Tag Archives: poetry

Staying True To My Younger Self

I apologize ahead of time, this post is going to ramble, but come together at the end. If you have a busy day you may want to save this post to read later…

I recently shared a post on Facebook about an aspect of writing that all writers go through, rejection. In this digital age we get rejection emails instead of letters, and my mailbox was filled with them. I’ve been getting a lot of them this year. Even when you know this is a part of the process, it is still hard to deal with right at that moment, or in my case, so many at one time. And some of them hurt more than others for different reasons. The grand prize for one contest I entered was to speak about poetry to students at colleges. I thought that would be cool.

I was thankful for all the responses from family and friends on Facebook telling me to keep writing. To stay true… which brings me to a YouTube video.

Dream On” by Video Advice is one of those motivational videos that mash up  different speeches with video clips, mostly from movies. This video’s audio starts with a quote from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Commencement Address at the American University in Beirut:

Girl looking at mirror

As you think about that for a moment, let me share what my word of the year is:

Designed by second son.

The idea behind that word was for me to BE a good father, to BE a good husband, and to BE a writer (yes, I hear Yoda, too). Instead of trying to do these this year I am going to fulfill those roles, which highlights the Facebook post, rejection letters (emails) are part of the process of being a writer. Especially since it has been awhile since I have actively pursued getting my work published. I have to be ready for those setbacks.

But let’s connect the Facebook post to the quote from Nassim Nicholas Taleb and the responses I received about staying true…

What I find most empowering about his idea is how Nassim Taleb flips the idea of looking back on our lives. The popular idea is to give advice to our younger selves. Heck, there’s even a web series where athletes write back to their younger self (The Players’ Tribune). Let alone the popular songs and such.

But Nassim Taleb flips the idea, asks us to consider if who we have become would make our 18-year-old self proud. Did you fulfill the potential you held at that time? Did you pursue your goals? Did you live up to your own standards?

That’s a powerful idea…

And as I worked to publish the 20 Year Anniversary of my first book of poetry And I Never Told You, I came to realize as a poet, as a writer, that I had let myself down. Not that I ever stopped writing, but I let that part of me fall to the bottom of my priority list. As Nassim Taleb states, life corrupted me.

Corrupt might be a harsh word, but still true. As I read through other poems to add to the book, I noticed how the poems had more passion. They were raw, even undefined at times, but the poems represented my troubles and joys authentically. My poetry now is stronger in form and still reveals depth of emotions, but maybe not so openly. The poems have a guarded feel, more layers to get through. I’m not saying it is a bad thing, some of my favorite poems are from the last couple of years. What I hope you understand is how life has changed me to be more guarded in my works, to be more guarded in my everyday life. The irony is that I still feel the same pain.

Nassim Taleb’s quote seems to hint that life corrupts us with money, status, and things like that. But life can corrupt us with fear, pain, confusion, and simple busyness. What bill is due this week? What time is the dentist appointment? These things can blanket our dreams and even our hearts.

So I am making my younger self proud by BEing the poet and writer that I wanted to be. I know there will be rejection letters and other hurdles.  How about you?  What could you do today that would make your younger self proud? It doesn’t matter how old you are now, what matters is that you can pursue your goals at any time. Let today be day one of your success story.

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Poem

I get lost sometimes, really I do

The noise and commotion of life

Drowns out the simplest direction

 

To love each other

 

I find myself walking in circles

Even if it is just in my head

Wondering why it gets so dark

 

To see the path

 

I would ask a friend

But everyone seems like a stranger

Busy going nowhere

 

To help me find my way

 

So I stand here or there

Trying to hear, trying to see

But others just knock me down

 

To  the ground

 

I get lost sometimes, really I do

But through the noise and commotion

I try to follow the simplest direction

 

To love…

 

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Only Time will Tell

It is graduation weekend for many schools. I wonder how many speeches will quote Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”? You know the lines:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

These lines have been posturized, quoted, and even used in commercials to express the idea that choosing a different path will change your life.

I am also going to quote this poem in my post, but an entirely different section for the same idea. You might just see the above quote in a new light.

