Threshold

When I was in 7th grade, my family moved into a house that possessed a singular identifiable feature. This little house stood in a row of other little houses that looked blandly alike. Yet this gem announced its presence just a bit differently than the others and gained small scale recognition and notoriety simply because it wore its difference proudly.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should it be opened to you.

In the days before Siri would announce that a destination had been reached, everyone who came to visit us knew to look for this unique detail. At the front of the house, tucked at the end of a small front porch, stood a large red door…with a silver doorknob decorating the center of it. It was one thing to live in a house with a giant, solid red door…but the doorknob in the middle added another level of oddity to it that my 12 year old self wasn’t so certain of. In order to open the door from the inside required a certain secret knowledge and deft ability to turn the knob and pull sturdily on the handle simultaneously.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should it be opened to you.

I am pretty sure I was embarrassed by this door for more than a little while. Pretty sure that I wished we had a door like everyone else…and that our house didn’t stand out in this way. I didn’t need it to be pretty or fancy–just “normal”. But at some point along the way, all of this angsty humiliation shifted and I came to treasure its presence. Came to love that thing that allowed our house to stand out a bit from the rest. Came to own the uniqueness as a gift rather than an embarrassment. Came to identify that door with what it opened into–a house full of warmth, family, joy and love.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should it be opened to you.

Writing this blog during this 59 day challenge required more stamina than I realized it would and also required me to open myself a bit more than initially felt comfortable. I am very much at ease being vulnerable, admitting fault, telling stories…and, yet, somehow having to tell them more quickly than I wanted because I had to meet the deadline of the daily post made me question the decision and waver on whether to continue. I preferred to refine my writing and to take time to have it reflect the truth of what I am capable of crafting. But at some point, I had to release that ambition and frustration and accept that the importance of the task resided in the act of writing each day…in the sharing of it with an unknown audience regardless of how I felt about it…in the building of my confidence…in the ownership of a writer’s identity…in the recognition that sharing this gift is not a reflection of ego but a desire of the soul. The importance resided in opening the door that so clearly identifies as my passion without fear of what is on the other side…resided in the ritual of walking through it daily and coming to treasure it as a homecoming.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should you accept the invitation 

“Doors” by Carl Sandburg

(Day 59–Mardi Gras Day–King Cake day!!!–The blog will continue of course…just maybe once a week:) If you’ve kept up with me, you have no idea of my gratitude!! If you’ve stopped to say something encouraging along the way, words can’t express how that helped me to continue writing. I sort of can’t believe I’ve finally written the last one!)

 

phenomenal

 

“Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”
(excerpted from “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou)

In early December, I received this gorgeous thank you note from a student of mine. The thought behind this handwritten note alone would have been enough to remind me that the weight of my job delves deeper than the daily decision making that occupies so much of my time as principal/teacher. Our young people, my students, lead busy lives that create a constant hum of events, studying, clubs, family life, work and  more. College pressure and the pressures of figuring out who it is they wish to be in this world rests upon their shoulder’s as Atlas’ burden sat upon his. Amid all of this, she escaped her own needs and responsibilities and found the time to write a thank you note.

I also would have been moved by her simply mentioning of how grateful she is for the introduction she received to poetry in my class last year…for the opportunity to explore her new found passion fully in her writing (instead of forcing her to maintain the plan I had set out for the class). Students often come to my classroom with only negative feelings toward poetry. Once they are immersed in it, once they have the freedom to find their own meaning, once they venture into writing their own stories poetically, doors open, confidence blooms, they become writers.

But, what struck me most was the line that is underlined: “Thank you for being a strong female leader I can look up too [sic]” Well, it would be easy to forget this responsibility in the busy days of the school week. One could quickly become numb to the rest, to the fact that the kids are always watching. One could lose sight of the example we set just by being ourselves. Across this nation there are heaps off female high school principals–I am the product of an extremely impressive one, after all. But at my small school, the only leadership that has ever presided over the high school has been male. I know that I felt a small victory in breaking that barrier and assuming this position but I don’t think I realized until I read this note the impact that my students (especially my girls) felt by witnessing that changeover and the days that followed.

