Happiness Is…

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When I was young, I had a tall glass that had a jubilant Snoopy and Woodstock and the words: “Happiness is a root beer float.” This stein, even when filled with milk or water, made me happy.

For me, happiness hasn’t changed too much since then. I still delight in birthday cake, mom’s cooking, and afternoon naps.

***

Yesterday, as I was Spring cleaning my office, I observed how I display, for students and for myself, all sorts of reminders about the value of happiness: a poem by William Stafford, photos of celebrations and loved ones, favorite words, quotations, papel picado.

In tidying, I noted that one of the photos contained a person who has, over the past year, hurt me. He seemed to hang on the edge of an otherwise fondly-recalled celebration.

So I lopped him off the picture.

***

I immediately was not sure what to do with him, this quarter-inch-slice. I mean, I wondered if I should slip him into a book, throw him into the trash, slide him into an folder and file him.

All I knew was that I instantly felt happiness that he was no longer in my  office.

So, I recycled him.

***

I have a sore throat. One of my friends says that a sore throat is from not saying what you need to say, but I’ve been to the doctor and it is just an end-of-winter cold.

Despite the fact that my voice was scratchy and tired, I told M last night, “I felt like a sixth-grader this afternoon. I cut X– out of that birthday photo of all of us on the patio. It made me happy.”

He laughed at me; he knows that happiness is sometimes acting like a kid who is not trying to making anyone else happy.

***

Happiness

–Raymond Carver

So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

***

  • My colleague, K–, recently did an activity with her students to make abstract concepts tangible. She shared some of the creative images her creative students concocted.

Lost: a sad song trapped in an empty jar

Chaos: a spilled box of dry spaghetti

Forgiveness: the sweet taste of a Sour Patch Kid

Joy: A free scoop of coconut ice cream

Despair: Writing a ten-page paper for days and forgetting to turn it in

Here are some abstract nouns for feelings, what do they remind you of?

 

Adoration, Amazement, Anger, Anxiety, Apprehension, Clarity, Delight, Despair, Disappointment, Disbelief, Excitement, Fascination, Friendship, Grief, Hate, Helpfulness, Helplessness, Infatuation, Joy, Love, Misery, Pain, Pleasure, Power, Pride, Relaxation, Relief, Romance, Sadness, Satisfaction, Silliness, Sorrow, Strength, Surprise, Tiredness, Uncertainty, Wariness, Weariness, Worry

 

Sunday’s Child

IMG_8464It is winter, and the language exchange in the Home Depot parking lot continues. We talk about Trump’s politics, the Spring-like weather that has arrived for our class time (though there will be rain the rest of the week), what we had for dinner, what we did on Sunday.

Ariel wants to practice the seasons in English. We learn them and drill on them for a half an hour, mixing these new words with days of the week, months, colors, and questions to make sure he remembers the words. He does.

It is the Monday of midterms and the guys ask, “When will your English-speaking students join us?” I reply, “No puedo adviniar.” (I am not able to guess, predict, divine the answer to this.) And, this is one of the things I love about acquiring a new language.

Before knowing this verb in Spanish, I would utter only: “I don’t know.”

I go on quizzing: “Verano?” “Yes, summer.” “Azul? Okay, blue.” “Invierno?” “Right, winter.” “Viernes?” “Yes, Friday.”

I think about how I was born on Sunday, in the US, in California, in the desert;  I know these are forces that have shaped the happiness and fortune in my life. I say the “Monday’s Child” rhyme out, in English in nearly the same singing way I offered “Roses are red” in a Valentine’s Day lesson.

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Thursday’s child has far to go,

Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Saturday’s child works hard for a living,

But the child who is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonnie and blithe and good and gay.

“Monday’s Child” is a fortune-telling song to predict a child’s character based on the day of the week of her birth. In addition to the day of the week, humans look for astrology, numerology, graphology, palmistry, tarot, crystal balls, runes, tea leaves, ouija boards, pendulums, scrying mirrors, even a magic 8 ball to lend us wisdom into the universe, to help us know more than we do, to divine.

  • What prophets, soothsayers, clairvoyants, seers, or oracles might inform your story?

Madonna and Child

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This afternoon I was chatting with my friend F– about Black Jesus and the Black Madonna of Częstochowa (also known as Our Lady of Częstochowa). I described the sparkling and revered four-foot-high image of the Virgin Mary and Child  I visited at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Poland.

I was asking F– if she might be interested in a wooden, bejeweled, mini version as souvenir. And, she was delighted by the promise of Black Jesus and less enthusiastic about the paler version I also had to offer: a new babe in a diaper who appears to be newly plucked from the manger, in a crib with straw.

***

I told F– briefly of how the monastery was packed with pilgrims who’d traveled distances to be in the presence of this scintillating icon, to pray, and to be enlightened. I explained how a wall in the sanctuary displays crutches, braces, and other relics of grave injury and seems to promise cures and strength. I detailed how I dutifully carried a bouquet of yellow flowers from a woman with Parkinson’s in Dobra, how a young man in a cobalt coat placed the fragrant bunch on the altar before Mary. I shared how some say Mary is named for where she was found and for her virtues. The virtue of being Black.

***

Spending Christmas mass at a Catholic church in Dobra, Poland, emphasized that I am a foreigner and a sightseer. I was mostly spectating the hour-long service in pure Polish and then I drove to Częstochowa to visit with the Virgin and Child. And,  I felt, as I have so often in Oaxaca, that I am a wayfarer, a church tourist.

And, this reminded me of Dean Young’s “My Process” and the other ways we might be congregants.

