Word Play for an August Day

I first encountered this poem listening to one of David Whyte’s talks and I’ve loved it ever since. The word-play is so beautiful—what are roundy wells?  Try reciting  this poem aloud and enjoy the way it feels as you say the words.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies, dráw fláme ;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring ; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name ;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same :
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells ;
Selves—goes itself ; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me : for that I came.

I say móre : the just man justices ;
Kéeps gráce : thát keeps all his goings graces ;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Reflection: Is there a line or two in this poem that calls to you?

As many of us head back to work after vacation or head back to school as either teachers or students, perhaps this line resonates: “What I do is me: for that I came.” How can we hold on to our individuality at work? What is the real work you are called to do?

How do students obtain a voice in the world of school?

What’s calling to you?

Holding On, Letting Go

I will be having a series of guest bloggers in the next few months who will be offering different takes on the idea of holding on and letting go. I chose this theme because I realize we are in an almost constant flow of holding on to things and people in our lives and then heeding the call to let go. Jobs. Children. Homes. Marriages. Dreams. Careers. Spouses. Health. I’m sure you can add to this list with some ideas of your own.

Several years ago when I started my expressive arts consulting business, The Possibility Project, I designed and offered a program for women in transition. Thinking that people with very specific issues would benefit from the program, I focused on the places familiar to most people: divorce, death of a spouse, empty nest, and changing careers. The group met for several weeks and we did a series of expressive arts activities using collage, journaling, and poetry to work through various issues and blocks the women were experiencing.

And the more I experience life, the more I see people constantly engaged in the challenges of holding on and letting go. During a dark time in my own life, I used to see myself as clinging to a branch that was hanging over a rushing river. My hands gripped the branch, my feet were floating out in front of me and it took all of my strength to hold on. When I finally let go, I floated in the sparkling cool river, buoyed along by the current. I relaxed and let go into the flow.

And now whenever I am faced with challenges that ask me to let go, I close my eyes and see myself clinging desperately to that branch and then relaxing in the water. I realize that so much of the stress comes from wanting to control the outcome instead of trusting the wisdom inside, the wisdom of life’s current. I need to keep this in mind as my son talks about moving to Thailand and buying a one-way ticket. Much as I want to hold him here, I also realize he needs to follow his own current.


Stafford’s poem “You Reading This, Be Ready” has some inspiring words for us to consider as we face transitions and are called to hold on or let go. I hope they provide some comfort as you face your won challenges.

“When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life—

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?”

Get Out of the Darkroom

“Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed.” Michael Pritchard 

Fear: False Evidence Appearing Real   I think about this helpful acronym whenever I come face to face with my fears….which can often swamp me into a state of visceral anxiety—complete with a racing heart, sweaty palms, a churning stomach. My fears fall into the same category as many other folks: fear of bridges, fear of tunnels, fear of failure, and fear of rejection. Those fears cover a pretty broad swath of life and could severely limit me if I let them. I’d like to talk about how I overcame a particularly debilitating fear that was keeping me from a lot of adventures and enjoyment: the fear of driving over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

I actually thought I had conquered this fear several years ago when I visited California and cruised over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County. I was excited to be there, but more than that, I was thrilled that I could drive over the bridge alone and not feel sick or have palms so sweaty that I couldn’t grip the steering wheel. With that fear conquered, I figured I could drive over any bridge, leaving that fear abandoned and powerless. But I was wrong.

Ann at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge
Ann at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge

When I drove over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge a few years ago to attend a writers’ conference on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, I was shocked by my reaction. Suddenly, my palms were sweating, my heart was racing, and my mind was filled with awful scenarios. Crashing into the car in front of me. Driving over the side of the bridge into the wintery waters of the Chesapeake. Being pinned between two cars with no escape but the water.

Once I got to the other side, I was somewhat relieved until I blurted out, “Shit, I just have to turn around and do this again in about five hours.” I confided my fears to a friend who offered to ride with me on the way home. Her company and her constant chatter as we drove over the 4.3 mile span of the bridge got me to the other side, but I still struggled mightily with anxiety and catastrophic scenarios. Even though my fears severely limited many of my weekend plans, I avoided driving over the bridge again until this past July.

Determined to overcome my fear about driving over the bridge, I got my chance when my friend and I took at trip to visit the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cambridge, Maryland, in late July. We took her car, but she asked me to drive over the bridge because she was afraid. Here was my chance to deal with my fear.

I recalled reading that visualizing is a powerful way to be able to successfully perform something you consider challenging. Your mind can’t tell if what you are visualizing is real or imaginary, so in essence, you are giving yourself positive practice experiences whenever you visualize success. Knowing I would probably have to drive over the bridge twice, I began visualizing my success every morning for a few days during my meditation practice.

I saw myself with my hands on the wheel and I said over and over, “I am calm and safe. “ I saw myself driving over the bridge on a sunny day and focusing on the car directly in front of me. “I cross the bridge safely and I feel happy and calm,” I recited over and over in my mind. If negative thoughts came up during the day, I returned to my mantra of being happy, safe, and calm.

As I approached the bridge, I swallowed a few drops of Kava Kava, an herbal supplement I frequently use when I feel anxiety creeping up. I recited my mantra, paid the toll, and moved onto the bridge. I kept my eyes only on the car in front of me and did not look out onto the water or at the long span stretching in front of me. My hands stayed dry and the butterflies in my stomach were few and far between. My friend chatted all the way over the bridge and they we high-fived once I made it to the other side. I did the same thing a few days later on the way home.

Success! I count myself as successful even though I still felt a little nervous, and my hands still sweated a little on the way home. My anxiety was very manageable. But best of all, I know I had used some powerful tools to overcome my fears. My fears were like a dragon, but as Noela Evans reminds us, “Challenge is like a dragon with a gift in its mouth. Tame the dragon, and the gift is yours.”

It All Depends on Your Definition

When I teach my course in professional writing at the University of Maryland, I have to stress the importance of students providing their audience with a clear definition of terms. A common definition keeps everyone clear and provides a common understanding for the discussion. This concept is especially important for students to grasp when they are considering an environmental topic, such as sustainability, which can have a very broad meaning and apply to a wide range of situations.

Toad Hall's cabin by the pond
Toad Hall’s cabin by the pond

And if you think about it, our definitions drive much of our thinking about ourselves. I was eating lunch with a colleague the other day who declared, “I’m not creative at all.” When I suggested he broaden his definition and consider some area of his life where he exhibits creativity, his face lit up. “I’m creative in the kitchen. I love experimenting with new combinations of foods and spices,” he told me. Other friends who initially feel that they lack creativity often realize that the beauty in their gardens or the pleasing way they arrange furniture are all aspects of the creative flame that burns in every heart.

And definitions are important for teachers and parents as well, especially when we look at our children and our students. How do we define intelligence? What kind of intelligence do we value as a society? If you consider standardized testing, the main intelligence is related to knowing which answer out of four choices will be correct. But this narrow view of intelligence leaves out all the other ways of thinking about the world where our children and students excel. Music. Art. Sports. Nature. Problem solving.

Here is a poem by Rumi that urges all of us to look at our definition of intelligence with an open heart. We all know how to acknowledge the first kind—acquired knowledge—but we need more practice in treasuring the second kind—our intuition.

Fountain in Ireland
Fountain in Ireland

Two Kinds of Intelligence
by Jalaluddin Rumi

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.