We Are Done With the LSJ

Getting the morning paper delivered to our doorstep has been part of our routine for many years. Starting Monday, though, we will be finding other things to do while drinking our first cup of coffee. This decision has been in the works for months, but an upcoming increase of $7 a month (to $41) helped push us over the edge. Over the years, the paper has become mostly advertisements and the few articles are written mostly by outsourced writers. While the actual delivery of the paper has been quite good (only a few missing or late papers), the customer service has been ridiculous, bordering on non-existent. Though I could go into depth about our reasons for cancelling our subscription, my most pressing issue is how hard it was to actually cancel the paper.

I first called the Lansing State Journal’s (LSJ) Customer Service phone line over a week ago. Within a few moments, the recorded message let me know that my wait time would be one hour and thirty minutes. As I recovered from the shock of that statement, I listened to the recorded message’s reassuring, upbeat communications: if I didn’t want to wait, I could “simply” head over to their website and chat with someone about my concerns; it was “easy” to access my account online; and emailing the office was an option too.

I took their advice. No one ever responded to the chat. I tried it many times over the course of the last week. I received messages similar to this one.

Then, I tried to access my account on their website. It looked promising but upon clicking on every imaginable link, I was not able to cancel my account or find/change my automatic withdrawal option. I always got this message in red at the top of the page ——

I tried the poorly-named Customer Service phone line again. I waited for awhile this time. NOTE: When I wait on the phone, I always have a cold beverage, a snack of some kind, often my own music playing in the background, and I usually have a book to read…for sanity’s sake. Even all of those passing-time distraction methods didn’t work, however, and I hung up after a time.

Next was an attempt at email communication. I shared the following email and received no response (it’s been more than a week). No “Thanks for the email…we’ll get right back to you.” No confirmation that my account had been canceled. Not even a “Hey, we want you to stick with the paper so we are going to offer you 25 cents off a week.” Nothing.

About this time, I was considering just stopping payment on our automatic withdrawal. Instead, I decided to go the Lansing State Journal office and talk with someone. Surely, the old-fashioned route — face-to-face human contact — would be the best remedy. Like some sort of 20th century robot, I went to the only place I associated with the Lansing State Journal — the building that says their name on it on Lenawee Street in Lansing across from the CATA bus station. As I stood outside the building I noticed how dark it was inside and then that the door was padlocked. I checked my phone, but didn’t see the new address that was on the contact page (maybe subconsciously I didn’t want to see it…I don’t know). I walked across the street to an office building and asked the first secretary I met where the LSJ had moved to. She said she heard that they were in the old Knapp’s Department Store building on Washington Avenue.

(photo from http://www.grangerconstruction.com/project/knapps-centre-historic-rehabilitation/ )

It’s a beautiful, retro space and I found them on the third floor. (if you ever want to cancel your subscription, here’s the address: 300 S. Washington Square, Suite #300)

The woman I spoke with at the desk was quite polite and friendly. Within two minutes, she canceled my account. It was quick and not-so dirty. I felt a great weight lift from my life. She asked why I wanted to cancel.

Pausing, I came up with “The cost…and we get our news other places.” But I could have gone on for an hour. I did, though, ask to share a complaint. I told her this story of trying to cancel but being thwarted at every turn. She said she would pass it on.

I celebrated with a delicious sausage, egg, and cheese bagel at the New Daily Bagel across the street. I recommend the Everfresh Pineapple juice too. When you get around to ending your relationship with the LSJ, I hope you skip right to the end of this blog and avoid all the frustration, time, and customer disservice. Go see Penny at the front desk. I hope your experience is both easy and simple.

P.S. Here’s where I will be getting my news:
* the New York Times app on my phone (I purchased their digital service)
* East Lansing Info (we have financially supported this online, local news source for awhile)
* CNN online And occasionally on TV
* Fox News online And occasionally on TV (though admittedly quite infrequently)
* listening to what my friends are talking about and then checking other news sources or blogs of varying credibility
* once in a great while, we’ll get the Sunday Lansing State Journal (heck, the coupons are good, Judy needs to check the obituaries, and I like to do the Sudoku).


