Whisper of a Preacher Man — NaPoWriMo2015 #7

I pulled up short
while the saloon doors still
swung behind me,
rattle and crash.
Not a soul looked up.

I thought I had intruded,
Mistakenly, on a sacred
Moment.
Perhaps amidst the smoke
there had been a death
or a conversion
that would explain
the clientele’s postures.

Hunched over the hands
poised on their knees
I was reminded of a preacher
who reached out to the straying
By whispering in an evening voice:
“With every head bowed and every eye closed
come, come now and make the call…”

But there was no preacher here —
this was no prayer —
for the faces, lit by ghastly glow,
peered intently between thumbs
or under forefingers
into the eyes of another
god.

Less demanding in some ways
More demanding in others,
that only seems to light a path
they seek.

I turned on my boot heel
and walked back out into the sun
in search of more companionable
Custom.

~LD

I played hookie on day six, guys.

Today’s prompt was to write about “money”, but it didn’t move me much. Instead this little beauty that’s been perking around since a recent trip to Chili’s came about. Hope it “speaks” to you somehow.

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

Missed Call (for S–)

You were
in my back pocket today,
tucked between
generous flesh
and thin denim.

I thought I dreamed,
or had awakened still drunk —
hands shaking, eyes sticky —
deciphering your name
from a foreign tongue.

Minutes passed
while I stood in line
to take in truth
and pay the bill.

My fingers trembled
above a return message;
the cashier’s look
spilled impatience on the counter
as I hit send.

I slipped you in
again between flesh and denim —
heart kettling behind my ribs.

~LD

Athena talks with Khaos — NaPoWriMo day 27

Zeus-sized migrane.

Zeus-sized migrane. I found this illustration from D’Aulaire’s at annieandaunt.blogspot.com

Occasionally,
while light trickles
in perfect electronic
Rivulets
across the screen horizon —
Phone
Television
Notebook
Laptop
Desktop
— the images of
Thousands of miles
of cables and wires
Strung across naive,
Naked wilderness
and garroting naughty,
thoughtless cityscapes,
sweep mirage-like
before the mind’s eye,
laying all to waste
at the feet of
Future.

~LD

* * *
Recently, the school where I work offered to finance at no interest over ten months the purchase of Ipads for interested staff. I signed up for mine yesterday. This morning, I spent three hours in a workshop on Google drive. Plus there are all the hours I spend in front of electronic devices for both work and play. Between writing, teaching, playing video games and occasionally indulging in mindless crime shows, electronics take up more of my time than I care to admit.

If you’re wondering about the title, Khaos (Chaos) was believed by the Greeks to have existed before anything else (even before Gaia) and was the goddess of air (among other things — Wikipedia is helpful if you want the basics), and though Athena is warlike, she is also the goddess of wisdom and sprang fully formed from Zeus’s forehead (mind?). “Future” here had a physical, statue-like feel to me and because that’s the way my brain turns, I thought of my old D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths and all the Greek ideas and beliefs that became so much fiction so quickly. Khaos isn’t in D’Aulaires’, but I guess I’m not six years-old anymore and may have read and thought one or two other things about Greek mythology since then. Thanks for stopping by! ~LD

Fortune Cookies for my Smart Phone — NaPoWriMo day 21 — Frank O’Hara

Fortune Cookies for my Smart Phone

Everyone wants to be as smart as you.
All numbers are lucky for you.
Alas, the rest is mostly bad news.
You will suffer popularity for a time. Enjoy it.
No one will leave you alone.
Accept your role as alarm clock with grace.
Watch out for soup and drinks in wide-mouth glasses.
Cross your leggy buttons, they will still let your battery run out.
Not everyone has to be touch sensitive; work around your limitations.
Turns out you are not the smartest one in the room.
When the model upgrade happens, bow out gracefully.

~LD

* * *

I wanted this to be more clever than it actually turned out, but maybe that’s just not me. Of course, it could be that my smart phone is not especially smart. A characteristic that is more my poor choice than anything else. I’ll do better next time (at least in my phone choice). =) Just nine more days of daily poetic delight to go. Have a great poetic spark, y’all! ~LD

Mundanities: A Letter in Two Parts; Part One

This week, I read a rumor that blogging is on the decline, a waning fashion, that it will, in fact be replaced by something else (pinterest? Tumblr? Some other thing we haven’t imagined yet?). Before I read the report (I wish I’d been paying attention, but I don’t know where I saw it), it had occurred to me that having started a blog and continuing it is the height of self-indulgence, despite my reasoning to the contrary. And while the thought gave me pause, it doesn’t seem to have slowed me down much, here on ~LD’s inky blog.  So here’s a question for you, Dear Reader: Why do you blog (if you do)? Why do you read any blog, anywhere? Have you thought about the end of blogging? What did you imagine?

Don’t worry, I won’t abandon this bloggy, self-indulgent practice.  Frankly, it was quite a step for me to decide to put my writing out in a public zone of any definition – going backward is not an option.  And having given such a long-winded disclaimer, I’ll leave you to the letter, part 2. ~LD

Poem, write me

A couple of weeks ago, in a dull moment, and passing 1,000 tweets on Twitter, I decided to collect up all the tweets I’d ever tweeted and “do something” with them.  (The full document is nine pages!) This week’s post is the first product, though after culling and sorting, it’s clear that there are two or three or more other possible pieces left to go.  I’d call this still in draft form, but it is nearing completion.  I suspect I don’t use Twitter the way it was intended, but that’s the beauty of the internet: its uses are fluid.

