Thursday, September 14, 2017

Poetry Friday: Forget Me Not

I have been thinking a lot lately about forgetting, and especially about forgetting people, and being forgotten by other people.  I kept thinking about a line from a poem, which I remembered as something like: "Better to forget me and smile than to remember and be sad."

"Wow," I thought, "I'd rather be remembered, even if it caused some sadness."

I'm not talking just about dying, either.  I'm talking about living a life where you constantly have to say goodbye, and wondering if those people forget you, if it's out of sight, out of mind.  Fearing that it is.  Feeling that being forgotten means you don't exist. 

I thought the person who wrote that line must be very selfless, and I wondered if I could ever be that selfless, to wish to be completely forgotten, to wish happiness for the people who used to love me instead of a tiny memory of me that could make them sad. 

Until I looked up the poem.  Then I found that I'd been remembering it wrong, and that Christina Rossetti felt just as I did about being remembered.  The title of the poem is "Remember."  And that line I was quoting referred to a situation "if you should forget me for a while and afterwards remember."

Here's the whole poem:

by Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
         Gone far away into the silent land;
         When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
         You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
         Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
         And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
         For if the darkness and corruption leave
         A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
         Than that you should remember and be sad.

Whether I'm alive or dead, being forgotten seems like a terrible fate to me.  I want to be remembered.  It's OK to forget for a while; I don't want anybody to be miserable, I'm not asking for perpetual mourning.  But neither do I want to cease to exist on earth in the eternal way that will happen when nobody remembers me any more.  I know it will happen someday, but meanwhile, I want to be remembered.  It makes me feel better to know that Christina Rossetti wanted the same thing.

Michelle has the roundup this week.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Poetry Friday: More from Jane Kenyon

I've posted quite a few Jane Kenyon poems recently, here, here, and here.  Today I have another one from her.

The Pond at Dusk
by Jane Kenyon

A fly wounds the water but the wound   
soon heals. Swallows tilt and twitter   
overhead, dropping now and then toward   
the outward-radiating evidence of food.

The green haze on the trees changes   
into leaves, and what looks like smoke   
floating over the neighbor’s barn   
is only apple blossoms.

But sometimes what looks like disaster   
is disaster: the day comes at last,
and the men struggle with the casket   
just clearing the pews.

We've spent the day today (Thursday) waiting for Hurricane Irma to pass to the north of us here in Haiti. This time it seems that what looked like disaster wasn't, not for us.  We had a few minutes of rain, and it was, unusually, overcast all day long, but that was it.  For St. Maarten and Barbuda it sure was disaster, though, and for some on this island, too.  You never know, and that day will come for all of us.

I don't have very cheerful thoughts today, but check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup, hosted by Matt Forrest Esenwine, who's celebrating the release of his new book!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Reading Update

Book #61 of 2017 was a short one, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists.  This is adapted from her TED Talk and is a quick, entertaining read.

Book #62 was The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, by Henri Nouwen.  So, so good.  I know I will reread this many times.  Some tastes:

"The finding has the losing in the background, the returning has the leaving under its cloak.  Looking at the tender and joy-filled return, I have to dare to taste the sorrowful events that preceded it.  Only when I have the courage to explore in depth what it means to leave home, can I come to a true understanding of the return."

"I leave home every time I lose faith in the voice that calls me the Beloved and follow the voices that offer a great variety of ways to win the love I so much desire."

"The leap of faith always means loving without expecting to be loved in return, giving without wanting to receive, inviting without hoping to be invited, holding without asking to be held."

Book #63 was A Thread of Grace, by Mary Doria Russell.  I read this because earlier in the summer I had been so blown away by Russell's novels The Sparrow and The Children of God, reviewed in this post.  This one was very different.  It's about Italy during World War II, after Mussolini surrenders and the Germans take over.  I was reading this while Nazis were in the news, the modern variety who think it's fun and cool to be fascists and white supremacists and wear swastikas.  It was a strange and jarring feeling to revisit the horrors of WWII Nazism with that backdrop.  Like the other Russell books I'd read, this one is full of moral ambiguity, human beings doing their best, and wonderful relationships.

