Archive for the ‘ education ’ Category

On Worth

What is the worth then
of rain glinting silver
when it falls, or boys
split out with laughter?
We banter on the word
weird, while the huddle
of science texts, glowing
invitational, stuns me as
deep as our planet’s
gravitational stability.
.                If I study lips
lined with chocolate
cake, or sobs that rock
the souls of the oaks,
have I saved a child
from the plague—have I?

Open Letter to a Childhood Teacher

wrinkle

Dear Mrs. Hughes,

I imagined writing this letter to send along with a copy of my first published book. But since I don’t have one of those yet, I’ll just send the letter anyway. Maybe I can send a second letter someday.

I’ve been wanting to thank you for your subtle influence when you were my third grade teacher. I remember little, except that you read wonderful books aloud to us. Where the Red Fern Grows had immediate impact, and I remember rereading it at home, where I could go into the bathroom and cry all I wanted over the deaths of Big Dan and Little Ann. But the most influential book was A Wrinkle in Time. The way Meg broke through IT’s darkness with chants of love, over and over, to Charles Wallace captured me, and I have never been able to shake the power of that scene.

After revisiting the novel a couple times in my adult life, I can see what terrifying encounters L’Engle wove into the story. But I didn’t have a lasting fear for terror then; the ending is what stuck.

The story got me curious about Madeleine L’Engle, too; her nonfiction book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art may explain why her approach to creativity broke people’s hearts open the way it did mine. While unafraid to handle what is dark, she also believed that true art always leaves a window thrown wide open to hope.

This past school year, I chose to read Wrinkle to a group of fifth and sixth grade composition students in our family’s homeschooling co-op. I think there were some raised eyebrows and nervous laughter at L’Engle’s startling images. But I felt so desperate to share this example of good art that I didn’t care. Maybe the recklessly hopeful story stuck for just one student as it has for me, and she, too, can quietly uncover that memory as she discovers herself becoming an artist–or finally believing herself to be one.

That, I think, is what I really want to thank you for. Yes, for reading the book. Yes, for being my teacher. But most of all, for whatever reckless hope was behind your decisions to do those things. I’d like to think that it had something to do with the belief that, whether published or not, famous or not, each student must know he or she houses the soul of an artist–a creator of good work that helps others see fractals of light breaking into a shadowed world. At any rate, you certainly helped me know that. Thank you.

I wish you gifts of peace and joy as you continue teaching and learning.

Warm regards,

Carrie Beyer

A Morning’s Work

I will have branches snatch at my hat this morning,
my muscles twisting tight to keep lumber balanced on a two-wheeled dolly.
I will wheel it back to the almost-clearing where the boys can build
a something. To play hard after such a cold lull
is to let the springtime breathe way down deep into my blood.
We’ll play hard enough to need some waterproof boots, the
kind that can withstand the spray of the hose after we
make a morning of tramping through the underbrush.

Books: The Other Words of the Year

Not long ago, a friend told me that her students had complained that reading masterpieces made them feel stupid. But I’ve always found that the better the book I’m reading, the smarter I feel, or, at least, the more able I am to imagine that I might, someday, become smarter. I’ve also heard fellow writers say that they cannot read while working on a book of their own for fear that Tolstoy or Shakespeare might influence them. I’ve always hoped they would influence me, and I wonder if I would have taken so happily to being a writer if it had meant that I couldn’t read for the years it might take to complete a novel.

-Francine Prose, in Reading Like a Writer

I agree with Francine Prose that “the better the book I’m reading, the smarter I feel.” I remember when those feelings began, reading Anne Lamott. In 2005, I said of her: “Anne Lamott is one of the few people – perhaps the only person – who makes me think of things to write while I’m reading her. Reading Lamott is a highly productive exercise.”

Not that I’d put her in the masterpiece category, along with Tolstoy or Shakespeare, but she was the beginning of a turn in my life, when I started to read the work of people who both challenged and pleasured me.

