I was looking for encouragement, browsing through the books in my office (instead of cleaning it). Here’s a poem I happened upon from a book called Poems To Live By In Uncertain Times:
Let us remember Spring will come again
To the scorched, blackened woods, where the
Wait, with their old wise patience for the
Sure of the sky: sure of the sea to send its healing breeze,
Sure of the sun. And even as to these
Surely the Spring, when God shall please,
Will come again like a divine surprise
To those who sit today with their great Dead, hands in
their hands, eyes in their eyes,
At one with love, at one with Grief: blind to the scattered
things and changing skies.
By Charlotte Mew
Being naturally curious, I wanted to know more about this poet who was new to me. Her biography is quite interesting.
You can learn about the World War I context of the poem, hear the poem read aloud, and read an analysis of the poem at this website. I’m sorry to say that I could not capture the exact form of this poem due to the odd formatting of this edublogs editor.
Something about that poem spoke to me. Maybe it was the hopefulness. The repetitive reminder that even in dark times (winter’s cold darkness, 45 and the gang, climate change…), Spring exists around the corner. Deep in the midst of our crazy lives, we need that reassurance sometimes — I do, anyway.
Singing also fills me with hope. Many times, I have willed myself to go to choir rehearsal. Even though the choir members and conductor are like a second family, sometimes I’m not in the mood to rehearse. However, I’m always filled up by singing. I always come out of rehearsal with my spirits filled and a song on my lips and heart. I sing with the Earl Nelson Singers and we sing this Saturday, February 18 at Bethel Seventh Day Adventist Church, which is 4817 Bristol Road (off Reo Road near the corner of Jolly and MLK) in Lansing. We are singing what I think is a very uplifting lineup of spirituals and gospel music:
WALK TOGETHER CHILDREN
I’VE BEEN ‘BUKED
AINT A THAT GOOD NEWS
KING JESUS IS A LISTENIN’
JUST TELL JESUS
WHEN YOU WANT TO TALK TO JESUS
JUST A LITTLE TALK WITH JESUS
UNDER HIS WINGS
I LOVE THE LORD
I BELIEVE (From the Gospel Mass)
LIFT EV’RY VOICE AND SING
Feel free to join us that morning!
Verna Holley, our director, just produced a new CD entitled “In a Time of Trouble” which is very comforting. It is made up of 15 hymn arrangements and is just beautiful. She may have some copies with her on Saturday.
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.
(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.
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.
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.”
If you want to borrow my copy of his memoir, Chronicles, email me (email@example.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.
When you love something, you find a way to do it — dancers dance, singers sing, jugglers juggle, writers write, and readers read. I love all of those things, but I make time to read more often than most anything. And I have hundreds of books. I surround myself with books. I’ll admit that there’s a certain comfort in being in the midst of books; safety in the sheer number of stories and information potentially at my fingertips. I feel more alive being within hands-reach of all that thought, feeling, creativity, and knowledge (which may account for my recently getting a job at Schuler Books…Eastwood location!). However, it’s more about the reading than the having.
I consider myself to be an advocate for books. Both having them and reading them. I subscribe to the notion that people tend to read if there are good books around. All teachers and students benefit from having some sort of classroom library, all family members benefit from have a family library that morphs as children become teens and then adults. Books just accumulate in this house. They come from friends and family, from book sales, from students, from bookstores, from being found, from libraries, and other more mysterious places over time. When they start piling up on the floor, it’s time to buy a bookshelf or give away a few. When I was teaching, I would horde books so that my classroom library had a bit of everything. I didn’t want students telling me they couldn’t find a book they wanted to read from my room or the library. They needed choices and I was there to provide them.
To some extent, I’m still like that. I’ve given many boxes of books away over the last few months. Some to book sales and some to individuals that I thought would like to read the book. There’s a Little Free Library down the street from me and I have been supplying it with books for months; I really need to put one up in our yard/garden soon. When we were in Seattle this past summer, I was pleasantly surprised to see many Little Free Libraries in the Greenwood neighborhood where Rachel and Robbie live. I wonder if that would work in East Lansing? I’m all about getting books in the hands of readers, that is, you. I hope to catalog all of my books and start my own library…bookstore?…but until then, if you need/want/desire a book, feel free to stop by our house. Find a book you like and it’s yours. No charge. (No book report due on Monday either.) After you read it, give it to a friend.
In recent months, I’ve read (and recommend):
The Alchemist, by Paolo Coela
Inheritance by Christopher Paolini
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Golf and the Spirit (finished after many months of reading it sporadically in the john) by M. Scott Peck
Bouquet of Red Flags, by Taylor Mali
Michigan: Four Seasons, by Bob Rentschler
Strength to Love (digital version at archive.org), by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Neither Wolf, Nor Dog by Kent Nerburn
What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self, Edited by Ellyn Spragins
Social Thinking at Work: A Guidebook for Understanding and Navigating the Social Complexities of the Workplace, by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke
The Yes magazine
Saturday, Oct. 1, the East Lansing Public Library re-opens after renovation. Festivities all afternoon.
