My Week In Words

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Are you reading Wearing God? Goodness, it’s excellent.  Lauren Winner explores different ways to think about God – laughter, food, clothes, a mother. I want to go back to the narrator in her book Still and tell her, “Just wait.  You’ll find Him again. And you’ll see He was always there, perhaps just in a different metaphor that you couldn’t see.” But she sees Him now, and she’s sharing Him with us.

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What fun it is to try something just because you want to.  This is probably why I don’t like advice. Or why, when someone asks me for an elevator pitch regarding this blog, I have none. I have no clue what it is I’m doing. I have no clue what this blog is about. The things I do don’t make sense to me. That’s probably why I do them.

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One last book with the 8th graders before summer.  This one is about a kid’s Freshman year of high school.  I hope they love it.  I hope it helps them move into high school. I hope that when they read it they’ll see themselves in part of the story. I hope they’ll see a part of their identity in the book and say, “Yup, that’s me.  But it’s not ALL of me. There’s more coming.”

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I’m Doing My Best, Hillary

Hadley has many goals, and one of them is to be the President of the United States. That has never been an aspiration of mine. Luv-a-Bull? Yes. If I could add Luv-a-Bull to my list of accomplishments that would be top-notch. But since this is not Hadley’s dream, I tell her about my friend Laura who also wanted to be President.

“She’s a lawyer now,” I tell Hadley and she thinks that’s great, but what she really loves about my friend is two stories:

The first is that Laura made me good at floor hockey. I was the only left-hander on the team so I was always left-wing. Laura played right wing and she, along with most of the Chicagoland area, knew that because I was so bad at sports nobody ever blocked me.  She’d make it look like she was going to shoot so everyone crowded around her, then she’d flick the puck in my direction. And because I was notoriously terrible at all sports, I was always wide open.

“And so you’d shoot?” Hadley asks.

“And so I’d shoot,” and with as much drama as I can muster (because I don’t have too many sports stories to inspire Hadley with), I say, “and I’d score.”

The other Laura story Hadley loves to hear has to do with the time she and I were walking home from school when a boy decided he’d taunt us. “You can’t throw. You’re not as fast, or strong, etc. etc.”

This really bothered me. Not just because they were mean things to say, but because for me, they were true. But Laura didn’t seemed phased at all.  I remember watching her as we walked and thinking she looked as though she hadn’t even heard this kid.

At one point, he got in front of us and said, “You think you can catch? Catch this!” and threw a baseball at us, heading straight for our shins. I screamed and bolted out of the way, but Laura stood right where she was and caught the baseball with her legs.

“With her legs?!?!” Hadleys asks and her eyes are sparkling and she is laughing as she asks it. I can tell she’s found herself a hero.

“Yup. Just below the knees,” I say. “It was amazing.”

I’m pretty sure that was the day Laura told us she wanted to be President. At least, that’s how I remember it, standing on the corner of Jackson and Gunderson by the fence with the purple morning glories that had closed for the day. We frequently stopped at this corner and chatted before Laura and a few others continued down Jackson, their backs to the Sears Tower, and the rest of us turned and walked down Gunderson, towards the el tracks. This is what I tell Hadley.

“That’s what I want to do,” she says and I know she means be President and catch a baseball just below the knees when a boy chucks it at her.

I’m glad to give my girls stories of women they might want to be like, which is why, when I picked them up from school last week, I was glad to tell them that a woman is running for President.

The day was warm and even with the windows rolled down the three of us were hot. I looked in the rearview mirror at the girls and the hair along their foreheads was wet.

“When I’m President,” Hadley said, “there’s going to be a tomboy section in Target.” She extended her arms so it hung out of the window, and moved her palm so it fiddled with the air. She was deep in thought and I wondered what dream she was going to articulate next. “And if girls get hot while they’re playing soccer at recess, they can take their shirts off.”

That’s my girl.

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“No shirts, huh?” I said, making eye contact with Hadley from the rearview mirror.

