Do you ever feel that you are holding books as hostages? I have a connection with every book I own and I love having access to them when I want to read them, but sometimes I feel that they are prisoners. That I’m keeping them from being read by others. It may sound strange, but I’ve learned that even when I think my feelings are odd and unique, others can relate.
As difficult as it is to let go of some of my books, I am doing it on a regular basis. Whether to increase the chances they will be read or to clear out my hoard/library, it needs to happen.
So, as we begin to hunker down for the winter, if there’s a book from the list below that strikes your fancy, let me know and I’ll get it to you. If you want to keep it, that’s fine. If you want to read it and give it to another interested reader, even better. And if you’d rather give it back, I can deal with that too (I’ll just put it in a Free Library near me).
Note: this give-away is also necessary because I keep buying more books.
* Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
* Indian Boyhood, by Charles A. Eastman
* Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin
* What is the Bible?, by Rob Bell
* A Newbery Halloween (a dozen scary stories by Newbery Award-winning authors), selected by Martin H. Greenberg
* Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers
* The 100 Best African American Poems (with CD), edited by Nikki Giovanni
* Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, by Bill McKibben
* The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
* As We Are Now, by May Sarton
* The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
* Unlearning God: How Unbelieving Helped Me Believe, by Philip Gulley
* Telling Writing, by Ken Macrorie
* Reservation Blues, by Sherman Alexie
* Brainiac, by Ken Jennings
* The Book of Forgiving, by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
* A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean
* Bird by Bird, by Annie Lamott
* Gandhi: A Manga Biography, by Kazuki Ebine
* Beloved, by Toni Morrison
I don’t know if you can tell, but these are not my throw-away books. Some are my favorite reads (and some are doubles). These are books I recommend. These are books that need to be read. I am freeing them to be read. I want them to have a good home. And I have many more; if you would like to peruse my poetry books, fiction section, Native American collection, biographies…let me know.
Sometimes I picture it
Directly above my eyes
Hovering just out of my view
Or as a fog I should be able to see through,
A grey mass harboring shadows of unrecognizable forms
But then the sun burns away my unknowing
Or I find a box of light bulbs
And my old friend comes through for me again
If it will the next time I call on it, God only knows —
This mystery brain,
Brother to my heart,
A constant companion directing me like a drone operator,
An encyclopedia with pages torn out
Let us say it is a book
I have been writing constantly, even while watching TV and driving the car
Then re-reading aloud — at least in my head
Or now that it is aging,
An echo of itself,
Papers found in a drawer in my hand-writing but foreign
Like yours, it is fickle,
Rock solid watching Jeopardy,
Absent as a deleted app when asked my 3rd grade teacher’s name,
To define ‘transmogrification,’ or what I had for dinner last Tuesday.
Then present again when I need a seldom-used password
Or is it a dream itself,
Not the grey mass the size of my fist the scientists talk about
But part of my whole being —
In every cell,
Hair, organ —
Is even the food I eat, temporarily,
Part of my mind
While in me?
Affecting everything I do —
What to add into my scrambled eggs,
Whether or not to play the guitar,
Which word to choose as an ending
I’m in a phase where I feel like I don’t know anything. It’s difficult to write a blog entry of any substance right now. I’m doing a lot of reading. It feeds my unknowing more than reading usually does. It feeds this feeling that this world is almost unknowable. Knowledge can be overwhelming. And a bit immobilizing.
Something will come of all of this. I still write from time to time. I offer this draft of a poem which is somewhat on the subject…
This Is One Poem
I once heard of a tree named Discipline
I wanted to find it and revel in
its constant beauty
but alas, it left me wanderin’
Every ant distracts
Birds’ activity threatens
Intent and focus
A laziness of thought
I wear it like
an x-ray barrier
a pile of stones
that COPD elephant
Most of the time, life is quite distracting. I have trouble deciding where to focus my time and energy. The circus in Washington is quite disconcerting and tragic; the fires in the Arctic are potentially even more troubling; and then, there are more personal issues like new career vs full retirement and self-actualization in general.
I wish I had written the following, but alas, Garrison Keillor beat me to it. I swear, I was working on something very close to it when I read this today.
