Friday, March 27, 2020

Poetry Friday: Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye


There is so much fear, dread, and uncertainty in the world right now (and so much ugliness in the form of cavalier disregard for "the only ones") but I have seen — I'm sure you have, too — so much kindness, too.

So, Naomi Shihab Nye's "Kindness" seemed fitting for today.

Kindness
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,

(Read the rest here, at Poets.org.)


A couple of bears who are hanging out in our dining room window, ready to wave to passersby. 
#GoingOnABearHunt

~~~~~~~~~~

The round up this week is being hosted by the incomparable Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Bits and Pieces of Our Days: Starting the Coronavirus Diaries

Saturday night we would have gone to Mass, as per usual. Then, on Sunday, we would have been on the road to see Dear Evan Hansen, which my girls and I had been looking forward to for months.

Those were the plans. Before everything started to shift.

At a certain point, when a few things had been canceled and toilet paper was getting scarce, I knew I'd have to be the bad guy, the one who suggested that we not go to an event as packed as a Broadway show. Not a wise move for a family with people in high-risk categories. But just a couple of days after I had that thought, the theater canceled the Dear Evan Hansen run. I didn't have to be the bad guy. The virus is the bad guy.

So here we all are, hunkered down together, working from home, teaching from home, taking French class from home. Nothing feels normal (as I know you all know.)

What did the past weekend look like instead of Broadway and Mass?

Well, I worked, of course. (I feel lucky to already work from home. I will never take it for granted again.) I'm in the midst of The Writer's Jungle Online, one of the Brave Writer classes I teach. (I'll be teaching another one in April. The writing must go on!) I listened to a talk by a priest I'm working with on a book. I mailed some essentials to a friend. I walked the dog. We had to call a plumber on Saturday morning because a bundle of roots somewhere out there chose this weekend to cause a back-up in the bathroom. I turned to God, Atticus, and podcasts whenever I was feeling too anxious. My daughters baked a gluten-free chocolate cake. We had an art session together, and watched an episode of Gilmore Girls.

Because all public Masses have been canceled, we were home on Sunday. It's a sacrifice to not be able to receive the Eucharist, but the Church absolutely made the right decision in light of this public health crisis. And it's a sacrifice that I willingly make for my daughter, my parents, and so many other people who fall into vulnerable categories. (I don't want to become a silent carrier. What if I am right now?) "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." And I will willingly lay down my own spiritual comfort and the sustenance I receive from the Eucharist for the sake of my daughter and others.

(I keep forgetting that technically at our ages Atticus and I also fall into the "Stay home, you're vulnerable" category. I'd like to think that his half-marathons and my efforts to take care of myself put us in the "strong, healthy" category, but who knows?)

So, on Sunday we all gathered around the kitchen table and Atticus read the Mass readings for the fourth Sunday of Lent to us. John 9:1-41 is the story of the man born blind. I've written before about the significance of this story for Atticus and me. And as he was reading, he choked up, and couldn't quite finish. Anne-with-an-e took over the reading.

"One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”

I was a little breathless at the scene before me. My husband, filled with gratitude for the gift of his faith, our eldest daughter stepping in to read a wondrous bit of beauty for her dad.

Then I reminded our girls  that before his conversion, their father had thought that he'd like to take the name of the man born blind as his Confirmation name. I don't think anyone spoke for a moment.

Then I was in tears. So many memories flooding over me, so much beauty and so much pain over the years of our marriage, our conversions, our commitments and re-commitments to one another, our newfound commitments to a God who was once a stranger to us both.

And so, on this Sunday, when church buildings everywhere were closed, God lavished graces on five little people sitting around a kitchen table in a small town in Nebraska.

"The Gospel of the Lord," says the priest.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, the people reply.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Big weekend plans? Oh, you're staying home? Me, too. Because we're all in this together.

As I recently said on Facebook:

When people say, "This coronavirus hysteria is silly," or, "Healthy people don't need to worry, the only ones who will die are old people or those with underlying conditions," I kind of want to scream. It appears to be true that healthy people will probably not suffer much from Covid-19. But the people who could suffer greatly or die from complications? Those who are immunocompromised, have chronic illness, heart disease, lung conditions including asthma, those who have diabetes, and the elderly. There are people in my life -- people I love with all my heart -- who have these conditions or are elderly. "The only ones." No human being is an "only one" and no one's life should be so casually dismissed. So please, if you are healthy, do all that you can to help keep vulnerable populations safe. The vulnerable population is sitting right next to you.
And some of that vulnerable population is right here in my house. It is of the utmost importance that as many of us as possible stay home as much as possible.

Here are a few things we found this week that can help:


A few things to do:

50 free classes at Creativebug

Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems

Browse the Metropolitan Museum of Art or visit the National Gallery of Art or the Musee d'Orsay

There are nightly Met Opera streams.

Take a virtual tour of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Animals! Live Cams at the San Diego Zoo



Reading for free: 

I love the Libby app, which I use through my local library.

Get 30 days free at Scribd.



Do you homeschool? Or do you currently have your kids at home? 

Free ideas from Brave Writer

Homebound: free, online conference, co-hosted by Julie Bogart and Susan Wise Bauer (March 23-27)!


If you're anything like me: 

Reading some of the many, many, many, many books in my home library that I've been meaning to get to.

Watch Gilmore Girls with my girls (because Ramona hasn't seen it all yet. It's been an ongoing group watch for some time now. We're on Season 5, but we might get further faster in the days and weeks to come....)

Getting outside for walks. It snowed last night and it was cold today, but I'll be back at it tomorrow.

Stay tuned for this work-in-progress. Working title: "One Day at a Time."

Poetry Friday: The Peace of Wild Things


I haven't shared this one for a while, but it's definitely time to share it again. Wishing you peace, friends.

The Peace of Wild Things 
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
....

(Read the rest here.)

