the clam

“And when the broken-hearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer
Let it be

For though they may be parted there is
Still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer
Let it be”

( “Let It Be”, John Lennon and Paul McCartney) 

My dog, Gingersnap, got out the other day. In the moment of her (apparently much sought after) liberation, she sprinted with the speed of exhilaration, evading capture for far too long and creating quite a caper. As I witnessed her escape and before the fear of potentially losing my sweet (albeit noisy) companion set in, I realized that her fleeing the confines of this house was quite the metaphor for how I believe many of us will feel when finally able to live fully in community again.

Except, I would honestly stay shuttered in this house for another year if somehow it would exonerate my kids and allow them the opportunity to play with their friends again.

I suppose this sounds like the voice of privilege. My kids are healthy. They are cared for and housed and clothed and fed and nurtured every single day. They have a backyard to play in and a safe neighborhood through which they run freely. Believe me, there is not a single moment on any given day where I lose sight of our privilege, especially at this moment in time. But that abundance does not release them from the grip of the emotional impact of this pandemic.

Funny story, when all of this was just a whisper and not yet a vivid reality, it was my hyper-anxious germaphobic child that I was worried about. I just knew this invisible predator of sorts would overwhelm his sensibility and we would be back to sleepless nights wrought with panic attacks. However, while his anxiety has seen an uptick, he knows how to verbalize his concerns and how to ask for help…and he knows how to channel his anxious energy into crafty projects (literally, in the first week and a half of this debacle, he feverishly constructed a cotton candy machine out of materials he could find around the house…don’t ask…it was a long ten days).

Yet, as the days have worn on, it is my younger son, the one who is my heart walking around outside of my body, who seems to be struggling the most. He puts on a good face most days…does his distance learning work, plays soccer in the yard, relishes the opportunity to drink a hot chocolate every morning. But there are other times where he is obviously angry for what seems to be no good reason…where he is constantly complaining of being tired…where he just seems sad. He doesn’t always want to talk about it. He worries about making other people feel badly. I know this because I do the same thing. My family called me the clam growing up because I just held everything in and I see him repeating my history. It is not a good way to go through life.

“I wrote my way out
When the world turned its back on me
I was up against the wall
I had no foundation
No friends and no family to catch my fall
Running on empty, with nothing left in me but doubt
I picked up a pen
And wrote my way out”

(“Wrote My Way Out” Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Aloe Blacc)

Thank goodness for his social studies teacher. She has asked him to write a “coronavirus journal” each week as a way to document this moment in history and that has been my only way into understanding where his brain is in all of this. He seems to recognize that it is the only comfortable way for him to get the discomfort and the heartache out into the world…he seems to wield the power of his words effortlessly…and in their wake, he is free for a few days–relieved of their weight.  If I didn’t already fully understand the power of writing, his work in this journal certainly would have taught it to me. Some weeks he has let his comedic personality flow through, but lately, his entries have just been sad.

This was his entry on Friday (he is eleven years old…):

“So, I don’t really know what to talk about today. Today hasn’t been that interesting. All of quarantine has been really boring. I really miss my friends. It’s like I’m living in a hole that I can’t climb out of. It’s like a hole has been dug in me and there are wasps flying around in me all day. People are always saying ‘We will get through this together.’  It sounds good the first few times, but by the millionth time it’s like there is no spirit left in the words. They are supposed to be convincing us, but now it sounds like they are trying to convince themselves.”

If we think our kids are impervious to the trauma of this pandemic, we are blinding ourselves to the complete truth. It is arrogance to imply that because they are kids they have nothing to worry about, no real stress, no troubles. Their whole lives have come to a screeching halt. The adults of this world are struggling to muster the emotional competence to negotiate this crisis, why on earth would children be able to navigate these waters any easier? Their stress is real…their confusion, profound. The impact is vast and beyond what we are able to currently know and that scares the hell out of me–both for my own kids and for the ones that I teach. Yes, kids are resilient humans who tend to be wiser than the adults around them. But we need to pay attention…we need to give credit to the weight of their feelings…we need to honor their experience for being just as difficult as our own…we need to treat them as humans in need…we need to stop and see their truth.

