If I can wake up every morning and face the fallen world with an open heart, even if I know that it will hurt,
If I can bring an open heart to a world in which educated people would rather risk their children’s lives than give them a vaccine that some irrational rumors and logical fallacies have suggested might cause them to have a neurology like mine,
If I can teach with an open heart in a world in which pedagogy is increasingly replaced with bureaucracy,
If I can meet my students with an open heart, even if I know some of them will break it without even knowing it,
If I can care for my friends with an open heart, even if I know they will not always understand it or appreciate it,
If I can seek intimacy with an open heart, even if I’ve been abused for it,
If I can love people with an open heart, even though I know they will disappoint me,
If I can write with an open heart, even if I’ve had the worst the internet commentariat has to offer aimed at me,
then that is the most radical act of resistance I could ever offer. And the motes and splinters that I take home, if I have the discipline to put them into ordered lines, make for a poetry more essential than anything I could write otherwise.
I told my students that it seemed to me, on this reading, that Kafka’s hunger artist had a kind of pride that was good for the artist and bad for the human. He couldn’t, finally, find anything he liked to eat because the human part had died. When I open my heart, and suffer for it, it is the human and not the artist who feels the pain, but I do not think I have the same kind of pride. The open heart is ineluctably human and thus reaffirms that my humanity endures, interwoven with the artist.
After all, starvation—or any kind of deprivation—is a kind of closing off, and on its own, outside of certain contexts, isn’t really a necessary art.
A pedagogy that cannot respond to change is at best a zombie pedagogy. Monday morning I came in to my office to learn that Seamus Heaney had died over the weekend. Because one of my goals in my Introduction to Literature is to present literature as a living tradition that is constantly moving, I decided to throw away my plan for the class that day and look at one of Heaney’s poems (“Follower”) instead.
Then, because many of my students had been asking how a poem is made, I wrote my own poem on Heaney’s death and went through it in class, explaining where the ideas had come from—how the first line was one of my first thoughts when I read the news (and how I tweeted it before thinking it could become part of a poem), how different parts came from different things I had done over the weekend and different associations I had with the dates (as well as something another instructor here said to me). I also talked to them about how I took phrases, and finally lines, from Heaney’s poetry and incorporated them into mine, and we talked about how some poets use others’ words to a much greater extent (because I would never want them to think that there’s only one way to make a poem).
It was a frightening thing to do, sharing a poem in the afternoon that I had only written that morning, but taking risks like that is the best way I know to build trust with my students and to encourage them to take risks, too.
A Memorial Poem for Seamus Heaney, from Another Archipelago
while I was floating in the Pacific, Seamus Heaney died
while I was floating with my too-squat pen
firmly lodged in my shoes
on the snag
on the shore,
Seamus Heaney died
while I was floating, I released
my hair, my memories of my Father
fishing on the other side
of the Pacific, hiking
with me alone of all three siblings
to the stone tower on Orcas Island
while I was floating, one day ahead
it was still the day my Father died
twelve years before in Seattle
and in Ireland, Seamus
and the next day I was floating too
with a Senator and a Spanish Ambassador
—important men, and still it rained,
each drop reflected back up from waves
and gathering concentric
circles to itself—pocks on salt
—and when it ceased
I thought I didn’t have the words
for the sun caps on the waves
or the blues—cerulean, ultramarine, made-up verdimarine
wouldn’t do—and I still didn’t know Seamus Heaney had died
and Monday when I got online, I knew
the words had fled
with his life
—because Ireland’s rare sun
reveals greater seas
as the words for trust & love
fled my tongue a dozen years before
as I was floating
Seamus Heaney died
tonight, in the lagoon, I will float some more
at high watermark
and floodtide in the heart
Sometimes the best classes happen when you start out thinking the whole thing is going to fall apart. I finished off this week—my first full week at the College of the Marshall Islands—with a lesson that began that way. I had planned to have students use Google Drive to download, upload, and edit documents—largely so they could learn how to do it—but at first this plan seemed unworkable. Some of the computers weren’t turning on. Some of them couldn’t access the Internet. Some students couldn’t remember their passwords. The sharing link I provided wasn’t working.
On reflection, it was probably good that we ran into these difficulties together, so I could show students how I solved them.
At the time, however, I was sure my lesson was going to fall apart and I would have to dance and sing to fill the remainder of the hour and 15 minutes. (I can just about manage the latter.) Still, I was eventually able to get most of the students logged on to download and complete a worksheet I had prepared about the use of auxiliary verbs, and I had those who could not get logged on partner up with those who could.
But then came the real test. At the end of the worksheet was a link that would allow students to edit, together, a list of interview questions.Despite some initial difficulties getting into the file, and some initial reserve about adding to a group document, the students ended up getting very involved in the project. They especially started to enjoy themselves when I showed them how to use the chat and comment functions, and I’ve already received several requests from them to do more activities in Google Drive.
the art of teaching’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
The odyssey of my life has taken me to Majuro atoll, capitol of the Republic of the Marshall Islands in Micronesia. I am here to teach humanities at the College of the Marshall Islands. My office has an ocean view. There are a lot of ocean views here—and views of the lagoon.
Here is a sampling of what I’ve learned about life on this atoll in the few days since coming here:
- When it rains heavily, the downpour usually lets up after ten or fifteen minutes. Most people wait it out rather than braving it with umbrellas or rain slickers.
- Everything that can have sugar added does have sugar added. Even juice brands that in the U.S. are all about containing actual juice here have more sugar than fruit.
- Diabetes is a major health issue.
- The geckos can be cannibals, but having one in the house is still good luck.
- Falling coconuts have killed people.
- The Australian Navy compound is called Wallaby Downs.
- The feral dogs mostly run around doing their dog things: running around, drinking water from puddles, eating (most seem to be reasonably well-fed), and flopping around in the sand. Sometimes, however, they do come barking at people who have trespassed their territory; in this case, picking up a coconut or rock and acting like you’re going to throw it at them usually drives them off.
- Swimming in the lagoon is safer than swimming in the open ocean, not only because of waves and currents but also because of sharks. Only the babies come into the lagoon. Think avulsions instead of amputations.
- The sunset and sunrise mirror each other. If I had to use an adjective, I would be forced to use “resplendent”—so be glad that adjectives have not yet been made mandatory.
- Pandanus fruit tastes like nothing else. At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but the more I tasted it, the better and more complex it seemed. It starts out tasting almost soapy. It’s not really sweet (but it kind of is). There’s a hint of orange (but not really). The texture, when it’s pulped, is a little bit like mango, but when the fruit is whole, the pandanus is far more fibrous.
- Marshall Islands calls for leadership from Australia on climate change (theguardian.com)
- Marshall Islands bracing for more destructive seas (abc.net.au)
- CLIMATE CHANGE : Act now or rising seas will sink our country, Marshall Islanders tell the world (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)