Bucket List

Bucket List

(not in any particular order)

publish my novels

write full time/ teach part time @ a university

take writing classes

take film classes

write a film script

get an M.F.A.

get a doctorate in Victorian literature

skydive

get a tattoo (maybe)

see Aerosmith & Adele

live inEuropefor a summer

buy/live in a beach house (on the water)

have a writing studio (w/ all my favorite things in it) overlooking the water

spend summers on the boat w/ my husband being adventurous

travel to… Italy, Ireland, France, Africa (go on safari), take a cruise, Alaska, San Francisco, an island, Niagra Falls, Grand Canyon, the Holy Land, Poland/Germany

go to a vineyard in CA

see the taping of a TV show I love

eat at every restaurant inDisneyworld

visit Ground Zero Memorial

go to a medium

cultivate my friendships

meet online friends

thank my mentors

say thank you more, in general

own a convertible

play w/ a monkey (a friendly one)

swim w/ the dolphins

see each of my children happy in their adult lives

meet all of my future grandchildren

live a long, happy life w/ my husband

move to a warmer climate

have a couple’s massage overlooking the water on an island

swim in an infinity pool overlooking the ocean

skinny dipping in the ocean (would I dare??)

have sex on the beach on the edge of the water

read more classic literature

read ALL of Dickens’ works

have an apt in a city

lose weight

learn to enjoy exercise

drive in a race car

be healthy

be happy

Already DONE

get married– to my high school sweetheart

have kids (at least 1 boy & 1 girl)– I am blessed w/ 2 sons and a daughter

buy a house– in lily white suburbia

publish my writing– published a few of my poems

teach at a high school–CheshireHigh School

teach at a college– Southern CT State University

travel:England,France,Spain,Canada,Mexico,New York,L.A.,San Diego,Hawaii,WashingtonD.C.,Disneyland&Disneyworld,Virginia, New Orleans

hike up to the castle of Sleeping Giant Mountain

visit castles (Buckingham Palace, Leeds, Warwick, Windsor)

hold a crocodile (it was a baby, but still!)

go to theBronxZoo & the San Diego Zoo

go snorkeling in a reef

go on a sunset booze cruise

have a couple’s massage

act in a play

drink Chi Chi inHawaii, Margarita inMexico, beer at pubs inLondon, try a Shandy inLondon

eat sushi

go toDisneyworld(11 times)

go on every ride inDisneyworldat least once

go to Six Flags (too many times to count)

go to Sea World

go to film studios (Universal [Fla& CA], Warner Bros, NBC)

visit theHolocaustMuseum

sit on the set of Friends

go on a rollercoaster that goes upside down (best one was atBuschGardensin VA)

go on the biggest ferris wheel in the world: The London Eye

see Charles Dicken’s, Shakespeare’s, Emily Bronte’s homes

see a Broadway Play (seen several, among my faves: Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Aida, Annie, Evita, Gypsy, Lion King, Beauty & the Beast)

attend concerts: My faves– Elton John, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Genesis, Train (6 times), Third Eye Blind, Maroon 5, Diana Ross, Rod Stewart, Coldplay

see the Rockettes Christmas Show

see the Christmas tree atRockafellerCenter

go to the Moors

go to Westminster Abbey, Cathedral of Notre Dame, St. Patrick’s Cathedral

climb the Washington Monument

visit The White House

go to the mansions in Newport, RI, visit Hammersmith

see the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod

visit the Empire State Building

see Stonehenge

see Pearl Harbor

own a boat

have sex on the beach

have sex under the stars

skinny dip

own a hot tub

own a pool

learn how to plant beautiful gardens

learn cooking from my grandmother

vacation at the beach every summer:Cape Cod

NaNoWriMo winner 2012

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UM: finding my religion…

At first, it appeared that it was a matter of chance that we drove by and that Daddy decided to stop. He swung our oldPlymouthwagon, tan with burn marks on the front seat from Daddy’s own carelessness, into the parking lot. He told us in his deep, stoic voice to wait for him as we already had scrambled out of the car. We rarely attended church, once a month perhaps; that was after it took Mom three weeks to convince him to go. But then, Pastor Sanderson needed a contractor to build an addition on the church for nursery andBibleSchoolclasses. The congregation had grown so fast. I don’t know if it was Daddy’s workmanship, price or simply his genealogy that got him the job. Twenty five years before, his father, who was very active in the church, befriended a young minister, and, when it came time to build his own church, he chose my grandfather, an established and reputable contractor in the area, for the job. Hence,ChristLutheranChurchbecame mine by inheritance. Then, I believed one inherited religion, and it just stuck whether you liked it or not. It was black and white; just like you were born the color you were born, and you had no other choice than to die that way.