This year, I intend to press more words out of these keys than in any previous year, and it would be a futile exercise to try to write — to scrape art and wisdom from my soul — without leaving even more space for inspiration. Unapologetically, I am leaving space for reading books. Planning for reading space is like planning for growth and retreat, both balled up together.  I am not in the habit of giving myself space, but it is a habit of health, I believe, that will unbar the gateway to my own words in a way that merely writing never could.

This is the starting list from which I’ll be reading. Some may get pushed aside, of course, and then there will be other welcome surprises.

::

To introduce myself to the writers at the Festival of Faith and Writing:

Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life, by Bret Lott

Jewel, a novel by Bret Lott

The Fields of Praise, by Marilyn Nelson (Nelson is a poet with many layers, who often writes from imagination and history, melded together. She’s not afraid to try new poetic techniques; I can’t wait to learn from her.)

Alif the Unseen, a novel by G. Willow Wilson

A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans (I love this woman’s sheer guts. I’m already on the last chapter.)

Things That Are, essays by Amy Leach

Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, by Richard Foster

The Seed Underground: The Growing Revolution to Save Food, by Janisse Ray

Granted, poems by Mary Szybist (I loved Szybist’s poetry book Incarnadine so much that she’s the number one person I want to hear from at FFW in April.)

The Rural Life, a nature journal by Verlyn Klinkenborg

::

To participate in the SheLoves community Red Couch book discussions:

Jesus Feminist, by Sarah Bessey

God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, by Desmond Tutu

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo

::

For my delight:

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron (I’ve been eyeing this on my shelf for too long. My artist friend Amanda and I are going to walk through it together.)

The Red Tentby Anita Diamant (This I’m reading for its close look at a society of women, and themes of midwifery and birth)

I Heard God Laughing: Renderings of Hafiz, by Daniel Ladinsky (simple poetry that stretches my understanding of the relatability and mystery of God)

Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes, by Shauna Niequist (Isn’t that subtitle the best? I hope this is a natural follow-up to my year of hospitality in 2013.)

Dignity is a Renewable Resource… and Courage Takes Balls, by Shanna Goodman (This is written by my local friend, whose fortitude in writing and publishing gives me courage.)

The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris

Divergent, by Veronica Roth (I can’t wait to get a feel for what’s popular in dystopian literature!)

Gilead: a Novel, by Marilynne Robinson

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery (I’ve long wanted to reignite my childhood appreciation of L.M. Montgomery. This novel and the next are ones I’ve never read. Since The Blue Castle makes Sarah’s Bessey’s list of 10 favorites to read on a cozy evening, I’m wanting to track down a copy to warm me during this cold snap.)

Emily of New Moon, by L.M. Montgomery (Did you see how this is only 99 cents on Kindle?)

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Stephen Pressfield

The Authentic Swing: Notes from the Writing of a First Novel, by Stephen Pressfield (These last two entered our house through the creative hunger of my husband, Kyle. They are quick ones to snatch up, and, I hope, will initiate inspiring dialogue between us.)

::

To explore birth and Ethiopian culture and herbalism (my learning areas for the year):

The Hospital by the River: A Story of Hope, by Catherine Hamlin (This is the widely stretching story of the woman who started a fistula hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I hope this gives me a glimpse into the birth culture in Ethiopia.)

A History of Ethiopia, by Harold G. Marcus

Emergency Childbirth: A Handbook, by Gregory J. White

Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, by Rosemary Gladstar

Herbal Healing for Women, by Rosemary Gladstar

Understanding Holistic Health, by Frank Vilaasa

The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual, by James Green

The Handbook of Vintage Remedies, by Jessie Hawkins

The Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread, by Jessie Hawkins

The Vintage Remedies Guide to Real Food, by Jessie Hawkins

Start. Continue. (How to Plan for Courage)

I am an impeccable starter. In fact, I was ahead of 2014, letting my goals begin a few days before the new year. The passion that drives my decisions is so bold that nothing can deter me from being convinced that homeschooling or adoption or healthy eating or writing is not the absolutely best way to use my time and talents, all arguments be damned.

