Self-Discipline Poems

This is the first year I’ve brought poems to the Pioneer (4th-6th grade) classroom, along with the Mentors (7th & 8th), so I wanted their first experience to be fun. As in, funny-fun. Obvious-fun.

I’ve sometimes let the poems for the older kids be serious, and the sort that maybe half won’t “get,” because I know we’ll have the next round to be more generally accessible.

But this time I pulled everything from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends.

We addressed how our level of self-discipline can affect other people:

THE ACROBATS

I’ll swing
By my ankles,
She’ll cling
To your knees
As you hang
By your nose
From a high-up
Trapeze.
But just one thing, please,
As we float through the breeze–
Don’t sneeze.

 

We laughed about the ways we can cause trouble for ourselves by lack of self-discipline:

CAPTAIN HOOK

Captain Hook must remember
Not to scratch his toes.
Captain Hook must watch out
And never pick his nose.
Captain Hook must be gentle
When he shakes your hand.
Captain Hook must be careful
Openin’ sardine cans
And playing tag and pouring tea
And turnin’ pages n a book.
Lots of folks I’m glad I ain’t–
But mostly Captain Hook!

The most interesting part (for me) came when we began to discuss this poem:

IT’S DARK IN HERE

I am writing these poems
From inside a lion,
And it’s rather dark in here.
So please excuse the handwriting
Which may not be to clear.
But this afternoon by the lion’s cage
I’m afraid I got too near.
And I’m writing these lines
From inside a lion,
And it’s rather dark in here.

This time when I asked the students how they thought this poem incorporated or spoke to self-discipline, none of them went where I’d expected.

Every brave soul who spoke up in four classrooms’ worth of 4th-8th graders suggested that the speaker had displayed poor self-discipline by standing too close to the lion’s cage and getting him- or herself eaten. (“How careless of you!”)

And while I can totally see that interpretation, it wasn’t where I’d meant to take the discussion when I picked three different poems for three different arenas of self-discipline.

“For me,” (I told the students), “this last poem represents incredible self-discipline because this person cares enough about writing their poems to keep writing them from *inside a lion*!

That’s some dedication for you.

I asked them if they’d ever had a want that motivated them to do something even when no one else was making them do it. Something from inside.

~

I have a name, a metaphor, for mine.

I call it my badger. I say I have a badger inside me that needs regular feeding to keep it happy and peaceful. Sometimes it can feel really uncomfortable if that badger is neglected too long. I can feel *yuck* or off, sometimes torn up on the inside, like that badger is fighting to be noticed, to be fed or taken care of.

~

“It’s that badger I’m thinking about,” I told the kids, “When I give up time doing some kinds of things to focus on the other projects that are important to me. That’s what I think about when I see that kid writing “from inside a lion,” because that kid is seriously motivated. We can call it self-discipline, and it is, but self-discipline isn’t particularly about giving up fun stuff. Sometimes it’s about focusing on something even more important.”

The Ugly Side of Perseverance

Perseverance is one of 13 “attributes” my oldest daughter’s school studies each academic year.

I bring in poems to share each attribute cycle. This attribute I found the perfect poem for last year– and it was perfect because of the story that framed and created it.

Today I found the book that introduced me to the piece (First Loves, edited by Carmela Ciuraru), and began to reread the selection, noticing what I underlined last year:

…Broadsky’s trial in the former Soviet Union condemn[ed] him to forced labor. When asked on what authority he pronounced himself a poet, he had answered that the vocation came from God. Silence followed, and also the sentence.

It was Broadsky, of the stirring conviction in his vocation, who recommended reading the Russian poet Anne Akhmatova.

Anne was a poet “in a time when a poem on a scrap of paper could mean a death sentence.”

…To continue to write, to commit one’s work to faithful friends who were prepared to learn poems by heart and thus preserve them, was only possible if one was convinced of the absolute importance and necessity of poetry.

These are observations from Carolyn Forché, who coined the term, “poetry of witness.”

Knowing that about her, I see clearly the influence of Anna Akhmatova, who lived and wrote through one of the many intense seasons of the former Soviet Union, while her grown son was imprisoned for the crime of having two parents who were poets.

