Journal

Carlisle Hall 402 ~ UTA ~ February 8, 2018

This week, I had my students do activities inspired by or taken directly from Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal for their Daily Compositions in their Field Notes. I decided I wanted to get in on the fun too and did the first one (you can see a rough draft of their list–though it changed a bit–at the top of that right page). I dripped coffee on that right page, closed the journal, and was delighted to open it back up and find a rather whimsical little character angrily shaking its fists (or maybe flexing its might) at the world. I’m not entirely sure why he delighted me so (or why he’s a he), but every time I flip past him now I smile. A reminder, perhaps, to not take things so seriously. To thrill at the patterns the world throws our way. To love little things and details. To paint more with coffee. To turn more grocery lists into “art.” Anyway, I’m glad I got in on the fun.

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Flashback: nov·el·T Writes the Apocalypse

I fell down a rabbit hole today, combing through old computer files to curate a project I want to work on later, and found so many old writings I had forgotten about. Some are cringe-worthy, some surprisingly good, some hilariously melodramatic (I blame the genres). Then I came across this. And the nostalgia hit me hard enough that, no matter the quality of this piece, I had to share it here.

So, back in the day, when I was a brand new high school teacher fresh off the assembly line, I opened up my classroom after school for student writers to try NaNoWriMo and, after November was over, they stayed and we formed the nov·el·T club (our school’s name was Timberview). As a club, we decided to write a novel together. We world-builded as a group, loosely sketched an over-arching plot, and then assigned chapters to singles or pairs who wrote their chunks before passing what they wrote to the next group to continue the story and so on and so forth. The students asked me to write the “Intro,” the sort of preface that set the scene, explained a little bit why our brand of the Apocalypse occurred, and that they could all refer back to to keep the story on track. No pressure.

Do keep in mind, this would have been around Aught 9, the very height of The Hunger Games (book) craze and my students (OK, me too) ate those books up and devoured anything Amazon might have spit out under Customers who bought this item also bought…

I share this “Intro” as an artefact of a younger, idealistic me who would have written anything–no matter how wacky or nerdy or anime-inspired–those kids asked me to and had a blast doing it. I loved those students. While there are many things about teaching high school I don’t miss, they aren’t one of them.

I wish I remembered the name of the novel or had any of the other parts (we never did finish it), but this was all I found in my searching today, and it’s time to climb out of the rabbit hole and plan my American Lit class for tomorrow in which we will discuss, as one of the authors we’re reading says, that “Stories are a wondrous thing. And they are dangerous.”* That they very much do create our world with us and that it’s not such a stretch, or speculation, to say that, one day, they will help us end it too.

How’s that for melodrama? Even if it is true.

[ PS: You’ll notice I made the President a woman. Back then I thought, Surely that won’t be a thing of fiction for long. Almost a decade later and alas. One day. ]

[ PSS: I dare you to not love that last line. Genius. 😉 ]

~

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Intro

The world ended because of a poem about flowers.

Nationwide, students rallied behind symbolism the long-dead poet probably never intended. They plastered his lines on buildings and shouted them in mobs and set them to music and strummed them with guitars. The President took offense and the Congress didn’t back her, though the House certainly did, and the Prime Minister across the sea seized the opportunity to poke fun and open old wounds and the tension built until one diplomat at one dinner said the wrong thing and…well.

The poem seemed like such a small thing at the time.

The war isn’t worth mentioning. Or, maybe, it’s too much to mention. One war is like another, after all. Regardless of time or place or instigator or victim or beginning or end.

People rebelled. People took sides. People enlisted. People protested. People burned the poem. People tucked the poem away in their hearts for another, safer, time.

People, too many people, died.

What is worth mentioning is that, in the end, it was North America versus the world. The US, Canada, and Mexico. Strong. United. Holding a hungry, angry world at bay. But then our President chose the unthinkable; she unleashed what should never have been unleashed.