It has become increasingly important to me to uphold that responsibility, that honor with the dignity it deserves. I don’t necessarily do my job any differently or better than I would have before; I do, however, act with intentionality and a mindfulness of what my words and actions create. I feel an extraordinary  duty to exemplify that a leader can have an empathic heart and also enforce rules and enact change. I am more keenly aware that it is ever-important for me to display that a good leader has vision for the future and creates plans to achieve that vision but without sacrificing the heart of the institution. Honestly, every leader should be conscious of these qualities. But, I am also cognizant of the need to demonstrate that a woman is equal to that task. It is imperative that I use my voice wisely and not be afraid to assert it just because I fear being seen as noisy or abrasive. When I speak for the good of my students and the good of the school, I am working toward bettering learning opportunities and I should not cower from that because of possible perception. Because when it comes down to it, the reverse, the depiction of female leadership as always needing to be told what to do, of always waiting and never acting, of being quieted rather than elevated, is a far more dangerous example to set.

I am blessed to work in an institution that values my voice and my brain and so the confidence I am fighting is more from what the world around me has said for my lifetime rather than what is actually being enacted around me. Breaking that common societal narrative for the girls in my school has become paramount. My hope is that they will seek leadership roles in their lives, as many already have, and that they will assume those positions with grace and confidence because they are more than equal to the task and no one has ever made them think or feel otherwise.

So, these days, I am willing to walk the line a bit more. I am working to own the confidence it takes to do that. I keep this note with me all of the time as a reminder of purpose when the job feels too much…like another path would be easier. Ease isn’t always better; simplicity can also bring emptiness. The task is hard, the job demanding (seemingly impossible at times), but I am up for it…

“’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

 

(Day 58–tomorrow is king cake day!!! I would expect a super early post because I am anticipating king cake for breakfast and maybe again on the parade route!)

alone?

I am really good at being alone. Solitude, a blessing and silence, a space to think…to be…to expand the realm of what I thought was possible. Even in a room full of people, my internal dialogue offers enough stimulation to keep me occupied (I recognize the strangeness of that–I don’t mean that I believe my thoughts to be above others, just that my mind is never quiet or stilled). I maintain a sort of ridiculous level of introspection, always sinking into my own thoughts, always in a state of wonder and curiosity, always residing deep within my mind (at times more than in the world). My parents used to call me “the clam” for this very reason. I’d rather explore issues and life in general from many angles without intrusion before I speak on anything. I’d rather work through the layers of things, peeling them back and inspecting carefully, on my own–calling myself into question and furthering my thinking before I give others the right to do so as well. That is partly why this blog has been more difficult than I expected. Without a specified theme to guide my posts other than I said I would post every single day of Carnival season to earn king cake, I find myself laying my thought process out in writing and so I feel rather exposed…which makes me uncomfortable…which makes me feel vulnerable…yet which also makes me feel more a part of the world…more engaged in its conversation…more like I’m growing rather than stagnating because without the push past the boundaries of my comfort, I would remain static…a black and white photo in desperate need of the richness and vibrance of color.

There are moments, like today, where my people come out in force to lift me up and draw me out. Part of that is because I took the initiative to put my feelings in this blog and brave whatever consequence resulted. Except the only consequence to be seen, was an outpouring of love and understanding and intelligent discourse all of which were vital reminders of the goodness of humanity even in the midst of the chaos that surrounds us. Vital reminders that the energy and, often times, courage exerted to express a few words at the right time to a person in need means more than we realize as those words linger and imprint the heart and the mind. Vital reminders that as humans we are all in this life together; we may as well use our time and our words to support each other rather than to tear each other down.

(Day 57–only two blogs left in this challenge! which means only two days until king cake!!!)

lost

Years ago, my husband and I, who grew up practicing different faiths, found a church that welcomed us and in some way made each of us feel at home, feel as part of a family. And honestly, for the last 8 or so years, that church has been our family. My gratitude for these people extends beyond the capacity and potential of any words I could scribe here.  They have supported me in prayer and lifted me in love as I wandered aimlessly through illness after illness, surgery after surgery. They have supported my family and loved my kids as if they were their own. My church family is comprised of a group of individuals who remain reliable in every situation. Being with them in that sacred space on Sunday morning, singing and praying in praise fills me up and grows my heart. My time at this church has included opportunities to explore my faith deeply–to question it, to dig into it, to wonder, to wander away from it only to return with strength and new understanding. This faith-work created in me an unshakeable foundation–because when you understand what you believe, you begin to own it. My faith stands firm.

