Diane Vogel Ferri is a teacher, poet and writer. Her essays have been published in Scene Magazine, Cleveland Christmas Memories, Raven’s Perch, and by Cleveland State University among others. Her poems can be found in numerous journals. Her chapbook, Liquid Rubies, was published by Pudding House. The Volume of Our Incongruity was published by Finishing Line Press. Diane’s essay, “I Will Sing for You” was featured at the Cleveland Humanities Fest in 2018. Her novel, The Desire Path can be found on Amazon. She is a graduate of Kent State University and holds an M.Ed from Cleveland State University.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

One of my favorite Halloween memories is the year my girlfriend Patty and I went out as the Laugh-In characters Gladys Orphmsby and Tyrone. Whenever someone would answer the door I would start hitting Patty with my purse and calling her a dirty old man and we'd laugh hysterically every time. Upon leaving we'd say Merry Christmas and we thought that was really funny as well. I wish I had a photograph of Patty and I , but this photo of Ruth Buzzi will have to do......And I just love pumpkins.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Snow and Fall




There is something poignant and bittersweet to me when snow falls on the autumn leaves - like Mother Nature can get as confused as we humans do sometimes. Since I am in the midst of a little confusion of my own right now - this is strangely comforting to me.



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Damage

Children are not resilient
as those who hurt them like to say.
They are not buoyant in a sea of insecurity,
and do not forget what they see and hear -
or what they never see and hear.
Like a camouflaged white winter rabbit
children know how to be quiet and survive.

Humiliating words, indifferent glances,
missing hugs, a blow to a helpless body
breaks something inside. It heals in a crooked way,
leaving damage that burrows into a wordless place.
One day the unspoken will speak:
talking back to authority, arguing with a teacher.

He will whisper your mama to someone,
ask a little girl to have sex.
She will throw food in the cafeteria,
leave homework on the kitchen table,
start a fight on the playground.

He will choose to do nothing with his worthless life.
She will have babies for the unconditional love.
The wordless pain might resurface and run away,
buy a gun, rob a store and kill someone -
someone in the way of that quiet damage.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Traveling Mercies

I am hosting the neighborhood book club tomorrow night (Monday). I chose the book Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. I have to admit I am a little nervous about how the book will be received. Lamott has been described as a "dreadlock wearing, politically liberal, born-again Christian who uses biting humor - and sometimes foul language - when she describes her deeply held personal faith." She's a recovered alcoholic and bulimic who has raised her son alone. I love her writing, her wit, and her candor. Some of her sentences make me laugh out loud and some bring me to tears. I love that she is a Christian who freely admits how hard it is to keep the faith, to trust, to be good, to keep getting up every morning and trying again. I love that in Traveling Mercies she has a whole chapter on her weird hair, and how, even though she is a white woman she finally found her true beauty and freedom in dreadlocks. (I can SO relate to that chapter.) She calls her plump thighs "the aunties" and has a chapter about body issues and being on a beach vacation with tiny teens, and that even though they're perfect now, we all know that they have the same self-consciousness we all do.
I wanted to tell them the good news - that at some point you give up on ever looking much better than you do. Somehow, you get a little older, a little fatter, and you end up going a little easier on yourself. Or a lot easier. And I no longer felt ugly, maybe just a little ridiculous. I held my head a bit higher: I touched the aunties gently, to let them know I was there, and that made me feel less afraid. Ugliness is creeping around in fear, I remembered. Yet, here I was, almost naked, and - to use the medical term - flabbier than shit, but deeply loyal to myself.
I forced myself not to check out their butts.
Maybe all the book club ladies will relate to some of that, but it's all the Christianity I'm nervous about. But, you never know, maybe it will speak to someone - quietly - unexpectedly. I hope so.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

October Sunrise




I've been going through a period that I can only (and profoundly) call the "Blahs". I dont know if it's the aforementioned underlying stress of the economy, politics, etc. I can't put my finger on it. I felt like I slogged through the week - went through the motions with little joy or motivation. Yesterday was going to be a busy day and I tried to face it one step at a time and not get anxious about anything because I knew it wasn't worth it. I had to leave early to get bagels for work. This is a responsibility I take seriously because I know how much the teachers look forward to Friday morning breakfast. One time I got a speeding ticket less than a mile from work because I was in such a rush.

ANYWAY! This is what I saw when I left early yesterday. An answer to my prayers in a way I never would have imagined. I can't see the sunrise from my house - only in leaving early on a bagel quest. I had to take these photos from the moving car - but wow.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other, nothing is hidden from its heat. Psalm 19:5-6


Thursday, October 23, 2008

By the Lake

I sit before the beauty
to comprehend
how small I am
how small my concerns are
to learn how much
I need to surrender
to swallow the wallowing discontent
to acknowledge the only things
I truly believe in
to live the day in a new way
by the renewing of my mind
to feel, if only for this moment
worthy of love, empowered to forgive
to review my skewed vision
to re-angle the lens
and hear the music again

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fragile as Glass

This is a glass plate my daughter gave me (hmmm - did it remind her of me?) Today it illustrates how I feel. I don't think it's just the craziness of my work schedule. I think that we absorb stress without being conscious of it. Stressors are all around us. Even if you initiated a moratorium on all media and didn't hear about the economy and your shriveling 401K, or the innocent young men and women dying in Iraq, or the Presidential candidates calling each other names like 9 year olds - the vibrations of dis-ease are still all around us. There are political signs and billboards, there are conversations in the work hallways, there are YouTube videos being mailed to you - it's hard to get away from! I feel an inner tension and weakening patience. I have decided to start saying a daily prayer that I treasured long ago. It helps.

Create in me a pure heart, O God
and renew a right spirit within me.
Do not cast me from Your presence
or take Your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
Psalm 51:10-12

AMEN.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Time


Now time goes away like sugar
dissolved but still sweet, wafting
through the smell of burning leaves,
root beer floats, plastic dolls.

Hear the soft scrape of a snow shovel
or a rake, our songs in the back seat of a car,
my mother's voice at the piano,
the baby crying in a wooden-slatted crib.

Clusters of bicycles looped in tissue paper
decorate a neighborhood,
little legs pumping months after the snowman
in daddy's hat melted in the front yard.

Toads in shoe boxes, fireflies in jars,
water in a plastic pool soaking up the sun's warmth.
Children waiting through an unending,
capricious summer day.

Feel the quietude of a Sunday morning,
sense the sparseness of each new day.
Nothing happened today, but yesterday the milkman
and the crazy-haired egg lady delivered their goods.

Lying in a pile of leaves, dreaming
in the daylight, finding faces in the clouds,
waiting for something - but not knowing
the intermezzo would ever end.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Poem by Rainer Maria Rilke


Why am I reaching again for the brushes?
When I paint your portrait, God,
nothing happens.
But I can choose to feel you.

At my senses' horizon
you appear hesitantly,
like scattered islands.

Yet standing here, peering out,
I'm all the time seen by you.

The choruses of angels use up all of heaven.
There's no more room for you
in all that glory. You're living
in your very last house.

All creation holds its breath
listening within me,
because, to hear you
I keep silent.
from the Book of Hours

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The UnDebate on Education

With all the other #!$#@# going on in America now, education only rated as the last question in the last debate. I was disappointed with what I heard too.
I 'm going to preface my thoughts by telling you that I have worked in four school systems and eight school buildings over the past 30 years. Suppose that each elementary school building has an average staff of 30 teachers and other professionals. That means I have worked with more than 240 other teachers (many have come and gone over that time too). So I think I have a decent perspective on teachers in Middle America. I'm a special education teacher, so I have had to work collaboratively with many teachers as well as spend time in their classrooms.
They say America's schools are failing and are not equitable. The politicians don't really know what's going on so they came up with charter schools and school vouchers. It's hard to understand how giving a small percentage of families money to go to another school is the answer to equal education and improving education in America. If you can explain that to me, please do. Here's a keen idea - how about giving the schools we already have some more money and resources and make that available to all schools, not just a chosen few? Or how about helping schools instead of punishing them as parts of No Child Left Behind does? I'm against school vouchers because they won't solve the problem.
Each of the candidates brought up paying teachers more, but you know what? I've never heard a teacher complain about salary. Never. If you ask any teacher what they would like, most of them will say smaller classes. Why? So they can pay more attention to each child and assure learning for all of their students.
Both of the candidates used the word "competition" as something schools need more of. This is disturbing to me. The word competition connotes that there are winners and losers. Shouldn't all the schools in America be winners? My assumption is that "competition" is supposed to make for better, more hard-working teachers. Here's where my 240 teachers come in - I will tell you honestly that I have never worked with a teacher that I would not describe as dedicated and hard-working. There have been teachers whose teaching styles I didn't particularly like, or even teachers who did not treat children exactly the way I would - but I would not say that they were not trying as hard as they could to teach their students.
What teachers DO want is time to do their job without weeks of punishing test preparation, technology that is updated and actually works, smaller classes and parental involvement.
I applaud Obama for having the guts to bring up the responsibility of parents at the debate. I also agreed with his statement that early childhood education is crucial to doing well in school and for the social skills that so many children come to school lacking.
The candidates mentioned keeping good teachers and McCain said if they weren't "we" would find them another job. Really? Most states have a mandated mentoring program now that is meant to ease entry-year teachers into the profession and give them the support they need so they will stay in the teaching profession. This is to prevent teachers leaving within the first five years as the trend has been for quite a while. But teachers don't leave because of pay or because they don't like teaching - they leave because of the pressure to do so much with so little.
Last on my list of rants is that McCain pulled out the "special needs"card - but he was in error. He said that no one knows more about autism than Sarah Palin - but Sarah Palin does not have an autistic child. She has a child with Down's Syndrome - not even close. Secondly, she has not even begun to raise that child yet - he is only a few months old. I knew a family with a Down's Syndrome child and I remember one story of how the whole family and all of the child's teachers took two years - not weeks or months - to teach him the alphabet. Every night - for two years. He's in his late thirties now and continues to live with his parents. Those people know about raising a special needs child.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poverty

