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On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

via On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

Melba posted a wonderful poem, Mother to Son, written by legendary African-American poet, Langston Hughes.

I used Langston Hughes’s poetry in our poetry unit each year. The metaphor of life as a staircase, sometimes smooth and other times unevern, seemed to fit junior high students. My students responded to it well.

Another aspect of including his work and Maya Angelou‘s poetry was around the issue of civil rights. In Grade 7, we read the book The Cay, by Theodore Taylor who dedicated it to Martin Luther King shortly after he was assassinated, about the relationship of a young white boy and an elderly black man to discuss what being well-educated meant. I included my mother’s line, which was “who would you rather be lost in the wilderness, someone who read about it or an indigenous person, with no schooling, who lived it?”

In Grade 8, we exoplored civil rights through the lens of heros. I let students choose, but some struggled with this choice. Knowing my students well, I introduced them to Jackie Robinson, Willie O’Ree, and Wilma Rudolph, if they were interested in sports. Others, who came from religious families, I encouraged them to consider Martin Luther King  and Mother Teresa. If they were interested in people who stood for the rights of the oppressed, but might not be considered a religious person we talked about Nelson Mandela and Mahatama Gandhi. Regardless, I found, when I tapped into who each student was, colour, ethnicity, and gender dissolved and wonderful projects emerged.

Another Hughes’s poem we read was Dream Deferred, is sprinked with questions from beginning to end:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Here, is a video of the poem read by the poet.

Albert Einstein

via Albert Einstein

Mrs. Vee offers a quote from Einstein and a headshot. The quote suggests imagination, which is unbounded, is more important than knowledge, which is limited in scope.

Those who educate provide “images for [the] imagination and for forming…memory….to grasp the ‘circumstances’ [we live in] in their infinite variety.” I use the word educate purposely, as each of us learns in settings other than schools. Schools are formal places where a particular agenda is followed.

Over the last few months, I struggled as I transitioned from having taught and wanting to teach. I define myself as a teacher. I taught one term at a small, private, Christian-based university. I applied twice for a tenure track position and have been ignored both times. I think there are multiple things at play and will deal with three. First, others my age are ready to retire. They say things like “I worked to get to this stage.” I understand teaching as a calling, so never worked to get to this stage. Second, it turns out, in the eyes of some, I am the wrong kind of Christian. I am Catholic, yet I am probably, in the eyes of many Catholics, the wrong kind of Catholic. Third, I limited my imagination. I think this is natural. I have not been here before and have few images for imagination. I only knew myself as a teacher, limiting the possibilities of what I could do and who I was still becoming.

The last point is essential. I mentioned this in the last two posts. I have been writing and am invited by others in to collaborate. I can imagine myself as a writer. I don’t know what kind of writer and what other doors it will open up. But, I have been here before.

Kathy reminds me frequently that “when one door closes, another opens.” What I have to recall is I do not know what will happen as I walk through the new door. I can imagine it and, with imagining, new worlds open up and hope exists.

Mount Robson 1 August 2019

This is the front side of Mt. Robson. I have never seen the backside. I can imagine what it might look like based on what I see and what I have read about it. There is a glacier and lake on the mountain. Based on past experience (history), I can imagine sitting on the edge of the lake, like I can imagine sitting and writing the next poem, article, book chapter, a book about teaching in the best little school in the world, etc. I get to imagine my life, so I don’t have to be the right kind of anything for administrators who can only operate in binary terms.

Imperfection

In my last post, I wrote using a line from Mary Oliver: “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Today, I turn to a wonderful poem by Elizabeth Carlson, Imperfection. What does it mean to be imperfect as I explore what I will do with my one wild and precious life?

In pursusing what it means to live this one and wild precious life, one needs to fall “in love with [their] imperfections.” One of my imperfections might be I continuously and restlessly explore where my life is taking me. In a way, I find an echo of Thomas Merton in this, and I paraphrase, some pursue what calls us without finding it and that is our calling.

I am unsure it is that straightforward and I sense what I have done is ignored where I am at in life, ignoring what makes me who I am with each imperfection. One such imperfection might be I lock in on a particular quality and allow it to define me more broadly.

Instead of discerning what is in front of me, I focus on things I do not control. Henri Nouwen wrote a beautiful book, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life. In it, he suggests people, events, and signs are put in front of each of us to guide us in life. I defined myself as a teacher for most of my adult life and it was hard to set this aside.

I realize the likeliehood of returning to the classroom is remote. There are prevailing biases in play e.g. age . It appears few, if any, post-secondardy institutions want an aging male who does not fit their paradigm of a professor. Yet, the signs were there, despite my imperfections, something was calling. Over the past year, I co-authored a published paper and was invited to join in several other writing projects, joined a peer review journal board, and, most recently, was invited to submit proposals emerging from my dissertation.

The challenge is to get past an imperfection such as a single way of defining one’s self. Maybe someone will overlook age, gender, race, etc. and invite me to teach in their institution. I have to be awake to who appears and, at this time, it is people asking me to write and be part of those projects.

I am falling in love
with my imperfections
The way I never get the sink really clean,
forget to check my oil,
lose my car in parking lots,
miss appointments I have written down,
am just a little late.

I am learning to love
the small bumps on my face
the big bump of my nose,
my hairless scalp,
chipped nail polish,
toes that overlap.
Learning to love
the open-ended mystery
of not knowing why

I am learning to fail
to make lists,
use my time wisely,
read the books I should.

Instead I practice inconsistency,
irrationality, forgetfulness.

Probably I should
hang my clothes neatly in the closet
all the shirts together, then the pants,
send Christmas cards, or better yet
a letter telling of
my perfect family.

