am very glad she was.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Principal of Longevity

She says teenagers fascinate her. It's a good thing, because she's been principal of the same junior high school for 48 years. Here's the story.

ht A Shrewdness of Apes

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Reading Update

I have been doing a lot of rereading lately, and I'm in the middle of several books. I haven't finished much. But here's what I have read:

Book #37 was The True History of Paradise: A Novel, by Margaret Cezair-Thompson. I picked this one up because of the Caribbean connection; it's a novel about the history of Jamaica. It's told by Jean Landing, a woman who has finally had enough of her country and is planning to leave. During the course of her drive across the country with her dear friend Paul, she revisits her whole life, plus the story of the island, told in short vignettes from the point of view of selected ancestors. There's an earthquake in the story, and there's plenty of human turmoil as well. Perhaps because of this turmoil of both kinds, I almost put the book down permanently several times, but eventually I was glad I had persisted. I got a good picture of Jamaica and what might make someone both love it and want to leave it. The epigraph of the book is a quote from V.S. Naipaul: "The history of these islands can never be satisfactorily told." I'm glad that people keep trying.

Book #38 was Mothers & Other Liars, by Amy Bourret. Although there were aspects of the storytelling that I liked, I didn't find the premise of this book convincing at all. Ruby Leander finds a baby in a trash can and her first instinct, rather than to inform the authorities, is to get a fake birth certificate and transport the child across state lines, thus committing a felony. Ten years later, Ruby sees an article in a magazine that she knows is about her child. Turns out, the baby wasn't abandoned at all, but while the mother was out driving around trying to get her child to sleep, she was carjacked and the carjackers ditched the baby. (Don't you hate it when that happens?) Now Ruby is involved with a cop and is pregnant, and her method for dealing with the whole mess is even less believable than her original act. I just didn't buy any of this, so it was hard for me to suspend disbelief enough to get into the story.

Book #39 was a YA title from my classroom, Surviving the Applewhites, by Stephanie S. Tolan. I enjoyed this one pretty well, and will be recommending it to my students.

This post is linked to the November 12th edition of the Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Poetry Friday: Desire

I've been reading the complete works of Emily Dickinson, and finding gems along the way. Here's one that makes me think of "Success is counted sweetest by those who ne'er succeed." It explores the idea that not having what we want may have its own pleasures. The "banquet of abstemiousness" is not one appreciated much in modern society, but I think Emily's onto something here.


Emily Dickinson

Who never wanted, - maddest joy
Remains to him unknown:
The banquet of abstemiousness
Surpasses that of wine.

Within its hope, though yet ungrasped
Desire's perfect goal,
No nearer, lest reality
Should disenthral thy soul.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


On Monday I mocked our November schedule and how many days off we have. But it's only Thursday, and I am dragging, so maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to mock. A combination of illness and work and watching my children do NaNoWriMo (seriously, imagine if I were doing it myself!) and my son's inability ever to have the school uniform he needs no matter how much laundry gets done has left me yawning and stressing out about all I have to do. In reality, I have no more than in a normal week, so I'm not quite sure why it seems so overwhelming.

In any case, as I struggle to the end of the one five-day school week in November, here's something great to listen to, by Paul Simon. "Life is what you make of it: so beautiful or so what."

Come back tomorrow for a poem.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Haiti: Horrific?

Photo Credit: Omaha World-Herald

A Haitian friend posted this article on Facebook yesterday and commented that she didn't like it much. Maybe, she said, she was being oversensitive.

Well, first of all, the title: "Haiti: Horrific Beyond Expectations." It does tend to make a Haiti-dweller feel a little defensive. After all, fifty percent of the rubble has been cleaned up! After all, lots of the tent cities have been cleared! (Where did all those people go, though?) The feeling reminds me of when friends visited us in our first Haiti apartment and walked around shaking their heads sadly, repeating over and over, "Oh, you guys!" in sympathetic tones, as though they could hardly imagine that we could live in such a hovel. I'd complained about it some myself, but I didn't want them to think it was so very dreadful. Maybe they could have tried, "We love what you've done with the place!"

It's an uncomfortable paradox. I want people to know how bad things still are for earthquake survivors in Haiti. I posted about cholera yesterday myself, after all. I'm glad President Carter (one of my heroes) and the Habitat people are here. I recognize that there's still a lot to be done to return Haiti to the way it was before the earthquake, and then it was far from perfect. On the other hand, though, I don't want people - outsiders - talking about how horrific it is here in this quirky, awful, beautiful place. (And yes, I'm an outsider, too, even after living here fifteen years. I know that.) The article even uses the word "godforsaken." Folks, don't you know there's no such thing as a God-forsaken town? Then, too, I always complain when the US media ignore Haiti, and then complain when they write about it, too. Is there no pleasing me?

