Just Wondering

Top View Of Group Of Children Sitting On The Grass In Circle by Scopio from NounProject.com

“Whoever becomes Oregon’s governor this November, the cleaning of the Augean stables of our education department should be very high, if not first, on her list of action items.” (from The Oregonian, opinion, 8/30/22)

Oregon ranks 37th in the list of Pre-K-12th Grade ranking recently released by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). The writer of this opinion piece begins by disputing the claims of an earlier “our top educational challenges” editorial by Oregon’s DOE Colt Gill.

Not why I’m writing this—great word choice in the closing paragraph, right? I am always on the lookout for that, for words I don’t know, for references that another writer has used that are unfamiliar to me.

I confess that mythology never grabbed my enduring interest. So “Augean stables” triggers my search for context. Here’s what Merriam-Webster says:

“History and Etymology for Augean

Latin Augeas, king of Elis, from Greek Augeias; from the legend that his stable, left neglected for 30 years, was finally cleaned by Hercules.”

The story hinges on the the Labors of Hercules, this being his fifth and intended to humiliate rather than elevate. Those stables were full of dung, the product of healthy cows. Hercules reroutes rivers to sweep through and eliminate the filth. Augeus is irate and reneges on the promise he made to Hercules, an agreement to give him half the cattle if the task could be completed in one day. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

Don’t mess with the gods, Augeus—even I know that.

And curiosity has led me here, to Augeus’ demise and an understanding of an allusion, an exploration engendered by a single phrase.

To cultivate curiosity in our students, to titillate imaginations? That is truly the Herculean task.

The Right Letters—the Right Order

And isn’t that fundamental to accurate spelling? Our local high school fundraiser, a rowdy community team spelling bee, returns this October 23, after a two-year hiatus, and once again, I am joining the intrepid cast of crabs pictured here:

F/V Tommy Boy takes to uncharted waters—once again

I have written about my maiden voyage during a March challenge in 2020, but I didn’t know if our team, or the event, would return. Hasn’t uncertainty about what our unfurling days will bring and planning accordingly characterized life lately?

But live to fight another day we shall. And I am excited, excited and nervous to be honest. How much have I lost in the limbo of time away from competition? So today in commitment to bolstering my skills, I return to my retirement notebooks to review my word lists.

Yesterday “cicerone” joined “foehn,” “crepitating,” and “cant,” a few from this notebook’s list. Will any of them appear? I can only speculate—”foehn: a warm dry wind descending a mountain, as on the north side of the Alps,” actually has enough pluck to be a possibility.

It’s when I go back to the notebook labeled, “Nov 2018-April 2019,” the one fat with mementos, newspaper articles, cards, printouts, that I realize I’ve tucked a few “Word-a-Day” calendar sheets between the pages—words I wanted to own. One of them is “oneiric.” And it is special because…

It’s odd enough to show up in the later rounds for quick elimination of the last teams standing, but more because it is one of the words I skimmed yesterday while reading Gabrielle Zevin’s latest novel Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. And in my race to gobble plot, to find out WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, I didn’t register its presence.

Like a Cassandra, this word resurfaces, “oneiric: relating to dreams or dreaming” to remind me—ignore these sneaker words at your peril. Not to mention that actually paying attention to this single aggregation of letters deepens the meaning of the novel. The word was not a frivolous choice. Oh, writers, I bow before you!

We’ll see what floats our way in October, but between now and then, I will be deep in the sea of words around us.

Out of the Fog

Goal achieved: Under five minutes!

The “fog that comes on little cat feet” can also be dispelled by the same. On Sunday I sat down to puzzle my way through the morning. Yes, Wordle, now dordle and quordle too, but undoubtedly the grandfather: the Daily Jumble.

The Jumble, a feature of the Oregonian forever, was delivered to our front door daily. While my mom worked her crossword in pen, my dad stuck to the quicker relative—the Jumble.

I am the middle child of six, sandwiched between an older brother and sister and a set of twins and a younger brother—truly a “middle.” I’ve read quite a bit about us sandwich-filling kids and I can say that I became one of the driven ones. When my older brother and my younger sister, one of the twins, began their fierce daily wrangling with the Jumble, the attention of my father as the true prize, I bowed out. I did not want to compete when I knew I couldn’t win.