He was only one of many so imprisoned, and many others did all they could to comfort and care for their loved ones while they were locked away.

Anna wrote about the experience:

In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months waiting in line outside the prison in Leningrad. One day, somebody in the crowd identified me. Standing behind me was a woman, with lips blue from the cold, who had, of course, never heard me called by name before. Now she started out of the torpor common to us all and asked me in a whisper (everyone whispered there):

“Can you describe this?”

And I said: “I can.”

Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face.

Carolyn Forché (the poet introducing Anna in this book) says, “I knew that the poet’s work was to describe ‘this’ before I knew what ‘this’ was, but that it was indescribable.”

I knew that [Anna’s] I can was courageous and defiant, less an expression of confidence in her ability than an announcement against the triumph of evil.

Continue reading »

God and the Faerie King

I’ve read very few folk tales or traditional stories for a while, but my understanding of that world and mentality is still pretty solid. When I read a fantasy that has fairy tale or mythic roots I can catch the multiple layers pretty effectively.

A year ago I started looking for good self-published books to read, and this was one of the first I bought. It was a cute take on the arranged-marriage trope, with the (new to me) twist that the bride-to-be was willing to accept her “fate” and wasn’t a jerk to the guy and having to be won over.

What grabbed me wasn’t so much the story itself as the treatment/behavior of the fae, and the Faerie King in particular. The fae were portrayed in an utterly traditional way, with all their predictable selfishness and capricious unpredictability.

The ultimate story-climax-question became Will the Faerie King be just? Will he do what’s good for these good people, who’ve served him all their lives?

And because the faerie king has all the power to do anything with impunity, there’s a real sense of peril. There is the genuine question, since (as a Young Adult novel) this romance isn’t guaranteed the genre’s usual happy ending.

The heroine’s family of origin is blessedly intact and tight (unique and cheer-worthy in YA), but they’ve grown up working for the fae. They (the family) know the faerie folk’s power and inscrutableness, and as much as the humans hope for the good, I got the feeling their long experience also blunted their expectation, tempered their painful hope to the possibility that what they desired — the thing they knew would be right and decent and essential to happiness — might be denied.

And in real-life, sprawled out reading, I was hit with an almost physical ache. Because I recognized that holding-back.

It was painfully familiar. I’d instilled it in myself over years: through ways of praying, fed by fears that cultivated a drive to self-preservation. I’d scraped together a bark shield in an effort to blunt the pain of deep disappointment and loss.

I had done it all within context and language of religious community. I listened to the pedantic reminders that “God’s ways are higher than ours” (Is. 55:9), and “How inscrutable His ways” (Rom. 11:33).

Through distancing rationalization, I hid behind that flimsy shield in a dull attempt to save myself from further pain. If I didn’t expect too much – or if expected a lot, and was prepared to live without, “be it God’s will” – maybe I could avoid deep disappointment.

When I saw how this family’s response to petitioning the Faerie King paralleled my attitude in asking God for Deep Important Things, my eyes were opened to the sickness of it all.

I feared (not too-strong a word) a god I saw as capricious, and once I realized I was afraid, it disgusted me. Because the God I worshiped did not ask (or inspire) me to fear him in that way. It was a muddled attempt to survive pain, and that muddledness distorted my view of the power that touches my life.

I know the difference between the Faerie King and the God I love, and having that stark a contrast, having that vocabulary, helped me peel back some of the distortion that had been weighing on me.

I looked back at the Isaiah 55 passage and saw it wasn’t designed as an excuse for God being confusing, it was a celebration of his incomprehensible generosity. The same with Romans 11– we don’t have the wiring to conceive of the kind of love and generosity that roots such openness and availability.

That’s why it has to be told to us, and told to us again.

According to a study published in 1998, it takes the average child between four and fourteen exposures to learn a new fact. Some children need over twenty exposures for something to stick.

I am 36 years old. I grew up with sermons and Sunday school, and given the topic I can predict a lot of what’s going to come out of a given pastor’s mouth. I am not short on knowledge, or a critical number of times to hear “Jesus loves me.”

