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.

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,

What Now?

The unpredictability is becoming predictable. So many aspects of life are on the verge of being jiggled off the tightrope. If life is a series of tightrope walkers (which is an unnerving analogy, I realize), we seem less and less sure which ones will get across to the other side.

The easiest example is the weather. Mr. Weather tightrope walker is a Rodney Dangerfield-type character. He’s so annoying it’s funny. He gets no respect since the headset he’s listening to is obviously not giving him accurate information. He thinks it’s God or the Weather Channel and it’s more often Gilligan’s Island reruns and Nirvana songs. The chances that Mr. Weather makes it across to the other side are 1 – 51% (weather is a male in my example because he has trouble asking for directions and is sure he is right, until he’s not). Worthless predictions galore.

The political race is a troubling (possibly drunk), “What now?” tightrope walker. From now until November, we will be wondering about the outcome. And even after the election, “What now?” will fit. I don’t really want to get into which candidate is better or worse (though I have strong opinions). All I want to offer the discussion on that matter is to say that we all have a responsibility and privilege to vote. The unpredictability factor is lessened a bit when we know we’ve had input. I’ve heard too many folks saying they aren’t going to vote because they don’t like the choices. Instead of opting out completely, I hope for civil discourse (reasonable discussions) and participation. And beyond that, I have faith that things will work out. But faith isn’t enough. We need to be active. I view the U.S. like a P.B.S. show sometimes: “This show, called the U.S.A., is presented by the generosity of voters like you; it’s up to each of us to participate and then we’ll really know what this country wants its show to look like.”

Some have lost faith in the system, but I believe we need to use the system and be active in improving the system. I was a teacher for over 25 years; public schools are flawed, as is our democracy. As part of these systems, however, we have more power than we realize and than we’ve used. One model for sharing this voice we have is called Letter to the Next President (another model is called…just contact your representatives and senators). It’s a nationwide initiative designed to give 8th-12th grade students an audience to share their concerns. And if I may plug a free workshop I’m leading…If you are interested in learning how you can get students participating in the initiative, check out this brochure about the workshop. Be vocal without being annoying or disrespectful.

Why am I staying impartial on the political question? I liked what Michelle Obama said in her Democratic Convention speech:
“So in this election, we cannot sit back and hope that everything works out for the best. We cannot afford to be tired, or frustrated, or cynical. No, hear me — between now and November, we need to do what we did eight years ago and four years ago: We need to knock on every door. We need to get out every vote. We need to pour every last ounce of our passion and our strength and our love for this country into electing Hillary Clinton as President of the United States of America.” So there it is.

People love to ask questions and make predictions about my retirement also. “What now?” is a logical curiosity. I’m only 55; I could live 30+ more years if I play my cards right. Many like to predict I will miss being with young people and miss the teaching…and in some ways they are probably right. However, predictions about me being bored or wishing I hadn’t retired (I predict) seem improbable. If I can go back to the tightrope walker analogy, I feel quite content on my walk; as a matter of fact, I’m embracing the unpredictability of retirement. Open to the possibilities of life.

As a wrap-up, I have to give a shout out to our POTUS on the occasion of his 55th birthday (yesterday). President Obama has led us admirably. There will never be a perfect president. I thank him for his level head, his intelligent way, his vision, his humor, his songs, his family focus, and so much more. Here are 55 photos of him on his 55th birthday. And I have to wonder “What Now?” for him, too.

While I’m doing shout outs, I loved New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s speech at the convention (here’s the text). I wonder if we’ll see more of him in four years…

This article by David Korten points out more of my thoughts on the campaign…
Yes Magazine’s article entitled “This Presidential Race is a Clear Choice: Flight, Fight, or Fellowship” May the Force be with us.

Seeing Pine Ridge Differently

Before we left for Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, I had several teens and parents ask me if I have seen things change in the many times I have been out to the “rez.” “Unfortunately,” I would say, “things don’t change much.” Each time I have been there, I’ve been told and shown how poverty and suicide rates are higher than national averages, how few Lakota are practicing their rich way of life, and how few new businesses are popping up. It’s a dose of reality that most people don’t want to hear or see.

That answer has changed a bit this time though. I was one of the chaperones for the Peoples Church Youth Group as we worked for a week with the Re-Member organization on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. And my experience this time showed me that in some ways things are worse and in some ways things are better for the Lakota on the rez.

