The branches of the learning tree …

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week, friends and neighbors!

Today’s Google Doodle was lovely: https://g.co/doodle/hjchhys. Fingers crossed they have one of these every day this week!

My Teacher Appreciation tonight goes out to Michael, an extraordinary adult education teacher. I met him at one of my first adult ed jobs. We didn’t work together then, but I had the chance to observe his class once and had several opportunities to get some impromptu professional development training when I found myself lucky enough to be in the teachers’ office doing prep at the some time he was there.

Years later, we ran into each other in the hallway at grad school, and he mentioned that the program where he was currently working was looking for a new instructor. I got the job and then began seven excellent years of teaching with and learning from Michael.

I arrived at that job with some teaching experience, but a lot of that had been teaching high school students, and adult education — especially adult literacy — is entirely different from teaching high school English. I had taught both literacy classes and high school equivalency classes before I started working with Michael, and I’d learned a lot in those jobs, but I wouldn’t say I was a good teacher then. I was good-hearted, and that maybe counted for something. I wanted to be a good teacher for my students, and that surely counted for something, too. But I really needed to just simply be a good adult ed teacher, not just dream about being one.

Working with Michael was the bright, dividing line for me. Before that job I was well-meaning and okay. That job helped me become well-meaning and good. I learned to calm down and trust myself more. I learned new ways to imagine what a classroom could be. I learned that I could fully lean into my creativity and bring my whole self to the classroom. I learned to create different environments and experiences for the students to offer opportunities for them to experience and exhibit mastery even while reading and writing remained steep hills to climb. I learned to ask questions and more questions. I learned how to study my own learning. I learned how to be wrong without shame, drama, planetary implosion or other catastrophes.

I was learning pretty much all the time. For all of those years. The entire team of our program were pivotal in my teaching and development. I wasn’t only working with Michael, after all, but my significant collaboration was with Michael. In our last year of teaching together, he and I received the New York City Literacy Recognition Award, the first (and I think still the only) teacher team to receive the award. Working with Michael was one of the best gifts of my career.

And one of the hidden gifts of that experience? Teaching with Michael brought me back to writing poetry. I had stopped writing poems after a horrible experience in a poetry workshop my freshman year in college. The wall between me and poetry was erected then, my firm belief not only that I couldn’t write poetry but that I absolutely shouldn’t. Poetry was for other people, for talented people, for POETS. And I was most definitely not one of those.

Michael is a poet. And we brought a lot of poetry into our adult ed program. And we encouraged learners to write poetry. And Michael pushed me to not be afraid to write poetry, too. That was when I saw that I couldn’t very well push my students to try things that were challenging and daunting for them if I wasn’t brave enough to try them myself. After 12 years of not writing a single poem, I wrote my first poems in that program, in class with my students. They weren’t spectacular, but they were poems and I had written them.

The wall between me an poetry is still high in places, but it’s also cracked and crumbled in many other places. I mean, I write at least 30 poems a year these days because of National Poetry Month, so I can’t pretend that I don’t write poetry. I still feel some of the damage from that ugly workshop so many years ago, but I also remember the fun I had in class with Michael and our fabulous students, playing games and finding rhythms and getting words on the page.

Michael. Thank you for everything you taught me in all the ways you taught me. I cannot imagine what I’d be doing with my life if I hadn’t worked with you at SINC. Those years are the foundation that has made the rest of my career in adult ed possible. Thank you, thank you, thank you. ❤

Shimmy Like Your Sister Kate

I will probably go ahead and post the poems I wrote over the last few days. I’m annoyed to have let myself be sufficiently bothered by nonsense to stop me from keeping up with something I want to be doing. Alas, despite all the rumors, I’m actually human.

I was thinking about times when I’ve been able to shoot down La Impostora, times when I’ve gotten past her and just gotten on with the business at hand. And all of that led me to tonight’s poem. This form is still irking the mess out of me. It is what it is. I continue.


