Poem: Man of the Upper Room

In this week before Easter, I have spent time again reading the accounts of Jesus’ last few days on earth. The Gospels report the events, but I am always drawn to the people that must have been so affected by those events.

Here are my thoughts on one of them, the host (restauranteur?) who provided that last supper for Jesus and the disciples.   (For extra background, read Mark 14:12-15 or Luke 22:7-13.

Jesus remembered the Passover, eating that Seder dinner with his disciples in the tradition that would have been done by Jews in Jerusalem for centuries. But He also knew His own death was coming. Along with other Christians, I see powerful symbolism in His death – a new sacrifice for a new kind of Passover. I’ve hoped to hint at that with this poem.

Man of the Upper Room

 Of course you can use this room, I said to
those friends of His, riding high on
celebrity, renown.

And yes, I’ll keep it a secret
promising to keep away onlookers, the flocking crowds
who wanted to gawk
see scales fall from eyes
watch magic food multiply inside baskets.

Yes, I’ll have extra basins of water for your feet
Though I hardly thought they’d need it
walking as they did that week on green palm leaves
fame growing, applause ringing
smiles ubiquitous.

There will be enough lamb for the dinner, I assured
and spent the day slaughtering.
Blood of goats and sheep
flowed into the mud just outside the door.

All is ready, I told them.
But I was not ready

He washed my feet
made me eat with them.
Kindly, He said my lamb did not
particularly matter.
And, there was to be more
blood, His blood.

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Read.

I’ve been trying to keep my blog posts a-political. This might explain why I haven’t been posting much recently. ( You know the old adage? If you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all.)

But I will say that I’m heartbroken by the direction our new administration is taking on human rights, on health care, on immigration, on the environment, on education, on the arts, on free speech.   If you are like me and you don’t like these new policies, please speak up. Call your elected officials. Give money to organizations that will work against the damages of these new policies. March. Protest. Pray. And read a book or two.

Yes, read.

Solace has come for me recently in the rich discussions that have centered around books. For the past four weeks, I’ve taken a class at The Clearing

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with 25 bright, intelligent, interesting women to dissect and discuss four books written by African American women. ( Dessa Rose, Brown Girl, Brownstones, The Bluest Eye, The Women of Brewster Place.)

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Each book took us into the lives of characters weighed down by racism, poverty, and oppression. The circumstances are grim; some characters survive and some do not. We feel heartbreak at their suffering, and the irony of this is not lost on any of us: there are no African Americans sitting among us. Door County is a place of mostly white skin where many of us can go days without seeing a person of color. Yet, every person in this class wanted to understand, wanted to learn, wanted to know how to address the needs of those in our country who have been hurt  because they are black.

We came to know the characters of these books.  We could see how we are different, and more importantly, how we are the same. We examined the issues of race, of white privilege, and we learned about the mistakes we ourselves have made. We listened to those among us who have taken action: one woman was a social worker in urban housing projects, another a principal in urban schools. On a neighborhood housing board, one woman forced banks to abandon their practices of redlining. Another adopted black sons.

So although we were heartbroken each week with the stories we read, we were also heart-healed by the knowledge that there are ways to bring about change. This all happened because we discussed books.

Better yet, just a few evenings ago, I was invited to a “book exchange.” We were encouraged to bring up to five books to exchange for that same number to take home. We drank a few glasses of wine, ate some good food, and then were asked (one-by-one around a circle) to share a title of a book that had affected us in our lives and a book that we have read recently that we liked.  (The hostess has subsequently compiled the list  WHICH I AM NOW Attaching 2017-book-swap-1 and emailed this list of everyone.  What a gift, right?)

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And in that room of readers, a picture slowly emerged of thoughtful women who want a world that is a good and kind place for their children. Thinking is important to them. Love is important to them. Treating others with respect is important. The beauty of words and the beauty of places and the beauty of people are valuable and worth fighting for.

I was reminded once again what research has told us for years: people who read are more empathetic than those who do not. All the qualities that it takes to be our best selves? We can learn these things when we read: bravery, long-suffering, friendship, courage, sacrifice, perseverance, love.*

In a country that with each passing day seems less kind, the time that I have spent with readers this week has given me hope.

Reading will not save us.

But it can help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*And on the flip side,  a society that does not read degenerates into people that are not good and not kind; they choose ease,  mindless entertainment,  and selfish pleasure over thought. They are  easily manipulated and swayed.   ( Think Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, 1984.)

