Reading Territories

“Books are the mirrors of the soul.”
― Virginia WoolfBetween the Acts

Reading. It is literally like breathing; you NEED to do it to survive, to learn and grow, to become enriched, to move forward, to enjoy life… I wasn’t always a reader. It has been a learned pleasure for me, and now I can’t live w/ out it. I ask my students to make a list of theirReadingTerritories, the properties of the mind they own by having read a book that touched them. This act of collecting one’s territories is adopted by Nancy Atwell, an inspirational (albeit Utopian) educator who has changed the thinking of many (myself included). So I show my students my list, not complete, but the highlighted version, and I encourage them to keep their lists going well beyond my classroom — to make it complete like a map of their lives as readers. Some students, years after graduated, have told me their territories are alive and flourishing! According to the Woolf quote above, I do believe each and every one of these selections speaks, somehow, to my soul. Know what I read; know me.

MY Reading Territories

Books that make you THINK

Handmaids Tale, Margaret Atwood

The Reader, Bernhard Schlink

The Red Tent, Anita Diamond

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

The Green Mile, Stephen King

Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

Davinci Code, Dan Brown

Ghostwalk, Rebecca Scott

Beach Reads

Summer Sisters, Judy Blume

Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood

First Born & Rightfully Mine, Doris Mortman

Little Altars Everywhere, Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya  Sisterhood, Ya Yas in Bloom, Rebecca Wells

One True Thing, Blessings, Black & Blue, Anna Quinlan

Cape Cod, Richard Russo

Lace, Lace II, Shirley Conran

Love Story & Oliver’s Story, Eric Segal

The Way We Were, Arthur Laurents

The Gift, Remembrance, Mixed Blessing, Family Album …Danielle Steele

The Rainmaker, The Pelican Brief, A Time to Kill, The Firm… John Grisham

The Classics

WutheringHeights, Emily Bronte

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

David Copperfield, Great Expectation, A Tale ofTwoCities& A Christmas Carol,  Charles Dickens

Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austin

Mrs. Dalloway & A Room of Her Own, Virginia Woolf

Gone with The Wind, Margaret Mitchell

The Catcher in theRye, J.D. Salinger

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

TheCanterburyTales, Geoffrey Chaucer

The Awakening, Kate Chopin

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

Huck Finn, Mark Twain

King Lear, Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, Tempest, A Winter’s Tale, Taming of the Shrew (& probably more) William Shakespeare

Non-fiction/Memoir/Biography/Fictional Biography

Night, Elie Weisel

Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom

Running With Scissors, Augusten Burroughs

In the Middle, Nancy Atwell

Lives on the Boundary, Mike Rose

Everyone can Write, Peter Elbow

Unquiet Pedagogy, Eleanor Kutz & Hephzibah Roskell

Unschooled Mind, Howard Gardener

Composition Studies as a Creative Art, Lynn Z. Bloom

Dickens and the Dream of Cinema, Grahame Smith

Rainbow, Christopher Flinch

Goddess, Anthony Summers

Dianna, Andrew Morton

A Woman Named Jackie, C. David Heymann

DearAmerica, Letters Home fromVietnam, Ed. Bernard Edelman

Freedom Writers, Erin Gruwell

Teacher Man, Frank McCourt

Composing Ourselves as Writer-Teacher Writers

(& anything else) by Wendy Bishop

Drive, Daniel Pink

Charlotte & Emily, Jude Morgan

The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory

The Virgin’s Lover, Philippa Gregory

The Bronte Project, Jennifer Vandever

Ghostwalk, Rebecca Scott

Children’s Books

Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Clement C. Moore

Love You Forever, Robert N. Munsch

Made by God, So I must be Special

The Jester Lost His Jingle, David Saltzman

The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Oh, The Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss

Ship of Dreams,

The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg

The Little Match Girl, Hans Christian Anderson

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznik

Teen/Young-Adult Books

A Separate Peace, John Knowles

Go AskAlice, Unknown

Pigman, Paul Zindal

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Brian’s Song, William Blinn

Pollyanna, Eleanor Porter

ASecretGarden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Girl Interupted, Susanna Kaysen

The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

Mother, Daughter Book Club, Heather Vogel Frederick

Speak,  Laurie Halse Anderson

Girly Books

Summer Sisters, Judy Blume

Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells

Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

Little Children, Tom Perotta

Abstinence Teacher, Tom Perotta

One Day, David Nicholls

While I was Gone, Sue Miller

Lost in theForest, Sue Miller

Before Women Had Wings, Connie May Fowler

The Book of Ruth, Jane Hamilton

Are You there God, It’s me Margaret, Judy Blume

Endless Love, Scott Spencer

Scarlett, Alexandra Ripley

A Woman of Substance, Barbara Taylor Bradford

Beloved, Toni Morrison

The Color Purple,  Alice Walker

All He Ever Wanted, Anita Shreve

A Wedding in December, Anita Shreve

Skylight Confessions, Alice Hoffman

Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver

Blessings, Anna Quinlan

Black & Blue, Anna Quinlan

Books I would save in a fire

The Bible

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Rainbow, Christopher Flinch

WutheringHeights, Emily Bronte

Are you there God, It’s me Margaret, Judy Blume

Pollyanna, Eleanor Porter

Read-agains

WutheringHeights, Emily Bronte

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom

Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells,

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Book-Club Books

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

The Hours, Michael Cunningham

Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

The Red Tent, Anita Diamond

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

London, Edward Rutherford

The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer

Novels that inspire me to write

Little Altars Everywhere, Rebecca Wells

ImaginedLondon, Anna Quinlan

The Bronte Project, Jennifer Vandever

The Morgesons, Elizabeth Stoddard

Blackbird House, Alice Hoffman

All-time Faves

The Red Tent, Anita Diamond

WutheringHeights, Emily Bronte

Favorite Authors

Emily Bronte

Charles Dickens

William Shakespeare

Virginia Woolf

Tom Perotta

Anna Quinlan

Doris Mortman

Rebecca Wells

Sue Miller

Barbara Kingsolver

John Grisham

Danielle Steel

Judy Blume

… And once students are done w/ their Territory list, I ask them to write a narrative about themselves as readers, sharing my own as a model.