We stopped before the large, heavy and dark doors like little soldiers obeying their sergeant. On the other side of them was the foyer, large and spacious, so Pastor Sanderson could greet his parishioners after each Sunday service. One Sunday, right there in the foyer, Mr. Polk approached Daddy. He was a nice man and a regular churchgoer, very active like I surmised my grandfather to have been. “So, Don, will we see you at church more these days. What’s it been, three weeks in a row? I bet you feel God’s more apt to be on your side with this project if you’re here more often.” He chuckled and shook Daddy’s hand. I was so embarrassed. Fourteen and impressionable, I thought, God, everybody knows we miss church so much. I thought it was just myBibleSchoolteacher who took attendance each Sunday before the service. Then, attending church wasn’t a matter of celebrating God – it was more about what others thought about me. That was really my religion then. Daddy opened a thick, mahogany door. The four of us entered together and then him.

“Don,” my mother exclaimed. Tears welled up in her eyes. She was staring at a plaque, right there, shiny and new, about eight by twelve in size with shiny gold letters. It was a plaque dedicating the church to my grandfather, Gustave William Norman, in big letters for all of the parishioners to see.

“Pastor called me today to let me know he was doing this. He suggested we take a ride by. They’re going to announce it at the service this Sunday, but he wanted us to see it first. That’s not all,” he added and began walking toward the church.

It was such an eerie feeling to be there at night with no one else in the building. Just us alone with God, I remember thinking. At the back of the church was a tiered area for the choir and the organist. I was in the junior choir for about a year before I realized I didn’t have much singing ability. I decided to try it upon my mother’s suggestion. Besides, I liked dressing up in the white robes with the royal blue collars. But the thing that really attracted me most about it was the daughter of the organist and our teacher. She had just become MissConnecticut. Her name was Mary. She was bea-u-ti-ful—long, brown hair, piercing brown eyes, a ski-jump nose, high cheek bones, and she was just as sweet as she was stunning. She was the whole parishes’ shining star. Her voice sounded like an angel’s when she would sing her solo on Sunday mornings. I longed to be as beautiful and to have a voice that brought people to tears as hers did. That was the closest I had appreciated my church and my religion in my whole young life. Wanting to be like Mary was the first holy thing I could identify with; she was about being beautiful on the inside and out.

The second was the crush I had on Craig, a year older than me, a boy in my youth group. I only agreed to continue going to youth group because I had become friends with Craig and Gary. In fact, I don’t recall a thing we did in youth group except me looking at Craig and the three of us cheating on our confirmation exam. Pastor Sanderson had given out the exams, and we began penciling in our answers rapidly (the first of the multi-hour grueling tests in my life). I remember bubbling in responses that I thought made sense, all the while realizing I had not paid sufficient attention in Bible school, nor had I read the Bible as carefully as I should have. Pastor Sanderson had an appointment mid-test, so his daughter, Karen, just a few years our senior, came in to proctor. I’m not sure who whispered the first question to her, but my ears peeled open to listen to her response. Eventually, she was spewing answers at us. I realized it was wrong, but I thought it couldn’t be a sin, for the Pastor’s daughter was just as if not more guilty than we. Back then, I feared God. I teetered between the fear of the unknown and the Catholic guilt my mother didn’t lose from her own childhood. With the help of Karen, the three of us passed, and we were, indeed, confirmed. The real right of passage of that experience for me was the power to decide when I would and would not be attending church. My parent’s rule was and had always been that they would decide when and if we’d be attending church on a Sunday until we were old enough to make that decision for ourselves, and that would be once we made the sacrament of confirmation. I so confirmed that Confirmation day would be my last day of attending Sunday mass for anything other than a wedding, a funeral or a baptism. And, thus, my decision stuck, that is, until I had children of my own.

We waited at the end of the aisle: me, my sister and my brother. I was awestruck by the lighting. The pulpit was lit by a golden light and candles. It was the most peaceful the church had ever been for me. We watched my father move up to the altar. He stepped up onto the altar. I wasn’t sure if that was acceptable or not, for I had only seen Pastor Sanderson on the altar behind the pulpit. The altar had three tiers. The bottom was where the parishioners would kneel before the railing to accept communion. The next tier had two podiums where guest readers would read from, and Pastor Sanderson would talk about community events from. The top tier is where the pulpit was located, a long, high mahogany table where an enormous Bible sat on a pedestal along with the blood and body of Christ. My father walked up to that table and stood in front of the sculpture of Jesus hanging on the cross which hung from the back wall. Meanwhile, Debbie and Michael were giggling and fiddling. My mother held onto to Michael’s hand and tugged it to shush him. Beneath the golden light, my father folded over the cover of the Bible. What he did next, I will not forget as long as I live; he covered his face with his hand and sobbed aloud. It was the first time I’d seen my father cry. I don’t remember as much what the inscription read, as we did eventually join him on the pulpit and my mother read it aloud to us. It was some kind words about my grandfather, a man who just seemed to pass from my life like a casual friend who moved away.

