Here is New York

20190705_082143.jpgYesterday was the 4th of July, and while I did not go to a barbeque (that’s ahead, on Sunday with the fam), I did enjoy some fireworks in the sky on my drive home from my mom’s. What I did not enjoy were the fireworks that someone set off either in our driveway or just behind it at 12:35 am–and I am not talking just fire crackers, but full blown stars and sprays of color and booms of sound basically right outside our window. I couldn’t see who it was, and that’s probably a good thing.

Unfortunately, I was so startled awake from a sound sleep that my heart was racing and I could not go back to sleep. I got up instead, reached for my book stack, and read Here is New York by E. B. White. It is a charming little book, this edition with essentially two essays about that grand place I call home: White’s original 1948 essay and Roger Angell’s 1999 “Introduction” to this edition. Both are worth your time, which they won’t take much of; I read them both in an hour in the middle of the night and will definitely read them again.

White wrote this essay after having moved out of New York; he was enticed back one hot August to write a piece about New York for Holiday magazine. This interestingly gave him three perspectives from which to view the city: young newcomer, eager and full of hope; resident, working, living and falling in love; out-of-towner, returned tourist noticing the changes. In fact, the changes are integral to White’s essay; New York changes at an amazing pace; both he and Angell, writing fifty years later, note that it is “the reader’s, not the author’s, duty to bring New York down to date.” White focuses on the gifts of New York being its privacy and loneliness–probably not the first two words that come to mind when you think of New York. Yet, he makes it work in his own way, the way one can be private in a crowd of people at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and lonely on a crowded subway.

White has great disdain for the commuter and depicts a stereotype of a frazzled man boarding trains like a lemming, working in an office like a drone, and living like a plastic man in the suburbs. I cannot agree with White here, but I can appreciate his view, especially remembering that 1947 was immediately post-WWII, and the dream of the suburbs was looming large. In addition, White’s New York is Manhattan only–like many a native and transplanted Manhattanite, that is New York, with only a sidelong glance at Brooklyn and bare mention of the Bronx; Queens and Staten Island are a suburb and ignored, respectively. Nonetheless, Manhattan is the New York most tourists flock to, and writing for a travel magazine and being a former transplanted Manhattanite himself, it is natural that this be his focus.

What is charming is not only White’s style that is both descriptive and contemplative, but also noticing how much has not changed despite the demise of the Automat, the Layfayette Hotel, and others. Roger Angell thought White would have deplored the crime and violence and poverty of New York at the turn of the millenium as well as the proliferation of chain magnets replacing Mom & Pop stores in the neighborhoods he described with reverence. Yet, Angell notes, there were positive changes too that he would have like to share with his step-father.

Twenty years later, I read Here is New York for the first time and am charmed by it and them. I think White would still find something to love in New York and still find the privacy and loneliness he describes as New York’s greatest gifts. Despite the proliferation of flashing colors, loud sounds, and constant connectivity, New York still harbors its old self, its neighborhoods, beneath the veneer of neon and plasma.

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Summer Book Stack

 

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Add in Educated by Tara Westover, which is on my Kindle…

This may be a bit ambitious for summer reading, but three of them are rereads, and I’m already halfway through the Deep Magic Anthology… and who knows, I may change my mind as the summer goes along. I’m already thinking that I may need to add in a Muirwood book too (but once I start those, I usually can’t stop!) Or a Clifton Chronicles. And some poetry, of course!

What are your reading plans this summer?

Do Crafts Have a Season?

I just posted a poll on the Facebook page for my Etsy shop asking friends what their favorite summer craft is. I did this because I have more time in the summer to craft, so I think of it as a time to create. I’ll be honest though, unless the air conditioner is on high, I prefer to save the yarn crafts for cooler weather! There’s nothing nicer than being halfway or more through a blanket on a cold winter evening. In the summer, I tend to turn more towards sewing.

Part of this may also be because I am a high school English teacher. During the school year, I use my crocheting as a way to unwind (unwind the mind while winding the yarn!); I sit in front of the TV with my hubby and crochet. It helps me let go of the hectic day so that my brain is ready for bed.

Sewing, on the other hand, I have to do while I am alert and focused. It is more exacting and fires up my brain rather than relaxes it. When I have off from work, it’s exciting to engage in a few projects during the day that charge my brain. I’m currently working on a sundress and have a plan to make some Roman shades too.

Writing is an all year activity, but I will admit that I do rachet up the hours during the summer. Teaching, planning, and especially grading can be exhausting, so I while I journal a lot and write some during the school year, less gets polished than I would like. During the summer, I can devote more time to “finishing” works.

