Poem #2: End on a question


I’ve read the greats as well as the unknowns
Gobsmacked at the similes, metaphors, synecdoche, metonymy
Inspired by the diction, the imagery
I swoon, I weep, I ponder—the depth and breadth of human emotion
Present in the lines and stanzas of good poetry
All of it leaves me to wonder:

Why add one more voice?
Why add one more verse?
Does the world need one more poet, when it barely pays attention
To the ones who already inspire?

April and Poetry: “How to Write”

When I taught English, I loved April, because April is National Poetry Month and I loved teaching poetry. I loved reading a variety of poets with my students, discussing form, and letting them loose to write poetry.

Stueve told me today about NaNoPoMo, and since I’m in the process of rebuilding parts of my life, I figured I might as well try writing 30 poems in 30 days. Most days I will likely use the prompt, unless I’m feeling extraordinarily inspired.

I do not consider myself a poet, not by a long shot. So I make no guarantee to the quality of the poems I’ll write. But I know this much: this project is the ultimate exercise in practicing what I preach.

I tell my students all the time that to become better writers, they need to practice writing. They need to play around with form and function and language. And even if they think the writing isn’t great (and most of the time it won’t be), over time they will start to see flashes of brilliance–a word here, a sentence there–just from the cumulative effect of practice.

All of the poems I post this month will be first drafts–if you read one that you think is worth salvaging and working into something better, leave a comment and let me know. If you read one that is weak or trite or saccharine or angsty, talk about it behind my back with your friends.

Today’s prompt was “instructions on how to do something.”

April 1, 2019
How to Write

Sit on comfy gray couch, open the laptop
Stare at a blank screen, blinking cursor taunting—
“Write something. I dare you.”

Close the laptop, stand up
Look around, look for options—
Movie? TV show? Podcast? Piano? Or heaven forbid: clean something?

Pick up laptop, walk to desk, sit in oversized black office chair
Open the laptop, stare at a blank screen, breathe deeply—
Click away on black keys.

Don’t edit, don’t stop, just write.

When a person with depression gets Some News.

I woke up this morning to a grey sky and cold air. After yesterday’s warm sunshine, the stark contrast convinced me to skip Jazzercise and stay in bed a bit longer.

Then I received some disappointing news. The nature of the news is irrelevant to this post. But to set any inquiring minds at ease, no one is in mortal danger and life is generally still fine; the news was just disappointing. And my brain revolted.

The trajectory I experienced upon hearing this news was:

  1. This news sucks.
  2. Therefore there’s not much of a reason to live.

Keep in mind the news was just disappointing, not earth-shattering or life changing. There are possible solutions to this news, even. But it didn’t matter–my depression-riddled brain does not care about logic or solutions in times like these. I imagine healthy-brained people do not always react in such a way; though I fully admit I’m assuming, since I don’t know what having a healthy brain is like. Maybe their trajectory is like this:

  1. This news sucks.
  2. But other things suck too.
  3. I wonder what I can do about this sucky news.
    1. Solution A
    2. Solution B
    3. Solution C
    4. etc….
    5. One of these is bound to work.
  4. Nothing I can do about it now, so time for sushi and friends and things will work out.

Instead, I have to fight back with what I’ve learned from cognitive behavior therapy, and I did the following:

  1. I took a deep breath.
  2. I picked up a Cadbury creme egg (it was 9:30 a.m., and eggs are breakfast food after all).
  3. I put down the Cadbury creme egg, telling myself chocolate was not the answer right now.
  4. I looked at my calendar for the day and saw the following events:
    1. Lunch with friends
    2. Volunteering at a flood relief distribution center
    3. Hanging out with my niece
    4. Baseball opening day
    5. A new cookie recipe to try
  5. I took another deep breath.
  6. I decided to *not* cancel on lunch, volunteering, or my niece, even though I wanted to.

Then I fixed myself a dirty Diet Coke and got ready for my day.

It might seem like it was a simple exercise in mind over matter, but in truth, it was a Herculean effort. And while I distilled things into six steps there, it was probably closer to 18 steps total, because each major decision required multiple small decisions. That’s what it takes sometimes when my brain decides the depression is going to have A Day.

