Friday, January 27, 2012

making sweet honey from old failures

This poem came to me as just an excerpt in the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.  I was so taken by the second, beehive stanza that I went to look up the rest and found that I had mistakenly thought that Antonio Machado was a New World poet, and also that this is a rather well-known poem since its inclusion in a collection called Ten Poems to Change Your Life, published in 2003.

Last Night As I Was Sleeping

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

~ Antonio Machado
tr. Robert Bly

I've been thinking on this poem for a couple of weeks and found myself a little put off by "--marvelous error!--".  It might not have bothered me, except that it's important enough to be repeated in four of five stanzas.  Apart from the odd technical quality of the word "error," which doesn't seem to fit here, I kept thinking that "marvelous mistake" would work so much better:  alliteration, of course, but also that dreams are full of images that we take to be one thing or another, mis-takenly.

So I thought I'd go and see if anyone else had tranlasted the poem in a different way.   And now--duh--I find that Antonio answers my concern himself, with his original version in Spanish (please join me now in trusting the internet).  The imaginations of the poem are neither errors nor mistakes; they are "illusions, " and I'm inclined to believe Google Translate when it suggests "blessed illusion!"

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que una fontana fluía
dentro de mi corazón.
Dí: ¿por qué acequia escondida,
agua, vienes hasta mí,
manantial de nueva vida
en donde nunca bebí?

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que una colmena tenía
dentro de mi corazón;
y las doradas abejas
iban fabricando en él,
con las amarguras viejas,
blanca cera y dulce miel.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que un ardiente sol lucía
dentro de mi corazón.
Era ardiente porque daba
calores de rojo hogar,
y era sol porque alumbraba
y porque hacía llorar.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que era Dios lo que tenía
dentro de mi corazón.

I'm so in awe of those who have the language comfort to translate poetry, that most language-bound of genres, or to write in two languages.  I'm so far from that, that I have to question my right to nitpick over the choice of a single word, and yet --marvelous, blessed illusion and mistake!--isn't it fun to be led somewhere by a single word?
The roundup today is with Jim at Hey, Jim Hill!, which for some reason I find to be just about the best blog title ever.  : )

Friday, January 20, 2012

teach like Ernest Hemingway

You bet I'm a charter member of Students First.  I agree generally with its whole platform and I admire the straight-talking leadership of Michelle Rhee (on this project at least), but the name of the organization does just say it all:  the needs of students--that's children and young people we're talking about--should come before the convenience of adults or the demands of a bureaucratic system.

I got an email from Students First yesterday with an intriguing subject line:  "Do you write like Hemingway?"  It read:
"It's said Ernest Hemingway once wrote a story using just six words: 'For sale: baby shoes, never worn.' He reportedly declared it his greatest work. Words are powerful tools — for learning, for inspiration, for transformation. When we choose our words with precision, we can say so much. It is with Hemingway as our inspiration that I write to you with a fun challenge: Describe what it means to be a great teacher in just six words."
Well, that's a straight-up poetry challenge, and my mind started percolating--but just like I spike my basic drip coffee with a layer of cinnamon, my current reading seeped in and flavored my six-word essay.  I'm reading Drive by Daniel H. Pink, which is all about what motivates humans of all ages, extrinsically and intrinsically.  He comes at the question of motivation mainly from a business/work perspective, but of course the research he cites and the new "operating system" he proposes--dubbed Motivation 3.0--are entirely applicable to education settings.  Here's the conclusion Pink reaches by the end of his exploration of the three elements of Motivation 3.0, which are autonomy, mastery and purpose.

"A CENTRAL IDEA of this book has been the mismatch between what science knows and what business does. The gap is wide. Its existence is alarming. And though closing it seems daunting, we have reasons to be optimistic.

