There is a dog dreaming next to me. Her muzzle is nuzzling my thigh. Her paws are intertwined and her back is hunched. She is not a small dog, but she’s made herself small so her presence on the couch is less assuming. As if somehow I won’t notice that she’s breaking the rules about being on the couch.
Dear Seniors of 2015,
I need to make a tiny confession. You were already winners before the contest began, and you’ll continue to be winners long after it’s over.
I need to make another confession: I’ve been manipulating you to think that I am “The Keeper of the Words.” And yet, I struggle too–just like you–when faced with a prompt. And today, the cursor blinks patronizingly as I try to answer the prompt instructing me that somehow I must “Say Goodbye.”
I’m older than you, and by extension “wiser,” and I’ve got your captive attention for probably eight more seconds, so allow me a moment to share the thesis that you, your wisdom, and the time we have shared together has helped me to articulate.
It must be acknowledged: Sometimes teaching sucks. Sometimes the amount of your paycheck represents only 1/10 of your ink, sweat, and tears. Sometimes students are mean, and sometimes they are manipulative. Sometimes (all the time) you work through lunch and sometimes (too many times) the students never seem to learn. Sometimes teaching sucks.
(Yes, I do need to cool it with the anaphora. Find a new literary device, Penrod, sheesh).
To be frank, most teachers have that period of the day that doesn’t jive like the others. That class period of hell filled with (individually lovely but compositely grumpy) students that simply refuse to think that what you are teaching them is worth anything. That hour of the day that not only reminds you that sometimes teaching sucks, but ensures that it does.
And then there are Michael Rudins* that wash away the sins of “Nth Period” in one fell swoop. In one fell binder full of ink and sweat.
I try not to write about individual students very often. I do this for a couple of reasons.
- Students’ personal lives are their own, and I imagine there would be a reasonable amount of horror were they to know that a teacher blogged about them.
- By picking one student to write about, I worry that sometimes it invalidates the beautiful experiences, kindness, and worthiness of all of my other tremendous students, many of whom slipped by expressive, kind, affirming Thank You Notes my way on this their last day of high school.
He is shy. I do not identify with shyness. I am not shy. But for some reason, I love my shy students. It’s perhaps an unfair generalization, but I am fascinated by their untapped depths.
Michael Rudin is shy, but not quiet. Throughout the year, whenever I called on him, he always surprised me with ready, boldly stated, poetically worded responses.
I was briefly out of the classroom today when a ragged binder and a Dr. Pepper appeared on my desk. As I thumbed through the pages (some pages earmarked) of my desk’s new arrival, I found “Youthful Thoughts: the Complete Works of Michael Rudin.” A binder full of poetry and short stories, of secret, untapped depths collected over the years.
To me, this is Michael Rudin carefully sifting through his poems, deliberating, deciding, and changing his mind. This is Michael Rudin, in a quiet, pensive moment, unsure whether or not this poem was a good enough representation of himself. This is Michael Rudin folding and then unfolding an earmark. This to me, is a moment of tenderness, of attention to detail. This is a moment of care.
I am not sure why I am so taken by this unearmarked corner, but the corner itself is poetry to me. Because it speaks.
I hope forever these students, not my students anymore, but these continuing students continue to speak boldly, quietly, articulately, and joyfully.
I feel like I’m Isaac Mendez learning to paint the future without heroine. What’s that? You mean you haven’t been watching “Heroes” reruns on Netflix because you have a real job and you go to real school and have a real life? …Me too.
Just not right now.
Let me explain what I meant by the simile. One of my major roadblocks to becoming a “real” writer/blogger is that, before this summer, I could only write when I had “Writer Fingers.”When my “muse” of sorts with me. And lots of times, my writer fingers would come and go during the ebbs and flows and tidal waves of homework. Most days I didn’t have writer fingers, but when I did, I could usually tap out a blog.
I’m not sure if I will look back at this summer and think that I was incredibly accomplished. I feel like I cooked a lot. And I baked a lot. And I kept the apartment clean(ish). I read lots of books, and I got some unit planning done. I beat my first video game (Harry Potter Lego Wii Years 1-4).
Sadly, it doesn’t look like I will finish my novel (But not because I haven’t been diligently writing! But through the act of writing, I learned that there’s A LOT more plot/themes left that I had originally designed, and the book will be better for it).
I may still plan the best high school curriculum the world has ever seen, but right now, not knowing my students is a little crippling to this effort. Also, I’m just such a noob.
Also, I did not cure cancer (to be fair, I wasn’t trying). And I didn’t start that blog with my friend Kristi, which I am still sad about, but know that it was my fault.
But I did conquer my crutchy belief that I could only write when my muse was with me. This summer, I’ve forced myself to just write. My novel. Lots more blogs than I usually do. And with the friends I’ve made, I’ve been grateful.
…But at least this summer I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’ve made friends!
*This post has been edited because it appears that I have committed a blogger faux pas. Hahahaha. To be honest I’m amused by the rules that I’m woefully ignorant to.
PS: A sincere, sincere thanks to those of you who have donated to or shared the Aurora Shooting campaign. We are so close to our goal. I feel so grateful for you all.
Nothing makes you stare at a the wall quite like writing a mandatory poem. Nothing makes you notice the sirens outside your apartment. The footsteps of the neighbors. The breathing of the self.
I have thought through the poem process thoroughly.
I have engineered my every variable to be as conducive to “Poemy-ness” as possible.
- I am dressed down–a comfortable T-shirt, Jeans, and Jeremy’s jacket, but not PJ’s because that is not formal enough for poetry, or at least, devotional lyric.
- I found a suitable notebook after trying several different ones. This notebook was formerly poem-less, so it has no poems to compare to. Though I can’t say this notebook has been exceptionally inspiring in the past, so I am open to reconsidering my notebook choice. This is probably the most important variable. A notebook is supposed to speak.
- I am using a pencil. Because who can write poetry in pen. For Heaven’s sake, it needs to be dirty.
- I debated, heavily, the proximity of my computer to self. It was on my bed. Now it’s at my lap. After I (hopefully) garner some writer fingers from this blog post, it will return to my bed. And I will return with my knees huddled to my chest, pencil in hand, non-inspiring notebook in tow, and I will continue not writing my poem.
- Fact: Writing poems on the computer is like… murdering a poem (For Me). You can’t feel the page. A screen puts distance between you and the words. You can’t even touch the letters.)
- I am not reading the requirements of my assignment until after the first draft of the poem is written. But my backpack is close in case I change my mind.
- I decided I needed my blankee. Because writing a poem can be brutal, and my own personal poetry usually hurts my feelings. Blankees are good for that.
I’ve never felt quite at the top of my writing game as I did when I was in France. I was an au pair for a lovely little french family, the Michea’s, and they had a charming little balcony that overlooked their little villa. I could lean over the railing and touch the romantic laundry billowing from the romantic laundry lines. Nightly I would pull up this little table, while Laetitia would make me a cup of Lipton herbal apple cinnamon tea (a treat I still cannot find in the states), and I would light this little lantern and write by tea light. And it was magical. All the writer powers that be were with me those nights.
Yet writing is a fickle talent.
Sometimes the words through your veins like blood cells, and sometimes they clot the second they reach the page.
But tonight, I’ve got the fingers. So I put on my french singer mix, lit myself a tea light, and I am going to let the words come out.
Tell me, dear readers, what are your talents? Are they fickle too?