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Friday, December 27, 2013

new poem - Christmas 2013

--for Victoria
For our first Christmas together, we exchanged ornaments.

Winter windshield reflections
distort the present,
tell possible futures.
I stop snow
shoveling, ignoring cold
body parts to

They are noise
without order, yet
seductive enough to
distract.  The snow
erases my work;
leaves me all

From behind me
she calls, "Early
thaw this year?"
Reflections are gone,
sun set, and
shovel empty.  I'm

Brown eyed beauty
wraps arms around
mine, pulls me
from winter work,
and we dig,
planting the world

Monday, December 09, 2013

new poem - The World Needs More Mirrors

I can't
change the world;
I'm barely
able to change my mind.

But I
can change
    where I stand. 
And if someone chooses to
    stand by me,
        two worlds have changed,
        two new ways of seeing
    are created. 

We can,
if we are skilled enough
or lucky enough, get our students
        to stand with us at the
            edge of the
            reflecting pool,
                kneel down, and
                        look deeply
                                into themselves.

What they see
    is more true than
        anything said about them.
What they see
    is undeniable and
        needs to be accepted.
What they see
    can be shaped,
        cleaned, and polished.
What they see
                    is okay.

No, dear ones,
you can't
change the world;
    but we can change where we stand. 

    And if we each hold a mirror
            we might convince
                    the whole world to
                                take a deeper look.

This piece was written during the Greater Madison Writing Project Summer Institute this past July.

Friday, December 06, 2013

new poem - Concert On The Square

Robert Bonfiglio Solos With WCO
"...old couples emboldened with swinging harmonica vibrations
lean into each other."

--photo is of Robert Bonfiglio, who performed
at a concert on the square in Madison this summer
Young girls twirl and old couples
emboldened with swinging harmonica vibrations
lean into each other.

We all could.

Maybe you prefer to sing a child's song,
making up a new language, and
leaning to reach the most demanding notes.

We all could.

After the music fades, some might choose to speak
a verse that moves the crowd to
lean closer, feeling the whispered sadness.

We all could.

The reflected sun shifts though the crowd,
lands on faces, and makes them glow;

we all could.

I started writing this piece while attending the Greater Madison Writing Project Summer Institute this past July.

Monday, December 02, 2013

new poem - "Opportunity Awaits You Next Monday"

"On next Monday, we'll
    solve all our problems.
Next Monday, we'll
    end all our longings."
On next Monday, I'll
    win that award.
Next Monday, I'll
    bust down the door.
Next Monday, I'll
    finish my novel.
Next Monday, I'll
    learn about loving.

On next Monday, you'll
    have to choose.
Next Monday, you'll
    be the one to lose.
Next Monday, you'll
    see how it feels.
Next Monday, you'll
    be crushed under our wheels.

On next Monday, we'll
    solve all our problems.
Next Monday, we'll
    end all our longings.
Next Monday, we'll
    find space in our life.
Next Monday, we'll
    forget who is right.

This is a piece I started for a write-in during this past summer's Greater Madison Writing Project Summer Institute.  It was inspired by a fortune cookie slip.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Blessed Are You When They Insult You

In front of St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Mauston, WI.

from Flickr http://flic.kr/p/hX11Po

Who Killed Frosty? Who Killed Frosty?

Was it Snoopy, Baby It's Cold Outside Snowman, or Santa?

Double Dead Double Dead

I'm guessing one of the signs will be removed eventually.

new poem - Cleaning List

clear out junk cupboard
dump out catch-all drawer
give away poor fitting clothes
throw ratty sneakers
sell lonely guitar on Craigslist
cash in gold with jeweler
give away rock collection

    You might find room for the unexpected.

burn old greeting cards
donate a box of random
isolate photos in one box
toss wilted bouquet
fling musty blankets
put empty vases aside
bundle papers for pulp

    You might find room for the unexpected.
    Life expands to fill every void.

un-bury secrets near tree roots
air dirty laundry
shake lose unseen pests
walk skeletons out of closet
sweep cobwebs everywhere
open doors for breeze
show fears the sun

    You might find room for the unexpected.
    Life expands to fill every void.
    Anticipate all the newness to come.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Grateful Today For...

Love's return;
she is great to be around
though she often brings her
bitchy friends, pain and confusion.

Crow calls
and snow flurries
over a peaceful field
that remind me my senses
are sources of beauty.

Friends who
make demands of our time
which we welcome because
we know they will answer
when we too are in need.