Quickie translations for non-bilingual readers: chanate = crow; chencho = local word for mockingbird; golondrina = barn swallow; margarita = daisy; and colibrí = hummingbird. Have a great week! ~LD

Poem, write me

Monday morning, full moon falling
lullaby stars
shrinking into desert flame
a hundred thousand dreams fall together,
dangling by a thread of ether —
Wide universe, slow move, fast dance, long sleep.
The stars have barely risen and still
the night insists on ending
Moon don’t say goodnight…
morning comes up around the sun, chilled by starlight.

Golondrina, chanate, chencho, margarita –
daylight, daydreams, dabbling free
in elderly sunlight…
Oaks, cedars and sycamores…
flycatchers, house wrens and inca doves…
I would like to be in the barn swallow coffee klatch
‘tween greens and feathers there’s no room for bad news.

Chanate sawing, chencho singing
Chencho, chencho,
where do you go,
when the sun is high and leaves are burning?
Checho, chencho,
where do you go,
when the moon is low?

Colibrí love on the porch
before the heat gets high;
covetous cats chattering cheerfully;
strings of mimosa flowers
doodle bug houses of sticks and mud —
to be only four again
when “backyard” meant freedom!

Save poems for another day — full moon, full moon!
Trapping moonbeams with my fingers
Moon in my hands,
sun in my eyes,
dust in my lashes,
poems dribble over my lips,
to fall and break on my pen like glass.
There’s my old friend, the moon…

Oasis or Mirage? (Or, the day I decided to blog)

I have reached these last days of summer vacation ready to let my luxurious days as a lady of leisure slip into the heat mirages rising up from the asphalt.

The “lady of leisure” image isn’t entirely accurate; I’m always busy doing something during vacation: sewing projects that advance a few stitches each year, novel reading, catching up on news reading, organizing and rethinking old writing, “painting” with markers, firing up barbecues, other experiments in cooking, and usually one trip to Texas. Perhaps the time feels leisurely because I’m not “busy” by 21st century standards.  I work hard during vacation not to multitask, even though social media and my cell phone make complete absorption in a single task difficult.

This year while in Texas, I sat by the pool in a lounge chair holding the baby and watched my brothers vacuum the pool bottom so the kiddos could play.  The guys were deeply engrossed in pool care, and I was deeply engrossed in playing with the baby.  We grilled hamburgers and the ten of us (Mom, me, the brothers, their wives and the cousins – it gets to be a big party quickly) ate burgers, chips, dip and peach cobbler and enjoyed being at the same address. The crowd of people, tykes and talls, made me realize that I need to be as thankful for my quiet, simple life as I am for the rowdy, loud, but all too brief occasions when we get to be together.

Somewhere between the pool and burgers and breakfast the next morning, I got to wondering when I had quit writing a colossal (email) letter “home” about the doings in my world and at what point I stopped knowing much about my brothers’ lives other than what might go in the first twenty lines or so of their resumes: name, address, phone number, date of birth, place of employment, marital status, number of children. I exaggerate somewhat, but not by much. Twenty years ago, when they were “just kids” it was easier to keep up with their specific interests. Or maybe I never really knew them at all — a distinct possibility that I don’t like thinking about.  In any case, all that wondering made me decide to start this blog.

I considered returning to the old mass email letter, the kind I sent when I was in graduate school and then when I first came to Mexico, with attached word file and photos. Culturally, though, we’ve gotten to a point where we no longer read email unless they are snippets, and those are usually work-related or organizational in some way.  Even those of us who do read email that resembles the old-fashioned analog paper letter very seldom respond in kind (there are a couple of notable exceptions in my family, and they are, of course, among my very favorite people). So rather than going to all the trouble to attach photos, files, text documents via email, I decided a blog would be both easier and more democratic.  I post its existence with a link in the world of social media, and you, dear reader, can read it or not, comment in a sound byte, or a long letter, or not at all, as you wish and as you have time. Though it’s not quite the same as the thrill of opening a paper envelope reply, I do have the satisfaction of watching my stats and knowing some of you are reading.

Unfortunately, the blog won’t help me get to know my brothers better enough to have a real conversation with them when I see them at Christmas, but maybe they’ll take a cue from their big sis and post a blog of their own. Or maybe I should call more often.  Ya think? Turns out that I’m no lady of leisure at all, and in my “regular life,” I do multitask (albeit badly) and get so busy that pushing old, flesh-and-blood connections to the bottom of the to-do list is remarkably, and sadly simple.

As the weeks have passed, I’ve tested the waters of blog-land a bit, and the original intent for the Inky Highway Oasis has morphed (as virtual ink tends to do when left to its own devices) into something additional that I’m not sure how to name.  Perhaps its name is “opportunity.” I can’t really imagine the exact opportunity(s) that might come along, but I feel them wandering aimlessly out there, and I hope that they will randomly begin merging into the mirages rising up from summer asphalt along with my vacation where I can see them.  ~LD