Showing posts from January, 2009

Blog Your Blessings: A Perfect Essay

It's a perfect essay, I told my students. And we're going to read it to see how a perfect essay is written, and how you can learn to read for answers in one and then to write one.

The perfect essay was President Obama's letter to his daughters, which ran in the Parade section of our January 19 newspaper. In it, Obama explains to his daughters--and to all American children--why he chose to run for the presidency. He begins with a clear introduction in a paragraph that ends with a thesis statement. Each of the next seven paragraphs identifies a reason he chose to run for office. The conclusion summarizes the essay and includes a restatement of the thesis.

The structure is textbook perfection. The content is a story of love for his daughters and the belief that if you love your family you do everything you can to make their lives as good as they can be. The bottom line: running for office was a gesture of love. In the words of another brilliant writer--Elie Wiesel--the theme is…

Skywatch Friday: But We Couldn't Smell Snow

Late afternoon took on a snowy glow, but we couldn't smell snow and therefore dismissed the possibility snow would come. There isn't a person I know from around these parts who doesn't claim to smell snow before it comes. If you know the smell, you're nodding right now. If you don't, then come to Connecticut and find out what cold and quiet and still and moist smell like even before they arrive.

Skywatch Friday

Wordless Wednesday: The Only Way to Warm Up

The only way to warm up when I'm just out the door on a single-digit morning and waiting for the bun warmers to heat up is to start from the top and pop a few cinnamon Tic-Tacs. That's thanks to dad, who supplied me with a half dozen packages when Della and I stopped by last week. The heat is an illusion, but on a cold day, that's okay! (This container caught my eye because I never saw them so lined up so neatly.)

Wordless Wednesday

My World Tuesday: A Psychological Tour of Connecticut in Winter

For the past few weeks My World Tuesday has for me been full of snow and ice. I had sought to add a little variety to spice up life for this week. Alas, the best I could do was to capture an image of the strange dialogue between warmth and winter that begins at the end of every Connecticut January and ends with winter's having the last word. To thaw or not to thaw, my dear? The answers yes and no come simultaneously and leave us with water that is and is not frozen on a landscape that sometimes conceals moving streams or ribbons of ice. You don't know until you fall through.

My World Tuesday

Weekend Snapshot: Doing Lunch in Litchfield

Very often these horses are out to lunch when I pass by their pasture on Route 188 in Litchfield, Connecticut, when I am making my way to Wisdom House. On Saturday, I attempted a few photos. I rushed because traffic on this road is pretty intense. The "woosh" of a few cars that passed me while I was trying to compose the shots rocked my car and convinced me to hurry. These animals are the picture of peace; they stand (and eat) in stark contrast to the weekenders who blew by my car.
Weekend Snapshot

One Single Impression: If Only I Had the Time

Each snowflake
A second of my life and yours
A breath
Those snowflakes
My lifetime and yours.
Each space between each flake
A second in time
Another breath,
Another lifetime.
What distance? What life? What death in this breath?
What value, this measurement?
Wait with me
For all the snow
Together at once here and at your feet
A blanket, a shield
A veil between the truth
That life flies by
Except in the coming together
In the breath
To be snow,
Water. Who can say.
Wait with me
Take with me
The deep breath
We call time.

One Single Impression

Blog Your Blessings: Music

I was in one of my usual spots on Tuesday as the president's inauguration unfolded--behind the wheel of my VW Jetta heading for the house. Though I was a bit frustrated that highway construction and traffic kept me from watching all of the event, it seemed to me at the time that this extraordinary, ordinary moment should take place for me where I always am anyway. So I accepted the traffic until I pulled into my garage--and then I ran like a mad woman to see what there was to see on TV, unlacing my boots even as I ran for the house. I wanted all of it.

Happily, I caught the performance of John Williams's arrangement of "Air and Simple Gifts" featuring Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero and Anthony McGill. Here are the lyrics:

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,

'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true si…

Skywatch Friday: From a Summer Day (That Feels so Long Ago)

This is a reflected sky view I came across one warm day on Topsail Island, North Carolina, last August. There is an osprey nest in the right of the photo.

Skywatch Friday


There is no security on this earth, there is only opportunity. (General DouglasMacArthur)

Wordless Wednesday: Hold Your -- Icicle


One Nation. So be it.