This collection of thoughts is what’s on my mind these days. I could have called it ‘hodgepodge’ instead. It was going to be several posts (at some future date), but here they all are in a sort of fruit salad potpourri.

Either I’ve been preoccupied by death lately or death has been preoccupied with me. I’m not sure which. In July, I was reading They Said She Was Crazy, about how a mother deals with the suicide of her son. It was a fiction, but based on the life of the author, Kristine Brickey, a teacher friend of mine — a gripping, challenging read. Then, I felt the loss of the recent death of Judy’s Aunt Betty and my friend, Scott’s brother, David; the tragic death of a family friend, Corrina Van Hamlin Also hit me hard. In August, it occured to me that another friend, Nancy, had recommended the Joan Didion book, The Year of Magical Thinking, which deals with the author’s ongoing reaction to her husband’s death; Nancy’s husband, Jim, died a year ago and his loss is still on my mind and on my heart.

Then, there are so many car-related deaths in the paper. And weather related deaths across the world. And then a few celebrities died in the past weeks (see below). It’s just so pervasive. Death won’t go away. I can’t seem to get used to its presence. The Armenian Church has a tradition of commemorating the deaths of loved ones, so earlier this month I attended that ceremony where I felt close to my father and the many other beautiful family members we have lost over the years.

I was saddened by the news of Neil Simon’s death. I admired his writing for its wit and insight. Here’s an article about him if you didn’t see it already — I recommend the video on this link, too (a tad long, but a fine tribute).

Here’s one of the best tributes to Aretha Franklin out there. It’s Fantasia singing “Rock Steady” with Aretha looking on.

Senator John McCain stood up for what he believed in and I admired that also. Though I didn’t often share his beliefs, he was a man of integrity. I especially appreciated this photo (below) from the last page of his last book, The Restless Wave.


Alton Road Update

East Lansing residents who are getting tired of the city being under construction may be interested in an update of one of the construction projects. We live on Alton Road. It connects Saginaw Road and Burcham Road. Bus line 24 has a couple stops on Alton and it’s getting re-paved with new pipes and sidewalks. This is good news of course. The road was lousy. This project is also a pain in the butt in many ways.

Here are some photos from the tiresome part of the project, which may last for another month. I’ll try to remember to post a photo of the finished product.

This is Saginaw under construction, but our road is connected to it on the right.

Sometimes we can’t get out of our driveway for hours. Arrgg.

Check out the City of East Lansing’s construction update page for more information.


“I’m going to 8th grade today”

It was fun to say that to Gabi when I bought my ticket to the movie, 8th Grade, recently. Especially since she’s a former student of mine. It made her smile.

This movie portrays what one 8th grade girl is feeling during the last weeks of 8th grade. I was reminded how difficult it is to be a teen these days. Her constant use (addiction?) of her phone leads her to several emotional and social tests including a ramped up disconnect with her father. This movie could be a perfect conversation starter in families and schools.


Some articles I’ve read recently that I enjoyed:

* “My Armenia” in the New York Times by Peter Balakian

* “Why Trump Supporters Think He Is Not Corrupt” in the Atlantic by Peter Beinart

* “What If Trump Actually Did Shoot Someone On Fifth Avenue?” in the New York Times by Thomas L. Friedman

Joys, Challenges, & Revelations from Traveling

I grew up traveling. Our family went places together. Sometimes my Baboo and Grandma Godoshian came along (I can still hear Baboo cracking jokes on that trip to Syracuse; Grandma didn’t think he was funny, but she laughed under her breath anyway). My mom had our Green-Go (green & gold, paneled station wagon) tooling down one highway or another toward Walt Disney World or Gettysburg or Boston relatives most summers. I have to say it was mostly about the destination and less about the journey…but then again, I was a pre-teen and then a teen.

This recent vacation started off focused on a wedding at a distant destination (for us. More later about how fantastic that turned out to be.) Our first day in Stockholm, we realized that each day would bring surprising, enjoyable moments. Arriving at Central Station on the train from the airport, we bought a T-ban transportation pass that would be good for a week. Though it seemed pricey at the time, that investment opened up the city to us. We felt comfortable getting on any subway, bus, tram, or ferry that we needed because of the ease of access the pass card gave us. And that, in turn, ended up making the trips relatively freeing and inexpensive. We used it within 15 minutes of purchasing it to take a ferry across the bay to our hotel (and I didn’t ‘drive’ anything for two weeks).

The boat hotel where we stayed a couple days is in this photo on the left. I didn’t know it was in the photo when I took the shot.

“Self portrait after days of travel on planes, trains, and automobiles. Adventure wins over checking the mirror, every time.” CVH, RIP

Rick Steves had prepared us well. We watched his video about the areas we would travel. We perused his book on the city. He mentioned a floating youth hostel as a possibility and, though we didn’t find the exact one, Rygerfjord Hotel and Hostel had comfortable rooms and priceless views for affordable prices. Soaking this place in was one of our first joys. It is true, though, that it was one of our first challenges, too; I had it in my mind that it was docked to our right when we got off the ferry and we pulled our luggage a couple hundred yards out of the way before we realized it had been 50 feet to our left off the ferry. A sobering laugh at ourselves to start. While we were staying there, Sweden played in the World Cup. We experienced the popularity of soccer/football firsthand: every time Sweden scored, we could hear the fans cheer from the outside viewing venues around the city —— we were on the boat and could hear the cheers across the water in the downtown area a mile away.

Weddings exude joy and hope regardless of location, but being in such a bustling, novel place with friends did ratchet up the excitement. As a matter of fact, we had a small herd of people carrying flowers on the subway to the wedding, which was fun. Hallie Reed, formerly of East Lansing but now teaching and residing in Stockholm, Sweden, married Joakim Slettengren in an ornate church; they then had us transported (via bus and ferry) to an island for the reception. I kid you not. Swedish custom involves sharing many toasts at the reception. I bet there were over a dozen toasts (Rachel gave a very sweet one) sprinkled throughout the night. It didn’t seem like too much —— we all felt closer to the couple after hearing from a diverse group of familiy and friends. Another Swedish custom was to split up parties at the reception; we sat next to people we didn’t know and thus made new friends. One more way Hallie and Joakim personalized the experience: Each person at the wedding had a few sentences written up about him or her in the program explaining his or her relationship to the couple. Pretty damn cool. A friend asked what they served and not until I was writing this did I notice that they had the menu at the front of the program.

The second place we stayed was the same as the myriad American guests: Hellstens Malmgard. It was Queen Christina’s Hunting Palace back in the 18th century. Our room was carved out of the attic space but was still plenty of room for the three of us (though the bathroom was hard to stand up in and a bit of an obstacle course). The breakfasts were buffet of deliciousness: soft & hard-boiled eggs, cheeses, yogurts, salami and other meats, croissants and other breads/crackers, jellies, at least one fish (usually herring or salmon), and always coffee and tea.

Our third spot (and first airbnb of the trip) was in Hagersten-Liljeholmen, right outside of downtown Stockholm. Since Rachel (and later Courtney) would be staying with us for part of the time, this space was larger. And just grand. On two floors and with a gorgeous view from the balcony, this was my favorite of all the places we stayed.

It was very helpful that most everyone we met knew how to speak English. It’s so accomodating that it could make one feel inadequate. We did have a couple incidents, though, where language issues made life interesting. At a Thai restaurant, since the menu was just in Swedish, our waiter/cook asked us (in English) what we liked and made each of our meals to order. The food was so delicious (especially the spring rolls), that we went back a couple days later to order more spring rolls. The previous waiter wasn’t there and the woman who helped us didn’t know much English. Judy pointed to the spot on the menu and asked for two orders of spring rolls. We clarified with her and she seemed to understand. However, when she brought out the spring rolls, there were 14 of them. She brought us two large orders instead of the small. We decided that it was a happy accident and ate as many as we could and saved the rest for the next day at the train station.