Sunday, Oct. 2, the 64th Michigan Antiquarian Book and Paper Show. 9:30 am. – 5:00 pm at the Lansing Center in Lansing. $5 admission (children 13 and under are free)
Sunday, Oct. 9, the CROPWALK in Lansing. I’ll be walking. Add your support at my page.
Friday, Oct. 21 – Sunday, Oct. 23, the People’s Church Men’s Retreat, Conversations about Race. $100 (includes five meals and lodging) or $75 just for the program on Saturday.
January 1, 2016
I’ve been getting messages lately that my life is too cluttered. I’m having trouble finding things (more than usual) like my guitar music and my copies of Where the Sidewalk Ends and Ego-Tripping and Other Poems. The piles of stuff are taking over on my desk at home and at school (more than usual). And then there are the direct messages from Judy that I have too many piles around the house. It’s true. I also have (mostly hidden) boxes and bags of assorted stuff both at home and at school; it all seemed important to keep at some point, but the time has come to let it go (at least most of it).
So, I’m making a New Year’s resolution to clean out. I used that Schuler’s Books gift card from a student (thanks Sophia!) and bought the best-selling book by Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
By page 15, I already felt like I was in therapy with someone trying to push me to do things I wasn’t quite ready to do…but that I felt in my heart to be true. For example, “People cannot change their habits without first changing their way of thinking.” Sounds like therapy to me. Here’s another taste of how tricky this endeavor will be: “Unbelievable as it may sound, you only have to experience a state of perfect order once to be able to maintain it. All you need to do is take the time to sit down and examine each item you own, decide whether you want to keep or discard it, and then choose where to put what you keep.”(30) EACH ITEM? Yes, each item. She says to “take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.”(41)
On the surface, her plan makes sense. Until I look around and remind myself how many “things” I own.
In a particular order, by the way. I’m to start with clothes, then books, papers, miscellany (komono in Japanese), and then finally things with sentimental value. Reading this book is like hanging out with some overly organized person for which I would usually have no patience. I seem to be able to tolerate her ideas for a couple reasons: I realize I need to “tidy up” and I can shut the book and walk away from time to time.
I haven’t actually started to clean out. And I wonder when I will have the time to go through each item I own. But the important part seems to be to start.
I read The Story of Stuff and watched the videos. My goals always include being more organized. I recycle many times a day. Simplifying makes sense to me. So why haven’t I done it?
January 27, 2016
I started on the journey. I cleaned out the clothes in my drawers and my hanging shirts. It’s a small step, but it felt freeing to get rid of a bunch of stuff. I threw away or gave away more than I would have before reading the book, but I wouldn’t call it a deep clean. I need to keep at it; next step…pants, sweaters, and then summer clothes. It helps that Judy is on board, too. She’s throwing away things left and right.
In a perfect world, I would somehow be able to go to every conference that I want to attend. I would go into my backyard and pick hundred dollar bills off my dollar tree and mail them in. I would suspend time and be in two places at once (family and the conference or work and the conference…). Back in the real world, though, none of that happens and I end up going to one day of a conference (and finding a way to avoid paying registration all together), instead of attending two, back-to-back two-day conferences in the same city.
Though I’ve attended the MACUL conference before, I decided to skip it this year. Part of my reasoning was that I had been asked to present a Tech Talk at the MRA conference the next day. I like the informal nature of Tech Talks and my ego convinced me that I had something to say. Both conferences were in Grand Rapids, MI, and I’m sure I could have benefited from the speakers, the presenters, and the teaching ideas from both conferences. I decided to just attend the one day of MRA that I was presenting, however, after two things happened: my wallet and my wife both spoke to me about it in their own ways. My wife talks in her sleep sometimes and I swear she said “Enough is enough” while she slept the other night. I took that to mean that I needed to be around more (what else could it have meant, really?). Then, when I was totaling up the cost of the two conferences and reached for my wallet to pay for them, my wallet fell off the table onto the floor as if it was trying to run away.
All of which brings my day at the MRA conference. I was fortunate to hear RJ Palacio, the author of Wonder, speak to the general session of over 500 teachers. Even before that, though, she signed her book for me and I was able to tell her personally how much I enjoyed reading it (and that Maddie, one of my students, recommended it to me); she seemed very pleased by this.
She wrote “Choose Kind” in my book; if you haven’t read Wonder yet (and you really should read it), that’s a reference to one of the main themes of the book, which is if you have to choose between being right and being kind, choose kind. Her talk was partly about how she went from being a successful graphic artist to being a writer and partly about the impact the book has had on people. I wish I could have videoed the whole talk, but I did take a few photos that tell part of the story.
