A Backpackful of Nothing

teenaged boys, seeking freedom

Backpack, by benson3k4

Why Bottles Litter Interstate Hillsides

 

On a steep slope behind an ODOT fence

meant to keep deer off the road,

suburban boys gather. Each brings

microbrews found in upscale fridges

or energy drinks sloshed with vodka.

They lean away from the ground’s tilt.

Drink, brag, smoke, jeer, jostle for position.

 

The highway courses endlessly below them,

overpasses and underpasses heading six directions,

every vehicle steering away.

Traffic noise fills the night, fills their bodies,

amps up a signature restlessness.

In earlier eras, boys their age claimed

homesteads, climbed ship rigging,

set type, shaped glass, forged iron.

Instead they’re here on this cold night,

words steam

fading into exhaust-heavy air.

 

Every day in every boy’s memory,

they’ve been graded on doing

a backpackful of nothing.

Here they snap saplings, toss bottles,

sometimes hoist the drunkest kid

halfway over the fence. They’re told

you’ve got your whole life ahead of you

but wonder, unspoken, how they’ll ever

muster enough speed to merge

onto the lanes taking them there.

Laura Grace Weldon

 

Originally published by Rise Up Review.  Find more poetry in my collection, Tending. 

36 Poetry-Infused Movies

36 poetry-infused films

You don’t have to stretch your movie-watching habits far to include movies infused with poetry. Here’s a short, by no means comprehensive list.

 

Biopics (often loosely) based on poets’ lives

Neruda  dramatizes the search for the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet during the 1940’s, when he became a fugitive in his own country due to his Communist leanings.

A Quiet Passion explores Emily Dickinson’s life from her school days to her later years.

Kill Your Darlings looks at a 1944 murder that draws together beat generation poets Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.

Howl looks at the 1957 obscenity trial against Allen Ginsberg.

Set Fire to the Stars portrays a week in 1950, when aspiring poet John Brinnin takes his idol, Dylan Thomas, on a retreat in hopes of readying the legendary poet for a series of poetry readings in the U.S.

Reaching for the Moon  Elizabeth Bishop took a trip to Rio in 1951, intending to stay only long enough to battle her drinking problem, but met and fell in love with famed architect Lota de Macedo Soares, staying 20 years.

Total Eclipse is a dramatized account of Arthur Rimbaud’s affair with Paul Verlaine.

Sylvia tells of the relationship between poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.

The Basketball Diaries is a harrowing story of athleticism, addiction, and redemption based on poet Jim Carroll’s autobiography.

Barfly is based on Charles Bukowski tumultuous life.

Before Night Falls is adapted from the memoir of Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, who was jailed for ‘ideological deviation’ and forced to denounce his own work.

Piñero tells the story of Puerto Rican poet-playwright Miguel Piñero, whose urban poetry is recognized as a forerunner to rap and hip-hop.

An Angel at my Table tells the story of Nene Janet Paterson Clutha, a New Zealand woman who published under the name Janet Frame.  After years of psychiatric institutionalization, Frame was scheduled for a lobotomy that was cancelled when, just days before the procedure, her début publication of short stories was unexpectedly awarded a national literary prize.

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle brings the Algonquin Round Table to life in this portrayal of Dorothy Parker.

Tom & Viv depicts  T. S. Eliot‘s brief marriage to muse Vivienne Haigh-Wood.

Endless Poetry portrays Alejandro Jodorowsky’s young adulthood of the 1940s and 50s, in the electric capital city of Santiago. There, he decides to become a poet and is introduced into the bohemian and artistic circle of the time.

 

 

Movies inspired by poems

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is the Coen brothers’ version of Homer’s “Odyssey.”

Mulans story comes from the ancient Chinese poem “The Ballad of Mulan.”

The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe  has been made into several movies, the most recent starring John Cusack.

Jabberwocky is a poem found in Lewis Carroll’s novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. The nonsense poem added words such as “chortle” and “galumphing” to the English language.  This nonsense movie is directed by Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam.

