Update and Photos From A Sunday Walk In Oxford

I am in Oxford, England as part of the Bread Loaf School of English program offered at Oxford. Last summer, as some of you may recall, I was at the Santa Fe, New Mexico campus and that was an “interesting” experience to say the least. I wrote a very little bit about that summer here.  I wouldn’t be here this summer without Middlebury College’s insanely generous funding for educators. It’s a true privilege and I am grateful beyond words.

I really like the Oxford experience so far. I am enrolled in the James Joyce course taught by Jeri Johnson who is a Joyce expert; she is also brilliant. I really like that the classes are more like seminars, only 6 of us in there, and we don’t meet in a “class” but in her lovely office which is covered, wall to wall (literally), with books. I also like that it is understood that there is no way we could ever know as much as she does about Joyce and so she is not there to coddle our opinions and feelings. She is like a floating bowl of knowledge and I actually feel inspired to listen to her. The Santa Fe experience was a bit awkward for a variety of reasons, the primary one being that Jamie’s family is from there so it was strange to pretend to be a visitor in a town that is already familiar. Sometimes I felt like a spy listening in on others’ conversations about Santa Fe or New Mexico and some of these chats were annoying. The Oxford experience definitely feels more independent and “graduate”-school-like as compared to the Santa Fe experience at St. John’s College. This had a lot to do with very childish behaviors by some of the New England students who came to Santa Fe to get a “spiritual spring break” fix and felt disappointed when the mountains didn’t speak to them.

 

My last post was in March. It feels like ages between March and July. I actually forgot the password to this website log in! True.

Since March, Jamie and I hosted my parents in Albuquerque for my birthday. We had a wonderful time with both of our families. What a gift to hang out with your parents as friends in  your adult years! Then, we found a house. Then, we got approved for a loan. Then, we closed on a gorgeous house that’s exactly what we wanted! Then we packed! Then we moved! Then we set up house! All while everything else was going on at the same time since life doesn’t really stop when you are buying a house. Allow me to say just this much: buying a house is unlike any other thing I have ever gone through. It is an excruciatingly intense process that has you on your toes the entire time. We got very lucky; as in “angels competing to help you” kind of lucky. Every single person we worked with, from our realtor Theresa at the Ingles Company, to Bob at Bank of Albuquerque, to many, many others in between, was a ray of light guiding us through this very complex process.  We are so blessed to call these people are close acquaintances and friends now.

There is much to say about being here after Brexit, much to say about how the writing process is similar to the home buying process, there is much to say about what I have been reading in the last six months, much to say about Joyce and Ireland and how it relates to the British colonization of Pakistan and India, much to say about not writing enough, much to say about growing as a writer and reader, much to say about outgrowing blogging but still wanting to post some thoughts in this space, there is much to say about much, and when there is so much to say, it’s hard to know where to start.

But I do know where to end this post. I received some photos from Shayne which he shared from his walk somewhere in the countryside of North Carolina. And he sent those while I was on my walk to Port Meadow in Oxford. And what struck me about his photos was that, if I didn’t know any better, they could have been from a city in some country in Africa, a village in Pakistan, or right here in Oxford. The earth doesn’t care where we are, the color green doesn’t care which latitude and longitude defines borders. As the poem below says, “It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much/ and too little.”

 

 

“The World Has Need of You” by Ellen Bass from Like a Beggar discovered thanks to Writer’s Almanac.

 everything here
                  seems to need us
Rainer Maria Rilke

 

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.

 

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Light O’ Clock

Found this Still piece telling Time: it will be okay!

Can’t believe my first summer at Bread Loaf is already over! Tomorrow marks the beginning of last week. I do have a reflection but I really need to step back and process the entire experience before sharing thoughts that others might find valuable.

 

Light O'Clock

At Old Pecos Trail Cafe, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

All that is possible…

Busy days and nights. Reading more and more each day, wishing I had more time to re-read. Any email updates to anyone are fragments wanting to be poetry.

I was awestruck by this plant (see image below). I found it during a hike in the Bandelier National Monument park. The park is located near Los Alamos, about a 45 minute drive north of Santa Fe. As part of the “Nuclear Southwest: Literature and Film” course, taught by Dr. Jesse Aleman, we took a trip to Los Alamos where we visited the Bradbury Science Museum. There is much to process about the trip, the many nonfiction and fiction readings prior to the trip, the class discussions, and the new readings due next week. Besides, once processed, I actually have to do more than write a post about it so I better save my energy for that! After the trip some of us decided to continue the day and went onto White Rock, from there we took a shuttle to Bandelier. Here you can read about the park’s history etc. Here you can see many more amazing photos taken by professionals who specialize in such photography. I have a few to share and will do so later, perhaps via email update (for those subscribed).

 

Besides all kinds of other professional and academic growth, I am keenly aware of how the landscape here is serving as a suture for the past so as to experience the Stillness that leads to the future. I can’t quite articulate any of that for now but it is certainly happening.

 

Awed by that which grows so beautifully in the harshest of conditions, almost mocking humanity, as if it could be any other way. The desert is rich with life, abundant with contrasts, and reminds us of all the impossible that is quite possible.

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Summer of 2015: Bread Loaf School of English

Is there anything sweeter than June?

Of course there is. It is July and August! It is an entire summer dedicated to reading, writing, and being in a place where the exploring has no end.

Greetings from New Mexico!

 

In September of 2014 I sent an email to those subscribed in which I shared my extensive research related to MFA and Phd. programs and my reasons for not wanting to attend either. However, I mentioned that I was quite taken by Middlebury College’s graduate school, Bread Loaf School of English, for a variety of reasons, reasons that I didn’t share.

