“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.”
“Remember on this one thing, said Badger. The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.”
–Barry Lopez, from Crow and Weasel
Think about the stories that have most engaged you, stories that make you cry or laugh or long for change. Stories carry life and stories change us. All of us have stories we want to tell. Telling our own stories gives us understanding of our own lives, helps us to live deeply and to create meaning. If you allow it to, the story reading and writing unit you are embarking on now will help you learn to tell a realistic story about the important issues of your life as you see it. During our study, you will learn several ways to tell your story so it communicates powerfully. Writing your story in a way that feels meaningful to both you and others is challenging and requires courage. You will need to think about how to structure the story so you can reveal the events and themes powerfully. If you dedicate yourself to the process, and are willing to submit yourself to the discipline that exploring your imagination through writing requires, ideas begin to emerge. The task can be freeing and rewarding. As Barry Lopez says, “Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.”
Recently, The Guardian reports that Harvard’s speech and debate team that had recently won a national title was defeated by a debate team of NY prison inmates. The inmates had taken part in a debate course led by Bard College professors. The inmate debate team has also won debates against West Point and the University of Vermont. Debate has given these men opportunity, results demonstrated in “fewer than 2% [that] have returned to prison within three years, a standard measurement period for assessing recidivism. This is exceptionally low, when contrasted with the statewide recidivism rate, which has hovered for decades at about 40%.”
Public speaking can help build your understanding of the world and of yourself. “They make us believe in ourselves,” says Carlos Polanco, a 31-year-old from Queens and a member of Bard’s winning debate team. When you work in class researching and building your ideas, preparing speeches or debates, when you write poems or stories, you, too, are creating your voice and an understanding of the world that enables you to know who you are, to believe in yourself, and to contribute constructively to the world you live in.
Now that we’re delving into poetry, reading them daily, I thought you might enjoy this poem, encouraging you to thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Because poems are generally short doesn’t necessarily mean they are easy to write. Poets are thoughtful about each word they use, considering how it shapes the experience, idea or place they want to show in their poems. To be creative, we must take risks to speak honestly about what matters to us. Social researcher Brene Brown says, “Unused creativity is not benign; it metastasizes. It turns into grief, judgement, sorrow, and shame.” Writing a poetry is a gift you give yourself and others when you name your worl and use your imagination to transform struggles and difficulties into a creative form.
In class we’ve said the criteria of a good poem is that it’s meaningful, creates a mood, expresses feelings honestly. Do you think this poem fits this criteria?
Poetry makes us think about our world. What poems do you want to write to name, describe or move the world?
What are the geographies that have entered your heart? As we embark on our exploration of how the physical world affects culture, consider the ways that the places you have lived have shaped you and your understanding of the world.
Nature writer, Barry Lopez, in his book, About This Life, says “Over the years, one comes to measure a place, too, not just for the beauty it may give, the balminess of its breezes, the insouciance and relaxation it encourages, the sublime pleasures it offers, but for what it teaches. The way in which it alters our perception of the human. It is not so much that you want to return to indifferent or difficult places, but that you want to not forget.”
How has the cultures and your interactions with the physical environments in the places you’ve lived influenced and shaped the way you think and the experiences you have had? How might your reflection on this question guide the kinds of things you want to learn and discover about the country you are researching about? How might your experiences help you focus your research, write up your understandings, and talk with the class about topics you think are personally meaningful and important?
I hope that as you explore your thought about your reading this year, as you write poems, stories and essays, and as you explore ideas during the class’s independent writing time that you will discover writing as gift to yourself in helping you explore more and more who you are on the inside, and that through your writing, you will find your voice and the story you want to give to the world.
The poet, Jane Hirshfield in “Why I Write: Jane Hirshfield Writes about Life’s Profound Mystery”, writes:
“Why do I write?
I write because to write a new sentence, let alone a new poem, is to cross the threshold into both a larger existence and a profound mystery. A thought was not there, then it is. An image, a story, an idea about what it is to be human, did not exist, then it does. With every new poem, an emotion new to the heart, to the world, speaks itself into being. Any new metaphor is a telescope, a canoe in rapids, an MRI machine. And like that MRI machine, sometimes its looking is accompanied by an awful banging. To write can be frightening as well as magnetic. You don’t know what will happen when you throw open your windows and doors.”
I look forward to our adventure in learning this year and who we will all become through the process. Here are a couple of quotes about learning to start us off on our journey.
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” –T.H. White, The Once and Future King
“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”–Albert Einstein
A quote from Henri Nouwen:
One of the arguments we often use for not writing is this: “I have nothing original to say. Whatever I might say, someone else has already said it, and better than I will ever be able to.” This, however, is not a good argument for not writing. Each human person is unique and original, and nobody has lived what we have lived. Furthermore, what we have lived, we have lived not just for ourselves but for others as well. Writing can be a very creative and invigorating way to make our lives available to ourselves and to others.
We have to trust that our stories deserve to be told. We may discover that the better we tell our stories the better we will want to live them.
from Bread for the Journey
“If you’re having difficulty coming up with new ideas, then slow down. For me, slowing down has been a tremendous source of creativity. It has allowed me to open up — to know that there’s life under the earth and that I have to let it come through me in a new way. Creativity exists in the present moment. You can’t find it anywhere else.”
― Natalie Goldberg
““Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning. Probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.” ― Natalie Goldberg
“There is freedom in being a writer and writing. It is fulfilling your function. I used to think freedom meant doing whatever you want. It means knowing who you are, what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it.”
― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
“Happy?” He stared her down. “You can’t expect happiness. If it comes along—consider yourself lucky, but that’s not what life’s about.”
― Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft