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Listening

I began to write this poem after a long and tiring week. Sometimes, when I step back from the visceral nature of my emotions, postive and negative, I find a kernel to prompt writing, thinking, and acting.

Too often, I find myself talking when I should be listening. This includes listening to me, and, more importantly, listening to those whose stories are silenced in unjust ways. I think those two forms of listening go hand-in-hand. Not listening to others is often a product of being so busy with the noise of my own life. When I listen from the heart, I hear words anew.

Rich stories silenced–

Seeking just spaces,

Sharing and healing;

To speak freely.

Listening deeply–

Sadly, stories unheard,

Of being oppressed;

Shunted to the margins.

Listening with heart–

Leaning into stories,

With grace and humility,

Hearing for the first time.

Am I ready to act?

Listening, hearing–

But, without doing;

(In)justice remains.

I listen to the blues, gospel, and jazz most of my life. When it comes to the blues, gospel, and jazz music I am aware of the privilege I experience and do not take it for granted.  As a Canadian, I attended concerts, because African-American performers came to Canada. They had access to venues I could attend here that they did not have in their own country.

Today, I heard Mavis Staples (on her latest album) singing and it resonated. For real and just change to emerge, I must be willing to listen and change the things I can.  When I listen to the blues and gospel music, particularlyperformed by African-American women, there is an undercurrent for meaningful and just change in the world.

Ongoing Quest

I wrote this during my last year teaching. It had been a particularly challenging day in the classroom and beyond. The students were full of energy and it was not always healthy. I grew frustrated and visibly annoyed part way through the afternoon. Part of it was a lack of a healthy relationship with the administration, which seeped into my teaching at times. It was challenging to set those frustrations aside, particularly with little support and how it impacted my teaching.

Having said thi, I chose to teach anothere year and wanted to teach those particular students. On myway home, I realized I need to establish a different, encouraging tone. In a sense, my ability to influence is my ability to recognize my reality and walk into the fire, the crucible, so to speak.In his teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds me even weeds of a tough day serve a purpose. They fertilize and increase the yield of a crop: children’s learning and this could be lost on on me. For the remainder of the school year, some 7-8 months, I used this as my touchstone.

Sometimes, I allow myself to assume what is out there makes me who I am. If I let it, I succumb to those forces. On the other hand and stepping back from the brink, I reclaim my view and my callings in life. I do not let others and circumstances dictate who I am. I can choose how to respond. This is no mean feat as, in the heat of  the battle, it is hard to not be reactionary. The best I can do is be the best I can be in a moment, reflect later, and grow anew with fertilizer provided by tough moments.

transforming–

ongoing quest,

seeking vision,

unearthing a better, truer self–

digging deep,

resting in my heart.

transforming–

polishing the gems of self,

righting speech! righting action!

influencing others properly–

reclaiming my voice,

bringing forth my best.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I got The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan when I was in high school. I still have it and still spin the vinyl after all these years. Although it is now almost 60 years old, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall still rings true for me today. Dylan wrote this in the midst of the Cold War with nuclear threats all around. Today, we are in the midst of multiple crises: health, wealth distribution, inequities, etc. The question I should ask in difficult times, small and large, is how can I be the difference I want to see in the world to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi? Even if it is difficult, it is noble, virtuous, and hopeful, in the face of great obstacles, to speak truth to power, (re)calling I can only make the difference I can make.

In Seeming Chaos, Hope

I gave a lot of thought today about hope and its lack of it. I do not confuse hope with positivity and positive mindset. Instead, I understand hope as grounded in reality. Emily Dickinson described it as “the thing with feathers,” suggesting we cannot fully describe it. Its ineffeable nature creates a metaphoric meaning for each of us. Without dreams and hope, Langston Hughes cautions “life is a broken-winged bird/that cannot fly.” With hope and dreams of previous enslaved generations, Maya Angelou repeats the title of her poem “I Rise” as a prayer and refrain against hopelessness.

