I was inspired by another blogger's slice that I found on L squared, and I decided to try my own. A poem(ish) description of the first day of spring:
I glimpse the colors the sunrise paints through the long, vertical windows at the end my long hallway, reminding me there is an outside, that the day is cracking open beyond the mechanical sound of the bells.
Inside the orange glow of the classroom, students read and talk, using fledgling intellects to craft arguments that stand or don't stand, but the attempt itself is what is beautiful, the movement toward logic.
Afternoon rain like a bitter, stingy aunt (maybe I'm reading too much into it because of The Importance of Being EarnestI). Maybe it's not personal, but it feels like it as it slaps down the afternoon run I planned, the sunshine I planned..
Waiting in the chaos of after-school pick-up, I recognize my son's hoodie first. I see his lovely face that never looks not lovely to me. He tells me about a prank his friend played on him and laughs, trying to figure a way to get her back. The ride home is too short--he drops tidbits about his day, and I clutch them up before he gets sucked into his private afternoon world of friends or practice or video games.
The ritual of making coffee, finally time to sit down in an empty room, the noisy quiet of my house. First day of Spring so far.
I'm watching my son play basketball. The music of dribbling balls, the squeak of shoes on shiny gym floors. Coaches yelling, boys yelling, moms giving advice from the sidelines, it all blends together into a kind of music, a song I have listened to for years now.
I've watched my son's limbs stretch up to meet the basket, his hands expand around the contours of the ball. His feet in specially selected, gorgeous basketball shoes look like strangers. The little boy goofing on the court is now streaming through the drills. He is graceful and fluid one moment, awkward and lanky the next. In the first quarter he sulks about bad calls, but by the end of the game he shakes the ref's hand and looks him in the eye.
There is he is across the court. A man's cheekbones starting to jut through a little boy's face. Faking, sprinting, crossing over.
Once, I was walking in my neighborhood with my husband, and we were behind two very young girls, maybe 11 or 12. It was a beautiful spring day, and the girls were wearing shorts and tank tops, letting their pale, vulnerable legs get some sun. They were at that delightfully awkward age where their limbs seemed like they just grew 5 inches, and they were walking like baby deer. Everything about them screamed, "I'm new to this world and this body." Suddenly, someone driving by yelled out at the girls and honked the horn. Afterwards, I overheard the girls talking about it. Who was that? Was it Samantha’s dad? He doesn’t have a car like that, does he? What was he saying?
I felt my rage building on behalf of these beautiful baby deer girls, and I told my husband that I was going to go teach those girls the correct and only response to that: the middle finger. I thought about explaining to them it's not Samantha's dad, but even if it were, he would understand why you gave him the middle finger (or he wouldn't but who cares?) But, not wanting to appear like the crazy woman I am inside, I let the moment pass.
Later, I thought about the countless times that same situation has happened to me and the fear and uncertainty it always provoked--Did I do something weird? Am I wearing something too sexy? Am I safe right now? I also thought about my 10 year old neighbor girl and my 8 year old goddaughter: girls I have watched grow since the day they were born; they, soon, will be experiencing the same thing.
I wish someone had taught me the proper response to catcalling because I spent years just trying to smile at it or not respond at all. Even now in the few times it happens, my first reaction is to not confront but to placate the person, as if I don't want to hurt their feelings even as my heart is racing, and I am left feeling small.
This is just a small slice of life of what it is like to be a woman, walking around in a woman's body. I hope I can teach the girls in my life to wear it even more bravely than I have.
Yesterday, I was talking with a colleague, and I told her that she made my list of the "10 Things that Make Me Laugh." She said, "I'm glad, but I do it for myself. That is how I get through things."
Laughter is one of the most precious tools in the fight against bitterness. When I was little, my family went to Canada with another family. Over the 10-hour car ride, almost everything that could go wrong did, including getting lost, getting a flat tire, getting stuck in the mud and, when we tried to get out of the mud, getting leaches on us. Mud-splattered, leach-covered, every member of that family laughed their heads off. I think about that a lot when I accidentally book a rental car 25 miles from the airport, or when a student tells me my favorite author looks like a "tool" in his author's photo, or when I realize I have 10 hours of grading to do in 2 hours of "free" time. Laughing at myself, or at a situation that could make me yell or cry in frustration, makes me remember that I'm not so important, and neither I, nor my students, will remember that it took a few extra days to get their essays back.
