Bird Droppings July 6, 2022
Foxfire is a name for a fungus glowing in the dark until you wander up Black Rock Mountain
A few weeks back, I was involved in another synchronous adventure, as I am daily. I have been thinking about it ever since. I have been a fan of Carl Jung and the idea of synchronicity for many years and often write about it. I was out and about and, by chance, had not made breakfast being still out f sync from vacation. I stopped at a local Bojangles to get a chicken biscuit. As I am standing waiting, a loud voice bellows out Mr. Bird. Standing next to me waiting on his breakfast is a student from 2001 and my first day back to teaching. Oh, I mentioned the stories I could tell to his son, about ten years old, standing next to him. I started back teaching after a twenty-plus-year period away from the classroom on September 11, 2001. This fellow walks into the room, a tiny room currently occupied by six girls and myself, and loudly proclaims in his booming ninth-grade voice, “I hate girls.” As the story progresses, we become friends and remain in contact through social media. I had not talked with him in person in at least ten years. All is well with him and his family.
“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” Aldus Huxley
In 1965 I was introduced to this author in a tenth-grade English Class. The book we were reading was Brave New World, written in 1932. You would think that a book thirty years old at that time would not have been that controversial. However, an English teacher was let go for our class and the reading list we had. What amuses me is how these books we read did impart more than simply the words contained between the covers; it was a developed catalyst for thinking.
Today in 2022, with a new school year about to start, English teachers use the books my tenth-grade teacher was fired for as part of their reading list, as do many high schools across the country. These were 1984, Anthem, and Brave New World, which were so controversial in their time more than fifty years ago. Still, today these exact words can inspire students and adults to think and ponder. I fear the undercurrent in politics in some areas of the country towards education may again squelch such reading.
“To write is to make oneself the echo of what cannot cease speaking — and since it cannot, in order to become its echo, I have, in a way, to silence it. I bring to this incessant speech the decisiveness, the authority of my own silence.” Maurice Blanchot
“Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.” Sir Winston Churchill
Each day as I sit down and wonder about the direction in which the ideas may or may not flow, I try to find a starting point for the day. It is my kick-start to the day to revitalize my cerebral cortex. I was thinking of experience as a start earlier, but within the semantics of the word so many limits to the concept of experience. I saw a teacher, and most as I read, saw the experience as a limit. In previous weeks I journeyed up the mountains of North Georgia yesterday to visit the Foxfire property. I had the privilege to speak with a foxfire fellowship student on the Foxfire Museum property. Foxfire has transitioned to a new idea of summer fellowship students developing and writing stories over a class at the high school. Initially, as a student of the Foxfire approach, I was concerned. Then my thoughts shifted, and even this morning, a new epiphany as I thought of the idea of a container as a student. Then I reread this line from Huxley. It is what we do with it. Students were turned loose to learn in 1965, and the culmination is this property and museum of Appalachian culture on the side of a mountain. Now others can relive and see the history of the Rabun county area, not simply learn about it in a book.
Over the past few days, numerous emails from former classmates in high school, perhaps prompted by nostalgia and finding a few on Facebook, remembering fondly a nearly forgotten class of tenth grade yet one that truly started a process of thinking that has continued for me nearly sixty years later. But the direction changes as I look; we convey so much through writers and writing.
“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.” Charles Caleb Colton
“I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.” William Faulkner
Each day I walk outside and look at the sky on clear mornings; today, vacationing, a slight mist and cloud cover greeted me. For some, the stars and constellations provide direction. As the seasons pass, the constellations change, which denotes the time of day and position in the sky; often, as I go out, I am greeted by a new or slightly different sky before my front door. If by chance, I am writing at home and not on vacation, I can go out into the backyard surrounded by pine, pecan, black walnut, persimmon, and oak trees; depending on where I stand, much will be obscured, and I see only a shrouded sky laced with the branches.
As I read Faulkner’s note so often, this is true; we do not think about something till we read what we have written. I will often return to a piece, weeks and months later, and find a new meaning or understanding of what I was thinking at the time. I wrote a philosophy of teaching paper, and until it was returned with comments, I wasn’t sure what my philosophy was. A journey begins in reading, then in experience, and moves through writing, for it does take the written word to read.
“You must often make erasures if you mean to write what is worthy of being read a second time; and don’t labor for the admiration of the crowd, but be content with a few choice readers.” Horace
“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” Samuel Johnson
It is as accurate as I write each morning, glancing through previous writings and reviewing articles, emails, and any books handy at that moment, looking for and pondering where and how I will direct my thoughts. Often my morning consists more of reading than writing words to paper or a computer screen, and it is often a search for an idea or a thought that has eluded me.
“If written directions alone would suffice, libraries wouldn’t need to have the rest of the universities attached.” Judith Martin
“Although most of us know Vincent van Gogh in Arles and Paul Gauguin in Tahiti as if they were neighbors — somewhat disreputable but endlessly fascinating — none of us can name two French generals or department store owners of that period. I take enormous pride in considering myself an artist, one of the necessaries.” James A. Michener
It has been said that what comes so easy for some may not be for others. I sit each morning writing two or three pages reading numerous articles and emails, and then go into class and ask students to write 500 words about what they learned this year in school. Most will say nothing, which makes writing so much easier. I think about where that student comes from; maybe they never read Brave New World. It could be because someone somehow did not give them the opportunity.
In my room, often, it is because somewhere and someone did not teach them to read effectively or to think beyond just surviving day to day. It might have been that was the only alternative. I was reminded in an email of Dr. Laura Nolte’s famous poster, “Children learn what they live” as I spelled checked, I made an error; I had typed “Children learn what they love.” As I thought a bit, you know what? That is just as true too. So how do we help children love learning and love reading? I wish it could be an easy answer. Perhaps we can start with ourselves. Let’s set an example today, keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts, and always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)