Too often, people want to pigeon-hole others in binary and dichotomous ways e.g. conservative or progressive. It appears easier and less ambiguous if we can label someone, somehow providing a sense of stability about who this or that person is. What we mis-understand is “and” means something. It acknowledges how complex each human is. We are not usually one thing or the other. Instead, we are mingling of things, experiences informing how we live, and the context within which we live. I want to conserve things e.g. Nature and, at the same time, progress e.g. equity regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Neither is premised on political or, in our case, reality TV, sloganeering.

Paulo Freire and bell hooks write about hope, unconditional love, and dialogue in educating children, youth, and adults. I think the critical theory is incorrect. What they propose is critical pedagogy/andragogy where I ground dialogue in listening with lovingkindness to those with different lived-experiences. In mindful, non-judgemental listening, I seek to open up space where the Other shares their reality and wisdom. In acknowledgeing the humanity of the Other and greeting them in dignified silence, I might offer the fragile hope so needed in today’s world. Imagine a world where we greeted one another with dignity, rather than making up slick political mottos and creating disparaging nicknames that assault others?

I wrote this poem after a long, hard day. I thumbed through some right-brain scribbles and this was the result.

Even in chaos, hope–

Faith springing forth,

Beloved Other sharing wisdom:

What do we hold in common.

Communal rhythm,

Symphonic voices arising–

Loving harmonies;

Binding and healing.

Listening,

Giving dignity–

Acknowledging shared ground.

Holding each Other gently,

Unsure together–

Breaking bread

Being safe in this space.

This was the first secular song I heard in church. It was the late 1960’s. Today, I think we do need mountains we have bulldozed, meadows we have paved over, and water we have contaminated. Having said this, we need love and hope equal measure to make those things happen.

Courage

Dominant groups control the conversation, excluding those who disagree. This is exacerbated with social media. It is difficult enough to present one’s  ideas through civil dialogue, let alone in 240 characters, in a Facebook post, and even on a blog. This raises interesting and eloquent questions about how we bring about meaningful, equitable, and sustainable change. How do we encourage others to come into the light and share their stories from the margins? How do we include the most vulnerable in our communities by making ourselves vulnerable? Each day, humans, with little, reveal courage as they engage a world that seemingly turns its back on them each day.

It is not enough to tolerate and merely see differences. We need to recognize them as we enact tranformational and sustainble change, closing the gap between those without by holding out a hand to help lift them up. This take acts of trust and courage. It would take vulnerability and courage as we each expose our self in ways that take us to the margins of our comfort zones.

In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman encouraged the non-routine as we each sing out and question the imbalances of our world in civil conversation: “Not words of routine this song of mine, but abruptly to question, to leap beyond, yet nearer bring”

(In)just living,

Revealing courage,

Being vulnerable.

Affirming as human,

Expanding boundaries–

(En)couraging, rather than (dis)couraging.

Making visible,

Seeing humans in their fullness–

Naming each other.

Creating dialogic spaces;

Where agreement meets

Welcoming the other fully.

I leave you with this video.

9/11

“Where was I on September 11, 2001 as the planes hit the towers?” This is a question many of us of a certain age revisit each year to mark this date.

I was in my car driving to school when the news broke. It seemed surreal like H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds must have. When I got to school, I found a TV, and we watched it in the classroom. I asked the students, the parent of the day, and educational assistant if they had friends or relatives in the US. About 3/4 of the group raised their hands. Our family has roots in the US with relatives and friends living there. Both my post-graduate degrees are from American schools and we spend a considerable amount of time in the US.

The play Come From Away is about people in Newfoundland opening homes and lives to over 7000 people who were on diverted flights.

On September 10, 2001, who would have thought it would happen the following day? Who could predict the consequences of the act of a handful of men that day and the lasting impact on lives? But, it did impact us in a 6 degrees of separation way. I did not know anyone in the planes or towers, but I know at least two others who knew someone on the flights. In today’s world,  interconnectedness is real and vivid.

Emblazoned in infamy,

Seared into minds–

Surreal and nightmarish.

Senseless and tragic,

Touching one–

Touching all.

Sharing grief,

Never fully healing–

Holding memories.

Loved ones gone,

Never forgotten–

Shedding tears.