My birthday is this week, which I mention by way of saying, “Please. No gifts.” My love and I went through major downsizing in January and we are pretty much done with Things now, even a picture of a wilderness lake taken by you or an inspirational book that could change our lives. My life is good enough. Every day is precious. When you reach 77, you’ll feel the same way. It’s a shame that a con man is in the White House as the Arctic is melting and white nationalists are shooting up our cities, but we’ll be okay, we just need a Trexit vote next year.
I reached my present age thanks to medical advances that didn’t exist for my uncles (than whom I am now somewhat older) nor for Dostoevsky (59) or Thoreau (44). Pharmaceuticals would’ve enabled Dostoevsky to retire from writing agonizing novels and switch over to light comedy in his old age and Thoreau to leave Concord and move to New York and find a girlfriend. He went out on a cold rainy night to look at trees and caught bronchitis, which agitated his TB and he went into a steep decline. As he lay dying, his aunt asked if he’d made his peace with God, and Henry said, “I was not aware that we had ever quarreled.” So he had a good last line, which many people don’t, but think what he and his girlfriend could’ve done with thirty more years. Go into the canoe business, buy a house with a lawn, beget kiddoes, enjoy evenings at home, Isabelle lying with her head in Henry’s lap, reading “Walden,” laughing at the funny parts.
Life is unbearably precious. Two heroes of mine died in car crashes when I was in college, and yet I myself, a couple years later, driving north on Highway 47 in my 1956 Ford, on a straight stretch in Isanti County, gunned it to 100 mph just to see what it felt like. It felt good. Then a pickup truck eased out of a driveway and onto the road. This was before seat belts. In a split second, I swerved to go behind him and it was a good choice — he didn’t back up — otherwise he and I would’ve been forever joined in a headline. I hope he has enjoyed his survival. Whenever I relive those fifteen seconds, all regrets vanish, all complaints evaporate.
I am now older than my older brother, who died ten years ago at 71. He slipped while skating and fell backward and hit his head. I think of him often. He was a scientist and engineer, a problem-solver, a sailor, a family man, and when faced with a personal dilemma, it’s good to ask, “What would Philip have said?” He tends to recommend patience, attention to detail, and taking a break for a few hours, perhaps on a boat, during which the answer may suddenly occur to you.
I don’t brood about death as the actual date approaches. My mother (97) enjoyed herself into her mid-nineties, flew places, saw her ancestral Scotland, cruised the coast of Alaska, and seemed, all in all, happier than when she had six little kids to worry about. We grew up near the Mississippi and she thought extensively about drowning. When cousin Roger (17) drowned, trying to impress his girlfriend Susan, Mother sent me to swimming lessons at the Y, but I couldn’t bear it, the instructor was such a bully, so I went to the library instead, a wise choice on my part, and I grew up to earn my way as a writer rather than as a professional swimmer.
Nature is not interested in my twilight years; past 30, semen develops problems, man becomes irrelevant in the furtherance of the species. God created erectile dysfunction because old men can’t be trusted to raise kids. Living past 70 is an artificial idea, a lovely idea, like flying or anesthesia, but still. So an old man needs to justify his continuance, taking up space and being a traffic hazard on the freeway by driving the speed limit. My reason for living is simply this: I am still working and my best work may be yet ahead of me.
I say, 77 is a fine age, way beyond 17 or 37 or 57, but take your time getting there, and remember to marry someone who is good company and can carry one end of the conversation and sometimes both. There’s the real message. That’s worth reading to the end of the column to find out.”
Two thousand nineteen is about half over, and it has felt like ‘opposite day’ for that entire time, so here are two blog entries in one, to celebrate its half-ness and its oppositeness (as the math crowd knows, 1/2 multiplied by its opposite (2) is actually one, so yeah).
Here’s a draft of a poem that may have promise.
Instead, at 6 am
I need the cool breeze
Coming in through the screen
And that pervasive silence,
That welcome absence —
I need distant bird chatter
As the loudest sound
And an orange burst,
Pink spray, green leaved
Instead of physical activity
And its expectations.
