If Love Is…Then I Am

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If “love is a credulous thing”

And “cannot be cured by herbs”

Then gentle Wisdom, help me sing

Of the folly in your proverbs.

If “beauty is truth, truth beauty”

And that is all I need to know,

Then I shall sift through the acuity

Of love’s stuttering staccato.

If “hope is the thing with feathers”

And love knows no bounds

Then I willingly keep the tethers

Of your soulful words and sounds.

Ready? Begin…

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I pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

I say this pledge every morning. In unison with my students, we stand with our hands over our hearts in respect and reverence for the things we are to remember. I wonder if they are fully aware of the profundity of this pledge of this allegiance that tethers us together as Americans — as citizens of the great United States. I think not. They are roboting their voices in unison – monotoned, droned, Novocained to the impervious nature of these paramount utterances. By saying these things, does that make you any more or less American if you actually mean it when you say it? Sometimes I try to recite it as if it were the first time or as if my voice wasn’t metallic and inky, but the struggle with that is timing – pacing – uniformity. We MUST stick together or this whole thing falls apart. Is that really true? Who am I to say in earnest or even in true honesty because I, myself, am a fluxing flowing void of psyche and obligation. One MUST say this pledge. One MUST stand with hand over heart and RECITE from memory – from five years of age until you no longer bleed blue. Well, I bleed red, white, and blue; but I don’t like saying the pledge. Does that make me a bad person? No, of course not; but I can’t help thinking that it is a slap in the face to those who have fought for my rights for my un -, sub -, or under-appreciated freedom – it’s nothing to sneeze at, but these poppies keep pollenating my sinuses. God bless you! No, let’s leave Him out of this, shall we? Can we? Is that at all possible? I think not. What if I lived like I truly believed in this pledge? What would my day look like? Would I do things, say things, appreciate things differently? Or would I continue to robot my way through the unsatisfactory endeavor to achieve what Jay Gatsby and Willy Loman couldn’t? That elusive, slippery little lie – the great American Dream of happiness and contentment…I haven’t found it from saying things, from mere recitation. Perhaps, I must put my money where my mouth is…but the casting shadow of Lady Liberty is long and wide in the sunset of my dreams. So, I will continue to perform in the most allegiant of efforts to entertain, sustain, maintain the proclivity and profundity of that Star Spangled Wonder hanging in the corner of my classroom and my heart.

Love Me Like a Metaphor

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Love me like a metaphor

Bathe me in your words

Intoxicate my thoughts

Enliven me in verbs.

 

Emanate my breathless tone

Nullify my pain;

Conjugate each falling star

Steady love’s refrain.

 

Speak forms of love in diction kind

Sing lilting songs of joy;

Command the syntax of our hearts

Compose my words held coy.

 

Conjunct in me your grace, your strength,

Inspect my passion’d curves.

Come diagram my heat undone,

Relent my sweet reserves.

 

Love me like a metaphor

Call forth my form’s desire

Satiate my needs aflame

Douse me with your fire.

 

Proud Teacher Moment…sort of…

Dear Reader,

cropped-books.jpgToday is the day that I both look forward to and loathe. It is the day the AP scores come out. I try not to get wrapped up in it, but it’s difficult for me. You see, I am a perfectionist. And when I strive for something, I expect results. It worked beautifully in high school and college. I was number one in my class…I wanted it, so I worked for it and voilà! I made it happen. Although it may have come as a surprise to those who knew me in other capacities…Let me explain with a brief (and braggy) anecdote: I remember walking into my high school graduation ceremony with my special sash and medallion that signified my class ranking. I ran into one of my schoolmates (we never had academic classes together, but we were in the same drama production my junior year). Anyway, he greeted me with a hug and then asked me why I was wearing the valedictorian sash and medallion. I thought he was being playful, so without batting a lash, I told him I found it in the quad…but he was serious. I had to set him straight, so I told him that I was, indeed, the valedictorian. And this, dear reader, was his dumbfounded response (pun intended), “but you’re a cheerleader, and you’re blonde, and you’re hot.” I winced (trying to make it as much of a smile as I could because he was, in fact, being sincere…offensive, yes, but obtusely complimentary). That tautly pulled smile (more of a grimace really) was the only retort I could give…tis best not to say things we regret to people who are less than intelligent. All that to say, when I want something — I go after it, and usually I can achieve my goal.

