Friday, June 28, 2013

Watching a Rainbow Fade

     This morning as I was waiting for my coffee to reheat I saw a rainbow arching across the western sky and hurried outside to watch it.  Within moments it began to fade and all too quickly, it disappeared.
      I don't think I've seen a rainbow in years... the last time I saw one it was a double rainbow over Lake Michigan during a wedding reception.  Everyone rushed out to see it and had the time to stand in awe of it until it was gone.
     It takes patience to stand and watch a rainbow until it disappears though.  It is a phenomenon, a fleeting look at a promise, but we have things to do and places to go.  I actually had to convince myself to take a moment and watch it till it faded.  It was more than worth it.
     Of course being in a summer writing camp, I had to dash in and write my title before the memory of it faded.  Watching a rainbow fade becomes a metaphor for taking time to cherish moments that pass all too rapidly.  A happy moment, a feeling of accomplishment, a kind word, a moment of friendship...they all disappear in the rush of real life.  When I write them down and mark the moment they happened, they don't fade away as quickly.  I can go back and remind myself they actually happened.
     So I grabbed my phone as I went out to look at the rainbow this morning and quickly captured an image of it.  It is nowhere near as glorious as the real one.  But it will help me remember the beauty long after it is gone.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sometimes...(for Teachers Write)

 Sometimes on a rainy day in summer
we say
it smells like the cottage
 or refer to the day as
cottage weather.
A rainy or humid day
 at the cottage
has a musty smell
all of its own.
The clouds hang low
heavy with moisture.
 I feel the  clamminess of it
as it sits upon my skin,
making me feel
languid and dispirited.
it becomes a jungle.
I almost fear going outside
it seems like a rain forest
where the insects
 might be voracious.
The raindrops
 from the leaves
onto the roof,
as steady as a metronome.
 There is tumultuous
do they sing of
more rain to come?
I  press my face against
the saggy screen door,
looking out upon the
orchard of plum trees
willing it to stop
so we can have fun.
I wonder
what we can do
with this rainy
cottage day.

Monday, June 24, 2013

So Let Us Rejoice

      "Igitor?"  My father read the tv screen that posted the song currently playing on their classical music station.
     "Gaudeamas Igitor." My mother replied from her wheelchair. "For walking in and walking out."  She began singing in her strong contralto voice:
     "Gaudeamus igitur
Iuvenes dum sumus.
Gaudeamus igitur.
Iuvenes dum sumus.
Post iucundam iuventutem.
Post molestam senectutem.
Nos habebit humus —
      Nos habebit humus."

      A few minutes later she slipped back into the foggy depths of dementia and the moment was gone.  But I had caught a glimpse of the girl she once was:  scholarly, knowledgable, classically trained.

     I find it hard to express in words how it feels to see your parent diminish.  The pain of it  cuts to my heart.  The first evening I noticed that something was wrong I tried to will it away, explain it away to myself.  That did not work, it continued to progress.  What surprised me was the ebb and flow of dementia, for lack of a kinder word.  I had always assumed that once one slipped past a point, there was no return.  But there are days I see her as she once was: strong, intelligent, our matriarch.  It is hard to find that other days when she is sullen, stubborn, and confused.
    So when I visit, I search her face, who will she be today?  Will I find my mother there in those mottled blue eyes?
Let us rejoice, therefore,
While we are young.
After a pleasant youth
After a troubling old age
The earth will have us.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Influence of Madeleine L'Engle


“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

~Madeleine L’Engle

     When I was 10 I had a young teacher in her second year of teaching who was a free spirit.  This was a new and different experience for me, as most of my teachers were elderly.  Some of her procedures were very inappropriate, but she influenced my life forever by reading aloud A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.  We would sit mesmerized every day after lunch as she read one chapter.  It was as if I held my breath each day until the next chapter would reveal what happened.  When Charles Wallace finally was saved by Meg's love I was astounded at the thought of that concept.  It completely caught me off guard.
     As much as I loved the book, it was really the entire influence of Madeleine L'Engle that shaped my perceptions.  The parts of the book where beings sing praise to God come to mind so often when I sing in church that I fear Madeleine even shaped my perception of heaven.
     Later I read Meet the Austins and those books made me realize that being a teenager may not be an easy thing.  Most of the books at that time still talked about being 'pinned' and Saturday nights being picked up by a date.  L'Engle's books portrayed a world where a character met a troubled, even annoying boy and yet was drawn to him in an inexplicable way.  This was something I definitely could relate to.
      In recent years I have read her journals about her life, only to be disappointed to hear they weren't exactly nonfiction.  I forgive her, who would want to air all of the hurts and disappointments of reality? Any one should be able to understand coloring their world in a more flattering way, writing about life as we dream it could be, not as it actually is.  It is sad to hear how she may have been in denial about her husband, and also her son.  But she made their lives a thing of beauty in her mind, perhaps that was a comfort to her.
     Last summer I was able to read some of her very first books, and enjoyed her love for classical music that inspired me to listen to some of the songs mentioned online.  No matter what her faults may have been, she is a wonderful mentor in appreciating culture, the arts, science, astronomy, and in her admiration of others brilliance and the glory of God.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Finding Beany Malone

