Friday, December 31, 2010

Core story. What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world?

Once upon a time there was a little girl who liked to play outside, who had a playful imagination, who had access to acres of woods and pasture, who read, over and over again, the stories of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome.

She didn't like dolls too much, because when she was a little girl, they were being made of a new sort of substance, a greasy plastic that did not feel good to her. When she had to play inside, she preferred building with blocks and inventing towns inhabited by her small figurines of animals (made of porcelain). She also liked singing, dancing to music her mother or sister played on the piano, and trying to play the piano herself.

She was happiest in the spring, summer, and fall, when the woods were her open to her for hours at a time. She staged elaborate plays in which she played the part, usually, of Diana, or Artemis, the huntress/goddess, who was beloved of her people and sought after by many suitors. None of the suitors measured up to her high standards, but they often tried to surprise her in her wanderings through the woods. She was haughty and dismissive with them. If she didn't play the part of Diana, she might be Athena, who had sprung from the forehead of Zeus and was very smart. For this little girl, being smart was the goal, was fun, and was valued by all her friends in the forest. It was not, however, valued by kids in the school she attended, and so she had to hide the fact that she read constantly and often knew the answers to teachers' questions. In school, she was charming and open, never haughty or dismissive. In the woods, she had chances to act naturally and also to act in ways she would never dream of in real life. Her little dramas gave her a chance to try out whatever emotion or character or idea she wanted.

Her days in elementary school were far less exciting than her secret life in the woods, so she developed fantasies of being "rescued" from school. A knight on horseback might erupt from certain tiles in the floor of her fourth grade classroom and whisk her away to adventures in a magical forest. A trap door might open under her desk, dropping her into a chute that would take her far away from multiplication tables, worksheets, and SRA reading exercises.

She continued to read stacks of books from the library every week, even when she outgrew her forest theatrics. The voices of the other characters, which she had spoken aloud for herself as she played alone, now inhabited her inner life. Sometimes she wrote down what they said. Sometimes she heard them in the music she loved. She would often choose and practice piano pieces that were really too difficult for her skill level simply because the sound of them reminded her of some emotion, some trait of character, some idea that she wanted to "play" with. She practiced on her own and then asked her piano teacher for help sometimes, and luckily her piano teacher helped her master whatever part of each difficult piece that her small child's hands could master. Her piano teacher somehow knew that it was okay for her to play the pieces imperfectly, that it was not "wrong" to try those difficult pieces.

In a similar way, her mother knew that it was not wrong for this girl to be allowed to read anything and everything she wanted, whether it was classics like Little Women or the entire set of James Bond spy thrillers. She was allowed to read and read and read. This continued right through high school, when she read everything on the college prep reading list and almost everything on the alternate "underground" list (books like The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Future Shock, Black Like Me, The Way It Spozed to Be). She didn't understand everything she read, but she understood some of every book, and stored the experience and ideas for future use.

These childhood dispositions informed her teaching, much later in her life, and helped her understand that good teachers must provide an environment where children are given guidance but with freedom to learn in whatever direction makes the most sense to them.

The childhood dramas informed her writing, much later in her life, and helped her envision the Cosmic Temptress, the Raven Who Follows the Light, and the Orange Wanderer.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Right now, I am working on a paper that is not due until January 17, even though the class met for the last time early in December. Several times, when I explain my Incomplete to friends or family, I have referred to this extra time as a gift from the professor, a phenomenally intelligent math teacher who teaches a required class on theories of learning to doctoral students. All but two of the students in the seminar have taken the incomplete to have more time for the ambitious project she assigned us, and she willingly gave us the time. In fact, she encouraged us to take extra time for it. Free from the distractions of other course readings and time schedules, I have been able to dig into my topic, chosen for its importance in my field of teaching (literacy), reading widely and devouring entire books in some cases. I am learning so much that it overflows, and I need to meet with other teachers of writing to talk it over before I... well, explode, perhaps? I am really learning. Real learning requires time, and she has given me just that. I have joked about giving her a present when we turn in our papers and get on with the next semester; I probably won't, but then I am indebted to her.

The gift of love and support I get from John and from family helps me every day. John assures me, as he did the day we were married almost a year and half ago, that he is "in it for the long haul." So the fact that I am holed up with books and writing during what should be my winter break doesn't bother him. My family members ask me about school, rejoice with me when I get the chance to teach at university again, and listen to my ideas and my rants, just as they did when I was a classroom teacher. I sense that my sister Mary (a retired second grade teacher) and I are about to have the conversation we often had in earlier decades, about starting a school of our own, staffing it with all the best people we know. I know many good teachers. I even mentioned the idea of starting a charter school to my colleagues from the writing project when I saw a few of them this week. The fact that I can sit and talk and imagine with all of these dear ones is a gift.

Each day is a gift: each day that I can get up early, walk on my own legs to my desk, brew some coffee to fuel my way through the wee hours of reading and writing, pull on weather-appropriate clothing to go out in the air and walk, breathing in and breathing out. The sights and sounds and smells of nature are gifts which also fill me with amazement almost constantly. Even now, in the depth of cold, dark winter, I find much beauty to sustain me. These gifts surprise me again every morning.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The reverb#10 prompt for today is about photos of ourselves. I think that I might appear in a handful of photos taken this year, mostly in Virginia when we visited Brooke, Julia, and Peter, and a couple taken at John's retirement "dinner" (I use that term loosely, as dinner consisted of pizza, vegetables and dip, and cheese and crackers...and all the soda we could drink. Whoop-de-do).
I took more photos this year, though, than I have taken since I was in junior high. Most of them I snapped with my cell phone while I was walking on Red Oak Lane or North Road. Some I used John's digital camera for. Some of them actually look good, especially the ferns in fall that I am using for my desktop background on all three computers (my own two laptops and the account I use at school in the grad office). The colors are so subtle, so unexpected. Brown ferns, colored after the nighttime temperatures have dropped to frost them: all brown, right? No, there is an almost iridescent sheen of variations of purple, black, brown, and in such an intricate arrangement of interwoven leaves. It reminds me of herringbone tweed, but the colors are wild rather than subdued and conservative.

I also like the picture of the exposed root system from one of the big pines just south of the house, uprooted to show strange twists that must have been established by the tiny little root tendrils of the seedlings, twisted around each other like hair on the bathroom floor, but now grown large and muscular and almost frightening. Certainly suggestive.

After I finished my first year as a doctoral student, last June, a classmate and I had a bonfire out by the pond, and I have pictures of before (where the material dragged out of the earlier form of "girl cave" is stacked and ready) and after (where the fire is raging).

Other pictures: blueberries on the bushes at Stone Hill Blueberry Farm, where I picked many days in July and August, sunsets on the Jersey Shore from our June trip, dead pine trunks reflected on the calm surface of the big pond, many fall pictures (because I just can't get over the colors and the subtlety of the changes; it's new to me every year).

Not so many pictures of people. I prefer to see my people face to face, always have. Facebook is a good second.

I hope to work more with John's digital camera this year, and perhaps develop a gift I was given by my father and mother long ago: eyes that see beauty and artwork all around me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

New name. Let's meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?

Of course, some people know me as Cookie Baker. That name came into being around 1996, when someone noticed that I had baked more than one batch of cookies in the period of a year or so (thanks, Chuck, for noticing and for introducing me with my stage name). I don't bake cookies too often, but Cookie Baker made a great stage name as I began performing in the area, with my bass guitar, my microphone, and various bands in various genres: Red Dog Blues Band, Blue Denim, The Interns (remember Monica Lewinsky?), Crossroads, Deep Blue C, String of Pearls. I've performed for about 15 years locally, and some folks into live music don't know that Cookie Baker is not my real name. It still might happen that someone will come up to me and ask, "Are you Cookie Baker, the blues musician? I saw you play at ..." What fun to have a pseudonym that survives your involvement in the scene!

When John and I first met, he inspired me to dabble in some fiction, and I created a character named The Cosmic Temptress. As far as John and I are concerned, I am the Cosmic Temptress. This person lives in a different time, probably a different universe, than I do, but still visits the same woods, streams, and fields that we see out our back windows. This person has the time to learn about whatever she is interested in, and the power to draw to her the best minds in any topic. No internet exists in her time and place, though, so face to face contact is how it happens. She is learned, and (unlike me) speaks several languages fluently. She is also artistic and musical; very creative in all modes. Re-reading what I have written about her, it strikes me that she made her own internet by searching her universe for content in the form of knowledgeable people.

Raven Who Follows the Light would be my native name. Native to where? I'm not sure, except nature and the earth plays a more prominent role in the lives of these fictional natives. I've come to respect ravens and other corvids (far more crows visit my woods than ravens, although we have seen some here and at Cole Park nearby) for their intelligence and loyalty to each other. The role of light and its energy in our existence, both physically and philosophically, has emerged as an important concept. I think about it often, and I'm especially interested in attempts to relate light/energy to all facets of existence. I used to try to call ravens to me; I imitated their cries when I heard them at Cole Park. We had a few visit for a short time on some spring and summer days, but they never stayed. That makes me sad, but now I am befriending a trio of crows who count my lawns and woods as their territory. I understand from shows on public television that they might be a family unit, with one crow who is too young to go out on his/her own, or who doesn't want to leave.

Li'l Coda is a name given to me by a student in my classes during my last year at the middle school. I remind myself of it (though more often it is John who reminds me of it) when I am feeling old or detached from young people. It helps me remember that I can always listen when the young are talking and discussing, and I can learn their lingo if I listen respectfully enough and give them chances to demonstrate the meaning they have created and continue to create in their lives. This happens despite all efforts by society to shut down their creativity in the name of schooling. The reading I've been doing this semester has revealed this crushing aspect of classrooms to me somewhat, and I would like to make that lesson more clear to those entering the teaching profession.

I remember one other name that I have sometimes: Crazy Aunt Carol. My nieces and nephews have used this, primarily Brookie, and I even sang solo at one or two performances under this name. I like the family connection of this name, and I like the way it allows for behavior that is not in accordance with the straight and narrow and accepted and expected. It covers an aspect of myself that I accept, most of the time, but submerge quite often as well.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Future self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

Now that I've lived through the transition from coursework to dissertation to established faculty member on a tenure track, I'm ready to look back at that fateful year when you were pulling your hair out over a busy schedule. I know you have been worried that teaching in Cortland again would be too much for you. I'm here to tell you, though, that you made it through that semester just fine, because you stuck with your routine of reading, writing, and walking every morning. You scheduled time for reading student work and you stuck to that schedule. Your days were full but not overwhelming.

You let the readings you were doing for Foundations and Qualitative and Portfolio seep into everything so you could have the incubation time you needed. You used your altered syllabi for 111 and 408 so you didn't have to fuss with them much to be prepared for classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. You didn't think of 408 as content but more as process, and attitude, and the same with 111. You didn't worry about As or Bs but more about your own learning for your last three courses in the program.

Hold fast to Saturday night music jams, even right through the spring and summer. Those minutes spent with music will calm you and send you back into your busy weeks with renewed spirit, just as the daily walks keep you centered. Don't give that up or pretend to be too tired, for music and nature can save you from your own intensity. They will help you keep your sense of balance, and more importantly, your sense of humor.

To my self at the end of the 1990s, I would have said, "Hang on!" because entering the 2000s I got involved in the most exciting band work, building up to String of Pearls, which travelled hours to play in Alexandria Bay, the most exciting performances I've ever been part of (except maybe Milk & Honey playing to thousands at Pops on the River in the early nineties). At the same time as that was happening, you were poised on the brink of NCLB and the idiocy that followed and eventually led you out of the middle school classroom.

As usual, I was lonely ten years ago, irritated with myself for making mildly bad choices. To that lovesick self, I would say, "Hang on!" because the eight years would pass quickly and John would find me. He himself faced a fight with cancer in those eight years. I would tell my self to continue to guard my health - the daily walks have paid off, and if I hadn't made those many trips to the fitness center over this past ten years, I would be in much worse shape that I am.

I've finally gotten to the place I imagined myself many times while I was teaching eighth grade: a faculty member at a college that prepares teachers. I'm still fighting the good fight for sensible public policy, since the Deformers turned their attention to teacher prep just as I entered the field. People listen to me now, though, because I have those letters after my name, just as Robert advised me in December 2010. They have made all the difference when I put my thoughts in print. Kappan has printed two of my articles; many others are in journals both domestic and international.

Hold on. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Beyond avoidance. What should you have done this year but didn't because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

This is difficult to say. What came into my mind immediately had popped in my head as recently as Saturday, when John drove me over the hill to the Christmas tree farm. It was last year, at that same farm, that I ran into my friend Pat and her family. For years I'd lost touch with Pat, after some years (when the boys were small) when I went over there almost every week. We had been in the same Lamaze class before our first babies were born. Six weeks after Tyson was born, late in May, we had ventured out to the Oakdale Mall, where I ran into Pat outside of Sears. She had heard of a Mothers and Moppets group in Windsor that we could get involved in. She wanted me to come over. When Tyson was a tiny baby, under a year, we visited back and forth quite often, with our new babies. We took pictures of them, fed them spaghetti, made our husbands meet, talked about our worries. Then our children went to different schools, and our marriages were in different spots. I didn't see her for years. Last year we reunited at the Christmas tree farm and I vowed I'd call (their phone number is unlisted, but now I had it again). A year has past and I have not talked to Pat. It occurs to me now that my phone number is in the book; that Pat has never called me. Things happen for a reason. That doesn't mean I won't try to reach her this year. I have never let such concerns stop me. There was also a reason that we saw each again, and I will probably honor that.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Healing. What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?

The healing I have prayed for has been for John, mostly, or his mother, Pauline, or my mother, or my brother-in-law, my nieces, my sons. In a way, though, John has provided for my healing.

Every day I move farther away from a time when I felt wounded, cut to the quick. That would have been when I was married, the first time, and my marriage was crumbling in my hands. That healing has been a drip-by-drip evolution, for sure, over the past 15 years. It may even have started before that, when I was still living in the Dodd Road house, learning how to pray even as I learned how to parent, not too badly. It may be that my father's death, five years earlier, taught me how to heal myself so that, when the time came, I could walk away from a love that had disappeared and make myself whole again, to love again, when John finally appeared.

I had to pass through some other valleys of death on the way to healing, to be sure; other times when I felt I must die of loneliness, times when only my sons kept me connected to this life. I also felt much remorse for being an agent in the life of someone who had to hit a wall. Whenever I watch "It's a Wonderful Life," I'm reminded of what happens to someone if their dreams are squelched time after time. I, of course, wanted him to return to me and the boys, just as George Bailey, did, but real life doesn't involve angels to direct and guide, and I might not have been the one he begged to return to, anyway. He didn't return to me, but the fact of our sons kept me tied to reality instead of bathing in tears.

This time, when I watch IAWL, I was deconstructing it a bit, for the elements of socialism, and sexism, that I had never noticed. That may have kept me from weeping like a child and instead, I cried a little, but mostly I used my new lens of deconstruction to keep me real. I don't remember watching the movie the first Christmas that John and I were together (I think I watched it alone and bawled, but more for my older son than for my first husband). Last year, John watched it with me, and I know I cried, but not with nearly the intensity of the past. Yesterday, though, I watched with John away for the first half, sitting next to me for the second. The movie may be losing its power to reduce me to a puddle: this may mean that I am truly healed.

Certainly it could be John's unfailing love that heals me during these past two years. It's almost three years already since we met at the Lost Dog! He has loved me when I was frantic about my studies, frantic about the 8th graders and the tests, frantic about my sons, and also when I was contemplative and mystical, poetic and transcendental...when I was clearly not of this world. It is a good feeling, being loved like this. I am basking in it, as I basked in Florida sun during February, as I bask in the heat of the fireplace in January, as I bask in the spring sun's rays in May. I am able to write (not just sad love songs or sonnets) and I am healed.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Try. What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn't go for it?

The writing that I sent out for publication during the spring semester, including the proposal for CCCC, was all rejected. I have spent no time weeping about it, but I would like to get something accepted by a professional journal. My March Madness poetry piece should go somewhere, even if The English Journal (or was it Voices from the Middle?) didn't want it. Now that I know that my new friend Maja Wilson has written a book about her school's rejection of the Dufour's data driven PLC setup, I know that the word is out there, but I'd like people to hear about a school like mine where pleas of reason were not heard. My call for university and public school writing teachers to unite in opposition to the federal policies was rejected by CCCC for next March, although I am going to that conference to act as a facilitator for a session on Thursday afternoon.

My classmates and I are interested in proposing for the conference in Rochester, and I think we have until January 15 to put together a presentation idea, so I want to stay in touch with them about that through this holiday season.

I would like to use the material I am working with about the importance of group talk in examining texts into an article for some journal. The deconstruction of my classroom in terms of curriculum would fit somewhere, if I can only find the right journal.

Last, but not least, I would like to take the many haikus I've accumulated in my Google document ("haikus for facebook fans") and do something with them.

Yes, I need to get that fever to publish that I felt last spring when I took Karen's excellent publication course as an elective.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

5 minutes. Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.

Well, I'm not setting a timer.
I want to remember how, during the summer, on those days when the wind was pushing fat clouds from west to east, I sat in the Adirondack chair on the south dike of the pond, the wind blowing my hair, and turned my face to the sky and watched those fat clouds move over me like ponderous vehicles or lumbering animals.
I want to remember how Miss Julia was so glad to see us in Virginia, and was sad that we had to leave on her birthday.
I want to remember the feeling of accomplishment when I closed my computer on the last quantitative research class.
I want to remember how strong my voice sounded in that large banquet hall-turned-meeting room when I expressed my disappointment that my professional organization was not opposing bad federal educational policy.
I want to remember how much the audience enjoyed the singing and playing of our last appearance, at the bandstand in Windsor in August, and how much my mother liked my a capella version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
I want to remember skimming across the surface of the pond in a kayak for the first time - finally, a way for me to fly without going high in the air where fear might stop me.
I want to remember the contentment when I again gathered many of our family around me for a Thanksgiving feast, and our late afternoon included music to push away the shadows of the shortening day.
I want to remember Jie's face as she admitted, leaning over the piano, that she loved the melody of "Greensleeves."
I want to remember the Saturday night jam when Richard was roaring away on his guitar, John on his, and me on bass, with an actual audience just loving our every song choice.
I want to remember how nice it sounded when Liz played carols on the piano and I put the melody on top with my violin.
I want to remember the week that Fanny and Nate spent here in August, with Fanny squatting down in the spillway to catch salamanders, and I took her to Jimay's flea market on Sunday.
I want to remember the weekend that Coco and Ty spent here in July, when Coco and I chopped and cooked together.
I want to remember the comfortable feeling in room 245 of Academic B, with every desk filled and my spot on the sofa during fall semester.
I want to remember the joy of working at Cortland, just like my dream specified, and how nice it was to hear that they wanted me again.
I want to remember the excitement of the call from Cazenovia.
I want to remember how surprised I was when my curriculum vitae actually took up two pages.
I want to remember how pleasant it was to see that I could still sing people into the palm of my hand, as I did last night for my sorority sisters.
I want to remember the amazing sight of catfish fingerlings being herded by a parent along the shore of the pond.
I want to remember the heron that visited when I least expected, especially during the cold and snow.
I want to remember each walk, in every season, and the colors I noticed and tried to photograph, awakening my father's memory every time I framed a picture.
I want to remember the calls of owls that I heard on some mornings as I walked, and the phases of the moon that lit up the landscape.
I want to remember.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Appreciate. What's the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?

I am grateful for coffee in the morning,
for tea in the afternoon, for wine at night.
I am grateful for the first rays of sunlight
slipping through the tops of the trees
just beyond the Secret Garden
to light up the tall spruce on the western ridge.
I have come to appreciate
the voice that greets me when I return,
the arms that will hold me whenever it's needed,
the solid presence against the dark paranoia of the midnight dream.
I have come to appreciate
the gentle strumming of guitar chords
that make me take up my fiddle and add a melody.
I am grateful for every meal,
and every meal that includes
sitting across the table from my son.
I am grateful for the faces of friends
who turn to greet me in our crowded office
as we all rise up out of the sea of words
we are almost drowning in.
I am grateful for legs that can walk,
arms that can draw near a toddler
who will undoubtedly chuckle,
ears that can hear the hubbub
when the house is full of love and dirty dishes.
I must express my gratitude for life and breath
and having my being and becoming
on this tumultuous and beautiful earth
where the treasures afforded me each day
are always innumerable
and can never be telescoped into just one.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Action. When it comes to aspirations, its not about ideas. It's about making ideas happen. What's your next step?

Next, I make copies of my clinical interview questions, and send e-mails to the people who have agreed to meet with me today and tomorrow. I begin drafting my section on a curriculum and series of lessons to build understanding. Beyond that, the paper will have to wait, as I will be reading more than three dozen portfolios after I meet with my pedagogy group this morning at 9:30 to exchange my own students' work for everyone else's. I will need to schedule time with that stack of reading each day until Thursday at 1 PM when we meet to take care of third readings of disputed portfolio grades.

By Thursday, I will have all my clinical interviews finished, so I can start reading them and thinking about what I will need to acknowledge in writing them up. I will have to return to my VEE and my concept map at some time; actually, I recall now that I promised Professor Schmittau that I would make copies of a proposed concept map of peer conferences for our last class tonight...So there will have to be time spent this afternoon on that.

As soon as I hear from Cazenovia, which I don't expect until just before Christmas (I imagine they'll want to get their interviewing out of the way before the spring semester starts, so in January), I'll start preparing for an interview with them. I recall from the interviews I sat in on at Binghamton University that I will have to acknowledge that I haven't been an academic for long, but that I have been a classroom teacher longer than most of them have been alive (is that possible? I'll test the hypothesis when I research the names of the committee members who will be interviewing me).