Book #64 was The Brutal Telling, by Louise Penny.  I am reading my way through these Inspector Gamache novels as they become available to download from the library.  I thought this one was the best so far, and I'm glad I didn't give up on the series before now.

Book #65 was Sisterhood Everlasting, the fifth in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, by Ann Brashares.  This came out in 2011 but I only recently found out about it.  It takes place ten years after the fourth book, so the friends are 29 years old.  It's perhaps not the most realistic of conclusions to the series, but realism isn't why we read books like this.  I'm a little embarrassed by how much I loved this paean to friendship that endures against all odds.

Book #66 was In this House of Brede, by Rumer Godden.  I read this years ago, maybe even in high school, and I enjoyed it even more this time.  I also found out there's a made-for-TV movie available on YouTube, so I watched it.  It was not anywhere near as good as the book, with its trademark complex Rumer Godden prose.  The book came out in 1969, and it's the story of Philippa Talbot, a successful professional in her forties, who decides to become a Benedictine nun.

Book #67 was The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead.  This was a horrifying and affecting book, full of gut-wrenching details about what it was like to be a slave, but I don't understand what was gained by the fantasy conception of the Underground Railroad as a real railroad with trains and tunnels. 

This post is linked to the September Quick Lit post at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Poetry Friday: Dark Brown is the River

What could be more dispiriting than a flood?  Nothing that's been under it will be the same, ever, even when the waters recede and the land is dry again.  People aren't the same either, after a flood, or any disaster.

But there's still life to be lived.  I think of children flying kites in the tent camps in Haiti after the earthquake.  I think of smiling boys out for a walk with their dad in waist-high water in Mumbai, a photo I saw in this NPR story about south Asia, where floods have killed over a thousand this summer.  And I think of little girls I saw in a photo from Texas, catching tadpoles in the water Hurricane Harvey left behind. 

For some reason the flood photos kept making me think of this Stevenson poem I loved as a child and can still almost recite from memory.  The dark brown rivers are now running down highways, where they aren't supposed to be, and another disaster becomes part of the memories of children.

Dark brown is the river.   
  Golden is the sand.   
It flows along for ever,   
  With trees on either hand.   
Green leaves a-floating,        
  Castles of the foam,   
Boats of mine a-boating—   
  Where will all come home?   
On goes the river   
  And out past the mill,   
Away down the valley,   
  Away down the hill.   
Away down the river,   
  A hundred miles or more,   
Other little children   
  Shall bring my boats ashore.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Here's this week's roundup.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Poetry Friday: What Hurts

This morning, thinking of this day, and of the Open House at the end of it, I read this essay, about how poet Jill Bialosky started writing.  She writes: "our professor-poet tells us to write poems about what we know and what hurts." 

At this point in the school year, everything is still new, and we're figuring it all out.  Part of being a teacher is keeping it new, year after year.  I've read ten thousand poems about having a crush, but for every kid who writes one, the feeling is new, and overwhelming.  I've also read ten thousand poems from kids who think, "I know!  I'll write about how I have nothing to write about!"  Each kid thinks this clever idea is brand new.  And to each kid, it is. 

Here's to teaching, and to meeting a new set of parents, and to reading what our students write, year after year, their bathroom humor, and their tales of trips and first communions and the births of siblings, and yes, their explorations of what hurts. 

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Poetry Friday: This is the Stuff

We're finishing up our first week of school.  I have a fresh batch of seventh graders.  Ah, seventh graders.  I always forget, from year to year, how much training they need at the beginning.  I also have last year's batch back, in eighth grade now, with several new kids.

And, like everyone else, I've been watching the horror that is the news.

It's easy to feel caught up in the events of history, and as though there's very little you can do about the awful things going on.  But there is one place where I can make a difference, and that's in my classroom.  I can't do great things, as Mother Theresa put it, but I can do "small things with great love."

