We all have clothes that make us feel strong. For Calvin, of Calvin & Hobbes, it’s rocketship underpants. For me, it’s cycling gear. For Callie Feyen, it’s high heels.
They come up in chapter 1 of Twirl, when she’s not exactly sure what’s wrong, but she knows her usually comfy heels are killing her. She writes, “It didn’t used to be this way. I could wear heels and teach like it was nothing, but since I’ve taken this job in Detroit, I can barely make it to 2:30. I don’t know what’s changed, or what’s changing, but I feel like I’ve lost something. I no longer carry lightning.”
Callie wears these heels to teach sixth-graders the first book in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, The Lightning Thief. I first read the book when my son found it in middle school. I loved and and wished it had been around when I struggled through Greek mythology. The reason I’ve spent the last few months savoring a new translation of The Odyssey is because the Percy Jackson series demystified these stories.
Unlike me, Callie doesn’t love The Lightning Thief: “I think there’s too much action that simply overtakes the characters, fast,” she says, adding, “However, any student I’ve taught recently, including my 6th graders, love Percy Jackson, so I do my best to make the story come alive for them.” She succeeds. One group of boys writes a rap with the refrain “I’m a half-blood, I’m a half-blood,” and Callie says, “Today, it felt like we not only held lightning but threw it and set the room on fire.”
The fire-filled moment is rare in this particular job. Later Callie writes about leaving this classroom because “There was no room for story.”
In chapter 9, Callie anticipates another lightning moment. She plans to teach her students how to do Blackout Poems, but her fellow teacher disagrees — rather violently — because Callie’s plan doesn’t fit the department’s objectives. “He will review The Lightning Thief,” she laments.
All of this coalesces around Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, the album she plays while prepping for class. The story shifts from this moment, when she doesn’t feel strong, to another, terrible moment, when she did. Percy Jackson’s story is part of it all.
“One story helps me understand another,” she writes.
The word “lightning” appears throughout Twirl, helping Callie understand her career, her students, her lesson plans, the man she chooses for her husband, even the weather. By the end of the book Callie has gone on her own hero’s journey, has rediscovered her lightning bolt, and is once again setting classrooms and library rooms on fire.
Better yet, she says, “I can wear heels all day again.”
Browse more about Twirl: my life with stories, writing & clothes by Callie Feyen
“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro