When I began my Earth Expedition in the Galapagos Islands, we were asked to spend some
time writing down what we hoped to get out of the program. I wrote that I wanted to gain confidence in my ability to influence change and to gain trust in my own ideas.
I live in a highly fraught world, in a neighborhood where we hear gun fire regularly. While I am shielded in a cloak of white privilege, I work with students who have come to take for granted that the lives of their friends, family members, and even their own lives are disposable. And often, because of deep concern for these issues, I often fear that my pursuits in conservation work are trivial compared to the work that needs to be done for these communities. This fear often leaves me feeling conflicted and sometimes even paralyzes my ability to take action. This uncertainty often leaves me silent.
But in our daily (and nightly) conversations, where my voice was valued as much as anyone else’s, with colleagues engaging in admirable work that also showed interest in my pursuits, I came to realize that this work in conservation is as important as any other social justice work. For instance, consider the teachers who are trying to inspire their students to learn about science and conservation — they are opening doors for their students. Perhaps this came clear because of our location and our hosts with EPI, who work with local students to create change in their communities, while bringing students from outside of the community to learn about the challenges they face. Perhaps it is because of the sensitive and nuanced discussions about the needs of community stakeholders outside of conservation efforts. Or perhaps it was the inspiring stories of the “outsider” scientists who are contributing to major conservation efforts despite their lack of “legitimization” that I worry may hold my own students back in their worlds.
Likely, it was a combination of all of these things.
I realized on this trip that this work is vital, not only for the ecosystems we wish to save, but for our own society. Conservation work requires community involvement, which means offering opportunities to bring different stakeholders to the table, which means opening avenues for change. Valuing the spaces in which we inhabit also requires valuing the lives of those we inhabit those spaces with. These epiphanies have given me the confidence and trust I need to move forward, knowing that all of our efforts, around the country or the world, will be part of improving the quality of life for all, not just one bird species or rare plant.
One of my favorite places on the Pacific University Campus.
My final residency with Pacific’s MFA program wasn’t a full residency, just a few days of workshop and craft talks offered to post-grads prior to our graduation ceremony. However, somehow it was just as emotionally draining, if not as intellectually exhausting. The schedule for the three day mini-residency was packed and I was nervous about the arrival of my parents & about the ceremony, so the finality of it all didn’t hit me until after the ceremony.
Overwhelmed by the crowd of graduates and family members, my parents and I relocated to a quiet spot under a tree, where I was presented with my graduation presents: a lovely silver bracelet, my father’s Mont Blanc Pen, and a handmade chapbook in which each of my family members, including my partner, wrote me a poem. I was completely overcome.
I’m still processing all those emotions and I imagine that as I sort through them, some thoughts will appear here. But what is clear to me is how much I want and need to keep writing, to contribute to that great conversation.
Yesterday was my first official day of summer vacation. But what that really means is that instead of teaching full-time & writing part-time, I will try to focus as much of my energy on writing, so that it becomes my full-time gig. I am trying to set aside four hours a day for reading & writing and this time will not include any reading and writing I do for this blog, on facebook, for submission purposes, etc. For this week, I plan to spend time reviewing The Poet’s Companion and The Poetry Handbook, and I also hope to make my way further into A Natural History of the Chicago Region.
On day two, I’m finding it is already difficult to stay focused. Yesterday, I spent about four hours working in my gardens, only an hour and a half on writing and reading. But I know this about myself — when I have too much time, I take it for granted. During the school year, I use every pocket available because I know that time is limited. I would like to defend myself by saying that it is in those manual chores that I work out problems with old poems & find new ideas, but we all know that there is nothing that leads to productivity more than simply devoting the time to the craft.
I work in a fantastic environment, where employees are encouraged to problem solve creatively, to collaborate, and to enjoy each other’s company. It is precisely the type of work place that I think Daniel Pink advocates for in his book, Drive, which was also the subject of a stimulating conversation with some of my co-workers tonight. As usual, I tried to sit back and listen and to take in as much from my colleagues as I could, so I could take it home and think about what everyone said and what the implications of our opinions are upon our collective job — educating teenagers. We didn’t come to any conclusions, but a lot of good questions were raised, the kinds of questions that are good to keep around as we plan for next year.
Of course, the conversation inevitably led to our own experiences of high school, specifically to our own motivations, and I was reminded of how focused I was then, and even younger, on writing and studying poetry. I can always remember being motivated to write, but I cannot for the life of me recall a “why.” I am not even sure what the “why” is now, all these years later… We all know there is no money, no fame, no extrinsic motivator at all, nothing and no one is waiting for me to write an amazing poem. But I continue to try to write it, I continue to fail, and so on. So, on a more personal level, I’m curious, dear fellow poets, why do you? What motivates you to continue, even though there is no carrot?
Lawyer – A poem by Carl Sandburg – American Poems.
My baby sister is graduating from law school today. It has been a tough journey for her and I’m incredibly proud. On a completely unrelated note, I’ve been reading a lot of Carl Sandburg lately. Spring break helped me jump start my prairie state project & his work seems especially appropriate for me to study right now.
Today marks the first of many graduations I’ll be attending this season, including my own… While I already have my diploma, Pacific U’s MFA program only has one ceremony a year, so January graduates are invited to come back and walk. They are also offering us a special mini-residency with our own classes to attend. I’m so looking forward to this right now, only about a month away…
This week, while I was at work, I took advantage of a few quiet moments to step outside and snap a few pictures of the beautiful flowering trees on our campus. There was one in particular that I wanted a picture of; I had noticed something odd growing out of all the blossoms. A few others caught my eye and I’m drawing inspiration from them tonight.
a tree that seems to be trying to blend in with its surroundings,
and ballet slippers.
Tomorrow, for about 30 seconds, I’ll be talking to fellow teachers about why poetry belongs in all classrooms, not just the English classroom. I hope I can squeeze the following in:
1. Poetry requires both concise and creative language. This means that students really have to process the information they are taking in — they can’t just copy something off of Wikipedia and mince it into their own words.
2. Poetry requires empathy. Students, especially the adolescent kind, tend to have trouble looking outside of their own little worlds. Poetry can help them stretch their thinking and broaden their world view.
3. Poetry about curriculum content will help students understand that poetry can be (and should be) about more than someone cheating on someone else.
4. Poetry works as a mnemonic device. Students will retain more information if they have to read and write poems about that information.
5. It’s fun. Seriously fun.