Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Small Wire

I shared one of my favorite poems with my American Literature class today:  Anne Sexton's "Small Wire."  I usually teach it in conjunction with Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" sermon because they are both written out of the Puritan tradition, although there are a few hundred years in between them.  I asked the students to write a short 20-minute essay comparing and contrasting the two views of God with their own.  I decided to write with them...

One of the most important things in life is our relationship with God.  Not just that we have a relationship, although that matters, but what kind of relationship we have.  Our view of God will dictate the quality of connection we have with Him and our view of God is determined by our upbringing, our experiences, and our personal efforts to establish and maintain a relationship with Him.  Jonathan Edwards wrote and delivered his sermon at the height of the Great Awakening in the 1740s.  Ministers at the time were using every tactic they could to bring their parishioners back to where they felt they should be, back to the Puritanical tradition of an angry, jealous, no-nonsense God.  Edwards tried to terrify his listeners into coming back, and he succeeded.  But at what cost?  Obedience at the price of love? Edwards describes us as loathsome creatures--even to God our creator, who preserves us on a whim rather than because he loves us.

Anne Sexton, on the other hand, realized that even though our connection with God might be tenuous at best, it doesn't matter.  God will easily and lovingly not only connect with us, but will hold us close and not allow us to fall.  Sexton was a descendent of Puritans, so she knew the traditional concept of God, and yet writing in the 1970s, she had a much more open view of God.  She also understood that our need for God is there, it is inevitable, even though we might not understand it fully.  The relationship is a two-way experience, though.  Both are involved--God and us.

My view is even more evolved than Anne's, I think.  I had the great privilege of growing up in a home where a loving, merciful, generous, and kind God was actively included in every aspect of living.  My father, a theologian in his own right, and a great student of the Bible, would often share his thinking and learning with us, so by the time I got to college, I had a healthy understanding of, and appreciation for, a God more like Anne's than Jonathan's.  College teachers continued to challenge and encourage my thinking and my relationship in ways I am only now beginning to appreciate.  What I thought was the norm turns out to be somewhat unusual for most.  But it has given me is a place and a way to minister to others in encouraging their own personal discovery of the true character of God and for that I am thankful.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

For Balmy Sunshine and Rich Blessings

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, AZ
Day three of the longest Thanksgiving Break I've ever had--one whole week.  What a luxury!  Normally I'd be in school until noon today but this year, our school decided to take the entire week off.  For that, I am thankful.  But that's the least of the things I am thankful for this year.  I'm mindful of the prayer-song that we used to sing when I was a girl--about being thankful for the basics that surround us along with the bountiful blessings.
Hartwell Tavern, Concord, MA
Five years ago, when I blogged about it (here), I had no idea that I'd one day be living in the Valley of the Sun enjoying serious balmy sunshine (but very little nourishing rain) year-round.  In many ways, that's one of the rich blessings, even though I miss New England so much sometimes that it aches.  Times like this week, I'd give a lot to be able to take the quick drive to Lexington and Concord to start my Christmas shopping, or take a stroll through the woods to Hartwell Tavern, or walk the path to the Old North Bridge or take the tour through Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House for the umpteenth time . . . never mind enjoy the bounty of a table laden with favorite food alongside family and long-time friends.  I'd even give something to watch the snow swirl crazily outside my window, piling up on the car and working its magic in the dusky sky at sundown.
Old North Bridge, Concord, MA
Instead, I am spending the early morning hours of this day at my laptop, watching out my window at hummingbirds, woodpeckers, Western juncos, and finches taking their fill at the feeder on the other side of my window and anticipating a delicious meal tomorrow with new (relatively) friends.  And while this isn't the Thanksgiving I have long loved, it is a Thanksgiving I will enjoy all the same.  I cannot complain...
Saguaro National Park, Tucson, AZ
For balmy sunshine
For nourishing rain
Dear Lord and our Father
We thank Thee.
Monarch Butterflies
For food and Thy care
Rich blessings we share
Dear Lord and our Father
We thank Thee.
We thank Thee, oh Lord.
Photos taken in Concord 5 years ago, Saguaro National Park near Tucson two weeks ago, and the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix a week ago.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Preparing for Day One

We are one week away from starting classes again (school starts on Monday, classes begin on Wednesday), but have been in pre-session meetings since last Thursday.  During and in between those meetings, I've been talking with various colleagues about the importance of writing.  The more I said, the more hypocritical I felt.  With my mouth I was saying yes, it's important to write, to let your students and colleagues see and know that you write.  A new colleague shared extensively with us about the importance of writing in the classroom and our departments are collaborating on creating a whole-school writing protocol, complete with rubrics that will help all disciplines work towards competence in writing in each and every discipline.  But here it has been seven months since I've written here!  That is about to change . . . I hope.

Thing is, I go at this in jags.  sometimes I'll be on a writing jag and other times I'll be on a reading one . . . and rarely am I on the two at the same time.  For me, it's almost physically impossible as they require two opposite actions of me.  And yet one feeds off of--and inspires--the other, so I really should be able to do both, right?