Although my mother swears that I learned how to read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by the time I was two, I would not have classified myself as a reader when I was young. It wasn’t until I saw the movie Love Story on television that I went out and bought the book so I could read it. I found when I fell in love with characters or the plotline of a film that I didn’t want to end, I’d buy the book to make them come alive again. Now, I am exactly the opposite. I refuse to see a film until after I’ve read the book because, in my experience, the book is always better than the movie. This is much how I would classify myself as a reader: one evolving through stages.

In elementary school, my reading skills were not strong. In fact, I’ll never forget a read aloud we had with our weekly reader in second grade. It was my turn. I began relatively fluent, but then I came upon a word I had not seen. Nearby. I pronounced it ”ner-bee” and the class roared with laughter. I learned from that experience that I didn’t like reading aloud very much. Instead, I read silently and in solitude whenever possible. At about the age of 10, one of my friends referred me to the book, Are you there God, It’s me Margaret. Margaret, the same age as me, was going through some very similar experiences as I was. Somehow reading that book on the cusp of puberty made me not feel so alone. It also prompted me to seek out other books that I could relate to.

During my teenage years, I was more concerned with social activities than I was with school and reading. I didn’t hate reading, but I didn’t love it, either and the only time I made time for reading was during the summer or over school vacations when I was bored. But it was at this time that I discovered romance (appropriately so) and I also discovered that I enjoyed reading the same books by one author; her name was Danielle Steele. I think I bought every book she wrote for a couple of years. Her books were part escape/part fantasy for me and they all had happy endings.

In school, I always attempted the begin the assigned readings, but I found myself intolerant of books I didn’t understand or those I was bored by, so I’d quit & simply pay extra attention to the teacher who inevitably reviewed the previous night’s reading in monotonous detail. My appreciation for classic literature was born when I took a Women’s Lit class taught by a teacher who had a reputation for teaching at the college level instead of the high school level. It was after reading The Awakening in her class that my awakening to literature began. Out of that experience also grew the desire to learn more about the context of culture & history during which a particular book was written.

When I first decided to major in English at college, I was primarily interested in making a career in writing. Literature wasn’t even a consideration, but it was an interest. That interest grew into a passion that was ignited by several college professors whose knowledge for and appreciation of literature was infectious. My first course was called Literature of the New Testament, a course taught by a blind, Yale graduate. There was no end to his knowledge and I learned more about religion and my own beliefs in that course than I had during 6 years of Bible school. Another professor taught Shakespeare, a playwright I didn’t understand or appreciate in high school, none-the-less it was a requirement, so I had to get through it. On the first day of class, the professor announced we’d be reading a play a week and writing papers bi-weekly. I learned not only to love reading Shakespeare in that course, but I learned how to become a faster, more efficient reader, too. In fact, British Literature is where I found my niche. There was not a piece of British Literature that I was bored by; some pieces I liked more than others, but I found myself comparing it to American Literature, which for me, for the most part was dry and didn’t hold my attention. It was then that I learned to analyze a piece of writing against another and begin to distinguish the nuances I appreciated from those I could not tolerate.

Aside from reading magazines, non-fiction had not much been on my radar until I entered grad school. I was, by this time, a skilled enough reader that I could read material that I didn’t necessarily like and still understand it, but I would have never chosen to do so without it being assigned. I came to realize that I enjoyed reading about theory because it helped me to define where I stood. For instance, I had always been good teacher of writing, not because I was taught to but because it came instinctively. It was only after reading a host of books on composition and creative writing that I learned how closely the two were connected; as a result, I began to identify myself as a teacher and my teaching strategies from the words on the pages.

Moreover, the teaching of literature, allows me to revisit old friends in the characters of David Copperfield, Catherine & Heathcliff, Holden Caulfield and Gatsby, to name a few. I learn more about them every time I read about their journeys, and even more so through discussion in class. Not only do I enjoy reading literature aloud to my students (particularly my favorite passages), but I love to share my passion for it. When literature and socialization collide, only good things come of it. Take for example, the Harry Potter phenomenon and books clubs; these were virtually non-existent in my youth.

My own children are responsible for re-awakening my love & appreciation for children’s literature. When I was young, I remember loving the lyrical rhythm, the pretty colors on the pages and the characters who were a lot like me.  Yet reading children’s literature at this different stage in my life helps me to realize that children’s books are not just for children, their messages dig deep into the core of humanity.

I have certainly evolved as a reader.Readinghas been a different kind of vehicle through different stages in my life. I have learned that reading allows me to see through the eyes of others, but more importantly, it allows me to see myself more clearly. It is also an escape that takes me to places and time periods I could not otherwise visit. I have not only fully developed my reading skills, but I have developed an appreciation for many kinds of texts. Finally, it is the basis of not only my education but the education I share with others. My intent is not only to enjoy reading and learn from it, but also to pay it forward.

I urge you to THINK about yourself as reader. Define yourself. Make a list of books. KNOW yourself. Allow reading to reflect your soul.

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CHARACTER…

I’m not quite not sure how one teaches character or builds it. I think being a good role model is the best way to teach character– by being kind, selfless, compassionate, empathetic. Building character seems to come more from overcoming obstacles– personal tests of morality and emotion.

Ryan– In Ryan’s senior year of high school, he’d spent four years playing for the CHS Varsity Hockey Team, playing consistently each year, most especially his senior year. However, in his four years of playing, he’d only been on the starting line-up twice, something that mattered (if not to all hockey players), to Ryan. I’m not sure if it was the thrill of hearing his name called out or the recognition of confidence in his abilities as a player, but it was considered an honor for Ryan. Even when Ryan’s team was playing more consistently than the “first” line, the coach never started the line he was playing on. Game after game it was the same line in the starting line-up.

Nate, one of Ryan’s teammates, had made the hockey team two of his four years, but never played consistently– more often than not, he was lucky if he got a shift out on the ice in a given game, and some games that shift never even came. At tryouts his senior year, he had been told by the coach he could be part of the team but not to expect varsity playing time. Nate just wanted to be part of the team, so he accepted the coach’s terms.

On Senior night, playing against our #1 rival, a night all seniors look forward to as they are celebrated at the beginning of the game, traditionally, coaches start their seniors, regardless of what line they usually play on. This game was no exception, except that there was not enough spots for all seniors to start on the first line up (the one that their names were to be announced at the beginning of the game). There was one person, one senior, who wouldn’t be able to start. Ryan described this as listening before the game to the coach calling out the names of the seniors to start: George, Tyler, Ryan C, Ryan H, Alan, and Eric. Nate’s name was the only name not called.

Ryan approached the coach and told him he was giving up his spot to Nate– he wanted Nate to have the opportunity just once in his CHS hockey career to be a starter.

(As an aside, 3 of the seniors started every single game their senior year, one of them started every game for 3 years of CHS hockey career, and not one of them volunteered to give up their spot.

And the coach never even acknowledged the character Ryan displayed, but he did start Nate.)

Tyler– Also inTyler’s senior year of high school, he’d decided to attend the first football game of the season on the fan bus. It was a home game despite being moved to a different locale (because they were in the process of putting turf on our field), so the school wanted to attract as many students as possible by providing a bus. Permission slips needed to be signed for the kids to ride.Tylerwent to the game, leaving his car at the high school, with his friends on the bus. While at the game, one ofTyler’s friends got drunk to the point of almost passing out. Because the field was “crawling w/ cops” andTylerdidn’t want his friend to be arrested, he circumvented the exit by taking him through the woods to the parking lot where he called a friend to ask for a ride back toCheshireto make sure his drunk friend made it home safely. Only,Tylerdid not tell the school officials who were running the bus for fear that his friend would be suspended or turned over to the cops. While Tyler was in route to getting his friend safely to the car of the driver who’d agreed to drive them home, my husband got a phone call from the athletic director saying if Tyler didn’t return to the bus, he’d be facing possible suspension to school and risking his captaincy for the hockey season. We calledTylerto find out what was going on and relay the message from the A.D..Tylerknew we were mad because, at this point, we were questioning whether or not he’d been drinking too.

We advised Tyler to drop his friend off and meet the A.D. at the bus (where he had to pick up his own car anyway), so he could tell the A.D. what had happened and show him that he was sober. However, whenTylergot to his friend’s house, his parents were not home.Tylercalled them from his friend’s phone and summoned them home. By the time they’d arrived, the school officials were long gone.

Tyler arrived home, visibly shaken. Teary eyed, which he never is, he explained that he realized the consequences, but he wasn’t about to leave his friend in that state nor was he prepared to turn him over which he knew would lead his friend to face discipline. On Monday morning, he went to the Athletic Director to explain the circumstances and face whatever consequences awaited him.

Alexa– I believe this was in the fourth grade. Alexa was going on a field trip w/ her class– it escapes me to where. But there was a boy in her class named Eric who had special needs and had to take a bus for the handicapped to and from school, in addition to any field trips he could attend. When Alexa arrived home from school, she told me that she volunteered to ride on the bus w/ Eric, so he didn’t have to be alone. I remember her saying, “I have a lot of friends, mom. Eric really doesn’t, so I told Mrs. _ that I’d ride w/ him.”

Sometimes, my children are my role models. I call it reciprocal teaching. I’m proud they are mine ❤ ❤ ❤

What I Make…

I was inspired today upon seeing this video of Taylor Mali’s inspirational poem cleaned up a bit (aka censored) for a teacher’s in-service audience.

