Five Minute Friday: hide

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The sky is patched with clouds today, and my lunchtime walk was fragrant with honeysuckle, clover, roses.

I’ve met with 23 students today, one by one, and I sit and wonder who they’ve seen in their meetings with me, how little of them I know. They’re startled when occasionally I step outside of my teacher-ness, move toward friendship, but it makes sense to me.

These skins which we wear, the recognizable parts of us — they can also be called “hides.” And though peeling off my skin to show the sinews and bones of me would not reveal more me-ness, there’s a lot of me-ness hidden behind this hide.

Often, I want to hide. There are times when I wish even my skin-bound self were invisible. Other times, though, I desperately want to come out of hiding, to be known and recognized as the self with whom I’ve lived almost three decades, instead of the slices of me which various people get to see.

And our God? He answers both longings. Holding out gracious wings, He invites us to shelter with Him, tells us our lives are hidden in Him. But He also tells us that He knows us, through and through, inside out; that nothing of us is hidden from His sight, that nothing can hide us from Him.

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Today I link up with Kate Motaung to write on her Five Minute Friday prompt, “hide.” The button above will take you to her site.

©2015 by Stacy Nott

February: learnings 2015

February: month of skunk journeys and astonishing weather shifts, of walks under clear skies and under evening rain showers, of so-many-essays-to-grade for my students and so-many-people-to-thank for social media birthday wishes, of fears and hopes, of confidence and uncertainty, of ice clattering out of pine trees and daffodils illumining the space around the Chinaberry tree. And of learning things.

What-We-Learned-in-FebruaryToday I link up with Emily P. Freeman of Chatting at the Sky to share things we’ve learned in February. The photo above will take you to her site. Meanwhile, below is my list.

1. I learned that cyber-dogs are no longer merely the stuff of Aardman Animations’ Wallace and Gromit — though Preston the evil cyber-dog from “A Close Shave” makes these dog-like robots seem scarier than they necessarily should be:

2. Also on the scary-science front, I learned that scientists think human head transplants could begin to happen as soon as 2017. Obviously, the head-transplant would be for the benefit of the person possessing the head, not for the benefit of the person possessing the body. But the idea gives me the creeps, and I think I’d rather stay in my own body, even if it means a shorter, more painful life. (It also raises so many questions about bodies and souls and how they are connected. Is the head the essence of a person? This science seems to assume that our heads live on our bodies like hermit crabs live inside shells. But I don’t think it’s quite like that.)

3. I learned, as I learn every year, how wonderful strawberries are, in color and flavor and general perfection: strawberries

4. I learned that sometimes the only morning in the week when you wake up eager to go to work is the day that, on threat of snow, work is cancelled and you stay home all day watching the trees ice over.

5. I learned how computer thesauri combined with poor grammar mastery can result in things like “role model subsequent.” It took me an unnecessarily long time to figure out that in the author’s mind “subsequent” = “following.” But while “following” can be an adjective or a noun — and in this case would be a noun — “subsequent” is just an adjective.

6. I learned that molecular sieves exist when my oil-industry brother came home with a couple of sieve spheres in his pocket.

7. I learned about AirDrop on my MacBook — only a year after getting the MacBook. But so handy!

8. I learned that the sound of my empty classroom — a classroom with a computer at every seat — is like the hum in Uncle Andrew’s study in The Magician’s Nephew. In the book, the hum comes from the green and yellow rings which take you in and out of worlds — and is not, in some sense, a room full of computers a sort of wood-between-the-worlds? I take satisfaction in shutting down each of the 37 computers and reducing the room to silence before I walk out.

9. I learned even more of the complications of Middle Eastern politics as I listened to NPR reporter Robert Siegel talk of his recent visit to Jordan:

I’ll tell you what one Jordanian told me – and he would never be quoted on this publicly. He said what he had really been afraid of was that ISIS would hand over Moath Kasasbeh, the pilot, alive. What would have happened then, he asked? Would Jordan have turned pro-ISIS in the streets if that had been the result? It still worried him.

It reminds me of the frighteningly fine line between good and evil, and of the dangers of not giving bad things their proper bad names. (G. K. Chesterton points out that the Victorians allowed the propagation of all kinds of immorality because they were too prim to refer to ugly things except in euphemisms — and euphemisms cover the ugliness which, to be eradicated, must be exposed.)

10. Speaking of naming things, this article by Kevin Loria at Business Insider raises the question of whether we can see colors that do not have names. And it makes me wonder what I’ve wondered before: can we know that we’re all seeing the same things which we name the same? I saw the dress as gold and white, and it made me wonder. . . . Even in walking by sight it seems we walk by faith.