My World Tuesday: Pressed into Flight

One sunny summer day last year, my friend and I came across these designs pressed into the concrete slabs of a building that was once a factory in New Haven, Connecticut. The place is a warehouse for a hotel furniture liquidator now. The bottom photo is a view of New Haven harbor from the Long Wharf area.

My World Tuesday

Weekend Snapshot: My Fortune


One Single Impression: Faded Memories

When the mid-January smell of winter is too much
And the glare of too much light
On too deep snow blinds me,
I lean back and open wide
To drink the rain of a February memory....
A night a dance a boy and me

There is little left of that memory..
The exact time, who else, what music, and how
Washed away years ago...

But the feeling remains:
A night a dance a boy and me
Hearts free from bruises
Pulse to the delightful beat of possibility...
All life, all life ahead...

There is a photo:
All light and life remain
Though our faces have faded with age.
It hardly matters now:
I lean back, open wide,
And stay in that moment
Way past curfew

When January is too much with me.

The thought of the words "faded memories" at once makes me think of any one of my photo albums from the 1970s and 1980s. What happened with film processing back then that images seem to be dissolving in a puddle of fading color right on the photographic paper? I have photos from high school that are all but gone. I look at them and see …

Embrace: 'We Cannot Account for It All'

The heart of man can be full of so much pain, even when things are exteriorly 'all right.' It becomes all the more difficult because today we are used to thinking that there are explanations for everything. But there is no explanation for most of what goes on in our own hearts, and we cannot account for it all. No use resorting to the kind of mental tranquilizers that even religious explanations sometimes offer. Faith must be deeper than that, rooted in the unknown and in the abyss of darkness that is the ground of our being. (Thomas Merton)

Blog Your Blessings: The Bad Kids

This week's blessing comes from the most difficult class of children I teach. This class of 28 seventh-graders includes seven or eight obnoxious, ungrateful, and downright mean-spirited children who refuse to learn and to cooperate so that the other kids can learn. Like my other classes, I see them twice a week for lessons in reading and writing. I search high and low for reading material that is both current and interesting for them.

Without fail, these angry kids do everything they can to keep the lesson from getting off the ground. They talk, they talk back, they interrupt, they throw papers, they break the pencils I give them and throw them at me or at other students. They make jokes about every kind of sex you can imagine, violence against each other, and the shoes on my feet.

I call their homes and their mothers promise to have their fathers or some other relative beat them. I send them to the office; they are suspended and return after a few days unchanged. I attempt to work…

Skywatch Friday: Blue, Diamonds

Walking in the woods on Sunday, I noticed the snow seemed to glow with the blue light of the bright, clear sky. These fallen trees intrigued me. The bottom one was dead, but the top tree and its twisted, pulled-up roots was quite alive. Together they looked like two good and loyal friends. There is an abstract, sensuous beauty about the trees and the shapes they take together that captivates me.

Skywatch Friday

Watch Your Mouth

My sixth-grade students and I have been looking at the story of Ra this week. It is an Egyptian creation legend. From a vast sea emerges an egg; from the egg emerges Ra, who announces his being and therefore is. He names the gods of heaven and earth and then creates people. Seeing their helplessness, he steps down from the heavens, takes human form, and lives among them as their pharaoh.

One of the questions accompanying this lesson designed by my colleague asked the kids to compare this story to a similar myth or legend. Faced with this question, they gave me blank stares. So I launched into the Bible as Literature for Middle School Kids in Three Minutes and, oops, did not leave God out of it. I told them that in the Judeo-Christian text, God appears from an immense darkness and, like Ra, begins naming things. The things he names become their names and the world takes shape and lives.


If I call you a rose, you will feel elegant and beautiful, beloved. If I call you ragweed, you wi…

Wordless Wednesday: Outta Here


My World Tuesday: More Connecticut Snow

These are images of Mine Hill Preserve in Roxbury, Connecticut. It's a wonderful preserve on the site of an iron mine that ran for about five years in the 1860s. The preserve goes up and on forever until it stops.You see nothing but the mountain laurel in front of you and then it's down, down, down. In the warm weather, quartz is visible everywhere among the rocks and other debris from the mining days, and it's magical. Though the mine has been defunct for a very long time, it's easy to see Mother Nature reclaiming her own despite the fearsome scrape she endured back then. Down the road, where the brothel, general store, railroad station, and lumberyard used to be, there is nothing. The few remaining buildings look like they would gladly give up the ghost if it weren't for the few nails holding them together. Go, Mother Nature! (This video will show you the iron works and other features of the preserve.)

