Friday, September 25, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
After class, I decided to unwind by playing an online game a couple of friends enticed me into, called Mafia Wars. It's a sleezy little game that reinforces stereotypes, but it's fun. In about an hour, I was able to knock off several bad guys, including a neighborhood don, complete some assassinations with baseball bats and revolvers and increase my income by about $15,000. Then, I bought some land and added a deli to increase my monthly "take."
So, back to my affinity for my students. They bring me out into the world, just when my world seems to be making no sense whatsoever. The past two months, I've dealt with some health issues that have left my head spinning and my heart jumping. Reminds me of playing
Things are not always what they appear to be.
So, why not lay aside worry about that over which I have no control and, for an hour and fifteen minutes, two nights a week, try to make a class predictable and conducive for students learning to write.
Speaking of students and guerilla warfare, one of my favorite poems is "The Colonel," by Carolyn Forche, a piece about an El Salvadoran guerilla army leader whose brutal tactics illustrate the nature of warfare, its violations of human rights by torture and body dismemberment.
What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, (Line Removed by Jane). He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.
Well, I've had my ears to the ground lately, and it seems my crime family, in Mafia Wars, has endured an onslaught of attacks in the past few days. Perhaps it's someone who doesn't like English teachers.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Along with being good for us, play is a gesture at the world, at others who share it with us. When others are playful, they are trying to engage with us in a positive, healing way. And, it's natural to do this--just look at the way the pink hibiscus in this picture seems to reach across the screen to elicit appreciation for its beauty and anticipation of the new flowers that have yet to open their petals.
This Is Just To Say
If nature is vibration, aren't we close to a meditative state when we play and sing to the world with joy, like children.
Monday, July 27, 2009
In a similar way, friendships stand up under all sorts of conditions--rain, sun, changes in seasons. At least most of mine have. I tend to choose friends who are stable, down-to-earth, unaltering souls who don't surprise me much. Sure, I like the spontaneous, fun-loving, changable folk as well, but my favorite friends allow themselves to be predictable in my eyes. I'm often the daredevil, the strong outgoing person of the pair. This is the dynamic I prefer in a friendship because it grounds me, the way a storm restores energy to the earth.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
About two weeks ago, I spent the weekend with my brother and sister-in-law in San Antonio, where my brother Jack, production manager for the local PBS station, is working on a documentary about the Riverwalk extension. Between he and my sister-in-law, a local library administrator, I got an insider's tour, full of history and some facts that only local residents would be aware of.
It was dusk in the King William District when walked down to the dark- green river. I made several pictures of bridges and sent them to my cell phone buddies. The humidity-haze that nearly kissed the banks of the river, broken by low ground lights, created a romantic setting, like one might see in a Hollywood version of a Jayne Eyre movie. Except this was Texas.
Now that we're talking about fish, here's my favorite Marianne Moore poem.
the crow-blue muscle-shells, one keeps
adjusting the ash-heaps;
opening and shutting itself like
The barnacles which encrust the side
of the wave, cannot hide
there, for submerged shafts of the
split like spun
glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
into the crevices------
in and out, illuminating
of bodies. The water drives a wedge
of iron through the iron edge
of the cliff; whereupon the stars,
rice-grains, ink . . .
bespattered jellyfish, crabs like green
lillies and submarine
toadstools, slide each on the other.
marks of abuse are present on this
all the physical features of
of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and
hatchet strokes, these things stand
out on it; the chasm-side is
Evidence has proved that it can live
on what cannot revive
The sea grows old in it.
Sorry for the bad formatting--anyone who's read this work knows the lines should be staggered. Anyway, along with its spot-on imagery (Moore was a biologist), reading the poem aloud should give you the experience of movement. I like it paired with the photograph.
But, we're neither fishing for poetry here nor swimming, so let's move along. The next day, my sister-in-law, Natalie, and I went on an eleven kilometer Volksmarch that circled the Riverwalk, and I can't imagine we missed any section. Descending the stone-covered stairs, we entered an engineered, walled, bejeweled community below-street-level. At the bottom of the stairs, I felt like I was crossing a line in time and space, entering a place which was very different from the world overhead. Of course it's intended to evoke that feeling, so tourists will relax, have fun and spend money. Although a little contrived, it was stunningly pretty, with flower-filled alcoves, hand-carved benches, rock covered stairs leading to imagined locations, lovely hotels with balconies, vine-covered edifices, statues, arts malls, and restaurants with margarita-sipping customers, who glowed as they sat mist sprayers. Then, there was a lovely outdoor theater, with a grass-covered seating area.
But, it was hot. Very hot. Humid and hot.
I wanted to throw myself into the river and swim back to the finish line. Would I be able to make it without taking the plunge?
Natalie and I carried bottles of water and, at one point, I resorted to pouring mine down my back, just to get a little cooler. (And, to get wet!) Finally, we stopped to sit on a tiled concrete bench that seemed to grow out of the sidewalk. I took this picture of Natalie--doesn't she have an aqualine look about her?
Guess I'm writing (or swimming) in circles here, so will end this story by invoking the philosophical (rhetorical) point: A fish doesn't know it lives in water until it's thrown onto the beach.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
This fourth of July holiday, our nation is engaged in war. War has been a troublesome story in my life as my dad is a retired Air Force officer and pilot, who flew in three wars (WWII, Korean and Vietnam). As the teenage daughter of a colonel (and a member of the peace, not war movement), I took it as my personal mission to make his life miserable (he was my step-dad and I didn't need much reason to torture him), by questioning everything he believed to be true about the threat of Communism, the Cold War, and his need to protect our country.
