Monday, May 16, 2016

Round & Round

All go to one place: 
all are from the dust, 
and all return to dust.

Ecclesiastes 3:20  

Don't worry; I know you see that Ecclesiastes passage there & you're thinking, "Oh man. She's going to talk about Hemingway & The Sun Also Rises epigraph & blah, blah, blah again. I think I'll skip this one." That is not the case. Breathe easy. Relax. Inhale the coffee fumes. 

Last week we discussed, well we discussed a variety of things, but I ended with a few pictures of & a few thoughts about Reagan's final WEE School field trip. WEE School officially concluded last Wednesday morning. 

When I saw Reagan walking down the aisle in her cap & gown, I knew that image would join a handful of others in a folder in my brain labeled, Oh. I was standing in the back of the auditorium with Henry so I actually had a good view of the procession. My tendency to run late & Henry's tendency to do nothing in a hurry paid off in this instance as we hadn't yet made it to our seats.

Many thanks to my friend who snapped this picture & shared it with me:

Some additional shots of graduation day:

Last May, Reagan walked her first aisle as a flower girl in her aunt's wedding.

This time next year, the Lord willing, I'll be bombarding you with pictures of her in her green robes as she graduates Kindergarten. This time next year, I'll be rejoicing over having completed my first year teaching high school English. I'll have compiled notebooks full of tests, worksheets, study guides, writing prompts, etc. covering all that I read with my students. The materials will be neatly filed away in plastic slipcovers, categorized first by authors' country of origin, & then broken down further by literary periods, perhaps with a cross referencing system linking works with similar themes . . . anyway, that's a little fantasy of mine which we'll likely discuss further at a later time. I suppose this time next year I'll also be pestering you about buying my book. Life is weird, people, life is weird. 

Seeing Reagan walk the aisle in her graduation regalia stirred a hornet's nest of images, thoughts, phrases, & classroom lectures (both some I've heard & some I've given) in my mind.

When I was a freshman in high school we read Great Expectations. I read every word of it; I don't remember much about it. I don't rush to read Dickens. I vividly remember my teacher discussing the significance of the protagonist's name, Philip Pirrip. He is known by his surname, Pirrip, or his nickname, Pip, both of which are palindromes, & both of which, according to my freshman English teacher, serve as symbols of the circuitous nature of life that is a theme in Great Expectations. I believe my reaction to all this was, Huh, which I suppose was appropriate as Huh is also a palindrome. 

In my former life as a public speaking instructor, one of the problematic issues I consistently saw in speeches was a fairly well developed body bookended by an anemic introduction & an anemic conclusion. I always discussed various strategies for fleshing out their introductions & conclusions. Perhaps my favorite technique is to begin & end a speech with a story, the same story, baiting the audience in the introduction, keeping them on the hook, & then concluding the story in the speech's conclusion. It is an excellent way to provide closure to a speech, & to impress your speech teacher, assuming of course the story you tell is relevant to your speech topic (wasting valuable speaking time telling irrelevant stories &/or jokes was another issue I saw all too often).

While I have not reread Great Expectations since my fateful freshman year of high school, I am so often reminded of my teacher's lecture regarding Pip's name. Every time I spoke to students about closing their speeches by referring back to their introduction in some way, I thought of Pip. When I read the final pages of Harry Potter's saga, I thought of Pip because there is perhaps no better use of full circle imagery than that employed by Rowling in her series. 

If you've read it, you know the significance of Harry in Hagrid's arms. It is how Harry's story begins, & it is this image that Rowling employs again in the saga's final novel to bring closure to the Voldemort chapter of Harry's life.

I have read a fair amount of books, & I've read many scenes that are well written & that stand out for one reason or another, but I wept like a baby when reading the account of Hagrid carrying Harry back to Hogwarts in the final book. It is, I believe, one of the most iconic scenes in literature. Sure, there are others, of course, but if I had to make a list of the top ten, I think that one would have a place on the list. I don't mean quotes (that's a different list), but rather the mental image conjured. Perhaps one day we shall assemble such a list? You are welcome to submit scenes to be considered in the comments. 

