Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A few favorite words, as we embark on an adventure of cold, snow, education and wordsmithing.....

I absolutely adore Bridget, over at Bridget of Arabia.  A recent post, about some of her favorite words, got me thinking about some of my favorites.  What started out as a comment, became much to long, and became this post.  I hope you enjoy words, and have a few favorites that you are willing to share.  After all, it is almost Thanksgiving, and as a writer and poet, being thankful for the authors and wordsmiths who came before me is totally necessary, especially since I will be doing so much more writing, starting about a month from now.

Some of my close friends, and the family members who keep in touch, already know our big news, but I haven't really made an official announcement here at poetrysansonions, or in any big way on Facebook.  Part of that is because we have been waiting for a number of pieces to fall into place, and given that we are doing this at almost lightening fast speed, at least in terms of most glacial moving university educational institutions.  It is only in the last week, that we knew for sure that we would be able to make this crazy, wonderful, scary, in some ways gut-wrenching, and awe inspiring opportunity finalized. 

So, for those who don't know, and care about my personal/academic life, read on, and you will  be "in the know!"

On December 11, 2013, Scott and I will be leaving Oregon, with 4 of the largest suitcases allowed to fly on an airplane, and will take a flight to Anchorage Alaska.  We will then spend a few days doing a little more shopping, enjoying the huge indoor waterpark in Anchorage that Scott has wanted to go to since it was built, and filling out forms for the Veterans Administration and Alaska residency issues.  We have 3 nights, and basically 3 days, to take care of all of that, before we board a train, early in the morning of December 14th, for 12 hours of breathtakingly beautiful travel, to Fairbanks Alaska.  On the way to our soon to be adopted city, we will pass through the magical wintery scenes of Alaskan mountains, valleys, river and lakes,. some are areas of untamed wilderness, only accessible by the railway that trains use to move between Anchorage and Fairbanks. 

I have dreamed of taking that train ride, in the winter, since a middle school geography substitute teacher, recounted his experiences riding that route, in the middle of a snowstorm.  His descriptions, and reasons for going on that train ride, included sharing a variety of connections to that expanse of track and the trains that run on it.  It started with the landscape painting that was the centerpiece of  his grandparent's living room wall, painted of a mountain valley that can only be seen, at that angle, while riding the train.  His love of geography, especially mountain ranges, increased his interest in the science behind both the territory the train winds through, but also the construction of the track, and the difficulties involved.  He did his high school science fair project about the different mountains, and the forces of nature that worked on them, working from photos taken at the time the railroad was being built, and comparing them to more recent photographs and paintings. 

His grandfather, who understood the desire for his grandson's quest to see the vistas photographed and painted by so many artists, and so as his graduation present, his grandfather took him during the winter break, in between semesters, during his freshman year in college. They rode the train 4 times during the 3 weeks they were in Alaska, going first to stay in Fairbanks for two weeks, then coming back to Anchorage for another week, which ended with them riding the train to Fairbanks and returning the next day to Anchorage, as the capstone of their time in Alaska. He left with no doubt as to why that particular train ride had inspired artists of all kinds and stripes, from The Polar Express to Ansel Adams, and too many painters to count.  With its sheer immensity, stark beauty and the majesty of vistas that went on for miles without be broken up by human habitation, the numinous pull of raw power, without human taming, calls to the untamed souls of women and men. 

The pictures the substitute teacher shared, from his first rides, as well as the rides he and his grandfather made on even numbered years, until his grandfather's death, definitely intrigued me. You could see in his first pictures the desire to capture this once in a lifetime event.  Later photos tended to focus more on certain kinds of rock formations, and in almost all from his last trip, he is pulling the angles inside, his grandfather looking older and more frail, a ubiquitous presence by omission before, on the last trip, it seems that both new that this might, probably was, the last time they would take this traditional ride together.  What had started as a recognition of good work, and a desire to provide an auspicious event in his grandsons life, had become a connecting thread, for 16 years of riding the train, to drink up the spirit of the Alaskan landscape.  Over those years, the train trip seemed to have been refined, treated as a luscious treat for the senses, and for the companionship and regularity with which could be counted on. 


This train ride has been on my "unwritten bucket list" ever since I watched the slide show, and listened to the substitute spend a week teaching us about rock formations, mountain ranges, and the sweet, luscious tidbits of his experiences as he gathered together the photographs that justified his continued trips to become something more than just a man with a camera.  The fact that I will be taking that train, (which has become almost mythical in my nighttime dreams about it) as I go to a destination that will become my home for the next 5 years, seems fitting.  What could be more appropriate than taking the train of my dreams and delayed desires, to start an educational journey that I thought had passed out of the realm of possibility?  I had always thought of it as a train whose winter schedule (only going once a week between the two cities) was a way that I would transition from one way of living to the next.  I always planned that if I was ever able to "retire," or possibly when the last of my children were married, that then I would have the cosmic approval, to take this 12 hour train ride.  Instead, the train ride will be taking me to school, to have the chance to study to become a journalist. 

I have always loved to write, to keep track of current events and to know things about the place that I am living in.  I have always loved reading and writing poetry, looking for the perfect word, or word combinations to evoke the thought or feeling I want to convey, without excess word clutter.  As a second grade student, I was thrilled to have published my first poem.  I continued to write, both essays well beyond that of many of my peers, in both research and vocabulary, and usually had a poem accepted for publication, or awarded a prize of some sort, every couple years.  Then, as I graduated, went to school at a community college, I still was rewarded with honors classes that created work that was qualified to be submitted for publication.  I look back on the political science paper that was published, and while I believe I could do better now,  I am satisfied that the 18 year-old me was a good writer, better than I gave her credit for being at the time.

With marriage and children, I got off track, in fact, when I look back, I can see that even in the first years of our marriage, my first-husband and I were not simply on the wrong track, heading the wrong direction, or taking the long way around.  With two engines, pulling at either end of "our train," we were completely derailed, but because we spent our energy pulling against the other, we didn't even realize that we were in a place that couldn't hold the weight of a train with so much heavy luggage, and coal consumption that pulled all of the energy away from anything but the most basics of emotional survival. I take full blame for getting caught in a cycle of ongoing energy waste and creating a toxic environment that comes when you have two people who are constantly burning coal, with no breaks to give the air time to clear, and towards the end, we were both spewing so much black smoke, that there was no safe places for the children caught in the cars between us.

By the time I had been married for 5 years, I had stopped most of the positive things in my life, and writing poetry was one of the first to go.  The pain, desperation and anger that came out anytime I sat down to write, was evidence of a problem that I wasn't willing to acknowledge at that point, never mind being willing to think about what fixing it would look like. I was too emotionally exhausted to admit that I didn't even know where on the map I was anymore.  It was that desperation though, that finally made me realize that I couldn't live that way, and it was unfair to ask my children to live that way.  The decision came with input from many sources, but my counselor's assignment to write a poem or short essay about the last time I was truly happy, was what brought me face to face with the fact that I wasn't willing to hide from myself.

Like in the story of The Polar Express, there are presents waiting there for me, and for Scott, that still seem surreal, not quite sure whether we will be able to hear the bell ringing, but as we have both received the same promptings, over and over, we have decided that we do believe in the tinkling of this bell.  Certainly at 37 and 39, we had thought that our bells had been lost in early childhood, with no hope of regaining the opportunities we missed.  If we are honest, we had given up on an education in a field we loved, before our 25th birthdays.

It appears that we simply needed to endure difficult trials, learn to look at the world, and our place in it differently, and we had to let go of worrying what others would think or say about our decision.  My children will certainly be impacted by this move, but we hope that there will be positives that come from this that last far beyond their 18th birthdays, and as we have talked about it with them, we have seen them begin to hear the tinkling of the bell, the call of that beautiful track that will be between us for a time, and the understanding that this is not "goodbye," it is simply a slightly longer drive to get between the houses of their biological parents.  The more we talk about what this will mean for our family next month, next year, when they turn 18, and for the many years of adulthood, it doesn't not take away the pain of separation, but it does sooth, and allows tears of healing, instead of tears of fear.

It is scary going back to school, when many of your professors will be younger than you.  Scott and I both have credits to transfer in, me from Clackamas Community College and a term at University of Phoenix, Scott from his time in the military. It may take a semester or two to figure out how all of Scott's credits will fit with his desired degree in Arctic Engineering, but it was confirmed this week that University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) will accept all of my prior credits, including the AP history test that I took in 1993 (I just have to have a copy of the score mailed to them, after it is found in the dusty archives of pre-digitalization of records) for the full six semester credits, that any student who has passed the AP history test taken this year, (and got the same score as I did) would be awarded.  After confirming my AP credits with the registration office, I was also able to confirm that the Ethics class in the political science program will fulfill the last class needed to complete my PoliSci minor, and count towards the need to take any 300 level Ethics course, approved by my department. 

