the end of art is peace

The parting over

In My Dreams
by Stevie Smith

In my dreams I am always saying goodbye and riding away,
Whither and why I know not nor do I care.
And the parting is sweet and the parting over is sweeter,
And sweetest of all is the night and the rushing air.

In my dreams they are always waving their hands and saying goodbye,
And they give me the stirrup cup and I smile as I drink,
I am glad the journey is set, I am glad I am going,
I am glad, I am glad, that my friends don’t know what I think.

Make me an instrument of Your peace

The Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

A hardy respect

Step Nine
by K.C. Wolfe

Dear Mr. Marshal Frank,

We met once, two years ago in Columbus, Ohio. You showed up at my house, looking for your dog, Max. I was doing a lot of drugs then, but I was not, as many people must have assumed, homeless. I was not a vagrant. I was simply on drugs, most of which were in the opiate family, and I hung out at the park. I sometimes fell asleep there.

Was I a drug addict? Yes, Mr. Frank, I was. I was never as badly addicted as others I’ve seen. I’m lucky for that. I’ve never driven away a girlfriend or a wife. I’ve never been the target of intervention conspiracies from well-meaning family members. I’ve never, as my friend Nathaniel has, stumbled home to a house I’d moved from eight years ago and woken up on the couch to see a rifle pointed at me.

I was living with my aunt Margaret at the time, who, if I’m being honest, enabled my behavior. I mean, wasn’t it Aunt Margaret who bankrolled my addiction with cash left in the kitchen drawer, who fed me pills she willfully didn’t notice were missing, who ignored my descent because acknowledging it would have meant she had to do something about it?
Aunt Margaret and I had an efficient relationship that balanced my drug abuse with her enthusiastic avoidance of the truth about me. She worked the evening shift as a nurse at Riverside and spent her nights off, every single one of them, in Youngstown with her boyfriend, Kenny. You couldn’t really blame her if you looked at it from a certain angle.

But, like I said, I wasn’t too bad, as far as drug addicts go. I never shot up. I was scared to death of needles. And I didn’t keep bad company, which is sometimes the greater danger of addiction. You probably have your own addictions, like drinking or smoking. The strange part is, you know it’s not good for you, yet you choose to do it anyway. It’s a choice.
In the winter I walked around the perimeter of the park. For hours, in an area otherwise absent of life, I watched the wind blow little dustings of snow into somersaults. In the spring I stared at the flowering trees and shuffled along until my legs went jelly-like. Sometimes I woke up in unfamiliar places. I got beat up once on the south side near i-71 by a junkie couple, a man and woman of indeterminate age. They nabbed three Oxycontins, as well as the phone my parents had mailed to me.
But another phone arrived, also from my parents, who had stopped trying for the most part. They sent it so I could be in touch with my sister, who hadn’t stopped trying, though she and I hadn’t spoken to each other in five months. Aunt Margaret, with her sciatica, kept her prescription for Oxycontin filled and unpoliced. (Her addiction was the professional kind, managed and proper and easily overlooked by anyone who mattered.) And the people at the park — liberal young professionals, hip cyclists, tennis players — pleasantly ignored my quasi vagrancy, my dopey shuffle, my slovenly defeat: midday naps on a public bench, the blank face I inevitably bared when looking up from some novel, the same page of which I had been reading over and over for an hour. I think park visitors wanted me to be invisible. I think I fed off that, absorbed it, became who people wanted me to be.

So, from my comfortable distance, I watched the park hum with its daily rhythm. It was as if shifts clocked in and out. A group of morning dog people, diverse in age, dress, and what I took for nationality, descended on the park between eight and ten o’clock. This was a quiet group. There appeared to be no circumstantial friendships. They would apologetically untangle their dogs from scuffles and let the conversations end there. I noticed that this group in particular were more likely to introduce their dogs by name than themselves.

Your group, the after-work dog people, came from all directions, flying down the sidewalk with excited dogs and waving to each other. Were you all friends, Mr. Frank? Did your relationships extend beyond the confines of the park? Your group paid a kind of vulgar attention to your dogs, too, but at least you were amicable to one another. I sat on a bench, watching in a haze from my literal and figurative distance, and imagined the lives you all had when you went home: the preparation of meals, the petty arguments with live-in girlfriends, the separating of junk mail from nonjunk, the phone calls to loved ones, the taking out of trash, the exchanges with neighbors, the day’s-end cocktails in your manicured backyards. And yet here you were, standing in awkward half circles in the dirt off the main path while your dogs ran in packs and pissed on saplings and didn’t pay any attention to you.

I knew early on that Max was special. She was a taut-bodied pit-bull mix but without the meanness, even in appearance, that her breed is known for. She must have been the kind of dog who rolls over as soon as she sees you so you can pet her belly, like in the photograph on your flier. It was as if I could effectively judge the level of care you provided her by the sociable characteristics she exhibited. From where I stood — or slumped — you appeared to get from Max exactly what you gave her: sanity, ease, a hardy respect.

I had just woken up the evening you rang my doorbell. I was frozen in the living room, staring at the bookshelf and trying to decide on a title. Aunt Margaret had been gone for a few days, cashing in a month’s worth of vacation to do whatever it was she and Kenny did in Youngstown. The doorbell rarely rang. When it did, it was usually Jehovahs or Mormons or a Girl Scout with a worried mother. Still, I panicked every time it rang. My first thought was that it was some authority coming to either (a) detain/abduct/kill me or (b) tell me that Aunt Margaret had been detained/abducted/killed. I see now that my shiver at the sound of the doorbell, this vague threat of comeuppance, was also the anticipation of relief, of deliverance, of “hope buried deep below layers of haze,” as my Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, Howard, would say. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was waiting to be rescued, and whoever I imagined was on the other side of the door was the force that would ultimately save me.
Maybe you had seen me before on the fringes of the park and recognized me through the screen door. Like I said, I recognized you immediately, even without your young-professional uniform. When I opened the door, you said, “Hi. I’m not selling anything.”

Had I been able to use my facial muscles, I would have laughed. You were wearing trendy green slip-on shoes and a t-shirt for a band I’d never heard of. You were carrying a stack of fliers with that photo of Max on them. “I live around the corner there,” you said, “and my dog is missing. Any chance you’ve seen her?”

I wanted to say: I know you. But I just slowly opened the screen door and looked at your flier. The photo of Max was printed under the word missing. She was rolled over in the grass, and it appeared as though she were smiling. I still have the flier. I’m looking at it right now, actually. Underneath her weight, age, breed, and name is printed “Please contact Marshal Frank” and your phone number and address.


(http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/466/step_nine)

Let them look askance at you

Be Nobody’s Darling
by Alice Walker

Be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Take the contradictions
Of your life
And wrap around
You like a shawl,
To parry stones
To keep you warm.
Watch the people succumb
To madness
With ample cheer;
Let them look askance at you
And you askance reply.
Be an outcast;
Be pleased to walk alone
(Uncool)
Or line the crowded
River beds
With other impetuous
Fools.

Make a merry gathering
On the bank
Where thousands perished
For brave hurt words
They said.

But be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Qualified to live
Among your dead.


(At the same time, I’ve been thinking that love is sacrifice, love is service, love is giving of yourself. Regina in Carolyn Weber’s Surprised by Oxford: “Your marriage provides you a chance to put someone else first daily.”)

A balanced adult who is excited about what the wider world looks like

Teach for Malaysia 2015 cohort welcome speech
by Yue-Yi Hwa

Here’s a speech that I gave last night at an event to welcome Teach For Malaysia’s awesome 2015 cohort.

(Well, this is more or less the speech — bits changed along the way. And I inadvertently skipped the paragraph that’s in square brackets because my memory jumped, but that turned out to be a good thing because I ran overtime anyway. Haha.)

————————

One year ago, I was sitting in my parents’ house in Penang. I’d come back from studying in England, and I really missed it. In theory, I was really excited about my upcoming time with TFM, because I was really interested in education policy and wanted the experience of being a teacher in Malaysia. But in practice, I was moping in my parents house, rereading lots of my favourite childhood books and feeling way too antisocial to go to my matriculation event.

A month later, I was having a great time at Institute, sharing sleep deprivation and weird inside jokes with other members of the 2014 cohort.

And then a few months later, some of the 2014s were hiding each other from their Facebook news feeds. Here’s how it happened.

So you survived a really tiring day at school. All of your classes were messy. During your free periods, there was just so much administrative work that you didn’t know where to start, so you didn’t start. And then during your last class, a kid ran out, and no one seemed to understand anything; and you feel really bad because you know you could have planned the lesson better if you hadn’t been sleepy the night before from doing you teaching diploma assignments at the last-minute.

And then you get home, and you think, okay, I really want to make tomorrow’s lessons extra amazing. But I also need a break from school stuff, so I’m just going to look at Facebook for a bit.
And then you open Facebook, and this is what your news feed tells you: Yang Safia is collecting donations to paint her classroom. Chow is translating his English lessons into Chinese and Tamil. WeiSheng’s student gave him Vitagen. Illi’s students gave her thank-you notes, and one student invited her to their house for a family event.

Theen Yew dressed up as the author of a literature component poem, and as the naggy Aunty Wong, and as the Dayak warrior Sir Mata Mata Tap Ti Tap, complete with headdress, shield, rotan sword, and loincloth (over his regular clothes). And he brought a kid to tears by helping him see that he should forgive his bullying classmates because Allah Maha Pemaaf.

"Hide updates." All of those are true stories, by the way.

Now, my personal default is checking Facebook once a day. But whether you do that, or use Facebook as your default procrastination, or block every single person in your cohort, there’s still a very good chance that, on tired evenings, you will find yourself asking, “Am I a good teacher? Will I ever be a good teacher? What is the meaning of life?”

But before you get there, I want to tell you that “Am I a good teacher?” is a bad question.

You’re going to encounter all kinds of metrics for good teachers. In my school, I’ve seen at least four different teacher assessment frameworks from different Ministry of Education directives and officials. My Institut Aminuddin Baki coach talked me through another set of teaching standards. At our UUM diploma classes, we learnt yet another classroom observation structure. TFM itself uses a set of competencies called Teaching as Leadership.

This year, TFM teachers also participated in another assessment, in which every student in one of your classes answers a survey on your teaching. Thousands of Teach For All teachers in other countries also did this assessment. When the results came back, they showed that I scored below the Teach For Malaysia average on every single one of the 35 questions that students answer.

If I wanted to, I could probably pick at the phrasing of the questions, the timing of the survey, how I gave instructions for it – any number of things – to justify why my results turned out that way. But I don’t feel a need to. Because I really do believe what I tell each of my five English classes before they take any test:

That your exam marks are not a measure of your value as a person. That marks are a snapshot of where you are, but also of your mood and health that day, and how warm the weather was, and whatever happened right before the exam. And that the most important thing about an exam is how much you learn through it, because learning is a long journey.

Here’s why I think “Am I a good teacher?” is a bad question. “Am I a good teacher?” implies that the world is made up of good teachers, who are doing wonderful things for their kids, and bad teachers, who are not. I think that almost all teachers are good teachers in some ways, and bad teachers in others. And I certainly don’t think that any perfect teacher exists, because, in our mixed-up, colourful world, there are just too many ways to be a good teacher. And that’s a good thing.

So when you’re tempted to ask, “Am I a good teacher?”, whether to beat yourself over the head when you already feel guilty, or to feel really self-satisfied because you did this really cool thing in class that no one else would have thought of, yo; then stop yourself. Say to yourself: yes, I’m a good teacher, and how can I be a better one?

[But don’t say that to yourself all the time. You owe it to your emotional health to maintain parts of your life that aren’t all about school. You owe it to your students too, most of whom will have narrow horizons, and who need to see what a balanced adult who is excited about what the wider world looks like.]

And I promise you that you will surprise yourself. I haven’t had any surprises in the “Whoa, my class average improved by 7000 percent in the monthly test!” category. Some people in my cohort have. Well, not quite 7000 percent, but you get what I mean. I’m still hoping for surprises like that, both for my kids’ future careers and because this small dark part of my ego still wants to be a Good Teacher.

But I’ve had my own surprises. Last Tuesday, when two members of the 2015 cohort were at my school for their Rancangan Orientasi Sekolah, my Form 4 students were working on a comprehension passage. I was walking around to chat with them while they worked, and I got one student to write his answer to the first question on the board. And then one girl says, “Teacher, teacher!” and asks me to check her answer to the second question, and she says she wants to write it on the board if it’s correct.