Later, I can research how many colleges with a certain radius of our house here in West Windsor have adolescent education departments. I can start monitoring postings of job openings. I'll also need to make up some questions to ask in the interview, about assignments, time to work on my dissertation, etc.

I will need to pin down the syllabus for my writing methods class at Cortland. Changes need to be made from last spring, in light of the misunderstandings about grades. I have some very particular ideas about changes, and I've been collecting them on sticky notes, collected on the wall, making an AED 408 poster for special work in January.

Also on tap for January: some kind of report to Beth on my independent study work for the fall, and the silly gen ed report that I somehow got roped into for the SUNY Binghamton oversight group. I hope it is strictly fill in the blank. I do have to submit, though, and get it out of the way before classes start late in January.

Whew. That is just the nitty gritty stuff I have to act on. I still need to think of the poems to be written, the time spent sitting on the dike of the pond, contemplating seasons and weather and soul, the directly of my daily writing, looking into that list of writing research ideas that Beth sent me after our last foray to Panera's. John and I are limiting our January travel to weekend and day trips (no airport time) so I should be able to fit all this in...I hope!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Body integration. This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn't mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?

It is often my habit to take a thirty-minute walk outside in the morning. During those thirty minutes, there isn't mind and body, but simply a cohesive me, alive and present. That cohesive me is looking, with clean, fresh eyes at the trees, the sky, the path, listening to the wind, the birds, the water, and I search with mind and body for words to describe the season I am experiencing, the emotions that are suggested by the coloration and feel of the air.

It seems criminal to me now, as I write this and realize how important this walk is, that I sometimes decide I can't spare the time, that I have to get to campus early or that it is too cold. I have the right equipment for walking in almost any cold temperature we get here (even the 6 degree or 9 degree mornings we experienced last week, in early December - outrageous!). I have walked in almost every cold temperature.

In the nineties, when I first started this daily habit, I walked at five in the morning, to have time for writing and getting ready for school. Throughout the winter, even when the wind chill pushed us below zero, I walked faithfully, with many glimpses of shooting stars (very good for the soul), often overhearing an owl on the other side of the creek (haunting and beautiful, like Chopin for the woods).

This year, my sister was kind enough to lend me her small kayak. During the summer, we used it on the pond (aka WPND, our source for news and information about what really matters). It took less than five minutes to circumnavigate the island, but still gave me the feeling of a dolphin? like a swan? like a person who can swim anywhere without getting wet? It was lovely to skim the surface of the water just as the sun was dropping low in the west, to watch the light change from straight-forward sunshine to intermediate dusk, to sit motionless where one usually does not sit, where the perspective is foreign.

Just before John and I carried the small kayak to its winter storage spot, we portaged north to the big pond, a quarter of a mile away through the woods. There I experienced mind/body oneness on a larger scale, as I skimmed from shore to shore in moments, infiltrated a flock of geese, getting SO close before they decided I was alien, and flapped away in a flurry of spraying water and swooshing wings. The sky was stretched large above me, which doesn't often happen in our hilly countryside, which hugs us close from all sides or camouflages us with tree branches. I drank it all in that cold day in early November, knowing that I will be visiting that pond more often next year when the ice leaves.

Now that I have written about those transcendent times, I have to acknowledge that far more often, my mind and my body are in direct conflict. My cravings and urges to eat belie my knowledge that I do not need so much food. My inevitable slowing down of activity bumps up against my reasonable expectation of some physical activity, some serious exercising of muscles, every day. Next year I will work to communicate between those opposing forces of mind and body, perhaps using kayaking and walking as the mediating planes...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

11 Things. What are 11 things your life doesn't need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?

There are many things I should get rid of, especially material things. I could find 11 in this room alone. The garage is full of other people's stuff, some of it John's or Nate's or Zach's, each of whom are learning that they can live without those particular items, as Nate and Zach live away from here.

John cleaned out the kitchen junk drawer - not the utensil drawer with lots of knives and things, but the catch-all drawer by the telephone...[wait, how amazing is that? I have lived in this house for fifteen years, and my telephone has never been in that place, and yet I still talk about things being "by the telephone," as it was when I was a child growing up here.] Anyway, John would show me something and ask if I needed it. Of course I didn't need any of the stuff he was showing me. I wanted some of it, though, and I couldn't say why.

1. I could give up my collection of smooth, pretty, interesting stones, I suppose, but I would continue to collect stones that catch my attention when we travel, especially to beaches.

2. I should give up earrings and necklaces and bracelets I never wear (I'm thinking of two drawers or so of stuff I don't even look at for many months at a time). It would make a little girl very happy. Problem is, I am worrying about whether I could keep it to make a little grandchild happy, using it for treasure or just to try on. On the other hand, I don't expect to have grandchildren for many years...

3. I should find a way to give up my cravings for food that have brought me to this pot belly, which I should give up as a path to better long-term health.

4. I need to cull out clothing from my two closets and donate much of it. I always end up wearing the same few items, anyway. I've really narrowed down my haberdasherial needs. I do need something like an interview suit.

5. I need to give up my ownership of that classroom back at the middle school. It's becoming more and more clear that I will be resigning from that position, giving Rachel another chance to teach (with two positions open, one at the high school and mine at the middle school, she should be assured of getting one of them. I think they'd prefer her for the high school, with her experience at BU. She could so easily teach that college English class). I need to be dreaming about other positions. I've already given up my spot on the stage during the holiday assembly...haven't I?

6. This is getting more and more difficult. I need to get rid of some kitchen equipment lining the bottom shelf, most of which I have only touched to move over.

7. Many of my cassettes and CDs are things I had only to practice music for someone else. Each one that I don't really need might have ONE song on it that I would ever want to hear again; it would be nice to take that one song off, or make a list of them or something, but I really don't need the drawers and drawers filled with other people's music. It would make me feel lighter, less pressured to play this, that, or the other thing. I could just play MY music. [I am so self-centered!]

8. I need to give up my occasional feelings of guarding my privacy, preserving my "space," from John. 15 years may be the time I spent developing such borders, after a failed marriage, but it's not forever and I don't need that coping skill now.

9. I need to give up cookies, candy, cake, pie, pastries, etc. for my own health. I simply don't need all the sweet fat. This is different from giving up cravings, as in number 3, isn't it? Well, I need to give up the pot belly and the sweet fat - that's two.

10. I might need to give up my connection to this house, and prepare for someone else living in it, maybe Nathan. John and I might go live in some college community somewhere and use this for our getaway spot. We could clean it out, leave just books, kitchen stuff and linens. Basic furniture. How clean and fresh would that feel?

11. Last: I need to give up this interminable imposter syndrome. I do know what I am doing, as well as anyone else does. Better, in some topics. There are fuzzy spots, but I'm working on them.

I'll be lighter, some might say fighting weight, if I give up some of these in 2011 (I started to type 1911!!!!).

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.

Every year since 1995, I've hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at my house. I happen to live in the house where my siblings and I grew up, where my parents hosted many Thanksgiving dinners when I was a child. My sisters and their families have been faithful attendants at my dinners. Their children, now grown, as well as mine, look forward to the event. My mother, at 88, presides.

This year, John and I were joined by my younger son, Nathan, who took a bus up from Brooklyn on Wednesday. My younger sister Liz and her husband Steve drove down in the morning with their two sons, Jake and Pete, both in college. Mary, my older sister, and her husband Dave (they've been married 40 years) drove down the hill. Their oldest, Brooke, and her husband Peter and daughter Julia, had driven up from Virginia the weekend before, so they were already in town. Their second daughter, Meagan, had driven from Boston the day before with her husband Doug and toddler son Griffin. My older son Tyson joined friends in Pittsburgh, and their youngest, Ryan, stayed in Los Angeles.