The number of teen suicides at Pine Ridge is accelerating out of control; this fact may have been the most startling realization to the teens we brought out from East Lansing. Over 14 teens have killed themselves this year and it came close to home for us this week; both Inila Wakan (aka Keith Janis) and Will Peters (speakers at Re-Member) shared that they each had a grandchild commit suicide in the past year. These tragic scenes of the current Lakota landscape are mind- boggling and unacceptable. How could teens who have role models like these two spiritual, caring elders take their own lives? While it’s true that Pine Ridge recently received a grant from the Department of Education to impact the number of teen suicide attempts, one wonders how much of that money will get where it needs to be due to tribal corruption…and the immensity of the problem. Some point to racism as the core cause of the suicide problem.

Others put their time into prevention through Lakota education and pride, as well as solidifying existing supports in the community. Two examples are from the speakers I mentioned above. Inila Wakan was instrumental in starting Santana House. Here’s the description of their mission off of their Facebook page:

“This page is for a Grassroots-based suicide prevention and interventions, support, outreach, discussions, intervention, sharing resources, positive input, mobilization of kindred groups and kindred spirits, community input and ideas towards accomplishing the goal of establishing the “Santana House” a safe home and resource for at risk youth on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The existing suicide response network here is Not Able To Handle This Problem Alone!

Most teens from the surrounding areas end up in institutional settings away from the reservation, are confined, and most often drugged then sent back to the communities and circumstances that are part of their lives in the first place. This home we’re determined to build and staff will best serve the children from a culturally based approach without isolation and drugs.

We can rebuild the lives of children through the Santana House and serve as the loving and kind, caring and supportive extended family for our children who just need that extra attention and love from a stable environment. We cannot do this without your support. We all have a personal and social responsibility to get down into the trenches where these kids are and lift them up high and save as many as we can.

Thanks to everyone dedicating themselves to this extremely important–life – affirming cause.

Thank you ever so much for your love, time, and generosity.

Let’s pound the pavement!
Shake the pillars!
Echo Over the plains, mountains, and seas!

Hecetuwelo! MITAKUYE OYASIN*!”
(Mitakuye Oyasin means “we are all related”)

If you are interested in donating to Santana House, contact Inila directly at

Will’s newest CD “Chillin’ Rez-Style” has several inspirational songs on it. One that deals with suicide awareness directly is “I Know,” which he and his daughter, Keesa Jo, sang for us at Re-Member. The lyrics are so powerful that I ended up taking a video of part of their performance. However, follow this link if you want to hear the whole song from a performance at Re-Member in 2014. Or call 605-867-5039 to purchase the whole CD. Here’s a message from the CD insert that Will wrote to explain this song:

“The song “I Know” is not only to remember all those we have lost to suicide, but also to encourage all young people to remember that there are people who care and want to help. If you, or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please don’t give up. Pray, burn some sweetgrass or sage, and talk to someone you know you can trust. Your life is sacred, believe in love, it’s gonna be alright.”

I don’t pretend to be an expert in the field or even to have much experience, but this song (and music in general) and the efforts of Santana House have the power to save lives and I hope you help spread the word. Here’s a bonus song, sung by Will with our own Mike Buttery on guitar also: Hard Life.

Another way I saw Pine Ridge differently this time had to do with the Tier 2 group with which I participated (the other groups did more hands-on work that I’ve written about before). Instead of going out to the work sites and touring with the other groups, five of us who had been to Re-Member several times delved more deeply into Lakota culture. Cornell Conway (a Lakota elder and Oglala Lakota College professor), Jeff, and Nikki led us daily as we learned more about the seven sacred ceremonies (including the sweat lodge or inipi), policies and treaties, the Pine Ridge economy, plants used for medicine, and a Lakota preschool program. Then, everyday we combined the lectures/information with some real-life experience; these field trips included visiting a thriving business called Tanka Bars (they take online orders), walking at Yellow Bear Dam and learning which plants can be used for what, and visiting a growing Lakota-speaking preschool (they have started an amazing youtube station if you want to hear the language or learn it, wayawa cikala). These were signs of positive change I ached to see. The most rewarding of these experiences was when we made a sweat lodge. I have posted a photo of information about a sweat lodge (from Lakota Life by Ron Zeilinger) as a way to explain how the Lakota use it as a church. It was a spiritual, community experience and I’m sure I will write a poem or two about it at a later time (see my previous blog entry for more information). Suffice it to say that between the palpable heat, the beautiful Lakota prayer songs, the welcome darkness, and the sharing out of our prayers, I felt lifted and cleansed — closer to that Creator Spirit that binds all of us.

sweat lodge info

I wrote this prayer for all of us as we struggle on our journeys. Peace.