~~~~~~~~~~





Thursday, February 27, 2020

Poetry Friday: February 29 by Jane Hirschfield


Last week I was quite insensitive to poor February, complaining and griping and generally being indifferent to its potential charms. So, this week I'm making it up to the month that so many of us love to hate.

My peace offering is this lovely poem from Jane Hirshfield, "February 29." There is, after all, something magical about the gift of an extra day every four years. February 29th is the Brigadoon of days, and even I, with my callous disrespect for a month that can't help being what it is, can appreciate what is ephemeral about it.

~~~~~~~~~~

An excerpt from

February 29
by Jane Hirshfield

...

An extra day—

With a second cup of black coffee.
A friendly but businesslike phone call.
A mailed-back package.
Some extra work, but not too much—
just one day’s worth, exactly.

(Read the whole thing here, at Poets.org.)

If you'd like to know more about Poetry Friday, here's the scoop

~~~~~~~~~~

I'm hosting this week!
Mr. Linky awaits your poetic offerings.
And unlike Brigadoon, he won't disappear after 24 hours.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Poetry Friday: Oh, February



Oh, February.

You have a terrible but well-deserved reputation. You are the longest shortest month; we all complain about you. You're the insufferable supervisor who constantly calls unnecessary meetings that drag on hours after everything that needed to be said was said. We can't wait for you to adjourn.

If you're having that kind of February, check out Jill Osier's "February."  It captures the essence of the month perfectly. My favorite lines:

Oh, I am sick. I fade, I fall, 
I curse this month, all it wants 

to be. Its lot is the same 
each time, unthawed.

Honestly, though, I can't complain much about our February this year. (And yet I do.) February 2020 is, overall, warmer than normal (if you don't count that -4 degree reading yesterday morning, and you ignore averaging.) There's only a week and a day of it left (not that I'm counting.) And at least Ash Wednesday didn't fall on Valentine's Day this year. (There's always something to be said for that.)

Still.

It's almost over, thank goodness, other than that tricky extra day next weekend. (It seems a cruelty to tack an extra day onto February, of all months, doesn't it? Whose warped idea was that anyway? Why don't we get an extra day in June??)

I'm reminded of a February haiku I wrote years ago:

February fades,
Like a guest who stayed too long.
Shut the door, and sigh.

Just one more week! (And a day.)

~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, February 14, 2020

Poetry Friday: Blackout Poetry


I haven't written about our Friday writing group for such a long time. Ramona and I, and two of her friends are still meeting every week; I guess I just haven't been writing about writing. (Let's face it, "writing" here at the blog has suffered immeasurably in the last couple of years. I'd love to remedy that and occasionally share something other than a Poetry Friday post, though I'm grateful for the way Poetry Friday keeps me hanging in there, blog-wise.)