Religion was defined for me on that day as a love so deep within one’s heart that it never passes; one that lives inside forever. My sense of religion has taken many shapes since then. In college, when I was finding myself, I took a Literature of the New Testament course; I learned more about my religion in that literature course than I had in six years of Bible school atChristLutheranChurch. Of course, I believe that in order to understand and accept religion, one has to be ready.

For a while, I considered myself a New Age hippy. I joined a SETH group on Prodigy (the web before the World Wide Web). There were four of us who formed a cyberspace chat group: me, Phyllis fromNew York, Marla fromCalifornia, andGaryfromChicago. We came to know each other very well. At first, we had Jane Roberts channeling SETH in common. We also moved into the realm of Edgar Cayce and Shirley Maclaine among others. I got to meet the ladies of the SETH group when I invited Marla to come stay with me for a weekend (talk about faith), so we could attend The Whole Life Expo inNew Yorkwith Phyllis. I didn’t realize at the time how special that time together was. We had our auras read and met world renowned psychics like Brian Weiss and Ken Eagle Feather; I also learned what chakras are and the different energies of different kinds of stones. Once, Phyllis, an astrologist herself who has gone on to write several astrology books, did my astrological chart. Past life regressions, dreams, reincarnations, psychics, tarot card readers, runes, rising signs all became part of my new vocabulary. It was a very heady time for me trying to figure out how all of this fit into the religion I had grown up on. I managed, over time, to find myself in all of that: to invest in my own beliefs.

Experiences like this one made me believe that we are intuitive selves. My mother and I were on our way to lunch, something we did on very few occasions—meeting to go out for lunch. We happened to be passing by the Masonic Home, an assisted living home for the elderly. My great Uncle Dick and Aunt Marie lived there together. I remember thinking it so sweet that they were able to retire to a nursing home together. As we passed, I turned to my mother and asked, “Mom, when did Uncle Dick pass away?” She looked at me, awestruck and replied, “Uncle Dick didn’t pass away. Where did you get that from?” I explained that I thought I had heard someone tell me such. The very next day, my grandmother called to tell my mother that Uncle Dick had passed the day before. When my mother asked what time, my grandmother responded at1 p.m.

My son, Tyler, has given me insight into the existence of angels in our lives, or spirits who we love that have passed and are watching out for us. Children are said to be very intuitive until we teach them not to be, and I have listened.

The first piece of evidence. Some time after my mother-in-law’s passing, whenTylerwas about four and a half year’s old, we were laying in bed at night saying our prayers, a nightly ritual. After he said, “God blessGrandmaMo,” I asked, “Tyler, do you miss Grandma Mo?” He said, “No, mommy.” I prodded further and asked him why he didn’t miss her. He said, “because I see her all the time, can’t you see her up there,” pointing towards the ceiling, “she’s with all the pretty white ladies dancing and laughing.”

Since, I have learned to be aware of the angels in my life. On one such occasion, my car nearly missed being in the midst of a head-on collision with a mac truck and another car traveling behind me. I watched it in slow motion from my rear view mirror, where the face of my maternal grandfather appeared. Another, more recently, happened when I felt a presence over my shoulder. When I turned to look it seemed that I watch it disappear, but I felt my grandmother. On another occasion, I sniffed the scent of her talcum powder pass before my nose as I was working in my office when no one else was even home.

My grandmother has spoken to me, too, through the medium Suzane Northrop. She mentioned things no one else but my grandmother could have known like the way she wore babushkas to cover her wig, so it wouldn’t fly away in the wind, and that we baked ham pie and Pinole cookies together over the holidays, or the fact that I inherited her rosary beads and had one more made from the flowers I ordered for her funeral.

Tyler, the old soul amongst my children, asked me as a young boy, much before I had even had a conversation with him about reincarnation or afterlife, asked me if in the next life I would be his mother again.

I witnessed my first act of God when my grandfather passed. He had been fighting cancer for over two years, much of that time, I helped my grandmother care for him. I stayed up with her during the night while she tended to him, I held a bowl for him to spit the endless stream of yellow bile after his chemo treatments, I wiped his behind after my grandmother had given him an enema because he had been backed up for days. I held her hand, cold and wrinkled, when she tried so hard to cry, to let it out, she said the tears had all dried up. We’d been through a lot. I was sleeping at her apartment when she got the call from Hospice (he had just agreed to be admitted the day before) that the time was near. We met my mother and my uncle there. We flanked around him in a circle, holding each other, holding him. I found myself mustering up the courage to be strong for my mother and grandmother. We whispered to him to let go, that we’d be okay. For hours, endless hours, we remained by his side. And suddenly, he breathed deeply in, a breath so strong, unlike the labored ones that had come before it, and that was it. He never exhaled. I felt his soul rise from his body at the moment.