But I’m not 13 anymore, and the Jumble summons my father in a companionable, not competitive, way. Online it can be even easier than with pencil and paper. As a player today I can type one of the scrambled letters, and if it’s the wrong choice, red flares. So to complicate things, and in homage to my past, I solve on paper.

And the new habit brings me joy, not frustration. I can celebrate victory, and an occasional defeat, quietly, privately, imagining my father’s face and gentle hand on my shoulder.

On Sunday the Jumble is more challenging, six-letter words rather than five and six words rather than four. Two days ago, I set the timer by activating the first letter, picked up my pencil, and began puzzling. My goal is always to solve under five minutes. As I toyed with the letters, the timer tick, tick, ticked. I was stuck, stuck, stuck.

My cat Cowboy, off exploring, had returned to our desk and sauntered from food dish to his lap—mine—and as he made his descent, it struck me—the remaining unsolved scramble:

So…that fog that settles can as easily lift as little cat feet find their safe harbor. Thanks, Cowboy!

Poetry in Motion

My desktop is littered with possible blog post prompts that spoke to me at one point. Here, a few weeks ago, a writer left (I apologize I don’t know who, but if anyone does, please let me know for credit) a wonderful detailed prompt about crafting a poem from a news article.

It was the creative blueprint that drew me initially, and I have used news before as inspiration, but no, nothing fired today. Then I saw the headline in the morning newsletter (tmn) “The queen is leaving the building,”and noted the New York Times headine, “Serena Williams said she planned to retire…” I needed no more incentive.

Not easily a fan girl, and even less a poet, I just want to go on record: Serena is an exception. The article tmn links comes from the September issue of Vogue, free for all, and a tribute to her. View it yourself, and see what you think.

Star Shine

The word, ‘retirement’?

[not] a modern word

call it: WHAT’S NEXT

call it: EVOLUTION.

Two feet in

the future, that star hers—

burning, reaching

a new sky—


because of her.

Leadership Is a Journey

Professional organizations—oh, I have been so lucky to belong to mine. College education: the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, Bard College, University of New Hampshire…can you tell I believe in learning?

But, my membership in the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN), my state affiliate in New Jersey (NJCTE), and now that I’m home in Oregon OCTE enrich my professional life. How I found NCTE is its own story, not for today.

Today belongs to my shift from full-time teacher-member to OCTE board member and now executive committee member, and OCTE’s decision to sponsor my attendance at NCTE’s first in-person gathering last weekend in Louisville: Homecoming. I attended the Affiliate Leaders Meeting. Truthfully, I didn’t even know what that would entail, but I figured it out on Friday afternoon when NCTE President Emily Kirkpatrick welcomed us.

Affiliate Regions (map courtesy of the Standing Committee of Affiliates)

Oregon was the only representative from Region 7. That in itself says a lot about the state of post-pandemic local organizations. I felt OREGON STRONG and proud! Fortunately so many other amazing, committed affiliate leaders attended, financially supported by their organizations and NCTE, “the mothership,” as Kirkpatrick said. And we supported each other, and learned from each other, and shared our challenges, too.

One of the presenters was Chris Bronke, head of the Conference on English Leadership (CEL), yet another from the list of NCTE sub-groups that supports all of us involved in English education. Chris has now joined the chorus of “voices in my head.”

When I was completing my Masters degree at Rutgers, Michael Smith coined that phrase. It’s funny, though, how the solos have changed since my responsibilities have shifted to leadership. This trip brought new voices into the spotlight: Bronke, Kirkpatrick; and, foremost, fellow affiliate leaders, members of this chorus. These fellow volunteers are engaged in the challenging work of supporting teachers just like themselves.

Of course my familiar choral partners remain: Michael Smith, Jim Burke, Linda Rief, Tom Romano, and Linda Christensen. I return to them, my underpinning melody line. But new soloists are being added, a shift in movement: Bronke, Kirkpatrick; and, foremost, fellow affiliate leaders, featured members of my chorus.

I’ve already written here about OCTE’s amazing President, Laurie Dougherty. With her base line, “A good leader has to teach others to be leaders,” and her unfailing example of that, she has become a consistent voice. I always await her next brilliant notes and am never disappointed.

When an organization like OCTE supports its volunteer board members by helping to finance leadership training, it underscores the message: This matters; you matter.

My applause—and respect—only swells for OCTE.

“Since feeling is first” ee cummings (photo courtesy of NCTE/ALM)