This same sensitive kiddo is preparing to play his guitar and sing in a virtual talent show for school. He decided people needed hope so he is singing “Let It Be.” I mean, he also worships the ground Sir Paul McCartney walks upon, but he knows this song can help people feel better and he wanted to try to make a difference.

Injecting hope into the world despite the “wasps” stinging him on the inside. Maybe he is going to be okay after all?

 

Reset hope

I realized this morning that I haven’t worn my glasses in days. Well, I think it has been days, though honestly, it could be a week or more. I actually don’t remember when I wore them last. In fact, if you asked me for their current location, a reaching guess would be the best I could offer.

And yet, I don’t seem to have missed them…their ever present weight on my face, their incessant reminders of my aging eyes as I begrudgingly reach to remove them simply in order to read my computer screen, their gentle bounce as I jog the neighborhood…a gentle jog of memory for how the world moved when vertigo was a daily friend. I really haven’t missed any of those things…at least not enough to notice their absence.

But, that singular perspective doesn’t tell the whole story because in fact I do miss the presence of the distances in my life that required the glasses in the first place–my students across the classroom from me, ripe avocados from the other side of the produce section that glimmer with the hope of future guacamole, the screen at the gym that reveals my heart rate (in some way confirming that I have in fact worked out, as though the pounding heart and pouring sweat weren’t evidence enough).

Everything these days is in close proximity…my family, the pantry, my backyard, my desk. There is no distance that requires my glasses for clarity, only a distance that is too great for my glasses to clarify. I see my students on my computer screen…I read their words and hear their voices and in some ways they are still very present in my everyday. Yet, the absence of the vibrant richness of their presence marks everyday as a bit emptier than it could have been. This is not summer. This is not vacation. This is a collection of days that were promised and then revoked, without warning. Days etched now with the wispy shadow of what should be. Yet in the midst of this distance, my affection for my profession, for my school, for my community deepens, strengthens fueled by the lens of truth held up by space and time.

Even in these strange and unusual days, when we are sheltered in our homes from an invisible and indiscriminate adversary…when we are separated from people and places and produce (sorry, I miss the grocery store…a lot)…even when we are anxious, afraid, and uncertain…even now, gratitude has a way of unfurling in small moments as the first flower of spring offers hope that despite the desolation of winter, eventually the earth defrosts and new life comes to be.

And I think that has to be where my focus turns…toward the new life that has yet to take shape…the bud, still tightly wound, yet to reveal its beauty. My focus has to be on the gratitude for that moment yet to arrive. I am not diminishing in any way the very real concerns this virus instills. Trust me. I feel them deep within my core. That fear has overwhelmed and frozen my writing for over a week now and borrowed sound sleep from my mind’s vocabulary.

It’s just that I cannot exist in that hopeless fear driven space and expect to be of use to those who need me–including myself. And so, I am simply adding a new lens to the collection. This time, the lens of reset, the lens of renewal, the lens that will allow me gratitude for this pause in life and that will water seeds of hope for the goodness already present and the goodness yet to arrive.

I still don’t know where my glasses are…I’m not entirely sure when I will find them…but my vision feels sharper nonetheless.

(a poem for you in this moment…one that I shared with my students–whose insight was stunning, I might add–take a second to read it if you can…“Today” by Billy Collins)

 

 

u-turn

A temperamental sense of balance and an overly sensitive inner ear don’t make the best flight companions. Fortunately, the only moments of the journey that we tend to be at odds occur during takeoff as the plane climbs in altitude. My brain and my ear cannot seem to resolve their past communication issues and as such, are a bit  fluttery when presented with a challenge beyond navigating the balance challenges of a typical day. Each flight and airport present a unique set of circumstances, but discomfort of some kind reveals itself regardless of place or direction. Last night’s flight home brought forth one of the most courageous conversations my brain and my ear have had to flesh out in a long time.

At first, I was relieved. We seemed to be climbing in altitude slowly which always eases tension by allowing my head to adjust to the pressure changes gradually rather than all at once. And then we made a sort of u-turn. Planes turn all the time. No big deal. I sit just in front of the wing and by a window so my eyes can use the visual to explain the discomfort my head feels.

Last night felt different.