Last year my brother Tom, his wife Sue, and their youngest (but grown) children Sarah and David joined us, but that is unusual. They usually have their own enormous feast with family, and that's what happened this year. My brother Phil and his wife Marilyn leave for Florida each October, so they are not with us, although they have joined us in the past, and sometimes brought additional guests.

The house is filled with people by 1 pm. John was in charge of background music, and he put on great LPs. Wine and beer abound, and for some reason we seem to favor wine for this meal. The beer comes in handy for pre- and post-Thanksgiving drinking around the fireplace, Scrabble board, or muted football games on television.

Liz is in charge of bringing wine and interesting hors d'oevres. She recently started bringing additional white meat, cooking a turkey breast in the morning before they drive down. Mary cooked an additional small turkey this year, and it's a good thing she did - we had just enough meat to cover the traditional leftover meal on Friday. She also bakes several squash. I make the dressing, the turkey, and boil the potatoes to mash just before we sit down. My brother-in-law Steve makes the gravy as we're waiting for the turkey to rest before carving, which nephew Pete has handled for the last two years. My mother has in the past made a couple of pumpkin pies, but I took that over, and Mary almost always makes an apple pie and at least one pumpkin pie. I think we have given up on vegetables other than the squash, but that could change in a different year. This year, someone made a fruit salad, but it was forgotten at a different house. Liz also forgot a large quantity of expensive cheeses and left them back in Utica this year. Someone always forgets something major. The ancient salt and pepper shakers shaped like turkeys, though, were on the table, along with the Melmac turkey platter.

This year my brother-in-law Dave said the grace. He was missing his son Ryan, and knew that his son-in-law, Peter, would leave for the Middle East in his Air Force capacity within another week or so, and he was a bit emotional. Other years we've shared grace among visitors; last year, for example, Jie, from China, said a few words, and Nate said a grace in Hebrew. Our guest from Texas, my friend Rich, newly divorced, was also a guest last year, but was with a new friend this year.

The meal itself is wonderful, delicious, fun (because we are so good at witty repartee that we should have our own reality show), and slowly puts us to sleep. We slink off from the table, some to collapse in the soft living room chairs for some turkey napping with muted football to light the way. Some are energetic for a bit, and put dishes in the dishwasher, run it, wash up a few other things. This process continues for the rest of the day and some of the next day.

After a bit, around the time the pies are cut and the whipped cream is sprayed on the slices (scrtch), music happens. This year my little sister played the piano and I got my violin out to play melody lines of Christmas carols. Julia, 5, and Griffin, 2, were entranced. Julia danced and played with some small figurines that I put out for her entertainment. Griffin stared and stared at the violin. Later, Meagan explained that one of his favorite books has monkeys or some other animal playing the fiddle. He was amazed to see the real instrument after reading about it. When Liz got tired of playing, I switched to piano. We sang together - Liz's voice is getting stronger every year, from practice with her church choir. Mary sang too, but she is not practicing with any church choir (I love you, Mary).

When my siblings and I were children, Thanksgiving evening was a sort of recital for us: we all took lessons on some instrument, many on piano, and we all practiced Christmas carols on that instrument to prepare for Thanksgiving afternoon. In 1995, we also used my extensive PA equipment, guitars, amps, and drum set to jam out after the feast, and that has continued, on and off, each year.

After dark, families with small children had to make arrangements for their bedtime up at Dave and Mary's house, and I drove Jie back to Binghamton. When I returned, Peter picked up a guitar to jam with me and John. We sang and played and drank beer, knowing that he would be going overseas soon, before Christmas, for a short six-month assignment.

Nothing that we wore for this festive day was memorable: mostly jeans, although I think I wore a red mock turtleneck and soft heathered red hoodie that I had just found at Salvation Army the day before and washed up, intending to wear the outfit for the feast. This is definitely a day about food and family and music.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Beautifully Different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.

I'm different, alright, sometimes cantankerously so.

Biggest difference: My smile is my response to so many prompts. If someone says something bright and happy, of course, then it's easy to smile. But when someone shares a difficulty, I try to encourage with my words and with my smile. I am not a clown or even a funny person. I take things way too seriously much of the time. I can find situational humor, slight verbal humor, easily, though - especially in the classroom, to keep certain aspects light and breezy. I am a positive thinker, very rarely slipping down into any kind of depression. This ability took conscious effort to develop, during the late nineties, following advice from all sorts of advice-givers and self-help books, including the Bible, Sarah Ban Breathnach (Simple Abundance) Norman Vincent Peale (The Power of Positive Thinking - my copy is autographed).

I've since moved on from the strictly Christian approach to embrace all things spiritual, a sort of Pan-spiritual approach (The Four Agreements is now an important source), but I can still call up help from Psalms or Ecclesiastes or the New Testament. Another source was a book that provided one poem each day. I still refer to it occasionally, but I also receive a poem each day in my e-mail, from Garrison Keillor's Writers' Almanac.

I also try (it is harder these days) to walk outside for a half hour each day, preferably as early in the day as possible. I find now that I need a Verilux light each morning as I am writing during the darker months of the year. Yes, cultivating a positive outlook is hard work, but it made classroom teaching much easier. It is very difficult to mentor and guide adolescents without clearing your own emotional table each day. Writing every morning in my gratitude journal (by which I mean my prayer notebook) also kept me ready for the vicissitudes of young teens and of public school practice.

The time I spent on my mood more than paid for itself in terms of fighting off burn-out, frustration, and a tendency to drift into the teachers' lounge to bitch. I don't practice all of those techniques each day now that I am not in a classroom with 100 adolescents each day, but I do most of them. I don't know anyone else who does quite this much to keep a smile on her face. I much prefer it, though, to the Sturm und Drang, the angst and borderline clinical depression I once suffered from.

Am I different in any other ways?

I like to ask questions. I don't always wait around for the answers before I'm off on another question. I collect questions the way I collect small round smooth stones. I feel in my bones that the ability to ask substantial questions is a skill we should cultivate in the young. I still haven't found support for that in the research and theory, but it hasn't stopped me from asking more questions. I don't think I ever get annoying, as I don't always ask my questions out loud. I'd like to get better at that, though, as there are too many people who aren't questioned loudly enough or often enough, and they get away with saying really silly things, that have really awful consequences. We should stop them in their tracks with pointed questions far more often. There's a difference, though, between asking pointed questions about silly statements, and stirring the pot, as journalists sometimes do in press conferences, where they poke into wounds or enrage large hives of bees just so there is a story to write about. Not good. Pot-stirring for drama's sake. I'm talking about thoughtful questions arrived at during reflection practiced on a regular basis.

I may be too reflective, and in its extreme, that may have been the source of some of my earlier mood difficulties. My questions are still cantankerous, occasionally, but I consider that a good quality, as they are aimed at policies that affect many people who have little control over anything else about their lives. Now, perhaps, I have grown into my habits, and control them a little more than I did when I was 19 or 22. I like people who smile a lot, who are thankful for little things as well as great good fortune, who ask good questions. I try to be that person.

