My Poetry

Peace of Mind

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racing through the seconds, minutes, hours of the day;
day after day, week after week, one quick month followed by another;
then a year is over, and another, and another;
and every time you think about it — how time flies!

memories merge one into another — the good, the bad, the ugly;
joy mixed with pain; both a necessary part of true living;
change — the expected and the unexpected — twirling
your life in to living, breathing moments of thought and emotion.

but, in it all, there is one constant, the never-changing presence
of Christ the Living Word, and the peace He brings from moment to moment —
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives.”[1] —
and every moment spent thus, and yet to be spent, is worth it.

 

*Inspired by the prompt at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie.
[1] John 14:27 NKJV

On the Job, Snippets

In Conversation with a Student

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A few days ago, I mentioned how I was giving my class children a wee bit of time individually, this month, to speak of anything they want to. I have been intent on staying quiet and listening. Advice would not be given unless and until specifically asked.

Yesterday, one of my girls sat opposite me, and as I pulled out my lunch box, giving her time to pull herself together and say something, she startled me with — “Ma’am, I want to know your favourite colour, favourite food, favourite …” — she rattled off a few things.

I just looked at her in astonishment and then I laughed. “You’re the first of the lot of you who has asked about me. I’d called you here so you could talk about anything you wanted. Why would you want to know these little things about me?”

She shrugged and smiled saying she simply wanted to know. I looked at her closely. J- has always been a quiet child in my class. However, I had noted that she was not quiet in a timid way, but quiet in a confident way. At this point I could not help thinking it was the right assumption. It is amazing how people let out little things about themselves in the mere manner of saying or doing things. J- was establishing an equal ground for communication, and I was amazed by that. Amazed and impressed. Once she had set the pace, and had begun to communicate with me as an equal, she began to open up to me bit by bit. I could tell, though, that we were going into the conversation layer by layer. Each layer revealed something a little deeper. Mind you, this was just one conversation, over lunch, in a matter of twenty to twenty-five minutes, with an eleven-year old.

Young J- will grow up to be a leader. With her quiet confidence, and her natural ability to establish an equal standing with someone I can imagine she has something beautiful ahead of her.

My Poetry

Spring Storms?

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Spring is not a season one experiences in the south of India. We just experience varying degrees of heat. As a result, we do not wholly understand the nuances of spring, the emotions that the season appears to evoke in those who live it. We only borrow emotions, explore the season through the sayings and writings of others. I would not have thought much about it, except when asked about ‘spring storms’, I realised I had no idea what they were. Does one have storms during the spring? I have always pictured it to be a rather mellow season — pretty, dainty, with young colours and grey-blue skies. Younger generations have no idea that spring is a season that symbolises rebirth and awakening — the hope after a hard, cold and bleak winter; the colour after a blanket of white. I realise now, as I write, that I too could be wrong, and merely assuming many things from what I have read.

spring storms —
all I know, the latter springs from the sea
swirling into chaos

On the Job, Snippets

Listen More

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Lately, I’ve been on a mission to listen at eighty percent, and talk just twenty percent. In other words, I want to be a patient listener. I used to be one once, a patient listener, that is. But those were in the days when I was younger and wiser. I am now older, and thereby a bit foolish — we tend to believe that as we grow older, we grow wiser, and therefore are in a position to dole out advice like candy to eager children. It makes me wonder at my presumptuousness. Very few people are actually seeking advice. Most just want to be listened to. I have begun to notice how everyone is busy talking and nobody is listening. How does one communicate, then? No wonder there is a breakdown in communication these days. Oh, the irony!

Recently, a missionary visited our school and spoke of how his ministry was about ‘listening’ — eighty percent listening and twenty percent talking. Yes, that’s where I heard it from. I thought to myself, ‘Of course! That is so obvious! Why haven’t I seen it before?’ I immediately set about creating time and space for my class students to ‘speak’ to me. I wrote dates on chits of paper and left them lying in my classroom drawer with the instructions that if anyone felt like they wanted to talk to someone who would simply listen without getting on an advice-role, they could pick a chit, give me the date, and we would set time aside on the given date for speaking-listening time. I wanted to leave the children space to decide if they wanted to do this, and stay away from peer pressure, in case they did not want to.