The turn was steeper and tighter and incredibly disorienting. There wasn’t a window that I could look through that could grant a stable visual. There seemed to be no steady point on which to focus, to center myself. Gorgeous pink clouds reflecting the beauty of the setting sun should have been distraction enough, but I simply couldn’t get my bearings and it equated to a terrifying minute or so during which the panic of the vertigo days flooded my system. My mind reeled toward flashes of the worst moments from that time swifter than I could stop it. Before I realized what was happening, my hands were shaking and my breath became shallow. Treacherous, sneaky fast, pervasive. Panic acts without notice and I wasn’t prepared to prevent it from persisting. My guard was down.

Eventually, after the plane leveled out, the pressure in my head did as well. I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and reminded myself that, despite the painful memories this u-turn invoked, the discomfort was limited, temporary. Despite that feeling of helplessness in mid air, I was okay–safe, balanced, headed home.  Another inhale, a breath of gratitude. The exhale, a prayer of peace.

I have these u-turn moments from time to time-I feel like in some strange way, in our own ways, we all do. A moment when something triggers my vertigo panic button or rips the stitches that contain my grief and suddenly I am swallowed up. Whether fleeting or lingering, the emotion is disorienting and even when I am surrounded by goodness and love, it can be hard to see it clearly enough…even when I know the feeling will be temporary and I am in charge of its dismantling, it can be hard to find my balance long enough to wait it out.

Yet, inevitably, the moment always levels out, the pressure of the panic subsides, I realize that I am held in love unconditionally-that I am safe, and I breathe. Will the vertigo come back some day? Almost definitely. Will that be awful? Um, probably… I can live with that aspect of my life, I have to. I don’t have to like it and from time to time, I’ll be caught in a bit of a u-turn moment, but this is my lot and with it, I can still do so much.

Inhale, gratitude…exhale, peace.

(Entry 29 in the king cake writing challenge!)

microcosm

The human collective encased within the parameters of the airport possesses all manner of oddities. While this mass of people exists in this singular place for merely a fleeting moment of time, the focus is not on community but more on the individual habits and procedures that will get us where we need to be, when we need to be there, with as little interaction as possible. Skillfully averted eyes and the incarnation of air pods have heightened the already palpable vibe of “don’t talk to me.” We place bags on the seats next to us in the terminal in an attempt to avoid having to sit too closely to a stranger…or maybe just to enjoy some personal space before boarding the plane. Magazines, that so many only ever purchase in the airport, as well as screens of varying shapes and sizes act as blinders, making us appear engrossed in something important that absolutely should not be disturbed. We all meander and move with purpose and intention and with no apparent need for those around us.

Which actually makes reasonable sense in the airport, but I wonder how often we walk through our larger communities in this way–turned completely inward, avoiding conversation and community, focused only on the needs and goals of the self. It feels easier to move through life solo–or at least with a very small tribe. The fewer people who rely on you, who need things, who look to you, who could possibly hurt and be hurt by you, the easier it is to make decisions because the impact feels compact. Yet, no matter how isolated we imagine ourselves to be, or how singular each action feels, no matter how secluded we expect we have made ourselves, ripples go out into the world…for better or for worse.

The thing is this–we were made to be with each other. We were made to associate rather than detach. Sure, life masquerades as simpler when we shield ourselves within a fortress of busy-ness and singularity, but we miss so much in avoiding the intricacies and attachments and beauty of those around us. People are not always easy. Relationships are often uncomfortable. But living in community with those around us constructs scaffolding that holds us accountable while also holding us in tenderness.

The thing is also this–just because we attempt to avoid interaction or just because we deny our place in any given society doesn’t erase our presence. So, consider instead, the power of your smile or a simple thank you or any other basic kindness that possesses the potential to elevate the quality of someone else’s day. Consider instead, that when we look up from our screens and books and busy-ness, there are people, both known and unknown, waiting to be noticed, deserving of recognition. Consider instead the vibrance and richness that could decorate not only our own lives but the world at large if we just took a moment to step out of ourselves and into relationship.