The scientists who study human motivation, several of whom we’ve encountered in this book, offer us a sharper and more accurate account of both human performance and the human condition. The truths they’ve revealed are simple, yet powerful. The science shows that those typical twentieth-century carrot-and-stick motivators—which we consider somehow a “natural” part of human enterprise—can sometimes work. But they’re effective in only a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances. The science shows that “if-then” rewards—the mainstays of the Motivation 2.0 operating system—not only are ineffective in many situations, but also can crush the high-level, creative, conceptual abilities that are central to current and future economic and social progress. The science shows that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive—our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to make a contribution.

Bringing our businesses in sync with these truths won’t be easy. Unlearning old ideas is difficult, undoing old habits even harder. And I’d be less sanguine about the prospects of closing the motivation gap anytime soon, if it weren’t for this: The science confirms what we already know in our hearts.

We know that human beings are not merely smaller, slower, bettersmelling donkeys trudging after that day’s carrot. We know—if we’ve spent time with young children or remember ourselves at our best—that we’re not destined to be passive and compliant. We’re designed to be active and engaged. And we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we’re clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice—doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.

So, in the end, repairing the mismatch and bringing our understanding of motivation into the twenty-first century is more than an essential move for business. It’s an affirmation of our humanity."

Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Chapter 6. 
That's certainly how things look to me.  So I submitted my six-word essay on what it means to be a great teacher, and I submitted it although I know it's probably a bit too "spiritual" to win the iPad prize, even for Students First. 

Love says, "Welcome."  Faith says, "Grow."

I wonder if I successfully captured what I mean.  If you're a teacher or a librarian, I invite you to respond with your own six-word essay.  The Poetry Friday round-up today is with Elaine at Wild Rose Reader.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

OIK Tuesday: don't let the teacher drive the bus

Overheard in Kindergarten

There's a new girl in my class, Jasmine, who moved here from South Carolina and is still learning how things work at this school and in this community.

Today it was my turn to escort all the kindergarten bus riders --something like 45 kids--down to the APR to wait for buses (which is the recipe for an instant migraine once all the other bus riders in the school have arrived).   It was just one day this week rather than the usual five days in a row, thank goodness.

By the time Jasmine heard me announcing that I had "bus duty," I was wearing dark trousers and a white shirt, having shed my cardigan like a mealworm molts its exoskeleton--because even with the windows open it's like 85 degrees in my classroom.  Jasmine came right up to me, eyes wide, taking in what must have looked like a uniform.

"Teacher!  I didn't know you could drive the bus!"


I have dreams, you know.

At the end of the day, I'll lead the line,
all the way onto the bus,
climb into the driver's seat
and zoom away,
without even synching my Palm first.

I bet your mom would let me.

~Heidi Mordhorst 2012
all rights reserved

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2011 Comment Challenge: eyes bigger

Many languages have an expression similar to our "her eyes were bigger than her stomach," meaning the food looked so good that she helped herself to more than she could eat.  We also have "he bit off more than he could chew," which again applies in this situation.

But I feel I want something less epicurean to describe what I have done, and repeatedly do, with the Comment Challenge mentioned in my last post.  I got all inspired because I have been really remiss with comments and have wished to do better.  I even applied Wisdom and set a lower bar for myself (I thought two blog comments per day would be manageable), and I signed on!  Whoo-hoo! New and righteous obligation!

Unfortunately I already see that I can't manage two comments a day, among a number of other things that attract me but to which I shouldn't be committing in the landscape of my current life.

This post is therefore my public and apologetic outbowing from the Comment Challenge.  I think perhaps we do have an English idiom that deftly captures the nature of the situation:

S**t happens.

Friday, January 6, 2012

my first award

Well, now--what a pleasant surprise!  Who knew there was a Versatile Blogger Award?  There is, and I have very kindly and unexpectedly received it from Kate Coombs of Book Aunt (who received it in her turn from Adriana, an avid teen reader who blogs at She's Got Books on Her Mind.)  While this award is purely subjective--no big long Cybils or ALA process behind it, no big-name newspaper or magazine reviewers lending weight to it--this Versatile Blogger Award is nonetheless precious to me.  This is because what I love most about blogging is that I get to build the box...and more on THAT concept in another post.