So far, I have met with five of my children. I was expecting to hear of difficulties in learning, home situations, friends and family relationships, that sort of thing. The kind that makes a person who loves giving advice feel all the more important and justified in giving advice. Silly me.

I am astounded that some of them chose to come and speak to me of things they could have come up to me about at any time! One child came and told me that he hadn’t received his SpellBee book in spite of his having paid the money. He said this while we sat apart from the rest of the class to give him some privacy. Another child told me she was unhappy with the seating arrangement because it estranged her from the rest of the girls (I hadn’t realised I had planned the seating rather badly where she was concerned), and when I asked her why she hadn’t brought this to my attention earlier, she just looked at me. A third child used his ‘date card’ to tell me that someone thought he was good enough in football to be sponsored and so he was going to a neighbouring state to play with a sponsorship. Apparently, his mother was also considering putting him in a sports hostel so he could pursue football professionally — exactly what he has dreamed of for awhile.

These extremely short exchanges have me realising that these children long to share even little things, and they don’t really get to. They feel their voices will not be heard among the commotion of judgement, rules and advice. It does break ones heart. It makes me wish I had been wiser to this earlier in the year, not when our academic year is drawing to a close. However, it is a lesson learnt, and I hope to carry this through — to always pay attention to the need of people to talk. This includes listening to my own two, little sons, Pixie and Roo.

As a teacher and an event coordinator, I am constantly in touch with people, talking and listening, dealing with high noise levels that appear to stay in the background in an endless droning. When I come home, I long to rest my ears, to sit in silence and soak it up. But, with my family needing attention, that is not something that happens regularly. I try to make it a point to lend my ears to my sons on our twenty-minute drives to and from school. At home, as well, they get their time. They also have an eager Papa waiting to listen to them.

So, when do I get to talk?

To be honest, I’m a chatterbox myself, and my husband gets hit by the brunt of it. I also trouble extended family and close friends with my endless chatter. But, I am on a mission, now, to talk less and listen more. So, less boring my family and friends, and more listening, especially to the words that are left unspoken and everything in between.

Snippets

The Sunday Post: Of books done, books to come, and Asian drama

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The weeks have been hectic since school began after the Christmas holidays. Apart from lessons and remedial classes, there is always something or the other that needs to be planned and attended to in school. Only yesterday we celebrated 69 years (some say 70 who count the year of institution) of our Indian constitution. While our cultural programme was not elaborate, we do tend to do things with a bit of flare and that takes a lot out of the teachers, admin staff and the students as well (though, to be honest, the children enjoy doing anything that will cause them to miss regular classes!).

I am, however, pleased with my reading so far. While I haven’t quite been able to follow my daily schedule plan where I turn off my tech stuff by 8:30 p.m., so I can read or draw or stitch in the hour before bed, and I haven’t been able to keep up with my daily reading of Don Quixote, I have been able to complete three books so far!

The first two on the list are linked to my after-reading thoughts about them. My opinion of Alexander’s Bridge is to feature in the coming days.

I am currently listening to Alarms and Discursions, essays by G.K. Chesterton, on my daily morning walks. That is one item on my schedule I really look forward to because I get to ‘read’ an audio book. It’s how I completed the Bronte and the Cather! I hope to have a post up, later in the week, with a sentence or two on the essays I am listening to.

As far as other works go, I have picked up Measure for Measure from the school library, and am hoping to complete it before February 9th so I can review it for We Love Shakespeare Week at Hamlette’s Soliloquy.

Also, recently, at a book sale in school, I picked up the following:

  • The Art of Being a Brilliant Teacher by Gary Toward, Chris Henley and Andy Cope
  • Awesome Grammar by Becky Burckmyer

I’ll probably be going into them piece-meal.