So I look at her answer, and I say, “Good! It’s correct. I just want to you try to write in a complete sentence, and that last bit is extra, so you don’t need it.” So I help her change her “eight glasses of water a day to stay healthy” to “We must drink eight glasses of water a day.” And she writes that on the board.

And then as I walk away from her, I realise: wait a minute. Earlier in the year she would sort of space out in my class and be really passive, because she was embarrassed about her poor English. And then at one point she told me, “Teacher, saya nak belajar BI. Saya tak kisah kalau kena mula balik dari tahap sekolah rendah. Saya nak belajar.” And she still failed the monthly test, but there she was, understanding an English passage and putting herself forward to to answer a question.

And then several students separately start saying the same thing. “Eh, teacher, that answer correct meh? You see the question: ‘How many glasses of water must we drink, and why?’ Why no ‘why’ in the answer?”
Because I’d forgotten about the “why”. So it turned out that the girl’s initial answer, “eight glasses of water a day to stay healthy”, was more correct than my corrected version.

"Haha, sorry everyone! You’re correct. Thank you for seeing that. Please change the answer on the board.” But under my sheepishness, I was secretly surprised and really, really proud of them for applying principles I’d been trying to show them all year: Read the question. Don’t just copy blindly. Ask if you don’t understand. Be brave about making mistakes.
And you know one reason why I made the mistake of not remembering the “why” bit of that comprehension question? Because those questions and that passage were written Theen Yew, the guy who dressed up as Sir Mata Mata Tap Ti Tap and who made a kid cry. Theen Yew and I collaborate to pool resources for Form 4 English. And the reason that Theen Yew and I have this collaboration is that Yang Safia, the woman who was painting her classroom, suggested the idea in the first place. It’s not a perfect collaboration, but we’re learning from each other. And we’re helping each other to become better teachers.

So, 2015 cohort, as you get ready for your pre-service programme, and as you get ready for at least two years of school, may you learn so much from each other about how to be good teachers. And may you surprise yourselves.

What is the point of recycling

From The Kenyon Review’s interview with Mary Ruefle

My preoccupation with God—what you call the theological—is not aesthetic—that would be awful! Any art who encounters the spiritual in their work is driven to do so out of a genuine preoccupation with existence, with being. At least I hope so. I am not religious in the traditional sense of the word—I do not belong to a church, or practice any one of the numbers of ritualistic belief systems. But I am interested in them all, and I find in each something of essence. As for poetry, of course it is a spiritual practice, in so far as it celebrates or laments the human spirit, in so far as it is always deeply curious about something—it could be language, or the natural world, it could be the absurdities of culture, or human beings in general or in specific—how to live, what to do, these are the questions of poetry. Environmental concerns—they are ultimately spiritual ones; if you are interested in how persons will experience the world in the future, well, that’s something you can’t see. What is the point of recycling if you don’t have faith that it is the right thing to be doing? That it impacts something you can’t see and don’t understand.

(http://www.kenyonreview.org/2013/08/virtues-of-madness-and-vices-of-honey-an-interview-with-mary-ruefle/)

What happened became

In the Trance
by Brenda Hillman

A pretty anarchist said to me
It’s not that a great love happens
What happened became your great love

Her echo had an ancient glow & so
proved buoyant for my little craft

I left the world & felt a world

The bee loading its gloves with powder
The albatross wanting one thing from the sea

Nothing can wreck our boat said she

& when the water felt the glacier
The future held a present tense
The present held a future without cease

I suddenly wish to wheel around on my horse

Nobody Fails At Meditation
by Michael Bazzett

Nobody fails at meditation
like I do.

They say,
Note the arrival of thoughts

and allow them to pass through
like clouds crossing a summer sky.

Let judgment go.

But one cloud
is always running

like a woman with a torn dress,

the wind pressing its folds
against her body,

and I suddenly wish
to wheel around on my horse

and thunder back to the farmhouse,
spattering her white frock

with mud as I swing from the saddle
into her trembling arms.

(Brenda Hillman: “I’m not Buddhist at all - I don’t know if they can tell - I can’t let go of anything.”)

Beauty without vanity

Epitaph to a Dog
by Lord Byron

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.

This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
Boatswain, a Dog
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808


When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory, but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below.
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonoured falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the Soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power –
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on – it honours none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one — and here he lies.