The other acts of God quite obviously came with the birth of each of my children. I remember thinking when my eldest, Ryan, was born that here we all were in this room (the nurses, the doctor, Anthony, the baby and me) all experiencing the same act, but differently. Each of us endured a completely different experience. For the nurses and the doctor, it was a day in the life of a job. For Anthony, it was about awaiting the birth of his first child while witnessing his wife going through a great amount of pain to deliver him. For me, it was terror and joy, pain and anticipation, equally and all rolled up in one. For Ryan, it was a rush of fluid and movement, then light and cold, and who knows what more?

I often come back to that moment and all of the moments that have followed in each of my children’s lives, and I ask, “How could anyone conceive of a child and not believe in God?”

Anthony and I married as Catholics. Pastor Sanderson was supposed to perform the ceremony, too, but he said he had forgotten and double-booked (chances are he was back in rehab for alcoholism). Anthony grew up two houses from the neighborhood church, and, coupled with having attended Catholic school for ten years, his family practiced religion much more routinely than mine. At that point, however, I had learned the differences in the Catholic and Protestant religions, a fundamental difference being the Protestants do not believe in original sin; therefore, there is no confession in a protestant church. I decided not to accept communion as a protest to the Catholic belief in original sin. At one point, my mother-in-law refused to come to our wedding unless our ceremony offered communion; I compromised and asked the priest to make communion available at the rehearsal for anyone who wanted it. Secondly, the money rolling in and out of that church became very apparent to me during the pre-Cana process. We were told to buy a certain size of flower arrangement, so they could be seen well from the back of the church, and the caveat that we had to leave them there for mass on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Also that we needed to rent a runner made of material versus plastic because the plastic one looked too cheap for their church. And lastly, the thing that really put me over the edge was the fee, not the donation, for getting married (much higher than some of the other churches because they had just put in a state- of- the- art organ and were saving for an elevator).

I baptized my boys Catholic in the same church we were married in simply because we didn’t decide what to do about church and religion in our family, at that point. After we moved into our house inCheshire, we decided to make a decision about belonging to a church. We chose theFirstChurchon the green. It is quaint, understated, and Congregationalist (a form of the protestant religion). Our daughter, Alexa, was baptized there. Although, we intended to attend on, at least, a semi-regular basis, life took over. Well, we allowed it to. I think my husband was so entrenched in religion his whole life that he has rebelled. I felt I wasn’t getting his support coupled with not being sure of shoving religion down my children’s throats at a young age, as I felt at the time, was the way I wanted them to find themselves in religion. So, in hindsight, I’m not sure that we did the right thing by not bringing our children up in an organized religion. I have made it a point to talk them about religion and God and the Bible, to say prayers at night and in times of need with them, and to show them I believe by my actions. Only time will tell. Perhaps this is one of the ways we will have scarred our children, but we won’t find out until they are too old for us to do anything about it. I have told them, if at any time they want to attend any kind of church, I will take them; not one of them has asked.

I believe religion is something that is part of each of us, not something we necessarily have to practice by attending bible school or mass. Some need organized religion, and this is where these things have their places. I believe in God, and that we, with God, create our destiny—our perfect state of grace, and I believe we may need to incarnate ourselves many times before we achieve it. I believe in soul mates, those who travel with us through lives, and angels, some of our soul mates who look out for us on earth when they have gone before us. I believe that there was a Jesus; I believe he was the son of God, just as we all are the children of God. I believe the Bible is symbolic of the way we should and should not live our lives. I believe the church is a place of wisdom and peace and spirituality.  I cannot pass an old church without wanting to go inside. Once I am inside, I light at least one candle for those in need. The architecture of some churches I’ve been in from Westminster Abbey to The Cathedral of Notre Dame speaks volumes of voices that live within their walls. I find myself mesmerized by the candlelight and the stained glass, the sculptures, the statues the catacombs. I feel completely at peace in these places of worship; I can hear the voices of those who have passed who whisper the miracle of God in my ear. And each time I pass ChristLutheranChurch, a small protestant and modern, brick church, I cannot help but see my father’s tears and remember the first time I contemplated religion.

When I see my life…

I see a series of photographs. What I always try to figure out is if these are, in fact, memories, or if they exist solely because the moment was captured as a tangible image.

And I wonder how much of the memory the photograph conjures up is actual experience  or an idealized version of reality. Virginia Woolf claims, “I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realizes an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past. ” She writes three vignettes entitled “Three Pictures” which, in the first, describes an image the narrator witnesses as a picture that now lives in the narrator’s mind (young lovers caught in an intimate moment). In the second, she hears a sound in the middle of the night which causes her to recall the earlier image and fill in the gaps w/ her own fictionalized version of how the sound relates to the image. In the third, she is an observer to the result (the death of one of the young lovers)– an additional experience which adds a layer to the first. When reading the whole of these vignettes, it is apparent that Woolf’s message is how one creates reality based on what is or exists. But the conclusion is that reality only exists in our perception of it. So, then, a photograph captures what IS, but memory allows us to fill in the gaps (part fiction as an extension of reality), which in turn becomes our morphed reality.

