Thoughts after William Stafford’s Poem “Things I Learned This Week”

This free write was written on March 3, 2019 after a weekend at the Ohio Council of Teachers of English conference.  I was “inspired” William Stafford’s little “random” poem, “Things I Learned this Week” (I’ve included it after my own writing).

Things I experienced:
Ice on a run.
Meeting Dr. Tatum.
Listening to Weiss, Storch, Reilly, Lowery, Colpi, Colaw
Laughing with them
Serendipity
Irony
Dinner with a former organ professor and friend.
Art as perspective and inspiration.
Dialogue with a dear friend.
Several funny and dumb texts
Cats
Grace
Brokenness

Things I tried
Putting myself in the shoes of my students.
Being less uncertain.
Being thankful.
Breathing through one nostril.
Meditating while driving.
Taking an interesting picture.
Digging deeper into the meaning of things that have happened in my past.

Things I wrote
This
An email to my mom
Several comments and responses to students
A thank you note to Ted and Robert
Planning for classes
Words that meant something to me (ex. “I will fight against anything that challenges the humanity of my students.” [Tatum 3/1/2019; Worthington, OH])
Notes about music I’m choosing to play at church
“I am sad” “My ‘church’ is broken”

Things I’ve said:
You’re welcome.
Thank you.
Have a good day.
See you tomorrow.
Ugh.
Yaaaaaaaas!

Things I’ve texted:
“Wahoo!”
“Keep fighting.”
“Kissy face”
“Hearts”

Things I’ve learned:
It’s going to be “ok.”
Connections everywhere.
The satisfaction of serendipity, community, and love.

Things I that disappoint me.
The complexity of our world.
Social Media
Disinterest
Dishonesty
Disrespect
Dehumanization
Separation

People I thought about:
David and Stacy
Yang Yang and Miao Miao
Mom
Dad
Sister
Niece
Nephew
Half-brother and sister
Cabin

Last things:
Cotton ball, cotton boll, cotton flower
Cotton Bowl!

________________________________________

“Things I Learned Last Week”  by William Stafford

Ants, when they meet each other, usually pass on the right.
Sometimes you can open a sticky door with your elbow.
A man in Boston has dedicated himself to telling about injustice.  For three thousand dollars he will come to your town to tell you about it.
Schopenhauer was a pessimist, but he played the flute.
Yeats, Pound, and Eliot saw art as growing from other art. They studied that.
If I ever die, I’d like it to be in the evening. That way, I’ll have all the dark to go with me, and no one will see how I begin to hobble along.
In The Pentagon one person’s job is to take pins out of towns, hills, and fields, and then save the pins for later.

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The Great Monday Morning Adventure 2/25/2019

I brought some “left over” flowers with me today.  They were orange tulips and some greenery and left over mums, finishing their last meters in the race of life.

I put them in a towel to protect them from the 28 degree February morning.

This morning it was sunny.  I had dropped my key fob down the steps–had to get between the air conditioning unit and the brick wall of the house to get them out.

I was running late.  And had lots on my mind.

But I’m glad I remembered the tulips before leaving for school.

When I pulled into my parking space and gathered my things, two teachers came quick walking in the parking.  Mrs. Szabo and Mr. Dennis got on their knees looking under cars.

It turns out that Szabo 1. Dropped 24 bottles of water (one “exploded” all over her).  2. And could not find her keys.

This is what I drove into this morning.

I asked, the helpful (obvious?) question “Where did you leave them?  Maybe in your classroom?”

The epiphany came.  

They were in her classroom door.  Left there from when she was carrying the water and juggling a harried morning.

I’ve been there.  Lost keys. Trying to live up to expectations.  Feeling unhinged.

I made a small arrangement.  Put it in a glass beaker that was left in my room by some random sentient soul.

And placed it on her desk, glad I remembered the flowers today.

ReVisions: Jed and Nun danket alle Gott

I’ve been working on the ideas of deep revision with students in my AP English Literature classes.

We’ve been talking about the idea of intentional, writerly choices and the necessity to reconsider first drafts.  We’ve read Anne Lamott’s article about first drafts and reconsidered our own.

I’ve included a link that compares my original draft (written on 11/24)  to my “final,” published draft (revised 11/30, and 12/4).  Thank you to Jacob Mantle for his comments on my original draft.

REVISION
(revised 30 November 2018).

BY LUKE WISEMAN
Clifton UMC, Cincinnati, OH, 24 November 2018

I spent part Thanksgiving break with Jed Satchwell.

Jed lives with his wife in Batavia.  He’s been tuning our historic, 1896 Koenhken and Grimm organ for the last 14 years.

The historic pipe organ facade and console at Clifton United Methodist Church

He lives in Batavia with his wife, Brenda.  Among other things, she raises chickens. From what I gather from phone calls and conversations, Jed has a basement full of records, railroad engineering equipment, and player pianos.

I asked him to come by to help me tune the rank of mixture pipes.

Mixture pipes in the Koehnken and Grimm organ at Clifton UMC.

He arrived at 9:45 on Friday with a half-dozen fresh eggs from Brenda and the hens in Batavia.

He likes to talk, and I am entertained by his old-school oversharing about politics, life, wisdom.  He reminds me of my dad a little bit. Jed often veers into stories about his life, his work on the Pennsylvania railroad, and stories about local churches, musicians, and organists.  Most of his stories are more detailed than most folks need, but there’s a sense of honesty, humility, exactness, and pride in the tales he tells.

He was helping me tune the mixture because of a minor tuning “accident.”  It turns out that it’s important to be sure you’re tuning the right pipes before you tune. Makes sense.  My bad. Jed was there to fix it.

He crawled up the narrow ladder to the organ’s second-floor windchest.

I sat below at the keyboard (“the console”) waiting to play the offending pipes that he would tune with his self-made tuning stick.

From above:  “Hey Luke, ya know…” And this was the beginning of one of many rants about something he’s noticed or thought about.   In this case he was grousing about how the mixture pipes aren’t weren’t original to the historic original. And whoever it was who installed them did a hell of a bad job. It’s a shame…  

When he shouts from within in the guts of the organ, there’s generally something surprising, trivially interesting, or wise cast in a curmudgeon’s voice and skin.

We tune methodically.  And when there are pauses between the screeching of the mixture pipes and Jed hollering down and trying to talk, my mind wanders… about this church and this organ and my place in it.  

While playing the E-flat above middle C or something just as trivial, I began to realize this crazy web of connections with me at the center.

On the console, I saw the prelude and postlude for Sunday’s services waiting for the tuning to be over and for me to give the music voice during a few practice runs:  J.S Bach’s (1685-1750) and Sigfrid Karg-Elert’s (1877-1933) organ chorales based on the 1636 Reformation hymn Nun danket alle Gott/ “Now Thank We All Our God.” Two German composers a generation apart were inspired by the same hymn that I have grown to love.

The original hymn is German, written by a man I’d never heard of, Martin Rinkart. In 1637, Johann Crüger composed the music to accompany Rinkart’s words.  

And we’re still singing them, and listening to them, and translating them.  

And when we have a moment to let our minds consider the long arcs of history that have led to us sitting at an organ or a pew at this church and consider it, we see connection. We witness a presence that came before us.

I think it’s interesting and fulfilling to see myself in this expanse and presence.  My DNA is on the pages of a book of music that includes pieces that have filled churches and souls and organs for ages.

And I am gobsmacked and grateful to those who came before me, and to a creator who allows me to add my own phrasing and style to this somewhat-ancient, sacred hymn.

After Jed crawled down the ladder back out to the light of day, he stood as I gave the old gal a spin.

Jed listened while he put his tools away.  

I played a few variations of “Now Thank We All Our God” with organ registration that included the Jed-tuned mixture rank.   

I was overcome by the beauty of the music, it’s soprano line and the boxy and sliding harmonies, and how they sound on a well-tuned, somewhat-ancient organ.

There’s this tingling of gratitude. For this time on earth—even now—and for the creators who have made it beautiful.