“What I Make”

Somehow, we [teachers] always feel as if we need to defend ourselves and our profession to justify the moderate incomes we make. I’m not sure why because every day, I’m confident I’ve made a difference in my students lives (in one way or another)…

Today I made a difference in Austin’s life because the assignment was to memorize and dramatically perform a poem (Poetry Out Loud) in front of his classmates as in-class lesson on performance, dramatic readings, a confidence builder in speaking before an audience and as a preliminary round in the school-wide Poetry Out Loud competition. For weeks we’ve been working on this. Austin has been very vocal about NOT wanting to do this assignment because he was afraid he couldn’t memorize the poem (a fairly challenging piece) and he would “suck” at performing it in front of an audience. So over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been giving him some extra attention to help bolster his confidence.
I allowed students to volunteer to go to the head of the class today for their performances until the eager ones (or those simply who wanted to get it over with) had all volunteered. About half of the class still had yet to perform. “Last chance for volunteers,” I said, “before I begin calling out names.” Not one single brave soul. So I thought let me MAKE Austin go, just get it out of his system, get it over with, so he could breath for the rest of class. “Austin,” I call out making direct eye contact. “Oh, seriously, Mrs. Carbone?” I replied, “Go on, Austin, I’m doing you a favor.” The audience giggled a bit, I think nervously for him. He begins, shyly, barely making eye contact. His voice is low, but commanding. He’s even using inflection, I think to myself. He gains courage as he continues– he’s got the whole audience in his grasp. His voice grows louder, more confident. He looks up, purposefully, owning his moment. The whole audience claps w/ vigor. Austin smiles and returns to his seat, back erect– smile planted on his face. At the conclusion of all the performances, I ask students to raise their hands to nominate those who were commanding and passionate about their readings– those they felt would be successful in moving forward to the school-wide competition. The third person nominated was Austin; I write his name on the white board. He’s smiling. After about 8 out of 24 names go up on the board, I allow students who really are not interested in the competition to decline before a class vote. Austin is 1 of 2 students to decline. He apologizes to me and says, “It’s really not my thing, Mrs. Carbone.” I could tell he felt as if he was letting me down a bit. “Austin, it’s okay, I’m just so proud that you did it and found out you were better than you thought you could be.” He smiled again, “Yeah, Mrs. Carbone,” he said, “I did it.”
I can’t take credit for Austin’s performance because he accomplished that all on his own. But I can take credit for providing him w/ the opportunity, one he was clearly uncomfortable w/, as well as coaching and encouraging him. I MAKE students step outside their comfort zones in order to challenge themselves. I Make students realize they can be successful. No amount of money can be placed on that accomplishment. None.

Noodling

POETRY is to me what fresh air is to breathing. I write, often. Sometimes an idea comes to me that I must write (like a craving that doesn’t go away until it’s satisfied)… others ruminate in my mind, on a piece of scrap paper or in my writing journal until they take shape. A poem is never done, finished or complete– as my experiences change me, so does the way I conceive of the words I’ve written. I noodle them, as my poetry professor Vivian Shipley used to say. Noodle and noodle– walk away, leave it, then think about it and come back again to noodle some more. So this is what I’ve done– I’ve noodled these pieces, today.

[disclaimer. As is true for every writer, something I tell my students frequently, one shouldn’t assume any one piece is autobiographical; although, I will concede that there is a nuance of autobiography in every single thing I write.]

Wondering If the Sun Will Shine Again

Backside on grass,

my legs moved like scissors

and teased the blades.

The sun’s glow

reached out to me.

Beneath my chin,

I twirled a buttercup.

<stanza break>

My heels dig in. A bed

too hard for me.

My arms flail like a fawn’s legs,

hit, on a bruised highway.

He presses into my thighs,

then leaves a fog

of stale blunts and Budweiser.

<space>

If Only

If only I didn’t miss you so,

I could become unstuck

From the memories that seep

Into my most peaceful dreams.

<stanza break>

If only I didn’t love you so,

I’d move on by finding a man

To get lost inside of me

The way I lost myself in you.

<stanza break>

If only I didn’t miss you,

I’d still have every picture, love note and letter

I saved between us

That I broke and ripped and burned.

<stanza break>

If only I didn’t love you

I wouldn’t have found this blade

To drive right through the thick of my vein

So I’d never have to miss you, again.

<space>

Affair of the Heart

I wouldn’t have believed it.

I wouldn’t have even imagined it.

The card reader whispered,

There’s a Romeo still in your heart.

 

She took me back to

winter college nights

school cancelled and we –-

snuggled in blankets

opposite ends of the bed–

read each other’s poetry

softly,  aloud ‘til dawn

(there’s something to be said

about poetry and the night.)

You saw right through my guarded eyes;

 reaching in, you plucked the petals from my heart:

 I opened my secret self to you,

and you touched nothing more

than my hand.

<stanza break>

I didn’t believe your name was Romeo

until you offered up proof like a deed–

one of those old farmhouses you wrote about:

strength of character surpasses abundance.

<stanza break>

And you were surprised,

when I snapped open the shade

(hiding the cracked-open window)

 just to let the waft of your body encompass me

like the smell of hydrangea on aCape Codmorning

there are many rooms in the heart

           

funny, I hadn’t pondered line that until now.

Ten years later, at work –-

filing through a week’s worth of messages.

Suddenly,

the moisture in my eyes goes dry

my breath

        descends…

heart            skips         a beat

<stanza break>

“Mr. Romeo,” it reads, “please call.”

It was then I knew,

I’d kept you locked

in one of those rooms.

<stanza break>

And you wouldn’t have known it was me

(several heartaches since and a name change);

I am different now.

Until you walked through my door,

I could see right through your eyes;

you touched my hand –

smiled a casual good-to-see-ya smile.

<stanza break>

Poetry, left outside the door.

<space>

This is How I Love You

You are warm late morning’s

tangled limbs

You are unsolicited embraces

speaking love notes

You are a day’s work

sweating from your brow

You are a laundry basket

of assorted colors

You are the blanket I rub

against my skin

You are day-old socks

under the sheets

You are footprints

at my front and back doors

You are every room

of my heart

You are the book

I never tire of opening

You are a photograph

developing in my mind

You are the prism

teasing rainbows

You are the evergreen scent

enduring seasons

You are perennials

always returning

You are our initials

carved in the old oak tree

You are the ocean’s waves

rushing to be with me…

<space>

As Sin and Seaweed Tangle

(Summer of ’88)

Seagulls hover low

and glide,

like you, never having to try.

