neutrality wavers

“See, I’ve been having me a real hard time…”

A couple of days ago, I cried.

The tears weren’t prolific or anything, but as they welled up and overflowed their banks, I couldn’t help but consider them glorious and restorative gifts…only, not in the way you might expect.

If you know me, a tearful moment doesn’t sound like some kind of triumphant occasion since one of my finest skills is feeling all of the feelings, all of the time…to a fault. I am not a daily cry or a cry in front of other people kind of human, but when overwhelmed by any particular emotion, joy…anger… frustration…sadness…love…awe, tears populate my eyes and from there travel as rivulets running. These tearful moments are sort of how I know I’m living in and connecting with the people and the world around me. They are sort of how I know myself.

Well, that used to be true. Until I contracted a relatively mild case of Covid in January 2021 with no prior comorbidities, and the workings of my brain became a bit of a mystery for the long haul.

“I just kept hoping, I just kept hoping/The way would become clear”

My long hauler symptoms have been extensive and, at times, debilitating over the last six months. Irregular heartbeat, intense fatigue, frightening brain fog, weekly and ever intensifying migraines, daily headaches, weird aches and pains, sore throat, hoarseness, tinnitus, dizziness, weakness, chest pain…this list could go on.

Perhaps the most troubling lingering symptom of all evolved as a strange neutrality. Me. The emotional cornucopia… neutral. Let me explain what I mean by “neutrality”…

“So please don’t take my feelings”

I became sort of inert, feeling no strong emotions one way or the other. Like an extinguished candle. And it was so hard to explain this to anyone because I was struggling in so many ways, it was hard to pinpoint this issue. And then, people kept saying they knew how I felt…which was strange because I wasn’t feeling much. In some ways, this neutrality was kind of nice because my lifelong anxiety dwindled significantly. On some level I just couldn’t muster the energy for it. That vacation from being driven by an overthinking  brain and an overzealous set of nerves was actually a delight. Not me at all, but kinda great.

Yet in other ways, this neutral stance was painful. I would be at events that I knew were important to me, that should have felt exciting, exhilarating and joyful and I, well I was just there…present but not…smiling but vacantly…not even sure how much of the moment I would be able to remember without the lingering vibrance of the emotion. I felt so far away from everyone and everything even when they were right next to me. I often found myself surprised by people’s reactions to my words because even my ability to communicate with emotion and sensitivity had been marred. At times, I would become overwhelmed by how badly I had been feeling or by work or just by the world at large and I would want to cry to release some of that tightly wound energy, but I couldn’t do it. That one outlet seemed to have barricaded itself from accessibility. At other times, I would be in conversation speaking about emotional topics, about how strongly I feel on an issue or how passionate I am about education and while my words were all true to who I know myself to be, they felt false in speaking them because inside they seemed hollow, detached. And so that is how I have been walking through the world since Covid, hollow and detached.

“So I just kept going, I just kept going/And hoping I’m growing near”

For a while, I embraced the idea that this was my brain’s way of protecting itself. It was dealing with too much in my extended recovery so maybe adding in emotion would have been debilitating. Actually, I felt it was pretty awesome of my brain to extend that gift. I knew with certainty that when the school year was over and I had the chance to fully rest, all of that neutrality would erode to reveal the emotions it had been shielding me from.

Except, it didn’t. It lingered.

And the longer it did so, the more I realized that this wasn’t just me trying to save myself from overwhelm; this was damage done to my body, to my brain, by Covid. When I considered the work I had to muddle through to relearn how to think through the incredible Covid induced brain fog, I realized that my emotional void very much connected to that situation…maybe even lost in the dense pillows of fog circling and settling…awaiting the sun to clear them away.

“And it feels so nice to know I’m gonna be alright

Please don’t take this feeling

I have found at last”

My brain is different than it was 6 months ago. It is healing–my tears this week are proof of that for sure, but no one can tell me to what point I will heal…because no one really knows. And I just have to try to not let that defeat me. I have to take what my body gives me and know that this recovery road is less than perfect but I am still on it.

So I am just going to say this…take it or leave it…it has become my lived experience and thus, my truth. Even a mild case of Covid can have life altering impacts beyond what anyone can tell you they might be. Be safe. Do what you can to keep yourself and those around you healthy. This is my current plan, because, let me tell you what terrifies me. The possibility of catching Covid again. Terrifies me beyond what I can type on this page. Because I am still sick. Because my brain hasn’t fully healed. Because I am just starting to feel like myself again six months after a mild case and I don’t want to lose that progress or worse. Because my pulse ox still dips into the upper 80’s and I would like for that to repair fully before my system is attacked again. I have had Covid once and I don’t need to re-live that misery (I’m sorta still living it). I’ve done all I can to keep myself and my family well. I should be safe. And yet, in this world, as people continue to tell me that Covid is no big deal, that it is a fiction, that it is nothing to worry about–essentially denying my lived experience, in this world still, I am not safe.

