PF: Glowing Mist Day

downloadThis month, Linda Mitchell was in charge of our monthly Swagger writing challenge. Initially, she’d asked us to create a poem based on a hand-written recipe someone had given us. As last month unfolded, Linda opted to revise the challenge in response to the changing times. She shared the Academy of American Poets new initiative called “Shelter in Poems.” Last month, they invited readers to share a poem from the Poets.org collection that was helping them at this time, along with an explanation of how it was helping. Linda encouraged us to respond to their prompt and to interpret it as we wished. I’ve chosen to interpret it relatively broadly. In fact, my poem doesn’t even come from the Poets.org collection.

On the first day that we left school, uncertain if we’d be returning, I grabbed several picture books “just in case.” One of the first ones I grabbed was “I’m in Charge of Celebrations” by Byrd Baylor. It’s a book that I love, but not one that I’ve shared with my classes recently. Grabbing it felt instinctive.

If you don’t know this book, I highly recommend it. It’s a luscious prose poem–a love song to nature and a reminder to choose the lens through which you view the world. In this particular book, the narrator, a child who lives in the desert, shares lyrical descriptions of days/events that have been remarkable to her, and she describes how she turns those memories into lasting celebrations.

Days later, when I was trying to create some online connections with my class, I decided to share part of the book with my students. During such uncertain times, I wanted to encourage them to find moments in their daily lives to celebrate. I wanted to nudge them to get outside and explore and pay attention. To notice and find comfort in the natural beauty that surrounds them. Little did I know that reading this book to them would offer those same comforts to me.

I read the first couple of pages in a video and then invited them to write their own “celebration” poem, using Baylor’s work as a mentor text. As I was recording for them, I realized that I had witnessed just such a moment earlier that day, so I wrote a poem,  Soaring Eagle Day, and shared it with them as another mentor. Then, I was inspired to revisit memories of a summer morning in the marsh and wrote this poem.

Glowing Mist Day
(inspired by Byrd Baylor’s “I’m in Charge of Celebrations”)

Sometimes people ask me
why I get up so early,
why I rise to meet the dawn.
It’s hard to explain,
so instead,
I just tell them about
the Day of Glowing Mist.

That morning
the sun lit the mist
over the marsh
so the air blazed
in undulating waves
of gold and amber,
a glorious light
furious
yet gentle.

A deer slipped from the woods
and another followed
into the marsh,
into the glowing mist.
They raised their heads
and looked
toward the rising sun.

I looked toward the deer
and that moment,
that very moment,
grabbed me by the heart
and squeezed
until joy bubbled
in my veins,
a fomentation of wonder
like the liquid sunrise.

I couldn’t decide whether
to whoop and holler
and crow
with delight
or drop to my knees
and whisper
to the universe,
“Thank you.”

It was that kind of moment.

My heart swelled
with the marsh,
the glowing mist,
the two deer
and the flock of geese.

I don’t think
it’s ever gone back
to its original size.

©Molly Hogan, 2020, draft

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the real life inspiration

Apparently visitors to poetry sites have sky rocketed during this time. People are turning to poetry for solace and comfort. I was lucky enough to have Byrd Baylor’s book remind me that nature is full of celebrations if I choose to see them, and it offers me both shelter and inspiration. Remembering this has been a balm and a blessing.

This week Heidi Mordhorst, wordsmith extraordinaire and a fellow Swagger, is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup. She’s sharing her response to Linda’s challenge. If you want to check out what the other Swaggers are doing, click on the links below:

Linda Mitchell, A Word Edgewise
Catherine Flynn, Reading to the Core
Margaret Simon, Reflections on the Teche

 

SOLC Day 31: Thank You

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March 2020 SOLC–Day 31
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

I saw it first on Facebook.

Ohio Man Uses His Company’s Bucket Truck to Visit Mom Quarantined on 3rd Floor of Nursing Home

items.[0].image.altYou can read the article here, but the title really says it all. I didn’t read the article closely, but was touched by the lengths this man went to to connect with his mother during this time. I remember thinking how heart warming it was, and how it was a great example of how we’ve all been pushed to think creatively, to connect in new ways.

Then I got an e-mail from my cousin with the subject heading, “Julie and Charley– fabulous article in news.” It contained an article from a different newspaper with the same picture. It turns out that it was my cousin, Charley, who had gone to such lengths to visit his quarantined mom, my cousin, Julie.

This story doesn’t stand alone. Our days are filled with compelling stories right now. Even if some of them are ones we don’t want to dwell on, many are inspirational. I’ve been touched over and over again by the lengths so many individuals, groups, schools, and companies have gone to during this pandemic. People are thinking outside the box, pushing themselves to do more, to think more creatively, and above all, to connect with each other.