“Well,” she said, “only if they don’t have,” she patted her yet to be developed chest, “you know.”

“Only if they don’t have homework?” Harper asked, finishing Hadley’s sentence.

Hadley smacked her forehead and said, “No, Harper!” But Harper wasn’t interested in being corrected. She was dreaming her Presidential dream.

“When I’m President,” she began, “no homework for any children.” She put both hands behind her head and added, “Unless you got coal for Christmas.”IMG_1073

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Hadley looked at her and rolled her eyes.  “And if you did get coal for Christmas?” Harper said, raising an arm and a finger, “Helloooooooo homework!”

Later that evening, I met Celena for dinner, just around the corner from Ford’s Theatre. Celena was in DC for a couple of days before she began her German Marshall Fellowship.

Celena and I crammed in every topic that came to mind as we sat pillowed between the White House and the Capitol: work, marriage, kids, all of it. She told me how excited she was for this fellowship, and also how hard it was to say goodbye to her son. I told her that while it isn’t exactly the same, I never got used to saying goodbye to Hadley and Harper before I left for residencies.

It felt good to share a pizza and drink wine and talk about how strange it is to be sad and afraid, excited and happy at the same time. These mixed emotions make it hard to know whether the path you’re walking (or running) down is the right one because they are all so palpable.  They demand a lot of attention. I confessed to Celena that as crazy as this year has been (a move, a new degree, a teaching position), I am having such a good time. But what is the most fun is that I have surprised myself. I really didn’t think I could be a mom and be a teacher. That was a rule I made for myself years ago and I broke it. I feel both very sad and very happy that I broke it.

After dinner, we walked to Ford’s Theatre because Celena wanted a picture. She walked into the middle of the street during a break in traffic, got out a huge camera lens and took a shot.

I stood on the sidewalk and wondered when it was Ms Clinton decided she wanted to be President.  Had she always known? Or did she surprise herself?

And does she have a friend or two to help her with the things she doesn’t think she can do? Does she have a gal who will let her know it’s OK to be afraid when a boy says, “You can’t do it as good as me?” And when she thinks it might be true will she have a friend who will prove him wrong? Or a friend who, when she’s afraid and excited, sad and happy at the same time, can say, “Me too, Hillary. Me too.”

I hope so. Because I don’t think we can do it all by ourselves. We need friends to help us play the game.

 

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Relief Post – “On Taking Note”

One summer, my family spent an afternoon riding bikes on Mackinac Island. During the eight-mile ride, I noticed several piles of rocks ranging from just a few stones to almost three feet high. I learned from the brochure I carried in my bike basket that these are called “cairns,” and they’re used to mark trails by hikers and bikers; mostly at points where the trail isn’t obvious or there’s a sharp decline. However, the cairns on Mackinac Island weren’t on trails. In fact, they were scattered over the shore. The Mackinac Cairns, I learned, served “as a memorial for having been somewhere or as a simple art form.” I laughed at first, and thought, “simple indeed” as I watched my six- and four-year-old daughters pile rocks on a break from riding bikes. I wondered about the memorial part of this practice as well. What was seen or heard, what was the weather like, and what else happened while rocks were being piled up? I was annoyed that I didn’t know the story, and instead, had to look at the lake, the sand—nature—and wonder what in the world would make someone get off her bike and stack four or five rocks in a pile.

Read the rest on Relief Journal. 

 

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Makes You Mom Post

We sit on a creaky pew, my grandmother and I. My grandfather is at the pulpit. It is summer in the Finger Lakes region of New York: sticky in the rolling hills that are scattered with ice-cream stands, bed and breakfasts, and vineyards.

My grandfather blesses everyone and encourages the congregation to pass the peace to those around us. I don’t like passing the peace. It makes me nervous, but my grandmother welcomes everyone cheerfully while I shake as few hands as possible before I start to sit down. A woman brushes up to my grandmother, puts her arm around her and asks, while looking at me, “And who is this?” I stand again.

