Guest Blog: A Letter To My Community College

It is true that in recent months social media has become a bit of a minefield, but today I was reminded of why it can be a really lovely tool as well. I’m neck deep in prepping for the upcoming semester, so it was nice to see this post from 2011 pop up in my Facebook memories. I’m still grateful to my community college and if anything, my feelings have intensified.

A Poet's Ponderings

I’m a guest blogger over at A Librarian’s Lists and Letters. Here’s an excerpt from my post. To read the rest, check out Shannon’s blog.

To My Community College:

If you had asked me ten years ago as a graduating senior from a private liberal arts college what I knew about community colleges, I would have said absolutely nothing. However, this would not have been a true answer because I knew one thing about community colleges: I knew they were looked down upon. How did I know this? Because occasionally when I would tell people unfamiliar with Allegheny College where I went to school they would pause and then say, “Oh,” you go to CCAC.” CCAC stands for Community College of Allegheny County. The first few times this happened, I corrected the questioner but didn’t think much of it. I didn’t know anything about CCAC and I’m not a…

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Be Kind. Try Hard.

Monday

My morning class shows up happy and chatty and ready to talk poetry. Several students mention they voted early.

Later that afternoon, I chat with a student of mine who is applying to Columbia College in Chicago. He tells me that he applied to Columbia a year ago and was accepted but he couldn’t go because he didn’t have the money. We are discussing his admissions essay where he writes that he is a poor black trans male who will be the first member of his family to graduate from college. He loves jokes and his jokes are his art. He is bright and funny and self deprecating. At the end of our chat he tells me that Nixon is his favorite president. His mother is a political science professor. He loves politics. He also tells me that one time, in the last few weeks, he showed up to our classroom early and two other students were discussing how Hilary was going to wreck the country and Trump was clearly the superior candidate. He told me he put in his earbuds because he couldn’t listen to them anymore.

 

Tuesday

I wear my “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” t-shirt. I attach my Hilary Clinton pin to the lapel of my jean jacket. A few weeks ago at Target I stumbled across the entire alphabet in earrings; each letter is shiny gold. I put “H” in one ear and “C” in the other.

I go to work. I talk with my officemates: an astronomer, a historian and a mathematician. We are all excited. We are all nervous. The historian is coming back to campus that night for an election party sponsored by student life. He is looking forward to it. He says it will be a close race.

I don’t think it will be close. I am confident it will not be close.

I teach both of my classes. I pick my son up from daycare. I get home and my husband is already there. We order tacos for dinner. We put our son to bed around 7:30. We’ve got PBS election coverage streaming through our television.

For the first hour or so, I am fine. It’s going as expected. I am texting my sister, sitting on my couch and sipping a giant glass of red wine.

It is hard to to pinpoint the exact moment when I no longer feel fine, but this is what I remember:

I remember hearing my husband say “how could the polls have gotten this so wrong?” and looking over at him to see sheer bewilderment on his face. It scares the shit out of me.

I remember my sister assuring me over and over again that Pennsylvania will go blue. “She’s got this,” she said. “Of course she does,” I said.

I remember watching my friends on social media move from astonishment to anger to despair.

I remember saying to my husband, “I’m not going to bed until this over.”

I remember going to bed before they called Pennsylvania because I just couldn’t take anymore.

I remember my husband and I getting undressed, sliding into our bed in silence and lying absolutely still in the dark. Our bodies do not touch.

I do not cry.

 

Wednesday

I wake up to my eighteen month old son chattering in his crib. Before I get up, I pick up my phone and open Facebook.

She lost.

I  go to my son’s room and lift him out of his crib. It is not until he comes up to me, throws his little arms around my shins, buries his sleep warmed head in my knees, that I begin to weep.

I am scared.

I go to work. I am the first one in our office. I spend the next hour listening to NPR until my officemate, the mathematician and my dear friend, arrives and asks me how I am.

We talk. I feel better. I go back to work.

I am listening to NPR when I hear a female Clinton supporter come over the line. She is sobbing. She says she doesn’t know what to do now. What will happen now that we’ve elected a man  for President of the United States who does not value women?

