The Top Ten Poems I Love, #8

This one is by Sarah Kay

Brother

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.

What it means to be “racist” and how accusing everyone of it doesn’t help

Part of the wonderful craziness of teaching middle school students is the perpetual existence of catch phrases. Young people hear adults and their peers use a word or phrase and its meaning is vague to them; after awhile, students are testing out the word in various contexts, trying to figure out its actual meaning. We start hearing the word used incorrectly and, as teachers, decide whether or not to stop everything and jump into “teachable moment” mode.

Sometimes the word is just a novelty — words like “dab” or “lit” come to mind — and are soon forgotten. We don’t spend time on those words. In the past, we have taken time with insensitive uses of “gay,” “fag,” and “queer” and I like to think that those talks had a little to do with a more healthy attitude toward our LGBTQ community, as well as the emergence of the Alliance club at the high school. Words like “creeper” and “foreigner” are also misused often and we may need to address those soon (fear of the unknown is a powerful thing). More recently, though, students have heard the word “racist” being tossed about (with our President being accused of racist remarks and some police being seen as racist toward minority groups) and have started casually accusing each other of being “racist.” This seems like one of those teachable moments to me.

The dictionary definition is a good place to start: racist — “a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.” (Oxford Dictionary) Some middle school students don’t recognize how serious this accusation is. They toss the word around quickly and freely without realizing it’s actually in the same intensity as yelling “FIRE!” or “RAPE!” The word racist carries a history with it that involves Native American displacement, white supremacist groups, hate crimes, and lynchings.

It’s a challenging topic but that isn’t a reason to ignore it; as an educator, I believe we can discuss almost anything with students as long as we do it in a sensitive, thoughtful manner. I understand that I need to be aware of my own biases and that I’m not expert on the topic, only an authority on my own experiences. These experiences are influenced by a multitude of factors, not the least of which are the culture in which I was brought up and the degree of privilege I have benefited from in my life.

I have never consciously thought that one race is superior to another (as the dictionary definition describes the word), but having taken the Implicit Bias Test and (at the same time I realize the test is not the whole picture) understanding a bit about the power of unconscious behavior, I am fully aware that I have my biases. I try to stay aware of them as I talk with people of color, but I really try to treat each person I talk with as a person first and listen to their concerns; some people say they “don’t see color,” which I think is ridiculous. I focus on the person in front of me and that means trying to take into account the little I know about his or her experience, asking questions to fill in the blanks in my head.

So part of my message, students, is to think before you accuse and to know your own biases, in general.

Instead of calling someone racist, “concentrate on why the person’s words or actions hurt you. Explain why you take issue with the person…” instead of attacking them with this strong, hateful word. (ThoughtCo) By calling someone racist, you are making an unfair, quick judgment about the person and situation — that judgment itself is a type of pigeon-holing or stereotyping that adds to the problem instead of trying to solve it.

We have been talking about using precise language in our poetry unit. The importance of our word choices is a theme you’ll see played out in The Giver, also, which we read next marking period. It carries over to many professions like law and advertising; the words you choose make a difference. And words have more than one meaning and connotation. If I was to say that I want you to discriminate, you might think I’ve lost my mind. The word, “discriminate,” however, means more than one thing. It’s actually an important skill in this sense. I would like you to discern or figure out when it’s appropriate and when it’s inappropriate to accuse people of things…that’s one definition of discriminating…to be a thinking person who distinguishes between right and wrong.

Just like when bullying happens, there are bystanders when the word “racist” is spoken. Those bystanders have a major role in what happens next, just like when bullying happens. They have to discern if the situation involves a suggestion that one race is superior or if it’s an exaggerated, inappropriate use of the word; in either case, the bystander has a responsibility to speak up — to see justice done or to tell the speaker that he or she is wrong. Their role is key to ending this misuse of the word.

Using language (whether thought, spoken, written, visual…) is a complex thing. Learning how to use it precisely and effectively is a lifelong process. My hope is that, throughout your life, you will accurately communicate your ideas. To do that, always think before you speak.

