Saturday, March 8, 2008

what books tell me about who I am

i have always loved to read. I don't remember a time when reading wasn't one of my favorite things to do. It is built into my routine: i read before going to sleep every night, i read during quiet lunches at home when I can enjoy 20 minutes of solitude, i read whenever traveling, and any time i have to wait in line or can justify the gratuitous action by the obligation to some other space occupying activity. it is my escape, my alone-time carved out of time occupied by other people and responsibilities.

usually i read a mixture of classics, with sci-fi and biographies (often of a historic nature). this year, of course, i have read many textbooks spanning world history from top to bottom. lately, however, i have noticed a trend of weariness in my reading. usually i love the artsy philosophical works of fiction that define certain era's of our existence. my three most recent are: The Fountainhead (which I just finished last night), Invitation to a Beheading (which I am still trying to finish) and To Kill a Mockingbird (which I am reading with my 8th grade class). I had never read The Fountainhead before, and find Rand's characters' long speeches to be tedious and overwritten. (I might just be feeling that way because the book was 687 pages of small type). The story itself was interesting, (though I still have a hard time stomaching the rape scene no matter how symbolic it was) but the message seemed philosophically shallow to me. This is perhaps where I am disappointed. Rand's work is supposed to be this great treatise on individualism and the rightness of the aspirations of man, and even a hand-up to capitalism, but the 100% humanistic basis to me made all of ther characters lack depth. I would be interested to discuss with my friend, Suzanna, what her thoughts on the book are, since she is an avowed communist. I just cannot buy for a moment that putting the integrity of one's own selfishness above vows and sacrifice is a philosophy to be embraced - though I did appreciate the willingness of Roark's character to invalidate other's selfish criticisms in favor of maintaining his integrity. I am conflicted over this book.

Nabokov's book caught my attention when it was mentioned in "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi. Nafisi quotes Nabokov in several places and piqued my interests through her explaination of oppression and human endeavors to quench the spirit. I generally enjoy Russian literature (such as I can get my hands on in English: Tolstoy, Chekov, and Dostoyevsky to a lesser extent) and I think under other circumstances I would enjoy this book also. The sticking point for me is the change in my physical location since I read "Reading Lolita in Tehran" - I was happily and expectantly enscounced in my life in Charlotte when I read Nafisi and all of her lofty and inspiring tales of freeing the human spirit through literature and art were very appealing. Here, in my developing country circumstances, I find my brain absorbed with understanding survival skills just to inhabit my day without feeling defeated. I have less sympathy for Cincinnatus C. and his self-imposed prison. I guess what I am trying to say is that whatever part of my brain that passionately loved the intangible realm of mental calesthenics finds itself worn out by the sheer effort of existing here.

Harper Lee's work has long been one of my top 5 favorite books. She writes about big ideas simply and with colorful and real language. I sympathize with the tomboy Scout on her journey toward maturity and understanding of the prejudiced and unfair world we live in. As a history teacher reading it with my 8th grade class, I appreciate that Lee has added texture, shape, depth, sensation to the things that I have been trying to explain to my students from rather dry and biased textbooks. But, I recognize that part of the appeal for me is the familiarity of Lee's writing. Not only have I read the book at least half a dozen times, but the story takes place in a setting I am familiar with and language I am comfortable with - namely that of the South. As I travel and consider differences between cultures (not only abroad, but inside the U.S. also) I find a growing fondness for the South and the traditions it holds. To read Lee's book, rought with the struggles of Depression Era Mississippi is still to be taken back to familiar territory, not to try to wade through a mythical land of imprisonment or the pre-WWII high 'intellectual' society of NYC. I think I crave the familiar.

And this all makes sense, I suppose. Far from home. Tired and sick I want to feel comforted. The excitement which normally drives me towards books outside of my experience is also causing me to criticize their characters and the obsessions they embody. As I consider my reaction to the things I read I think I get a clearer picture of my own experiences. I want to allow these insights to soften my edges and allow the affection for home and the familiar to feed my love for my peers, family and home. I strive for the unknown, and in doing so I am often critical of the familiar. I want to be understanding of the familiar and hesitantly expectant of the unknown.

