Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mid-life ramblings

I’m back in the town where I grew up, and I’ve spent a couple of days driving and biking through the landscapes of my past. A time to be reflective. Here’s some of what’s been tooling around in my mind.

A while back, I saw the future, and it almost ran into me. A texting teenager, ambling down the hall of my school, arms bent, eyes on a tiny screen. She kept an even gait, but didn’t see our collision course. I stepped aside, and she passed, oblivious to me.

Frank McCourt said that it’s up to the younger people to push their elders off the earth. It’s turning into their world, not the world of my generation. Naturally, this makes me feel old. O-l-d. Teachers in my school are bemoaning what’s happening to kids, in terms of behavior, manners, attention span, and so on. We might not achieve super-texting thumbs, but we won’t go quietly. That’s for damn sure.

That’s nothing new, I’m sure. What’s new is that I’m part of that curve, that demographic. Trying my darndest to avoid sentences that start with “When I was your age…”

As a teacher, I’m around teenagers. I’ve been teaching for twelve years, and I’ve seen things change. I’m not a new teacher anymore. Not sure when that happened, but here I am, mid-career. Today’s teens are, of course, the texting generation. I admire their dexterous thumbs and their determination to stay in touch, despite school rules to the contrary. Along with that, I’m worried about the havoc being wrought on already short attention spans. They can multitask, but how well can they do any one of those things? When and how will they learn the value of single-mindedness, and the rewards that come with applying oneself completely to one thing--be it enjoyable, arduous, or something in between.

I’m 40. It’s been an interesting, difficult year. Some days I feel every one of those years. Sometimes that’s a good thing, maybe not approaching wisdom, but some kind of understanding. Other times, I just feel disillusioned. (Sure, that word means “free of illusions,” but I think we need some of those illusions. Truth is slippery anyhow.) I’m trying to keep that openness and curiosity that I’ve carried with me. I’m trying to avoid that hardness, that resignation that I hear in some of my colleagues--the kinds of rants that place the blame on the kids, which I hear as an excuse for not meeting our learners where they are. They are in their world. We are in ours. They occasionally overlap in fabulous ways, like when a student discovers that a mythical parent like Atticus Finch still has something to teach everyone who meets him. The worlds also overlap in less graceful ways, as well. Facebook comes to mind: I posted a picture of me at my high-school graduation in 1987, and a former student of mine commented simply, “Weird.”

Also this year, my path has crossed with an old friend, my first girlfriend ever, who’s become an amazing mirror, window, confidante and--truly--a source of equal measures of inspiration and confusion. She met me when I was 17, on New Year’s Eve. How appropriate: a night on the cusp of a fresh year. She’s 39 now, in the midst of a life that’s thrown her much more than a kind, sweet soul should have to endure. We wander together through fragments of things, puzzling over what it all means, searching for that evasive truth, slipping on frozen hearts and frayed minds. She’s a mensch and a wordsmith, but as Rumi says, words can only take any of us so far.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of something once again. Not sure what. I remember being a kid, maybe grade-school age, and thinking of my life as a grown-up. I was looking at the adults around--parents, teachers--and thinking, “Wow, they’ve got everything figured out. I’ll be there someday.” Well, kid, just because I can pay the bills, make simple repairs around the house, hold a job, even have relationships, that doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out. I’m trying to meet things openly, see them as they are, do that soul work, be present, and accept what comes. I can still ramble in my writing, so I guess that counts for something.

And, hey, Mr. McCourt, rest in peace. I’d like to think you weren’t pushed off the world, but rather did an elegant Irish jig into your own sunset.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Early Dusk

What does the wind know?
Memories of the humid kisses of a summer night.
Tell me, how do those darling buds know to grow?
What is that stirring in the soil, ever slight?
A life beneath the dead leaves, still where they fell.
There's a rich fall feast of sweet decay.
It’s merely a season’s end, not a final knell.
Listen—even bare branches have something to say.
Summer has passed, the colors drained out.
We go in, turn inward at an early dusk
to find a light we can’t go without.
Frozen ground, frozen hearts—in those I trust.
What’s in that weary smile I just saw?
Hold steady, wait for the thaw.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Floating down the hall
looking side to side
strange shoes stride
I see the tip of a nose,
hear a voice bounce off
walls, see a reflection
of someone I know--
older, somehow,
wearing a shirt that goes
better with Dad's wavy grays.

My breaths--mine?--
rise and fall as
mind and body orbit,
How can it be?
Who knows how it
comes and goes?

Some days, I'm ninety percent
there--others, a thin ten,
and we're miles apart, if
you could even measure it.

A Letter to My Students

I don’t say it enough, but I care about you. Each of you. That’s why I’m here. It’s too much work to do it for the money, so there must be ...