Lived experience can be different from our own and still be accepted as a truth, still carry weight, still be worthy of our attention. Maybe that is an overly empathic stance, but to me, it is the only way we learn to see each other with respect in this world…it is the only way we begin to act for each other  rather than just for ourselves, elevating our own singular story instead of the varied and valuable experiences of those around us. Hibernating in the blankets of that which makes us comfortable only endangers us. And so I tell this story of my experience with Covid. Not for sympathy because while a momentary comfort, sympathy doesn’t fix anything. Nope. I tell this story to add it to the collective tale of this pandemic. Because this outcome isn’t often written about. Because maybe it will help someone realize Covid is not worth the risk. Because maybe I just needed to get it out into the world.

“So, I just kept dreaming, yeah, I just kept dreaming’…Tryna figure out why”

(All lyrics from “This Feeling”, Alabama Shakes)

Seaspray

In this last year and a half of teaching during pandemic, I found myself reflecting heavily–wondering…considering… asking a lot of questions (more so than in a typical year).

Why am I teaching this material in the way that I am? Where is my focus centered–on kids or on material? Is this lesson really necessary in the learning lives of my students? How does this activity (you fill in the best word here–test, project, assignment, etc.) help kids grow as learners and as humans? How does this bring them actively into their learning process? In what ways will this learning open up their curiosity, ideas, perspectives? Is this work meaningful in the lives of the students seated before me?

When I cannot answer those questions in a way that aligns with what I know to be important in establishing a classroom that fosters engagement and is fully centered on the kids in front of me in that moment, then I know a change is necessary. In this year when so much was different and difficult and distracting, this reflection helped me maintain my focus and cull my practice. There was only time for what was truly substantive and significant. There was only time for learning that honored my kiddos, their voice, and their needs not only as students but also as humans living through a worldwide crisis (or, if you will, through worldwide crises).

It was a far from perfect year, but that intensity of inward gaze and outward paying attention to my kids created a critical cascade of change that should not disappear simply because things will one day return to some version of what was once “normal”.

One practice that withstood this crucible of questioning without much adjustment was that of daily poetry work. The work looks something like this…I bring in a poem (either one I have chosen or one a kid has recommended) printed and cut to size-ready to be taped into writers notebooks. We read the poem aloud, twice, then I ask my students (almost always) without agenda, to respond in any way that feels right to them. Maybe, the poem has struck them and they have something to say? Maybe they want to talk about structure or word choice or punctuation or line breaks? Maybe the poem reminded them of something and they want to write or draw about that? Maybe the poem ignited a creative flame and they will write in that direction? Maybe they feel a connection with the poet or they feel seen or they understand someone else’s perspective and they want to write or draw about that? This time can go any which way. It is theirs. I never pick up these notebooks. I never micromanage them. There is expectation and there is trust and in the marriage of the two, we are a community of readers, writers and thinkers.

After a few minutes of time in their notebooks, we talk. These conversations are never predictable or planned, but they are always worthwhile because they uncover learning I could not have foreseen…which is kind of the best.

Now, it would be dishonest to say that it’s easy for me to let their responses lead the way without my voice. Because I love poetry. Because I want them to love it. Because I want them to see all the nuances and depths awaiting them on that page. But it is also because of all of those things (namely that I want them to love poetry) that I stay out of it. If they are going to love it, it can’t feel like “just schoolwork”. They have to feel connected, invested, engaged and like they matter as individuals in the process. Once they fall in love with poetry (and they always do…always) and with some practice, my students come to notice all those intricacies on their own. And in that moment, the poetry and the meaning and the learning lingers and lasts because it is theirs. It belongs to them and not to me.

I spent last week at the beach with my family and friends. A much needed vacation after an incredibly stressful year. As I relaxed watching the waves, engulfed in the peace and serenity of their melodic journey to shore…as I felt the seaspray on my face, the sand beneath my feet, and the sun on my skin, I was reminded of two things (hang in their with me… teaching is always with me as is poetry so the connections are always close):

  1. This line of poetry by Juan Felipe Herrera in his poem “Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings”:       “it isn’t exactly business that pulls your spirit into
    the alarming waters, there you can bathe, you can play,
    you can even join in on the gossip—the mist, that is,
    the mist becomes central to your existence.”

    He’s talking about poetry here–poetry is not about the business (in other words, it isn’t crafted so we can underline metaphors and circle alliteration). Rather, it is about allowing the deepest part of yourself to connect with the work…and when that happens, “the mist” or the undefinable bits of meaning that spark only for the individual, well, that mist “becomes central to your existence” That seaspray connected me to that singular moment in my life in a way that I can promise you my 14 year old son, for example, didn’t experience. It is still what lingers with me today and I haven’t been on that beach in days. 

