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.

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 ( 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

My First Day of Retirement

I woke up early like I usually do. There’s something about the stillness that gets me up. After seven hours of sleep, I don’t need to lie down anymore (until my nap).

Around 7:00 AM, I biked to Quality Dairy to get some cash. I planned on treating myself pretty well and that would take moolah.

Marv picked me up for breakfast about 8:00 AM. He retired from teaching in Owosso over a decade ago. Even though he and Peggy were leaving on a vacation that day, he offered to take me out to breakfast, so I suggested Golden Harvest in Lansing. The place has its lessons to teach: patience (be prepared to wait), accepting differences, listening while still looking around at all the crazy stuff on the walls, and appreciation for good food presented in an aesthetically pleasing manner. We only waited 10 minutes outside, but the food took over 45 minutes to come…but that’s okay since I am retired. And with a friend. I had a simple French toast, hash browns, and bacon meal (all favorites of mine) and loved it.

Here’s a link to a photo I took of Golden Harvest (that’s Marv coming out the door).

To understand my next activity, you need to know that we had been away over the long weekend. And that even before we left, the grass needed mowing.

So, yes, I mowed the grass on my first day of retirement. The grass was dry nice and early in the day and I zoomed through it. It always feels satisfying to complete a task and it was as close to “work” as I was going to get that day.

I had just enough time to take a shower and get to the highlight of my day: a full body massage. If you’ve had a massage, you may understand why I was looking forward to it so much. It’s a chance to relax, to be pampered, and to slow down. Kathie Kuhn knows what she’s doing…and she helps me be in the moment and chill out to the max.: the soft, Japanese music; choices of a variety of essential massage oils; her caring questions about what areas I needed her to focus on; her gentle, slow attention to those areas; the minimal, though personal, conversation; and unique uses of a couple, delicate, percussive instruments. It all combined to leave me pretty damn blissful. As a matter of fact, the last part of the massage ended up being my nap for the day. Bonus!

Sure, I did other things that day (a spontaneous tuna macaroni lunch at Foods for Living, continued reading Taylor Mali’s Bouquet of Red Flags poetry, and listened to a bunch of James Taylor), but that massage was what I remember most. I left it thinking that if everyone had a massage once a week and a nap daily, the world would be a better place. It’s going to be a difficult task, but I hope to make that change in the world before I leave. Any suggestions or help, should be directed to

P.S. As you can see, I made it a relaxing, fun day. It was also a nostalgic, difficult day. I found myself texting several former colleagues to keep in contact. It’s hard to have less contact with people I consider good friends. I’m sure I’ll keep in touch with many of them and that day I needed to check in. No tears were shed, but I will miss the daily banter and the supportive atmosphere.

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.

Carrying On

There’s so much to do.
There’s so much to see.
Time is an open book
Or the wind or a key.

Sure, I hear you say,
After one leaves one’s work
It’s easy to view
One’s life with a smirk.

But I mean what I say
I’m not being flip.
I retired; it’s not like
I jumped from a sinking ship.

“There’s so much to do”
Is a reference to
All the work, not the play,
That one could do each day.

Garrison has retired,
And Obama leaves soon,
I bet they won’t be found
Lazying around all afternoon.

The retiree feels the enormity
Of options for one’s time.
The myriad possibilities
Are out there…bigtime.

One could write poems that rhyme,
Songs that swing, or
Biographies that inform and enlighten,

Or one could read poems that rhyme,
Songs that swing,
And biographies that enlighten and inform.

You see what I mean?

One could practice the guitar.
And one could play and sing in a bar.
One could learn to play the bassoon
And play in a band or a saloon.

Choice is a two-edged sword
Of black and white.
A gift one looked forward to
But may not fit just right.

Choice and time together
Equal freedom of a sort.
And I hope to use them
As life’s second-half passport.