(not sure the day count holds anymore since I’m not writing in consecutive days…but I believe this would be Day 28)

(and also because I seem to have strayed from sharing poetry here…it’s one I’ve shared before but it is perfect for this particular blog…“Gate A-4” by Naomi Shihab Nye)

 

concession

Well, in order to preserve my sanity and that of my family, I’m changing the rules of this blog challenge–but by all means, there will still be king cake at the end. Despite recognizing days ago that this would have to happen, I hesitated to rearrange the challenge at all. In my weird brain, I had convinced myself that I would be letting people down (you know, like the 6 people who read this blog with any regularity–I was worried about them…). And even though I wasn’t really enjoying the writing after 12-14 hour days at school (difficult days at school) and even though I knew I needed to take care of myself first, I couldn’t bring myself to jeopardize the streak.

And then a good friend asked me who made the rules in the first place.

Yep, I made those rules so I could change those rules and it would be just fine. I could give myself a couple of more days off in the week without lessening the value of the work (actually, the work will probably get better). I could, quite simply take care of myself without having to answer to anybody else in doing so. And, if I am being honest, I do not give myself permission to do that often enough. The very same good friend also asked me to list the things that I do just for myself. I could not produce a rich and diverse list in return. Sure I could think of things like working out and writing and my Wednesday night class. But the working out has to happen at 5am at a sacrifice to sleep. And the writing, while most nights I love it, has also been crafted at a sacrifice to my family and to just giving my brain a break. In that moment, I realized a couple of things: First, I need to seek more ways to do things just for myself and (this is critical) not feel guilty for that. Second, I will be a better human for having done so.

So, the Carnival season blog a day challenge rules are changing. Instead of one day off per week, I’m taking three. And if I am traveling for work, I won’t force the issue. If a blog happens, great and if not, also okay. No king cake will be consumed between now and Mardi Gras Day. As long as I continue to maintain a regular writing habit between now and Mardi Gras Day, the king cake will be mine then and not before.

Excited to write with less pressure for a daily requirement. Excited to enjoy the process a bit more. Excited to take care of myself.

(Day 27)

propulsion

Footsteps–

Metered, methodical

propelled by necessity rather

than spring or even verve.

 

Purposeful–

Not a shuffle or saunter

but serious, maybe

tinged with resignation.

 

Carrying–

Weight beyond

her body as the sieve

of her mind, too fine, clings.

 

Progress?

Maybe…or maybe

that’s her chosen belief because

if she admitted she were only

treading water, if she realized the depth

of the ocean below…then

drowning becomes reality, and

progress a myth.

 

(Day 26…I am nearly positive I am changing the rules on this blog challenge, adding another day or two off, but tonight there was this poem. Again, honoring my commitment to share the requirement that my poetry students share their poetry no matter how uncomfortable. Still a work in progress. Sharing anyway.)

selfish?

I lost control of the remote and all television viewing when I married my husband twenty years ago. The birth of my kiddos only compounded this situation. In order for me to possess the power to decide what I will watch, I pretty much either have to be at home by myself or the last one awake (which is why I’m only on Season 3 of Downton Abbey with so many other seasons of so many other shows in an ever growing queue of  “to be viewed”). And I’m not going to lie, what the people in this household decide to watch remains questionable at best. To justify that statement, I should mention that currently these boys (lead by my husband) are flipping between some station with a guy selling vintage coins and a reality television show depicting people who go around the country in an effort to haggle and then buy other people’s junk. If somehow something else were to be added to the mix, I can almost positively promise it will be the Golf channel.

Riveting, right?

I wish I could say this lineup was an anomaly, except this happens just about every single Monday night with the remaining nights of the week reflecting equally debatable viewing options. Some days my lack of voice in these matters bothers me and pushes me ever closer to ensuring some kind of “she-shed” becomes a reality. However, at this point in my life, I often find myself grateful not to have to make another decision in the day. Honestly, with the way my days have been going, I would be happy not to turn the television on at all. I would be happy to enjoy the quiet, to find some stillness, to enjoy the peace of solitude. A few months ago, while out of town at a conference, I settled into a quiet hotel room where no one needed anything from me and where I fully intended to wield the remote without contest. Except, I didn’t. I didn’t watch a single show. I wrote and read and rested and my sense of well-being was restored.