  2. And then also this…My friend Ellin Keene talks a lot in her work about the value of the aesthetic in the classroom. And that is what this poetry practice elevates. It allows kids to stand in the presence of something wondrous and to find connection with it…it creates time for the poetry to steer them toward meaning and creation rather than the teacher telling them how and what to think or to observe. No one had to guide my beach appreciation moment and quite honestly if they had, I might have missed the seaspray…I might have missed the mist (couldn’t resist that)…and the moment would have been more the guide’s and less mine. And I needed that moment just like my kids need the time with poetry (even when they walk in, roll their eyes, and sigh deeply the word “poetry…”).

I’ve considered over time tightening up this work in my classroom. Making it more instructive or practical. But without fail, each and every year, I watch this work shape my students as readers, writers, thinkers, and creators. I watch as it emboldens them to play with words, to shape and share their voice, to venture out onto the shaky branches of analysis and creativity. I watch as they slowly come to own their notebooks, to treasure them. I watch as they bathe in the “alarming waters” and linger in the mist of the beauty of the written craft placed before them and the works they have yet to create. I watch and am filled with awe of their courage and their ability when freed to put it to use as they wish to.

Sometimes, crafting a structure for a moment, the scaffolding, is far better than filling in the details. There is time for more precise and intentional instruction in other ways and in other spaces in my classroom. This time for poetry will remain a gift to my kids. Always.

Forgiveness, part one

I am a chronic apologizer.

My apologetic refrain, a lifelong expression of my need to never inconvenience and to always keep the peace.

I try so hard to teach young women to never apologize for their existence or their strength or their voice and yet I cannot seem to break my own apologetic cycle. So much so that apology seems to be a state of being rather than a momentary but necessary sincerity. And it is disappointing that my urge to please all the people pushes me to say “I’m sorry” when what I should be saying is “This truth is difficult and less than easy, but here it is anyway. Let’s work through it together.” That truth I find myself explaining away contritely could be some element of the chronic illness that is beyond my control but with which I deal daily or it could be some issue that felt necessary to speak up about. And I’d like to be able to say that much of the onus for my need to express apology falls on others for perpetuating an expectation that I should feel sorry. But the responsibility remains with me. It is up to me to own my power. It is up to me not to waver in the face of derision because of it. And I’d also like to be able to say that the writing that follows will be my version of a pithy list of all the things I will no longer apologize for and why.

But it won’t be.

Because here’s the thing…I know that list. I teach that list. I remind others to abide by that list. But my own complicated truth is that I struggle to uphold it in the moments when it matters. This impulse to apologize is composed of threads so intricately woven into the fabric of my being, that to unravel them takes more than a confident written assertion.

And so I will begin in a different place. One that makes sense after a difficult, well, exhausting, day of apologizing needlessly, making myself smaller, and then quieting the things I know to have been important.

That place is forgiveness.

Because, while I cannot undo this habit immediately, I can give myself some grace in the process of trying to. I can forgive myself for faltering.

Today, I forgive myself for questioning myself when I should have questioned others.

I forgive myself for forgetting the value of my work and my voice in that work and for allowing the noise of others to intrude into what I know to be my worth and my truth.

I forgive myself for saying I am sorry when it didn’t need to be spoken. For giving others the easy way out by sacrificing myself so they could have it.

I forgive myself for walking away instead of sticking it out…for lowering my voice instead of furthering it. For turning inward to hide instead of seeking new ways forward.

I forgive myself for adding conditionals into my language that dilute my purpose in order to placate others who shouldn’t really require anesthetizing wording.

I forgive my body for its complications and for the pain, fatigue and challenges it elicits. I forgive myself for not taking the time I need to be well in order to be more for others. I forgive others for not being able to see past the carefully crafted performance of my smile to understand that I am unwell and just scraping by.

I forgive myself for being a flawed human, and at the same time I love myself for being an empathic one.

I celebrate myself for allowing empathy to enter and steer my relationships and how I reach out to and speak up for others.

I celebrate my heart for recognizing hurt in the humans around me and for wanting to be a salve in the healing.

I celebrate who I was yesterday, who I am today, and who I will become tomorrow because as I continue to revise what I have been  and who I want to be, I am grateful for the whole of it.

And this is how forgiveness works. Releasing the burden of hurt (whether it exists within or without) somehow (and rather unexpectedly) removes the scales from our eyes allowing us to see the good which, today, dug me out of a pretty deep hole. Love begins with forgiving the self because if we cannot forgive ourselves, how on earth will we be able to extend love and forgiveness to those around us. Writing this was a great reminder of that truth (especially since I had no idea where it was going when I began…I just needed to write). “Phase One” by Dilruba Ahmed is a great reminder as well…a beautiful one…and I unapologetically offer it to you to read.

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)

 

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?!)

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!)