I know nothing, but I have my suspicions
My 2nd collection of essays, Transference, is due to drop this winter. I believe. And I add “I believe” because if the last two years have made nothing else clear, they have made clear the following capital-t-Truth: I know nothing.
I have my convictions, my suspicions, my beliefs, and I know damn near nothing, still. I can adorn that statement — “I know nothing” — with caveats, clauses, adjectives . . . I can equivocate on the statement — “I know nothing” but all previous attempts to adorn this plain Truth has not altered my reality, and my reality is, in part, that I know nothing.
What a relief!
What a burden!
What a curse!
What a mercy!
I do know, with fairly steady certainty, that Winter Break 2021 has commenced. We had a lively work session, as a teaching team, yesterday followed by a really tasty Mexican lunch. And then I went home and Sarah and I went to Winterhaven which is basically “Christmas Lights Town” and I was legit cold, y’all, because it got down well past SIXTY.
Someday, I hope to visit to American Midwest again.
I highly doubt I will ever be living in the American Midwest again.
Tucson’s weather has spoiled me. I thought I would hate the “warm,”
and I was wrong. I do not hate the warm. I mean, I don’t like sweating but that’s why God invented air conditioning, and I do very much like being able to drink tea in my yard in December with only a robe to keep me comfortably warm. I lived in Illinois and Wisconsin for the first 38 years of my life. I know that there was no point, in December, in either state when I could have comfortably sipped tea outside in a robe past 5 in the p.m.. I didn’t choose the Robe Life, the Robe Life chose me, and therefore I highly doubt I could ever live in a truly cold ass climate ever again.
But who knows. As we’ve already established, I sure don’t.
In the last quarter of the first semester that just ended, my middle schoolers and I wrote Elegies. An elegy is a type of poem lamenting the dead, or honoring the dead, or acknowledging our grief and pain. We wrote elegies about goldfish, about grandparents, parents, friends, and about famous Jazz musicians we didn’t personally know, but had learned a lot about during our unit on Jazz (which was awesome for me, too, because until we did this Jazz Unit I did not know enough about Jazz). We read Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died” and then we wrote our own elegies. And at the end of the unit we made them look pretty, and we displayed them, and on Thursday night, at the Rialto, which is a great old theater here in Tucson, some of my young students performed their elegies to a crowd of about 100 people.
Elegies. Because 1) I like poetry and 2) I have been teaching ELA for 200 years and 3) because I have been a practicing, full-time, consummate professional drama queen since the day I was born. I am a credible source, damnit.
Sidenote: if I ever have business cards made they will say “Allison Gruber: I am credible source, damnit.”
So we wrote elegies. And I was so damn proud of the kids I could have actually died and everything. This year — in teaching, in America, in my medically complicated life — has been so, so difficult. The hardest of hard years, and then I saw these sweet ones get up on stage and read elegies to the dark, demonstrating what must be of cardinal importance in any curricular endeavor concerning kids: “I am proud of this.”
They were proud of their work, and they deserved to be proud. From a rhetorical, a literary, a “standards based” perspective, the Elegy Project was about genre or history or form or poetic constraints, but really, they were about something much, much more important: acknowledging and honoring our pain, and taking some pride in our own survival.
Death is common. Anyone can (and will) do it. Elegies, from my “credible” perspective are about the writer and what the writer is willing to admit to themself about their pain. Or the elegy is about that magical way we connect as human souls — I mean, we sometimes feel sad about the loss of people who never bought us a coffee, drove us to school, made us a meal — we are sometimes sad about people we have never met. Sometimes, we are sad about souls that never were people in our lives but were dogs or cats or goldfish. We connect, we attach, it’s the best and worst part about being human. All this to say, every kid elegy was — in my highly credible opinion — very good. When we make something, out of words, wood, clay, sound, et al, that’s of God. At least that’s a new conviction of mine. And even though there is matter involved in most all making, its not the matter that counts because when we make art molecules are the means but not the true medium,
We’ve all been through it this year, so we wrote elegies.
Death — whether literal or figurative — is common, and for every death there is an antidote, a vengeance, and it is art.