Saturday, March 26, 2011

Let it Snow!

Sorry about the delay, everybody. Life has not been granting me the luxury of leisure time of late. And as far as budgeting my time goes, leisure is all I can afford to spend on this poor neglected little blog of mine. Right now, though, I am in desperate need of something to write that isn't literary criticism, so I am more than willing to make it work with my otherwise hectic to-do list.

I have a roommate. Well, five actually - but one in particular I shall make mention of. She is from Georgia. She is a regular Southern belle, minus the thick accent. She always looks lovely, is of a sunny disposition, and is an exellent cook (suffice it to say that the good old Freshman 15 wasn't a danger to us until she moved in at the start of semester). But as I said, she is from the South, and so is accustomed to sunny skies, warm days, and a significant percentage of humidity during the spring and summer. As a result, today came as quite a frustration to her, to put the situation kindly. And why, do you ask, was she in such a state?

Well, my friends, it snowed. Heavily. In MARCH. And here's the great irony of the thing:


Indeed, it is so. Last Sunday was the official, astronomical, by-the-calendar, universally known FIRST DAY OF SPRING. And how does Mother Nature celebrate? Well, it didn't look like Botticelli's "Primavera," I'll tell you that much.

However, there is still great beauty in it. Have you ever seen fresh, living green grass covered in delicate snow crystals? Or how about a little bird dancing through the air with a chorus of snowflakes? Have you thrown a snowball lately, or caught one of the cool, delicate flakes on the tip of your tongue?

I am a cock-eyed optomist. I know this about myself. I made most of these observations to my best friend while we walked home through a big, wet, drippy blizzard, both of us soaked to the bone and so cold we couldn't feel our feet. After I had stopped mid-stride and bent down to observe the aforementioned blades of grass, Katie just looked at me, shook her head, and declared in a disbelieving tone that I would probably be able to find something pretty to look at even if I were stranded in the middle of Antarctica. I took it as a compliment. But in spite of it all, I hold to it still - there's beauty in any situation if you're willing to look.

You know what I'm going to say, I image - but I'll say it anyway. Go find something beautiful! Every single thing in creation is a blessing. And even if it snows, they're still there, just waiting to be discovered. And who knows? You might just find something magical you wouldn't have known before.

That's all for now, friends - I'll try and be more prompt in my postings in the future (though I won't make any promises I intend to keep until after finals are over). 'Til next we meet....

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Love of Learning

I have an announcement to make, everyone. I have found it - the solution to every education related problem there is.

OK, that's not exactly true. I don't say it will solve the issue of underpaid teachers, nor will it deliver books and paper to third world countries. It won't improve buildings, or save the rain forest, or notch up the public transit system. It won't give you the perfect principal, and it certainly won't do a thing for the quality of public school lunch.

But it does have great advantages. It WILL solve the problems of inattentive students, failing grades, and low test scores. It CAN make a great student out of a poor one. And what is this almighty solution, you ask? Well, here it comes... drum roll, please... The solution is:


Sorry if that was a bit of a disappointment. Think about it this way, though, and maybe you'll change your mind. Here is a list of frequently heard school-related complaints uttered by average male and female secondary education students in the vicinity of Wasatch County:

"This book is boring. All those classic books are."

"I'm getting a bad grade in math. My teacher hates me."

"This is stupid. Why do we have to do this?"

"What's the point?"

"I don't get it."

"Who cares?"

Those are the problems. I have told you the answer. Match it up with each statement on that list, and you will see it. Mind, I don't say that you have to love learning everything. If you are not a fan of reading classic books, so be it. It would do a lot of good to read them anyway, but I don't say you have to enjoy every word. I, for one, have a terrible grudge against learning math, as a result of a rather poor classroom experience in high school (slow learner, advanced class, bad combination).

I don't say that you have to love everything you learn - but I do say that you should love learning in general, and you should love at least one thing that you study. It can be most anything, and it doesn't have to be what you're going to do for the rest of your life. My father went into law in college, but he has never stopped learning and loving literature. My mother is a nurse, but never stopped playing the piano and improving her already practiced hand at craft projects. She even took up photography, and for years has had the pleasure of learning the ins and outs of her cameras. In the last six months I myself have taken up knitting, contemporary piano, blogging, a little harp, and some on-the-side Arabic. I become excited every time I knit a new stitch, teach myself a new song, sound out Arabic characters, or reverently place my hands on Katie's harp. None of the above have anything to do with my major - but I have loved learning them anyway. I have even grown to love the work that does have to do with my major - and that is what has made school not only bearable but the most enjoyable time of my life.