I've written before about the many parallels in Rowling's series & the story of Christ. I am not going to rehash all that now, but I will remind you that Christ's earthly life began & ended in his mother's arms. I've no idea if Rowling was mirroring those images when she wrote the Hagrid/Harry scenes, but given the numerous other similarities, I'd venture to guess perhaps so. 

Nothing reminds you of life's circuitous nature like seeing yourself reflected in your child. Reagan is so much like me. She has been flipping through her WEE School scrapbook repeatedly, fingering the tassel on her blue graduation cap, & moaning about not seeing Mrs. Tammy or her friends. Two of her WEE School friends will be in Kindergarten with her come fall, so that is providing some solace, but her sadness is identical to the glum I always felt when something ended, be it a school year or a week at camp. 

Reagan, like me, adores routine, consistency. We both need these things to be functional, happy people, as opposed to people whose sleeping & eating schedules quickly become odd & unhealthy. She will miss her friends, but I know she also misses the routine of it all. I have promised her that very soon, she will be on a schedule like she's never known, a five-days-a-week, early, early morning wake-up call schedule, & that she will meet new friends & see them not three, but five days a week. 

I also told her that it's possible her WEE School friends who won't be joining her in Kindergarten in the fall will be a part of her life again in the future. As I age, I am continually amazed at the ways people from my past suddenly become people very deeply rooted in my present.

A month or so ago I met a friend to see a movie. I first met her about four years ago; I was her English teacher at Delta Community College, & later her Public Speaking teacher. We have a lot in common. She writes (well), she loves The Golden Girls, she drinks a lot of coffee, & she is a chronic over-thinker. We've stayed in touch, & every time we text or talk, I am amazed & thankful that our paths crossed & that, in some bizarre twist of fate, she sometimes asks me for advice, despite many conversations we've had that might suggest to her that I am not always a fountain of wisdom. 

I have plans to eat lunch later this week with two women I've known a long time, but who've come roaring back into my life over the past year or so in ways that are delightful to me. Several of the ladies in my book club are women I have known my entire life. We were casual acquaintances, but in the past few years we've begun discussing books, & lo & behold, I just adore them. A few of them will be my coworkers in the fall & I am genuinely excited about seeing even more of them. If you're willing to set aside a few hours to sit & drink coffee & discuss a book with me, well, take me; I am yours. 

You just never know who will return to you, how & when & where & why the circle will complete itself. Reagan (& Henry), always be kind to people, period. Assume that, even if you don't share much in common with someone now, in five or ten (or twenty) years, they may be a close friend. Maybe the both of you have some living & growing to do before you're ready to be friends. You never know at what point in the future your roads, your seemingly parallel roads, may intersect, & you don't want past pettiness to stand in the way of whatever beauty is in store for you in the future. 

The truth of the above words struck me last week as I found myself emailing two friends, asking for their opinion about something I wrote. I am slowly making progress on Edie's sequel. Thanks to an outline of sorts (a loose & ugly outline) (I am not an outliner but was getting desperate), I realized I had a few decisions to make regarding the content of the novel before I could write much else. I didn't want to write four or five thousand words gently leading readers to a green pasture to graze if, upon arrival, there was nothing but a field of manure. I emailed two ladies about 800 words worth of a scene (that will likely grow to include more) to see what they thought.

Later that night, as I was rereading their feedback, I marveled at the whole ordeal, that my relationship with both of them is such that when I needed (1) honest opinions about what I wrote from people who read a lot & whose opinions I value &  (2) Grammar Nazis (always good people to have in your corner), these women were my natural selections. 