Thinking, creating
and wondering;
my often over-active mind
is the tool I use
to sort, experience, and
use the world around me.

Family can
sometimes help with
a cliche phrase like
"It will be okay"
when I am
most confused.

My healthy body;
I never know when
this will change.

Note:  I gave one group of my students a prompt yesterday to write about what they were grateful for.  I think of gratitude as being more significant and deeper.  Thankfulness denotes appreciation for what happened because it was expected or appreciation that what was feared didn't happen.  Gratitude is about being appreciative of what you are given/have regardless of whether it was expected or not. 

Yesterday I didn't have the time to sit down and write this out with my students like I wanted to.  I'm actually kind of glad for that because I definitely need to remind myself of all of the good things in my life whether I expected them or not.  I also like the idea of being grateful because since it takes our expectations out of the equation it is an act of letting go of our illusion of control.

The way I explained it to my students is that you can be thankful for warm fuzzy slippers while what you are grateful for should be the things that bring a deeper meaning to your life and add to the richness of your life.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

New Poem - When Can I Say?

    Afraid to, even though
    in this moment I'm tempted.

When is it no longer too soon?

    Caring about someone means
    giving up control, while
    being wanted gives strength.

Do I wait until after Thanksgiving? 

    After you've met family,
    understand more, and
    still choose me.

And what about your family?

    I can get away with telling you
    "I'm falling" and "What if he's
    madly in love with you?" 

But why bullshit ourselves?

    We know it now; so, we can say
    it when we choose, say it when
    the words will mean something new.

Is that on Christmas day? 

    Our lives might be without precedent
    for such a situation but
    life is full of examples.

I think the world is patient enough for that?

    Our new year could start with
    a new phrase in our relationship.

Monday, November 11, 2013

New Poem - Too Right To Be Scared

The last woman in
my arms was dying.
Now, your response
to my touch reawakened
the joys of mingled flesh.  

I feel vulnerable, but I'm crying
happy tears.
I want so much, but I thought
I had quit trying.

Met you months ago and
never thought we'd be here. 
Now, being in each others'
arms seems inevitable.  How
lucky to have this chance.

I feel exhausted, and I'm writing
weepy poetry.
I want so much, but I thought
I had quit trying.

That you are possible and real
is why I stayed up all night.
Now, I have memories of
you trying to sleep and of
how close we can be. 

I feel anticipation, and I'm saying
"Thank You."
I want so much, but I thought
I had quit trying.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Place Of Respite In A Chaotic World

I was settling into the routine of the classroom as a student teacher on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  As much as I wanted to panic, I had to remain calm. One young woman chose to stay with me in the “quiet” room rather than watch the news because her mother worked for the Department of Defense and was in the Pentagon that day. It took seven days to find out her mother was alive and well.

I will never forget the intensity of that day and those that immediately followed. I learned that regardless of maturity level, the students still need me to set the emotional thermostat of the room. The content that I teach is important; the content of my character as a model for my students is more important. It wouldn't be right to say I find something to “love” in each of my high school students. For one thing, they can be annoying, egotistical, and confrontational. However, I believe my students need me to acknowledge their humanity while calmly leading our learning efforts.

I sometimes think of my students as characters in a novel; I am naturally drawn to the characters that experience the greatest change in personality, understanding, and/or disposition. Even my dependable, stable, and focused students are coping with the difficult transition from childhood to young adulthood. Some students have to deal with additional upheavals in their world as well; I am fascinated by the resiliency and drive of these students who must struggle. I know that I have something to learn in their successes and their failures.

At first it was a continual battle to get Steve to take off his hat, and when he took it off, the hat magically popped back on his head. As a “reader” of this character I inferred that the hat was about something more to him but I had to be careful not to jump to conclusions. Over a quarter we developed a good working relationship because I remained calm and took time to talk about his interests. He would take his hat off for me and take part in class.

When Steve's mother came in for parent teacher conferences she gave me more pieces of his story.  She started crying as she told me about how they had been homeless for the previous three months. Steve's hat, an adolescent version of a security blanket, was one of few things he owned.  Steve couldn't explain it to me; emotions are confusing like that. If I had yelled, written him up, sent him to the office, or in some other way broken our relationship over a ridiculous hat policy, he would have never worked for me again.  I would have crushed his already weak ego.