Laughter is also the glue of all of my strongest relationships. I have been friends with Sara for over 15 years, and I have laughed with her at everything from her temper tantrum trudging up a hill in France in 100 degree heat to that fact that my college beauty regime consisted of combing a little bit of my long hair with a free comb that I got at a funeral. There are so many times when something happens, and I can't wait to tell it to Sara to make her laugh.
Mark Twain wrote, "the human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter." In my life, I have experienced times where joys seem few and anxiety or sadness threatens to overwhelm me. In those times, and really every time, I'm glad I have laughter by my side.
A day in images:
I always wake before my family. I ease into the day drinking coffee and reading. Today I finish the Murakami book. His writing is like a gentle voice talking right to me, like spending time with a friend. I will miss his philosophical observations.
Walking to work in the dark again, the music coming from my earbuds makes me feel like I am both in my own, private room and expansive, like I'm walking across a screen. A version of "Angel from Montgomery" comes on that I've never heard before and headlights, March weeds bowing their heads, everything looks more beautiful.
In the afternoon, I call my 12 year-old son to say I'll be home soon. He answers the phone and says, "It's so beautiful out!" Then he sings a silly song whose words are something like: I'm happy, so happy, happy.
I go outside and see what the singing was all about. The sky is blue, blue. The air smells like the wet underbelly of the world, like plants rotting, like Spring. Two planes draw parallel lines across the sky in satisfying symmetry. Suddenly, I'm surrounded by teenagers running. I hear their breath, so alive and moving, and see splatters of mud painting each runner's back. .
On my walk home I see a grown alone man walking around on the ice pond in our park . Later, when I walk the dog, I see why. The ice is melting in artistic textures, forming a blue, grey, green, milky white sculpture. It crumbles on the edge of the pond with a lovely crunch.
Today I showed this video to my Seniors as a writing prompt: What If Money Were No Object? It caused me to reflect on what leads us to our passions.
My sister in law, a successful businesswoman, told me how she found her career path. Her mother told her to find the profession that pays the highest and study that, so that is what she did. I admire the clean simplicity and clarity of the trajectory. Mine path was a bit more crooked.
My first year at college I was not fully committed. I was a horrible student my last two years of high school, I was going to Wayne State University almost purely by chance (that is another story), and I just started by taking classes that seemed interesting to me.
I remember the semester I took a poetry class. My professor was a short, pale man who looked exactly like my imagination English professor. He even wore jackets with pockets at the elbows. The class was in the evening and in the bright, white classroom that shined out into the city, that quiet man would read us poems, and it thrilled me. I sometimes almost cried, or my heart would race. Even more so, my brain woke up, and I felt like I understood a secret, magical language. I almost couldn't believe that I got to do this for college credit. I loved writing my papers about Dylan Thomas and e.e. cummings. I treasured my text book (which I still have), and I approached the rest of my college the same way. I just sought out what I loved, and then I found a lot more that I loved, including history, linguistics and French.
Teaching was not a passion or a calling for a long time. I just kept doing the next thing I loved until I found myself in this job. I don't even think I loved teaching at first. Years 1-3 were hard, and I often wondered if I made a mistake. I told myself I would do it for 5-7 years then do something else.
16 years later, here I am still in the classroom. Even now, not every moment brings me to chills or feels like a privilege, but I know that teaching is my passion, the thing I would do if money were no object. I think the idea that our passion is going to come to us ready made when we are 18, 19, 20 and be unwaveringly inspirational is paralyzing and unrealistic. Maybe it works that way for some people. But for people like me it takes time and faith to find the passion that is better than money.
It's Sunday morning, and I'm going to yoga in few minutes, and I'm thinking about flexibility.
We all know that as we age, our body becomes less flexible. At the beginning of the yoga class my hips and hamstrings feel stuck. With every downward dog and warrior one it feels like flakes of concrete are sloughing off, allowing me to touch my toes and straighten my legs.
