Tag Archives: books

(360) The Artist’s Way

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Twenty-one years ago to this day, I began a journey that would be something that would have a profound impact on me. It was the WAY — The Artist’s Way — a book by Julia Cameron that started me on a path of understanding the true nature of creativity.  This is my “W” in the Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.

What It Is

The Artist’s Way is a twelve week program that helped me discover my creative self. It consists of some basic tools and then twelve weeks of exercises that help us, what Cameron calls, recover a “sense” of something lost — Safety, Identity, Power, Integrity, Possibility, Abundance, Connection, Strength, Compassion, Self-Protection, Autonomy, and Faith. It is based on her belief that there is a Great Creator who works through us, and our job is just to put the footwork in and the rest will follow.

I have found this to be true.

My Experience

Throughout the winter of 94-95, I found myself deeply involved in doing the exercises as precisely as I could to get the maximum benefit. I remember going out of my way to find different kinds of workshops to take — like maskmaking — and buying things I ordinarily wouldn’t buy and using, such as watercolor pencils. As I worked through the process, I discovered so much about myself that had been hidden.  This included acknowledging harm to my inner artist as well as uncovering the blocks that I put up to her.

I have a notebook just dedicated to what I wrote during that first time through. I subsequently put myself through the program again, I think two different times. But nothing has ever had the impact as that first year. There were many things going on in my life at the time, and this work grounded me and brought me a sense of myself I did not have before. That sense has never left me.

Relationships

A couple of years after I completed TAW (as it is called by veterans of the program), the internet came into vogue. I was on America Online, and found an online community for TAW. From that message board I became friends with two people locally — Carol in Akron and LuAnn in Bainbridge. I am still friends with these ladies today. There were others as well, and I recall in September 1997 we all got together for lunch.

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Carol next to me, LuAnn across. Love my Artist’s Way friends!

The TAW group from all around the country supported me throughout my surgery, sending me messages which I printed out and had in a book in the hospital, as well as painting their toenails purple as a show of solidarity for me through the cancer scare.  I felt their love and support and prayers from afar. It was miraculous.

Where It Led Me

What I learned was that once you remove the blocks to your creativity, anything is possible. In the Introduction to the book, Cameron says the main things to learn are: Get out of the way. Let it work through you. Accumulate pages, not judgments. This put into practice consistently in the many years since has made me a believer. Cameron believes creativity is a spiritual experience. Given what I have witnessed in my own life, I would say it is mighty fine religion. I am grateful that this book exists. It always makes a list of the top books that changed me and changed my life.

In her Basic Principles on page 3, Cameron says “As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle and powerful changes are to be expected.” Rereading that just now helped me see that putting myself through this program twenty-one years ago was opening up a channel. I cannot describe any direct, earth-shattering event that happened as a result. What I can say is that once the channel opened, it has never closed. And that has been the best gift of all.

(315) Books Were Her Freedom

Edwidge Danticat says she was an accident of literacy.

In her keynote address to the Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference, she began with that statement.

She went on to explain that as a child she was told stories in the dark. Words had a danger. Books were her freedom. They were quiet — like her.

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Her first book was Madeline. “I wanted to be Madeline,” she said.

I, too, had the book Madeline. But I don’t remember ever wanting to be Madeline, except in the deepest regions of my being. Madeline was brave in the face of the other girls and the nun. Even though she looked like and dressed like everyone else, she was not like everyone else.

In a Catholic world where blending in and flying under the radar was my mode of operation, Madeline was not something to aspire to be. Instead, I looked to Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet and Christopher Robin. They were safe, and suffered just a bit. And later, Laura Ingalls Wilder took me on journeys to places I could only dream — the wild midwestern world of snowstorms and Indians and living in the woods.

Danticat says that I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou was “the Godmother of her writing career.” It gave her the courage to write Breath Eyes Memory — certainly the most memorable book I read in my entire college career.  She also appreciated Richard Wright’s Black Boy. Alice Walker. Amy Tan. Toni Morrison

Her reasons are simple, yet profound. What these authors went through to get WORDS was the inspiration.  In a dictatorship, Danticat says, those who use words get killed.

Her parents were afraid for her to be a writer.

The only reason she got published is because someone was opening up her manuscript to figure out if she was male or female in order to send the proper rejection notice.

In this way, she says, she was also an accident of publishing.

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I have to let her words stand here. There is nothing I can add. I have never been very aware of how much I may avoid words. How people like Madeline shocked me, and how not much has changed since then. I still feel fearful when I consider radical honesty.

Danticat reaches out to me and says — it can be done. For that, I am grateful. But I am not sure I’m ready.

(307) Suddenly, Nick Flynn Everywhere

Almost time for the Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference. It begins Thursday. I picked out my workshops a couple of months ago, but now it looks like I will be switching things up.

Why? Because a presenter who will be there has suddenly popped into my world twice in two hours. His name is Nick Flynn, and he is teaching on memoir Thursday afternoon.

I had heard a lot of excitement about Flynn’s presence a the conference, but I didn’t know who he was, and for some reason didn’t bother to find out.

Then today I received a stack of books from my friend Iris. She is in the throes of moving from Ohio to North Carolina, and sent me a ton of books she thought I’d find useful. Many are on teaching poetry. And what was the last book in the stack?

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Not only was it the most inviting book on the stack, but there was that name: Nick Flynn. His credentials are impressive. I immediately looked up his workshop. He is teaching memoir on Friday morning. I decided immediately to attend.

Then later, paging through my newsfeed, the Poetry Foundation posted a poem by Flynn called “Philip Seymour Hoffman.”  (Copyright Nick Flynn):

*
Last summer I found a small box stashed away in my apartment,
a box filled with enough Vicodin to kill me. I would have sworn
that I’d thrown it away years ealier, but apparently not. I stared
at the white pills blankly for a long while, I even took a picture of
them, before (finally, definitely) throwing them away. I’d been
sober (again) for some years when I found that box, but every
addict has one— a little box, metaphorical or actual— hidden
away. Before I flushed them I held them in my palm, marveling
that at some point in the not-so-distant past it seemed a good
idea to keep a stash of pills on hand. For an emergency, I told
myself. What kind of emergency? What if I needed a root canal
on a Sunday night? This little box would see me through until
the dentist showed up for work the next morning. Half my
brain told me that, while the other half knew that looking into
that box was akin to seeing a photograph of myself standing on
the edge of a bridge, a bridge in the familiar dark neighborhood
of my mind, that comfortable place where I could somehow
believe that fuck it was an adequate response to life.

*

I believe in paying attention to the signs the universe sends. I think Mr. Nick Flynn has something to teach me. Why else would he show up so prominently twice in such a short period of time? Synchronicity is not something to be ignored.

This has added a bit of intrigue to the upcoming conference.  Watch for my follow up–I truly hope to have something amazing to report. And if I do t?–well, I will learn from that, too 😆.

(293) Sunrise in the Rear View Mirror

miami-book-fair-international-tentsLast week when my writing circle met, the singer Joe Cocker came up in conversation. The general consensus of my friends was that they didn’t care to watch him sing. I didn’t say much because, I too, have found it difficult to watch him.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about Joe and a time he was significant to me.

In the fall of 2004, a group of us who were part of the Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society decided to meet in Miami for the Miami Book Fair.  We met for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe at Bayside, then walked across the street to Miami-Dade College for the Fair. I drove to the east coast with my friend Diane.  We had managed to get one of the last hotel rooms available, at a place that sounded like it would be fine.  I cannot remember the name of the hotel — it was a Best Western or a Comfort Inn or something like that.

After a fabulous day of workshops and browsing the books, Diane and I went to Little Havana for a yummy Cuban dinner, then went to find our hotel.  It was not easy to get to — we kept seeing the place and going around in circles trying to find out how to get to it. Finally I went down a highway up ramp with Diane freaking out beside me, just so we could finally get checked in.

The place was a dump. The furniture in our room looked like someone went to a flea market and picked up the most mismatched and ugly furniture they could find. We just wanted to get some rest at this point, and we knew that we had been lucky to get this room.

I cannot remember everything, but I think the hotel was pretty noisy with people in the hall, or a crying baby, or something. I know we had trouble getting to sleep. Then at 3:30 in the morning, a loud bass beat came booming through our walls.  It was from the convention center next door where they were setting up for an event. After lying there for a half an hour watching the room shake and with no hope of getting back to sleep, we decided to just head back to Ft. Myers.

We managed to find a cup of coffee somewhere and were on our way across Alligator Alley in the pitch blackness of night. Joe Cocker’s album Heart and Soul accompanied us.  This is an album of covers he did that is one of my favorites. Songs like “I Put a Spell on You,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Everybody Hurts,” “I Keep Forgetting,” and my favorite “I Who Have Nothing.”  Joe’s music — and his rusty voice — was the perfect accompaniment as we watched the sunrise in our rear view mirrors, content to drive without conversation, leaving the busyness and noise of Miami far behind.

