Class Discussion: I Should Have Been Prepared But I Wasn’t

Fail Road“Fail Road” by fireflythegreat is licensed under CC BY 2.0

As a teacher who often brings up current event into my sixth grade classroom, I should have been better prepared for talking about the riots and storming of the Capitol Building on Wednesday by Trump supporters, but I wasn’t. I don’t know why not. Maybe I was still trying to process the news myself. Maybe I was worried that talking about it would start me, as the teacher, on a political diatribe against this administration’s effort. Maybe I didn’t know what families had talked about and didn’t have a clear sense of lines.

But the topic came up, rather quickly, when one student asked, in a sort of whisper, if I had seen “the news about DC” and how terrible it was that people had died and another student, who has long been an open Trump supporter, called the breaking in of Nancy Pelosi’s office “a beautiful thing.” Another chimed in about images of broken windows and selfies that the rioters had taken and posted.

This took me aback, particularly the ‘beautiful thing’ coming from that particular student, whose personality is so peaceful, calm and nice. To hear them celebrate insurrection alarmed me. I took a breath, and led a quick discussion about the line between street protests and rioting, and didn’t even venture (yet) into how misinformation can be used to foment violence. We also chatted about the peaceful transfer of power in the United States as bedrock of Democracy.

I’m not sure I did a good job leading that discussion, to be honest. I’m trying to figure out how to approach it again today with information and respectful talk.

This PBS Resource is helpful for framing discussions.

Peace (bringing it),
Kevin

When Conversations Turn (in)To Poetry

An Australian Landscape“An Australian Landscape” by sachman75 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s no surprise that my good friend from Australia, Wendy, would share out an amazing book connecting various kinds of writing to the Australian landscape, history and social fabric, called Reading the Landscape. Which she did, on Twitter, and which I tried to get here in the US via library system but to no avail — the title is a regional publication. She and I chatted about the book a bit in Tweets.

Then, Wendy wrote and shared a poem — Read the Land — that I really loved after reading it at her blog site, and I started to consider a poetic response (as some of us in CLMOOC are often apt to do). Riffing a poem off the lines of someone else is something I consider to be a complement (I’ve written about this before).

Here is what I wrote as poetic response to Wendy:

It might be that your teeth
touch dirt, that your tongue
might hurt, that your body
could cry out for a quick escape

But when a writer shares a verse
of the wide open landscape,
their poem becomes water,
and our thirst, slaked

I struggled over that last line — the rhythm is intentionally off and the rhyme, false —  so I was happy when Wendy noticed and noted in appreciation how I used “slaked” as the final word. I wasn’t sure it really worked until she commented on it.

Peace (poems on the distant line),
Kevin

Borrowed Lines: Poems Inspired by Vesper Flights

bird flight“bird flight” by suncana is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Reading Helen MacDonald’s essays in her book Vesper Flights inspired some of my morning poetry writing the last few weeks. Here are the poems that took flight from her words of birds, animals, nature and the world …


(inspired by High-Rise)

Above us;
insects in flight,
riding jet-streams
and wind eddies

while birds of prey,
always at the ready,
dive through night;

the sky teems
with life


(inspired by In Spight of Prisons)

Walk with me, awhile,
won’t you, and let us
wander into words …

Needless screens;
for if these diodes
of light and neon
beacons released us,
we’d see the sky,
not as pins, but as
remembered night

She doesn’t fly;
she only sings,
glitching her songs
to those who are
listening

It’s our own stories
that may yet save
us, the midnight
wanderer who recalls
lightning bugs and
glow-worms, the way
stars floating just above
this fleeting Earth
shimmered in mystery

We’re all mad,
scientists now,
pulling magic
into glass prisons,
dipping nature into tonic,
writing with wonder
of how the world
carries on, always,
even without us


”… the song continues, and the air around us is full of invisible wings.” — from Eulogy

Some things
get let go:

like falcons
at night, in
flight

like friends,
last breath, near
death

no longer mere
witness, listen:
invisible wings
flicker forgiveness


”… and then all at once, as if summoned by a call or a bell, they rise higher and higher and disappear from view.” – from Vesper Flights