I did not know that bloggers were writing about poverty today until I got home from work and started reading some other blogs. It's funny though because I was thinking of writing about something that I think is in direct correlation to the poverty that is all around us right here in the United States. I have been disturbed for a couple weeks by seemingly insignificant moments with my fifth and sixth grade students. Here is a sample:
Two students arguing about whose family is more "ghetto" and who has more relatives in jail. (They both wanted to have the most).
While discussing the consequences of failing grades in school, one student, obviously imitating an adult, said - "they'll just say - I don't care about F's! I don't care about school - school don't tell my child what to do!"
When I asked students to think about words that describe their neighborhood their first words were -blood and thugs and people screaming.
During a geography lesson I asked a student what people in the Midwest do for a living and he answered - gamble.
I have tried for five weeks to get sixth grade boys to write in a journal. One boy had not written one word until the other day when an eighth grade girl came in to tutor. Now I understand they are sixth grade boys and I understand that the girl was extremely distracting to them, but what they wrote in their journals was filled with obscenities and vulgarities. Blantant sexual scenes - and strangely they knew how to spell the key words correctly even when they can't seem to spell anything else correctly.
Those are just a few results of the poverty of money, parenting, attention and education that I deal with everyday. It's disturbing. A few years ago I went to a seminar on the values of poverty versus the values of the middle class. Middle class America teaches their children to value education, security and achievement. The values of poverty include relationships, entertainment and survival. We were told that in a poor neighborhood the family that has the most children is considered the "richest". They can't necessarily have more money - but they can have more children. Food for thought.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October Again

It is difficult for me to write or think about anything but October in October. The month of October is, of course, visually spectacular and it is also filled with wonderful childhood memories for me - the smell of burning leaves, the homemade scarecrows (of Dad's old clothes stuffed with leaves), big fat orange pumpkins on every doorstep, and the excitement of Halloween. But October is significant to me in a much more bittersweet way. October is the month that I changed forever. It was many, many years ago and nothing is more shocking to me than realizing how long ago it was because there is still a physical flinching in my body when I think of that time.
It was a wonderful and horrible time all at once. It was the fear of the unknown and the rush of something new all stirred into one pot in a secret chamber in my heart. It was a time that I gained knowledge that I could never unknow, when my spirit came alive and was terrorized all at once. Even with all the words and phrases that I know and seek out I cannot name the feeling of that October. Every year I think of the people that I believe God sent into my life then to rescue me from myself. Sadly, they are no longer in my life but I will always be grateful to them.
Back then I was angry at God, and I shouted questions to Him nightly. I had a lifelong faith, and that was the only thing that did not change that October. I can now concede that I will never understand why it all had to happen, but it was the quintessential God hitting me over the head with a two-by-four since all of His subtle whisperings had been lost on me.
Everything I thought I knew about myself was false, but everything I knew about God was still true.
I want to say I walked through the fire and didn't get burned, but that would be a lie. I was badly burned - but also, in time, incredibly healed. I wanted that October and the following months to be my one trauma, my one breakdown, my one time of questioning my God - but there have been other times since then - more heartache, more fear. Even if more is to come I know that God is unchanging. His grace is sufficient.
I spent years after that apologizing, explaining, doing penance, and then one year I wrote on the front of my journal - no more apologies. This is the path God sent me on - the good and the bad, the right and the wrong.
The path is life itself.
I cannot change that October , nor would I want to, because, as horrific as some of the memories are - so is the beauty of salvation, the tender comfort, healing and hope that only comes from God.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Emerald Necklace