Mitakuye Oyasin (“We are all related” or “all my relatives” in Lakota)

Oh, Creator Spirit,
Oh, binding breath between all peoples of all times,
Help me and help each of us,
Know your presence
Feel your presence
In our hearts, minds, and spirits.
Help us re-connect
Broken relationships
With each other
And with you.
Help us re-visit
That deep essential
That binds all living beings.
Thank you, Creator,
For life,
For each sacred life.
Help us to value each life
As we value our own.
When we lose hope,
Re-member us with you.
Help us to see
You in each other, Creator Spirit.
Help us to reach out
To each other,
To the You in our midst
And be re-born
In hope.

Here’s a photo album I put together of photos I took on the trip; some have captions explaining what’s going on (but you can only see the captions if you look at the photos individually, not on slideshow).

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan

Dylan is 73 today. This singer-songwriter who confused and amazed me growing up is a survivor. For awhile there, I thought I was supposed to understand every word of his songs. The beauty and metaphor of his writing evaded me until my mid-twenties. I didn’t get it. The more I put time into my own writing, the more I started to appreciate the rhythm of his words and the depth of his thoughts. And my son, Aaron, elevated my love of Dylan by playing his Tombstone Blues over and over until I was telling people “the sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken.” More recently, I read his autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One. His personal story and musings gave some insights and spurred me to buy a book of his lyrics. And just when I was starting to feel like I almost-sorta understood this mystery man, I read Joe Henry’s tribute to him on Facebook today. And I realized that I still don’t get it.

This blog entry is really about Joe Henry. Yes, I went to high school with him, but we weren’t close. And yes, I’ve seen him in concert with Lisa Hannigan and was blown away by them both. Even shook his hand and told him I enjoyed the concert. However, none of that means I really “get” him either. Read on and see if you hear Dylan in Joe’s voice. Read on and see if you can imagine writing/creating this art. Here’s Joe Henry’s Facebook post for Dylan’s birthday. I bow to you, Joe. Thanks.

So what, really, are we to make of this bumpkin –this speed-thin freak? This flashing comet circling back to feast on its own tail? This lurking gypsy poet bandit scoundrel demon shaman: hiding in plain site, dangling the very keys to the kingdom yet poised to set them on fire right here in front of both you and your mother?

He: angry and coy, bashful and funny; a cheap date and a most expensive habit; he with the worst taste in wine and the most exquisite taste in boots; he with the beagle in the front seat and hat so wide he needs to leave the driver’s side window rolled down a bit. He with the unwashed teeth. He of the dated maps and the rusting bent blade; he of sworn testament and witness protection; he of the bible and the television, the child bride and the lonesome carney stare, with licorice whips and a clown tattoo; he with the errand boy’s inside story and forged history; with dead parents and a pinstripe suit, with the thick glasses he pretends not to need as he points you out to the captain with such casual certainty that even you yourself do not protest when they drag you below in chains. He on the white mule.

I have been breathing his fumes and eating his dust for decades and can’t stand the sight of him; have been finding his thorns in my mattress for so long now that I have learned to make tea out of them and like it. I who have worked his ruined plantation without pay. I who did not invent the airplane. I who ought to goddam know better and do. I who knew the mustache was a phony and still admired it when he asked me to.

What are we to make of this real-deal counterfeit lawyer with the slinky dancers and an ironclad alibi and a car waiting? And what on earth might we do for him, now that it is his birthday?

An Explanation

In case you’re wondering why I haven’t posted anything lately (and isn’t everybody?), I’ve decided to explain myself. I could point the finger at many things (correcting papers, shoveling snow, playing more board games lately, reading a good book, shoveling more snow, writing personal stuff in my journal, watching sports, playing my guitar…), but it isn’t because I haven’t been writing. I’ve written drafts in reaction to several things going on in my life and the world; the problem is that I just can’t seem to finish them — to make them ‘public worthy.’ So, I’ve decided to cut my losses, tweak the drafts a bit, share what I can, and pitch the rest. It’s going to be choppy, but you’ll get a glimpse of the roller coaster that has resided in my mind of late.

