Quotes Challenge Day 3: Ride the Horse

Photo by my son, Vaughan M.

Behind one pain, there is another. Sorrow is a wave without end. But the horse mustn’t ride you, you must ride it. 

The final quote for the three-day challenge comes from one of my favorite books, Simone Schwarz-Bart’s Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle (published as The Bridge of Beyond in English). I feel I must provide a little context–without giving away too much of the plot, of course.

In Part 2 of the novel, Télumée, the primary character, is so profoundly grieved by her husband’s desertion that she sits on a stone in her grandmother’s backyard for several weeks, speechless and unmovable, reduced to a shade of her former self. Her trauma is understandable. After being obviously head-over-heels in love with her since they were children, Elie, her husband, suddenly and inexplicably becomes cruel and abusive and kicks her out of the house in favor of another woman. The events of her life become incongruous with the reality she’s crafted and the people she and her husband are and Télumée is so broken by this unfathomable turn of events that she “loses her mind” and can no longer function.

Télumée eventually “rises,” nurtured by her community and the steady wisdom of Toussine, her grandmother –“Queen without a Name”–who had suffered and survived many griefs herself.  I’m convinced it is the words Toussine instills at an earlier point in the novel that compels her to get up:

Behind one pain, there is another. Sorrow is a wave without end. But the horse mustn’t ride you, you must ride it.

As suddenly as she falls apart, Télumée stands up to live a life different from the one she originally imagined–one that is authentic and communal and necessary.

I have always loved this quote. When I first read it, I put the book down to pause and consider it for a while. And still, several reads later, I am blown away by the tenacity Toussine suggests we must conjure up to survive wild waves of pain and sorrow–the grit it takes to position ourselves so that deep sorrow doesn’t shape our lives, define us, or guide us and the creative prowess it takes to use that sorrow to re-plot the direction of our lives.

Sometimes when the crises come one right after another and literally knock us off our feet, it seems easier to just lie down and wallow in sadness and misery. There can be healing in (temporarily) shutting down, in resting, but at some point we (have to) decide whether we will ride the horse–our circumstances–or let the horse ride us.

There is way more to say about this quote and way, way, way more to say about The Bridge of Beyond. I hope you’ll pick it up and read it. I also hope that when life becomes too much, you’ll choose to ride.

Today’s nominees are [see a previous post for rules]:

Have a restful, fun, and safe weekend!

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Note about the photo: The photo above was shot by my son when he was eight-years-old. He is quite the photographer. I’m working on getting him to share more of his work. #proudmom

 

Matisse’s Icarus: Fall From the Sun

I mentioned in my post a couple of days ago that my student Courtney sent two postcards, and the second arrived before the first. I received the first postcard today!

It appropriately detailed (as much as can be squeezed onto a postcard) her early musings about her life in France. And it features one of my favorite French artists, Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse.

Henri Matisse, “La Chute d’Icare”

If you’ve been following my blog for at least a few years, you might remember my sharing the work of 16 little Matisses that imitate his collage style.

La Chute d’Icare [The Fall of Icarus], from Matisse’s “cut-outs” period of his late career,  illustrates the tale of Icarus, the son of Daedalus who ignored his father’s warning and with wax wings flew too close to the sun. Matisse masterfully captured Icarus’ fall through the sky to the sea.

Courtney might know I have a ‘thing” for Greek mythology (re)interpreted in art and literature. Here are a few Icarus poems worth reading:

I think I’ll write a poem this weekend that recasts the story of Icarus in my own way. I already have a title, “Fly, Baby, Fly.”  I’ll include it in my reply to Court.

“Beware the Ides of March”

It has been clear to me for some time that my students didn’t read what I read in high school, so it was little surprise to me that students in my Shakespeare course had no idea what I was talking about when I walked into class this morning warning, “Beware the ides of March.” I’m not teaching Julius Caesar this semester, but I couldn’t let the “ides of March” go by without acknowledging the play that made the line “famous.”

I read Julius Caesar in junior high with Mr. Elliott, an amazing English teacher. As he demonstrated in his booming voice how we should read/act out the play, he drew us into the text and into the lives and motivations of the characters.