One Time at a Time

Time in the airport — staying calm amid the hustle and the bustle, sitting on the tarmac for one hour before the flight was cancelled, waiting 12 hours for the next flight, playing several games (Clubs, Five Crowns, Hearts…), and arriving in Seattle after having been awake for 24+ hours, dazed and grateful

Time in the rental car avoiding other cars and walking/biking/moped-riding people, as well as avoiding traffic jams with Rachel’s knowledge of the city

Time with family hiking up to Rattlesnake Ledge — only 4 miles roundtrip, but up 1200 feet in elevation for some glorious views

Time walking around Seattle seeing quite a few homeless people, wondering what their lives were like, are like, will be like

Time reading a novel about time-travel and, at times, wishing to jump into the story to experience the 18th century for a few hours or days

Time virtually dangling my feet over Washington (Snoqualmie Falls, breeching whales in Puget Sound, Olympic National Forest, the San Juan Islands, the Walla Walla Valley Balloon Stampede) as part of Wings over Washington

Time watching Arrival and wondering if time is the subtle, constant force I’ve always accepted it as being or if one can move forward and back within its vastness

Time with Judy listening to Ravel, Beethoven, and Gliere played by the Lansing Symphony Orchestra; Judy had worked with french horn soloist, David Cooper, decades before which made it even more special

Time standing in the hall outside my classroom at MacDonald Middle School looking at each student that passes and picturing each one walking across the stage getting their diplomas as graduating seniors

Time to construct a letter about an issue I care about and put it out there in the world — and having a friend make a meaningful comment about it

Time to candidly talk with a past student and see what he created from our talk

Time listening to a sermon entitled “Timing,” hearing a voice from the past say “Hell is truth seen too late,” and automatically thinking that the owners of Eastwood Towne Center will rue the day they didn’t work out a deal with Schuler Books, causing it to close; I’ll always remember one customer grieving the bookstore’s closing by saying,
“I mean,
we
lived
here”

Big Brother Wished Me a Happy Birthday

Google has a creative group of people working tirelessly to celebrate some aspect of each day on their opening page. These Google doodles often highlight the life of someone I didn’t know existed from history. Today (my birthday), Google remembered my special day with this graphic (below) — when I clicked the play button, the candles moved as if lit.

It’s intended to make me feel like a celebrity, I suppose. For a second, it did feel good. Then, it fed into that creepy feeling that the world knows too much of my business. I also received birthday wishes via snail mail from our investment company, an email from Affordable Tours (the company we used to book a bus trip around Italy this year), and my dentist’s office texted me. And Biggby did send me my coupon for a free drink…so I got that going for me. It’s an attempt at contact, but it falls short.

I followed the link on the Google birthday wish and I learned about some historical things that happened on my birthday, which was nice. My favorite historical fact from October 28 is that in 1965 Pope Paul VI issued a decree absolving Jews of collective guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ; I was five that day and somehow my folks didn’t tell me about that earth-shaking moment in history (oddly it was the same exact day that the Gateway Arch along the waterfront in St. Louis, MO, was completed; maybe it’s not so odd since that first fact seems like a giant leap in logic).

The Internet’s awareness of my daily life bothers me during the rest of the year, too. I’ll buy plane tickets on Orbitz for a trip to Seattle; later that day, my Facebook feed will include statements like “while you’re in Seattle, check out the Space Needle.” WTF? Leave me alone. I don’t need your help. And I don’t like where this all seems to be going. I don’t want to be a character in a dystopian novel. My identity is too public, too easily available and that never ends well in those dark stories about the future.

My problem: it’s becoming impossible to disconnect from the internet for long periods. Am I addicted or at least too dependent? Life is too precious to tear away the personal, emotional, spiritual side and give it up to a machine. It reminds me of a sad video that a friend shared called “Are You Lost in the World Like Me?” This sort of thing is happening in subtle, as well as dramatic ways every day. It’s up to us to keep in touch personally instead of just through —

As I was typing these words, my Boston cousin, Nancy, called me. We talked for a long time and made tentative plans to meet in the Spring. She balanced out all the techno-wishes I had received. And renewed my hope in the human race. It really is up to each of us to make life-giving choices every minute. Thanks, Nancy.