As I have taught this poem over the years I have come to believe the heart of this poem is about choosing a path for the day, but like many of Frost’s poems there is a quiet depth in his lines. I think his deepest statement comes in the first stanza.

path

It is easy to make decisions when or if we can see it clearly, but that doesn’t happen very often in life, and Frost knew this. “…as far as I could / to where it bent…” Life is not a straight line, we are only allowed to see so far ahead in our lives. We can plan. We can dream. But tomorrow is the bend in the path. We have to make our decisions without knowing what lays beyond that bend. That takes faith. That takes courage.

No matter what you choose, as Frost said, you will be “telling this with a sigh.” What type of sigh? Only tomorrow knows.

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Open Letter to Mr. Holt

Dear Mr. Holt,

I wish you were here to see me finally live up to the potential you saw in me way back in middle school (1984). I have self published my first novel. I image handing you a copy and you smiling, your eyes would get lost behind your glasses and full beard, as you hold it in both hands. You would sit at your desk, messy as always, and thumb through some pages, stopping to read a section. You would then say, “I knew you could do this.”

But you passed away in 2001.

I am sorry that it took me this long to believe. Maybe not believe, but to embrace the talent you saw in me as an awkward seventh grader who wrote poetry in his notebooks instead of notes. You let us break-dancers actually have a class to work on our moves during our eighth grade year. You always read my poetry and stories with a caring but honest insight. I still have the book of poetry you gave me from your library because I borrowed it so much. I also have the copy of Dune you let me keep from class. And yes, I still have the “book” you put together of my poetry for my senior year. Giving me my first taste of being published, even if it was put together by hand and was only 25 copies.

IMG_5662As I look at my classroom I can’t help but laugh. My bulletin boards look just like yours did. Even when I didn’t have your class you would allow me to put stuff up on your walls. I remember Scott and I visiting you at your home. You always had time for us. You always had time for me, and I wish I had told you this when you were alive.

I was the kid who was too loud at times. Even Scott’s mom mentioned that to him in junior high. I had to move away a number of times, but you were a stable factor in my life for those six school years. You made me feel that I mattered. You expanded my horizons by suggesting books; yes, Catcher in the Rye is still my favorite book of all time. You let me sit by the window and understood that I heard you even while I wrote poetry instead of grammar notes.

It is teacher appreciation week. The best way I know how to say thank you is to share my talent with you and the world. A talent you helped develop. Writing. I miss you, Mr. Holt. Thank you for being my English teacher.

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Dreams Deferred…

Last week one of my English classes studied “Harlem” by Langston Hughes. Many people know this poem as “A Dream Deferred.” One of the reasons I love literature and especially poetry is the joy to connect our life to the theme of the work.

The historical message of the poem is rooted in the dream of civil rights and still reflects the struggle we have as a society to fulfill that dream. But I think why the poem has such universal appeal is that Langston Hughes touched on such a deep pain we all face in our lives; dreams deferred.

Here is a moment of honesty. At the moment I am struggling with this concept. I have always had a grand dream of becoming a writer. Ever since fifth grade I have filled notebooks with stories and poems. I won a young authors award in high school. I financed the publishing of a book of my own poems in college, but life just kept pushing the dream to the back burner. Now at the age of 43 it seems that time is running out to achieve that dream. And it hurts. It feels like I will never be able to achieve that goal and it is fading away.

Langston Hughes uses decaying metaphors in the middle of the poem, “ Or fester like a sore—/ And then run?,” to create a visual for the consequence to our lives if we keep pushing our dreams to another day. The dream will have become rotten.

Then mix in the discussion I had with the students about reaching for their dreams, and I think I understand the last line as it pertains to an individual.

A dream deferred destroys you.

I am not suggesting that everyone can accomplish their goals, success is never guaranteed. But we can handle failure as long as we have the opportunity to try. Being a football coach has also been a dream of mine, and I was granted the opportunity. And I failed. It hurts. It hurts bad, but I can deal with it because I was given a chance.

But what is life like when there is no chance? When it seems like nobody cares about your dream or willing to help you with it? Langston uses the line, “Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load.” A great simile here to describe the weight of that dream sitting in your heart but no opportunity to achieve it. Then everyday it gets just a little heavier. A day turns into a month, that turns into years, that turns into a life. A life that never reached its true potential.