On the lighter side, I like crows and other corvids. I talk to plants, trees, bodies of water, clearings in the woods, myself. Of course, who doesn't talk to herself?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

I've rediscovered, in 2010, the community of concerned English teachers that I had connected with in the mid-nineties, when I needed lots of support to change my classroom style and method. The same discussion groups were still working posting and sharing, but after the mid-nineties I didn't need them so much, and I let my involvement drift away. I was pursuing other dreams, after all, using a bass guitar and music that was new to me. My time was eaten up in other ways. In fact, I became a support for other teachers who wanted to try new things. I've been re-discovering, as I compose my curriculum vitae during the past few days, that I presented at conferences in Albany, Cortland, and the Southern Tier quite often in the late nineties and early zeros. I gave a keynote speech! I hadn't exactly forgotten, but seeing it all listed on a page brings it to life for me again. I had ideas worth sharing, and I was sharing them with other English teachers.

Now that I've left my public school classroom, I have had time to rediscover the communities at the National Council of Teachers of English and to become involved again. I still need to spend more time in the English teacher Ning begun by Jim Burke and now expanded to rival the NCTE as a going concern. I will probably ask my students (pre-service teachers) to become involved in that Ning in January. Web 2.0 at its most productive, I think.

In 2011, I want to expand my professional communities to include teacher-educators, to gather ideas and sift theories about how best to prepare English teachers before they are teaching in classrooms. I also want to continue to read blogs by teachers of all content areas who do interesting, provocative activities in their classrooms with all age groups. I have learned much from those who think and write about teaching math, science, social studies, and the arts. It is almost like a game, seeing if I can apply what they say about their field of study to the work in reading and writing, speaking and listening, that students do in an English class.

Other communities? I'm not sure I can handle any more connections than that. I already spend so much time, or want to, on Facebook, where I have met up with childhood friends again, found former students who still have provocative things to say, college friends who have had marvelous and interesting lives (since we are all "of a certain age," "un age d'or," as someone expressed it on the wall of a woman celebrating a birthday yesterday). Keeping up with all of these communities will keep me busy in 2011, I think.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

I "made" pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, and roasted the turkey, and boiled and mashed the potatoes. I'm thinking that cooking isn't what we're to talk about in this accounting, though. I also "made" posts for this blog, and I wrote a poem about snow back in October. I write haiku more often than other forms of poetry these days, because I can't spare the time away from my studies. "Can't" is a questionable term, though. I don't spare the time. I need time and a rested mind to write poetry. If I could make poetry a regular part of each day, writing poetry, not just reading poetry, that would be a wonderful thing. If I could make anything else, I think it would be watercolor painting. I have the materials, and the encouragement, in that John is an artist, too, and we have cleared lots of other time-eaters out of our schedules. Next May, it is almost a certainty that I will have much more time. Poetry and watercolors...that will be my prescription for rest and recreation.

How does music fit into the scheme of "making" things? Making music is important enough to both of us that we have scheduled regular time for it. There is construction involved, but not literal, material. We have the instruments, some of the technique required, friends who like to help sometimes, access to lyrics and chords if we want them. Carving out the hour or two on Saturday night is the key. It really does happen. Last Saturday it was mainly instrumental (after I practiced some carols for a performance next week) - John just sang a little to remind me of melodies I could play on my violin while he played guitar. We played some that no one had ever played: that is creation; that is making, I think.

I'd like to build a snow angel again, and maybe a snow dragon, like we did on our first Thanksgiving together. There are pictures on John's cell phone and in the digital camera memory. The snow we have today is not the right snow - light, fluffy, very cold so it doesn't pack at all - while that Thanksgiving day's was wet and workable.

This light fluffy snow, however, has led to a two-hour delay at our local schools. If I were still teaching there, not on leave, I'd be celebrating with extra Facebook time, an eggs and toast breakfast, etc. after sleeping in a little bit after the phone call came. As it is, I'm up and writing anyway, a little late because I could sleep last night. I couldn't sleep because I had put in a grueling day of reading reading reading. About half of my reading was of student papers sent to me for comments on their revisions. The other half was extremely dense material about the origins of collaborative reading and writing among composition theorists in the past century. It interrupted my brain wave patterns and disrupted my sleep.

I'll feel better some day. Soon, I hope.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

This year I needed to let go of the idea that I was still on my own, independent, relying on no one. I can't say I have been successful at letting go of that, though I needed to. At this point, I have been married to John for fifteen months. We can and do rely on each other, but I can still feel resistance inside me. Fifteen years of doing for myself retrained me well to believe that I must never rely on someone else for something I can do for myself. Along comes John, who will do so much for me: prepare meals while I am still in class at the university, clean the house when it is awful and I'm in the middle of writing a paper, encourage me when I am crippled by imposter syndrome. He is the partner I have dreamed of for years, but I am no longer a dream partner because of the habits I have built up during my years alone.

The resistance is revealed by what I don't share with John. Not material goods, which I am always willing to share, but with scheduling plans, making sure he knows where I am. I just don't think of telling someone else, anyone else, because I haven't had to for so many years. I feel terrible after I realize it, when he points it out, but I can't seem to catch myself before the hurtful damage is done. Luckily, he is so easy-going and doesn't hold grudges. When I explain that I just didn't think of it, because of my recent history, he lets it go and we move on. I need to do something about it, create some new protocol about informing my partner, nurture a new habit of mind about my connection to this other loving being...a good project for next year.

One tool I used for self-support when I lived alone was my involvement in a band that played out in bars. Each project I was involved in, during that fifteen year period, occupied me for hours each week, required travel to new places, sometimes, and brought me in contact with lots of new people. The music soothed my soul and fed an important need of mine, so that I could cope with the loneliness at home. Now that I am no longer lonely, I need the music, but not the wear and tear of travel, nor the friction with bar owners, nor the pressure of keeping three or four personalities at peace. So I have let go of that fifteen year project of making music publicly. Milk & Honey has long been retired (with relatively few appearances after 2000), and the more recent band project expired this August, when I told my trio I was done with this.

On the other hand, I have not let go of music. John and I have made Saturday nights our music jam nights. Whether we have guests or not (and sometimes we do, people who want to play but don't, or people we know we'd like to jam with), we know that after supper we will get out fiddle, guitars, open the piano, shuffle some pages of lyrics and chords, and sing a little. We may even come up with a name for our weekend practice, but for now, it's just the Saturday night jam.

Our jam breaks some of the rules of more organized projects. We don't prepare much, for example. Preparation usually entails searching online, and printing up some sheets of chords and lyrics. John may practice new techniques, like strange tunings, during the week. We might think, during the week, about which group from our musical past we'd like to imitate on Saturday. Sometimes, though, we prefer to find our own groove or two, improvising and trying different solos with various instruments. It also involves trying instruments we don't usually play. We play only music we like - unlike a band that goes gigging, and has to pay attention to the tastes of the audience and more importantly, the bar owner, who may or may not have any musical taste. There is never any cigarette smoke, although there may be some alcoholic beverages.

So this year I have held on a bit more than I should have to some ideas, but I've given up others, and created myself anew in doing so. I look forward to more of that during the Movement of the new year.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?
Childlike wonder is still part of my life, but I have definitely had to nurture it. The nurturing and cultivation of it started long before this year, probably going back to the years just after my father's death, when music became very important, when my first marriage was disintegrating slowly, when my underlying depression revealed itself. I returned to something I had known very well as a child: that I loved to be outside near trees, birds, and water; that daily contact soothed me; that the extra exercise would be good for me. I started taking half-hour walks every morning.