My Process

by Dean Young

Sometimes it’s like pushing a wheelchair
of bones through the high-tide sand.
Like giving birth to an ostrich,
an ostrich with antlers that glows.
The sense there’s something wrong and
not giving a hoot like going to church
to see what you can steal. Experimental

Read the rest of the poem at: http://poems.com/poem.php?date=17198

Here is another poem on process: http://www.blueridgejournal.com/poems/aw-isaid.htm

 

Odes

coalIn poetry class, you are writing odes, odes to soap, music, somebody’s distant cousin–even the sound S makes as you assemble an alliterative sentence. You are crafting tributes to colors and memories and all of the things you love in the world.

You are in front of the classroom describing how the gray blue tile you hold between your fingertips, a color you have named dad’s truck blue, a sort of primer blue hue, reminds you of dad’s old Chevy Apache. And, you explain how when you initially see this shade it reminds you of your first sleeping bag, but it is, in fact, more the shade of the vehicle that was dramatically flattened under a ginormous tamarisk in the late 70s. Decades later, this  tint can still evoke the explosive sound of the tree untethering from the earth just outside the chickens’ coop.

You read recently about Polish idioms, that Polish people don’t daydream. Instead, they think of blue almonds. They don’t speak bluntly. Rather, they tell it straight from the bridge. They don’t beat around the bush; they wrap the truth in cotton. And, you think this is the poet’s work; you spend entire days thinking of blue almonds, lecturing from bridges, and softening the truth.

You think about all of the odes there are left to write: salutes to Warsaw traffic, praise for pickled eggs and beets and herring, testimony for trust and faith and lust, homages to the lost, to the sky streaked with coal, to drunk people falling softly in snow, to every gilded representation of Jesus, to meeting your husband’s relatives who don’t speak your language–still they look into your face and love, love, love you anyway.

The world is composed of stories…

OLS Writers' Conference 2018 Flyer

The writers’ conference is coming soon!

Even sooner, we are seeking submissions through the end of February for the literary journal. Submissions can be posted online at: https://cosumnesriverjournal.submittable.com/submit

And, my online Creative Writing students are blogging at:

No Day

911 quote

On the way to Poland for winter break, M and I spent a couple of days touring New York City. One of the places we visited was the hallowed ground of the 9/11 memorial. It is a startling amphitheater of  deep sorrow,  a mausoleum for the 2,977 lost, a monument of remembrance for  the survivors–and the rest of us. It is horror amplified to sensory overload with the sounds of sirens and phone calls and news and the photographs of people frozen in disbelief, dumbstruck, confused, terrified.

There is an urgent seriousness buzzing through the halls, as if the tragedy hovers over us–and it does. I did not know how heavy the news of this particular morning (this vast crime) wears within me. Wandering through the exhibits, the heaviness inflates again with sorrow, and I am almost bursting with the deeply personal stories of the people.

Today is the birthday of a handful of victims whose names are marked with a white rose and whose stories play in a dark room, as a vigil of sorts, with friends telling the stories of their loved ones, how brilliantly they lived, how tremendous the loss.

How tremendous the loss. “No day shall erase you,” I am reminded at my discomfort. “No day shall erase you,” I promise to the void.

“No day shall erase you,” reminds the adamant woman who survived the terrorist attacks in 1993 and again in 2001 by climbing down the stairs, these same stairs where she reports to work each morning as a docent bound to share her story and the stories of those who cannot.

*

I am headed to Poland, and people keep asking me which Polish writers I like. And, I stall, wondering if I have categorized writers by country. I have not. I report that I know I love anything by Wislawa Szymborska. I think of her poem “Hatred” and how relevant it is now–and probably forever. I research other Polish writers and pull out pieces that might accompany blog posts.

*

I am searching now for other poets’ takes on 9/11. And, the first piece I find comes up Symborska. An audio poem with no companion text, it does not prepare me. It does not prepare me:  Photograph from September 11.

*

No day.

  • White roses, stories, monuments, museums, poems, and more combat erasure. What must we remember?

 

[More on Virgil’s quote.]

Even

 

“Even when folks are hitting you over the head, you can’t stop marching. Even when they’re turning the hoses on you, you can’t stop.” – -Barack Obama

Even though your voice is tired from preaching to the choir and anyone with ears and a heart, even though the plodding makes you ache, even when (perhaps especially when) it makes you afraid, even if you must crawl, you must. Even though some days you believe humans are incapable of goodness, of anything more than greed; though you doubt the point of this life or that any hope or light can guide us through darkness, you must march onward, bear witness, rage with all of your might.

Yesterday in poetry class we discussed how last week I speculated that all poems are love poems, but today I insist all poems are political poems. We realize this is not a “but” but an “and,” that these two approaches are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, they are complementary. We discuss Leroy V. Quintana’s “Poem for U-Haul,” from the anthology Poetry Like Bread. (https://www.amazon.com/Poetry-Like-Bread-Martin-Espada/dp/1880684748/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1517383267&sr=8-1&keywords=poetry+like+bread). The poem is a four-line masterpiece that shows how a simple and awful domestic scene can inspire reaction and even action. One of the students says sometimes the act of finally loving oneself is a political one.

Hours later, I am still excited about the conversation from class, about the imperative for writing to be “like bread” instead of  as “like cake”–or “caviar,” of the power of words to express love and show us the way to justice.

According to The Guardian, “Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, whose novels and stories record and define apartheid, argues that a writer’s highest calling is to bear witness to the evils of conflict and injustice.”

  • Write a love poem on the evils of conflict and injustice.