In recent days, we have a Blues channel on to listen to music. Today, I heard this song by Bonnie Raitt and it touched me on this day. We missed seeing her several years ago as the tickets sold out before I got there.

The song raises a question for me: “How can learn we are more alike as humans than different?”

Speaking One’s Truth

I wrote this as I was making decisions about continuing to teach. There had been considerable upheaval as new administrators arrived and left, families left, and a friend and colleague retired. I found myself constantly in the midst of a storm with little or no control in how things might move forward. At a retreat in Oakland, I spent considerable time reflecting and journaling about the issue at hand, so this was not intended to be a poem and it took a year to write itself.

What I wrote was a summary of the past year and the struggle to ways to create in my teaching and be more present to my students. What I lacked was confidence in who I was and what I was enacting as a teacher, the performativity and improvisation essential to my teaching. I planned a lot in my teaching, but the depth of planning allowed me to improvise in ways that a lack of planning could not.

In The Book of Joy, The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu discuss how loss and fear lead to anger. What is important is during challenging times to try to be aware of what gives us meaning and hope in life. Although I would love to teach and be part of educating the next generation of teachers, I find it easier to accept that is not happening, focusing energies on writing and teaching in a new way. If the situation arose to teach and educate the next generation of teachers, I would consider it. What it is not doing is defining who I am and my life.

It’s emerging,

Happening–

Letting go;

Speaking with love–

Accepting the lost.

Sitting with questions,

Accepting uncertainty, incompleteness–

Taking stock;

Gazing inwards–

Feeling humbling hope.

Accepting extended hands,

Discarding baggage–

Walking forwards;

Living my truth;

Questing in each moment.

I took this picture in Arizona in March. It was the last of five I took. Each day, as I walked back, the cactus had bloomed one or two more flowers. The cactus and its flowers exist just to be a cactus and its flowers, beautifying the world. They remind me, even in harsh conditions, plants and animals flourish in their time.

As I was writing, Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up played. It is appropriate. As we face challenges, we move on up and achieve, albeit an unpredictable, something.

Focusing on the Essential

I took this picture in the summer of 2012. I sometimes keep blurry phots to remind me to try bring and keep things in focus. They remind me life is not always in sharp focus and there are times to step back, pause, and reflect. I think this is essential amidst multiple crises we are experiening: health, economic, and social justice. The health crisis accentuated and made more visible the social and economic fault lines in the world, including in so-called advanced countries. These inequities include the wars, hunger, Amazonian deforestation, accelerating climate change, etc.

It is essential to keep our eye not on the outcome to correct the injustices, inequities, and lack of democracy in the world, but on the processes that will overcome those phenomena. John Lewis in Across that Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America stated

“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone—any person or any force—dampen, dim or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. […] Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.”

The title could read any country in the world and the world itself. In focusing each of our light, we can gradually transform the world, making it better, more just, more equitable, and more democratic; a beloved community.

One’s spirit wearies;

One’s travails weighing heavy–

From within,

A voice calling.

Seeking peace;

Turning inward–

Posing prayerfully,

Listening for wisdom.

Paying homage;

Celebrating–

Carving paths through wilderness,

Cherishing one another.

Appreciating difference in unity;

Opening hearts to one another–

Reaching outstretched hands,

Grateful for common humanity.

I leave you with the video of the reading of the poem Invictus by Tybre Faw. What gives me hope is there are young people like this who are the light.

 

The Establishment

I wrote this poem when I was in high school, so some 50 years ago about the time I wrote Angry Young Poet. I updated both poems several years ago, but the underlying theme was evident in the orginals and I tried to keep that in mind in editing.

I found both poems as part of handwritten notes I dug through one weeked while Kathy was away. What struck me was how little things change. In fact, I might argue things are more entrenched than ever; the rich got richer and the poor poorer. One only has to consider the enormous wealth being accumlated by billionaires during the multiple crises we are experiencing.