I am white caps in your ocean,

thrashing against you,

against us.

We lay on sand in sun,

warmth sweeps the storm we lived.

Eyes, placid only when they meet

and with the shore behind us, now.

I laugh a breeze,

you’re jealous of my playfulness

as I would secretly change myself

only to become you.

You lean, forcing the mast and I

to trust your zealous confidence

and we do.

When nightfall descends, you blanket me

and heat the shiver of my flesh.

We can no longer see each others eyes,

but they’re always there, comforting

like the stars and the breakwater lights,

we guide one another.

Shifting closer to the water,

sea breeze sprays our bodies,

like holy water

until we are one.

** some of the spacing in the poetry above is not as it should be– user problem– (I’ve inserted <stanza break> or <space> where the white space should be)  just so you know 😦

…So I Lied

… a little white lie. When I said I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, I lied– sort of; I made one mocking the notion of making New Year’s resolutions: mine was to DRINK MORE AND DRINK MORE FREQUENTLY (which I told to anyone who asked me what mine was).

I lied and I didn’t. It seems, according to this text from my daughter, that I took my resolution more seriously than I’d anticipated. So, in the spirit of making affirmations, something I wholeheartedly believe in, and as a bit of a revelation prompted by this text,

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I have created my own reality.

This began at a friend’s Christmas party, two weeks prior to Christmas. She had a game called Shot Roulette

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this was a game w/ played with the aid of a book called Would You Rather? The Dirty Version [which is described by Amazon as a book that] captures the sexual, the seedy, the sardonic, and the silly in the unique tone that has made the Would You Rather…? series popular with readers of all ages. Readers of all ages… now that is highly disputable!

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So, let me set the scenario for you. About 30 people at a colleague’s newish apartment– a housewarming/holiday celebration if you will– with a mixed crowd, mostly consisting of people I work w/ and those I call my friends. So the roulette game is there on the coffee table, and the book along w/ a bottle of Whipped Cream Vodka, and a bottle of something else (cinnamon flavored, I didn’t like it); we begin. My friend and I polished off the vodka and had OH-so many laughs b/c the loser (the one whose # the roulette game landed upon) had to ask one of the Would You Rather scenarios of another player… questions along the lines of would you prefer a blumpkin or a dirty sanchez? Did I know what these terms meant? Most certainly not. Nor did I know what the poop in the cup video was all about (disgusting… DO NOT VIEW!!!) or the grandmother’s reaction on you tube to the poop in a cup video (now that was funny). Suffice it to say, several shots later accompanied by an infinite amount of uncontrollable laughter, the night ended. I don’t recall much of what followed, but I do recall telling my husband we needed to do that more often.

… which is what brought me to my mock New Year’s resolution (that and a mojito incident that occurred sometime in the fall); moreover, Alexa’s text prompted me to realize this resolution as newly formed and sufficiently begun, albeit subconsciously.

So, it got me to thinking because I would certainly not characterize myself as a “drinker”

— in fact, it’s an addiction my father’s side of the family has combated for generations, and one I’ve consciously and steadfastly avoided. Furthermore, in the vein of parenting, there has always been simply too much to do the day after, not to mention that I’ve made a conscious decision to be a good role model for my children. Hence, I ask myself… What does it mean that I want to drink more? and more frequently? Do I want to set myself up to battle the demon alcohol? Most assuredly not. Do I no longer care the kind of role model I am– of course I do. I always want to be a good role model for my children, but that doesn’t mean swearing off fun. So why, then,  have I been drinking more? and more frequently?

What I’ve come up with is that I simply want to work on having more fun– bringing the spontaneity and [controlled] reckless abandonment back into my life.

I have felt so much in the middle as of late. Quite literally, in the middle of everything in my life, age-wise, work-wise, marriage-wise, parent-wise– hell, even my bucket list is dwindling. I have found myself trying on new hats, so to speak, some have been healthy and productive, while some have not. I’m not sure where I’d categorize my newfound resolution, but I’m going to go with it for a while and see.

I see this resolution as a metaphor for putting the me back into me. For so long now, I’ve been parenting and working hard to provide for my children. I (we: my husband & I) have made our children (as good parents should, I believe) the center of everything. Our “free” time was either their time (tutor, coach, fan, taxi-driver, cook, outfitter … those of you who are parents KNOW this) or we were just simply too exhausted or burnt out to do stuff for us. Not to mention that most of our friends during this time in our lives were somehow connected to what our children were doing because that is what worked. Now, in between my children going off to college and being home still but NEEDING us less & less, I find this time. Time. An unfamiliar thing to me. I think back to before I had children when my days were filled, but I’ve forgotten w/ what. I’m having to relearn how to set goals for me– independent of my children (an my husband, in some ways). Finding myself. Reinventing who I am in the middle of my life, I ask myself… What next? How do I see the next half playing out?

It’s ironic because when I had my children, as a young mother, I do absolutely remember thinking to myself… what have I done? how am I going to learn to sacrifice for all my children need of me? Funny, I hadn’t thought of that transition in a very, very long time. It was a huge learning curve, but I made it. I’m proud of the mother I’ve been and who my children are as a result. I’m proud that I found it in myself to always put them first through the time in their lives when that’s what they needed. I don’t begrudge any of the decisions I made as a mother or that Anthony and I made as a couple.