Seven years ago this week, I was back in my classroom for the first time after six months in the States after the Haiti earthquake.  I was reveling in the ordinariness of my days.  In this post I talked about how those ordinary things are what life is made of, and I shared the song lyrics below.  This year this whole concept seems important to me again.  Maybe treating my students with love and dignity will help prevent them from growing up into people who perpetuate attitudes like we're seeing in the news.  Maybe small things are the most important things I can do right now.

This is the Stuff
by Carolyn Arends

Riding along on a big yellow school bus
Elmer's glue and a brand new lunch box
Writing my name for the very first time
With a pencil that was bigger than me
From jumping rope and skipping school
To doing things that grown-ups do
Life goes by like that big old bus
If you miss it, it's history

Paper dolls and paperweights
Scraped up knees and hearts that break
Dreams to dream and plans to make
Love to give and love to take

This is the stuff
The smallest moments
This is the stuff
I need to notice
This is the stuff life is made of

Walking along as my life unravels
Looking back at the road I've traveled
All the things that matter most
Have caught me by surprise
Misty eyes and silent prayers
Promises and secrets shared
Friends that keep you up all night
Laughing till you cry

Life's made up of little things
Ties that bind and apron strings
New beginnings, old routines
Love and heartache in between...

In my post seven years ago, I included someone's home video that had this song in the background.  You can listen to it here.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Back to School and a QWP Update

Last week I was working in my classroom when someone brought in a new student to introduce to me.  We bonded over the fact that I had a few Diary of a Wimpy Kid books on my shelf, and within minutes he was signing one out to take home to read over the weekend.  As he got ready to write the first entry for the year on the yellow legal pad that serves as my library record, he turned to me and said, "Wait, what's my name?"

I laughed and said, "You're asking me your name?  I just met you!"

It turns out that this student, like many of the kids I teach, has more than one name.  Sure enough, when I checked my class list, the first name he's been using at the school he's been attending in the States isn't the same one I've been given.  That's OK; I assured him that I would call him whichever name he preferred and that I can keep track of both of them.  He went away happy with something to read (I love it when I help people find something to read).

Later, I was thinking about this incident, and I wondered how many of my students are thinking about who they're going to be this year - not what name they are going to use, necessarily, but what kind of person they'll be.  Are they wondering whether I'm remembering trouble they got into last year, or in the case of kids I haven't taught before, whether I've talked to their teachers from last year to get an idea of what to expect from them?  Are they fretting over a new appearance that suddenly happened over the summer?  Are they worrying about friendship situations that festered last year or maybe have developed in the class group chats since school let out in June?

We all want to be seen and known, and loved for who we are.  We want to look at the people in our lives and say, "What's my name?" and have them answer accurately, lovingly, as though our names, our identities, our personalities, are safe with them.

I want my students to know that they get a fresh start tomorrow when school starts.  I don't know many of the seventh graders, and I'm assuming the best about them.  I do know most of the eighth graders, and I'm assuming the best about them, too.  Goofy behavior from seventh grade is in the past.  But they don't just get a fresh start tomorrow.  They get a fresh start every Monday.  They get a fresh start every day.  They get a fresh start every time they come into my classroom, every time I ask to speak to them privately in the hallway about their behavior, every time I find them dawdling back from the bathroom or crying or trying to get into their locker or whatever.

You know what?  They give me a fresh start, too.  I can't tell you how many times I've ended a day discouraged and defeated, mad at myself because I spoke harshly or handled a situation badly, and then the next morning the kid in question has come in as though nothing has happened, saying, "Hi, Mrs. H."  Sometimes it doesn't happen that fast; sometimes there are meetings and conversations and apologies on both sides.  But in general I find my students treat me with remarkable grace.  I try to do the same for them.

We're all still growing.  I'm not growing physically any more, but in some ways I feel as though I'm changing these days as dramatically as my middle schoolers.  There's always room to learn and gain maturity.  They teach me as much as I teach them.

And speaking of learning and growing, I've been working on my Quinquagenarian Writing Project (QWP).  I figured I needed a little head start, since I'm about to go back into a season of constant grading.  I have three first drafts in my QWP folder, and I'm nearly finished with a fourth.

I can't wait to see my kids tomorrow, to start finding out who they are right now.