Long about the time of year that only the most well-seasoned, irrationally hopeful Clevelander could identify as early spring — when graying snow stashes cling to shady corners, puddles crunch, and the cats and dogs jockey for camp spaces by the register. Sometime after that new pair of Christmas gloves has gone missing and before any Ohioan is bold enough to exercise her right bare arms, I go down the rabbit hole of school visits. NJ, CO, CT, MD, PA, IN, GA, FL, AZ, TX, SC, NY, My family knows the route and that I will come out the other side – sometimes with more confidence than I have myself.
A construction paper bright and wondrous place of poetry talk, new insights, new voices, new friends, ideas and observations weaving into extraordinary tapestries of writing and kids finding their voices in gold fish bowls, bathtubs and thunderstorms, this rabbit hole can be hard on friendships, garden preparations, and any manner of writing or exercise routine. It is populated by criss cross applesauce first graders and just plain cross middle schoolers., teachers looking for a boost to get them through the last few weeks and administrators juggling zero tolerance policies with sky high goals – all counting the days until the great summer laze.
In between the expanse of freshly mopped school auditoriums, spindly-armed hugs, cheerful libraries and miles of blackboards, white boards and smart boards (can anyone legibly write on those things?) is a maze of airports, endless security checks (the chiffon scarf? really?) rental car surprises and hotel clerks who contentiously write the room number on the key card folder as if some other fool might be checking in after midnight and straining to hear the room number of the canvas bag laden poet pulling the suitcase with the mended handle. From plastic wrapped cups to stemmed glassware, school visits are a lesson in contrasts and in the absurd diversity of our schools.
This year, for no premeditated reason, I didn’t document all the visits here. I just lived them, eyes and heart wide open. If I were to guess why I unplugged, it is because I am balancing travel, working on a new book of poems on friendship, an expanded garden, and a new wave of grieving that came with the air-shattering power of a spring thundershower. The grieving has become brighter as the weather has warmed, as we count down the weeks now days until this first week in May. It makes the mental musings of blogging and social networking seem like stray lock of hair, something to mindlessly brush aside. To be honest, I haven’t been that good at returning phone calls and emails to friends either. Staying on course while being tossed around in emotional turbulence requires a self-centered focus. Looking for balance, I just unplugged.
Tomorrow I leave for IRA, which is where I was when I got the calls that Steph was in critical condition but going to be just fine and then the call that nothing would be just fine again. That meeting was in Atlanta and this one is in Minneapolis. Still, I have had had to wrestle with myself to make plane reservations, hotel plans (still no reservation for Sunday night) this year, maybe because I am not at all up to reliving the memory of that week with my heart being miles away from the rest of me. IRA, the meeting I look forward to every year (the real signal that spring has blossomed) to connect with friends and new ideas is now weighted down with a memory so much heavier than that bag of new books I usually bring home. But I will go there supported by all the poetry kids have shared with me this spring.
Focused on keeping me all together, I’ve swaddled myself in the generous love of teachers across the country, the love of my extended family, the persistent proddings of friends, and the poems and smiles of hopping, hopeful and even surly children. It’s been a wonderful spring and I’ve consciously enjoyed every minute, even the tearful ones. I think (hope) once we get through this first anniversary, I will be able to pull the curtain open and re-engage.