Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Samhain's Fire (#SOL15, Day 31)

Samhain's Fire (M.A. Reilly, 2010, Morristown, NJ)

It's been a long winter. Cold. Icy. Holding on and here, almost April--and winter's not giving way to spring with any ease. I hear that it may snow today.


Unexpected gifts come when we most need them.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend, Catherine Cronin, in from Galway.  We have met one other time, oddly enough in England and it was so good to see her sitting in a restaurant on the Upper West Side. She brought me a book of poems-- Hands by Moya Cannon-- an Irish poet she knows.  When I arrived home this evening, I read.

Towards the end of the book is this jewel:

Apples and Fire 
As we entered
the dark winter room
there, shining on the table
were apples, gathered
in haste last September --
each one a small lamp.  
Later, as the stove's fire
carved into the cold
I began to understand
why fire was worshipped.
To share heat in winter
sweetness in winter,
is to know blessing.


What art, like friendship, does so well is help shift perspective--to reveal what is most hidden.  On this last day of the Slice of Life challenge, I wish for you--fire to worship.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Dormant (#SOL15, Day 30)

When Trees Have Lost Remembrance of Leaves (M.A. Reilly, 2015)

During the last thirty days I have been participating in Slice of Life writing challenge hosted by The Two Writing Teachers.  Tomorrow is the last day. The writers I've had a chance to read during this month who are participating in the challenge have made this a memorable experience.  There's no shortage of writing talent--and this talent is comprised largely of teachers.

Participating reminds me that I am happiest making stuff. I live in a home where everyone makes things. All day yesterday, my son rebuilt a computer in order to make it more energy efficient.  My husband has journals that date back to the early 1980s. He's forever scribbling thoughts--crafting some of these into poems.


Yesterday morning I took a walk about the yard in search of crocuses. Usually by now they have pushed through the ground and soon will be blooming. 

It's been a cold winter. No sign of them yet.  

Sunday, March 29, 2015

My Bucket List (#SOL15, Day 29)

Gondola (M.A. Reilly, 2009)

Before I die, I'd like to...

listen to the northern lights with Devon and Rob 
live on the western coast of Ireland for a year
spend another year in Tuscany 
have a studio where I can make art anytime
write that novel 
          learn the art of forgetfulness 
travel anywhere, everywhere with Rob

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Beginnings: Doorways We Walk Through (#SOL15, Day 28)

House by the Tracks (M.A. Reilly, 2009)


Edward Said wrote that “a beginning is accepted as a beginning after we are long past beginning and after our apprenticeship is over” (1975, Beginnings: Intention and Method, p.76). Being beyond a moment often helps us to reframe it.

Tonight, I am wondering about the partial beginnings I have known.

In writing about the partially unknown beginning, Said explains “that we make and accept it at the same time that we realize that we are ‘wrong’” ( p. 78).  In reading Said's words, I think about the messiness of school.  We have accepted schools as they have been made.  Fictions and realities are co-constructed on a page, as well as in a classroom--in the school house. These fictions, these realities serve us little.

There are new doorways, we need to walk through if we can find the courage to do so. 


In the current push for the Common Core State Standards and “tougher” normed assessments that dedicate weeks out of the school year for preparation and testing the folly of our ways is more and more obvious. Our need for certainty obscures that learning has always been a human enterprise, temporally located, fictitious and real.  

Yes, fictitious and real. 

Schooling though is not the same as learning. It never has been--even when we needed it to be so. The schools we have known--the ones we have made are ending. And tonight I know that another generation will not sit tight for the dusting off of something old, something too blue, something they no longer need. The signs are everywhere. 

Identity is composed in the joining of fictions and realities—be it on paper or in the lived-curriculum of a classroom.  Said explains that this composition holds constant “so long as we have language to help us and hinder us in finding it, and so long as language provides us with a word whose meaning must be made certain if it is not to be wholly obscure” (p.78). The meaning of school can no longer be made certain. 

What gets made in its stead, interests me, even though I know what we make can't help but be wrong.