When I became an AP teacher several years ago, I wanted to be the best damn AP English teacher to walk the halls of my school. My first year…well, let’s just say it was cropped-open-book-on-top-of-pile-of-books.jpgnot so great; I went back to the drawing board. I went to summer trainings and revamped my entire curriculum. And in the following years, my students began to pass their AP English tests with flying colors! This year was no different! My entire AP English Literature class passed their test!!!!!! (These are my AP seniors…I love them to pieces and still cry a little when I think about not teaching them anymore…they are all going to amazing colleges, so at least I know they are in good hands).  Now, I’m trying to stay humble about all this, which is pretty easy to do since my AP English Language class did not do so well on their test, but today, I am celebrating my successes and forgetting my failures (don’t worry, I’ll go back to the drawing board and revamp things later this summer for AP lang). I have a colleague (a fellow AP teacher) who wisely told me: “I get too much flack when the students don’t pass, and I get too much credit when they do.” I try to keep that perspective, especially on days like this.

In closing, I will tell you what I told my AP students: “The AP exams are 6103.jpegimportant, sure, but they don’t define who you are. It does not determine how smart you are or how successful you will be in life. Remember you are more than your AP score(s) – that is just a number based on one morning of your life; instead, measure your success in the day in, day out moments life offers you. And never stop reading; never stop learning.”

My Best to You,

Jaime

the final days of senior English class

Dear Reader,

This is the last week of class before my seniors take their finals, so I wanted to do a fun unit with them as a last hurrah! What’s more fun than asking a room full of mixed company if this is a man’s world or a woman’s world? For me, not much…but then again, I’m a little strange. The students uproariously began to formulate their opinions as I calmly asked them to think first, then write, THEN talk. 🙂

After a bit of time, the students were able to articulate their thoughts by sharing them in groups and then corporately. Then I played the Godfather of Soul for them, and asked the class to decode the message behind James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”

They made their postulations – some apt some asinine. Then we read several poems that further complicated the original question – that’s how I know I’m doing my job! It’s my diabolical design, my subversive scheme to get this next generation to THINK for themselves! (Good news, dear reader, I think it’s working for some of them!). After we read several poems and even some newspaper articles, I hit ‘em with Dorothy Parker! She slayed them – as expected. We read “The Waltz,” and the class was equally amused and horrified. One gentleman timidly asked, “is that really how ‘you guys’ feel?” My mouth curled into a smile as I released a sigh, “no, not always, but there is some truth to this piece. We all feel that there are times to say what we are thinking and times to hold it back, and that’s true for both genders.” That eased a little tension in the room, that is, until we read “A Telephone Call.” To which I told the boys: if you say you’re going to call, then CALL HER! The girls gave shouts and whistles, which was interrupted by a deep booming voice asking, “what if she says she will call and doesn’t?” I met him eye-to-eye and nodded. I turned my sharp attention to the girls and gave them the same vehement warning, which was followed by some laugher and cheering. Who says third period, senior English isn’t fun? Not I, dear reader, not I! They eventually came to the conclusion that life is not easy for either gender – both can be mysterious and confusing – especially when societal norms come into play. They also came to the conclusion that women didn’t have a voice for a long time in history or literature, but that they were there and definitely did make an impact. There’s always more to the story (like Helen and her fleet of launched ships, woman have started more than mere mythological wars). As Eavan Boland says in her complex poem “It’s a Woman’s World” (this is just an excerpt from the poem):

like most historic peoples
we are defined by
what we forget

and what we never will be:
star-gazers,
fire-eaters.
It’s our alibi
for all time:

as far as history goes
we were never
on the scene of the crime.