I am only part of a small segment of my students’ developmental journey. Often I am reminded that the goal is progress not perfection. My students appreciate having a calm, kind, and understanding person to turn to in their chaotic lives; for some, my classroom is the only respite they get from a noisy world that reduces them to a set of numbers.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

New Poem - One Who Loves Me Must...

   idolize my ugliness
"One who loves me must
tolerate my gloominess,
remembering my smiles."
and be turned off by my vanities.

   tolerate my gloominess,
remembering my smiles.

   be fulfilled in us
though made vulnerable by sharing.

   admire my focus
while ignoring my stubborn ways.

   despise my distant moments,
seeking renewal in my affections.

   love me
as much as one could loathe me.

    To reverse any
    above would make
    hate, not love.

I wrote "The Birth Of A Poem" about writing this piece.  You can find this here.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Five Lessons From The Greater Madison Writing Project Summer Institute

I spent the month of July taking part in the Greater Madison Writing Project's summer institute. I know that the interactions with my 14 fellow participants and the three site facilitators is only the start of GMWP's influence on my life, my career, and my abilities as a teacher.

While the topics explored ranged widely there were five ideas that wove through every conversation, workshop, and sharing session. These are insights that became clearer every day because we were living them; my experience in that month of the institute proved these things to me.

3330 Atwood Ave., Madison Wisconsin is where Olbrich Botanical Gardens is located and where the GMWP holds its summer institute.

Collaborative inquiry around individual interests trumps top down initiatives.
Why would anyone want to spend a month of their summer in professional development? There are the obvious reasons of working toward a degree, getting trained to use some new system, or earning credit for license renewal. While GMWP does provide six credits, this is not why I was so eager to be involved. I was intrigued by the prospect of being encouraged to explore any aspect of writing instruction I desired. I had never had this experience in my undergraduate work nor in my teaching experience. Sure, I had experience with teaching technology related professional development and my district had held a "literacy camp" that was lightly attended. This summer institute was different.

I wasn't expected to be an expert in my topic. I wasn't expected to be able to answer all the questions. That was the point. The work I had to put in before leading my teachers workshop (inquiry session) was to develop a question and research an answer to the point where I could share my initial findings with the group. In each session we further explored the topic. This model allowed me to bring my passion and interest in a topic into a room of education professionals and share what insights I had while also benefiting from all of their perspectives and experience. How cool is that? And more important, how different from what usually passes for "professional development?"

My question was about incorporating the work of Daniel Pink in To Sell Is Human into my professional practice. One of the points Pink makes is that leaders need to recognize the necessity of problem identification. We cannot solve a problem until we really know what it is. This self directed inquiry approach followed by group collaboration allowed each of us to identify a real problem we faced in our classrooms.

How could any of the "professional development" presenters I've been subjected to over the years know what our problems are? I learned in this institute that there are administrators out there willing to allow teachers to pursue inquiry based professional development; we need more of this. Let us work to identify and solve our own problems. However well meaning, outsiders never know us, the problems we deal with, or what we've already tried; their ability to help us is minimal at best.

We teach who we are.
I will get to the corollary ("The students learn who they are") below, but it will help to talk about teachers first. Another teacher in the GMWP summer institute included in her workshop an explanation of the importance of learning styles and how we as teachers need to be aware of how our students might need information in a way that is different from the way we prefer it. This is an important idea to keep in mind, but I believe that we can only stretch ourselves so much before we break. I am reminded of the often quoted advice that Polonius gives Laertes: "To thine own self be true." We do our students a much greater service if we help them develop strategies to cope with learning conditions outside of what is optimal for them. This is one of the ways that students learn who they are.

We have a duty to be aware of our impact on student identity. Students learn who they are at least in part during the experiences they have in our schools. I guess WKCE scores, ACT test results, exam grades, report card grades, etc. have their place. I used to think of them as a necessary evil; lately, however, I've begun to just think of them as just evil.

While I could tell you a handful of stories about students who have gone on to accomplish much more than their ACT score would have indicated they were capable of, I am too troubled by the countless number of students who let a test score, grade report, or some other externally applied label become part of their identities to simply focus on the positives. Since these "necessary" evils aren't going away anytime soon, we need to be very clear what a test result means and what a grade means when we communicate this information to students.

I was excellent at school from my very first days of kindergarten. I always tested above grade level and this fueled my ego and became part of my identity. This carried me through high school, and I graduated with honors and a lot of cords and sashes. College was a shock. I quickly realized that my writing skills were lacking compared to my counterparts. Out of necessity, I learned more about writing in my first year of college than I had since my family first taught me how to form letters before I entered kindergarten. I also realized quickly that I had not read many of the texts I was expected to have already read.