One of our frustrations was that our train to Oslo had been canceled and the train company had neglected to email us. Many people were in the same holding pattern as we waited four hours for a train traveling the five hours to Oslo.
Our Oslo airbnb was minimalistic, but just enough. It was in the Grunerlokka neighborhood, which had a hip, international feel to it. We heard many languages spoken as we searched for coffee in the mornings and slept with the windows open (no screens) each night; it was only semi-dark from 11:30 PM to 3:30 AM and blackout curtains were a must. We visited the Nobel Peace Center and it was enlightening (follow the link for a quick look). From Oslo, we took trains, a bus, and a boat on our Norway in a Nutshell fjord cruise. Basically, breath-taking views in every direction for most of a full day.

This bathroom was extremely efficient use of space —— the shower walls folded in to give just enough room to stretch out when you brushed your teeth.

The one night we were in Bergen, Norway, our airbnb turned out to be somewhat hard to find, despite being very close to the train station. We passed it once and then circled back, partly because the “street” it was on was more like an alley. It was very clean and comfortable though, and within walking distance to everything we needed (coffee, Indian food, the funicular up the mountain, a salad & wraps place for lunch & ice cream).

On past trips overseas, we have exchanged some of our American dollars for the country’s monetary unit (in this case, krona). This time, though, both Sweden and Norway seemed virtually cashless. A few places actually had signs that read “cashless.” We didn’t need krona on us. It helped to know the exchange rate, so that we had a general idea of how much we were spending; I had it written down for awhile, then moved to just dividing (in Sweden by 9, in Norway by 8). Though it seems a long way from happening here, one thing did occur to me: if the American business community could be shown that people spend more money when it’s digital, then it may happen sooner (as a tourist, especially, the amount sometimes doesn’t “matter” as much when it’s not tangible).

We struck up conversations with many delightful people on trains and in restaurants. We met Janne from Bergen on her way to her cottage; Kenneth from Oslo who worked for a tech company; we met Eesa from Stockholm while we all watched a World Cup game (Eesa asked me point blank what I thought of our President and the first word that came to mind was an “embarassment” and he agreed saying that our other recent Presidents had at least been gentlemen); I talked with a lawyer named John from Oslo getting away to the mountains to hike for the weekend (he was exceedingly taken with puns, idioms, and sayings from the English language and how understanding them could help him in his job); and we met Lorne and Audra from the San Francisco, CA, area — as a matter of fact, we kept running into them so much that we hung out with them several times after that, enjoying their company enough to exchange contact information. So many wonderful memories that the fact that Aaron, Judy, and I were starting to get on each other’s nerves by the end of the trip seems almost insignificant.

Each person had their own story. Traveling does that for me. It reminds me of the diversity of the human experience and that I should never try to make someone’s lived experience smaller by stereotyping them based on one attribute. We are all so much more than we seem. If you need a song that supports that notion, check out May Erlewine’s “Never One Thing” from her new Mother Lion CD.

Peace and joy on your journey,

Success is Tricky and Elusive

Over a dozen parents have thanked me
for coming back to teach this year.
It’s been rather shocking.
And gratifying.

It’s happened so many times that I was beginning to wonder if the Parent Council included it in their minutes with an “ask” that parents participate. These parents have made my day by appreciating that I chose part-time teaching over the relative ease of retirement (our administration and a few colleagues have thanked me, too). The students don’t seem as appreciative, but that’s asking too much and I realize that. What I didn’t realize was how much I would need some ‘thanks’ to balance out the other side of this decision.

Never before have I had more students failing than getting A’s. And never before have those failing students seemed to care so little about passing. Even the A/B students ask me often “what’s the least I can do on this assignment?” and still pass. Sure, I have a few parents getting after their kids to get their grades up, but the numbers are low; like their kids, many seem to have started summer break a month early. There’s an extreme apathy that is discouraging.

Never before have I had to explain what common sense means. The concept seems foreign to a great many students. Thinking about a situation and figuring it out for oneself is practically extinct. It’s exasperating. I find myself shaking my head and walking away from students so that I don’t say something I’ll regret.

Never before have so many students acted as if the rules don’t apply to them. They have their phones in their pockets (in 7th grade) when they know phones belong in their lockers. They sneak looks at their phones when teachers aren’t looking. They expect to get their phone back at the end of the hour when it’s taken (though their parent is supposed to pick it up from the office). A few slip out of class to go to the bathroom/locker/office without asking, without their planner/pass, without guilt. They leave trash around the school like it’s their bedroom. They bring food or drinks (other than water) to class when they know it’s against the rules. We enforce consequences for these rule breakers, but they repeat the behaviors with the certainty of a revolving door.

And all of this may lead to…

Never before have I seen teacher morale so low. Money is even less a motivator than it was years ago. Unless a teacher made it to the top of the salary schedule before times got bad, the money is quite mediocre and not improving. I’m thinking of teachers in the profession less than 10 years. Health care costs (which used to be one of the few perks of the job) are rising steadily and what’s covered is decreasing steadily. Most teachers are passionate about their content and about finding ways to entice/engage students about that content; when you have increasing numbers of students unwilling to bite at any engaging pieces of curricular bait, that passion starts to fade. Teachers are asked to do more and more every year — back in 2012, I made a middle school teacher’s to-do list and it keeps getting longer (though admittedly, since I’ve been part time this year, I haven’t had as long of a list). The teachers I know are swamped: teaching long days that go well past the time students leave; planning and correcting hours each night; meeting with students whose special needs require accomodations; making time to meet with many other parents who have unique concerns; juggling their job with hectic home lives; not feeling supported by the Education Secretary or strongly by their own unions. Yes, Teacher Appreciation Week was nice, but most feel like the other 35 weeks of the school year they are treading water with lead weights on their ankles.

The world is changing. Sometimes we don’t notice it when we’re in the midst of it, but being gone a year has tuned me in to changes in the attitudes of students. It may seem unfair to lump students into categories, but if you’ve taught for awhile, you’ll know what I’m talking about: there’s always an upper group in terms of effort and skills; there’s always a middle group that seems to go through the motions but does okay; and there’s always a group that no matter what I do, I can’t get much work out of them at all. This year (and the years before I retired, to some extent) the top group is shrinking and the apathetic, disengaged, in-it-for-the-grade-if-my-parents-are-watching group has ballooned. One of the reasons I came back was that I enjoyed working with students. Well, students seem much more concerned about the right answer than about learning. They are much more concerned about how their grade “looks” than about the reality of their engagement, curiosity, or challenge. Failure is a swear word to these kids and that bothers me. They think adults are just appeasing them when we talk about failure as a part of learning…as essential even. And they’re getting pressure from somewhere to succeed no matter what.

Success, though, comes from struggle. From making mistakes and learning from them.

I’m not saying, by the way, that part-time teaching this year has been a mistake for me. I have enjoyed reconnecting with colleagues. I have loved getting to know the creative, open-minded, curious students I see daily. Our class discussions about the 7th grade texts we’ve read have been thought-provoking on many occasions. We’ve laughed, sang, did a bit of dancing, shared high fives and hugs, had a couple amazing poetry readings, and went outside for a few walks. But it has been a struggle. If I’ve had success this year, it’s come from many a failure. Not reaching so many of my students seems like I’ve let them down. At the same time, though, I haven’t seen as much an effort from their side as I had hoped I would see.

Maybe those parents who thanked me realize that all of this is going on and so they were thanking me for coming back in spite of it all.

It all makes me wonder about my role in this change. Have I been too lax, too harsh, not shared enough of myself as a person, shared too much, asked too much or too little parent involvement, not made the curriculum engaging enough, moved too quickly or slowly from one unit to another…? There’s really not an objective way to know.

I went to a teacher friend’s retirement party today. People spoke about how she was a beacon of consistent, loving instruction to her elementary school age students. She spoke with great emotion about her appreciation for her colleagues and how she cared for every student through her 38 years of teaching. She also seemed proud that she had spoke her mind, even when it wasn’t popular or easy. My hope is that teachers will be able to say the same things years down the road. And that those future, retiring teachers will have seen a renewal in student motivation and purpose, as well as a willingness to learn from their mistakes.