11. I learned how clouds can cast shadows on the sky:
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12. I learned that Marilynne Robinson’s newest novel, Lila, is good to read, though somewhat disquieting in its ending. It’s a novel in part about finding home and grace, unexpectedly and even perhaps against one’s will, in unexpected people and places. Many passages resonated, but I’ll share this one:

It felt very good. . . . Good like rest and quiet, like something you could live without but you needed anyway. That you had to learn how to miss and then you’d never stop missing it.

©2015 by Stacy Nott

November: learnings

1. The differences between wind-borne leaves and birds is sometimes negligible in November.

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2. Fall is a season which might convince one of the glory of dying: the dance of the leaves as they fall, and the trees casting less and less shadow and admitting more and more view of the sky and the sun. If I must waste away and decay — and, eventually, I must, if I don’t die suddenly and young — I’d like to do it this way: showing up less and less of me, and more and more of the Majestic Glory behind me.

3. Teaching depressing literature is easier than teaching happy literature. I think, when I find the way to teach the happy literature well, I will consider myself a better teacher than I am now.

4. There’s a new doll on the market, like a Barbie, but made to match the proportions of an average, real-life girl. Along with the Lammily Doll, you can buy a set of reusable stickers in order to give your doll acne, cellulite, scars, stretch marks, and make her blush, among other things. The need for such stickers, to me, indicates the death of imagination: kids can’t imagine things that aren’t there; they have to have physical evidence. (And who wants to pretend her doll has acne, anyway?)

5. I finally “got” the parable of the lost sheep: for years I’ve read it and felt just a bit disappointed deep down that the angels didn’t rejoice that much over me, because, having been saved so early, I never got lost. Praise the Lord for allowing me to see that in truth there are no good sheep. Each of us who is in His fold as a repentant sinner is there because He went out and sought us when we were lost. And His grace is such that He would save even me, though I spend so much time thinking that somehow I didn’t need finding.

6.  It is hard to get a really good picture of cotton bales when driving past them:

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7. There are so many guest rooms all over the U.S. which have been made available for me to use on someday visits: it makes me grateful for years of moving all over the place, and for having attended a college where everyone was not from one state. (Will I visit them all? It doesn’t seem all that feasible, but it’s nice to have the option.)

8. Speaking of long-distance friends, I re-discovered that I have some wonderful ones. And that is wonderful.

9. Asian grocery stores are interesting to visit. (Or, at least the one I’ve visited was.)

10. My taste in apple pies is not like other people’s. I don’t like them goopy or very sweet: I’ve only been making apple pies for twenty years or something, but this is the first year I learned that other people expect goopy sweetness. Still, people like to look at them, anyway:
pie11. Again and again, at many times and in many ways, through all the surprises that a November — or any other month — can offer, God is indeed good. He lets me taste and see it. I rejoice.

12. I can’t count? (Actually, this is a December learning, since I noticed today that when I wrote this post yesterday, my numbers ran 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,10, 10.) I’ve corrected that now.

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Today I link up with Emily P. Freeman of Chatting at The Sky to share things I learned in November. Use the button above to visit her site and join in the fun yourself.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

Noticing, Day 16: make it new

Today, I notice that Ezra Pound’s injunction to “Make it new” in writing plays out well in the English-language essays of students who are filtering their ideas through a different first language, drawing on thesauri and online translators to assist in the process of self-expression.

Strangers to the rhythms and habits of English, yet familiar with the rules, they produce wordings which startle with their strangeness as they delight with their aptness: “warm nest feeling” replaces “cozy” and  “eye gate” stands in for boring old “vision.” Language is enriched by the substitution, and these students, trying so hard to simply make it, succeed brilliantly in making it new.

And so I notice that the babbling of Babel, that thwarting of a grand design, has become a gift rather than a deprivation. It should be no surprise that in His taking God gives, that in His forbidding He allows.

So that rather than being bored with one language the whole world over, we can constantly be astonished at the places where languages meet — not only by the beauties of languages new to us, but by the beautiful newness of our own.

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©2014 by Stacy Nott

Noticing, Day 10 (and Five Minute Friday): care

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The cotton harvest has begun. This morning, I saw a row of svelte, cylindrical bales — each wrapped in sleek yellow plastic — outside the gin, and this afternoon they’d been joined by several of the bulky, rectangular kind which sit upon the ground wearing only ill-fitting tarpaulin caps. New and old converging in the gin-yard.

Every year I notice: pleased to see the rows of bales assembling, sorry when they’re gone leaving only a dirty cotton residue on the ground. And, while I wear cotton clothing often enough, these bales have little bearing on my day-to-day life. I wonder why I care?

