SOLS: Not A Bang, But A Whimper

This is the way the challenge ends
This is the way the challenge ends
This is the way the challenge ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper

I had hoped to write such a lovely post today, as a farewell to this month full of riches and growth and community, but instead, I’m looking at a day where I have two conferences for my own kids, classes to teach, tests to grade, comments to write, and grades to enter before the 8 AM deadline tomorrow morning. I’m so irritated with myself for not clearing this grading off my plate so I could have been more reflective today, but then, I guess, that’s not always what Slicing is about.

Slicing is about stealing a few minutes in the hushed silence of a house that hasn’t woken up yet while your fingers tap tap tap at the keys before they start to ask about breakfast and lunch and two dollars for walking club and sign this test please and where are my sneakers? Slicing is about stealing a few minutes between classes to capture that nagging sensation that finally floated into your mind, fully articulated, at the most inconvenient time of day. Slicing is about making sure to leave comments on all the new blogs you’ve followed in the past month, the writers who just retired or are waving goodbye to their toddlers in the morning, the writers who are inspiring kids in their classrooms and collapsing at the end of busy schooldays. Slicing is about finding that last drop of inspiration when you thought there was simply nothing left. Slicing is about putting something on the “page” and feeling free to take a risk because everyone knows slices don’t have to be revised or polished before they enter the greater conversation.

I’m hoping to have more time tomorrow to reflect and write about all that this month of writing has given me–but not today. Today is just for limping (or whimpering) over the finish line, feeling hollow and wobbly, knowing I have much ahead of me today, and feeling grateful for everyone out there who’s convinced me I have something valuable to say. Thank you all so much for this month full of challenge–it’s meant more to me than I can express (right now, at least, but maybe even at all).

SOLS: What Really Feeds Me

Bourbon Street steak and potatoes: 740 calories
Green Goddess wedge salad: 550 calories
Clubhouse Grill sandwich: 1120 calories
Cowboy Burger: 1280 calories
Blue Ribbon Brownie: 1670 calories
Heineken, one bottle: 150 calories
Chocolate frosted donut: 270 calories

note: not all of the above food was consumed by the two figures in this story, but more calories were consumed during the course of the day than perhaps our writer would like to admit

Hours of conversation with a friend you’ve known since your children were babies, talking about politics, marriage, parenting, feminism, literature, and art, as you ride the train back and forth to New York City to see a stunning play based on Wolf Hall, one of your friend’s favorite books, a day that leaves you feeling heard, supported, and fulfilled.

Emotional calories: worth every bite.

note: this slice a special dedication to my friend Karen, who has taken me on wonderful urban adventures but most importantly, has been right beside me on every roller coaster ride my life has taken in the last thirteen years

SOLS: Say Yes

Say yes:

when your friend asks if you want to accompany her on a spontaneous day trip to New York City to see a Broadway show. Don’t feel guilty that she is treating you and you aren’t paying for yourself; it will be soul-satisfying for both of you in a priceless way.

to affirmations, even though you used to suspect them of being too…..cheesy for you? Whatever cheesy means? You will start doing them at night, before you go to bed, writing and rewriting yourself into more strength and optimism and confidence every day.

to the voice inside you that says it’s okay if dinner is hot dogs and applesauce the girls fixed themselves while you ate cereal. Everyone is fed. Everyone will be fine.

to actually saying the observations you make in your head; you’ll compliment a colleague on her lovely pink-and-white scarf, which will turn into a conversation about spring’s welcome arrival, which will make you both smile and feel cheered.

to the laughter that bubbles up as your students mill around the classroom, teasing each other and blurting out random facts about themselves, their days, their families. You might look a little crazy giggling to yourself in the corner, but it will feel really good.

when your daughter asks if she can make cupcakes by herself, even though she leaves a messy kitchen in her wake; the baking cupcakes perfume the whole house, her pride knows no bounds.

to taking new steps, no matter how terrifying they may seem. Much must be risked in order to forge a new life.

SOLS: A Picture Tells a Story

Mom and me

Look at the little girl, her straight-across bangs and shy smile, her round tummy and sturdy legs. Her cheeks still hold the softness of childhood, and she has a dollar bill–maybe it was a birthday present? Her petal-pink shorts, her cloud-white top and sandals. She stands in her mother’s embrace, pleased and loved. Anyone could look at this little girl and see the glow of care and attention that surrounds her.

Look at the mother, her wide smile, her summer-tanned skin. It’s hard to see in the photograph, but her bright top and shorts are almost the shade of her ocean-blue eyes. She is poised on the first step of a future she is hoping to hold as tightly as she does the little girl. This house will be their home for a few more years, but not much longer, and the family constellation that lives inside it now will scatter, spinning light and explosions across the sky of their lives. The mother is strong and beautiful and young, and she loves the little girl so much.

Houses and families and skin and smiles will change and evolve, but this girl and her mother, they will stay constant, certain as the arc of the sun, steady as the tides, connected as a tree to its deep strong roots.

SOLS: Teaching Romance

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself

Five days left in the Slice of Life March Challenge, and I feel constricted by the fact that parts of my life are off-limits for my daily slices, but preoccupying so much of my mind and heart that it seems silly not to write about them. An upcoming move, waves of emotion that threaten to swamp me, a feeling of liberation that is frightening and inspiring at once. But while most of those facets of my life won’t make it here on the blog–at least not in the same form they have for me now–I feel like each slice I’ve written is in some way illuminated but by what, you may never see.