Why I Enjoy the Outlander Series

Once in awhile, a book doesn’t hold my attention and I stop reading it. The book may have too much or too little of one thing or another — too much politics or swearing or war or too little humor or reality or adventure. Looking for Alaska by John Green was like that. I didn’t like the main character, so I stopped reading.

The Outlander series, by Diana Gabaldon, has held my interest for each of the eight books — well over 7,000 pages. I just finished the eighth book, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, and I must say the books are an artful mix of all those elements I mentioned above…with several dashes of time travel added which make it even more intriguing. Gabaldon wonderfully balances all the elements of story-telling and keeps me (and millions of others) anticipating the next book. For those who like comparisons and haven’t read the series, think Barbara Kingsolver (for writing about nature & science and for story telling) meets Dr. Who (for his tardis) meets Ann Rinaldi (for historical fiction) meets Dr. Ruth (for spice), though that’s still not the whole picture.

I’ve always been a curious person and I learn new words on practically every other page in Gabaldon’s books. The photo, below, has just a few examples of the breadth of her vocabulary. She mixes in jargon from traditional and herbal medicine, gardening and mountain life, and a vast amount of Gaelic (Starz has several Youtube videos on how to speak Gaelic that are fun). She throws in quite a bit of French, Mohawk, and some German along the way, too. Each book is a lesson in language.

I’ve never read a novel that had so much romance in it until the novels of this series. Our daughter, Rachel, suggested I read the first book. She may have realized I needed a bit of spicy, dicey literature because it turns out that those are the scenes I reread most often. Go figure.

The term Outlander is a connection for me too. An Outlander is an outsider. The term Sassenach is a synonym for outlander in the books. We’re talking about foreigners and more specifically, an English person, which Claire is in the books (though the term sassenach can be used in an endearing way at times). Growing up Armenian, we had a similar word that meant “non-Armenian.” I always thought it was odd, but I’ve come to see that most languages have this type of term. The thing is, though, that we are all outlanders. Anytime we step out of our normal routine into another environment or culture we become an outlander. So I see the book as a reminder to welcome and learn from the “other” or different people in our experience. Claire, as an outlander, has much to offer the new communities she encounters and so do we in our travels and so do immigrants to this country.

(SPOILER: Stop reading (or skip the next paragraph) if you don’t want to know a vague telling of the end of the eighth book)

The eighth novel focused mostly on the Frasers and Greys as they made their way in the late 18th century in our newly emerging America (though the 20th century travels of Briana were of much interest at times). In a glorious, eventful way, Claire and Jamie end up back on Fraser’s Ridge and as the book comes to a close, Gabaldon re-introduces characters from several hundred pages earlier in an unexpected, triumphant, subtle, masterful manner that actually made me tear up. Her writing is a testimony to the power of story. To the intricacies of living. To the inventive imaginings of hopeful time travelers. To the richness of history and its potential power in the living of our days.

While it’s true that I’ve skimmed a couple chapters here and there and second-guessed Gabaldon’s overuse of time traveling, part of me feels like starting over from book one tomorrow. And I recommend you go to your local bookstore or library and jump into the series yourself. As diversions from life’s craziness go, it’s a winner.

Outlander news:

Gabaldon hopes to finish book nine by the end of the year, but a publication date has not been set.

Starz says that Season 4 of the television show should be out by September of this year. (There’s also a slideshow of 10 Reasons You Should Watch Outlander on this link; the slideshow says the series is based on a Doctor Who episode, which I did not know.)

If you’ve read the series and want a (relatively) quick skim back through a timeline of events for the whole series, check out this timeline.

The Top Ten Poems I Love, #10

Did you ever get so busy at the end of National Poetry month that you forgot to post poem #10 of your top ten poems until May? Well, here we are in May and I want to share a collection of creative writing that I go to for insight and inspiration. I’ve never seen it in the Poetry section in a library or bookstore, but these small, personified qualities are poetic in the the most beautiful sense of the word.

