Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What's Eating You?

"If something is eating you, you got to find a way to use it," said the art teacher from the movie  Speak. This got me to thinking about just what is eating me (because something is) and how I can use it. 

So I have been sending out resumes for the career field I chose since February of 2011, and proceeded to spend 120,000$ on the education needed for said career. It is now March of 2014 and, countless resumes and cover letters and "no thank yous" later, I am still searching. Now granted I am not the only one, and English majors are a quarter per dozen (inflation,) and I know that I would have a job if I was, say a Physics major with a minor in biochemistry. I also know that "rejection is God's protection." But I am also tired of not being able to support myself. So that is what is eating me. So how can I use this frustration / anger / uncertainty / apathy that is beginning to eat away at my stomach lining? Create something would appear to be the answer. As a writer my impulse is to grab a pen and create a sonnet, or possibly a haiku. But I also know that mucking around in the bog of complex emotions won't get me far. I have prayed, I have shared, I have knit hats, I have written poems and blog posts. The act of creating is cathartic, but if a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? If the resulting creation is not shared or read or seen, does it exist? 

Today a motivational speaker / life coach came into school to speak with students in our internship program. He talked about just how much we really don't know about the world and how there is a perfect career path for all of us. He had us break down what we loved about our jobs (the students, their internships) and what we don't want in our workplace. He went on to explain that sometimes we can find meaningful work in the unexpected places. I want to be a teacher, but if I were to break that career down into pieces, I would need work that involves teaching, collaboration, creating and connecting the dots. It would involve working with young people (not too young) and it would be a new adventure everyday. I would have autonomy and creative license, I would use my research skills frequently and I would have opportunities for reading and writing. Now a classroom teacher is one way to go. But maybe I am missing something. Maybe in that space of limbo I am meant to cast a wider net. Maybe the frustration / anger / uncertainty / apathy is lurking for good reason. I don't know. But I know that I don't know and I guess, just for today, that is enough.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Halfway Point: Poem a Day

On the first day of this month I began the ”poem a day” experiment. After all, it is March, cold, slushy, and dreary. I needed a pick me up, an attitude adjustment per se. So I set out to write one poem per day for the entire month, thirty-one days total. I am now halfway through this experiment.

Days one and two, the challenge is on my I write.

Day four, I forget until 8 pm while I am watching tv. I composed a haiku about the cat with her tail in my face, quickly onto the only paper I had near me, my organizer. The poem sucked, but it took me out of my tv-induced stupor. Maybe it accessed a different part of my brain, not sure. But the process of sitting down, opening my notebook and picking up a pen is therapeutic for me. The brain has to concentrate on the process and in effect it forgets the current worry or anxiety plaguing it. The thoughts  turn from the late student loan payment to writing. Perhaps this is a form of positive reinforcement. I am thinking of my dog now, distracting her with a piece of cheese, long enough to walk by the neighbor’s hairy beast. That is what I do with my brain when I write, here cerebral cortex, look, yummy words, now forget that pesky Sallie Mae.

Last week I went to a reading of young women high school students' work. Before reading, each student’s respective teacher would introduce and let the audience known why each girl enjoyed writing. “Creating something beautiful out of nothing,” was one response, “entering another world,” another. So the question arose: Why do I write? Maybe I write to escape that part of my brain consumed with fear and worry. When I  am engrossed in writing a short story I do not worry about the bills or how I am going to get all of the house clean before the guests arrive. I connect with something that is not ego (most of the time.) Some folks have said that ego is edging god out. Maybe when I write I am connecting to god. Writing for me is part of a spiritual practice.

Day 8, I have nothing to write about. I am covering a math class and see a poster on the wall. I write a horrid little poem, entitled “Polygnomials.” Really it is about polynomials, but I am still clueless. I felt as if I was reaching for words that didn’t feel like coming out to play. But I fulfilled the goal, it was after all a poem, just not a very good one. 