Friday, March 27, 2015

And Full of Sleep (#SOL15, Day 27)

And Full of Sleep (M.A. Reilly, 2012)

                                                         Sick on my journey,
                                                         only my dreams will wander
                                                         these desolate moors
                                                                          - Basho


Yesterday the fog called and I could barely answer it.
I was resting.
(Yes, resting.)
I hate being sick.
I have little patience for this lying down.
On the way to  and from the doctor,  I was able to make a few images.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Books Like Hidden Treasures (#SOL15, Day 26)

We Need Diverse Books (M.A. Reilly, 2014)

Yesterday I presented a workshop about how to prevent reading difficulties to a group of principals all of whom lead elementary schools in the Bronx.  I had asked Abe Barretto, Vice President of Educational Sales for Lee and Low Books, if he could provide some book samples with a focus on read aloud. Abe put together books and information about Lee & Low for each participant. I spoke with the administrators briefly about the quality of read aloud books.

I was surprised when Abe shared a thank you email that one of the principals who had been at the workshop sent him later that afternoon.  Here's a portion of it:

I was pleasantly delighted to see the presenter share your books as great books for Read Aloud to expose our students to world knowledge.  Your books are like hidden treasures ( I knew this 9 years ago when I first read a lee and low book ). Finally, the treasure is reaching a larger audience of students and educators.  Let me be the first to fill your bucket and thank you for sharing such amazing treasures.  I am sure you will receive many calls this week.  Have a lovely evening.

After I read and reread the email, I thought a long time about the graciousness that abounds; how we have been connected well before there was an Internet.

So in the spirit of the local publisher who makes sure that a group of principals leaves with some books to bring back to the children at their schools and a fine principal who recalls a connection made years earlier, I too wanted to share with you a handful of titles I routinely use for read aloud that are published by Lee and Low.  And I would agree with the principal that these are like hidden treasures.  The children actually cheer to hear and interact with these texts.

Here's the list with links to the Lee & Low website.


From Unit 1: Concepts

From Unit 2: Neighborhoods

From Unit 3: Giving Thanks

From Unit 3:Reading and Libraries

From Unit 8 Contemporary Stories


Grade 1

From Unit 1: Going to School

From Unit 7: Birds

From Unit 8 Contemporary Stories

By second grade many of the titles are used for both read aloud and then used with students in small group study with an emphasis on writing in response to text.

Grade 2:  Read Aloud & Small Group Study

From Unit 1: Himalaya

From Unit 3: Inspiring People

From Unit 8: Community

Unit 6: Contemporary Narratives
Unit 5: Mongolia

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sunblind (#SOL15, Day 25)

Sunblind (M.A. Reilly)

All the desks of my life have faced windows and except for an overwrought two-year period in the late 1980s when I worked on a word processor, I have always spent most of my time staring out the window, noting what is there, daydreaming, or brooding.              - Joyce Carol Oates, pp. 137-138

I always seemed to find a window seat throughout my schooling--be it in elementary school or high school or even later, college.  I was lucky that way, given as I am to distraction. Place a camera in my hands or an unlined notebook and a chunky piece of charcoal and I can focus rather intently for hours. I'm a keen observer--thanks to years at school and the many ways I learned to amuse myself. 

I see in image.
Almost constantly.

Rearranging bits of landscape into frames of my making. 

In the mornings when we drive to work--Rob at the wheel, me sitting shot gun--I'm watching the landscape slowly reveal itself as we make our way down the steep hill that secludes us from the rest of NJ. It's like being in a David Hockney painting--the soft roll of hills, the steeper inclines. Imagine his Garrowby Hill with a single line of cars making their way down, down, down to the mess of highways that typifies this corner of New Jersey. And then its 60 to 70 mph and its all impressionistic until we hit traffic and in northern Jersey it's all traffic all day and the world slows, slows, slows down into a garish version of Juan Gris's The Sunblind.

And I think, we are all elbows that do not move well. 
All of us are sunblind.