(It’s amazing what I can do with the Rhyming Dictionary…or maybe amazing isn’t the word)

P.S. Garrison Keillor’s last show on Prairie Home Companion was awesome this past Sunday. If you are up for the
complete show, click here. I suggest going to this link of individual segments of the show, however, which allows you to go right to President Obama’s phone call, one more Catchup commercial, or his last News From Lake Wobegon story.

Processing the process

Note: Somewhere along the way, this entry turned into a commencement address or ‘what I would have said at a retirement soirée’ if there was one. I wrote it over the course of the last few months, which explains why it rambles a bit.

I was not one of those kids who knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. For the first couple years of college, my major was officially “Undecided” and at one point it was “Undecided – Economics.” My cousin, Laurie, was the only practicing teacher in my extended family; she and I never really discussed her job, but knowing she made that choice opened the profession as an option (even if only subconsciously).

And now after 25 years in the profession, I am retiring. A year ago, I pondered retirement in a blog post. I mentioned that, though I had taught all those years, it felt like many jobs. In a blog post entitled “When I Retire,” I noted all my different teaching positions:

* Years 1-3, teaching high school English
* Year 4, teaching middle school English and Social Studies
* 1 1/2 year break to go back to M.S.U. and get my Masters Degree in Special Education
* Years 5-7, teaching middle school Special Education in a self-contained classroom and some co-teaching
* Year 8, teaching high school Special Education
* Years 9-10, teaching high school Special Education at a different high school (more of a Resource Room)
* Years 11-14, teaching high school Special Education at a different high school (back to a self-contained classroom)
* Years 15-17, teaching 8th grade English
* Years 18-23, teaching 7th grade English
* Year 24 (and now, Year 25), teaching 7th and 8th grade English

Moving between four school districts and back-and-forth between English and Special Education has helped the “quarter century” fly by. I realized in my mid-20’s that I could combine a love of reading and writing with a passion for working with young adults — I sincerely appreciate all four school districts (Rochester, Charlotte, Okemos, and East Lansing), all my colleagues over the years, and all of my students and their parents for the opportunity to be a teacher and to learn from each of them. It takes a village to raise a teacher and I was blest by teacher friends and by family who supported me in numerous ways. Two that come to mind right away are Joanne Hubbard and Troy Hicks. They both renewed my love of the profession when it was waning and I sincerely thank them both.

I’m leaving with some pretty good company: Calvin Johnson of the Lions, Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, Peyton Manning of the Broncos, Barack Obama, Garrison Keillor…John Brandenburg (of East Lansing High School), Sue Hulteen (of MacDonald Middle School). We didn’t all get together and decide, but I feel like we’ll always have a special bond. We knew when we could afford to turn down the millions of dollars a year and find some other — more relaxing — thing to help us pass the time (though I suppose Obama didn’t have a choice).

Some things have helped me with this transition year. Having third hour planning has helped in an odd way. Third hour is the hour that teachers read the announcements and have the students say the Pledge of Allegiance. While those are good and necessary, I have not missed them a bit. I will occasionally read the announcements myself so I know what’s going on around the school; frankly, however, I think not knowing every single thing has helped me disconnect a bit. I get plenty of e-mails with information. I know enough about what’s happening. And the pledge? It’s patriotic to recite it daily…for a few days. By the sixth month of school, it’s difficult to keep it fresh. I love this country. But I don’t miss saying the pledge everyday.

Through a scheduling fluke, I ended up eating lunch with mostly 8th grade teachers. They are wonderful folks, but they aren’t my usual eating companions; I miss eating lunch with my 7th grade teacher buddies, but it did require me to take another step back and away.

We had a snow day in February. One of the many things I did was write a countdown of school days in my planner. It was 85 days as February started and that seemed like it would take forever. As I write these words, though, we are in the teens (14 1/2) already. I had a very astute 7th grader comment that “the years fly by, but the the days sometimes last forever.” So true.

