Empowerment through Language...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

D-U-N and the Universe Is Captured in a Video!

Good morning on the first Saturday of my transition from my teaching year to the rest of being a poet for the spring and summer. Yesterday I completed the K-12 teaching schedule for 2009-2010 and I am ready to unpack my suitcases and travel totes for a few months.

I noticed, when I logged in, that I have received 1400 hits to the site since I put in the counter (Thanks Linda E. for still another resource!). Although I have no idea how visitors get to me, other than those of you I know, I am delighted. Thanks. I would be very grateful if you passed on the link to my thoughts if you know anyone who may be interested. 

This year is has been the second year of my independent status as a teaching poet. Although the past 5 months of my concentrated teaching time has been demanding, I now have the freedom in life to attend to some of the aspects of being a poet that I have had to deny for many years of working a day job:

Reading: Between meeting the time demands of working a more traditional job, even if it is in a more creative field, and the amount of reading nearly any job I have worked has required, I find that pleasure reading slipped into an oblivion for a long time. This is regrettable because reading is so intrinsic to growing as a writer. Now I recognize that part of my "job" is to read...anything...everything. If I sit with a book for a morning, I have to remind myself that I am working.

Gardening: When I was a young poet, the last time I remember seeing my materal grandfather, Cleveland McConnell, at a family reunion, he took me for a short stroll away from everyone for a few moments. It is one of two times that I remember speaking one on one with my grandfather about who I am as a human. That day, on the shore of Oneida Lake in upstate New York, he told me, his first grandchild who yearned to be a poet, "Georgia Ann, if you want to be a poet, you need to do two things in your life: live in the country and grow a garden." He explained that the lessons of these two experiences at some point in the writer's life will contribute to a greater sense of the craft. After 10 years of living in my home, my first garden of my own, I enter this 11th growing season with a calmness but eager to pull weeds, mulch, balance my rocks, redefine the patterns, feel the sun on my back and hands.

Journaling: I go in spurts but it is easy to get busy and neglect the pen and the purity of the next page waiting to be filled. I wonder if journaling is a cure for arthritis? It is good for my hands and my soul. I cannot possibly capture everything daily that causes me to wonder, marvel, or freak out. But I find peace in the process and sometimes I get too busy.

Being Still in Meditation and Observation: Nuff said there. I will strive for more. The world is a beautiful moment. I must deepen this connection more regularly as I move through my existential development, cherishing this quiet Saturday morning more and more because, in truth, it is all any of us has. Now if I could just learn how to sleep soundly again. I lost that capacity years ago.

I wish you all peace, power, and poetry. I will write more of the miracles of my school year and all the incredible moments with students I experienced soon. Right now, I am going to be quiet for a few and let this new morning sink in a bit, knowing that I will not be anywhere but home on Monday morning. I urge you to do the same. 

P.S. To assist you on the transition to quiet, take a moment to view this YouTube video from the Hayden Planetarium! It is humbling and beautiful. Michael Wiggins, the daily blogger for the Association of Teaching Artists, posted the link and now I share the wonder with you. Thanks to the Planetarium for creating it and to Michael for sharing! Go now...into space...with this short film, The Known Universe from the American Museum of Natural History:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Life Lessons Never Stop

I am often like the students I teach. I get easily distracted and I do not track thought in a linear progression most of the time. Given my yearly schedule as a visiting writer, the number of classes that I teach in each school in a week or two of a residency, and the amount of materials I have to lug from one room to another on a daily basis to do my work, it is common that I leave a trail behind me. Teachers are used to me running into their rooms looking for books, water bottles, files, my clipboard, etc. I also have to adhere to that 4-minute span between classes and adjust to the temperament of the next group of students on the way. So I sometimes space out and leave things behind me.

A few weeks ago, I was teaching in a middle school. During a free period, I was working on a computer in a teacher's room, much as I am now. I checked email, my blog, did some research on a series of poems I am writing, general business. I have a collection of quality pens, often fountain pens, each with different colors of ink for various moods and purposes. As I also wrote about last spring, I have a black leather pen case (thanks to the inspiration and cajoling by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson) to keep the pens well. That morning, the last day of my residency, I gathered up my papers, journal, and other materials I had spread around me quickly to throw into my tote bag and resume teaching. I left the pen case on the table next to the computer without realizing I had done so.

By Sunday I realized my pens were not in my bag. I was nearly 4 hours away at home and I retraced my Friday. Monday morning I called the school and spoke with the teachers I figured I may have been visiting when the pens disappeared from my sight. One teacher emailed me later to say that she found the case but, regrettably, not the pens themselves.

