Sunday, January 31, 2010

sunday mornings

There's really nothing more beautiful than reading as the morning sun filters in through the windows.

An inspiration for a project on imagery:

"From now on, on your way to school, or on your way home, find something beautiful to notice. It doesn't have to be something you see it could be a scent - perhaps of freshly baked bread wafting out of someone's house, or it could be the sound of the breeze slightly rustling the leaves in the trees, or the way the morning light catches the autumn leaf as it falls gently to the ground.
Please look for these things, and cherish them. For, although it may sound trite to some, these things are the stuff of life. The little things we are put here on earth to enjoy. The things we often take for granted. We must make it important to notice them, for at any can all be taken away.
The class was completely quiet. We all picked up our books and filed out of the room silently. That afternoon, I noticed more things on my way home from school than I had that whole semester.
Every once in a while, I think of that teacher and remember what an impression she made on all of us, and I try to appreciate all of those things that sometimes we all overlook. Take notice of something special you see on your lunch hour today. Go barefoot. Or walk on the beach at sunset. Stop off on the way home tonight to get a double-dip ice cream cone.
For as we get older, it is not the things we did that we often regret, but the things we didn't do. Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."

-Anon., from a story The Teacher (A Powerful Lesson)

We start imagery journals next week. One day of recording "seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling." It should be good.

Photo: Painting by Edward Hopper, can be found here.

Friday, January 29, 2010

five senses friday

Tasting: Bacon pops (cream cheese, goat cheese, thyme, and lots of bacon. On a stick.) Bringing them to the ball party. You can see the apartment therapy article here.
Hearing: The chatter of the English department.
Seeing: The sunrises this week. Beautiful!
Feeling: The lightness of my hair just after a cut.
Smelling: Peppermint tea.
Busy weekend ahead. Anatomy and Physiology I begins tomorrow and I have the orientation for my online Abnormal Psychology class. Party tomorrow night. Hopefully some time to relax and play Scrabble on Sunday.
Have a nice Friday and a great weekend.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger

Rest in Peace,  J.D. Salinger. A man who did things his way, to say the least.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

but my favorite food is pancakes...

I read Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller over winter break. I was also listening to his newest work, A Thousand Miles in a Million Years as an audiobook. This post, however, will deal mostly with Blue Like Jazz.

I like reading books about religion and society. The subtitle of Blue Like Jazz is "Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality." This seems like a misnomer. The book is almost entirely devoted to religious thought on Christian spirituality, in mostly an evangelical sense. There were parts of the book that I liked and other aspects that I could have done without.

An excerpt:

"I think Laura was looking for something rational, because she believed that all things that were true were rational. But that isn't the case. Love, for example, is a true emotion, but it's not rational. What I mean is, people actually feel it. Love cannot be proven scientifically. Neither can beauty. Light cannot be proved scientifically, and yet we all believe in light and by light see all things. There are plenty of things that are true that don't make any sense. I think one of the problems Laura was having was that she wanted God to make sense. He doesn't. He will make no more sense to me than I will make sense to an ant."

I like the whole idea of accepting things that can't necessarily be proven scientifically. Belief in various ideas and concepts is very difficult for me. I like to understand the rationale and logic behind ideas. I like "proof." Many people believe that religion is pitted against intellectualism, because people that believe in God cannot "prove" his existence. And yet there are other things, such as beauty and love, that we cannot prove, justify, or quantify. Hence the metaphysical poets (we are studying Donne in Brit Lit right now).

Miller's newest book, A Thousand Miles in a Million Years, is more my style and I highly recommend it. It is more of a "why am I here and why does it matter" type of book. In one memoir, he addresses religion, the Tour de France, living life as a story, cancer, riding a bike across the country, and consciousness. He does a pretty good job, in my opinion. I haven't read his arguably most famous book, Searching for God Knows What, but I plan on reading it fairly soon.

