Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Finding Joy

If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me how calm I am, I'd stop shopping the clearance racks at Gap and sighing as I replace anything with a tag over 19.99. I'd be wearing stuff that's BRAND NEW! JUST IN! Everybody's gotta have it. Full price queen. The girl all the salespeople want to help. That would be me.
But nope, no dollars poking out of my back pocket for my calmness factor. Instead, as I'm sitting here ruminating on my day, I have begun to think that I might like to trade up all my calmness for a little joy. Because I really want to feel joy, and I have a suspicion the calmness gets in joy's way. I have this suspicion that my level feelings are a hindrance to the necessary high that lets joy flood in. I want something to be really excited about, even if it's nothing that exciting, and I want to feel that joy in anticipation swelling up in my throat like a bright yellow balloon, swelling so large it reflects a bit of its shine onto my face. And when I am in the moment, when the anticipation is done and the good thing is happening now, I want to feel the electric rush of joy jangling its way down my nerves, all the way down to my fingers, toes, to the ridges and hollows of my ears, to the ends of each hair.
Is this an impossible wish? We wrote about emotions today in one of my English classes, and I shared my desire for joy with my students. One of them suggested that those who feel joy best are children. So they suggested I should throw off the heavy mantle of adulthood (my words, here, not theirs) and do something really crazy, let myself find my inner child. They suggested taking my life into my hands, risking death. I'm sure they were imagining me bungee jumping, cliff diving, hot rodding, riding a bronco.
I'm thinking that maybe I don't need to get quite that close to Death--I don't need to see the whites of his eyes to find my joy. But going back to childhood and throwing off my adult self: now that's an idea.
So for the rest of this evening, as I'm getting ready for bed, I'm going to think about where I might be a little less staid and a little more silly. Somewhere in that middle ground, I'm hoping a pocket of joy might be waiting for me.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Valediction Forbidding Grading

As I sit and scribble madly away
And tell Jared to find patience
Jonah peers over my shoulder and whispers,
"I think she's almost done." But Lauren knows: "No."

They leave me to grade
Surrounded by towering white wrinkled stacks
A red pen in one hand
The other buried, a claw, in tumbled wild curls.

And whilst I am lost in the land
Of misused homophones and elusive commas,
They set the table, fold their laundry,
Wait patiently for me to emerge.

Sadly, I crawl from that desperate land
Long after they have passed into dreams.
And as I bend over their soft sweet cheeks,
Breathing deep and smoothing damp curls

I weep inside at the hours and minutes
I have placated them with empty promises
My fingers wrapped too tightly around that pen
Instead of twining with their yet-small fingers.

And I resolve that next week, I will say no.
I will leave the work at school and come home
To them with an empty satchel and open arms
And time to listen to their dreams.

At least for a few days of five, I will be a mother
More than a teacher:
Giving my family the woman they need
Instead of the shell they've grown to accept.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Traveling to Guernsey...

Alas, it was only in my mind. But if you haven't visited, you must go there. Read the book, I mean, if travel to one of the Channel Islands (between the UK and France) is out of your budget.

I wasn't sure what to expect at first when I realized this was a novel composed entirely of letters, and there were a few parts early on where I had trouble keeping the characters straight, but that could all be chalked up to sporadic reading opportunities for the first several days.

The novel begins in England in 1946, post WW2 of course, and the main character is Juliet Ashton, a writer who has won great fame for her recent publication of a collection of her articles written during the war. As she ventures from London on book tours, she receives a letter from a gentleman named Dawsey Adams, who lives on Guernsey, asking for her opinion about a book that she once owned.

She had to sell it as she had two copies and needed money, and this man now owns it. He wants to know about her notes in the margin. Thus begins their correspondence, a series of inter-channel letters that eventually spreads to include Juliet's publisher, her school chum, and the members of Dawsey's literary society. It doesn't take long for Juliet to become entranced with their story, or for the reader either.

Guernsey was occupied by German soldiers for the last five years of the war, and during the occupation, the islanders had to scrounge for food, using their wits to survive. Many of them had kept pigs, but the Germans declared them to be army property--although the islanders were responsible for the pigs' care. The Guernsey literary society began one night after a pig died.

Yes, that's right. A dead pig. Seems those Germans weren't too bright, and when they came to inspect and fill out the form for the dead pig, they didn't do anything with the carcass. Remember how I mentioned the resourcefulness of the islanders? Well, they carted the dead pig to another farm, called the Germans and said a pig had died, had the inspection, and took the dead pig to another farm, keeping it up until the carcass became too corrupt for such shenanigans. In this way, several farmers got to keep an extra pig off the German record, and after a dinner party featuring roast pork, a party of islanders were caught coming home long after curfew. When asked where they had been, one young woman blurted that they had been at a meeting of the Guernsey Literary Society. And that's how it began.

I'm not doing the book justice, I fear. You simply have to read it. The characters leap, laughing, off the page, and you will quickly find yourself entranced by their story. I guarantee you'll love crazy Isola, who flits from one obsession to the next. Dawsey and Eben and Elizabeth are endearing. You'll want to adopt precocious little Kit, and you'll wish you had a friend like Juliet.
Oh, and you'll probably want to stop texting and emailing and start writing letters again. And visit Guernsey, of course.

That's how I feel. Completely sucked in and sad to have turned the last page.