Moving on: teacher brag moment: (you’ve been warned 🙂 ) After reading some of Dorothy Parker’s poetry, I had a particularly bright young man make the connection that although Parker is satirical and hilarious, there is also a great deal of grittiness and pain hidden behind her sarcasm. My eyes lit up – he hit the nail on the head! I wasn’t going to say anything to them about the papers I wrote in undergrad because that sounds braggy and frankly, it’s boring, but I just had to in this case! I had written a paper on Dorothy Parker for my American Lit class titled: Pain Masked by Humor (I think there was a subtitle, but I cannot remember it for the life of me!). Perhaps it’s not that big of deal or it’s rather obvious, but it made my teacher-heart swell a bit to have one of my students (who I’ve taught the past four years) make an astute connection without being prompted; he’s ready for college!

This probably won’t be the last post about my seniors. I grow so attached to my students; it’s always hard to say goodbye. Today, as we watched music videos and compared the originals to their covers – we discussed how perspective can completely alter the meaning of a song. We watched a video that may or may not have had minor disturbing images – which I can neither confirm nor deny, but I will say this: one of my students yelled out: “what happens in English class, stays in English class!” HAHA! I love it – our very own set of rules a-la-Fight Club – or the Vegas mantra – we actually likened it to Marlow’s experience in Heart of Darkness – what happens on the Congo, stays on the Congo. Anyway you slice it, it made my day. And, yes, I know, I’m a huge English nerd.

Until next time,

Jaime

For your reading pleasure:

“The Waltz” — originally printed in the September 2, 1933 edition of The New Yorker.

“A Telephone Call”  

“It’s a Woman’s World” 

In honor of my AP lit students

cropped-books.jpgToday is the culmination of all the papers, projects, journals, tests, quizzes, reading assignments, multiple choice practice tests, lectures, PowerPoints, group assignments, presentations, timed-writes, right down to the last homework assignment. My students have put in countless hours of reading and writing for this class. This preparation was not simply for the AP exam. This was not just some academic exercise. This preparation was done to expand their minds, to take them to places they have never been before, to grapple with life’s complex questions, to practice the art of thinking critically and deeply, to connect with humanity from the past and present, to take part in the global conversation about life, and to share in the pain and the splendor of all that life has to offer. This exploration of the mind through literature is aptly expressed in Emily Dickinson’s poem:

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –

My thoughts and prayers go out to my wonderful students today as they take their AP test.

Sunday Funday

image1Today, I am grading essays, and I mean ESSAYS!!!!! AP season is upon us, so my students are fervently writing and reading and studying before their big day. Last Friday, I gave a mock AP exam that counts as part of their final grade; this academic exercise also allows them to practice the long haul of taking a 3 hour exam while providing feedback about their personal strengths and weaknesses. Now I have the joy of grading their tests…and this is why I am NOT applying to become an AP reader any time soon. While it would be amazing to connect with colleagues from around the States and get an inside look at the scoring process, I just couldn’t take all that grading/scoring! If you are an AP reader and want to help me see the brighter side of it, please do so because I’m sure it would help make me a better teacher if I did do it, but at this point in my life and career, it’s not for me. Like my students say, “I can’t even.”

Anyway, that is not the main point of this post; I wanted to share a poem I came across while grading my bazillion essays: John Updike’s “Marching Through a Novel.” This piece resonated with me as writer who just last night stared at my computer screen instead of writing the next chapter in my horrible novel. As I sipped my wine, I closed my eyes and tried to think of who my characters really are. I finally gave up, poured myself another glass, and joined my husband on the couch to watch an episode of Vikings (it was a good one!!!). My poor characters are still trapped somewhere in my mind, and perhaps, per Updike, I need to crack the whip and get a little more forceful with these faceless names.

Marching Through a Novel
by John Updike

Each morning my characters
greet me with misty faces
willing, though chilled, to muster
for another day’s progress
through the dazzling quicksand,
the marsh of blank paper.
With instant obedience
they change clothes and mannerisms,
drop a speech impediment,
develop a motive backwards
to suit the deed that’s done.
They extend skeletal arms
for the handcuffs of contrivance,
slog through docilely
maneuvers of coincidence,
look toward me hopefully,
their general and quartermaster,
for a clearer face, a bigger heart.
I do what I can for them,
but it is not enough.
Forward is my order,
though their bandages unravel
and some have no backbones
and some turn traitor
like heads with two faces
and some fall forgotten
in the trenchwork of loose threads,
poor puffs of cartoon flak.
Forward. Believe me, I love them
though I march them to finish them off.