But I’d rather waste time
listening to the rain,
or lying underneath my cat
learning to purr.

I used to fill every moment
with something I could
cross off later.

Perfect was
the laundry done and folded
all my papers graded
the whole truth and nothing but

Now the empty mind is what I seek
the formless shape
the strange off center
sometimes fictional
me.

I leave you with a quote from Henri Nouwen and a picture.

“Where does my complete flowering as a human being connect with the needs of the world?”

While I stand by the turbulent river, I take time to listen and observe carefully what moves me in this moment to make the world a better place.

My Ojibwa prayer.

via My Ojibwa prayer.

John shares a beautiful prayer and a wonderful segue into a New Year. Many Indigenous peoples, like the Ojibwa (Anishinaabe and Saulteaux) cherished Mother Earth in their spirituality. Also in his post, there is a cover of John Lennon‘s Imagine.

When I read the prayer, I consider what questions arise from the various words and lines John shares. What if each human being prayed for peace? What would this mean? What if we questioned how much an acre of land is worth in human life, lives of other creatures, and destruction to land ? What if we each reflected on sacred places we seek refuge in, whether they are in some remote spot, a city park, or our backyard garden? What do those places mean to each of us? What is the cost to us if they disappear?

John’s words remind me of a story Leo Tolstoy wrote, How Much Land Does a Man Need? The main character Pahom consumed with greed makes a bargain with the devil to acquire as much land by walking around and returning to the starting point by the time the sun sets. As it turns out, Pahom’s greed gets in the way and he fails, giving up his soul and life in exchange for a grave that constitutes the amount of land he needs in his life.

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Kathy took this picture from the one of the overviews on the Road to the Sun in Glacier National Park.

There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of
wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in the wind that does not preach and proclaim the
greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world. There is not an act of kindness or
generosity, not an act of sacrifice done, or a word of peace and gentleness spoken . . .
that does not sing hymns to God.

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948)

Quote: I looked in temples, churches and mosques…-Rumi

via Quote: I looked in temples, churches and mosques…-Rumi

George is a prodigous blogger, sharing poetry, quotes like this one, and video clips of many of my favourite performers e.g. Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, Neil Young, etc.

As Rumi suggests, we should look inwards to find the divine as we enter the New Year. Here are words from Mary Oliver to bid farewell to 2019 and usher in 2020:

This is, I think, what holiness is:

The natural world, where every moment is full of
the passion to keep moving

Inside every mind there’s a hermit’s cave full of light,
full of snow, full of concentration

I’ve knelt there, and so have you,
hanging on to what you love, to what is lovely.

Inside each of us there is “a hermit’s cave full of light” where we can be thankful for whato is in our lives and what they each bring into our lives. Take care, enjoy, and be safe as we continue the journey.

Fraser River Near Headwaters

I know I shared this picture previously, but it serves to remind me the most important person in my life and memories we share with each other.

A spiritual reflection on the Centenary of Thomas Merton – Part 1

via A spiritual reflection on the Centenary of Thomas Merton – Part 1

Bruce posts wonderful text, accompanied by exceptional images. This post caught my eye as I looked through Bruce’s blog. It is about Thomas Merton and his enduring work as a pacifist, activist and support of inter-faith dialogue.

I read Merton and book about his writings frequently. I grew up in the shadow of Vatican II, which promoted inter-faith dialogue and Merton, Brother David Steindel-Rast, Karen Armstrong, Thich Nhat Hanh, etc. attract me to their work.

I find them to be prophetic and mystical, often signaling challenges we will face long before they are evident to most of us. For example, Bruce included a wonderful quote from a letter Merton wrote to Rachel Carson after reading Silent Spring. Both offered prophetic views, as mystics, of a world to come and challenges we faced in the 1950’s.

I leave you with this quote from Thomas Merton and wish each of you the best. However, we each celebrate we need to share our love for each other and the world we share with each other.

The beginning of love
is the will to let those we love
be perfectly themselves,
the resolution not to twist them
to fit our own image.”
~Thomas Merton

Daffodils, Lake, and Mountain in Glacier

I share this image often. Kathy took it in Glacier National Park. She shared it with me out of love and I share it with my love for the people who will see it and nature we are stewards of, echoing Wendell Berry when we say: We Do Not Inherit the Earth from Our Ancestors; We Borrow It from Our Children

Winter Nights

Despite the title, this is a Christmas poem. I wrote it several years ago about the joy and anticipation I felt, as a child, at this time of year. This was embedded in family and community rituals I experienced growing up. In a consumptive and materialistic world, some of this has been lost. What I do is hold onto the memories.

We lived in an old house and it was often very cold. In the evenings, my mother and three older brothers went across the street to the church for evening mass. This was part of the rite of passage for me. In junior high, I joined them.

Many evenings, I sat by the heavily frosted window to watch my mother and brothers return. Some of those evenings were clear, the sky filled with stars, and sometimes the Northern Lights were part of Nature’s light show.

Breathlessly awaiting,

Through frosted window peering

Small children–

Soaking it in.

Heavens rippling–

Lights undulating;

A celebratory fury

An indisputable guide.

An old house speaking;

Nature answering–

The heavens crackling

Sweet symphonic music.

Earth’s floor–

Blanketed in white

Celestial colours shimmering

Capturing young eyes.

A vivid winter scene,

A sensual, sensory palette,

Reminding–

Christ’s Mass draws near.

I took this picture at the farm this past weekend. The sun goes down early here at this time of the year. They had just had fresh snow, with about 8-10 inches falling in one day, so the scene was still quite untouched.

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