I once got into a rather tense conversation about the song More Than Words. The conflict began when my friend said that these beautiful, harmony-singing boys were asking for physical contact — words were not enough.
I was aghast.
“C’mon, Callie. What else could this song mean?”
“Lots of things,” I shouted, and began listing the many ways there were to express one’s admiration, adoration, and, OK fine, LOVE for someone else.
“You could show up to their basketball games, you could buy them their favorite candy bar, you could let them choose the movie you’ll see that night.” I’m pretty sure I was counting off on my fingers — passionately — the myriad of ways there are to say, “You’re fantastic, but don’t touch me.”
It’s a funny memory, and I know my friend had a point, but what I was so adamant about was my belief that the the band Extreme was insisting that they were tired of hearing the words “I love you” from their mates. They wanted to hear, “I love you” in a new way.
What I was trying to express was that words can be felt.
At the time I worked in a middle school with a team of hilarious and smart teachers I was lucky enough to call friends. While we were in meetings I usually wrote in my planner, and everyone assumed I was taking meticulous notes and making to-do lists. What I was doing was writing down snippets of conversations that would soon be turned into inside jokes. At winter break and before summer I handed them each a colorful collage that captured our camaraderie.
Another year I was teaching a group of 8th-graders that I called “grizzly bears.” My great friend and colleague across the hall (who taught this group as well and fully agreed with me) scoured the dollar aisle at Target for 15 gifts — one for each day I had left with them — and wrote 15 notes to me. She placed them in a bag and put it on my desk before I got to school.
That same year she and I spent the afternoon in a used bookstore picking out two books for each of our students as a graduation present. We went to a pub later and wrote notes to each student, telling them why we picked each story specifically for them. Both of us laughed and maybe wiped away tears over how sentimental we’d gotten over one of the most challenging groups of students we’d ever taught.
Another time, as a parting gift, I took several memories from a year spent teaching another group of 8th-graders and put them into a poem inspired by a poem Nancie Atwell wrote:
inspired by “CTL Soup” by Nancie Atwell
Begin by sprinkling sunlight
on a warm afternoon in Maryland
Add a droop of blood
from each month of our births
Stir in the pages of To Kill A Mockingbird, The Outsiders, and Speak
instead of sugar
bake in some smiles that you get from “his only tooth?” and “You’re so hot!”
and snow days
Leave the “Can we switch seats,” and “Will we have homework?,” and “UGH! ENGLISH!”
Add the comfort of your favorite sweatpants, blankets, or flip-flops
Frost it with a cloud
for each day we’ve been together
Fold in the fear —
(Fold it in — don’t stir — you have to be careful with fear)
from the days I think I can’t teach
or you think you can’t learn
Take the calluses from forming just
the right words —
words that give me shivers,
or put tears in my eyes,
or make me laugh out loud in Starbucks
when I read your writing.
Blanch green grass from the day
we all played SPUD
Take a snip of happiness
Stir in the early morning sun
Stir in the many colors
Of this classroom
Then, as it simmers,
a simmer of 132 days
throw in knowledge
(Remember Scout, Mayella, Tom, Atticus, memoirs, Christmas stories, Soundtrack of your Life)
sprinkle in memories —
a grandpa that only eats guacamole
keep stirring — all this needs to keep moving
stare in the pot and watch the soup swirl by us
in the maelstrom of images
that are us.
I wrote a similar poem for my friends at Tweetspeak:
A Poem for Writers
with a drowsy butterfly
or a box that isn’t a box, but could be a box
a puffer fish
a couple of snakes
Start with what you love
don’t worry where it falls
all you’re doing is paying attention
and that is a form of love
Go deeper and deeper into healing
as you hold different sorts of things:
wild mountain thyme
the different colors of nail polishes in your drawer
all the blankets in your house
Work on it and work on it and work on it
and you still might not know what you have
everything is about desire
a boundary is where something begins
So acknowledge your whole fabric
and ask yourself
what is it that you will return to?
In a world where touch is quite dangerous, I find comfort knowing I can use my words to express how I feel. These days I’m using as many words as I can.
Next time you’re wishing for a hug from a friend, consider all the memories you and that person hold between you. Write them down and see if you can find a poem in all of it. Somehow begin to make that giant pot of memory soup.
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A Writer’s Dream Book
“Callie Feyen has such a knack for telling personal stories that transcend her own life. In my years in publishing, I’ve seen how hard that is—but she makes it seem effortless, and her book is such a pleasure. It’s funny, it’s warm, it’s enlightening. Callie writes about two of the most important things in life—books and clothes—in utterly delightful and truly moving ways. I’m impressed by how non-gimmicky and fresh her writing is. I love this book.”