Thursday, February 28, 2019

What I Learned in February

I ended my January post with a hope that February would be better, and you know what, it really wasn't. We spent eleven days "sheltering in place" due to anti-government riots, and when a month is as short as February, that's a big chunk of it. Nevertheless I do have some things on my "what I learned" list.

Friends came to dinner early in the month and urged us to take the Enneagram test. I did, and was surprised by my result, but then the more I read and listened, the more I thought that it was right. Then I developed a little mini-obsession with learning about the Enneagram (I know, how original).

My husband and I took a webinar from this author, Lindsey Moses, on working with English language learners. There were four sessions and we didn't watch the fourth one yet, but we're going to finish it up on our week off for Carnival. So far it was interesting and useful, and I always like learning the latest acronyms, which in my experience are mostly what change in the education world.

The next item on my list says "financial crisis in Haiti." The Haitian currency, the gourde, has lost a lot of its value in the past year, and people are struggling for the basics of survival: food, water, medical care, sending their children to school. In addition, billions of dollars have gone missing from the PetroCaribe fund that was supposed to improve life here. These factors and others sparked riots beginning on the 7th of this month, and while the riots themselves are no longer happening, the underlying problems are in no way resolved, so we are waiting to see what will come next. It's discouraging to see Haiti sink into crisis again. We're so tired of the way people have to suffer. The vast majority of people are not involved with the destruction and violence of the riots; they just want to live their lives peacefully. We had plenty of time to contemplate this - and everything else - during our time at home.

I remember when my husband and I were dating, someone told me to imagine seeing him across the dinner table every day for the rest of my life. Good advice. But nobody ever told me to imagine being locked in with him for eleven days of political unrest. (I think I'll put that in my marriage book.) Fortunately he is great in a crisis, and while we were all a bit on edge and stir-crazy, we made it. Let's hope we don't have to shelter in place again anytime soon.

We hosted a professional development gathering for teachers in February and showed this movie, "Most Likely to Succeed." It's about how schools can adjust to the new information-based economy, specifically by focusing on a project-based curriculum. It was very interesting and led to some good conversations.

Everyone is talking about Marie Kondo right now, and her de-cluttering method. My daughter read her book several years ago, so we had already mocked the concept of only owning 30 books. But I found this article really hit the nail on the head. While having a less cluttered living space may make you feel more in control, the reality is that you're never going to have a completely in-control, tidy life. I like it when the clutter is cleared, but life is messy, and that's not going away.

I heard about this Ted Talk by Roman Mars while listening to the West Wing Weekly podcast. It's about flag design, and it is very much worth watching.

In February, I learned again about what it feels like when people talk about evacuation. We've been there before, in that space where some people feel that it's too unsafe here in Haiti and that they have to leave. Everyone's considerations for making that decision are different, but whether or not you understand why people choose to do it (and of course I do understand), you feel abandoned when you're left behind. That's one reason I felt so guilty after the earthquake for leaving Haiti. This time, like in 2004, the clear-out happened fast. Once the embassy starts pulling people out, others follow suit. It didn't help when the travel advisory was raised to level 4, putting us on the same level with countries like Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria. People are now returning, slowly, but some we may never see again. I learned that in the years since the last time we experienced this, it did not stop stinking.

I had a birthday in February, and I absolutely love my birthday, just as much as any little kid. I learned again that I also love being loved. I wish I could feel that way all the time. By the evening of my birthday I always ask myself how I could ever feel insecure, as I bask in the glow of all the Facebook messages that have been popping up all day.

Oh February, you're over already! Here's to March!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Poetry Friday: QWP

Last year I marked turning 50 by setting myself a big writing goal that I called my Quinquagenarian Writing Project (QWP). After my birthday I just kept going, and I have more than sixty essays and poems in this year's folder as I reach this year's birthday.

I have several thoughts as I look at the year's writing all in one place. One thought is that I often write when I'm sad, and boy, can I be self-absorbed and angsty! I spend much of my life reading writing by teenagers, and honestly there are times when my own resembles theirs more than I like to admit. More and more, I realize that those big feelings of 13 and 14 year olds don't change that much; you just get more experience in dealing with them.

