Last Nights of Summer, Last Days of Both Hands

1 08 2010

So I have three nights left of summer. And tonight, I’m watching Something’s Gotta Give while I decoupage my autobiography box (a model for my students). And, well, I forgot how wonderful and hopeful and kind of gross it is to see these two old people fall in love like a pair of bipolar teenagers. Diane Keaton is totally neurotic and she cries all of the time in this movie, which makes her look like a turtle. But I’m enjoying myself immensely because it’s cheesy and predictable.  Plus it makes me less anxious about getting old.

This has been the summer of movies and books for me and my brain has taken a turn for the worse because of it I’m sure. I read The Help in a day and Ruthie and I have seen almost all of the “family” movies in the RedBox. I check in with the Facebook regularly. And with Twitter. I can barely muster the mental energy to fill the world in on what I’m doing in 140 characters or less. So I’ve decided it’s really time for me to really start writing. For the past seven years, I’ve called myself a writer, but I’m always waiting to be inspired (whisper this word as you read it, please) to write. I’ve compared writing to exercise before and that metaphor certainly holds here, because who is motivated to exercise in the beginning? Certainly not me. Writing and exercising were two things I swore I’d do this summer and I’ve done very little of either.

So. Intoxicated by the start of a new school year, which means (GASP!) new school supplies, I’ve taken on a little project where I’ll be writing every single day for a year. It’s a new blog because, in a very Oprah-ish way, I’ve become a new me. I hope. I’ve started writing today, but I’m not going to post the link here. Not yet. But if you’re interested in reading, email me and I’ll send you the link. Wish me luck!





An awkward return to blogging and some thoughts on forever

27 04 2010

(c)2010 David Parker

Okay, so I’ve taken a hiatus from my blog for, oh, I don’t know, like a year? This post for me feels about as awkward as the first post ever (which I composed nearly four years ago!). I’ve lost a bit of the feel of writing as a daily habit. I’m always telling my students that writing is like running: You can map out your course, buy new running shoes, read about running, watch other people run, but the only way to become a runner is to start running. One foot in front of the other. So here I am, one word after another, writing again for the first time in what feels like forever. I’m sure that I’ll be sore tomorrow.

So where have I been and what I have I been doing? Well, for starters, I’m divorced. That might be a bit of an overshare (awkward!), but I think that my hiatus was largely due to the fact that I felt inappropriate writing about the divorce as I was living through it and in the wake of it. I’m a very big fan of honesty, and divorce is fairly consuming, so I couldn’t really find much to write about honestly.

Getting divorced is strange because when you get married, people tell you “Oh, you should be really sure about this because marriage is forever.” But then, when you get divorced, they say (with their voices dropped so as to indicate the seriousness of the thing), “Oh, are you sure about this? Because divorce is forever.” The finality of divorce felt really good to me. Like, okay, this really is forever. But then I was talking to my friend on the phone a few months ago and she was telling me about her divorced friend who just re-married the man she divorced. This was terribly unsettling to me. I mean, if divorce isn’t final, what is?

In my family, we call the last drink of the evening the final-final. Of course, you can have more than one final-final (and we typically do). And so, in the same way that the finality of divorce was comforting to me six months ago, I’ve come around to taking comfort in the idea that maybe nothing has to be final (or even final-final). There is a lot of freedom in the belief that I can always change my mind. I don’t have to be wedded to any dreams of what my future life will look like or any convictions I may hold now about how the world works.

All of this being said, I feel like I need to be very clear about something here: I do still believe in marriage and I do believe in forever. Two of my very dear friends got married this year and I believe that they have met their for-real final-finals. I also know lots of people who’ve been married for a long time who would say (and I would agree) that they’ve met their for-real final-finals. I find that there is a lot of comfort in believing (in anything) and there is a great deal of freedom in allowing myself to change my beliefs as I grow older and learn more about who I am and the world that I live in.

So, there it is, my awkward over-sharing return to the world of writing on the internet. I am still wandering through life with both hands full of Ruthie, my precocious four-year-old; cynical ninth grade students who don’t want to write, but are impressed when they manage to try; books I’ve been meaning to read; and bags of groceries that tend to burst wide open in really inconvenient places. It’s good to be back.





Painted Smiles and Iron Guts

25 08 2009

This morning, my classroom is buzzing with the taptaptaptapping of students’ fingers on keyboards. I thought I would miss the sound of pencils and pens scraping against paper, scratching out ideas and shaping words. The tapping has much more energy–it’s a sound you can almost ride, and I do. And I almost feel like I’m cheating in a way, drafting off these young minds punching keys with the conviction that they have something to say that matters.

