Colegio — NaPoWriMo2015 #18

borrowed from urgentrehab.co.uk

borrowed from urgentrehab.co.uk

Each day you have looked down
at the toes of your shiny black shoes –
each year a bit longer –
against the barro tiles
of the hallway floor.

Moving from one end of the building
to the other, year after year,
step after step,
black against red terra cotta;
Eight million steps and fourteen years.

Side by side and face to face
with old acquaintances and new.
Upstairs and down, in doors and out
with “Hurry! Hurry!
I can’t wait” in your voice,
all over your skin.

Rung after rung climbing over
holding hands, clumsy
first kisses, lasting loves, and sudden ruptures.
The glisten on those shoes has protected
and walked with you on the path
of this opening gambit

Leading to a portal inscribed
in elegant bold font:
Go Forth, now, without trepidation
and create excellence.

~LD

The Prompt: “write a poem that involves an urgent journey and an important message.”

A kind of cheesy one for “my” kids (h.s. seniors) who are all suffering with the impending changes in their lives. NOT the official letter of farewell. ~LD

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I Never Dared Trespass — NaPoWriMo2

(an ode: Lajitas Peak, Lajitas, Texas)

Once, I imagined stretching myself out
in the dust and rock
at the hem of her red velvet dress.

Hands behind my neck,
Elbows stuck out like tomahawk blades —
I knew I would see the dance of
the shimmery beads she wove into hair
so blue, so black
I would plummet with vertigo into
endless strands of braid.

She was so fine, and so right, this Night in the Desert
that she stuck like caliche in a breeze
to every memory and every dream
of untouchable tomorrows
that decades later
I believe I can reach up
and wind dimmed urban Leonids around me
against November’s “garish sun.”

~LD

“take your gaze upward, and write a poem about the stars”
With apologies to The Bard; One of my favorite speeches from R + J. ‘-)

Betrayal

"nothing is real"

“nothing is real”


You strolled into my embrace
out of desert afternoon sun –
gangly and long, all elbows and knees,
bleached and browned
by summer’s long, slow touch.
Your ivory smile, framed in blurred crimson,
filled my sight and burned my throat
like moon shine.
Words stacked up impossibly,
unexpectedly,
behind surprise
and a kiss withheld
because my ankles wavered
on a tide of standing and sinking.
We were, suddenly,
perfectly,
broken.

~LD

Tuesday Teacher Fantasy

Fantastic thinking is in order this thundery, rainy, hail-ish, Tuesday afternoon. You know, the kind of thinking you do when you sit around building blocks with a little kid (or several) and talk about how great it would be if you could eat only cake (or ice cream, or froot loops) all the time, for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. Or that summer lasted for ten months and school only lasted for two. And, “wouldn’t it be the best thing?”

“I’d have chocolate every day.”

“No way. I’d have a different kind at every meal and I would never, in a million years, get bored.”

“Oh, I know! I will ALWAYS get the corner piece with the extra icing. Oh, yeah.”

Oh, yeah. It would be the best thing.

books...

books…

Today, I think, the best thing would be, once a week to pack my reusable grocery bag the night before with a couple of the books I’ve got going on at the moment; I’d grin in anticipation of the coming day. Load the coffee maker and fixin’s carefully in a separate bag. I get to school around 6:30, just like always, and I hang an appealing, artful sign on the door that says READING DAY! I grab a pillow from the reading corner and arrange it near my desk, a kind of cozy cubby there in the corner under my “Fan Club” sign and photos and love notes from former students. I’d set my books for the day next to the pillow to wait, while I set up and start the coffee.

By 6:45 I am settled on the floor with the coffee maker bubbling away comfortably on the other side of the room. Picking up the first book in the stack, I slide my finger behind the bookmark holding my place and fold the book open. I graze slowly among the words as the sun comes up behind the mountains east of campus.

Eventually, students begin to slip into the room. Because it’s READING DAY, they already know to mumble a good morning. Maybe some of them pour a cup of joe with the tiniest of splash and swirl. Maybe not. First hour students would be so lucky! They could swing by Starbucks on their way to school and get something extra special and it would still be hot, perfect, creamy coffee / tea / chai / chocolate. We’ve a routine on READING DAY! one long-established and cherished of muttered greetings and the shush shush of pages turning.

There is no studying and no one tries to. There is no last minute rush to homework, and I don’t have to check. We each have our space of floor, desk, or wall, our cushion and the book we are working on. Some of use ear buds, and some of us don’t. No devices are opened by anyone; everyone is reading an old-fashioned, paper, analog, book of their choice.

For forty-eight minutes, there are no phones, tweets, whatsapp, instagram, texts messages, emails, parents, principals, or teachers. Just twenty-five or so souls breathing across ink spilled in delightful patterns that dance across paper in story form. Our breath steams, filling the room with the vaporous forms of places and people, near and far, known and unknown, real and imagined.

The building’s bells do their thing, and students slip away reluctantly to physics, philosophy, or some other part of the curriculum, and another group of students slips in. Later, for a couple of hours I’m alone, and I refresh the coffee maker before I return to my quiet corner, where I’ve started the second book in my stack for the day.

Just as I start to feel a little restless and maybe even lonesome, the last group of the day cracks the door open and enters to complete the ritual for the week. They settle to read, until the sound of a waiting line of cars starts to ooze beneath the door, and the rattle and crash of the younger grades in the hallways begins to shiver our air. We all get a little wiggly, and maybe there are a few people talking quietly, but some stay focused until the absolute last gasp before the last bell rings to free us for the day. Students fold their books closed like hands suspended in prayer around a bookmark, before they put cushions back in their place and shoulder backpacks and book bags to make their way home.

And wouldn’t it be the best thing? Oh, yeah.

~LD

Thoughts on Digit-itis: To be or not to be

Their screens were motionless. The group of six adolescents brave enough to put themselves in the center discussion circle barely scrolled through the electronic text they were discussing. If they’d been considering Wordsworth’s “The World is too Much with Us” the immobility would have been understandable – fourteen lines easily fit on one screen. But today, we were on Hamlet. HAMLET. I promise you, I am not such a great teacher of Shax that my students have memorized the order of events, much less specific lines from the play with which to back up their various responses to and arguments about the big questions the play poses. Not even close.

I sat in the outer circle, taking notes on the validity of arguments and other general skills and their motionless screens kept tickling at the back of my skull. I found myself wanting to say something about being a good reader, marginal notes, annotating texts – old school, teachery kinds of things.

But I held my peace because it was at least the third time in as many months that I have stumbled across this same problem. The problem of how to undo all the years of teaching people to be good readers on paper, while many of the tests we use to keep data on people’s educational progress and academic prowess are computerized.

I’m not talking about just the GRE and GMAT level exams for admission to graduate school, but also other (very respected) standardized tests used to track the academic progress of students at levels from the tiniest of first grade scholars all the way up to college graduates. Tests in which reading passages are not manipulable on the computer screen (you can’t highlight lines that seem important, much less make marginal notes). In most cases, the test taker can have a piece of scratch paper, but given the time-pressure factor, that little piece of paper seems at best useless at worst a distraction.

I used to show students how I use flag post-its to keep track of quotes I thought were important or revealing in a text. When working with a copy of a text, or textbook that belonged to me, I showed them how to make notes in the margin to remind them of their thoughts, reactions, and questions at the time of reading. I can’t say that these skills are totally useless even in our shiny, stainless steel digital era. Luckily, many of the texts we work with are available in PDF format, which allows many of these “analog” note taking strategies to continue to be useful. Really, as long as a text can be found in PDF form or converted to PDF, we can still use all the same old strategies for being good, thoughtful, critical readers with only minor alterations in the strategies.

