Monday, November 3, 2014

Knowledge, acquisition thereof

Below is a piece I wrote in an effort to elucidate my understanding of how one comes to know, how one transitions from innocence to experience, from ignorance to illumination and edification; how one comes to trust those transitory phases as valuable and worthy and necessary and formative of self. Give it a read:


Enclosed in a darkness
Interrupted only by the twinklings
Of others' ideas,

I imagine the path, the light.
Straight, narrow--
A plank jutting away.
I walk it, knowing I will fall
But not for long.

So I leap from that
Narrow refuge,
Falling free and
Spinning through the blinking darkness,
Arcing, swanning,
Head-long and head-strong
Into the abyss.

I see my port, a haphazard series of
Held in a loose raft
By the mind of another.

I slow my fall,
Drift to this sanctuary,
And alight.

I walk the construct,
Study its form and frame and
Fulcrums and fusions,
Until I know it well and
My feet know its Gordian map
And can dance its tangles and
Its angles and its lurches and
Its leaps.

Then I leap, diving away from
That sanctuary into the dark again.
To build my own,
I will need more planks:
Ignore the ignorant and build.
Others come behind who will need
Respite and refuge.
                              --R. C-A, 2002

Notice the control exercised by the narrator? These are anything *but* suicide leaps, though my sometimes emo-centric kids could see nothing but dark in the joyful light of this piece.  Do you see evidence of *joy* herein? Can you source it? Purpose in action? in form? in alliteration? Do you see that this narrator is anything *but* selfish in pursuit of ever more illumination?

(And, to give credit to those emo-kids, do you see how at essence, one must vanquish the old self in order to allow the new self to emerge?)

What metaphor do *you* employ to express intellectual/spiritual/philosophic change? We all do, you know...

I sometimes shared this poem with my students as part of an exercise in general poetic explication, as a piece on which to re-engender one's ability to adjudge mood and tone, structure and form, metaphor as meaning.  Most never learned that I had authored it; I feel there is something skeevtastic about a teacher requiring students to read them. It is difficult enough in conveying the essay prompt or the exam questions or the 'blog entry that is "just sayin'" rather than *say* sayin', know what I mean?How is a student to compose comfortable critical analysis under that sort of pressure?  Too often, especially early on in a teacher-student relationship, the acolyte wonders "What is expected of me? What does she want? What is *the* *answer*?  Before long, most of my students came to believe me when I told them I only wanted *their* answers, that I stood to learn as much from them as they from me, that I do not believe there is such a thing as *the* *answer*.


Sunday, November 2, 2014


With this repost, I relaunch this 'blog, one I maintained in support of a humanities course I taught for 14 years as a secondary English teacher at Fredonia High School. My sudden retirement due to illness last summer has shellacked me with several new layers of poignancy, the clearest, most golden-hued one inspired by the fact that I will never again teach this class. Early in my career I learned that, though my subject matter may be English literature and argumentation, what I *taught* and continue to teach even in retirement is *people*. That said, I was blessed to be allowed to develop and teach this particular course; I thoroughly believe it is what I was put here to do.

The course urged an examination of not only how we (the people/society/tribes across time) tell ourselves the truth: i.e., "make narrative structure" to explain ourselves to ourselves and others across time and space, but also how we as individuals draw our selves and our sense of self from the truths and"truths" and outright lies we tell: just as fictional characters are sculpted via their words and actions, so too are we.

So, starting in 2006, I directed my students to this as their initial foray into our mutual cultural examination of narration and their own, more personal one.  It seems a good place to begin again once more as I attempt to transition away from teaching in a formal setting and whispering across the darkness in this cybersphere.  Perhaps you will find reason to whisper back.

September 2006:

Recommended to me in the spring of 2006 by a colleague whose taste I trust is IRELAND, by Frank Delaney. Now, here's a boy whom I had not previously met, but his ken is dear to me, and my friend knew I would find syncronicity in his words.

So I acquire a copy of the book, and took it to hand the first moment I could--much later into my summer than I had intended; but then, everything about that season had been out of time...

I sit myself down in my favorite reading chair, turn the fan to "low" and "breeze", and turn back the cover and the first several pages, coming to rest upon the Author's Note:

"Beneath all the histories of Ireland, from the present day through her long troubled relationship with England and back to the earliest times, there has always been another, less obvious reporter speaking--the oral tradition, Ireland's vernacular narrative, telling the country's tale to her people in stories handed down since God was a boy.

"This fireside voice took great care to say that imagination and emotion insist on playing their parts in every history, and therefore, to understand the Irish, mere facts can never be enough; this is a country that reprocesses itself through the mills of its imagination.

"But we all do that [emphasis added]; we merge our myths with our facts according to our feelings, we tell ourselves our own story. And no matter what we are told, we choose what we believe. All 'truths' are only our truths, because we bring to the 'facts' our feelings, our experiences, our wishes. Thus, storytelling--from wherever it comes--forms a layer in the foundation of the world; and glinting in it we see the trace elements of every tribe on earth [again with the emphasis]."

Oh, Frank Delaney! Who on earth are you that you so closely channel the ways I speak about truth and how it's told? Is there some synaptic charge that informs us? Because we share a bloodline, do we share an urge toward a particular philosophic bent?

Yes, I added emphasis in two particular places: Where you, my brother from across the sea, acknowledge the inclusion of "other" in your view, your cant is decidedly toward our family, the Irish as a tribe. Here our paths diverge: My view is really always toward those who are "not" "mine;" it is always and urgently my nudge toward recognition that there is no other, that we are all far more alike than different, that cultural/systemic distinctions provide nuance but should not stand as barriers and borders and evidence of "wrong"/not "right"/alien and deserving of, even inviting fear, derision and loathing.

But it is a small point, is it not? I see that you agree with me on this. Your subject happens to be our little family, the Irish; my subject happens to be our big family.

And so, Frank Delaney, how do we tell ourselves the truth? Well, as you note, some of us--gifted with gab?--"get it" that the straightest, surest path to truth is nevertheless a landscaped one.

Ah, Frank Delaney, how I would enjoy a pint and a convo with you!