 

Words in the Woods

A few weeks ago, a fellow teacher and I took girls into the wilderness for a little writing class. Just as I expected, good things happened.

When I taught high school in St. Louis ( before retiring two years ago,) one of the best parts of my job was taking kids on “Summer Seminar” trips. We’d travel far away from the city so we could hike and kayak and camp in tents on the prairies and by rivers. But we’d also read science articles and discuss literary essays and respond to historic documents right out there in the woods. I saw kids engage in learning in a way that they’d rarely done in my classroom; their questions were authentic, their ideas original and non-contrived. (You could read a lot more about how much I loved these experiences in an article I wrote for National Parks here. )

So when I had the opportunity to help organize and implement a “Camp out/Write In” program here, it seemed the right thing to do. I can’t say enough good things about Write On, Door County, which is the organization that sponsored this event. Write On offers programs and classes for all levels of experience and age groups in order to nurture and foster writing. The workshop that I taught a few weeks ago was just one of many that have been offered this summer.

But of course this campout involved work. We needed tents, cooking stoves, pots and pans. (And lanterns and coolers and tarps and camp chairs.) We needed to plan meals and shop for the food. Would we have vegetarians? Would we need gluten free foods? And then of course, we needed to plan how to structure the time, to figure out the best way to provide good writing instruction. But that could vary greatly if we had 13-yr-olds sign up vs having 17-yr-olds sign up, so until the last minute, we’d have to be flexible. Oh, and what would we do in the rain?

So there was a lot to think about and plan for. It’s a weight to be responsible for the safety and happiness of other people’s kids. So we planned and provisioned, and then… we showed up and waited for our kids to arrive.

Here’s the thing about the wilderness. It makes you a bit vulnerable. It takes away other distractions and helps boil you down to the real you. And here’s the thing about writing: it makes you articulate what you think and believe. It helps you remember. It helps you figure out what you’re feeling, and it gives you clarity about your life.

So, when seven girls who did not know each other hauled gear and set up tents and killed bugs and then sat down to write, we heard some pretty powerful utterances.

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When we gave them some prompts to get them writing down words, these seven girls sitting under green trees put words together in ways that could awestrike a person.

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On the first go round, they were a little bashful about sharing their work. But their words were good, and after awhile, it just felt good to hear what each other wanted to say.   More than one girl’s family isn’t happy and that made us sad, but writing and sharing helped. Another has felt like a misfit for years. She hasn’t been able to “succeed” in sports or popularity, but she has certainly found a way forward with her words.

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We were gone for only two nights and three days. We hiked and we swam and ate good food and we told stores around a campfire.camp2.jpg

And as these young women girls filled up several pages in their journals, they thought about themselves. When they shared their words they were kind to each other and affirming. So they went home feeling a little more empowered to live their lives.

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So, I remain a believer in this combination: take kids to the woods. Ask them to think, ask them to write. Then be ready to tear up at the beauty of, the power of their words.

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I’m not exactly young anymore, and it’s getting harder as the years go by to sleep on the ground. But I’m glad I went camping with these kids because I’m just not ready to give up being witness to the magic that happens when kids in the woods write down words.

Writing v. Selling

Writing a book is one thing. Selling a book is an entirely different matter. My first children’s book (called Good Morning, Door County) has been in print for just two months now. I’ve had a lot to learn about marketing and retail. It doesn’t come easy or naturally for me.

I spent three long days over the 4th of July weekend manning a booth at a local craft fair. I passed out stickers to kids and held out copies of our book to literally thousands of people that walked by. Would you like to look at a copy? Here’s a brand new book- want to read? Kids, do you want to see the book I wrote? Can you find the hidden cherries on the page? Do you like the happy cows? Do you visit Door County often?

Of course, one really can’t say these things sitting down. Enticing people to look at my book meant standing up and being friendly. So that’s what I did for three long days.

Here’s what was wonderful.

  • I had kids who stayed at the table and read EVERY single word.
  • I had kids tell me they loved my book.
  • On the beach page, where there are numerous children pictured, two sisters put a name on every one of those people. . that’s you in the hat.. and that’s Aunt Alice, and that kid is Charles….
  • A mom took a picture of me, the author, with her daughter. Her six year old was pretty impressed when I signed a book especially for her and thanked her for buying my book.
  • Three siblings fought over who got to carry home the family copy. They each wanted their own copy.
  • I witnessed some pretty great parenting. Some pretty patient moms and dads, despite the crowds and the general exhaustion from having watched a 4th of July parade or having walked several blocks from their car or hotel, took the time to either read the entire book to their children or let their child read to them.
  • People who want to write books of their own wanted to talk. I had conversations with some pretty creative people.

