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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seeking Inspiration, One Page at at Time

I have half a dozen posts sitting in my drafts folder, nearly done, any one of which I could spend just a few minutes on and whip into shape for posting, and yet I look at them all and think "meh. whatever. you don't inspire me." So I ignore them and start a new post.

I want to be inspired.

I read other people's posts, and I am Dazzled. Enamored. Awe-struck. Impressed. I am made to think, to feel, to learn, to laugh.

Then I come back here and look in my drafts folder and think, "blech."

Here's what has inspired me lately:

* a group of students, sophomore and juniors mostly, sitting in my classroom talking about a very famous poem and collaboratively coming up with a fascinating idea I'd never heard anyone suggest before, even though the poem has been written about ad nauseum.

* this list and this list and this list of famous folks who were English majors in college -- which just goes to prove that a Humanities degree can be a valuable stepping stone to all sorts of careers. Want to know who's on the lists, but you're too lazy to make all those clicks? A few of them include: Justice Clarence Thomas, Sting, Bob Woodward (All the President's Men), Emma Thompson, Martin Scorsese, Carol Browner (Head of the EPA), Joe Paterno, Harold Varmus (MD, Nobel Laureate, head of the NIH), Diane Sawyer, Mario Cuomo, and Steven Spielberg.

This item in my inspiring list, by the way, is dedicated to my good friend and colleague, Joe, who for months has been alternately mocking me for having a blog and asking when I was going to mention him on it, all the while not so secretly reading it. Though if he'd really read it carefully, he would know he's already merited at least one laudatory mention. Which is why this is all he gets today. I can't have his head swelling too much. You can thank me later, pal, for giving you these links (which he needs for a project he got nominated to spearhead at work). You're welcome.

* a story about a high school teacher who, on the first day of class, gave her students a stunning, modern, thought-provoking poem as their very first introduction to the power of creative writing, instead of choosing something insipid, hackneyed, or "classic"

And when I look at this list of things that I've been inspired by lately, I realize there is a pattern. All of them are about the power of words to stir people to action. They suggest the value in writing, the force that might come from reading closely and well, the power of an education that is not a program with a job title in the major, but is a program devoted to broadening the mind.

I am a little sensitive these last few years about the beating that the Humanities take in the face of tightening budgets, talk of "accountability" and "progress," and concerns that U.S. students are "falling behind" in science, math, and technology. Obviously, those disciplines are important for succeeding in a wired world. But it strikes me as sad and problematic that no politician ever publicly laments that our students are behind in literacy, even though anecdotal evidence would clearly suggest that they are.

Rather than dwell on this problem, however, which often consumes me with frustration (and about which I could write diatribes the likes of which would no doubt bore you to tears, citing multiple studies containing mind-numbing jargon), I would like to take this moment to reflect instead of the positive side of the equation:

There are moments around me every day where I see in small ways that people do in fact still value the power of language. I read lyrical blog posts, hear students talking in the halls, see bold new poetry being introduced to excited high school students, and I remember that even when I cannot write or think something inspiring, other people can, and do, and are.

All I have to do is open my eyes and look around for it. And it will be there.

Quiet mastery of the power of language, even for a moment or a page, is indeed a powerful, beautiful thing.

Want inspiration today? Try this poem of Pablo Neruda's, musing on the wonder that is a common vegetable.

Ode To The Artichoke
by Pablo Neruda

The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Their tendrills and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil
The carrot
With its red mustaches
Was sleeping,
The grapevine
Hung out to dry its branches
Through which the wine will rise,
The cabbage
Dedicated itself
To trying on skirts,
The oregano
To perfuming the world,
And the sweet
There in the garden,
Dressed like a warrior,
Like a proud
And one day
Side by side
In big wicker baskets
Walking through the market
To realize their dream
The artichoke army
In formation.
Never was it so military
Like on parade.
The men
In their white shirts
Among the vegetables
The Marshals
Of the artichokes
Lines in close order
Command voices,
And the bang
Of a falling box.

With her basket
She chooses
An artichoke,
She's not afraid of it.
She examines it, she observes it
Up against the light like it was an egg,
She buys it,
She mixes it up
In her handbag
With a pair of shoes
With a cabbage head and a
Of vinegar
She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.

* Neruda's poem taken from here, where the translation of this poem is unfortunately not attributed.


Auds at Barking mad said...

I had to laugh, loudly, at this passage from the quoted ode;

"...The artichoke army
In formation."