Miller, on love and acceptance in Blue Like Jazz:

"I can't do it. It would be like, say, trying to fall in love with somebody, or trying to convince yourself that your favorite food is pancakes. You don't decide those things, they just happen to you..."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

saying goodbye

A Certain Chill
by Barry Trick

Though months ahead, June's sunny days
Now make me feel a certain chill.
The eighty essays on my desk
Appear and fade beneath a gaze
Now vacant, pen poised but paralyzed.
Just how could four and forty years
Soft sift through time's so narrow straits
With such amazing speed?      Indeed.
Am I not still the nervous grad
Once charged to teach some Frost and grammar
To freshmen restless for the weekend's
Dance or date? Or coach the failures
How to find some sense in Shakespeare's
Arcane verse or Steinbeck's prose?
There were some failures in my teaching
Too, of course.     Successes taste
Much sweeter, more fulfilling then.
Each memory is a name or a face
Still vivid after eight or ten
Or thirty-three or forty years.
I push aside the paper labeled
Pension Plan, for June is months
And months or even years away.
I'll turn to patient essays now
And lesson plans and grades updates.
June is still so very far away,
And I have much to do today.

One of the best teachers retired today. The type of teacher that you wish you had, the type of teacher you wish you could be, and the type of teacher that you rarely find in current schools. When I said goodbye to him today, my heart hurt.

As he writes in the introduction, "We have moments when prose can never describe our feelings because a special moment is so far from prosaic."

This poem reminds me that even great teachers have tiring days. It's a nice reminder at the end of the quarter.

poem from Sparks from the Anvil by Barry J. Trick. Bogota-San Juan: Argueso & Garzon Editores, 2007.

Monday, January 18, 2010

this and that, weekend edition.

This weekend:

A visit to Politics and Prose, followed by this. Then the great Owney debate. Is it really him?

Three games of this. "Bombe" won big (thanks, Ina!).

One of these for S, and this (for me). Classy and inexpensive!

A busy week ahead. Grades close on Wednesday, have to buy my Anatomy books on Wednesday, final week of OT, crazy schedule at work. 


A thought:

"Only now people have decided to experience it [life] not in books and pictures but in themselves, not as an abstraction but in practice."
--Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tomorrow's Toussaints
By Kalamu ya Salaam

this is Haiti, a state
slaves snatched from surprised masters,
its high lands, home of this
world's sole successful
slave revolt. Haiti, where
freedom has flowered and flown
fascinating like long necked
flamingoes gracefully feeding
on snails in small pinkish
sunset colored sequestered ponds.

despite the meanness
and meagerness of life
eked out of eroding soil
and from exploited urban toil, there
is still so much beauty here in this
land where the sea sings roaring a shore
and fecund fertile hills lull and roll
quasi human in form

there is beauty here
in the unyielding way
our people,
colored charcoal, and
banana beige, and
shifting subtle shades
of ripe mango, or strongly
brown-black, sweet
as the such from
sun scorched staffs
of sugar cane,
have decided
we shall survive
we will live on

a peasant pauses
clear black eyes
searching far out over the horizon
the hoe motionless, suspended
in the midst
of all this shit and suffering
forced to bend low
still we stop and stand
and dream and believe

we shall be released
we shall be released
for what slaves
have done
slaves can do

and that begets
the beauty

slaves can do

Please consider donating to the relief effort. A list of organizations can be found here.

from Iron Flowers: A Poetic Report on a Visit to Haiti by Kalamu ya Salaam. Published in New Orleans in 1979.

Monday, January 11, 2010

not needing all the words

A photo and poem to start the week.

(for George Whalley)

An hour after the storm on Birch Lake

the island bristles. Rock. Leaves still falling.

At this time, in the hour after lightning

we release the canoes.

Silence of water

purer than the silence of rock.

A paddle touches itself. We move

over the blind mercury, feel the muscle

within the river, the blade

weave in dark water.

Now each casual word is precisely chosen

passed from bow to stern, as if

leaning back to pass a canteen.

There are echoes, repercussions of water.

We are in absolute landscape,

Among names that fold in onto themselves.

To circle the island means witnessing

the blue grey dust of a heron

released out of the trees.

So the dialogue slides

nothing more than friendship

an old song we break into

not needing all the words.

We are past naming the country.

The reflections are never there

without us, without the exhaustion

of water and trees after storm.

from The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems by Michael Ondaatje. New York: Vintage International, 1997.

Friday, January 8, 2010

five senses friday

I love living in a state where an inch of powder warrants a two hour delay. Sleeping in until 7:45 feels amazing!

Time for Five Senses Friday. This is a valuable exercise--I often have my students make this list as a warm-up before class begins. Imagery appeals to all the senses, not just to the sense of sight.