I also think we can lose mental flexibility. When I was in my 20s, I moved apartments every year, lived in different states, travelled all summer. I porpoised in and out of situations elegantly, piling my stuff in the backseat of my car, ready for the next adventure. The transitions felt sleek and seamless.
As I've gotten older, I've noticed how much harder transitions are. I changed jobs this year after 15 years in my same job, same building, same classroom. I'm surprised at how I haven't just danced into my new role, but have creakily and awkwardly stumbled around in it, feeling the concrete of my old routines and expectations encasing me. Even littler transitions are harder---the changing trimester, the day after a long break, Sundays. I don't feel the same ease from one moment to the next but sort of lurch, worrying about what I've given up and fretting about what the next moment will bring.
Well seeking flexibility it is a practice worth doing. I have lived in the same neighborhood for nearly 20 years, I have the same friends, the same husband that I have had for many, many years. Life can wear a grove, but I guess, for me, taking risks, trying new things is what will hopefully keep me flexible and open, sliding into the next new adventure with joy and ease.
On Thursday, I wrote about Murakami's quote about running and writing, focusing on how he explains that, "Basically, a writer has a quiet, inner motivation and doesn’t seek validation in the outwardly visible.” I think the same applies to teaching.
A friend and I used to joke about how when people say, "You're a teacher? That must be so rewarding!" we often think, no, it is not rewarding at all. For a teacher, the rewards are few and far between. Most of us don't have coworkers or supervisors regularly seeing our brilliant work, telling us we are doing a good job. Our "clientele" are children, and if we look for rewards solely from their approval, we are likely to be disappointed or really, really bad teachers. Learning takes a long time, with many setbacks along the way, so we might not even fully see the results of our work in the year or less that we have with our students.
In order to continue to teach long term, we have to find our "quiet, inner motivation." We have to develop our own goals and standards for our work and continually work to improve on last year, last week, yesterday. In this way, teaching is so much like running . I'm not in this to compete with my colleagues or get awards or recognition. I'm just here everyday, putting one foot in front of the other, trying to be a little better than I was yesterday.
was always a poem
Even if the meaning is not
The first snow...
Why do I circle
Around the memory
20 years gone
Of a boy with
The street muffled--
Like lush eyelashes
Hiding in the curls.
The homeless woman
Expression hard as stones
Saying, “You’re beautiful!”
To the boy and
His snowy curls.
Why does it matter
That it was a big dark city
Sleeping and empty in the
That outside of the bar’s bright world--
Wood floors and slick glow--
We stood still in a
What does it matter
That luscious snowflakes hid
In the curls of a head that is
Probably bald, a boy
Who is a man
That I no longer even know?
A thought: it matters
As all beautiful
Memories that get
Lodged in the mind’s
holey net like
A diamond in decaying leaves.
I just started reading Haruki Murakami’s memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and I was struck by his comparison between running and writing.
“What’s crucial is whether your writing attains the standards you’ve set for yourself. Failure to reach that bar is not something you can easily explain away. When it comes to other people, you can always come up with a reasonable explanation, but you can’t fool yourself. In this sense, writing novels and running full marathons are very much alike. Basically, a writer has a quiet, inner motivation and doesn’t seek validation in the outwardly visible.”
As a runner and writer, I feel the truth of this. I run not to beat anyone else, but to beat my former self, or mainly just to achieve a feeling in my body and mind. Even when I run a race, I’m mostly just focused on my own run, my own breath, my own best time.
I have always written--illustrated stories about marrying Don Johnson when I was 10, tiny poems about a boy’s freckles when I was a teenager and sloppy notebooks full of philosophies in my 20s. Somewhere along the line, though, I started to think my writing had to do something, have a purpose or publication goal. That pretty much shut down my writing for years until I was inspired again by my friend who paints, draws, embroiders and writes songs simply for her own pleasure. So I started to try to write again in the same way. I write to achieve a feeling in my mind and body, to connect to some other part of me besides teacher, wife, mom, list-maker. When I come to writing in that way, it opens a door for me. It is a mini-vacation in my day, just like running.
I also think having a "quiet, inner motivation" and not "seeking validation in the outwardly visible" is an integral part of teaching, but I’ll save that thought for another day.