Another thing I notice is how often I have written around a topic again and again, circling back obsessively until I bore myself to tears. But sometimes I end up rewriting the ending, writing myself to a better way of seeing something, to acceptance of a situation that's been bugging me. How wonderful when that happens! It makes the angst worth it. When I see the squirming and obsessing as part of the solution, it helps me be less impatient with myself and my process of figuring things out, and it also helps me do the same for my students.

But sometimes writing works completely differently; it helps me focus on something else besides what I'm worrying over. Here, for example, is a poem I wrote this summer after visiting the Art Institute of Chicago with my daughter and seeing this Monet painting.

Cliff Walk at Pourville, by Claude Monet

The wind blows colors:
Patches of white in clouds, sails, skirts,
A pink parasol,
Blues of sky and sea,
Greens and grays of the cliff.

The wind blows lines:
Rippling, ruffling,
Chaotically planned,
Scientifically random,
Piles of still movement.

The wind blows ideas:
Cleans out the head,
Sweeps away the worries and words,
Carries away yesterday and tomorrow,
Flying over the waves and out of sight.

Ruth, from

You can see the painting more closely and learn more about it in this video:
Robyn has today's roundup.

(Speaking of things I worry about, here's a quick update on the situation in Haiti. Thanks so much for all your concern last week, Poetry Friday friends. Although many schoolchildren in the country are still staying home, our school re-opened on Tuesday and we had a calm, peaceful week. Perhaps three quarters of our students showed up for school; some had left the country during the riots. Many NGOs and international organizations asked their personnel to leave, as did the US Embassy. Haiti's travel advisory was raised to a level 4, putting us in the same category as countries like Syria and Afghanistan. We are concerned about the possibility of more unrest, because the underlying issues have not been resolved, but we're encouraged to have had a nearly normal week.)

Friday, February 15, 2019

Poetry Friday: I Carry Your Heart

i carry your heart with me
 by e. e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
Instead of being at work this week reading love poems with my middle schoolers and dealing with their shenanigans, I've been at home "sheltering in place." Anti-government protests have shut down Port-au-Prince and many other parts of the country. All the news stories are illustrated with photos of giant flames. The protests are over real and serious issues: the local currency, the gourde, has lost 26% of its value against the US dollar in the past 12 months. People who were already living in poverty are unable to eat, let alone send their children to school and access medical care when they need it. Enormous amounts of money have gone missing and are unaccounted for. The protesters want the president to resign and in addition to peaceful mobilization there has been looting and burning and extortion as well.

My students are sending me writing via Google Docs and emails about what they are reading, and I've also been emailing with a friend about her novel, of which I was a Beta Reader (capital letters to emphasize how impressive I feel being a Beta Reader), reading enormous amounts, listening to podcasts and watching Netflix as electricity allows, and thinking about a short story of my own. I also had over neighbors who were climbing the walls and treated them to chai and puppy therapy. I know this all sounds fun, and sure, it is, especially compared to what the majority of the people in this country are dealing with, but I'm so ready to be back at work complaining about how sugar-addled everyone is.

I'm carrying many hearts in mine.

This week's roundup is here. 

Edited to add: if you're looking for a US-based source to read Haiti news in English, the Miami Herald does a good job of covering what's going on here.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Reading Update

I'm home on a Monday instead of at work because of ongoing political unrest in Haiti. This is day five of sheltering in place, which has provided lots of extra reading time.

Book #12 of 2019 was Frederick Buechner's The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life.  "I think that a part of what to tell one's story in a religious sense means is to affirm that there is a plot to one's life. It's not just incident following incident without any particular direction or purpose, but things are happening in order to take you somewhere."

Book #13 was Hold Tight, Don't Let Go, by Laura Rose Wagner. I reviewed this book at length here when I first read it. This time I read it aloud to my husband as part of our remembering, commemorating the ninth anniversary of the earthquake. We cried as we read this beautiful, horrifying, hopeful, despairing account of Magdalie's earthquake experience. A friend to whom I was talking about this book commented, "She's a blan, right?" (Blan literally means white, but it's used to refer to any foreigner.) Yes, she's a blan, but one who loves Haiti in all its complexity. She doesn't shy away from what's awful, but she's also affectionate and clearly cares about this beautiful place. "All I can do," concludes Magdalie, "is hold everyone in my heart, the only place I know where I can keep them safe." 

