Sunday, June 05, 2005

looking back

Now that the school year is over and I've had my recuperation period, I want to tie this blog up, complete it, do something with it. I never actually thought about what I'd do with the blog when the school year was over, except that I'd like to turn it into a book. Lately I've been reading my personal journals from July 2004 and what I'm finding is a lot of experiences and thoughts that, in retrospect, I see I wish I'd put in the blog at the time. I guess at the time I thought they were too personal, but now of course I see that the whole experience of the year at Douglass has been as personal a thing as there is, and so now I see that they fit.
Three things make me think typing my journal into this blog is a good idea. First, about six years ago I went on a six month trip to Europe and Russia and filled five notebooks there and when I got back, culled from them and wrote a book about the experience. This time, again, I have five notebooks since 14 July. The second thing is that the first thing I wrote in my journal beginning 14 July was about a conversation I had with a young woman who graduated from a downtown Orleans Parish magnet school four or five years ago. We argued about what children in the city need. The third thing is that in that writing I said, "If they were having their own thoughts...," which, eventually, became the name of the blog (though I didn't decide on a name until August).
I'm taking these as signs and so this is what I'm thinking I'll do: I'm going to type directly from my journal into this blog, beginning with my journal of 14 July 2004. Not every little thing, but a lot of it. I'd appreciate feedback about what it looks like I ought to do about it. I really am typing into space right now. Thank you.


14 July 2004. I saw that girl from 35 today and we had a semi-argument about inner-city kids. Naturally, I had to slink out. But here's what I wish I'd had the wherewithal to say to her: You got out. You are somehow and for whatever reason able to stand up and be strong. But how many of your peers do? If they were having their own thoughts do you really think they'd be staying where they are, living as they do, giving themselves over to the simple life others have passed down? Do you not think that they're just buying somebody else's thoughts about what life might be about? You remind me of me. I got out too. Sometimes I think that's as far as I got though, just out of the life my family was leading me toward. Somehow I had my own idea about what I wanted out of life. I even told my mother that I was leaving because I had to survive and that I was dying there.
Just read an article about the experience of a man on a Buddhist retreat who had to leave it to go to his friend's dying. It was honest, quiet, and tender. But it surprises me that he has to address at all the point about being fully in the moment. Who's that psychologist who writes about being self-actualized? That's what this is about. I'm curious to think about what that kind of discipline could do for me? I can't not live in the moment. I'm completely distracted by the moment, by every leaf and stick of the moment. Should I not think more about the future? Actually, I have recently been doing that, thinking about the future. The MFA. And now I'm putting together a portfolio of my writing almost like I'm meaning to, like I'm intending something. But I don't have that overall sense. I don't have something I'm bringing little things toward. The bigger truth or the end result or the overall reason for it all, the little things lead me toward seeing that. It makes me wonder if there's a big thing waiting to be recognized, or if the little things, as they develop, create the big thing. It's the question. Are the little things the thing or is the big thing the thing? Is there something pre-ordained? Or is the thing developing every second? Does the moment create the future or does the future compel the moment? Or is that a which came first question?

15 July 2004. I am completely done with making the curtains. It all looks so good. I'm proud of myself. And the only other thing I wanted to do was type some stuff out of my last journal. So I can put it away for a while.
Midnight. I had a bath, washed the dishes, made a salad and ate some, clipped even the damned toenails. The curtains make everything different. Things are more framed, more complete. More lovely. I did everything I'd hoped to do except type out of my journal.

16 July 2004. Listening to songs, and, as always, "Everybody's Talking At Me." Yet another song about the disenfranchised. Those with whom I identify. I wonder why I bother with normal people? They and I don't live under the same umbrella. By normal I guess I mean people who aren't haunted. I often think of myself as haunted. Like both characters in Midnight Cowboy, my favorite movie. How is this true? Maybe it is that joy is a thing that occurs in between dark moments, that joy is just a respite. The joy is strong because the dark moments are so dark. Really, maybe that is exactly why I have such great joy in my life.
I often say I couldn't live without my notebook. I wonder what that means?

17 July 2004. Thinking about Tim's friend, T, and his diabetes. He is now too old to be on his parents' insurance. But who's going to insure him now? I think that not having nationalized health care is a way for our society to keep people dependent on having jobs that make enough money for insurance purposes. It's another blow against the individuals who don't want to participate in capitalism that much. What if T were a poet or something? just trying to keep alive so he can do his art? But he'd have to have a serious job (which makes doing art hard if not impossible) so he can make enough money to afford his health care costs. I hate that.

19 July 2004. I woke up thinking about writing. Something about distilling rather than producing raw words. Remembering that morning when that word "limbeck" popped into my mind out of nowhere, and I wrote it down in my truck notebook, and that in the afternoon when I read my emailed Shakespeare Sonnet-of-the-day it was the one about him being a limbeck. This morning I thought another good writing word is "sirens." And the sonnet includes mention of sirens. And then when I was reading the NY Times this morning there was a story about a Sirens Music Festival on Coney Island. What does it mean that limbecks and sirens occur together out of nowhere twice for me? Shakespeare was a limbeck for the sirens' tears he drank. Here's the sonnet:

#119
What potions have I drunk of Siren tears
Distilled from limbecks foul as hell within,
Applying fears to hopes and hopes to fears,
Still losing when I saw myself to win!
What wretched errors hath my heart committed
Whilst it had thought itself so blessed never!
How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted
In the distraction of this madding fever?
Oh benefit of ill: now I find true
That better is by evil still made better;
And ruined love, when it is built anew,
Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater,
So I return rebuked to my content,
And gain by ills thrice more than I have spent.

What does it mean this idea of the limbeck and the distilling occurring to me when I wake up? Does it simply mean to remind me that sometimes I have enough raw material and that it's time to find the gem in the ore? Or the statue in the stone? Those are two different ways of seeing.

20 July 2004. A lot has happened today. I'll start with walking to the river. I met a 38 year old black man named R. What a story he had to tell. I was writing and he walked past with a stiff right leg. I thought he couldn't bend his knee but he said no, that his ankle didn't work. Then he sat next to me and told me his story, about having come to New Orleans from Minnesota, got a job waiting tables, and that three days after he arrived he got hit by a car on Decatur by a drunk driver who had not insurance, and neither did R. So he ended up in Charity with two broken legs, a broken shoulder, and three injured disks in his back. He said his right leg was almost literally ripped off. He's had a bunch of operations but his right ankle never healed and now, Friday, he has an appointment with Charity clinic to discuss a decision with his doctor, which is whether or not to amputate his right leg. It's upto to him. And he thinks he has decided to do it. He says at least then he can get disability. He showed me his leg. It's unbelievable. Huge, swolen, deformed. Horrible. So of course he can't work, and he has applied for disability but can't get it until he shows that he was unable to work for a year. Before long he should be getting it, but in the meantime he's homeless. He keeps his clothes hidden in the rocks and weeds next to the river. There are two public bathrooms which aren't always open, and if they are it's only during the day. He can't walk in a place for even a cup of water. No one will give it to him. And even if he could work, he can't apply for a job because he doesn't have a telephone number or an address. Or a way to clean his clothes. The homesless shelters charge 5 or 6 dollars per night to sleep. He's utterly lost. And absolutely outside of society. And yet, he's not bitter. It blows my mind. He told me a couple of stories about men who were willing to help him, but for a price. Where's the humanity? Where's charity? He told me about watching a restaurant worker somewhere dropping a full bag of food into the dumpster. He asked (himself, me, the world) why these restaurant guys can't just put the food in plastic and bring it three little blocks away to the homeless? What is the answer to that? Why can't that be done? What's wrong with us? And I said he had the double problem, being an African American man. He told me about two cops who stopped him on Bourbon and Esplanade, his first day in New Orleans, asking him what he's doing in this neighborhood, said something about "we don't go in your neighborhoods. Why do you come in ours?" They made him put his hands on the car, searched him, then asked him when he was last arrested.
Neil Young is on the jukebox: "We got mother nature on the run in the nineteen seventies."

Melanie

4 Comments:

Anonymous Cassandra said...

I like the idea of combining the two journals. It will show your more human side and that your focus is not always on the classroom/ education/ reaching souls, but on life experiences and daily life challenges. I think it will show your reader more of you - because those of us who have been blessed to know you in real life, know you are much more than the cover that makes your book.

You are more than the red hair, leather, and cello - you are OUR Ms. Plesh - our hero and confidant and crazy friend that we can call to talk about the weather to or about our dreams.

You are something different to every student and you are someone different to yourself (or at least that is the way you respond sometimes). To me, you are "the wise one" and someone I admire so greatly and deeply. You are a living inspiration to me because you are so human and admit being human, which is the one thing I hope to someday admit to myself.

I'm going to be honest when I say that sometimes your blog has come across "too academic" or "all about the classroom experiences" and not necessarily about the application of your experiences and how your experiences are changing your world. Your experiences are changing SOMETHING, but you seem to be avoiding DIRECTLY that SOMETHING.

You are amazing and sometimes I'm grateful you don't act like you know how big you are to some people - especially people like me. Show your more human side and show your readers that you are more than just the person who took the challenge raised by Orlean's Parish!

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool blog you have. I have a joan harrison cello
related site. Check it out if you get a chance. The URL is joan harrison cello

12:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

I have a william shakespeare play site. It pretty much covers william shakespeare play related stuff.

Come and check it out if you get time :-)

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.

12:41 PM  

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