Captions for the following photos (top to bottom): These are the post-it notes she wrote to herself about the idea for the book; a classroom of students who read her book, holding it up; a blog for the book and its twitter handle, #choosekind
I presented on the subject of “Using Wikis as Digital Writing Portfolios” at my Tech Talk; I also spent some time at the other Tech Talks: Mark Raffler shared some Common Core Resources at the MAISA website; Jeremy Hyler explained a free website that has a myriad of recent, informational articles which students or teachers can adjust reading levels to match students’ levels; and Dan Polleys shared some iPad apps
The only session I attended was led by my friends, Troy Hicks and Jeremy Hyler. They have written a new book called Create, Compose, Connect: Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools. Their session was about teaching students how to argue by showing them the nuts and bolts of the process. I found their talk very interesting and went out and bought the book. I plan to incorporate their ideas into an upcoming, cross-curricular unit with the Science classes.
All of that was less than one full day at a conference. Unless you’ve been to a conference lately, you may not realize how the rewards outweigh the costs in so many ways. Between the excellent speakers, the relevant information, and the connections with new and old friends, conferences are well worth the time, energy, and expense. I hope you seriously consider attending a conference the next chance you get.
That was last week and the following is my upcoming week.
This Tuesday and Wednesday, I’ll be proctoring a pilot of the Smarter Balanced test. Though students can take a practice test, I’m pretty sure most won’t take the time. This is the first online standardized test I will have ever administered and their first one to take. It surprised me that one student said she would be absent those days since she was opting out of the test; I didn’t think that that option was well known. We’ve prepared for proctoring the test as well as we could have and I hope it goes well (computers cooperate, we explain the procedures clearly, students understand the directions and do their best, etc.).
On Wednesday night, I’m flying to Washington D.C. to attend the National Writing Project Spring Meeting. I’ll be one of two teacher representatives from Red Cedar Writing Project which is located at Michigan State University. We’ll be speaking with Senate and Congressional aides and asking them to fund our writing project and its programs. I’m excited (and a bit nervous) about this opportunity. Be assured, I plan to blog about it.
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.
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
The days are too short.
It’s a miracle that I can get the stuff done that I need to get done. But then there’s the whole list of things I “want” to do which I add to my days…somehow. And I want to read. I was born curious. I’m beginning to think that somewhere along the way I have combined my natural curiosity with a variation of Attention Deficit Disorder; my short attention span is fueled/drugged by a plethora of interesting information and promising fiction. For example, I can honestly say that right now I am reading nine books (that’s not counting a few newspapers and magazines). It’s a ridiculous number…and yet I choose to do it because I love to do it.
Here’s what I’m reading these days:
> The Measure of a Man, by Gene Getz — The current, thought-provoking text for our weekly Men’s group at church.
> Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Volume One — An amazing, autobiographical look into the singer/songwriter’s passionate life journey. It reads like poetry.
> Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart by Patricia Donegan — I’m reading one haiku a night as medicine for my soul.
> The New, Complete Joy of Home Brewing, by Charlie Papazian — I’m really just skimming this text so that I have something quasi-competent to say when I attend my He-Brews Men’s group (that’s right, it’s a play on words…a bunch of Christian guys teaching each other how to brew beer).
> Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle — I just started this book, which I checked out of the library. It came highly recommended from a friend who knows of my love-hate relationship with technology.
> Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh — Also recommended by a good friend, this book is probably helping me the most right now: to slow down, to be in the moment, to center, to be authentically me.
> Operation Falcon by Abby Seal — Last week, one of my students gave me a copy of a book she published. After my shock subsided, I congratulated her, shared how excited and impressed I was, and vowed to read it as soon as possible. The fact that I have students who write in their free time re-energizes me for teaching. It’s darn encouraging to know that some of my students choose to share their thoughts publicly (including on our class wiki) without worrying about a “grade.” She published it using a site called createspace.
> Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer’s Journey by Daniel Keyes — I have taught Flowers for Algernon for several years, but this book by the author is giving me insights I plan to share with my current students.
> Anne Lamont’s Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith — I open this book randomly from time to time and it continues to connect to my life in profound ways.
I may write more about a couple of them at some point, but I am glad I don’t have to write a “book report” about each one. I consider myself a life-long learner these days, which is a fancy way of saying I get to choose what I read from the recommendations of friends, family, colleagues, and the media. And no due dates or book reports. (though at some point soon, I will be taking an actual class to keep my teaching certification…)
Recently, I was asked what I am currently reading. I am an occasional contributor to the I-Anthology with a group of writing teachers across the country. I couldn’t decide which book to share, so I didn’t get into their digital recommendation video. Bill Moyers, of the Moyers and Company television show, also has been thinking about book recommendations lately. His viewers submitted a list of Book Recommendations for President Obama that is interesting. That same link has other book lists: Required Reading list for Americans; Most Challenged books; Bill’s recommended books; and Bill’s Summer Books list.
So many books, so little time. I’ll throw in one more list — a couple years ago, my students created an alphabetical list of book reviews they had written. It’s helpful if you are interested in delving into some of the best Young Adult fiction out there. Whatever list you use, please stop reading this blog and pick up a book. Use your right to read and think…while we still have it.