Essay Fragments

Essay Fragments

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Does your writing sometimes exist in fragments for months at a time?

I have so many ideas for essays, titles, little pieces I’ve written here and there, observations, journal and free-write entries that might eventually become something. Many of my essays come into being sprawled across multiple notebooks and on pages stuck into my folders at school. Once I have an idea, I muse on it for quite a while, and it comes to me in flashes, which I write down fast, pen flying, and then I take a long break, knowing that I’ll eventually . This makes sense, and I think it even makes my writing better, because I’m often dealing with multiple ideas that get twisted up into what I hope becomes an interesting yarn.

I’ll share a couple of my fragments with you:

i.

The probable site of my future wedding is Providence City Hall. 

I feel not tied down to this idea, but excited. Rhode Island has welcomed me and I’ve made it home, so much so that I feel like putting down money for a house; so much so that I want strings of lights in the basement for the many Christmases I’ll spend here. I can imagine walking hand in hand with my little ones down these streets, and meeting them at the library when they’re old enough to go on their own. 

I like that I can smell salt water and drive to the ocean. I like the way people know and honor each other. I like that this place welcomes and values me; that I am not a stray but a refugee seeking haven, that I have found a way to envision futures away from where I came from. 

ii.

At times it seems inevitable. When I tell people I’m a high school English teacher (even in bars; especially in bars), they will look a little sheepish. “I wasn’t very good at English in school,” they will say. And they will follow this with a confession that they either hated reading or writing, or both.

I’ve grown interested in the catalogue of reasons to not read: books never captured their interest, they found all the class books boring, they liked reading as kids but somehow school took the joy out of it, they had learning issues, a disability, ADHD, or were just slow at reading, and they couldn’t keep up. Or they just had better things to do.

My students often hate reading too, and they tell me. Some seem adamant that I will NOT like them, because they DON’T like reading. They’re defiant at the start of the year, and though I wish I could say that every kid in my class learns to love reading by the end of the year, I know that many of them leave for summer and won’t crack a book’s spine for months. As an educator, it’s my responsibility to care about the reasons kids aren’t reading, and to intervene when I can. But as I explain to my classes, I am not personally offended. I intend to make the argument to every teenager I meet that reading is awesome, but if they resist, I do not wither and die. I do have a life outside school, and enough of a solidity in my love for reading that it can resist a little shoving around. I know what books mean to me.

 

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See, I have to have hope that someday (maybe someday soon, as I’ve been paying a little more attention to prose this week), I will take up these fragments in my hands and lovingly fit them together into something that makes sense. And then, once I have a whole picture to look at, I’ll probably add a frame to my mosaic, then a title, and then smooth out the surface into something beautiful and telling.

 

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Friday Reading Rainbow

Friday Reading Rainbow

With an early dismissal snow day this week and then the onset of an icky cold, it was a good week for reading by windows and watching the sky and the snow. I still feel just a little pull over losing my long-ago ability to read for hours and get lost in a book, but I treasure the moments when that feeling comes back, even if for a little bit. I find that if I can zone in on reading (especially fiction), it’s like a massage for my brain. After I read for a while, I find I’m more able to do other things that require my thoughts: creative work, planning, teaching tasks. It also curbs my anxiety and keeps me from being irritable. I know if I don’t read for a couple days, my mental health deteriorates and I’m not on my game. Reading is essential to my life.

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Here’s what I’m reading this week:

Poetry

Honey & Lime Lit Mag just put out their first issue, and the layout online is oh-so-lovely. I’m enjoying dipping into the poems one at a time. Read the issue here: Into the Haunting

In honor of Valentine’s Day: three great love poems:

i carry your heart with me (I carry it in – e. e. cummings

Love Is Not All – Edna St. Vincent Millay

I Am Not Yours  – Sara Teasdale

Fiction

A River of Stars

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What an incredible rush of storytelling this book throws from the very first page. Scarlett is pregnant and alone and in America, financed by the rich father of her baby boy, who wants her to bring the baby home to him after having achieved the prize of American citizenship. But Scarlett is feisty and just as likely to punch you in the face as talk sweetly to you, and when she finds out the truth of her pregnancy, she does not stick to the plan. I am excited to follow the rest of this story and watch Scarlett fight for her independence and her life.    Shop your local indie bookstore

 

And I’d like to add a note here in defense of longer, slower reads. It seems that all the book blogs I check out have people reading four and five books a week; my reading friends (especially those who read YA) tell me that if a book is really good, they almost always finish it in one sitting. As reading is my sport, I sometimes feel pressured by this, as if I’m not reading enough, or maybe I’m just reading too slow. But I am a proponent of the long, slow read. I love living with a book for weeks or even months (like the 9 weeks I took to read Anna Karenina), coming back to it for a few pages at a time, digesting the richness or its language and savoring the story. I find long books, especially historical fiction, provide me with a deeper connection with their setting- I feel like I am living there for a while, getting to know the blueprints of the hallways. This describes my relationship with Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell books. I read the first one, Wolf Hall, from November 20th to January 15th (thanks, goodreads, for helping me keep track), and I interspersed it with other, shorter reads. But I got to experience the slow, careful burn that Thomas Cromwell the character creates as he winds his way through Tudor court intrigue. Now as I step through the hallways of Bring Up the Bodies, the second book, I find myself actually turning back 60 pages at a time to reread and catch all the nuance of dramatic Boleyns and scheming Seymours. I’ve been reading this book since January 27 and I might take till the end of the month to finish it. And that is a wonderful thing.