Book #14 isn't published yet; it was a second draft of a new novel by someone in my writing group. It was so fun! I wish I could hand you a copy!

Book #15 was a book of short stories by Ben Fountain called Brief Encounters with Che Guevara. I have had this book for some time, but for some reason I had not read it yet. While sheltering in place I read it aloud to my husband and Ben Fountain became my new favorite writer. Blurbs at the beginning compare him to Graham Greene, Hunter S. Thompson, Evelyn Waugh, Katherine Anne Porter, Paul Theroux, Joseph Conrad, even Kafka. I definitely get all these comparisons, because these are characters in a complex moral universe where it's not easy to keep your hands clean, but Fountain is an original. Several of the stories are set in Haiti, one in Colombia, one in Sierra Leone, one in Myanmar, one in the US, and one in Europe. This book is so beautifully written, and the first and second stories are among the best short stories I've ever read. "Rêve Haitien" has the most amazing ending; it brought tears to my eyes when I first read it, and then after my husband and I discussed the story a while, he asked me to read the ending again. Again, it made me cry. 


I checked book #16 out of the library; it was Anne Lamott's Almost Everything. For a while I read everything Anne Lamott wrote, but I haven't read her last few books. This one had some gems in it, like Lamott's description of how reading got her through her childhood.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Poetry Friday: Jacmel

This week I read this article about a bakers' strike in Jacmel, Southern Haiti. Then I wrote this poem and illustrated it with photos I've taken in some of our many visits to Jacmel, one of my favorite places on earth.
No Bread in Jacmel

In Jacmel,
the bakers are on strike.

They say
a few weeks ago,
a sack of flour cost
one thousand seven hundred and fifty gourdes
and this week
it costs
two thousand five hundred gourdes.

They say
they can’t pay their employees.

They say bread is rare now in Jacmel
and people are lining up for it.

The bakers interviewed by the newspaper
speak from their bakeries,
Plan of God
Gift of God,

Where today they are not producing
pain au chocolat
pain de campagne
any other delights
which you could normally find
to carry home
through the streets of Jacmel.

In Jacmel
they know people don’t live
by bread alone.
They have poetry on the beach
and colorful mosaics
and you can buy paintings on every corner.

In 2010 an earthquake
stopped the cathedral clock
but they got it started again
and time went on passing as before.

The ocean is blue
and the houses are painted in pastels
and it looks a lot like it did a hundred years ago
except of course for all the motorcycles
zipping back and forth.

In Jacmel
the bakers pray
that God will give them this day
their daily bread.
And so does everyone else.

Ruth, from

Laura has today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Home is Where the Heart Is

For Spiritual Journey First Thursday, our host Donna asked us to write about the expression "Home is Where the Heart Is." So here goes...

The subject of "home" has always been a difficult one for me, because I have moved around so much and spent so much of my life apart from people I love. Home is definitely where people I love are, but there are many places of which that's true.
I wrote about this back in 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.

Yes, my heart is often divided, but I'm so thankful for the many wonderful people that God has brought into my life and given to me to love.  And "home," the actual place where I hang my hat (we do have a hat-rack, and I literally hang hats on it), is with the people with whom I get to share life right now. It won't be forever, I'm reminded as college mail arrives each week for my tenth grader in the wake of his PSAT. But for now, my heart is at home with my husband and son, and my heart is also with my daughter in college, and my family spread around the world, and my friends whom I love. Better too much love than too little, every time. Love is worth the pain of separation.

In the 2011 post, I wrote that I don't feel rooted anywhere. In 2017 my OLW was ROOTED, and after reflecting more on that concept, and on the verse in Ephesians that talks about being "rooted and established in love," I do feel rooted, right here where I am. Home is where my heart is, right here, nestled in God's love.

Be sure to visit Donna's roundup to see what everyone else wrote today.