But it took throwing the love of God into stark contrast with the bone-deep fear of power without love before this piece of him broke through (again?): God is dependable.

My lack of understanding (even of big things), and my grief and pain (which are real and often enduring) do not negate the dependability of God.

Since I’m constantly depending on this truth, I had to have known it already, but somehow I felt this other side. A fear of pain. I had my walls up, bracing myself for the time he doesn’t do what I need. And what I’m still wrapping my head around, is that God promises to give us the desires of our heart.

I don’t know how that reads in the original language, but in English that phrasing doesn’t just mean God gives us what we want, he gives us what to want.  I put that all in the Mystery category.

There is so much I don’t understand, but I know God wants to give us good things. “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matt. 7:11)

There’s no way for us to completely understand God.

Metaphor, analogy, simile and Story are all essential to drawing near to him in understanding, but the difference between our God and every other entity in eternity is that a) he wants to be known, and b) he is able to make up what is lacking in our understanding.

His constancy, his desire to be in relationship with us, is bigger than our ignorance, confusion, or misunderstanding. I’m thankful for the way God uses even seemingly unconnected elements to reveal and highlight his character, because even if I don’t have enough ink to tell you all God IS, I can know bone-deep what he isn’t, and even find security in that.

Acknowledgements (aka My Book is Out)

lindormkingdom_smallerThe book is out in the world. (Here, too, if you prefer Kobo over Amazon.)

It would be really encouraging if you bought a copy, or shared it with a friend, or left a review.

With that out of the way, I wanted to share my thank-yous on my blog, since I already know the book isn’t for everyone (seriously, if you don’t like magic, or dragons or if any kind of violence makes you uncomfortable, this probably isn’t the book for you), and I want to say this “out loud” for anyone to hear.

From the back of my book:

Lindorm Kingdom began in 2006 as my first NaNoWriMo novel. At the time my daughters were two and three, and I achieved a decent one-handed typing speed from all the time at the keyboard while I held my six-month-old son (those midnight wakings were put to literary use).

To all the people over the years who asked, “How do you do it?” the answer is Time. The story – more specifically the themes – wouldn’t let me go. I chipped away for years, learning as I went, and eventually it was sculpted into its current shape.

In eight-plus years, a variety of people have read my pages, encouraging me to stick with it, making me feel heard and valued:

Jay (my husband, best friend, protector, provider), Becky (world-champion encourager, endurance reader and editor), and David (the second engineer to read my work and the only reader to catalog all the places that made him laugh), along with Tori, Mitzi, Kim, Bluestocking (Brooke), Katie, Carolyn, Crystal, Tiffany, Corinna, Kati, Annie, Sarah, (another) Tiffany, Bekki, Lara and Daniel.

Special mentions for Lindorm Kingdom include Jerry Smith (who is one of the reasons this novel didn’t end before it was really started), and the delightful Irene who was born after the stepmother’s name was set, and is nothing like the Irene in this story.

Finally, to my friends that share this writing path and the delight of discovery: Becky (again), Jennifer, Kit, Roy, Janet, Beth, Jen, Kati, and Tiana (my precious Watson), I am so glad to be doing life with you.

With fewer years between books, maybe the next Acknowledgements section will be shorter, but I can’t express with fewer words how tremendously blessed I feel to be surrounded by such honorable people and incredibly live-giving love.

Defy (Reading Notes)

Fantasy and wish-fulfillment done well.

You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.

— Eric Hoffer

Each book, movie and television show, we love reveals some of our own desires, hopes and fears.

Every story is a fantasy.

We don’t read fantasy (just) to escape reality. We read to experience a reality we understand to be true and can’t access as often as we wish for it.

The fantasy in this story is a girl becoming one of the Boyz while still maintaining her attractiveness and desirability, evidenced through the two good men who both honor her and value her skills.

(Full review with spoilers at Writing Hope.)

 

The Tutor’s Daughter (Reading Notes)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Five out of five stars.

(Hmmm, I’ll have to make a legend for the ratings scale.)

This is the second book I’ve read of Julie Klassen’s, and, in the (Christian, historical) romance genre, both novels encased pounding hearts and clasped hands in a well-shaped story with a bit of mystery and much of my favorite (the list of 13) elements of romance.