Cleveland is blessed with an incredible park system - the Cleveland Metroparks. Its nickname is the Emerald Necklace because it encircles the city of Cleveland. The park system has sixteen reservations consisting of over 21,000 acres of park land. You can reach beauty and nature in minutes from the city itself or from any suburb. I took these photos yesterday on a walk.



Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Perfect October Day in Ohio



I looked up to see
the colors of life in my heaven,
the benediction of the waving leaves,
their gasp of flashy beauty
and reflection in the cooling waters.
I felt the rhythm of Earth,
constant and unchanging as
a breathing body or a turning season,
immutable as God's love.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

All Dogs Go to Heaven


This is from an email I received. It would be funnier if you could see the actual signs, but these statements alternated on outdoor signs for two churches. The first is a Catholic (C) church and the church responding is a Presbyterian (P)church . It made me LOL. This is my little buddy Stella. One can only hope I guess.What do you think?


C- All dogs go to heaven.

P- Only humans go to heaven - read the Bible.

C- God loves all His creations dogs included.

P- Dogs do not have souls. This is not open for debate.

C- Catholic dogs go to heaven. Presbyterian dogs can talk to their pastors.

P- Converting to Catholicism does not magically grant your dog a soul.

C- Free dog souls with conversion.

P- Dogs are animals. There aren't any rocks in heaven either.

C- All rocks go to heaven.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Umoja

(I don't know about you but I feel completely fed up with this country's politics and problems right now. We are so self-involved and so dependent on so many things to live the way we live. I wrote this poem several years ago after reading a newpaper article about Umoja. Today it reminds me that there is a world of people out there making their own way, struggling with issues and injustices we've never dreamed of.)


Sitting cross-legged on a sisal mat,
thatched roof and the equator sun above,
Rebecca holds the 13 year-old girl's hand
You don't have to marry that old man
even if he is my brother.
Rebecca goes house to house
You don't have to have sex with a man
that beats you, exposes you to HIV,
a husband with other wives.

Shamed by rape and then abandoned
Rebecca's women grow a circle of mud
and dung huts in parched and barren grassland
and call it Umoja, in Swahili, unity.

A sanctuary for Sarah's little girl body
from bearing a child that would have shredded
her insides, causing her to leak, to smell,
to be shunned into a beggar's existence.

No men live in Umoja,
a haven for Mary from circumcision,
mutilated genitals that would have forever
brought pain and denied pleasure.

In Umoja children go to school for the first time,
women work in the cultural center
inviting tourists into the beauty of Kenya,
selling red and white Samburu beaded necklaces.

Rebecca ignores spiteful men setting up
their own village, spying, failing to imitate
Umoja's success but hiring the men to haul firewood
as women change the rhythm, the power of a village.

Rebecca throws back her brown cloud of hair,
laughs at stone throwing and death threats
as she boards a plane to a world conference on
gender impowerment an ocean away.
If you remain silent
no one thinks you have anything to say.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

We've Come a Long Way, Baby!


Somehow I am positive that no one that reads this blog is not registered to vote by today, but here is a little further inspiration:

It was only 88 years ago women were granted the right to vote. Before then women were jailed for picketing the White House and carrying signs asking for the vote. In 1917 forty prison guards went on a rampage against 33 women wrongly convicted of "obstructing sidewalk traffic." They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night bleeding and gasping for air. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her our cold. Her cellmate Alice Cosu thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack! Alice Paul went on a hunger strike but was held down and force fed with a tube. For weeks the women's only water came from an open pail and their food infested with worms. A doctor said "Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity."

This was less than 100 years ago - some of our grandmothers were alive then - talk about injustice! (see yesterday's post)Thank you our suffragette sisters!