My days are typically punctuated with noise, chatter, questions, complaints, jokes, laughter, and more. I’m not griping about that because I am grateful for my job, my students, my colleagues and my family. I am only noting that quiet moments in this span of my life are few and far between. I am constantly in a state of problem solving, constantly in response mode, constantly in motion. Spending the last couple of hours before falling asleep for the night in a state of calm, quiet relaxation seems to be a bit of a luxury or even a guilty pleasure. As a mom, those quiet hours do not exist when I am at home, and I struggle to find a means to give them to myself despite knowing that I am a better human when I have had this time to decompress. Life as we live it moves too fast for this kind of pause, yet I live in recognition of the necessity of it.

And so I guess my realization in this is that I need to spend less time frustrated over terrible television, feeling ignored or secondary, and more time placing my own self first and seeking even just a few moments of solitude. Even if that solitude has the ambient noise of someone proclaiming the value of mint condition coins…

(Day 25…I’m tired…I literally typed up my resignation from this challenge…and then erased it and wrote this instead…why don’t I do this blog challenge in the summer for goodness’ sake?!)

cloudless

Today was cloudlessly perfect, crystal blue skies seemed to stretch endlessly. And this day lulled me with its pristine beauty.

If only for a few minutes, I escaped my standard Sunday stress and simply enjoyed the sneak peek of spring. It was in those relaxing moments, I remembered that “winter” (well, “sort of winter”–we don’t really have “real winter” here) would soon be tempered by the mild breeze of spring which would eventually settle into the sweltering days of summer. I remembered that no matter how long these cold, damp months linger, eventually it will be festival season in Southeast Louisiana which will be followed by the sno-balls and freedoms of summer.

This pause from my norm offered the clarity that the roadblocks and worry of today are as temporary as the seasons. But also fleeting are all of the good things of my life and my life itself. And in this brief flicker of time, I choose where and how I spend my focus. I choose whether I will waste it on negativity, stress and drama or if, instead, I will turn my gaze upon goodness, uplift and making a difference. I choose whether I will seek the best in the humans of this world or whether I will close myself off from understanding that different doesn’t mean wrong. I can choose to instead know that different grants an opportunity to grow in understanding, to learn, to engage. I choose whether I will become an extension of kindness and love or if I will become voice of anger and anguish. I choose whether I will recognize my smallness in a world with problems bigger than mine or if I will give into the selfish desire to always center myself.

I choose.

That is an empowering sentence…a charge and responsibility that I don’t take lightly.

When I was sick, I couldn’t just choose to be well, but I could choose how I was going to live each day. I wasn’t always successful. Some days I was so afraid that even holding conversation felt impossible. Some days I couldn’t see straight and felt at the bottom of the ocean yet still sinking. The hardest times dim the light that shines on just how many choices we have. But I always knew it was in my power to dig deep and flip the script.

Now that the days of spinning and fluctuating hearing are mostly behind me, I don’t have such a powerful force to fight against…just myself. Being mindful that the choice of how I take on each day is critical in maintaining perspective, balance and joy. Grateful for a moment be drawn into this realization on this gorgeous day.

(Day 24–note to self: in next year’s King Cake writing challenge–taking off Wednesdays and one day of the weekend is advisable!!)

Motivation in around 300 words

At first, I thought it was the king cake that kept me motivated. Then, posting each blog on social seemed to hold me further accountable. What could be a more powerful incentive than the forces of friends/family and food?

My students.

Some of my students started reading my blog. And it is just the best validation for why I believe English teachers need to be writing for themselves…and in some way, large or small, sharing that writing. My kids are saying things like “I can totally tell when you are excited to be writing and when you are just doing it because you promised you would. It makes me feel like a teacher-like when you can tell we haven’t done our best too.”

It’s the reciprocity that matters, I think.

They see me working hard and being vulnerable by posting work publicly even when it isn’t my best. And I know better what it feels like to go home exhausted with loads of responsibilities and still have to find a way to sound coherent on the page.

Even better than that, they know me as a writer which is only fair given that I know that side of them so well.

