Monday, February 7, 2011

Your Work is You, Nothing More

We start Monday morning meeting with a lecture from Tal. Though its not really a lecture. He is more lecturing himself. He is halfway through his teaching career. “On Wednesday it will be the ‘hump’ or the middle day of the middle of the year of my twentieth year of my teaching. I have twenty years ahead of me. I am so tired, already. You know, it's all working towards retirement.” There were many laughs especially the little chuckle of Eric who was sitting beside me.

“What was the appeal of teaching teenagers again, Tal?” Eric asks

“Well, the first thing is that I don’t have to deal with many adults, who are even more screwed and crazy than teenagers because they have so many more problems than you guys, myself included,but they just cover them up better. You guys are much smarter in that you aren't very good at hiding your insanity. Also, I can dress the way I want and cuss and I don’t have to kiss anybodies BEE-hind! Plus there is June, July and August. And I can wear any old rags I want to. See?"

“So There is no potential for us adults, NOT to be screwed up?” Eric asks.

"That is correct."

Tal and Eric share the VERY original ‘building a house’ metaphor. “If you build the foundation crooked then the whole house will just fall over after a while.” They told us that we were building our ‘foundations’ and that we had the ‘potential’ to be great and not crooked. Theire job is to save us untold suffering later in life. I hope they know they sounded like some very "by the rule book" Boy Scout leaders. (Thanks, Sophie!)

Simon told about how he listened to opera and he really loves it. That he really wanted to just blast it out the windows. I wondered if he wanted to show everyone, not just us but EVERYONE all around how much he loved it and how great he thought it was, which in part is a very direct line to him.

Kiley went to the ‘Bamf’ film festival about great athletes. A Swiss speed climber was filmed climbing this mountain and did it in a little over 3 hours. He broke the world record. But he wasn’t satisfied with this so he did it again and got his time down to 2 hours and 47 minutes. Kiley said she thought it was really awesome to go until YOU know that you're done. That that is the absolute best you could do, even when the ‘world’ says you are done, or already the best.

Eric was at a Breadloaf cross country ski race where Morgan was racing. He was on the trail as a monitor person. When Morgan came by he was really amazed by how fast she was and how all out she was going. She was in the middle of a pack of skiers who probably train every day, even though she had been sick. But we said that the only thing that mattered was that she had on an awesome ski racing suit. (Tal asked if she wore "jeggings" in skiing. Everyone said Tal was dumb.)

Yared was working on his project when he got sidetracked, He started listening to jazz and blues and was distracted for almost 3 hours but he said it was really amazing to learn a ton about that because he loves that music. Tal said this was not getting off track, it was getting on track.

Rowan was sick and was having short term memory loss (probably hallucinations of all the homework he still had to do and Tal as a wild boar yelling at him when he would come back to school. That’s what we pride on here at North Branch, at least the kids are scared into doing their work) and ‘The White Album’ by the Beatles came onto the shuffle on his ipod (though we have no idea if it actually came on or if that was a part of his hallucination as well) but the album didn’t play in order though and he could immediately recognize that, he thought it was really interesting to know the sounds and feelings that came next in an album even though he hadn’t listened to that one in a long time and how one's memory really kind of ‘chooses’ what its going to always remember.

Anna overheard all the cross country ski bums from the high school talking on the ACTR bus down the mountain. Simon had said, after they had been talking about how unintelligent their conversation was, that it was probably not unlike US when we are riding up on the bus every morning. But she thought the difference was that she could see the other side of US, and she was worried if she would be able to see that side of people next year at all.

Reed and her mom went way back in the woods at Breadloaf (away from all the tacky tourists with their SWIX pants, Patagonia sweaters and North Face hats.) and Reed noticed that she (her mom) is one of the steadiest and happiest people she knows. She went all into her skiing even though she wasn’t too fast.

Kiley Read the Poem:

"On looking up by chance at the Constellations"

Robert Frost

You'll wait a long, long time for anything much

To happen in heaven beyond the floats of cloud

And the Northern Lights that run like tingling nerves.

The sun and moon get crossed, but they never touch,

Nor strike out fire from each other nor crash out loud.

The planets seem to interfere in their curves

But nothing ever happens, no harm is done.

We may as well go patiently on with our life,

And look elsewhere than to stars and moon and sun

For the shocks and changes we need to keep us sane.