Another all year activity, without the caveat, is painting. Our school’s annual art show is always in June (last weekend in fact). Then, we start again. Rain or shine I go, even in the snow if it isn’t too bad. And if it is, I might draw at home. Painting/drawing demands focus as well, but in a different way than sewing. I have to focus on what I’m seeing and put all the other random thoughts out of my head. I find it rather meditative and cleansing (even though my paint clothes might not show it!)

What about you? Do your crafts have a season?

Gardening Novice

A couple of years ago, my neighbors planted some lavender bushes; last year, they moved away. After hearing from our super that the new owner doesn’t plan to do anything with the garden, I spent some time this morning cutting away the dead branches. Two of the bushes were complete goners. I hope these come back a little.

I do not have a green thumb, but I do like the idea of gardening and the result of a pretty (and/or productive) garden. Maybe next week I’ll attack the upper level and clean it up. Then I can go to the nursery and figure out what to plant. It’s a little late in the season, but there must be something that’s okay for late June planting in the Northeast. I’ll ask.

In the meantime, at least it looks a little nicer. Too bad I didn’t think to take a before pic. The most important lesson I learned today though is simple. Gardening doesn’t have to consume the whole day. Even 25 minutes produces some result. Like most things, a little at a time gets the job done.

P.S. Anyone know what those green leafy plants in the front are?

Mrs. Dalloway Completion Paper

Mrs DallowayI assigned a “completion paper”to my students write immediately upon their finishing Mrs. Dalloway, that is, to write a stream-of-consciousness response to the novel. My directions were a bit more involved than that to help them get their feet wet, but that’s essentially it. And I did the same, even though this was not my first read. Here is my response.

And so, let me begin. Mrs. Dalloway. I still love this book. Why? There is a quietness to it and a profundity. It is life–1920s London life, yes, but still, that’s in the details. In the style and the philosophy, there is much that holds true. We are connected to each other by slender threads and odd instances of perchance. Like Sir William Bradshaw going to Clarissa’s party and bringing Septimus namelessly with him through his excuse for their tardiness. A perfectly reasonable occurrence. And Clarissa is deeply affected- first in anger and then in agitation, and finally in some sort of understanding. Yet, no one (other than the readers) will ever know that. Nor will they ever know that the death Sir Bradshaw so unknowingly facilitates and yet mourns as he brings it to Clarissa’s is the same one Peter hears the ambulance for which he heralds as a “one of the triumphs of civilization” (151)– which in this case is the opposite, isn’t it? Septimus’s death results from his experiences in war, the failure of civilization, and from the misguided efforts of Holmes and Bradshaw, another failure of civilization. As a reader, it is easy to dislike both Holmes and Bradshaw. Clarissa does not like Bradshaw, though she’s not sure why: Richard agrees with her, and Peter laughs about him and his wife with Sally, calling them “‘damnable humbugs’… looking at them casually” (193). Septimus obviously doesn’t like them; Rezia wants to trust them, but deep down I think she knows they are wrong. As a 21st century reader who has read/ seen much related to PTSD, it’s easy to see them as self important and dangerous. Their prescription for poor Septimus is all wrong. But, did you notice that when Sir Bradshaw and his wife enter the party, bringing death with them, he speaks to Richard about “the deferred effects of shell shock” (183)? Perhaps there’s a sliver of recognition under his pomposity? And, we must remember that we cannot label a character with a diagnosis that had not yet been invented–it’s too facile.

This is what I mean– or at least part of it. These characters are so real because the story is in their heads. We are intimately connected with them in ways they cannot even be connected with each other, but this ability to see the connections they don’t even know they have can, hopefully, help us understand that there is more to our relationships, even our most intimate ones, than we can ever know, and this understanding can help us, again hopefully, be more open and accepting of those around us and more alert to those slender threads. This is why I love Mrs. Dalloway. Or, at least it’s one reason, today’s reason.

This morning’s reason, before I had reached the end, had me musing on prejudice, racism, colonialism, and empire. Peter, having spent fifteen years in India, brings this to the forefront with his thoughts about England now that he has returned, though presumably not for good or is it?, and about India and what he has left behind. And then there are the other characters’ thoughts about him. Everyone seems to feel a little sorry for Peter, like he didn’t make the most of his talents and position–going to India is viewed as less than staying in England. And everyone seems to think–though they do not share it with each other–that he was essentially ruined by Clarissa’s rejection of him in favor of Richard Dalloway–an occurrence Peter himself has not gotten over, no matter how many times he tells himself that he does not love her anymore. Everyone, reader and character alike knows it, even Peter himself, for even though he claims to love Daisy, and in some way really does, he cannot forget Clarissa. However, it is the memory of her that he seems to love more than the actuality of Clarissa now.