Over Thanksgiving Break: Jed and Nun danket alle Gott

Friday, 29 November 2018
Clifton United Methodist Church, Cincinnati, OH

I spent part of my morning with Jed at the church.  Jed lives with his wife in Batavia. She raises chickens.  He has a basement full of records, railroad engineering equipment, and player pianos. I asked him to come by to help me tune the mixture rank of pipes (happy to explain what this is to anyone interested).  He delivered ½ dozen fresh eggs from, Brend.

Jed likes to talk, and I am entertained by his old-school oversharing about his ideas and life.  He reminds me of my dad, and his memories of what life was work on the railroad and then various local organ maintenance.  Are more detailed that most would care for, but there’s a sense of humility, honesty, and pride he has in his work.

He was helping me tune the mixture because of a minor tuning “accident.”  It turns out that it’s important to be sure you’re tuning the right pipes before you tune.  Makes sense. My bad. Jed was there to fix it.

He crawled up the narrow ladder to the organ’s second floor air chest to tune the the mixture pipes.

I waited below I sat at the keyboard (aka “the console”) waiting to play the notes and pipes he would be tuning* with his trusty tuning stick.

“Hey Luke, ya know…” And this was the beginning of an educational rant about whoever installed these pipes.  The pipes aren’t weren’t original. And whoever it was who installed them did a hell of a job. It’s a shame. Sometimes my name changes: Mike, Mark, John.  All fine. But there’s always something surprising, trivially interesting, and wise cast in a curmudgeon’s thick skin.

He asks me to play the few notes on the mixture that are sounding out of tune.  We tune methodically. And in when there are pauses between the screeching of the mixture pipes and Jed hollering down and trying to talk, my mind wondered about this church and this organ and my place in it.  DEEP stuff. But that’s where you’re mind can go when you’re “paying attention” and being mindful being “pleasantly haunted.”

I began to think how connected I am to a 1636 German Reformation hymn written by a man I’d never heard of.  Martin Rinkart who wrote Nun danket alle Gott “Now Thank We All Our God.”  Johann Crüger composed the music in 1637 that would accompany Rinkart’s words.

And the many composers who have reimagined the tune and used it in their own works for organ: Georg Friedrich Kaufmann, J.S Bach, Sigfrid Karg-Elert.  It reminded me of how communial my relationship is with music, how expansive my own relationship and and connection to history, memory, and the world.

I think it’s interesting and fulfilling to see myself in this expanse of human beings.  I’ve been thinking this way for a while, but Liesel Mueller has put this idea into such beautiful language and image.

And much like Mueller who ponders and traces “why we tell stories” back to when we had roots toward our own “wings that can fly” (Mueller quote).  I feel blessed to who have added my own phrasing to this hymn tunes’ implicit question of us: “and”

After ed slowly crawled down the ladder back out to the light of day, he stood as I gave the old gal a spin. I played a few variations of “Now Thank We All Our God” and loved the tune and harmonies as its sound on a mighty well-tuned organ.  

I got thumbs up.

Something that’s important to me… 5 October 2018

It’s no secret to folks that I have a thing for animals.

I feed birds, pet dogs, enjoy watching the squirrels and possums.  I compliment dog owners when I see them on a walk on their “good looking” canines.  And stop to pet if invited. And there are cats. And cats.

I like weird cats with odd markings or extra toes or missing tails.  We “own” two of them. Dottie (aka Big Dot), a stress eater, an oversized, crabby hunter and gatherer.  And there’s her sister Daisy who is pint-sized with half a tail. She’s often confused or in a sort of daze.  Her meows sound more like squeaks. And she’s missing just a notch out of an ear. Rumor has it–at least the people at the shelter said that both arrived there in a bird cage.

You can imagine my glee when I first heard the name “Miao Miao.”  Yes. You pronounce her name “Meow Meow.” From what I understand, it’s a fairly common name in China, where she lives with my brother and sister-in-law.

They found her in an orphanage, abandoned and purple-faced with a congenital heart condition.  The chambers, valves, and arteries of her heart had grown in a way that would have ended her life by the age of seven.  Simply, her body was not getting enough oxygen. The ordinary play of toddlers was a tax her circulatory system could not afford.

This past summer, I heard her before I saw her at the Golden Inn in Xi’an.  

