Torn

I can’t decide whether to keep reading or start writing some stuff. This post doesn’t count.

It feels like I’ve read a lot over the break. More than I read this last semester, but I know that’s not true. I hope that’s not true.

Interesting how I’m an English major and my only solid A was in French. I recently asked my professor if I could use him as a reference for something, and he replied he couldn’t think of anyone he could more highly recommend. Very nice of him.

Yes, I complained a lot about French class, but don’t the French gripe about their passions? Couldn’t you tell through my spitfire how much I love the language? I felt a little cheated with the A I received, only because the 100-level classes seemed so much harder. I thought this class was going to really whip me. And coming from a 7-week 102 course during the summer, 201 felt like a breeze. Plus, the 100-level classes prepared me pretty well for 201; perhaps they made me smarter, after all.

Brit Lit History was odd. I don’t know how else to describe it. We read a lot, we discussed stuff and wrote papers. I got to translate 15 lines of Old English Beowulf. The exams should have done me in, but somehow I squeaked by with a very merciful non-B. What I loved most about the class were the personal critiquing sessions for papers. We signed up for 15-20 minute appointments, we handed our papers to the professor, and she read them while we looked up information in the MLA Handbook. Then we talked about the strengths and weaknesses of the papers with the professor. Admittedly, at times it felt like a big thrashing – hung, drawn, and quartered – and I wondered during these sessions what the hell I was doing and why I couldn’t write anymore. But the professor provided some really constructive and encouraging ideas, and each time I left her office a little dejected but with more resolve to write better. She gave us a holistic grade at the end of the semester, so she didn’t give us number grades during our appointments. That was helpful for me, only because I correlate such numbers with my worth as a person.

Kidding. Mostly.

Then I took this Brit Lit class, which covered authors from 1603-1660. I commented on this class before. Just the other day I sent an email to my professor:

Professor [Super Cool]:

I just want to thank you for a truly delightful semester in English 385. While familiar with many of the names we studied, much of the literature was new to me.

The material and your presentation of such invited the Spirit, which I haven’t felt so abundantly in a classroom, even compared to the religion classes I took hundreds of years ago.

Instances:
-Jonson and his deliberate (non)usage of names in his poetry
-Milton and Areopagitica – thoughts on censorship and agency
-Milton and Paradise Lost – enhancement of my temple experience
-Herbert’s “Love (3)” in conjunction with Thanksgiving – eating of the meat means I’m no longer at the kiddie table
-Traherne – my newest big favorite

Even though I didn’t test incredibly well in that class either, that class left quite an impression on me.

Finally, I took a short story class, which, if you know my love for short stories, was better than cookies for fourteen weeks. We read dozens of amazing stories. We talked about them. We wrote about them. The professor was pretty rad and quite funny. My quizzes in that class weren’t the best, and neither were my papers, and yet I managed another squeaker. Maybe I cemented it with the final. Who knows.

This semester I’m taking French 202, which is a literature class.

Then I’m taking French 321, which is a grammar class, and the thought of it seriously freaks me out.

The second half of Brit Lit History should be interesting. I mean, fun.

Then I’m taking a Myth, Legends, and Folklore class. I love that this stuff counts toward an actual degree.

This semester is going to be great.

Oh, yeah. I have real entries to write. Two prompts, one personal essay and the other, fiction. But I guess I’ll work on those later.

I do think I’ll read a little more. It’s been nice to relax and escape these past few days.

Oh, but wait. I have to post this photo. Basically the only photo I took with my camera during the Christmas break. (Our waitress attempted this photo three times, and this was the best of those.) I’ve known these girls for 20 years now. I don’t know what I’d do without them. Biscotti’s (is not a girl, but a restaurant in the Riverside section of Jacksonville. It’s our “place.”). Sarah, May, and Jenny. Lots of memories and laughs, long passed and more recent.

Two Links and a Little Rant

I’m going to try making this pizza. It’s cheeseless and tomato-less, but looking at it made me really hungry. Too bad for you who don’t like mushrooms or fruit. Sarah also shouts-out to New York City, which: awesome. Miss you, girl.

Speaking of tomatoes, I read advice columns. Yes kids, it’s true. This is one of my regulars – I look forward to it every Wednesday. Sometimes the situations are extremely drama-laden, but Sars has no trouble calling anybody out and offering pretty great advice. I’m including today’s questions, only because I see friends around who might have similar experiences.

***

I will briefly interrupt my current mirth to say just this once how much it hurts when people lie to me. People I’m close to; people I’m supposed to trust. You’re not protecting me, and in the end, you’re not protecting yourself. I get tired of gritting my teeth and trying not to swear. I’m not perfect; I do stupid things all the time. But come on. Please, please, just tell the truth.

Back to current mirth: I received a 98% on the midterm I mentioned yesterday. Then I talked with my literary criticism professor about a paper I turned in a few weeks ago, and she said it was one of the best ones, then we talked about an upcoming project, and then she offered me some advice on my current academic track: classes to take, minors to declare and pursue (I should hurry up and declare microbiology as one of them), contests to enter, internships to apply for. She had no qualms telling me how cutthroat the creative writing business is. She was incredibly helpful.

