August 31, 2015

What I've Been Into: Summer 2015

Good morning,

(And an early morning it is.) Last spring I could blame these sleepless a.m. hours on the turkeys roosting in the trees outside my window, but now I only have my swirling mind to point to. These are some of the things I would like/need to do, possibly today: transplant several hostas, dig up and move a good many big rocks, water the rudbeckia, move the shelves in the garage, organize the garage (!), call the insurance company, clip the little guy's fingernails, keep writing that essay, start writing college recommendations, finish rereading The Glass Castle, and oh (!) take in that sunrise.

That list will be a starting point, anyway. And much of it will keep me outside, in the air that has already taken on a hint of autumn. 

It's an exciting time of year, friends. Often stressful. But so very full of a pulsing, thrumming, chirping, calling, rushing, crunching, thrusting kind of life.

Summer, as always, was a sweet reprieve where instead of teaching I spent the days doing many of the things I mentioned above, but at a less frenetic pace, and almost always with my two and a half year old son by my side. Two and a half! What an age! Everyday there was some kind of beach or park or walk or play-date or bug-discovery or cabin or flower-watering or sky-watching adventure. He is my son, my darling boy. And we read the world together.

My husband and I also spent a lot of time working on this house of ours. There is so much to learn, so many words in the English language I had no reason to be aware of before. Mud-jacking? Polyurethane? Roto-router? I'll get those right on the next vocab quiz. We spent the hours after El went to bed last night caulking the perimeter of our front sidewalk, and where we've probably had more exciting dates in our lives, we laughed a lot, out there among the mosquitoes and moths, and when we were done, the pride in our work felt deeply earned.

And, in the midst of all of this, I started writing again. I would write that last sentence in capital letters if it didn't feel so obnoxious. Hell: I STARTED WRITING AGAIN! I took a Monday night class at The Loft Literary Center on the poetic power in essay writing, and having that space? that permission? The words were suddenly on the page, thoughts fully formed, the last line tapping out of the tips of my fingers as if it had been waiting there all along. And that is the lesson I'm taking away from this summer: for everything, there is a season. Let it turn, turn, turn, turn.

 
Books:
  1.  Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson -- I first learned of Bryan Stevenson last fall, so reading his book was a reiteration of how much he deserves the respect I already feel for him and the work he's doing with those caught in the justice system.
  2.  Waking Up White by Debbie Irving -- This was our summer faculty read. Some of Irving's observations about white privilege felt fairly obvious, but others really stayed with me. For example, I really don't think twice about going out in public in a sweat shirt and yoga pants; that's a privilege, isn't it?
  3.  Butchers Crossing by John Williams -- I read this one mostly because a fellow teacher used it last year in his American Literature course and I wanted to know why. Now I do. A gripping story wrapped around the idea of Manifest Destiny. During my son's naps, I chose it over house work every time.
  4. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston -- A reread for me, but just as good if not better this time around. I'm in awe of the way Hurston was able to go back and forth between voices and styles so easily. Beautiful.
  5.  Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut -- Eh. Tried to read it. It's sophomore curriculum. I have been a Vonnegut fan in the past, but this just wasn't my style.
  6.  Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hanesbury -- Oof, this one was powerful. The story sincerely moved me. And as I was reading this play, I kept thinking about how much I wanted to see it live.
  7.  100 Best American Essays of the Century edited by Joyce Caroll Oates -- I read a good numbers of the essays in this anthology for my Loft class. Stunning work. Some of my favorites were about bees and abandoned houses.
  8.  Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger, and Mark A. McDaniel -- This book was all about how to learn, teach, and present material in such a way that it stays learned. I'm not finished with it yet, but I have found it interesting and applicable. 
  9. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls -- This is a reread for me, a memoir I chose for my summer reading group. We'll have our conversation tomorrow (welcome back, estudiantes!), and I'm pretty confident most of my crew will have liked this one. It's a fascinating and often heartbreaking read of one person's childhood in a very unconventional, poor family.
TV & Movies:
  1. Mad Men Season 6 -- I wasn't a huge fan of the very end of the last episode, but otherwise I found this final season satisfying. Peggy's narrative had me in tears more than once. Sometimes happiness can feel so elusive.
  2. Comet -- A quirky kind-of rom-com that pretty much features just two actors. I found the writing entertaining, and sometimes right on.
  3. The One I Love --Speaking of quirky rom-coms, this isn't exactly that, but it isn't exactly easy to say what it actually is. Basically, a couple with a troubled relationship goes to a couples retreat, but then things start to get weird. Doppelganger weird. The ending wasn't satisfying in an I-want-this-all-to-make-sense kind of way, but the premise was pretty creative.

Finds & Arrow Signs:
  1. The Loft Literary Center -- If you're a writer in the Midwest area (or even outside of it), please check this place out. It is a gem.
  2. Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake -- A relaxing cabin vacation with your family is all fun and games until a super storm comes through... I'll share that story someday. For now: Northern Minnesota is all it's cracked up to be.
  3. Spray paint -- How great is this stuff? It has helped me transform more than one frame this summer, and oh, the plans I have for it.  :)
  4. Minnesota State Fair -- I'm not a regular at this annual "get-together" (gasp!), but I'm taking my students here today to volunteer for their first day back. Hopefully none of us will get too lost. I'll let you know what fried food was my favorite.


Hope you had a great summer, people! What did you do?

August 17, 2015

Song for the Rainy Season

Hidden, oh hidden
in the high fog
the house we live in,
beneath the magnetic rock,
rain-, rainbow-ridden,
where blood-black
bromelias, lichens,
owls, and the lint
of the waterfalls cling,
familiar, unbidden.

In a dim age
of water
the brook sings loud
from a rib cage
of giant fern; vapor
climbs up the thick growth
effortlessly, turns back,
holding them both,
house and rock,
in a private cloud.

At night, on the roof,
blind drops crawl
and the ordinary brown
owl gives us proof
he can count:
five times--always five--
he stamps and takes off
after the fat frogs that,
shrilling for love,
clamber and mount.

House, open house
to the white dew
and the milk-white sunrise
kind to the eyes,
to membership
of silver fish, mouse,
bookworms,
big moths; with a wall
for the mildew's
ignorant map;

darkened and tarnished
by the warm touch
of the warm breath,
maculate, cherished;
rejoice! For a later
era will differ.
(O difference that kills
or intimidates, much
of all our small shadowy
life!) Without water

the great rock will stare
unmagnetized, bare,
no longer wearing
rainbows or rain,
the forgiving air
and the high fog gone;
the owls will move on
and the several
waterfalls shrivel
in the steady sun.

-- By Elizabeth Bishop