I also feel in a very real way that they will know if I miss a night. I wouldn’t just be letting myself down, I would be letting them down. And that is the accountability that keeps me going. My students traveling this journey with me is far better than any slice of king cake at the end. What we have gained along the way far exceeds that delight!

(Day 23–short entry because, well, I got to chaperone Winter Formal tonight)

acceptance

For what seems like my entire adult life, careless eaters and their subsequent audible mouth noises have rendered me wretched. Crunching, smacking, squishing, gulping…all of it… every muscle within me would tense, while on the outside, I would futilely attempt to withhold visible reaction (though once my shiver pronounces it’s presence, it is hard to mask my irritation). I have no way of explaining the swift development of this distress in any given moment, other than to say it is intrinsic, instinctive. No frustrated thought process exacerbates my reaction and tolerance entirely eludes the grasp of my capabilities.

Despite this aversion in my adult years, I also possess vivid recollection of my mom having to correct me, repeatedly, for smacking when I was a kid. Looking back, I cannot fathom why it took me so long to learn that lesson. Obviously, my manners required refinement, but somehow the sound of my own chewing didn’t seem to deter me. I am not sure when the changeover occurred. I just know that in the same way that I suffer a full body reaction to cilantro when it evades my careful eye and ambushes my taste buds, mouth noises incur complete revulsion.

Despite years of living into this disgust to the point of it worsening, my life turned in a bit of a punishing direction. In the midst of the fury of my inner ear disorder, when it had reached the point of disability, I consented to a surgery that offered no guarantees but did generate hope for restoration. I knew going in that the surgery, whether successful or not, would result in muffled hearing in my left ear as it healed and as the packing inserted during surgery dissolved. I knew a tube would be inserted as well that would also complicate my hearing for a while, but given that my hearing was already complicated, this seemed like a small sacrifice.

A few months after surgery, the surgeon removed the tube and for about three days, my hearing returned to the quality it kept before I was sick…not just pre-surgery but pre-illness. Everything about my life seemed to hold greater clarity in those days-I heard my kids clearly without having to see their mouths moving to decipher their words, my thoughts were uninterrupted by tinnitus, and directionality of sound was restored. The smile on my face in those few days reflected the lightness and joy of my being.

And then the hole the tube tore closed up.

While my hearing remained improved, I quickly discovered that I was also hearing internal noises at a volume not conducive to calm and clarity of thought. Every beat of my heart sent a roar instead of a pulse. Every breath I took, a hurricane in my ear. Every turn of my head, yawn, and stretch accompanied by cracking and squishing–noises we aren’t intended to hear and remains sane. Every word I spoke echoed within.

And also…

Every bite of food I chewed, every sip I took played at full volume and there was no escape, no retreat. All of a sudden, the thing that drove me mad in others became a state of being and no amount of shivering in disgust would resolve the issue. If I wanted to eat and drink (you know, survive), I had to also find a way to manage my disdain for these internal noises. It was hard to explain this situation to others without being greeted with the attempted empathy of “oh yeah, I know what that’s like! Happened to me when I had a cold last year” Not the same. I’ve had colds before that elevated the volume of internal noise. I’ll say it again–not the same…at all.

I wish I could say this surgical consequence brought me new perspective on the patience I should show others before reacting, but it didn’t really. However, it did grant me a realization. Was this situation uncomfortable? Yep. Did it make eating disorienting and difficult? Definitely. But, here’s the thing, I wasn’t dizzy anymore. The tinnitus was gone. I finally functioned in the world, for the most part, like other healthy people (with a few restrictions). I was present with my family and friends. I had been given so much only to be annoyed by these noises that over time, I could learn to live with if I only tried to focus on the positive rather than on the grotesque.

100% effective? Let’s just say, I require reminders:) Just tonight, while attempting to enjoy a piece of pizza, I nearly quit the meal 4 times (literally)  because I just couldn’t take the eating noises anymore. Then I remembered there was a time that just chewing pizza held the potential to incite vertigo. I let my frustration go and I enjoyed the treat.

And I think that is the point. There are so many moments in this life to enjoy when we just step back, let go of the frustration, harness our gratitude and dive into the delight.

(Day 22:) Also, Orange team don’t be mad about the pizza! I promise I ran 4 miles today too!)