I need this pen and my journal,
A few moments alone,
Time to contemplate the day
With a glass of water
In a soft recliner
That rocks when I say.
Stillness without sleep
Thought and observation without action
I began the next entry around graduation time. It’s incomplete, unfinished, lacking something…but then again, aren’t most graduates? Aren’t most of us?
Congratulations to the class of 2019 at every level.
Congratulations to those choosing retirement.
Congratulations to everyone who just breathed in and out.
Success is so hard to define. So, for everyone moving from one thing to another thing, I recommend the following podcast: How Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? (You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript by following that link). It’s a recent On Being discussion on that elusive thing called “success” involving Krista Tippett, Abraham Verghese, and Denise Pope.
Here are a few highlights designed to heighten your interest:
* “Follow your heart…within reason”
* The importance of friendships across generations (a type of mentoring) — “I think it’s really a calling for this century because the wisdom of young adulthood, I think, is actually an urgency and an impatience and this longing and this aspiration to see the world whole and make it better. We want that. But there’s something so relaxing about living for a while and knowing in your body that life is long and knowing that there will be another side to whatever is happening. And so that’s really the experience you have of failure.”
*“on a small scale, [resilience is about raising] your hand in class and risk ‘sounding stupid.’”
* “failure, what goes wrong, what you get through that you didn’t know how you’d get through, this is the breeding ground of becoming wise and mature.”
I liked the discussion, partly, because of the speakers’ collective awareness that there is no one path to success. And their understanding that one hurdle toward whatever success is most assuredly involves failure. Many of the seventh graders I taught in the final years of my career were downright afraid of failing. That leads to a lack of taking risks (in writing, in class participation, in leadership…) and that can be quite immobilizing.
Generations of Allium look like waves of students over time
I recently had the honor and privilege of participating in the East Lansing High School Commencement. Two graduates asked that I give them their diplomas. That allowed me to have a seat on the stage. I became a witness to the graduates’ pride. A co-celebrator in their joy. As a retired teacher, this was a rare and singular moment. Our district (like many, I would imagine) is not that adept at using the talents of retired teachers, paraprofessionals, and secretaries in an on-going, integral way. The occasional invitation to be included in commencement, however, excuses that educational faux pas just a bit.
Witnessing young person after young person hearing his, her, or their name spoken, finally, at Commencement felt like seeing sunrise after sunrise after glorious sunrise. Each one had a face that mixed exhilaration, expectation, and trepidation with a dose of amazed wonder. They were beacons of hope, one after another. Each a success, but not in a ‘final package’ way; they found a way to cross the stage and it will lead to many more successes —— laced with failures —— on their journeys.
A teacher friend suggested I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Intrigued, I found the TED Talk by the author and I share it here for its important messages; it is, in an odd way, a success story. Not the author’s story, per se, but her awareness that generalizing one experience to fit a whole group (stereotyping) is at the heart of what’s dangerous in our world today.
Danger of a Single Story
I found a wonderful reflection on Adichie’s video that includes a way to incorporate it into a meaningful lesson, for you teachers out there. Both breaking stereotypes and offering self-awareness, this lesson seems important at this time in history.
* Challenge Success is an organization that helps schools and communities re-think what they are asking of students. They offer a way to re-think what success means for each student.
* Success in a concentrated way is a version of flow, a concept I use with students to help them find balance and confidence. Here is Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk on the subject.
The same people that research
Family histories —
They still write physical letters
Besides that, letter writing is dead.
And I’m still grieving
I had with it.
Creating a letter
Was like writing a symphony.
It was mine
But I was gifting it
So someone else —
That I cared about —
Could have this message, this song,
This part of my mind and heart.
Letter writing was an opportunity to share
A bit of my creative soul
With a loved one.
(That old-person-thing where they can’t stand all the changes in the world — I’m feeling it)
Innovation is allegedly a sign of creativity
Creativity is a sign of blending heart and mind
I don’t miss changing the ribbon on
It was messy and often tricky to get right
Maybe this phone-focused life, world,
Need some messy time. Need to feel that
Relationships are tricky to get right
In ways emoticons
And textspeak lingo
We’ve come to expect our
Relationships to load quickly.
