This David Martin essay dates back to 1993. The advice is as sound as ever.
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A person with a good education is able to use the past to prepare visions of beauty for the future. When Picasso sat in front of a blank canvas, he did what all writers must do when they face the blank page. They must make something from nothing.
Writers must see the world with the eyes of a child, the newness, the freshness, the miraculous, to improve the way we see life and ourselves, to make a poem out of each day, carpe diem.
“Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old” (Franz Kafka).
“It was woman who taught me to say I am; therefore, I think” (Shaw).
“I party; therefore, I am” (Greg Gruber).
With my apologies to Descartes and others, we probably identify our personal search for beauty in life more closely with one of the above thoughts, but we come together as fellow Dragon Slayers to affirm the validity of the interpretation of these attempts to find the meaning of our earthly existence. We, as a group, acknowledge in one another our own struggles with questions about what it means to be alive.
A profound teacher of mine liked to say we all seek one person in life who we trust and one who will say, “I see you as you are. I hear you clearly, and I want to help you.” When we find that mentor, confidant, or lover, only then we will learn who we really are. Only when we change our life perspective from “I” to “We” will we put into action what it means to be who we really are.
Sometimes, one must travel far to discover what is near. This lesson is taught in the wonderful children’s book The Treasure by Uri Schulevitz. In this old folktale, the main character, Isaac, has three dreams (prayers) where he goes from his little village to the capital city to see the King in search of his personal fortune. Finally, he begins his journey on foot because he is so poor. When he gets to the palace, the King is on vacation and won’t return for many days.
The Captain of the King’s Guards watches Isaac deal with his frustration and despair. When the old man proves he is not a troublemaker, the Captain mentions something very suprising. The Captain tells of a dream he had the previous night about an old man who had an unknown treasure under the floor behind his stove at home. Isaac goes home to find the treasure he saught in his own home.
This story illustrates a basic truth few of us realize about our lives. The beauty in life, our treasure, is not in great places, in great adventures, or in great things. Our wealth is found in our ordinary lives, where we live each day. How we spend that treasure is the next question.
Education is putting reason to work. Using our intellect to make the choices we are called upon to make is the “stuff” of life. We must make these choices flower. To not make them produce is to ignore our creativity. We must go with our best intentions and not look back.
“All the problems of the world could be settled easily if (people) were only willing to think. The trouble is that (people) very often resort to all sorts of devices in order not to think, because thinking is such hard work” (Nicholas Murray Butler, American educator, 1862-1947).
“There are few earthly things more beautiful than a University. It is a place where those who have ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see; where seekers and learners alike, band together in the search for knowledge, will honor thought in all its finer ways, will welcome thinkers in distress or in exile, will up hold every the dignity of thought and learning and will exact standards in these things: (escerpt from a speech delivered By John Masefield at the University of Sheffield, England, 6/25/1946).
A well functioning university or any good school is beautiful because a true education emancipates the student. Barriers collapse around the educated. Writing and the crafting of words liberate the heart and soul of the knowing. Education answers the question: Why should I care? Why should I be concerned? Enlightened people feel compassion, suffering, and engagement for those areas they understand.
Mankind craved drink long before he wanted to read books. Gutenberg’s first printing press was a converted winepress. Our basic, more primitive needs must be satisfied first, but the miraculous in education is to take the common, the primitive, and rise to a higher ground. Our use of words will accomplish this as much as a Picasso panting or pressed grapes.
Educated people must say what they mean and do what they say. Words are important and demolish existential barriers. Uneducated people are trapped by mores, become prisoners of their age, and are hobbled by societal norms. Educated people live simply and pride themselves on their self-reliance. They press out excesses in daily life and allow the creative juices to flow without fear of being dammed.
For what do people want an education in the first place: money, fame, security, prestige, power, or because they want to understand? A rich man whose pockets are lined with gold is not my primary example to follow in life. The person who dies with the most toys does not win the race I am running. Money is just another wall. Nothing changes for the rich. They live to themselves, and they believe their lives are better, simply because their bank account is fatter.
In the world of nutrition, we now know fat is the number one cause of physical illness in this country. Writers and artists who do not struggle to find the source of truth in their craft, those who sacrifice their art for an easy way out (more money, a softer position), those who yearn to be comfortable before producing, will live a shorter artistic life just as the person who wallows in doughnuts and fried foods will live a shorter natural life. A prison by any other name is still a prison.
The Oxbow Writing Project’s Summer Institute is a great opportunity for teach to learn more about writing set for this summer. Here is the basic information from the Oxbow flyer (which is below, too) that David Martin sent over.
2016 Invitational Summer Institute
July 5-22, 2016
Take advantage of one of Omaha’s premier professional development experiences in July.
Designed for teachers and teaching professionals K-12 in ALL subject areas, including math, art, science, library, counseling, as well as English and Language Arts.
Learn ways to incorporate best writing practices into your own classroom environment
Help students write to discover and learn
Complete in-depth inquiry into a subject of your choice [teaching, pedagogy, writing]
Time and space to play with your own writing in a supportive environment
Teachers empowering teachers
3+ hours of graduate credit
Plus a stipend
Here is part of the flyer for easier viewing . . . click and check it all out
PLEASE NOTE THE APPLICATION DEADLINE HAS BEEN EXTENDED UNTIL APRIL 15
The Oxbow Writing Project is part of the National Writing Project, a network of 200 projects nationwide. From the nwp.org website: “Educators play a vital role in leading sustained efforts to improve learning in schools and communities. NWP leaders study and share effective practices that enhance youth writing and learning, work collaboratively with other educators, design resources, and take on new roles in effecting positive change.”