Some mornings feel
like scattered words
on the wind

just sounds, we steal,
with hope a poem
might begin

to take shape, in sky,
like the fluttering flight
and soft wing

of evening swifts; we glide
through borders of unseen
so we may sing


“There would be no escaping the deep sea from the shore.” — from Dispatches from the Valley

for what are we but broken shells,
battered by waves and currents
and the moon’s luminescent glow

Safe haven may not be this beach,
not this sand, neither these dunes,
but somewhere in the ears of us

all listening, if we can, in tune to
the world


Peace (flying free),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Goals for the New Year

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

With my students back in the building in our Hybrid/Cohort model, we spent some time yesterday morning after the Winter Break charting out some goals and aspirations we have for the new year.

Sharing our writing was a way to connect after a few weeks on vacation and a few weeks in Remote Learning, and as always, I shared out my own goals with the kids, too.

Mr H Goals for 2021

For many of us, the Pandemic was a common theme (mostly, to be done with it in some way or another). I guess that would be a common theme everywhere these days.

Peace (aspiring towards it),
Kevin

Book Review: Vesper Flights

I know very little of birds, so reading Helen MacDonald’s Vesper Flights (like her last book, H Is For Hawk) is like entering an unknown forest and paying attention to the world. Her writing is a tour guide, and with this collection of essays, MacDonald continues to spin literary magic — bringing the reader closer to the ground and closer to air, to notice the animals and the landscape in different ways.

Vesper Flights also provides MacDonald a chance to anchor her own personal experiences, from childhood to adulthood, with her curiosities that make her writing so exquisite to read and to absorb, with beautiful prose lines in every piece.

Her overall message, although one that she does not hammer you over the head with, is how climate change and people are changing the environmental landscapes, and that animals are changing, too, either by disappearing or relocating or dying off. She writes with intent, reminding us all of our obligations as fellow passengers in this world of wonder that other living creatures are here, too, sharing this space with us.

The essays in Vesper Flights are a crash course in varieties of birds (more names than I could ever remember) but also in our shared humanity. The stories of the wild always intersect with our own, MacDonald suggests, and we best pay attention to it.

Peace (in flight),
Kevin

Poem: A Cardinal At the Window

frosty cardinal“frosty cardinal” by woodleywonderworks is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A Cardinal At The Window
(New Year’s Day 2021)

To what degree
does it know it’s me,
it sees, in reflection;

perhaps it’s only
a slight detection
of movement,

for we’re both so well hidden

on either side
of the radiance
and shared impatience
of this new day’s
start

Thanks to Deanna for sharing the writing prompt from her New Year’s Eve writing marathon.

Peace (on the wing),
Kevin

A Year of Reading (2020)

Year of Reading

Goodreads kicks out data from its archives each year as part of its Reading Challenge (I traditionally choose 100 books to read in a year and then often go past it). The collected BONE anthology, by Jeff Smith, was my longest book read (clocking in at 1,332 pages) and it was one that I started and finished during the Spring, when we were stuck at home in Pandemic isolation (Bone remains also one of my favorite books of the year).

The overall page count from the year always gets me. I read 39,500 pages. Neat.

My first book of the year was …

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

… which I definitely recommend for its magical elements and weaving of the power of story ….

and the last book of the year (I reviewed) was …

The 99% Invisible City by Roman Mars

… which was interested in a different way, looking at cityscapes and architectural design.

If you are curious about what else I read in 2020, you can check it out, too.

Peace (turning pages),
Kevin

Book Review: A Drop of Hope

Keith Calabrese’s A Drop of Hope is a stew of characters and connections. In short chapters, Calabrese weaves the story of a circle of friends, an abandoned town wishing well, and the hopes and dreams of many, all tied together with the possibility of magic in the world.

