Yesterday was a son date. Meaning, I had lunch w/ one of my two amazing sons. Earlier this week I had lunch w/ the other. Interesting detail: each picked the same restaurant, a small Asian café we all three like. They always have the pho (a ViệtNamese soup), minus the tendon & tripe. I have any of a number of things — I’m far less predictable in my tastes.
But each time we shared a green papaya salad (a favourite of ours), and talked. The main course, as it were: conversation. Without work, or two grandsons, or other interruptions. Just me & a son, over food. It doesn’t get a lot better…
Too often, we expect love to flourish w/out any nurturing. Or, more likely, we consider the daily things we do for each other to be enough. But really? You can’t have quality time w/out a fair amount of quantity.
Neither son revealed anything earth-shattering. I see them both, in this golden period, frequently. But rarely, as I noted, without the hubbub of daily life as a backdrop. And often — to be fair! — the hubbub takes precedence.
Here’s to time spent with loved ones: friends, family, colleagues. Folks you’d like to know better. Because sharing food, as M.F.K. Fisher said, is about more than just the meal:
It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.
Try it. A date with whomever — I happen to be lucky to have my sons nearby! — over shared food. I promise it’s worth the effort.
I always have. Loved my students, I mean. N.B.: it’s not that unusual. It’s what teachers do. Daily. They enter their classes full of the girl who wasn’t picked for play yesterday, and the boy whose dad beat the tar out of him last night, and the girl whose brother died five years ago and who still grieves and the boy who wonders how he never noticed his brother was gay, and the girl whose mother tells her daily what a loser she is. Or the child whose parents are gone, one in prison, one just gone. Now s/he lives with an exhausted grandmother. Each of these needy, broken children is in multiple classes. And almost certainly, s/he has a teacher who LOVES. Classes are brimming with these students, and underpaid, overworked teachers who♥️♥️♥️.
It’s what they do. Each day. Exhausted as they are, every teacher I know loves. Daily. Hourly. Loves the slightly crazy, very needy girl in the front row who is a not-quite-recovering cutter. Loves the very needy boy in the back who wonders if he will ever be enough. And those who teach little bitties? They wipe noses, blot tears, kiss scrapes, tousle heads, reassure, listen listen listen. And LOVE.
It’s the job. And it’s HARD. But it’s also what makes teaching the calling it is for most of us. It’s at the heart of that calling, and why it’s soooo hard to evaluate — this recognition of the love at the heart of each teacher. It’s why teachers cover their children’s bodies w/ their own in a shooting (Sandy Hook) or a tornado (Moore, OK). It’s why they put up with the scorn of other professionals, the relentless paperwork, and the crappy pay. L-O-V-E.
I think of teaching — the decades I did it, at least — as almost a Buddhist practice, or a Christian offer of blessing. A Jewish mitzvah, a gift of compassionate love, sometimes even tough love. And yes: teaching is (obviously) also a means of helping students — of all ages — learn. But as I used to tell my own students, sometimes what you are learning isn’t the book, or even the content. It’s not how to write a research paper, but how to figure out a way to access the pain that wells up when you consider the things you care about, & might want to write about. For a Russian orphan, it may be foreign adoption. For the recovering cutter, it may be wrist-cutting syndrome. For the boy who is coming to terms w/his brother’s homosexuality, it may be how family can support gays.
A good teacher listens, and is, as Frost said, a gentle prod forward, along the path of self-knowledge & learning. Not ‘quail shot’! And even the teachers who may not be Pulitzer winners, or brilliant physicists, or theoretical research chemists? They know more than most folks ever will about how to love. And how it is love — old-fashioned love — that opens students minds. The way to the mind, good teachers know, is through the heart. A good teacher is, as Frost also notes, not simply a ‘teachers,’ but an ‘awakener.’ Smart man, that Frost. But then, he knew much about love.
And teachers deserve a LOT of ours.
Here’s a repost of a blog I wrote for the wonderful, totally amazing literary journal Nimrod, at the University of Tulsa. I feel very lucky to be associated with it. And this is a subject close to my writer’s heart: do you have to suffer to be a writer?
I am heartily sick of the political disaster this country has become. So I am intentionally focusing today on poetry, my 2nd refuge when the world is too much with me. Tea being the first.