          There are three authors whose writings  greatly influenced my life when I read their books earlier in life:  Madeleine L'Engle, Catherine Wooley, and Lenora Mattingly Weber.
      A few days ago as I sorted out books in the School library I pulled Beany and the Beckoning Road by Lenora Mattingly Weber off the shelf.  First of all, I had to smile because I don't think any student would check this out, and no one had.  But long ago, I enjoyed these books and they formed my perception of what life would be like.
    By the time I started reading Lenora Mattingly Weber, she was writing a series about Katie Rose Belford, so I only read the last few books in the Beany Malone series.  I was captivated by the thought that Beany could think Carlton couldn't stand her, and he ended up being in love with her!  It was so romantic, but unfortunately...not very realistic.
      Katie Rose was a character I could identify with: large family, pining for someone unattainable, unsure of herself.  Weber gave her stories enough twists and turns that the reader could never really predict what would happen.  The most heartbreaking twist was that the boy Katie Rose always pined for ends up falling for her sister Stacy.  That would be very difficult and had more of a realistic tone.
     One of the interesting things about the character of Katie Rose was that she made friends with a new student, Miguel, and never considered him romantically.  He was always there for her but she never gave him a second thought until much later in the series.  That has never been my experience, but I have read of it happening to others.  I'm afraid I always put people in categories and they don't really move from friend category to romantic lead category, which probably was to my loss. Weber makes you root for Miguel to get the girl and for Katie Rose to take off her blinders and see what she is missing.  I believe she does towards the end of the series, but I didn't care for those books as much as the earlier ones.  They had an odd flavor to the writing, too modern for me, like one of those troubled YA books that tend to make me uncomfortable as I read.
     The character of Katie Rose's sister Stacy was an interesting one, and later Weber made her a main character in some of her novels.  I liked her much better as a minor character, always getting in trouble and rebelling against the status quo.  One of her punishments was to write:  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.  This phrase has stayed with me over the years. Latin fascinates me much more as an adult than it ever did as a student, butI digress, that is a subject for another day.
     When I tried to reread these books I had once loved, I couldn't read them anymore, they were just too bittersweet, I wanted to read something less realistic.  I was once told by someone that I enjoyed being sad because I liked sad love songs, movies that made me cry, books that tore at my heart:  not anymore. Before your heart is broken it seems romantic, afterwards it is a cuts a little too close to the bone.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Living at the Library

  I spent most of the day today voluntarily in a stuffy old room on a beautiful sunny day.  I tore apart the school library yesterday and had to stop halfway through the nonfiction section, so I was eager to get back to it today.  There is something about weeding out the trashy books and setting out wonderful books to feature that gives me great pleasure.  Spending most of the day amongst books, the time just flew by both days.  It doesn’t even seem like work, but more like finding old friends and reminiscing. 
     The library is organized according to the Dewey Decimal System, which I find antiquated.  I was going to group the subjects into bins, but went with Dewey and a labeler instead.  I know when I am beaten.
     The library that I spent almost every day at as a child and teenager was in an old storefront.  The ‘real’ library was downtown in Library Square and looked like the capitol building.  My little library was very humble.  I honestly think I read every book in the juvenile and young adult section, simply because the books were there and the selection was limited.  When I went to the real library the choice was so overwhelming it was hard to make a decision what to check out.  My library was much like the one I spent my day in today.  It doesn’t have to be fancy to win my heart, but it does have to show a love for good literature and an excitement for reading.  I hope I have turned this library around for good.
     Whenever I move to a new town, I try to become familiar with their library right away.  It is like a home away from home, with all my ‘friends’ around me, as I said before.  One can be far from one’s real home, but find Madeleine L’Engle or J. R. R. Tolkien in this new place and settle down by a window in a comfy chair and feel like you belong for awhile.
    In Social Studies we learned that Andrew Carnegie gave millions of dollars to open libraries through out the United States.  Our own library here in Racine is one of the libraries he gave money for, but the original library is now a museum.  It is so wonderful to look at the plaque mentioning Carnegie’s donation and think, now there is a kindred spirit.  I know he must have had a love for reading and books to give such a generous and thoughtful gift.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