– – – – –
The Book of Qualities By J. Ruth Gendler

Here’s the section/poem called


Joy drinks pure water. She has sat with the dying and attended many births. She denies nothing. She is in love with life, all of it, the sun and the rain and the rainbow. She rides horses at Half Moon Bay under the October moon. She climbs mountains. She sings in the hills. She jumps from the hot spring to the cold stream without hestitation.

Although Joy is spontaneous, she is immensely patient. She does not need to rush. She knows that there are obstacles on every path and that every moment is the perfect moment. She is not concerned with success or failure or how to make things permanent.

At times Joy is elusive — she seems to disappear even as we approach her. I see her standing on a ridge covered with oak trees, and suddenly the distance between us feels enormous. I am overwhelmed and wonder if the effort to reach her is worth it. Yet, she waits for us. Her desire to walk with us is as great as our longing to accompany her.

– – – – –
Here’s a list of all the qualities in the book.

The Top Ten Poems I Love, #9

Taylor Mali’s poetry makes me smile, shake my head, wonder, question, and feel a whole myriad emotions. Enjoy his reading of his poem “Like Lilly Like Wilson.”

I’m writing the poem that will change the world, and it’s Lilly Wilson at my office door.
Lilly Wilson, the recovering like addict,
the worst I’ve ever seen.
So, like, bad the whole eighth grade
started calling her Like Lilly Like Wilson Like.
‘Until I declared my classroom a Like‐Free Zone,
and she could not speak for days.

But when she finally did, it was to say,
Mr. Mali, this is . . . so hard.
Now I have to think before I . . . say anything.

Imagine that, Lilly.

It’s for your own good.
Even if you don’t like . . .

I’m writing the poem that will change the world,
and it’s Lilly Wilson at my office door.
Lilly is writing a research paper for me
about how homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed
to adopt children.
I’m writing the poem that will change the world,
and it’s Like Lilly Like Wilson at my office door.

She’s having trouble finding sources,
which is to say, ones that back her up.
They all argue in favor of what I thought I was against.

And it took four years of college,
three years of graduate school,
and every incidental teaching experience I have ever had
to let out only,

Well, that’s a real interesting problem, Lilly.
But what do you propose to do about it?

That’s what I want to know.

And the eighth-­‐grade mind is a beautiful thing;
Like a new-­‐born baby’s face, you can often see it
change before your very eyes.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, Mr. Mali,
but I think I’d like to switch sides.

And I want to tell her to do more than just believe it,
but to enjoy it!
That changing your mind is one of the best ways
of finding out whether or not you still have one.
Or even that minds are like parachutes,
that it doesn’t matter what you pack
them with so long as they open
at the right time.
O God, Lilly, I want to say
you make me feel like a teacher,
and who could ask to feel more than that?
I want to say all this but manage only,
Lilly, I am like so impressed with you!

So I finally taught somebody something,
namely, how to change her mind.
And learned in the process that if I ever change the world
it’s going to be one eighth grader at a time.

– – – – –

I wonder what students think about his poem. I know teachers appreciate it. His reading adds quite a bit to it, but even a quick read conveys that ‘thinking person’ mentality that I love in Mali’s work. We can only do so much as teachers and it’s oh so rewarding when a student’s mind is opened, when a light bulb goes off right in front of us.

The Top Ten Poems I Love, #8

This one is by Sarah Kay


You jaywalked your way out of the womb.
I would recognize you anywhere
from the hiccup in your swagger. Tell me,
where in the world did you find all that thunder?

There have never been any seat belts on your side of the car
You have always known the better magic tricks.
You told me once that I was just the first draft,
and I’m inclined to believe you but you came
with a lot more pieces to assemble, and
mom​ and dad never got the manual.

Your compass always points north.
But it’s a bit of a crapshoot as to whether or not
you’ll ever really walk in that direction. I like that.
It keeps people on their toes.

On the merry-go-round of your life, the carousel ponies
are all narwhals. Their horns point straight up.
The day they build you a constellation, it will be
the entire F-train, spread across the Milky Way.
You will a satellite that dips in and out of every car
the moment the train comes to a stop, pissing off
everybody on the subway platform and kicking up
stardust in your wake. You can solve the Law and Order
episode before the first commercial break.