I have developed an air of detachment about this. Although it will be a good chunk of change to replace them, the pens are replaceable and I fully accept my responsibility for being lax in the first place. My choice was to ask the teacher to please communicate to her students that I would not seek any punishment or retribution and that I would fully respect the person who could return the pens, making amends for bad judgment.

I asked the teacher to explain that these are my tools, just as the tool belt laden with well balanced hammers, sturdy tape measures, etc., are the house builder's tools. I also described all the pens because they are very distinctive, as are the colors of ink. Another step for me was to contact a student with whom I had developed a line of communication to ask him to put word out that Ms. Popoff would appreciate the return of her property.

The most ironic thing is that the pens would soon be useless to whomever had taken them because the ink is only available on line for each of the pens and the method of refilling the ink reservoir is tricky at best. I had hoped this would contribute to reason.

I understand theivery and wanting things that are attractive. It happens all the time. I even have to admit that, as a middle-schooler, I got nabbed for shoplifting. I had to go home and tell my parents and have them call the store manager. It was humiliating and taught me a lesson I never forgot and it ended my career of petty larceny. So it is no surprise that the pens disappeared.  They are WAY COOL!

I decided to wait, to see if I had enough social capital in the school to have the pens come home to roost. After a couple of weeks, of enlisting the watchful eyes of several key students, etc., the pens never reappeared. I can order two of them on line. I can replace the third, a handmade wooden fountain pen with a great nib, when the annual summer craft fair opens in downtown Syracuse and that artisan returns. I imagine the pens will wind up in the back of someone's drawer, useless testimony to their poor choice.

I will also write a letter to be read to the students next week and I hope the teacher will comply. I will express my regret that someone disrespected me, the teacher, her classroom's sovereignty, and his/herself not just once but twice; the first in stealing the pens in the first place, the second in not having the courage to return them. I do appreciate that they did not take the case as well. It was just getting broken in. I have more pens at home that need to nestle in the softening leather. When I get back from my last 3 days of my year as a visiting writer, I will fill the three berths and then get on line and order the clones of the ones I lost. Next year, I will only carry commercial pens into school. That is my lesson. But I also acknowledge that it is the first time in 10 years that I have been victim to sticky fingers. That is a great track record. I will also try to be less like a child and take responsibility to keep my things in order from one moment to the next. I am sure my host teachers will appreciate that well.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Sometimes I Just Want to Be Identified as Poet

I wear so many hats. I always have. The list of jobs, affiliations, the huge Venn Diagram of my spheres of influence is confounding, at best. I have been a multi-tasker since I was young, the daughter of a multi-tasker. I have always thought being busy nonstop was what life is all about.

I am nearly through the school season this year, just 2 more weeks of teaching this month and I am done for 2009-10. I will end with high schoolers. There are a lot of implications in teaching high school: the ability to assume a deeper conversation (at times), the hope that skills will be keener, but the tests can be just as challenging, even frustrating. But I have also found that every age group or grade level provides me with blessings and challenges, during which I always have the opportunity to grow. 

This week, before I head to my last residency of the year, I will first go to Denver for the annual AWP conference, a gathering of writers...thousands of writers. It boggles the mind. Words will be everywhere. Discussions on craft, panels discoursing on the minutiae and the grand understandings, readings, sneaking away with friends from other parts of the USA, a couple of beverages to be consumed, most likely. Then there is the trick-or-treating at the book fair! Yahoo!

For years, I only attended arts-in-education conferences because that learning strand was necessary to the job I held as well as to the development of my practice as a teaching artist. Since I became self supporting as a freelance teaching artist and poet, I have discovered a new relationship with the definition of work. Now, when I sit down with a collection of poetry by a friend or emerging writer who has been recommended to me, it is not cheating; it is a part of my work. One of the best aspects of my new career path has been the beauty of reading again. How can a writer grow if reading is not a habit? 

At AWP, I will attend some of the Writers in the Schools Alliance events to listen and share. I will also be sure to find readings by poets I love or want to hear how the cadence of their voices mold their language. I will sneak off for a couple of meals in a small group of other writers. Perhaps I will find a group of writers identifying with the label "Dancer" at some point and blow off some steam from sitting in an ocean of words. I will have 3 days in which I will wear one hat...the one that reads "POET" in purple embroidery, the invisible hat that I wear underneath all the others every day.