A Tiny Story of Community

“The universe is not made of atoms; it’s made of [tiny] stories.”

  – Muriel Rukeyser & Wirrow

My tiny story was inspired by The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories. You can see selections of tiny stories from Volume 3 on the Brain Pickings blog.

COMMUNITY

Draped in loyalty and commitment,

Community envelops all in her embrace.

Gently, she nudges us towards our aspirations.

At times, we stumble, but accept her outstretched hand,

in support and encouragement.

Together, we work to realize our dreams –

renewing our faith in humanity.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – 1884, Georges Seurat

Advertisements

Slice #28: Adieu

Spring break has arrived. Tomorrow, at day’s first light, I leave behind Kuala Lumpur to explore the vibrant complexity of Hong Kong – excited to immerse myself in its multitude of stories. As I have made the decision to leave behind my computer, carrying instead my journal to capture Hong Kong’s tales, I bid adieu to the Slice of Life Writing Challenge.

Goodbyes are one of the many juxtapositions life lays before you. Painful farewells – are endured, while new beginnings – are anticipated. No wonder Shakespeare defined partings as such sweet sorrow. A meaningful goodbye lingers, filling your heart and thoughts. Slowly morphing into a memory. Over time, these memories transform into a new story that will one day require its own ending – an ending that begets a beginning.

Great literature winds itself around your heart leaving you breathless as you drink in the final words. You bid adieu to the characters but the imparted wisdom remains chiseled into your life. Some literary lingerings to savor…

“There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest.” The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him—and it was still hot.” Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

“Are there any questions?” The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.” Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

“She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.” The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

“I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

“Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never can wish you a greater happiness than this.” Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

“Her eyes were closed, and throughout her tired self swept waves of gratitude — and regret. She pictured the sunny room, the sun-washed wall, the bayberry outside. It baffled her, the world. She did not want to leave it yet.” Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout

“But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.” The House At Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant. None of those things, however, came out of my mouth.” The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

“To me it seems rather Christlike to be as unadorned as this place is, as little regarded. I can’t help imagining that you will leave sooner or later, and it’s fine if you have done that, or you mean to do it. This whole town does look like whatever hope becomes after it begins to weary a little, then weary a little more. But hope deferred, is still hope. I love this town. I think sometimes of going into the ground here as a last wild gesture of love – I too will smolder away the time until the great and general incandescence. I’ll pray that you grow up a brave man in a brave country. I will pray you find a way to be useful. I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep.” Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

And so I say farewell to the Slice of Life Challenge, with lingering thoughts of writing. I contemplate my future and wonder about writing’s place in my life. I may not know how or when this ending begets a beginning, but already I feel its memory morphing into a new story that will one day require its own ending.

* Today’s post is a redux, with a twist, from last year’s final slice in the Slice of Life Writing Challenge.

Slice #27: Observing Beauty

Winter Kaleidoscope

Dear Students,

Today I write to thank you for bringing beauty into my life.

You may have experienced gingerly raising a kaleidoscope to your eye with eager anticipation of the beauty that would be revealed with each slight turn. Fascination held you in its grip as you tirelessly tested the infinite delicate patterns of color bursts – wondering if the next rotation would create a pattern of even greater beauty.

Kaleidoscope literally means “observer of beautiful forms” reigning from Greek roots kalos meaning “beautiful” and eidos meaning “shape” plus skopein “to examine, or look at”.  While looking at objects at the end of two mirrors, Scottish scientist, David Brewster (1781-1868) , discovered that patterns and colors were altered and refashioned into beautiful new designs and thus the world was gifted with kaleidoscopes in 1816.

And so I am reminded of you all. No matter the twists and turns middle school presents, you never stop refashioning these challenges into beautiful new designs. And I, have been fortunate enough to be the observer of these beautiful forms.

My hope is that you recognize you are the creators of such beauty and continue to refashion yourselves into confident, caring young adults. I hope the following for you…

I hope you believe your voice is important and valued and should be shared with the world, as the world needs multiple voices to effect change.

I hope you understand that mistakes are necessary in shaping who you are and who you want to become.

I hope you value all, understanding community helps create greatness.

I hope you see the beauty in yourself and allow this beauty to help you persevere through and rise above life’s challenges.

I hope you develop the confidence to share with the world who you are and what you believe in – to share the beauty I have observed within them.

Thank you for your support, compassion, and learning alongside me. For you I am grateful. It has been a kaleidoscopic year.

Much love,

Mrs. P 🙂

 

Slice #26: I am Not the Only One

“You must love the words, the ideas and images and rhythms with all your capacity to love anything at all.” 