“2013 Joys and Concerns”

Some things that happen are clearly joys.
The other night, two women sang about the blessings and trials of being alive. Samantha Cooper and Elisabeth Pixley-Fink shared their journeys of loss and peace with about 100 people at a small church in Dexter, MI. We all rejoiced as they shared their journeys with us through song. I appreciated the personal quality of the time we shared — laughs, stories, “kitchen songs” and fiddle tunes from each of their journeys, the glorious Christmas tree making it feel homey, some sing-alongs, being there with loved ones…it all added to a special, sacred night.

And more recently, I walked away from my computer for a few minutes and my screen saver kicked in. I was struck with a visual display of many of the joys from the year. Photos are like that for me — they bring the memory back, sometimes the feeling back. They reminded me that life in East Lansing is mostly joyous. I’m grateful for the amazing blessings in my life that are really too numerous to name.

The list of concerns overwhelms me though.

People are asking the wrong questions about teaching and teachers, but fortunately there are other people responding articulately. Tragically, some teachers quit the craziness instead of embracing it and working with it.

After eight days of no power, too many places in East Lansing still didn’t have power (though we lucked out and had power the whole time).

What we are doing to the Earth and other living things is wrong.

and it goes on and on and I really don’t want to write about it…
so back to the joys…

Yes Magazine by itself is a joy, but they also posted “10 hopeful things that happened in 2013,” which is a nice reminder that our world is headed in a positive direction in some ways (many people feed us fear and doom and I get tired of it). One of the articles referenced in that piece highlighted Seattle teachers who took a stand against standardized testing. Their courage has inspired more parents to consider opting their children out of these tests. I see it both as a joy and a concern — no easy answers here — but if you’ve read my other posts, you know I am not happy with the way standardized tests waste student and teacher time, waste other resources, inaccurately represent student achievement, and generally garner too much of the focus in discussions of what’s best for our educational system.

That Yes Magazine article is echoed in Bill Moyers piece on “15 Wins for the Progressive Movement in 2013.” Someday, I would like to sit down with Bill Moyers, Garrison Keillor, Nikki Giovanni, Billy Collins, Hillary Clinton (so she doesn’t make the Arne Duncan mistake, ya know, if…), Diane Ravitch, Steve Martin, and Ellen DeGeneres. I’d mostly listen and take notes.

Other clear joys from 2103:
Our trip to Seattle (see photos) and the guys’ fishing trip (more photos). And a random page of hilarious hats to keep you warm this winter.

I read some great books this year that added to my joy:
Divergent by Veronica Roth (shout out to our awesome book club!)
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan
Wonder, by R. J. Palacio
The Measure of a Man by Gene Getz
Boxers by Gene Luen Yang (it’s a graphic novel)
Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart by Patricia Donegan
Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
Operation Falcon by Abby Seal
Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery
Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft by Bill Moyers
Billy Collins’s new book of poems (see below)

I got paid for my first online, published article this year: Reflecting on the Move to Digital Writing Portfolios.

I published a second edition of my book of poems: Connections I and II. There’s some backstory on an earlier blog post.

As a reminder, here’s that book suggestions post from last year that was generated by

I’ve been reading Billy Collins’ new stuff from his Aimless Love book of poems. Here’s one he (subconsciously) asked me to share with you.

Flying Over West Texas at Christmas

by Billy Collins

Oh, little town far below
with a ruler line of a road running through you,
you anonymous cluster of houses and barns,
miniaturized by this altitude
in a land as parched as Bethlehem
might have been somewhere around the year zero—

a beautiful song should be written about you
which choirs could sing in their lofts
and carolers standing in a semicircle
could carol in front of houses topped with snow.

For surely some admirable person was born
within the waffle-iron grid of your streets,
who then went on to perform some small miracles,
placing a hand on the head of a child
or shaking a cigarette out of the pack for a stranger.

But maybe it is best not to compose a hymn
or chisel into tablets the code of his behavior
or convene a tribunal of men in robes to explain his words.

Let us not press the gold leaf of his name
onto a page of vellum or hang his image from a nail.
Better to fly over this little town with nothing
but the hope that someone visits his grave

once a year, pushing open the low iron gate
then making her way toward him
through the rows of the others
before bending to prop up some flowers before the stone.