But my heart was broken this week, and I don’t know how to return to church.

My church family bears no fault in this heartache. My love for them is unwavering. However, the church at large made an intentional decision this week after many months of study and deliberation. I am certain there are parts of this determination that I do not understand (at least I’m hoping so), but what I do understand is that I cannot support an institution that actively, knowingly and willingly discriminates. In doing so, I believe I would be hurting more people than I am helping. In my complicity, I believe that I would be setting an example for my children that condones discrimination (this world is hard enough as we struggle to own our implicit bias, I really can’t allow myself to lend a hand in worsening that complication by participating in and donating to an organization that knowingly discriminates).

I understand that this decision only affirms the rules that were already in place. But the intentionality of the decision…the fresh look with the same answer…makes it different. It just does. And the tumult of my heart reflects that. And I don’t know how to settle the upheaval in my mind. I don’t know how to qualify what feels like selfishness in staying because I am loved by this church, when others are only tolerated and not fully validated. I just don’t.

My faith in the Lord has not wavered and so I reach out in prayer…seeking answers…seeking understanding…seeking an easier decision that can’t be granted.  Humans are fallible. We screw it up a lot of the time, but grace is what saves each of us. Whether it be the grace that we extend each other as we empathize or offer forgiveness or the grace that God has gifted us with out of sheer love because we are His creation. All of us. Not just a few people. Not just a select group. All of us. My faith has not wavered. I will continue to reach out to others in love. I will continue to work towards a servant’s heart. I will continue doing my best to be a light for good in the world rather than an abyss of darkness and hate. I will continue.

Tomorrow, I will return to my church on more time so that I can listen and seek understanding, clarity. I will return with hope in my heart, but in this moment, I fear that hope might be futile. I fear everything is about to shift in ways I am not prepared for. In this situation, while I rest in my prayer, I also exist in the fear and hurt this decision has generated.

(there is a Mary Oliver poem that I can’t find right now that I want to include–I will add it when I am back with my books tomorrow).

(Day 56–8 full weeks of blog-a-day. I struggled with whether or not to write this one. I’ve struggled with that for days. But my heart is heavy and I needed to put the words out there. I know there are humans on the other side of this issue and all kind of folks in between. But this blog is a reflection of my thoughts in a moment and this is where I am today.)

magical

It’s Mardi Gras weekend and the city is alive and humming with visitors who might walk away understanding what Mardi Gras really is or who might walk away with nothing more than a headache, some plastic beads, five extra pounds and a few fun memories. Mardi Gras, for those who live in New Orleans and the surrounds suburbs and cities, presents a much richer heritage and tradition than simply consuming large quantities of alcohol. The intoxication from this season is far more varied than if it solely emanated from the obvious source. And I would venture to say that the people of this city could attest to the veracity of this with reflections upon traditions of family and friends, the attachment to community and place that this season forges, the food…so much food…, the stories of Mardi Gras past, the music, and more. Sure revelry plays a role, I’m not sanctifying the holiday or anything. It’s just that, as with anything, Mardi Gras is more than its label–it’s layered, textured, vibrant.