The three main characters — middle schoolers Ernest, Ryan and Lizzie — discover an old well, where people still toss coins and make wishes. When the kids find a secret entrance to the bottom of the well, they eavesdrop in on the wishes of others. The town is struggling, and some families are losing their jobs, and others are barely hanging on. And of course, for the kids themselves, friendship and family loom large.

In the attic of a deceased grandfather, the start of something odd is discovered and then slowly, unexpectedly, many of the wishes heard by the three protagonists start coming true as the kids try to find ways to help others. Interestingly, it never goes the way they think it will go, yet always seems to happen. The manner in which Calabrese makes the connections between the initial wish and the resolution of those wishes shows storytelling at its finest, and I tried to imagine the planning the author must have done to ensure that all loose ends get tied. It must have been a confusing writing plan, is all I can say.

The characters in this novel are quiet believable, and even if you don’t believe in magic, you will find yourself believing in the possibility of hope in the world, and how the unexpected gift often stems from not just doing the right thing in the right moment, but from viewing the world through a lens of kindness and compassion.

A Drop of Hope is a good fit for a middle school classroom.

Peace (in the wishing well),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Assorted Odds at the End

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I don’t have any Slice Moments in mind so … here are some odds and ends for this last Slice of Life at the end of 2o2o …


“Did you write your note to the tree?” is something my wife and I harp on with our boys. Our holiday tradition is for all of us to write short notes to our future selves, and stuff the paper scrolls inside glass ornaments. When the ornaments break, as they do, we read what our past selves wrote, in the present. I wrote my note the other day, trying to capture 2020 without too much gloom and doom. I wonder what my future self will think when it reads it?


A holiday song that my friend and I wrote and recorded a few years ago, and now share out each holiday season, just got its 500th listen via YouTube (it is also on other streaming platforms, but that data goes to my friend). I know it’s not about numbers, and never about earning anything from it, but that a few hundred people might have enjoyed our musical Gift of Peace song brings me joy.


A Writing Project colleague and musical friend sent an email to me, and a few of his other musical friends, wishing us happy tidings and including a video of him playing a Wilco song, as a musical gift of sorts because he had just finished reading Jeff Tweedy’s book about writing songs. I listened to his cover, and then I went back to the original (War on War is the song) and then I spent the morning remixing the song into my own version, sending the song back to my friend, as a gift in return. It was a nice creative diversion that reminded me of how much I enjoy crafting songs in different ways. My remix bent the song in a different direction.


I’ve been purposefully trying to NOT think of school yet, to give my brain a break. But an email chain from a student, leveraging the school email system to reach out to friends, pulled me in, briefly, and then, I began to lesson plan for next week in my mind, and started thinking of how our principal told us right before break to write out our goals for the school year, and how the School Committee is meeting tomorrow to figure out what next week looks like, and their decision will solidify my lesson plans ….


I almost never read a book twice but when I read Brian Doyle’s One Long River of Song collection of essays sometime before the Pandemic that mixed nature and spirituality, with life itself (even with the odd twist that I discovered him as a writer after he passed away), with a voice of Doyle that was so inviting and full of wonder, I decided I needed to read his book again. So, one of my boys bought it for me, and when I told my wife about the book and why I wanted to read it again, she nodded, and said: “This seems like the right time for that kind of book.” Indeed.


I swung by my friend’s house the other day. We’re in a band together. We stopped playing during Spring and Summer, and then resumed for a bit (socially distanced in his basement) for some of the Fall, and then stopped again near Thanksgiving. I grabbed my saxophone so I could do some practicing here at home, to stay in some shape before we get back together again. I miss playing rock and roll. It was good to see him, and we chatted about music. I loaned him a book with a music theme (this is what we do when we share books with each other) and he told me he is going to send some new music tracks that need lyrics. I nodded and waved.


A neighbor walking their dog stopped me, and told me he liked my short story that was published in the local newspaper recently. It had come in second place in a local competition. He asked what I was writing these days. “Poems, mostly,” I told him, and he seemed a little disappointed, as if he hoped novel or short story would be my answer. I guess I could have added “blog posts” but what I should have said is, “Something, often small, every single day.”

Peace (in snippets),
Kevin