Saturday, July 22, 2017

My Quinquagenarian Writing Project

In just a few months, I will be turning fifty.  Yes, fifty. 

That is a big number.

I have been aware for a long time of being thought old by people around me, first my students, and now even my colleagues.  I could be the mother of most of the teachers I work with.  But this is a new level of big number. 

This year I have been doing a photography project, posting daily photos on Facebook in response to prompts.  I started doing this because I had so enjoyed the Lent and Advent photo-a-day projects I had done in the past.  It turns out that I really like having something like this to work on.  (You can read more at that link about what my daily photo habit does for me.)

So, I was thinking I wanted to do some kind of a birthday project.  I got the idea from people on Poetry Friday through the years; there are so many creative and fun people who set themselves writing-related challenges: genres they want to try, special months like NANOWRIMO and others, and, you guys, look at this amazing poetry postcard project that Laura Shovan did to celebrate her birthday back in 2012!

So I've decided that in the first seven months of this new school year, the seven months before my birthday, I will set myself the goal of writing fifty (50) first drafts.  I imagine the vast majority of these will be short poems, but I would like at least five of them to be essays.  At this point I don't know how many of these pieces I'll share on my blog, but I will definitely be posting here and on Facebook about my progress (hashtag QWP!).  I'll also be sharing my goals and my progress with my students, and perhaps some of the results, as appropriate.  And my long-suffering writing group will be reading much of what I'll be writing.

I'm hoping that, as I write about many of the things in my ideas file, my QWP will help me approach my birthday not as some sign of impending decrepitude, but as a celebration of the fifty years of material God has allowed me to amass. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Reading Update

Book #46 of 2017 was Boys Without Names, by Kashmira Sheth.  My 14 year old son recommended this to me.  It's hard to think about the events in the book, knowing that they are a reality for so many around the world.  Gopal and his family move to Mumbai when life in their Indian village becomes impossible.  But life is impossible in Mumbai, too, when you're poor.  Because this is YA, there's a happy ending, but sadly that is not always the case in real life.

Book #47 was The Nesting Place, by Myquillyn Smith.  This is a book about making the most of the space you have, and creating a nest for your family there instead of waiting for your dream life to appear.  The juxtaposition between this and the previous book is instructive.  To Gopal and his family, the most humble spaces occupied by the American women at whom this book is aimed would feel like a palace.  I read this on my Kindle, and it would be better to read the paper book because of the photos (I have an older model and the photos all show up black and white).

Book #48 was Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly.  After I saw and enjoyed the movie based on this book, I wanted to know more.  The movie changes the real events significantly, and makes them much more dramatic.  Nevertheless, I was glad to learn about this part of history.

Book #49 was Passages Through Pakistan: An American Girl's Journey of Faith, by Marilyn Gardner.  I friended Marilyn on Facebook after reading and loving her book of essays, Between Worlds.  I, too, am an American missionary kid who attended boarding school high in the hills (though not in Pakistan), and I could relate to this book in so many details.  It's vividly written, and I recommend it.

Book #50 was Charming Ophelia, by Rachael Miles.  The author is a friend from graduate school, and I've been enjoying her Muses' Salon series (there's more about the previous books in this post).  This one was a novella, sweet and, as the title suggests, charming.

Book #51 was Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen.  I reread this book all the time, but I hadn't listed it in a while, so I thought I would this time.  I wrote about it before here and here.  

Books #52 and 53 were The Sparrow and Children of God, by Mary Doria Russell.  My daughter called these "theological science fiction" when she recommended the first one to me.  A new friend passed it to me this summer and told me I should read it, and I finally did.  Jesuit missionaries go to space and, like missionaries through the ages, they completely misunderstand the situation they find, blunder about, and suffer unspeakably.  Russell writes exquisitely and unsentimentally.  She never downplays the anguish of her characters, or their doubts, or their complete rejection of God, but somehow she also never allows us to forget God's grace.  I'll definitely be reading more of her work.

Here's a taste of the first book:  

"‘I had a dream last night,’ he said quietly. ‘I was on a road and there was no one with me.  And in the dream I said, “I don’t understand but I can learn if you will teach me.”  Do you suppose anyone was listening?’  He didn’t turn from the windows.

Without answering, Giuliani got up and went to a bookcase.  Selecting a small volume with a cracked leather binding, he paged through it until he found what he wanted and held it out.

Sandoz turned and accepted the book, looking at the spine.  ‘Aeschylus?’

Wordlessly, Giuliani pointed out the passage, and Emilio studied it a while, slowly translating the Greek in his mind.  Finally, he said, ‘In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’”

Book #54 was a picture book, and I never list picture books in my count, but I figure I'm justified since this one got the Newbery medal last year.  It's Matt de la Peña's Last Stop on Market Street.  Again I find myself using the word "unsentimental," because people so often do sentimentalize the themes of this book.  The conversation between CJ and his Nana as they ride the bus is fully convincing: CJ complains, and his Nana helps him to see that there's something to appreciate in every human being and every moment.  

Book #55 was Sunrise, by Mike Mullin.  This is the third in the Ashfall trilogy, and it had been a while since I had read the first two (my review of the first one is in this post, and the second in this post).  The title of this one is hopeful, so I was expecting a little more of an upbeat story, and yeah, I guess in some ways it is, at least in the last couple of pages.  But there's still plenty of grim, hyper-realistic horror in this book.  The trilogy is about a nightmarish post-apocalyptic America after the super-volcano that is under Yellowstone (and yes, there really is a super-volcano there) erupts and plunges the country into winter.  Instantly, modern knowledge becomes mostly useless, and those who are left have to figure out how to survive.  

