Friday, November 30, 2012

Ode to Teachers

You teachers of the young,
we their parents thank you.
Not in paltry sums of money,
though our taxes give you that,
but in our better, deeper hearts.

You tame the wildness of our children.
You temper their devilish ways.
You hold them in straight lines
and within dotted lines,
which we can never achieve in a hundred afternoons.
You make them read, when we are busy reading.
You make them ask questions we would shun to answer.
You mold of them persons suited to learning,
who showed us few signs of teachability.

Countless hours you spend crafting
words and activities to guide our young,
on paths of gradual difficulties,
while we plan nothing, taking what they give us,
and expecting behavior we ourselves struggle to exhibit.
Therefore you have the stronger influence
over their minds and their discipline.

With godlike patience you teach them letters,
numbers, sums, and fractions,
while juggling the demands of a fickle government
and a still more fickle public,
that too often undervalues the supreme value
of your ceaseless labor, your long hours
and small payment, and smaller esteem.

Better than most of us, you see the value
in our children, you turn from the goods
of a more lucrative life, you weed and trim
the small saplings, knowing (when we forget)
that of these seedlings, great trees are made.

For all this and all that I have left unsaid,
the joy you feel when our children succeed,
the pain you feel when they fail,
the heartache it gives you when we fail them,
the love you bear them in countless small gestures,
for all this and all that I have yet left unsaid,
we their parents thank you.

© John Pyle, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

An Inspiring Writing Challenge for Everyone

You don't have to be an aspiring writer to try this. My five-year-old handed me a pencil and a half-sheet of unlined paper and told me to write until it was full. He also instructed me to write about a toy. What came out was both fun and heartwarming.

English professors call this "freewriting," and it can be a great way to explore whatever you're thinking about. You write as fast as you can until time is up or you've filled up the paper. The thing I like about it is, it isn't structured at all. You can just unleash. And since you're using pencil and paper, you have that wonderful muscle memory of writing from schooldays gone by, and the potential to doodle, too.

All right, so here's your challenge: Take a pencil and a half-sheet of unlined paper, and write about something that's important to you and one other person close to you. When you've done it, if you'd like to share, post it here or on your own blog or Facebook (and link via the comments section). Ready? Enjoy.

Oh, and here's what I wrote:

Daddy is a big toy that boys like to play with, bang into, jump on, tackle, tickle, read with, sit on, snuggle with, turn around and make dizzy, count to ten with, steal potato chips from, ask for candy, rake leaves with, jump into their leaf piles, may [make] snow angels with, throw snowballs at, drive trucks on, steal shoes from, play fire engine with, throw baseballs to, ask for rides in a truck with, ride on back of,
Your turn.

P.S. There is no expiration date for this challenge. So whenever you happened upon it, go ahead and give it a try.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fantasy - according to Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino
Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino puts magic, the breaking of everyday rules, at the center of his notion of fantasy. Why is magic a feature of fantastic tales? What purpose does it serve?

"Fantasy," he said, implies “a detachment, a levitation, the acceptance of a different logic based on objects and connections other than those of everyday life or the dominant literary conventions.”

The magic is there, in other words, to let us sever ties with our everyday world and habits and ways of thinking. Cut loose, we can drift in the tale, in a way we otherwise wouldn't.

But for Calvino, this is not escapism in a bad sense--in the sense that we're looking to shrug off responsibility for life, or to deny its reality. Yes, in fantasy you as a reader don't confront “the problem of believing or explaining.” But that's because you come to it expecting this levitation: “the pleasure of fantasy lies in the unraveling of a logic with rules or point of departure or solutions that keep some surprises up their sleeves.”

The impulse behind all this? Intellectual play. Like myth, it lets us recombine the elements in our world, which may entertain or just might clarify what the world is, and what we are within it. 

Italo Calvino, “Definitions of Territory: Fantasy,” Le Monde, August 15, 1970; transl. Patrick Creagh, 1986.

Reprinted in: David Sandner, Fantastic Literature: A Critical Reader (Praeger, 2004).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Happy Birthday

This blog is one year old, as of November 5. For your enjoyment, a couple of stats I found to put this anniversary into perspective:

  1. "There are an estimated 31 million bloggers in the United States" (
  2. Of "business blogs," 65% haven't updated their blog in over a year (ditto)
  3. Lots of blogs die after 3 months or so. The best data I could get was "most." Not too fine, but makes the point.

Well, that was fun.

Cue the confetti.


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