And so the tide is turning… back to Anthony and me, and, ultimately, back to myself. It’s time to rework my bucket list (that is another blog post, altogether). But,  I’m making it a priority to start working on it and what better place to begin than to put the fun back in me? So if drinking more and drinking more often is a metaphor for letting loose, lightening up, figuring out, not worrying so much about my responsibilities the morning after, living in the moment, doing what feels good– bring on the mojitos, or cable cars or whipped cream vodka shots– whatever it is that captures the me I want to be for the next half…

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(the above, another find on FB– I don’t know where it’s from, but it spoke to me as I was writing this post. A good affirmation, I think)

Perception vs. Reality

Doesn’t reality exist based on one’s perception? Whose perception is it that makes it real? Who is to say that reality exists in the absence of perception?

“Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. . . . If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication … and there is the real illness.”

— Philip K. Dick

“Nonsense is that which does not fit into the prearranged patterns which we have superimposed on reality…Nonsense is nonsense only when we have not yet found that point of view from which it makes sense.”

— Gary Zukav

“perception is reality”

— Lee Atwater

Dinner Date [evolved]

After a long day & an even longer meeting at the end of the day, I need something to help me to relax.  Often (but not often enough), I go out to dinner w/ my friends. Usually, it’s at the end of a long day, much like today, and it’s usually the last thing my tired self wants to do, but I force myself because I know once I’m there I’ll just BE in the moment (leaving everything behind) and simply enjoy the experience.

I assign journal entries to my Writers’ Workshop students. Really, it’s one of my favorite things about the course– coming up w/ inventive ideas to spark their imagination. Not to mention, writing in my journal is one of the best forms of relaxation for me. So this week, I asked them, “If you could choose 5 people to go out to dinner w/, whom would you choose and what would you discuss?” Here’s my response…

For this dinner, I think I’d choose 5 women: Emily Bronte, Virginia Woolf, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and Hilary Clinton ( and if I had a sixth, it was most definitely be Oprah Winfrey). We’d choose a seaside location, a luncheon under umbrellas, sipping mimosas and bloody Mary’s on a sunny afternoon– perhaps Jackie’s childhood home at Hammersmith Farm in Newport, Rhode Island. It’s picturesque and peaceful while symbolizing character and legacy.

The topic of discussion would be resilience. In the face of adversity, each one of these women has demonstrated immeasurable strenth– I admire them all.

Eleanor Roosevelt sits at the head of the table, the matriarch among us. Her broad shoulders bear the life experiences of woman burdened with many obstacles. To her left is Hilary Clinton, whom she acknowledges as she places her cold hand atop Hilary’s resting on the imported lace cloth from France– a gift to Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, who sits on Eleanor’s right. Jackie is utterly enthralled by Eleanor’s presence, as she had been hired by John to oversee a committee that was sure to thrust feminism into the focus of the media. Jackie, while raised with a silver spoon, was not a woman who rested upon her family’s legacy but was determined to carve her own path. Beside Jackie sat a somewhat shy Emily Bronte wearing all white, linen dress and gothic Victorian hat to shield her pale skin from the sun. Once in a while, she’d tip her tea cup and let out the hint of a shy giggle in response to what the others, those who intimidated her just a little, were saying. They were talking about the state of women given their ages– a timeless conversation no matter the era. Across from Emily was Virginia Woolf, who was much more actively engaged in the conversation. Not the least bit intimidated, she pointed out bits of history as contributing factors to the treatment of women extolling her own visions of what the future would look like. Wiping the crumbs of the scone from the crease in her lips, Virginia looked quite pleased at how far we’d come.

… to be continued…

[So, I’d begun writing this, and, after I left it, as I normally do, I got to thinking, editing in my head, really. I was trying to begin a short story imagining the conversation these five women would have if they were all put into one setting ( having come from their own eras). Interesting idea– something I may pursue in the future, but not now, I thought.

Instead, I began to consider why I think each of them resilient. Certainly, having been mothers makes them resilient (but only 3 of them are mothers). Eleanor, I imagine to be stoic, yet warm, and strict– disciplined, self-disciplined and passing that trait onto her children would be very important to her. Hilary, on the contrary, seems very laid back in her approach to mothering, but having high expectations. I imagine her more as a friend toChelseathan a mother, though that may be, in part, due toChelseabeing an only child and the time/focus that would be afforded to Hilary. In her work, though, she appears steadfast and determined.  Jackie seems to be the most doting of the moms– the quintessential Martha Stewart of motherhood and homemaking. But I wonder how much of that was for media sake; never mind, I refuse to believe Jackie as being anything other than the perfect mother. When I was a child, I wanted to be one of her children. She seemed to have the perfect combination of love and grace.

But what about Virginia and Emily? Neither of them had children, nor desired to be according to my knowledge. Both of them led emotionally difficult lives: Emily in literal isolation from society andVirginiain the isolation of her mind. Yet, I see them both as incredibly resilient.Virginiahad such a strong influence on feminism in her time, simply because she refused to be prohibited by the standards set for women by her male counterparts. Having such incredible intellect and talent drove her to create a room of not only her own but pave the path for all women to have rooms of their own. Emily, living at an earlier time, carved out her own identity, though more of the silent, secret kind… while she and her sisters created pseudonyms for themselves to make their mark on society– a mark that wasn’t even realized during her lifetime.

