Report from the Field: Seeing Is Changing

Source: Report from the Field: Seeing Is Changing

Am important read for poets! Take a moment and click through.

Advertisements

Leo

This is my baby Leo. He was a prince among cats. I lost him almost two years ago in August 2016 after a battle with kidney disease and cancer. And I was finally able to paint him. Not only is it difficult to paint a pet you have lost and loved, but he was also a tuxedo cat, and let me tell you black cats are harder to paint than tabbies or calicoes or the like. The more colors, the easier it is to give the impression of depth and substance. But I had already painted Lionel, Leo’s successor, and it was time to give Leo his own painting of honor. Here is the result. I’m pretty pleased. Do not be afraid to tackle those projects so very close to your heart. Your heart will let you know when the time is right. Listen to it.

Leo, meet the world. World, meet Leo. 20180802_131600.jpg

The Water is Wide

Verdant green rises

On either side,

Thick and lush,

Cool and shaded,

Peaceful.

But the water is turbulent

Churning waves,

Deep and wide

From every direction

Intending to

Upset your raft.

In the distance,

You can see

A calm stretch of water,

Placid and serene,

Before the river turns

Into the unknown.

The Past Comes to Life

I have to brag a little bit today. Four years ago, after my father-in-law passed, my husband and I inherited his parents’ dressers. As my in-laws had been married well over 50 years, these dressers, while quality made, had seen their years of use (and abuse through a couple of moves and five kids). So, we decided to refinish them. And pretty quickly, I got to work sanding them. The sides and top were easy. But then, the drawers! Ugh.  I ran into a couple of snags. First, we had had a minor disagreement with our garage mates because their contractors were using a wet saw inside the garage while all our cars were there. We thought they should set up in the courtyard instead because any debris thrown by the saw could mar the cars’ exteriors. Therefore, I didn’t think I should sand my dressers in the garage either. Second, I could not get the hardware off. They were screwed in tightly; plus, I didn’t have a large enough screwdriver. I was afraid of stripping the screws, and well, leaving myself screwed.

And so they sat. And sat. And sat. In the garage.

But this spring, we decided this is the time. A friend was moving from a furnished apartment to an unfurnished one, so I told her she could have our old dressers. This gave us the impetus to actually finish the dressers. We got the hardware off and finished the sanding and got ready for the next step.

The next step, eh? My husband and I watched quite a few YouTube videos and learned that the next step is not staining, as we had thought, but pre-stain conditioner. Since these dressers are probably close to 60 years old, we thought this was a good idea. Then the stain–three coats–followed by four coats of polyurethane for protection, with a light sanding in between coats. Some nights, my husband and I would come home from work and apply the stain, then sit with a glass of wine outside our garage door “watching paint dry.” Good times. Actually, they were.

The hardest part, I think, was the hardware. I started with Brasso and scrubbing down a piece. Close to 60 years of tarnish takes a long time to remove. It was too hard. I had to find another way. Back to Google. I found a site that told me to soak the brass in a 3-1 vinegar/water mixture for 1-3 hours. I went for 3. Amazing. That took off about 70% of the tarnish. Then the Brasso polishing went much more quickly. But those first couple of pieces I had done before the Google search were already tarnishing again. I couldn’t have that! All this work could not be undone so quickly. Back to Google again! Lacquer is the answer. So after I cleaned all the hardware, I used a spray lacquer to seal them–five coats just to be sure. They should stay bright and shiny for years to come.

Tonight we finally put the hardware back on the drawers and put the drawers back in the dresser frames. Beautiful. We are so lucky.

Sometimes we exert our creativity (and muscle) by refinishing an heirloom and bringing the past back to life in our lives.

Poetry Notes

Summer vacation has begun, and so, therefore, also has my quest to complete all the creative tasks that I start or germinate during the school year. Today, I am sitting in my local coffee shop going through an old notebook of writing ideas, and I came across some notes from September 20-22, 2002. Though the notes are not titled (as I am always encouraging my students to do!), I have been able to deduce that they are from my first visit to the Dodge Poetry Festival which at that time was held in Waterloo, NJ. I attended High School Teachers’ Day on Friday and stayed for the general sessions on Saturday and Sunday. It was a wonderful experience. Now that the festival is held in Newark, NJ, it is possible for me to bring my students to the High School Students’ Day. If you are a teacher and can get to Newark for a day trip, I highly recommend the Dodge. It is an amazing experience for both you and your students. Teach them through experience that poetry is not a dead white man’s art form. Poetry is a living art form, and there are many amazing living poets practicing their art right now.