I was nodding my head in agreement, because that's rather what it feels like after I've eaten one - like some rabid army has attacked me and won't clear the battlefield until I'm dead!

Loved this post. I haven't been inspired by anything lately, other than a few sites I've fallen in love with and have decided to write (badly at that, it's been YEARS since I've had to write an interview I'd done with someone) a monthly series about the sites I visit.

I worry that all the writing about my depression is getting old. It helps me but I think it makes other people anxious and feel odd.

But alas, I will probably continue to write about it, my barfing puppy, my penchant for domestic disaster and life sans my older son...because I have to.

Oh and personally, I wouldn't mind anything you posted abouthow behind our students are in literacy! Because it's true. And our politicians don't have a clue. Wouldn't surprise me if elected officials in the year 2025 are a great deal less well read and literate than their counterparts of today. More people need to be addressing the decline, hell, they need to be shouting it from the rooftops!

Now see, there, you've gone and inspired me. I feel a post coming on!

Again, great post and awesome topic!

Yours, most verbosly (sp),<---example right there of being not as literate as I should be!


All Adither said...

Inspiration is the most exciting feeling!

catnip said...

Well heck, I come HERE and get inspired all the time. I love your writing and wish I could have such words flow together.

Mrs F with 4 said...

I remain dazzled, enamoured, awestruck and utterly impressed to the nth degree by your writing. Each time I go to write the *first* post on my fledgling blog, I know that it isn't in me to inspire. And the fledge remains firmly in the nest.

My A-level English Literature teacher had The Gift, for which I remain continuously thankful. Your students are lucky to have such a one.

MamaGeek said...

Inspiration is indeed grand.

And I feel ya, all my posts in drafts (and even those published) I feel *blech* about.

LceeL said...

Only here, apparently, can one go from "Potty Training" to "Pablo Neruda" in one fell swoop.

I think I love you and I want to have your babies.

Tracey said...

Ah, but blogging isn't about perfection. That's the beauty of it. One can record simple memories before they're lost. We can take the time to make 'em purty. But if time isn't our friend, we can rescue the memories from the wasteland of our subconscious... before they're gone for good.

Singingwendy said...

I found your comments about literacy so interesting because that has been the MAJOR focus of our school district for the last few years. And while it's a good thing, it's almost bordering on the absurd, expecting all teachers...including gym, art and music.....to work writing and literacy into their lesson plans. And while reading and speaking are important, we can't seem to get them to understand that we teach a type of literacy too, just using our own vocabularies of sound, color and movement.

I also notice that your list of things that inspire you are all connected to learning and education. As a music teacher, I understand how inspiring it can be to have a group of students "get it" and be excited about creating their own new performance or ideas. It is those moments that often inspire the best moments.

Singingwendy said...

Oops...last line should read "inspire the best teaching". Sorry..it's still early!

BOSSY said...

Bossy loves taking your Poetry Class. Or at least that's the way Bossy thinks of it; and boy does Bossy need to widen that vocabulary!

lattemommy said...

You inspire me with your words.

Sadly, I was thinking just this morning about the pathetic state of my blog, to which I haven't posted in nearly a week. I have lost all my inspiration, all my drive. I cannot bring myself to post the mindless drivel that spews forth from my brain. I read so many intelligent blogs, and in comparison I feel like the styrofoam popcorn that is filling up the internet box, protecting those delicate flowers from harm.

And now I feel like a jerk because I've turned my comment on your blog post into something that's all about me. *sigh* I'm glad you found your inspirations...now I need to find mine.

bejewell said...

Fresh artichoke heart is my FAVORITE FOOD EVER. Not the cheap marinated stuff in jars, but real artichoke, steamed and peeled, dipped in butter.

OMG I SO have to go buy artichokes now.

I know that really wasn't the point - I DID get the point, by the way. But now I am totally sidetracked.

I'm not gonna be able to sleep until I have some artichoke.

Thanks a LOT.

MommyTime said...

Ahh, Lceel, you flatterer!

Singingwendy, that's really interesting. So many schools are cutting that as a key focus, so it's nice to know about some (one) that isn't.

Beej, artichokes are one of my favorite foods, so I totally understand. I hope you enjoyed it! (Lots of garlic butter, right?)

Bossy gives me an idea -- perhaps I'll start posting poetry regularly? Inspire us all? hmm... fun... What do you think?

Jaina said...

I love artichokes! My friend introduced me to them our sophomore year of college. She also taught me how to eat them. Now seriously, who discovered how to eat them? I mean really.


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