Wednesday, October 16, 2019
At the beginning of my last year back in August, I wondered whether each week would be a constant “the last time I went to the first staff meeting! The last Back-to-School Night! The last corporation potluck meeting!” And the answer luckily was, “No.” Mostly I’m teaching as if it’s just another year, with just occasional moments when I’m happy (not having to look at next year’s proposed schedule in the staff meeting) or a bit sad (watching a class of 7thgraders with an eye to who I’ll be working with next year and then thinking, ‘Oops!’).
But driving home from school yesterday, I was listening to Oscar Peterson and an unusual (for Oscar) song came on that I remembered hearing before. It’s called “Nighttime” and it’s on his album with Itzhak Perlman called Side by Sideand also on an album Live at Salle Pleyein Paris. It immediately evoked a feeling of sweet farewell and I began writing a poem while driving. A first draft is below and tonight I read it out loud with the music playing and it seems they need to go together. So if you’re interested and you can find that song, try reading it out loud. I’m a long 9 months from actual retirement, but when the Muse calls, you would do well to respond, regardless of the timetable. Here it is:
It is the nighttime of my many, many years in this place I have loved so long
The sun is setting
The moon is rising.
The day’s stories have all been told
And behold, they are good.
The fire is lit with the warmth of memory.
I see the long parade of beautiful children now grown
And leading the next ones forward, King Glory
going up the mountain.
Where the first one, the second one, the third
But now will follow me no more.
Now, someone else will be walking them through the promised land.
That glorious place where we traveled along, singing songs side by side,
Where we stumbled and fell, lost our way, huddled together in the cold,
circled together in joy and danced our way to happiness.
Behind me now, the bread crumbs of those lived years
are messages to the future,
beckoning others to make the long climb to unending beauty,
bubbling laughter, shouted exultation.
Here, paused on the peak, the sky is orange with the day’s close.
The owl and the whippoorwill fill the air with song
while the morning birds turn to sleep.
Tomorrow a new day will dawn.
Monday, October 14, 2019
“Arawak men and women, naked, tawny and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. Columbus later wrote of this in his log:
“They… brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawk’s bells. They willing traded everything they owned…They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it be the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…They would make fine servants…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
So opens Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.Columbus comes to the New World (the Old Word to the native inhabitants) and brings with him his culture of dominance, of greed, of conquering people and nature over living harmoniously with people and nature. And this begins the history of our dear country that leads unapologetically to the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, the insatiable appetite for money and power that leads to the exploitation of workers from robber baron bosses and always the inequality between men and women.
What kind of human being responds to the generous welcome of a host culture with “with fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want?”
And that is exactly what old Chris did. Came back and in 1495, “rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships” to go to Spain to be sold as slaved. OF course, with God on his side. He wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”
Meanwhile, his lust for gold had him order all Arawaks 14 years old and older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. …Within two years, through murder, mutilation or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead. By 1550, there were only 500 left and by 1650, there were none.
So, my friends, that’s who we’re celebrating today. A man lusting for gold, intent on enslaving human beings and sure that God was on his side as he set out to extinguish a race of fellow people. Isn’t that a lovely lesson for the children.
If we’re going to take time off from business as usual today, let’s at least tell the real story—to ourselves and to the children. And then look sharply at ourselves and see it all at work still today. Read George Conway’s article about our President who is a certified sociopath, psychopath and pathological narcissist incapable of empathy and drawn by his lust for gold and power. And have a moment of silence for the original Arawaks and all the millions of other people brutalized by these kinds of cultural permissions.
Happy Columbus Day?
Sunday, October 13, 2019
1) Let the Blue Angels Navy planes roar and scream overhead frightening little children, birds and generally disturbing the peace.
2) Get me thinking about the arrogance, ignorance and disrespect of a nation that hasn’t been invaded for centuries (except for 9/11) thinking it’s fun to have planes screeching across the sky when for many countries, that would mean the very real danger and traumatic memory of bombs dropping and neighbors dying. (And often those bomb-carrying planes from the U.S.!)
3) Get me thinking up all the fossil fuel wasted for this kind of spectacle entertainment.
4) Get me wondering why my beloved San Francisco, the most liberal place in the country, still hosts a Navy Fleet Week that includes this disturbing display.