Here are a few notes from that weekend that I wrote down then and still feel connected to now:

If you don’t begin in imitation, you won’t go very far in poetry.

“The more poetry you read, the more original your poetry will be and the less poetry you read, the more clichéd your poetry will be.” Edward Hirsch

When we read poetry, we are looking for something.

How to Teach Poetry: cross the line between literature and creative writing. Make them write; make them follow the beat; it doesn’t have to make sense; make them see the care and the craft.

Coleridge hated the sound of his own name; like to be called STC. (Fun Fact!)

If your writing doesn’t keep you up at night, it won’t keep your reader up at night.

Memorization is important.

Reading a poem well shows better understanding than a test/writing.

Have a poem on you at all times!

Ground covered: poems have to move/change you; begins in one place, ends in another; how did we get there?

Read with your students not to them.

Poetry is a participatory experience.

A lot of teaching includes steering the student to the right poet.

Teach poetry in reverse chronology.

Lyric poems are not about history; they are about time, immortality.

Student Frustration: they speak English, the read English, but they don’t understand this; it causes frustration, discouragement. They feel inadequate and then become hostile. (***Current Note: We must help ease that frustration; we must lead them to poetry in a way that allows them access.)

Chain poem: Give them the first line and give them a crazy first name. Help them realize that they don’t have cooperate with the ideas of the first line.

These are most of the notes from the first day. Think about your poetry; think about your teaching. I bolded a few lines that I find most important. Which notes resonate with you? Comment below with your favorite line from above or add your own note.

20180627_122249.jpg

Grading Papers on a Sunny Afternoon

Sunlight on the slick clean table

Melts the edges away

Encroaching on the work

In front of me, anchored only

By a red pen that has lost

The very thing that gives it power.

Soon, if daylight keeps encroaching,

The papers will slip into the molten sea

Of the dissolved table and the coffee

Will tumble into the liquified abyss

Pouring out its heart on the fluttering wings

Of student attempts at composition and

Analysis while the bloodless pen spins

Uselessly through the void–

Unless

The setting sun retracts rather than

Advances its rays on

The evanescing table, setting it back

On terra firma, restoring the student efforts

To their fate once I procure another pen–

Though which option offers deliverance,

For them and for me,

It is impossible to say.

ABOUT THE POEM:

Feeling particularly tired yesterday on my commute home, I knew that if I read as is my wont, I would fall fast asleep and end up at the end of the line. So instead I took out my phone and starting flipping through my photos for inspiration. I came across the one above which I took last week during a particularly trying grading session at a local cafe when my pen ran out of ink. This poem is the result of photography, memory, exhaustion, and imagination, and, once I got started, a thesaurus as I became invested in using various synonyms for “melted” and “essays.”

Professor Bhaer vs. Mr. Darcy

A friend of mine tagged me on Facebook in a post that linked to a blog which urges readers to “Stop Romanticizing Mr. Darcy When There are Way Better Options in Literature.” She asked what I thought, but as I started to reply, I realized this is not a FB reply; this is a blog post.

First of all, there are many wonderful options of leading men in literature. Mr. Darcy is not our only option. Clare Church, the blogger, argues for Professor Bhaer from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and also argues that Mr. Darcy, while changed by Lizzy, is a wealthy control freak. (Okay, those aren’t her words, but that’s the gist.)

Oh I think think that’s a bit ridiculous and biased. I do think Jo and Bhaer are a great couple, but comparing them to Lizzy and Darcy is apples to oranges.

Professor Bhaer is kind and comforting, like a teddy bear. (Sound out his name; that’s not a coincidence.) He is hard-working and loves children. What’s not to love about that? He supports Jo and her work fully. That’s lovable too. There is no argument that a man like Professor Bhaer would make a wonderful spouse. But as Church herself admits, he’s not “swoon-worthy.” Then again, many (most?) real-life, good men aren’t as well. We could do a lot worse than end up with a Professor Bhaer. I agree with Church that he is a worthy candidate for a significant-other model.