Eleanor is an icon of feminism inAmerica… so is that it? Is that what defines resilience– the ability to lead by example for womankind? Hilary has certainly exemplified this quality, as well,  overtly so, and she has been met w/ disdain by many. She withstood all of the backlash from her husband’s infidelities, and, yet has managed to rise above by creating a legacy for herself quite separate from her husband. None-the-less, Jackie is also an icon more of femininity than feminism, but one cannot rebuke the mark she has made for women– the ability to do it all: be a feminine woman, an admirable mother, and have a career in her own right.

So, is it motherhood, or feminism, or femininity? Is it the ability to overcome obstacles, stand in the face of adversity, battle demons, thrive in isolation and still possess the ability to rise above?

Virginia Woolf coined the Stream-of-Consciousness writing style– a style whereby one tries to capture the thought process of one’s mind, which is what I’ve just done. It the fluidity of the style that reflects the female experience. She’s written whole novels in this style. Perhaps, it’s in each of these women’s ability to BE fluid that makes them resilient. And what I would give to have one fluid conversation w/ each of them…]

Occupy Education

I was on Facebook the other day & saw this:
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Often, I’m prone to finding cartoons about education, most of which I post on my classroom door, because through all of the ridiculousness (and that is a polite word), we need find the humor in life [education] to move us through it.

Attached to this cartoon was the group who posted it, and their plea read…
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So here it is, my stand on the current state of education from the point of view of a mom & an English teacher (high school, primarily grades 11 & 12) who lives & teaches in a predominantly white, upper middle-class town in Connecticut(school population of about 2,000)… who, at the beginning of her career (the first 11 years) worked at the other end of the spectrum, in adult education, teaching high school drop outs and at-risk youths. I’ve seen both sides.

Ever since No Child Left Behind was instituted (thank you, George double-ya. NOT), I have personally witnessed a decline in education unlike any I’d ever observed in my 22 years of teaching. While I don’t think the premise was a bad idea, which in my mind was to improve the education in at-risk areas in order to provide equal opportunity for every student, the process of instituting this backwards policy is just downright ridiculous. Let’s improve education by imposing stricter guidelines for receiving funding that are based on test scores and performance by providing funds to those areas w/ the highest gains in test scores. Sounds like not a bad thing, right?? WRONG. One of the biggest problems with education are these blanket policies that NON-educators (a.k.a. politicians w/ political agendas) cast over the whole educational system.

By refusing to look at the whole state of education in America and by making it a numbers game, we (society) are forced to lose sight of the QUALITY of education, by being forced to focus on QUANTITIES, that is being provided to our youth.

While I don’t get caught up in the numbers game of education, I do see the direct effects of this policy in my school and in my classroom:

Funding has been cut tremendously simply because we are a school system that is working, consistently achieving among the highest test scores in the state as well as moving among the greatest population of students on to post secondary education (and a large # to some highly competitive, prestigious schools). We are a school system that wasn’t broken; therefore, because our performance rate is already well above average those in the powers-that-be do not see huge gains, we are forced to cut & cut & cut budgets. This means larger classes, fewer teachers, less money going to materials & technology.

Time has been impacted because we are seeing more and more mandatory assessments, due to data-driven instruction, which are required to be given to the students; this detracts from meaningful and authentic teaching time in the classroom. Another effect this is having is the need to “teach” to the tests to show gains which decreases the time allotted for some of the more meaningful content in our curriculum. Moreover, teachers are having to correct multitudes of tests, more, which takes away from providing meaningful feedback on the other work the students produce.

Professional development time has been geared towards convincing educators that DATA DRIVEN INSTRUCTION is the way of the future and we need to climb on board the data train. I call it brainwashing, and I will resist this thinking at all costs. Hence, meaningful preparation, planning, and development from a teaching perspective has been cast aside, so we can find ways to analyze the data and come up w/ more assessments.

The individuality of instruction has been hindered because not only do we need to test MORE but these tests have to be exactly the same so the data is accurate. In essence, the powers-that-be are asking teachers to become robots in order to produce robots who all possess exactly the same data base upon the conclusion of their public high school experience.

Let’s consider a few things. When you test students, you must choose measurable content to test them on in order to provide accurate data. In other words, we need to be comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges. There needs to be a right & a wrong answer in order to get measurable date. LIFE and EDUCATION is not about black & white. More of it is about how to manipulate the grey areas, and in the grey areas you find critical thinking. Critical thinking cannot be measured by ONLY demonstrating right and wrong. There needs to be BALANCE in education (which No Child Left Behind is forcing educators to leave behind in their teaching). In this ever changing, global, technologically advanced world, our children NEED critical thinking skills to move forward. It is our responsibility as educators and as a society to prepare them to cope for this world. How do we do that? By producing students who are highly motivated , self-disciplined, collaborative, resourceful, high-level critical thinkers.

In reading Daniel Pink’s Drive, he talks about intrinsic learning being the new learning & motivating factor to learning in the 21st century. No more can we dangle a carrot (test scores) over our students to get them to WANT to learn — because let’s face it, if students don’t want to learn, they will not be productive. We need to design educational opportunities for them to use their multiple intelligences (both sides of the brain) in order for them to embrace education and be successful. Rote learning & memorization (teaching to the test) is a thing of the past, and unless we move past it, our country will continue to decline in the global community. Education NEEDS to be meaningful and authentic in order for students to acquire knowledge and call it their own.

Just the other day, a student in my class was asked to call upon knowledge she’d acquired earlier in the course to apply to a current lesson we were working on. Her response was, “Oh … you mean that. I forgot that. Once I’m tested on something, I forget it because I don’t need it anymore.” My reply was, “Well, take out your notes and use them because in order for you to be successful on this assignment, you need that knowledge.” I’d be willing to hedge a bet that by asking her to recall this information for it’s application to this new content, she won’t be inclined to forget it this time.