But come test-taking time (or in the reading of Internet texts – articles, blogs and websites), these strategies are virtually useless. How does a test taker effectively keep notes on what he or she reads on a computer screen that they cannot mark? On a piece of scratch paper to one side of their mouse and keyboard. If the test taker is smart, he will include line numbers or paragraph numbers by each note he jots down. Nevertheless, these notes are not WITH the text that prompted the thought in the first place. Re-connecting the thought in the note with the text (imagine yourself switching back and forth from the text on the screen to the notes on your page – the Tazmanian Devil plays tennis) seems to me a most Herculean effort.

Is it nobler, then, to teach using etexts? Will we grow to keep track of our thoughts and where we had them in a text “by heart” in order to excel at the exams we must take to move forward toward our long-term educational goals? Will we insist that exam makers create exams in which the old analog styles of marginal notes and annotation can be performed on their digital texts? Or should we face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the only arms at our disposal the vagaries of flawed memory and analog note taking in the face of a test running at digital speeds? I find myself, like Hamlet, stuck between forms. We are much too digital, but not nearly digital enough.

While our strategies for teaching students to be good readers catch up with all that is being demanded in the digital age, I will continue to search for good PDF versions of texts, or apps that allow a reader to leave a post it in the text of a website. Until the two sides – analog test taking versus digital test taking – catch up with each other, my students’ discussions of texts will be tied either to analog (paper) texts or the PDF versions I can find online. I will show them the tools available, and trust to their ability to integrate new technology quickly. Meanwhile, in my head, all is far from Hamlet’s coveted silence.

~LD

Parts of a letter: thinking out loud in the cold

The thing about art is, as Beethoven said (Is this true? Is this a myth someone told me to make a point when I was a youngling? I will look it up later. Anyway, in my head a grizzled, bitter Beethoven speaks) there is nothing new in music (or any art). There are seven basic notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, their sharps and flats, repeated at higher or lower pitches, but the combinations are essentially finite. Measurable. Maybe even predictable to an extent (enter math).

What varies infinitely (or seems to – maybe this depends, like so many things, on one’s take on God and creation) is the certain curve and weight and touch that imparts “feeling” to a piece. What varies infinitely is whether we hear the same stories that Maxim Vengerov does in an Ysaye piece (unlikely, unless we happen to have the good fortune of being one of his master class students), or some other story entirely. With good, solid study, the stories should come near to being the same, even among musicians who’ve never met, but are unlikely to be what Ysaye himself saw as he composed. (Insert Shakespeare and Harold Bloom as the expert here if you like. Same result.)

What this tells us about a text like, say, The Hunger Games is not that it’s bad, or even especially good, but rather that Collins’ perspective on things like feminism, survival, capitalism / socialism, the conflict between love and self are presented sufficiently intelligently and artistically to pull in readers who might not otherwise have considered such important ideas (if they were forced to read them, say, for class). Ideally such texts lead them to read and appreciate (if not always enjoy), other, more complex, more artful works on similar ideas.

Naturally, many young readers aren’t ready to go there (neuro-biology works against them), but sometimes readers go back to books (and other works of art) like an old friend after they’ve matured, and see the bigger ideas then. (And yes, there are more than a handful of knuckleheads who never get it. Still, my teacher brain insists there is hope for human enlightenment. ‘-)) Even Harry Potter has at least some artistic value for bringing the old Greek myth figures back to the front of people’s minds. Ok, maybe not the front, but not the pit of intellectual despair that was 9th grade lit class with Odysseus.

So reading those books has value to the extent that they open a door for readers to be intellectually warmed up for 1984, Gatsby, The Old Man and the Sea, Lord of the Flies, Shakespeare, A Clockwork Orange, and the rest. I read “lesser” works because working with young intellects is part of what I’ve chosen to do with my life and I need to know how to talk to them with some authority about the big ideas in the little stories that get their attention. Sometimes such works even have the added bonus of being “fun”, which is too often undervalued.