Dangit, people. I really like school.

Oh, Writing …

Sarah’s blog really needs no introduction. You’ve seen her guest blog entry.

Our junior year of high school, I didn’t pass the AP Language and Composition exam. Sarah did.

We also had a huge assignment that year, our “Meaning of Life” papers. While I only received an A+, Sarah got an A++, it might have even been triple-plus. While I had to work for years to get within a reasonable range of where I want to be with my writing, this girl has always had it.

Always.

Go ahead, read. Put her on your reader. Writing, photos. Amazingness. You’ll never be more delighted. Or hungrier.

Windows

by Sarah G., Guest Blogger

Sarah's Window 06.30.09

Light streams through the trees and throws dappled shadows over the ground. The shadows morph and shift with the light as limbs and leaves respond to the breeze. Light has a way of looking and feeling different throughout its daily life cycle, and morning light is my favorite.

The shadows and light, just two dancing partners on Nature’s vast stage, begin to creep through the window and climb up the wall. The effect is that of a thousand butterflies alighting momentarily and then taking flight, over and over again. I stare up at the wall, admiring this performance, and begin to feel warmth on my face as the sun sends itself through the window panes. I close my eyes and I can still see the massive swarm of butterflies through what seem like semi-transparent lids.

I open my eyes and fill my lungs with air. I breathe out and extend my right arm, my hand slipping into a patch of sun on the floor. Most of my arm is still cloaked in shadow, but my upturned palm is awash in pinkish gold, catching the hundreds of tiny particles that sun rays reveal. This is why they’re all here this morning; they are all reaching for the light. Emerging from the darkness, longing for the luminous, they’re embarking on an epic journey out of night.
 
At least for a little while.

In my three years teaching yoga I’ve worked with cancer patients, cancer survivors, a blind woman, an Iraq War amputee, a school shooting survivor, and someone who barely escaped the collapse of the first tower on 9/11. Sufferers of multiple sclerosis, peripheral neuropathy, degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis, scoliosis, rheumatoid arthritis, trigeminal neuralgia, epilepsy, bulimia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Parents mourning the loss of their children to tragic accidents, children mourning the loss of their parents to age and disease. I’ve seen people in unspeakable amounts of physical and emotional pain, tears slipping silently down their cheeks in class. I’ve taught doctors, lawyers, soldiers, community leaders, teachers, musicians, farmers, artists, children, athletes, a professional skydiver and a NATO pilot.

I get to hug these people, offer them my tissues and my ears, and remind them to breathe. They start out seeming like “everyday” folks, but sometimes after class they feel compelled to share their stories and I realize they’re quite remarkable folks. The class is a safe haven for them, a neutral space. I’m not offering medications or judgments or specific advice, but rather an opportunity for them to just feel what they feel and know that it’s okay. Despite what some of them have been through, despite all the darkness and palpable pain in their eyes and their movements, they are so full of light and hope. Their thanks are always so sincere and unaffected and they tell me I teach them so much, but I feel I’m the one who’s always learning.  In a gracious symbiosis, I help them see their worlds with a new awareness and they help me see new worlds through their eyes. A job of service is one of constant re-orientation and perspective, and that’s worth so much more than any monetary gain that comes from it.  Each time I go to work I am humbled, inspired, and reminded of something greater than myself.

The shadow butterflies grow larger as the morning grows older, and the frenetic dance begins to slow. The room has been given new life with the warmth of bodies and soft whispers of breath. They’ve opened some windows of their own, and they rest in the comfort of knowing that they don’t know.  They are reassured, even if only just for now, that the journey isn’t about the origin or the destination; that these shadows and light…they need each other.  They’re able to lie back and watch the play, the morph and shift of their lives, and appreciate the beauty of the dance.

At least for a little while.

[Updated with photo 7/6/09]

Connecting Introductions

The nostalgia level in me right now has gone way beyond obnoxious. Maybe that’s why I keep asking people to guest blog for me: It strengthens and deepens connections. So when I think of you, the bursting of my heart will be that much more powerful. Also, I respect your writing, and your appearing on my blog is a great honor. Please stay tuned: I might ask you next.

I thought I’d give a little background on tomorrow’s guest blogger, Sarah.

Instructions:

Click on this link
Read it
Minimize the window
Come back to finish reading this post

So, that’s what I think of her, at least on her birthday in 2007. And maybe now. 😉  Below are some of her words from 1994. I don’t have any current samples, and she doesn’t have a public blog, but once I broke out the old notebook from our senior year, and once I reread what Sarah wrote, I knew her thoughts would more than suffice. It’s kind of a personal letter to me, but this really showcases her thought process. Fine, she was 18 years old, but she still maintains tightness and integrity in her writing. She’s thoughtful and poised and sensitive. And honest. Today, she’s a wife and a mom and a yoga instructor and a cake decorator, so her post tomorrow might pertain to her current life, but she’ll still be Sarah. The following is only an excerpt – the beginning of the letter, because it’s A Very Long Letter and she might be ticked that I’m even using even a snippet – but it’s enough to form a pretty dang great impression of her. (You might also get a sense of some of the vocabulary words we learned back then.) This letter speaks to Adolescence and Transitions and especially Friendship. Something she wrote 15 years ago, not long after we introduced ourselves to each other, is an apt introduction of her to you, here, now, when it still could apply. It still does. Used without permission, of course. 😉

***

May – Where can I possibly begin? Although it’s only been a little over a year that we’ve been close friends, it seems like a lifetime, yet at the same time a lifetime does in no way seem long enough. I can’t remember exactly when we started to form the bond that has developed into such a strong relationship – I just know that somewhere along the line, because of the crazy AP English class with Mrs. Faircloth (and of course Study Hall), we really connected. I remember you in tenth grade, when you sat all the way across the room (alphabetical order) and I thought you were so incredbily quiet. We were these naive, timid sophomores in a class dominated by Juniors and Seniors. I don’t think I said more than two words to you that year, and I regret it.

But then we went on to eleventh grade and our lives were changed forever. Little did I know what a difference you would come to make in my life. I began the year with a lot of misconceptions and I was extremely judgmental. I began sitting with you, Jenny, and Becky in lunch, and then we began having those long talks in Study Hall, and I started changing. It’s funny, those times in Study Hall when we talked about stupid things our brothers and sisters do, about our most embarrassing moments, about the toys we played with when we were little – they seem inane on the surface, but they were the foundation of a really strong system of communication between us. We felt comfortable, the six of us, sitting in that blue room and simply being open; being honest. I realized that you are incredibly compassionate, patient, dedicated, honest, and loving somewhere along the line, and despite the short time I’d known you I felt I could trust you. I respected your intelligence and admired your entire person – time was no factor in my decision to allow you to see me. But I didn’t just let you see me, I let you help make me – I chose to make you a part of my self and some of those qualities I so loved in you started to become my own. You taught me infinite things – patience and a true desire to listen [are] just two of them. I noticed how you benefitted from stepping back and taking in life instead of always having to be at the forefront. You are so observant. You had an instinctive understanding of me and the way my mind operated. At the end of last year, we got so close because we realized what a strong connection we did have and we didn’t want to spend a whole summer apart. We didn’t want to become estranged, but we should have known that with a connection like ours, that was not possible. No lapse of time or distance could deny the structure we had already built.

I Know I’ve Written About This Before, But

A few of my students have found me on facebook, and I’ve accepted their friend requests. This allows me to follow them when they write on each other’s walls. What do they write on each other’s walls, you ask? They write quotes. The deep stuff from literature class. They quote  movies; song lyrics, emotive, but not overly. Angsty? Sometimes. Depends on the artist.

They have facebook. My friends and I in high school? We had old-fashioned pen and paper. I’m not sure when it started specifically, I’m not sure who passed the first note to whom. Yeah, we had a few of the same classes and we even had lunch together, but something special, almost sacred was a part of reading a friend’s handwriting, either in perfectperfect cursive, or slightly erratic. Just slightly.

I had to make sure I finished my homework first. Reading my friends’ notes – letters, actually – and responding to them were my treat for after my homework. I was so much more disciplined back then.

It was typical to pull multiple pages from my backpack and unfold them carefully but quickly. To pore over the condensed writing on the college-ruled lines. Front and back. To start a response. To pause and reread the letter, inspiring as much as possible. The breathing and idea aspects of the word. To write late into the night.

Sometimes we also wrote on actual stationery. I’m still a big fan of nice writing paper. We turned note-writing-and-passing into a craft, an art.

What did we write to each other? Everything. Quotes and song lyrics and how angry we were at our parents or other friends and stories and musings and how scared we were of graduating and it was all brilliant. I don’t mean to boast, but that was our lives, what our pens could produce. It was pithy and imaginative and stimulating and self-indulgent. Above all, it was honest.

We sometimes ended our letters with drawings. About some inside joke or something hilarious that happened in one of our classes. I can see some of those funnies in my mind’s eye right now.

We exchanged letters a few times each week. The frequency varied, though, depending on what was happening. We must have started writing each other sometime junior year. We wrote over the summer and into our senior year. Then something odd happened and we had to take a break from each other for a while.

For the life of me I can’t remember what the hell happened. That’s probably for the best.

The writing continued into college. I even received a couple of mix tapes. As our lives started to take hold onto individual paths, as we fleshed out our identities, the letters tapered, faded.

The friendships, unsurprisingly, did not.

Right now as my facebook status I have some lyrics by Tori Amos. My old high school friends and I sometimes dive into deep, nostalgic dialogue.  It’s fun. We occasionally write on each other’s walls. Nothing too profound, but on each other’s walls? It doesn’t have to be.

I hope my students find their pens and paper and let the ink flow. Maybe they already have. There’s nothing like it. Nothing so vulnerable or exploratory or exciting or self-realizing, especially when you’re writing to discover and grow and strengthen friends and loved ones. Nothing will take its place.

Blogging comes close, though.