Erik Johansen is a photographer who takes photographs and morphs them to create a shared reality. Really, this is an abstract extension of Woolf’s point– that the only reality that exists is our perception of it. If we can conceive of it, it becomes reality. It lives on paper as a concrete image, but lives in our memories as layers of abstractions (image, experience, perception) = REALITY (which is never static because as we change, so does our reality).

In essence, photographs are the only tangible evidence of what IS.

        Ten Photographs: Creating Reality One Photograph at a Time

First photograph:

Standing on my front lawn, maybe 3 (on the cusp of 4, perhaps)dressed in a leopard skin bikini, the sun casting a beam on me, but I’m smiling. My friend, Mary’s house is in the background, so is our tan Plymouth station wagon. Off to the edge of the photograph is a plastic, blue kiddy pool with brightly colored fish adorning the edges.

The feelings I associate w/ this photograph are all good– warm, secure, happy. Simplicity. My yard seemed vast, and I loved playing there w/ my siblings and my friends. My mother was always there watching over us, lovingly.

Second photograph:

Full-faced, smiling wide– one tooth missing in the front of my mouth. I’m holding it up between my fingers for the camera to see. I’m wearing a blue terry-cloth top. Feeling proud, I worked and worked to twist that tooth and yank it until it came out. I was first to lose my tooth. I liked being first.

Third photograph:

My sweet sixteen birthday party. I’m looking down, very thoughtful and introspective. My hair, shoulder length, is curled back on the sides, framing my face. My mother is in the foreground of the picture, a side view of her face. She’s young and beautiful, and very intent on pinning a carnation on my blue, sleeveless, eye-lit blouse.

I remember being completely surprised by my family and all of my friends who filled my backyard. I can recall the details of the day. I’d slept at Lori’s house who made an excuse to come to my house when we were suppose to be going to the beach that day. I was kind of annoyed at Lori for changing plans for what seemed a silly reason. I didn’t suspect a thing until I walked up the driveway and saw Ben front and center in my yard, with, what seemed at the time, a blur of people behind him. Everyone I knew and loved was there. I felt this incredible sense of being special and loved. I was also very impressed they all pulled off a surprise on me (because that wasn’t/isn’t easy to do). My Aunt & Uncle were there fromCaliforniaand my grandparents, my cousins and all my really good friends. I don’t recall much else. But the moment my mother placed the carnation on me, I felt very loved by her– unconditionally (which was different than how I usually felt).

Looking back on that moment, there is a sense of melancholy attached to it– that didn’t exist in the moment. It was one of the last good memories I had of my family as a unit together at the home I’d grown up in. Right around the corner, unknowingly to me at the time, was my parent’s divorce when everything would change irreversibly. Also, my very good friend, Ben, would later take his own life– and that day is still one of my fondest memories of him.

Fourth Photograph:

This one exists in my mind, not on paper. It is of me & Dave in a field of overgrown grass up high on a hill– off of a windy street,Spruce Bank Road, where we walked a lot. I am sitting up on top of a rock and he is sitting beside me. There is an old tree up there where we carved our initials and an old, white colonial house in the distance (one we used to say we’d own together one day). It’s sunny and warm and innocent.

It is the moment I fell in love w/ love.

Fifth Photograph:

Graduation. Mine. Anthony, w/ his arm around me, smiling, and me, in my yellow gown, unzipped wearing a white and pastel blouse beneath it. I’m caught in a laugh.

Reminiscent of this photograph is one taken exactly one year before & the opposite. Anthony in his unzipped, green gown at his graduation and me holding his hand. I am full of pride that I graduated and enjoyed high school so completely and successfully. I am happy to have Anthony by my side. I felt like this day marked the beginning of the next chapter in my life and I was ready for it (w/ Anthony holding my hand). It was a very grown-up feeling day.

Sixth Photograph:

This one is not an actual photograph, either, it lives only in my mind and I’m not in it. I’m only an observer, but it’s the point in my life– the very moment that I learned to live outside myself.

My grandfather, sitting on the edge of his bed. His head is bowed down, his body, weak, slouched, his bare feet pressing against the floor to secure him. White t’shirt and black sweat pants (he never wore sweatpants until he became sick). His hair, thinned, slicked back. I could see the bones and veins beneath his loose, tissue skin. I’m holding a plastic bowl waiting for him to purge again. He looks up to me, his eyes moving, not his face, and says, “Thank you.”

Seventh Photograph:

On theCape, on the beach, vast, waves in the back ground and the sailboats at the Yacht club, sun shining bright in the blue sky. My grandmother is wearing a black and white top and black shorts. On her head, she’s wearing that hat– sun, wide-rimmed hat– the one she always wore to the beach because she said she couldn’t have the sun on her face. She’s laughing, arms outstretched. She’s posing for me.

