Driven to the light


On my way to work today I passed beneath the walkway between the two McCormick Places which crosses above Lakeshore Drive. Inside, on the ceiling of that overpass, were red and blue lights and somehow, strangely, I was teleported back to sometime in my childhood when I had been given a small battery-operated lantern that had a white, red, and blue (green?) light. I remember each night I would make a tent under my covers and play with the lights. If I remember correctly there was a sliding switch that had three stops, each regulating one of the bulbs situated at the base of the lantern, and a fourth stop which turned it off. I am pretty sure this was all before my sister was born so I must have been younger than 4 or 5. I was endlessly fascinated with the light. In my “tent” I would sometimes look through books (read?) or just play with the colors, watching how the colored lights transformed the reality of my vision. I still can feel how the glow of the red felt like the air had substance, was a visceral substance. I also remember my mother coming into my bedroom and threatening to take the lantern away if I didn’t go to bed. I would quickly turn it off and then wait patiently for her to go to sleep, making sure periodically that the edges of my tent (covers) were all securely laying on the bed so she wouldn’t see any light seep through.

It’s a puzzlement to me why this memory hit me this morning. Right after going under the walkway, the red ball of the sun had just appeared wholly above the horizon and synchronistically underscored the memory of that old lantern.

Compelled like moths, we are drawn– yes, even driven– to the light. Even when it’s light years away.

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“The Pilgrim Is Bridled and Bespectacled” by Bridget Lowe

World, I honor you.
After everything
we’ve been through,

I honor you and take you with me
up the mountainside
where we will live
in wonderment.

I take you to the desert
where we shrivel like worms
and become tongues
for other people to kiss with.

World, there are two baskets
on my back.
Fill them. Fill them with fruit
and more fruit.

Or fill them with whatever
is customary
but tell me it is fruit.
Call it something good.

World, some have satisfied their thirst.
But I am the crying-out animal
who can see in the dark.
Forgive me.


Poem (c) 2011 Bridget Lowe, all rights reserved. Film (c) 2012 Motionpoems, Inc., all rights reserved.

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Classroom choreography

IMG_6153It’s only Day Three of school with the students and I feel exhausted. The pace of teaching is obviously so very different from the pace of a laid back summer. It’s only Day Three and my antennae are already up about three (maybe four, maybe five) of my students. Tomorrow night is Open House with the parents who will be following a shortened schedule of their child’s day and visiting all of their classes. I will need to drink a lot of coffee to sustain my energy.

It is only Day Three, yet I can tell with which students I will have a strong bond and those with whom I will have to work extra hard to make connection. I can see which students will be diligent and others with whom I will have to work to be more organized and more motivated about doing their work. I can see which students are skillful and which need to make their skills a lot more solid. I already know who are the risk-takers and who the shy, careful, fearful ones. It is only Day Three and I am already responding and improvising to the needs of the group while balancing (and honoring) the individual voices in the room. This choreography takes enormous observation and lots of in-flight correction, as well as a great deal of energy.

It has only been a few days, but the spirit and the heart of each of my students are beginning to flesh themselves out. I can already tell it’s not going to be an easy year (is there ever such a thing?), but it will be a year of auspicious adventure with intense and playful interaction, complete with set-backs, obstacles, and frustrations, as well as progress and triumphs, not only for the students, but also for myself.

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RIP to the Italian Diva Magda Olivero 1910-2014

Driving home from work today, listening to NPR, I heard the announcement of the death of Magda Olivero, an Italian opera singer who was 104 years old. Her style embraced a mega vibrato combined with a powerful breath control which allowed “Olivero to do things like floating dreamy, gossamer-thin tones up to the rafters,” as the NPR story reported. Even when she was 83 years old, at 3:45 of the video above, her control is unbelievable. Renee Fleming is enamored of her virtuosity and visited the singer when Olivero was 94 years old. “She is such an inspiration,” Fleming says, “beautiful, funny, a great raconteur. She gave me a breathing lesson. She had me feeling how she breathes, how she supports, and let me tell you, her abdominal wall is stronger than mine. Rude awakening.”

When I got home I googled her music. There are over 200 videos of her singing. There is even a video of her singing at 100 years old. Here’s to the power of art to transcend age and transport us all. Here’s to the good fortune of a longevity in good health and well-spent.

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Penultimate Year

For the past week, the teacher I share a classroom with and I have been cleaning our classroom. When we first walked into it last week it was trashed. There had been quite a bit of construction done in the room including some electrical rewiring and an intercom system placed in the wall. Everything in the room was topsy turvy and covered in dust. When we first saw the room we were pretty bummed out, but eventually found it an opportunity to rethink the space and transform it into a much more useable, student-friendly room. It took most of the week to do. We even deep-cleaned closets and  cabinets. We were ruthless in tossing out stray papers, old projects, and broken furniture.

And now the space feels so much more open, calm, without clutter. It’s a lot more fun to teach in. It feels organic, more natural, especially in transitions from desk work to group work to whole class activities. A good start to my penultimate year. (I will be retiring in two years!)

A commitment I have made before I retire is to get this teaching thing right. I am reminded of Mrs. Dubose in To Kill a Mockingbird who is a morphine addict and after being told she will die soon, decides to go cold turkey to stop her addiction before she dies so she can die beholden to nothing or no one. Before I retire, I want to kick all my sloppy habits and perfect the classroom experience as best I can. I want to leave the profession having refined my skills as a teacher by creating an environment where students feel comfortable to learn, to share, to form meaningful relationships, to take risks, to find relevance in the work with which we engage, while simultaneously (and with some enthusiasm) growing their skills and knowledge base.

The maximum feng shui of the room has finally been secured. Now to focus on the quality of our interactions with each other and with the material we are exploring together.

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Mary Margaret O’Hara

How have I never heard of her before? I always thought I was a pretty hip person, especially when it came to music and when it came to music in the last thirty years. Mary Margaret O’Hara is a unique songwriter and vocalist, emphasis here is on unique. Her style is offbeat both figuratively and, in truth, quite literally and her music so difficult to describe — quirky, haunting, almost otherworldly, sometimes delirious. She says about her music and performance, “It’s about letting it happen as much as making it happen, like a fun ride that you’re directing and letting happen. It’s kind of focused-unfocused, or lost and found at the same time.” You must to listen to her.

She is a cult figure with a large fan base in Canada and some have labeled her a national treasure. I randomly found her looking for something entirely different- part of the joy (and sometimes frustration) of an internet search. She has only produced two albums, Miss America in 1988 and Apartment Hunting in 2001 (a soundtrack to a small Canadian film directed by Bill Robertson) and a Christmas EP in 1991.

I have gathered a couple examples of her work. Listen and be amazed.


The Cry of Man

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Philip Levine on America’s Workers


What Work Is

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

Philip Levine, “What Work Is” from What Work Is. Copyright © 1992 by Philip Levine.

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