Once, when you were seven, you came into the kitchen and asked mum: “Does my name begin with the letter P because P is the 16th letter of the alphabet and I was born on June 16th and is Sarah just Sarah because S is 19th letter and she was born on the 19th day of June?”
And when mom said no, you nodded your head
and left the room mumbling to yourself,
“Okay, just salt and pepper then.”

You are my favorite stick of dynamite.
You are the opposite of a rubber band.
There are so many things I would tell you
if I thought that you would listen
and so many more that you would tell me
if you believed I would understand.

I hope you know that you were never meant to wear this shadow.
In fact, I’m the one who always steals your shoes.
But — is that my sweatshirt you’re wearing? It’s okay, you can keep it. I won’t tell your secret. In fact, it really does look better on you.

– – – – –

So many memorable lines in this one, starting with the first one. Hilarious. After reading this poem a few times, I feel like I know her brother. And the love she has for him is palpable. Why can’t I write like this?

Here’s Sarah performing the poem. And it’s in her book of poems, No Matter the Wreckage, which contains a bunch of other gems.

The Top Ten Poems I Love, #7

It’s Earth Day and the Lansing Poetry Club is also sponsoring a reading today called Poem in Your Pocket — it seems like a perfect day to share some haiku. I’ll be reading the following poems at today’s reading. They are taken from Bob Rentschler’s book of haiku called Michigan: Four Seasons. The first three are from the Winter section of the book (though I’ve experienced them this spring) and the last four are from the Spring section. I feel Bob’s presence in each carefully chosen word.
And I apologize to Bob for edublogs’ lack of proper form; Bob wanted an indent at each new line which I can’t seem to make happen in this format (I’ve added a couple dashes, too, due to formating issues).

– – – – –

Overnight snowfall
clean white sheets for a new day
until noon — that’s all.

Cardinal unseen
fir tree whistler — there he is
red on white on green.

Fire in the sky
sun’s inferno smothered with
gray clouds floating by.

Spring celebrated
bees in the blooming plum tree

Twenty after five
cardinal cacaphony
morning comes alive.

Listen to the train
crying in the lonely night
seasonless refrain.

Hunching his behind
caterpillar on my page
leaves tracks on my mind.

The Top Ten Poems I Love, #6

Here are two poems by Marianne Moore (1887 – 1972). I couldn’t decide which one I loved more. You can decide for yourself.

– – – – –

The Fish

through black jade.
Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
adjusting the ash-heaps;
opening and shutting itself like

injured fan.
The barnacles which encrust the side
of the wave, cannot hide
there for the submerged shafts of the

split like spun
glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
into the crevices—
in and out, illuminating

turquoise sea
of bodies. The water drives a wedge
of iron through the iron edge
of the cliff; whereupon the stars,

rice-grains, ink-
bespattered jelly fish, crabs like green
lilies, and submarine
toadstools, slide each on the other.

marks of abuse are present on this
defiant edifice—
all the physical features of

of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and
hatchet strokes, these things stand
out on it; the chasm-side is

evidence has proved that it can live
on what can not revive
its youth. The sea grows old in it.

– – – – –


I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful; when they become so derivative as to become
unintelligible, the
same thing may be said for all of us—that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand. The bat,
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician—case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets,
the result is not poetry,
nor till the autocrats among us can be
“literalists of
the imagination”—above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them,
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance of their opinion—
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness, and
that which is on the other hand,
genuine, then you are interested in poetry.

– – – – –

For me, poetry is partially about form. (Edublogs doesn’t appear to appreciate form, though. Here’s the actual way these poems are supposed to look: The Fish; and Poetry.)I appreciate seeing how the poet decided to arrange the words and lines and stanzas; sometimes these decisions affect the way the poem is read. And the “look” of a poem makes a statement. These poems come across differently when read aloud — not worse, just differently. Moore’s playfulness with line and stanza influenced my playfulness as a poet…and maybe, also, as a person. And I thank her for it.