Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

Write. It feels good.

My poetry class met on Monday and it’s now Thursday. This morning is the first day I sat down to write a new poem (in too many weeks, months?).  I am sad I waited this long but I think I waited because I needed the courage to rev the engines again, to clear the room of the haunting voices that say: you can’t write, what have you got to say? nothing will be good when you start, so why start now?

But this morning the house is quiet, I rise early and I remember my instructions to the students: find a place to sit and write regularly for a few minutes each day.  Sit in the same place.  See how it changes as you document what you see.  Write without editing, just write.  Then you will find your ten best lines, 5 or more best couplets to write an observation poem as we discussed in “Nantucket”  (by W.C. Williams). [*merged assignment learned from great mentors Anne Waldman and Robin Becker].

So here I am and after having written this first draft on the first “warm” morning we’ve had in North Georgia in awhile. I feel a sense of relief.  I saw things.  I put them into words.  I felt the symbolism or the emerging symbolism of my day to day world.  It is pleasing, just the way it is pleasing to exercise –AFTER it is over.

So I urge my students (and myself): start.  If you have already started, or have a regular writing practice, good for you! It does take time to find one’s words, to find exact language that is not something that comes on a cereal box.  It’s hard work to name our worlds in our own ways.  But it’s worth it to discover one’s own voice and then to be able to inspire that in our students, and the students of our students.  In this political economy of twisted words and half truths, it’s vital to touch base with the power of language, of truth “worked out” and sweaty on the page.

Please write.  Do it for you, for your students, for me.  It takes time so please don’t wait any more (like I did).  And please ask me, ask one another: did you write today? 3 minutes? 5? It doesn’t take long to get in the habit. We may discover ways we can add our small observations to the larger world, how to bear the grief and pain of it and celebrate joy.


It’s not a poem yet but at least there are words to mark the passing of time.  Here they are –no line breaks, a little judgement–in their drafty first day back form.  I hope to return to this same seat tomorrow.


Kitchens, draft one.

My eyes used to linger only on the dining table:narrow legs, flimsy hold, small length, middle gash of liquid stain. Now I see transom glass and pressed tin, selecting exact specifications of my next dwelling–pregnant pantry, counter space berth, a centered island where I can watch dishes while my children grow to party like adults, envisioning their own someday kitchens, rising to a deep sink bowl, undermounted to quartz, a touch faucet for messy hands, a dishwasher that whispers, as if this truly were a retreat, sanded floor ocean lapping against new barstools, sunbathing beneath glowy pendant balls hanging down from the sky. And can lights, lots of cans. These are the distractions to content ourselves while our filthy rich politicians get served heavy appetizer platters in their many domiciles.   No one tells you the underside of the dream kitchen–that it will someday fail. Too many cords where they do not belong, the fluorescent green color giving way to something new or ‘retro’. No one mentions how a kitchen dirties, no matter how much storage, the milk still spills, spoiling floors, leaving its rank smell behind. How the cookie trays rust. How to replace things. I’ve learned to want the next one and the next one, to wish for another light here, a shelf there, a new heavy gadget and a corner to set it. I finally have a fancy electric mixer that does all the work. But someone has to mix then clean while another one eats and eats and eats.


One response to “Write. It feels good.

  1. Marie Goocher January 12, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    Ahhhh, a short rest. Just sat down for a short break after cleaning the kitchen after breakfast and the first thing I read on my phone is Misha’s post about writing after a long dry spell. Ironic that just before I sat, I had cleared a shelf in a kitchen cabinet to store my bread machine. It has been on the counter for many years….maybe fifteen. But today, with the kids far away at college and all the winter holiday baking a memory, was the first time in its life to be “put away”. For many years, I have longed for a clear marble counters, like you see in magazines. They have always eluded me. Now I am a step closer, but my mind wanders to the time my toddler son stood on a chair in front of the bread maker and helped me count and crack eggs for Easter bread.

    Liked by 1 person

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