At first I took them during the summer days when it was light out, but one winter I decided that I didn't want to give them up, so I started walking first thing in the morning, to be able to fit them in before I had to get ready for school, before my children were up, before the world got in the way. When I say first thing in the morning, I mean it: I walked at 5 AM for many years in the late nineties and early zeroes. In winter, of course, that means I walked in the dark. I obtained the proper equipment, by which I mean that I found, at the big flea market in Conklin, a fluorescent-orange insulated jumpsuit perfect for the coldest, snowiest, windiest weather, especially when I also found an orange pullover hat/face-mask.

Walking on the coldest, clearest winter mornings meant that I saw some spectacular starry skies. Many mornings, I was simply awestruck from the first step, gazing up at the Big Dipper, following it to the North Star in the Little Dipper, watching in my periphery for delicate shooting stars. I was also able to observe the moon in fragile crescent or ponderous fullness, lighting the entire landscape, rivalling the clarity of a sunny day with its mysterious shadows and fascinating chiaroscuro. I still walked often during the day, marveling at hawks, pileated woodpeckers, in sight and sound, or amazing varieties of mushrooms (including edible ones). I would often walk in rain, but I especially like walking on windy days, bundled up so that I did not have to feel the annoyance of someone who is not dressed for such weather.

This past year I enlivened my awe-struck wonder as I walked, more often during the day, by composing haikus in my head that would reflect some of what I saw during each season. I also began to take pictures, sometimes with just my little cell phone, other times with John's digital camera. I have begun to feel some of the wonder and excitement my father must have felt about composing just the right combination of elements. My father was a photographer and an expert on chemistry for developing film. He took many photos when I was a child, and I grew used to seeing them. I never really wanted to take pictures of my own, having had his to enjoy for so many years.

That has changed this year. I have begun to enjoy finding new scenes to share with others. Yes, I also discovered the fun of sharing my haikus and photos with others on Facebook. My haikus provoked much commentary, as did my accompanying pictures. I had an audience! I felt like my students did when I posted one of their illustrated poems (for this was a requirement when students wrote poems in my classroom -- to publish them with an illustration cut from a magazine, back in the olden days, or retrieved from Google Images, and hang them in the hallway above the lockers for others to read). Someone was responding to my words, to my pictures, and conversation sprang up, indeed erupted, sometimes, depending on the topic or the slant I took (either in words or images).

All this emanated from my simple habit of walking each day to be in touch with the elements, and with the natural world. This year it was especially important, as I was immersed each day in a sea of words, reading, studying, and writing for doctoral classes on topics far removed from hills and fields and woods. I cultivated my childhood sense of wonder with nature even as I continued to feed my wonder at new ideas and new philosophies and new approaches to the human phenomena of society, culture, and education.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Orlando to take part in the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention, held in one of the convention centers in Disney World right before Thanksgiving. I had drafted a proposal for a resolution that would make clear NCTE's opposition to the Core Standards being generated and foisted on states that wanted the funding the feds could provide. I was unaware that my proposal was in opposition to an existing policy statement, and thus would not be considered as drafted. In the month between my drafting and submitted the proposal and my arrival at the conference, I received no word to that effect, so I went ahead and found someone to cover my writing class where the freshmen would try out the beginnings of a researched argument on their peers. I went ahead and spent money on plane tickets. I arranged to share a room off-Disney; that is, relatively affordable, not knowing the consequences of that decision. It meant that, although I wouldn't spend an inordinate amount of money on a tiny room not much bigger than a post office box, I would spend an inordinate amount of time on shuttles or Disney buses, and waiting in huge cold parking lots for said shuttles and buses.

I am not a wimp, so I survived the Disney transports, with their cheery-robot voices piped in. The cold parking lot on Thursday night was not so bad during the fireworks display around 9:30. I managed to find an easier (though more expensive) way to get to the convention center on Friday morning, where I learned, in the Resolution Committee meeting, that my proposal had been dumped and dumbed down into something bland and pointless. I then learned about Sense-of-the-House motions. I met my new best-friend-in-rebellion, Stephen, and new friends Joanne, Maja, and Susan, who had suggested I write the proposed resolution in the first place. I met Yvonne. We planned. We drafted and practiced our motion and our two-minute statements. We imagined the reaction. We had no idea what would actually happen later on in the public meeting, when we presented this motion.

It was good to meet these folks who have been having the same reaction both to the output from federal education officials and to the reaction of our professional organization, which we saw as pseudo-neutral, bordering on collaboration with the enemy. It was good to meet Maja, who also bumped heads, as I had, with the DuFours and their consulting firm. Her principal had worked with her to successfully ward off the narrowing effects of data-driven "learning" communities for her school building. Maja had written a book about her experience; I had written a policy analysis for one of my first doctoral courses. The support and like-mindedness of our little circle, plotting in any free corner of the convention center halls we could find, meant so much to me, after years of isolation in my classroom, trying unsuccessfully to argue against bad educational decisions and initiatives.

The 5:00 hour came, and we sat together at a round table from which we could just see the faces of the executive board. We sat through the rest of the meeting, with the usual agenda of financial and organizational information, with some interesting history about the founding of the NCTE, in protest against a policy of the National Education Association. Very interesting. Then the time came for sense-of-the-house motions. There was one other, which went first. Then Stephen stood at the microphone to read ours, and to give his two minute supportive speech. He was applauded. Then I stood up with my lined pad of paper, where I had drafted and revised, redrafted and revised again. Once I was standing, I could see the long section-of-a-ballroom from front to back, with the executive board members, once teachers like me, or maybe college professors, sitting on an elevated stage at one end. I could see the part of the floor filled with round tables where rank and file members sat scattered throughout. I could see the rows of chairs behind us and the empty space near the doors at the back.

I started speaking. Unlike many occasions when my passion is just behind my skin, my voice did not tremble as I spoke. In fact, I was able to slow myself down to think about speaking very slowly, for listeners to hear every word. As I reached the climax of this short two-minute speech, I added emphasis in my voice and paused dramatically to finish strong. Applause accompanied me back to my seat as my companions whispered their positive comments.

Our own groups gave all their speeches, but a great many others spoke as well. Some spoke to oppose the motion, though not too coherently. Most supported. Then, when the moment came and we were asked to hold up our yellow Voting tags, I held mine up and waited, holding my breath.

The room was filled with positive votes. Those who opposed us raised just a sprinkling of the yellow tags. Our motion had passed. I was incredulous.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

