Lives of quiet desperation . . .

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem

 

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” ~ John Keating, DPS

I just finished watching Dead Poets’ Society. Or should I say, watching again for 10th, 11th, who knows how many times? Corey could hear me sniffling from the dining room. It’s always this way when I watch this movie, so I space out the time between viewings.

I understand that many people do not understand the attraction of this movie. Many felt that Robin Williams’ appearance was too over the top. For a poetry teacher, he quoted too much Whitman, someone once said to me. Some of you hate this movie because you have been made to watch it. But for me, each viewing brings back some of the best memories of my life.

Mr KeatingNo, not boarding school. Never did that. Never went to a same-sex school. Never had a teacher like Mr. John Keating, either. How I wish that I had. But time for complete truths here: Being in a college classroom, teaching English—poetry, plays, novels, short stories—doing that was the most rewarding job I have ever had. And I miss it just about every day of my life.

I loved to watch minds engage, regardless of the student’s age or background. It gave me great pleasure to watch students look at material that they had seen before or had never seen, and suddenly realize that they really got it. They understood it, and they understood not because I made them think what I thought, but because I allowed them to decipher for themselves. Too many teachers and professors still approach English as if it were written in stone. Classics only include old, dead white men. A poem’s meaning is not up to interpretation. Do not consider the time in which something was written as being related to the work itself.

I used Dead Poets’ in almost all of my applicable literature classes. I would use it in companion with pieces such as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, as well as poems by Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Bruce Weigl, Nikki Giovanni, Ntzoke Shange, Langston Hughes and countless others. A myriad of voices writing about similar themes, life experiences, points of view. A mingling of past and present.

We would discuss how the period in which the character was placed affected diction, outlooks, actions. We would discuss how the setting of a piece had a direct effect on a character’s actions. Is the setting claustrophobic? Is the setting controversial? Is the setting in opposition to the characters’ conflicts. We would discuss the roles of men and women in literature: the powerless, almost silent mother figure in the movie, the powerless female protagonist in A Doll’s House.

And then, quite often on the final exam, I would take a quote from the movie and have the students use a selection of the works read to explore a theme based upon the quote.

I’d like to think that I never taught the same class in the same way. I never used notecards in my literature classes, only the text, and my students learned that if they did not participate in the discussion, then I would move on to something else, because I was not there to tell them what to think about a poem, or what the author intended with her point of view choice or at what point the denouement of the story occurred. But it was important to me was that they try, they think, they offer their opinions, and they learned to embrace literature in an entirely new way.

“The powerful play goes on, and  you may contribute a verse.” ~ John Keating, DPS 

Old Book SpinesAm I patting myself on the back? No. Am I laying claim to this method of teaching? Of course not. I’m merely sharing with you why this particular movie holds such meaning for me. And why, sitting here now, I find myself feeling the same thing that I always feel after the movie ends: I belong in a classroom.

I cannot tell you how much I miss teaching. College, that is. I learned the hard way that I was not meant to teach middle school. I’m not entirely certain that I would be any better suited for high school, unless it was a progressive high school.

I suppose that I am still holding onto the dream that someday I might be able to get another post at a small college. Who knows? Who knows if I would even like it anymore . . . I think, though, that if I am to be honest with myself (which I try to be), then I would have to admit that there are few things that I would want more.

My friend Mari, with whom I shared an office for most of my time at ODU, is currently teaching part time at a community college in Massachusetts. Being an adjunct at any college or university is a thankless position that pays close to nothing, but Mari does it because she loves to teach, definitely not because she is making any money from it.

I wouldn’t mind a part-time position somewhere, except that adjuncts usually get stuck with composition classes. Unless you are known, it’s damned hard to get literature or writing classes as an adjunct.

But as usual, I digress . . .

“Excrement. That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. We’re not laying pipe. We’re talking about poetry.” ~ John Keating, DPS

The Movie: Twenty years later, and I think that Dead Poets’ Society still holds up well. After all, the movie’s accurate depiction of the 1950’s in setting and costume is never going to be outdated. Where we are  as a society today does not reflect the roles of men and women during that era, something that the movie captures with its secondary female characters: They are all stock characters with very little to do, simply functioning as a stereotypes—the powerless wife/mother, the blonde girlfriend every boy desires, the ditzy girls who are pick-ups.