Test scores lie because they tell only a very small part of an individual's story. Our students deserve to know that.

As much as possible, give direction not directions.
The facilitators of the summer institute explained early on the principle of direction not directions. As a student I want the ten steps to check off and the specific requirements to meet. So, this direction not directions thing drove me crazy at first. It took me some time to figure out that this really represented the most respect for my status as a professional I had ever experienced.

In addition to the respect it showed, this approach encouraged creative and varied responses from me and my fellow institute participants.  The difference between “student” and “learner” was explored In another workshop session . Direction encouraged us to be learners while directions would have forced us to be students.

I need to make it clear to the learners in my classroom that it is their path to walk and therefore I cannot tell them exactly how to get to the destination. I need to help and guide while allowing them to discover their own strengths and supporting them in their weaknesses. And who knows what unexpected, creative work will come from this approach.

Go for a walk, write a poem, take a yoga class, dance your heart out, or sing a song; live a balanced life.
Teaching is part of who I am. I spend a large amount of time engaged in my professional practice, reflecting on that practice, and refining my approach. But teaching is not the entirety of who I am.

I am also a writer and photographer. It is important that I attend to my relationships with family and friends. I enjoy art museums, gardens, and movies. I am teaching myself to play the ukulele. And so much more.

The more true I am to my needs, do the things I enjoy, and maintain the healthy relationships in my life the better I am at my work. My experience in the GMWP summer institute crystallized a feeling I've had over the last year into a thought: if I work at my own writing, I will be a better teacher of writing and a better human being.

Teachers ARE at the center...act accordingly!
Part of the required reading for the GMWP summer institute was Teachers at the Center by James Gray. In this book, Gray tells the story of the founding of the National Writing Project. As the title suggests, his central philosophy is that teachers are the source for real development and change in education. It is the experiences and passions of teachers that combine in beautiful ways to make an impact on learners.

Gray's revolutionary approach was to put teachers in charge of their own professional development and to give them a space and time in which to share their work with colleagues. I discussed my own experience with this approach above. I've had numerous colleagues sing the praises of Kelly Gallagher and the professional development he provides, and one of the reasons they respect his suggests more than others is because he is still in the classroom. This approach works.

So, when will we accept this truth as a society? Why are there no teachers included in local school board discussions? Why are teachers shut out of the halls of power when decisions about education are being made? I will praise the Wisconsin DPI and the federal Department of Education because they are seeking out teacher voices. But if corporations can have direct contact with policy makers in crafting laws related to their areas of expertise, why aren't teachers involved directly in crafting legislation related to education?

All of these issues are complex. It certainly doesn't make them less complex to involve more people. It does, however, mean that the policy work being done would have a better chance of having a real impact.  There is no other profession in recent history that has been as heavily debated and regulated by outsiders and yet so underrepresented by practitioners.

Friday, July 19, 2013

My Friday In The "Institution"

