Sunday, October 29, 2017

More Earthquake Stories

My seventh graders are writing children's books, so we've been reading lots of mentor texts in that genre.  This week, I asked them whether all children's stories need to be happy, about cheerful subjects, with a happy ending.  Some said yes, and some said no, and then we read a couple of books about sad subjects.

The first was Tight Times, by Barbara Shook Hazen.  I found this book several years ago in something I was reading about teaching, and it was recommended for this very purpose: exploring with kids how a difficult topic - in this case, financial problems and unemployment - can be written about in a way that works for young children. 

Next we read a book I added more recently to this lesson: Edwidge Danticat's picture book about the Haiti earthquake, Eight Days.  One student remembered having the book read to her when she was in the United States after the quake.  And all of them, after hearing and talking about the story, were driven to sharing their own earthquake stories - all of them who were in Haiti then, at least, and even a couple who were not, but who remember exactly where they were when they heard.

I've said before that there's something sacred about people's earthquake stories, and I felt it again this week.  These students were four or five on January 12th, 2010, but their memories are just as vivid as the ones in all the stories I've heard before.  Several of the kids smiled at the funny little kids they were then, as they told of who was with them as they ran outside, who helped them from their beds, what questions they asked, how happy they were when they ran to their parents.  Some told of family members or friends who were killed.  One said, "My mom hid my eyes so I wouldn't see.  But I did see.  And I still remember."

As long as we live, our earthquake memories will live.  And we will tell them.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Poetry Friday: Alone for a Week

My husband has been away for a week, but I have been far from alone.  I've had my son keeping me company, plus lots of friends and hordes of screaming middle schoolers participating in Spirit Week.  Nevertheless, I like this poem about a husband's absence, and especially the second stanza, since after 28 years of marriage, I am not used to sleeping alone.  I remember the very first time we were apart after our marriage, and how I slept in his shirt until he came home again.  I'm looking forward to my husband's return tomorrow, on Poetry Friday, from this particular trip. 

Alone for a Week
by Jane Kenyon
I washed a load of clothes
and hung them out to dry.
Then I went up to town
and busied myself all day.
The sleeve of your best shirt
rose ceremonious
when I drove in; our night-
clothes twined and untwined in
a little gust of wind.

For me it was getting late;
for you, where you were, not.
The harvest moon was full
but sparse clouds made its light
not quite reliable.
The bed on your side seemed
as wide and flat as Kansas;
your pillow plump, cool,
and allegorical. . . .

Brenda has the roundup today.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Poetry Friday: Advice to Odysseus

When I read the Odyssey with my daughter last summer, we noticed that Odysseus was very dismissive of the emotion of grief.  Anytime someone expressed sadness - and there was plenty of opportunity during the story, especially since they were constantly recounting the various horrid deaths in the Trojan War - he responded by saying that grief was useless.  I've used one of those quotes in the epigraph to the sonnet I wrote about this. 

Advice to Odysseus, on Grief

“So I said,  and it broke my shipmates’ hearts,
They sank down on the ground, moaning, tore their hair.
But it gained us nothing - what good can come of grief?”
The Odyssey, book 10 lines 622-624

Odysseus, no; no good can come of grief;
It’s such a waste of time, and days, and tears,
Till when you look, a wilderness of years
Spreads out behind you, cacti in relief,
And tumbleweed, and skulls à la O’Keeffe:
You’ve spent your life in simply being sad.
And think of all the feasts you could have had,
The loud carousing, all the sides of beef.

So quit your thinking of Penelope
And fallen friends, the thoughts that make you cry.
Instead, just pour yourself another glass,
Or sail some more upon the wine-dark sea,
Or find another bed where you can lie
And wait for all this pointless grief to pass.

Ruth, from

Grief may be pointless, but it's part of life, and in my experience, it's not possible to just power your way through it.  Even if you use Odysseus' methods (eating, drinking, travel, companions both human and divine), grief takes as long as it takes.

Odysseus (source:

The Poetry Friday roundup is here.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

QWP Update

It's been a while since I've updated on the status of my QWP (Quinquagenarian Writing Project).  My goal is 50 first drafts by February, and I'm at eleven now, so I'm a little behind.  Still plugging away. 

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.