Sunday, September 15, 2013

Feeling September-ish. Or, how Over the Rhine reinvigorated my life last weekend.

This post switched directions a number of times as I wrote it this morning.  There are just a lot of big ideas swirling in my brain this week about music and art and words.  The short version is that music and lyrics breathe life into us.  If you want to take the long way around, read on.

Perfection, to me, often involves traveling with the right kind of music.  In college, I drove on State Route 73 in southwest Ohio at least three times a week.  Most of the time it was early evening when the light softens or at night--and out there you can see so many stars because Oxford, Ohio is surrounded by farmland.  Since I was in Oxford from September-May, these drives often were accompanied by open windows and the heat on my feet.  And of course, the right kind of playlist.  My car became a sanctuary of sorts that allowed me to have time and space to think by myself and my music--the 5 inch binder of CD options--was what spoke to me.  I'm realizing looking back just how important those moments of listening to music and lyrics was to my mental and emotional health.  Those were the days when music like Over The Rhine and Ryan Adams and Patty Griffin were brand new to me.  I heard Bela Fleck's Big Country for the first time.  The Dixie Chicks threw some attitude into my country music and Nickel Creek pulled me into bluegrass.

Since moving to New York ten years ago, my rhythms with music have changed considerably, mostly because one can't take the subway and look out on farmland at the same time.  Ten falls ago I walked with my tea to the Hudson River at Riverside Park seeking healing from homesickness and took the music that felt like home, namely the OTR's Ohio album.  When I moved downtown my river walks and runs changed me along with Iron and Wine and Sufjan Stevens and of course Drunkard's Prayer.  When I moved to Brooklyn, I commuted by foot and rotated The Head and the Heart, Fleet Foxes, Alicia Keys, Miranda Lambert through the streets of my neighborhood, along with a heavy dose of The Long Surrender.

Last March I moved out of the apartment I lived in by myself into one a stone's throw from work. It took me five months to realize that music wasn't playing in the way it once was.  Luckily, this realization came right before a new school year started, and therefore is helping to set the tone for this new season of my life.  September is essentially my new years, after all.  I was lucky enough to escape to Cape Cod during the four days before school started and poetically, Over the Rhine just released their latest album. I knew that to appreciate it fully I needed to hear it not just while doing dishes in my apartment, but away from the city.  I had just read an article about their writing process and learned that my life-line song on their last album was inspired by one of my favorite poets, Adam Zagajewski.  I also read how one of the new songs was inspired by Anne Lamott.  It all seemed too perfect a way to start a new year of teaching reading and writing--and to be reflective and writerly along the way.

So, I was with kindred music listeners.   We put it on as soon as we got past anything that felt like city life, and my ability to breathe deeply coincided with Karin Berquist's voice and Linford Detweiler's piano and the rapid increase in trees outside my window.  That was when I was reminded of driving on 73 in my home state--where the music and the lyrics hit you right where they need to and your lungs can fill with air again.

So all weekend, on near empty beaches, with coffee and Bailey's, and in a hooded sweatshirt I listened to Meet Me At the Edge of the World and felt whole and at home.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Summer Reading Conclusion

I write about it every year, but never have I been more grateful for the rhythm of summer to work its wonders in my overwhelmed teacher brain.  This year in particular I was able to be re-inspired and energized professionally by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Institutes in July, take a few weeks to read, breathe and finalize details for my wedding, then celebrate getting to spend the rest of my life with the best guy I'll ever know with my favorite people in the world.  We were able to escape and soak in the Cinque Terre, Florence, and Barcelona.  And suddenly I found myself excited to be thinking about September, my new students, and who we will all be as readers and writers.   Here's the text journey that got me to this place. I posted in mid June about my plans, which included curling up with some nonfiction, but that never happened.  I think in the summer, especially, I just want to get lost in a good story.  I've starred the ones that I'd most highly recommend.

I call these books the "I commuted for over two hours every day" collection from late June/early July.  You can also tell by the fact that I blogged extensively in my early summer days that I was ready to really think about what I was reading.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman**
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy**

These books are the "I need a vacation and only want to read mysteries" collection from August.  You can tell by the lack of blog posts about these books that I was either on vacation or starting to plan curriculum, so I haven't written about these yet. The first three I read on my Kindle--as a e-book newbie.

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson**
The Stone Cutter by Camilla Lackburg
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Young Adult:
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness**
I am J by Cris Beam
Playground by 50 Cent
Nothing to Fear by Jackie French Koller

On my parents' porch, as always, I read The Summer Book by Tove Jansson.  However, I didn't write about it this year because this was in the three days before my wedding. I did post about it on instagram, though! A picture is a text, too, you know:)

Happy September.  Enjoy the new starts, the school supplies, the football, the pumpkin spice.  Sigh.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Reflections on my first month of E-Reading

If you were to walk into my apartment, you would find three industrial sized shelves filled with books that we were certain would be ample space for a growing library, but were filled to the brim by the time we were done unpacking.  My piles of books have grown to the coffee table, living room floor, and of course my nightstand.  I'm old fashioned in that not only do I love the smell of paper books, old and new, I also think that stacks of beloved books are one of the best ways to decorate a home.  My old studio apartment didn't have room for shelves, so they were stacked into piles all around the periphery and somehow that worked, too.