Oates, Joyce Carol (2009). The Faith of a Writer. New York:  HarperCollins. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Curator (#SOL15, Day 24)

Curator (M.A. Reilly, 2015)

I had taken an image from a wall of the Museum of Fine Art (MFA) in Boston two weeks ago that was an explanation of an exhibit that had been taken down. I love collecting words. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with the image.  Today, I found a poem in the image by cutting out the words I wanted. I laid the words on top of a piece of newspaper I had painted with gesso and a some of watercolor.

Next, I pasted a copy of Diego Rivera's Nude with Calla Lilies into a blackened silhouette. I wanted to express the line in the poem about wearing a painting in life. 

Most of the work was done in Photoshop using the paintbrush with the exception of the newspaper substrate that I used as a base for the work. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Her Husband (#SOL15, Day 23)

Dear Monday (M.A. Reilly, 2015)


When she found out her husband
was in love with another woman,
she was in Lake Michigan.


The day had begun pleasant enough
but took a turn
when an unanticipated storm
roughed up the waters
and the boat--she,
                                   her husband and her best friend were on--


Instead of seeing to her care,

                                                       she watched

as her husband frantically moved to save her best friend.

What her husband's fear
revealed that day
as they hung on
to the side of the boat,
undid her.

They would divorce
without much fanfare
and she would leave the Windy City behind.

I would meet her after this,
                            after she had left Chicago
                            and she would tell me this story
                            as we sat in a bar on a late Monday afternoon,
                            the light as lost as I imagined she felt.

A year later, she would leave New York and resettle somewhere south.

I think about her now and again
so many years have passed.
I wonder about the things we carry
and how these burdens
keep us moving
as if life was a constant
                                       treading of water.


People move in and out
of our lives
like moths to light.

A flicker.
A singe.
And then nothing.

We feel them, nonetheless, in the stories
                  they have told
that we retell
too early on Monday mornings
before the light can warm.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lift a Line from Literature

Boston at Dusk (M.A. Reilly, 2015)

I recently decided to participate in the Digital Maker Playground. This weeks assignment is to Lift a Line from Literature. As I have been playing with images I made while I was in Boston a few weeks ago, I decided to see what I could do with the image above and the poem, Boston, by Aaron Smith. After a lot of fooling around, I left the original image and added the text.

I include the full poem below.


Aaron Smith
I’ve been meaning to tell
you how the sky is pink
here sometimes like the roof
of a mouth that’s about to chomp
down on the crooked steel teeth
of the city,

I remember the desperate 
things we did
                and that I stumble
down sidewalks listening
to the buzz of street lamps
at dusk and the crush
of leaves on the pavement,

Without you here I’m viciously lonely

and I can’t remember 
the last time I felt holy,
the last time I offered
myself as sanctuary

Joy (#SOL 15, Day 22)

Kindergartener's using sound boxes 
I was reminded recently that learning to read and write in kindergarten is hard work. I had the pleasure of working with a teacher, modeling some ways to support emergent readers and writers. Specifically, she asked for assistance with using sound boxes and teaching sight words. She selected two children and I was able to show her how I use Elkonin boxes (sound boxes) in order to slow down kindergarten children's articulation of words so they can segment sounds to facilitate reading and writing words.

Within a minute or so, the children had the hang of it. They were problem solving by segmenting CVC words into sounds and pushing each sound into a box and then trailing a finger under all of the boxes to blend the sounds into the initial word.  We next transitioned to writing words using the sound boxes as needed. The children were eager to try this, so we had a go of it. If they could write the word without assistance of the sound box, they did. If not, they used the sound box in order to hear the separate sounds--most often the short vowel. We worked for about 6 minutes or so and they had a substantial list of words with several short a and short o words,  and two short e (often tricky) words.