I remember laughing too and thinking how happy I am that she is happy. I knew the moment I snapped the photo, it was one that would live in my memory. Perhaps the most influential person on my life, if I had to name just one.

I miss her so much.

Eighth Photograph:

My boys. Both of them. Ryan’s first day of school. Out on the front lawn. He looks like such a little man, backpack slung over his shoulder.Tyleris hugging his waist so tight; it’s evident he doesn’t want him to go to school. And Ryan looks so proud; he is ready. Looking down at his brother looking up, lovingly at him, I think– I pray– they will be each other’s best friends one day.

Ninth Photograph:

Sitting in her rocking chair, my old rocking chair (from when I was a baby) that I painted for her to match her room, she’s wearing thermal long john’s (that belonged toTyler) and an overall denim dress– no socks. She’s cradling her baby doll in her arms, feeding her a bottle, unaware that I’m snapping her picture.

And isn’t that just Alexa– the caretaker, the one who doesn’t need or crave the spotlight, the one who is a cross between a lady and one tough girl. Someone, I admire and cherish.

Tenth Photograph:

A series of photos, really, taken in the back year at my Dad’s house (the one I grew up in) in the back yard. It’s our annual Christmas card photo shoot on Thanksgiving day. It’s a grey day, trees are bare; it’s damp outside. My three children move around throughout the yard using the pond as the first backdrop, then the archway, then the empty garden– they are playing w/ each other and laughing, making faces and whining how many more photos I’m going to shoot. I’m not responding to them– just trying to capture them in the moment. Ryan and Tyler are looking so manly w/ their unshaven faces and Alexa is so grown up. They change positions, at one point picking her up–Tyler holding beneath her arms, Ryan grasping her feet. The way they interact w/ one another so easy and unmeasured. I see the whole series of photographs in my mind (there must have been 25 of them), filling in the gaps w/ the memory– the laughter (which I can audibly hear) and the love (that I can feel emulating from them).

How could I ask for anything more?

It would be interesting to take a photograph that MANY people are in and ask them to write about it. I believe you’d have as many different stories as you have people in the picture.

Super Power: ACTIVATE

If I had a super power, it would most definitely be time travel.

From Dr. Seuss’s “Oh! The Places you’ll go!”

”Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.

OH!
THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!

You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.”

So… here I go… (and not in any particular order)

I’d like to be a confidante of Mary Magdalene. I’d like to know who Jesus was, actually, and what their relationship was. I imagine it to be a great love affair and Jesus to be a prophet who was persecuted for his beliefs. It would be interesting to know if Mary knew him as the son of God, if in fact he was, or as just a man.

I’d like to have been employed or at least have been a parishioner at the Sistine Chapel when Michelangelo was painting it, so I could witness beauty in the making.

I’d go back to the age of the dinosaurs just to SEE one (from afar) or, perhaps, even BE a dinosaur to determine if they think/feel or whether they just have the power of instinct.

I’d be one of Edgar Cayce’s patients so he could experiment w/ my mind to determine what my dreams meant and if, in fact, I’d recalled my past lives.

I’d like to have a discussion w/ Leonardo da Vinci about his Vitruvian Man drawing so I could comprehend/experience/bask in the moment of his brilliance.

I’d be one of the Londoner’s to witness the beheading of Ann Boleyn… detached enough from the court to not be emotionally involved or physically at risk myself, but close enough to be aware of the circumstances and knowledgeable enough to have formed an opinion about whether or not it was just.

I would have been the friend, Ellen Nussey, to the Bronte children.

I’d be a member of the court of Queen Victoria, perhaps QueenElizabeth, too.

I’d be part of theBloomsburygroup, a painter, I think, because I’ve always wanted to paint. To be part of that movement– caught up body and soul in the idea of artistic expression and definition.

I’d be a hippy, protester, singer-songwriter duringVietnam. I would have attended the Abby Hoffman rallies.

I’d be a member of the jury for the Helter Skelter trials of Charles Manson.

I would attend the opening performance of Romeo & Juliet.

I’d be on the set of the making of Gone With The Wind and would have also attended the premier.

I would have worked w/ Jackie Bouvier in the magazine industry.

I’d have been an actress/friend to Judy Garland & Mickey Rooney, starring in films w/ them.

I would have worked alongside Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the time of the New Deal.

I would like to have been a newspaper reporter when J.F.K. was assassinated.

I’d like to be a geisha for a week ( I think that would be plenty of time ).

I would like to have known Charles Dickens and to have been adapted as a character in one of his novels.

I’d be a cloistered nun.

I’d like to be a member of the Gambino family inNew Yorkduring the 1950’s, perhaps even a mobster, myself.

