Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Clean Well-Lighted Place

"I am of those who like to stay late at the cafe," the older waiter said. "With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night."

I would like a clean, well-lighted place. I would like my heart to remember what it is to stand still. I would like this feeling of dread to stop stretching over me and enveloping me. It is pitch, it is fixed, it is here to stay. I don't want this. I need a light for the night.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Weak, and On Fire

Man. I'd like to believe there was a time when I responded to criticism with fiery resilience, and impenetrable wit, but I don't think I have. I think I am less resilient than I know. I feel weak, and on fire.

I just finished reading How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, and in between readings, in my unrelenting, very-human narcissism and self-deprecation, couldn't help but think of all the ways I did not have the very traits the author argues I should be teaching my students.

I don't have grit, or curiosity, or any of the character traits the book mentions as the "keys to success." My attention wanders after 15 minutes of sustained work, I more often feel burdened by work than curious about how to improve or do things differently, and I just don't feel like I am good at working hard. I know this is all self-fulfilling, and I know that right now I am writing a blog post instead of actually working — I know all these things! Despite knowing how my own mindset is affecting my work ethic, I can't help but indulge the procrastination, and the weakness.

I just want to be weak, sometimes. Is that okay? Can I just cradle myself in my own loneliness, my inability, and my anxiety for a day? Can I hang out in my own little cave of sadness, mopping the floor with my own tears? Can I let myself be overwhelmed by the slow and writhing pain of disappointment for a moment? Just a moment, please? (Why am I asking you if this is okay?)

I feel a little crazy sometimes. And I miss all of you who would answer "Yes! Yes, it's okay!" to all of my questions, because oddly enough, every time you have, I have always managed to leave the cave. To step out, into the sun, without catching on fire.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"I just don't know what challenges I've faced..."

Girl next to me, senior in high school, chatting animatedly with her tutor, rattling off a lengthy list of potential universities: MIT, Duke, Harvard, Stanford, UCLA. University of Michigan is her safety school.

Before they dive into the complex work of detangling essay prompts, the two of them — one, dirty blonde, rower, sweatshirt and headband; the other, middle-aged, peacoat, and headscarf — giggle with excitement about the high-schooler's recent reads: Walden, The Crucible, Beowulf. For fun, Catcher in the Rye, and Great Expectations. They muse for a few moments about the depth and beauty of Thoreau's work, and the raw cadence of Holden Caulfield's narration.

Finally, they enter business — both pull out their laptops, retrieving college application essay drafts from their proper folders, and on some cloud drive, review her essays. An issue arises.

"I had so many plans and aspirations to go farther, and now I really feel held back from achieving my potential, but also... I just don't know what challenges I've faced," the young woman says.
"Hmm... it is hard to think of a response to that, isn't it?" the tutor responds. For the first time in awhile, they pause in silence.

I can't help but fill the silence for them, and think of so many of my students, who face quite the opposite dilemma: I have so many challenges to face, I just don't know what plans and aspirations I can have. For a moment, I am remembering yesterday, and the smell of sweat and Expo markers and Frito chips that filled my classroom. I am remembering the bodies filing in and out, some on task, some off ask, most, desperate to learn and unsure of how to do so.

In another moment, I am remembering my own high school experience, littered with late-nights on laptops, churning up essays, and plans, and driving to the 24-hour Starbucks to do research, (or at least try, and instead, complain about ex-boyfriends), and the raging discomfort of being unsure of whether I would get into one private four-year university, or the other.

But here she is, here I am, and there they are. For many of them, college is still just a lofty dream, a set of shiny buildings, a gateway to the NBA or the NFL, a far-off land with no parents — a dream. And we all had the same dream, once, didn't we?

It's something like guilt, and something like anger. I've pored over achievement gap statistics for the past four years, and yet, the opportunity gap between the affluent and the poor has not been more perfectly painted than in a ten-minute eavesdropping at a cafe.

After all of this, I sigh. "What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun."

I've tuned out for a bit, but jumped back to the conversation just in time to hear the tutor respond excitedly,

"Oh! That's the perfect sob story! They'll eat that right up."

Admissions crisis averted. All will be well.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cherry, Cherry Coffee

The slow bend of reconciliation
sidles in through the side door
two hands touching on the shopping cart
your elbow grazing mine in a stuffy cafe
a stolen glance at your eyelashes fluttering while you read
the first smile
the first hand hold
all over again, and somehow
more radiant,
a ream of sorrow and sadness
eradicated by a mysterious shining of
us, again
we, again.
So this is love,
ba da da dum,
so this is love.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Heavy, The Light

When the stick of the day spreads around you like
that old quilt, the batting spilling out and over,
falling through the air, surrendering to the weight of the world;

I am dragging my feet through the slosh of a jungled place
a sometimes-alive and mythical,
dark and growling,
shadowed, tangled, somewhere
My breaths are deep and fruitless
a forced inhale and haggard exhale—
shabby, tired, breaking

something about this is just like the last

when we were suspended above it all,
the pinpoints of trees dotted at our feet
we were weightless and laughing,
always laughing,
our voices flitting about the sky and
echoing forward into our sun-striped future but

then the storm came,
and the branches bent beneath it all,
the trees crashed the mess of it
hulking giants tripping bloody on the floor of the world
and the stars got punched out,
until we were smattered in this darkness

up close, it's all charred and broken
it's all hard to carry
it's all sinking slowly

it's just like the last
it's always too heavy
and only here
are my arms too frail
too weak
to carry
the things that we left