Anyway.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave the girls a Blackout Poetry assignment. What is Blackout Poetry? Here are loads of great examples from Austin Kleon. He used newspaper articles, but you can use any text.


For our project, I pulled an idea from this Pinterest page (thank you, Racheal.) We used this passage:




(and here's what someone else did with it) from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Of course, it's always a good idea to credit the source of your blackout poem. Copyright, copyright, copyright, people!

We drew an idea from our aptly named Idea Jar:


Our inspiration: Springtime. (And oh, am I feeling inspired about spring after the frigid temps of the last couple of days!)

Here's what I came up with for my "illustrated" blackout poem:





Here's the text I highlighted/kept: 


Feel it. 
Something soft, 
branches of trees. 
A light ahead, 
but a long way off. 
A moment. 
A wood at night, 
the air. 
Dark tree-trunks, 
open doorway. 
Daylight. 
Walk forward
through the wood, 
towards the other light. 
A pitter-patter, 
coming 
among the trees
soon after. 

~ Karen Edmisten 


If I get permission from the girls, I'll share their creations here, too. (It's just not as simple as it was when they were eight years old and every smashingly cute word out of their mouths was blog fodder. Sigh.) 

~~~~~

For more about Poetry Friday, go here




Friday, February 07, 2020

Poetry Friday: Groundhog Day


Groundhog Day, which was February 2nd, has been on my mind. 

Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow (not that I really trust a rodent to predict or plan my seasons for me, but an early spring is ever the stuff of dreams in the midwest, so thanks, little rodent.)

Bill Murray reprised his role as Phil Connor in a Super Bowl commercial (I never watch the Super Bowl, but I catch up on the commercials the next day), prompting a yen to rewatch one of my favorite movies.

And the movie always makes me think of this Shrinklit I wrote years ago. The last time I shared this poem on the blog, an awesome friend told me that only I could find a place for God in this movie. I love that she sees me as an original thinker, but the truth is, I simply stumbled onto ideas that others had been writing about since the movie's release in 1993. Harold Ramis's Groundhog Day ignited lots of pondering in lots of people, some serious, some fanciful. Here are a few examples:

How to Understand the Philosophy of Groundhog Day and Live by Its Message, NPR
8 Fascinating Interpretations of Groundhog Day, Mental Floss
Roger Ebert's insightful 2005/2nd look at Groundhog Day

So without further ado, here's my input, here's to trying to become a better person, and here's to an early springtime!

My Groundhog Day Shrinklit
by Karen Edmisten

Phil: at first, a selfish jerk
Focused on his fun and work.
Women were a toy or game
Till every day became the same.

Quite suddenly, no rules apply
Steal some money, tell a lie.
Nihilism's worth a spin,
Then despair comes crashing in

Suicide just didn't take.
Surely something is at stake?
Could it be he'll find it's worth
Striving for a true rebirth?

Self-improvement: worth a try,
Though all past ways it does defy?
Selflessness for its own sake?
Turn away from all that's fake?

Helping, saving, giving, tears.
Authentic feelings, first in years.
Abandoning the ways of old
Lets in truth, releases cold.

Something genuine and kind
Allows this man his best to find.
Is this conversion? God at work?
Or one colossal cosmic quirk?

~~~~~~~~

For more about Poetry Friday, go here.  

Friday, January 31, 2020

Poetry Friday: To the New Year (and to W.S. Merwin)


We're already a full month into 2020, but I'm still reviewing 2019: summarizing, reflecting, looking back before I look ahead. I'm still figuring out and thinking about resolutions (I sometimes make them, sometimes do not. I'm a Questioner, according to Gretchen Rubin's "Four Tendencies" framework, so I make resolutions when I've decided they make sense, when they address a question I've been pondering.)

It takes me awhile, in other words, to catch up with time.

So today I'm sharing a Merwin favorite. I especially love the last three lines:

and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

We lost this marvelous poet in 2019. He was 91. Read more about him here and here.


To the New Year
By W.S. Merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
....

(Read the whole thing here, at The Poetry Foundation.)

~~~~~~~~


Thursday, January 23, 2020

Poetry Friday: "Dust of Snow" by Robert Frost



A little bit of perfection, so needed in January, from Robert Frost today: 


Dust of Snow
by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

(This poem is in the public domain.)