So you'd understand how strange it was as I got more involved in education conversations about technology in the classroom and the tug I began to feel that I needed to (gah!) give the whole e-reading thing a shot.  I knew I'd be traveling for most of August, ten days of which internationally.  The last time I traveled for more than a week my books took up more space in my carry-on than my clothes, so I decided that summer travel would be the best time to start AND be excited about e-books.  (My chiropractor is also excited because he would shake his head every time he saw me reading a crazy heavy book that I'd lugged all over the city.)  I bought a kindle.  I downloaded the kindle app on my iphone.  I also got an ipad mini somewhere in the mix. Off I went.  Here's what I learned:

  • It was difficult to get used to the buttons on the kindle.  I kept thinking the one on the right should be forward and on the left should be backward.  That is not the case, which took me the length of my entire first book to master.  I'm getting old. 
  • The kind of book I'm reading seems to matter.  While in a more "literary" book, I am much more apt to want to go back and reread certain parts or backtrack a bit to draw connections, etc.  While reading Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, I repeatedly wanted to go back to earlier parts due to the structure and nature of the story, but it was really cumbersome so I mostly gave up.  (Maybe this will help my memory? Rewire some parts of my brain as I try to hold onto more details?)  However, this wasn't an issue at all while reading Camilla Lackburg's thriller The Stonecutter.  
  • Taking notes is now both easier and harder.  By nature I don't like clutter, so I've been happy to embrace the "notebook" app on my iphone for shopping lists and using pinterest instead of pulling out sheets from magazines.  It was hard for me to not be able to actually underline.  I'm working on digital underlining and note taking.  I think I'll get there.  My kindle isn't a touch screen, so that was another interesting aspect of the kind of technology I've grown accustomed to using. 
  • While traveling, my carry on bag and suitcase were so much lighter.  I kind of didn't know what to do with myself at the airport.   However, I needed a backup to occupy my mind until all electronic devices were cleared! My husband made fun of me that I couldn't just sit--but I'm sure there are other crazies who don't want to lose a half an hour of solid reading time! Luckily I had my most recent New York Magazine in my purse as well.  Maybe one day I'll be able to just sit and think on a plane. Or the subway. Or in line.  
  • I love the ipad app for one of my favorite cookbooks:  Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.  LOVE.  Also, I am into the magazine apps for ones I subscribe to like Bon Appetit and New York Magazine.  That was a surprise. 
  • E-reading gave me a lot of insight into my job: I was aware of my own "moves" as a reader and I began to see how some traditional teaching methods--like annotating and using post its--might not be applicable to all of my students anymore.  Trying out note taking strategies on my devices was definitely helpful as my students become increasingly more digital and less analog.  I'm dreaming about loading up kindles with series books for students and having them available for checkout.  I found out that the Brooklyn Public library has a huge selection of ebooks of all kinds using the Overdrive app for devices.  These are game changing developments for classrooms like mine where I'm dying to get more books in front of my students.  (Next up: getting out of the dark ages in NYC schools and starting a "Bring Your Own Device" policy!) The implications of knowing your "stats" automatically without an annoying (thought educationally helpful) reading log seems genius!
  • It's really easy to get a book, which is good and bad.  One of my friends said that she reads so much more because it's so easy to get books to read from home--and studies back up that notion: convenience makes more avid readers.  One of my favorite things to do is to browse in a bookstore and that is generally how my (digital-ha) list of books to read grows.  As convenient as e-readers are, I passionately support independent booksellers and this is a palpable tension because I try to go out of my way to purchase books from them and only go to the megastores if I'm in a pink or can't find what I'm looking for. But, to close this post, I'll share my recent find on my e-reading journey: 

This posting from Galleycat helped me find ways I can still support independent stores and enjoy the convenience of not having a 15 pound purse.  I'll let you peruse at your leisure, but the bottom line is that there are a lot of independent stores now selling ebooks on their websites.  Not all, but I can still support some of my local favorites like Greenlight Bookstore.

I'll be sure to share more on my e-reading experience, but I'm most enjoying it due to my lightened load and the way it's making me think about my students' experiences and engagements.  I still love curling up with an actual book and I still have science fiction nightmares a la the paperless world Super Sad True Love Story, and percentages will never be as satisfying as holding 3/4 of a book in my left hand, but I'm going to keep at it for now.