Much Ado About Nothing, OthelloHamlet, well, there are dozens of movies versions of Shakespeare’s poetic plays. Dozens more are based on his work, including The Lion KingShe’s the Man, and Akira Kurosawa’s Ran

Beowulf comes from the oldest surviving epic poem of Old English.

Bright Star is inspired by a poem of the same name by John Keats, about his love for Fanny Brawne.

Braveheart is based on the the epic written by makar Blind Harry, “The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace.”

Troy is based on Homer’s epic Iliad.

Horton Hears a Who! or any of the Dr. Seuss movies, are all based on the imaginatively rhyming books by Theodor Seuss Geisel.

 

 

Movies about poetry

Paterson takes place during one week of a poetry-writing bus driver’s life, and includes a meeting with a stranger who loves poetry.

Poetry, detailing an elderly woman’s first poem, gets a rare 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Elling is a deadpan comedic Norwegian film about two men, Elling and Kjell,  who are released from a state institution. Elling discovers he is a poet and bring his work to the public in an unusual way.

Henry Fool is about an ex-convict who encourages a friend to become a poet.

Poetic Justice includes several poems by Maya Angelou.

Big Bad Love highlights the struggles of a poet and writer dealing with his own war memories and alcoholism. Based on the short stories of Mississippi writer Larry Brown, Brown’s own poems and those of William Carlos Williams, are in the film.

Slam is about a young man’s dedication to spoken word poetry after his release from prison.

Dead Poets SocietyRobin Williams plays an English teacher in an East Coast boys’ prep school who inspires his students to love poetry, among other life lessons. The film, which popularized the tradition of carpe diem poems, features verse by Frost, Tennyson, and Shakespeare.

Shakespeare in LoveThe endeavors of a young William Shakespeare, with allusions to Shakespeare’s later work.

The Kindergarten Teacher is the story of an Israeli kindergarten teacher who is convinced that one of her students is a poetry prodigy, and becomes obsessed with what she perceives as his ability.

 

Library Angels

library angels, or how the right book just appears

“Coincidence is the word we use when we can’t see the levers and pulleys.”  ~Emma Bull

Sometimes the book you need just appears. You never imagined it exists and then suddenly bam, it’s right there in your hand.

Maybe that book sets you off on a new quest, or lightens your weighted heart, or snaps on a mental light switch. You’re never quite the same afterwards.

This happens to me pretty often.

Most commonly, the book I need drops from the shelf or persistently gets in my way when I’m looking for another book at the library. This occurred more frequently back in those golden-hued days when my favorite library was tightly packed with tall stacks of books.  It required some wandering and often some teetering on a wooden stool to find a particular book. That gave a book that needed to find me a chance to fling itself in my direction.

The right book for me also once appeared in a used book inside the wrong dust cover and another time was left on a dirty seat next to me in a muffler repair shop.

Such delightful happenstance isn’t confined to books. Utterly necessary articles, quotes, interviews, and poems appear as if by magic in my life as well. In The Roots of Coincidence, Arthur Koestler calls this literary synchronicity the work of “library angels.” 

British author Rebecca West told Koestler about her experience with a library angel back in 1972. She had been researching a specific episode of the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

I looked up the trials in the library and was horrified to find they are published in a form almost useless to the researcher. They are abstracts, and are cataloged under arbitrary headings. After hours of search I went along the line of shelves to an assistant librarian and said, “I can’t find it, there’s no clue, it may be in any of these volumes.” I put my hand on one volume and took it out and carelessly looked at it, and it was not only the right volume, but I had opened it at the right page.

Aleksandr  Solzhenitsyn writes about another such strange coincidence in The Gulag Archipelago. While he was incarcerated in Leningrad, a new prisoner was brought in. The man was a renown physicist who happened to be obsessed with working through a technical problem, but it required certain mathematical tables. There was no chance of getting those tables, since the only books permitted in the prison were works of Party propaganda distributed to the cells at random. One week a library worker came around and passed out the very book the physicist needed. The scientist memorized the necessary tables before the mistake was noticed and the book confiscated.