-The sharp, almost startling, smell of cold air

-The rush of heat through the vents and the persistent hum of my computer

-My down comforter, cold feet, and a dull headache

-The strong, burnt taste of rewarmed Peet's coffee

-This waffle maker. Wish I could buy it!

This weekend: Exercise, FAFSA and other financial aid forms, grading, and sleeping.

Update: I bought the waffle iron! I found it for much less on Amazon, with free shipping. Can't wait!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

happiness is...

"My search is over. I've logged tens of thousands of miles. I endured the noon darkness of Iceland and the solid heat of Qatar, the persnickety functionality of Switzerland and the utter unpredictability of India. I survived a coup lite, savored minor breakthroughs, and mourned the loss of a Ridiculously Expensive Pen. I may have saved the life of one dumb bug. I smoked Moroccan hash and ate rotten shark. I even quit coffee, for awhile."

The above quotation is from the epilogue of Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World. The major premise is that Weiner, an international correspondent for NPR, travels to roughly twelve countries to see what makes people happy or unhappy. He has some surprising and enlightening results, which he outlines in his epilogue (below):

"I am no philosopher, so here goes: Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude."

The first chapter was a little slow-going. However, after the chapter on the Netherlands, the book became very interesting. My favorite chapters included happiness (or unhappiness) in Bhutan, Qatar, and Iceland.  Moldova, one of the unhappiest countries in the world, is missing key elements that make other countries happy, such as trust, and gratitude (the only good thing about Moldova, according to a Peace Corps volunteer, is the fresh fruits and vegetables). The rampant envy and corruption also make people unhappy. In Iceland, failure brings happiness. In Qatar, happiness is "a winning lottery ticket." Overall, it is a funny book and one of my favorites from 2009.

The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner
Published by Twelve.

Monday, January 4, 2010

one week ago...

We were here...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

an experiment

I have resurrected this blog a few times now, but I have a new idea for the new year.

Usually I don't experience new year angst. I don't like resolutions that are impossible to attain, making promises that are destined to be broken, and wallowing in self-pity and loathing.

Instead, I have decided to analyze my everyday life through photos, poetry, and prose. As a literature teacher, I have some experience with the latter. However, the photos and (surprisingly enough) poetry are works in progress. I will try to keep up with this experiment throughout 2010. I don't known exactly what I hope to get out of this--maybe nothing will come of it at all--but I hope to inspire myself and others along the way.

Below is John Updike's view on literature and experiencing life. I wrote about this piece from NPR's "This I Believe" around this time last year, shortly after Updike's death:

"A person believes various things at various times, even on the same day. At the age of 73, I seem most instinctively to believe in the human value of creative writing, whether in the form of verse or fiction, as a mode of truth-telling, self-expression and homage to the twin miracles of creation and consciousness. The special value of these indirect methods of communication -- as opposed to the value of factual reporting and analysis -- is one of precision. Oddly enough, the story or poem brings us closer to the actual texture and intricacy of experience. In fiction, imaginary people become realer to us than any named celebrity glimpsed in a series of rumored events, whose causes and subtler ramifications must remain in the dark. An invented figure like Anna Karenina or Emma Bovary emerges fully into the light of understanding, which brings with it identification, sympathy and pity. I find in my own writing that only fiction -- and rarely, a poem -- fully tests me to the kind of limits of what I know and what I feel. In composing even such a frank and simple account as this profession of belief, I must fight against the sensation that I am simplifying and exploiting my own voice. I also believe, instinctively, if not very cogently, in the American political experiment, which I take to be, at bottom, a matter of trusting the citizens to know their own minds and best interests. "To govern with the consent of the governed": this spells the ideal. And though the implementation will inevitably be approximate and debatable, and though totalitarianism or technocratic government can obtain some swift successes, in the end, only a democracy can enlist a people's energies on a sustained and renewable basis. To guarantee the individual maximum freedom within a social frame of minimal laws ensures -- if not happiness -- its hopeful pursuit. Cosmically, I seem to be of two minds. The power of materialist science to explain everything -- from the behavior of the galaxies to that of molecules, atoms and their sub-microscopic components -- seems to be inarguable and the principal glory of the modern mind. On the other hand, the reality of subjective sensations, desires and -- may we even say -- illusions, composes the basic substance of our existence, and religion alone, in its many forms, attempts to address, organize and placate these. I believe, then, that religious faith will continue to be an essential part of being human, as it has been for me."