Perhaps the fact that we read / enjoy / participate in mediocre and bad art eventually leads us to greater and greater feats of human imagination. At the very least, the mediocre and the bad may lead us to think differently than we did before.

I agree that the artist must create for him/herself. But it seems to me that the great value in art must go beyond the interior world. Visual image (dance, flat art (like painting), sculpture, film) and auditory image (music, speech / language) become ways of relating to the world and the experiences you live. Creating art is a way of making meaning out of the (sometimes) apparent meaninglessness of being human; I’d go so far as to suggest that art requires the artist to consider an audience, even an unreal one, to offer a serving of perspective (like a glass of wine on a tray) in order for the meaning to be, well, meaningful.

And yes, I know, I’ve just effectively destroyed all my reasons for not writing lately. I think sometimes that I work harder at not writing than I do at writing. ‘-) I’m pretty sure I’ll be cold and dead before I can really not write. Weaving language and words into meaning are my skin and heart, maybe even my soul. Only my ridiculous, flawed, grown-up human brain gets in the way. ‘-) Ego is a powerful dismotivator.

I loved what you wrote: “Art (in any form) is a gift from God … designed for … people who understand it to keep them happy even when everything else is shit. (I could not find a simpler and more complicated definition than that). Life is like running in the freezing cold in the middle of the woods, and art is like finding a nice cabin with a fireplace inside, to stay there forever. One who enjoys art should never have to quit [the cabin] ever again.”

Once in a while the only way to get to complexity is simply. I’d add that life is like running NAKED and BAREFOOT in the freezing cold. But I can’t help thinking that art need not be a consolation prize.

~LD

1984: In a Boat in Watertown — NaPoWriMo Day 19

I was in good company
all day, roomfuls of nine
-teen year-olds.
I listened to
novice interpretations:
Clocks striking thirteen,
a sad man
drinking weak gin
smoking badly-
packed cigarettes
staring down
at his ulcered leg
moving lamely
at instruction from
a screen, not unaware,
but utterly oblivious.

While, thousands of miles away,
a could-be classmate, abandoned love,
Fled the side of
a blood soaked brother
to save his own murderous hide.
How does one grieve
in flight, dragging guilt
heavier than lodestone?
How does one save one’s ass
carrying grief, pain and a haze
of reality shamed?

Does Winston get out alive?
Does anyone?

I was in good company
all day, roomfuls of nine
-teen year-olds.
Discussed
the burning text
from which every
one leaves
with their spirit
fired into a new thing.

~LD

* * *

To be fair, only a handful of my students are nineteen when they get to my Senior English class; another slightly larger handful, will turn nineteen right after graduation. But nineteen is so very close to eighteen — and so very far away, indeed.

I felt the power of events in the Boston area deeply during today’s endgame playing out and could barely tear myself away from twitter feeds to oversee my students’ first day of discussions of Orwell’s 1984.

But once I heard the age of the suspected co-perpetrator of the bombing in Boston, I had trouble facing the kids in my class. They are still such kids, and terrifyingly so. I love them, and I fear for them and the world that will change them; so much that can be wonderful (or horrible) will happen at them, near them, around them and for them in the next year of their lives, and they have exactly ZERO idea. Early in the day, I responded to today’s specific prompt (personal ad) in bitterness and sarcasm in the voice of the then-fugitive, but the piece is too _much_ to share so soon. It stung me.

Meanwhile, I worked on this bit, much toned down, and still tied to all the thinks (that “k” is intentional, not typo) that I thought as I listened to my students and their thoughts blurred into the day’s events. I caught myself wondering: how many of us commit terrors of a greater or lesser sort when we are still too young to truly understand what it means to be alive? And I thought about the people maimed — emotionally and physically — by that multitude of youthful bad decisions both great and small; those who will never forget what this jaunt on earth is really about.