My library angel experiences aren’t as gobsmackingly surreal as these two examples by any means, but I’ll take all the positive coincidences I can even if I don’t know what mysterious force to credit. Library angels? A benevolent God who speaks to the bookish among us on our own wavelength? The universal consciousness at work? (They’re all names for Mystery well beyond our understanding anyway…) It doesn’t matter, when a book shows up unexpectedly I have learned to pay attention.

I’d love to hear your stories of coincidence, word-related or otherwise.

Finally, Then

poem for procrastinators

 

Finally, Then

 

After dinner is over, dishes clean,

their porcelain lips stacked in smiles

behind the cupboard door.

 

After your desk is organized,

emails sent, final draft finished,

your to-do list a flock of check marks,

migratory birds flapping

down the column and out

to the horizon of a light-suffused land

called Everything is Done.

 

Finally, you can do whatever it is

you say you’ve always wanted to do.

Or not said, because naming can sometimes

dilute a dream’s dark essence.

 

But there’s bank overdraft to fix,

unread library books to return,

another doctor’s appointment,

and these days when you accelerate,

your car makes a screaming noise

like a small trapped animal.

You can picture its curled body

and dark eyes, terrified your speed

will toss it onto the moving parts

of a machine made only to go.

Maybe, after you get it fixed,

clear up a few other things,

finally, then, you’ll have time.

Laura Grace Weldon

 

Originally published by Great Lakes Review.  Find more poetry in my collection, Tending. 

 

14 Ways to Give Kids the Confidence They Need to Shape the Future

Raising confident kids who will shape the future.

As each generation does, our children will grow up to shape the world. They need plenty of creativity and enthusiasm for the task ahead. Nurturing them in loving relationships with plenty of freedom to play is wonderful preparation. Here are some other positive ways to foster their confidence as they grow.

1. Encourage make-believe worlds. Give kids plenty of unscheduled time where they’re free to daydream and play. Sometimes their make-believe is constructed of nothing you can see, sometimes with blocks or dress-up clothes, sometimes it’s under a blanket thrown over a table. Make-believe builds a connection from the world that is to the world that can be.

2. Tell family stories. Share funny, silly, and hopeful stories of long-gone relatives. Tell stories of your childhood and young adult years, especially the mistakes and hard lessons kids can identify with. Tell them about their own earliest days including what they were like as babies and toddlers. Kids who  know such stories develop a strong sense of belonging, which researchers call best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”

3. Read stories. Through fiction, children imagine themselves living the lives of characters and begin to grasp what it’s like in different places and different circumstances.  This practice of recognizing other worldviews helps to develop tolerance and empathy.

4. Point out what people are doing every day to bring about a brighter future, both in good times and times of great difficulty. Note your own positive choices — perhaps contacting your legislators, planting a garden, walking instead of driving. When a sudden crisis arises in your area, a house fire or flood, point out how quickly people work together to care for one another. We humans tend to show the best of ourselves in the worst of times.

5. Let current events become a regular topic. Just as you’d bring up any other subject that interests you, talk about topical issues in front of your kids. This is easy to do informally while driving or sitting around the dinner table. In addition to being more aware of issues, studies show that kids develop better reasoning skills when they grow up in families where social and political issues are common topics.

6. Welcome young people’s opinions without overemphasizing your point of view. Dissent equips kids to think for themselves. As they get older, help them see that using facts and approaching discussions logically can help convince others. (Here are some logic resources.)

7. Hang a laminated world map on the wall. Notice where news happens, where friends travel, where their favorite movies and music comes from. Mark places you’d like to go. Whiteboard markers wipe off this surface, so it’s easy to write directly on oceans and continents. (This is also a subversive way to advance geographical knowledge.)

8. Embrace kids’ interests and let them see you pursue your own. Many of us are raising young people whose passions aren’t remotely similar to our own, yet these very passions help advance the possibilities we bring to the future.

9. Get kids to predict the future. This not only provides insight into their hopes and fears, it’s a way of talking about the kind of future they want to live in and what steps can be taken to make it happen.

