Thursday, April 22, 2010
Coffee and Dreams of Summer
It is that time of year again. I feel I have known my students for-approximately-ever. Somewhere, gathering dust in a plastic crate, are the index cards, where I had my students write down their favorite book, their date of birth, and three surprising facts about them. I hate it, absolutely hate it, when even one student is a complete enigma at this point in the year--and it happens every year. Here's another thing that I hate: all that remains undone. It is never pleasant to realize the limits of one's capacity.
A teaching year is a mini-life. If you are over 30, 40, or 50, you know this. We begin in hope. I am hopeful in the morning; at dawn my mind is streaming with plans. In my twenties I soared with hope. A little later, you are left with the possible. So it is with a school year: my plan, my syllabus, my beautiful classroom, my reading corner. Now it is late April. Reality is setting in. The poems and books we'll never read are haunting me.
So as the school year draws to a close, in one little corner of my mind, I am making notes for next year. And in another little corner, I'm making a list: books to read this summer; things to write this summer.
Somehow today I read a book. I squeezed it in, because that's what I do--I'm a reader. I read The Balloonists by Eula Biss(Hanging Loose Press, 2002). It is spare, beautiful, haunting, lyrical, inventive. I still don't know how to categorize this book, but if I had to name an ancestor for it, I'd say it was Silences by Tillie Olsen, or I Stand Here Ironing. The Balloonist is fragmentary, part prose poem, part memoir, part journal, part dream. Just read it. It will take you an hour or two, and then you will have these fragments, these ideas, floating around in your head. They will remind you of your own life perhaps, the way you have tried to puzzle out the story of your own life. You may have asked yourself what the shape of your life will be; will that shape necessarily be formed by the shape of the lives of your parents. I hope not, you might say, or no, I'm writing a new story.
Last summer I read Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays by Eula Biss. Now I'm going to find that book and read it again (I have to locate it among the towers, the piles, the heaving and overburdened bookshelves). Biss writes on a subject that is ever-present and yet frequently avoided, race in America. I admit, I kept checking her author photo, trying to distinguish something about her DNA. Her essays are brave, original, transporting. She goes right into no man's land. At times I thought she was articulating my own thoughts, thoughts I hadn't quite realized I was having yet. For reasons of my own, reasons I'll perhaps address in another post, I consider race nearly every day. It's something I sometimes get tired of thinking about, yet I don't think I ever stop thinking about it. If you like thoughtful prose and you think there must be another way into the subject ( a way besides the caricatures we see in the news every day) then you might like this book.
So: tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. I will read a little, write a little, and attempt the impossible. It's what I do.