Father and SonThe timeless aspects of the movie still hold true, as well. For example, the relationship between fathers and sons can still be fraught with an inability to communicate true feelings. The youthful male bonding and search for identity is eternal.

Another aspect of the movie that I have always loved is the cinematography. The golden hues of autumn, sunsets on the water, misty moonlight forays into the forest, and one of my favorite scenes, Knox riding his bicycle through a flock of geese.

Oh, and one more thing. The pool of poetic quotes from which Keating draws is limited, but remember, the era of confessional poetry was just coming into its own. Women had yet to gain prominence in the genre, and I just cannot see the Harlem Renaissance as being a mainstay in the curriculum for an all-white, male preparatory school in New England.

Say what you will, but this movie still speaks to me. And the last scene absolutely kills me.

What will my verse be?

 

More later. Peace.

Reflections on Hope (part 2)

 Reynard 8-2009

 Fox by Brett Sutcliffe (August 18, 2009)

The Possibility of Hope

Maybe im still searchin
But I dont know what it means
All the fires of destruction are still
Burnin’ in my dreams*
 

Corn Queue Henry County Indiana Julayne
Corn Queue, Henry County, Indiana, by Julayne from When Worlds Collide

I’ve sat down at this “add new post” page for the past four nights. I’ve sat, waited, and then closed the page. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say; more, it’s that my mind seems to be in recovery mode still after so long away from this forum that gives me a voice, as if I’m in the same room with a long lost friend, and we are still in those first few moments of awkardness, when there are a million things to say, but none of them seem to be the right way in which to begin again.

I love this blog. I appreciate the people who stop by just to read and even more, those who leave comments and words of encouragement. I love being part of a bigger blogging community, filled with people who sent me messages over the past three weeks, letting me know that they were out there if I needed them, that they would wait for me to come back.

But my last post was so full of despair that it actually left a physical pain in my heart. To put into words all of the bigger things that have happened over the last two to three years somehow makes it more real, and therefore, that much harder to reconcile.

That post also did something else to me: It made me a bit nauseous. It smacked of poor, pitiful me, and far too much navel-gazing. So let me just pause here to apologize for being so maudlin. Admittedly, though, wearing a virtual hairshirt every once in a while does seem to help.

But time to move on.

I wanna come in from the cold

Tree Frog at Rest
Tree Frog at Rest by L. Liwag

Last night, as I sat here, I heard the wonderful chirrups of the tree frogs in the backyard, and then as I was walking through the dining room, I looked out in the backyard and noticed that a strap on the pool was vibrating. A tree frog was inside the little tunnel, and every time he sang, the strap vibrated.

He was too far inside his shelter to get a picture, but I could see his small green body peeking out. Unfortunately, my invasion of his space made him cease his calls for a bit, but in about half an hour, I could hear him again.

And make myself renewed again

Uncle Melchors Trumpet Flower
Uncle Melchor's Trumpet Flowers

My uncle’s funeral was Saturday. He never regained consciousness. I wanted badly to go to the funeral, but the family lives almost 800 miles away in Florida, and this just isn’t the best time to rent a vehicle and get a hotel room.

So I stayed in touch by telephone. My aunt, who retired only last year, told me that all of the people who used to be in her department came over one day and did her yard. What a wonderful gesture. My uncle loved his yard and would send me pictures of his flower gardens when they came into bloom.

To hear about people who cared, taking the time to care for one of the things that he so enjoyed made me smile. A happy remembrance.

It takes strength to live this way

Tillie Happiness b&w
Tillie Happiness

Today, I braved the brightness of the sun to play ball with Tillie and Shakes in the pool. I think that I must have done a good job because both of them are sound asleep.

Tillie is a ball hog. The only way that I could get her to release the ball in her mouth was to tease her with the other tennis ball. Wanting both, she would drop one while I threw the other ball, and then I would throw the ball that Tillie dropped for Shakes to retrieve. Quite a complicated system for a simple game of water tennis.

I found myself relaxing, though, and just enjoying the moment—something that I do too rarely. I didn’t think about anything of consequence, and I just focused on exercising the dogs and looking at the birds flying overhead.