I read one of my favorite Neruda poems today with my seniors, and we talked about the structure and freedom in the poem, the beautiful lines and the secrecy inherent in every romance. “Who ever knows the real story of any romance, other than the people living it?” I said to them. “Think of your parents; doesn’t it seem like you couldn’t know them any better, having spent so much of your life with them in such close proximity? But there is so much about them, about their love for each other and why it grew or stopped, that you can never know.”

“I know,” one girl said. “We went to their college recently, where they met, and they were showing us where they went on dates and everything, and I was just like, ewww.”

“I know,” another girl said. “My parents broke up before they got back together and got married. It’s so gross to think about them that way.”

It’s funny to read these deeply felt poems with my students sometimes, as these romantic riptides are not quite within their experience yet. But I think it’s important to start introducing them to the complexities of love this way, and maybe someday, they’ll have the language to express what eludes them now, or the vision to see what is too shadowy today.

For me, I find comfort in the beauty of the words, but also in the authenticity of the love depicted in Neruda’s sonnets, in darker shades and passionate tones, with unflinching resonance.

I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

SOLS: Salt and Tomatoes

salt sings, the skin
of the salt mines
sings
with a mouth smothered
by the earth.

National Poetry Month is approaching, and I’m gearing up for poetry units with my students. My seniors are reading from the works of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in my Latin American literature elective, and my 9th graders will be making their March Madness poetry brackets, making poetry public in our school community, and participating in the Dear Poet project from the Academy of American Poets .

My seniors and I started our studies with Ode to Tomatoes and Ode to Salt, from Neruda’s Odes to Common Things. I love teaching these odes because they show off so much of what I love about Neruda’s work; his savoring of language, his playful approach paired with a deep joy and reverence for the world around us, and his ability to make us see that world differently. We read through the poems silently, marking what stands out to us, and then we do choral readings, where I read the entire poems and the students’ voices join me on the lines they marked. This is one of my favorite techniques for introducing poems, as it helps us establish that poems are meant to be heard, read, discussed, loved, not just dissected or beaten and tortured to find its meaning, as Billy Collins would agree. We had good discussions about the personification, the metaphors and similes used in the poem, the way the tone and voice would shift to show different facets of the subject, and we agreed that tomatoes and salt were indeed worthy of celebration. I told them that one of the reasons I love to teach Neruda is that so much of the “great” literature we assign in schools is heartbreaking and depressing–beautiful, yes, important, yes, but not always joyful or uplifting. Literature can gladden your heart too, I said, and Neruda’s joy is clear on every page, even when he’s using his poetic powers for more political purposes.

no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

SOLS: Taxes

Do you do your own taxes? Do you find yourself having a lot of feelings about this phenomenon? Let me explain a few of mine.

There’s nothing as adult or inevitable as taxes, the theory goes, and it certainly does feel very mature to sit down with a stack of paperwork and methodically crunch those numbers. I did my own taxes this weekend for the first time in about 14 years, and while the online program I used was pretty painless, it still brought up a few different waves of emotions. I’m always stunned by the gap between my salary and the actual amount I take home each year, after deductions for state taxes, federal taxes, Social Security and more, even though I am theoretically happy to get government services and help provide them for others. I still feel like earning tens of thousands of dollars seems like such a magical number of abundance, but that “wealth” seems to drain away so quickly in a tide of food, shelter, health insurance, and trips to Target. This year, I am getting a refund, the size of which is enough to change some of my plans for the summer, which was a welcome relief. However, should we even be glad to get big refunds? I guess it depends on whether we are “savers” or “spenders”–the theory being that if you are a disciplined saver, you should adjust your withholding and keep more of your own money each month. Spenders benefit from having that money withheld or “loaned” to the government and then returned/refunded in a big chunk each spring. That brings up the whole question of saver vs. spender, where you fall on the continuum, and how you feel about that particular part of your personality. Like probably 95% of Americans, I wish I had more money and have a sneaking feeling of guilt that it’s at least partially my own fault that I don’t. Sure, education is a criminally undervalued profession, but also, I did spend $9 on decorated Easter bunny cookies to slip into my daughters’ school mailboxes as a surprise this afternoon.

Have you done your taxes yet? Do they bring up different emotions for you, or is this just me?

SOLS: Gloria

Gloria

The art of acting morally is behaving as if everything we do matters.

I saw Gloria Steinem speak this year, and I still feel inspired. I’m reading a book she recommended, and I’m hoping to implement some other changes in my life based on her words, but today, on her 81st birthday, I want to remind myself of these words, and how many possibilities still exist in the world.

SLOS: Slice of Panic

Oh look, new slices of all of these lives, Skyping with grandchildren, making recipes
I love each and every one, so rich and particular…

wait….

what did I post about today?
What have I been thinking about, that maybe I posted a slice of?
The Girl on the Train, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves?
the simple pleasure of making meatloaf in the kitchen while listening to the Alabama Shakes?
feeling more clearheaded this week than I have in what seems like forever, even though I’ve been battling a head cold and haven’t touched the grading I brought home for the break?

……

Wait.

Did I post today?

is there still time??

did I break my streak??

Sigh. It’s only 8:30. Still time for one small slice.