Strange Days, Indeed

I forced myself to watch Trump’s Inaugural address today. It was possibly the longest 17 minutes of my life. And (possibly) the first time I had heard Trump use complete sentences. I didn’t believe that much of it was sincere or realistic or coherent; however, it dawned on me that in the midst of this insane historical period, Trump has indeed benefited us in some ways:

* Putting his offending perspective in a place of power has spurred a large percentage of the U.S. populace into action. Many people that were not interested or involved in the governance of our country have been outraged just enough to get them to notice and act. The tremendous turnouts at all the inspiring Women’s Marches around the country and world are the most recent example. Many of the women and men that marched were new ‘marchers.’ This renewed energy in addressing and demanding our civil rights is a refreshing, hopeful sign, despite the cause. It’s already building community where it didn’t exist before.

* Somewhat related is the fact that people’s concern over what Trump will do to our nation has inspired more financial giving to causes. Time magazine reports that the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have received almost 80,000 donations since November. Other groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have seen rises in volunteers and donations as citizens bolster their resources against potential anti-Muslim acts by Trump (according to the Atlantic). It’s unfortunate that our apathy or indifference waits until times like these, but it’s also encouraging that there still is a line that can be crossed; a line where we take matters into our own hands and act.

* Trump has made the office of President attainable for most anyone…with money. While it’s scary at the same time, his ascent to power points out the fact that most any (con) man can get there. It’s a call to (mostly white) (mostly male) hucksters to raise their bars. In a recent Miami Herald article, Carl Hiaasen addressed this issue head on. He wrote that “The surprise triumph of the Big Orange Trumpster is very much a story of hope. The message is simple: These days, anybody — absolutely anybody — can become president. You don’t need facts. You don’t need experience. You just need a good act.” (If you have the stomach for it, this is also the link where I watched Trump’s speech)

* Trump continues to be excellent fodder for Saturday Night Live (find their You Tube page and subscribe). We will need to laugh — often and to excess — if we are to survive the next four years. As long as Alec Balwin stays healthy, I plan on using SNL as my drug of choice. Trump may privately have stock in NBC…why else would he continually put his foot in his mouth so that the SNL writers have an easy job?

* Theoretically, Trump is inviting us to be involved in his presidency. Something called “We the People Petitions” are up on the White House website. We can each create a petition on the White House website on an issue that’s important to us. If your petition gets over 100,000 signatures from others concerned about the same issue, then the White House will “respond.” I’m not sure how they will respond or if it will have an affect on anything, but it’s something. The first petition to reach 100,000 signatures had to do with Trump needing to release his tax returns so the American people will know the extent of foreign influence on him due to his financial interests.

I worked hard to come up with those benefits of Trump’s existence in our lives. The costs are a bit easier to see:

* The President is often seen as a role model for our youth and Trump is a terrible role model. He works hard to characterize himself as an egotistical bully. That sort of person doesn’t respect others or listen to others. That’s not the role model we need in office.

* Trump is a foreign relations nightmare. His insistence that the Mexican government will be paying for a wall between us is ridiculous and demeaning, as is his suggestion that we may withdraw from NAFTA (I believe its pros outweigh its cons). He’s not a welcoming presence in the world and most newspapers around the world reacted to his inauguration speech with a defensive shock which included reminding him that he’s the son of an immigrant.

* He acts like facts don’t exist…when they really do. Even since he became President, his staff is already attempting to spread this mis-information virus. They couldn’t even agree with estimated numbers from his inauguration. I loved that Dan Rather spoke up about this, calling on the media and Republicans to defend fact-based news. Rather said

“So here is what I think everyone in the press must do. If you are interviewing a Paul Ryan, a Mitch McConnell, or any other GOP elected official, the first question must be “what will you do to combat the lying from the White House?” If they dodge and weave, keep with the follow ups. And if they refuse to give a satisfactory answer, end the interview.”

