An explication of a year

Somewhere along the way, poetry transformed from a carefully curated collection of words existing on a flat page into a lens through which I view the world. It is a metamorphosis that is tricky to explain to anyone existing outside of  my brain (which is everyone…so hang in there with me…). It goes beyond the way poetry in its vastness can challenge my perceptions and expose the bubble ensconcing my existence…beyond the exchange poetry makes–a telescope to view the far reaches replacing the finite view through the microscope of our daily lives. I suppose that all good writing offers such an opportunity, but in its compact punch, in its easily consumable size and portraiture, poetry invites us into the confrontation with truth without overwhelm or overstatement…leaving space for us, as readers, to linger beyond the reading…to meet the poem with our story and to wrestle as we begin to redefine understanding.

Yet, even beyond this, I’ve grown to see life itself as a series of stanzas, lines, poems–pieces of a collection, of an anthology, reflective of my own story and the revision of my vision, of the truths I have come to learn. Having long been a big believer in the importance and impact of “story” in our lives (both the stories we tell and perpetuate and those told to us and about us), it is no great leap to now realize that my stories are framed in verse rather than in prose.

As we ready to depart form this year of so much, there is a call to be rid of it, to move on, to not look back. Yet, in looking back, I realize there is so much that we can’t nullify or erase if we are really to move ahead. If I look at this past year through this poetic lens, there are stanzas that speak haltingly to fear that are followed by stanzas sprinkling seeds of hope…stanzas revealing terrible trauma met by those marking the path to healing…stanzas revealing the rediscovery of what is truly valuable after stanzas marking our former fault-full ambition.

There is imagery laden with a militaristic stealth attack waged by viral particles too tiny to hold in human sight. And then there is the resultant imagery looming heavy with the weight of loss (lost time, jobs, loved ones, health…so much lost). But there is also imagery erupting jubilantly with the wealth of humanity unveiled in the face of isolation and difficulty…singing from open windows, birthday parades, mass meal distribution, surging gratitude for those on the front lines, teachers delivering books to kids in need of a read.There were weeks and months that overstayed the welcome of their allotted time, of their line, and replicated their difficulty in the weeks and months to follow in an extraordinarily uncomfortable bit of enjambment.

But I think the punctuated moments offered up to pause and reflect are where I linger the most. The moments within parentheses where we brought joy and newness to our lives interrupted (as if to say, “Take that!”). The ellipses dividing the lines of our days as we pondered, “What next?” all the while realizing the danger of such a wonder. The constant question marks, line after line, stanza after stanza, as we walked through unknown regions with no map to guide us–only shifting sands beneath our feet and the next best step, which was?

But then this–mostly this…

I often tell my students that the em dash is like a poetic breath on the page–a bit of space sacrificed intentionally by the poet so we, the reader, can inhale, consider and exhale before moving on to the rest of the poem. The protests that awakened the world to the truth and still very present ravages of racism–that opened eyes to the systems still in place perpetuating daily the vast detriment that positions of privilege have birthed–began while the world sat in quarantine…hibernating, if you will, within the bounds of one giant em dash. We had the time–to pay attention, to look inward, to be unsettled by our own truths (well, as a white woman, I can only speak for my own truths), and to determine how to move forward. We had the time, without excuse, to witness, to listen, and to learn from this most difficult and complex stanza (one new to so many, but for others a repeated refrain they’ve known for years). We had the time to take the breath offered by the em dash of quarantine and to actively set forth to do more, to make change. That moment, that em dash, was gifted with intent by no Earthly poet because we are after all called to live this life in love. That love is not in name only nor can it thrive if we keep it blindfolded. This call requires each of us to act in love and that includes challenging systems that deny humanity. We needed a pause, a reset, to see this…to feel this…to live into this.

If I’ve learned anything from the stanza of this past year, I’ve learned the value of intentionality…of knowingly creating space to pause, observe, take a breath and move forward. This em dash intentionality is true in all aspects of my life–whether I’m examining if my actions speak loudly enough to my beliefs or whether I’m considering ways to spend more time making time for friends and family without the burden of school clouding my vision and my heart.

As we leave 2020, I am eager for the period that will close the verse, full stop, but I also don’t want to burn to ashes the pages containing the year, leaving them to scatter to the winds. The lines and stanza of 2020, if the struggle is to be worth anything, must color those yet to be written in 2021–so that we can be better, so we can exist in some form of gratitude for the days to come (even the crappy ones), so that we can ensure the year of too much doesn’t win. I won’t carry every line, every image, every mark of punctuation everyday, it would be too heavy. But “the mist” that Juan Felipe Herrera speaks of will linger as a reminder of all I’ve gained even in the leanest and cruelest of days.

(Also this…I love this poem as we enter a new year…“Oceans” by Juan Ramon Jimenez)

resolve

New years often possess the power of imbuing us with a resolve we could not have mustered even just two weeks prior. Or maybe that is just me. I love new beginnings and while I am always kind of working on shaping myself into a better human, the start of a new year seems to offer me this sort of fictitious clean slate–as if this next year of life isn’t a continuation and reflection of all the preceding days…as if I will suddenly be new and the difficulties of days gone by will be erased simply because the year possesses a slightly different numerical makeup. And yet, I remain completely enthused about the possibility of a year, because it is in fact, how we tend to mark our lives.

As this most recent year came to a close, however, it also brought an entire decade to its completion. I hadn’t even really considered that prospect until a student mentioned it to me (and also mentioned that they were 8 at the start of this past decade…8…and in that moment, I realized once again, I am old).

Well, this gave me pause for reflection.

Before this past decade, vertigo was just a word, a stranger that other people knew intimately but I never would, a misunderstood malady because how could it really be so bad.

My lived experience in this past decade wove vertigo so tightly into my identity, into my core, I can hardly remember a time when there were days I didn’t have to think about it…didn’t have to worry about it…didn’t have to make decisions based on it. A time when I was free.

Before this past decade, I didn’t even know the school I’ve spent the entire ten years teaching in existed.

My lived experience in this past decade not only brought me to a school and a people that I needed more than they needed me, but also allowed me to live into who I am as an educator and as a creative thinker and even as a human in this world in a way I could never have foreseen.

Before this past decade, my boys were babies, 2 and, well, if we are using numbers, 0. I lacked the knowledge of who they might become but reveled in days full of building Lego towers and towns and snuggling sweet sleepy boys…and with every snuggle, my heart that ached with the loss of Nathan didn’t necessarily heal, but felt closer to him and so began to repair.

My lived experience in this past decade introduced me to the kinds of thinkers and humans my kiddos would grow to become after they left days at home with mom behind for days full of friends and school. And that journey continues to be full of challenges but also full of beauty and joy.

Look, I could do this all day. Go on and on about me then and me now. It would get pretty boring, pretty fast (well, not for me I suppose). What I learned in this reflection though, was this–in order to survive in this world I need a few things–

patience because the worst is typically temporal;

perseverance to make the patience possible;

an open heart and mind to allow those around me to be seen and to allow them in;

acceptance, without judgement, of all the moments, whether they seemingly reveal themselves as easy or hard…good or bad…because those moments, when accepted, will shape me and grant me the fortitude I need to face all those yet to arrive.

And there is one more thing I need. Writing. This blog is a gift from me to myself (probably more than to anyone else) and I owe it to myself to continue to honor who I am as a thinker and a writer by continuing in this space. The best way I feel I can resolve to that in this new year is to restore the King Cake Writing Challenge from last year.

For those of you who weren’t reading with me last year, here is what this entails. I love (LOVE) king cake. And today marks the first day of king cake season which will carry on until Mardi Gras day. I am a purist and a firm believer that king cakes out of season are a travesty. The challenge is this (modified from last year out of necessity)–If I write every day of the week, excepting Wednesdays (giving myself some grace there), from today through Mardi Gras day, I will have earned a giant slice of gluten free king cake to be eaten on that joyous, raucous, party of a day. To be successful, I cannot miss a day of writing and I cannot give into the temptation of tasting king cake before Mardi Gras, no matter how difficult it might be!

Feel free to read along (or even to write along and then we could have a king cake party at the end…just saying, company would be nice), or not, but I will be here everyday hoping to re-establish my writing habit and to give myself this gift in this new year of existence.

(Day One of 2020 King Cake Writing Challenge)

lenses

It’s that time of year where nostalgia for moments past peaks and where video montages prevail in abundance–tugging at our sentimentality for days gone by and seeding lofty resolutions for days to come. I say this having recently wiped misty tears from my eyes as a result of one of these carefully crafted caravans of visual memorabilia. It is important to note, that my tearful reaction is not a novelty–I am easily moved…children singing, for example, is sure to dampen my cheeks as does the privilege of seeing anyone (and I really mean anyone in the most liberal sense) live into the fullest possibility of some element of their potential as a human. So, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that this most recent bit of sap was in reaction to a collection of sports highlights from this past decade shown on ESPN. Look, I’ll be honest, every time I see Megan Rapinoe pose, I’m going to be kind of overwhelmed by all the emotion and pride that image stirs up. Her strength and her perseverance and her unwillingness to be anything other than herself, like her or not, is an inspiration to me and to countless others. And I will be moved every time I hear Joe Burrow’s Heisman speech or see that photo of him in his “Burreaux” jersey. And not simply because I am a Tiger fan or a Louisianian, but also because of his undying determination, leadership, gutsy hard work and his consideration of those who didn’t even know he saw their hunger–he didn’t just earn awards, he earned respect.

But tonight, as I watched clip after clip of athletes as they harnessed their God-given talents after countless hours of hard work that required sacrifice and stamina (even and especially when that effort felt futile) achieve the success they had only previously dreamed of, I found myself taken in by their emotion.

And I realized something else.

We don’t need montages of strangers at the pinnacle of their careers to draw us toward the flicker of humanity’s potential; we simply need to pay attention in the small everyday moments of victory. As a teacher, those moments overflow if I allow myself to recognize them for what they are. Whether it is the kid who finally realizes they are a writer after years of being told (both outright and unintentionally) otherwise or the student overwhelmed with anxiety who struggles just to get to school yet finds a way to survive a whole day of classes, the young people I work with are achieving victories every single solitary day. And those victories deserve to be celebrated, those kids deserve to feel seen in their moment of exceeding what they felt was possible. Because just maybe those tiny moments of feeling seen and lifted up will enable them to harness the determination and drive it takes to step forward into spheres of greater challenge. Maybe when we speak our witness of the truth of a child, we help to imbue them with the confidence they need to step out of their comfort and into that sketchy place that will not only usher them toward growth, but potentially also allow them to bring their goodness to the world.

And here’s the thing, if that is true in school, it is true in the world. If we just looked for the good in others; if we took the time to appreciate their small moments of victory (which might be huge to them but harder for us to see), we wouldn’t need a highlight reel to remind us of the human capacity for achievement. We would be struck by it everyday.

This endeavor requires a new lens…one that isn’t scratched by cynicism or selfishness…one that is gauged to more effectively see the truth behind the facade, the struggle behind the show. It requires the effort of putting that lens up to our vision even when it is easier to sink into judgement (and let’s face it, it’s sort of always easier to go there). It requires us to be for others all that we hope they will be for us…even when it is seemingly a debt that goes unpaid. It requires an extension of grace even when retribution seems simpler. It requires us to love our neighbors…all of them…even the ones who don’t make that call so easy to answer (and let’s face it, when we get beyond our own hubris, it becomes far more apparent that for someone else in this world, we are that difficult to love person…).

I’m pretty sure all of our hearts are at stake in this one. I’m also pretty sure that the outcome will be worth the effort.