I haven’t reviewed the high school literature curriculum lately, but I’m pretty sure students are no longer required to read what I “had” to read–eons ago. I imagine English teachers today have serious challenges providing a curriculum that embraces the traditional “canon” of dead white men and the more inclusive contemporary “canon” to a generation that cut its teeth on e-readers and hyperlinks.

Anyway, in honor of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, and my 9th grade English teacher, I’m dropping by not with a warning but with a poem about the unpredictable mid-March weather that makes us all “watch our backs.”

I shot the “foggy day” photo outside our home in New Orleans March 15, 2012–the “Ides of March” six years ago. If the poem is difficult to read on the photo, it appears below:

The Ides of March by Marcella Remund

The seer was right to warn us,
beware the ides of March.
It’s a dangerous time, peering
through iced windows at the jeweled
tease of crocus and daffodil.
We’ve weathered another season
of deep-freeze, locked up tight
in muscle and mind.  We’re tired
of winter’s grey and gritty leftovers.
But this is no time to get careless,
toss a floorboard heater through
the beveled glass and go out,
where spring flashes her flannel petticoat
embroidered in pinks and greens,
leaves us gaping, breathless,
in air still cold as a knife blade,
stripping off the down.

The author, Marcella Remund, is also an English professor. I wonder if her students came to her familiar with the phrase–“Beware the ides of March.”

Live, Love, and Write Good Sentences

Poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Photo by Hans Beacham

I want to live, to love and say it well in good sentences.  –Sylvia Plath

I want to write because I have the urge to excel in one medium of translation and expression of life. I can’t be satisfied with the colossal job of merely living. Oh, no, I must order life in sonnets and sestinas and provide a verbal reflector for my 60-watt lighted head.   –Sylvia Plath

Postcard Note: The postcard, featuring Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, came from Gina B (aka Bianca), my pen friend/literary twin in Germany. I received the postcard a day or two after talking with one of my students about her senior thesis. I’d suggested to her that she include Sylvia Plath in her discussion about Anne Sexton’s poetry. Coincidence? More than that, of course.

Literary Wisdom: Still Lives…Waiting

“Chaton entre des livres” (Kitten Between Books)

Life is change. If you aren’t growing and evolving, you’re standing still, and the rest of the world is surging ahead. Most of the people are very immature. They lead “still” lives, waiting.  —Louise Penny, Still Life

Note: A-dor-a-ble postcard from Heather F. (AZmom on swap-bot) for the Cup and Chaucer group’s Literary Wisdom Swap #1. For the series, swappers send partners a book-related postcard with a quote from a fictional or poetic work that enlightens, inspires, or “shows us the way.” [I host the swap in two groups on swap-bot].

 

A Last Nearby Song: Ending Autumn with Haiku

“Native Awareness.” Photo by Gale D. (grstamping on swap-bot)

I just completed the novel The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault. It’s the kind of read one can finish in one sitting, but it took me a couple of days because I read slowly while waiting in the carpool line or just before falling asleep. The book is based on the Zen concept of ensō. It feels a lot like Kafka, whose absurdist works I love, but it also feels like haiku, which is a prominent feature of the novel.

And that might be the reason I returned to my favorite book of haiku and have been reading haiku all week. However, [Kobayashi] Issa’s poem, which I didn’t see in the collection, is worthy of the last day of autumn:

evening cicada–
a last nearby song
to autumn

Gale D’s photos are brilliant reminders of the best of the season and an appropriate end to the autumn posts for the week. The photos were sent for an “A Thousand Words” group swap. The top photo was shot in Mattawa, Canada. The photo below in Orillia.

“Drive by in Orillia.” Photo by Gale D. (grstamping on swap-bot)

Somehow, the novel set in Canada, the Japanese haiku, and photos captured in Canada come together and make perfect sense for the last day of autumn–in my mind at least. 😉

Guest Post: When I Fell in Love with Words

One of the things I absolutely love about being an English professor is the regularity of my encounters with students who love language and literature as much as I do. I enjoy the connections we make over literature and the animated discussions that result from our (often divergent) readings of the same texts. Today’s post is written by Tyhara Rain, one of the brilliant students I’ve connected with over the last couple of years. Tyhara is a talented writer and artist with a sweet spirit and bubbly personality that draw people to her. She always has a lot to say, and here, she writes about where her love for words began.

Tyhara Rain. Photo Credit: Amanda Pitt

My family and I moved to the United States from Paraguay a year before I was old enough to begin kindergarten. At the time, my sister, Taleah, was six-years-old, so as in most things, she pioneered the way to school in the U.S. As a first grader, she learned the English language quickly, as did I, but she was taught something I could only dream of for two more years.  She learned to read.  I watched as my sister would become engrossed in small books and envied her age and her ability to read.

Although many children learn to read even before attending school, with a working father and a non-English speaking mother, reading before entering the first grade did not happen for me.

Though learning to read was a life changing experience, I cannot pretend to recall the process. It seemed as if I were reborn after the move to this different country. I have very few memories of the first three or four years of living in America, but I do recall my fifth grade year vividly.

With all the initial expenses of our move to the United States, there simply wasn’t enough money for lavish things such as televisions or computers in our tiny apartment. Even as we became more established in the U.S., my parents still did not purchase a television for our home. Therefore, I found my source of entertainment in books. I had a wild imagination and every adjective, noun, and verb written by the author helped me paint the most detailed illustrations in my head as I delved deeper and deeper into the pages of mystery or science fiction novels.

Because of all the reading I did at home, during class free time, and–if the book was really good–during lunch and recess as well, it was no surprise that I had an extremely well developed vocabulary and high reading level.

I remember begging my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Clark, to allow me to go upstairs where the high schoolers were to pick out a book from their much larger and more diverse selection of books. For the first few months Mr. Clark denied my request and told me to read the books that were in his library. It was incredibly irritating; we both knew that I had been reading his books since I was in the third grade, and there were very few books in his small library that I hadn’t read that interested me. To make matters worse, my sister had become less tolerant of my reading books she’d checked out for herself, so she returned them immediately after finishing them, not giving me time to finish the chapters I still had left to read.

Finally in the beginning of the third quarter Mr. Clark allowed me to go upstairs to Mr. Mugane’s English classroom to check out a book. I was thrilled. Mr. Mugane welcomed me, recognized me as a sibling of one of his best students, and ushered me into his classroom lined with endless shelves of books and a thousand different worlds I could enter simply by opening them.

Reading higher level books had its challenges, especially the frequency with which I would come across new and difficult words. It was much easier to simply ask what the words mean, but my dad was adamant about sending me to look words up for myself if I did not know the meaning. I began to read higher level books with a dictionary at my side, just in case I came across an unfamiliar word. As a result, my vocabulary continued to increase exponentially throughout the next years. Whenever I discovered new words, I found ways to incorporate them into everyday conversations to remember them in the future.

Reading a broad base of authors helped me tremendously with presenting proper sentence structures, correctly spelled words, and different writing styles. As a result, I excelled in English classes. What had once been a simple hobby, morphed into a wonderful passion for words, reading, and writing.

As a thirteen-year-old eighth grader I decided that I wanted to become an English professor. Mr.  Paul Mugane, my incredibly brilliant and dedicated English teacher from Kenya, inspired me. I wanted to verbalize my thoughts like him, compose my sentences as he did, and express myself with the same eloquence. I fell in love with his mind and expressiveness. He had such a way with words I would sit in the front row of class enchanted, like a schoolgirl in love with the classmate giving a presentation, as he taught. I soaked up everything he had to teach from Greek and Latin roots to the different connotations of words.

Mr. Mugane doted on me, as I was one of the most attentive and passionate students he had. He rarely reprimanded me for talking too much–which I always did–and took extra time to grade my papers, writing lengthy notes on the margins and even letting me review my paper with him after class.

In that classroom I truly fell in love with the English language and after sharing this with him, Mr. Mugane told me that to follow in his footsteps I would need to become an English major in college. I kept that information with me as well as my passion for English throughout the rest of my high school years.

Five years later, I messaged him from college, thanking him for the work he invested in me and for nurturing the seed of passion I had for English and for helping me reach a milestone.

As an English major, I am one step closer to reaching my dream.

*Book photos from Pixabay.