“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”
– Mary Oliver
January third finds me riding in the back of a taxi across the Brooklyn Bridge as snow quickly turns into rain. Returning to New York has the powerful effect of making me feel smaller. As we weave between towering buildings, I am suddenly aware that the city I love does not need me. New York has not been waiting for me, nor is is it affected by my return, despite what Taylor Swift is enthusiastically proclaiming on the tiny TV screen on the back of the driver’s seat. This city is humbling, its mere presence crushing.
Back in my apartment, as I reluctantly begin to ease out of Christmas break mode, I recall how refreshed I was by the mental break from the stresses of first-year teacher survival mode. For days I thought again about poetry. I thought about the complexities and differences of my siblings and how much I love the way my mother laughs and my father connects his thoughts. I read an entire book of Christian Wiman’s poetry on Christmas Day, and the first half of his memoir on the next. “I do think, though, that poetry is how religious feeling has survived in me,” Wiman writes. I cannot help but agree.
At home, surrounded by books and the clarity that comes with sleeping an adequate number of hours in a room that is both dark and quiet, I found myself fulling inhabiting time again. Life exists and I am contributing to it. As I spend days in my pajamas reading poems and reminiscing through pages of old journals, I find myself wanting, as Mary Oliver said, to think again of dangerous and noble things. This is where my mind can grow; the realization makes me drunk with power and freedom. Surrounded by pure comfort, I am free to devour books and wait for the perfect silhouette before I take a photograph. I re-read quotations and pause to appreciate the buried feelings they expose. I record moments as they pass.
As I prepare to re-enter the post-holiday real world, I am reminded that this mental space is both a luxury and a gift. If we want to take time to pause, to be thankful or to be creative, we must make this a discipline rather than complain that our lives do not afford us the time.) Discipline is something I have come to greatly admire in others. I envy the way my roommate Ashley comes home from her demanding day job at 8:00 p.m. and then, somehow, dives into hours of creative writing. In a dictionary, the first definition of discipline will be training based on consequences and punishments. However, the word’s Latin root simply means knowledge and instruction. In a world where we are not free to create and relax at will, we must discipline ourselves so that these dangerous and noble things can be a part of our lives. The reality of the day-to-day must allow for the moments of clarity and weightlessness the artists, creators, and adventurers inside of us crave.
I am teaching argumentative writing in seventh grade, and have been encouraging my students to end a persuasive essay with a “call to action.” Here is mine: read a poem every morning, take photos on your evening commute while being mindful of what is lit and unlit, record the truest thing you overheard in passing, spend ten minutes informing yourself about the state of a people in a country very different than your own, call the friend you haven’t talked to in a while, and follow up about their current concerns and worries. It takes discipline to learn from the lessons of the world.
“Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
Caroline (Higgins) Nyczak (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.