Anyways, this morning we’re tapping about objects. The kids brought in autobiography boxes, which they construct from pictures, drawings, artifacts, newspaper clippings. One student brought in a box that lights up, another chose to adorn his with a plastic mound of spaghetti. They’re all shapes and sizes and they contain all kinds of magical talismans: wands, Eiffel Towers, rubber duckies, pom-poms, dog collars, movie tickets, pigs made out of yarn. So the prompt was to write about an object–tell the stories or ideas that your chosen object represents.

My object is a gummy worm. Last week, when I went to pick up Ruthie, she came charging towards me with a strange, lopsided gallop. Usually, I get knocked over with a hug, especially on days when she’s particularly good, but on this particular day, she ran towards me and took a knee. And then, my little buddy reached into her shoe, where she’d been “keeping it all day so it’d be safe.” There, in the toe of her baby blue croc, she had been hiding a plastic baggie containing a single yellow and red gummy worm. She proudly handed me the baggie, proclaiming, “I sabed it for you, Mommy! All day I sabed it for you! It’s a treat for you for being so good.” Her little eyebrows arched with the seriousness of what she was saying. Of course, I had no choice but to take the treat from her with a wide, affirming smile. “Go ahead, Mom, you can eat it.” So I did. It was very warm. I didn’t really think much about it until the teacher told me, with the worm half-eaten in my watery mouth, that she’d had it in her shoe since they received goody bags that morning. Mid-chew I realized that I was consuming a worm which had endured the playrgound, the toddlers’ bathroom, naptime, lunch, and all of the super-yuck places that toddlers put their feet. Then, having made the decision to not-think about where this worm had been, I swallowed. Hard. With my eyes shut.”Thank you, baby. That was, er, delicious.”

So much of parenting requires an iron gut and a painted smile. There are so many things you have to do has a parent: maintain a calm and even voice, place your screaming-squirming-kicking-thrashing toddler on her “angry spot” with a stoic face and a gentle grip, create a dinner out of nothing at the end of a 12-hour day. Being an adult is not so glamorous or powerful-feeling as I’d always thought it would be. I never thought I’d find myself standing, in a dress and heels, consuming candy from my child’s shoe.





“I didn’t even guess that I was happy”

17 06 2009

There is this wiggle-shimmy-dance-thing that I do whenever I am enjoying what I’m eating. It’s subconscious. I never knew I did it until I caught Ruthie doing it one day across the dinner table from me. We were positively inhaling sugared strawberries from a bowl between us. She started wiggling her little booty on the seat and shimmying her shoulders, her mouth closed in the shape of mmmmmmm. Even now, I can remember the way those strawberries felt so cold and so new on my tongue; the way they bled that sweet, pink syrup; the way they melted into the insides of my cheeks.

Today, as I sit down to write, I catch myself doing that dance of satiation. Why? Because I have three glorious hours of quiet writing time spread out before me like an empty glass lake. Because ever since I woke up this morning, my mouth won’t stop smiling and my toes won’t stop bouncing in time with the music I’ve been listening to. Because my coffee is the perfect temperature. Because today, I am my friend.

Mornings like this make me wish I were a poet, which I am not. So I’ll share a few lines from the poem that captured my attention this morning. Linda Pastan, in her poem “The Happiest Day,” writes

I didn’t even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.





Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Doing

11 06 2009

Sun Belt has begun, and, as in years past, it has been all-consuming, exhausting, and exhilarating. We have a nice mix of folks in the room this year from all parts of the education spectrum: elementary teachers, secondary teachers, English teachers, Social Studies/History teachers, media specialists, a principal. Every year, the first week surprises me. There is so much getting-ready and cutting-through-red-tape that by the time the first day rolls along, I am pretty well spent. But by the second day, I am looking forward to the third and the fourth days. Teaching is a lonely profession–– you spend all day in a room with students, which leaves very little time for collaboration and conversation with adults. I never realize how isolating it can be until the first day of Institute. That first day is like a slingshot into teacher heaven, where there is thinking that you can see, where there are conversations that are full of the kind of energy that comes from being understood, where there is tangible evidence of the integrity of our profession. I spent an hour after everyone left on Monday crouched over a green piece of butcher paper, armed with tempera paint, and in that hour, I got that tingly feeling that you get when you’re where you know you’re supposed to be. I really believe that the Writing Project is magic, and I’m happy to be a part of that magic these next three weeks.

So, if you’re wondering what exactly we do for three weeks, check out our blog: Sun Belt 2009.