Body Roll
Thirty-seven years old, Bellydance classes

The surprise,
accepting visible vulnerability,
facing down a familiar fear.
You, God’s own rhythm-less girl,
enrolling in dance class?
You’ve always known you couldn’t move fluidly,
with grace.
You’d long since stopped dancing in public —
shame is so cruel,
closing you off from our loves, from yourself.
But you pushed past, through.
Gave yourself that freedom, that gift.

The discovery —
every movement made for you,
every movement full, round, voluptuous.
Revelation,
reintroduction to your physical self.

I stay grateful for your refusal,
rejection of doubt.
The line from that first hip circle,
that first undulation
traces through to the jigida I wear today.
That embrace of body,
embrace of self.
Finding the way home with no turning back.
You brought me here
with grace.


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

National-Poetry-Month-2020

The Lady and the Tiger

March is almost over. Another Slice of Life Story Challenge about to go into the history books. Today is also the birthday of my friend Heidi. And April starts National Poetry Month.  I thought of all that, and suddenly I knew I needed to repost a couple of very old posts.

Heidi is a musician. Her professional name is Heidi Sabertooth (hence the title of this post). Back in 2012, she embarked on a writing challenge just as I started the SOLS challenge for that year. Her challenge? Write, record, and post a song a day for 100 days. Seriously. And then she upped the ante on the challenge by undertaking to create a video for each song. Because she is clearly so very much more ambitious than I can ever pretend to be!

I interviewed her when she was almost halfway through her challenge. And she had chosen one of my poems to set to music, so the interview and the song were posted on the same day.

Beans and Rice: Power and Control is the 8-year-old post that led to the poem Heidi set to music. Catching a Tiger by the Tail is the interview with Heidi that includes the video of the song. And I’m still trying to do that, still trying to catch that tiger, still taking on the SOLS challenge every March, still pushing myself to write a month of poetry every April, still striving.

It’s been a good month of writing. A good month of priming the pump to get ready for the grueling challenge of April. I am, as I am every year, grateful to everyone who reads here, grateful to the wonderful team at Two Writing Teachers who keep this challenge going and hold this space year after year.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

The Wild Unknown

Since August of last year, I’ve had the pleasure of co-hosting a monthly storytelling event at an art gallery in Brooklyn. This is the show’s sixth season. It was started by a poet who has a love of the oral tradition, of the magic of stories around the campfire. Every year, he selects a pair of hosts, and every month the hosts bring two storytellers in to share 15-minute tales with the always-appreciative audience.

Three years ago, a friend of mine was hosting and he invited me to come tell a story. OMG, but that was fun! I was crazy-nervous, but it was also great to get to share some of myself in that way.

When I was asked to host, I was excited to give it a try. I had, however, no idea what I was getting myself into. Finding storytellers is hard. But really hard. Sometimes people say “Yes!” right away, but sometimes I ask one person after another and come up empty again and again. And even once I have people, I have no idea what to expect. I haven’t asked people who are storytellers, and everyone is super nervous about having to tell a story — not read something they’ve written, but stand in front of people and tell. I’ve asked people who are interesting to me, people who I know have a lot of interesting things about them. These things don’t mean they’ll tell a good story, but I am lucky: they always do tell good stories! The challenge of coming to be a storyteller unlocks a new door for them, I think. I mean, many of the people I’ve invited are writers, so they definitely understand a lot about how stories work. But writing a story isn’t really as much like telling one as you might think.

One pure joy of this hosting journey has been my completely delightful co-host, a young woman who is an artist and an actor and who creates in so many amazing ways, and who is full of energy and light. We connected as soon as we were introduced, and are already planning future projects to work on after our hosting year has ended. I can’t wait to see what our next adventure will be!

We’ve been having a lot of fun on this ride … and then COVID-19 hit. Our little Park Slope gallery with barely enough space for five people to distance themselves socially wasn’t going to be open for this month’s event. So … we did what half the world has done lately: we went on Zoom!