All of that means that I will need just over 36 credits to graduate from UAF, and it is very possible that I could graduate with my BA in Journalism in May of 2014, and start the Masters and/or PhD program during the 2014-2015 school year.  While Scott will take longer to get his BS, he has a lot more credits that will transfer to UAF than most students who are requesting credit for training they received in the military.  Because the Navy's Nuclear Engineering school is two years of intense study of science, engineering, math and complex problem solving, he will probably many of his science and engineering electives classes fulfilled by his Navy schooling, he will probably be able to shave at least a year off his time at UAF, but since he wants to stay until he finishes a PhD, we will still be living in Alaska for quite some time. 

For me, stepping onto the train that will leave Anchorage to take us to Fairbanks will be the start of two dreams, both of which I would have told you were impossible a year ago, when it drained all my energy simply to take a shower, or be driven to a doctor's appointment.  I didn't even write a poem for Thanksgiving, and I was struggling just to block out the pain long enough to help Kat with a word transformation activity.  This year, I have my Thanksgiving poem about half done, and below you will find my "too long to be a comment" response to Bridget, regarding favorite words.  I look back at the long slog through the last two years, doing my best to keep pushing forward, but honestly not always certain it was worth it to continue to fight and press on.  Today I can say that it was worth it, to keep heading toward the house in the distance, that was so unclear a year ago.  I can now see it with no problem, and recognize that it is the train station, and that Scott and I spent the last two and a half years, learning to do hard things together, so that when we step off the train in Fairbanks, we won't only have enjoyed the beauty of the ride, but we will be ready to embrace the challenges that we will encounter.

Words I love: numinous, ubiquitous, auspicious, languid, luscious, melodious and glockenspiel.
The response to Bridget's post, that was too long for a comment, and I have edited it down some since I wrote it.  lol
I love the way all of the sound in my head, but even more, I love how the sound when read out loud. Some of these words are found in context above, but I didn't try to stretch it too much.  I think knowing and enjoying words is important, even if you don't use them ubiquitously! ;-)

Numinous and ubiquitous I first learned from some of my favorite of poems, written by my mother. Numinous is basically the soul and spirit of a space or landscape, but really goes so much deeper, into that realm which often defies words. Ubiquitous means things that are everywhere, to the point where they are expected to always be available. My mom's poem is about Blackberries, (the fruit) but these days Blackberries and other smart phones would be just as appropriate.

Auspicious means something is both special, and happening at a time that is better than most, which gives it special meaning. Oftentimes this is used in explaining something that has to do with "the stars aligning," or there being something special about being born on a certain day or in a certain year.
Luscious is used to describe anything that is decadent (another word I like) and these days I'm afraid it may be over used to the point that it loses some meaning. I have a favorite poem written in the 17th century about the first grapes of the season, entitles Luscious, whose author would be shocked to find our that such a special word is now associate with hand sanitizer. (I may be wrong about the author, but when I saw luscious peppermint hand sanitizer, I was sad.)

Melodious goes back to playing the cello. When we wanted to challenge for a chair, we had to first satisfy the student teacher who was there my 5th grade year, that we were not just competent, but that we were able to understand the piece of music we were playing. The first time I challenged for first chair, that student teacher told me that I had gone beyond the basics, and that the sounds coming from my cello were sublime and melodious. What 10/11 year old wouldn't feel like they had become special, with a compliment like that?

Languid is something that was high praise when I was in gymnastics. Being explosive was a compliment I got a lot, especially vaulting and on the floor. One of the girls, a few years older than me, was beautiful to watch on the balance beam. I didn't know a word to describe it, and I spent some time (okay a lot of time) trying to come up with the right word to describe it. She was assigned to be my partner on beam work for a month, and I asked her how she made it look for beautiful, like she was dancing on the beam, instead of trying to do things while not falling. She said that when she was on the beam, she always tried to think about her cat, who always managed to look like she didn't care if she was walking or jumping from high places. When I asked her if there was a name for moving like that, she said that her mom had named the cat Languid, because even as a kitten she had been poised and effortless as she played. I never became great on the beam, but imagining that I was a cat with the ability to be smooth and land on my feet, did help me be move confident, and languid, during the easier transition moves.
I played the glockenspiel in band, and loved the blank stares I would get from classmates and their parents when I would tell them what I played. (I got asked often, because most band members knew that I would out in front of the marching band with the director, but not why, since at practice I was always in back with the drums and other percussion instruments.)

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