Furthermore, in addition to providing students w/ content that is diversified, we need to provide them experience that is diversified. In promoting commonality (teach common materials, use common methods & assessments…) we are robbing our youth of becoming the well-rounded, multi-faceted individuals we want them to become. It’s just as important to provide a balance of experiences in promoting individuality. So those math & science classes, which ask students to primarily use their left brain, should be balanced w/ the arts, so they can equally use their right brains. And even w/in a common course, education cannot require teachers to teach completely in sync (while I do believe the goals should be the same) the methodology and content should be varied to provide the students w/ the best experience, w/in each given course, they could acquire. It’s called modelling and the absence of it falls under the guise of do as I say, not as I do. Individuality is a necessity, both on the part of the teacher delivering instruction and on the part of each learner being asked to develop their individuality. In my school, we were asked to voluntarily take part in a program called Learning Walks, something I volunteered for. I was assigned a student to shadow for a day, to go w/ her to each class in order to observe the whole of her day. OH MY GOD, the insight I gained from that day. What I saw was a variety of teachers, topics, methods, styles, reactions, interactions: balance. A good blend of balance that afforded me to step outside my role as teacher and back into my role of mother (for my children aged, then 17, 15 & 13) who were benefiting from this multi-faceted array of experience and realize how grateful I am on their behalf. This learning walk took place prior to the thrust of No Child Left Behind. I believe my experience would be a very different one today.

It’s about balance. I’m not saying testing is a wrong kind of assessment. What I am saying is that it needs not to be the only kind. I’m not saying commonality in the goals/standards we set for students is wrong. What I’m saying is they need to create a better balance. And w/ the ever increasing focus on data and data-driven instruction (apples to apples and oranges to oranges), we are robbing our youth of the ability to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate information.

And for the at-risk schools, the powers-that-be need to institute different ways of reaching these students, call upon their intrinsic needs & goals as individuals (think about the teacher Erin Gruwell, whose impact on education at an at-risk school in Long Beach, California was captured in the book and film Freedom Writers) in order for them to achieve success in school. This doesn’t mean more testing. It means finding better, more creative ways to invest in educating our teachers and, ultimately, our youth… the future of our country.

Public education is dictated by the pendulum that swings from one extreme to the other based on the political agendas of time. It swings to the extreme right until effects of given movement are found to be not working. Then in an effort to fix what was broken from the last movement, it swings all the way to the left. When will society learn that it’s somewhere in the grey area (the place of balance) that true success in education will be achieved?

In conclusion, I agree w/ the Facebook post which calls for us to OCCUPY EDUCATION before it’s too late.

Simple Abundance

I stumbled upon this book, given years ago to me, when the shelf it had been placed upon fell. Coincidence? I doubt it. In fact, I doubt there are coincidences– not a single one. Everything happens for a reason… I live by this maxim; I make sense of my life by it.

So this book ends up in my hands, and I think about it– in a general sense, at first. It had been given to me when I was going through a difficult period in my life. The premise is that not unlike a blog… it’s a collection of thoughts, anecdotes, quotes…all meant to inspire. At first, a feeling of warm sisterhood came upon me, as it was given to me by one of the five BEST girlfriends I’ve had in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a host of friends (both women and men) who have all been very good friends, but, still, they haven’t measured the sisterhood I’ve felt with these women & all at different times in my life. The topics in Simple Abundance are those that girls talk about, over coffee or tea, all curled up comfortably on a sofa where the outside world doesn’t exist because they are totally and completely in tune with one another– without pretense or reservation. The book is a collection of days and various themes addressed for each day. The ribbon attached to it lays in between September 21st pages, entitled “The Spiral Path”; its the passage about the cyclical nature of life which, in it’s explication, addresses the name of the book.

Sarah Ban Breathnach, its author, says that “When you think you’ve arrived, you realize you’ve come all this way just to prepare to begin yourself again.” And isn’t that what life truly is… a book w/ chapters and within each a beginning, a middle and an end. I only just learned this as began writing a memoir or rather a collection of all the short stories of my life. Only “to begin again”… that’s what attracts me to this book… the hope as we move forward, especially at this time (the middle) of my life. Just as so many of my Life TO-Dos are being checked off– I look at my list, and it’s so easy to think Shit, I’m getting closer to the end  (of my list, of my life, of all the possibilities). Sometimes, lately, I’ve gotten so caught up in seeing the doors closing behind me that I haven’t been paying attention to those opening, still, in front of me.

So Breathnach quotes a poet, Wendell Berry, “The Life we want is not merely the one we have chosen and made [note past tense!] It is the one we must be choosing and making.” YES, Sarah, that’s it. It’s in the doing, right now, that matters.

Simple [ easy to understand, deal w/, not elaborate or artificial, not ornate or luxurious, unaffected, unassuming, not complicated ].

Abundance [ plentiful, overflowing in quality or supply, fullness, wealth, generous ].

I doubt that several years ago when I placed the ribbon in between these pages that I knew so many years into the future, I’d open to these pages where I’ve re-found a message that speaks to where I am, right now, in my life.

That’s it… I’ve found the purpose to this book falling quite literally into my hands, today. It’s to remind me to live the rest of my life in simple abundance– a new maxim. And a declaration that September 21st will be a ME day (to celebrate myself and the simple abundances my life and my choices have afforded me)  as I move forward keeping my eye on all the opening doors.