Poems for Tragedy and Grief

July 21st, 2012

I’ve reached that point where all I can do is shake my head and wonder what the hell is wrong with people. I’ve reached that point where I question the virtue of grieving publicly from the sidelines. We don’t, actually, all share in this tragedy. Not by a country mile. I have nothing to offer or add that these poets haven’t said better anyway.

“Most days I long for perfection, for everyone to be safe.
Maybe the only perfect thing in life is longing.

Praise this beautiful, terrible world where we are opened
and crushed, where the kiss comes from a mouth that bites.”

– “The Diver,” Marie-Elizabeth Mali

Poetry roundup

July 12th, 2012

I’ve missed a roundup, and the web is full of good things. Here’s just a start.

In honor of Pablo Neruda’s birthday, here is “The Song of Despair.”

I can’t think about Neruda without eventually thinking about Lorca, so here’s “The Old Lizard.”

And since I’m hitting the literary heavy-weights this week, here’s a poem inspired by Proust: “Dear Friend: I have nearly died three times since morning” by Alex Dimitrov. As a bonus, you can also hear Alex Dimitrov read his poem.

Enjoy, and tell me what you’re reading this week.

Swiss schools: what a report card looks like

July 6th, 2012

Yesterday was Small Boy’s last day of first grade, which is sort of an I can’t believe it moment all of its own, but it’s also the day he came home with his first written report card, or Beurteilungsbericht. Back in January we had an Elterngespräch, the parent-teacher conference, but that was strictly oral. We did take home a self-assessment the SB had to do in which he evaluated his own readiness in certain areas, but nothing written from the teacher. The self-assessment was adorable – it was an apple tree, and for each competence Small Boy had to color the apple more or less red – red being ripe, being good. He then talked to his teacher about why he thought that about himself, and the teacher shared this with us. When the teacher first slid the self-evaluation across the table to us, before he explained the business about red being ripe being good, I saw all this red and was very worried, since red marks in school are usually associated with problems. But it turns out red on the apple tree is a good thing.

So this is our first written evaluation of SB’s progress in school – the details of which I’m not going to share, because that’s private, but in broad strikes Small Boy and I are pleased – but I thought some of you might be interested in what a Swiss first grade report card covers.

The first page covers the Obligatorischer Unterricht – performance in the required subjects. The four possible marks are sehr gut (very good), gut (good), genügend (satisfactory), and ungenügend (unsatisfactory). This is pretty much what my early grade school report cards looked like in the U.S. back in my day. And sorry for all the German that is about to follow – don’t worry, everything comes with a translation – but I thought it might amuse some of you to see what I have to muddle through in order to figure out how the Small Boy is doing. (Yes, the Swiss husband will help a great deal in these situations; naturally he’s out of town until tonight so I was on my own yesterday. I understood almost everything but had to look up Vorstellungsvermögen.)

In the first grade, the required subjects are Deutsch (German), Mathematik (math), Natur-Mensch-Mitwelt (which I’m going to translate as social studies with some biology thrown in), Gestalten (art), Musik (music), and Sport (P.E.). German has three subcomponents, each of which receives its own grade:

  • Hören und Sprechen (listening and speaking)
  • Lesen (reading)
  • Schreiben (writing)

Math has four subcomponents, again each receiving its own mark:

  • Vorstellungsvermögen (which can mean imagination or spatial sense)
  • Kenntnisse, Fertigkeiten (knowledge/proficiency/skills)
  • Anwenden/Mathematisieren (application, to mathematize)
  • Prolemlöseverhalten (problem solving).

The second page covers Arbeits- und Lernverhalten (work habits, basically – this is the softer social stuff, you know, “plays well with others.”) Here the skills are graded along a four point continuum ranging from Trifft meistens zu to Trifft selten zu (applies most of the time to applies infrequently). The way they’ve got the skills here worded, Trifft meistens zu is always optimal and Trifft selten zu is always a red flag. There are four groupings here, each of which has subcomponents:

Lernmotivation und Einsatz (motivation and effort). (In sports, for example, a player who goes full-bore all the time is said to give Volleinsatz). This is broken down into:

  • Zeigt Interesse am Unterrichtsstoff (shows interest in the subject matter)
  • Entwickelt gute eigene Ideen (develops one’s own good ideas)
  • Zeigt auch nach Misserfolgen Einsatz (applies oneself even after mistakes).

Then there is Konzentration, Aufmerksamkeit, Ausdauer (concentration, attention, persistence). This is broken down into:

  • Lässt sich wenig ablenken (does not get distracted)
  • Folgt dem Unterrich aufmerksam (follows the lesson attentively)
  • Kann auch längere Arbeiten zu Ende führen (can also complete long-term projects and tasks).

Third is Aufgabenbearbeitung, (planning and organizing tasks) with its subgroups:

  • Plant und organisiert die Arbeit zweckmässig (plans and organizes the work appropriately/practically)
  • Teilt die Zeit gut ein (manages time well)
  • Erledigt Arbeiten sorgfältig und zuverlässig (completes the work carefully and dependably)

Finally, Zusammenarbeit und Selbständigkeit, (teamwork/cooperation and independence) with the following subcategories:

  • Kann mit andern zusammenarbeiten (can work with others)
  • Arbeitet selbständig (works independently)
  • Macht die Hausaufgaben zuverlässig (does the homework regularly)

Zuverlässig comes up a lot in the report card and the parent-teacher conference, and for that matter with the Small Boy’s hockey trainers as well. Zuverlässig, with its many possible translations – authentic, dependable, reliable, solid, steady, of good repute – is high praise in Switzerland (imagine that). Allow me this moment of motherly pride: this week more than one authority figure in the Small Boy’s life has told me he is zuverlässig. He’s doing all right, this kid.

Well, that turned into a long post. Ich danke Euch ganz herzlich für Eure Aufmerksamkeit. (I thank you for your attention.)

Happy Independence Day, and good news for Americans living abroad

July 4th, 2012

Because I blogged my reaction to proposed rules that Americans living abroad be required to state on applications for absentee ballots if we intend to return to the U.S., I should blog that the agency responsible for those proposed rules has reversed course, and such a declaration will not be required. The reversal was, in large part, the result of “the vocal concerns of American expatriates.”

Americans living abroad on this Independence Day, remember we still have our voices, wherever in the world we might find ourselves. We’re still citizens of a land we love, however nuanced that love might become. We still file our taxes and we still have our vote. We’re still Americans, with the right to peaceably assemble and petition our government for a redress of grievances. Sometimes, when we do, it even still works.

Do you belong to or donate to Democrats Abroad, Republicans Abroad, American Citizens Abroad, or Overseas Vote Foundation? Maybe today is the right day to look into these organizations that help us hold on to all of our rights, in all the four corners of the world.

Happy Independence Day wherever you find yourself today. Wave your flag.

New poems up

July 2nd, 2012

When it rains, it pours. I’ve got three poems up in the lovely (and very easy to navigate) fib review. The fib review is dedicated to poems in which either the number of words per line or the number of syllables per line follows the Fibonacci sequence. (I went with words.) They’re challenging to write well and fantastically fun, and I’m so pleased to have my poems included in the current issue. You can find my first poem here, and then just click on the “next poem” link at the top of the page to get to the next two.