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Changes and Something To Celebrate

Womanhood, 1925 (oil on canvas) by Mostyn, Thomas Edwin (1864-1930); 127.5x101.5 cm; Private Collection; © Christopher Wood Gallery, London, UK; English,  out of copyright

Womanhood, 1925 (oil on canvas) by Mostyn, Thomas Edwin (1864-1930); 127.5×101.5 cm; Private Collection; © Christopher Wood Gallery, London, UK; English, out of copyright

To everything there is a season . . .

Lots of changes have been taking place in my personal life which have encouraged me to re-examine and reorient my priorities such that regular readers will likely see less activity on one tiny violet in the near future.

My newly increased teaching schedule is taking up the majority of my time, leaving precious little to devote to my writing. Finishing my novel is a priority (I’m so close!), and since some of my health issues have improved, I plan on directing my energy to finishing my book. To assist with meeting this goal, I enrolled in a writing class/workshop which comes with its own demands for my diminishing time. All of which means I have had to choose to spend less time and energy writing for both my blogs.

In addition, I have cause to celebrate a new opportunity to explore the interplay between faith, beauty, and living a writing life. Recently I was invited to be a regular contributing writer to Deep Down Things, the blog affiliated with the gorgeous quarterly literary/art journal Dappled Things. This is a wonderful opportunity for me and I am excited to work with such an inspiring, enthusiastic, and devoted group of writers and editors. The entire Dappled Things project is truly a labor of love — all of the time to produce the journal and website/blog is donated by individuals committed to reinvigorating Catholic arts and letters. The combined effort of these talented people results in high caliber prose, poetry, and art, an unusually beautiful print edition of the journal, and a growing, engaging online presence. I hope you will celebrate this new opportunity with me and follow my writing on Deep Down Things and perhaps even consider giving yourself the gift of a year of Beauty Breaks by taking a subscription to this unique literary journal. My first essay, a meditation on living the writing life inspired by St. Therese of Lisieux, can be found here.

I do plan to write here when time and energy allow, and I’ll definitely post updates to my pieces published on Deep Down Things. But my intention is to take something of a sabbatical and use it to focus and quiet my mind to make progress on those larger projects which are very important to me. I hope you’ll continue to stay tuned . . .

Easter Sunday: The Encounter With Beauty

The Morning of the Resurrection, 1886 -- Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

The Morning of the Resurrection, 1886 — Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

“. . . Mary stood weeping outside the tomb and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Saying this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord!’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” John 20: 11-18

“The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes [. . .] draws man out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum — it even makes him suffer, piercing him like a dart; but, in so doing, it ‘reawakens’ him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings.” — Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI

“Faith in the resurrection of Jesus says that there is a future for every human being . . . God exists: that is the real message of Easter. Anyone who even begins to grasp what this means also knows what it means to be redeemed.” — Benedict XVI

A Total Loss?

When I was a little girl, I suppose I enjoyed school. I have a lot of memories and none of them are particularly horrible, though there are some I’d rather forget. I don’t remember getting in trouble too often — mostly I was disciplined for being, as one teacher I dearly loved put it, “too loquacious,” which you can read as “talkative.”

Nothing was ever too terribly difficult — except for math, which was maddening and frightened me generally because I am very slow about some things and often need time to think and so could not keep up with the pace of learning new concepts. I liked reading ever so much more, because I had time to think and process. And if I didn’t quite get something right off, well, then I could go back and read it again,. And I could ponder things while I read and have the leisure to make connections and think about them and see things along a sort of continuum, I suppose. This was the same whether I was reading for history, or science, or just a book of literature. And then, unlike math where there was ever only one right answer, words could mean different things just by the way they were used or punctuated in a sentence, and a single word could evoke an entire picture or even a story in one’s mind that, for me, numbers and their sentence-like equations simply failed to do. I think after all I probably enjoyed school because it was so very word-based. I love words and language and was an accomplished speller and writer all through my elementary and high school years. It’s probably no surprise then that I became an English and writing teacher.