All of this reminded me of the slice challenge–this challenge that always pushes me to do more than I think I can, to reach deeply and write. To find a new idea. To capture the heart of a small moment. To show up and “do the job.”

Obviously, I’m not saying the SOLC  is as difficult as facing a pandemic, but there are some parallels. It’s all about taking it day by day, making it through and doing so in the best fashion we can manage. It’s also about building a supportive community, leaning on each other, celebrating with each other, and commiserating as well.

We’re facing unprecedented challenges (Ugh…I’m sick of that phrase!) and it’s unsettling not to have a concrete time line or even a clear picture of where this is leading. But overall, I’m learning, as I do every year through the challenge, that we are capable of more than we think we are. It might not be pretty, and it might be dotted with moments of despair, but there are also moments that lift your heart and shine a light on what is the best in all of us. Those are the moments to focus on. Like Fred Rogers’ mother told him, “Look for the helpers.”  And if those words aren’t enough, consider the ever-wise Winnie the Pooh’s.

Winnie the Pooh quote: "You are braver than you believe, stronger ...

Thank you to all Slicers for a month filled with sharing, grieving, celebrating, supporting, encouraging, and more. This year the challenge, more clearly than ever, transcended its boundaries. We may not have a bucket truck at hand, but going forward, we do have Tuesdays and this community. Let’s continue to connect.

Keep writing, my friends. Be well.

SOLC 2020: Day 30: Draft Diving—Mowing the Lawn

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March 2020 SOLC–Day 30
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

The well is running dry for daily slices as the month draws to a close and remote learning takes on a life of its own. Most years, at some point during the challenge, I resort to draft diving. I have quite a pile of saved drafts on my blog (127!), ranging from a line or two or a photo to a nearly complete post. Today, I dove in,  revisiting posts from long ago when life seemed so much simpler. (Oh! If only I’d appreciated it then!) Eventually, I pulled up a piece I’d started last summer about mowing the lawn, and finished it off to share it today.

Last summer, I read Amanda Pott’s slice, “Driving Greens“. She talked about following Rob Walker’s strategy of observation–essentially observing 10 things about the world without using metaphors. She then demonstrated how to beautifully do that on her road trip. I thought I’d try it while mowing the lawn. It didn’t work as well.

  1. I hold my breath when I yank the cord to start the lawnmower. When it starts on the first pull, I let out my breath.
  2. Lawn mowers are loud. I wonder how well electric lawn mowers work. I should look into that.
  3. Freshly mown grass smells amazing. But, wait a minute! I just finished reading Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl and she talks about the signals that trees send each other when they’re stressed. VCOs or VOCs. Is all that wonderful smell really grass screaming?
  4.  The sun is bright and it’s hot out here. It’s very hard to think without metaphors. For example, I keep thinking, When I finish mowing, I’ll be a human salt lick.
  5. Mowing words into the lawn takes a lot of extra time and isn’t nearly as much fun as I’d hoped.
  6.  Nature has its way. It’s constantly edging in. The limits of the lawn move closer to the house unless I relentlessly press those boundaries out every time I mow. The vegetation is poised to take over.
  7. Blackberry bushes are especially invasive.
  8. While I don’t think I’m particularly bloodthirsty, killing horseflies is immensely satisfying. Whack! YES!
  9. I’m back to thinking about how loud the lawn mower is. If it’s that loud to me, is it that loud to insects? Am I deafening moths and crickets?
  10. Even when you try hard to feel positive about mowing the lawn, it’s still a lot of hot, sticky work. In other words, you still have to mow the lawn.

SOLC Day 29: Treading Water

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March 2020 SOLC–Day 29
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

I have a really poor memory. It’s so bad that when I can’t remember a person or event, my sister asks me, half kidding, “Are you sure you didn’t do drugs?” There are certain rare moments though, that shine intact through the blur of past events. It’s as if they’ve been coated in varnish and are impervious to the ravages of time.

I’ve been thinking about one of those moments a lot lately. I don’t know how old I was, but I distinctly remember taking a five minute “treading water” test in a pool. This was one of the prerequisites for heading into the hallowed deep end, something I longed to do.

On the day of the test, the lifeguard squatted by the side of the pool with the timer and I jumped in, then moved back to the wall.

“Ready?” she asked.

I nodded and turned around, poised to move away.

“Set!”

I pushed off the wall and into the water.

“Go!”

Immediately, I began to tread. I started out confidently, briskly treading away. I was a decent swimmer and very comfortable in the water. I wasn’t too worried about the test.

At first.

After a while, maybe a minute or two, it dawned on me that five minutes might be a lot longer than it initially sounded like.

I waited as long as I could, longer than I wanted to, longer than I thought I could, and then, I gasped out, “How much longer?”

Surely it must have been at least four minutes already.