All of this is just me vomitting onto my blog in an attempt to capture some piece of the internal experience here to ponder later when the novelty of being comfortable has worn off and the weariness of the mundane has set in again.

Have I mentioned I would really like to live in Australia or New Zealand for a year?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Drama at school & magnanimity

This school week has been full of drama. I write about it for two reasons:
1. so that those of you who read this can offer a prayer for the JCS staff and students that God will come and intersect our lives with His refocusing power so that the problems that distract us from eternity will fade away.
2. so that when I have left this place and am no longer burdened by these issues, that I will remember that 'this too shall pass' and that the entirely different problems I face then are just a reminder of the fact that God renews and changes both us and our circumstances.

The thing about drama is that it always seems to be about things blown way out of proportion to their real significance or severity in the course of our lives. I had a friend say to me the other week, and I think she was entirely correct, that even though I might not always 'cause' the drama, I am by nature a dramatic person. That I am sure feeds into things. Also, I realize that when I get passionate about something (which is almost always) I tend to use imperative language which offends or at the very least makes defensive those with whom I am disagreeing. Which brings me to my college-level word - magnanimity.

There are many words I have and can use to describe myself: intense, passionate, determined, opinionated, insightful, perseverant, adventurous, committed, responsible, inteligent, etc. I do not think that these are bad quailities...but I do think that while most of you read them you will agree that they are not the 'gentler' or quieter qualities. I have long since given up on being a 'quiet' person. Even when I speak very little I feel that my words are loud. So, I am praying for a new quality to be added to these: magnanimity. I want people to say, "yes, Magnanimous should be added to that list of attributes." defines magnanimous as:

generous in forgiving an insult or injury; free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness: to be magnanimous toward one's enemies.
high-minded; noble: a just and magnanimous ruler.
proceeding from or revealing generosity or nobility of mind, character, etc.: a magnanimous gesture of forgiveness.

I think, in my search for what is loving, that I can strive to embrace this word. I am going to write it on several sheets of paper and staple or tape it on my gradebook, my notebook, my bedroom wall, my 6th grade classroom. I want to be reminded to let my perceived injuries roll off my back, to not take people personally, to not feel the need for revenge. I want to be high-minded and noble. I want to be generous and forgiving. I want my students to look back and say, "Wow, Ms. Rich sure changed. She WAS magnanimous and fair in all her dealings." I know this might not happen in this year. I know that change is a slow process and we are all subject to set backs. having received a rather sharp reminder that my striving has yet produced perfection or even understanding I have to return again to a more simplistic attempt to pursue and convey love so today, for this week, for the month of March I want to work on magnanimity in the face of all the drama and conflict at school. I want to keep my mouth shut, my ears open, my mind willing to see another's perspective and most of all I want to be generous, kind and forgiving; selfless because I do not take things personally.

May God find my efforts humble and an offering to Him in His mighty greatness and may He be pleased to lift me up and support my ineptitude and inabilities so that HIS love might shine through me, and I might decrease.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Here is the brief synopsis of Holly’s trip from my perspective. There will be gaps, etc. but hopefully this will provide enough info to jog my memory when I start forgetting the details of our experiences. 2/22 – Holly arrived in Santiago Friday afternoon. Karen Speciale and I picked her up at the airport and brought her up to Jarabacoa. (2 cities visited) Holly, Rachel and I had dinner together at El Rancho down by the Caribe Tours station (both Holls and I had chicken crepes and they were yummiliscious.) We watched Luther that night and went to sleep to prepare for our beach trip in the morning.

2/23 – We got a late start due to my ineptness at gathering things together quickly. I am not nearly as efficient down here as I am at home (though I procrastinate and run late regardless of my geographical location) so we missed the 10 am bus to La Vega. We took a Gua-gua (sp?) from Jarabacoa to La Vega. (More about that interesting form of Dominican Transportation later.) We arrived in La Vega just after noon.

We thought there would be a bus to Sosua within 20 minutes according to the schedule, but we waited over 2 hours. Had a few miscommunications with the bus ticket person and the eventual bus driver but fought our way onto the bus and arrived in Sosua about 3 hours later where we took a taxi to Cabarete and checked into our hotel. Cabarete is on the North coast of the DR about 45 minutes from Puerto Plata. We had dinner on the beach where we ran into a few other teachers from JCS (they were kind enough to reserve our hotel room and save us some stress – Thanks Katie!)