I am taking part in the Greater Madison Writing Project summer institute from July 8 to August 1.  Each participant must log the work done during one day of the institute.  This is my photo essay log for Friday, July 19.
The sunrise of Friday, July 19, 2013 finds me traveling to Madison, WI for
a short day in the Greater Madison Writing Project (GMWP) 2013 summer
institute.  Most of the days are 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.  Today we meet from
9:00 am to noon.  This is the tenth day of the 18 day institute and I already
feel overwhelmed with all of the new ideas for my classroom learned from
my new GMWP friends. 
While walking to the Teacher Education building a freak rain shower starts.
Later I am reminded that it is times like these, when you can see both the rain
and the sun, that rainbows are possible.  I'll have to remember that for a poem.  
Normally we meet at Olbrich Botanical Gardens.  Our two Friday sessions
are, however, held here at the Teacher Education building at 225 North Mills
Street on the UW-Madison campus.  This is a relatively quiet part of campus,
which seems fitting for a place where teachers gather to learn. 
In front of the teacher education building is a hole.  Sadly it is not a sinkhole.
We have had an ongoing joke about banishing our problems to a sinkhole.
I also learned that you must be very careful walking on the rubber, temporary
"sidewalk" when it is raining since it becomes a slip-n-slide.
I am early.  I have never mastered the art of showing up "on time."  I like it
this way.  I've found a quiet corner near the stairwell to sit and write a little.
When Christine enters the room she asks if I saw the double rainbow on
my way in; I didn't but I'm glad she asks me about rainbows.  It has made me
think of the picture I took earlier in the rain.  The other members of the summer
institute arrive eager to take part in Christine's teachers workshop.  Since we
will need our computers, David helps Beth get her laptop connected to the
wi-fi and logged in to the UW network. 
Erica starts the day by giving us our write in prompt.  Her prompt is based
on the fact that today is her cousin's birthday.  Her cousin was the first baby
she ever held.  We are to write about firsts.  I suspect that Carol's first is far
more interesting than mine which is about my first attempt to get a driver's
license (I failed but passed the driving test the second time).
Andy (and everyone else) listens as Jen delivers her log from Thursday.  She
frames it as a trial transcript that proves quite well that teachers are neither
being lazy or loafing in our summer's "off."
We relocate to the PC Classroom 348 in the MERIT Library (still in the Teacher
Education building).  We get logged on and settled in as Christine prepares
to start her workshop.
The teacher workshop is a big piece of the summer institute experience.  Each
member of the group prepares an inquiry based, 90 minute session that focuses
on answering some question he or she has about the classroom.  Often this 
inquiry leads to some new technique, practice, or understanding that will become
part of his or her classroom.  Christine's teachers workshop is about incorporating
wikis and blogs into the work she does at the Wisconsin Center for Academically
Talented Youth.  She summarizes her current teaching practices, explains
how she envisions using wikis and blogs as part of her work, and lets
us explore these two tools in order to contemplate how we might use them
in our own classrooms.
These are three of the resources that Christine has us experiment with.
Mindmup.com is an online mind mapping/webbing tool that lets you easily
create webs without buying expensive software.  Kidblog.org is a blogging
platform designed for classrooms.  Wikispaces.com is one of many wiki hosts
that specialize in serving the education community.
After Christine's workshop, my table group (Cindy, Angela, and Mary Ann)
types up a review of the session.  Each of the four table groups is doing the same
at this time.  The feedback from peers is extremely valuable when trying
to decide what worked and what didn't, what ways this might be used in a
class, and what pitfalls might have gone unconsidered.
At the same time, Christine meets with Mark D., Beth, and Mark N. to discuss
the workshop.  This discussion with the organizers of the summer institute
also provides valuable information when thinking about how to proceed
after the workshop is over.
Since this is a short day, the next thing on the agenda is our write out.  Mark
tells us that today's prompt is to add to the shared Google doc called "GMWP
Questions About the World."  For example, Stephanie adds this question:
"If the earth was a head and trees were its hair, would it feel like people are
lice running all over its skin?"
Each day ends with the wauthors (writers/authors) chair.  Mark shares the
story of a friend proposing to his girlfriend in Rome on the previous day.  It
was a happy story to end the week on.  The normal days of the institute
include reading group time, writing response groups, and choice time for us to
read and write whatever we need to get done at that time.  It is hard to
believe that there are only eight more days left.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fifth Way of Looking at Me - Declaration of Independence

In Institute, July 16, 2013

We know that each member of the human race is delightfully unique; we honor and accept those differences in all we do. Though thoroughly unequal, individual, and unique from birth, each member of the human species must have the rights to pursue industrious activities to meet his or her needs, share love in all its nurturing forms, and share the beauty of his or her humanity through expressive outlets; these rights should be limited only to ensure the preservation of the same rights for all.

To better serve the young people we work with, to establish our rights and responsibilities as practicing professional teachers, and to establish a more honest and complete identity for each individual, we declare our independence from the following:

  • Those who would institute practices that interfere with the beliefs stated above
  • All people who accept that any human person, a human's experiences, or human potential can be reduced to actionable numbers (see “Yet Another Standardization Movement”)
  • Those who harmfully damage the development of a young person by neglect or neglectful coddling (see “But You Don't Know His Home Life”)
  • Those who separate themselves from reality so they can maintain an overly simplistic view of the problems we face which allows the myth of simple, miraculous solutions to flourish (see “Let's Just Focus On The Positive”)
  • Those who choose to perpetuate this same myth of easily identified and easily solved problems to the public (see “2013 School Board Report: Yet Another Wonderful Year”)
  • Anyone unwilling to have a respectful, open discussion that allows for clarity in the identification of real problems (see “What We Need Is Professional Development That Blames The Teachers”)
  • Anyone unwilling to share those problems publicly with the appropriate groups to garner empathy, support, and real solutions (see “We Can't Admit We Have Problems and Other Problems For Scared Educators”)
  • Those who view the teaching profession as a drain on society, which is in direct conflict with the role education plays in maintaining the shared values of our representative republic (see “My School Experience Was A Waste Of Time Except...”)
  • Anyone who views teachers as “those who can't” (see “Any Media Outlet In The Last Ten Years”)
  • Any person whose first priority is to sell a system, book, program, or “guaranteed” fix to complex problems (see “Most Professional Development Most Teachers Have Ever Experienced”)