It is true the longest drouth will end in rain,

The longest peace in China will end in strife.

Still it wouldn't reward the watcher to stay awake

In hopes of seeing the calm of heaven break

On his particular time and personal sight.

That calm seems certainly safe to last to-night.

Quote of the morning:

“This Girl is Going to give it a whirl!” –Tsering

(Tal asks what the guy version of that is)

“This guy is gunna give it a try!” –Rowan

In Science Class we hear that a Grouse ran into Kiley’s window and died (though Ollie says that it did not die but Kiley went outside when her family wasn’t looking and stepped on it so that it WOULD die) and she says :

“Shall we dissect it in Science Class?”

“Ewwwwwww” says Claire.

Eric: “We want to stuff it! Take out its organs and stuff?”

Kiley: “I have a quick fact about Grouse! They eat grapes and they don’t digest them so in the middle of winter they start to ferment and then the grouse get tipsy!”

……I wonder if we are actually learning much in science class……. (Tal thinks so)

We travel inside and outside during class. No one is really prepared but we have to run to the middle of the field, scoop up some snow, run inside and measure the density of the snow. Calder starts calling everyone "cows," he even said I was a "slow cow." I also heard a glimmer of the word ‘cow’ when Evan was trying to get Calder to show him his ‘Man burns’ during math (aka, side burns says Ollie because girls can obviously no have side burns so calling them man burns is just stating the obvious)

Yared and Luke talk to Tal about next year right before break. Yared is scared because at the high school they only really look at your work and he SAYS that he’s not the best at that. But here he makes up for it because people know his soul.

In math Class: Evan starts labeling people’s hair

Ollie: Rats Nest

Calder: Mushroom Top

Evan: Ski Jump

Simon: ……….??.......... Worms???

Eliot is going to send an email to Nelson Mandela. “What should I say?”

Tal: “Start out with, ‘Oh, grand master Nelson Mandela, I am your humblest servent’”

Tal is comparing regular Goldfish to FLAVOR BLASTED. He says that the verdict is the regulars are very dry and the FLAVOR BLASTED are full of moderate cheesy flavor. He then says that they are just basically orange saltines with butter and Claire says that she LOVES those. Apparently they are incredible toasted.

We have Tate’s project: On the Warsaw Uprisings. We discussed who will have a statue made of them. “Better die on your feet than live on your knees” = You will be made into a Statue; “Better live on your knees than die on your feet” = No statue for you. (See Notes from Tal…..)

Play starts coming along. Sophie, Reed, and Tal work during study to put up what we have and what we still need to do.


Simon really liked Tate’s project. Everyone was really amazed that Tate had NO SCRIPT and was just talking off the top of his head.

Aylee wanted to be sure that her sister has a chance to come here and is sad that she doesn’t like school and doesn’t want to come here because of the homework. Tal talked about how kids don’t want to come to North Branch because they know about the homework but don’t know the other part of it, the part besides homework, because you can’t really describe it to anyone who’s not here.

Luke got an email from a past NBSer at the High School who feels lonely and unreal. She wrote Luke a place description about her dad but it wasn’t as good as when she was here. Luke wrote her back a really long email. Luke, to me, seems to be trying to give people advice more lately and I think its great. He has a lot of wisdom inside him. I think that HE cannot see it sometimes.

Yared says he knows EVERYTHING about the high school “You know, the Science room is here, the ‘stuff’ is over here”……We all laughed because of course he knows SO much.

Rick Sko left a doodle on the table which Miles started decorating. Rick was chuckling while Eliot told about how Nelson Mandela will appear in a giant glass box in the middle of his project wearing fur….. Tal: “I hope not real fur, Eliot." “No, he will be wearing giraffe skin.” Tal says he needs to get ‘recycled’ or roadkill fur because if they just took it off the giraffe then all the giraffe muscles will be exposed or all the blood will fall off of his body.

Yared said that last night Yib came into his room (bringing tea as a way to bribe Yared to talk to him) and they talked about his girl troubles. It was awesome to talk to him.

Ollie and Calder's coach Hugh told the soccer team that they should do an act of random kindness. Hugh was planning to take something to a Hannaford Bagger. Tal emailed the former NBSer that Luke was talking to and asked about how she was. He was saying that that can be an act of kindness when you know someone is down, just to ask.