One thing I remember loving about school is the Read-a-thon. These were randomly infrequent occurrences during the glory days of the RIF literacy movement where we were given practically the entire day to read a book of our choice! Now, was it the entire day, or just a portion of it? Who knows! To any child under the age of 18, the school day in its entirety seems interminable and time is an illusion. For all I know, we were only given an hour after lunch — but in my mind, I remember being given hours to just sit quietly and read, in school! No tests, no math worksheets, so spelling book pages……just the bliss of getting lost in whatever book I happened to be in love with at the moment. I used to anticipate these days with great eagerness. Our teacher reminded us repeatedly beforehand not to forget to bring our books for the read-a-thon. I seem to remember we had to run the book by her first — it had to be a real book, not a magazine or a comic book, but something with a story that would demand our sustained attention over a period of time. Beyond that, whatever we chose was up to us. I remember being excited and thrilled. We were in school and we were reading all day and it was OK with the teacher. We were free. Amazing…..

Which brings me to today.

Skippy and I were both nursing a serious fatigue hang-over after an incredibly busy and active weekend. On top of that, I had to work this morning. Typically on days when I work, Skippy gets a schedule with all of the school work he can do independently and we both just work quietly on our own. Once I’m finished with my project, then he and I will spend the afternoon doing the things I need to “teach” him. But today didn’t quite work out like that. Both of us were wrangling with brain fog and drowsiness. He made a valiant attempt at his list, but then quickly moved to the two items that demanded the least amount of “effort” — his reading assignments. Before you knew it, we were in full read-a-thon mode. He was throughly engrossed in his books and just didn’t want to stop reading. When his timer went off after the first assignment (he reads each book 10-15 minutes a day), he came to me and said “My St. Thomas book is getting really good. I don’t want to stop reading. I wish I could have more time.” I thought for a minute and wondered, “Well, why not? Yes, he does have more work to do, but he’s really engaged…..what to do?” The teacher in me has two voices: the one who feels like I have a Big Brother Principal-Administrator constantly looking over my shoulder was running through the list and thinking how behind we’d be if I gave him more time; the other was thrilled that he had found such “friends” in his books and wanted nothing other to encourage that interest and give him the time he was asking for.

I gave him the time……

By the time we dropped off my project and came home for lunch, he was more than half-way through the novel he had started for his literature reading and was sharing plot points and character descriptions excitedly with me while we drove in the car. I told him he could have a “reading day” if he finished his spelling, grammar, and piano after lunch. I was prepared to let the rest of his “core subjects” go for the day if he would be reading.

So was the day a total loss? Viewed through the eyes of the current assessment-driven education culture, my son didn’t “produce” a single thing today, didn’t offer up a quantitative test score that could be used to measure him against other kids in the district or the state, didn’t write anything that could be used to assess his understanding of any given time period in history or any particular character in said period. And as a teacher, I well know those things are important — but there is a time and a place for them, and today was neither the time nor the place for that kind of work.

Today while reading my son learned: what it means to be a virtuous man who stands up for what he believes in, even when someone in power tries to make him do otherwise; the importance of faith and family in one’s life; what it means to listen carefully in order to discern God’s will for each person; and what it costs to stand up for what you believe in. In addition, he learned a lot about pre-Reformation England, Parliament, and King Henry VIII — all this from reading a historical novel about St. Thomas More. Today while reading, my son also learned: about the behaviors and traits of various types of owls; that sometimes even the closest members of one’s own family don’t tell the truth; that sometimes one has to leave everything one knows and loves to find out that truth; that history can be “changed” when facts are misrepresented or are missing entirely and that these errors have an impact on succeeding generations; that each individual is given a gift and something that makes them uniquely themselves and that they have a choice not only as to how to use that gift but whether to use it at all — all this from reading book 7 in the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series.  Today while reading my son also learned new vocabulary, the importance of character, pacing and organization within a story, and how to devote sustained, concentrated attention to the task at hand. He challenged his memory and practiced storytelling, paraphrasing, and inference by narrating back to me the events of the books he was reading (an often better tool for assessment than the standard uninspired book report kids are required to churn out). And let’s not forget the connections he has made between both of these books and the medieval period in British history that we are studying — because of events in the St. Thomas book the occur between the king and Parliament, he better understands the way early England was governed; and because of the way the owl communities are formed in Ga’Hoole, he has a better understanding of the early craftsmen’s guilds in Europe. Not bad for a day that didn’t include the regular school “formula.”

In these fast-paced, technologically frenzied days, there is something to be said for “learning” how to slow down, pay attention, and get lost in whatever book you happen to love at the moment.