I’ll be curious to see if the press answers his challenge. It’s way past time to call Trump on his insistence to invent his own reality. Somebody has to stand up and shout that the emperor has no clothes.

Here’s a visual that may help in fighting fake news. It helped me. Some news is reputable, some is skewed, some just isn’t reputable.

Fight Fake news. Know who is reputable. 

* Trump has surrounded himself (if/when his Cabinet nominations go through) with an out-of-touch, billionaire club that will probably not help him “see” situations more clearly. While the advisory role of the Cabinet is a bit out-dated, picking experienced, fair-minded folks would seem prudent.

* ____________ (I’ve left room here for you to fill in your own “cost of having Trump as President.” Enjoy.)

I wrote the following poem a couple days ago. It gets at the shock and anger I’m feeling these days.

Since November

So this is how history happens —
Complete shock
Unable to take it all in,
I am a witness
To the downfall
Of the United States of America.

One tweet at a time
The dominoes fall
In an unbelievable series
Of unexpected events

That keep hitting me.
That bat just keeps hitting me.
Everyday I wake up to
A bat hitting me in the face
With the reality that
Our country has been
Dumbed down
From the top.

We have been hijacked
By terrorists from within,
Holding sanity hostage,

Holding logic for ransom,
Without a timeline
Without a clue
As to the ramifications
Of a vote
An untruth
A garble of nonsense
Coming from the POTUS
Of a minority sect
Who lounge in their idiocy.

This new America
Guided by a ring leader
Of mis-information
Can’t see the rabbit hole
Or understand the allusion
Or grasp the big picture
Of Mother Earth
Living the Scream painting.

We’ve kicked our own feet
Out from under us.
We’re falling and
It’s a
Long
Way
Down.

———-

P.S. Here are two more gems that fit the topic. First, Taylor Mali performs his latest poem. For me, it speaks to the mood of our time and the way language has been altered/perverted to get around facts and convictions. Also, here’s a classic from John Lennon — “Nobody Told Me” which speaks to the mirrors that are being used these days to present false realities. “Nobody told me there’d be days like these…Strange days, indeed!”

Sharing Our Stories

We are more alike than we are different. And we each have our own story. Our own history or herstory of success, of failure, and all those gray experiences in-between. Life is such an extraordinary mystery that we each live one day at a time. One moment at a time. Everyone, living their important lives, all at the same time.

I love biographies and autobiographies. I enjoy learning about how other (sometimes famous) people maneuvered their way through this lifetime maze. Funerals can also be learning moments; so many times, I am impressed by the story of a person’s life after his or her passing from this life. These aren’t usually objective tellings of the events of a person’s life. We don’t hear about the shortcomings at most funerals, though the occasional biography will include them. And how people handle the difficulties can be the most instructive elements of their lives. History, too, is incomplete, though. “The winners write the history books” as they say. It’s hard to get the actual story of what happened in people’s lives and in the country’s “life.”

These next two story-telling shows attempt to tell an intimate and often honest version of life experience:

Storycorps‘ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.
We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.”
It’s also a podcast and the interviews are archived at the Library of Congress in Washington.
In a recent Storycorps interview, Vernon Dahmer’s family recounted his last days fighting for voting rights for Blacks. His statement that “If you don’t vote, you don’t count” was a powerful message that I wish all U.S. citizens would take to heart.

On Being is a Peabody Award-winning public radio conversation and podcast, a Webby Award-winning website and online exploration, a publisher and public event convener. On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? We explore these questions in their richness and complexity in 21st-century lives and endeavors. We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact.”
There’s a podcast and a mobile app, which I use.
Listening to Krista Tippet interview people reminds me of the importance of the skill of listening. It’s really the Rodney Dangerfield of English class. She affirms what people say, she asks to know more about the off-hand comment, she hears the feeling with which the words are said…she’s a listening pro and that magnifies her interviewing skill. One of my favorite interviews of her is when she interviewed the founder of Storycorps, David Isay; it’s called “Listening as an Act of Love.”