Our pleas for understanding and requests for dialogue have been met with stony stares and cold hearts (see “MSD School Board Meeting July 2011). If it is impossible for you to include us in the process of developing policy and evaluating practice, we will ignore you out of necessity (see “CCSS Implementation” and “Teacher Effectiveness Models”). If you make further mandates that make our jobs impossible, you will lose our services (see “Teacher Retention Rates” and “Decline in Enrollment in Education Majors”). A far more dire consequence is the impact this will have on students, on our future.

Neither have we been neglectful of our duties to our students. We have continued our work through all of the hardships (see “Act 10”) and neglectful leadership (see “I have Outlasted Many Administrators”). Can we not work together to achieve the common goal of ensuring the education and futures of our nation's children? Can we not find common ground and mutual benefit built on compromise? If we cannot accomplish this, what do we expect our students are learning about collaboration?

We, the 2013 cohort of the Greater Madison Writing Project, seek peaceful resolution of our grievances; absent that, we seek separation from your tyranny.

When peaceful talks and collaborative efforts can continue, you know where to find us; we are the teachers at the center.

Fourth Way Of Looking At Me - Summer of '13 Songbook

I love all of the albums and songs listed here. The fact that I find something beautiful in each of them tells you something about me.

In addition, I have highlighted the lyrics that resonate with me the most. These are the lines that I will belt out louder than the performer if I am alone in the car when the song comes on.

In some cases they are the lines that break my heart because they capture my own experiences so well.

I hope you find a song or two to add to your summer listening.
-Carney A. Lentz

Annotated Track List

1. “Hell Yeah” from Out of Range by Ani DiFranco
-DiFranco expresses her unique view of the world by giving glimpses into genuine moments. The line “sometimes there's some poetry / if you turn you back long enough / and let it happen naturally” reminds me I need to live in the moment to appreciate and absorb the beauty around me.

2. “Lost” from Theatre Is Evil by Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra
-A quote from this song is also in my “One Last Love Letter.” The idea that “nothings ever lost forever” challenges everything in my experience; this is one reason why I like this song.

3. “Save Me” from Making Mirrors by Gotye
-With all of the changes in my life over the last few years, I've learned that I'm stronger and more capable than I used to believe. This song implies that one person inspired the singer to change; for me, the inspiration to change is from many people. I can, however, still connect with the emotion expressed here.

4. “Other Side Of Me” from Laughter In The Rain by Neil Sedaka
-One frustration with choosing to change is that some people never really see the new me, while those who meet me today have no idea the struggle it has been to get to this point.

5. “Please Read The Letter That I Wrote” from Raising Sand by Robert Plant & Alison Kraus
-I love the idea of the letter coming from sleep and the image of the “well of many words.” This gets at the mysterious and sometimes completely inexplicable sources of inspiration and insight.

6. “Telling Stories” from Telling Stories by Tracy Chapman
-Chapman touches on the darker side of how words can be used. She is expressing this in the context of a failing romantic relationship; however, the idea that one person can tell a partial truth or leave to implication a much darker meaning is powerful, and it applies to all areas of our lives.

7. “Paperback Writer” from 1 by The Beatles
-The desperation to have someone appreciate your art and see the meaning and value of it is a familiar feeling.

8. “This Is Not A Test” from Volume One by She & Him
-It is the beauty that we leave behind that we are remembered for isn't it? And that beauty can come I many forms: relationships, children, lessons taught, artwork, etc.

9. “Stars” from Some Nights by Fun.
-I never know what to say when people tell me that they have been moved by my work. What is the proper reaction when “people on the street...they're telling me that they like what I do now”?

10. “We May Never Pass This Way Again” from Greatest Hits by Seals & Crofts
-Since we are likely to not pass this way again, what beauty can we experience and leave behind?

11. “Going Home” from Old Ides by Leonard Cohen
-We are all just “the brief elaboration of a tube.” Isn't what we are capable of all the more amazing with that in mind?

12. “Immortality” from Number Ones by Bee Gees
-The opening lines of this song are undeniably life affirming. I love the use of “faith” to refer to inward examination (“my faith in who I am”) rather than a perception of some outward force.

