Wednesday, October 21, 2015

October 21: Life's Work, Selling a Kidney, Mary Oliver, "I Happened to be Standing," Adventures of Stickman

Honor classes were her favorite, because faced with attentive students she could give talks about writers like Lawrence or Charles Dickens, the latter a favorite of hers to teach.  She would point out to the poorest kids that not all writers were upper-class fops, as was their impression.  Dickens came from humble stock, as did Lawrence.  She would tell them about how Charles Dickens had the greatest sympathy for the poor because he had known suffering himself:  his father had gone to the poorhouse and died young, and he himself had worked as a kid in a "blacking house," the deprivations of that time something he would never forget.  Dickens, she said, had lived for his fame and wrote out of a need for acceptance, but he had also deeply believed that a man's life's work might bring about social change.

Annie Ives has a very strong social conscience.  As a teacher in the New York City public school system, she tries to instill hope and a hunger for excellence in her students' lives.  Of course, after the death of her son at the hands of a Hispanic youth, Annie becomes a little jaded.  She sees her earlier idealism as a little naive.  Yet, she continues to volunteer at community centers and do charitable work.  She and Ives believe in social change.  That the world can be made better through good deeds.

Today has been a challenge for me.  I think that I'm a hard worker.  I always try to do my best, and I always expect the best out of the people around me.  So, when the people around me fall short of those expectations, I feel a little like Annie after her son's death.  Jaded.  A little angry.

I won't go into detail, but I have been a little upset for most of the day.  To top it off, I found out that I may only be assigned one class to teach next semester.  That means a loss of about $3000 in income.  I can't imagine how my family is going to stay afloat if that happens.  It's not a done deal.  I may be offered another class, depending on enrollment.  Right now, though, I'm contemplating selling a kidney on the black market.

I have been working in medical offices and teaching at the university for close to 20 years.  It has been my life's work.  Tonight, I'm not feeling all that great about the choices I've made.  In fact, I'm feeling pretty shitty, as though I can't trust a whole lot of people.  That makes me sad.

I'm sure I'll be in a better frame of mind tomorrow.  I will say my prayers tonight, as I always do.  Like Mary Oliver does in the poem below.  Maybe God will grant me some perspective on the events of today.  Tomorrow night, I'm giving a poetry reading, so I won't have a whole lot of time to brood over these little wounds. 

If you're in my neck of the woods and are looking for something to do tomorrow evening, stop by the Carnegie Library in Ishpeming, Michigan, at around 6 p.m.  I will be there, with poems and stories for All Hallow's Eve.

Saint Marty promises to conjure up the spirits of a few dead poets, and maybe some living ones, as well.

I Happened to be Standing

by:  Mary Oliver

I don't know where prayers go,
     or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
     half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
     crosses the street?
The sunflowers?  The old black oak
     growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
     along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
     of little importance, in full
self-attendance.  A condition I can't really
     call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
     or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that's their way.
Maybe the cars are sound asleep.  Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don't know why.  And yet, why not.
I wouldn't persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don't.  That's your business.
But I thought, of the wren's singing, what could this be
     if it isn't a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

Adventures of STICKMAN

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