I didn’t think–didn’t have time to think–about any of it becoming a reality until February of 2015. Looking back on it, September of 2014 till February of 2015 is hardly any time in between but because of so much that happened in that short amount of time, it feels like lifetimes. In March of this year I had a very honest  exchange with the admissions director: I was not some teacher confused about what I “really wanted to do” when I grew up; I was extremely picky about workshops and such, having attended only two to date (one in Prague in 2011 before Auguries and one in March of this year hosted by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency in Big Sur); and my definition of “community” was very old school, basically sans the digital static; and the idea of more debt for yet another degree wasn’t exactly exciting. I was so taken aback by her patience, kindness, and sincerity regarding all my concerns, that I decided it was worth applying with all my  heart. Where there was one real human being there had to be others, right?

I began my personal statement essay with: “Are you a writer who teaches? Or are you a teacher who writes?”

I ended that essay as follows:

In February of this year I had the opportunity to present my work of last two years with my phenomenal students in a rural community in California at the CATE (California Association of Teachers of English) conference in San Jose. On the final day of that conference we were given a long quote by John Steinbeck, part of which I share now, the part that answered my question.

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. It might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”

It is my hope that during each summer of attending Bread Loaf I will find a community of avid readers and learners, which will make me a better writer. My experience at Bread Loaf will be one of joy and it will help me be of service to my students. It would also provide for a shared reading experience that I would cherish beyond any classroom.

Essentially, if I was going to go back to graduate studies, I wanted the cake and I wanted to eat it too and that too without calories!

Ask and receive.

So, here I am. Very grateful for this opportunity to become a better writer by having a shared reading experience.

 

In other news, Vusi and I are almost done with www.realthinkingtree.com (it will be live in a few days! It’s has been a huge learning curve for me to create a digital platform like this and I couldn’t have done it without Vusi). I created it to share my reading and writing strategies with parents and educators as I continue to grow in this profession. I feel it is imminent that educators across the United States (and the world) utilize the Internet to share what they are doing (or what they are unable to do, even if anonymously) to help one another given what’s at stake here, the future. Here is an excellent post on the demise of the artist-teacher.  What makes www.realthinkingtree.com unique is that it is also a safe platform for students–from anywhere–to connect with each other (and with me) about their thoughts on reading, writing, and learning because students’ voices are missing from the learning conversation.  In order to make that possible, we had to review COPPA, a federal law that regulates activities of users under 13. COPPA requires parental consent before signing up on sites “that may attract children under 13”. In the past I have only worked with older students, but while I was living in California I had the unique opportunity to work with an amazing group of 5th graders. They will now be in 7th grade and in case they find me (many have!) and want to sign up I had to ensure it was done properly. What’s interesting is that both Fakebook and Twitter are able to bypass COPPA by stating that they are not platforms which attract children under 13. I wish that was true! More importantly, I wish there was better enforcement of these regulations given the dangers of younger folks signing up on social sites.

 

Finally, here is the podcast interview with Jessican Ann Media where I talk about writing, auguries, yoga, community etc. I have received some wonderful feedback about it and I am grateful for the opportunity.

 

Bread Loaf.

I am enrolled in two courses for this summer. The first course is “Nuclear Southwest: Literature and Film” and is taught by Jesse Aleman. I have been reading this assigned link as a warm-up to the background on the Atomic Bomb. The “interdisciplinary course examines the literary and cultural fallout of the atomic Southwest—a constellation of texts, images, and film that confront the nuclear era with protest, critique, fear, survival, and humor.” Last night I watched two assigned films, one of them was Trinity and Beyond (available on Hulu ) and the other was The Moment in Time: The Manhattan Project (available on YouTube). Both films show the uncertain days of the beginning of World War II when it was feared the Nazis were developing the atomic bomb and the migration of a group of nuclear scientists to Los Alamos where the first atomic bomb was detonated. I am very lucky that my in-laws, both in their 70s, are actually from New Mexico and have seen many parts of the state, including the changes to their hometown Santa Fe, which provides for another rare perspective not offered in a textbook or documentary film.

The second one is “Indigenous American Literature” and is taught by Simon J. Ortiz! I was first introduced to such literature by Prof. Bud Hirsch at University of Kansas. I have written–not as well as I can now– about that much younger self here (the shorter version, our first conversation) and here (the longer version, our last conversation before Prof. Hirsch died too soon). Reading these two older posts about an even younger time in my life brought tears of joy. I wish I could tell Bud that I am enrolled at Bread Loaf and I will be taking a class where we begin the session by reading the exact same book which I read with him, Ceremony by Leslie Mormon Silko. Silko is originally from Albuquerque and among many other well-deserved acclaims also  “self-published her multi-genre book Sacred Water: Narratives and Pictures (1993) under her own imprint (Flood Plain Press).”

Moreover, I wish I could tell him that his letter of recommendation didn’t just land me in law school, but because of that experience I met another great professor who became a wonderful mentor and remains a dear friend. That I had a lot of questions after his death but now I know I was never lost and he always knew that. Most importantly, I wish he could have met Jamie, my best friend, the love of all my lives, and I could tell him I finally “get” what he meant by a “love that just doesn’t quit, no matter what life throws at us, a love where you are in love always.”

His loss doesn’t make me sad like it once did. If anything, it confirms that there are no mistakes, and there is indeed some invisible trajectory following commands, whispers from our deepest chambers, that we can’t always hear.

So, I will be reporting from “The Land of Enchantment”, New Mexico, this summer. That is, when I am not reading and writing!

I am re-reading Fahrenheit 451 and other Bradbury stories again because I plan on teaching them. Re-reading Ceremony after over a decade. The rest of these are not Bread Loaf readings but my own! Hope I can do it! I am almost done with the Stinging Fly issue and it is fantastic.