What I've Been Into - Spring 2014

Hello everyone, hello!

Spring has finally and fully arrived in Minnesota, and we are all a bit crazy over it. Fling open those windows! Let it all grow! May everything just multiply. The grass is so green and so high lawn mowers break down from the abundance. I usually say autumn is my favorite time of year, but this season? This parentheses in my life when my little boy is experiencing THE WORLD up close for the first time? There is magic in the air, people, and living a wild and precious life seems quite possible. Hallelujah.

Although these past three months have been full of many things, both unsettling and celebratory, the biggest change has been my resignation from my current school district and my acceptance of a new teaching position in Minneapolis. I am thrilled about joining my new school, meeting a new set of smart and inspiring colleagues, and learning with a new crop of young ones, but it is a bittersweet move. I have been at my current school for the past decade; it was my first job right out of college, and therefore all of the major experiences that have happened in my adult life have occurred within or around or between the supportive arms of this place. I will miss my colleagues, and just this week--although I haven't been able to bring myself to officially announce my departure yet to my students--I had my first student who'd heard come in crying. She graduates this year, so it's not even that she bummed that I won't be her creative writing teacher next fall; it's that I won't be here. I feel a bit like I'm graduating right along with her, embarking on a thrilling, unknowable journey, hopeful that the steps I take lead me down the right roads.

That said, my summer reading pile is SO HIGH, you guys. It's not even a list. It's an actual stack, measured in feet. And though looking at its height and what it means about how claimed my time will be over the next school calendar kind of makes me want to throw up (you know what I'm talking about, first-year-teachers), it's mostly because I'm just. that. excited. Stomach-all-a-whirl-dizzy-dizzy-ohmygosh-whoatherecowboy excited. Lord, this one wild and precious life. Thank God for it.

Anyway, before this turns into even more of a diary entry (thanks, as always, for being with me here, folks!), below is my list of what I've been reading/viewing/discovering this past season. If we've crossed cultural paths, let me know in the comments! Be well, all!

  1. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell--A sweet and sad and infinitely readable YA story about two misfits in love. 
  2. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough -- I read this as an educator, but it made me think repeatedly about my role as a parent. It's so important that we allow our children to fail sometimes. Adversity is what propels us beyond "successful" to "influential."
  3.  Divergent by Veronica Roth -- Okay. A little too much like The Hunger Games for me to buy in. Still it's fun to read what my students are into.
  4. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis -- A beautiful, insightful, and moving re-imagining of the Cupid and Psyche myth.
  5. Crawling Out the Window by Tom Hennen -- Local poet who I found via another blogger. Some great work. A lot about snow.
  6.  The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt -- The biggest book I've read in a while, and although I felt its length at points--ohmygoodness, I'm-not-even-half-way-Elliot-is-going-to-wake-up-from-his-nap-any-minute-and-there-is-no-dinner-started-crap-one-more-chapter!--for me, it lived up to its Pulitzer hype. Admittedly, any author who explores a mother-son relationship now has me in her grip. 

TV & Movies:
  1. Mad Men, Season 6 -- Eh. Getting tired of Don's remoteness. The masks we all wear, even from ourselves, yes, but... eh.  At least there was that amazing scene of Ken Cosgrove tap-dancing.
  2. Game of Thrones, Season 4 --Everything is, as they say, gratuitous in this show, but it turns out that's the perfect remedy for a stressful day. Sometimes it's okay to just be entertained.
  3. Short Term 12 -- Beautiful and heavy and hopeful. We cried.

Articles & Posts:
  1. "Which Poet Are You?" by Nick Courage. A fun quiz that's worth a few minutes of your day. I got Neruda, of course. 
  2. "The Overprotected Kid" by Hanna Rosin -- Just this afternoon at work I watched a sixteen year old walk through the parking lot toward his car among his friends, and I thought, "My God!" How am I ever going to let Elliot do that?" (i.e. be out out of the sight of a certifiedresponsibletrustworthycaretaker, let alone operate a moving vehicle.) And yet I do want him to go explore the woods, and forget about me for a while. May I find the grace to find the balance.
  3. "You Are Not As Busy As You Say You Are," by Hanna Rosin. YES! This rings so true.
  4. "The danger of a single story," by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This TED Talk has been around since 2009, but especially with all the heartbreaking #bringbackourgirls attention coming out of Nigeria this season, this video deserves another watch.
  5. "The Mother As She Writes," by Andrea Lani. An excellent critical essay (with many references to other books/stories/writers) about writing and motherhood and all the ways these two experiences can intersect.
  6. "Unprepared," by Rob Lowe. Honestly, I have zero interest in Rob Lowe. I can't think of a single thing he's been in that I remember. But this essay about sending his oldest son off to college made me think, again, about Elliot, and how damn much I love him.