To be honest I’m a little hesitant to publish this, even on my barely-noticed blog space. But I will anyway, because, as one of my former students used to say, “Yes.” ~LD

Long Past Mourning: A Valediction (NaPoWriMo#6)

If I had done goodbye well,
I’d have curled my hands around
the angles of your jawbones
and drawn you in for one last kiss
one last lingering gaze;
your blue,
or green,
or brown eyes
swimming with my own fickle greys.
I’d have been able to explain
the need to take wing
before I flitted away.
I’d have said that my love
was not a lie, and to always remember.
Perhaps, it would have hurt you less,

Instead I fled,
simply and painfully,
ripping away threads
carefully woven —
without a second thought
for a new pattern —
into the arms of another
with brown,
or green
or blue eyes

Where I stayed until
our ghosts
under the bridge
in the elevator
in the bath
making buttons fly
on the stage
on the roof
in the wilds
and all the precious, rich details
melted down like chocolate
became so much
smoky dreamstuff
of a life I didn’t know
that I had lived.
Until I remembered
that when I let you go
I never said
goodbye.

~LD

* * *

I dreamed of a long ago love a few nights ago, and it was surprisingly sweet. I guess that’s where this started, though many other loves in the interim are intertwined here with that very early one. This is a piece, like Adonis and Aphrodite, that I need to do more with. This is not a bad place to start.

Have a great end of the weekend! ~LD

Er-Lie in the Morning

I did not take this photo. It's from roadtrip62.com

I did not take this photo. It’s from roadtrip62.com

The open freeway is a kind of sea
At sixty-five, maybe seventy, miles an hour
black sails roiling against asphalt waves
that rocked our white pick up ship past
two-thirds of
Texas seas:
desert
oil pumpers
plains
small towns
escarpments
highway
Stuckey’s billboards
and finally city trees.
We sang pirate shanties
for hours
from the back seat, but no pirates, we.

~LD

* * *

Today’s prompt was hard, “Write a sea shanty.” I know a couple of them, and it was too hard to get away from those other people’s words. So, I gave the prompt a bit of a twist and wrote about learning the sea shanties that I know, on the road. To be entirely repetitive, I found this piece hard, but these are curiously happy memories, though I always hated that drive as a teen. I wanted the title to sound like we sang it when it’s read; I don’t know if this worked, you can tell me in the comments. Looking forward to a new prompt tomorrow. Have a great night, y’all! ~LD

Broken Events: February after the Supposed Apocalypse

Sixty days. One sixth of a year. Big doings. Or not so much. Discuss.

Here’s my year-to-date in a rather large nutshell (what’s the largest nutshell in the world? I think the shell will have to be that big or bigger).

When Pope Benedict resigned, I was reminded of watching the conclave as a child the year Pope John Paul II was named. The colored smoke fascinated me, even though as a lapsed Protestant (and a little kid) I didn’t understand what it was all about. When the smoke finally turned white, it seemed like an important moment, even though to my eyes the white smoke looked the same on the television screen as the black smoke had looked.

There is currently no pope for the Catholic church. On the upside, a particular Mexican shoe-maker is in capitalist heaven as a result of the gift of maroon loafers given to then-Pope Benedict XVI on his visit to Mexico last spring. I think the cobbler’s gift and his newfound fortune are kind of awesome. Really, they are lovely loafers, and there’s little doubt as to their comfort factor. I’ve been stunned at how frail the former pope has become in these short twelve months since his trip to Mexico. I hope the new loafers help him walk in some comfort on this last bit of his human pilgrimage. What I learned: must get to the Leon shoe expo when it comes to TRC this year. Not, perhaps, the lesson I “should” learn, but I’ll take what I can get. I will be watching for the smoke signals.

http://www.sfgate.com/news/world/article/POPE-LIVE-Swiss-Guards-15th-century-tweets-4315350.php#photo-4261397

My mom will be in TRC in less than a week. Time to buy a mattress for the guest bedroom. I’ve been looking for an excuse. Perfect. Insert dancing Snoopy and anxious Linus here. More on that at a later date. By the way, the Doctor is In. 25 cents.