Other websites that share stories and opinions:

Youth Voices

Letters2Trump blog

Letters to the Next President

Soundcloud

The Remembering Site

The Life Stories Project

Biography.com
http://www.biography.com/

Open Library
https://openlibrary.org/help/faq/about#what

Some of my favorite biographies:

Dreams in the Mirror (about e.e. cummings)

Born Standing Up (Steve Martin’s autobiography)

Kiss Me Like a Stranger (Gene Wilder’s autobiography)

The Life and Wisdom of Gwen Frostic

Humans of New York

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to listen more. Reading biographies and autobiographies are one form of listening…listening to another person’s life story. I invite you to listen, too.

Focusing Back on the Cup

Politics is damn distracting — all sparkly, full of itself, and seemingly important. But I’ve decided to treat Politics like my dentist or proctologist — a necessary evil seen infrequently.

Instead, I’m focusing back on the cup with the water in it. You know the one. Sometimes it looks half full, sometimes it looks half empty depending on your perspective on life. I had a Facebook friend challenge me recently to look at my cup. At first, my cup looked empty. Just when I was starting to nod in agreement, I realized the evening light was playing tricks with my eyes. And I was too close to the cup anyway. As I backed up, the water level was right around half way and it dawned on me that my life is at least half full.

I have a steady, though small, regular income; I may be the last person on Earth to get a pension, but as of this writing I still have one. It’s roughly 33% of my previous income as a teacher, but it’s something. And I have numerous opportunities to make more money: Schuler Books gives me money for hanging out there and helping people find books they want; I’m writing an online unit for Youth Voices; and ASPPIRE of Mid-Michigan just asked me to job coach a bit more and teach a Personal Finance class soon. Maybe I can learn something from that Finance class to help me keep some of my savings in the bank. Retirement from teaching has given me time to read, to write, to exercise more often, and to volunteer in various places — all blessing to be sure.

Plus, I have a loving family and wife, I have my health, I live in a safe country without many natural disasters in my area, and my community/city (ELi needs your help) is a very diverse, close group of people. My faith in God also sustains me. Though I’ve struggled with seeing it clearly, God’s presence in my life is a constant reassurance and strength — definitely part of that full part of the cup.

That empty, top-half of the glass does concern me, but I’m trying to see it more for its opportunities. I don’t think we can ignore the half-empty part of the cup. It’s the yin to the cup’s yang; neither could exist without the other. There are the obvious, recent causes of looking at the cup as half empty: our President-elect has no experience to lead us and has surrounded himself with a bunch of like-minded, wealthy, self-absorbed puppets; millions of people voted for this guy; climate change is real and we’re not doing enough to stop it; our country is still incredibly racist and sexist at a deep level; we won’t address poverty in any real way so as to affect educational opportunities for a great many young people in any transformative way; too many people live in fear and lack hope for the future…. It’s overwhelming if you focus on it. I’m acknowledging all of it, but I’ve decided to take the Serenity Prayer approach to it as much as possible.

Here it is if you need a reminder:

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

Amen.

(prayer attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr, 1892-1971)

The things I can’t change just tend to infuriate me if I focus on them; I need to accept them and move on. I’m not saying it’s easy or even possible all the time, but that’s my goal. Other people…can’t change them. Who this country chose as a President…can’t change that. Deep breath. Moving on.

Even harder is having the courage to change the things I can change. Often that means rocking the boat and I’m not very good at that. But it needs to happen. I can call my senators and voice my concerns about Trump’s nominations (Check…did that today regarding DeVos). Not much rocking, but somewhat satisfying. Other, harder things involve digging deeper for courage: getting to know people of different races and cultures; working on improving relationships in my life; seeing a counselor when I need it; listening to people who think differently than I do; volunteering my time in ways that push my skills….