I am listening to Diane Rhem. A caller wants to know what kind of job she can get under Trump’s plan seeing as how she is a sixty year old woman and can not work in a factory. Diane has to interrupt Peter Navarro, a policy advisor for the Trump campaign, after a few minutes, “Please, Peter. Just answer her question,” but he can’t.

I am angry.

I listen to President Obama’s remarks. He tells us that this is how elections work. That “we lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off and we try harder.”

A friend on Twitter retweets: “So, we’re just awake. And we’re here. And we’re exhausted and broken. And she’s cheerful and kind. She’s the future.” I retweet it as well, commenting: I’m trying. I’m trying really, really hard.

My friend direct messages me: “The only reason I am able to function today is because I know I have someone like you as a friend. I’m using “Be kind. Try hard.” as a mantra. I’m here with you.”*

Be kind. Try Hard.

I listen to Hilary Clinton’s concession speech. I cry at my desk.

My officemate, the mathematician and my dear friend, and I talk some more. We close the door. One of our facilities staff comes into empty the trashcans. He hears us talking about the election and says, “you are my people.”

I teach my class. My student who is applying to Columbia? My student who loves Nixon?

He is absent.

I stop in the women’s room on the second floor of my building after class. I meet another one of facilities staff coming out. She’s just finished cleaning and we chat for a minute. She tells me there are post it notes up on the mirrors. “I know I should take them down, but I’m going to leave them. I really like the one saying. I circled it in pink highlighter.”

The post it note that she circled reads: Now is a time when love is the strongest of all weapons. Stand together. Spread the love.

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I go home. My pin still on my lapel. H & C still in my ears.

Later that night my husband turns to me and says, “Well, babe, what are we going to do?”

 

Thursday

H & C still in my ears.

I go to work. My officemate, the historian, says the turn out for the election party was great. There was food and conversation but they had to be out of the building by ten.

I go to my classes. We read “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith. My students love it and we discuss it for a large chunk of both class periods. The final lines of her poem mingle with my mantra from the day before:

Beautiful. Be kind. Try. You can make this place beautiful. Try hard. Try hard to make this place beautiful.

I go back to my office. I do some work. I watch Michelle Obama’s speech in New Hampshire. I cry.

My officemate, the mathematician and my dear friend, and I go downstairs to the food court and we see the our friend from the day before. He asks us how we’re feeling.

I go home. I play with my son. I donate money to promote a safe haven. I share the picture  I took of the post it notes in the bathroom. I see there are notes popping up all over the country. My husband and I make plans to get involved.

I read poems by Annie Finch, Andrienne Rich, Danez Smith, Fatimah Asghar, Aracelis Girmay and many others.

I send messages of support on social media.

Be kind. Try hard.

 

Friday

Standing in a parking lot, I take a picture of the sky. It reminds me of a poem I began before this whole shit show started. I go home and pull up the poem. I work on it for awhile.

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Close to a month ago, I bought a ton of daffodil and tulip bulbs from Aldi. I love flowers and these bulbs were on sale, so I might have gone a bit overboard. Regardless, today, in the late November sunlight, I go out into my yard and plant what must be more than fifty bulbs.

In some ways this planting is cathartic. I am angry. It feels good to plunge the nose of my bulb planter into the soft earth and see it break apart. It feels better to stomp on the dirt after I’ve placed the bulb in the hole. After about thirty times, I feel better than I have in days.

I also can’t help but think, pausing to stomp yet another pile of dirt, that come spring my yard will be a riot of color with tulips of every shade and so many daffodils the sun will be jealous.

Be kind. Try hard.

HC still in my ears.

Be kind. Try hard.

I’m here with you.

Be kind. Try hard.

Make this place beautiful.

I will. I will. I will.

* Thank you to my friend who supplied me with this mantra on this day. It saved me then and it is still saving me now. 

PHV: July Stats

I’m a little, OK, a lot late sharing this PHV post. August is always hectic with end of the summer grading but I also took off toward the middle of the month and went home to visit my parents. By the time I got back, it was time to start preparing for the fall semester and today is the last day of the first week.

Farewell summer.

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Lake Erie at the end of summer.

New Madrid Summer 2016

My contributor copies of New Madrid arrived on my doorstep this morning. When the FedEx delivery guy dropped them off on my front porch, I was listening to the NPR segment about Philando Castile. It was raining, my husband and son were on their way to work and daycare and the only sound in my house was the voice of Castile’s girlfriend echoing through the speaker.

When I leaf through my copies of New Madrid, I am reminded, as I’ve been reminded all too often lately, that there are so many people in this world who are making beautiful, meaningful art. There are  so many people who are invested in making the world a better place. There are so many people who love with every fiber of their being.

In this particular journal is the first poem I wrote about my son and I have to believe that for him, for all of my friends children and their friends children and on and on and on that we will all keep tearing, and clawing and fighting.

Charing Cross Bridge: Making Sense of Brexit

It’s been said that once you’ve lived in a place it never leaves you. It seeps into your blood and stays just beneath your skin in an accumulation of memories that never truly fade.

I suppose this is the argument for travel because with each new place we live, we expand. But this is where it is important to make the distinction between visiting and living. When I was a junior in college, I attended the University of Lancaster for a semester. I lived on campus from January to May and because I was twenty one years old at the time, those five months might as well have been five years in terms of the impact the experience on had on me.

Today, Britain is back on my mind, and yes, it’s specifically Britain because while I visited (there’s that word again) Scotland, Ireland and Wales during my stay in the UK, I didn’t live in any of those places.

While wandering around the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) today, an ocean away from Brexit, I came across the painting Charing Cross Bridge by Claude Monet.

It’s a gorgeous, fluid painting, as is the case with much of Monet’s work. All pastels and swift strokes, it looks as if the the paint is literally moving across the canvas. It’s an impression of something concrete.

It strikes me that Monet’s painting is not unlike a country’s identity also fluid, constantly shifting. Often those shifts are chaotic and messy, but the results of that chaos can be really beautiful.

I know from taking groups of students to the IMA that Monet’s paintings don’t make sense to everyone, and I imagine that at least 46.8% of Brits are thinking the same thing about Brexit.

I’m not an economist or a politician. I’m not even British, but I do deeply admire the country and the people what I can say is this: I don’t completely understand Charing Cross Bridge either, but that doesn’t stop me from looking and it doesn’t stop me from loving.

 

Missing in Medea: Looking for Glauce

So my sister and I are writing together this summer. We’ve written on and off prompt and shared some drafts and it’s been pretty great. Sometime last week, she sent a text reading:

You are a private investigator. You’ve been following a c heating husband for a month. Write a report to your client-an emotionally unstable wife-telling her what you did and what you learned. 

I would like to take this opportunity to say that when I skip off a prompt, I skip hard, which is what happened here, but I ended up drafting a poem anyway, so win!

I started thinking about cheating spouses and then I started thinking about famous couples in literature and my mind landed on Medea. This isn’t as random as it may sound. I teach a section of World Lit every other semester, so this past spring I was deep in this very play for a few weeks. I like Medea for a lot of reasons, but what it really comes down to is that I find the portrayal of women to be both fascinating and terrifying.

It would be fair at this point to make the assumption that maybe I drafted a poem about Medea, but that’s not what ended up happening, because as it turns out, there’s another woman I find even more interesting.

Glauce, Princess of Corinth, who is to marry Jason, turned out to be the subject of my poem. This woman, who dies at the hand Medea, for doing nothing other than what she is told, has no lines in the entire play. As a result, she is not listed in the list of characters nor is she really acknowledged in way other than from the words that come out of other character’s mouths. Incidentally, most of the characters who speak of her specifically, are male.

Whenever I teach this play, there’s always heated discussion about Medea as victim or perpetrator and my students always have interesting things to say about her, but no one ever speaks of the princess. It’s as if she is nothing more than a plot device

This is all to say, I started thinking about how Glauce may have felt upon seeing Jason and Medea and their boys arrive in Corinth. What would she know of Jason? Of Medea? Would she be afraid? Would she trust her father? Would she resent him? Would she admire Medea? Would Medea disgust her? Would Jason?

As a final note, after reading the play again, I surfed around online and was able to find several, beautiful, haunting depictions of Medea in classic art, but none, not a one of Glauce. Voiceless and faceless, this young woman who died wearing a dress made of gold.