The same old madness every day

Captain Corey
Happy Birthday Corey

Tomorrow is Corey’s birthday. He is none too happy. It’s all well and good for me to try to point out to him that he is hardly old, but he doesn’t hear me. I know old. He isn’t old.

When I told him to go ahead and flirt with someone while he was at Costco, he said that he couldn’t because he was losing his hair. What bollocks. He has a head of beautiful, healthy hair, and he is losing a few hairs a day in the shower, undoubtedly because of the stress. My husband is too funny.

We won’t be doing too much of anything to celebrate this week, but with any luck, maybe we can have sushi sometime soon.

I wanna kick these blues away  

On other fronts, Brett is trying to gear up mentally for the school year. It looks as if they have set up his schedule for him to go every other day, which is wonderful.

I’m hoping the day off between class days will allow him to rejuvenate and to feel less pressure. If this works out well, he should miss less school and be able to stay more caught up with his work.

I’m very grateful that the head of the program at his school, as well as his guidance counselor are working with us and trying to come up with a way in which Brett can succeed this year.

Unfortunately, Eamonn was not able to start fall semester, as I had feared. Even if we had come up with the funds, we don’t have a second vehicle at the moment, and the fate of Izziethe Trooper is uncertain at best.

I feel really terrible that we weren’t able to get everything together in time, and to make matters worse, my ex called me up last week and cursed at me for three minutes for not getting the financial aid taken care of. It was a short conversation that ended with me saying something along the likes of, “If you’re so freaking concerned, why don’t you do something about it.”

Talking to a brick wallHis (my ex’s) reasoning that I needed to take care of everything and was falling down on the job was that his schedule is so full, and if that my computer was broken, why didn’t I go to library or something to use a computer? My pointing out that the financial aid was just one part of the equation didn’t matter. When I tried to tell him that even with the tuition taken care of, there was still no vehicle.

He actually asked me what happened to the Trooper, this after I had a conversation with him over two weeks ago about the Trooper dying on the way to Ohio. That’s the problem with trying to have rational conversations with someone who has an alcohol problem: You never know their condition when you tell them something important, and then they claim they were “never informed.”

Of course, I thought of a really good rejoinder after the nasty conversation ended: He lost the right to speak to me when he moved out of the house . . . This from the man who never took a day off to take any of the kids to the doctor. I did it because somehow I let him drill into me that it was easier for me to take a day from work.

Then I thought about it for a minute. He should have never had the right to speak to me that way. Why did I give him that right? Too often, verbal abuse isn’t recognized, even by its victims.

I wanna learn to live again . . . 

Butch Edentons Sunset
Sunset by Butch Edenton

Which brings me back to the subject of this post: the possibility of hope. I won’t pretend that Corey and I have a perfect relationship, but we have a really good relationship, and he doesn’t verbally abuse me. He doesn’t belittle me for my weird habits, and he loves me, imperfections and all. As do I him. Immensely.

Life has sucked lately, a lot. We run into walls, and we seem just cannot seem to get a break. But as I have been reminded of all too much with the loss of my uncle, we live in minutes and hours, not days and years.

I will make certain that Eamonn is ready for college next semester. I will take extra care to watch out for Brett’s signals that he is overwhelmed. I will enjoy the joy that my animals bring me.

I will remember to tell Corey that I really do appreciate everything that he does for me, even something as small but caring as making sure that I have Pepsi in the house. And I will appreciate the fact that I have a partner in life who could belittle me if that were his way, but it is not. His way is to tell me that he loves me every day of my life, to lie to me when I ask if I look fat, to tell me the truth when I ask about my writing, and to love and care for Eamonn and Brett unstintingly, including taking both of them to the doctor more times than I can count.

They are my shelter, my comfort, my great joy, and my peace of mind. With them, I really need nothing more.

Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.

Thank you for allowing me to be self-absorbed and for your kind words. But thank you more for continuing to visit here, for reading my words, and through your own words and beautiful images, for reminding me of all of the good and wonderful things in this world, one of which is this poem by one of my favorite writers, Langston Hughes.

Goodbye Uncle Melchor.

More later. Peace.

*Lyrics from “Dark Road,” by Annie Lennox

Mother to Son

by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.