    Finds & Arrow Signs:
    1. Historia -- Some fine music, written and recorded by my main squeeze, GB, and friends.
    2. Adobe Voice for the iPad --Great new app for making Explainer Videos.
    3. Literary Mama, Split Rock Review, Midway Journal -- After a first-year-mama dry spell (that's what I'm calling it anyway; let's face it, all my energies rightly went directly to El his first year on earth), I have a story and two essays coming out this summer in some great publications. I'll try to link to them more specifically when they show their public faces.
    4. KAXE The Beat -- Hear me read "I Knew," a love poem, on the radio here.
    5. Tangerine and Carrot popsicles (YUM!)
    6. Bird watching (done ever so much more vocally with a toddler)  :)


    1. Thanks for sharing your lists! Recommendations are my favorite way to search out material to read.
      I also thought Short Term 12 was an excellent movie. It's the first time I heard rap that drew me in rather than turned me off. (I admit to not having a huge rap repertoire to draw upon.)

      Your little boy is adorable : )

      1. Glad to have a fellow link-liker. :) Yes, Short Term 12 was one of the best movies we've seen in a long while (although I have to admit, we don't watch many full movies these days...too long!). Both my husband and I have worked with struggling teens, so it really hit home. It's astonishing the kinds of lives that some kids are born into, isn't it?

        Be well!

    2. What a remarkable, talented woman you are. We will miss you, but excited for you as you start the new challenge and adventures.
      I really enjoy your blog and love to see what you are reading and interested in. Good luck Emily!

      1. Thanks, Pat! And congratulations to you, too, on your retirement. I have always admired the way your spirit infused something special into the WMHS staff as a whole. It never mattered what school you were in: we all knew you were somewhere at the helm, bringing lessons to life.

        So happy to have you reading here. And yes: more challenges and adventures to come!

    3. I had no idea that you enjoyed Pablo Neruda! He is among my mother's favorite poets, and she often memorized his work and recited his poetry in declamation when she was in Mexico. (Personally, I am more one for Amado Nervo, although I do greatly enjoy Pablo Neruda!) Here is one of Amado Nervo's that I deeply love and memorized for a creative writing class in college: http://www.poemofquotes.com/amadonervo/at-peace.php
      Also, Till We Have Faces is a wonderful adaptation of the myth of Cupid and Psyche! In fact, when I was in your Mythology class, I studied their story and read this book in order to see it in a different light. My, is it beautiful! Have you started or read it yet?
      It is always wonderful to read your posts and hear from you! ^_^
      {Nicole Ward}

      PS: I took the Poet Quiz, and I also was Pablo Neruda!

      1. Nicole! Hello! Great to hear from you. Thank you so much for pointing me toward Nervo. I feel a bit bashful admitting that I don't believe I've heard of him before, but the poem you linked to is a beauty. "I loved, I was loved, the sun caressed my face" -- aren't these the most important things?

        I thoroughly enjoyed Till We Have Faces; in fact, I'm teaching it this fall at my new school! Well, "teaching" is too official of a term. It was a summer reading option, so I'll be spending a few hours discussing it with a small group of teens. I would love to know what your favorite parts were/what you loved about it/what you remember, etc. It's especially wonderful to be able to compare it to the C and P myth.

        Hope you are well! And writing! And waking with your face tipped up to the sun.

    4. Not to scare you :-) but yesterday I watched my 21-year-old son (now, of course, legally able to buy alcohol) get into the car he just purchased and drive by himself to Wisconsin. GAAAAAAH..

      Also, loved Eleanor & Park. I heard Rainbow Rowell speak to some middle-schoolers in St. Paul this winter. She was fantastic. And the students loved her.

      1. E-gads!!!! Truly, I know sixteen years is kind of a long time, but I can't help feeling that that is still much too soon for, well, lots of things that don't involve Mama. (Mama! What a treasure that word is. It wasn't all that long ago it felt so very removed from me.)

        I can just imagine Rowell charming a room of middle-schoolers, too. Have you read Fan Girl? That's another one my students are scooping up like ice cream.

        Happy summer!

      2. I haven't read Fan Girl. I'm almost scared to because I liked E&P so much. The fun thing about seeing Rowell with the middle schoolers was how involved the boys were--they'd all read the book too and asked good questions.

      3. Nice. I also heard that they're making "E&P" into a movie. Will be interesting how they do that!

    5. Good luck in the new position and have a wonderful summer with your little boy - see the world through his awestruck eyes!

      1. Thank you, Kathleen! I'm pretty sure I can promise wonder and awe. :)

    6. Oh, phooey. I went to take the quiz and lost my comment! So I'll start there - I'm Seamus Heaney. That really is a bit remarkable, given my Irish heritage and the writing I've done about the Crowley side of my family.

