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.”

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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.

 

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.

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What Happened Here?

As I made my way through Penn Station tonight, I saw what is pictured below:

And I couldn’t help thinking, “What happened here?” There was no one sitting or laying nearby to whom these shoes could belong. And the one stray pastel sock adds another level to the mystery. Does the sock belong with the shoe? Or were there two separate foot wear incidents in such close proximity? Questions arise.

How does one leave one’s shoes behind? And in such an orderly pose? And one sock? With those colours, could that be a child’s sock? A man’s, a woman’s with a sense of whimsy? It poses a quandary.

Naturally, my writer’s brain was quickened by the unusual sight, so much so in fact that I passed the shoes, noted them, but even though I kept moving, they squirreled into my brain, so when I got a short distance away, I went back upstairs to photograph then. What is their story? Don’t you want to know?

But you do of course. It’s in your head, and mine, and hers, and his, and theirs. So here is today’s challenge, a quest perhaps: choose your genre and tell us what happened here.

Woolf Tomes

It is midterms week, and I am swimming in exams to grade. So by all rights, I should be grading essays right now. But, then I opened my laptop and the Google doodle announced that it is Virginia Woolf’s 136th birthday. As a fan of her work, I must write instead of grade–at least until my battery runs out.

My first direct encounter with Woolf was reading Mrs. Dalloway. I cannot remember when exactly or what made me pick it up, but I do remember that it was not assigned reading for a course. This was something I read on my own. And, I was enthralled. Clarissa, Sally, Peter, they all seemed so real to me, I felt at once as if I were at the party and part of the preparations, and that I was eavesdropping on their private thoughts. And then there were Septimus and Lucrezia, such tragedy in their story. I wanted to help Septimus get the help he needed, tell him what his time didn’t know about PTSD, I wanted to help Lucrezia understand him. And how these two seemingly disparate stories were interwoven. Woolf was keenly aware of how people do not stay in their own lane all the time, but rather messily veer off and sideswipe unsuspecting occupants of another lane.

I had read Joyce’s Ulysses in graduate school, and I recognized in Mrs. Dalloway, the precursor to Molly’s grand, twenty-page, last sentence. I loved the way Woolf had us flow in and out of Clarissa’s mind and Septimus’s. This is what brings them so vividly to life. English major/English teacher geek that I am, I read up a little on critics’ thoughts of Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway. Many regard this her most accessible novel and warn of her increasing use of stream of consciousness in To the Lighthouse, some claiming Woolf had gone too far with that one, rendering the story nearly unintelligible. And I thought, “Challenge accepted” and bought a used copy.

I don’t know what those critics were thinking. To the Lighthouse blew me away. I loved it even better than Mrs. Dalloway if that’s possible. Mrs. Ramsay, her children, her husband, Lily Briscoe, Charles Tansley, Mr. Ramsay–what a tableaux they paint of the complexity and messiness of human relationships. Yes, the stream of consciousness is further developed here, but if those critics really could not follow the story, they do not deserve the position.

I have recommended Mrs. Dalloway to my students and keep a few copies on my bookshelf. I have taught at least sections of A Room of One’s Own, always urging the girls I teach to read it all. And I ask them, “Do you agree with Woolf that all a woman needs is ‘a room of her own and five hundred a year’ to be able to write?” And they answer this with varying degrees of insight.

Tonight I am sitting in the Starbuck’s in Penn Station–a loud, busy place–writing my blog, hardly a room of my own, and the woman next to me asked, “Are you writing a paper?”

“No,” I responded, “a blog post.”

“I coudn’t imagine writing here,” she said.

But hearkening back to my earlier post, we have to take those stolen moments when we can. Would I be more productive if I had ‘a room of [my] own and five hundred a year’? I would hope so. But for now, I’ll take my stolen moments and contemplate which Woolf tome to tackle next.

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Stolen Moments

In order to stick with my New Year’s resolution,  I’ve decided that I need to take advantage of stolen moments to jot a few words down here and there because the best laid plans to scurry out early from work and sit in a cafe to write usually go awry. So today I got to Penn Station just as the 5:56 was leaving; the next train is 6:14, but if I wait just 10 more minutes for the 6:24, I can take an express train, cutting my commute from 33 minutes to 25, thereby almost making up those 10 minutes. And while I’m waiting? I’m sitting at Starbucks tip-tapping away at this post. I don’t expect to finish it before I must pack up for the train, but it is begun. A beginning is a beginning! It’s a good thing.

Sure enough, it’s a few days later, and I’m still writing this post. Over the course of this week I’ve gleaned a few moments for writing while on the subway in the morning–let me tell you, writing poetry while standing on a moving subway is an adventure–or stolen a some time from my prep period to revise another one. Now it’s Thursday, and I’m once again waiting for the train, drinking a latte, and writing away. I started this post on Monday, I’ve written a little bit every day, and I’m thinking…it’s been a good week so far.

