What are the details of your devotion?

“And you too can be carved anew by the details of your devotion” (Mary Oliver, 2004, p. 88).

Rest in peace, Mary Oliver. You were the first poet whose poetry I remembered by heart. The aforementioned quote is from her poetry book Long Life.

The “details” of my devotion include marking how many miles I’ve ran each week, reading during dinner time, and starting tonight, I’d like to get to bed by 10pm… Starting tomorrow, I’d like to wake up by 5 to work on some film ideas again. Thank you, Mary, for reminding me about my devotions.

Over the past two months, I have been reading Sylvia Aston-Warner’s autobiography, Myself. I was first interested in her education philosophy, but then became more interesting in her writing style. I’m writing these quotes down for I think I’ll return to them often.

“That creative force,” says Havelock Ellis, “which gives us no rest until we have finally given it representation.” (Sylvia Ashton-Warner, 1967, p. 40). Yes, so please, this is what you’ll get of me, if you were to have me: this constant state of restlessness.

On integrating the “external” and “internal” of children:

“I think that an integrated person would be a peaceful person. Look how it goes with some people, thoroughly fragmented and not peaceful to know. Disrupting people, I think that an integrated person end a peaceful person, don’t you?” (Warner, 1967, p. 110).The “external” were English words Sylvia Ashton-Warner wanted to teach that are meaningful to Maori children. “To give them words they lived with”, including jail, police, and blood, but also dance, song, canoe. What words do children need to be given nowadays?  Sometimes, the drawings and makings of 3-D art come before verbal words. And what is going on internally? I want to learn more and perhaps all I can do now is to simply listen and observe. Relate the outside to the inside.

On the million-dollar question of being the caretaker of the family and an artist:

“How can I do this thing? Serve my family or serve my work? I’ve got to reconcile the woman and the artist or the conflict between them will blow me asunder, scatter my pieces to the ends of the Pacific …” (Warner, 1967, p. 115) I don’t think she was ever able to find the balance, but she did have a loving and supportive husband who took care of her children whenever she needed to retreat to her studio to create and write.

On taking on a student who could not see (but could feel, dance, sing, and eventually play the piano):

“It seemed she could see by the confident way she made for the door and the steep steps beyond … this trust she had in the world about her.” (Warner, 1967, p. 141)This trust she had in the world about her… perhaps this is what we owe to the next generation. Is this trust unique to certain individuals, circumstances, or environment?


On a hierarchy of needs and well-being:

“Unless I am warm I cannot work, unless I work I cannot be well, unless I am well I cannot love and unless I love I do not live …” (Warner, 1967, p. 147). Thank goodness I have robust radiator in my room. NYC’s heating seems to be holding up pretty well for cold winters.


On sacrifices and revelations:

“So I got myself off with books and food thinking two things: that anything worthwhile has its price, especially a thing like freedom, and that surely I could pay this price without extravagant regret, a couple of days’ absence from school and home; and that teaching, I found with alarm, meant more to me than I’d ever supposed and was sending down stiff taproots into my heart.” (Warner, 1967, p. 147). If you’re at a crossroads, as yourself this: can you pay this price without extravagant regret?

More revelations, during this week: too often, children laugh in surprise. This can be confused with laughing at each other. This, I can relate. I once laughed at a funeral because there was a loose chicken that was walking around and about. Probably not the best time for laughing though, but it certainly caught me by surprise. Laughter can be a reaction to something surprising (Warner, 1967, p. 158)

More phrases I just loved from her writing:

From her lover to Sylvia:

“You know that we would both have a better day after seeing each other for a moment” (p. 161).  My days always become better after seeing you, even for a moment.

“Ideas must be realized. If life amounts to more than that, ideas materializing, then I do not, so far, no it” (p. 162). I have a few ideas that need to be materialized. The question is when will I get to them?

“New love survives on the thrill of not knowing each other — illusion, surprise, discovery … but when the discovery is complete love no longer lives on thrill alone but supplements itself. To survive it must find in the discovered some further store of nourishment; common interest, filled need. Where Where this is found love widens and deepens but where it is absent love dies. To survive, love must change … because love is a living thing and all life changes in growth. The change need not indicate the death of love but its normal movement from one stage to another, each stage fulfilling its sphere, from the thrill of new love to the strength of mature. As love moves form one season to another, accept the change, my heart, without comparison, question or regret, for in its changing lies the evidence of its reality.” (p. 164). Love is movement.

To her lover:

“When you grieve, Saul, you grieve like anything … you’re a marvelous griever. When you read you forget we exist and when you work it’s the same. When you love you go straight at it and when you sleep you die. No overlapping of reality and fantasy and we get this uncannily accurate choice of words in your poems.” (p. 167)

On children misbehaving:

“Not that I don’t know all too brilliantly the reason of our common ills: the constant thwarting of desire within ourselves, in me and in the children. This desperate longing in us all to get and do what we want to do.” (p. 175). So please: work with me, not against me.

On being herself:

“I must be true to myself. Strong enough to be true to myself. Brave enough to be strong enough to be true to myself. Wise enough, to be brave enough, to be strong enough, to be true enough to shape myself from what I actually am.” Just give it a go.

What is your ambition, reader?

What to do? To be fair or to be kind? Naturally, I will be kind, but the challenge is to remain fair.

On logical vs. artistic person:

Logical person: builds fact on fact and finally comes to his conclusion.

Artistic person: decides his conclusion intuitively, with a personal bias, then fits in the reasons afterward.

That sounds just about right.

On dealing with children who challenges the classroom harmony:

“To deal with the violence in others, one needs first to deal with one’s own.” (p. 239)

To deal with ________  in others, one needs to first deal with one’s own.

  1. love
  2. violence
  3. insecurity
  4. imperfection



“When things happen, you don’t get them down. There’s no time”. (p. 224)

And that’s okay. I’d much rather be living than writing, for I can always write later.





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