“Flying Over West Texas at Christmas” by Billy Collins from Aimless Love. © Random House, 2013.



Recently, a friend told me that she sent her daughter to public schools so that her daughter would learn to conform. Apparently, her daughter had been a bit rebellious and my friend decided that the public schools would teach her how to stand in line and do what she was told.

My initial reaction was that I didn’t teach that way. And that if her daughter were in my class, I couldn’t guarantee she would get that lesson. I try to teach students to think for themselves — to use that brain they are given to consider both sides of an issue and make an informed decision. I believe young people need to exercise that introspective part of the brain so that they know what they believe and are able to articulate their point of view (I like to think I’m helping prepare future adults who want to be informed voters or at least competent conversationalists); this generally leads to more of an expression of individualism than conformity. Granted it’s not my only lesson, but from there we do have some thought-provoking discussions where each person’s point of view is heard and valued.


As I thought about it, though, teaching has become more structured and rule-bound in the last decade (even at the 7th grade level). Some of the changes are well-intentioned and I find myself buying into the new teaching paradigm, even though part of me still resists whenever possible. For example, the first week of the school year, we spend many more hours going over rules and expectations than we did even five years ago. Some of that time happens in school-wide assemblies, some happens in grade level assemblies, and some happens in our REACH (homeroom) classes. We review the Student Handbook of rules, the Behavior expectations, and we see short videos and Power Points about hallway behavior and what Respect, Responsibility, and Relationship look like. There are skits and speeches, and, frankly, just a whole lot of sitting and listening by the students. Classes do practice things like walking in a single file line on the right side of the hall.

It’s absolutely mind-numbing. And that doesn’t include the list of rules and expectations for the cafeteria (which is ridiculous, by the way) or the gym & post-lunch “recess” time. Our students are definitely asked to conform.

Then, in the next month, we tested them to death. “Listen to the directions of the MEAP, MAZE, AIMS Web, School-Wide Vocabulary,” and an assortment of class quizzes and tests (plus in April we’ll be piloting the Smarter Balance Test). The effect of this rigid paradigm is that students have a more clear idea of what we expect from them, we have better behaved students, and less fighting in our school. But what about how it affects students? Do they feel like robots or thinking people? Do they feel told or heard? Are they beat down or empowered?

Some examples of young people being individuals:

Imelda’s wiki page, Allana’s wiki page, Hunter’s wiki page and other students’ pages are chock full of their thoughts. That’s one reason I have all my students create their own pages. And they rock at sharing who they are as individuals.

Detroit street skiing video shows ingenuity, creativity, resourcefulness, and passion. It’s different.

Too much testing from a student’s perspective (which speaks to both blog posts above).

My First Harvest Gathering (and other amazing things)

A movement is afoot. I can feel it more today than a year ago. People are tired of the corporate, artificial, selfish culture. The Occupy Movement folks have filtered back into the pattern of their lives, but maybe with a bit more resolve and purpose. People are speaking up more in letters to the editor and Facebook posts. There’s a dis-ease with traditional or conventional ways of doing things.

One thing that’s been gathering momentum over the years has been the many festivals in Michigan that lift up local, community-oriented, authentic ways of being together: East Lansing Folk Festival, Farm Fest, Wheatland, Sleepy Bear, Bliss Fest, Womyn’s Music Festival, Electric Forest (formerly Rothbury), Lansing’s Common Ground Festival…and…