This year, my word for growth is courage. It feels like courage, of course, to be signing up for new things and setting goals.

This year, my personal goals look like this:

  • In all, be courageous. Let myself and others be free. Choose vulnerability as a road to courage. Courageously walk and courageously fail. I am held.
  • Diversify my circle of friends. Love more people and love people more. Let the possibilities surprise me.
  • Take steps in my writing career. (This includes poetry writing, progress on my novel, and publication.) Function as though my writing career already exists…because it does.
  • Do the hard work of learning (particularly in Ethiopian culture studies, health studies, and writing studies).

What those pursuits will look like when I’m in the weeds of them? I haven’t a clue. I have found that goals, in time, affect my family and friends — for good or ill; they do not always look so pretty and predictable in the long haul. Goals turn stressful when they collide with the comfortable arrangement of people around me. I can pursue my goals without relationship, of course. But relationship, really, is what I need, and people have a surprising way of sharpening me and my offerings to the world.

Stop starting. Start Finishing. That’s what my husband, Kyle, had scrawled on his office whiteboard for a good year. I don’t know what the finish will look like in 2014. So I’ll adapt his mantra to insinuate the courage I’m asking God to develop in me when the going gets tough: Start. Continue.

Start. Continue. Continue when surprising circumstances feel more like annoying interruptions; surprises, too, are invitations to live wholly. Continue to rest in God when the glamor of new goals has worn off, when I am in the throes of studying material I can’t remember signing up for.

I am already finding that courage is more in the stepping than the planning.

discovering snails

We are gluttons for Fall.
We drink in the last days,
on lush carpets of leaves
among a tangle of branches.

*          *          *          *          *

I tied a scarf around my head in the style of Rambo — only it looked more feminine.  The tie-dyed material pooled on my shoulders and swung down my back, and dreadlocks peeked out from underneath.  I knew I either looked brave and completely stylish in my accessorizing, or else I looked completely clownish.

Five seconds at Arbor Hills, I realized it didn’t matter at all.  This outing was all about how everything else looked.  We escape here often, usually bypassing the monstrosity of a jungle gym for the “natural unpaved trails for pedestrians only.”  Isaiah has developed strong footing on the rooted paths.  He ambles down declines and doesn’t care too much if he falls down.

We twist in and out among the trees, finally settling down in a little clearing.  We come here — to nature — because Charlotte Mason says so, and she makes more sense to me regarding loving and educating my child than anyone else ever has.

Isaiah collects sticks, and I sit down with my book.  Isaiah shoves it away, and perhaps it’s his intuition that tells him nature is too big and full of life to have to read a book in it.  So we play in the dirt instead.  I find five snail shells — empty homes that now decorate the forest floor.  We talk about what all God made:  plants, dirt, and Elijah.  I search for more shells; Isaiah gets bored.  A dead tree trunk leans across the clearing where we play.  Isaiah rides it like an airplane, and I read my book again.  Isaiah wants me to stop again.  I show him what bark is.  We lift up pieces of the skin of trees, and there is more to discover.  Living snails cling to the cold, wet underside.  I lift one off and hold it in the sunlight before Isaiah’s face.  The snail stretches out of its home, pointing antennae into the air, trying to find its place again.  Its sticky face finds my thumb.  I return it to the wet bark.

There are snails everywhere.  I find myself as entralled with life as Isaiah has been the last two years.  I pick up more pieces of bark, finding the snails’ empty homes.  I collect the architecture in my palm.  I could find a thousand shells if I were here all day.  I climb the little hill and clear away the leaves to find the dirt of the forest floor.  Inspired by natural sculptor Andy Goldsworthy (Netflix subscribers, watch the documentary Rivers and Tides online for free, if you’re interested), I build a snowflake out of 58 empty snail shells.  It is my bit of graffiti art along the trail.  I leave it as tribute to the unobtrusive snail, and as a monument to God.