For now, here are the rules that guide the Versatile Blogger Award:

•Thank and link to the blogger who bestowed the award.
•Share seven random facts about yourself.
•Spread the love by passing the award to five other bloggers--and be sure to let them know.

So, first:

Thank you, Kate, for thinking of me as versatile and for thinking of me at all, when I manage a measly two posts a week, if I'm lucky.  Please visit Kate at Book Aunt regularly to enjoy wise, insightful  reviews and reflections on children's literature.

Second, seven random facts about me:

*The freshman facebook of my university listed my intended major as philosophy.
*I know how to clog.
*If I had my druthers I'd have dinner at 5, go to bed at 9 each night at get up at 5 every morning.
*I've lived in New York, London, Paris, Munich (everybody talk about popmuzik).
*One of my favorite parts of one of my favorite books is the cake and milk, milk and cake Harriet had after school every day.  How I envied her.
*In 1990 I made an entire wardrobe of earrings out of pasta dyed with food coloring and hydrogen peroxide.
*Stories swallow me whole, so I don't dare read much right now.  Isn't that sad? And not very random?

Third, I'll spread the love and pass the award to five more Versatile Bloggers:

*to Tabatha Yeatts of  The Opposite of Indifference, who weekly amazes with the range and variety of her topics and threads;
*to David Elzey, who quietly gets on with all kinds of ruminations and renderings at fomagrams and at the excelsior file;
*to Diane Mayr, who offers up oodles of haiku and haiga at Random Noodling, and masquerades as Kurious Kitty with both Kurious K's Kwotes and the Kurio Kabinet.  Who can keep up?!
*to Jama Rattigan, who always tantalizes with the most nutritious Alphabet Soup and doesn't leave out the sweets; and
*to Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading, who goes off early each day to teach just one class of 4th graders but keeps her eye on the big wordly world that they're inheriting.

Happy First Poetry Friday for 2012--at Teaching Authors today.  Maybe I'll take up the Comment Challenge posted by Lee Wind et al...certainly I owe a good deal to all the folks I read but don't take time to comment on!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

OIK Tuesday: opposites

In the last decade the seven intelligences described by Howard Gardner in the 80's have been updated to include three "new" ones.  One of these new intelligences is undoubtedly the oldest:  "naturalist" intelligence, handy for actual survival throughout most of human history, and the only one of the three to be added to Gardner's original list.

In my class there are a few children who demonstrate marked naturalist intelligence, but none so strongly as Cale.  When we go out for "Outdoor Education," inevitably he's the one who spies a praying mantis on the school wall or digs up a clump of wormy grass roots to bring inside.  He knows a lot about animals, especially dinosaurs, and so as we tried to identify the creature illustrating a math worksheet, I looked to Cale for help. (The worksheet was handed to me by a colleague while we were all in the midst of The Gingerbread Man, so I just assumed that the plump, cheerful figure wearing an artist's beret and holding a paint bucket was a gingerbread man, but on closer inspection I found it to be a rather human-looking seal.)

At first I thought this creature was a gingerbread man with a raisin nose and a cute cap like the Gingerbread Baby, but then I noticed the hands.  Do you all see what kind of hands it has?

[confused silence]

To me those hands look more like flippers on a swimming animal.  What could it be?  It's hard to tell because its body is hiding behind the paint bucket....does anyone know a swimming animal with flippers like that?

[finally]  I know!  It's not's''s the opposite of a beaver!


slender and sleek
not round and fat

lightly downed
not thickly furred

tiny useless tail
no water-slapping paddle

sharp fish-shredders
no tree-felling chisels

nature-boy is right:
a seal is the opposite of a beaver

Heidi Mordhorst 2012