Yes.  I am determined.  Wish me luck!!!
Trying my hand at writing with a quill pen at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England.

Friday, January 17, 2014

On and On

"The road goes ever on and on."
~ J.R.R. Tolkein

"It's your road and yours alone.  Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you."

Those are the quotes for today's bell work.  I asked my students to describe the road they are currently traveling--literally and figuratively.  Who is going with you?  Where are you going?  Where do you wish you were going?  Why?  I'll be interested to see their responses.
During the school year, I'm on a road kind of like many here in Arizona--a straight shot getting you fairly easily from one spot to the others.  When I first moved here, a friend I had known in Boston (a city not known for it's straight, logical roads) sat down with me and described the road system here and said "you'll love driving here.  It's so logical.  You'll always know where you are and where you're going."  Wrong!  I have never been more lost and confused within a mile or so from my house or work than in this state!  You can be driving along on a road and suddenly you will dead end into a neighborhood.  So, logically you'd think you could go left (or right) and then right (or left) and then left (or right) again and find yourself back on your original road.  But no.  You can't get around the neighborhood so easily.  Instead, you'll find yourself lost in a labyrynth of twists and turns that have you going in the complete opposite direction from where you started.  Drives.  Me.  Crazy.

Then there are the mountain roads--north and south of where I live.  I'm not very good at driving on roads I don't know and that do not give me a fair amount of distance views.  Roads that have a lot of twists and turns are slow roads for me because I don't want to miss a curve and lose control.  The first time I drove north to Sedona and beyond took quite a bit longer than I drive it now.  And I didn't offer once to drive the hairpin turns of the White Mountains on our road trip East this summer.  Once I know a road, though, I travel it easier.  And faster.

So much for the literal road I'm on.  Figuratively, I start my day on a winding road that I have no idea where or how it will end.  For some reason, that doesn't unnerve me the way the actual unknown road does.  Perhaps because I've gone into this unknown so many times before.  Coming to Arizona was one such big adventure. But every day has its own journey with its myriad opportunities to wonder about the day's mile posts.  But that's a whole other story.  I'll have to leave that for another day.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Crazy Enough

"The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do."  Change the world.  Back in the 80s I thought I could change the world.  One person at a time.  I read Ann Kiemel's books...devoured them...about being just one, but that God and I, we'd change the world.  "You watch.  You wait.  You'll see."  That was my mantra.  I embraced the idea whole-heartedly.  I challenged my friends and my students to join me on my journey through change.  It was exciting and energizing to think about...and to make the effort.  I carried that energy with me through the 90s and loved it all, loved the idea that I could make a difference.  In all my thinking about change in my world, there came changes in me.  As I traveled the world, literally, I began to see things differently.  More globally.  I began to think outside my world...and realized it would take more than just me (and God) to effect some of the changes I saw.  That was a good place to start, but it couldn't stop there.  I would have to encourage others to effect change in their world, too, if we wanted to make a dent at all.

In recent years, I have started each of my classes with a 10-minute writing session.  Initially, it was just free-writing designed to wake their brains up, but for the past few years I've been more focused and intentional with what I want my students to think and write about.  This morning, I paired the above quote with another one about making a difference:  "You can't change it all at once.  It's gonna take multiple people at separate stages of people's lives taking and making a difference.  It's not just gonna take me."  I guess that's where I am now--realizing that where I am attempting to effect change in the lives of the young people around me, I am not in a vacuum.  Many came before and many more will come after.  This could be daunting and/or discouraging, and could possibly cause one to say "why bother then."  But there's also this:  "I can do all things through Christ." I am crazy enough to believe it is indeed possible to change my world after all.

Photos taken in Butterfly Wonderland in Phoenix, Arizona

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Susan Wittig Albert is one of my favorite contemporary authors.  I've been reading her books for some 20 years, now.  Maybe more.  Her website tells us that she "is the author of the novel, A Wilder Rose, the true, untold story of the writing of the Little House books.  Her award-winning fiction, which has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, includes mysteries in the China Bayles series, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries she has written with her husband, Bill Albert, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige.  She has written two memoirs: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place, published by the University of Texas Press.  Her nonfiction titles include What Wildness is This: Women Write About the Southwest (winner of the 2009 Willa Award for Creative Nonfiction); With Courage and Common Sense; Writing from Life: Telling the Soul's Story; and Work of Her Own: A Woman's Guide to Success Off the Career Track.

She is founder and past president of the Story Circle Network and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters."  

Having read nearly everything she's published, I think it's safe to say that I admire and respect her on a number of levels.  I am "friends" with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and read her blogs faithfully.  Now, this week, I am embarking on a journey inspired by her book Starting Points:  Weekly Writing Prompts for Women with Stories to Tell.  My plan is to do much of the woodshed writing in my private journal, but to write at least one entry a week inspired by the daily writing I do based on the prompts.  We'll see how it goes.  I always have grand plans at the start of the year to "write more."  This year, I hope to actually do that.  Wish me luck!