10. Stay tuned to what’s positive. Avoid a heavy media diet of news or crime shows. Even as little as a few hours a day can result in drastically increased cynicism, fear, and lack of trust in others — what’s been called mean world syndrome

11. Bring quality media into your kids’ lives with magazines such as MuseSkipping StonesOdyssey, New Moon Girls, and Kazoo. Get updates from KarmaTube and Good News Network. Talk about what kids have seen or heard that makes them feel optimistic. For age-appropriate news sources try Scholastic NewsDoGo News, and the similarly named GoGo NewsKid’s Post (offered by The Washington Post), National Geographic KidsNews-o-Matic, and Time for Kids. Teens are likely to enjoy the news-based wit of The Daily Show  and Last Week Tonight.

12. Think globally. Notice where toys, clothing and other household purchases come from, perhaps locating the place of origin on a map. Focus your attention on a specific area in the world that interests you, paying attention to the news, weather, and celebrations taking place there. If at all possible, host an international visitor.

13. Travel and immerse yourselves in local communities as much as possible. Get off the main roads, eat where the locals eat, walk or bike as much as possible. Skip hotels, instead staying in homes through Airbnb, Home Exchange,  or other such programs. According to The New Global Student by Maya Frost, travel provides extraordinary benefits, especially as preteens and teens are forming their identity and sense of agency in the world.

14. Volunteer. This  is a pivotal way to shows kids we can make a better world, right now, directly in our own communities. There are all sorts of ways kids can volunteer, from toddlers to teens.

How do you help kids become world builders?

 

Portions of this post are excerpted from Free Range Learning.

Mathematical Improbabilities

 

Welcome

 

Eyes, fingertips, tongues

form one from two.

Yield three.

 

You.

 

Snowflake fingerprints,

tiny palms creased with foreknowledge,

DNA whirling proteins

into the plot of a new story.

 

Despite vast mathematical improbabilities

here you are.

Your mother’s hundred thousand eggs

your father’s five trillion sperm,

a one-in-five-hundred-million-million-million

chance of your existence.

 

Our gladness is incalculable.

 

Laura Grace Weldon

 

Find more poetry in my collection, Tending. 

The Cage of Habituation

not seeing life's wonders

The first time you saw a butterfly you were probably only a year old—still rather new to the planet. You were undoubtedly astonished. This fluttering petal of color didn’t conform to categories you were beginning to understand like “bird” or “bug.”  Your brain and body were surely enchanted.

Science tells us awe expands our perception of time.  Perhaps our early years take up so much more space in our memories because of all those firsts — jumping in a puddle, leaping from a diving board, riding a bike, driving a car, falling in love.

This has to do with habituation. The term simply means we respond very little or not at all to what we become accustomed to. For example, if you move to an apartment near an airport you’ll notice the loud, intrusive sound as each plane passes over. Eventually you’ll habituate and barely notice, if at all. We habituate to minor annoyances like noise pollution (although it can still affect our health). We also habituate to far more serious problems  — unhappy relationships, difficult working conditions, fractious politics.

Our minds habituate in order to make things easy for us. Heck, we can read right through misspellings because we’ve gotten accustomed to letter groupings that form words.

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.

Our eyes march through such sentences and our brains make sense of them, even if they’re nonsense.

Habituation is also what drains clichés of meaning. When phrases like “out of the box”  or”caught red-handed” were first uttered they were ingenious, but repetition means we’re so inured that don’t pause for a moment to consider boxes or red hands.

Our brains gloss over what’s commonplace to such an extent that we’re not really looking as we walk through our homes or offices, not thinking as we open a drawer to take out a spoon, barely aware of the route as we drive the same streets to the same stores.

Patterned behaviors ease our progress through the day. But they make our lives so automatic that they don’t feel lived, either. Sipping coffee after 4,000 cups isn’t the same as sipping it the first few times. Tucking your child into bed becomes routine as putting on your shoes. The more familiar an experience is, the less fully we experience it. That’s true of ice cream, friendships, changing seasons, and marriages. The marvel of a single leaf that feeds on sunlight, breathing out what we need to breathe in, rarely registers as more than an object making up the word “tree.”