Yes, I see myself as a glass-half-full person. Life is good. I’m so grateful for the life I live. And The glass-is-also-half-empty. My life and the world could both improve greatly. I want to believe I’m learning to know the difference between what I can change and what I can’t…and I’m working to change those things I can.

Choosing Hope in the Midst of Shock and Anger

“Mother, may I take three giant steps forward?” Asked Hillary.

“NO WAY! But your bigoted bully of a step-brother can take one ridiculous step forward…for the win.”

We’ve been playing ‘Mother May I?’ with the mothers of all the characters from Deliverance and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With bizarro Norma Bates from Psycho. With the cast of Bad Moms. With June Cleaver on crack. Mom is out to lunch.

Apparently we do have a third party in this country because he is not Republican in any real way. We have an I party. I stands for “I am fed up with the establishment.” I as in “I don’t think the President of the United States of America needs to respect other people.” The I party is all about ego and change. I’m usually a proponent of change, but this change seems like a step backwards.

The I in this third party doesn’t stand for Independent. What do we call ill-prepared people who lack common sense? That seems to be what he represents. It may rhyme with schmidiot. Yes, I’m angry. I’m angry mostly that many people didn’t vote. They had the opportunity, the right, the responsibility and they let others decide. I’m upset that so many women chose not to support Hillary Clinton. I can’t understand how they couldn’t see she was the best candidate and that it was time to have a woman lead us. I’m not saying she was the perfect candidate, only the better choice.

Here’s a look at the demographics of who voted for which candidate (somehow they produced this video only hours after the polls closed).

In the midst of my anger, however, I know that President Obama is correct in saying that we are Americans first (not Democrats or Republicans){Click here to hear his speech; I heard it live and was impressed that he gave it without notes/teleprompter}. He also exuded confidence that the new president will do what he thinks is best for America. I’m sure it was hard for him to give that speech, but he doesn’t disappoint; he was the epitome of class and respect — an inspiration to and model for us all.

The reality is that many people are fearful of this upcoming presidency. Van Jones called it a “nightmare” for many minorities and the whole outcome a “whitelash” against President Obama’s presidency. Judy, my wife, even said “This is worse than getting cancer (as a breast cancer survivor herself). When you get cancer it just affects you and the people around you. This (cancer/election) affects the whole world in a devastating way.” These are real concerns for about half the country. My hope is that our new president will work at mending and uniting…and that Clinton supporters will meet him halfway.

Over the past couple months, the Men’s group I’m in has been reading and discussing a sermon a week from Dr. Martin Luther King’s book Strength to Love. On Tuesday, we were talking about a sermon entitled “Shattered Dreams” that he wrote in a Georgia jail in the early 1960’s. He offered insights into how we can have hope and faith in the midst of dark times. It was yet another of his sermons that resonates 50 years after he wrote and shared it. He said that…

“the answer lies in our willing acceptance of unwanted and unfortunate circumstances even as we still cling to radiant hope, our acceptance of finite disappointment even as we adhere to infinite hope. This is not the grim, bitter acceptance of the fatalist but the achievement found in Jeremiah’s words, ‘This is a grief, and I must bear it.’…Ask yourself, ‘How may I transform this liability into an asset?’…Our most fruitful course is to stand firm with courageous determination, move forward nonviolently amid obstacles and setbacks, accept disappointments, and cling to hope. Our determined refusal not to be stopped will eventually open the door to fulfillment.”

As hard as it will be to come together, we must work toward that goal. We survived George W and though this may seem 10 times worse, let’s have faith, let’s be our best selves, let’s hope against hope that this is not the end…just an unexpected, challenging stage that we can overcome together.

Keep Working

You may have thought I was going to talk about regret — about how I wish I had kept working…and so you should keep teaching or whatever it is you’re doing.

Not so much.