However, the characterization in Church’s post of both Lizzy and Darcy is too one-sided and misses the point of the novel, IMHO. Darcy changes because someone (Lizzy) finally has the gumption to tell him to his face that his manners are rude. He is forced to reconsider himself. As he begins his change, he has no hopes of gaining Lizzy’s hand; rather, he sees a disconnect between his own conception of his manners and how others view him. He aims to repair that. First, he sets the record straight with his letter, but he does not only defend himself, he also acknowledges that his assumptions about Jane must have been wrong because Lizzy knows her better than he. He later puts those assumptions to the test by visiting the Bennetts with Bingley to observe Jane’s interaction with him. He hears, acts, and learns. His attitude changes not only in respect to Lizzy, in fact at this point he does not think Lizzy will have him, but also in respect to Bingley, the Gardiners, and even Wickham. Darcy admits his faults and acts in a different manner than before in order to not repeat them.

In her post, Church quotes Chiara Atik saying “that it’s only the women in Darcy’s life ‘who are able to bring out this more personable and caring side.’” However, this is not really true. It is only the women who are their real selves around him who “‘bring out this more personable and caring side'” of him. Miss Bingley certainly does not, nor Mrs. Hurst, and they are of his circle. Elizabeth does because she does not kowtow; she speaks her mind. Georgiana does because of her innate simplicity and sweetness. Miss Bingley speaks to him as she imagines he wishes to be spoken to rather than with any real interest or understanding, and he does not respond to her artifice.

Furthermore, Church argues that Lizzy merely needs Darcy while Jo wants Bhaer. I challenge this assertion also. Yes, Darcy is the one with the money in the relationship, and Lizzy does not have her own career as Jo does, but Lizzy does want Darcy. In fact, she turns down an offer of marriage which would offer her stability, respectability, and the family home because she does not love Mr. Collins (who could?). Her need and her family’s need does not outweigh her desire to love and respect the man she marries. Lizzy lives in a time women’s dependence on men, but she manages to find a man not only wealthy, but who is worthy of her love and respect. Her father warns her not to marry a man she cannot respect, but the warning is unneeded. Had she merely been in need of a husband, Collins would do; rather, she desires a relationship which is why he does not suit.

Is Darcy intolerable at the beginning of the novel? Yes. Does he let his pride get the better of him? Yes. But we all have moments like that, don’t we? But if we learn from them and make amends when we can, are we not worthy of a second chance? Darcy hears Elizabeth and turns to introspection, concluding, “I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle…By you I was properly humbled…you showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.” (Austen) And if truth be told, it is not the bad-boy-to-good-boy change that I find swoon-worthy, but the Darcy he becomes. I romanticize the Darcy at the end of the novel and find no need to look for someone to change into him.

Mr. Darcy

A quick post-script here about the brief references to Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff in Church’s post. If Bhaer and Darcy are apples and oranges, Rochester and Heathcliff are figs and kumquats. Perhaps I will explore their just desserts in the panoply of romantic heroes in literature in future posts. Just know that they do not hold a candle to Darcy or Bhaer.

 

Thomas Merton Exhibit

Yesterday, my friend Gerri and I went to a small show of 22 photographs taken by Thomas Merton, the late Trappist monk who was a poet, philosopher, author, social activist, and, apparently, a photographer. The photos are displayed in a chapel at Union Theological Seminary on 121st Street and Broadway. If you are so inclined between today and Friday, it is well worth a half hour of your time to view the photographs that at once display both the clarity of defined edges and the depth boundless meaning and focus our eyes on what we may have missed in ordinary objects. The curator paired each photo with a line or two from Merton’s writings, some hitting the mark perfectly, others less sp, but all still contemplative.

And Union Theological not only offers the photographs a meditative space in an English Gothic revivalist chapel replete with stained glass windows reminiscent early Anglican churches, but also an interior courtyard through which one passes to reach the chapel of Old English (or even Hogwartsian) beauty. And quiet. There in Manhattan, in the hustle bustle of Columbia University, there is peace.

Go if you can. Be inspired.

Some Days

Some days, you sit down to write and the words flow. Your fingers can hardly keep up. You are happy and creative and in touch with the essence of the universe.

Some days, you sit down to write and the words are stubborn. They do not want to come. You must tease them, cajole them, scold them, and force them from their places of hiding.

Some days, you sit down to write and the words have gone AWOL. They will not come. You stare at the screen, stare at the page, change writing implements, change seats, but you cannot find them.

Some days, you sit down to write and open a huge box of chocolates.

20180314_173741.jpg