One bomb: a seemingly normal missile in a seemingly everyday barrage. Except this one contained just one thimble-full of a disease that had been dormant since the Ice Age, that no one but the American scientists who’d discovered it knew existed, much less had a cure for. Silene Fever, extracted from one of the frozen flowers Russians revived and American scientists stole…though no one knew anything about that story until far, much too far, later.

One target: Great Britain herself.  From the heart of the country that spawned ours, the Fever spread. House to house, city to city, county to country. And, like dominoes, the world fell one continent at a time. Except for North America, the Alliance, who’d all been sharing rations, who’d all been drinking the same protein shake pushed on us by a government trying to keep us healthy when trade embargoes cut off our resources  We didn’t know they’d been inoculating us and our allies. We didn’t know they’d planned this strike for longer than any of us could have possibly imagined. Neither did the other Alliance governments.

Horrified, Canada and Mexico turned on the United States too. Our borders shrank as the remaining Alliance herded us, north and south, killing and overrunning as they went. All to get to the President and her Cabinet hiding from the allies they’d thought would be grateful, would fall at their feet and unite under the President’s leadership.

We fought back, but we were divided—fighting among ourselves over who was right and who was wrong. Fracturing into dozens and then hundreds of factions. Banding together where we could, with who we could, just to survive our own infighting.  We didn’t have the horror and disgust the Alliance had to unite them. We were, instead, the cause of their anger; our country’s crime was their rallying point.

Our numbers dwindled until we were crammed into the heart of what was once an expansive nation. We became a sad amalgamation of what was once South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma. What now has no real name except for what whoever holds the land in that moment chooses to name it.

The Alliance contained us here and destroyed the rest of our nation. With biological and chemical warfare. With fire and pollution and flood and any other conceivable punishment they found that would scar the land around us and leave it unusable. Out there beyond the scorched and decimated land, the Alliance moves on, repairing the world or licking its wounds. None of us knows.

We are isolated. The ravaged remains of a nation, imprisoned by what’s left of the world for the sins of a government we now hate. Trapped in an island of bare-civilization among a sea of wasted land that stretches far beyond where our strongest could walk and still make it back alive. Within our little reservation boundaries shift, alliances form and fracture. The Gangs roam and conquer and die out and are reborn.

The Fever is still free in the world.

We are immune but not all of our children and grandchildren are. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern, genetics and fate are equally harsh. Some survive, some don’t, some live so deformed it frightens even those meant to love them the most.

We are immune, but the animals weren’t. At the best, whole species died out. At the worst they mutated into things that hunt us now, that walk the Wastes between our land and the Alliance beyond.

Resources are scarce. Worth dying for.

Poetry is shunned. All but forgotten except among those with hearts strong enough and dreams crazy enough to overcome the pain and fear now associated with what everyone believes destroyed the world.

As for the flowers the poet sang of…Well, there are none.

~

*The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative by Thomas King

Photo: Fire Pink (Silene virginica) © Jeffrey Pippen

 

National Read Aloud Day

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In honor of National Read Aloud Day, a picture of me and Eleanor reading my favorite BabyLit®  book, Moby Dick, on my most recent trip to SLC:

Tonight, Eleanor is much more involved in our reading…she counts anything and everything on each page, waiting for me to read the words before providing the numbers. She bounces on my leg and yells out “1, 2, 3, 4…” usually 5, sometimes up to 6 and the occasional word and points and points and points. It is one more reminder of how much she’s grown and changed since I saw her in November. Also new: she looks at me, grinning, when I do the pirate and captain voices. There’s some extra awareness now in this grin even though it’s the same voices–one of the reasons I love this book so much–I’ve done for over a year. But it’s the last page that always gets me, the quote from the original text: “Sing out for new stars.” And, as with many things that could mean many things, that string of words written together tugs at something (hard to pinpoint) in me–my heart, my hope, my sense of possibility and adventure. All of which–hope, possibility, adventure–I want for her and which somehow we share–or I imagine we share–through my conjuring of words off the board-page into the air.