I meant to write more about the racism, classism, and sexism exposed through Peter’s story and his love affair with Daisy, but Clarissa will not stay out of it any more than she can stay out of Peter’s thoughts. So, I invite you to join Clarissa as she heads off to buy her flowers and makes her way through her day. See what it is she stirs in you. 

Book Review: Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)

This is the last Student-Faculty Book Club book of the year, and I have to admit that I didn’t really like the book at first. I didn’t hate it; I just found it only okay. Code Name Verity is a favorite of one of my students, and I just kept thinking, “why?”  The voice is not engaging; rather, it’s kind of whiny. But, in the second half, the Kitty Hawk half, the story picks up. Maddie’s voice, Kitty Hawk’s voice, is not only engaging but riveting despite her nearly constant blubbering. And, the twist makes the first half make sense; actually it’s a brilliant twist.

I read regularly on the train which means that I often have to close the book at inopportune moments. Usually, this leaves me itching to get back to the book as quickly as possible. With Code Name Verity, it was easy to close the book. I’d leave it for some time before getting back to it. Until the Kitty Hawk section. then, I didn’t want to put it down. As I neared the end, I read walking from the train and finished the the book on my couch at home. Maddie is quite the heroine and “Verity” is clever, even though she does not seem so at first. Stick it out through the “Verity” section; ultimately, the book is worth it.

Practice What You Preach

I just participated in the most amazing teacher workshop, and all I want to do is write! Through The Academy for Teachers, I was lucky enough to be a part of a group of astute people discussing The Art of the Essay with Jeff Nunokawa from Princeton as our cheer leader and guide. Today was day 2 of 2. I wish there were more.

Last Sunday, I finally sat down to “do my homework” at the last minute, having carefully avoided it for ten days. I knew I wanted to revisit and revise a piece I’d started two years ago about my friend Harry, but I kept putting it off because I was tired, because I had papers to grade, because I had lessons to plan, because, because, because. Finally, I sat down, opened the file, and dug in. Two hours later my husband called to find out how I was doing. I was great! Writing had revived me from the lethargy of winter, the albatross of grading, and the oppression of procrastination.

The other part of our homework I completed this afternoon before the session began: reading essays written by the other teachers attending. Wow. They were powerful–and diverse in both content and style. I couldn’t wait to get there and begin!

And I was not disappointed. We discussed them with care and insight. There is something so exhilarating about intelligent conversation that seeks to understand and build up. This was no show of “how smart I am,” but rather “how good a writer are you”: Let’s discuss this personal, yet universal issue you brought up; let me tell you what I understand from your writing; you can tell me more about the topic or situation. And then, I’ll take note of what I can learn from this exchange, again in both content and style. Isn’t this what we should always be doing?

I am at my best when I do what I ask my students to do– read, write, discuss. So now even though I’m exhausted as I sit on the train home 15 hours after leaving there this morning, I’m writing, to you, and I hope you’ll write too. And we can learn together.

National Poetry Month

No fooling, April 1st begins National Poetry Month. I told my students on Monday that I didn’t care about April Fool’s Day, the important thing is that it is the beginning of National Poetry Month. I went on to explain how the NCAA-esque poetry brackets work. You see the NEHS is sponsoring a poem tournament for the month of April, school-wide. It’s a pretty ambitious project. Fingers crossed it goes well with a lot of participation. (More on this later; stay tuned.)

But appreciation is only half of the NPM coin for us writers and poets. So once again, I’m trying my hand at Writer’s Digest’s Poem-A Day Challenge. It’s really good exercise for one’s creative muscle to commit to writing every day, and so many do it regularly. For me, it’s fits and starts. I go for stretches when I write regularly, let’s say five out of seven if not every day, but then… something happens that gets me off track. April and the Poem-a-Day Challenge are a great way to get back in the groove.

So, you may have noticed, this is not a poem. But as the wee hours of April 1st wore away, I scribbled down a few lines in response to the day’s prompt: write a morning poem. And as I write this, another angle for this prompt springs to mind. I may not post every day to give myself time for review and revise, but the aim is to write. I’ll keep at it. I hope you do too. Happy National Poetry Month.