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Peace

Peace doesn’t have to be simple, but it can be.

Peace can be a self-acceptance that we extend like a grace-garland

to others. Peace can be a place where we finally name ourselves

“Who-I-Am-in-Christ.” Peace can be movement or still-life.

Needing less. Doing less. Filled. Vessels without our own agendas.

Lingering for a Christmas moment on the precipice of obedience.

Not someone else’s formula for me and not my own. Peace

can be walking while listening. Harnessing that power.

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This

We sleep in fits. We pray in dreams.

We cannot seem to find our way

this year. You have returned to us simplicity

and quiet praise of long charades. It is December

and we go through motions of an automatic dance.

We cling to the lungs of faith, a faith we have not given

breath. Help us, Lord, to find our thankfulness as a warm

repose, as a reminder that this solitude, while stark,

can rewire our attention spans for You. A candle burning

cinnamon, remembrance of friends’ laughter and the multitudes of stepping among crowds and gathering in front of shops and trees

and altars, of passing babies and sharing food. I hold these thoughts close to me this season. I do not welcome evening dark, but neither will I shun her lessons to me. In this stillness, Your presence

shines so real to me, Lord. For this I am thankful.

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Christmas Reflections

I am challenging myself to use writing as reflection during the upcoming holiday season. More quiet time…less fussiness. These are free-writes–no editing and revising. Christmas prayers to start my day.

My gift to the Christ-child this season, but more accurately it is my gift to myself.

11/22 Christmas Prayer

I like to find all my broken parts

smoldering scars inside

hurts from long ago to yesterday

waking up in ice and white loveliness

strewn like boot prints across snow

This is the season of love

Healing is a fluid drink

Ingested over time

warm to touch and soothing

mosaic pieces of words and smells

This is the season of taste

Everything slows down

The Gospel sleeps among us

perfect in wordlessness

There is time for silence to approach

our humble narratives

May I create beauty around me this Christmas,

rather than worry about my own lack.

May I revel in burned cookies

May I celebrate with children for whom

this season reaches with embrace

You came yourself as a child.

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Listen to the Sensitives

I was the 4th grader in the front of the room who cringed as the student two desks away was removed from the classroom by Mr. Reynolds, the school principal, for a tough-love form of corporal punishment.

I was the little girl who was mostly motivated by trust and love, reaching for approval like a tree-climber who spies redder fruit on a distant limb. My grandfather disciplined me with whispers and the changing tones of his eyes. I needed nothing else.

I was the young adult who found the need for thickened skin to be the most challenging task of any job I might undertake, any relationship I might enter into.

While most people struggle with vulnerability, I am a poet who is most comfortable in the quietude of authenticity, all the masks and roles discarded around me, their colors creating a prism on the floor.

I don’t small-talk or sound-bite very well, although I can debate with the best of them, mostly because sensitive people really listen and absorb the ideas and feelings around us. Ideas and feelings don’t really become our own in the same way this happens to others.

I don’t argue with people to persuade them to change their minds, but get them to open their minds to complexity. To be vulnerable is to be uncomfortable, to be right about nothing. A word always fills the glass of one by taking water from another. Unless it is a poem.

Words are masks, and as a person whose life is to create with words, I believe myself a sort of unwilling expert, able to verify the truth of this statement by my own brow lines.

If we listen to the chants and callings from the divided and divisive sides in this nation in 2020, if we read the social media posts from left to right from Left and Right, not as Talking Points coming from Talking Heads, but as severed heads rolling toward us on a hill of Ireland-green grass that immediately turn brown when touched by the breath of their collective rhetoric, then we begin to empathize with the fact that he who lives by the word, dies by the word.

In this time, during this pandemic, it is time to listen to the sensitives and to adjust the timber of our tones, as my grandfather did, as though sensitives are always listening. Because they are.

We must remember that tone is not as easily canceled as diction. What is offensive and reprehensible to say about a minority in this country is also offensive and reprehensible to say about Donald Trump. For it is in the saying of it that we keep the potential of vicious oppression alive.

Right now, these words are everywhere like the germs of a virus ready to penetrate us, ready to isolate us from one another to ensure that what has been great about this country (in the midst of so much that is terrible about this country) dies alone on a vine that our own Tweeting (not someone else’s) keeps us from being able to reach.

As a writer, I have learned the power in manipulation of words. I can change, delete, re-arrange on a blank page and with the same 25 dictionary-approved signs, tell a myriad of stories, with my own hiding in plain sight.