 (P.S. Beginning with the second line of the poem, every other line is indented which adds to the reading, but I am unable to make that visual a reality on this website…to my tech savvy friends, I’m sorry I’m so incompetent…but we all have our limits…computer code is mine).  😉
One more thing…that ancient calculator in my picture is not for grading the essays (I know that it may seem bit out of place), but it is for the glorious mathematical scoring that must be done with decimals and percentages and the like…I really do love math. It was actually my better subject in school, so any time I get to do a bit of math, I get a little excited (confession: I didn’t like reading until I became an adult! GASP! I’m so glad I got that off my chest).
Thanks for reading.

Welcome to my happy place…a short analysis of a few seemingly simple lines from Dante’s INFERNO

Ok, so here’s another teaching post. The thing I love about studying and teaching English is the ability to look deep within the text and connect the smallest detail to a paramount theme that is shared throughout the history of humanity. Usually this comes out as the archetypal struggle of good versus evil. My honors sophomores are reading and analyzing Dante’s Inferno. Nothing like a light reading to end the year with, right?! Seriously though, I love reading and analyzing this book so much! Here is something I wrote today to show my students that we can take a few lines and write pages of analysis. The assignment they are doing does not require them to go so far; rather, they do a precursor-type assignment that reflects something I do with my AP seniors — the beloved, er, rather, dreaded lit device journal (screams of terror can be heard in the background — kidding!).  I won’t bore you with the details of the assignment, but I will bore you with my analysis from a few lines from Canto III (really it’s a word and two lines, good ol’ enjambement):

“Blind,/ like one whom sleep comes over in a swoon,/ I stumbled into darkness and went down” (Dante 3. 132-134).

At the end of Canto III in The Inferno, Dante faints just before he is ferried over to the various circles of hell. At this point in the narrative, Dante experiences extreme fear and pity for those who have fallen into sin and must be eternally punished in hell. Allegorically, Dante’s hell exemplifies humanity’s willingness to forego God’s grace and, in turn, embrace their depraved nature of sin. Dante comes to a crossroads quite literally and figuratively at the Acheron River; there he must employ Charon to ferry him over to the official circles of hell, where as they descend, the suffering and punishment increases to match the severity of the sin — a concept Dante refers to as “Divine justice.” Herein lies a spiritual dilemma: in order to accept the grace of God and become sanctified, according to Dante (and the Bible), man must hate sin and no longer be sympathetic to it, or he will continue to go down the path of the “dark wood,” which is laced with beasts of malice, fraud, violence, and avarice among other atrocities. Dante, at the sight of Charon and the great chasm of hell, faints, which shows his weakness and sympathy for sin and those suffering from its effects. This swooning also shows fear. As the Bible explains perfect love (Christ) casts out all fear. Dante, at this point in his journey, is still grappling with his fear and lack of Christ’s love in his (Dante’s) life.
It is quite fitting that Dante compares this swooning at the end of Canto III to that of a blind man overcome with sleep who then stumbles into darkness and descends. This simile expresses more than Dante’s prowess and ability as a writer (we will see just how highly he thinks of himself when we meet the classic writers and great thinkers of yore in Canto IV). Entering hell is unlike anything that we can experience on earth, so Dante is almost forced into using similes to express his terror as he descends into the inferno. Therefore, entering hell or crossing Acheron must be relegated to a comparison of what is known and relatable to the readers. It is like being blind. It is like falling into a deep sleep. It is like fainting. It is like stumbling into darkness and falling down.The simile of the blind man connects to the deeper message and theme of The Inferno and the underlying effects of sin — namely that it (sin) blinds us from the truth. Therefore, Dante must become blind in order to enter the horrors of hell, but the fact that he swoons at the sight of Charon and the bowels of hell informs the reader that he physically and spiritually needs to be “toughened up.” It is with a blind spirit and with blinded eyes that he must begin his descent into complete darkness. It is also important to note his specific diction in that he “stumbles into darkness.” It is almost as if he is shifting the blame of this occurrence — that this was not by choice but rather an accident or rather a byproduct or a direct result of this sudden blindness. With closed eyes and eventually a closed heart, he ventures into the dark abyss.