But I like to watch the progress of things around me: the way they build roads and bridges and storm-drains, the growth of houses from smooth dirt through rough pine frames to the shingles of the ridge-caps and the sod on the muddy yards. And, yes, the crops: corn from pale green sprouts to moldy stubble, with the corn a golden pile beside the barns and silos; cotton to its full green height, the brown-and-white after defoliation,  strewn on the roadsides, baled in the gin-yard.

My work is in a world of so many abstractions. I deal with ideas and I deal with people. Ideas can’t be touched; people can’t be built or gathered like houses or corn. The results I get to see aren’t the only results there will be — I hope! — and ways of quantifying the products of teaching only work so far.

Sometimes, I think I care about the cotton because I like to see things reach completion. And while I am an incomplete person, living in the world of incomplete people, I have this confidence: my God cares to complete the work He has begun; I shall not live in the partial forever.

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Today I wrote longer than five minutes on Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday prompt: care. Click the button above to visit her site and read more about it!

© 2014 by Stacy Nott

Noticing, Day 2: lights; seeds

noticing Within the past six months, the library has installed motion-sensors on the lighting in its basement — where the books live on row upon row of metal stacks — so that as I walk up and down the aisles, I bring literal enlightenment with each step. It’s an apt image, I feel, for the ideal of academia: the teacher whose very presence brings illumination. It’s a contrast to every day classroom realities, with the teacher struggling toward coherence, and finding sometimes, even at her most coherent moments, bewildered bafflement or stodgy insensibility in the faces before her. magnolia Today I notice that the magnolia trees are dropping their seed-pods, fuzzy and brown, on the sidewalks and grass. I’ve never noticed these as a part of October before, but today I’m adding them to my list of October-things. I remember a magnolia tree behind my church when I was in middle school. It had wide, low branches, perfect for timid people like me, and strong branches higher up, so that one of my best friends could climb up and look triumphantly out of the very top of the tree. But I don’t remember its seeds. Today, I’m seeing seeds rather than trees. From the fuzzy brown pods they emerge red and lovely, scattered on the sidewalks sometimes, or just peeping out, not yet released, hints of growth to come. If they’re allowed to grow, it will be many long years before their branches can support adventurous children. But the long wait is not time wasted, and effort of making seeds is a worthwhile effort. ©2014 by Stacy Nott

September: learnings

Today I link up with Emily P. Freeman at Chatting at the Sky to share what I learned in September. I haven’t been keeping a record of things I’ve learned this month: this month has been about the things other people — namely, my students — need to learn. There’s learning for me in that, too. Here, then, are a few things, recollected between one event and another, just for you, dear readers.

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1. It’s possible for a month to be at once astonishingly long and astonishingly swift. September was.

2. My love of a piece of literature does not make it something my students will love, and my pleasure in teaching is directly related to the level of interest in my students’ faces.

3. The word “literature” is a bit hard to define when speaking to English language learners.

4. When attempting to define the word “literature” for English language learners, it is not safe to assume that they know what the word “poetry” means — nor is it safe to assume that they’ll ask if they don’t know.

5. But even though it is hard, it’s trouble worth taking.

6. On September 23, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia celebrated its 84th birthday with its annual Saudi National Day. The Saudi students on my campus gave a party celebrating it today. When Saudis decorate for their national day, they decorate with green and white, and it looks splendid. (But I didn’t take a picture.)

Here's their flag, though.

Here’s their flag, though.

7. Sharing the gospel with people who already believe in a god is quite different from sharing with people who do not believe there is a god. I should have been less surprised by the question, “But why do you believe in God at all?” Praise the Lord, He helped me answer, anyway.

8. Sometimes, the thing to do is to reread Jane Austen’s Emma, because you can.

9. Sometimes, when you’re rereading Emma, you discover the word “valetudinarian” in the first chapter, and realize that you’ve never noticed it or looked it up, in the 15+ years since you first read the book.

10. “Valetudinarian” is a word used to denote a person who is overly concerned about his or her health, and/or a person who is in poor health. Behold it in a long sentence from Jane Austen:

“The evil of the actual disparity in their ages (and Mr. Woodhouse had not married early) was much increased by his constitution and habits; for having been a valetudinarian all his life, without activity of mind or body, he was a much older man in ways than in years; and though everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heart and his amiable temper, his talents could not have recommended him at any time.”

11. If Jane Austen were in my writing class, I would probably have to tell her to break that sentence into more than one sentence. I’m glad no one told her.

©2014 by Stacy Nott