Rider was thinking about what he would fight for in his life. We had been talking about it the day before in Tate’s project and he said that he would fight for a lot more things than he said (he had mentioned his nephews) and that that was what he wanted to be able to say, was all the things that he would fight for. That was his goal in life, to have as many things as possible that he would fight for. He said that it was a great thing because he had been sitting around a lot, saying he was going to do things, but this was really a concrete thing that he had devoted himself too.

How do we move from wanting so desperately to hear “I love you” to just being able to give it all the time. And if we all gave it, wouldn’t we have what we wanted? All of us saying that we love each other? Tal referred to a poem that Sophie used once by Hafiz. In it, Hafiz asks why don't we just all say the thing to others that we want said to us.

Claire was talking to Ada on the phone and realizing that they had known each other all their lives and she was more of a sister than her own sister. And she was missing her sister a lot. It was interesting to me to think about the school and how I honestly feel that some of these people (and usually almost everyone by the end of the year) are my brothers and sisters. And how does that happen in a year or even a half a year with the sevies? I don’t know, maybe it is just saying I love you to other people and trusting you with them.

Morgan read "Three Seasons", by Geoffery G. Obrien

The winter, it was the winter all

the usual things happened,

I have forgotten what

would travel from the north

as a series seen from above

or from below, and the followers,

the flowers, I tore them up

the next summer, or rather

before or immediately after

and thought no more about it.

But then the summer, plans

to sign a contract, the summer

came back for what it was:

a small sprinkling of rue

and a yellow fantasy

and we were invited. It appeared

tall and swaying and deaf

to appeals, and the winter following,

this was the arrangement—

first one and then into

another not yet there,

many years of this refrain

and all the productions within it

coming to mean more

of an intimacy between

musical instruments and still lifes

you lose yourself in again

and probably have now,

what objects have known

in their one dark winter afternoon.

They are still visited

by everything else and together

complete the effect, a distance

which the next day took form.

That winter stopped and probably

on account of summer a spring,

spring with a sturdy fringe

and a local reputation,

it’s outside, in various rooms

and looks at everything,

a few lilacs in awkward

positions, but they were alright,

it was summer, very strong,

passing organizations,

which never finished anything

and ended in making

all this, cold coals

of wildflowers, little wars

at the centers, they go on for years

burning near the front

and from below.

Yared had an impersonation of Calder: “Its kind of Chipmunkish! Like you know how chipmunks can fit 80 seeds in their mouth, that's how Calder talks. He slurs everything together.”

During Break: Some of the guys play driveway football. Ollie and Tsering and others sing: “War…. Huh. What is it good for? Absolutely NOTHING!”

Aylee and Ollie discuss Hello Kitty before Class.

We watch videos about the uprisings in Egypt. Trying to change the country and get the leader out who apparently rigged all the elections, and the food is very expensive and there are very little jobs. There are some self immolations and we talk about how if someone is willing to burn themselves for a cause it must be important and lead others to follow that cause.


Snow Day. The little children of the North Branch School are probably bounding around playing in the glorious snow flakes. Coming in and drinking hot cocoa by the woodstove and probably watching movies that their parents suggest and they at first don’t want to watch, but realize is actually a really great movie. There are probably some children putting off the homework piling in with the snow until late at night when everyone thinks the time gets slower and you therefore become more productive which actually is not the case.

In my case, I made a batch of brownies which I told myself I would only eat a little bit of but looking back on the pan I see I ate a little more than anticipated. But as Tal always says: “Life is too short not to eat real butter”…. It’s the same with brownies.

So the teachers are probably sulking at home, wishing they were at school so they could try and stay on schedule which I think they are already about three weeks behind on (because of our awfully short attention spans and low productivity?) but I say to those teacher sulking: GO OUTSIDE AND ENJOY THE SNOW!! Frolic in your snow clothes with your children and pretend you are in a really cheesy movie with terrible music playing in the backround that makes the scene look joyful. Throw snow around so that even if its not snowing hard, it looks like it is, and try to enjoy your vacation!


On Thursday Hilda Billings came to talk to us at morning meeting. She lives in Ripton, knew Robert Frost very well, worked as the Ripton post lady and we helped her cut up and stack the maple tree wood when the ninth graders were in seventh grade. Her little maple was planted in the 1800's. She showed us a picture of the house with the tiny maple in the late 1800's and then she showed us the pictures she took when we were there two years ago.