In some ways, the changes in being a teacher have sped my departure from the profession. The over-reliance on evidence-based decision-making has made us into test administrators. We spend much more time talking about testing among ourselves (reading about them, planning schedules around them, commiserating about them…) and with our students (preparing them for taking a test online, explaining new schedules, debriefing how the test went…) and it stinks. It takes away time from what we would rather be doing. It also sets an impersonal mood and takes the focus off relationships, creativity, and curiosity. I recently watched Michael Moore’s latest movie, Where to Invade Next, and part of it dealt with Finland’s amazing public school system. Finnish teachers were imploring the U.S. to stop using standardized testing and Finnish students were talking about how their no homework, shorter school day helped them learn. Finland, and other countries like France, put the curricular emphasis on nurturing healthy, happy young people and on developing critical thinkers who know how to play and make time for it — things we are straying away from, unfortunately. (I highly recommend the movie. For more information about it, read this review.)

The nice thing about being in a transition year is that I say what’s on my mind (mostly). I take a deep breath, then tell my students something to the effect of “I’m not sure why you didn’t read it off the handout or off the board or hear me say it several times, but the answer to your question is…” or “Ask someone else.” I offer several lectures a week (at no additional cost or obligation) about common sense. And about thinking before you speak or act. I’ve been the point person for several staff members, too, who have needed an honest person with nothing to lose to say something to the administration. Though I’m not always proud of it, one thing that has helped me this year is lowering my expectations…for myself and for the students; together with that extra deep breath, there’s something about cutting myself some slack and not worrying when students don’t quite reach the bar that has kept me moving along with a smile.

They do do cool stuff now and then. Zoie walks up with a smile on her face and says she signed up for my summer camp on creative writing (as did two other awesome students). Elisabeth stays after to clean up the mess left by another student. William helps also. I will miss Julia’s mature, sensitive writing style. Many make me laugh. And they don’t bug me (much) about my messy desk.

How I know it’s time…
– when I give a male student the choice of researching anyone’s life that he’s interested in learning more about and he chooses a male porn star (it didn’t happen)
– I find myself muttering under my breath too often
– my ocular migranes are increasing in frequency
– on the grumpy vs. silly scale, I’m leaning more toward the Dark Side
– students don’t listen. Don’t pay attention. Are incredibly distracted. Most students. Not all. I can say something, write it on the board, say it again, they have it on a handout in front of them…almost every time, someone will ask about it
– that book is not going to write itself; I need more time for such things

People give me ideas of what to do with my retirement. Recently, I was told that home-school organizations are always looking for teachers. Many districts need substitute teachers I’m told (not going to happen). And tutors make good money from what I hear. I’ve been told to travel a bunch. Many people predict my “honey do” list will get increasingly longer and longer. They say I’ll be more busy after retirement than when I was working full-time (though this last list of folks probably just has trouble saying ‘no’). I may try one of those ideas, but I’ve really enjoyed looking at all the possibilities; this next stage of my life feels akin to the high school and college graduates I know as they embark toward whatever’s next. Students I taught in middle school reminded me (in the ELHS commencement addresses) to “pursue my dreams” and “be innovative.” I’ve appreciated these events with a fresh, personal perspective and I’ve felt quite inspired by them.

It’s also been an emotional year for me. I tear up often, over crazy stuff: that last time, 6th hour, when I closed The Giver for the last time in front of my students; unexpectedly seeing Thia and her smile on my walk home; seeing Alex return after being gone for a long time for personal issues…and our hug; seeing Berkley’s name in a Literature book and thinking about the several, unique girls I have known with that name over the years. I’ve been on the verge daily. As joyous and giddy as I feel at times, I also get pretty choked up. Not a regretful feeling — I just know I’ll miss this great profession. I may need to do some of that tutoring after all. And I’m sure I will be writing about the next steps I take, whatever they are.


Highlighting Poetry in April

I challenged myself and my students to read or write a poem everyday in April. I’m not necessarily going to share every poem I write, but at the end, I will share the poems I read — and I’ll share some of the poems I write. Here’s one from this morning…


I saw a former student
Who reminded me
That her sister currently
Has me in class.
She said,
“You’re her favorite student!”