This was joyful and successful work. I love to watch children learning.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Free Speech, Not (#SOL15, Day 21)

Cow (M.A. Reilly, Wales. 2014)

Shh. Don't talk.
Not a word.

from Miami Herald, 3.8.15

Speaking comes with a debt, sometimes
                                                                   (ok, maybe often, a lot,
                                                                    enough to curtail the free speech of the masses)

if we let them.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Definition of Insanity (#SOL15, Day 20)


Imagine what you might be valuing if you required an employee to halt progress because he or she had accomplished the end goal more quickly than the other employees. This employee has produced more completed work than the others simply because he or she has been present more often and therefore worked more often.  Because you mistake sameness for quality, you require all of the employees to be no more than one day ahead or behind your schedule with regard to production.

But stuff happens that corrupts your schedule.

  1. An employee's mother becomes ill and the employee takes a two-week leave.
  2. The flu hits a family causing an employee to miss a series of work days, totaling 7 across three weeks.
  3. The production is derailed by an unforeseen internal situation and the goal accomplishment is delayed by three weeks.
  4. An employee determines a better product can be made and makes those adjustments which adds several days.
  5. And so on.

As  result of these delays, you do not abandon your scheme, but rather readjust the schedule adding another two weeks in order for the 'team' to meet the end goal together. Now, what do you do with the employee who has already met the production goals you established?

Halt the employee from moving onto the next set of goals until everyone catches up.
(And we thought Samuel Beckett's Godot was absurdest theatre.)


Most would see this scenario as idiotic, counter productive. But would you see this as amoral if we weren't talking about the product of widgets, but rather were speaking about the education of children?

I recently was listening to middle school ELA teachers discuss how one with near perfect attendance was told she could not move on to teach the next curriculum unit as her fellow teachers at her grade level had not completed the current unit because of absenteeism and lesson adjustment. The administrators require teachers to keep the same pace (within one day) so that everyone is teaching the same lesson or teaching an adjacent lesson in the Expeditionary Learning Module du jour.

Sameness is more important than actually learning.

There's so much wrong with this scenario from a human point of view that I hardly no where to begin.  Prizing sameness over quality has no place in public education. Stripping teachers of agency and reducing them to nothing more than script enactors who act as programmed regardless of who is learning and not is a recipe for failure. Mandating the use of a singular curricular product like Expeditionary Learning that was developed rapidly and whose units could not have been researched using the DOE's gold standard of randomized controlled trials.  Nonetheless these modules have been mandated by states and districts in what is like a modern day version of the emperor's new clothes. Only the brave say this product has limited teeth.

These problems emanate from shoddy leadership--leadership that has been wrought via the new education reformers. You know, the people with little practical knowledge as they quickly skipped or in some cases fully avoided actually teaching and were promoted into key leadership roles in schools and districts by external forces like governors, mayors, and the like.


I hope you want more for your children.
I hope you'll say so out loud.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On Letters and Posterity (#SOL 15, Day 19)

Love Letters (M.A. Reilly, 2012)

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.  - William Shakespeare


I'm not sure why we wrote one another--long letters handwritten, but we did across a year--letters hand delivered and sometimes left behind after departing for the other to find. This is how the courtship (if one even uses such language these days) began. I kept those letters in the bottom of a desk draw well after we married, and added to that file the handwritten notes signed with:

 All my love, All ways, Rob.


There's something about the handwritten letter that cannot be aptly substituted by email, tweet, text, or even the typed facsimile. Perhaps it's the press of the pen to the paper that makes it more deliberate, more intimate.

A few weeks ago, I read The Delicacy and Strength of Lace, which is an exchange of letters between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright. The letters were recommended by David Weksler (@dweksler) and surely I am the better for having read them (thanks David). For they are tender, wise, and honest. The two exchanged letters across 18 months, up until James Wright died. The letters chronicle their growing friendship, their writerly advice to one another, and their admiration for the other as person.  I find it interesting that they met only twice.  Once before they began exchanging letters and the last time was a few days before James Wright died in 1980.

As I read I was taken by Silko's description of her finances. I love her novel, Ceremony. She writes about the difficult financial times she is facing after Wright inquires in a manner that typifies so many of his letters--full of humor and concern.