— Wallace Stevens

Looking for today’s inspiration, I lose myself in poetry – the busyness of the day dissipates as I allow myself the luxury of lingering. Captivated, I ponder the subtle nuances of meaning each poem possesses to unravel and reflect on its message.

While lingering in, Vaclav Havel’s poem, “It is I Who Must Begin” many lines speak to me, but his words, “I am neither the only one/nor the first/nor the most important one/to have set out upon the road,” burrow into my thoughts.

Education is tough. Our days are spent facilitating learning, fostering mindsets, fielding questions, navigating emotions and attitudes, connecting, and reflecting on pedagogy. Our evenings are filled with creating lessons, reviewing student work, providing feedback, learning, and further reflection. Our mind – spins, our body – tires, yet we persevere with great passion. Why?

Poet, Naomi Shihab Nye states poetry serves as a “bridge, a conversation with the world.” Havel and I conversed about the power of beginning with “I,” but identifying when to shift to “we” as we set out on the road.

Our day begins with “I”. What learning outcomes am I aiming for? How will the lesson I designed best target these outcomes? How will I monitor student progress? How might I support students in their acquisition of knowledge and skills? How will I nurture an efficacious mindset? Have I shown I care? We see ourselves as a separate entity.

As the day progresses, the pronoun swiftly shifts to “you.” What understandings have you gained? What questions might you have, and how might you answer them? How might you apply your learning to new situations?  What strategies might you draw upon to help you solve that problem? How have you helped support others in our community? We see ourselves working in partnership with the students.

Another pronoun slips in during the day, “we.” How might we adjust the lesson to make the learning outcome clearer? How can we help this student gain more confidence? What support structures can we put in place to ensure success? How might we approach this task differently? We see ourselves as a community.

I may be tired, but I am not lost. I am not disheartened. I live in harmony with the community; I am not alone.

Thank you for the conversation Havel – wise words.

It Is I Who Must Begin

It is I who must begin,

Once I begin, once I try—

here and now,

right where I am,

not excusing myself

by saying that things

would be easier elsewhere,

without grand speeches and

ostentatious gestures,

but all the more persistently

—to live in harmony

with the “voice of Being,” as I

understand it within myself

—as soon as I begin that,

I suddenly discover,

to my surprise, that

I am neither the only one,

nor the first,

nor the most important one

to have set out upon the road.

Whether all is really lost

or not depends entirely on

whether or not I am lost.

— Vaclav Havel

Slice #25: Walk Alongside Me

Pablo Picasso, Girl Reading

My day was fraught with interruptions. Questions, requests and demands came at me from all angles, overwhelming my thoughts – leaving me harried, tangled in life’s monotony.

Despite the fact I was surrounded by people all day, a sense of loneliness fills me. I long for quiet conversations, or sharing a space with a close friend – creating a silent harmony of thought.

I miss my friends – the ones who are always there, waiting, ready to offer companionship and solace whenever summoned; no matter how long it has been. It has been too too long, shamefully so, since we have met up with one another. The absence of your humanity and generosity are deeply missed. I am sorry for my negligence.

Suddenly, a gift arrives. Time. Time to reconnect and reacquaint. Time to discuss what it means to be human in the every day. Time to lose ourselves in our stories. Time.

So, I invite you to take my hand and walk alongside me this coming week. Let’s talk.

Lila by Marilyn Robinson

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Music Room by William Fiennes

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

Colorless, Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

The Wall by William Sutcliffe

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Slice #24: Illuminating the Heavens

Van Gogh, Wheat Field in the Rain (1889)

Rain in Malaysia does not arrive unannounced and linger like an unwanted guest, butting its nose into our lives, loitering in our conversations. It does not hang about for days, weeks, upsetting our daily equilibrium. Nor does it cast its dark eye over our lives leaving us wanting, wondering if there is an end to its drizzling folly.

Instead, its earthy scent fills the air. Soft rumblings begin, sending the message of its impending arrival – growing louder as it nears its destination. Relief, carried by a burgeoning breeze, promises a hiatus from the oppressive heat. Suddenly, the world is awash in its glory; illuminating the heavens with its spectacular presence. Tapering off as quickly as it came, it leaves behind its promise of a return …. drip, drip, dripping in the sunshine of our memory.

Slice #23: Calm Promises of Tomorrow

Claude Monet

It is Born

Here I came to the very edge
where nothing at all needs saying,
everything is absorbed through weather and the sea,
and the moon swam back,
its rays all silvered,
and time and again the darkness would be broken
by the crash of a wave,
and every day on the balcony of the sea,
wings open, fire is born,
and everything is blue again like morning.