 “This is…”my grandmother looks at me with a mixture of pride and love. She places her hand on my arm.

 “This is…”

  Her hand stays on my arm and I can tell she is realizing that while she knows I mean something to her, she can’t remember who I am or what it is I have to do with her. She cocks her head to the side and laughs like she is working on a fun puzzle and she’s pleasantly stumped. I study her in this moment. I can imagine how frustrating this must be but I am envious that my grandmother doesn’t let on. When I am frustrated, or sad, or scared, it is written all over my face. Plus, I bring everyone I’m around down with me.      

 My grandmother doesn’t let on to any of that when she asks, “Who are you again?”

I’m over at Makes You Mom today sharing a little bit about my Grandmother Jeanne Ives Lewis. She was pretty fancy. Stop over if  you’d like to meet her.

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Around Here

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Around here we’re taking our third ballet class of the year and getting ready for the spring performance where we get to wear a purple leotard with tulle. It’s somebody’s dream come true. Harper’s, too.

IMG_1044Around here we’re back to playing soccer, and we’re giving goalie another shot.  Look at that posing.  “Oh no you DON’T,” is what she’s saying.  On the ride over that day, Hadley said she hoped she didn’t have to play goalie (because of what happened last time), but in true Hadley form, she ran out enthusiastically when the coach asked her to play. I was nervous, but Jesse and another father stood behind her giving her some tips and probably telling her not to be afraid. Out of about six shots, Hadley let up one or two.  She told me later she needed some goalie gloves because she is ALL about playing goalie now. I am thankful for the guys who stood behind Hadley helping her do a thing she was afraid to do.

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Around here we participated in the Science Fair.  Hadley did research on “The Great Red Spot” on Jupiter (she and Jesse made a vortex and recorded it).  Harper conducted an experiment to see what our neighborhood birds eat.  She hung three kinds of food on the tree next to our house and took notes on what happened. The most regular costumers were a cardinal and his lady friend. Spring love, I think.

How much do you love Hadley’s face when she spotted me taking pictures? I swear that’s the face she gave me when we first met.  And Harper? Harper is eternally in her own world.

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What To Read In April

ReadApril

How about some poetry for National Poetry Month?

For You:

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Make sure you get the edition with excerpts from her notebooks.  “A poem has to be pinned to the world with something specific, something ugly. Life holds on to suffering. Otherwise, a poem would disappear, life would fly away.” Or, “My hand craves writing like the woodcutter’s hand craves an axe. Only this reminds me that I am alive.” One excerpt a day could be a blog post, a journal entry, a writing prompt (a sermon? a lesson plan?) for a good, long while.

I’m no poetry buff, but I think Kamienska’s poems are very accessible.  If you’re nervous, start with her “Small Things” poem, and you will want to make a list of all the “clumps of moments” that you are startlingly thankful for in your days.

 

For Young Adults:

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This is a story told in free verse, and you’ll want to start at the beginning and work your way through the story of LaVaughn, who lives in the projects, who has a fierce mama that loves her, who is trying to get into college, who has a mad crush on a boy in her apartment complex, and who wonders what it means to believe in God.  It’s a story for brave readers.  That’s what I used to tell my students if I suggested it to them: “You’ll have to be brave if you read this.”

For the kids:

I Lettered Creatures by Brad Leithauser  in Santa Fe the first year I went for a residency.  Every year Eighth Day Books comes and sells books in a corner of the St. John’s campus.  The room where the books are isn’t even the size of a classroom, and once the books are set up, there are just two aisles to walk up and down.  But you could spend hours in that room looking at books (and looking up from books to check out how those mountains are doing just outside the window).

There’s a great kids’ section and I bought Lettered Creatures for Hadley and Harper. The concept is simple: a poem and drawing based on a letter, but the poetry and sketches are complex.  Sometimes it’s tricky to find the letter in the picture, sometimes the stories the animals tell are very sad. But, like Kamienska writes, “life holds on to suffering.” I think it’s up to Hadley, Harper, and I to find some beauty in that suffering.