 

What are you reading? Tell me in the comments! 

Poetry Class

Poetry Class

Oh what joy! 🐦

My poetry class (for 11th and 12th graders at my amazing little public high school) has started for this semester, and I am loving it. I designed the course last year with a small group of incredible students who gamely jumped into writing their own poetry and followed me down the path of reading poetry. This took guts — most of them weren’t already poets, and many had those stubborn, thorny views of poetry as a whole: it’s old, boring, and hard. 

Many people think that to get high schoolers to engage with poetry is impossible, but I believe that it is just a matter of getting them to try it. Like when you’re a kid, and your Dad makes a deliciously refined dish — or broccoli– and you are required to take three bites. Three bites, and if you still don’t like it you can go make yourself a PB&J. If I can get kids in the classroom to write three poems and read three poems without realizing that they’re really doing ~POETRY~ then usually they’ll kind of keep going. I know not every kid I teach is going to wholeheartedly embrace poetry, but I think that I can at least open the door.

I said it this way to a junior student who is thinking about taking the course next year: “It is definitely a class that requires creativity and a willingness to just try stuff, even if it doesn’t work. But by the end of it, the goal is that you could read poetry on your own for enjoyment, you have a way of writing poetry that you can always return to,  and you could succeed in a poetry course in college.”

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As I’ve mentioned previously in this blog, writing beside my students has been simultaneously the best thing to spur my writing practice forward and the best thing to help my students’ writing growth. So, in concordance with this mission, I’ve started producing more poetry again.

We start with memory poems, inspired by Geraldine Connolly’s The Summer I Was Sixteen, then we move on to lists. I write what I assign the students to write, and ended up with a flawed poem about the sky that reminded me of afternoons waiting for my mom to come home from work, and a few different lists of things I see and notice.

An easy way to write a list poem is to write “I Saw” three times, creating three stanzas, and then fill in the blanks. Here’s what I wrote in class, on the whiteboard.

I saw the fog over Providence this morning on the bridge.

I saw a bird looking suspiciously down at me as I walked out my door.

I saw the steam from coffee brewing.

 

It’s simpler than what I usually write, but there are things I like about it. I like that it includes both fog and steam, which are relatively hard to see. I like the story it suggests about birds — in every house I inhabit I seem to make bird enemies, who yell at me or haunt my windows when I’m waking up, or guard their chicks from me up in the eves. I think it’s funny how birds like to yell at us, expecting us to understand what they mean.

My students are always invited to comment on these in-class rough drafts, and I often ask them to help me revise. In this case, one girl was adamant that I should switch the order. It made no sense, she insisted, that I started with driving to work and then went backwards back into my house. She’s right, in a way — it would be clearer to the reader if I swapped the first and last lines. But I like how the morning chases me back inside, into a quieter space. It’s often how I feel in the mornings, boldly venturing out in the cold to drive to a job I love, yet somewhat inclined to go back, bundle into bed once more, return to the warmth of reflective, quiet morning.

Does the poem mean that to a reader, or just to me? If I expanded it or added more entries to my list of things I saw, would it add to the sense of the poem, or just make it seem cluttered? When I write frequently and within a community, I get to have this thought process. Poetry happens spontaneously most of the time (at least in my life), but the handling of the poems once they have come into existence is where great skill is needed. I’m still learning that, and I LOVE having my students around me to help.

Stay tuned for further adventures in poetry!

Friday Reading Rainbow

A list of what I’m reading and loving this week: 

Nonfiction:

I Was Told There’d Be Cake

 Sloane Crosley

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI’m kind of getting into this thing of reading women writers of (roughly) my own generation. Sloane Crosley is absolutely delightful…. she’s like a snarky yet hapless older cousin who introduces you to weird movies and teaches you the meaning of sex terms you weren’t really sure about. Her writing is incisive and clever and modern, yet still has heart, which I appreciate in this seemingly heartless time.
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Two incredibly entertaining articles

What Is Glitter?: A Strange Journey to the Glitter Factory” by Caity Weaver

“In Praise of Fair-Weather Fandom” by Derek Thompson

Fiction:

Bring Up the Bodies 

Hilary Mantel

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Having just finished Wolf Hall, I’m delighted to find that its sequel is just as engrossing and beautiful. We continue to follow Thomas Cromwell’s career as an indispensable advisor to King Henry VIII, while the Boleyns enjoy the height of their power and Thomas watches around every corner for the future windings of intrigue. He seems always to anticipate which way the wind will blow next. I think in another book I’d be bracing myself for his inevitable fall  from the tower, but I like watching him win so much that I would be satisfied if he won the whole time.
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Poetry:

Carolyn Norr’s poems “Portrait in Deep East Oakland” and “Sinkhole.”

Jo Angela Edwins in Parentheses: “The Beauty of Stark Things,” a poem I have come back to several times this week.

What are you reading this week? Tell me in the comments!