The flight from Cincinnati to Xi’an took thirteen hours, and it was nearing midnight when we finally arrived at our hotel.

Miao Miao enjoys the fancier things in life, and the ponies…

Miao Miao and her brother Yang Yang were “sleeping” in the room next door to ours.  We tried to be quiet. But as soon as the door locked behind us. We heard squeals and neighing of ponies—Miao Miao’s spirit animal—and banging—Yang Yang enjoys hitting things and making loud noises.  We had enough time for hugs and tears before settling down before a week of uncle-time.

Since we first met and fell in love, Miao Miao has come into her own color: rosy cheeks, clear skin, a heart and lungs that allow her to dance on beds and couches and anything that will sit still.  She continues to wear pop-bottle sized glasses and invades my personal space, and I love her for it.

Thousands of miles away, today, I think of her when I consider the prompt: “What matters to you?”

Revision 1: a new lead/opening

Curious Questions, and my answers:

Through broken windows and through the heavy brush of cedars, you could see a waterlogged mattress on a red-pink twin bed, the droppings of many mice, a broken wicker swivel chair.

Ever since my dad died, we’ve been spooked by the cabin and it’s 33 acres of property.

It was the first structure my dad built in 1981.  And now it’s falling in on itself.

Drafting and Revising. Bramblebrook Farm (Draft 1)

BY LUKE WISEMAN (August 2018, First Draft*)

This is my free writing and response to “Who’s There?”  I will be revising this with help from my classes as we work through ways to structure our complicated life in story form.

I’m interested in comments about the “sense” this makes.  Does it achieve what I want it to: clear images, clear voice, sensible structure?  How could I improve the “effect” this has on the reader?  How can I make this a more interesting or “extraordinary” story?

2018-07-28_19-03-45_416

Bramble Brook Farm on the border between Highland and Adams County has no mailbox.  There’s no address to “the cabin.” My dad used to call it “the cabin”:

Scene: Morning.  The Wiseman household.  In the dining room next to kitchen.  Bright light from above dining room table.  Large window. Fire place. The usual. Dad seated at head of table, flanked by son and daughter.  Eating breakfast, maybe cereal or eggs.

Dad: Let’s head down to the cabin*.  

(*AKA “the farm” then “the cabin” then if he was feeling well-deserved pride “Bramblebrook Farm”). In the mid-80s it had been renamed “the cabin.” At any rate, Did I want to go to the cabin with my father.  And mice and snakes, an outhouse, and no running water, no electric. The drive to “the cabin” included tiny shacks, where sat on lawn chairs in front of their trailer homes as my dad muttered at them: “lazy, damn bastards.” T only radio station we got on the two-battery radio was a station from West Virginia on the radio.  Hives of bees found their way into my shorts when I was 7, and we sighted a snapping turtle on the other side of the pond where, moments before we had been swimming, a trauma my father guffawed “I’ll be damned.” Catastrophes like my sister breaking her arm while pretending to be a dancer doing a routine to the theme song to Flash Gordon. Took an ice cream stop and an hour drive to get to a hospital we trusted back in suburban Cincinnati, where men in tiny shacks a few acres away sat on lawn chairs in front of their trailer homes.)

Me: No.  I’m good.

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It’s a property my dad built in 1980 when he retired from Great Oaks.  He was a founding member of Great Oaks vocational school with a second young family.  And when he retired he wanted to get away from the all the damn city people and live like Emerson or Thoreau.  He built a small wood cabin on the highest point of he first bought the property—thirteen acres of brambles and brush.  A small creek runs through the property and he put in two man-made ponds for bluegill fishing (and snapping turtles and slimy, invisible friends of their ilk).

Two weeks ago on a muggy, August Saturday, I met my mom down at the farm.  We sat under two giant cedar trees, and rolled our socks over the cuff of our pants, buttoned our necks and arms into our shirts and admired each other.  The little cabin was falling in on itself at the lip of the back pond.  Made nearly impenetrable by the trees and wild rose that had grown around it.

And then we took to pounding, prying, taking, removing  abandoned cabin, first one-room cabin my dad had built around Easter of 1980.

I think we both felt lucky.