“Less than three minutes left,” she answered.

Three? Almost three minutes left? It’s only been a little more than two minutes?!!! 

I kept going, automatically moving my arms and legs, but along with my energy,  my confidence was ebbing.

I might not be able to do this.

Time slowed down to a molasses trickle. My arms and legs moved slower and slower.

“You’re doing great, Molly! Keep going!”

When you tread water, you’re constantly moving, yet staying in one place. My focus narrowed to that small circle of water around me. My arms. My legs. My breath. My arms. My legs. My breath.

I don’t remember the moment I decided I couldn’t do it any longer. I’m not sure it was even a conscious decision. I just found myself heading to the edge of the pool.

“There’s only a minute and a half left,” the lifeguard called.

I kept moving forward, desperate to stop. To hold onto something solid.  To have the test over, even if I had failed.

Finally, I came within reach, and she stretched out one hand. I reached my hand toward hers, and as soon as our hands met, she pushed me back into the water.

What!?!

“You can do it, Molly!” she called. “You’re almost done.”

I was shocked. Utterly shocked! I kept treading, because what else could I do? She wouldn’t let me quit!

Would she let me drown?

My arms and legs were heavier and heavier in the water, and I was just barely keeping my head above the surface. I didn’t have the energy to argue. But I was done. Finished. I truly felt I had nothing left to give. I remember feeling scared, feeling I couldn’t possibly go on.

Yet ultimately, I did.

“Time!” she finally called. “You did it!”

I ducked under the water, and wearily kicked to the side. I came up, hair streaming and clung to the gritty pool edge with wrinkled fingers, exhausted. I remember having such mixed feelings. I’d passed the test, but I also felt betrayed. She’d pushed me away! I wonder if the shock of that is what etched this moment in my memory. Still, I’d passed the test. I’d made it for the full five minutes even though I didn’t think I could. I didn’t feel triumphant though. Mostly I felt dazed.

I think of that moment now as I deal with the fallout from recent events. I already felt overwhelmed with teaching before all of this happened–so often struggling to keep my head above water. Now I’ve really been thrown in the deep end. I’m trying to figure out how to do my job in an entirely different way while adjusting to a whole new way of life, and a whole new raft of worries.  I’m so thankful that I still have a job and that I can connect with my students and their families. Yet, I feel uncertain, vulnerable and exposed (Video lessons? Ack!), and at times, overwhelmingly inadequate.

I keep telling myself this is an opportunity to grow. To learn more about myself. To recognize that I can do more than I thought was possible. I’ve learned a lot already and I know I’ll learn more, but there are moments when I want to give up. When it all just seems like too, too much. When every atom of my being screams for me to head to the side of the pool.

Instead, I have to keep treading water madly as the edge of the pool moves farther away. No one’s pushing me back in (Thank God!), and it isn’t a physical endurance test (again, Thank God!), but I’m having to push myself further than I thought I could and in so many different ways. It feels like I’m being tested on teaching myself new strokes while simultaneously trying to keep my head above water with the ultimate goal of moving myself and my students forward through the now turbulent waters to reach some far-off yet-to-be-defined edge.

I wish I felt as confident in my abilities as that long-ago lifeguard did.

We’ve only been doing this for 8 days?

How much longer? 

 

SOLC Day 28: Waves

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March 2020 SOLC–Day 28
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

Laura Shovan is sponsoring a month-long Water Poem Project. Each day a different poet offers up a water-related prompt. Today’s prompt came from poet, Heather Meloche, who asked writers to create a concrete or shape poem about waves. This prompt seemed especially appropriate since nearby beaches closed yesterday morning.

My husband and I both love walking on the beach. The closest beaches are about 45 minutes away, but we go several times a month during the winter and more often when my schedule opens up in the summer. We usually go early in the day or late in the afternoon. We’re not there to lie in the sun or even to swim (We do live in Maine after all! Brrr!). Instead we walk together, gather shells, watch the sandpipers play tag with the surf, and listen to the call of the seagulls. We scan the water for seals or unusual ducks. We admire newly deposited driftwood and intricate water-etched patterns in the sand. Often we stop and simply stand at the water’s edge, breathe the salt air and watch the waves.

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SOLC Day 27 and PF: And the Beaches Have Closed…

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March 2020 SOLC–Day 27
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

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This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Tabatha Yeatts, at her blog, The Opposite of Indifference. She’s sharing a lovely original poem about acceptance.

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I woke this morning to the news that many Maine beaches are now closed to the public. Some people are ranting and raving about this on local social media. I get it. I hate that the beaches are being closed. But I also accept the sad necessity.

Nevertheless, I feel bereft this morning. The beaches and time spent walking alongside the ocean sustain me, especially in times when I feel adrift. I had intended to head to the beach later this afternoon. I know that I’m very fortunate to have tremendous access to nature even without the beaches. Still, I’m grieving.

