Back in September, a family friend, Tomas, who is from the Acoma Pueblo, invited us to visit him for their feast day. Acoma Pueblo stands at the top of a three hundred sixty-seven foot sandstone bluff. Pueblo people estimate they’ve lived in the area for over two thousand years, and Acoma Pueblo is considered the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America.
I took the boys out of school early, and we drove to the Pueblo to watch the dancers. They dressed in traditional attire and different groups of dancers—young and old—gathered in the plaza and danced to the rhythm of the drums, which vibrated throughout the Pueblo. Tomas invited us for lunch, and we ate watermelon, frito pie, and cake.
The boys witnessed how his family lives without electricity or running water still today. They met his extended family of brothers and cousins and other relatives. They saw the small room where several members of his family spend the night sleeping on the floor. There is no shame in this; it’s how life is navigated and embraced.
As we were about to leave, Tomas showed us the church that stands on top of the sacred site of the people’s original homes, which were destroyed by the Spanish. It’s a humbling experience to have a Native person tell you to your face how your ancestors killed their ancestors, set fire to their homes, committed countless other atrocities, and forever changed how their people would live in the world.
This Thanksgiving Day, I’m thankful for Tomas’s friendship and his generosity in letting us peek inside his life on the Pueblo. I’m grateful for the Water Protectors in North Dakota fighting for all of our right to clean, safe drinking water. And, I’m thankful the boys will grow up knowing Natives are real people—not pictures in history books—with struggles and joys, who continue their traditions and maintain their culture.
What makes you thankful today?
I’m excited to announce that my poem “Twin Birth” will be published in Literary Mama next spring! It seems like forever away, but I’ll be sure to send you a link once it’s up on their site!
What good news did you receive recently?
I love watching the Olympics! There’s something thrilling in seeing people compete at their very best, sometimes finding victory and other times disappointment. I think of all the years these athletes have worked for one moment—the ups and downs, the sweat and tears, the encouragement and obstacles. While their battles unfold publicly across all media, most of us have our own less dramatic, more mundane “events” we’ve spent years working on.
Lately I’ve created a group of poems to send out into the world to try to publish this fall. One of the biggest mental obstacles to writing is rejection. Recently I came across a quote by Philip Larkin. He said, “Supposing no one played tennis because they wouldn’t make Wimbledon? First and foremost, writing poems should be a pleasure.”
We could substitute “Wimbledon” for “Olympics” quite easily, and you could substitute “writing poems” for just about anything, too. Thinking of all the people who play tennis, and basketball, and beach volleyball just for the sheer joy of it made me less anxious to send out those envelopes with poems tucked inside.
The joy of our actions should be enough, no matter what endeavor we’re attempting.
What work brings you joy?
Yesterday was the last day of school, and while I was wildly excited to hear the final bell of the year, I’m always a little sad. No other job, it seems to me, has such distinct beginnings and endings. Three years ago, little 6th graders flooded the building with trepidation, excitement, and wonder. The other day, 8th grade promotion marked the passage of time; we celebrated these young adults ready (or not) for high school, leaving the hallways empty.
And then—these students who we’ve spent hours and hours with, who we’ve watched make good and not-so-good decisions, who we’ve laughed so hard with we’ll tell stories years later—are gone, fading into the sea of people we’ve known in our lives. As a colleague wrote in a post, they take little pieces of us with them, but we do the same, which takes the sting out of finishing another year. Plus, after some much needed rest, those fresh faces with nervous and curious expressions in the fall will look all the better.
How do you mark time in your work?
I took this picture in Vancouver, British Columbia on our honeymoon trip almost fourteen years ago. Along a coastal walking trail, there were several cairns like this one, rocks balancing on top of other rocks, seemingly defying the natural consequence of gravity.
Over the past few months, I’ve felt like someone trying to create these cairns, as though I’m trying to balance everything in my life—work, family life, writing life—without letting anything fall into the water. And I can tell you, I’m not doing well. The rock of this blog fell in the water a while ago. So now, I’m wading back out to try to place it somewhere back on the pile. It may take a few tries to keep it all in balance, but hopefully you’ll be around to see the beauty in the different attempts.
What are you trying to balance?
Are you up for a challenge in 2016? Bookriot has a list of 24 different genres to keep you reading throughout the year. If you’re like me, you fall into the rut of favorite authors, the usual topics, and gleaning picks off the best seller’s list. Bookriot pushes you to read past your comfort zone into territories you might just discover you love. Does the challenge sound like a pushy-but-adorable teacher from your past? If so, you may have had Donalyn Miller as your teacher.
Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, has used the technique of having students choose from different genres to increase students’ independent reading for years. If students read independently and can self-select books, we know they’ll improve comprehension and learn to love reading, which provides all sorts of benefits such as stronger analytical skills, improved empathy for others, and increased knowledge to name a few. Having students read outside their favorite genre forces kids to take risks and have a chance to fall in love with books they wouldn’t normally pick up. And this might lead to picking up more and more books. Isn’t that what we want students to do?
If reading a book about horror or reading a play gets you outside your comfort zone, join me in a year of reading. You never know what book could make you laugh, mend a broken heart, or make your all-time favorite list. I’ll post my list at the end of 2016.
What do you love to read?
A co-worker and I are teaching a mini-unit on Holly Holm, and in class the other day, we watched an interview she gave after she won the fight against Rousey. The interviewer asked about a past fight where Holm was KO’d by an opponent. In that fight, she’d been pushed up against the ropes and pummeled. Not only had her opponent won, but she’d bruised Holm’s pride.
After being KO’d, Holm said what she learned wasn’t necessarily about boxing, “I really learned a lot about myself and about other people.” Most challenges in life seem to be this way. When we’re pushed to a breaking point, it’s then we see the strength not only in ourselves, but in the people around us. We witness who is there to comfort and encourage and who keeps their distance (or even relishes in our faltering). We notice the small and large kindnesses, and we’re able to put our ambition in perspective. In the interview, Holm explained the impact of those who supported her re-match decision, encouraging her to try again. The second time, she won.
Like Holm after that KO fight, a year ago I felt beat up by the process of trying to earn my National Boards, but a number of people supported and encouraged me through another round. Sometimes help consisted of listening through an idea (for the hundredth time!), looking over a draft, or asking questions to challenge my reasoning. Sometimes it consisted of simply saying, “You can do it.”
And, the second time, I passed.
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for second chances, and all of the people who supported me while earning my Boards. It’s a little moment in a bigger life, but I’m grateful. And like Holm, I know who has my back.
Who are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?
*quote taken from http://www.mmafighting.com/2015/11/21/9767746/holly-holm-getting-knocked-out-in-boxing-was-life-changing-experience