We’ve passed the halfway point here at VAMPY, and I’m sitting here watching as my students write short one-acts based on the characters they created yesterday from the six random objects each student brought to class. They’re crafting costumes, props, and backdrops from multiple colors of duct tape and newspaper, and will be performing their plays later, at which point I’m sure that I’ll still be sitting here, wondering how I ever got so lucky as to work with this amazing group of kids. This, of course, leads directly to my wondering how I ever got so lucky as to spend my life working with amazing groups of kids, and hearing them talk about about poetry and creative writing and language and different ways to see and name and change the way one sees the world.
And this, I think, or, at least, I think I’ve realized while at VAMPY, may be the key to education (for both the students and the teacher, really) and to poetry: both, it seems, have the ability to alter the way one sees the world, for the better. For instance: I’ve complained quite a bit, I realize, about my physical issues, at least in terms of my leg, on this blog. Then, a few days ago, I left the building to make my way to lunch, walking slowly, as I tend to do these days, and watching the ground for potential obstacles (though, really, my own feet have always been my biggest obstacle, sciatica or no sciatica). We’d spent the morning writing waka and discussing the power of the image, and, upon leaving the building, I saw this:
Some kind of insect — a cicada, I think — coming out of its chrysalis — and a sight I’d never have seen had I been walking quickly. This small sight reminded me that even the things we see as negative can, in fact, have a positive and transformative effect upon our lives — and, for the rest of the day, I noticed all of the things that I would never have noticed had I been walking quickly across campus: the glint of sun off caution tape, persimmons fallen and plopped below a tree, two students helping another across the crosswalk. I was struck by the way that life transforms itself, and also the power we have to transform our own lives — how we can change our experience by changing the way that we view our experience. There is sorrow, there is terror and despair, but there is also the ability to rise from the terror and sorrow and despair, and there is the ability to allow one’s life to be transformed by it, and informed by it, and there is growth, and there is, more than anything, the possibility that, through transformation and growth, one can work at what is perhaps the most important work we can do as human beings, which is to be kind to others, informed by the knowledge that their experience falls and rises as does ours. There have been several times in the past year or so where I thought that my life was over. And then something happened — even if it was as small as seeing a cicada crack its chrysalis, or watching as the kitten who showed up at the house learn how to face her fears and jump on top of the bed — and I realized, again, the amazing regenerative power of human life. In these moment, I feel once again connected to the infinite — call it God, Brahman, the collective oversoul, the great spirit, the general theory of relativity, call it whatever you will — and calmed, somehow, by the fact of my own smallness, and the fact that, no matter how small I may be, I am connected, in some way, to that infinite spirit.
I’m trying to keep this in mind, especially when it comes to my actions. Being around such astoundingly bright and brilliant kids, who have so much to teach me, helps a great deal with this practice. Also, being back at VAMPY helps as well, as it is, in a way, like viewing a microcosm of how the world works, and how even our smallest actions, even given how small we are, can have a lasting effect. It’s been amazing to see how many traditions have survived since my time at VAMPY. Even though most of my students were born the year I first attended VAMPY, it’s still very much the same place. The kids still look forward to the annual Paper Theater show and the annual Magic tournament. They still refer to Big Red as Schmoe. There are still dances and crushes, and there’s still Cry Fest after the Talent Show, during which all of the students hug and cry and tell each other how much they mean to each other. Perhaps the happiest discovery has been that “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” is still the theme song. There are new traditions: the newly-built clock tower which belts out showtunes every few hours, and the monocle game, and various card games with elaborate and secret rules. And there are some not-so-good traditions, such as the Blue Burrito, which sounds pretty awful. But it’s nice to be reminded that, no matter how small of a part you may be, you’re still a part of something, and something which evolves and progresses and proceeds.
I was reminded of this Emily Dickinson poem, which says it far better than I could:
I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl— Life's little duties do—precisely— As the very least Were infinite—to me— I put new Blossoms in the Glass— And throw the old—away— I push a petal from my gown That anchored there—I weigh The time 'twill be till six o'clock I have so much to do— And yet—Existence—some way back— Stopped—struck—my tickling—through— We cannot put Ourself away As a completed Man Or Woman—When the Errand's done We came to Flesh—upon— There may be—Miles on Miles of Nought— Of Action—sicker far— To simulate—is stinging work— To cover what we are From Science—and from Surgery— Too Telescopic Eyes To bear on us unshaded— For their—sake—not for Ours— Twould start them— We—could tremble— But since we got a Bomb— And held it in our Bosom— Nay—Hold it—it is calm— Therefore—we do life's labor— Though life's Reward—be done— With scrupulous exactness— To hold our Senses—on—