I did not take any pictures of the hotel room we were in the first two nights, but it was nice. 2/24 - The next morning we got up and ate breakfast at a bakery called "Dick" (no 's as proper English would seem to imply - errrr..... anyway....)
and then laid on the beach and soaked up rays. Very gratifying. Beautiful day.

That night we went and sat at a nice little bistro and had mojito's and hummus while writing in our journals and just enjoying the warmth of the evening breeze. I like this picture of holly:

Later we ate and Jose O'shay's where we met a guy named Mike who was enjoying a long weekend away from the snow and bustle of New York. Though neither Holly nor I had the presence of mind to take a picture of him, he did take this one of us at the end of the night.

2/25 - We got up and bummed around for a few hours that morning. Sat by the pool and read, etc. Very nice and relaxing. Then we headed off for Sosua to see the beach down there.

We took a gua-gua again - this time a much shorter ride and quite funny. Catching a gua-gua requires standing on the side of the road and looking expectantly at the over-packed 13 passenger vans that come barrelling down the road overflowing with people. On our 5 rides, 21 passengers was the highest denisity we experienced. We wandered around and ended up at (unbeknownst to us) the beach that many of my friends will be visiting in April at the Casa Marina Resort:

These pictures do not do the beach justice. The water was so clear. It was gorgeous.

2/26 - We came back to Jarabacoa on the bus, etc. (5 cities so far) and then went to a dinner at the house of the parents of one of my 6th graders.

2/27-2/28 - I was horrendously sick and do not remember anything really other than the fever and the vomitting. UGGGGG! But Holls went to school and hung out with the kidlets.

2/29 - We went on the school field trip to Santo Domingo and visited the National Museum of Natural History, The Mercy Gate and The House of Diego Columbus (Christopher's son.) All very fun. Here are excerpts:

3/1 - We went and watched some of my 6th and 7th graders at baseball practice:

Then we went into town and Holly went to a concery and I babysay for some friends.
Which brings us to today, 3/2, when I am blogging all of the fun and excitement. Today we went to church then I went to school this afternoon to do some work. Holly flies back tomorrow morning and I will miss her ALOT. It has been fun! Too bad about my camera though. Mourning will begin tomorrow in the morning as is appropriate. And I will teach classes for the first time in a week and try not to murder my childrens.
Hasta Luego!

The Unbearable Awfulness of Being

Instead of pondering how short life is and how inconsequential (because we all know that on my darker days I can certainly go to that place) I instead offer you the truth of how easily we lose those things we value.

Friday I was on a field trip with the highschoolers in Santo Domingo. Although the day was quite nice, the museum was horrendously hot. I was carrying my bookbag, my camera and a bulletin I was using to fan myself with hopes of overcoming the nausea of stagnant air and second-rate displays. We were not allowed to tour the museum independently (though all we could have done was look since the Dominican distaste for reading extended to their displays so one probably would not have known what one was looking at anyway...except that the tour guide didn't really help answer that question either, but I digress) and the tourguide has gone down in my mind as the museum-nazi trying to enforce from her 5'4" 115 lbs stature the silence of 50 tremendously uncomfortable students who had just been cooped up on mini-vans for 3 hours. Museum-Nazi was rude if anyone even looked like they were going to make noise or move a step away (for a breath of air) from the person they were crammed next to. One of my students asked me to hold her notebook while she shifted some stuff around and in an effort to take her notebook and not drop what I was holding without awakening the dragon; I dropped my digital camera. The cord slipped right through my fingers and it his the floor with an obviously fatal smack - so far I have not been able to get it to turn on again.

Woe is me!!! I need a camera and my heart is broken into pieces inside because I can no longer send you picture and crappy videos via my blog. Please address all letters of sympathy and appropriate floral bouquets to my Dominican abode where I will be in deep mourning for at least a week (which will begin promptly as soon as Holly has taken her leave of me, for a hostess should not neglect her guest due to a loss; even one of such magnitude!)

Adios mi amor, mi cámara digital! I shall miss you!