This essay from Becky Breed is all about summer (which is not that far off.) Breed is a veteran poet and essayist. She co-writes a weekly blog www.writeincommunity.com that provides inspiration and encouragement for writers of all levels and interests. Want to check out the current edition of Fine Lines? Follow this link.
Editor’s note: This David Martin essay dates back to 1993. The points made here are still as important ever. Take a look and think about your own writing. And there are dragons out there waiting to be slayed.
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It is now 3 a.m. Lightning and thunder pound my head. I am tired and can not sleep.
An awful dragon chased me for 5 ½ hours tonight. Our battle sounded like the thunder and looked like the lightning of my dreams. I heard my sword crash against the fire breathing monster’s neck, and I awoke to hear real monsters clash with Zeus’ bolts of fire in the sky.
The monster of my dreams aroused the emotional “donder and blitzen” that took place yesterday at our monthly Dragon Slayer’s meeting. Those flashes of insight and the sound of truth now stir in me to write once again.
Outside, Mother Nature’s rain falls softly. The natural thunder and lightning keep calling my attention to life’s rebirth, baptismal cleansing, and regeneration. It’s never too late to start over.
Our discussion went from patience to parking lots, nuclear holocaust to Nikki Giovanni, a search for passion to paternalism, native desires to Nietzsche, individual courage to Camus, a creative swim to Schopenhauer, and a quest for real education to erudition. My mind became tired and excited as a result of our four-hour sharing. I feel there is much electricity in this group of writers. It is no wonder that Donder and Blitzen are now more to me than just two of Santa’s reindeer.
If Giovanni said there are no conversations, just intersecting monologues, what would she say about Sunday afternoon? Our sharing and discussion prove that good exposition and feedback occur when writers commit to their tasks.
No one really knows the mind and soul of another. Friend, husband, wife, child, do we really know who other people are? Probably not, but yesterday’s attempt was a huge beginning. Let the flow of written words never stop, as we follow our quest to write ourselves into our destiny.
“I can feel again . . . there but for the grace . . . it is the moments I like . . . memories last longer than experiences . . . suffer in order to create . . . passion and pride. . . courage to be . . . over the edge . . . eye of the tiger . . . it is a question of vision . . . a search for truth . . . be the rebel . . . personal battlegrounds . . . celebrate our 26 letters . . . a struggle to be authentic . . . .”
These glimpses of everyone’s participation are sparks for much contemplation and great composition. Don’t be satisfied to talk about them. Write them down. Develop them before they vanish. We must challenge our dragons before they disappear.
I try not to worry about the past. What is done is done. Just let me learn from my mistakes and move on. I pray I don’t repeat the same errors. I hope to move to a higher ground. Then, if I make more mistakes, at least, they will be new ones.
I use to spend so much time worrying about the “boo-boos” I made, people I hurt, and opportunities I lost, that I only made myself depressed. When I learned that my unhappiness was only sublimated anger at myself, I decided I was not progressing by hurting myself, so I stopped it. I am only human. Yes, I made mistakes. I will make more, I am sure, but I don’t want to dwell on them. I choose to think of the future, to emphasize that aspect of my life, to accentuate the positive things I can influence. The little things I know will be affected by my attention.
Living is endless “being,” a continuous growth. There is no finish line; just life in a marathon and small victories tacked onto each other. An ending is a new beginning. I try to keep my eyes on the road and relax behind the wheel. Instead of going around and around in circles repeating the same mistakes of the past, if I can slowly, continuously, move to a higher level, my circles will become spirals. That is enough for me.
The only responsibility a river has is to flow to the sea. I don’t have to be anything else but the river I was created to be. My mission is to simply live what I am. If I am the Missouri, I don’t have to be the Amazon. If I don’t do what the Missouri is supposed to do, that is my only mistake.
Rivers don’t go upstream. I don’t have to push the current. The current will flow by itself. The river’s job is simply to be patient, take the curves and bends as they come, and ride, ride, ride to the sea.
The Greeks said happiness was attaining perfect balance and moderation in all things. When I am not happy, I find that parts of my life are more emphasized than others. Often, I notice my unhappiness comes about when I am thinking only of myself. When I want something so badly that I crave nothing else, when I am obsessed by possessing something, when I am greedy, then my displeasure with life is at its highest point.
When I quit worrying about the getting, when I begin thinking about the giving, my happiness returns. When I am aware of serving others or something larger than myself, when I volunteer my time, when I let good things pass through me to someone else, my happiness returns. It is not the taking that is important; it is the touching. It is not the getting that counts; it is the giving.
If someone asked me, “What are the Dragon Slayers all about?” I would say they are about all of the above and more. Individuals have their own personal dragons to overcome, and according to Joseph Campbell, we may have more than one. The dragons can be many things: possessions, fears, ideas, jobs, school, teachers, wives, husbands, children, and egos. The monsters are concerns in life that prevent us from being ourselves and pursuing those things that let us become happy.
Campbell used the idea of following one’s bliss to find rapture and defeat one’s dragons. The barriers in our lives block our pathways and prevent us from going down the yellow-brick-road to Oz where we will surely be able to find ourselves a brain, a heart, and the courage we need to be successful.
Dragon Slayers travel the road of life searching for its truth through writing. Once the truth, as we see it, is found, the next step requires action. Knowledge is the knowing, but wisdom is knowledge in motion. We want to do more than just find the dragons. Going past those monsters to a better emotional and physical world creates the thunder and lightning that I hear. Let’s confront those dragons. Let’s keep our faith! Let’s write on!