 

On the other hand…

The life of a vendor at a craft fair is not something I want to continue.

Many of the vendors travel from far away and spend their weekends setting up these temporary stores. They hope for crowds with disposable income, for a good “spot” in the show, for good weather.   They second guess why sales rise and fall. Some are happier than others. I’ve decided it’s a hard way to earn a living.

People also get a little territorial. (I made a mistake of walking part way into my neighbor’s booth area to give a very bored-looking little boy a sticker. This was apparently a big “no-no” in craft show etiquette. Of course, when I was corrected I apologized. But with my very thin skin, I didn’t sleep well that night, and I felt bad that I had offended.)

Thankfully, many stores have agreed to sell the book. Most shopkeepers started off with 10 or 12 copies, to see “how they’d do.” But now, within weeks, they are ordering more, so maybe this means my craft fair days are winding down.

Even so, I still have a lot to learn: invoices, book keeping, tax records, spreadsheets. Who knew that being an author meant learning about sales?

When we moved to Wisconsin, I had hoped to write, and I have. Writing the text of Good Morning, Door County (32 pages)  was not very complicated, and I have to admit that sights like this make me pretty happy to be an author.IMG_2144

My other writing projects will likely be a little less marketable. (I’m not really expecting a book of poems and essays to make it to the NYT best seller’s list.)  I’ll write because I like to, and, well…because I need to.  And I’ll sell, but don’t hold your breath waiting for me to like it.

 

Green

There is color everywhere across the peninsula, finally. Spring has decked out, and on top of the finery, it’s wearing lavish perfume. On a walk today, the fragrance of lily-of-the-valleys in the nearby woods was arresting. (Yes, I stopped in my tracks.)

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And oh… the lilacs are everywhere, so many are in my house.   I don’t feel a bit guilty absconding with bunches of them when the bushes are plentiful in front of abandoned farmhouses or deserted old stone foundations, planted years ago by people now long gone.

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I plan to take more pictures soon of these marvelous colors, but today I cannot help but fixate on just one of them: green.

Two weeks ago, things were brown; now they are not.

Pastures and fields and meadows are green.

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Roadsides are green.

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The trees are full-on, uncomplicated, and only green.

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When I taught students about poetry, we always dissected the poet’s use of color. Because of course, color means everything.

For example, if Dylan Thomas had written about “good men” dancing in an orange bay, or a turquoise bay or a crimson one, the feel would be different. Good men nurture others; they cultivate and bring life, so green is absolutely the right color, the right choice of a word.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Color is full of connotation. It evokes mood, emotion, memory. It’s why good writers use it effectively. It’s why I’m glad I don’t live in a drab and colorless world.

Door County is always pretty. I love the blues of the lake in the summer, the oranges and reds of fall, the white of winter. Today, however, I’m especially taken by and grateful for the green of spring.

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Our song. ( Poem)

Some couples have “their song.” In the movies, lovers swoon, turn sentimental when it comes on a jukebox. Now, spouses make it their ring tones.  This is the closest thing we’ve got. True story.

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Our Song

We had no business climbing.

I didn’t have the right shoes.

I had rarely walked so far,
never climbed so high.

But we walked anyway, always up.
Through pine forests
past smooth granite and
thickets of rhododendrons
across rocky ridges of shale.

Above the tree line
we labored in a boulder field on all fours.

Early though, we heard the song of a white throated sparrow.

Whether we chased him up or merely followed,
the whole way up Mt. Washington
it sang.

Clear-like-water notes
echoed across those ridges, around the turns,
back and forth on switchbacks

until its song soared into our memories
and lasted
across all those years.

Today there is one at my feeder,
a white throat.
I heard his song in the barren
shrubs outside my window.

We walk on flat ground now.
Four pure notes
persist

still accompanying our climb

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to listen, click here. ( Scroll down, click on “Song”)

From Mary

Morning

When I woke
the birds were singing

foretaste of what was to be

In my tears ( again)
I could barely see to lift the spices
and the cloths to wash Him

Walking there
I heard distant laughing

In my bitterness I wondered at how quickly they’d forgotten

But there was no stopping those birds from singing

They kept on
until joined with gardener’s words
and angel songs
there was a mighty symphony when I heard His voice call my name

Mary

I touched Him
and heard Him

my Lord and My God

Risen

 

( I wrote this poem years ago.  Happy Easter!)