I was invited to invite five students to a literary workshop at the local art and history museum. What a great group of students I must have that the list was long and difficult to narrow down. Wish I could go with them. Grown ups are not welcome. The adolescent in me totally gets that. But still.

My students reminded me how scary it is to be a high school senior. Luisa wrote, “I want to stop time, just for a few seconds.” My empathy would be understandable if I hadn’t hated high school. Next week they will be ready to break away again. Who needs a physics roller coaster project when every day is a new, unexpected, non-navigable high, low, twist, turn, loop-the-loop with unmeasurable velocities? Thank goodness for the reminder that I don’t want to go back. Time to stop worshipping at the altar of youth.

Having said that, well, braces. The bottom teeth are going back right, and the top teeth are going back left. The notorious gap has temporarily returned, and everything is sensitive and nothing fits together the way it should, and eating is a task I don’t even want to think about. I feel I haven’t eaten in a week, though that is a lie. Unfortunately, the food I can eat comfortably and the food I need and want to eat are on different planes of existence. So maybe I’m not worshipping at the altar of youth, but I am hoping that this factory of pain in my mouth actually does its job to keep my teeth in my head, rather than on my plate, which will make the crummy braces diet worth the trouble. And it might be neat if straight teeth made me feel pretty. I am adolescent in spite of myself.

Movies are a good thing for adolescents of all ages. Saw Les Miserables, in the theater on a week night. Poor Daniela had to listen to me mutter the lyrics through the whole show. Never mind the snuffling and snorting snotfest. Luckily, Javert wasn’t particularly good, so the parts that usually hit me the hardest didn’t hit very hard. I loved Fantine, Eponine, Gavroche (of course) and the Thènardiers. I liked Jean Valjean and Marius, but I couldn’t like this Cossette. I apologize. I assume there is something generally wrong with my taste in voices. Still, it was a good movie, even though I felt obligated to over-tip the waiter at the VIP theater after he tripped in the dark and spilled our drinks. Nothing like VIP theater – tickets, less than seven bucks each, leather recliners and table-side concession service. Thankfully, we had many napkins because there was boo-hooing. One day this weekend I’ll put the Broadway soundtrack on and recuperate anything I might have lost at the movie.

A fun movie followed by Facebook convos with former students about movies (like Les Mis) with mixed reviews can be rewarding. I miss those intellectuals, but I’m so proud of and happy for them. What wild and unexpected adventures they are having all over the world, doing all the things they dreamed of and a few they things they never expected.

For the record, it turns out that I am not the only essay writer in the world. I can only hope and keep thinking, writing, typing, editing and striving to reach Professor Lopate’s stature. I worried that I’d lost my companion essay writer when Nancy Walker died. Luckily, it seems that the form has not entirely died out. I’m encouraged.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/16/the-essay-an-exercise-in-doubt/

Nevertheless, I know I’ve lost my proverbial marbles because I tried to turn THE essay into a graphic novel, only to have the essay turn out to be merely the prequel to the epic super-heroine story that I don’t know how to write. I’m waiting for the bloodied main character to walk out of that alleyway and decide what to do with her newly baptized bowie knife. No pressure.

Speaking of creepy, wonderful things, I re-read Neil Gaiman’s Calendar Tales (see http://keepmoving.blackberry.com/desktop/en/us/ambassador/neil-gaiman.html ) for about the fourth time and tried to intuitively navigate my way around my own brain through his idea. I had done the tweet poems from my own tweets, but this idea of harvesting the tweets of others rocked the axis of my universe.

And now I don’t know what to do with myself. It’s March already. How did that happen? Just yesterday it was Christmas 2012 and I was trying to explain to my nephew why I hadn’t been playing Skyrim 24/7 or at least 16/7, and dancing the salsa with my 15 month old niece. Ten year olds don’t need sleep and babies love to spin almost as much as I do.

I have essays and stories to write and all the things.

Did I mention that this time next week Mom will be here?

So what’s up with you?

~LD