The Solace of the Ocean: A Sonnet

When I feel overwhelmed and tempest-tossed
and crave perspective and serenity
when life feels like a battle I have lost
I take myself to wander by the sea

‘Midst drifts of fog or dazzling rays of sun
in dawn’s soft hues or evening’s golden glow
one breath and the enchantment has begun
allegro transforms to adagio

Susurrant surf or tossing, tumbling tide
The redolence of rose in briny air
Such wonders nudge my worries to the side
a heartfelt sigh escapes my lips like prayer

And slowly as I linger and explore
I feel myself become both less and more

©2018 Molly Hogan

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SOLC Day 26: …and now for some comic relief aka Not My Finest Hour

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March 2020 SOLC–Day 26
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

I admit it wasn’t my finest hour. I’m still not sure what got into me. In the interest of escaping the stress of the current time, I’m willing to throw myself under the bus and relive this moment with you. I cannot reveal names (obviously!), but I will attest to the accuracy of this moment, and I will confirm that it happened a couple of years ago.

Don’t judge.

It was after 5 pm and I had been attempting to leave school for well over an hour. You know how that goes. It’s never a linear process. So, determined to finally actually leave, I was walking down the hallway to the bathroom to make a final pit stop.

As I neared my co-worker ‘s room, I heard her talking to someone. Then I heard a voice respond.

“Oh, she’ll like that,” it said.

Wait! I knew that voice! It was the voice of one of my student’s father.

This father, an involved parent (and that truly isn’t code for anything else!) had been working hard to support his daughter’s learning. Apparently, he’d stopped by to check in with my colleague about an upcoming unit. (We switch classrooms for Social Studies and Science content, and my class was about to begin a new Science unit with her.) This parent was nice. He was caring and concerned. But he talked a lot. A lot. He was one of those parents you’d never schedule last for a parent-teacher conference. And it had already been a very long, very challenging day. 

So, not even knowing if he intended to speak with me (and in my defense, we were in regular contact, so there was nothing new to share), and with nary a second thought, I threw my colleague to the wolves (or to the wolf to be more precise), and moved into stealth ninja mode.
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Immediately, I became one with the air around me. I held my breath, moving quickly, with exaggerated, sweeping, silent steps, passing the classroom. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. Step by step, I eased my way further along the hallway.

I had just passed the room, the corner and freedom in sight, when I heard the parent’s voice getting louder. He had to be moving toward the door.

Oh, no! He was going to enter the hallway at any second!

Unfortunately, I was still clearly in sight.

Like I said, I still can’t explain why this next part happened, and the whole time it did, part of my brain looked on, jaw agape, and an astonished and slightly horrified little voice said, “Molly, what are you doing!?”

As I already noted, it wasn’t my finest hour. I guess I was just plain old exhausted. I heard that father’s voice nearing me and something snapped. I just didn’t have anything left to give. I knew that seeing him would mean a long, involved conversation and a long delay to leaving.

So I ran.

Really.

I burst into a full out, arms-pumping, skirt-flying run, raced around the corner and flung myself into the nearest bathroom.

“What are you doing?” that voice asked again.

Once inside the bathroom, I started giggling. Well, that was totally ridiculous! Not to mention utterly undignified! Completely unprofessional, too!

Then a thought struck me.

OMG, the hallway cameras must have caught me in action!

The idea that someone in the office might have watched my headlong race down the hallway simultaneously horrified me and cracked me up again. I could only hope that no one had had their eyes on the video stream at that moment. I had no idea how I would explain myself if asked to do so. I laughed even harder, careful to muffle the sound. There might have been a wee note of hysteria in it.

Finally, I calmed down. I was committed now though, so I waited. After a little time had passed, I tentatively opened the door.

Was the coast clear?

The hall had that echoey sort of end-of-the-school-day quiet. That empty-squared feeling. I exited the bathroom, edged along the hall, and peeked into my colleague’s room. She was nowhere in sight. My shoulders relaxed and my steps grew more casual. Phew! 

I shook my head at myself, still marveling at my recent actions. Clearly the year was taking a toll on me. I entered my classroom to gather up my bags, happy to finally be heading out the door.

“Hey, Mrs. Hogan!”

What!?

I jumped and my hand flew to my chest.

And there he was. The father. His grinning head popping up like a jack-in-the-box from behind the bank of cubbies.

“S. forgot her book, so I was just getting it for her.”

“Oh,” I gasped, heart racing, “You startled me!”

He apologized and then we talked.

“Don’t stay too late,” he called over his shoulder as he left. Fifteen minutes later.

I stared after him for a long moment.

“Well, Molly,” I thought ruefully, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

Then I gathered up my things and finally headed home.