What do you do each day that doesn't contribute to your writing -- and can you eliminate it?
Television is a great time waster, and I had given it up completely, but we watch lots of movies - during vacations, at least one a day. That's two hours. I don't bother reading the newspaper, but I do subscribe to blogs and news sources that feed education scene news, reaction, and reflection. Those take up way too much time, but they contribute to my activism. How can I give them up? Could I write about educational activism without the constant feed of new atrocities? Oh, probably. There are plenty of atrocities already in my experience to feed my prose. I could unsubscribe, but that makes me nervous. Maybe just discipline myself to disregard and "mark as read" most of the stuff that comes into my Google reader box. Unsubscribe from the guy who tweets and also announces his new blog posts that I get in reader anyway.
The biggest help to my writing is to write first every morning. Once I hit 200 days at (in about two weeks), I'm not going to start with that, but rather with the handwritten pages. And my trusty cup of coffee. The searchability of handwritten pages is different...isn't it? I can, and do, search my handwritten pages. That's what I did to generate my dissertation ideas, all three pages of them LOL.
Maybe is keeping me from writing, because I don't like to type in stuff about serious ideas there, but rather just about dreams and prayers for the day. Hmmm...I'll have to think about this some more.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Prompt: One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you're choosing that word. Now, imagine it's one year from today. What would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
This year has been exciting and exhausting, with a bit of settling in for John and me as we entered our second year together. I was in the thick of my studies, but not nearly as pressured as next semester will be. This summer was relaxing, once it started, as I read ahead for classes and wrote quite a bit. John was still working, so the pattern had not yet changed. Normal? No, I could not use that word. Revealing? That was last fall, especially, even though it continues with this fall's readings for learning and curriculum. Momentum is building for me, with more events falling in place, more people coming into my intellectual life, people who inspire and nudge and...I don't know what. Maybe I'll call this year, Momentum. I am building with the blocks of ideas and inspirations and readings, and people I've met and thought about. My list of dissertation ideas sometimes grows, sometimes narrows, after each article I read. The energy behind the ideas fuels my papers, my participation in class, my planning for my own teaching.
Change, explosive change, is just around the corner, and could come as soon as next year. Maybe the word for next year is Explosion, or should it be Seepage? No, that's silly. What I'm working on, in my little mind, is not something slow and hidden, but something that will burst out, although not necessarily next year. If not Explosion, then maybe Release? Ideas that have been percolating will be put into action, or developed to the point of action, and I will start moving. Maybe Movement. I'll say movement, since that could be explosion or release, something fast or something steady. It's certain, though, that energy has been gathering and next year will bring about a start to a journey from here to there, definitely away from here, definitely to another place of investigation, writing, publishing, declaring, and I will move on from the place I've been for these last three semesters.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I was so tired last night I had to lie down at about 8. I didn't sleep soundly until five -- up every couple of hours -- but I did sleep until five. Nine hours. The time change always throws me a little, messing with sleepiness, with wakefulness, as it does. There was a bad dream in the first interval. I don't remember what he was doing or asking me to do, but my bad dream had a bad man in it. It figures, after watching those bad men in that film from Janus collection. "Haxan" was the title: Witches, by Ben Christensen (1922).

The Inquisition was the topic, but maybe not the oft-caricatured Spanish Inquisition. Monks were in charge of the torture and execution in the parts I saw. The witch era, they kept calling it on this silent movie, with information in text on the screen between shots, with English subtitles because it was in Danish. The sound track was classical music from various eras, sometimes played on an organ. So many possibilities for Monty Python humor right now... The movie described torture tactics and equipment, portrayed scenarios based on accounts that have survived of ugly old women and pretty young women and everyone in between getting killed in horrible ways to keep the world safe from witches and the devil. Horrible stuff. The stuff of fear.

I am reminded, by reflecting on that movie, that witch hunts can erupt again even in the well-lit modern times. Movements who hate other movements can witchify their opponents. Teachers are being portrayed as evil. Administrators can be portrayed that way by teachers. Rich donors can be "thingified" (that's Michael Apple's term; he warned of "thingifying" students as the scientific curriculum men did) in this way, too.

Instead of torture we can have jobs lost, schools closed, fences erected along miles of border. Strangers can be jailed rather than questioned. Machines can be invented to search us as we wait to enter airplanes, lest a terrorist with a bomb slip by and cause death. It is frightening how innocent it can look and sound, and thus legislation is justified, even lauded, that we might never have considered.

Yes, these words we use are powerful things. We must stay in control of them, not let them control us.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Liz R. told us to write a poem on the occasion of the first snow; I don't know where she got it from, but I've written many first snow poems since then, and used this activity with many classes.

Metaphoric sheets fog the view
and dust the shaggy lawn
(still waiting for its last manicure)
as snow clouds and temperatures collude
to bring this blizzard shower
on the last October afternoon.
We haven't even navigated
the time change yet, but
thicker coats and jackets will appear now,
turtlenecks, sweaters, flannel sheets,
cocoa, soup, baked squash - choices
we might rather save for later -
swirl down before us in fat flakes
that have slowed their pace now.
They drop with tantalizing deliberateness
on the glass table not yet put away.
Looking up into the still daylit sky,
I see the birth of each white flake
from white nothingness blown from nowhere
and certainly not from that tiny gray blob.
The pace slows even more until
the few crystals left look like orphan moths
lost in the wintry gray sky.
I'm left with a taste in my mouth
of the coming winter.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Many of us avoid writing because we worry about whether our words represent the truth. We don't feel that we can access The Truth, so we are paralyzed and don't want to write any of our thoughts down lest they be disproved. And yet that is part of the reason why we write them -- to test their true-ness. We write down words to hold on to them for a short time. Then the act of writing allows us to percolate them, to rub them up against other ideas, to transform them by manipulating them and seeing the possibilities.

Our attitude toward writing reflects whatever our attitude toward Truth is. If we believe that somewhere there exists Truth with a capital T and our job is to capture it and kill it and drag it home to feast on it, then committing words to paper is excruciating. We are like perfectionists to the extreme, afraid of commitment, unwilling to go part way until we can go all the way to absolute Truth in our words. As I write this, I am questioning every sentence, every phrase, each word.

If, on the other hand, we believe that truth is a little on the gray, slippery side, that it is not carved from cold marble but rather like a ball of dough that can be poked, that rises, that takes the shape of its container...then we are not so paralyzed about committing our thoughts to paper. We can play with our words a bit, not take ourselves quite so seriously, and in so doing, arrive at much more useful bits of truth. These truths can be discussed with others, and our thinking can be transformed by kneading in what we find out as we try ideas out loud and flavor them with discussion. Human beings were designed to talk about ideas. We came up with symbolic speech and alphabets, paper and ink, computers, internet: we ache to put our thoughts together in a big bowl and stir them.

Some of us, though, were raised and educated to believe, for example, that history books contain history, rather than someone's version of history. Some of us grew up believing that tables and walls are solid, with no space in them. Some of us believe what we hear on the news. It is only through great effort that we have learned to consider, critically, what is put on a platter and labelled, "Truth," to ask who is proposing it and what their interests are and who they would rather leave out. Once we learn to question any bit of truth, we can question all of it and learn to suspend our belief, to throw the beach ball in the air and talk about it, rather than place it on a pedestal and defend it to the death...or not commit it to words at all, keeping it locked away like a dirty secret.

If anything, the summer institute experience made me more willing to put my words on paper and think less about truth and more about moving closer to some truth. My favorite poetry coach told me that a poem should represent everything we know about a topic at the time that we are writing. So early on, then, I heard the message that truth is only truth for a little while, for then we gain more experience which alters that truth. The experience we gain is sometimes discussion of an idea with others. It is sometimes the careful placing of words on a page and the consideration of those words through time. It is sometimes the publication of our words and the response they bring from others after publication. We are wired to use these tools of language and technology. The belief in immutable truth, though, is something we can wrestle free from, at least in order to live more fully in a world that is changing quickly, more quickly each day.

All of this is to reassure myself, and all of us, that it is okay to put our thoughts out there where they can be read and considered. If someone does say, "But last year, you said...," I would have no problem describing the experiences that have changed my mind. Those who will not acknowledge the possibility of changing their minds, though: they frighten me. They are not using the brains we have, the language we use, to develop their thinking.

Are there beliefs I have now that I have held a long time? Yes, but I try not to be married to any belief so much that I cannot consider a new case that defies old standards. Oops, I have mentioned the S word, and that is fodder for another blog entry.