I was nervous: what if no one showed up, what if my computer froze (it’s done that in a few of my meetings this week), what if someone noticed that my house is a mess?! You know, all the worries.

But … all the worries were over nothing. Tonight was so much fun!

A — People came. As we approached start time, my computer screen started to do that intro-to-the-Brady-Bunch thing with all the squares popping up to show who’s joining the meeting. Not only did people come, but they came from places they wouldn’t normally be able to join from! We had folks joining from Long Island and Colorado. My cohost is Australian, and her mom zoomed in from outside Melbourne! So tonight was our first international showcase!*

B — People were so nice. This is one of the things I love about our in-person event, the way the audience is always ready to embrace the storytellers. And that was definitely true tonight.

C — The storytellers were sweet and open and wonderful. It’s such a gift to have people give you their stories, to trust you to hear them. I feel so lucky every time.

Every month, we have a theme for the evening. We’ve tried to have our themes connect to whatever show is up in the gallery. And we pick them well in advance. This month’s theme was “The Wild Unknown,” picked when we had no idea we were about to be plunged into the wildest of unknowns. Couldn’t have had a better theme for tonight.

COVID-19 didn’t beat us, couldn’t keep us down! We laughed and cried and laughed together. Which is maybe a good thing to remember as we shelter in place and pray for safe passage through this unsettling and straight-up terrifying time.

Storytelling can move us. Storytelling can connect us. Storytelling can make magic even when we’re not in the same physical space together. Storytelling is how we weave ourselves and our worlds together. I am so lucky to be a part of this. And I can’t wait to do it again in April!

__________
* I really just want to say, “Wicked cool!” when I’m this happy and excited. I’m trying to rein it in …


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

The Cure for Cabin Fever

(I just keep hearing the Styx song, “Too Much Time on My Hands” …)

The folks who work at the management company for my apartment building may have watched or read The Shining recently. They’re worried about all of us cooped up in our apartments day after day, slowly losing our minds.

How do I know? They sent out an email yesterday: “At Home Activities List for Residents.” This email is HUGE, full to bursting with ways to use your “corona-cation.” So many kinds of time-drainers, organized into categories like cooking, reading, games cleaning, crafting, creating … and on and on and on. There are activities for kids, ideas of things to do with your pets, online fitness classes, series to stream …

They are worried! They want to keep us focused and sane. No “Here’s Johnny!” meltdowns for us!

I can’t be mad at that. But I’m amused.

__________

Meanwhile, we seem to be pretty okay so far. Thank goodness, since these few days are just the opening beats of a long, complicated symphony. We’ve got several intricate movements to get through.

Today I went for a walk. A zoom meeting I had at lunchtime was canceled, so I took advantage of my surprise freedom and got out into the sunshine. It was lovely.

I walked up the hill to the park, then down the much steeper side of the hill to the grocery store (this is the second of my two grocery stores, not the store I visited last week, the one that was in apocalypse mode). And the store pleased me by having most of what I looked for, particularly toilet paper … not a lot of it, but some, and no one was fighting anyone else to get at it. None of my yogurts of choice, however. Sad times.

After the groceries, I walked a few blocks down … to. the. liquor. store … and picked up a couple of bottles of wine. Finally, my house is fully prepared for lockdown.

I’m glad I went out. it was only an hour out of the house, but it was welcome. It was great to feel the sun on my face, great to see just how carefully so many of my neighbors are observing the PAUSE. Good on them. Good on all of them. Grammarly says my writing in this post is mostly sad and gloomy. I don’t see that. I see caring in that comical email from the management company. I see pleasure in my walk in the sun. I see appreciation in my gratitude for my neighbors not being out on the street. Yes, all of that. Something else for me to remember: get out of the house! Go be in the sun for a few minutes. Be socially-distant but also breath fresh air.

Yes,


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot