Category Archives: favorite people ever

I’ll always love you, New York, and other thoughts from a family book club.

I’ve mentioned before that I have a reading family: my mom and brother devour novels, my dad reads an insane amount of news, my aunts and cousins frequently provide me with book recommendations and have kindred shelves in their homes.  My Aunt Patty recommended a book to my mom called Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, which my mom also really enjoyed.  Knowing that my cousin Carolyn was coming out to visit and is also a reader, she thought it would be fun to have a mini book club while she was in Kentucky.  She bought two more copies, mailed them to Carolyn and I and included a letter about her plan.  (Well, she wrote Carolyn a letter about the plan.  I already knew.  My note said, “Kristen, here’s the book.” Ha.)

{my mom is awesome. also, props to my dad who mixed the drinks and took the picture for us.}

The story follows the narrator Katey through one year of her life–as a 25 year old in 1938 in New York City.  It is bookended with the narrator speaking from middle age, though still in New York, thinking about how there are certain decisions in life that end up shaping the rest of one’s years.  We talked about this for a few minutes at our screened-in porch book club meeting, and it has been the topic that has lingered with me since and settled into the forefront of my mind last night when I was organizing a few boxes of pictures and a trunk that holds old photo albums and journals.  When my mom asked the question if there were decisions we had made that had shaped the outcome of our lives, my obvious answer was moving to New York.  I ran across this picture last night which was taken a month or two after I moved to Manhattan:

{Central Park, fall 2003}

 I made albums documenting each of the first two years, certain that I’d only be in the city for a couple years before I moved back to “regular life” in Ohio.  I wanted to make sure I documented the adventure.  Ha. But somewhere in that third year I decided to stay, and I think it was that decision, more than the one to move to New York for graduate school, that has had the biggest impact on my life since.  That is when I began to count this city as home and stopped thinking about what I was going to do the next year.  I settled in and invested in the people and places around me.  I’m sure there will be decisions in the future that change my life and carry weightier meaning, but my 9 year relationship with New York has been one of the greatest influences on my life and who I’ve become.  Looking at this picture, I remember what it was like trying to find my bearings here–simple things like traveling by foot and subway and more complex ones like trying to concoct a blend of urbanity and midwesterness.  That feels so far away, especially when I realize that I’m about to enter my 10th fall in the city, my 9th year at my school and my 6th year of walking ten minutes to get there.

one year later or, more reasons why i love my job.

One of the post labels on this blog is “why 8th graders aren’t jaded.” So many people have negative conceptions of middle school age students and teenagers in general, but part of my job as a teacher and a person, I believe, is to counter that claim.  I love when former students stop by to tell me about their lives beyond 8th grade.  These two are no exception.  For both 7th and 8th grade, they amazed me with their writing pieces and reading lives and the life they brought into my classroom.  Somehow I was able to take this picture in between an afternoon of non-stop laughing on the last day of school last June, before they left my classroom after two years for different, impressive high schools in Manhattan.

They came to visit me yesterday and somehow we managed, albeit with some difficulty, to recreate the shot a year later.  It was incredible to hear about where life has taken them in the past year and the plans on their horizons–writing, traveling, reading, learning, playing sports and of course laughing.  These pictures crack me up because of their assumed seriousness is the opposite of their personalities.

All that to say, I am so proud of the people they–and my other visitors–are becoming.  It makes me love my job so much.

home.

{photo from Anthony Priestas}

There are days when I miss rhythms of home, even though I have lived in New York City for nine years and even though my parents moved out of the house I grew up in six years ago.  I miss when I used to jump in the car before dinner and find a cornfield to watch the sunset.  I miss the way the air smells when I lived in the updraft of the woods and a creek.  I miss drives through the country of southwest Ohio, especially the odd poetry of it being just south of industrial dinosaur bones.  There are some days that I want to cut down the wall leading onto my fire escape and make a porch.  Gah. It can hurt.

So, I thought I would make a round up of my favorite ways that Ohio has inspired song.  I love that even though not everyone who writes about my homestate loves it like I do (though, thank you, thank you Over the Rhine for understanding), but it inspires nonetheless. And, I don’t have plans to move back, but there is no where else I wish I was from.

Ohio/Over the Rhine
Bloodbuzz Ohio/The National
Ohio/Damien Jurado
Carry Me Ohio/Sun Kil Moon
Look at Miss Ohio/Gillian Welch
Ohio/The Black Keys
Ohio/honeyhoney
To Ohio/The Low Anthem

{oh, barns}

{the best friends from high school i could ask for}

{this mixes with Brooklyn, right?}

On leaving. Or, books as escapism.

www.akindoflibrary.blogspot.com

It is impossible for me to not sink into some kind of melancholia when I leave my family–or especially when they leave me–for I am left with empty spaces and without the distractive hassle of a car ride or air travel that the ability to separate one from emotion more quickly than it decamps the ones who stay in newfound quiet.

My television-less studio apartment was our cramped base camp for multiple nights, a way of life quite different to us who tend to migrate to our own spaces to read or watch a game. And yet it seemed to work.  For a weekend, anyway. My thoughts are now lingering on the meal that ended outside this time last night and my makeshift dinner of random leftovers this evening.  Without fail, while growing up we came together for family dinner every night from our separate places–work, dance, baseball practice, which have been replaced by Louisville, Cleveland and Brooklyn.

The cool air of evening is impossible to ignore right now as is the fact that dusk can say more with its springtime light and its breeze than I ever could in words–of what it means to long for something.  But what I’m longing for now doesn’t have a name or a place because it is the memory of my dad calling to say he is on his way home and smell of dinner cooking each night and falling asleep in a full, safe house–the kind of memory that I was too young to be cognizant of while it was happening–combined with the permission to go and pursue and to dream. And I hate how those things–dreaming and being home–feel mutually exclusive right now.

So what else was I to do but sit down and get lost in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly in its entirety tonight? Thoughts to follow.

To my students. With respect. This started as a mentor text on coming of age, but changed along the way. I’m not really sorry for that.

www.akindoflibrary.blogspot.com

Today I made a new bulletin board in my classroom.  I realize it is the end of May and that a month from yesterday the students I love will have cleaned out their lockers, left 8th grade behind, looking only toward the season of freedom and their new high schools, which, whether you hated or loved it, is generally smiled upon more than middle school.  So.  I want the last month in room 116 to matter.

Our unit is called “Reading and Writing Through Coming of Age” and everyone has to read a coming of age novel.  Instead of doing book clubs, students can read a book of their choice and we are trying to notice patterns across the genre: what parts of coming of age are universal? What are personal? In the midst of sharing, I hope that students find something that resonates with what life feels like to them right now.

Today everyone had to bring in 2 quotes that spoke into their characters’ coming of age experience in the first half of their book and I was blown away by what they found.  I’ve been reading young adult fiction incessantly for the past month (Girl in Translation, Sweet Dates in Basra, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter, A Northern Light) and though they are all engaging books,  I have not been inspired to write off of any of them, or the coming of age experience, which is also the reason behind my severe lack of posts recently.  Until today.

I took about 25 of the quotes from 10-15 books that my students are reading and wrote them with permanent black marker on sheets of white paper.  I hung them all across the bulletin board that stretches across the entire back wall of my room.  All of a sudden it was reverse personification–I saw all of my students somewhere in the paper mess (well, let’s be honest, the quotes are hanging orderly, but still) of complicated emotion–and then it became post modern, because I could almost trace their jumps from one quote to another at different times throughout the year.  For instance:

“This was simply around the time my parents stopped understanding what I wanted and I stopped understanding what they wanted me to want.” (Born Confused)

“Standing there, I loved and hated myself. It made me feel my glory and my shame at the same time.” (The Secret Life of Bees)

“You still have a lot of time to make yourself into what you want.” (The Outsiders)

“I told the waitress I’d been out all night ‘looking for trouble.'” (Teen Angst…Nahh)

“I didn’t answer him. I didn’t feel like it.” (Catcher in the Rye)

And I guess the reason that I wasn’t connecting with any of the young adult books I was reading was because I wasn’t picturing my students in them, because after listening to them read all their quotations and hearing their voices, I was tapped into their lives–albeit the slivers they allow to come out in English class, but it was as though the beauty of becoming and possibility was present.  I’m not sure if they noticed it. But I did. And I’m absolutely sure that they will make fun of me for my waxing poetic about a day in class. But.

This week we talked about the first half–the pain, the confusion, the struggle.  Next week we talk about the second half–the resolution, the growth, the wholeness, the strength.  I. Love. Story. And I love to think about the people that these favorites are going to become and the stories they are going to be able to tell when they make it to the other side of growing up.  But here are a few pictures of who they are right now. They are kind of endearing, right? You can read their writing at www.room116ela.blogspot.com.

My “Sold” bookclub with supplies they bought for Restore NYC’s safehouse. 

Mustache Monday. Obviously. 

We take reading seriously. 

Like I said, seriously. 
My homeroom gets so excited to come back after lunch. Ha. 

Sometimes we play paper football. 

There aren’t words for just how great this one is. Or how amazed I was to capture the single second that they weren’t hysterically laughing after decorating my board so thoughtfully.