~~~~~

Kathryn Apel has the round-up this week. 
(Learn more about Poetry Friday here.) 



Friday, January 10, 2020

Poetry Friday: New Year's Morning


I'm a little late with this reflection on New Year's morning, but as Helen Hunt Jackson concludes,
"The new is but the old come true/Each sunrise sees a new year born."

Happy New Year, and Happy Every New Day.


New Year's Morning
by Helen Hunt Jackson

Only a night from old to new!
Only a night, and so much wrought!
The Old Year's heart all weary grew,
But said: "The New Year rest has brought."
The Old Year's hopes its heart laid down,
As in a grave; but, trusting, said:
"The blossoms of the New Year's crown
Bloom from the ashes of the dead."
The Old Year's heart was full of greed;
With selfishness it longed and ached,
And cried: "I have not half I need.
My thirst is bitter and unslaked.
But to the New Year's generous hand
All gifts in plenty shall return;
True love it shall understand;
By all my failures it shall learn.
I have been reckless; it shall be
Quiet and calm and pure of life.
I was a slave; it shall go free,
And find sweet peace where I leave strife."
Only a night from old to new!
Never a night such changes brought.
The Old Year had its work to do;
No New Year miracles are wrought.

Always a night from old to new!
Night and the healing balm of sleep!
Each morn is New Year's morn come true,
Morn of a festival to keep.
All nights are sacred nights to make
Confession and resolve and prayer;
All days are sacred days to wake
New gladness in the sunny air.
Only a night from old to new;
Only a sleep from night to morn.
The new is but the old come true;
Each sunrise sees a new year born.

(This poem is in the public domain.)

~~~~~


P.S. Have you done a round-up of your favorite books of 2019? I shared mine here.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

The Year in Reading


About this time last year, I said I wanted to up my Goodreads game. I joined Goodreads eons ago, then never used it. I'm still not using it a lot. I rarely interact with other people there, and I keep forgetting about the social media aspect of it. I do log most of my books there now, partly because I'm a visual person and I love seeing this little grid at the end of the year. :) 

Some of my favorites from 2019: 

Favorite Fiction: 
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger 
The River by Peter Heller 
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig 
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee 

Compelling stories told in gorgeous prose. Whenever I read Leif Enger, I repeatedly bother people around me with, "Hey! Stop what you're doing! Listen to this sentence." 


Favorite Non-Fiction: 
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb 
Inheritance by Dani Shapiro 
Why We Dream by Alice Robb
Becoming by Michelle Obama 
In Memory of Bread by Paul Graham 

Insightful, intriguing, and interesting. (And we found a new way to make gluten-free birthday cake, so huzzah.) 

Favorite Spiritual Writing: 
The Thorny Grace of It by Brian Doyle 
Stumble by Heather King 

No one could write like Brian Doyle did. His prose and his insights bowled me over every time. And then there's Heather King — Doyle wrote the foreword for her Stumble; he clearly knew a kindred spirit when he read one. ) I'm so sad that he's gone. I pray that Heather King will be around for a long time to come. 

Favorite Re-reads: 
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury 
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead 
I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron 

Dandelion Wine touches something in me; it's that nudge to remember that we're really alive, and to ask ourselves what we're doing with that knowledge. When You Reach Me is a little bit of brilliance that I appreciate more every time I read it. I miss Nora Ephron, so I just have to reread her and laugh out loud every now and then. 

Favorite Books Middle Grade or YA: 
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser 
Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass 
Daddy Longlegs by Jean Webster 
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk 

I love that my daughters (adult and almost-adult) still recommend these books to me. 

Favorite Book About Education 
The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart

And not just because I work for her these days as a writing coach. It's a terrific book full of the kind of stuff that our homeschool has been full-to-brimming with for almost twenty years. I've always smiled and nodded at Julie's philosophies: "Yes, us, too, Julie, us too!" 

Least Favorite Book: 
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides 

Oh. Dear. This kind of thing just isn't my genre, I guess. 

~~~~~

What did you read in 2019? 

Friday, January 03, 2020

Poetry Friday: Journey of the Magi

What else could I post on this Friday before the feast of the Epiphany? It's my annual trek with Eliot.

