Wednesday Words 3.2.16: Finding my oxygen mask

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One of my day jobs is coaching teachers. It’s sort of like being a life coach, but I only work with teachers and we only (mostly) talk about their teaching practice.

Last week, I met one of my coachees first thing in the morning, which is how I happened to be there when she was putting away her lunch, made by her partner. I mentioned how nice it would be to have someone make me lunch and that I’d most likely be having another drive-through meal later in the day.

She gave me one of her sandwiches and an apple. (Because:  teacher.)

I protested, she insisted, and then we got to work.

Later that day, I bit into the sandwich, and tears came to my eyes. It was just so nice to eat something homemade, and I couldn’t believe what a difference it was making to eat a simple ham sandwich. It was hard to feel how hard things have been through the contrast of real food to what my diet has been so often lately. It was hard to feel how long it’s felt since someone took care of me. (To be clear:  Cane cooks dinner more often than I do when he’s here. But breakfast and lunch have gone by the wayside, and…I dunno. I just felt cared for in a way I haven’t for a long time. And tears are just under the surface all the time lately. We’re still adjusting to the huge change in our family life and my babies are getting ready to leave the nest, and everything feels raw and momentous, all the time.)

Yesterday, I met with that teacher again, and again she had a sandwich for me. In my own bag with my name on it and a bottle of juice. (Can you even?)

So, even though my last post was all about my pledge to do frivolous creative projects for the fun of it, I came home (to take care of a sick kid) and made the thank you card you see above, so that I can properly thank the maker of these sandwiches.

But it was like that card was a trap door to a land of creative fun–because after I made the practical card, I made frivolous stuff (also above).

I have long been interested in juxtapositions of words and images, which is really what started Wednesday Words. And I love love love with all my heart old books.* I’ve also long loved collage, the creating of something new with the parts of many somethings old. I like to remix.

The first three images above are all cards, which, I suppose gives me some kind of permission I needed to make something as frivolous as collages. It’s really kind of silly, though. I can’t think of any real occasions for which any of the cards other than the thank you one might be appropriate.

That’s OK. I know I’m just working my way into this. I’m playing, and I like the small scale of the cards. It means I can start and finish in short time. There’s no big commitment. Lots of shorter works means my learning curve will rise faster than it would with fewer big works.

I love how messy my work table is now–filled with real mess, from real stuff, not just clutter because I haven’t put things away.

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I love how good it felt to lose myself in it for a while. Doing that felt as nourishing to me as a homemade ham sandwich. It filled me up enough that I was able to make a grilled cheese (and chicken soup) for the sick child with nothing in my heart but joy and gratitude for the chance to mother him just this way for a little while longer.

We really do need to put on our own oxygen masks first. This is mine.

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*All book images and words came from gutted books (which you can read about here), so I didn’t have to cut intact books. I’ve lost my source for such pages, so I’m not sure what I’ll do when I’ve used them up. It’s really hard for me to cut books that are still books!

Wednesday Words 2.10.16

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When You Are Old

William Butler Yeats

When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)

I guess this is my idea of a love poem? What can I say–I like ’em on the sad side. I don’t know why, but this poem haunted me in my younger years. I found it again looking for some Valentine poetry. If you’re in the market for some, I suggest this page from Poetry Foundation. A great mix of work.

I found this particular poem in the article “Poems to Send the Person You’re Crushing On.”I had great fun looking for just the right image. You can find images with a creative commons license here. Many of them allow you to remix or adapt the images. I’ve always been interested in the juxtaposition of word and image–the reason for this little Wednesday series.

So tell me:  What are your favorite love poems?

Photo: “Couple Walking Away on a Dirt Road” by simpleinsomnia via Flickr with a creative commons license. http://bit.ly/20UIc7V

Wednesday Words 1.27.16

"Libraries raised me."
 --Ray Bradbury

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Photos taken from the ground-floor lobby of the magnificent public library in Vancouver (WA).

Let’s talk about libraries. Do you have a favorite one? Do you have a good library story? A favorite quotation about libraries? What do libraries mean to you?