Besides the obvious, having a love for learning something has yet another advantage: it is entirely sharable. It's like I've said with love - knowledge, too, is something that can be infinitely given but never diminished. All of the subjects I listed above that I have been enjoying are the result of the tutelage of a friend. It is admirable to have a talent, but it is infinitely greater to have a talent and to be willing to share it with others. It is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give. My father taught me to love books, my mother taught me to love music and to play the piano - and I've haven't stopped since. They have filled my life with pleasure and fulfillment, and will doubtless continue to do so as long as I continue to cultivate them.

Imagine how the world would be if everyone had something to learn and love. Perhaps it would give our teachers an excitement in their classrooms, despite their low salaries. Perhaps learning could inspire someone to bring books and paper to third world countries. Perhaps it would produce architects and environmentalists and engineers who would give us better buildings and save the rain forest and discover renewable energy. And best of all, because those people loved what they had learned, they would perform their work at its best - as close to perfect as it can be. Just imagine - if everyone was able to make one improvement to the world they inhabit, no matter how small, how much could the world be changed for good?

Start now. Find what you love, and put it to use. A little change in you, or a little change you work in someone else, will be the first step. And maybe, if we all work at it together, we can change the world one step at a time.

Yours always - 'Til next time...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Feels Like a Smile

Yep - time once again to change the wallpaper. It's not easy, being green... but it's worth it. St. Patrick's Day is next week! We've got to be green this month!

And speaking of green, did anybody else see what a beautiful day it was yesterday? I bet half the student body here at the Y was sitting outside on the campus lawns. Some were studying, some were pretending to study, and some had abandoned the books all together and were either asleep or just soaking in the sun. Whole classes, even, came pouring out of their buildings of habitation to do their work in the open air. I, for one, was reading a series of excellent short stories and doing my knitting. But that was the afternoon. The story I want to tell was in the morning.

My dear friend Katie and I decided to meet up for lunch, as we had a mutual hour of free time from 11 to 12. We spent the better part of that hour just lying there in the grass, barefooted and coatless, drinking in every ounce of sunlight we could touch. The breeze blew just enough to keep the day from being sultry, but not enough to usher away the warmth. After several minutes of soft companionable silence, Katie sighed peacefully and said, "It feels like a smile."

She was right. That's exactly how it felt. A big, warm, beautiful smile - the kind that is just on the verge of turning into a laugh.

In a week and a half, it will be March 21 - the Vernal Equinox, or astronomical first day of Spring. It's true - spring is right around the corner, and the whole world is smiling and singing in anticipation. The robins are coming back, the grass is coming up green, the trees are beginning to bud, the daffodils and tulips are bursting into bloom, and the golden sun is shining over it all. It is a time of renewal, of fresh starts and new birth. It is a time of coming back and revitalizing after the long, cold days of winter. It is a time for all things to live again.

Funny isn't it - even with all our internal heating and insulated clothing, we human beings come away from winter feeling like we've weathered something. It's as though the whole world breathes a sigh of relief. "Thank heaven - one more winter behind us, and another spring ahead."

I encourage you to get outside and feel the world smiling. You can do it however you please. My father will do it riding some thirty or forty miles on his bike. My friend Addy will go running around the grassy field behind our apartment in her bare feet. And I shall be found sitting in the grass, shoes and jacket forgotten, reading a good book and smiling along with the sun. May it be as glorious a spring for you as it is quickly becoming for me.

I am respectfully yours in Penmanship always. 'Til next time, my friends...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Human Again

Guess what? It is time once again to talk to all you scholars out there who feel like you are drowning in a veritable sea of higher learning. Or who are still working on that High School diploma. Either way - this one's for you. And if you are not a student, you may of course read on - you might find some value in it yourself.

There is a difference, in my book, between being a scholar and being human. The two are different species entirely.

The scholar is a bipedal primate whose greatest advantage in its environment is its literacy. Its natural habitat is a library, desk, or anywhere where textbooks, computers, and lined paper can be found in abundance. It is a solitary creature who spends its time foraging for factual information and applying it in meaningful contexts, such as papers and exams. Their diet is severely restricted to time and current resource, but often consists of heavily processed items that can be prepared in haste. Some are even nocturnal, depending on the time of semester.

The human being is also a bipedal primate, but the resemblance doesn't go much farther than that. The human being is a creature capable of seeing the world around it, and of being at peace with itself - much more than can be said of the average scholar. It can inhabit almost any ecosystem, live off of a wide variety of sustinence, and is generally aware of both its emotional and physical needs. The human being is capable of creating and appreciating things of beauty, and of doing many things as a matter of personal improvement or endurance - rather than for the sake of a grade or score. The human being is a creature of widely varied temperments, but that can generally be found in good spirits, especially in the company of other human beings.