(255) The Heart of the Matter

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These times are so uncertain
There’s a yearning undefined
…People filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age
The trust and self-assurance that can lead to happiness
They’re the very things we kill, I guess
Pride and competition cannot fill these empty arms
And the work I put between us,
Doesn’t keep me warm  (Don Henley)

Today I was flipping through my Facebook news feed, and saw a quote from Bernie Sanders about how he has no intention of attacking anyone — he wants to discuss the issues. I have been following this constant mantra of his, and I have got to admit, it has my heart.

Today was the first day I connected this to what is happening in my classroom this year.

Coming into this year, I had vowed my primary focus this year would be on interdependence — connecting my students to each other and to the teachers in the room in a way to support learning for all. This shows up easily in my advanced 8th grade class — a few reminders, a few class builders,and we are on our way. It has not been as easy with my 7th grade general education classes, where a selection of students are mocking, disrespectful, and are your average garden variety middle grades show-offs.

It is easy to want to give up on my focus. Some days frustration mounts, and I am tempted to fall back on bad habits to get control.  But I have become a believer in “sticking with the issues.” It takes constant diligence and focus on my part to keep coming back to our class motto: We are all partners in the learning process.

More and more I’m sticking to ways that get my students up and moving, as well as thinking in new and creative ways. More and more I will not allow put downs from others to keep my students from taking a risk in trying something new. As we practice class building in one of the classes, it is obvious to me over and over again that we are far from where we need to be. I have probably already recited a thousand times, “This is a listening activity. Look and listen to who is speaking.”

I refuse to give up.

Like Henley says in the lyrics above, “We all need a little tenderness/How can love survive in such a graceless age.” Many of my students simply do not know how to be supportive, tender, and caring on a consistent basis. If no one insists they do it, they won’t.

Just like some politicians do not know how to stand on their own clear principles and stick with what is important. The world around us is full of failing examples of leadership. But it doesn’t have to be that way.  For every failing example, there are ten wonderful examples. We just have to look. And that requires wanting to look.

The heart of the matter is what is in our hearts. And until we are in touch with that, nothing will change.

Heartfelt version of “Heart of the Matter”

(248) The Best Reward

Many teachers say they steer young people away from becoming a teacher.

I am not one of those.

I love when my former students decide on the teaching profession. It has been my experience that many of my best students have moved in that direction. They are communicators and leaders and they were always the ones who worked a bit harder in my class.

It is without reservation I tell them that teaching is the best job in the world.

It often can be hard to block out the nonsense that swirls around public education. It has taken me years to perfect that skill. This is the first year that I am moving forward only in the ways I know will benefit my students. I have enough years behind me to have a beautiful collection of the best ways to teach anything related to language arts. And I’m going to use them!

But back to the upcoming teachers. This year I watched as young people I know started setting up their own classroom and posting pictures online. I know their abilities. I know their caring natures about the work. And I know their smiles.

The smiles that will greet their students.  Those lucky, lucky students.

So, here is to Celeste and Andrea and Bailee and Christine. Here is to Niecy and Luis and Karina who are still moving forward in their dreams to become teachers.

It’s okay. Do it.

Yesterday I had the most amazing experience.  A student I taught during the 2006-7 school year showed up in my classroom to observe. She is currently in school to become a teacher.

Holly is one of the students that has always stayed in my mind, and it is because of one simple act. I can still clearly see her walking up to me one day in class and saying, “Ms. Sadler, here is a book for the classroom library. I liked it, and I think you will also.”  I did love the book, although right now I cannot recall the title. I believe it is still in my classroom library.

When she walked into my 6th period class yesterday, it was such a joy to see what a beautiful young woman she has become. Her first words: “The Outsiders is still my favorite book. I remember reading it in your class.”  This is joy multiplied — she remembered that we read MY favorite book, and now it is hers.

Can’t get any more awesome than that.

So, it is okay if my students want to become teachers. No matter what profession they go into, there will be disappointments, disillusions, and struggles with conscious.  It is the nature of work.

Politicians pontificate constantly about “rewarding good teachers.”  I scoff at their ignorance.

The purpose and the rewards for teaching come from within. No amount of money or accolades or ratings as “highly effective” compare.

Sometimes that purpose appears in a form from the past you didn’t expect. And that, I have discovered, is the true reward of teaching.