Oh! The places I could go! I might just continue adding to this list…

Teaching English isn’t about just letters…

I’m not great w/ #’s, but I always tell me students to challenge themselves, raise the bar, so this is my attempt at practicing what I preach.

I’ve been teaching for 22 years
I’ve taught approximately 1690 students
I have 3 of my own children whom I have been teaching for 7315 days
On average, I correct 2550 pages of writing a year (this does not include homework, tests or quizzes)
I am at work for 37.5 hours per week, 1200 hours per school year, but I spend at least an additional 392 hours of unpaid time doing work for my job– which is a total of 1592 hours per year.
I make under $40 per hour after having 18 years of education, 1 diploma and 2 degrees, and 22 years of experience, and 720 hours of professional development hours
I can listen to approximately 8 conversations at one time and can carry on 3 conversations at a time
I hear my name called approximately 40 times per day
80 students pass through my door on a given day, 400 in a given week
I spend about $300 in class supplies from my own funds per year
I average 6 minutes in the bathroom a day (that’s 2 trips– between classes)
I write out about 10 passes per day
I can work on 3 tasks at a time, w/ efficiency
I receive approximately 25 emails a day that need to be addressed in some way
I speak to parents about 16 times per year about their children’s performance (or often lack thereof)
I teach 36 units per year (ranging from 2 weeks to 8 weeks in duration)
I have talked to about 20 different alumni per year
I receive 5-10 thank you notes per year from students

I’ve written up to 24 college recommendations in a given year

I mail out approximately 150 letters to students 4 years after their graduation (writing personal notes to about 100 of them)

I get 1-2 prep periods per school day (more often than not, not in my own classroom)
I have over 150 conferences w/ students about their work each year
I have read 4 different books concurrently
I have taught in 9 different schools
The longest I’ve taught in one place is 11 years, the shortest was 2 years
I have been inspired by 14 teachers/professors that’s in addition to 18 who are/have been colleagues
I have written thank you notes to 5 of them

Most days, I don’t know how I do what I do in a day, but every day I make a real connection w/ my students makes it all worth it.

I would be remiss…

if I didn’t acknowledge the 200th birthday of one of the greatest writers of all time.

Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens!

I have been inspired by Dickens as long as I can remember, first being exposed to his work when I watched the musical version of Oliver! for the first time, and later seeing, I believe, nearly every adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

His work speaks to people, real people, something I realized long before I knew of the  social issues he addressed during a time of great change and great strife inEngland. He wrote about real people who endured the hardships of life, yet managed to retain the innate good in each of them. Dickens is sometimes criticized for being fairy tale- like in his work, but I see it more as him writing characters who, no matter the hand they are dealt, rise above. And isn’t that all we, as the human race, can do?

In college, I studied Dickens’ work learning to read it in the historical context in which it was written. As a teacher, I think it would be remiss of me not to allow my students to have that opportunity because he truly was a great activist of his time. He didn’t shun from political correctness; he put it out there, the good, the bad, and the ugly for all to see and judge. And his work remains timeless masterpieces that reflect a time not so unlike our time. I’d argue that he was one of the forefathers for the 99%.

In 2005, I had the opportunity to visit his home on Doughty Streetin London–a memory I will keep w/ me forever. I entered his house, now a museum, and studied the artifacts and the furniture, taking in the setting and all that it implied. It was surreal walking through the home he once lived in, sitting in a chair he once sat in. For anyone who’s read Anna Quindlen’s Imagined London, I was living the tale of her book. Imagining the period he lived in each time I turned a corner. Recollecting the buildings I’d collected of the Dickens’ village that I display each year at Christmastime, symbolizing the settings for the novels he’d written building by building, figurine by figurine.

In 2011, I returned toEngland–this time to Westminster Abbey, to the cite of the Poet’s Corner where a wreath was laid today by Prince Charles commemorating Dickens’ birthday. I recall standing there in awe, surrounded by the ghosts of the writers I so admire, those who have shaped a good part of my life.

Charles Dickens writes in the prologue to David Copperfield ” Of all my books, I like this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them…But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is DAVID COPPERFIELD” —Charles Dickens, 1867. I can so relate to that as a writer. When you write, your characters become people and it’s hard to end their story, it’s hard to let them be judged by others because they become so dear to the writer. Not to mention that David is said to be an autobiographical version of Dickens himself. He draws upon his own experiences in his word which is what makes each novel so authentic. I cannot ever divorce myself from what I’m writing. Each piece I write is a part of me.

I also read a book called Dickens and the Dream of Cinema. In this book, Grahame Smith argues that Dickens was a visionary of cinema before its’ time in the way he uses description. His imagery lends itself to being adapted for the visual medium. Perhaps this is one of the aspects that most appeals to me about Dickens is his ability to paint a visual picture.

I’d argue that the real brilliance of Dickens is the synergy of all these characteristics working together creating an experience.

Among my favorite quotes of Dickens’ is this from David Copperfield:

“My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.”