You see? Different species entirely.

However, for all those of you who consider yourselves died-in-the-wool scholars, there is a ray of hope. These two species are physically interchangable. Yes, it's true! You can be a human being if you want to - whenever you want to! All you have to do is put down the books - really put them away! - and do something that doesn't bear any relevance on your grade.

I know, I know - its a great sacrifice. But it will do you all the good in the world. Just put the books out of sight, close the word documents, lock up your Facebook, rid yourself of all flashcards, highlighters, and sticky notes. Get it out of your view and out of your head. Then, when that painful process is complete, go do something else. Ride a bike, bake cookies, go for a run, see a movie or play, have a look at the stars (yes! They're still there! Even during exams!) or simply take a rest. I like to go out on the lawn in front of my apartment building and read a book, or sketch something, or even just lie there and breathe. Did you ever consider what a miracle it is just to take a full breath? You don't realize what a blessing it can be until you've experienced a constricted airway. Believe me - deep breathing is heaven itself.

I won't prattle like this forever, I promise - though you may not take my word for it. I've listed these options before, and I'll likely do it again. The point I wish to make is this: It is possible to be both scholar and human. It is not healthy or productive to be only one or the other. The two must work in tandem - perfect harmony. When they do, you'll find yourself better rested, more productive, and more at peace with yourself all the way around. Take all things in moderation - both the things that must be done and the things that merely should be done.

All scholars need a little humanity from time to time. So take time to be human - don't let yourself look up from your textbooks and realize that the day is passed! Enjoy every moment - even the one's spent in studying. I will bet a pound to a penny that there's even a little magic to be found in that textbook, if you'll only seek it out.

'Til next time, my friends. Ciao!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Poetry Lense

Last semester, while deeply immersed in my astronomy course, I discovered a handy little impliment called a defraction grating. It looks like a normal photo slide, but without any image on it. It's made of cardboard and cheap plastic. When you look through it though... every particle of light is bent into its seperate wavelenths, and the world becomes a sea of rainbows. It's a beautiful, magical, scientific wonder. I have one myself, a gift from my teacher in the aforementioned class. I look through it from time to time, just to remind myself that the rainbows are still there, just out of sight.

I know I've written about my defraction grating before, in one of my first posts - so my apologies if it's old news to you. I wanted to share it again, though, for a new purpose. I've recently been assigned to read a work of Japanese fiction in my World Literature class - The Narrow Road of the Interior. It's about a pair of poets that go off on a trip to travel the countryside, getting ideas for their work and putting in some quality time with their spiritual improvements. Everywhere they go, if they see something that inspires them they write a Haiku about it. Some, they take with them; but others they leave behind, tacked to doorframes or settled between two rocks, waiting for another traveler to discover them.

I think this is a brilliant idea. I might just leave a couplet on the door of the fine arts center tomorrow, just to see what happens. But why, you ask, would I want to leave bits of literature on public structures? Well, think back to the defraction grating. You see everything as normally lit and normally colored when you look at it with your normal eyes. Through the defraction grating, however, the world becomes colorful and bright. I think that poetry is supposed to work this way. It's a little window into the way the poet views the world, a place where ordinary things, in the words of William Wordsworth, "Through turnings intricate of verse, present themselves as objects recognized, and shining with a glory not their own."

For example, my father gave me a poem of his to read last week. I will not detail it here, for I don't have his express permission to do so. Suffice it to say that it related winter images to a religion, such as stooping "Pine monks of the monastic order" or a tree's "bare limbs trace stained glass window panes." It was beautiful work, but I didn't notice the really beautiful part of it until the next day, when I saw just such bare tree limbs "crisscrossed high against the sky." It took me a moment to remember why I was thinking of a cathedral as I looked at the tree. I soon realized that my father had done the magical thing poetry is supposed to do - giving those ordinary objects their own shining glory, so that I will come to better understand them in the literal world.

This is why I like the idea of leaving poems behind us when we travel. I don't say everyone ought to do this - its a rare person who can whip a poem out of their pocket on such short notice. But just imagine! What would it be like to see the same object, be it building or brick, through the grating of someone else's soul? How different would the world become if we could see it not only in our own way, but in the way others do as well? How different would those others become to us? What new magic and glory would we see in the world through their eyes, minds, and hearts?

Just something to think about. I don't say we must all go write a poem tomorrow - but you might try it sometime when you feel so inspired. I shall certainly be looking for an opportunity with bated breath.

May the wind be at your backs, my friends. 'Til next time...