Let’s get back to my students, your students. School. Are they striving to accomplish their dreams? Or are we asking them to push their dreams aside for better test scores, for grades, or worse for some other time in their life? Do we even know their goals?

I’m not naive enough to say that fostering our students’ dreams will solve all the world’s problems. But, what would our classroom, our schools, our world look like if we were given the opportunity and support to try?

Langston Hughes describes it this way in his poem, “I Dream a World.”

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I don’t Matter

I have been moved to tears by two movies lately, but I will get to that in a moment.

I do not matter.  Nobody really reads my blogs, or notices when I do not tweet, or update my Facebook status. This is my fist year without any coaching responsibilities, and I miss it, but the games go on.  ESU 10 will not shut down if I am not there, or even if I move on.  I do not matter on a grand scale.  But I will get back to this in a moment.

I have been moved to tears by two movies, A Better Life and Louder than a Bomb.

One of the themes that connect the two movies is the importance of the everyday.  The importance of finding the meaning in life by our everyday struggles. Whether we write poetry or work hard for our family.  These two films express the why behind those struggles and relates the power we have to make each moment matter.

I do not matter, except to a few people, most importantly my family.  I have made difficult decisions that I felt would be the best for my family.  I strive to create a better life for my wife and children.

I matter to a few students.  For all my failures, I have simply tried to empower my students to find their own voice.  Have I succeed?  Not all the time, not with all the students.  But I have tried.  Every day.

For whatever reason life has been reinforcing the idea that every day matters.  For me, for you, for the people we interact with every day.

We matter for each other.

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Education and Technology

5:45 a.m. Wednesday, Feb 22, 2012

“Dad, can I have my iPod?” my second son asks.

“No,” I reply.

My son returns to eating his breakfast.

Courtesy of Centura Student Angelica

Technology and education have been at the forefront of my thoughts lately.  Last week I got to be a part of a school’s discussion on moving to 1:1 instruction with the iPad for high school students. The teachers shared their concerns, their fears, and their excitement.

I remember being at that junction when I was a teacher at Centura.  Yes, as an English teacher I worried about the loss of the book.  I wondered how my position as the teacher would be affected in the classroom.  Years later, I find myself teaching from an office through technology only.

Yesterday, I got to teach my American Literature class from Centura.  It was energizing to be in front of the students.  To have the room filled with laughter, with questions, with that energy that comes from a group of people working and sharing.  Today, I am back at the office getting the lesson plan tweaked so we can use Socrative during the class.

One of the themes we are covering in the American Literature class is education.  We have seen how Frederick Douglass educated himself by tricking street kids in writing contests. Frederick Douglass understood that education was one part of his path to freedom from slavery.   Ralph Waldo Emerson revealed in The American Scholar that true scholars hold a powerful responsibility to our world, to reveal truth.  Emerson also states that if nothing else, a true scholar has the ability to live and by truly living we learn. My favorite poet, Langston Hughes, stated in the poem “Theme for English B” that,

The instructor said,

 Go home and write
 a page tonight.
 And let that page come out of you—
 Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?

…It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.

To simply state it; the message has been that true education is a reflection of ourselves and continues our entire lifetime.

But in class we are now reading The Street by Ann Petry.  And the message has changed.  The book expresses an idea that education is just something we go through to gain a better job that allows us to have more money.  I’m not sure this doesn’t reflect what education is today.

And no technology will change that. As no pencil will change it either.  Teachers have the power to change the view of education. And yes, tools like the iPad do empower teachers to make a difference, not just for the students, but also for their own love of learning.  I’m excited as a teacher for the things I can produce with technology, like my own textbook, or a web app that will help my students learn.

So, why doesn’t my son get his iPod?  Because he has been spending too much time with it and is in trouble of not making his A.R. goal this quarter.  And it is my job to teach him the balance of using technology.  As it is a responsibility of teachers to be that person who sparks real learning in students, as Langston Hughes writes,

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

Truth be told, education makes us free and connects us on deeper levels than any Facebook statues update could.  At the heart of learning we become the best of who we are.

Emerson states in the American Scholar “Life is our dictionary.” What are we helping our students write in their life?

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