“To fight aloud, is very brave”

30 05 2009

There is nothing more irresistible to me than a bookstore on Saturday morning. I spent the better part of an hour at Books A Million this morning, roving the shelves, armed with a cup of coffee. I get lost in the titles and the covers and the sheer number of books. Getting lost is something I’ve been very keen on this past year. I can’t ever quite tell what will make me lose myself until I’m doing it. I positively swam through the store, hanging on as many words (that were not mine) as I could. It was a relief, to read and not to write or to think of writing. For the past year, I’ve thought of nothing but writing, but I have written virtually nothing. Meandering through that space crowded with words meant to incite, capture, invoke me, the reader, I could feel my shoulders loosen and my stance shift. My knees grew bendier and I rested on my joints. My face became open, and I began to craft some writing in my mind. While I would normally rush somewhere to put it on the paper before the words left me, I tried to relax into the words, repeating them over and over. And then I came across the Dickinson poem that is the title of this post, and the words became cemented in my mind. I left with six books and the resolve to write. Something. Today.

I came home, put on some music, then decided against it and opened the windows, and began reading my earlier posts. I didn’t realize I began this venture two years ago, when Ruthie was only 18 months old. My third or fourth post (Taking the Long Way) speaks to the way I feel now. And it occurred to me that my life is terribly, wonderfully recursive. I keep coming back to the same places, and each time I revisit them, I am a little stronger, a little braver, a little older. I am trying now, even as I type this, to be okay with the possibility of coming off as a complete fool. I am also trying not to write what might be considered a bit of an over-share without compromising any of the truth of what has led me to the key board today. The truth is that I am exactly where I was two years ago, only less afraid and more alone. Scared and alone are two of the shittiest aspects of the human condition, if you ask me. And I am always both. But today, as I sifted through those titles and browsed the books I had selected, it occurred to me that everyone is scared and everyone feels alone (which, of course, is why it’s a part of the human condition and not the Whitney condition). All of my favorite things–- books, films, music, art –-capture those two features of what it means to be human. It is a painful condition, the human one. Which is why I found myself in the bookstore today, seeking a connection, through language, to humanity. Which is why I am writing today, seeking to establish my own connection, in my own words, to humanity. 

I’m finally reading The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, as per Emma Bolden’s recommendation. At the very beginning, Anna, the person who keeps the notebooks that she (unsuccessfully) divides herself into, has an insight that I can’t stop thinking about. It is during a conversation with her best friend that Anna has this sort of epiphany:

But now, sitting with Molly talking, as they had so many hundreds of times before, Anna was saying to herself: Why do I always have this awful need to make other people see things as I do? It’s childish, why should they? What it amounts to is that I’m scared of being alone in what I feel. (Lessing, 10)

It is this thought that has kept me from writing through the past year. When I write, my thoughts are permanent and vulnerable, pulsing under the lens of my readers’ discerning eyes. If I simply think my thoughts, then they are mine, and mine alone, and I have no way of knowing whether or not I am alone in those thoughts. When I put my ideas and experiences into writing, then I risk knowing that I am alone in my thinking. But with that risk comes the possibility of being affirmed and understood. It is with hope and trepidation that I continue to write, even now, when there is so much at stake (namely, myself).





Pause and Shift

21 01 2009

I am out today on sick leave. I should be writing the paper that was due last semester. I should be getting some laundry started. I should be drinking water instead of coffee. I should be reading about web development for my class tonight, or addressing invitations to Ruthie’s birthday party at the very least. I am in my last semester of grad school. Three years I have been in grad school and it has officially rendered me brainless. I am too serious. I am too intentional, too resentful. Everything is personal. I wake up gritting my teeth. Every question is an interrogation, every request an imposition. And here I am sitting at my computer: paralyzed by the desire to write, and overcome by the dull conviction that I don’t have anything interesting to say. 

So I reread Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugural poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” which was, to me, inspiring. I can’t imagine writing anything under such pressure. In the past few weeks, I’ve been reading as much about her as I could find on the internet. I’ve found that I like her– she’s honest, thoughtful, and insightful. In an interview with Jeffrey Brown, she talked about the task of composing the inaugural poem:

JEFFREY BROWN: So — so, have you made a start? How do you — how do you go about this? What is it that you want to accomplish? 

ELIZABETH ALEXANDER: What I want to do in the composition of the poem is to be very quiet and very humble before the forces that make me able to write poems.

It’s a very, very big challenge. It’s a very extraordinary moment. And I think the fact that Barack Obama has decided that he wants to have a poem as part of the inaugural is tremendously significant, to say that here is a time when we can listen to language that shifts us a little bit, that allows us to pause for a moment and contemplate what’s ahead of us, to think about how we can contribute to the challenges ahead of us, all of those things can be possible in the moment of pause and shift that — that a poem makes possible.

So, I’m just trying to be very serious and very quiet and very humble as I — as I try to — try to write something.

I am neither a quiet nor a humble person, but I can reside for a small time in the moment of  pause and shift

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

 

(These lines were clipped from the New York Times transcript of Elizabeth Alexander’s reading of “Praise Song for the Day.” Sadly, the transcript does not reflect line breaks.)