Uncertainty

This morning, as most of the school was walking to morning assembly, two 8th graders bounced up to me and said: “Ms Blythe!!!! It’s been SO long!” These two were my students when they were 6th and 7th graders, and I came to know them from when they were very small to when they were very awkward to when they were almost teenagers, and now, they are on their way to high school. It is amazing to bear witness to the growth of children, and to be a person they trust with their feelings: both fears and joys.

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Robert Indiana, first day of issue January 26, 1973

One told me about a drama about a friend, a fight, and head lice: the fare of middle school experience and friendship. As we were walking into the gym together, the other one said: “Ms Blythe? If we go to war, will it be like World War III?” I said, “Well. I need you to look at me while I say this.” She said, “ok” and looked directly at me. I put my arm around her and said, “I have absolutely no idea. But if it is, we will go through it together.”

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Ali Cat Leeds of EntangledRoots.com

It’s been ages since I wrote here, and really ages since I documented my last public school teaching experience in inner city Philadelphia. This school year is so trying: the students are dealing with so much stress, and so are the teachers. What is funny (the type of funny that is tragic, not laugh-out-loud) is that, in the public education sphere, or at least my public education sphere, no one is speaking out or with each other about the stress that the outer world is causing in our hearts and minds.

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Hope by George Frederic Watts, 1886

I taught a professional development yesterday on how to teach good quality projects. At the beginning, I asked teachers to play by working 6 feet of wire into something that represented what was going on with them yesterday morning. Most jumped into the task, a few fought it at first, one point-blank refused and left. After a few minutes, it was fascinating to watch a group of 30 adults playing with wire, bending it, shaping it, talking to their friends, laughing, wondering: bemused at their own inner-workings. A few spoke about their sculptures, but most just left them on a large table, much like children do. I realized during the second session that the vast majority of my adult students were overwhelmed, tired, sad, confused, stressed-out and hollow-eyed. They didn’t know what to do in terms of developing a project. I realized at the end of the first session that we really should have canned it all and done something else, but it was too late, and there was no Plan B.

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Candles burning in a Buddhist temple: photographer unknown

When that student asked me about World War III earlier today, I almost cried then and there. Later, we had a tornado drill and I envisioned my portable being picked up and carried by a giant tornado that would drop us on our side somewhere down the road.

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Teachr, Teach Peace – his Facebook is here

I watched a video by Robert Reich the other day in which he explained that stress, feelings of trauma, dread, despair, are all common-place in our current state of affairs. I think we can see evidence of that from before this president was elected in the opioid epidemic: we are the only country in the world who is dying in huge numbers of hopelessness, sadness, and desperation, however, I will say that those feelings may be experienced currently by more people than pre-election day 2016.

America, poor America! You sick culture of racism and of classism, and of feelings of not being good enough, smart enough, rich enough. As adults, we can try to dismiss those fears or at least cloud them with exercise, working in the garden, cooking, drinking wine,  and eating too much dessert. But our children: my question is, what can they do?

My students are in 7th grade. They were born in the year 2005, four years after 9/11, and after the beginning of what is now America’s longest war. They have never known their country in peace-time. During their lives, America has increased its prison population, and the awareness of the murder of African-Americans by police has become commonplace thanks to social media. Their media life is one of Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Paris bombings, Orlando and now Las Vegas shootings. Their governmental life was one of hope with President Obama, shot down by the election of Donald Trump, and colored by his rants about North Korea, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Iran.

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Unknown, brilliant Twitter cartoonist

Most of my students are immigrants or children of immigrants. Most of my children are economically classed as “poor”. Most of my children have parents who are working so hard just to give them what society demands is necessary: tiny mega-computers that broadcast this information-propaganda-fear into their pockets, into their living rooms, into their eyes, into their minds at night when they are alone. How frightening is this? How more frightening is it that we, the adults, are so scared that we do not know how to discuss it in a pro-active, assertive, and hopeful way?

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Almond botanical drawing: in the language of flowers, Almond is for Promise

Hugs do a lot, but they do not do enough. As a teacher, as a step-parent to a 7th grade child, it is up to me to shield where I can, but be willing to talk when the questions come up, because the shield that my parents had for me no longer exists. The courage lies in looking into the dark and understanding that we know very little more than we did when we were 7th graders, and the courage comes from the very thing itself: courage to believe, courage to speak, courage to love, courage to hope.

I hope to write more here. I hope to hear from you. With love, P

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Ali Cat Leeds from EntangledRoots.com

 

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Falling Down

I am copying and pasting a poem by Rumi here today that was sent from a wonderful woman to her friends a few years ago. This beautiful lady died in a car wreck in 2008. The amazing speed at which accidents can happen and can take beautiful people’s lives is shocking, and her sentiment of cherishing the moment is expressed perfectly in this poem. I hope you enjoy it and it means something to you, as it did to me.