(How great: http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site515/2013/0825/20130825__web_082513-pmk-1-dogs_400.jpg)

The trout-colored train

Mighty Forms
by Brenda Hillman

The earth had wanted us all to itself.
The mountains wanted us back for themselves.
The numbered valleys of serpentine wanted us;
that’s why it happened as it did, the split
as if one slow gear turned beneath us…
Then the Tuesday shoppers paused in the street
and the tube that held the trout-colored train
and the cords of action from triangular buildings
and the terraced gardens that held camelias
shook and shook, each flower a single thought.

Mothers and children took cover under tables.
I called out to her who was my life.
From under the table—I hid under the table
that held the begonia with the fiery stem,
the stem that had been trying to root, that paused
in its effort—I called to the child who was my life.
And understood, in the endless instant
before she answered, how Pharaoh’s army, seeing
the ground break open, seeing the first fringed
horses fall into the gap, made their vows,
that each heart changes, faced with a single awe
and in that moment a promise is written out.

However we remember California later
the earth we loved will know the truth:
that it wanted us back for itself
with our mighty forms and our specific longings,
wanted them to be air and fire but they wouldn’t;
the kestrel circled over a pine, which lasted,
the towhee who loved freedom, gathering seed
during the shaking lasted, the painting released
by the wall, the mark and hook we placed
on the wall, and the nail, and the memory
of driving the nail in, these also lasted—

The Consummation of Love

1 John 4:7-21

Knowing God Through Love
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Seeing God Through Love
12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

The Consummation of Love
17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us. (Other translations: We love because He first loved us.)

Obedience by Faith
20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

Flop

"I pray often - and I want to live in line with my prayer - that God puts me in a state where He has to help me or I will flop. I want to be in a place where I have to have God in everything I do." —A.W. Tozer

A luxuriant mustache

A Supple Wreath of Myrtle
by Robert Hass

Poor Nietzsche in Turin, eating sausage his mother
Mails to him from Basel. A rented room,
A small square window framing August clouds
Above the mountain. Brooding on the form
Of things: the dangling spur
Of an Alpine columbine, winter-tortured trunks
Of cedar in the summer sun, the warp in the aspen’s trunk
Where it torqued up through the snowpack.

“Every where the wasteland grows; woe
To him whose wasteland is within.”

Dying of syphilis. Trimming a luxuriant mustache.
In love with the opera of Bizet.


(Wonderful commentary by Brenda Hillman, who selected it as her favorite Hass poem: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/178721)

In line for a face slap and complaining about the wait

From Dangerous Love
an interview with Reverend Lynice Pinkard
by Mark Leviton for the Sun

Leviton: You attended UC Berkeley’s law school but left without a degree. What were you hoping to achieve by becoming a lawyer, and why did you quit the program?

Pinkard: I was twenty-four when I started law school, and I’m sure that I wanted to become a lawyer to please my father and to make money. I also think I wanted to “be somebody,” to assimilate and get respect through status, as I’d been raised to do; to become better off than my parents and grandparents; to be a credit to my family and my race. But then I began to realize that I didn’t like what I saw when I looked up the social ladder. The people and situations that I most resonated with were lower down, firmly planted on the ground of being, in the circumstances of everyday life. From what I could see, I didn’t want the “prosperity” they had at the top. I came to feel as if I were in line for a face slap and was complaining about the wait. During my breaks between classes, I would go to my car and pray for all of us to be set free — rich and poor, people of color and white folks alike — from the forces that were oppressing us.

I had realized that everyone in this culture is eating from the same imperial cookie. Maybe the sprinkles on your cookie are blue and mine are green, but our cookies have the same empty or even deadly ingredients. I understood, probably for the first time, that the Gospel has nothing to do with becoming successful or wealthy or respectable or comfortable — or with self-preservation of any kind. The Gospel is basically about a scandalous love affair between God and people who need freedom but often don’t know it. When I discovered this, I lost whatever interest I’d had in working to gain status and “sophistication.” Still, I struggled with what to do next. How many young black women from impoverished backgrounds got to graduate from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall? Did I owe it to my parents and grandparents to finish? One night I fell asleep on the couch at my sister’s house, and in a kind of waking dream I heard somebody or something say to me, “You’re not a lawyer. You’re a preacher.” I woke up crying and quit law school soon after that.


(http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/466/dangerous_love?page=1)