the Earthworks Harvest Gathering has to be one of the most personal, family-oriented music festivals in the state. Micah Ling wrote a wonderful blog entry about the amazing things at the Harvest Gathering. Though I agree with most of what she said (things like the music and the food), she didn’t talk specifically about the workshops. She mentions “the Lovin’,” and the workshops could fall under that category; the workshops that I attended were about connecting with people at a basic, spiritual level: a group sing first thing the first morning, insights into clowning, and song-writing 101. I got up and sang beautiful songs with new friends (and Aaron) in the woods. Awesome. Then, Elisabeth Pixley-Fink and Samantha Cooper also got us clowning. I’d never painted my body with pretend paint. I’d never played “Yes, And…” which I enjoyed and may use in class. I’d never played the Circle Game (which our choices were “Hi Ya!” karate chops, “Boo-yah” with a knowing look that breaks the fourth wall, or “Sushi” when we all move to a different spot in the circle). They taught me that clowns see someone do something once and mimic it with great (even exaggerated) confidence, while at the same time dealing with some eccentricity or nervous tick (like an eye twitch, pebble in the show, pin poking you in your clothes…). I appreciated the fresh look at clowning immensely. Not once did I think about the Common Core or if I was doing it “right” while we played. This stuff was all fun, all silly, and all expanded my conception of what a clown is all about. Dick Siegel led the song-writing workshop and his approach was fantastic. We and he sang some songs and then looked at the rhythms and connected them to songs we already knew (showing the commonalities between songs). I shared that rhyming was difficult for me and he offered that I could look at it as an opportunity. So, all in all, the time I spent in the woods learning was time well-spent. Fed my soul, gave me something to think about, made me pause and see the world differently.

Another thing Micah wrote about was the power of the Three-on-Three Basketball Tournament on the last morning. Some fun. It was cold, I wasn’t in the physical shape to be out there, and our team was playing together for the first time…but it was BIG time fun. “The Armenian Mafia,” our imposing team name (it was Emily, Mark, Aaron, and I), won the first game handily over what seemed like a mostly hung-over team from Escanaba. We really clicked all of a sudden and were passing well and defending like beasts. Then came our second game against one of the favorites, the Breathe Owl Breathe band, and we were back to reality — decimated from the tip off. But we still had fun. Part of the silliness of the game is the rule that anytime a car goes by you have to shoot the ball from where ever you are. If you don’t, then the other team gets the ball. In a quick, first-to-10 game, that makes it go really fast. Just more of the community-feel, more of the family touch that makes the Harvest Gathering something I plan to fit into my schedule again next year.

We were fortunate to see many of the musicians again on their Fall Tour when it came to Lansing. This group of people warms my soul. And feeds it.

Elisabeth Pixley-Fink’s song

Elisabeth and Samantha are playing a concert this Friday that we hope to attend: Hearth and Hymn in Dexter. I’ve been looking forward to the return trip to that folksy, smooth sound ever since I heard it was going to happen. Maybe I’ll see you there.

A couple other amazing things:
* Yes magazine — they speak the truth.

* 39 Test Answers that are 100% Wrong but Totally Genius at the Same Time

What’s real vs. what’s the Twilight Zone

Every once in awhile, I get into this zone. I wake up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep due to too many things on my mind.
For example, as I write these words, it’s 4:00 in the morning. And I’ve already been lying down thinking for 45 minutes.

Every once in awhile, I realize how crazy the world is.

In order to survive, sometimes I forget. I zoom ahead with blinders on.
But then, one thing or another boggles my mind and I have to stop, smack myself across the face, and try to assess if this weirdness is real or a Twilight Zone version of my life.

Now, I realize that some of you don’t know what the Twilight Zone is, but that’s just further proof of the craziness (please follow the link if I’m talking to you).

Do you know who Garrison Keillor is?
If you don’t, you’re part of the craziness. I’m sorry, but you are.
And no, it’s not a generational thing.
Some things, people are just supposed to know.
Call it cultural awareness, call it common sense, call it being aware of your surroundings.
Maybe I’m talking about things ‘literate’ people are supposed to know, but for me, it’s the same thing; if you’re up and moving around, you’re expected to be paying attention.

“Who am I?”

A GK Primer:
Garrison Keillor hosts Prairie Home Companion. It’s a variety show that’s been around for decades (more than a generation, I believe). PHC makes me laugh, think, and sing in a way that nothing else out there does. Classic Americana, really. Even edgy, quirky, and silly in a contemporary way. And I referred to Garrison as the Mark Twain of our Time yesterday because he writes more often than he breathes. He’s a prolific writer in the same way Twain couldn’t put down a pen (please tell me you know who Mark Twain is). Certain people have a lot to say. Garrison’s Lake Wobegon Days still makes me laugh and is a classic in every sense of the word.

Some of Garrison’s work: he’s contributed to a Salon blog, he has a page in Your Dictionary, been quoted a bunch, has a plethora of advice to writers, he writes The Writer’s Almanac everyday, he edits books, and he’s written so many excellent reads I can’t list them all.

My rant is done
Time to rest
Please read his work
There’ll be a test