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

Poetry Friday: Happiness

by Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
                     It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Poetry Friday: Spain

Apparently today's Poetry Friday theme is Macaroni and Cheese.  Take a look at Tabatha's roundup.  I looked a bit for something on this topic, but was depressed to find that the Poetry Foundation website is all shiny and new since I last looked at it, and now I can't search it properly any more.  Maybe they are still working on it - I'll check back later.

Meanwhile, my daughter, who is studying in England this summer, just excitedly informed me that she bought this: 

This means more to her than it does to me, since she has had an Auden class and I have not, but it does mean a lot to me that my nerdy, bookish daughter is trawling used bookstores with her nerdy, bookish classmates/tribe members and finding delight in words.  And when I read the text, I found that there is something vaguely comforting about reading about the political preoccupations of previous generations rather than those of my own generation.  All the intellectuals of the day had opinions on the Spanish Civil War, and many of them (most famously, Hemingway) went and fought in it.  History is "the operator, the organiser."

To-morrow the rediscovery of romantic love,
the photographing of ravens; all the fun under
Liberty's masterful shadow;
To-morrow the hour of the pageant-master and the musician,

The beautiful roar of the chorus under the dome;
To-morrow the exchanging of tips on the breeding of terriers,
The eager election of chairmen
By the sudden forest of hands. But to-day the struggle.

To-morrow for the young the poets exploding like bombs,
The walks by the lake, the weeks of perfect communion;
To-morrow the bicycle races
Through the suburbs on summer evenings. But to-day the struggle.

Here's the rest, with some commentary. 

I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else has posted today, cheesy or otherwise!  Happy Poetry Friday!

Friday, July 07, 2017

Poetry Friday

I was traveling today, and I never got a post written.  Fortunately, lots of other people did post!  Here's today's roundup.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Poetry Friday: Summer

I just got my laptop back from being repaired today.  I've missed it like a limb!  Here's a bright and breezy summertime poem.  I hope you're enjoying summer as much as I am!

Come we to the summer, to the summer we will come,
For the woods are full of bluebells and the hedges full of bloom,
And the crow is on the oak a-building of her nest,
And love is burning diamonds in my true lover's breast;
She sits beneath the whitethorn a-plaiting of her hair,
And I will to my true lover with a fond request repair;
I will look upon her face, I will in her beauty rest,
And lay my aching weariness upon her lovely breast.

The clock-a-clay is creeping on the open bloom of May,
The merry bee is trampling the pinky threads all day,
And the chaffinch it is brooding on its grey mossy nest
In the whitethorn bush where I will lean upon my lover's breast;
I'll lean upon her breast and I'll whisper in her ear
That I cannot get a wink o'sleep for thinking of my dear;
I hunger at my meat and I daily fade away
Like the hedge rose that is broken in the heat of the day.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Poetry Friday: Summer Dream

Last night I dreamed that I was back at school.

When I wrote that sentence, I realized two things.  One was that it made me think of Rebecca.  Google helped me find out that the opening sentence of that novel is "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

The second thing I realized was that my sentence was in iambic pentameter.  Before I knew it, I had written the first draft of a sonnet!

Writing is unpredictable.  The other day I sat down to write about my children, and summer, and it ended up being about the meaning of home and memory, and I cried, and typed, and deleted, and wrote for two hours, and produced six short paragraphs that had a few flashes of potential, but not a whole lot.  Today I wrote a sonnet in no time flat.  Something to remember when I go back to my classroom and face students whose writing progresses slowly.

It is way too early to be having stress dreams about school, but I did have fun writing this, and I'm happy to share it with you.  I hope your summer day is lovely and restful, or lovely and productive, depending on what's ahead of you today.

Summer Dream

Last night I dreamed that I was back at school,
The summer ended just as it’s begun.
Instead of resting calmly by a pool
I faced inspectors, glaring, every one.
They filed into the classroom, looking stern
Eager to find infractions everywhere
And I, instead of helping students learn
Sweated and fretted, squirming in my chair.
And in my dream I saw no student faces
Not bored or giggling, cheerful or morose.
Instead, there were sad grownups in their places
And disapproval wrinkled up each nose.

I was so happy when I woke today
And found I still have six more weeks to play!


Heidi has the roundup, so go see what yummy summer poems everyone is sharing!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Reading Update

Book #41 of the year was Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken, and book #43 was the sequel, Wayfarer.  I found the time travel world-building a little hard to figure out in the first book - I kept wondering if I had missed a previous volume - but once I got into the story, I really enjoyed it.  "I believe that nothing breaks the bonds between people, not years or distance," says a character at one point, and I'm a total sucker for that idea. 

Book #42 was Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Willow Chase, the 12-year-old protagonist, tells us, "It has been my experience that rewarding and heart-breaking often go hand in hand."  That's been my experience, too, and that was definitely my experience while reading this book.   It's almost unbearable to go through Willow's loss, but wonderful to watch as her world begins to be rebuilt around her.

Book #44 was If I Stay, by Gayle Forman.  More unbearable loss, more rebuilding.  Oddly for a book with this premise (girl is in life-threatening car accident, girl gets to decide whether to die or keep living), this one was very realistic.  I'm going to grab the sequel on my next trip to the library.

Book #45 was Leaving Gee's Bend, by Irene Latham, an online friend.  (I've reviewed her books of poetry here and here.)  I got this for my classroom a while ago, but hadn't had a chance to read it yet.  I loved this story, set in rural Alabama in 1932.  It's the story of Ludelphia Bennett, who, for the first time in her ten years, is leaving Gee's Bend, because she has to look for medical help for her mother.  Ludelphia and her family have a life of poverty, and I appreciated the way this fact was not romanticized.  However, they also have strong family and community bonds, and nothing symbolizes this better than the quilting theme of the book.  Highly recommended.

This post is linked to the June 2017 Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy and the June 17th Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.