Tonight, as I type here in Texas days later and miles and miles away, I hear my voice reading lines I know by heart:

The waves rolled by like scrolls of silver.  

Shipmates, have ye shipped in that ship?

Better to sail with a moody good Captain than a laughing bad one.

Anchor.

Harpoons.

If you’re a big white whale, bite here…

Also new: after we sing our songs (You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…Jesus loves me, this I know…) and Eleanor says our prayers (Jesus, our hearts…Aunt Say precious…And mommy and daddy and Shepard and Gammie and Gampsie…Amen) and I ask for and she gives me a big hug and I lift her up and into her bed and tuck her in (comfy cozy), she does the voices herself.

Shipmates ship ship (with her mouth all folded in and her little voice deep and her head bobbing side to  side and a grin when I laugh. And repeat, repeat, repeat to make Aunt Say laugh again, again, again…)

Ship shipped. Shipmates. Ship.

Also new: after I tell her I love her so much (I love you, Aunt Say) and give her her “towel” (Thank you) and say I’ll see you in the morning (See you in the morning) and turn off the light (Awwww) and slip out of the room, Kate looks up from where she’s holding Shepard in the living room and smiles and says the other night after they’d read the book she’d picked out, Eleanor asked to read Moby Dick and said it was her favorite.

There aren’t words to capture my answering smile, to conjure the swell of my heart off the screen-page and into the air.

Or maybe there are:

Sing out for new stars…

You Turn (Remembering, 1 Year Later)

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1 year since the first break (which was a “first-ever” soon to be, only months later, also a “first-that-year”)–L MB above, the one with a metal plate and eleven screws. 1 year since someone who could barely skate skated out onto the rink thinking she’d be a Roller Derby Queen–Rogue Won, a name I never got to claim–and tried a 180° turn when she could barely take the curve on the track. “What Is” turns on a dime, on four wheels–up one second, on the ground the next–and in that dime, on those four wheels, a lifetime, a slow-motion flash of a single starburst against a suddenly black-screen world–pain’s excess translated into a picture because the reality is a bit much, as they say. Same starburst-against-black as with my ACL back in my Intramural Basketball days and I knew, I knew it was bad–I thought, this is real, this isn’t happening, but it was–and I was still up and there was nowhere to go for a second but down, down on the same ankle…you can imagine. Then–forever, a second laterI fell. Then Little Murdermaid skated over, laughing, ready to cheer me on and get me back up, thinking it was just me falling again. And, barely looking at it out of the corner of my eye (cause when I’d looked before it seemed like my leg ended at my ankle and that image didn’t really compute), I said, deadpan and telling myself to breathe to be calm to not be that person, “I don’t think that’s normal.” She didn’t get it. So I pointed this time, looked at it myself for emphasis–it still didn’t compute but I knew and I said, “That’s not normal.” She said, “I’ll call the ambulance.” I said, “OK.”

One turn. Up one second, down the next. And life is never more real–reality never more felt–than in those moments where What Is shifts the simplest nanonothing into What Is. And the pain is nothing compared to the loss of…no, to the reminder that you never had control and the knowing–in your bones, broken or not–that there is no going back just that second (not even when it’s still one second, not even when it’s only five minutes, and certainly not when it’s 1 year later and going back doesn’t seem to matter so much as going forward). Time–that they say isn’t linear, that they say bends and spirals and plays and whatever else–is never more obvious, more powerful, more unyielding, more ridiculous than when This Is Happening while your mind insists It’s Not.

It’s good to be here–1 year later where the aftershocks of that knowing are less often and less real. These words are a starburst. Some black marks across a white page that translate the excess, the accessible, but not the moment, the reality, the knowing itself. That which can only be felt in living the shift from This to This.

Like when you step in a hole….but that’s a remembering for another time.