My World Tuesday

Weekend Snapshot: Slow Snow in the Woods

When the snow started on Saturday afternoon, I decided to go for a walk and wondered, "Do I take the camera?" At first, I thought I'd leave it behind, thinking I've taken these photos before. Then I changed my mind. Looking for the picture helps me see the same old things in new ways. The snow was falling at a 45-degree angle, and I had to keep my eyes down for a good while. I noticed this fern that had managed to rise to the surface of the last storm, and I liked it very much.

Another day, intense low-flying daylight, another fern:

Weekend Snapshot

One Single Impression: A Summer's Day

On a hot and hard and humid day,
The taste and scent of my own sweat
And the sound of my own voice
Talking to shadows
In the utter stillness
Amid the blinding brightness of sunlight
Spilling through the clouds
In steam showers laden with rainbows
That never quite touch this earth--

These become my daydream of love.

Also in this dream:
The iron spikes of a thistle,
Small yet strong
And pushing through
The center of this vision,
Pushing back the rainbows.

This is the nature of love,
The nature of my heart,
In this dream.

It is a lonely thing.

The summer night is like a perfection of thought. (Wallace Stevens)

It seems to me poetry is as much about subterfuge as it is about honesty. While it gets at the exquisite beauty and truth (same thing?) of a single experience, it does so in a way that maintains a distance between speaker and audience. Diction and structure see to it. They allow the writer the wriggle room to say, "No, it wasn't about that at all," or "No, I wasn't using that wor…

Blog Your Blessings: Finding the Train

"So where did the train go?" I asked my daughter when she told me about a devastatingly dull art class, the focus of which was the vanishing point--that imaginary point on the horizon where things seem to disappear. The art teacher had my daughter's fifth-grade class use pencils only to draw train tracks that seemed to converge until they disappeared on the horizon. They used pencils only to draw the detail that vanished in the distance, too.

No color. This was a big part of the problem. The other problem? She kept explaining the vanishing point as if they didn't get it the first time. Duh. The tracks seem to come together until they disappear because you can't see anymore. Got it.

No magic, no color, no life. No story. A concept and a pencil. Might as well be math class.

"But where did the train go?"

"She didn't say."

"Let's find the train. Teach me the way you'd want the class taught and we'll find the train on the other side…

Skywatch Friday: Spring's Asleep

Kind of grim....

...until you step back and see that spring is here....

but she is yet asleep.

Skywatch Friday

Wisdom: The Book


It's not about brains.
It's not about the accumulation of knowledge.
It's about being decent.
(Bryce Courtenay)

You can't get to wonderful
without passing through all right.
(Bill Withers)

You cannot control people by fear
because their ultimate essence is constantly craving dignity.
The human being has a need for dignity like water, like air.
(Wole Soyinka)

You don't have to be rich.
You don't have to be an army.
If you find yourself in a situation that needs to be changed,
if you're willing to offer your life for it,
you might actually get something done.
(Bernice Johnson Reagon)

We've got to learn to love something deeply.
Sounds sentimental as hell,
but I think [wisdom is] love.
(Andrew Wyeth)

"Inspired by the idea that wisdom is the greatest gift one generation can give to another, award-winning photographer and filmmaker Andrew Zuckerman interviewed, photographed and filmed 50 of the world’s great writers, actors, artists, designers, pol…

Dawn Fire

Ever hour she awoke in a new room. Every hour the black dog with the splayed hips found her. His will alone propelled him forward, often working against the best efforts of his legs. And he curled up inside her, nesting himself in the cradle of her body and breathing in time with her breath. And then it happened of course that she up and left him there without even knowing it. Without even knowing it. Up and moved to a new fire--though there was no fire--where he would find her again. And claim her as home. She did not wake with the sunrise but beat it to that moment--precisely twenty seconds before the buzzer could shatter the dark peace. She lay their captive, wondering how it was the dog always stayed at the last campfire. How the dog knew.

