What a sweetly simple Monday off from school. A soft drizzle scattered throughout the day, providing a dark and dreary backdrop perfect for Halloween lights, pumpkins, and mums.
As I graded students’ essays, the gray mist had me daydreaming of some faraway rain-drenched isle. What better telly, then, to binge on than Shetland, the mystery series based on the Ann Cleeves novels set in Scotland. I mean, look at this…
And then back to this Netflix documentary for a break from the news of the day, which continues to be so loud, combative, and irritating to the spirit….
I find myself looking to the past for learning, inspiration and optimism, even hope.
A quiet day before heading back to the classroom tomorrow. Word on the street is that seniors are up to some shenanigans and will be cutting school for an extra long weekend. Fine by me. I have much more grading, reading, lesson-planning, and daydreaming of faraway rainy places to do.
The past few weeks have been challenging. Like so many people, my spirit is fraught and frustrated by the ugly tumult taking place in Washington yet I can’t look away. More than ever, I find myself searching for glimmers of hope, integrity, possibility.
Waking up to a cloudy October morning, I purposely treated myself to a quiet, restful day, doing my best to tune out the travesty of the Kavanaugh confirmation. I headed first to where I usually turn for rejuvenation and reflection: a morning walk in nature.
While I typically walk in silence to fully savor the sounds around me, this morning I popped in my ear buds to continue listening to an episode of On Being with two of my favorite poets: Padraig O Tuama and Marilyn Nelson. Pure, nourishing soul food….
Happy September, everyone! Someone told me yesterday that September is the new January, which makes sense to me. New notebooks and pencils. New shoes. A new season on its way (hooray, Autumn!!!). And if you’re a teacher like me, new classes with new students. A fresh new start!
This past summer I also plunged into a new hobby, which I look forward to continuing as a respite from long school days, adjuncting at night, the constant research and reading required of an English teacher, as well as those mountains of papers to grade:
sketching and watercoloring.
Thanks to Mary Ann Moss, over at Dispatch from LA, I splashed around with paints and water and a bunch of different inks and pens all summer long. Each morning I enjoyed another segment of her online course “Sketchbookery,” happily sketching and coloring spoons, shells, heirloom tomatoes, marbles, trees, toes (don’t ask). Even poor Edith Piaf got a turn. Letting loose under Mary Ann’s tutelage also reaffirmed a few lessons much more important than the accuracy of my fledgling artistry:
Playing and having fun clears the head and feeds the soul. Play and have fun daily!
Laugh at yourself. Then laugh at yourself some more.
It’s okay to make a mess. In fact, making a big splashy mess is quite fun.
Color outside the lines. Unabashedly. Wildly. Frequently.
Keep your eyes open to catch all those simple joys and beauties around you.
So off I go to begin the new school year with over 100 freshmen, sophomores, and seniors. I will be teaching a freshman course called Leadership, Honors American Literature to my sophomores, and Honors World Literature to the seniors. Lots of challenges, as well as moments to look forward to, ahead. And lots of breaks to breathe, rest, and sketch and color it all.
I hope you also make lots of time for yourself this September to rest, play, and take some time to look around.
My father has always been a man of ritual. Such constant structure did not always float my boat as I was growing up, especially as my own little wings began to blossom. Even to this day I work hard to strike a balance between routine and spontaneity, always being highly organized and prepared with a little more flying by the seat of my pants. Some days, for example, I wish I could just “wing it” in my classroom like a few of my teaching colleagues do or hit the road on a Friday afternoon for a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Woodstock. Alas…
One of my dad’s rituals that I still hold dear and practice now that I’m a teacher is taking a long walk on my last day of summer vacation. It feels like yesterday on a late August afternoon, around 4:30 like clockwork, that he would find me wherever I was, galloping around the backyard or lounging on the deck with my nose in a book, to take me on a walk, either around our property a couple of times or up to the park at the top of the hill.
I was a shy kid, an awkward teenager. A quiet introvert through and through, even with my dad, who worked and commuted to and fro the city more than I saw him. To be honest, there were moments in the high school and college years when I sort of wished we could just forgo the whole annual walk thing. I don’t feel like talking today. I barely know this guy. He doesn’t know me, that’s for sure. Maybe I have something better to do at 4:30. And then he would put his arm around my shoulder and start to talk as we walked along…about his own memories of school, the big questions he had struggled to answer, his faith, his parents, his wins, his losses, all the different roads he had walked along. And I gradually realized the thing I have come to cherish, especially in these winter years, when we both know there is a lot less road ahead than there used to be: we’re the same, he and I. He has known me all along.
And so I took my walk this morning in a nearby park to celebrate an amazing summer (albeit ridiculously sweltering) and to reflect upon the year of teaching that awaits me tomorrow morning. A blank slate, a snow-white piece of paper on which to start fresh and anew–perhaps the greatest gift of this vocation. I breathed in the woods, drank in the quiet, spotted a little friend sitting under a tree, walked and walked. And then, though I could imagine Henry David Thoreau and John Muir cringing from the big woods in the sky, I took my iPhone out of my pocket and texted my dad a photo of my morning path.
I recently discovered a new poem. One of the benefits of reading voraciously is that you are constantly learning, traveling, unearthing, sharing, exploring, questioning, wandering, growing, and discovering. And aren’t those some of the best bits of life? Some of the very actions that give us meaning and purpose?
Poet, performer, librettist, and professor Douglas Kearney read the poem in an online course I was taking (“Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop” via Coursera), and I immediately fell in love with its exquisite colors and concrete images, simple–though anything but. I replayed Kearney’s reading of the poem several times that week and in so doing discovered another poet to enjoy and introduce to my students–Kearney himself.
And then I did the next obvious thing, the only possible choice….I cooked up a hot, steaming plate of beans and rice (tossing in cilantro, chunks of fresh garlic, and Sriracha for kicks) and devoured the delicious simplicity of the dish.
Enjoy this poem, and then go and cook up some beans and rice of your own to relish. It really doesn’t get much better, does it?
Hello! I am enjoying a peaceful morning here, quiet except for the birds chirping and a distant lawnmower humming. Oh, and a quacking squirrel. Yes! I had no idea until yesterday that squirrels can make noise. I thought a wayward duck had lost its way onto my balcony, but it was a skinny little squirrel making all the racket. I am not sure if that means it is hurt, angry, or just wanting to chat. I will research.
I have been busy as a squirrel myself in the past couple of days, dusting off the syllabi, creating some new presentations in Google (I am loving their Slides as an alternative to PowerPoint), digging through my magic hat for fresher lesson plans…sometimes it’s hard with The Scarlet Letter or The Iliad, you know?
Mimi was in disbelief when she saw me getting back to work….That is the exact expression I will have on MY face when I hear those hundreds of high-schoolers entering the building on that first morning a couple of weeks from now. Shock to the senses!
And so now, it’s busy busy busy. Lots to do before heading back, including….staring at this mountain of books remaining from my summer reading list and wondering what to read next. Sigh…life is good.
I realize most people probably prefer a sunny day during the summer, but give me a good rainy day during any season of the year and I’m happy as a kid in a puddle. Today marked the first day of a two-week vacation, and so what better way to celebrate than with heavy rain pounding the windows all day. (Well, just to clarify, today actually began the final two weeks before I have to set the alarm clock and return to my classroom, but I am sipping from the glass half full.)
So, today’s celebration was filled with the very simplest of shenanigans indeed:
1. Hours of drenching rain that splashed my little corner of the world.
2. Vanishing for a couple of hours into THIS delicious murder mystery by Louise Penny and watching one very happy lemon tree enjoy a shower:
3. Sketching and watercoloring! A tomato, or, um, a spaceship, depending on your perspective…what can I say, I’m learning. (It’s fun to play!)
4. Tuning in to (and subsequently BINGEING) the brilliant A Very English Scandal on Amazon Prime. Give both Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw an Emmy! A Golden Globe! Here’s a review in The Atlantic for your reading pleasure:
Sometimes the simple moments that fill a life with joy require fewer words than others. A photo or two can do the trick. Take a peek below into my past couple of days as I savor the tail end of summer vacation by the shore…and enjoy.
An early-morning walk by the sea, where only the fishermen, a couple of boats, and a gigantic sky keep me company.
With sandy flip flops and salt in my hair, I meander back through sidewalks of flowers and cozy cottages.
Stop at a farmers market and breathe in even more deep, fresh scents and colors…a revel for the senses.
Such pockets of beauty and wonder everywhere. All ours for the taking.
Suddenly it feels a bit cooler as throngs of sleepy beachgoers trudge back to cars or cottages, their carts overflowing with umbrellas and chairs, sand pails brimming with shells. The hot, vast sky turns periwinkle-pink and the sun begins her do-si-do with the moon, who just keeps on pulling tides and making waves, pulling, making. And though I am quite sleepy myself, I feel her pull me too; bedtime will have to wait.
I adore Kevin Bacon. He could act out the phone book and I would watch with glee. Give him the Oscar, the Golden Globe, an Emmy, some sort of Golden Ticket immediately.
So…imagine my squeal of delight as I spotted his band’s name on the boardwalk marquee this morning after a blissful walk on the beach. Then, wait, is that … holy cow! It’s his tour bus pulling up right underneath our condo’s balcony. I’m not embarrassed to tell you that I jumped out of my chair to run inside and put on a nicer tank top and shorts (dress is veeery casual at our vacation getaway here) and then returned to hang over the balcony with my iPhone camera poised in position. My sister scolded me for staring, opting to play it cool, but every ounce of cool I may have possessed flew off the railing with the seagulls.
Well, we missed him at that juncture, the bus departed, and Emily and I carried on with our vacation Monday, until…the bus returned! Now, in an unexpected turn of events, Sister contracted Kevin Bacon Fever and tore off up to the Music Pier to wait for a sighting. I could barely catch up with her in my flip flop feet, frizzy hair, and, uh, no brassiere (in my haste to follow her I forgot to put it back on!). I’m lucky nothing flew out of my old, saggy tank top as I ran after her. So now there we are, standing outside the stage door as the brothers finished playing their set (which sounded amazing, by the way), two goobers giggling like schoolgirls up to no good.
We waited. We waited. They played a couple of encores. We waited some more. We got to talking and laughing with two other ladies waiting for our star to appear. Emily marched toward the concert hall to try to peek through the doors, only to be chased down and yelled at by the “security guard” (who looked younger than some of my sophomores). We waited. I took a photo of the exit door to make sure my phone’s camera was focusing. Emily got to talking with another one of the staff….Wait, what? <insert sound of screeching brakes> He’s already left the building? <insert a loud, distorted, slow motion Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo>
And so, my friends, it turns out that good things do come to those who wait, just not necessarily the things that were expected. Kevin Bacon was whisked away to safety out of another door and is already sleeping soundly, relieved to have evaded the two googly-eyed female stalkers spotted lurking by the Exit. And two sisters are still laughing themselves silly over their night filled with shenanigans by a starlit summer sea.
I have a confession to make. I am not a fan of Sundays. (Were you expecting a juicier, saucier admission?) During the school year, I awaken on a Sunday morning and immediately think of the million and one things I want to squeeze into the day ahead before heading back to work on Monday, things I probably should have already gotten to during the workweek or at least part of Saturday–you know, three loads of laundry, a Crock-Pot of chili, a full week of celery chopped, pile of bills, at least one power walk, vacuuming, five classes worth of essays to grade, finish writing a book of poems, iron my shirts, read the Times front to back, watch every single football game being televised, go to a football game, watch Masterpiece Mystery, write a novel, read a novel … well, you get the idea. Never enough time. And poor, innocent Sunday seems to rub that in my face, though I know she means no harm.
Now, part of me is being hyperbolic, of course. I am a teacher. I enjoy freedom-filled Sundays all summer long. I load my time with what I want, when I want it. I have sacrificed a lot of material and financial comforts to follow my dream of teaching, but I reap every single reward this special vocation offers. I am grateful that I have always inherently enjoyed simple pleasures and that I know how to live comfortably and within my means. And I have also lived enough and seen enough to know that all of the blessings in my life make me wealthier than any man or woman on the Forbes list.
But I digress…back to Sundays. This Sunday. Today. Simply spectacular! My sister and I are together again for a week of shenanigans on our annual summer vacation at the Jersey Shore. We have vacationed here since we were tiny girls, playing Charlie’s Angels with cap guns, smashing around in bumper cars, licking ice cream cones, and sharing stories of what we were going to be when we grew up. We return because this place connects us. Its roots grow deep.
Anyway, nothing earth-shattering, just simple and restful, like Sundays are meant to be, I suppose. Soul-filling. I sketched. She sipped a special coffee. We laughed and chatted, people-watching from our balcony a few yards from the boardwalk. She napped. I plunged into the most beautiful coffee table book entitled The Sea and daydreamed of manning a lighthouse in the middle of the Irish Sea or re-cruising the Alaskan fjords. We savored a delicious caprese salad (including cucumber slices and garlic stuffed olives) composed with the freshest of ingredients from my visit to my friends’ garden the other day. She bought two original paintings at the art show on the boardwalk. I ballooned with joy as she excitedly recounted her conversation with the artist. And we ended the day in the best way possible, perhaps the only way, when you’re down here on vacation…a twirl of soft serve ice cream. Dipped in rainbow sprinkles, of course.
Sunday, I may just be discovering your wonderfulness after all.