We have to allow our minds to habituate, at least much of the time. If we didn’t, if we truly perceived the wonders around us, we’d fall to our knees in astonishment every moment.

But let’s enjoy as much awe-drenched living as we can.  To that end, here are two quick suggestions to get past habituation, when we choose.

The first is developing a gratitude practice. Pause several times a day, breathe in deeply and exhale fully, then let yourself appreciate something right there in the moment. The chewy texture of the bagel you’re eating, the excited chatter of children tussling over a toy, the bliss of a headache gone, the relief of enough money to pay your utility bills, the lovely relaxed feeling of a yawn.  As John Milton wrote,  “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. ”

The second is noticing moments of wonder. Many of us happen upon moments of wonderment in nature. (Nature isn’t somewhere else, it’s everywhere around us.) But the experience of awe isn’t limited to the natural world. It’s wherever you find it —the riff of a hilarious conversation, skiing on unbroken snow, opening to a spiritual insight, collaborating closely with a team, listening to music that transports you, reading an extraordinary writer’s work, coming across unexpected beauty. Part of this has to do with simply paying attention, but also to leaving more room in our lives for awe-inspiring experiences.

Let’s be as alive to our moments as we can. That way every butterfly still seems new.

 

 

The Language We Speak Shapes Us

interesting words in other languages

When I was in elementary school, my cool cousin Arlene attended high school in Germany as a foreign exchange student. The whole concept of leaving one’s home and one’s language was inconceivable to an anxious little kid like me. Arlene’s coolness factor instantly became far vaster.

I saw her when she came home that summer. It was one of those extended family get-togethers where younger kids eat at separate tables, but I did my best to stare at her from afar. It was obvious to me her time in Europe had already made her more sophisticated than our not-well-traveled adult relatives. I’d always wanted to be like her (and like her older sister Laura and our second cousin Linda) but that jig was up. I could never hope to be as confident and poised as she was after her time abroad. I listened carefully when she answered a question about polishing her language skills. I’ve never forgotten what she said.

“You know you’ve got it when you start to dream in another language.”

To speak another language seemed amazing . To dream in it was, to me, unimaginable.

Our thoughts, or at least our perspectives, may very well be shaped by the language(s) we speak. The structure of language matters because of the way it categorizes and labels —shaping our view of reality.

One recent study looked at people who spoke both German and English, as well as those who spoke only one of those languages. Research subjects were shown video clips of people walking towards their cars, cycling towards stores, and so on. Because of the way the separate languages work, German monolingual speakers tended to describe the entirety of the scene, including the person’s action as well as their apparent goal. English monolingual speakers tended to describe only the person’s actions. When it came to people fluent in both languages, Germans who spoke English were goal-focused when tested in their home countries unless they were primed to speak and think in English, in which case they were action-focused. And English speakers who spoke German were more action-focused unless they were primed to speak and think in German, in which case they were more goal-focused. So the language they were using to both think and speak affected they way they described a scene. Okay, maybe that’s just semantics.

But there are enormous benefits to thinking in another language. For example, people who are bilingual appear to make better choices when they think them through in a non-native language. Researcher Boaz Keysar who studies decision bias, writes,  “A foreign language provides a distancing mechanism that moves people from the immediate intuitive system to a more deliberate mode of thinking.”

And there are drawbacks. The language we speak may affect how we think about and see other people. Even people of our own ethnicityResearch shows that Israeli Arabs who speak both Arabic and Hebrew show weaker positive associations with common Arabic names when tested in the Hebrew language. This research says a great deal about culture as well as language.

Our words come not only from our mouths, they come from our worldview. In the Mohawk language, for example, the individual doesn’t stand alone but is in spoken of in relationship to a larger whole.  While in English we’d say “to bury,” in Mohawk it is said as “to wrap his body with the blanket of our Mother Earth.” And when one is ill, it’s not said, “I am sick” but instead, “the sickness has come to me.”

I am sadly monolingual now that my Spanish lessons from middle school have faded from memory. But I am fascinated by language, especially terms for which there are no equivalents in English. We’ve all experienced ideas too large to explain and feelings inexpressible through mere words. Surely every language contains words that convey something crucial yet untranslatable, concepts that are perfectly clear in one tongue yet come out as awkwardly clumped phrases in other languages. They are unique to the geography and culture, yet globally relevant. Here are a few examples.