What I have on my mind these days is how we need to keep working on what’s important to us. I’ve had a nice run being a preschool teacher’s aide on and off for the past few months. Every interaction with a young person makes my soul sing. And I am working a bit at Schuler Books (Eastwood) and it’s quite gratifying to work alongside former students of mine who love books too; I think I’m a closet librarian because I love helping people find what they are looking for in a library/bookstore. Even shelving books alphabetically gives me an odd, wonderful sense of accomplishment.

While some friends of mine may be thinking that I could have, should have taught for a few more years, I offer that I’m still teaching and using my abilities daily. I’ve been amazed at how many opportunities pop up. In the coming months, I will be working with ASPPIRE of Mid-Michigan as a job coach. This organization supports adults on the Autism spectrum in social and work situations. I attended a job coach training recently that felt like a perfect reminder of my time as a Special Education teacher, the unit I taught on Careers, and the importance of making learning practical. Utility. How can I use what you are teaching me in my life? Students of all ages care about those things.

Another aspect of my teaching career that’s in full swing is my association with the National Writing Project. I hope to keep working with both the national and local (Red Cedar Writing Project) chapters for years. Recently, I’ve led in-services on Letters to the Next President, 2.0. This program is also focused on authentic audiences for student learning; not only the actual next President, but other students around the country. The rich conversations around issues of importance to students can be rewarding to read. Students care so much more about the message they are sending when the audience is enlarged. I’m on a team of teachers creating curriculum for another national program called Youth Voices where students can communicate and collaborate with teens around the country. We are using a beta site called LRNG that is testing my ‘new learning’ skills just like all the new jobs I’m going through training for. What I’m working on is using my skills and developing more skills in a more flexible manner.

Here’s a blog flashback…

So, I’m still dealing with the joys and frustrations of teaching and continuing to learn and teach. I continue to present at conferences as I have in the past and learn at conferences, too (I plan to go to Atlanta next month for the National Writing Project annual conference). I even am putting books in people’s hands these days, albeit one at a time with family and friends. Finally, I know there is even more important work to do regarding overcoming racial biases and I’m helping organize a men’s retreat at our church on the topic.

Last week, I was awarded the Middle School English Teacher of the Year by the Michigan Council of Teachers of English. I am humbled and excited by the honor. And part of me felt, at first, like I didn’t deserve it since I’m not teaching in a public school right now. I don’t know if I deserved it or not, but I’ve taught 25 years and it was a joy and an honor. And I’m still working…and teaching. And I like it. I hope you are enjoying your journey, too. Peace.

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Bonus blog entry…..

P.S. Congrats to Bob Dylan for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Dylan singing Mr. Tambourine Man in 1964 (introduced by Pete Seeger)

The amazing Joe Henry’s thoughts from his Facebook page:

“it may be stunning to some, imagining that a songwriter coming out of the folk tradition might receive a nobel prize –and for literature, of all things. but in truth, nothing in our collective culture speaks with more subversive authority than do songs; nothing so scrolls in subtitle to our shadow-life with more illumination; nothing moves as so much weather upon the day, both lifting our sails and powering their aim in ways unseen and essential.

through centuries, and until not so very long ago –within my adult lifetime– songs have stood in fact as our most commonly shared social media: it has been by song that revolutions of every manner are borne aloft and passed wide, that mythologies are ratified not as half- or untruths, but as key and legend to our fading, fraying maps of identity; where love is professed to be both earth and blood to our progress –its mystery given shape and dimension, even as it shifts us wildly upon our axis.

“jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule,” the young man offered, and so we go on: with the treasure of our expanding vision; with gratitude.”
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If you want to borrow my copy of his memoir, Chronicles, email me (akabodian@gmail.com). I also have his complete lyrics if you want to read them; one of my favorite lines from one of his songs is from “Tombstone Blues”…
“…saying ‘The sun’s not yellow it’s chicken.'” On a car ride years ago, Aaron and I played that song over and over to hear that play on words.

Thinking about Bob Dylan isn’t complete with sharing Weird Al’s “Bob” palindrome-play song. Imitation is definitely the highest form of flattery.

Books by and about Bob Dylan