Monday, October 6, 2008

COEXIST XII - Small Injustices

I need to learn to COEXIST with small injustices. I have always had a sense of righteous indignation when it comes to children and that is why I became a special education teacher. Other than that, as a child and young adult I was a tolerant, go-with-the-flow kind of person. In my mid-thirties, no longer having any choice, I learned to feel anger, rage and disappointment. Ever since then I've had much more difficulty handling anything I find unfair or unjust. I struggle with it and pray about it and think about Jesus famously overturning the money changer tables in righteous indignation. Does that mean we can do that too?
At work my frustrations are in advocacy for my students, yet time after time I have been slapped down for those legitimate concerns, so I go to work telling myself to keep my big trap shut. When my former church planned to move to another community I became the unwitting spokesperson in the fight against it, but ultimately put in my place when they moved anyway. I've been an incessant letter writer and have sometimes regretted my words (or the fact that they were in writing!) My poor husband has received more than his fair share, but fewer and fewer as the years go by, so I've made a little progress.
This leads to the weird thing that happened today: In our city there has been a controversial plan to build a lifestyle center/shopping center. Its entrance would be near my neighborhood, so petitions were started and outrage expressed at council meetings. I wasn't entirely against it. Last week signs against the issue were placed at both entrances to my development as well as on over a dozen front yards. Our association has deed restrictions that are fairly rigid and everyone likes it that way because they enhance the appearance of the neighborhood. Well, one of them is NO SIGNS!. So I got my panties in a twist about how one particular person could overrule the deed restriction and decide that he could speak for all of us. I couldn't stand the thought of looking at all those signs for another month so ---you guessed it ---I wrote a letter. I edited it several times into a more polite and unoffensive one too! It said, as secretary for the association (which I am ) I was reminding them that signs are not allowed. I could have left it at that but noooooo - I had to get my two cents in saying that signs at the entrances purport to speak for all of us and each voter has the right to their own opinion and vote. I also added something about all the lesser complaints that had been heard at meetings over the years and that if we make exceptions now then we can expect to continue that precedent blah, blah, blah.
In the darkness of night I put them in the offenders' mailboxes last night. This morning as I drove to work I wondered if any signs would be taken down by the time I got home. Then - when I got to work I checked email and saw that someone had informed me that the whole project has been canned!!!!! Today! The same day I sent my letter! The day I just had to spout off!
Is God trying to tell me something???
PS - all the signs are still there. :(

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Her Favorite October


Within a yellow glowing
a smoky fire burned
the contents of two hearts and minds
as fluid as the air
rekindled, reunited
from a time of ashy tears

from the sweetness of the chocolate
their lips, their tongues, their kiss
it all tasted good and true
and he said that he loved her
and she said that he was right
and only two best friends
could have created what they did

the day transcended their darkness
the hope sparked into a flame
the lonely days were smothered
in a smoldering autumn burn
their journey will continue down the path
of leaves and grass and snow
and this October is her favorite October
because of them

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Death of Common Sense

This email was forwarded to me the other day and I thought I'd share it because it seemed particularly timely in these months of political rhetoric and , well --- it made sense.

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved friend Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was since birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as knowing when to come in from the rain, why the early bird gets the worm, life isn't always fair and maybe it was my fault.
Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more that you earn) and reliable parenting strategies (adults, not children are in charge). His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a six year-old charged with sexual harrassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.
Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job they themselves failed to do in disciplining their unruly children. It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer aspirin, sun lotion or a Band-Aid to a student, but could not inform the parents when a student became pregnant or wanted to have an abortion.
Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband; churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to recognize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap and was awarded a huge settlement.
Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Trust and Truth; his wife, Discretion; his daughter Responsibility; and his son, Reason. He is survived by three step-brothers; I Know My Rights, Someone Else is to Blame and I'm a Victim. Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Why Seasons Change

Barren October maples bow
to November oaks, brown leaves
the size of pancakes finally slip
from ancient suburban trees.
Buckeyes collect themselves
at the edge of the sidewalk
looking good enough to eat.
Sycamores smell as sweet
as a new summer breeze
as sweet as the day
you first saw him.

Balmy March, but tufts of snow
still sit by the roadside like
dirty clouds, or used cotton balls
stuck in the vee of branches,
their beauty long past. The sun
has not penetrated their souls.
Their shapes as varied as the flakes
that formed them, unique as the
first strawberry on your tongue,
as new as the day
you first saw her.