Claire was at the Snowbowl with Rio, his brother Ziven and Ada yesterday during to snow day. SHe said it felt really special to be there because just about nobody was there and they were laughing at Ziven when he fell over and she said it was really fun. Rider was really impressed when he went up to the Fieldhouse and saw Calder leading his Synergy Football Club saying 'go' to all the really difficult drills like holding a ball over your head while you run, and if you let it fall then EVERYONE else has to do it over and doing push-ups and switching from one side of a cone to another and then sprinting right after and doing push ups again. Rider said it was really awesome to see him where he is doing what HE does, where he is in his 'element' and being a leader and just being really awesome and working SO hard.

Anna went to shadow at MUHS on Tuesday. She was talking to a former NBS student Cody. They were at an assembly and he started telling her that NBS is a 'mean' school and MUHS is a 'nice' school. He said that NBS is mean because it’s real, people have the space to have actual opinions and feelings so you could have 'bad' feelings towards people, and MUHS doesnt leave any room for those feelings with so many people and so everyone is just 'nice'. But are they really being honest? probably not, because there is no room for 'mean', gritty and real, or honesty.

Simon was amazed by the Kinglet birds we have been reading about in science. They are about the size of a person’s thumb and have an inch of fluff around them. Its really amazing how they don't use any imported insulation or outside forces, they just use themselves to keep warm.

Luna, Eric's crazy dog got out of the science room and ran over to the Carvers'. Eric decided to make sure Luna hadn’t destroyed the Carvers' house before school. He drove over, found the door ajar and found a quart of honey with dog marks on them ripped open and a large pool/trail of honey covered the entryway. He found Luna with as much of a devilish grin as a dog can muster and tried to clean up the honey desperately before school......

Aylee's sister started to get into her application to NBS and she didnt even need her mom to tell her to do it.

Poem, read by Chase ---- “Fire and Ice”, Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.


Anneke brought in an awesome quilt made for Dalia that she gave to the Tal has been working on since last year. It was cut outs of everyone's hands from last year and sewn onto black and purple fabric (white black and purple are Prunes colors). She said in meeting that she understood what people meant when they say that you don't appreciate people until their gone and she was really sad working on it last night and remembering last year’s ninth graders.

I've been thinking a lot about last year’s ninth graders lately, too.Will these ninth graders be as big as last year, or is it just that I was a sevie last year and I can't see that they are just as big? Every year the chemistry of the school changes, but it’s hard to see the awesome stuff when you are immersed in it. Some awesome stuff the ninth graders have been doing: For example,Yared and Rider are like the heart and the mind. Together they seem to always be able to get to ego-death. When I hear them in conferences they are always talking about the 'house' of the school, how we can make it together, how we are trying to make it together. Then there's Aylee and Anneke and Sarah who have been trying to be characters in the play who want real love, who can see how ridiculous the pre-made system is for getting love in our play. Miles has been drawing his own drawings which may not seem like a lot, but I think that it’s a form of non-conformity. He is thinking, he is DOING something. He is not letting everyone else's ART be HIS art. HE IS HIS OWN ART. You are what you say, you are what you eat, you ARE YOUR ART. So maybe these ninth graders are VERY different from last year’s, maybe there are some things about them that are not perfect, but they are not conformists. They are thinking feeling, DOING something, and I think that is the most important thing. If there were perfect people leading us, who had everything figured out, there would be no way to tell that they had done anything, that they had come so far, but I have been seeing lately how seeing these people re trying and desperately clawing inside of themselves to be better, and that is making all the difference and, to me, is the sign of incredible ninth graders.

Rowan went to Finn's aunt’s house (as Tal would say: probably where they do sun salutations to welcome the day) and was urged by Finn and Eliot to come to the bathroom of her house (the BATHROOM??) it was (apparentely) a tradition (tradition??) and Rowan felt glad to be invited in to their really big bathroom friendship. (though we are all a little worried that what they do with their free time is go into their aunt’s bathroom...)

Sarah saw her brother happier than ever because he now goes to the Ripton School. He's been coming home singing and happy to go to school every day. Rose was thinking all week about Tate's project. About whether or not you could have the courage to stand by your people and your morals and your religion even if you were to die. Whether you would feed a dying relative if you knew they were going to die, or if instead you would take that food for yourself. If you would fast on your religion’s fasting days even if you were starving already. She liked the concept of not making excuses for people who didn't do that, not making it right for the people who were small and tried to save themselves and not actually LIVE with their morals while they were still alive and in the hardest conditions. She said she was watching a movie on migrating birds and how they wouldn’t stop for anything on their way. Even the best food in the world; somehow they had a greater purpose and that they knew to migrate and somehow they always knew that. If those people held strong for their morals, then they are like migrating birds. They are far above the world, they have truly learned to live, don’t you think? If you can become your morals and your religion in your dying day, I think that is when you are living.