Wednesday Words 12.16.15

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December 14, 1969

From “Snow-bound: A Winter Idyl” by John Greenleaf Whittier

What matter how the night behaved?
What matter how the north-wind raved?
Blow high, blow low, not all its snow
Could quench our hearth-fire’s ruddy glow.
O Time and Change!—with hair as gray
As was my sire’s that winter day,
How strange it seems, with so much gone
Of life and love, to still live on!
Ah, brother! only I and thou
Are left of all that circle now,—
The dear home faces whereupon
That fitful firelight paled and shone.
Henceforward, listen as we will,
The voices of that hearth are still;
Look where we may, the wide earth o’er,
Those lighted faces smile no more.
We tread the paths their feet have worn,
      We sit beneath their orchard trees,
      We hear, like them, the hum of bees
And rustle of the bladed corn;
We turn the pages that they read,
      Their written words we linger o’er,
But in the sun they cast no shade,
No voice is heard, no sign is made,
      No step is on the conscious floor!
Yet Love will dream, and Faith will trust,
(Since He who knows our need is just,)
That somehow, somewhere, meet we must.
Alas for him who never sees
The stars shine through his cypress-trees!
Who, hopeless, lays his dead away,
Nor looks to see the breaking day
Across the mournful marbles play!
Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,
      The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
That Life is ever lord of Death,
      And Love can never lose its own!

Wednesday Words 11.11.15: Juxtaposition

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Spring and Fall

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 18441889

              to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

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Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 18441889

Glory be to God for dappled things--
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
       And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                     Praise Him.

There is much I might say about both of these poems–and even more about them as a pair–but I am more interested in what you think. Let’s talk in the comments?

Poems via Academy of American Poets. Images mine.

Wednesday Words 11.4.15

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The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost, 18741963

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I’ve long loved this poem, but not for the reasons most people love this poem. I now also love this commentary which explains why/how most of us get this poem wrong. 
Photo Credit: Rusty Russ via Compfight cc
Poem Credit and copyright information:  https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/road-not-taken

Wednesday Words

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Not Waving but Drowning

Stevie Smith, 19021971

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.



Photo Credit: kmakice via Compfight cc
Poem:  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/poem/175778

Library Haul

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Thanks to my good friend Jill (and her oh-so-great list of Something Good that she publishes every Monday, that has so much good overflowing I can never read all of it), I discovered Justine’s blog Allowing Myself and a recurring feature called Library Haul. You know how wonderful it feels when you discover someone else who does something you love that you thought maybe only you do? That’s how I felt when I read this:

“I know, it’s a large haul this time (don’t judge). I bet I won’t even read 3 of these before they’re due back, but it’s such a comfort to pile books into my bag a drag them home to leaf through when I’m feeling untethered.”

Last Saturday some things weren’t going well, but it was a sunny afternoon and I got Cane to go to the library with me, where he sat and Facebookered while I just wandered though the stacks, one of my happiest places to be.

As you can probably guess, I was focusing on work more than my own pleasure, but honestly, it’s all pleasure. How cool is it that I have a job that requires me to read kid lit? (Really dang cool, that’s how cool.) Like Justine, I know when I’m checking the books out that I likely won’t read half of them. It’s the journey, not the destination. And the joy of the hunt.

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This is one I am reading. It is so, so good. A graphic novel great for any tween girl who’s got a dream–and it’s set in Portland. And I saw the Rose City Rollers just last spring! Highly recommend.

So, are Justine and I the only ones? Any of you library haulers? Why? And what kinds of books do you get? And please let me know what you’re reading…I’d love some new suggestions. Haven’t been able to hook into anything since I finished All the Light We Cannot See. Such a great book…

(sorta) Losing my religion

I was raised (sorta) Catholic, but as a teen and young adult it was in books that I placed my true faith. When I needed help knowing what to do and how to be, I turned to fiction, memoir, and poetry, where I found solace, companionship, adventure, wonder, and answers to important questions.