~ Pablo Neruda

Moved by Pablo Neruda and setting of the sun, today I celebrate the calm promises of tomorrow and new beginnings.

Suspended amongst a kaleidoscopic

array of amber, pink and orange hues,

the sun, a crimson ball,

slowly sinks below the horizon,

taking with it,

all the worries

and franticness of the day.

A sigh escapes me.

Slice #22: Why is it so difficult?

Pablo Picasso, Mother and Child (1922)

Today, I sit here wondering why it is so difficult to send our children out into the world. Is it because we can’t bear parting with their daily presence in our lives? Is it because they have so much more to learn before they believe in and understand their full potential? Is it because the world can be cruel and you won’t be right by their side to protect them? Is it because we are afraid we might lose them to others? Is it because we are simply not ready for them to grow up? The nagging questions are endless.

I remember one of the many late night conversations I had with our eldest during her senior year. Her studies for the night complete, she stepped out of her room, sat down next to me and started sharing her wish list of all she wanted to do before she went off to university.

Growing up overseas, she understood she wouldn’t be traveling back home for 4 day weekends and holidays, nor would she have the opportunity to get together with her friends more than once a year (if lucky). Panic was starting to seep in as she realized what the adult realm entailed.

As she rattled off the items on her list, I began to panic. Had I taught her everything she needed to know that would prepare her for what is to come? Mentally, I started running through all that we had discussed over the years, searching for gaps, and adding advice that still needed to be shared. The look on my face must have given me away because she stopped and asked with some annoyance, “Mom, are you listening to me?” To my surprise, emotions overwhelmed me and my answer came out in a strangled voice, “I am not ready for you to leave. I have so much more to teach you.”

The conversation ended with her reassuring me that she was ready and that my advice would be sought over our lifetime together. As she hugged me, I understood she was ready; it was me that was struggling. Over the past four years, we have watched her blossom into a confident young woman who will be entering the education arena alongside her parents. She questions the world around her. She searches for answers. She faces challenges head on. She cares. My worries for naught.

And yet, once again, I struggle, as we face sending our son off to university this fall. Again, I run through the mental list of what advice still needs to be shared before he leaves. I turn to F. Scott Fitzgerald. When his daughter was 11-years-old, he wrote her a list of what to worry about, what not to worry about, and what to think about.

As I reflected on Fitzgerald’s list, I began crafting my own list for all three of my children. Here are my thoughts…

Things to worry about:

Worry about showing compassion to all.

Worry about persevering through life’s challenges.

Worry about taking good care of yourself.

Worry about finding balance in your life – work hard, but play hard as well.

Worry about remaining loyal to good friends.

Worry about the greater good.

Worry about pursuing your passions.

Worry about standing up to what you know to be right and good.

Worry about taking care of your body.

Worry about loving yourself.

Worry about finding the courage to take risks.

Worry about  remaining true to commitments.

Worry about doing your best.

Worry about apologizing when you make a mistake; we are all human.

Worry about laughing long and often.

Things not to worry about: 

Don’t worry about your self-worth; your worth is abundant!

Don’t worry about whether or not you can do something; you can.

Don’t worry about our love for you; we love you wholeheartedly, without question.

Don’t worry about disappointing anyone other than yourself.

Don’t worry about failure; it makes you stronger.

Don’t worry about your ego; life is more than you.

Don’t worry about the little things, whatever they may be.

Don’t worry about insecurities; they can eat away at you and take you places you shouldn’t go.

Don’t worry about conforming; remain true to who you are.

Don’t worry about making mistakes; you learn valuable lessons from them.

Don’t worry about whether you are making everyone happy; if you are happy, so are they.

Don’t worry about things you can’t control; instead figure out how to cope.

Don’t worry about whether others are proud of you; find the pride within yourself.

Things to think about:

Am I happy? Am I pursuing my dreams?

Am I compassionate – willing to place someone else’s needs ahead of mine?

Am I making a difference in someone else’s life? in the world?

Do I seek to understand before I judge?

Am I a forgiving person?

Although, I wonder about Fitzgerald’s use of worry as it carries the connotations of weight and angst, I do like how he twisted its use to send a positive message. We can’t eradicate worry from our world, but we can shift our viewpoint of its place in our lives.

Slice #21: Why do I Write?