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Holly visits my classroom
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Holly with Haley, Field Day 2007

(222) Gilead

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Today is one of those days I just don’t feel I have anything to say. Instead of trying to conjure something up, I finished reading Gilead. It has taken me years to get to this book, and reading it now was perfect. She has two sequels to it, and I am eager to read them as well.

The best thing I have to offer today is three quotes I loved from the book. Maybe one will speak.

“…and it is true that we all do live in the ruins of the lives of of other generations, so there is seeming continuity which is important because it deceives us.” (198)

“There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.” (243)

“Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?” (245)

(194) Slower Pace on a Hot Summer Sunday

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It is hot here in Mississippi–so much so, they have heat index warnings. I’m from Florida, so it shouldn’t bother me. But somehow this is different. My body reacts differently. A short walk somewhere produces perspiration dripping from my forehead, nose, and lips–like rain. It’s crazy.

But we managed.

After a relaxing morning at the hotel, we drove over to Helena, Arkansas–my namesake, and simply to say I had been to Arkansas. Helena is a depressed little town, at least the “historic” area, and was pretty dead. We stopped at Freedom Park, which is related to Civil War history, which is the main attraction here. The site had been the place where African-American “contraband” –runaway slaves who were kept by the Union army, not returned to the south– lived. The Union had quite a lot of these people, and since they decided to keep them, they then had to provide food and shelter. It was a meager existence, as depicted here:

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Many of the contraband joined the Union forces, and are credited with saving Helena. That is the story of Freedom Park; a bit of history I didn’t even know about.

We then went to River Park. Helena boasts the only river front park along the Mississippi. The river is high and moving fast. An old-timer fishing there told us it is rising 3-4 feet a day. We took in the sight of the grand river, and then moved on.

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We had a 90 minute drive to Oxford, which meant we were saying goodbye to the Delta and getting into hillier country. We stopped at Rowan Oak–the home of William Faulkner. The grounds are all trees, so it felt fairly comfortable there.  The house is rather sparse, and Faulkner memorabilia seemed to consist of his old whiskey bottles–there were plenty of those for some reason. We probably were only there for about 20 minutes. The land has a walking trail in the woods, which could have been nice on a cooler day.

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Our final stop before checking in to our hotel was Square Books–one of my very favorite book stores in the entire world. There I found an autographed copy of Bark–a short story collection by Lorrie Moore.

Love this staircase in Square Books
Love this staircase in Square Books
View of the upstairs book room at Square Books.
View of the upstairs book room at Square Books.

I got some postcards to write haiku to my friends, and we were on our way to cool down at the Hampton Inn.

For dinner we ventured out into the country to The Ravine, and had an outstanding farm to table prix fix meal with a delicious Cabernet wine. All in all, Oxford was a good place for a quiet Sunday. Now we are off to the hustle and bustle of Nashville!

You know it's good when the chef has an herb garden out front. The Ravine--Oxford, Mississippi
You know it’s good when the chef has an herb garden out front. The Ravine–Oxford, Mississippi

(181) Parallels: James Meets Marian

18332255I’ve never been to Montana, and doubt I will ever go there, but it has been in my consciousness lately.

I recently completed a novel called The Given World by Marian Palaia.  The setting changes, but it begins and ends in Montana. I couldn’t help but see the connection between some of the text in the novel and James Taylor’s recent song “Montana” from his Before the World.  When both titles have the word “world” in them, I guess that is another tip off.

Anyway…I have taken portions of Taylor’s lyrics and connected them to portions of text. I won’t pontificate here about how great the writing is — that is in the text itself, waiting to be discovered. All told, I think it informs us about Montana as a place of spirit and soul and ancient rumblings that affect people.  At least, I hope so.  Maybe someone from Montana will let me know. 😉

[The italicized text is from the Taylor song. The rest is from the novel, with page numbers noted.]

I’m not smart enough for this life I’ve been livin’,
A little bit slow for the pace of the dream.
It’s not I’m ungrateful for all I’ve been given;
But nevertheless, just the same…

One of my half-assed dreams, when I was still young, had been to become a diesel mechanic, work on huge things — equipment that could move mountains. It was not something girls normally wanted, but I was not a normal girl, and I had plans for that equipment. I guessed that given the right machinery, my little corner of the world — including all of Montana, parts of western North Dakota and southern Alberta, maybe just a small corner of Wyoming — could be arranged a little more to my liking. (65)

Over the ocean from here.
Over the mountains from there.