The prompts for the first week of January have to do with changes.  Significant changes in my life over the past year.  An easy question on the surface.  There are changes that time brings to us, that we can do nothing about.  Unstoppable changes that come with aging.  The eyes grow dimmer, the joints ache more in the morning, the energy drops a little more than it used to at the end of the day.  Those are things to be expected, and yet they are not necessarily easy dealt with.  They are part of what comes with living longer, though, so I must find a way to deal with them.  That, too, is easier said than done, but must happen if I am to move on with my life, my future, and not stay rooted in the past--or even the present.

Photo:  New decals on my laptop :)

Don't Ever

 "You were born with the ability to change someone's life.  Don't ever waste it."

The words shout across the classroom to me.  I've been teaching for 35 years now and I'm quite the opportunities I have to change someone's life.  They are a regular part of the majority of my waking hours 180 days out of the year...minimum.  Every minute in my classroom is an opportunity to effect change.  Genuine, gut-wrenching, simple, subtle, silent, achingly slow change.  Being a teacher gives me all that and more.

I didn't know that at the beginning.  I was not prepared for the tidal wave of realization in the first week of my first teaching job.  It came on me suddenly, quickly, and overwhelmed me, causing my own flood of tears at the peak of the epiphany.  I thought it was too hard and too much.  I thought it was impossibly to carry that responsibility.  I thought I was too young, too small, too naive, too shy, too everything...  I very quickly realized that a)  I couldn't be everything to everyone, that b) I had to make the most of every opportunity, and that c) it mattered how I went about making the most of those opportunities.

I have since thought about those first few weeks of my first job and have wondered why I felt so unprepared for the emotional onslaught of this discovery.  Why had my education teachers never talked about that part?  Maybe it's the part we all have to figure out for ourselves in our own way.  Certainly there is no right way or one way to do it.  There is no formula for changing a life, although there are consequences for closing your eyes to the opportunities.  Perhaps the other quote on today's bell work slide is the answer:  "I'm in love with the possibility of changing the world.  They tell me I'm crazy.  They don't know my God."  On second thought, that is the answer.  The only answer for me...

Photos taken at Butterfly Wonderland in Scottsdale, Arizona

Friday, January 03, 2014

The Remains of the Day

The evening's the best part of the day. You've done your day's work. 
Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it.  
The Remains of the Day

Sunset over Mooselookmeguntic Lake, Rangeley, Maine
Twice in the past few days The Remains of the Day has been on some obscure channel, way up the dial from the regulars that I peruse on any given day.  I've watched it both times, although I only caught the end each time.  I read the book when it first came out and loved it--reveled in the beautiful unveiling of character, the slow, deep contemplation of life.  Looking back on it, though, I don't think I really understood what Ishaguru was trying to say.  1989 was a long time ago.  A few lifetimes ago really.  Then, I had all the energy and ambition of a thirty-something single woman, devoted to her work and her family.  Most of my life was very focused on one geographic location.  I had no idea then how my life and my horizons would expand on almost every level within the next few years:

  • 1991--quit my job, go back to school at UNH to work on my PhD, join NEYE (orchestra), begin to travel the world (China-Thailand-Singapore tour)
  • 1992--move to Brunswick, Maine to be Kaitie and Christopher's nanny, continue to travel the world with NEYE (Egypt, South Africa, Jordan, Israel), play in Carnegie Hall numerous times
  • 1993--move to Boston, take job at GBA
  • 1996--continue world travels to England and Russia, begin work as recruiter/fundraiser
  • 1998--go to Russia again
  • 1999--take spontaneous long weekend trip to Paris
  • 2002--take a Western Caribbean cruise
  • 2004--take writing course in Aix-en-Provence
  • 2005--explore Norway with family, become principal of GBA, take seniors to Peru on a mission trip
  • 2010--move to Phoenix to "just" teach
  • 2012--go to the Grand Canyon for the first of several times, take on administrative responsibilities at TAA
  • 2013--go to Zambia for mission trip, take a cross-country road trip
Sunset outside my back patio
Now, today, I hardly know what it is like to come home at the end of the day and put my feet up.  That is until a couple of days ago when I purchased a rocker/recliner and was literally able to put my feet up at the end of the day.  It was an extraordinarily indulgent feeling, one I've not been familiar with, one I could grow accustomed to. Except that would mean my work is actually done at the end of a day...when in reality, it seems as if it's never done.  Even now, as I sit here writing this, there are so many other things I should be doing--including work.  And the question comes, can I really afford to indulge in what remains of the day?

Sunset over the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
One of my academy schoolmates passed away this morning.  I remember her as a quiet, gentle soul.  One who was so kind and soft-spoken.  It had been many years since I had seen her when I got a call from her a year or so after I moved to Phoenix.  Turns out her mother lived very near where I was teaching and she was here, visiting her.  We met at a school program and enjoyed some conversation.  We said we'd have to get together more often now that we were in the same area again.  I never saw her after that.  Life got busy for me and she got cancer.   And now she's gone.  The lights have gone down for her,  her work is done, and she has put up her feet and is resting.  I, on the other hand, have daylight remaining.  I am determined to make the most of it before I, too, put my feet up and enjoy the evening.