They came through, too. The only somewhat shocking bit of feedback was their collective agreement on the rating of the scene, which initially pleased me, but has since become a challenge of sorts to me. Let's just say there is a space between drop curtain, fade to black & *drop jaw* . . . well, I can't believe she wrote that . . . let's clear the whole front pew for her Sunday morning. I am currently in search of this space. Their thoughts have helped me tremendously on my journey. 

Reagan, I've no idea what life holds in store for you, what other aisles you will walk, who will play only a small role in your life, & who will grow to become a close, trusted friend. I will say this, though. One day when you're thirty-five, you might find yourself writing something that could possibly one day be published for the world to read & judge. You will be consumed with self-doubt, coming close to vomiting when you think about people reading what you're writing (fyi: the moment  you have thoughts of other people reading your writing, banish them). You'll think about calling it quits & sticking with blogging, or maybe writing some safe, ambiguous poetry. When this happens, you need good people in your corner, people who are honest with you & whose opinions you trust. You can't pluck these people out of thin air, & you simply never know from what corners of your past they might emerge, so keep your eyes peeled, & your heart open for them. Never dismiss someone or otherwise treat them unkindly because they have nothing to offer you at the moment; you may gravely regret your actions in the future.

Most of our significant moments in life are marked by a march down the aisle. Graduation(s), marriage, even preceding baptism, in many cases, & even in death, we are ushered up & down the aisle one final time. Pip. Pirrip. Full circle. It's a pretty safe bet you will eventually retrace your steps, so keep the path clean. 

Whether it's in literature or life, be cognizant of the fact that the reason the full circle is so appealing to us is that it mirrors our own journey. We will, as John Donne & the Ecclesiastical writer explain, end where we begun. I hope this explanation is more meaningful to you, reader, than it was for any of the classrooms full of public speaking students who stared blankly at me as I explained to them why humans desire closure.

One of the last things Dr. Foster reads Edie is Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning." Trey went through a period of Donne obsession in college. Many of the letters he (that's Trey, not Donne) wrote me contained Donne poems. Here I sit, many years later, sharing the same poems, & writing novels in which people share these same poems. The circle of life. It moves us all.

In this one in particular, Donne, addressing his love (& using over the top metaphors since this was the expectation of metaphysical poets), compares their love to dying men, various other things, & finally, a compass. It gets weird in places but the ending in which he explains that their love is not tied to their physical presence (which Edie desperately needs to hear) is glorious. The compass imagery is just perfect.

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
   And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
   “The breath goes now," and some say, “No,"

So let us melt, and make no noise,
   No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
   To tell the laity our love.

Moving of the earth brings harms and fears,
   Men reckon what it did and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
   Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
   (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
   Those things which elemented it.

But we, by a love so much refined
   That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
   Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
   Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion.
   Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
   As stiff twin compasses are two:
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
   To move, but doth, if the other do;

And though it in the center sit,
   Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
   And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
   Like the other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
   And makes me end where I begun.

This is one of Donne's more simplistic poems, & one in which the carnality of physical love he references in some of his other poems takes a backseat to his commentary on deeper, spiritual love that does not depend on physical presence. In the sense that he goes beyond the tangible, the physical, I believe he is referencing not only his eventual return to his lover, but the dust to dust of Ecclesiastes.

p.s.: One of my tasks in the fall will be to sharpen my students' poetry analysis skills as poetry analysis is, I believe, a component of the AP Literature & Language test. Poetry analysis is not something to which I naturally gravitate, but I am forcing myself to spend a little time with some poems this summer in preparation for feigning interest in poetry analysis come fall. Shhhhh.

I'll end by congratulating myself on not titling this blog "The Circle of Life," & by acknowledging that yes, my name, like Pip's, is a palindrome. Perhaps my mother knew early of my penchant for symbolism.

Maybe next week we'll discuss the fact that Reagan is soon to begin Kindergarten at the school where I attended Kindergarten, & I am soon to commence teaching senior English to students who were born the year I was taking senior English at the very same school. It's like an episode of The Twilight Zone.


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