“That’s where this entire river came from, and this gorge, and smaller canyons, lakes, ponds — everything we can see. They’ve found pieces of Montana all the way at the Pacific Ocean.” (234)

Who can imagine the scale of the forces
That pushed this old mountain range up in the sky?
Tectonic creation, erosion, mutation;
Somethin’ to pleasure God’s eye.

I consider the broken and fused-back-together landscape. Chunky, ash-colored rock and scrubby brush, more gray than green; buttes and huge potholes that must sometimes hold water but are all dried up now, cracked earth the predominant decorating scheme. Evidence of calamity is all around, if you know what to look for. (234)

The world is a wonder of lightnin’ and thunder,
And green of the ground as we fall from the sky.
The old and new faces, the tribes and the races…
Thousands of places to try.

Out past the railroad tracks, a stretch of still and dusty plain lay unbroken except for the skeleton of an old railway spur and a couple of ancient and almost unrecognizable farm implements. Forty miles on was Alberta. He’d heard Canada was an option, but he’d never say it out loud; had never even formed the idea completely in his own mind. (53)

One sits and waits while the other one wanders,
And squanders his time with a life on the road.
Down from the mountain, across the wide ocean,
The world is in motion and cannot be slowed.

One day he told her about the ducks who’d made the continents by pulling up mud and plants from the bottom of a great sea. Before that, he said, the only creatures who survived were the ones that could swim. She said how she had always wanted to see the ocean — the Pacific especially — and how she imagined it was the same as Montana, only bluer and bigger, with no mountains. (52)

Enough for today… the demands of the moment,
The thing on my mind is the work in my hand.
Wood for the woodstove and water for coffee,
Somethin’ I can still understand.

I was supposed to come back sooner. I have known this, in some not-as-hard-as-I-made-it-to-get-to place, forever. Known that these people, my people, were not exactly encased in amber, waiting for me to come along with my little rock hammer. (271)

We got a few friends but not many neighbors,
The trip into town takes us most of the day.
And after, “Hello”, and “it’s sure good to see you”,
It seems like there’s nothin’ to say.

I look beyond the sagging fence…I see no hawk, no rabbit, no horse — just that one small mountain range in the distance, still holding its own out there, a reminder that there is such a thing as permanence, or something close to it. (285-6)

Over the ocean from here.

“What about this?” he says.

“This is good,” I say, and stay where I am, for now. I try as hard as I can to concentrate, to see what he is seeing. What is out there. What is left. What is possible. Still. Or again. (286)

(170) Not a Fairy Tale (Found Poem)

This is a poem I found in chapter 2 of Marian Palaia’s The Given World. image

I have paired it with the song “She’s Not There” by the Zombies.

Not a Fairy Tale

I.

a flimsy rainbow arced over the town

she wasn’t anywhere near the end of it

she had a real name

but he didn’t know it

he couldn’t picture her in a fairy tale

hippie white girl with crazy green eyes

a pocketful of peyote

a secret

untamed and intangible.

II.

Bones, she whispered.

Bones no one is ever going to find.

My brother’s twenty-one.

He always will be.

III.

He liked the skirt

denim, reconfigured from a pair of bell-bottoms

the way she had the tail of her

red-and-black-checked flannel shirt tied in front,

the bandanna around her wrist.

“Hey, Ginger, where are your dancing shoes?”

She pushed off with one foot

and spun on the ball of the other,

lifted her head

and flung her body upright in motion.

“Why, Mr. Astaire, you’re late.”

“Late? Late for what? How late am I?”

“I had a dream you were coming.

But that was months ago.

You. are. late.”

He couldn’t tell if she was serious.

“What were we doing when I got here?”

“I didn’t get that far. I woke up.”

IV.

“What’s the scar?”

“I fell.”  She didn’t say anything more.

“Did it hurt?”

“Don’t remember much. I was on the roof.”

“What were you doing on the roof?”

“Throwing rocks at my brother. I deserved to fall.”

“No one deserves that.”

“I did.”

V.

She let him kiss her.

She smelled of rain and dog and hay.

He felt as if some peculiar magic

had turned him into an overgrown stuffed animal.

He wasn’t even sure why he had come,

the pull too great to resist.

This one seemed breakable;

a deer who knew you weren’t going to shoot it

let you get so close

then bolt to the edge of the clearing,

the forest impenetrable behind her.

She knew he couldn’t follow.