Many writers hope to write more–finish that novel, assemble that chapbook, write 300 words a day, write for x number of hours a day, write a new poem a day, a new poem a week, finish a chapter a (insert time frame here). And for those writers who are full time writers, these are admirable goals. But many of us have to hold down “day jobs” which both drain and inspire us. As an English teacher and a poet and writer, this is especially true for me. I am a better teacher because I am a writer and a better writer because I am a teacher, but, and this is a big but, teaching leaves little personal time between September and June. So, I steal what time I can and count that as a win. I hope to get a hour or so this weekend in a block to really work on some longer form material and/or to research markets and submit, but a day with any kind of writing is still a win for me. I always carry a notebook with me, a pretty red and white cloth covered one, and there’s always the WordPress or even Word app on the phone. There’s no excuse not to take advantage of every little bit of time….

And now I steal a little bit of time from my sleep to finish this post. Use every stolen moment you can to write, and when you can’t do that, don’t forget to read!

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Handling Procrastination as a Writer: Making Writing Time Sacred

****This popped up in my inbox today, a day on which I usually set aside the afternoon for writing, but if you follow my blog, you know I sometimes have trouble keeping that appointment–like I will today due to a change in plans with friends from Tuesday to Wednesday for which I did not correspondingly set aside Tuesday afternoon for writing.

I particularly like this line:  “Remember: Writing is never about what happens, but what it feels like when something happens.” Whether used for getting over one’s procrastination or simple (?) inspiration, it’s a good line.  Wish me luck as I try to squeeze some writing time in today. Perhaps I’ll even try his exercises. ****

In this excerpt from Fearless Writing, author William Kenower shares an exercises for making your writing time sacred—and conquering procrastination.

Source: Handling Procrastination as a Writer: Making Writing Time Sacred

Cabaret City

So infrequently are you inspired

To dance with me,

But the other night

As we celebrated your birthday

At our local speakeasy,

The music moved you

And you grabbed my hand

And we danced–

A magical moment of

Love, laughter, and life.

Who knew we were

Breaking the law?

That the City That Never Sleeps

Also doesn’t dance?

Not us.  Not then. Not now.

Not 2017. But, perhaps soon,

Not any more.

Dance baby dance–

Freedom of expression,

Joy, and movement

Cannot be denied.

Prohibit the Prohibition.

Dance Footloose and fancy free

NYC.

 

 

***** Back in the end of October, I came across an article about NYC’s cabaret law which forbade dancing in bars and other establishments unless the business had a specific cabaret license, a law dating back nearly a century. Only 91 businesses in NYC of approximately 25,000 hold such a license, so if you have ever danced in a bar in NYC, you were probably breaking the law.

Here is a link to an article in The New York Times about the law and its repeal.

 

Grateful at the End of a Frustrating Day

The other morning Lionel tried to convince me to stay home. “Meow, meow,” he said “rrrmmeow.” I should have listened to him.

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Be warned: There is much grouchiness in this post.

The train was slow, so I missed my regular subway and took the next one. So far, not too bad–a couple of minutes behind schedule. But then, the third subway was crowded and late, and worst of all, I missed the announcement that it was going express. I ended up 11 blocks past my destination and had to walk back. So, instead of getting into work at 7:20, I arrived at 7:40–and I had a coverage first period. (For those of you not in the teaching profession, this means that I had to cover a class for a teacher absent today instead of having the prep period I expected.) No time for breakfast.

For the previous two days, my classroom had been boiling; the head had been pumping full force, so I dressed a little lighter: cotton top with 3/4 sleeves, long skirt, no tights. Naturally with Murphy’s law in full force, after first period there was an announcement: “There is no heat today. Students may wear non-uniform hoodies and jackets.” Great. Just Great. It was cold in there!

Luckily, though, it was a half a day with no faculty meeting following, and I had plans to meet a friend to see Da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi at Christie’s. Yes, Leonardo Da Vinci. This painting had been in private and royal collections for the past two hundred years. It was being sold that night and will probably not be seen again for another two hundred years. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And, I missed it. When we got to the auction house at 1:30, they informed us that the viewing ended at noon. So much for my attempt at buoying my creativity with a 500 year old masterpiece.

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Nevertheless, I still tried to muster some creativity. I went to a public atrium to write, but alas, there were no seats left. I trudged over to Barnes and Noble only to discover, after buying a tea that I really didn’t need but bought because I wanted to settle in at their cafe, that their wi-fi was not really working. I wanted to edit something on my Chromebook, so I needed the wi-fi to access it. UGH! I began to feel like I was wasting the day. It’s not often that I have an afternoon with neither classes, meetings, nor make-up tests and the like. And here I was traipsing from place to place, carrying a laptop, but getting nothing done.

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Annoyed and a bit aimless, I went back to the public atrium and, lo and behold, found a spot! PHEW! I popped open the Chromebook and started writing. FINALLY! And like that–WOOSH–the day was saved. So in this week of Thanksgiving, I want to publicly express my gratefulness for words-words on the screen, words on the page, words typed by my hands, words inked by my pen, words shared by others, words by the greats, and words by the small.  Let me remember to let writing, and reading, take me away from the grouchiness of the world when the best laid plans lead me to one obstacle and then another. Let me read my way to another reality, and write my way out of a funk. Thank you. Word.

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