I enjoyed the twist of having the male, rather than the female, lead being the strong(er) person of faith.

(Granted I’m not a voracious romance-reader, but I’ve only seen it a couple of times before. There are also Christian stories where both parties are believers, and I like those, fine, too.)

I always get cringe-y when (just) the woman endures through externally foolish roadblocks and converts/wins the desirable man in the end. Not the message I want any woman I value to take home.

In this case you have the man doing what he can, witnessing-wise, with an awkwardness than can either interrupt the story-dream as you read, or else be seen as an accurate reflection of the real-life awkwardness than can go with sharing your faith with someone you love.

It had predictable character types (orderly blustocking, carefree second son) that were not diminished by the predictable roles they filled. Relationships between women were neither all good nor all bad, and genuine friendships– of different sorts– were well-portrayed.

One of the things that troubles me in some of the novels I’ve attempted to read, is how the author seems to go out of his/her way to isolate the characters, or put them through hell.  That can work, and it can look like trying too hard.

This was a refreshing example of healthy relationships not getting in the way of creating a good story.

I’m deciding that romances like these are my “cozies.”

A friend of mine once pointed out to me there are two different kinds (there may be more) of mysteries, and by extension books in general: cozies— that people read when they want to relax/center/calm down and — lacking a more precise word– thrillers, designed to excite/energize/key up a reader.

This was a helpful distinction for me, because it helps me when I am looking for a read to know what my purpose is. When I can nail down my purpose for reading (escape, emotional connection, stimulate the imagination, get energized, be affirmed in my perception of– or desire for– reality), I am more likely to be satisfied by my choice.

In this case I was very satisfied. The world created was genuine, motivations and goals were believable, and my connection to the characters drew me back to the story (so important in a long book) and let me disappear and recharge in the midst of a stressful time.

As a bonus, something (I will need to pay better attention in the future, so I can say exactly what and when) was toe-curlingly fun, and I laughed out-loud more than once.

Add to that I guessed wrong at least three times (even with the “predictable” types).

So after two solid wins, Julie Klassen is officially one of my go-to authors.  And this is now a new experience for me– finding an author who a) already has a number of books I haven’t read (but now want to) and b) who is still writing the type of books that pleased me in the first place.

Becoming a Writer (Reading Notes)

This is the second time I’ve seen this title (*On* Becoming a writer) on a blog, and both times I thought (admit I hoped) it was Becoming a Writer, by Dorthea Brand.  That book is over 30 years old now (aka, there are really cheap used copies on Amazon), but as it was first published in 1934, I was astonished that it was the first book I remember reading (in my early days of imbibing writing books) that said things I didn’t remember getting from school.

Dorthea’s was the first place I read about morning pages, and the only place where a confident, experienced writer suggested, ‘Now, look back at what you’ve written in those pages. This is a clue to the type of writer you naturally are.’

It was my first touch of self-knowing, not as indulgence, but as a path to greater joy and effectiveness in your work.

Ten Tasks for Healing from Trauma (Wyn Magazine)

Oh, and I forgot to mention, here’s another entry at Wyn Magazine– my review of a book I think everyone (seriously. everyone.) should read. If you are blessed enough not to have experienced trauma yourself, this is a terrifically focused (aka short) survey of very important concepts that doubtless affect someone you know.

Jasmin Lee Cori (MS, LPC) has provided a tremendous resource with her book, Healing From Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life.

TRAUMA is an enormous topic, about which countless words have been written. The beauty of Cori’s book is how she distills the massive topic and its many relevant areas to their solid core. I never felt like anything I read was “fluff” or more explanation than a particular topic needed to get the concept across.

On the one hand I was thankful. I already felt like I was behind when I started the book because I am one of those women who did not recognize the trauma until after the fact. At other times I was annoyed, because I’d barely wrapped my mind around one idea when she set it down and moved to the next one.

Overall I believe Cori took the right approach: by introducing us to “industry standard” terms, she provides the means (vocabulary) to research any individual area further on our own.

