The Twice-Lived Life

“It is with a heavy heart that I share…” When an email subject line begins this way and comes from my principal, I steel myself before I open it. Yesterday was no different. Even though I no longer reside in the community where I taught for 26 years, I am still deeply a member of the community because I am teaching the students who do still live there.

Usually these missives contain news of a parent of one of my colleague’s death—and by no means do I minimize that loss—but when the death is a student’s, I am devastated. This is not the way life is supposed to go. No matter who the child, the loss is personal and universal. I have lost students before; it never gets easier. All that hopefulness…

A student from the Class of 2016, the ’15-’16 school year, whom I remember vividly, you know how some of them are, sending sparks of light into the world, a center-stage smiler, Olivia, is gone—suddenly. I sit in shock letting it sink in, all those damn questions about why, and why, and why. No. Answers.

As the day unfolds, I open another email, the one for the Slice of Life Challenge. Oh, my gosh, in all the activity lately, I’ve forgotten to register. Halfway through there is a question about having our students participate, and now that I’ve come out of retirement and have “my” students, I realize I want to resuscitate my former Edublog. I want my students to challenge themselves as “Slicers” and blog for an audience of their peers.

I open my that dormant space, not remembering the last class to truly engage with this writing medium and scan. Turns out the last class to blog from our class blog hub was 2015-16—Olivia’s class. And there’s “Olivia’s Blog” listed in the roll. And Olivia, a part of her that I was lucky to know, lives there:

“After researching and accomplishing all different kinds of unique bracelets, I have learned more about the techniques, strategy’s, and overall how to make certain intricate bracelets. So far I learned the…

  • fishtail
  • chevron
  • striped
  • heart

and there’s more to come but will be done after the project is over. ” This from her post at the end of her 20% Time Project.

And this:”Out of all the categories on the checklist, one of the highest points I exceeded above is persistence. I kept at the bracelets even when I messed up.”

As I read through the posts tracking our year together, I relive our relationship. It is a bittersweet journey, but writing, writing allows that. Olivia will always be alive on these pages. For that I’m grateful. 

(Thanks to the late Donald Murray for this title.)

Love Letters

I open my Word-a-Day email a few days late yesterday… from Saturday, and I am once again, led like the hapless rats of Hamlin by the Pied Piper of an unfamiliar collection of letters, with an “x” and a “z” nonetheless, outward, to the megalopolis of the New York Times.

I can pronounce the word without the helpful megaphone, and I’ve encountered it before, but it remains elusive, tickling the edges of memory. Scrolling down the definition appears, then the etymology. Its pedigree is true, Greek and Latin, and is followed by the example:

And there’s that link, the one that lures me to the Times, the melody carried in the title, those notes “teenagers” “link school curriculum to the world.” Once I’ve arrived, I am not disappointed. All that glitters is truly gold. The Learning Network editors explain the contest from last December to “‘connect what you’re learning in school with the world today.'” “Relevance” rings in my head, relevance and rigor, the new “Rs” in education.

They add that the editorial staff valued the ability of the 56 selected essays to eloquently and creatively connect disparate texts, ranging from art to music to print, to the requirements of class in 450 words, concluding, “…they gave us something new to think about, and we hope you feel the same way.”

I had overlooked this particular article in the world of Times offerings; it was originally published on March 13, March 13 when my first cancellation occurred as a substitute at the local middle school where I had come to feel at home, March 13 when this community learned that the schools in this county, on order of the governor, would be starting Spring Vacation a week early, minus jubilation, no end in sight.

The essays inspire—these are the proof of minds at work, of the future four walls, hard work, and collaboration can build. Two shine, towers of light in the haze.

The first is by Teva Alon that ties Edward Albee’s “The American Dream” with the Times, “Welcome to the Era of the Post-Shopping Mall.” The accomplished young author mounts a stunning comparison between the “characters fully engaged in a capitalist society” in a world of “materialism and superficiality” that Albee depicts. The mall clearly embodies Albee’s “capitalistic nightmare,” and underscores Teva Alon’s closing” “The American Dream Mall is just an extension of a capitalistic nightmare that Edward Albee could only dream of, signaling that of we are not careful, we are inching closer to a world where we truly believe that money can buy happiness.”

During this time of stay-at-home, the dramatic enforced pause that the pandemic has demanded, the imagined silence in the three-million-square-foot-mall with its commitment to our amusement, our “dreams,” our desires, echoes and with it a hope that our excesses might have been curbed.

Sara Jarecke’s essay, the one that used epizeuxis, is the other. She compares the broad topic of the “study of rhetoric” with a Times feature,”We Learned to Write the Way We Talk” by Gretchen McCulloch. She tells about her experience with Advanced Placement Language: “I stumbled my way through foreign terms—epizeuxis, amplification, anastrophe—and learned their meanings and sound,” and concludes with McCullough:”no matter how we write, either informally or a breath away from perfection, we write to connect with others…”‘We’ve been learning to write not for power, but for love.'”

That says it all.