And I wanted to correct her
But I just accepted
The compliment
Because to be a student’s
Favorite student

Makes me seem wise

But as she was walking away
She said,
“And that’s so ironic”
Which I realized
Moments later
Really meant
That the sister I was speaking to
Didn’t like me as a teacher

(Maybe because she felt
She hadn’t taught me anything)

But that didn’t negate
The compliment
From her sister.

So yeah.


A Virtual Journey with Real People

Every time Troy Hicks suggests I try something new, I hesitate briefly. For over 10 years, he has been nudging me forcefully out of my comfort zone. My instincts make me consider and re-consider the work that will go into the next “opportunity,” but ultimately I just trust the guy. I find myself saying “yes” to Troy most of the time because the pay-offs have far exceeded my expectations over the years. And so it was with agreeing to be a facilitator at the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing (4T means Teachers Teaching Teachers about Technology).

Through some emails with Delia Decourcey of Oakland Schools, I learned what signing onto this project entailed:
“The commitment for professional learning is 5 Virtual Sessions between August 3 and October 2, plus 2 hours of additional virtual work/collaboration time for session facilitators and moderators.
Dates and times of sessions:
Session 1 – Thursday, August 6 from 10am-12pm
Session 2 – Thursday, August 13 from 10am-1pm
Session 3 – Tuesday, August 18 from 10am-1pm
Session 4 – flexible scheduling for talk through start-stop of webinar (90 min)
Session 5 – Saturday, October 3 from 10am-12:30pm
Present one hour webinar at the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing on Oct 11-14”

For this investment of time, I would receive $300 and 14 free SCECH hours. I would be learning a new skill, practicing the skill, getting coaching to improve, and getting paid to do it all. The time commitment listed above does not include the hours I would put into creating the webinar, of course. As it turned out, however, this was just the opportunity I was looking for, so I jumped on board.

I had been on a webinar panel before, but never led one myself. I had also written on a blackboard years ago, but never used the online, webinar creator called Blackboard Collaborate. It had even been a couple years since I had taken a course. I came to understand, though, that I was in good hands. The folks at Oakland Schools had done this before and worked out the bugs; they were organized and thorough, competent and patient. In addition, I would be presenting with the aid of a moderator. Knowing that I had a wing-man who knew his way around Blackboard and technology in general, lessened my stress level right away. Craig was solid and I literally could not have done it without him (partly because I would have gone crazy trying to keep track of the chat room).

This whole 4T experience strengthened my understanding of what it takes to facilitate a webinar. I’m confident that I could handle the creation and leading of a webinar — possibly with some coaching help and/or a chat room moderator. They gave me the tools and the time to work out my concerns (Did I struggle? You betcha. Did I consider giving up? Yes sir. I ended up trusting that I would figure it out and not make a complete idiot of myself. Mostly true.) I see all that goes into a webinar and, to be honest, I’m not sure I want to lead another webinar in the near future. I like the interactivity that blackboard allows participants, but the whole experience is a bit impersonal. Too distant and detached for me as a teacher (and as a learner). It may be the next wave of teaching opportunities, but I’m not completely on board. I would much rather deal with airport security and go to a conference to present (and you may have heard me rant about airport security before). It could be that I just need a break from thinking about webinaring (is that a word?) for awhile. Maybe with time, I’ll feel like jumping in again. It was rewarding to get positive feedback on my presentation; the topic seemed to resonate with several of the attendees.

Here’s a link to the webinar I presented called “Helping Students See Their Own Growth Through Digital Writing.” Webinars on other digital writing topics are on the page and even more are listed under the tab,’Conference Archive.’ I recommend taking the time to check out some that sound interesting to you.

