The problem with not having written a blog post for months (or in my case, over a year) is that the longer you go without writing one, the harder it seems to do. Where to start? What to say? How to explain—or not?
For me, the silence stems from some usual suspects. Work certainly played a part, but on top of that there’s the outrage, despair and exhaustion I suspect that many of us have felt about the state of our poor country—and our poor, precious planet. And all of that was compounded by some health problems that threw me for a loop and made the simple act of sitting at my desk and concentrating quite a challenge.
Fortunately, many months physical therapy and a handful of caring doctors have helped. But what I could do was walk and read, both of which offered much solace and joy. When it came to walking, I became obsessed with walking among trees, and almost every day for months on end, I’d head out for a walk in Prospect Park, Central Park, Riverside Park or the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, often with a book of poetry in my bag. And one day, I stumbled on this poem by Mary Oliver, which completely captured the kind of reverence and sustenance I’d feel as I looked up into the branches of a sycamore or a towering elm:
As for reading, while I read at least one poem a day, thanks to The Writer’s Almanac and The Slowdown, which each send a poem to my inbox every morning, I really gorged on novels. Some were mirrors, some were windows, but each one I stuck with and didn’t abandon (yes, it’s true, I’m a book abandoner) was marked by gorgeous language and amazing sentences. (FYI: I do love books with complex, nuanced characters, but when I took an online quiz to determine my reading personality, I was deemed an Aesthete: someone who “reveres writers whose words can exalt everyday experience into a shareable sublimeness.”)
I’m not sure if there are other Aesthetes out there, but here, in no particular order, are a few of the books that nourished and sustained me during those months of pain and discomfort. In addition to wonderful language, each has a powerful story to tell, with characters that might just break your heart:
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich: There’s a devastating event at the heart of this novel, but ultimately it’s about redemption, with characters who learn to bear the unbearable with compassion and grace.
Paris 7 A.M. by Liza Wieland, who imagines poet Elizabeth Bishop’s time in Paris in 1937, which was the only year in her entire life that Bishop didn’t keep a journal. Must read for any Elizabeth Bishop lovers out there.
Go, Went, Gone, by Jenny Erpenbeck, a German writer who tells the story of a retired academic whose life is fundamentally changed when he becomes involved with a group of African refugees seeking asylum in Berlin.
Prairie Fever by Michael Parker, a seriously quirky, but in my mind charming, historical fiction novel about two sister in love with the same man in Oklahoma in the early 1900s.
The Need by Helen Phillips, a novel about motherhood with a speculative twist that really unnerved me and got under my skin.
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli about a family who embarks on a road trip from New York City to Arizona to try to find two lost migrant children and the ancestral homeland of the Apaches.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, is another road trip book, but here the characters are a drug-addicted mom, a dad in prison, a 13-year-old boy desperate for a role model and the various ghosts that haunt them.
Now that my body is finally on the mend and sitting just involves sitting, I’m hoping to share some of the work I’ve done with teachers over the last year, along with some new thoughts and ideas—which, for better or worse, I never seem to be in short of. But for now, here’s a link to an oldie but goldie blog post from 2011, the year I started blogging. Interestingly enough, it speaks to what I believe is the real reason why we read—which is often quite different from what some of children perceive the goal to be. And hopefully it sparks some questions and reflections about what kind of messages are we sending students about the purpose of reading.