The Turkish word huzur literally means “presence” but takes on larger connotations having to do with serenity, particularly the inner peace that comes from living in a routine.

The Indonesian word jayus refers to a joke told so poorly that others cannot help but laugh.

The Irish word leaspáin describes those illusory flickering lights that dance before one’s eyes, caused by exhaustion or a knock on the head.

The  Yup’ik word name Ellam Yua is not only the name for the deity considered “person of the universe” but also has to do with one’s spiritual debt to the nature, an outlook of generosity or grace, and awareness of the soul inherent in all beings and things.

The Italian word commuovere often translates as “heartwarming,” but is typically used to refer to a story that moved you to tears.

The Welsh word hiraeth is translated as “homesickness” but means much more. It implies a sense of belonging to the land itself and, when away, an emptiness that can only be filled by returning to Wales. Even then, it’s a yearning that can’t entirely be met, a wistfulness for something that no longer exists.

The Japanese word tsundoku is leaving a book unread after purchasing it.

The Greek word μεράκι (meraki) means enthusiasm and attention to aesthetic outcome when performing a task, however ordinary.

The Iroquois or Haudenosaunee word ondinnonk can refer to the innermost aspect of one’s nature as well as to a soul wish as expressed in dreams.

The Swedish word gökotta means to wake up early specifically to go outside and hear the first birds sing.

The Thai word nam jai translates literally as ‘water heart,’ and refers to the selfless nature of a person who gives without any expectation of anything in return.

The Korean word hwabyung describes the stress-induced illness of repressed anger, particularly related to unfairness that cannot be addressed.

The Russian word poshlost means what is trashy and vulgar but pretends to be profound or beautiful. To apply the deadly label of poshlism to something is not only an aesthetic judgment but also a moral indictment.

The Italian word vendemmia simply translates to “grape harvest,” but means much more — the sense of community and celebration that comes with the harvest.

The Yiddish word trepverter means a witty retort you think of only when it’s too late to use.

The Tamil word kindal is to praise a person so much that the praise turns into a insult or teasing.

The German word torschlusspanik translates as “gate-closing panic” and is used to describe the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.

The Hokkien (Chinese dialect) word lau hong translates as “leaked air” and describes food that’s meant to be crispy or hard, such as crackers, turned soft.

The German word kummerspeck refers to excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, grief bacon.

The Portuguese word saudade refers to an intense, overwhelming longing for something that may never exist, such as an impossibly perfect soulmate.

The Japanese word yūgen names the sense that nature possesses a mysterious beauty that can be seen but not understood.

The Yup’ik term ataucimek umyuarluteng means being of one mind. It refers to the the way people in relationship, whether a couple or a village, flourishes when they function in agreement rather than pushing one’s own purpose ahead of others.

Sex in the Ditty

Steamy songs work.

Researchers tell us that romantic songs nearly double the likelihood that single women will agree to give men their phone numbers.

And music works for those of us in relationships too. Music does a pretty good job of expressing affection, amorous intention, and other feelings that can be screwed up by mere words.

Why?

Obviously we react to music we like and to lyrics that make us feel. Music engages our bodies, often helping us move out of our heads to a more sensory level. It gets to us in ways we aren’t consciously aware of as well. In This Is Your Brain on Music Daniel Levitin describes what happens as we listen. Imaging studies show that activated nerves signal from the auditory system to activate expectation and reward centers in the brain.  In fact the pleasure we take in music causes our dopamine levels to rise, and we all want more of that feel-good neurochemical.

I asked friends to tell me their favorite sexy tunes. We noted there’s a significant crossover with love songs, because adoration is definitely a turn on. And it was surprising how many we had to weed out to eliminate exceedingly creepy, depressing, and misogynistic lyrics.

A more basic question remains. What music sounds sexy to you? Is it the beat, the lyrics, the overall tone? Or does it have more to do with memories you attach to the piece?