Day 15, I take a poetry workshop and am re-energized. I want to write today, I guess that was all I was asking for at the beginning of the month. I want to go through the first 16 poems and scratch out all of the crap poems (as if I am any judge.) But the crap poems serve a purpose, they waved the cheese in front of my nose, they whispered to me, calling me out from the closet, the easy land-into-bed-and-watch-mindless-tv-trap. So tomorrow will be the 17th day, it takes 28 days to change a habit. Can I slip into a habit of daily writing? My soul would benefit. 

Group Poetry

I took a very cool Poetry and Play workshop yesterday, with Lisken Van Pelt Dus, as part of March's Berkshire Women Writers Festival. The following was an exercise we did in the workshop. This poem consisted of six lines. For each line we would receive  word from the person sitting next to us. We then would give a word to our neighbor. The result was an individual poem, but we took it a step further. In a circle each woman would read a line, in order, from one to six. The result, was a group poem. As we had shared words, the poems created through this activity were cohesive. As each of the six lined contains a "gift" word, I consider this to belong to the group.

The streets are crowded
this morning. Angry faces
peer out from store-front
windows. Dogs scavenge for
bones in trash barrels lining
the sidewalks.

Sometimes the future looks
bleak from behind dirt-paned
glass. A little girl scatters
blueberries as she walks,
barefoot in the summer sun.

I can just make out her
calloused heels as she disappears
around the corner, never
to be seen again.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Children are not data

     The following is a question I encountered while applying for a teaching position in  Holyoke. Needless to say,  I won't be called for an interview. I am posting my response. And the lack of punctuation is not my error, but theirs. 

       Please tell us three pieces of data that you monitor in order to plan and deliver differentiated instruction. Your answer should include why you believe that these data points are significant  

It saddens me that you ask for me to provide three pieces of data instead of three ways in which I engage my students. Instead of answering your question I will instead answer the following question: How do you engage your students so that they are invested in their education? I know that you will toss my resume out, but I feel that it is more important for my students to leave my classroom with the desire to learn more, as opposed to becoming a piece of data. Don’t get me wrong, I do track the effectiveness of my lessons. But as this is the only glance you will have of me, I would rather share my love of literature and my desire to find literature that speaks to my students as individuals. Literature teaches empathy. It lets us know that we aren’t alone in this world. If students can relate to what they are reading, it might foster a desire to read more. Now I do live in the real world, I know that not all students will read, not all students can read well. Some have to work to make ends meet, others have made it so far without learning. But I have seen students from different backgrounds fully engaged in a discussion while reading Looking For Alaska, by John Green. I watched students who had previously left a book untouched, engrossed in Green’s words. The book was relatable.  Data is not important to me. A student’s ability to connect a book to their own life, to compare and contrast, to think for themselves, these are the things that are important to me.  Each student is unique, each has a learning style, and what is important is that I know my students as individuals, that I connect with them, that I vary my lessons so that I include as many learning styles as I can. I want students to be able to walk out of my classroom and be able to answer larger questions, to think through issues and to argue different viewpoints. That is what I will strive for as a teacher, not whether my data points are significant. So I hope that you find the perfect applicant for this position. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014


I need to write today.
maybe it is because
I bought this purple 
pen, or maybe I wish
to hear the scratch
of ink on paper, the 
"swish" of my hand
trailing across the page.

What would happen if
I changed colors halfway
through this poem?
Would I continue writing?
Or would the words
seem to float off the
page - vanished.

I can't go back - I
could continue in blue
or pick up the purple
pen yet again.
What does it matter?
The poem is still here
on the page.

So many times I just
don't know what to do.
Does it matter? After
all, color is color, the
purple ink reminds
me of Spring - Easter
baskets and Sunday
dresses handmade by mom. 

Blue conjures the ocean
on a sunny day - always
near Provincetown.
In both memories I am 
But I need to get it write (right).

If I am to use permanent 
ink, colored no less -
If I am to press the pen
into this blank page -
running my hand along
the smooth sheet,
maybe I can sit back
and enjoy the colors,
the memories evoked
and allow myself the
right to choose
either shade.