To Write or Not to Write, That is the Question

     There is something about the love of writing that I think some authors who publish professionally may be losing out on.  I’ve been reading The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, and also just read a blog post about writing by a popular author, wherein they literally torture themselves in the writing process.  True, they make their living by writing, and I have a day job, but it truly seems that they find writing almost physically painful.  How can that be a good thing? 
     I realize that once one has started a series, as the popular author has, one has to come up with the next one.  But I think I’d much rather be like Harper Lee and never publish again, then to struggle to churn out a sequel and grow to hate what I do.
     For me, it is much more painful to share what I have written.  It is truly your self, your real self, that is exposed there on paper and when people criticize that, it is excruciating.  On the other hand, when someone connects or praises what I have written, it is exhilarating. 
     I have read many of Madeleine L’Engle’s autobiographical books, where she talks about being compelled to go and write in her study.  It is more like she is driven there by her muse, she cannot not go and write.  That was how it was for me as a child.  I wrote madly until the muse let me go, sometimes the story was finished, most the time it was not.  While I was writing it was as if a storm engulfed me, the real world disappeared and only reappeared when I was finished. 
     That doesn’t happen for me any more.  I could only write when my life was in place, with my family in the house in the background.  Once I was on my own I was terribly lonely.  I set up all my research books on the kitchen table and set to work and nothing came.  It would have broken me then to have forced myself to write.  It would have been wrong somehow.
    In my classroom, after we have finished our mini lesson and done some assigned writing, I give them the option of reading or writing.  Those who are inspired keep writing, sometimes for a lengthy time.  Those who are not go and read something they have chosen.  I think it is a good compromise.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Chicory Road- a writing process

After last night's Teachers Write Twitter chat I was inspired but just couldn't think of anything to write this morning.  I stumbled around online and then found 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know by Jeff Alexander.  I started to take notes on the book and then started another page with notes on an idea I'd been playing with.  Somehow I was reminded of how during a long ago late summer I was walking along a country road despondently and grew fond of the blue chicory flower growing there.  I am always reminded when I see it that my prayers were answered.  So I decided to start writing a storyline called Chicory Road, which actually exists in Racine.
      I started researching chicory, more or less just for fun, and found fascinating information that I can use in a story:
The Germans call it 'Blauwarte' (not very romantic) but the stories and poems are an inspiration.  It means 'blue lookout by the wayside' and in folklore it was believed to be able to open locked doors.

I found a beautiful poem translated into English that captures the feeling I had when I walked down the Chicory road years ago:
Hermann Löns, 1866-1914

Es steht eine Blume,
Wo der Wind weht den Staub,
|: Blau ist ihre Blüte,
   Aber grau ist ihr Laub. :|Ich stand an dem Wege,
Hielt auf meine Hand,
|: Du hast deine Augen
   Von mir abgewandt. :|
Jetzt stehst du am Wege,
Da wehet der Wind,
|: Deine Augen, die blauen,
   Vom Staub sind sie blind. :|
Da stehst du und wartest,
Daß ich komme daher,
|: Wegewarte, Wegewarte,
   Du blühst ja nicht mehr. :|
tr. Steve Roski 1998

A flower is standing
By the side of the way.
Light blue is her blossom,
Her leaves they are grey.I came down that road once,
Reached my hand out to stay.
I looked in your eyes then,
But you turned them away.
You stand by the road now
Where the desert winds gust.
Your beautiful blue eyes
Are blinded by dust.
You're waiting that I will
Come along as before.
Wayside Flower, Wayside Flower,
You don't bloom anymore.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Writers that inspire me