In chapter five, The Journey of Healing, Cori has a list titled, “The Tasks of Healing.” These suggest a cluster of areas to strengthen that is supplemented with more detail throughout the rest of the book. These elements do not have to happen in order, but I found it helpful to see them untangled enough to lay out in a single line.

The headings are hers, and the summaries are mine, from the notes I took as I read the book.

(Read the list and more in the whole book review at Wyn Magazine.)

Life & Fiction: Grieving Through Fiction

I love how this column I wrote a month ago teams so nicely with the poems I posted last week. I was thankful to have a friend staying with me while Jay traveled, because there is heaviness in writing hard things. She was a loving presence that kept me company as I read my words about losing friends to distance.

She listened with respect and intensity, letting me try the words aloud, never commenting on the meaning-obscuring fog in my voice. Then said the last thing I would have guessed.

“That sounds so sad [a word that I later realized I never actually used in the original article]. I’ve never known anything like that.”

I might have laughed (cheeks still tear-damp from reading). I hope I said, “I’m glad for you.” What I remember is being glad for the shift in me, to speak openly and let the tears fall without apology.

Tears really are a gift.  And so are good, good friends.

In grade school, I read the book Bridge to Terabithia, a story that has been called a modern-day-classic by some, which basically means enough people were surprised by a book they discovered themselves that they insisted other people read it as well.

It is a story about loss. It was written by Katherine Paterson, in response to her son’s grief when he lost his best friend at a young age. I cried when I read that book.

I cried like I didn’t know I was allowed to. My mom did the right thing. She redirected my siblings, held them off. She let me cry.

But I couldn’t figure out why I was so sad. I thought this kind of emotional reaction was wrong. The story wasn’t real. The people I mourned with never existed. I didn’t understand this empathetic sadness, and it scared me.

From then on, I spent most of my conscious reading and movie-watching avoiding anything that might invoke a similarly intense response.

I forgot that I’d ever cried at a story. I prided myself at having a firm grasp on reality and separating myself from the sentimentality of those lumpy, leaky women who cried at weddings. Who cried even at movies with weddings in them.

Then, in 2006, fewer than three months after my youngest child was born, my dear-friend grandmother died.

Later that year I read The Thirteenth Tale, and I cried. I didn’t even identify that closely with much in the story, but I cried hard.

I began to consider that tears might not always be about exactly what started us crying.

Penelope Trunk, a career coach and blogger, once said something that I’ve co-opted in the paraphrase: “PMS is your body telling you to cry about the stuff you’ve been ignoring all month.”

This is beautiful and freeing because it starts by assigning value to the tears: the stressors that break us open, showing what’s inside, did not create the emotion in some mysterious alchemy. The reality has always been there.

 

Read the rest at wynmag.com

 

 

Mourning Isn’t Over When the Flowers Wilt

 

Image courtesy of q83 via stock.xchng

This is a recording I made of poems about admiration, love and loss, from a variety of poems and poets: To be of Use by Marge Piercy, A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Perfection Wasted by John Updike, and an excerpt from Four Poems in One by Anne Porter.

I have completed my First-10 speeches for Toastmasters, and am now working on my first “advanced manual,” Interpretive Reading.

I performed this collection of poems at a new Toastmasters group yesterday. The feedback was mixed, kind compliments, and appreciation of how I compiled the cycle, with questions from other people about the point or purpose of poetry and such a “dark” theme: Remembrance, death and loss.

Jay came with me to the meeting, and returned to the questions when we got home.

My first response was to think, Maybe I’m just morbid.

But that didn’t fit my intent or my emotional state. I dug deeper while he tried to help.

“Is it to share at a funeral or memorial service like [name] asked? What’s the application?”

“Mourning doesn’t end when the service does,” I finally said, coming to my understanding as I spoke it.

“I repeat the poems because it is a way of remembering. The people who hear only death and gloom hear what they have ears for, and that’s okay, that’s not up to me, it’s where they’re at. But there is ever-so-much more and better going on than gloom.

“There is grief, because I still grieve. That doesn’t go away for me or anybody. And it’s comforting, somehow, to go back to what you might expect at a service. It still honors them, and comforts me.”