One Single Impression: Disguise

Treetops swayed in the November wind
Swayed into darkness
With the music of storms
Music was the partner of night
Stripped bare in the dance
Bare yet rooted yet reaching
Rooted deeper into the unfathomable
Deep and naked night

The clothes of day lay at my feet
Crumpled, wet,and ruined

Crumpled, wet, and ruined
I stood as a silent intruder

One late October evening
Disguised, as I said,
As November.

And I had nothing to say

No need to speak.
Nothing to disguise.

One Single Impression

Blog Your Blessings: The Passed Note

The other day I read a heart-rending paragraph, the honesty and vulnerability of which pressed a hole in the walls I have built around my heart. After reading this young man's writing, I wept and wept and wept.
The young man is a student, of course. Being the pain he tries so hard to be, he passed this paragraph to another student just to make a show of himself. He knew I'd take it, and I did. He was at something, and I knew it, so it was a matter of going through the motions of Confiscating the Note Passed during Class.
Well. He writes about broken-heartedness, about being played by people who say they love you but serve their own needs and walk away. He recognizes the self-destructive anger that ensues. And then he writes: But if you are true to the lightness in your heart, you will heal and you will return to your normal state and if you find yourself in this situation of being in love, think before you decide--or suffer endless pain.
The truth of it broke my heart. It needed …

Wordless Wednesday: Monkeying Around with Tracey the Tree at the Rainforest Cafe


My World Tuesday: A Walk in the Snow

This was the view on Day 2 of 2009 when my daughter and I stopped at my parents' home in Newtown, Connecticut. They live near a brook along which there once ran a rail line. The tracks are still visible in some places; where they are not, the straight lines of where they used to be persist. The clouds muffled all sound on a very peaceful day that brought snow showers and plenty of reasons to stay inside and enjoy heat and light and the company of my family. Days like this always bring to mind Christina Rossetti's 1872 poem "In the Bleak Midwinter" about the birth of Christ into the metaphorical cold of this world:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ....

What …

Weekend Snapshot: Shrug

We stopped at the Rainforest Cafe for lunch on Saturday. The food was good, the decor was over the top, the people traffic was non-stop. What's a golden boy to do but shrug?

Weekend Snapshot

One Single Impression: Skin

So often words fail
To close the gap,
Fail to name
The truth of love.

Then must our skin
Speak for us
Until there is

No space, no silence
Nothing between
Your pulse and mine
But skin
Hand to hand,
Heart to heart,
Cheek to cheek
All pulse and breath
That is life
That becomes a dance,
Your life and mine, one life
One gesture that begs
All language to blow out the lights
And be gone;

All will be well.

One Single Impression

The Rising Blogger: Thank You

Thanks to Viola Jaynes for nominating my post, "Kill Yourself and I'll Feel Bad." as Post of the Day at The Rising Blogger.

According to this blog, "The Rising Blogger is devoted to finding and spotlighting the best of the blogosphere in order to help bloggers find, enjoy, appreciate, and validate the work of other bloggers. The Rising Blogger Post of the Day Award is bestowed upon original content that is insightful, inspiring, newsworthy, educational, informative, touching, creative, interesting, humorous or..."

Thank you, friends.

Blog Your Blessings: One Swift Kick

For the length of a family Christmas party, a first-grade boy wears a hard plastic Rudolph nose that lights up.

At the end of the evening, an older cousin says to him with a laugh, "Sorry, but I just have to do this," and plucks the nose away from the little boy's face and snaps it.

To say "ouch" would be to say the least.

"No problem," the first-grader responds. "I just have to do this!" And he delivers a swift kick straight into the shin of the older boy.

End of conversation. "Nobody chastised A---," his father later says with a smile of pride. [I have deleted my nephew's name to protect the proactive, of course.]

Damn right they didn't, I think to myself, and I smile and laugh out loud, too. That swift kick said it all. I am an indulgent aunt; this child can do no wrong in my eyes. Nosireebob, he is perfect in every way.

Yet he assaulted a child who was only having a bit of fun at Christmas.


Isn't that right, San…

Skywatch Friday: Happy New Year