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Because books were so important to me, I kept all of mine for many years. Many I read and re-read, getting something different with each reading. Books were sacred objects, so much so that when a college boyfriend once threw my big fat collected works of Shakespeare across the room to provoke me–to say, no, they are not–I wondered if I should end the relationship.

While I knew some books were light or “trashy,” I once assumed that the books that were weightier would always be weighty. I assumed that they would always be relevant, important, a source of wisdom and light to me and anyone else who might read them. I knew they should always be kept. I knew their authors would always be important.

Um, no. Not really.

During May, I did a massive weeding at one of the libraries in my district, and I was able to see with the perspective of years that, in truth, most books are very much of their time. This particular library was filled with old books. Yellowed pages, dated covers, tiny print, characters no teens of today could relate to.

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While I remember loving Cynthia Voight’s award-winning Tillerman books (beginning with Homecoming) as a teen and then as a young teacher, I reluctantly parted with them. The old, yellowed books with outdated cover art hadn’t been checked out in years. While they are books that still have tremendous value and are often taught in English classes, I understood why the teens in this school weren’t checking these books out for independent pleasure reading (the primary need this collection meets). The books were long, with dense descriptions and ways of living and being that were common in the early 1980s but aren’t now. The early ’80s happened nearly 20 years before this library’s patrons were born.

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If you are a reader of a certain age, you most certainly remember Paul Zindel and My Darling, My Hamburger. It was pretty cutting-edge in its day, which was actually before mine. Skimming through it this spring, I read a few pages of mother-daughter interaction, and it was almost like reading about a foreign culture.

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This was the version in our library.

Even books from the early 90’s, when I began teaching, seemed out-of-touch. This made me feel old and a bit irrelevant myself. 🙂

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Once recommended this to many reluctant readers.

At first, it was hard to part with the books. Books! Books I (and others) once loved. Books that meant something to me and students of the past. But the case for parting with them was clear:  The books hadn’t been checked out in years, and our libraries are supposed to be places that houses resources people need today, not a museum to preserve those they once did.

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When our shelves are filled with books kids don’t want or need to read, they can’t find the ones they do. They come to believe that “there’s nothing good to read here” because it’s so hard to find the “good” things amongst all the other stuff. Think about the difference between a thrift store and a carefully curated vintage boutique.

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There are treasures here–but it’s hard to see them!

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This display from Portland’s Maven is so different from the basket aisle at Goodwill, and yet–I’ve seen baskets like most of these there.

It feels counter-intuitive–Libraries are supposed to keep things!–and when resource-strapped teachers see us discarding boxes of books, they protest:  “Those are perfectly good books! Why are you getting rid of them?”

But I came to see, in those boxes and boxes of books that no teen of today is going to read, that there is no point in keeping books that do nothing but take up shelf space. It does more harm than good.

During the same time, I was also reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s been all over everywhere, so I’m probably not breaking news of it to any of you, but I mention it here because I so love and agree with her thinking about stuff:

“To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To get rid of what you no longer need is neither wasteful or shameful.”
(page 61)

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My criteria for what’s useful in a personal book collection is different from that for a school library, but so much of what Kondo says applies to both:  “…we should be choosing what we want to keep, not want we want to get rid of.” (page 42)

Such a subtle distinction–but such an important one! So many articles and posts I’ve read on minimalism and decluttering focus on getting rid of things that are extraneous. The focus is on what doesn’t work and what’s not needed. Instead, Kondo’s focus is on what works. It’s on what has value, rather than what does not:

“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard the rest.”
(page 42)

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When I pare down my belongings, I more fully appreciate the things that remain. There are some books I continue to keep, because there is something in the physical object I want to hold onto. I get pleasure from the tangible object.

Favorite book

This is an old, yellowed, cheaply-made book with tiny type. But my grandfather gave it to me and my children loved when I read it to them. This one’s a keeper, but it’s one of only a few from childhood.

I’m learning that I can let go. I’m learning that what I got from the books that shaped me is not really carried in the books themselves. I can worship the process of reading–and thinking, and feeling, and living–and release the tangible products that were conduits to the experience.

I guess I’m not so much losing my religion as finding a new way to live my faith.