The OF Blog: December 2017

Sunday, December 31, 2017

An anti-best of year list

Ever since I began this blog in August 2004, I would conclude the year by listing some sort of "best of 20--" list of books, etc. released in the US that year.  This year, however, I only completed 15 books, none of them 2017 releases (I abandoned R. Scott Bakker's The Unholy Consult about 80% in back in July due to lack of energy then and I never resumed reading it; I was saving Jeff VanderMeer's Borne for an uninterrupted weekend after my May vacation and somehow I never got back to it, despite loving the first pages that I've read and generally enjoying greatly VanderMeer's other works). 

What little I read was foreign language books from the previous century or two or individual poems lately that I would use to teach both English and expressive writing in my classroom (believe it or not, I've had several students express hope that we would use another poem or two for these daily morning writing exercises, as they enjoy discussing them without having to worry so much about identifying - yet - meter and verse patterns).  But having students take Yeats's "The Second Coming" and turn some of its hallowed lines inside out as they turned "the centre cannot hold/things fall apart" into a meditation on their struggles to make sense of their world (these are 12-15 year-olds I teach, mind you), that has reawakened my long-held love for poetry as being the most intimate of human arts.

Maybe 2018 will bring a renewed energy to read newer works, or just to complete any book-length works.  Maybe it won't; 2017 has taught me that I don't have to finish books in order to learn a lot from those few words that I do happen to read these days.  Maybe that's truly what was best about 2017 for me.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

So I went silent for nearly four months...

No, I haven't forgotten about this blog.  Nor do I plan on shuttering it permanently, even if it seems that I've done so over the past year or two.  But the truth is that I really haven't had much at all to say about books or writing or anything of that sort this year because I just haven't had a desire to read novels.

Yes, I've only finished about 15 books so far this year and 2/3 of them were read while I had to proctor state exams this May.  There are a few reasons behind this:  teaching job taking up more and more of my concentration energy; trying to train when I can for distance events; personal life developments; and etc.  But for much of the past four months, I've dealt with something far more insidious and debilitating:  a reoccurrence of clinical depression, which I haven't had in nearly 15 years. 

It's hard to pinpoint what triggers any individual's depressive spells.  It could be a change in serotonin levels due to not being able to exercise as much during the hot summer nights.  Or two deaths weeks apart.  Or maybe it's due to me starting to get progressively worse vertigo-like spells, which are now combining with migraines (which I rarely had before the past year or so).  Or possibly just another bout of dealing with self-doubt, something that seems to creep up when I'm doing well in life, oddly enough.

Regardless of the cause(s), I've been dealing aggressively with it.  Discovered that medications are not a cure-all; I got sicker on some and symptoms were alleviated when I was removed from them.  Laughter seems to work best, that and getting closer to some awesome people, some that I somewhat lost touch with over the past quarter-century or so.  Religious faith is another cornerstone for me.  So far, based on the past two weeks, it seems the worst has passed.  Much more energy and focus has made me a better worker and human being.

But the effort required to enter recovery (and I consider mental health, like chemical addictions, to be where an afflicted individual will live in a perpetual state of recovery, perhaps pockmarked with occasional relapses; we are human, after all) still has left me with little time to read novels or prose (although I am finally starting to feel an urge to read some prose work).  However, my long-held love for poetry has remained strong and I have occasionally introduced some of my favorite poems as writing prompt/discussion pieces in my classroom.  Yeats, Angelou, Henley, and Hughes are recent ones.  I have quoted Beckett and the beginning to Ginsberg's "Howl," although even where I work, that would be considered off-limits for middle school students.  Hearing boys who suffer from various traumas and behavioral issues discussing how they relate to "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and "The Second Coming" has been invigorating; their insights, informed by their situations, sometimes have surprising depth.

Perhaps I should just, for a time at least, write a few reflections on those poems that I've begun to re-read in my nascent recovery and share them here.  Perhaps.  In the meantime, here's proof at least that I have not yet sailed alone into the seas of madness.
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