It doesn’t matter who started the fight, we are all headed to the principal’s office. It is our country’s backside that is going to emerge battered and bruised, stoic and tearless, toughened and ready to endure more licks with the paddle.

While the sensitives avert our eyes and wipe our tears with our own sleeves, feeling as though we have done more wrong in feeling the tragedy than those whose mouths have constructed and perpetrated it.

It isn’t about who holds the paddle. It’s about abolishing this kind of governing. It’s about returning to ordinary, to behaving again like ordinary Americans. We can refuse to listen to propaganda. We can stop reacting to what others are saying and start listening carefully to what we say.

We can, when we speak, when we tweet, when we choose our media, realize that we, too, hold a paddle in our hands and it is our choice what we listen to. One person, even at the very top of this country, can’t force me to be hate-filled. That is my choice, my right.

Actions must speak louder than words in politics: our words. The kind of tolerance that is dangerous is not a tolerance of those with whom we disagree (and their words), but a tolerance of those with whom we agree whose rhetoric is just as bad.

In 2020, I disagree with everyone. Every news anchor on cable television who doesn’t talk to me like Mr. Rogers did. I am hiding in the classroom supply closet behind next year’s textbooks, waiting for our President to wash out his mouth and hand the soap to Whoopi Goldberg and Mika. Stop crying on national television because your prayers have been answered and start caring about the ones whose prayers have not. Here’s how you can show you care: stop telling entire groups of people across this country that their prayers are irrelevant, that their beliefs don’t contain the wings you ascribe to your own.

We are a country of ordinary, awkward prayers, buoyed by this sometimes misguided belief in our own resiliency. There are moments in my own life when I don’t want to be known as American, sometimes because I don’t understand, really, what that means, and sometimes because I clearly do.

Before there is power, there are words that we equip with that power, words that we condense into slogans and brands. Then we stand on the sidelines and watch who will carry the flame, who will attempt to douse it. We pay very little attention to the people who say nothing, until it becomes time to award the blame.

Perhaps a month-long shut down is in order for this particular virus that seems to live in all generations. Let’s all collectively sit down and shut up, perhaps read a little Shirley Jackson, and practice intent listening. Let the ratings plummet. Let Facebook have some alone, mirror-time to put on her makeup and make herself presentable. Let us pay attention to deeper voices, well-chosen words, kindness and respect toward everyone, and by everyone, I mean everyone–even old, white men.

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Faith for these times

via Faith for these times

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Faith for these times

Here is a poem I wrote several years ago. I have always enjoyed the rhyme in this poem because I seldom rely on rhyme as much as I have here. I was steeped in Irish poetry when I wrote this. The green grass that has erupted on our lawns this past week brings hope, and when I feel hope, I always realize the cradling hands of faith. These are religious words that have been misused and sometimes overused to the point that we often ask ourselves in our most challenging moments: What do they really mean? What does it mean to have faith? Sometimes I write poetry to try to explain that to myself and for myself.

It is a beautiful nourishment to see neighbors, friends, and even strangers act in faith.

 

Faith

 

God loves those who hang by a thread

over fallen lights, whose grip on the slim

of the unknown is a slice, who hang on,

but do not have words for it. God sees

the articulation of that resolute silence,

that beautiful thing, as a drop on a sliver

of green, just eyes averting to the blue upward,

just a heave of nothing but the upturn of a lip

that can’t sing. God listens anyway

though no one else does to the rhythm of a dangling

silk on the sleeve of a dream and He calls that

a faith, the faith of a seed in a famine of noise,

a posture of white knuckled, no-matter-what

holding on–tendering abandonment to soft string.

 

 

-Kerri Vinson Snell

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Your homeschooled student doesn’t want to write and what to do about that.

I briefly homeschooled two of my four children (who are now adults) for different reasons, with each homeschooling stint lasting an academic grade for each child. Each time I homeschooled I received amazing support from our local school district and local homeschooling community so I was never alone in the endeavor. As someone who has always had an interest in homeschooling, the idea wasn’t thrust upon me as the only option, which is what many parents today are facing. I had already read many books about homeschooling and had sort of settled on my educational approaches (Montessori and Unschooling were my philosophical methods choices). I hope you are receiving good support from your school districts wherever you are.

I felt no qualms about teaching physical education, history, literature, writing and reading; however, math and science were another matter. For math and science, I needed HELP. My hope with this blog post is to provide parents who feel as though you are floundering with writing assignments with some ideas and options.

  1. Writing during times of national and personal trauma (i.e. a pandemic) will be like no other time. It’s difficult to be creative when you are in the midst of “fight-or-flight” responses. Rather than assign writing in the traditional way with a single, large project looming over your child’s little stressed out brain, provide prompts for “free-writing.” Let them write without worrying about punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Teach them that this is what real writers in the real world do. We write our first drafts with reckless abandon. This is first-draft writing. No censor. No right-and-wrong response. No worry about when to break a paragraph or how neat the penmanship is. Refrain from marking all the mistakes with a red pen. Let the student keep a folder of these first drafts. After there is a good selection in the folder, have your student pick her favorite. From here you will teach the slower, more tedious process of revision.
  2. And a word about revision. Most writers wait days/weeks/months before we are able to look at a first draft with the fresh eyes of an editor. Give your writer time and space before you expect them to know how to make the first drafts better.
  3. Always have several prompts prepared for each writing activity. Most students need a narrowed and creative approach (prompt) which provides them the structure they need to walk through the writing door. You can always instruct students that it is fine for them to write from their own ideas if they choose.
  4.  You want to challenge your student writer without too much frustration. Remember, to prize the IDEAS over perfect spelling, grammar, topic sentences, etc. I teach college writing and I can’t emphasize enough that critical thinking is developed through freedom of expression and love of learning, not diagramming sentences and perfect subject-verb agreement. Teach your student how to correct spelling and revise paragraph order as REVISION work, not as the thing which qualifies them as a creative thinker and writer.  The goal here is to develop a love of writing. The rest will come.
  5. Let your student experiment with writing nonfiction, fiction, poetry and hybrid forms. When I was a young child, I wrote poetry to understand my own questions and previous knowledge about subjects I was learning in school.  The child who hates essay-writing may adore the ABC-derian poem.
  6. Develop writing assignments that provide students with a built-in audience. Write letters to nursing home residents. Let them keep a blog about this time of quarantine. Let them create a Book of Questions as they watch current events unfold before their eyes. Let them draw more and write less if they prefer. Let them listen to music if they find this helpful.
  7. If giving them a page limit is causing frustration, let them write to a timer. 15 minutes of writing without stopping for any reason followed by a 3-5 minute break. The Pomodoro method works for writers of all ages and abilities.
  8. Be sure the student has had an adequate amount of exercise/play before writing class begins. I have developed the ability to sit for 4-6 hours at a time and write if need be, but not until I have completed an hour of high intensity exercise.
  9. Finally, write with your child and always include a time to share writing with one another.

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing Prompts for These Times

Parents across the country find yourselves joining the words “home” and “school” as a real thing in your lives for the first time. If that seems like a bad joke or an oxymoron (the way #alonetogether does), you may be scrambling for resources–something to accomplish after your kiddos complete their toilet paper roll art projects.

Here is a writing project for you.

An Aubade is a poem or song that welcomes the dawn or laments the ending of night (or both). An Aubade can also be a song. According a  March 12, 2018 explanation in the  New York Times, the word was first used in 1678 and was adopted by the French from the Spanish word “alba,” meaning sunrise.

Two of my favorite Aubade poems (for older students) are “Aubade With Burning City by Ocean Vuong and “Aubade Ending with the Death of a Mosquito” by Tarfia Faizullah  https://poetrysociety.org/features/in-their-own-words/tarfia-faizullah-on-aubade-ending-with-the-death-of-a-mosquito.

For younger students, here is an example of an Aubade poem that I composed with you in mind this morning, using Prompt #3 below. I have bolded the words which answer the questions in Prompt #3:

The sun rises in the east to the sound of a drip–

black coffee and oatmeal on my spoon–

I talk to myself stringing thoughts together

like tiny daisies on black silk pajamas.

I could still sleep to  this light.

Writing Prompts: Listen to the following “Morning Song” and watch the video footage of a sunrise as you listen.

  1. Write down the words that come to your mind as you watch and listen. Use these words to write a poem that welcomes the dawn or laments the end of night (or both).
  2. Are you a morning person? A night owl? Write about yourself and the ways that you either celebrate the morning or lament the end of sleep.
  3. Write down 3-5 words taken from your morning routine. What kind of toothpaste do you use? What do you usually eat for breakfast? Who is the first person you usually talk to in the morning? What patterns are on your favorite pajamas? You can devise your own questions about morning to answer and use in this prompt.
  4. (More challenging) Write an Aubade poem in which a sunrise is a symbol for the end of one season of your life and the beginning of a new phase (graduating high school or college, ending a relationship, living after loss of a loved one,  the end of your school year and beginning of home education, for example).

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Dear Church

I keep coming back to you–tired, weak, huddled–in desperate need of an encounter with God, with unrealistic expectations about your sound system, your music, your expository sermons.

I hate name tags even as I struggle to remember new names.

Communion sometimes feels like blind taste test. My soul often feels looked over as though a grander bird is stealing all the sunlight from my measly wing span. The only solution I hear from you is to fly, fly, fly…keep flying…soar like an eagle even though I am not an eagle at all. I get the feeling as I flutter that the WWJD answer is not what we are always being told. I think Jesus himself would find a safe place to land.

I am more of a sparrow, one whose active parenting duties spanned 33 years. I have half my kidney function and a full-time job. I have partnered with God to climb some enormous private mountains, ending family cycles of dysfunction as I mothered without a mother of my own. The buck stopped with me and God taught me how to detonate the grenade that lived inside of me so that I could move forward in forgiveness. Perhaps this is why I don’t feel particularly guilty when I tell people NO.

I am officially bake-sale’d out. I don’t want to paint the church on Saturday. I don’t want to sit around and hear happy-ending testimonies that skip all the moments. I don’t want to hold other peoples’ babies.  I don’t want to serve coffee or operate a flannel board or endure patronizing changes of tone when male elders talk down to me.

I just want to be able to bring myself to the altar of worship. The real me with the 150 pages of essays I haven’t graded, with the deep love and commitment  I have for my own family, all the pictures of my Cavapoo,  the stories of my grandsons, my addiction to caffeine and the secret wish to be out on a trail running somewhere rather than sitting in a pew. I want to open a Bible that isn’t an app on my phone and sit in uncomfortable silence so that my mind and body can remember the boon of reflection. I want to hear God whisper to me, Daughter, I know you are trying to manage so much without taking synthetic hormones. I know your ovaries are gone. I know it all really has to be in your head now, which is difficult because you have no time to think. I know your faithfulness and faithlessness and it all hangs on the Cross the same. 

What if God is calling the 50-somethings in the church to put the atlas of the world down and stretch our hamstrings a bit?

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Privilege

My thoughts after reading that elitist college entry requirements were designed as a means of protecting the privileged are: What if we all just stop wanting what they have? What if celebrity status and zip code were one thing and character and work ethic and integrity were something to be prized far above a life of air-brushed insta-identities? What if we learned, again, to listen with discernment at content over packaging? What if how a person lived out his or her life were the measure of grace instead of where? What if trendiness were once again viewed with a certain skepticism, and ideas were required, once again, to stand the test of time? What if we woke up one morning and reserved judgement of all persons we came in contact with until we watched and listened? What if incongruities between words and actions were not so easily dismissed by self-promotion on social media and other types of spin. What if we looked at our own histories and used that light to illuminate how a champion is never born in the present tense, how “greatness” gets decided in the way of rivers–meandering, sometimes negative growth that steps forward and sometimes works against the current. Often unrecognized.

Privilege is its own vast continent. Those of us who even aspire to perfect eyebrows, envying those with  ivy league associations, are already blessed beyond what we can obviously comprehend. I, for one, feel privileged to live in Kansas and to teach at a small college that is only on the radar of the few, relatively speaking. I get to invest my time and talents in hard-working, aspiring students from all over the world and from different backgrounds, many of whom are first-generation college students, as they quite daily pare down their priorities to the nitty gritty of higher education. There are no buy-outs and pay-offs here. But we do have one thing, and that is the ability to teach ourselves how to define success democratically and individually for ourselves. Like a song of ourselves. Like Whitman. It’s a privilege that those parents, who “traded-up” on behalf of their children, have forever excluded their children from. It’s a privilege to fail. It’s a privilege to lack some things. It’s a privilege to be loved and accepted unconditionally. It’s a privilege to learn in a heterogenous environment that includes and yet goes deeper than skin. It’s a privilege to have space for an invisible, inner life. I am not sure how to esteem any institution of higher learning that doesn’t protect all the privileges that money can’t buy over the counterfeits that it can.