I get that there is some bizarre and almost perverse kind of artistry as the four planes fly in a choreographed display, but why not try it with gliders? The whole macho “watch me penetrate the sky with my massive powerful organ” is precisely what the world needs to be done with.
And so my hope to sit by the lily-pad pond in the Arboretum and honor the Sabbath with some quiet reflection was bombarded from above. Thanks for nothing, Fleet Week.
It has been such a joy to explore haiku in my 4thgrade music classes. A few posts ago, I shared “My Life in Haiku” and now get ready for more! These from the children (though three from me), written during a class when I sent them out in the school yard to sit quietly and see if a poem came their way. To use their senses, noticing what they hear, they see, they smell, they feel and in one example below, what they taste. To try out the challenge of the 5-7-5 syllabic structure, to consider a seasonal reference, to bring their poem home with a punch line. (All of which you can find in this first example below.)
The kids have fallen in love with haiku. One bought a book of Basho’s poetry and journals (a 4thgrader!), all effortlessly turned inward to some silent space within when we sat on the benches on Pier 23 in our city walk to write yet more haiku. How their tender souls need this kind of silence and space! How we all do! Mindfulness is gaining traction in schools and this is a good thing, but like so much of the way we Americans do things, it is a “thing.” The cool thing du jour to do and yes, better that than a thousand other things it could be. To hear the peace bell and habitually stop and breathe. Lovely!
But this haiku tradition offers yet more. First off, it’s a centuries-old practice and that means it has weight and history and many ancestors to draw from. Secondly, it demands the mindful moment but also invites artistic expression, the art of capturing the flavor of the moment in the net of language and then sharing back with the group. And paying mind to a mathematical structure. Soon we will also try re-writing in a Chinese/ Japanese brush-painting style and illustrating with watercolors. And they’ve already enacted some in drama and accompanied with percussion instruments. Integrated arts, people!!
At any rate, here are some first-drafts from our class at the school. It might help to know that the school looks over the 280 freeway, so the many references to the roaring river of traffic is better understood if you know that. Enjoy!
The warm breeze of Spring
The cold breeze of the Autumn
Two seasons at once.
Pigeons in the air
All the trees with fluttering leaves
It is quiet now.
Whoosh! The wind swarming
Vrooom! The cars on the highway
Ha! The children laugh.
Leaves crunching underfoot
The fresh smell of pumpkin
A leaf falls to the ground.
The hot summer
Nothing but heat, the cold glass of water
Quenching my thirst.
There is not one cloud
The Autumn wind blows the trees
Yet I sit so still.
Trees swaying in wind
Growing bigger every year
Standing tall. Like us!
A blade of grass
Tastes bland and bitter
The texture is strange.
Birds chirp in the trees
They rustle the leaves and sing
Tweet tweet tweet tweet tweet.
The sky is blue
The leaves are green.
Yellow is the sun.
The grumbling highway
Yet we are in Nature’s peace
Trees swaying back and forth.
The wind is blowing
Rustling the leaves on the trees
Fall is the best time.
Smell the smell of
Smoke coming from the cars out there
The roar of traffic
The children’s screaming voices
Drown out the bees’ buzz.
Hot in the bright sun.
Then cool in the leafy shade.
Which one should I choose?
Pen and paper poised
Two flies land on the table
Waiting for my poem.
Friday, October 11, 2019
Here’s a confession: I miss writing these blogposts! But somehow things have intensified and there doesn’t seem to be time or space. I could write about giving my San Francisco tour to the 4thgrade (fun!!) or sharing the next breathtaking passage in my Dickens book (there are many!) or telling the story of my next confusing betrayal (ooh! Juicy!) or tell the story of our new TV (high drama!), but hey, I’m giving the first of my workshop series tomorrow, the ones I’ve been doing since 1976, so I better pass on it all.
Instead, I’ll feature a 4thgrade guest writer who spontaneously wrote a poem and gave it to his teacher, who passed it on to me. The kids are afire with poetry and that’s an entry in itself. Meanwhile, check this out:
It seeps through the heart with a mighty ring,
Makes cats purr and choirs sing.
It makes happiness jump wherever it goes,
Makes boys and girls swing to and fro.
It’s in every song,
And many dances.
It’s best by itself with no enhances.
It’s music to your ears,
It’s music to mine,
It makes people smile,
And makes their sun shine.
If you don’t have it, you might lose it,
It’s music I say,