13. “Heal Yeah!” from 12 Songs by Neil Diamond
-This song was a recent discovery for me. It instantly became one of my favorites. It is the best anthem for a life lived without regret that I have ever heard.

[What song(s) are the soundtrack for your summer?]

Monday, July 08, 2013

One Last Love Letter - Third Way of Looking At Me

 Today would have been Colleen's birthday.  Today is also the start of my time at the summer institute for GMWP.  So, it seemed fitting to have the third way of looking at me be about Colleen.
July 8, 2013

My Love,

Today you would have turned 54, and you have been gone for over three years. You will never read this. You will never know these words just as you will never know so much about my life. There is so much I would tell you, so many experiences I have wished to share with you, and so many times I have longed for your trusted guidance and loving arms.

I know this is supposed to be a “love letter” but I need to first air some of my regrets. Perhaps on the screen, on paper, or simply out of my head they will not seem so bad. I wish I had convinced you to get medical attention earlier. I'm sorry you never got “Up North” for one more trip, though some of your ashes are in Lac du Flambeau and Lake Superior. I regret not taking more time away from work while you were in the hospital. I wish I had been more honest with you about how ill equipped I was to manage your home care; I didn't know myself until I saw how the nurses cared for you. I'll never forget how heart broken you were when I told you that you could not come home from the hospital; though I know it isn’t true, I feel like that disappointment helped to spread the infection already lurking in your system. I’m sorry your father wasn’t with you when you passed; I should have made them stay. I'm sorry I didn't hire professional mourners to stand in the back of the church to wail, rip their clothes, and pull out their hair.

Colleen, you need to know – I think you knew – I was ready to spend every day of the rest of my life with you. That was my plan. And I haven't exactly formulated a new one yet. In the weeks after your death I asked your friend, Betsy, about how she had moved on after the death of her Noah. She laughed at the potentially demeaning nature of her own comment, “You've had dogs die and yet you've been able to love a new dog right? Well, every person I've loved has been different in a similar way.” I laughed too because I know she wasn't comparing our lovers to dogs; she truly sees her animals as people, members of her family. And the people in our lives enter and exit at unpredictable times.

In the three years and two months since you died, I took a quick trip around the state and into South Dakota to visit places you loved and leave some of your ashes (sorry, I haven't gotten to Hawaii yet), my father died, your father died, your mother sold their house, she moved to Portage, your aunt Lorraine died, I bought a house, I self-published a book of poetry, I started a writing club at school, I've lost about 150 pounds (with about 40 or so to go), Mom has had the farmhouse repainted – blue, I've started to take my photography more seriously, Joe has been a good friend – you were right about him, I've went every year to see Marge Gibson release the eagles in Sauk Prairie, Dalton graduated from college, eventually so did Bug, Mikal started college working toward a nursing degree, Mikal is still driving your old car – she is taking good care of it, and so much more.

This verse from “Lost” by Amanda Palmer has been going through my mind a lot lately:

No one's ever lost forever.
When they die they go away,
But they will visit you occasionally.
Do not be afraid.
No one's ever lost forever.
They are caught inside your heart.
If you garden them and water them,
They make you what you are.

This is a song that you never heard by a singer you never heard. I think you would have liked it and liked her. And it is true. And all the sappy songs about loss are true. You are gone, but the love remains.

In my garden you are the oak tree with tiger lilies around its trunk. Tall, strong, and enduring with flashes of color in spring and fall. In my garden you provide shade to all and a place to live for all the little birds. I suspect there might be a cat in your branches as well – not the Cheshire cat Alice encountered but your cranky Punkin cat. In my garden you are one of the anchor points around which everything else must make sense.

Thank you for being. Thank you for being my love. Thank you for sharing your time.


Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Six Word Novel - Second Way Of Looking At Me

My second "Way of Looking at Me" that I had to have ready for the GMWP summer institute.  Trying to write a six word novel about your own life is much more difficult than you might think.  I went through something like 30 variations some with completely different themes the the one I settled on.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

New Poem - Pink Plastic Scooter

At the far corner
of the lawn
it stands alone.
    And where did
    your mind go?
The white and pink
plastic tassels
flutter in the wind.
    But why do
    you think so?
The river is high
across the street, and
the boats of foam float
down stream.
    So, now you
    think I'm unfair?
A little, yellow car
rolls by; the driver
ignores it all.
    And who are
    you to judge?

Tomorrow all the toys
will be gone
from the yard.
    And do you
    know why?
The hydrant will
be painted and the curb
will be swept.
    But you need
    to know more?
Perhaps some boy will
walk down the street
singing a song.
    So, the story
    is resolved?
The lawnmower
sits idle in
tomorrow evening's sun.
    And do you realize now
    it is all in your mind?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Marks - Poem With Photo

Click the image to see it larger.  It is interesting that I had to up the "clarity" on my shoulder to make the marks as visible in the image as they are to me.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

New Poem - Marks

Beaches after the ocean has receded,
        my striated shoulders marked
                    by the surging of the waves.

Once so fat, I now have stretch marks
        on my shoulders, a record carved by
                    the flow of tears. 

These are the least grotesque remnants
        of an old self; they are beautiful
                    as reminders. 

No tattoos, but I have these. 
        Not the results of artful choices but
            the consequence of bad decisions,

I rub ink on my body and press it to paper;
                    the story is one of regret.
For the Greater Madison Writing Project Summer Institute, I have to show up with three different genre pieces that show some aspect of who I am.  I think this might be the poem I use.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

For The Class Of 2013

I'm glad to
see you go;

    it is time.

Because I'll be
as happy for
your return when
the distance of
time and the
    experiences of life
    can allow appreciation,
rather than loathing,
of this place.

I'm waiting for
you to gain
    wisdom, to return
with thoughtful critiques,
to help make
this place better.

I hope you'll
    bring your experience,
    appreciation, and wisdom
back to town.

When it's time,
I'll be glad

    for your return.

So many are
off for an
adventure. Your lives
    will require courage
I'm not sure
I have; there
will be much
you can teach.

Perhaps you'll find
that courage in
a rigid sense
    of dedication. or
    in quiet optimism
that says, "This
isn't so bad."

When your travels
bring you near,
stop and share
    your adventures and 
    the courage, dedication,
    and optimism discovered.

    The future awaits;
I'm glad to
see you go.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

New Poem - The Illusion of Perfect Symmetry

"Now my heart breaks
        when my beautiful sister (left above)
tries to turn her right side
        away from the world."
When I try to feign wonder,
    I become Spock saying, "fascinating."
No face is symmetrical;
    mine is just more obviously uneven.

My left face and neck is mostly slack;
that eyebrow
    has never moved.
When I smile or
    look surprised
            it is obvious
                    to me.

People say, "Oh I never noticed that."
    I feel they are full of shit,
while knowing they are telling

                    their truth.

My sister's cancer reduced the right side
        of her face to a similar lifelessness,

she also has no sense of touch and
        has scars on her neck.

Now my heart breaks
        when my beautiful sister
tries to turn her right side
        away from the world.

I fret over a gift of
                    my birth,
she has shame over
        a sign of her willingness
                    to endure.

We view the world through
                    unhappy slackness.  

Roger Ebert contemplated a face transplant
        after his own, even more severe,
facial disfigurement;
        he concluded that it was still his face,
                    he knew it and
                    loved it.

We too must own our
        half perfection;
the illusion of perfect symmetry
        is only ever accomplished
                    in our minds.

New Poem - Forgotten Poem

on the cheaply upholstered hotel couch
the long day reaches it whispering end with us
hand in hand.

My feet
ache; so, I kick off the black, leather extra-wides. 
This is the first time you have seen me
sock footed.

I have
a notion that coolly sharing gross physiology is intimacy. 
So I fight shyness and keep my feet

watch me with a devilish grin as I yank off my socks;
it is time we become more than

Sunday, May 05, 2013

New Poem - The Richness I Possess

I do because I can;
     I know the power of a life,
        the wisdom of a whisper, and
            the rightness of joy

                - however brief.

I care because
    I have been cared about and
        know the power of sheltering arms,            
            comforting words, and
                generous actions
                    - however humble.

I speak truth because
    I know the hurtful power of lies,
        the destruction of deception, and
            the pain of being mislead

                - however well intentioned.

I appreciate because
    I have crafted my own art and
        know the power of loving praise,          
            honest critiques, and
                public display

                    - however small the audience.

I own the world because
    I know it, have laid a claim to it,
        logged it in my ledger, and
            defend the place where I stand

                - however small my footprint.


The above poem was started as part of a writing prompt given at my orientation for the Greater Madison Writing Project's summer institute.  We were told to respond to these quotes from Brenda Ueland: "the ways you possess richness...the much-much that is in you...call out and know it and write it."