In fact, an afternoon pot is steeping even as I write, and ‘biscuits’ – that lovely English name for cookies that are not the sickly sweet American type, but instead almost a slightly sweet cracker – await, in a ruby glass saucer, next to the bee cup & saucer my niece & nephew gave me. Plus I just added to a long email thread, sent to a dear friend who is working on her MFA, in which we’re discussing (among other weighty matters) why it’s always ‘the poets.’ And why folks think poetry is just not ‘using all your words’…???
Sigh. It’s always interesting to me when folks (especially writing folks…who should know better!!) define poetry as merely ‘fewer words.’ Even that famous ‘compression of language’ definition is — to me, at least — reductive and simplistic. Poetry is about images, and the sound(s) of language. It can also be (as fiction and/or non-fiction often are) about narrative. About story, even about character(s). The dramatic monologue that made Robert Browning so famous.It’s about music, really — even so-called narrative poetry has to have certain beauties & elegances of sound. Poetry has to move, which is why many songwriters also do poetry: music is fine training for a poet.
To see poetry as just a ‘shorter’ version of prose is sooo … well, if I were arguing this in person, w/ an academic colleague, I’d say it’s both reductive & dismissive. And uninformed, as well. (Tell them what you really think…!) Only a non-poet would say that, someone who doesn’t understand either the project(s) of poetry, or poets.
You simply CAN’T do Pound’s ‘In a Station of the Metro’ in prose, for instance. Imagine this with ‘all your words’:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Pound’s poetic project is not simply compression — although yes, of course he’s compressing. It’s also about the fleetingness of the experience, the way the faces flee past. You could do that w/ prose, but you would lose sooo much! The short, haiku-like simplicity of the form captures the briefness of the faces. And the image that perfect image that has stunned poets since Pound wrote it would be sooo clunky if you simply wrote: The fleetingness of faces seen from a railway car are like white petals on a black tree branch. It’s the cadence: wet. black. bough. And the assonance: crowd & bough. It’s the MUSIC, folks!
Another big sigh. Time to chill out w/ a hot cuppa, and a biscuit. What do you think poetry ‘is’? How do you know poetry, other than by its shorter length and line breaks? Why would someone choose to write a poem instead of a story, or an essay? And who — besides me & my friend, obviously! — cares??
Sometimes very small things that other people do ~ a 2-3 minute Google search, that turns up an important fact (at least to you, or, in this case, me) ~ have BIG impact. And yes, I’m thinking of something specific.
I have a background in science as well as writing. In 10th grade, I actually wanted to be a geneticist (seriously), and did my term paper on the science of organ transplants, still very new then. My hypothesis was that if we transplanted ovaries, women would be having the biological child of the transplant-er’s genes.
My teacher told me it was an unseemly topic for a young girl. UGH.
Later, I would weld a seam between my love of biological science & my love of writing, working as my daily newspaper’s medical & science journalist. One of my all-time fave jobs.
These days, I read science-based non-fiction for fun. Every year, my husband used to buy me the Best of Science & Nature Writing anthology for Christmas. Lately, I can’t wait that long, & check it out of the library when it’s released!
So trust me when I say I thought my knowledge of basic genetics was pretty accurate.
Offhandedly, I told my elder son – father of my two adored & adorable grandsons – that I had made my peace w/ the fact that my genes weren’t going forward in his wo boys. My X chromosome is not represented in them; they have their mother’s. And I thought that was fine.
But my sensitive elder son somehow caught on to my hidden sadness, and looked up gender & chromosomal inheritance. Mom, he messaged me, only one of your 26 chromosomes is gendered. You live on in the boys.
I burst into tears when I read that.
It couldn’t have taken him more than minutes. But I doubt I ever forget that my perfect grandsons really are mine as well as their father’s, mother’s, maternal grandparents, paternal grandfather… The long line of my own beloved family line is there in 25 of their chromosomes. And I’m the richer for having that knowledge, as well as a son who took the time to find it out & let me know. Oh! And his sense that it was important, even when I didn’t know myself.
Not a big thing in the schema of his day. But huge in mine. It really is the small things that make big differences. 💖