Offer your suggestions.

Here are a few of ours. Not in order and not by any means comprehensive.

1. What Kind Of Woman Is This? by Buddy Guy

I heard a blind man screaming, say

There goes a sight for my sore eyes.

2. Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover by Sophie B. Hawkins

I’ll rock you till the daylight comes

Make sure you are smilin’ and warm

3. You Look Like Rain by Morphine

I want to know what you got to say

I can tell you taste like the sky ’cause you look like rain

4. I Just Want To Make Love To You by Muddy Waters

I don’t want you to be true

I just want to make love to you

5. Lay Lady Lay by Bob Dylan

Lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed.

Stay lady stay, stay with your man awhile.

6. Wicked Game by Chris Isaak

What a wicked thing to do

To let me dream of you

7. Love Me Like A Man by Bonnie Raitt

I want a man to rock me

Like my… backbone was his own

8. I’m Wild About That Thing by Bessie Smith

If you want so satisfy my soul,

Come on and rock me with a steady roll

9. Fade Into You by Mazzy Star

I want to hold the hand inside you

I want to take a breath that’s true

10. In The Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett

I’m gonna take you girl and hold you

And do all the things I told you

11. Bang A Gong (Get It On) by T. Rex

You dance when you walk so let’s dance, take a chance, understand me

You’re dirty sweet and you’re my girl.

12. Try A Little Tenderness by Otis Redding

But while she’s there waiting

Try just a little bit of tenderness

13. Need You Tonight by INXS

So slide over here, and give me a moment

Your moves are so raw

14. Insatiable by Darren Hayes

The candy sweetness scent of you

It bathes my skin I’m stained by you

15. Dance Me To the End of Love by Leonard Cohen

Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon

Show me slowly what I only know the limits of

16. Fever by Peggy Lee (and every cover ever)

Never know how much I love you, never know how much I care

When you put your arms around me, I get a fever that’s so hard to bear

17. Arms Of A Woman by Amos Lee

Ya, when she wakes me

She takes me back home

18. My One and Only Love by Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane

You fill my eager heart with such desire

Every kiss you give sets my soul on fire

19. You Shook Me by Led Zeppelin

You know you shook me

You shook me all night long

20. Love Me Unique by Michael Franti

Mmmm, exhale

Touch me like the blind read Braille

21. Powerful Stuff by Sean Hayes

Alright now let’s turn it up

Every day do like a flower does

22.  Je T’aime,…Moi Non Plus by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg

Comme la vague irrésolu

Je vais je vais et je viens

23. Ready For Love by Bad Company

I want you to stay

Ooh, I want you today

24. Banana Pancakes by Jack Johnson

When the whole world fits inside of your arms

Don’t really need to pay attention to the alarm

25. Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers

Oh my love, my darling

I’ve hungered for your touch

26. Father Figure by George Michael

Just for one moment

To be warm and naked at my side

27. Business Time by Flight of the Conchords

You know when I’m down to my socks it’s time for business

That’s why they call them business socks

Collective Intelligence in Action

taking kids out of school

School systems often point to families like mine as examples. We prioritized outdoor play, read aloud daily, took our kids to museums, did chores together, and had a family dinner every night. Still, school didn’t really work for my kids. Our five-year-old could read well but still had to complete endless pre-reading worksheets along with his kindergarten class; our eight-year-old’s teacher kept insisting he be medicated for ADHD symptoms we never saw at home; our eleven-year-old was expected to do grade-level busywork although she tested at high school and college levels; our teen was bored by AP classes and hassled by bullies at school.

I dug in, unwilling to give up. How else, I reasoned, can institutions evolve without people pressing for changes from within? Ever since my first child entered school I’d headed PTA committees, volunteered in classrooms, and participated in fund-raisers hoping to effect some of those changes.

Sure, there were a few parents who weren’t fond of my gentle rabble rousing. I never quite shook the negative impression some people had of me as that mom who changed the yearly ritual of first grade hot dog night to first grade popcorn night, or as the one who turned down free Sea World field trips for my kids because I didn’t want them to learn about marine mammals as captive performers.