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Apart from reading, I’ve also been watching some Asian drama after many months. I think my last drama last year was a fluffy, Korean romance called What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim. This year, during our state harvest holidays, I felt in the mood for some drama again and so decided to try one of mum’s recommendations — another Korean romance drama called Secret Garden. It reminded me of all the reasons why I have begun to avoid Korean dramas (Secretary Kim turned out to be a bit of an exception), and so I turned back to Chinese drama for solace. I am currently watching the ongoing Story of Minglan, a beautiful period drama that takes you deep into the society of centuries old China. I am thoroughly enjoying; the episodes have been the highlight of my evenings in the last few days. I might be putting my thoughts down on this one when it gets over in February…

I’ll end this post with a question: Do you watch asian drama? Which ones? 

Bookishness

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: A surprisingly ground-breaking heroine!

On reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall[1] I am absolutely sure that Anne Bronte is my favourite of the Bronte sisters. I read Agnes Grey a few years back[2], and loved the conversational and experiential tone of the novel. As I mentioned back then, it was like sitting down to tea and walking down memory lane with a dear friend one is catching up with after a long time. However, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall probably ranks on par with the effect Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights has on the classical canon.

When I began listening to the librivox recording of the novel during my walks, I got the impression that this was going to be a gothic novel. The idea surprised me since Agnes Grey was far from gothic, and Anne Bronte did not quite strike me as having a love for the dramatic (which is probably why I enjoyed her first novel so much). However, as the story began to unfold, the gothic-ness of its setting and tone ebbed away to reveal, bit by painful bit, the sordidness of English society, especially in concern with its women, during the era it is set. I listened, in dismay, as Helen digs a pit for herself, so wise and yet so blind when confronted by twinkling eyes and charming manners. She is an upright young woman, and deep in her walk with God. A couple of my favourite passages from the novel are concerned with Bronte’s theology that come alive in dialogues between Helen and Gilbert Markham. She starts out, absolutely certain that she will not be lured into matrimony with just anybody. But she soon falls prey to just the sort of person she is wary of and marries Huntingdon, a man who sounds much like Jane Austen’s Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility — utterly selfish and craven.

The rest is about her struggle as her husband’s true nature and orgiastic lifestyle unfold in front of her eyes, and she can do nothing but give her best in a marriage she had made vows for. However, the final straw is when she realises that her little son is being drawn into a knowledge of the ugly world Huntingdon lives, and she decides to run away.

This novel was supposed to be one well ahead of its time. It was a success, but drew equal criticism for its portrayal of an independent woman. It was shocking to hear of such individualism in a woman during the Victorian period, and apparently, until 1870 there was a law that stated a woman’s existence was of no worth or value apart from that of her husband. She could own no property, initiate no divorce, and could not take her child away from her husband for the law would label it ‘kidnapping’. In that sense, this heroine broke all the laws concerning a married woman, and Anne Bronte, as Acton Bell, wrote a preface to the second edition of her novel explaining:

When we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would wish to appear. To represent a bad thing in its least offensive light, is doubtless the most agreeable course for a writer of fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest? Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts–this whispering’Peace, peace’, when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience.

Personally, I believe of Jane EyreWuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the latter most novel is the most ground-breaking one. It caused quite a stir; it even stirred up a disapproving Charlotte Bronte who repressed any further re-publications of the novel after Anne Bronte’s death. With these repressions, Anne faded into the background while her older sisters took prominence in the literary canon, and only in recent decades has she been re-discovered as a writer worth her salt (and a place in the canon, I hope).

In terms of its literary style, the story is presented as a series of letters written by Gilbert Markham to a ‘friend’ we never see or hear from of of called simple ‘Halford’. Bang in the middle of the ‘letters’, spanning about twenty-odd chapters, is Helen’s diary of five years. I cannot say that the in-depth letters written to Halford are convincing, or that a journal would be so intricately filled. But I was willing to ignore these little discrepancies, understanding that they were merely a medium through which Anne chose to tell her tale.

The dramatic reading I listened to from the free domain, is quite good. I must admit, though, that once we had reached the portion of the diary, I whipped out my copy of the novel and read the entire ‘journal’ portion through, so I don’t really know how good the voices for that portion of the reading is. However, while the voice doing Gilbert Markham took a little getting used-to because of his tendency to pause in unexpected places, the other voices were very clear and lively.

Notes:
[1] Read for Classic Spin #19.
[2] In my review of Agnes Grey I mention how I will not be reading it again. I have changed my mind.

Bookishness, Snippets

Surprised by Joy: from atheism to Christianity

Surprised by Joy is C.S. Lewis’s autobiography on his ‘accidental journey from atheism to Christianity’. I am not sure how much of what I read I am going to be able to process tidily enough to put down in a blog post; but I intend to try.

Lewis’s entire book is based around this one word, JOY. He first experiences it as a lad — I can not recall the instance since I began reading this book months ago — and the rest of what he writes is threaded through with his desire to experience this ‘joy’ again and again, seeking to recapture it or recreate it in any way he could think of. It would appear that there was not much that Lewis had not tried or had not been exposed to when he was very young. He seems to have been a very opinionated young man who was very clear about what he wanted and what he did not, what he was seeking and what he did not want to seek. Perhaps, since this is a book written in retrospection, there is more maturity in the looking back than there actually was in the time of experience.

It was fascinating to read all about the process Lewis’s journey took from near full-fledged atheism as a teenager to reluctant acknowledgement of, not just god, but the God as a young man. His struggle was real, and yet he was constantly seeking after that ‘joy’. He writes of discovering Wagner, Norse mythology (I can so understand the allure!) and exploring further afield the otherworldly. He writes of beauty and aesthetics, of Yeats who had briefly had him considering dabbling in the occult. He writes of the various philosophies that influenced his mind-set, bringing him to points of cynicism, and believing himself a realist.

Throughout his reading process he comes across various interesting people who become good friends and help him along the way. He is puzzled when he comes across ‘realists’ like him who are moral, honourable, chaste and upright. He is horrified when he discovers that some brilliant young man in his class, is actually a staunch Christian. He feels betrayed when close friends of his, almost like him in thought, begin to consider that the God of Christianity is indeed real.

He begins to read George MacDonal, George Herbert, and other Christian novelists and poets and realises that there is something different and more desirable in the writing. The ‘joy’ he sought to experience with Wagner and Morris and the like was of something distant, hazy and, at the end, dissatisfying. But the Christian writers brought out something that was present, in the very room with him, full of light and heart-warming. On reading Phantastes this is what he writes:

❝ […] I found the light shining on those woods and cottages, and then on my own past life, and on the quiet room where I sat and on my old teacher where he nodded above his little Tacitus. For I now perceived that while the air of the new region made all my erotic and magical perversions of Joy look like sordid trumpery, it had no such disenchanting power over the bread upon the table or the coals in the grate. That was the marvel. Up till now each visitation of Joy had left the common world momentarily a desert […] Even when real clouds or trees had been the material of the vision, they had been so only by reminding me of another world; and I did not like the return to ours. But now I saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged. Or, more accurately, I saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow. (pg. 209) ❞

Personally, there was much I could understand and relate to in Lewis’s journey. It was also fascinating in that his conversion did not come upon him in such a way that he changed overnight. It was a slow process, a reluctant process, a process that involved Lewis shedding away, bit by bit, his old notions and prejudices before he could fully experience his walk with the Lord. He writes of his ‘terror’ of letting go of his old life because the new would demand explicit obedience to God. He would no longer be ‘allowed to play at philosophy’. This last is something I understand personally. Having once been open to reading and studying philosophy, when my relationship with the Lord matured, I found that philosophy had become nothing but gibberish. After all, philosophy is man’s search for truth. It is an interesting, intellectually satisfying experience. But once a person knows the truth, there really is no going back. One cannot feign ignorance nor would one really want to for the truth, does indeed, set one free.

On the whole, Surprised by Joy was rather unlike any other autobiography I have read. But then again, I have not really read that many. It was, however, absorbing to read about the man C.S. Lewis was before he became this powerful Christian writer.

Have you read Surprised by Joy? What did you think of it? Would you read it if you haven’t already? Have you read anything else by C.S. Lewis? Let’s start a conversation below in the comments.