Happy Birthday!!

Penny for your THOUGHTS

A friend recently said to me, “Do you ever wonder if we think the same?” That question has been ruminating in my mind since.

Metacognition is the act of thinking about thinking. I first came upon this term in a master’s degree course when we read Ann Bertoff’s Forming/Thinking/Writing. I’d been given the task of observing an organic object everyday for 10 minutes, recording my thoughts, for three weeks in a double entry notebook– something I’d not heard of. I kept my original notes in the left-hand column and left the right-hand column bland for the duration. Due to the organic nature of the object (I’d chosen a pansy), the object itself changed. I found myself trying to find new and creative ways to observe the object; for instance, I viewed it from different angles, or at different times of the day, or I viewed it as solitary or in relation to something else, or I completely morphed it, in my mind, to something else entirely. While the pansy remained relatively static for three weeks, it became clear to me that in order to not write the same observations day in and day out that I needed to change the way I thought about it.

Once the three weeks was over, the assignment was to go back and journal in the right column how our thoughts had taken place, evolved over time. I found it relatively easy to write about the tangible object (in the left-hand column), but when given the task to write about the intangibility of my thought processes in the right column, I struggled.

How do I think? I think in words, metaphors, images, scents, sounds. Isn’t that how everyone thinks?

As alluded to earlier in my blog, I ask my students to write in stream-of-consciousness often, something I do, as well. It’s the act of tracing the thought processes in your mind and recording them as they occur. They are fragmented. They digress. They are affected by stimuli I cannot control. They are fluid. Organic– ahh– connected to metacognive thinking; hence, the organic object.

An experiment [a stream-of-consciousness]:

rice trickling footprints that man’s deep voice i’m not seeing a thing only closing my eyes concentrating on the dark image seemingly red light seeping in around the edges shush stop talking so I can concentrate the rush of water the beach lapping waves upon the shore i can feel the warmth hear her words their words laughter i can type w/o looking but am I spelling the words right he shouts from the other room interrupted again go just go so i can finish my thoughts i need a space private and unavailable to anyone else six degrees of woolf vara has the right idea she has cats they mind their space and time i see her cat in the picture on her wall peaking like my thoughts in and out peaking [undedited]

So, now I’ll set the scene. I’m in my dining room, at the table, typing on my laptop. It’s11 a.m.My husband is in his office listening to Tyler’s last night’s hockey game on his computer; the commentator’s voice is bellowing from the other room, rising and falling with the excitement of the play. My daughter is making rice in the kitchen. I hear her pouring it, then running the water in the pan. And my husband get’s up to leave while I have my eyes closed tight trying to block everything out of my mind. When I close my eyes tight, I see a dark image that is framed in red light trying to seep in. Whenever I close my eyes, purposefully to block out sound and thought, I see colors– different colors.

I think about wanting an office. I need my own space, something that has been very much on my mind as of late which makes me think of Virginia Woolf– her plea in A Room of One’s Own. This leads me to the association of Vara, a Woolf scholar and former professor of mine, who has cats. And just the other day one of them died, so she put a picture of it up on her wall as a tribute. It was a little white cat peaking around a corner.

I think in words. I don’t see them; I hear them. I hear fragments of phrases/conversations people have said to me, what I’ve heard or read in my mind. Often times, songs (or parts of them) are running in my mind which is very much connected to the emotion I’m feeling or my mood.

I think in color. When I close my eyes to concentrate, I see color– often colors, but the pattern is unclear to me, though I’m convinced they are connected to the chakras. In fact, when I’ve mediated, I trained myself to see all the colors of the chakras in fluid succession to one another as a means of pushing out the thoughts until I could only see the colors and hear my breathing.

I think in sounds. I hear sounds which are associations often to memories or at the very least something familiar. I connect one sound to another. Melodies of sounds play in my head constantly.

I think in metaphors. Connections happen for me all the time in my mind. It’s the way I negotiate the unknown to the known. It’s the way I make comfortable the puzzling or the uncomfortable.

I think in scents. This is another form of connection for me. It’s always triggered by an outside stimuli, however, which leads to an association from memory. I can smell something and suddenly my thought generates instances of experience.

I think in random and abstract patterns. I have studied this, actually, as a teacher– and as a thinker too. I am more right-brained than left brained, so I tend to see the forest before I see the trees. I don’t think, I KNOW there’s something to be said about right brain/left brain dominance.

I’m thinking about whether you’re wondering about how YOU think right now? Maybe our thoughts are connected. Perhaps your thoughts generate an energy that dictates my thoughts or vice versa. On a few occasions, my friends and I tried an experiment– we thought of a subject (and agreed upon one, before-hand) that we would remind ourselves of before going to sleep. We’d concentrate on it to see if it would come up in our dreams. More times than not several of us dreamed about the thought we’d placed in our heads.

Now, dreams…. that’s a whole other topic!