But, forty years later, my views of war aren't so rigid--I worry about the civilians on both sides of every conflict. I worry, war is a gesture at the world that engages us with other human beings in a horribly sad and negative way. But, I no longer hate those who declare and participate in it.
Following the attack on the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001, our nation declared war. Mostly, I don't know how to think about that and tend to respond with mixed feelings of nationalism and fear. Fear that we've thrown down a gauntlet, crossed a line in the sand from which we might never return. It troubles me deeply, but I have no particular insight nor wisdom to pass along about it, so will, instead, share a hero story about a young boy who found himself in a very dangerous position on that morning.
Tom Nellen, the son of a good friend, was seven years old and in the second grade at PS 234 in NYC when two airplanes flew into the towers. His father, Ted Nellen, had just dropped him off and was heading uptown, by train, to teach his own class when he was notified of the attack.
(Read Ted's story here http://www.tnellen.org/wtc/911.html )
Just after the first plane hit the tower, Ted's cell phone rang and he got the message. He writes, "I turned around and saw an image I didn't believe. Then the second plane hit. I was in shock and was panicked that my son was down there and I was uptown." So, he turned back toward Toms' school, which, he later learned, had been evacuated. After a few hours, Ted found his son, and brought him to safety.
The crux on this hero story is what happened during the evacuation, as Tom, his classmates and teachers fled the blast. The words of Tom's teacher, Mary Jacob, speak of the horror, as they ran away from the blast. She told "Newsweek" reporters she was frightened that they might not be able to escape, and "didn't think she could outrun the thick cloud of blackness roiling toward them; when her legs gave out, she let go of his [Tom's] little hand and told him to run.
'God forbid something was to happen, I didn't want it to happen to him she recalls.
"So I was like, 'Go, you'll be OK'. Then [Mary] Jacob realized the black smoke had stopped its inexorable rush forward-and it was her turn to be saved. The little boy came back for her and said, 'C'mon. Let's go.'"
Read the entire story in the Commemorative issue of "Newsweek." http://www.tnellen.org/wtc/
Tom turned back to help his teacher, probably not fully realizing the danger they both faced. As a seven year old, he wasn't able to calculate the time he had to turn around for her, before the debris hit them. But, isn't that the definition of a real hero: one who takes action without fully comprehending or thinking about the outcome. He knew in his heart that this was the right thing to do and he did it.
It was days before Ted was told about his son's actions. On the morning of the attacks, he knew (only) that his son had escaped injury. Ted became aware of Tom's heroism after he had come to Pennsylvania, a week later, to conduct a technology workshop for teachers in a writing project I directed. We had made the arrangements over the summer and, in spite of the attack on NYC, Ted insisted on leaving the city and coming to PSU to honor his obligation (I offered to re-schedule, but he wouldn't hear of it).
Actually, I was surprised when Ted told me he needed to get away from the devastation (he lived just a few blocks from ground zero and lived with the horrible smoke and soot and destruction for weeks. See Ted's photos of the area here http://www.tnellen.org/wtc/wtc.html).
A couple of days after arriving at the campus, Ted got a call from home telling him what Tom had done. When he told me, "I've got to go home and be with my son," I understood. It was Ted's turn to be the hero. The story of a father honoring his son's needs (those of a young hero) is one of my favorite hero stories.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
It was a leap, I'll admit, but, intuitively, it felt right to say. Perhaps it goes back to Chinua Achebe's point that the story is always in control of the story teller.
"It is only the story...that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence.The story is our escort;without it,we are blind.Does the blind man own his escort?No,neither do we the story;rather,it is the story that owns us. " — Chinua Achebe (Anthills of the Savannah)
My point is, we believe too much in ourselves as the creators of story, so, at times, get so far ahead of it that we try to control the ending, the denoument. We do this because, by controlling the conclusion, we believe we are in control of the major events in our lives. We're all guilty of doing this, by trying to figure out how relationships will unfold, what kind of people our children will grow into, how our family members feel about us, what the future holds for us.
One of my favorites examples of this is the mythical character, Orpheus, who tried desperately to bring his wife and lover back from death. (Read a brief description of the story of Eurydice and Orpheus in the Encyclopedia Mythica Online http://www.pantheon.org/articles/e/eurydice.html
Orpheus missed his beloved Eurydice so much that he followed her to the underworld and, after charming the gods with his sweet voice and music, was granted the opportunity to bring her back to life. But, there was a condition. As they ascended from Hell, Orpeus was not to look back at his lover, a promise that he, in his desire to reconnect with his love, broke.
He turned and glanced over his shoulder, and his punishment was to lose her forever. Why, one wonders, did he do this? If he hadn't looked back, would the story have ended differently? Several poets have raised this question, including John Milton, W.H. Auden, H.D. and a contemporary poet, Jorie Graham.
See H.D.'s poem, "Eurydice" http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=182485
Another poem that examines this is Jorie Graham's "Orpheus and Eurydice." http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=176586
Back to the point. Why do we care why Orpheus, in spite of dire warnings, looked back? In my own opinion, Orpheus' plight or tragic loss resonates with us because we struggle with a need to predict the end of the stories of our lives.
Perhaps this is what this blogger is trying to achieve by writing--that is, to write something conclusive about life. Myabe I'll end this post without ending the story.