A whistle breaks through the quiet crackle of the trees.  I decide it must be a signal for twelve-o-clock, although I didn’t need the reminder.  We were hungry and tired anyway, and the sun was high enough that I knew it must be time to leave.

When we step back out onto the paved trail and drive home in an automobile, when I see the streets and buildings crushing out nature, everything in the forest seems like I dream.  I touch and feel plastic, concrete, manmade things, and it all feels like such a joke of a world.  I stop at the grocery store on the way home to get a candy thermometer.  I walk down a towering isle of boxes and jars and packaged, processed food, and I think: perhaps this is the dream.  When can I wake up from my mood being set by Christmas carols piped over the loudspeaker?  When will the snails raise their voices and say, “Here!  We are here by the millions, billions, trillions!  We scatter the forest floor everywhere! We are everywhere!  Won’t you look?”?

the beginning of reading

We have read Pete’s a Pizza at least twenty times this week.  I have read it quickly, slowly, with voices, without voices.

I’ve read to Isaiah from his birth.  I wanted him to love books more than I had, and, yeah… I love them quite a lot.  In the beginning, I would read my own books aloud, letting him hear the cadence of sentences, the intricacies of the English language.  And then I started reading him his own short picture books because I thought it was the right thing to do.  Once he got out of the habit of gnawing off the corners of all his board books, he loved the colorful pictures.  I couldn’t wait for him to sit still for a whole story.  We read a few books every day, and I patted myself on the back for a job well done.

But then I ran across one family’s homeschooling guideposts, one of which was: “2 hours a day of Reading — especially before they are five.”  That did say before they are five?  Well, Isaiah is not five yet, but… well… when do you start that two-hours-a-day thing?  At birth?  If so, then wow, somebody cared about reading even more than I did!

Isaiah is two.  I can’t imagine how much reading there will be when he is three, four, five.  There are times when I need to take breaks from reading to him, and oh!, the fits my voracious little reader has thrown!  I hate to stop; every moment of those stories, with Isaiah sprawled on top of me or perched on a pillow by my side, is pure joy.  We never aimed for two hours (though I did aim for one), but all of a sudden, I find Isaiah and I spending more time, huddled together on the couch, absorbed in book after book after book.  What time used to be a forced twenty minutes has become joyful hours upon hours.

What made the difference?  Not long ago, I read a book called Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt, and I was intrigued by Hunt’s claim that the quality of books determine how much our children love to read.  She has a wonderful list of books for each age group, and I’ve been snatching up the library’s copies of many of her suggestions.  A few are too dull for him, or too advanced; some are too subtle in their beauty.  But between the covers of most of these children’s stories, I am learning the value of what Hunt calls “living books.”  Books alive with characters, quality illustrations, compelling words and sentences, good stories.

Noticing this difference has made me a bit of a snob about books, I’ll admit.  I would like to burn our copies of Dinosaur Lovables: Stegosaurus and Pepper the Puppy (and his pals Poppy the Pig and Poopy — or what’s-his-freaking-name — the Pony).  Oh, I’m sorry.  Who wrote those books?  Yeah, that’s what I thought.  It’s not even worth putting on the cover.  And it’s not worth my time, or Isaiah’s time.  I’ve decided that if you want to make your kid hate reading, you don’t not read to them.  Instead, you read them dreadful books like Dinosaur Lovables (shudder).

And here, I would like to dispel the claim that anyone can write a children’s book, or particularly, if I, Carrie, want to get started as an author, I should try a children’s book first.  I do not claim to have the brilliance necessary to write a book worthy to be read by children.  A good children’s book is a work of art, and it will play like the Pied Piper to your child’s imagination, luring him into a love affair with reading that will be all but impossible to ever abandon.

*          *          *

A few recommendations from Isaiah:

Pete’s a Pizza, by William Steig

The Little Engine That Could, by Watty Piper (original illustrations recommended)

Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson

Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown

A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog, by Mercer Mayer