Lunch was great, volunteering was holy, the time with my niece was delightful (she’s my favorite–she told me so), the cookies delicious, and though the Braves lost, it’s opening day and there’s a thousand months of baseball until the playoffs.

Sometimes I forget how much progress I’ve made, how incrementally easier it is for me to recognize what my brain is doing and do the Necessary Things to stay healthy. So for that realization alone, I’m actually a little grateful for today’s disappointing news.

Casablanca (1942)

Recently someone asked me if I had a favorite movie, and I didn’t hesitate to reply, “Casablanca.” I. Love. This. Movie. So much so, that a student bought me the movie poster, which I framed, and when I look up from my desk where I do most of my writing, it’s the only thing I see.

The view from my desk at home.

Plot: Two German couriers have been killed, their letters of transit stolen. Rick, an apolitical nightclub owner, allows the thief/murderer to hide the letters in his club. Victor Laszlo has arrived in Casablanca with his wife, recently escaped from a concentration camp, hoping to use the letters as passage to the U.S.


Worst Moment: I can’t even say “when the credits roll,” because the last line is so iconic.

Fun Facts: I once dated a guy who said “They say you never forget who you saw Casablanca with for the first time.” I don’t know who the “they” are, but he was right–every time I watch this movie, I think about him.

This movie is part of my Popular Culture Studies class curriculum. I show it for two reasons: to make sure my students see a film considered one of the greatest in American cinema, but also to dissect its role in supporting U.S. involvement in World War II. There’s a fair chunk of propaganda in Casablanca, and while the love story is lovey and Humphrey Bogart never fails to make me swoon in that white dinner jacket and bow tie, all that is window dressing.

Also, because this film is in my curriculum, I have seen this movie probably 20 times, minimum. I used to think I’d catch up on grading or lesson planning while the kids watch it, but I eventually gave up on that, because I just end up watching it every single semester. Some semesters, twice a day. And since I watched it today, that means by the end of 2019, I’ll have watched this movie four times. (If my class numbers hold, that is.)

Want more fun facts? Read this. So interesting.

Oh, and one more fun fact: no one ever says “Play it again, Sam.” The line is “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.'”


Recommendation: Um. SEE IT.

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Plot: It’s 1939 and life is grand for the upper class Miniver family, who live in a village called Belham, in England. Except they hear rumblings that the German army is marching on Poland, and suspect it’s not too long before war visits their shores. The film covers, from what I can surmise, the first year or two of the war, including the dramatic rescue at Dunkirk (though we don’t see any of it). This is a war film told through the eyes of a woman, and how everyday life continued in spite of daily tragedy.

Best Moment: The best moment is, well, a bit of a spoiler so I’m not going to give specifics, except to say that it happens at the flower show. I will share related moment, though. Local church bell-ringer James Ballard is so excited to enter his rose in the flower show. When a fellow bell-ringer suggests Ballard shouldn’t trifle with such frivolous contests in times of war, Ballard responds, “There will always be roses.” And if that line wasn’t on the nose for how I should handle my life as of late, then I don’t know what is.

Worst Moment: You know, I’m not sure there was one. This film was compelling from start to finish.

Fun facts: The film was in pre-production prior to Pearl Harbor, but some scenes were reshot after the U.S. entered World War II, to reflect a tougher line against the Axis powers. The film is definitely an effective propaganda piece, especially the scene where Mrs. Miniver encounters a downed German pilot–he tells her “We will come, we will bomb your cities,” and describes the carnage he hopes the German army will create. And the final title screen reminds the viewer “America needs your money. Buy defense bonds and stamps every pay day.”

Greer Garson won the Oscar for Best Actress, and her acceptance speech was over 5 minutes (here’s 53 seconds of it). After her, the Academy started to impose time limits on acceptance speeches. On the DVD, MGM includes a piece of accompanying propaganda–a 19-minute short called “Mr. Blabbermouth,” reminding Americans to not spread rumors about the war effort.

Epiphany: The juxtaposition of the war against the daily life at home was a nice reminder that no matter how bleak things might be (or seem), life goes on. And not only does life go on, but there’s still joy to be found. As Carol, the Miniver’s daughter-in-law says, “We mustn’t waste time in fear.”

Recommendation: See it. It’s another film on the National Film Registry, and Garson’s performance really is impressive.