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The New Rule

It’s the old rule that drunks have to argue
and get into fights.
The lover is just as bad. He falls into a hole.
But down in that hole he finds something shining,
worth more than any amount of money or power.

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Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street.
I took it as a sign to start singing,
falling up into the bowl of sky.
The bowl breaks. Everywhere is falling everywhere.
Nothing else to do.

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Here’s the new rule: break the wineglass,
and fall toward the glassblower’s breath.
Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Escape.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You’re covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you’ve died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.
The speechless full moon
comes out now.
I used to want buyers for my words.
Now I wish someone would buy me away from words.
I’ve made a lot of charmingly profound images,
scenes with Abraham, and Abraham’s father, Azar,
who was also famous for icons.
I’m so tired of what I’ve been doing.
Then one image without form came,
and I quit.

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Look for someone else to tend the shop.
I’m out of the image-making business.
Finally I know the freedom
of madness.
A random image arrives.
I scream, “Get out!”
It disintegrates.
Only love.
Only the holder the flag fits into,
and wind. No flag.

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A Sense of Place in Time

Haney House

This was my house, until about four years ago. My house, the Haney House,  was the last place that I felt home, a place where I didn’t have to run from one thing to the next. It was a house in which I could stay, and paint the walls, and build gardens, and raise chickens.

Whilst driving home tonight after dinner with my family, the almost full Moon was shining huge and bright through my windshield, and I realized with the pain that only nostalgia can bring, how much I miss my house. And yes, I miss the brick and mortar of that house, but mostly I miss the feeling I got when I walked inside at the end of long days. I miss waking up on weekends and going outside to work in my gardens. I miss the rustling-squawking of the hens in the mornings, and how they waddled towards me to get cracked corn through the fence. I miss the dark purple walls of the laundry room and the sun I painted in metallic gold paint on the ceiling of the hall bathroom. Although I don’t think I would ever paint another house with each room being a different, deep colour, I loved each room in that house, most especially the craft room with its dark orange walls, blue ceiling, and silver trim.

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Four years ago, in the spring of 2009, I was planting more native species in the bed in the front of the house, and building a raised bed in the side yard. I was hanging lights in the old Elm tree, and sitting outside at the blue table with elephants for legs. I was on the back porch with its sagging roof, surfing the Internet for tickets to Mexico and England, rubbing my hands on the old cotton tapestry that covered the plastic table, swinging in the Mexican hammock, building a house for grapevines out of re-bar.

So. Nostalgia: the pain of remembrance. Conveniently, we remember those things we wish to see in our minds eye, and forget much. This is perhaps a function of survival, of resilience, or perseverance. I remember the Haney House as the place in which I was married, in which I worked to make a home for my family; it was the house in which I expected I would have children, or at least, further expand my life from the point at which I found myself when we bought it in 2006. It wasn’t meant to be, because the box of life I found myself within did not make me fulfilled, and I chose to step out of it, into the harsh air, on my own.

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Tonight I sit here, in my little house on the ocean in Maine, and all is not perfect, and sometimes I get inconsiderate and impatient with life’s imperfections. Sometimes I wish for that sense of stability again, for a future that could be mapped out. But of course, even when we can see down the road, we cannot predict all of life’s curves and challenges, and even when we have what society calls stability, we have only the things that we can really hold in our hands, and everything else can be taken away in the blink of an eye, the movement of someone out the front door, or names signed on the lines of forms produced by the State of _________.

I have had a beautiful life, and each day, my life becomes more so. It is hard to see oneself through the eyes of others: in fact, it may be almost impossible. I have had so many adventures in such a short amount of time, and sometimes, I judge myself based on the failures, whether actual or just perceived, that I have encountered along the way, even though, to others, those failures are insignificant, or not failures at all.

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Maybe I will never settle down again. Maybe I will always be a wild woman. Maybe I will meet someone who is a true partner and find love and companionship and team spirit. Maybe I will always travel. Maybe I will always have a sense of home not tied to physical place, but to friends and experiences. Maybe I will be okay, finally, with who I am, despite the fears or uncertainties of others, including my family, and myself. Maybe I will always relish newness: visiting a perfect replica of the Alamo in central Mexico, listening to the eerie calls of loons on a lake in Maine while sitting on a floating dock, running up and down sand dunes in England, illegally importing cars in Belize, driving a Ford F150 through narrow streets in Canada. Maybe I will always be me, uncertain, changeable, flexible, flighty, loving, loyal, colourful, creative and kind.

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