Journey of the Magi
by T.S. Eliot 

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,

....

It's an astounding poem. If you've never read it you must go read the whole thing, then listen to Eliot read it, too. (The link is here.)

If you're you're not an Eliot fan, give a read-through anyway. (Remember, he's not responsible for that current cinematic caper about cats. Shudder. I like to think he'd be duly horrified.) Then try to answer these questions with me:

How does he do it?
How did he haul around the reputation of being too scholarly and too philosophical to write poetry, and then do what he does in this poem? 

This poem is such a perfect melding of earthly earthiness and supernatural doings. Eliot captures that down-to-your-bones discomfort, a life-shattering event, the squirming, the revelation, the discovery that this isn't really my home -- that knowledge which at first is both comforting and terrifying.

~~~~~

The round-up today is at Carol's Corner. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

Poetry Friday: Reader, She Finished It


Sharing a rough draft this week. (Pardon us while we're under construction.) :) 

The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted this week by the ever-wonderful Elizabeth Steinglass



Reader, She Finished It 
by Karen Edmisten

Reader,
she finished it.

Seventeen years old,
Ramona
read Jane Eyre.
And, oh,
the talk, the
talk,
the talk.
Bookish talk
that began
before they could talk.
My daughters
and I whispering
goodnight to the moon,
giggling over Clifford,
silly Amelia. Demanding
justice with Fern,
weeping with Wilbur.
Wandering
into wardrobes,
in search of kindred spirits.
The talk, the
talk. Little
women, a little prince.
Little talks, looming talks.
Atticus, Scout, back again?
Come in, please,
come in.
Who is proud, who
is prejudiced?
Let's talk of what
has passed
and what's to come.

Reader, she finished it.
But, oh, reader,
we are never done.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Poetry Friday: Wild Gratitude, by Edward Hirsch



I am wildly grateful for Poetry Friday and for the marvelous people it has brought and continues to bring into my life.

Our fearless hostess, Tanita Davis (along with the Poetry Sisters), is focusing on gratitude. Tanita says:

Gratitude is the theme the Poetry Sisters chose this month for our original poems. It’s kind of a low-key challenge for those of us who are in the teeth of exams and end-of-year work emergencies, or who, like me, are preparing for the slog of holiday concerts and staying upright and healthy until the final notes are sung. At this point, we’re grateful for small things, like a full night’s sleep, an unexpected packet of tissues in a cardigan pocket, or the umbrella behind the driver’s seat, and not in the trunk.

One of my dearest friends is a singer, too (can't wait for her concert next week) so the "just staying upright and healthy" bit struck a chord, making me think of her. Then I thought of how grateful I am for her friendship. How grateful I am for so many people who keep me upright and sane.

Tanita's post, her original poem this week, and the Carl Denis poem she shared all fueled my own December gratitude, which I'm trying to focus on more deliberately this year. It can be a beautiful, hard time of year for me. (Every year is different. Why must every year be different? Because change is the only constant.) I love Advent, adore all the preparations for Christmas, but things are never quite as quiet and peaceful as I dream they will be. Just as I always have a skewed vision of summer and its feel but eventually realize that "our days unfold with a lovely balance of planning and coasting," I am open to the unexpectedness of Advent this year, to the deeper ponderings that accompany the whimsy of chocolate coins on St. Nicholas morn. As the short, dark days can fuel the anxiety I battle off and on (hello, light therapy lamps!), I am also grateful for the reminder that darkness will always be swept away by light with every new day.

Last summer, after reading my post about my off-kilter expectations for a perfect summer, my friend the singer said, "Do you think we're just longing for Heaven?"

Yes. And one of the best ways to ponder the thing we long for is to say, over and over again, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."



Wild Gratitude
by Edward Hirsch

Tonight when I knelt down next to our cat, Zooey,
And put my fingers into her clean cat’s mouth,
And rubbed her swollen belly that will never know kittens,
And watched her wriggle onto her side, pawing the air,
And listened to her solemn little squeals of delight,
I was thinking about the poet, Christopher Smart,
Who wanted to kneel down and pray without ceasing
In every one of the splintered London streets,

(Read the poem in its gorgeous entirety here, at Edward Hirsch's website.)

~~~~~~~~~~