My family’s Mardi Gras traditions when I was growing up fostered some of my favorite childhood memories. Beyond the stress of where to park and where to find a bathroom when you needed one, there was family, there was joy, there was delight, there was Andy Gibb, whose face was emblazoned on a pink t-shirt I wore religiously as a little kid, riding on a float right in front of me. There was the Monday night parade, Hercules, that passed by my grandmother’s house where my family gathered pre-parade–cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles…all of us–to eat Mimi’s meatballs and spaghetti and garlic bread that was so toasty I would accidentally inhale the powdery crumbs and choke a bit before going back for more. Homework would get finished at the table before we could go out to the parade and inevitably, Vanna White was turning letters on the television. There were the death defying moments of riding on my dad’s shoulder’s to garner more throws only to have him swoop down to pick up a doubloon (his favorite-a prized commodity)–he knew I wasn’t going to fall…I, on the other hand, remained less than confident. There were the costumes and the face paint that decorated us on Mardi Gras day. We masked as a family and my mom made our costumes every year (face paint was all my dad though). One year, we went as the band KISS (I was maybe 3 or 4?)…another year as characters from Strawberry Shortcake…each year presented a new opportunity to get dressed up for a day and go have fun-together, as a family. There were parades where we were so cold it didn’t feel worth it, only to be greeted by hot food when we got home. There is all of the junk we carted home that felt necessary, vital even, in the moment and suddenly worthless when exposed by the harsh fluorescent light of the living room. There is a lifetime of memories that sing a harmony far sweeter than if this were really just a holiday about drunken debauchery.

Tomorrow, we will take our kids to one of the famous super-krewes, Endymion. We will pack sandwiches and snacks, and we will wait on the parade route for hours (though some have been there for days). We will probably throw the football and hopefully be able to walk to where they line up the Clydesdales. We will listen to our kids whine “how much longer till the parade gets here???” because this is what you do! And we will sit back in delight and watch the eyes of our children light up as they are dazzled by the magic that is Mardi Gras.

Because, when we allow it, magic is exactly what Mardi Gras creates.

(Day 55–four blogs away from king cake!)

Rushed

So, when planning this writing challenge, I didn’t really consider that I would also have to write while on senior retreat with my students. My intended purpose at this event roots itself in maintaining my focus on facilitating a remarkable experience for my students. All that just to say, this blog won’t be lengthy or full of deeply considered thoughts. I just need to get my writing in so that I will be able to enjoy the king cake that has been ordered to celebrate a successful ending to this challenge (which is only a few days away!!). It feels strange at this point not to be able to truly carve out a few moments to think and to write. I’ve grown accustomed to stealing moments in the evening just for myself, to foster this passion, to develop my craft. It felt selfish for a while, ignoring the people around me for an hour each day so I could compose. But now I realize that in the same way that taking time to exercise is, giving myself these moments is really a selfless act. I am a far nicer person when I have worked out and a far calmer, self assured person when I’ve had the chance to put some words on the page. Missing the time I would usually take tonight has made me realize that this challenge has done its job. I’ve not only created a discipline, but I’ve instilled in myself the sense that my days are incomplete without having written. There were nights this challenge didn’t feel worth it, nights I just wanted to quit. In this moment, I’m so grateful for the support of the people in my life and for the perseverance that I was able to will into being because without that, this identity as a writer, might never have materialized.

(Day 54–I think?–not my best but I literally only had 20 free minutes to get something down while on this retreat. It’ll do but tomorrow will be better)

turmoil of heart

As a Christian, I am called to love. As a human in a world that bears the burden of far too much hate and discrimination (even thinly veiled or disguised by clever terminology), I feel this call deeply. And in this particular moment I feel like it is important to note that love demands more than tolerance.

Love cannot simply be the absence of bigotry that tolerance implies.

Love must fill that absence with generosity, selflessness, empathy, and affirmation. Love must reach out its hand to those ignored by the rest…even and especially when it is difficult, uncomfortable, frightening. Love must see the worth of the human being instead of the label we so easily assign. Love implies a willingness to reach beyond the simplicity of merely existing ignorantly side by side…a willingness to be in relationship with each other, to have a responsibility to each other. Love requires an open heart that recognizes a world beyond what is comfortable or familiar. Love understands that acquiescence is complicity, so love uses its voice for good…love stands up for and amplifies the voices of those who have been marginalized…and love does this knowing repercussions might be vast but also knowing there is no other way.

Love demands courage.

Love imagines boundless goodness.

Love acts accordingly.

It doesn’t have to be easy. It just has to be done. We just have to try.

things unseen

Invisible. Elusive. Concealed. Disguised. Obscured. Masked. Buried. Veiled. Guarded.