      What I was muttering about before I went to the quiz was how happy I was to see "How Children Succeed" on your list. I'm a great believer in failure -- and I love the quotation offered by Alan Kay, the great programming guru. He said, "If you aren't failing ninety percent of the time, you aren't aiming high enough."

      LIkewise, overprotected children. My friends and I were raised with barefeet and no bicycle helmets. We peddled like mad to the store down the street and crammed penny candy into our mouths. We walked trestles, played dodgeball, and knew to come home with the street lights came on. We had skinned knees, broken arms, and measles and mumps. We got lollipops when we went to the doctor's office, and ate fried bologna sandwiches on white bread. We not only survived, we thrived.

      One more, and then I'll put my soapbox away: You're the one who knows how to raise Elliott. Don't let the nags, the arrogant or the busybodies get between you.

      From the expression on his face, I think Elliott will do quite well in the world. That's the best combination of "what are you" and "here I come" I think I've ever seen!

      1. Hi Linda,

        Yes to all of this! Seamus, beyond loving his name, is a literary friend (at least that's what I tell myself). "How Children Succeed" was great. Have you heard of Angela Duckworth? She's probably the biggest name in the education world regarding the importance of failure and the idea of "grit." Based on all the kids I've worked with over the past decade, I know she's on to something. Who thrives in my classroom has much more to do with perseverance than born-intelligence. The trick is getting the less-motivated kids to buy into the power of developing their own grit-inclinations.

        I also can't tell you how many times I've thought about whether all this fancy-parenting-technique-stuff is actually going to make much of a difference. If anything, I think it adds stress to parents, which then gets transferred down to kids in the form of learned anxiety. I'm going to do my best to let Elliot just run as much as possible. This is another reason why I'm so glad that I love the outdoors. There's a whole lot a parent can't control out there in fields and woods and such, so maybe that makes it a little easier to not try.

        And we've certainly got a curious one in Elliot. As of late, his favorite word is "airplane." Really, really fascinated with the sky. :)

    7. Congratulations on the new job. What prompted the change?

      And, yes, enjoy your summer with your precious boy. All too soon they are grown and gone.

      1. Thanks, Audrey. The story behind the change is a bit of a narrative, but the short version is that it was simply time for growth, and it doesn't hurt that my new position is located three miles from my husband's office. We're hoping for a more community-centric life with less commuting in the near future. This does mean a probable move into the city in the next year. For this small-town girl, that idea has been the hardest to get used it. It will certainly give me a lot to think (and hopefully write!) about.

        Enjoy your summer, as well!

    8. Yes moving on is often a bittersweet experience. You know the old adage, close one door and another one opens, well it seems to be true. Moving on is often the best way to keep life interesting, to learn new skills, and to challenge the parts of us that need shaking up. Congrats on you new job. I'm sure they will miss you at your old school. And that photo of your son! My goodness that is one unbelievably cute little fella that you have there! See what good work you do?

      1. I completely agree, Bill. This is one of the main reasons behind my moving on. I'm very excited to see what this next school year will be like. I can already feel new neurons in my brain going off like crazy!

        And I must agree with your final thoughts. Elliot = good work! :)

    9. Dear Emily, your reading list is impressive. Mostly I read mysteries and some nonfiction. Right now I'm reading a nonfiction book by Emanuel about health care in the United States. Next in line is a book about the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the battled President Johnson and others had to fight to get it passed. Also in the non-fiction pile is "Just One Thing: developing a buddha brain one simple practice at a time." That sounds appealing to me.

      As to mysteries I read many series written by authors such as Jacqueline Winspear, Deborah Crombie, Charles Todd, Laurie King, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Giles Blunt, Martin Walker, Linda Fairstein, and Anne Perry.

      I especially like historical fiction.

      Well, enough of this! Thank you for sharing your last three months with us and for truly finding the way to communicate the angst and the accompanying excitement of change. Peace.

      1. Ooooh, thanks for the recommendations. I like nonfiction and historical fiction, so I'm sure I'd enjoy some of your titles. I'm having to be very careful about what I add to my "to-read" lists these days, though, due to my astonishingly large current pile. :) I will come back to these ideas, though, when I can. Thanks!

    10. Hi, Emily! I hope you're doing well! It's been awhile. :) I liked "Eleanor and Park," and since it (and other Rainbow Rowell novels) are set in Omaha--my hometown playing grounds--it made it easy to picture the happenings! Have you ever read "Attachments?" It's my favorite Rowell novel. I also remember reading the "You're Not As Busy As You Say You Are" post! It is very true. I always feel overwhelmed with to-do lists and what not and, as it turns out, I'm really not *that* busy. It's more or less a question of productivity than a question about whether or not I have too much on my metaphorical plate.


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