The writers that inspire me have a spare prose and poetry style and express a love a nature.  When I was doing a search on Verlyn Klinkenborg this morning I found out that people make fun of his writing and say it isn't about anything.  He writes for the New York Times and is a professor, which comforts me.  I think people are missing the point of what he is trying to say.
    Another favorite writer that I discovered only a few years ago is Wendell Berry.  He describes rural life in the 30s and 40s, a life I never experienced but can appreciate, because that was my grandparents life.  Even though by the time I knew my grandma she was a city dwelling widow, remnants of that rural life were still evident in her home, her dress, and her cooking.  It is a treasure to read Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow to envision a life that doesn't exist anymore.  Wendell Berry is criticized because he left the farm to be a scholar.  Critics think that makes his point moot, but if he wasn't a scholar, he wouldn't be able to make his point. Ironic.
     Through yearly readings of Charlotte's Web with my third graders, I am in awe of E. B. White's writing.  I found a copy of his Essays in a used book store and treasure it.  He also can bring back a time and place that no longer exists with so much vividness, I feel that I am there living it.
     These 3 authors have a way of making me slow down, look at nature, appreciate the seasons, and remember what a blessing this physical world is.  It is all too easy to be caught up in schedules, internet, and the artificial world of television and forget all about the natural world around us and the peace it can give.
     I tend to gravitate to older writers, for various reasons: less vulgarity, classic story lines, a feeling that, just perhaps, I was born in the wrong time.  I love the vast information available to me on the internet.  It has opened up a world of learning to me that was inaccessible before, but it also has taken me away from my beloved books.
  I stumbled across the mystery writer Josephine Tey awhile back, and The Franchise Affair is a book I return to again, and again.  It is dated, as are some of her other books, it is a simple story with a complex underlying plot.  There is something about the story that appeals to me, and of course it has a romantic ending.
     In college I discovered I, Keturah by Ruth Wolff, which could be considered corny by some standards.  Keturah's life goes through different phases in the book, and a line that a mentor tells her has stayed with me all my life: the cream always rises to the top.  I am still waiting for it to rise, more or less but that is a topic for another day!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Urban Gardens

     For years I've wanted to do more to beautify the inner city property of our Lutheran church and school here in Racine.  Now my classroom is being moved across town to this property so I asked permission to begin an urban garden.  When I looked around the property for a spot, I saw a small area that had already been cleared with a rock border and some remnants of another years tomato plants.  I thought this would be a good place to start.  Being a cool sunny morning in June I thought this should be easy work, but I was wrong.  Even though the breeze was cool coming off of Lake Michigan, I was soon dripping with the effort of weeding and turning over the soil.  There is always a tedious side to the joys of gardening.  I kept plugging away at my small effort and as I walked away I turned to admire my work: it was barely visible!  Now I want to add to it, but plan to go in the afternoon when the work area will be in the shade.
     Even though we lived in the city, and my dad was city born and raised, we always had a garden.  He kept this up into his eighties and only gave up his tomato plants when forced by heart problems to move to a condominium.  So I would like to dedicate my urban garden to him, and all the memories of our vegetable gardens growing up.  They were never pretty gardens, he would hide the garden behind the garage and tie up the tomatoes with whatever was available.  But he always seemed to enjoy scratching at the weeds, tilling out some fresh vegetables from the dry, dusty soil.
     He attempted to have a garden in the country when I was in high school.  We would drive out there to weed and it was sheer torture in the hot sun, not the enjoyable hobby it was in our backyard.  He kept it for several years after I left for college and had summer jobs so I was unable to help.  It inspired my brother to have his own garden in the valleys between the bluffs in LaCrosse.  There he showed us his garden with pride, on a friend's property so beautiful I imagined it must have looked like this in the Garden of Eden.  It was lush and velvety green, with a brook tumbling over rocks nearby.  What a pleasure it must have been to pause and lean on a hoe while weeding and glance around at the scenery that took your breath away.  Years later, when I see the owners of that property on rare occasions, I still recall the beauty and reminisce with them.  I can't imagine ever wanting to leave a place as wonderful as that.  I wonder if one takes it for granted when you see it every day.
  So I will have my urban garden, with concrete tumbling along side of it instead of a brook.  Hopefully the students will plant their own tomatoes next spring and I will tend them carefully over the long hot summer, starting a tradition for them to carry on with them into their futures.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

“[Psalm 19] For the director of music. A psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
This morning I opened my eyes to a watercolored sky.  The clouds were wisps against the light blue background.  Why don't I take more time to look at the beauty God has created there for me every day?  It's too much of: wake up, the  alarm clock is ringing, take a shower, eat breakfast while my hair is drying, read the paper or the computer as I eat.  And yet, when there is no schedule I tumble through the day at a loss for what to do.  I must find a balance to sustain myself, remind myself to look at beauty as I go through the motions of the day.