Eric thought Yared did a great job of running meeting on Thursday when Hilda came and Tal wasn't at school. In the last several weeks, Yared's been feeling closer to the ninth graders, that even though it isn’t perfect he is so happy that he can have his friends at the high school his whole scene there and then have his friends at North Branch and he can love all of them. When he went to DJ skate night (where teenagers skate around in circles in the dark with a disco ball and listen to teeny bopper music) and he felt awesome to have the two groups he loved there and knew that he could go back and forth.

Rider Read the Poem: (he said he could remember when he was in seventh grade and he picked this poem without really knowing about it, but now he can understand it and he can see how his mind has changed over the three years.)

Wake Up. Day Calls you

Pedro Salinas.

Wake up. Day calls you

to your life: your duty.

And to live, nothing more.

Root it out of the glum

night and the darkness

that covered your body

for which light waited

on tiptoe in the dawn.

Stand up, affirm the straight

simple will to be

a pure slender virgin.

Test your bodys metal.

cold, heat? Your blood

will tell against the snow,

or behind the window.

The colour in your cheeks will tell.

And look at people. Rest

doing no more than adding

your perfection to another

day. Your task

is to carry your life high,

and play with it, hurl it

like a voice to the clouds

so it may retrieve the light

already gone from us.

That is your fate: to live

Do nothing.

Your work is you, nothing more.

Later we talked about having the courage to say out loud what you really feel about something. To be able to tell your friends the most important things, even if it is hard to say or hear. “There are all kinds of courage. It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” -Albus Dumbledore.

Sometimes you have to stand up for what you want and yourself more to your friends than to your enemies. With your friends, if they are real friends, they know what hurts and it hurts even more when you care about what they think about you. You have to be able to stand up to your significant other as well. Because throughout all of your life your going to have to live with yourself and you can be hurt by your friends and you can be hurt by people you are in love with, but in the end you have to stay true to yourself and what you want to do to be happy and the people who love you truly will want you to do that.

We talked about how Anna had had a crush on a boy and it wasn't hard for her to admit THAT, it was just hard for her to admit that she had had a lot of trouble talking to him. She felt like a flawed human because of that and it was that that hurt, not that she had liked him. We talked about how we search for security, a 'known' and guaranteed friendship. First with one other person then with your class and then hopefully with the school, and then the world.

Everyone is looking for that I think. It’s just really hard to see that you wont be replaced when other people have friendships with each other.

The week overall? Are you replaceable? Never. You are not replaceable when you hold to yourself your morals, even in the dying day. When you are not a conformist to society or anyone else but only conforming to who you are and what you believe and becoming that. There is everything to be learned from those who are working, and maybe it’s a little harder to learn from those who aren't growing and are staying where they are. The ninth graders are awesome. Snow days are for frolicking. And most of all: Always say: “This girl is going to give it a whirl! OR This guy is gonna give it a try!”

In Peace

When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have always been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invicible, but in the ends, they always fall—I think of it, always.

—Mahatma Gandhi

On Friday we got a letter back from Jarvis Jay Masters…We read his book, Finding Freedom: Writings From Death Row, this year. At the end of our reading we sent him each our last literature responses, which we wrote to him in the form of letters. WE also included our pictures. Here is what he wrote back to us, hand written, addressed from San Quentin.

Dear Tal,

I am writing to thank you and your 8th and 9th grade students who wrote me all the wonderful letters that continues to touch my heart and, in so many ways, lets me see how my book, Finding Freedom, is contributing to class rooms like it has at North Branch. I truly appreciate everything you have made possible for your students to sit with their hearts, and to say I had a real presence in their literature class. I feel so honored by this Tal, you know? I really do, Tal.

So Please, please let all of your precious students know it means so much to me to know that my book is in their classroom! Please let your classroom know that I am truly grateful for all your letters and the wonderful photographs sent to me. They’re all GREAT! J


Thank you so much Tal.

In Peace, Jarvis