Bonus video: A stunning Milky Way and Northern Lights display

That Poem I Promised You

Let me preface this poem with a bit of an explanation. A couple blog entries ago, I wrote about my time in South Dakota at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It was a powerful, moving experience that, like many important moments in my life, I needed some extra time to more fully reflect upon. A few days ago, this poem popped out of my head/heart/hand in the wee hours of the day. It might be about my experience in a sweat lodge from South Dakota (read more about what that is in my July 23rd entry). Or it might be about being born. Or it could be about being re-born. Or maybe it’s about all those things.

“If I Had Words”

Never Forget and Always Be Thankful

For years, I have meant to read a book by Chris Bohjalian. He has become a well known author and is Armenian (like me). Besides a few early poems, I had not delved completely into one of his works until now. I found the audio version of The Sandcastle Girls (follow the link for short reviews and a deeper plot summary) at the library and began listening to it in the car a few days ago.


I chose the book, partly, because it deals with The Armenian Genocide quite directly. This is the centennial of those horrific events that my four grandparents survived, but from which more than a million Armenians perished at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. The story deals more with the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees, like my grandparents, that were scattered from Turkey throughout the world as a result of the killings. It’s a gripping book, that actually had my eyes filling with tears before I was two hours down the road.

My emotional reaction came mostly from being able to connect what was happening in the story with what I have been told about the genocide (as well as from Bohjalian’s excellent writing style). It’s been awhile since I read Peter Balakian’s Black Dog of Fate (a must-read on the topic) and I think Bohjalian’s characters seem fairly real to me because several of their names are the same as my relatives: Armen, Annie, Nehvart, Garo, and Taleen.

I am proud to be Armenian and enjoy the food, dances, snippets of the language I remember, and the other facets of our culture. I am, however, quite disconnected from the Detroit Armenian community. My extended family keeps me informed of bazaars, which we attend from time to time. Two things that have united the Armenian community for as long as I can remember are to never forget the genocide that our ancestors experienced and to always be thankful for every aspect of our current lives. I was unable to attend a centennial service in Livonia this week, but I heard that those two aspects were emphasized. It was the first time that five different Armenian churches had come together and according to my family members was an emotional and powerful experience.

This year, I felt compelled to share the story of the genocide with my 7th and 8th grade English classes. After reading the book and seeing so much in the news about the 100th year remembrance, I thought they might be interested. I was pleased that they were surprised and curious about it once they knew the basics. They bombarded me with questions and I did my best to answer them. I hope that our short discussion got them talking about it at home and sparks their curiosity about that time in history (check out the additional resources at the end of this post if you are also curious), as well as their own background (which many of them don’t know).

Years ago, I wrote the following poem and it’s been hard to find a way to say it any better; the Sandcastle Girls inspired an additional stanza in the middle.

A Hope Unspoken

Dedicated to my grandparents:
Mardiros and Kagazig Godoshian and Giragos and Annig Kabodian

Sometimes I forget
they lived with the pain of their parents’ murders
no safety net,
no example, no peace
life was of their making
with a daily pain remembered

Sometimes I forget
they were so young and came so far
it could have been any place
but they settled here
led to this more perfect place

Sometimes I forget
they spoke from their hearts
but were not understood
for their words were foreign
this new land distrustful

Sometimes I crave water
but I don’t really know thirst
And I’m exhausted at the end of the day
but my day has never been
A torturous walk into barren lands
at the beckoning of a gun

Sometimes I forget
they coped with little
provided for many
complained minimally
praised the Lord

They laughed, sang, danced, hugged
with a hope unspoken:
my life

Additional Resources:

* Read the prologue to The Sandcastle Girls on Amazon — click on the link on the left that says “look inside” or “listen.”

* 100 years, 100 facts — An amazing storehouse of information related to the causes and effects of the genocide

* A beautiful, musical/artistic video representation of the genocide

* Turkish Foreign Minister on CNN attempts to give Turkish side

* Excellent NPR story on the last Armenian village in Turkey

* Katie Couric’s report on the Armenian Genocide

* AGBU (Armenian General Benevolent Union) News Magazine online

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?