I find myself making snorting sounds in my head as I read. Apocalyptic movie set? Please. Tap-taps aren't air-conditioned? Well, boo hoo! Spotty electricity? Let me tell you about spotty electricity. It's way better now than it was when I first came to Haiti, when the country was under an international trade embargo, spearheaded by the United States - an embargo from which Haiti's economy has never really recovered.

At the same time, though, I have to say that the descriptions are not wrong. There is a lot to be horrified by in Port-au-Prince. Too many people are living in squalid, miserable, inhuman conditions almost two years after the earth shook. And the worst of it? People were living in those conditions before the earth shook. You just couldn't see them so clearly from the main roads as you drove from the airport. And I, with my self-righteous snorting, don't live in the conditions of the tent cities, nowhere close. I consider myself quite resilient, from "sturdy peasant stock," as I always say, and I know there is no way I could live the way people have been for nearly two years, basically in public, in steadily disintegrating tents, with no sanitation.

I just want to say to those people from Omaha: So, here's Port-au-Prince. Do you like what we've done with the place? We're all working to fix up our own little corner. There's still a lot to be done, as you can see. Thanks for the help you're bringing. I'm glad you think the Haitian people are amazing - you're right, they totally are. I hope you know that they don't really like having their picture taken unless they're all dressed up. They're not that thrilled with their situation, either, and they feel a little sensitive about people driving past them in tour buses taking pictures. (But I drive by and take pictures too. I get it that you have to document it, before you get used to looking at it.) I hope you get to eat some delicious Haitian food while you're here, and attend a Haitian church service and hear people praise God like you've never heard in Omaha, I'm betting. And again, thanks for coming.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

More on Cholera

This article from The Guardian details the current situation with cholera. An excerpt:
"Cholera thrives where water systems are weak and sanitation poor. A history of poverty, natural disaster, neglected public water and sanitation systems, and under-resourced health infrastructure has magnified the impact of cholera in Haiti. It is estimated that 80% of Haitians do not have access to latrines and more than half of the population lacks access to safe drinking water."

And here's a photo feature from the same site.

Monday, November 07, 2011

November is a Month of Holidays

We're back to school today for the only full month in November. Five school days at once; however will we manage?

The first two days of November are holidays: All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Next week we have Friday off for Vertières Day. And then of course there's Thanksgiving; although we don't celebrate most American holidays at our school, that's one we can't skip. We get Thursday and Friday off.

I won't complain about holidays, but it's not easy to get much done in class in November. And then of course there's December, which has its own craziness.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

An Undivided Heart

Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11

I've thought about this verse a lot, and wondered what it would be like to have an undivided heart. It sounds incredibly restful to me sometimes. I don't think I've ever felt that my heart was completely at home in one place. It is always divided. This started when I first went to boarding school at the age of seven, and experienced what it's like to want to be in two places, to miss my parents desperately but at the same time love school and being with my friends. My heart was divided; I couldn't choose.

In fact, maybe my divided heart started even earlier than that. I was born in the United States and then went to Africa as a tiny baby. I was from two places, heard many languages, loved both ugali and pizza, had my blond pigtails pulled by people who were fascinated by my hair.

And now I live away from most of my family and many of my friends and my heart remains divided; there's always, always someone to miss. Divided, loving more than one place, loving more people than I can count, not satisfied with seeing people I love so seldom, with one sentence on Facebook, with not knowing my nieces and nephews, or my friends' children, not being part of their lives.

I guess everyone is like that these days; none of us can live near to all the people that matter to us. I have a friend from high school who was the third generation of her family growing up in the same house, but that's not common any more, and probably I romanticize what that would be like, as someone who has lived in mission housing, or rented houses or apartments, since my birth. It's a missionary kid cliche that we can't tell where we're from; there's no place on this earth where I feel rooted.

Maybe that's not what the verse means; it's talking, after all, about loving God above all others. Other versions of the Bible use language like "purity of heart," "unite my heart," even "focus my heart." God can focus my heart even as I flit about from one task to the next, from one need to the next. Even as I hurt with absence from people I love.

"Some day," posted an MK friend on, yes, Facebook, today, "there will be no goodbye." I can't imagine that day. It brings tears to my eyes to try to picture it. A day of hellos.

Saturday, November 05, 2011


This time last weekend I was at the beach. I consider myself blessed in so many ways, and one of the greatest is being able to go to the beach in November. November 1st and 2nd are holidays here, and at school we traded the 31st for the 2nd; in other words, we had the 31st off and had our in-service on the 2nd. There's nothing as relaxing as the ocean, and a long weekend soaking in seawater was just what we all needed.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Poetry Friday: First Love

I chose this poem for today because I have a fourteen-year-old who is currently in love with Mr. Knightley, from Jane Austen's Emma. Don't you remember falling for a musician or an actor or a character in a book or, as in this poem, someone in a painting? Be sure to follow the link to read the rest of the poem, and the surprise ending.