But all of us parents grumbled in solidarity; united in misery over so many tests, so much homework, so little play. It wasn’t lost on us that we were railing against the very structures that we also “had” to enforce if our kids were to succeed in school. These were overwhelming constraints indeed, many tied to big money.

Corporate influence was present everywhere. Free nutritional posters sent by candy manufacturers on cafeteria walls; software offered by petrochemical companies for science classes; math materials provided by credit card companies. Channel One beamed commercials along with daily snippets of news wrapped in PR-speak.

Parents felt helpless to stem this tide. So did teachers and administrators, who insisted they couldn’t turn down free resources when budgets were so tight. (They’re right. Overall funding for schools nationwide has dropped from 2008 to today due to state and local austerity measures.)

For several years I volunteered as the parent liaison with the district’s food service contractor, but this private company was so focused on profits that fresh produce meant little more than mealy apples, shredded lettuce, and tasteless baby carrots. All my efforts simply resulted in a wider variety of similarly unappealing offerings. When parents demanded that the school stop allowing the sale of chips, ice cream bars, and candy at lunch time the company threatened to back out of their contract altogether. And our offer to develop a school vegetable garden? Turned down. No extra time in the academic calendar for kids to get involved.

Add to that the effect of big money on local schools:

  • Over 20 million dollars are spent on lobbying by the world’s four largest education corporations to sway policies toward ever more student assessment, effectively trapping students and teachers in a testing mill that steers several billion taxpayer dollars back into those companies.
  • Extraordinary profits are made on grading software, data tracking, e-schooling, for-profit charter schools, even GED testing and teacher licensing exams. That’s pretty much how we’ve gotten to our current test-crazed educational system.
  • Decades of standardizing and testing has demoralized teachers, stressed students and families, and dropped public opinion of schools so low that it’s easy for hedge fund managers, education corporations, and other private interests to steer ever more taxpayer dollars into for-profit charters and cyber schools,

But my kids attended a good elementary school with highly motivated parents and positive changes did happen. For example, parent volunteers instituted and ran an annual Art Day, a glorious new tradition. One full school day each year we parents arranged to put artists in every classroom. They demonstrated their work and gave kids hands-on experience. Teachers took students from room to room to learn from sculptors, potters, cartoonists, printmakers, wood carvers, calligraphers, weavers, painters, and others. The whole building was alive with creative enthusiasm. Even then, with so much educational richness available, some teachers didn’t allow children to participate in this all-school program until they’d finished their homework or written “I will keep my hands to myself” 20 times — these kids left in the hallway were, not coincidentally, often minority students.

Although my optimism had waned, I still held on to a shred of hope that there was value in working from within the system to change it. That ended the day my oldest son was threatened by a gun-carrying student in the school hallway. The next day we became homeschoolers.

I may have been slow to react, but that’s often the way collective intelligence looks on an individual level.

We humans form institutions for the value they offer to society. Collectively these structures function with an intelligence based on what works. Ideally, whatever works persists and whatever doesn’t work fades away. But sometimes institutions become resistant to change or change in ways that make them more rigid and therefore less responsive. When that happens, people who work for or are served by that institution tend to suffer. It usually takes a certain amount of irritation, unfairness, or real misery before people step back and take a look at the institution itself. Suffering has a way of making us more fully aware and more authentically invested in change. So we react. We resist, compete, struggle, debate, discuss, break away, collaborate, and reinvent.

More and more we see people resisting the structure of institutional education in its current form.

We are choosing to integrate learning into our daily lives and our communities. Our choices show the sort of fluid responsiveness that shifts ingrained beliefs about what education is and what it can be.

This is collective intelligence in action.

Whether we intend to impact the larger civic good or not, the collective intelligence of our culture is continually refined as we seek out more conscious and life-enhancing ways to live. It takes a small percentage of people to change a cultural mindset. Often it seems that this kind of wider awareness can’t come soon enough. But as philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer observed, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

changing education is collective intelligence in action

Portions of this post excerpted from Free Range Learning.

Article originally published in Tipping Points, a publication by the Alliance for Self-Directed Education.