He writes on October 20 1979,
Having said this much, however, I confess that I've been wondering about your present condition, the circumstances under which you are living and working, and your plans for the next year or few years. What I am talking about is probably (no, certainly) a violation of your privacy, a curiosity that is plain rudeness however one looks at it; and I hope very much, and somewhat perilously, that you won't be offended by my indelicate nosiness. This is all just a polite way of saying that I've been wondering how you're going to make a living in the absence of that job in New Mexico and in the process of your writing. Now my situation is different. I am a teacher by profession. I am a Ph.D. in English Literature, a Full Professor (don't you love the capitalization?) of English at Hunter College of the City University of New York. I have tenure; so it is unlikely that I will be fired unless I get so drunk I ignore my classes entirely or else perform an unnatural act with a badger in such a way as to obstruct rush-hour traffic: and I don't drink at all (a real teetotaler),  and I'm too old to badger...
Silko responds on November 5, 1979:

So although the finances are precarious, my writing is better when I don't teach. Ceremony paid fairly well while it was in hard cover, but in paper it brings about $1,700 per year...I decided to wait for Storyteller before applying for a Guggenheim again--anyway, I got too busy this year to bother with it -- but I will certainly do it next year.
     I seem to manage somehow so far, Jim.
     ...Anyway I have horses and old Navajo rugs to sell before I run out of typing paper (pp. 91-92).
I love the trust and chance each takes in revealing themselves to the other, and perhaps in doing so also allows each to name something about their own selves.


I'm fascinated  by letters of all types and so for a good portion of this day I have been  reading letters of an historical nature. Mary Stuart's letter to Henry III on the 8th of Feb. 1587 slays me. It's so commanding, courageous, and yet desperate in the very same breath--written a few hours before her execution.

This is a translated version from Shawn Unser's book, Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience.

I think of Mary's letter in light of another letter to The Times Charles Dickens wrote nearly two hundred years later. This too is chronicled in the Unser text. Dickens takes a stance against public execution. He recounts what he had witnessed the day before along with 30,000 other people.  (And we think ISIS is the lone group of barbarians?)

About 500 people were present at the beheading of Mary Stuart.


I think of these letters juxtaposed here and wonder if we are not more often what we write, than how we act. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Oh You Got Trouble, Right Here in River City (#SOL 15, Day 18)

Gaming (M.A. Reilly, 2009)

For the good citizens of River City in 1912--it was the pool table.

Harold, con man, music man tells the parents that "the idle brain is the devil's playground!" You know the story: The young boys of the city allowed to spend their days at the pool hall will likely be frittering away time playing pool, betting on games, ignoring their chores--and later associating with libertine men and scarlet women as they dance to shameless music that is sure to grab your son and daughter.

Moral panic.

Certainty (M.A. Reilly, 2009)

Moral panic is a term coined by British sociologist Stanley Cohen in the early 1970s in his book Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and the Rockers. Cohen defines moral panic as:

A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible (p. 1). 
When faced with a societal crisis that is felt by the in-group, blame happens. Often it's the schools, regardless of decade or century.  In 1912 it was the pool hall. Some years later it would be alcohol, gambling, then television viewing, marijuana, hippies, draft dodgers, rockers, television violence, drugs, metal heads, rappers, absent fathers, school bullying, video violence, and more recently--video gamers and hackers.

Moral panic requires a suitable enemy, a suitable victim, and a belief that the action being denounced is an integral part of society.  These conditions maintain power and privilege.


Being a parent is hard work.  I tell this to my son at dinner.   I want him to know that it isn't the usual stuff that makes parenting so challenging, but rather the awful norming that comes in the guise of friendly truths.  These are the truths of your day--the ones your neighbors and mayor and school crossing guard tell you. These are the truths that your peers live and in doing so they may find it imperative that you to live accordingly, too.

If not...


Cohen explains that "[s]omething done by an out-group is simply condemned and fitted into the scheme of things, but in-group deviance is embarrassing, it threatens the norms of the group and tends to blur its boundaries with the out group" (p. 222).

What norms us, often kills us--not necessarily our bodies, but surely our spirits.