The girls tried their hand at their own poems and illustrations.

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Happy Poetry Month to you!

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My Week In Words

IMG_1048Love me some Mad Men quotations. Especially when they’re said by women. And why wouldn’t I cut them out and stick them in my journal with washi tape?  I’m sure Joan and Peggy would do the same thing. This week, one of my students said, “I didn’t even know about washi tape until I met you, Mrs. Feyen.” Clearly, I’m helping to pave the way as Joan  and Peggy did.

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Last week there was an MFA residency on Whidbey Island (which MFA residency, you ask? Why, the only one that matters). Whidbey Island is not a city but it is one of my favorite places in the world. I was sad I couldn’t be there, so I spent some time looking at my journals from previous residencies and found this gem.  I believe that to make things up means you are creating. You are finding something out about the truth of what you’ve been given.  Note that you don’t have to be confident in your happiness, or excitement, or even joy. Jeanine is saying be confident in whatever emotion you are feeling.  Don’t run away from it. Don’t dismiss it. Do something with it.

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I have been bitten by the Shakespeare bug. Listen to me: if you want me to understand and/or love a thing, you need to make me teach it to middle schoolers.  This is perhaps a theory that could be tested in regards to scrubbing toilets, handling raw meat, and cleaning the baseboards in my house. If I had to teach those things, I might love them (or, ehem, DO them). Nevertheless, I love teaching Romeo and Juliet. I was so afraid to teach it because I didn’t think I’d get it.

There is nothing better in life then thinking you know something about yourself and finding out with wonder and joy that you were wrong.

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Lazy Sonnets

Since we’re in the beginning of National Poetry Month, I thought I’d share an activity I led my students in after we read the scene where Mercutio and Tybalt die. This idea comes from Shakespeare Set Free from the Folger Library, edited by Peggy O’Brien.  I highly recommend it if you have to teach Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

We wrote “lazy sonnets,” which are fourteen line poems, one word per line, with the last two lines rhyming. The idea is to capture the most important parts of what we just read, but to use words that capture the drama in the scene.

Here’s what some of the students came up with:

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I think the lazy sonnet is a good form for the intensity and sorrow of this scene. And I’m probably being idealistic, but wouldn’t it be great to have the tool of the lazy sonnet in your pocket for when life gets intense and sorrowful? When all you have to give are a few words? You can still create something, though. I think that’s nice to know. I hope I’m passing that on to my students.

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Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!

Mercutio died this week. And Tybalt, too, but it was Mercutio that left a palpable silence in the classroom.

“Why is he talking so much?” one student asks as Mercutio dies. He doesn’t understand why Mercutio would take the time to be sarcastic, “No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but ’tis enough…,” or make a pun, “Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.”

“Well, what do we know about Mercutio?” I ask.

“He’s a talker,” the class responds, but they say it with sorrow, because they won’t get to hear him give a wonderful Queen Mab speech, or a terribly saucy taunt after the masquerade.

Before his death, when we’d open our books and I’d see Mercutio had lines I’d say, “Uh oh. Sorry guys, Mercutio’s in this scene,” and we’d all snicker with anticipation because we knew he was going to say something ridiculous and hilarious, and most of all, something highly inappropriate.

“He’s like your cousin Jake,” one of my students say, and the class heartily approves. Last semester, they read my “Dodging Skittles and Other Fears,” story and it was Jake that was their favorite character. It’s Jake they want so badly to meet. “This story is true, Mrs. Feyen, right? Jake’s real? So he could come visit?”

“Yes, Jake is real,” I tell them, but that’s all I can say because while I wrote the truth, I can’t tell them the rest of the story.

So we look at Mercutio.

“Remember what I said about what Shakespeare does with characters like the Nurse and Mercutio?”

“He develops characters with what they say but they don’t necessarily advance the plot.”

“Exactly,” I said. “Who cares about the story if you don’t like the characters?”

