Thursday, January 31, 2008

Answering Apollo's torso

Do you know Rilke's poem "Archaic Torso of Apollo"? It's the one where the speaker is looking at an ancient statue of Apollo, a statue that is reduced to just a torso, missing the head, presumably the arms, and stops somewhere mid-thigh. But in the poem, because the head is missing, because the eyes are not there to see us or to transfix us, this torso instead becomes suffused with Apollo's power and, as Rilke says, if the head were there, the torso

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

When I first started hearing about this poem, people talked about with almost a hush of wonder. I didn't see it for many years as something like what these other people, mostly poets, did. But, it would keep showing up in things I read, conversations I had, and I started to find my way through it. I see it as the speaker being confronted with not just an incredible work of art, but a work of art that seems so infused with the power of the god (and no accident it's Apollo, right?) that we can only bear to look at it because it is only a torso. And faced with this brilliance, this star-like beauty and power and grace...well, we have to change our lives. We have to live like this torso is "living" - it has made a demand on us.

I find this poem often in my mind these days because it feels so true for me. There are things I want to make room and time for, things that have not quite fallen by the wayside in the past few years, but that certainly have not played the role I would like them to. The primary one, of course, being my writing. So this is the work of 2008 for me, and I'm using various books and tools as inspiration. One of them is Sarah Susanka's The Not So Big Life. Here is a quote from her first chapter, p11:

Whether you call it quiet time, meditation, or contemplation, the point is to have a period each day when you are not thinking, socializing, or working. What you're really doing when you make a time and place just for you is inviting your inner nature to become a player in your outer life.

Not, perhaps the easiest thing to accomplish with a toddler running around (or, as is more often the case, running around while pushing a wee shopping cart). But, haven't I spent the past several years already waiting for the "perfect time" to implement some grand plan? Yes, yes I have. Perhaps it is time to admit (again) that there is no perfect time, no grand plan. Just now and what can be done now.

Monday, January 21, 2008

News from CoraLand

These days Cora is exploding with language. Sometimes we know what she is saying, sometimes we don't, sometimes we can hardly believe what we are hearing. She has her own names for her favorite books and songs.

She sometimes has long (slightly peeved) conversations with her babies. She picks up her toy phone and says, "Hello!" Then laughs, then says "Bye Mama" and hangs up. I wonder who she most often hears me talking to? I love hearing her "phone laugh"!

She has ideas about clothes. She has ideas about shoes - like one should always wear them, unless one is in the car, in which case they should be removed, and if one's feet are then cold, well, what better topic to complain about?

She does not like to push her shopping cart unless there is a baby in the seat. She likes best to sit in her Elmo chair when Elmo (Momo) is on the TV. She loves her Hokey Pokey Elmo but fears the animatronic bunny.

A brief catching up

In the days since the last posting, Chris has gone to Jamaica and returned (singing and playing trombone in 11 concerts in six days, while still managing to get a wicked sunburn), Grandma Jan has been to stay with us, I have been sick with some abbreviated form of flu (I thought it was food poisoning, but now other people are telling me they have had similar cases in the past couple months), and now we are all busy dealing with the fact that Spring Semester starts in one week even though we may not get above freezing until the end of the month. Hee hee!

Spring (the semester, not the season) will be a welcome change from the fall (though less financially rewarding) as I will have just one class, the freshman course in poetry and drama. I am excited about the books I chose, even though as usual I am bothered by having to leave out some very good poems. There are some I've had to admit just don't work well with the average first year student, some that I can't bear to have "dissected" again (oh how they love that word for interpreting poems! really, "vivisected" would be more accurate - you can just hear the poems screaming), some I'm just tired of teaching and need a short break from, and some just don't fit neatly into the thematic groupings I am using this time around.