First Love
By Jan Owen

(Titan’s Young Englishman with a Glove, circa 1530)

It happened in Physics,
reading a Library art book under the desk,
(the lesson was Archimedes I recall)
I turned a page and fell
for an older man, and anonymous at that,
hardly ideal—
he was four hundred and forty five,
I was fourteen.
“Eureka!” streaked each thought
(I prayed no-one would hear)
and Paradise all term
was page 179
(I prayed no-one would guess).

Here's the rest.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Seven Billion

Photo Source:

On Monday, the world's population hit seven billion. Of course that day was just chosen randomly to represent the seven billion mark; nobody really knows exactly how many people there are in the world. It's estimated that 382,000 babies were born worldwide on Monday. But a baby girl in the Phillipines was chosen as the symbolic seven billionth baby and given a cake and a gift certificate for shoes. One pair of shoes? Shoes for her whole life? It doesn't say. And she's not going to eat the cake, but maybe her mother got some of it. It may be just me reading my own experience into this photo, but I don't think that mother looks very thrilled to have cameras around as she lies there in her bed cuddling her baby. I think she's thinking, "Go away and leave me alone with Baby Seven Billion." She's quoted in this article as saying, "She looks so lovely."

Here's an interview with the UN Population Fund Executive Director, in which he reflects on this milestone for the planet and looks ahead to the time when there will be eight million earthlings. When asked what advice he would give all the babies around the world, he doesn't give any advice at all, he merely states enigmatically, "I wish them interesting lives." Interesting seems a given. But how come only Danica gets free shoes?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011


I mentioned cholera in my post yesterday. This epidemic, while not as much in the news as when it began just over a year ago, continues to rage. Read this blog almost any day and you'll find references to people dying of cholera. Paul Farmer, who is the UN's deputy Special Envoy to Haiti and a doctor himself, says that this outbreak is now the worst in the world and close to being the number one cause of death by infectious disease in Haiti. Nearly five percent of the population of Haiti have contracted cholera and more than six thousand people have died.

Cholera is easy to prevent; just wash your hands, with clean water and soap. But wait. What if you don't have access to clean water? Then what? This is why cholera is a disease of emergencies and natural disasters, times when clean water supply is disrupted. It's also a disease of poverty. I'm not worried about getting cholera because I have clean water to wash with. If I do get sick, I have access to health care. But for many people in this country, clean water and health care are both unattainable.

Read these five prevention messages, and they seem simple. Use safe water, wash your hands, use latrines, cook food well and peel raw food, clean up safely. And then read them again, imagining that you live in a tent, with no reliable source of clean water. Boiling water requires fuel, which costs a lot of money. Most people don't have jobs. Now you can see some of the challenges.

I was very struck by this interview given by photographer Ben Depp. He talks about some horrifying pictures he took of a dying cholera patient. He also talks about his own recovery from the trauma of the earthquake and how he deals with taking pictures in Haiti. Read all the way through to the last paragraph; Ben's words still have me pondering.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


It's November, and you know what that means: Nanowrimo! Two members of my household are doing Nanowrimo this year; one, my ninth grader, has the standard goal of 50,000 words, and I have no doubt she'll do it, since she did last year. My third grader is trying too, and has a goal of 10,000 words.

I'm going to try to post on my blog every day. I know, it's pitiful in comparison, but hey, while my daughter has been writing since one this morning, taking breaks only for food and for carrying laundry up to her room, I had to spend all morning grading (oh, and I did sleep some, too).

While contemplating Nanowrimo and Nablopomo, I went back and read what I posted last November. I didn't succeed in posting every day, but I did put up forty posts in the course of the month, so it averaged out. Reading my words from a year ago shows me how far I have come since then; I was still in the throes of recovering from the earthquake, and now I go days without thinking about it. On September 12th, it was mid-morning before I remembered it was the 21-month anniversary, and in October, I didn't remember the 22-month anniversary until the 14th. Time really is healing, and my surroundings are returning to normal, too; according to this article, about half of the debris from the earthquake has now been cleaned up. Last November the figure in the media was 4%. Don't get me wrong, Haiti is still facing many challenges, such as cholera, unemployment, poverty, and an estimated 500,000 people still living in tents because of the earthquake.

Since it's the first of the month, it's also Theme Day for the City Daily Photo blogs. Today's theme is Fences, and you can see thumbnails of participants' photos here.