On the Periphery

Things change. Life throws us curves and changeups. It's good to have a place to vent.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I have learned much. It’s only been a short six weeks, but I have learned perhaps the greatest lesson I will ever know, and that is this: that I have much to learn.

When we are young, we think we know it all. I have to constantly remind myself not to argue with my son because he is so sure of himself and his views. I was in his position once, young and invulnerable. What has changed is that his surety in his ideas is not based on some archaic idea of black and white, good or bad, moral or immoral. He has more tolerance for imperfections and finds blame (and glory) in both sides of every issue. His truth is malleable. He will be a good lawyer.

I remember black and white: the world was divided into good and evil, into right and wrong. When did we discover those gray areas that creep insidiously like so much night fog curling around our feet?

Tom Brokow wrote of the Greatest Generation, the one that went through the Depression and World War II, as having the greatest courage and stamina. But they had it easy: the enemy was as clear-cut as a swastika. Today the enemy can be anyone, anywhere, can look just like “us.” Even those of us who denounce any bias walk a little more cautiously nowadays. Life is uncertain—that’s been proved again and again.

Knowledge is the key. The phrase “know thy enemy” has taken on a new meaning—not just to recognize our “enemy,” but to understand him. The more we learn about the world, about others, about how people think and how they become what they become, the closer we can move to peace.

But I digress. Back to my main point: School is great!

I look forward to discovering even more how little I really know, and then working to begin remedying the situation.

Monday, July 17, 2006

I am Arnold Horshak.
At least I feel like him sometimes in class, like I want to shoot my arm up and blurt out, “Ooo, ooo!”

My classmates are like any students, reluctant to shout out answers and opinions, perhaps from the fear of being deemed "wrong," although I don't think this class has that stigma. Maybe they just have better manners than I. Not that I know all the answers, but I always have an opinion or a suggestion. Yet, being a teacher myself, I remember how awful it was to have one student always giving the answers. So I try to restrain myself. The instructor asks a question, calls for an opinion. I wait. Silence. I try, I really do. But I also know how awful it is for a teacher to be greeted by silence. I wait. Then my hand goes up, or my mouth exclaims.

My grandfather always said (I’m sure it wasn’t original) that when you are talking you are not learning anything. I listen. I am learning. I am trying, Mr. Kot-ter.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Last night's class was a workshop: we discussed our first written assignment, a blank verse meditation poem a la Browning or Marlowe. It was exciting, interesting, and terrifying!

Everyone in the class is so nice, it made it a little easier. I was very proud of my poem--I had worked hard on it, struggling to make the meter work, to get some good images, and, most important, to put across my main idea. I was nervous, of course, about getting feedback.

Perhaps most interesting was my attitude going in--a true indicator or how I have changed since the last time I was in school. In the past, I would have been expecting everyone to simply rave about my perfect poem. I would have been crushed by the simplest suggestion for change. Now, I WANTED that suggestion. I wanted to learn how to make it better. I find myself much more open to criticism now. Why? Perhaps 30 years as a (often rejected) freelancer has toughened my hide. Perhaps 26 years as a mother has destroyed any illusions of perfection I may have had about myself (those kids are a tough audience). Perhaps simply living has pared and honed my self-image so that I am more able to accept criticism and suggestions. Whatever, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing how I could make my poem better, and intend to use what sounds right and not what doesn't.

I must admit, though, that I still have difficulty in such a situation. As an actor, I try to establish the best face as people are explaining their ideas. It seemed to me that we are all afraid of hurting the other person, so we couch our remarks with positives. That's a good thing. As a teacher and as a theater director, that's the method I always use. But that presents the alternate problem of how to receive those remarks. I found myself putting on my deer-in-the-headlights look, which I hate. I just wanted to assure my critiquer that I was open to his or her remarks, and not at all offended.

Anyway, on to the poem. The assignment was a blank verse poem (iambic pentameter, no rhyme), 25-30 lines (or thereabouts), presenting a situation that prompts a meditation. Here is the version I handed in:

South Shore, Chicago

The sidewalk buckles, yielding to the roots
Of gnarled trees that line the unkempt way
And loom above, their shadows specked with light.
Dry autumn breezes blend the city filth
With leaves that blow in swirls of russet dust.
My visit here is not a good idea;
The neighborhood has changed much since the days
when we could safely walk the streets at night,
But the synagogue is there, still square and stone,
Rejecting devastation, flouting time.
The changes have been many through the y ears:
The door that held a star now holds a cross,
And splintered boards replace some stained glass panes.
The choir begins rehearsal. Music plays.
Then rhythmic prayers blend with autumn wind,
To grace a graceless world with love and peace.
The soaring voices shift within my head,
Combining with the shards of long ago:
Of bending nasal tones and plaintive chants,
Sounds both I and the building recollect.
The dance of language lingers, drawing deep
Of autumn nights and prayers half-understood,
Where concrete and ethereal combined.
this sidewalk bore the tread of family feet.
One slab still bears my cousin's print, and mine,
Beside our names scrawled in a childish hand.
My mother, coming down the alley, saw,
And scolded us: "On Shabbos you do that?"
Then, laughing as she wiped our hands of shame,
She kissed our foreheads, lovingly as God.
So many years I walked the bidden path,
Behind strong walls of generations bound
By sound and soul, by threads of love and faith.
Though much is gone--my mother, youth, the chants--
that canon, even sleeping, stays alive.
The music of this place, today and then,
Combine as one sweet melody of hope.
The sound is strange, the purpose new, and yet
Not new, for faith is faith, in any form.
A policeman stops. He asks me if I'm lost,
And offers me a ride to somewhere "safe."
My car is near: I know it's time to leave,
And the road that brought me here will take me home.