Johannes Vermeer, Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid

It’s a rare Saturday. Urgencies quiet, I treat myself to a slow start, waking only when my eyes decide to open – a luxury. Following my second cup of tea, a lovely breakfast and meaningful conversation, I settle down to write today’s post.  Suddenly, my slow start speeds up as I begin wondering, mixed with slight panic, about what to write today.

Writing every day is challenging. Writing every day publicly, is nearly insurmountable. Throughout the Slice of Life challenge, I have lamented, with those willing to listen, about my struggles over coming up with a topic that is worthy of reading. During a conversation the other day with a good friend and colleague, bemoaning the fact that 98% of my posts aren’t even read, she asked me two simple, but very provocative questions.

“Why do you write?”

“Do you write to be read, or do you write because the process is gratifying?”

And so the ruminations began rumbling…

I am not a writer.

A writer is someone that shares his/her talents with a broad audience – understanding that once their words are released, they belong to the reader. Days are spent observing life – pondering its significance; searching for stories that lurk in the every day and sharing their discoveries in words.

And although writers write for themselves, they do have aspirations of becoming published – their message, hopes, and dreams for the world sent out through their fingertips. They want their words read and considered.

I am a teacher of writing.

Each day, I share my passion of words and what little I know about the craft of writing with the young minds that sit before me. I am happy to stumble around with the students working out how to best plan for and tackle a piece of writing – how to persevere through the messiness and challenges of revision – how to maintain confidence throughout the process of writing.

I read to appreciate the art of writing – admiring an author’s ability to capture the nuances of life in words. My appreciation evident in the comments and dog-eared pages that litter my books. I read to learn the craft of writing – the “how tos” from the greats to help me improve my own writing and that of the students. I read to appreciate the simple beauty of words – singular or paired.

So why do I write? I write to celebrate the craft. I write to learn. I write to reflect. Hopefully, I write to share my passion.

 

Slice #20: Reflections and Ruminations

Henri Matisse, Blue Nude (

Henri Matisse, Blue Nude

Many who know me would state that I am reflective to a fault; more accurately they would call me a dreamer. Too often, my reflections morph into ruminations leaving a bittersweet taste in my mouth as I dream about change and then run in circles as to how to go about it. Turning 50 has amped up my reflective state to even higher levels, cluttering my mind with thought lists without an inkling of direction.

To quiet my mind, I turn once again to the clutter of others’ thoughts in Shaun Usher’sLists of Notes. List No. 045 is written by Sei Shonagon (Circa 996), a Japanese court lady, who wrote, The Pillow Book, which contained categorizations of her observations of life in 11th century Japan. Shonagon’s lists made me wonder what would fall under her penned categories today, and what messages these lists express about life in the 21st century.

And so my thoughts…

Rare things

A pen that is filled with free-flowing ideas.

Wondering without Googling.

A collection of photos that do not include several selfies.

Correspondence through handwritten letters.

Dining in a restaurant in which all tables are focused on the art of conversation rather than an electronic device.

An honest display of self on FaceBook.

Pleasing things

Skipping when you feel the urge.

Holding a baby in your arms, soaking in its smells and innocence.

A collective groan in the classroom when it is announced that silent reading or journaling has come to an end.

Lamenting the end of book or poem.

Sharing words with good friends and losing track of time as you converse into the wee hours of the morning.

Laughter that bubbles up from the toes.

A room that houses a worn, comfortable chair featuring shelves and shelves and shelves of books.

The light pitter-patter of rain that follows a torrential downpour.

Holding hands with your children.

The warmth of the sun on your face after a long, cold winter.

Things that should be small

Insecurities and self-doubt.

Ego; perhaps even non-existent.

Unique trinkets that fit into small, beautiful boxes.

Serving portions on a plate.

Troubles and challenges.

Things now useless that recall a glorious past

The ubiquitous cell phone that has laid the landline to rest. Remember the swoooosh as you rotated the dial and the  click-click-click-click of its return on the rotary phone?

Record players highlighted by its collection of albums; in fact, all visible collections of music.

The tick-tick-tick of an 8mm movie projector.

Button collections in jars.

The sound of a modem connecting.

Opening the door for someone or helping someone carry their groceries – basic chivalry.

Frustrating things

Having a conversation with someone who is looking at an electronic device.

Heavy traffic on a Saturday afternoon.

Vision without direction.

Constant interruptions.

Narrow-mindedness – an unwillingness to seek understanding.

I realize the lists under each heading are infinite and so my mind remains cluttered. Reading back over my thought lists, I wonder what they reveal about our current century, about me, and what I am to do with such knowledge. I continue to ruminate; I have decided this is not a bad thing.