When the dreaded, perpetual spinning
Circle of waiting
In human form,
We are flustered, confused, stymied.
Can we go back
To simpler times?
Has too much changed?
Progress at ANY cost?
There are moments in
When we have time
To disconnect from our work at hand.
Instead of singing
Writing a letter
Calling a friend
We open our phones.
We suckle at
The techno breast
And it feeds us
And it’s not what we need.
It’s mind-numbing shit.
It’s not symphony writing.
When we need
Job requires weaving
the fibers of household matter
and daily routines into an examined life.
Must explain the dagger through the heart,
the nail piercing the skull,
memories triggered by the scent
of Mamas over-salted soup.
Applicant must define the life worth living,
identify ancestors stuck together
in that box of sepia photos,
be plain spoken, persistent,
willing to be misunderstood,
interpreted to death.
Here are two poems by poets who are new to me. The first was recommended by a poet friend and I had the honor of hearing the second poet read her poems recently (thanks for the book, Janine!). I’m sharing these poems — on this last day of Poetry Month — as a reminder to look for new poets, new perspectives, new expressions of life’s joys…even in sorrow. These poems touched my heart as I think back over loved ones who have died in recent years; somewhere between dreams, embraces, and memories I see them still. For more information about each poet, click on the poem’s title.
I study my father across the gallery
in his wheelchair, bald head angled up,
swaying under eight by eight feet
of psychedelic blues and living greens.
I once read that water lilies are always
hungry, and suddenly I picture them
voraciously pulling him into the pond,
his morphine pump loosened
and drifting away, his body turning,
nerves finally cooled. Blossoms
cover his skin, their petals cocoon him.
Then my father wheels his chair
around, his face shocked with light.
He’s searching for me, water in his eyes,
my red purse ridiculous on his lap.
Last week, I was part of a poetry reading at the East Lansing Public Library. I was encouraged by the audience’s reaction to a few of my new poems. I offer them here, as a April-is-Poetry-Month salute. The audience laughed all the right places (thank you to every single one of you) and that reaction was a wake up call to me to write more funny stuff. I’m not sure that you’ll see me doing stand up comedy in the future, but I have started reading Comedy Writing Secrets and aiming toward a more humorous tone in my poems. We’ll see where it leads.
A few, unrelated Haiku
Nuthatch speeds from branch
To feeder to branch and back —
Life’s rat race displayed
Life isn’t five-seven-five
Life rhymes sometimes
Most of my exercise
Is pulling myself out of bed
To write this
— — —
FYI: A dancing madrone (below)
How You Know You’re in the Northwest
First of all, you and your car
Are in line for a ferry.
You’ve been on an island
Where time is inconsequential
And you are temporarily
Giving up all that
To make the ferry
At a certain time
The air is crisp
Even early in the afternoon sun.
A Madrone’s sensuous bar
Catches your eye
As it dances out through the wood
A sporty, older couple
In their matching caps,
Chuckling at secret jokes
A human beauty
Madrone-like in her mystery
Walks by, not really
In your sideview mirror,
You watch her stop
Putting her hand in the window
Of a stranger’s car
To pet a dog
She doesn’t know.
This goes on for a time.
You can’t keep your eyes
Off her enjoyment.
As she walks on,
— — —
A better person —
The dad we wish
The one who stops
To help the stranger
And does actually help.
One of the
Pure of heart
One of the
Type A organizers,
As least where
My desk is concerned
One of the
People who never
Need to apologize
But I do.
For all of it.
That does feel better.
Was it good for you?
Let’s get on with
— — —
I can’t tell you
How many times
I’ve been enjoying
A poem, only to look down
Or flip the page
And the great Anonymous
Was the poet
Flying under the radar
With immense humility
Anon nearly always
And Anon’s versatility —
One minute rhyming
Like a master,
The next a short
Free verse picture of life.
And timeless, my goodness,
Anon never dies.
Anonymous has a self-appointed
So my dear Anonymous
Who could be listening now,
I salute you.
On so many levels —
You are classy
In your stealth.
I am in awe of
your prolific volumes.
Maybe it’s your humble
Nature that’s kept you
Alive so long,