If teaching kids has taught me anything, it is that the behavior we witness in the people who share our space, often reflects a dishonest version of their story. Humans harbor all kinds of achy-ness on the inside that they are too fragile to allow themselves to share. The vulnerability required to reveal the truth frightens away the confidence needed and some behavior, foreign to the heart of the transgressor, acts as a repellent  instead.

It would be easy to judge simply based on actions…a kid sleeping in class, sass given instead of respect, responsibilities falling by the wayside would all seem to be punishable offenses. It would be easy to command…demand better, but what if the kid is simply not capable of more in that moment? What if something is happening in their life (a problem at home, an issue with health, worries over identity) that they don’t know how to deal with and this is their literal best? What if instead of fussing, we peeled away the layers with questions…softened the exterior with concern and a safe place to speak up…remembered that our kids are humans and even though they are young, that doesn’t diminish the weight of their worry. How might that transform their classroom and school experience? How might being truly seen and heard reconstruct what school has always been? How might taking a moment to pause and think more about the kid than our hurt feelings allow for an interaction that might change the trajectory of that kid’s life?

The impact of our words, not solely teachers but all of us, and our decisions and the way we care about those around us bears significance beyond our comprehension. I mean, think about it. Consider a moment when someone stopped to notice the truth of your situation–took the time to see beneath your mask and defenses–and then gave of themselves as they worked to uplift you. Consider a moment when someone saw your worth and told you. Consider how those moments have shaped the course of your existence…and theirs.

This world is hard enough without us judging each other on exteriors and assumptions alone, you know? Let’s wade past the shallows and into the deeper water as we work to heighten our humanity, as we work to build trust that allows for vulnerable moments (honest moments), when we can just be ourselves and live into the truth of our lives without the cover. When we don’t have to fear condemnation for simply being who we are, and as a result we can honor our true selves. When our self worth is upheld because we are seen and not just respected, but loved and treated as such. Wouldn’t that be something?

(just a poetic gift– “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar)

(Day 52!! King cake is getting harder to resist the closer it gets to the end of this journey!!)

perseverance

Over the weekend I sort of accidentally came across the Guy Raz podcast “How I Built This” on NPR. In this particular installment, he was interviewing Bobbi Brown and I found myself captivated. Now, if you know anything about me, you know that makeup is not something I would claim to know a lot about or even to have a keen interest in. I see its purpose, I’m sure it’s great, but I’ve just never taken the time (or spent the money) to really figure it out. Honestly, I think most people assume that I wear no makeup at all (and not in that “Oh wow! Her makeup looks so natural” way). Given this set of circumstances, my fascination with this podcast came as a surprise. At first I listened only because I felt positive that my sister would enjoy it and I wanted to be able to recommend it to her with some credibility…to be able to tell her something about it. I stayed with it, because it was about so much more than makeup.

The substance of the show weighted itself in ingenuity, perseverance, knowledge of self–all of which are critical parts of any successful creative process. Her story begins in childhood enchantment with makeup, travels through finding the right collegiate experience after recognizing that the traditional college program scratched uncomfortably at her being, then treks through her career (both her work as a make up artist and in developing her own brand). At every stage of this story, her humanity was palpable which made her experience relatable. I am never going to build a multi-million dollar make-up brand, but her trajectory offered me some critical reminders about what it means to be creative.

In this society of immediacy that we live in where information is always at our finger tips and measures are always being taken to curtail waiting, we become forgetful of the fact that success isn’t always instantaneous. Generating a clever idea does not promise progress, does not assign accomplishment. We meet with achievement when we possess the dedication it takes to not only see the idea through, but also when we are willing to own when alterations are required and further, when we have the vision to make them effectively. Bobbi Brown’s brand’s initial spark ignited during an almost accidental conversation with a chemist and then through devotion to herself and her product, progressed from a really ingenious idea to a concrete reality. Success. After years of hard work and patience. After years of nurturing a notion.