Multiple crises, health, economic, and social justice, might give us room to re-imagine the world we want for our children and grandchildren. Instead, I am afraid we are more entrenched in our binary positions. Despite this, I hold out hope, not optimism and positivity, that we can begin the process of transforming the world to make it more democratic, socially just, and equitable. Part of my writing is revisiting an article I published in 2012 called Rocky River: Building a Learning Organization to re-imagine how we might educate children, youth, and adults. I begin re-imagining with a simple shift in language and call those engaged in teaching and learning educands a word Paulo Freire used in Pedagogy of Hope: Revisiting Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

More broadly, we can apply the learning organization’s principles to other institutions. Peter Senge cautioned it is hard work and takes time. Unlike other revolutionaries, Freire stated incremental change, based on dialogue between humans, was essential to transforming the world. Although Senge does not draw on Freire’s dialogic model, he suggests dialogue, with deep and caring listening, is at the heart of transforming institutions.

They know best for the rest–

Indoctrinating,

Not transforming,

Recalling non-existent good old days.

In disagreeing–

Simply wrong-headedness,

Daring to rebel:

Who are we to question?

Having it made–

Hunting and gathering,

Material wealth signaling success,

Repress, suppress, oppress.

Depending them to know best.

Maintaining existing order,

Demanding blind loyalty,

Failing to practice what preach.

I re-worded the poem again. I see how little changed in 50 years. Without a picture, I thought of which blues musician might best convey my message. I immediately thought of Nina Simone, who sings with edge. When I play her songs for undergrads, those with backgrounds of privilege demonstrate a visible level of discomfort.

 

Sun Set Tree

The same day Kathy took the picture for my post Time to Rest she took this picture of a single tree standing against the horizon as the sun set. She called it the sun set tree.

This spring and summer has been cool and dreary with many days below average for temperature and with. Yesterday, we began to turn the corner with some heat that is supposed to continue for at least a week. If we wait, the sun comes out and warms things up. For growth to occur, we need rain. As the heat takes hold and the sun does it job, a little rain must fall.

The same applies to our lives. We conflate passion and love. Passion contains love. It also holds moments of sorrow and pain. Compassion is sharing the good, the not-so-good, and refraining from doing harm to other sentient and non-sentient beings. We cannot go it alone. Nature teaches us about the essential idea of inter-being, a concept Thich Nhat Hanh writes about. Being mindful of Nature’s teaching gives insight into how we might inter-be with and in the world. It is not always clear. Into our lives a little rain will fall and there will cloudy days to help produce the sun and growth.

 

Sentinel stands guard;

Blurry silhouette.

Against leaden backdrop;

Appearing lonely.

Gently smiling sun;

Sharing tentative rays.

Receiving warming glow;

Gathering to grow.

Revealing that hidden by shadows;

Stretching boldly.

Smiling with Brother Sun;

Sharing sacred moments.

In a time where social inequity has been laid bare in incredibly visible ways, brought out of the shadows, we need to think, not about what privilege we might lose, but about how we can help each other be lifted up, particularly the most oppressed amongst us. I listened to Simon and Garfunkel growing up and enjoyed The Sound of Silence. This cover is my favourite version and reminds us we need prophets to write words on the subway walls.

A Half a Dragonfly Is Fine

I took this picture while at the retreat I posted about the other day. It picture out better than others. I had trouble with the sun over my shoulder; pretty good excuse. Initially, I was disappointed because the dragonfly posed and cooperated. In retrospect, the title says it all and the moment was a lesson in living.

As I mentioned, the retreat was a great experience. I reminded my self it is OK to be imperfect. I am human with that. The dragonfly showed up and shared a quiet moment with me; for that I am grateful.

Lighting down,

Oh, so gently.

Posing,

Oh, so perfectly.

He spoke;

He really did!

“Take my picture please

My time almost done

My memorial moment.”

Posing ever so gracefully,

As if expressing gratitude,

Sharing a momentous moment,

Done, we each took leave–

Jobs nearly complete.

We each are learning about who we are in life. Living is a gerund and, as result, is an unfolding and becoming we are always experiencing. I think this is best said in the poem of Derek Walcott, Love After Love. It is in accepting our imperfections we come to love the self who continuously emerges.

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