And they like Mercutio. His death is a surprise to them. Even if they didn’t know it, they were relying on him for comic relief. They know what happens to Romeo and Juliet and now Mercutio is gone and they have to go through the rest of the story without him. It’s not like my story. When things got too sad or too painful, Jake swooped in and did something hilarious or ridiculous and we could keep going. But in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare takes Mercutio away and expects his readers to make their way to the end by themselves.

I don’t know what to say to make my students feel better, so I walk them slowly through the text because when I was in graduate school and totally overwhelmed by a story, Greg Wolfe would tell us we are to give the story a close reading. It’s painful, even excruciating to linger in the sadness or fear of a story. You’re not going to come away with a tidy resolution after closely reading a text, but I do believe you’ll see beauty that you’ll take with you into the world (along with the sadness and fear). Perhaps you’ll change the world with the beauty you gathered.

So we turn to the text.

“Underline, ‘a plague a’both houses!’ every time you see it,” I tell the students. “How many times does Mercutio say it?”

“Three times.”

We discuss the significance of three. They name the Holy Trinity, the three colors that all the other colors from, the fact that in order to form a shape, we need three lines; two cannot do the job.

I tell my class that this was a deliberate decision on Shakespeare’s part to have Mercutio say, ‘a plague a’both houses!’ three times. (I don’t know for sure, but it had to be, right Greg?) I tell them three represents wholeness, entirety, something unbreakable.

“How is this different from Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech? What’s he say about dreams?”

“That they’re worthless. That Romeo shouldn’t waste time on them.”

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“Thou talk’s of nothing,” Romeo says after Mercutio’s invented Queen Mab character.

“True, I talk of dreams,” Mercutio says. Now forget about Rosaline, put on your mask, and let’s crash a party.

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Why waste time creating something that isn’t real?

“So he says dreams are nothing, but as he’s dying he’s cursing both houses. In his agony and anger he wishes for the Capulet’s and Montague’s demise. I wonder, could a curse be a little like a dream?”

“Yes,” they say and I think they’re afraid to admit it.

“And do Mercutio’s words come true?”

“Yes,” they say because they know what’s coming.

There’s a fine line between curses and dreams, love and hate, belief and unbelief, don’t you think? I’m thinking of the father of the sick child telling Jesus, “I believe, help thou my unbelief.” And Jesus helps him believe.

“I think Mercutio believes in dreams,” I tell them. “I don’t think he meant to curse the Capulets and the Montagues, but I think he was devastated that he had to say goodbye to his friends and to a life he loves.”

And there is more death coming. More tragedy. More opportunity to look closely for beauty, gather it up, and take it with us so we can change the world.

As for Jake, he’s in no shape to meet my students. One day though, I hope that I can tell him that he was a hero to a bunch of lovely thirteen and fourteen year olds. No matter what comes of him, I made him a character people wanted to spend time with, no advancements in the plot where necessary when he came on the scene.

Just like Mercutio.

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New Friend, New Changes

I hope you don’t mind I made a few changes to the blog. Instead of the evocative title, “Callie’s Blog,” we’re going to be known around here as “Notes.” It’s a nod to this little place I set up camp at in 2007 when I tried to keep track of a few  memories during naptime. The idea now is that I’m sharing a few snippets: about teaching, about Hadley and Harper, about whatever memory that needs tending; whatever it is I need to write to understand what I think.

My new friend Becky made my logo.  She is an artist, graphic designer, and teacher. You can find her work here, and check out her shop (I want the t-shirt with the typewriter on it, please) here.

Becky and I are collaborating on the Summer Reading Journals I sold a couple of summers ago.  I can’t wait to show you what we’ve done with them.  We’re working on a few finishing touches and then sending them off to the printer. I think you’ll love them. If you’re considering encouraging your children to do some reading over the summer, these will pair nicely (with flip flops and something cool to drink, off course).

Thank you for visiting and for reading my stories.

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