The Paradox

For the past two months, I have been at home taking care of our newborn daughter. She’s adorable, incredibly alert, and usually snuggly.

Perhaps the most frequent piece of parenting advice I’ve received is “Enjoy this time; it goes so fast.” That’s true… except when it doesn’t.

At three AM when 15 minutes with a sleepless, fussy baby feels like three hours. When you realize that the accumulated sleep debt is affecting your brain’s ability to process information. During an errand that would have been a mindless 30 minutes pre-baby turns into a two hour ordeal. Checking in on work email and realizing that you really miss your colleagues and the intellectual engagement of your job.

While I love her intensely, there are certainly moments in which enjoyment is the furthest thing from my mind, and I’d love to be doing something, anything, else.

The paradox is that this time with a child is exactly what I’d longed for in the abstract for years and in the concrete for months. While watching others hold their children. When hoping for a positive pregnancy test of our own. Although I am looking forward to returning to teaching in a little more than a month,  I also suspect that these moments with her will be the ones I find myself thinking wistfully back on. 

I choose a poem each school year and, given my current station in life, one that our priest posted recently on Facebook seems particularly apt.

The Paradox

When I am inside writing,  all I can think about is how I should be outside living.

When I am outside living,
all I can do is notice all there is to write about.

When I read about love, I think I should be out loving.
When I love, I think I need to read more.

I am stumbling in pursuit of grace,
I hunt patience with a vengeance.

On the mornings when my brother’s tired muscles
held to the pillow, my father used to tell him,

For every moment you aren’t playing basketball,
someone else is on the court practicing.

I spend most of my time wondering
if I should be somewhere else.

So instead, I have learned to shape the words thank you
with my first breath each morning, my last breath every night.

When the last breath comes, at least I will know I was grateful
for all the places I was so sure I was not supposed to be.

All those places I made it to,
all the loves I held, all the words I wrote.

And even if it is just for one moment,
I know I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.

(As performed by Sarah Kay in Scripps College Commencement Speech, 16 May 2015)

I find it so easy to want to be somewhere else in the midst of so many seasons of life, to be looking forward to what comes next or  mourning what I’ve left behind. This FOMO (fear of missing out) seems a hallmark of so much of modern life and, more often than I’d like, the space on my head. Gratitude, Kay suggests, may not take away FOMO, but it can help us avoid wishing our lives away. 

In addition to pushing back against FOMO, Brene Brown writes that gratitude also fights the anxiety and fear that find their way into the hearts of parents. Anne Lamott names thank as one of the three essential prayers.

This school year, abbreviated though it will be, I’m hopeful I can be grateful for where I am at the moment. 

I Want to Be Famous

Teachers head back for the 2014-2015 school year tomorrow. Students won’t come for another week and a half, but even so, it definitely feels like there’s a change in the air. It’s been a big summer- getting married, transforming my house into our house, a couple short road trips, a week of camp, and a lot of reading and cooking. The 50 Books and 50 Hikes are coming along, although I’m taking more long walks, rather than hikes.

At the beginning of each school year, I select a poem and tape it to a space near my table in the classroom. As I enter my eighth year of teaching, I sometimes fight the feeling that I should have done more by now, worked harder, been more focused. The alumni newsletter brings word of classmates tenured, installed, promoted, and honored. While I feel a deep sense of gratitude and joy for what I’ve been able to accomplish, it can be tempting to measure myself against those tidbits of their lives. So this poem from Naomi Shihab Nye feels right for this year.

Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

Nourish Beginnings

Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blest, but the
seeds of all things are blest.
The blessing is in the seed.

From “Elegy in Joy” by Muriel Rukeyser

I’m sitting in a coffee shop, Post-it note to-do list and rapidly filling academic year planner at hand. I checked Twitter to find that Jim is also preparing for the beginning of the school year. As usual, he offers thoughtful and timely encouragement to teachers planning for another year in the classroom.

I’m feeling uncharacteristically optimistic this year. The stress of the new year tends to overwhelm me for a couple of weeks before I get back in a good rhythm. There’s no less to do this year than usual and likely some of it won’t get done before students return on Wednesday, but I feel more ok with that than I have in previous years.

I choose a poem for each year I teach. Below is the one I’ve picked for this year…

by Michael Ryan

Fragile, provisional, it comes unbidden
as evening: the children on the block
called in to dinner that for tonight
is plentiful, as if it had cost nothing
either in money or worry about money.

Then evening deepens and the street
turns silent. There may be disasters
idling in driveways, and countless distresses
sharpening, but all that matters
most that must be done is done.

Mashup, Mixtape Culture

I never feel comfort
Steeped in commodity
Tangible artifacts and wasted ideas

Counting joy uncovered exits
Changed the argument
The beginnings of the difference

Dusty road
Gets me where I need to be

-A found poem pulled from final UNCCWP SI reading


Had this song in my head as I was writing

Poetry Crawl

In Melissa’s demo today, we reflected on our experiences with poetry. I hated poetry in school, mostly because I felt like I didn’t “get” it. There weren’t clear right answers, and it often seemed like analysis of poems was just the teacher or students BS-ing about how it made them feel.

My best teachers of poetry weren’t teachers I had in school. They were friends who shared poems they loved with me. They loved the poems in front of me. (Mister Rogers says teachers are “people who have passion for their art or their science or their craft and love it right in front of us”)

As we were choosing a poem to share for the gallery crawl, I noticed how intently everyone was working. I wanted my poem to be a good representation of what I cared about and found beautiful. I decided to pull together a quick video- a title, a picture from one of my hikes, and my reading of the poem. 10 minutes was not enough time to do it justice, but did give me a sense of having completed something that I could share. I was impressed by the variety of poems people chose- songs, haiku, funny, penetrating.

Stunt Poetry

At about 3am this morning, I awoke. (Grr! teacher insomnia.) I clicked on a link from my Twitter stream, which led me to the Vimeo homepage. The video I wanted wouldn’t load, but the title of the video below caught my eye. It is an incredible piece of cinematography. I think it’d make a great writing prompt either for poetry (a description of the motion in the video) or prose (What’s this guy’s story?)

Stunt Poetry from Rishi Kaneria on Vimeo.

Poem for the Year

In addition to a motto, I like the idea of adopting a poem for the school year. If I’d chosen a poem for last year, it likely would have been “To Raja Rao” by Czeslaw Milosz. A few days ago, the poem below was included in the Writers’ Almanac email (which is a great way to ensure you read at least one poem a day), and I quickly decided it would be my poem for this year.

Increasingly, I hear people extolling the value of failure in learning and teaching. (It’s not a new idea, but it seems to be popping up recently.) That resonates with me to a degree, but I also struggle with finding ways to move forward after failure, either failure according to my expectations or others. I think what I like best about this poem is the way it imagines embracing failure without discounting the work and joy that came before.

state park june 10 040


by Wendell Berry

I go by a field where once
I cultivated a few poor crops.
It is now covered with young trees,
for the forest that belongs here
has come back and reclaimed its own.
And I think of all the effort
I have wasted and all the time,
and of how much joy I took
in that failed work and how much
it taught me. For in so failing
I learned something of my place,
something of myself, and now
I welcome back the trees.

From Leavings, 2010
Online in the Writers’ Almanac

If you were to choose a poem for the year, what would it be? If you need a place to start, is a great resource.