I am hoping this decrease in coursework will equal an increase in time spent in creating - I would love to see myself devoting more time to my writing and quilting than I did in the last four months of the year (not that hard, as any amount of time would be an increase). Plus, there are a lot of house projects to be tackled. I'm kicking off this anticipated season of creativity with a workshop this coming weekend, which I hope will lead to a kind of "fountain of youth" of either inspiration or motivation (I will take either!). I know that most of the time I am my own worst enemy, distracting myself with false obligations, postponeable chores, and inane diversions. Knowing this has yet to make me immune.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Why, yes, we do watch TV

I admit to being hooked on a new TV show...a PBS show...for kids. Super Why has hijacked my brain. At first, I wasn't sure why, because it isn't really the kind of animation I like, the plotlines are often (to this adult) predictable, and I often solve the secret answer before any super letters are even collected into the superduper computer.

This morning Chris and I both, independently, had one of the theme songs from the show stuck in our brains, which is what prompted me to think more about why I put it on for Cora on Friday mornings. (And it's awkward, because in between Super Why and Sesame Street is the deplorable DragonTales.) Chris says he likes the way the animation for the featured storybook characters is different from the animation used for our heroes, the super readers, giving small viewers the idea that there are two different worlds going on here.

I have a few things I like about the show. I like the multimedia aspect: a TV show, with computer animation, that highlights actual, physical books. I like how Whyat, the leader of the super readers, tells us "When we have a question...we LOOK in a BOOK." I like the way a kind of quasi-viewer participation is fostered, by the characters exhorting us to say our names at the end of the super reader roll call, asking us what letters have been found, or what letter makes the "ess" sound, and then the pause to allow for an answer before the "prop voices" call out the answers. I like that, for the most part, you get both the basic story of a well-known fairy tale or fable, as well as permission to revise it. I like the way it could be an introduction to close reading for kids!

Of course, as always, there are caveats. I'm not sure about the inclusion of AlphaPig...a pig. Who hangs out with kids, talks, and apparently even has thumbs. The leader of the group (of four) is still a boy. One girl is a tomboy and one is a "princess". Still, I see why the creators would make these choices, and I don't necessarily think they are bad choices. I just sometimes lament the narrow field. And sometimes the fairy tales are edited in interesting ways (i.e., in ways which make them slightly less interesting).

But, Cora likes the show. She will even sometimes repeat the letters as they are called out. Which she also likes to do with me - every once in a while she asks for the alphabet, and sometimes she wants the song (and now we can sing both the traditional tune and AlphaPig's slightly more syncopated version) and sometimes she wants to repeat the letters after me. I love the latter, especially when I say a letter she either can't or doesn't feel like saying, and then she just responds, "NO!" until we get to a letter she likes. And I love how whenever I say "U!" she gleefully responds, "Cora!"

She's no where near ready to understand what this alphabet stuff is all about, but she's getting the sounds of the letters in her ears, and she's having fun with it. I like that a whole lot.

Please note, PBS is in no way to blame for my daughter's fashion sense.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

HELLO 2008, in which I hope to have more time for reading, writing, blogging, and breathing

I can hardly believe I survived the fall semester. Did I already mention that, contrary to what you (I) might think, 60 papers is actually A LOT more than 40? I'm trying to say it often so that I might remember it next time. Although, of course I would do it again - it was so nice to be able to get take-out food! But next time I will be better prepared. Right?

We are also glad it is 2008 because our friends who were living in NH are back in town. We tried to celebrate the new year with them, but after a delicious dinner and the start of a fun 10pm Cora had that glazed "I'm not going to sleep, but I will run into walls" look. So we came home, she went to sleep immediately in her own bed, and we followed suit shortly after midnight. Whoo hoo! This is exactly what I always dreamed being an adult was like!

But she has reason to be happy to be in her own bed. After our Christmas week of traveling in Southern California, we are all a little thrilled to be back in our own beds, even though there is nothing quite like being loved and spoiled by one's own mother (now, THAT is exactly what I always dreamed being an adult was like! As fun as my childhood, but with later bedtimes and adult beverages!)

A few photos from New Year's Day - a day that was full of hats and coffee.

Please, Mama, no more pictures.