I’ve also heard writers speak before about how some projects take years to craft, and something inside of me wonders if I possess that kind of patience and dedication required to write anything of true significance. Will I just dawdle my days through a hobby? Or will I finally pay it the attention it deserves to actually attempt to move it forward? Do I really lack the dedication or have I just not conceived the right project yet? I really thought after 51 days of blogging I would know better what it is I want to write, how to direct my attention. I really thought I would at least have figured out what kind of blog this is! But after listening to this podcast and others who have lived through this process, I realize that 51 days might not be enough….it might only be the beginning. Maybe I have more writing to do if I really want to figure that out. And it may not lead to anything at all, but at least I will know that I gave it everything I had…that I didn’t just extinguish the dream before it had a chance to become something more. That I didn’t abandon something I love simply because it might not take me anywhere. Actually, staying true to that part of myself, might be the best possible outcome anyway.

Some poems about dreams felt appropriate…

Harlem” and “Dreams” by Langston Hughes

My Little Dreams” by Georgia Douglas Johnson

“(“dive for dreams…”)” by E.E. Cummings

(Day 51!! I ordered my gluten free king cake today and it will be ready to be picked up next Monday–the hardest part will be waiting until I’ve written Tuesday’s blog to eat it!)

creative process

When I was a kid, the Academy Awards were held on a Monday night, and in my house, this was a big deal. I completed my homework as soon as I got home from school in order to avoid missing any part of the broadcast (these were the days before the DVR allowed pausing and rewinding…before YouTube and the internet in general…if I missed it because of spelling homework, I just missed it outright). My mom would cook a special meal and my grandmother would come over (which was really the best part, because her cuttingly honest commentary on fashion and appearance rivaled the pithiest of television hosts). It was an occasion. I never questioned that, really. It was just what we did and I loved it, still do.

Being older now, I’ve spent some time wondering what exactly it is that draws me to not only this awards show, but just about any awards show. As it turns out, my rationale is relatively convoluted (no real surprise here) and I’m not sure it will make sense outside of my brain and on this page, but I’m going to try. Most obviously, I am drawn to story, so programs that honor the artists who bring those stories to life just make sense to me. Less obviously is this (hang in there with me…I will venture away in order to return). A few years ago, I was watching 60 Minutes and a story about Lin Manuel Miranda came on. This story aired as the Hamilton fever was just catching…before it escalated to an epidemic of passion and excitement of sweeping significance. In that episode, Miranda explained the genesis of the musical. He was on vacation, read a book, and was compelled to create. His zeal in speaking about his creation resonated with me and drew me to the musical itself. I had read articles and heard rumblings about the impact it was certain to imprint, but it wasn’t until this moment of witnessing the creator divulging his process that I turned to the musical itself. (as an aside within an aside, that kind of engagement is what I hope for every student who enters my classroom–to be so moved by a text, any text, that they are driven to create)

Based on this, I think it is fair to say that the creative process intrigues me, captivates my attention, draws me in. As a result, programs, like the Academy Awards, that allow further insight into that process, that testify to the brilliance found in collaboration, that honor what can happen when a human being recognizes what they are meant to be doing in this world and then they work hard to develop that and to live into it, delight me. Sure, some proclaim these shows to be pretentious…why would we want to see these rich and beautiful people awarding each other…of all the vain, empty endeavors…except, maybe not…except, maybe that is all perception? And honestly, what is wrong with rewarding each other for what we do well? Maybe that could go a long way, right? Maybe if I thanked the people in my life more regularly for the things they do for me, for jobs well done, for embracing a challenge and seeing it through–maybe if we all did this…made the seemingly unseen-seen…projected the light away from ourselves and onto each other…looked for the good…recognized the joy in being what you were always meant to be, this world that allows us occupancy could become a far better place to inhabit

I’m not sure any of this follows coherently…I am writing and viewing the broadcast simultaneously after all (no time to get my homework done before the show tonight…). But I find myself inspired in new ways, ever mindful of that fact that the creative journey was never supposed to be easy and others’ paths are far trickier than mine. I find myself ready to recognize those around me and to recognize the good within myself. I’m sure this sounds like a ludicrous response to an awards show, but evidently, it is possible.

(Day 50–what?!–that baffles me! King cake is so close!! Ordering it in the morning to be sure to have my favorite gluten free king cake after my last challenge blog on Mardi Gras day!)