Saturday, October 1, 2011

Chicago Called

I'm a grown up with weekends. 

There's this world, post-college, where you work all week with Colleagues, where emails are Political, where Casual Conversation isn't Casual so much as it's Business, where everybody needs Something from you, you all know the Deadlines, and so Passive Aggression is about your Job Security instead of the dishes in the sink.

I have to say, I was oblivious.

But Chicago called, and I came running; leaving work on a Friday evening, stopping in at my Grandma's, dropping my car off at the airport, gliding in to the familiar rooftops and light patterns of the south side, the Weekend Feeling crept over me.  Not unlike fog, on it's little cat feet.  So it comes, I thought, the time after college wherein adult relationships with old friends are cultivated over weekend visits and making plans for drinks, brunches, dinner.  Weekends with people who get that morning is a time for coffee, not sleeping in, because good luck working all week if you sleep all weekend!

It feels indescribably good to sit on a familiar couch listening to the brown line go by, here for no good reason besides desire to see my friends.  Chicago, too, is like an old friend.  Walking up Wabash from the Orange line, I was greeted by the architecture that framed a lot of my growth into adulthood.  The familiar wind is like putting on a warm jacket.

I want to tell you a story about my week.  I am teaching Characterization.  We define this, in English-teacher land, as 'what a character is like' and 'how we know what we know about them.'  We teach evidence and inferencing, which is far more difficult as it sounds. I have a tendency to overwhelm my guys with work because I feel the urgency of the job so deeply; there are days that they don't handle that well, which is absolutely all my fault.

Tuesday was one of those days.

This is what I wanted my class of freshmen to do:
1. Take notes on Characterization (10 minutes)
2. Read a two page greek myth and summarize each paragraph (20 minutes)
3. Fill out a STEAL chart as a class (Speech, Thought, Effects on others, Actions, Looks) (20 minutes)
4. Fill out a STEAL chart on their own (20 minutes)
5. Take a vocabulary quiz (15 minutes)

Don't laugh too hard, please.

They were quite angry with me.  One of them, who I had doing an alternate assignment, sat in the back yelling pretty terribly profane things about me; one shrieked about the injustice of my food policy; one fell asleep; one kept stealing Red Storm Dollars (a school wide incentive system) from her neighbor; another was taunting my intellectually disabled student about her zits, and another was poking the boy in front of her with her newly sharpened nails.  There was one in the back who said, "No!" and made a weird, defiant sound in his throat every time I told the class to do something, even as he did the thing I was asking him to do.

It turned into a pretty majorly stressed out day.  I managed to get the notes and the first STEAL chart into them, but independent work went to hell in a handbasket; they didn't know what I was asking them to do because I hadn't taught it long enough and they were too busy rebelling against the workload to listen when I was teaching.  When I finally sent the foulmouthed one to the office for trying to hit a girl, another one just sauntered right out of class.  I went to get him back.  Somebody wrote 'dick' on my projected word document.  I put them all in their seats and told them to put their heads down for the remaining two minutes until the bell rang.  I wanted to cry, and I knew, I just KNEW, it was all my fault. 

It isn't that they couldn't get the concepts or that they're bad kids.  They are genuinely good kids.  It was that I overwhelmed them with transparency about the workload for the day.  I am, actively, overwhelming them with the amount of work it will be to get them to move two reading levels in a year; what I SHOULD be doing is flooding them with recognition of their progress, not how far we have to go...

Anyway, they retaliated.  When someone was writing on my projector, that person or a friend took the monogrammed silver ring I wear everywhere from where it was sitting on my desk.  When I realized that it was gone, halfway through my second class, my stomach fell into my feet and my heart started flopping around in the empty space in my abdomen.

And the thing is, that second class loves that I work them to death.  They say this is the hardest class they have, but they say it with a light in their eyes.  I'm not treating them like they're stupid, because they're not, and they can see the value in that -- kids who in every one of their other classes throw desks and never do their work are workaholic angels for me.  I have discovered a girl with a 7th or 8th grade reading level who everybody else thought functioned like a third grader; I think I'm seeing this because I respect them with work and transparency.  But that first period freshman class doesn't read the workload as respect, they read it as antagonism, and I should know better.  Of course they retaliated.  Working them to the point of frustration probably feels like an act of war.

So, against the advice of my administrator and the teachers I talked to, I personally apologized to each of my students the next day.  I explained that I knew the class had gone terribly, I knew it was my fault, I knew I was being retaliated against, but also that there are better ways to send the message.  I wanted my ring back, I said, and I'll set up a way for you to anonymously let me know how class is going.

This, I suppose, they could see as respect. The next morning, I found my ring in my work mailbox.

I love these kids so much.  I feel awful that I'm putting them through being my guinea pigs, that I have to learn this on them, that they feel like they have to do things like take stuff from me because I'm pushing them too hard.  I am so overwhelmingly proud of them for managing to learn anything from me at all most days. 

I look forward to teaching my freshmen next year, when I've taught them that work is a sign of respect.  In the meantime, I really have to learn to teach more with fewer assignments, right?

I love my work, all fourteen to sixteen hours a day of it, and it's time to get back to it now.  If you have any ideas, do leave them.  I'll try to write more often, I promise! 

What a perfect morning for reflection. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Garret for Reflections

Dear Friends,

Baltimore City Teaching Residency didn't lie when they said Institute would take up every inch of my time.  I have never worked so hard only to find out that I have oceans left to learn.  I turned in the final paper a week ago, right now.  I have since moved into my apartment, cleaned more dust traps than I've ever seen (and I lived above a frat), I've found a solid teak folding chair, had a dinner party, and organized my wardrobe.

I would like to give you a long, involved description of my time at Institute, but I think vignettes are better than overarching statements, and since I didn't track many of them as the summer passed (I was too busy writing lesson plans), I will start backwards and see what moments come.

In my little attic bedroom, I have the bed tucked into a nook.  It's a U-shaped room.  I, like Thomas Jefferson, can get to either side of my room from the comfort of my bed.  I don't think this room would meet his specs for natural light, but it does have gables.  Cars are crashing through puddles out one window; the air conditioner is chugging away, happy to be clean, in the other.

My right thumb hurts.  It's a dull ache, but when I type with it, it's sharp.  At 9:57 this evening, my dryer nearly killed me.  I've spent the last six weeks working 16 hour days, driving for sometimes three hours a day on no sleep, and hanging out with my grandmother in her smoke-filled house three afternoons a week... and it's my dryer that nearly kills me.  I couldn't find the lint trap, but I'd only done one load -- one more couldn't hurt, right?  So I popped in my clothes.  There was a faint burning smell.  After a while, I stopped the dryer.  I still couldn't find the lint trap.  I started it up again.  Sparks began shooting from the panel with all the dials.

So, I did the logical thing: I pulled the panel off.  Flames started coming off the back of the dial -- it looked like a tiny motor.  What was feeding this fire, you ask?  The entire chamber beneath the dryer -- the dryer is the top half of a stackable set -- was full of lint.  The lint was packed in so tightly it was difficult to see the chamber where the clothes went.

So, I did the logical thing: I started pulling the lint away from the flames.  But what, besides lint, do we leave in our pockets?  We leave change.  Quarters, to be precise.  There were, as it turned out, enough quarters in this mystery box to pay for my laundry for a month.  As I grabbed at the lint around the dial (and I did not have the presence of mind to get gloves), I touched one of these quarters.  This one happened to be fused, completely melted, to the flaming dial.  It was weird and flaky in texture, but that's about all a remember of it.  My whole arm began to tingle and I lost my vision.  Heat leapt up my fingers and into my chest.  I wanted to pull the quarter away, but all I could think about was getting away from the intense heat.  (Usually, I reserve descriptions like this for my romance novel.)  I stumbled.  I hit the tub.  I hit my head on the tub.  I was awake, dully awake, moving slowly, maybe not; the flames were bigger now, getting to more of the lint.  Into the kitchen I fumbled, filled the antique pitcher my mom gave me as a housewarming gift in Texas, pulled the trash can into the bathroom, brushed the lint inferno into the trash can -- it doesn't burn you if you don't touch it long enough, right? -- and tossed the water onto the flames.

Then, my hand began to hurt.  Delayed reactions are strange beasts.

But there was so much more lint -- and I had to unplug the dryer, right, or the blown wiring would do something crazy?  So, I did the logical thing.  In a fog, I reached into the chamber and swept out as much of the lint as I could.  Good thing lint clings to itself.  When I had enough of it to see the edge of the cylinder where the clothes tumble, it occurred to me that the whole thing might start moving ... and I was unprepared to deal with that so long as my hands were scrabbling around inside for lint.

Oddly enough, it was a week ago at 10:15 -- which is about when all of this ended -- that I turned in my final work product for Institute.  (Can anybody feel the metaphor coming?)

I can't do justice, here, to the pleasure I got from explaining proper use of evidence by the transitive property.  I don't have time to give you the details of the essay John wrote, or the mini-lesson Nigel gave, or to scan in the final work Divan gave me, in a neatly stapled packet, two days before the end of class.  I wish I had written down entries here every time Ephyera wrote a note in her notebook and then didn't use said notes in the question I asked her afterwards, if only because it would help you understand my joy when she used her word lists to paraphrase Sonnet 18 on the final day.  I wish I had cataloged the lesson my grandfather gave me, over breakfast one day, on "Using the Right Tool."  (It was the red knife for brick cheese.)  I wish I had written after my first (good) evaluation and again after my second (bad) evaluation, or tracked the development of the incredible friends I've found here.  Two months ago, I told a person quite dear to me that "It's strange to think: in two months, I will have met people that will be an inextricable part of my life... for the rest of it."  He said, "How do you know?" And I said, "How can they not?  Look what we're about to do together."  We did it together.  Some of them showed up for Kings, BS, steak, and warmed my house.

I wish I had told you all of those things and more as they happened.  It would make this moment better.

My hand hurts.  My head hurts where I hit it.  But there was a fire in my dryer and I was prepared.  I didn't have a panic attack; I hit my head and I got back up; there was an endless amount of fodder for more fire -- so I pulled it out.  I found the source of the flames.  Nothing went up in smoke.  It was hard, and I hurt, and there are risks to what happened in my apartment tonight.  There are some pretty glaring things wrong with what I did -- any boy scout will tell you that.  But I did it, the apartment is fine, my clothes didn't burn, and the dryer is actually cleaner than it was.  We know what the problem is.

So, too, do I enter the year: things will be glaringly wrong with what I do, but I can reach into the fire, pull out the lint, fill the pitcher with water, and through all the crises, burns, and head wounds, the dryer will be cleaner.  My students will be more prepared for the world when they leave me, and I will learn how to do that better -- as long as I keep pulling at the lint.  There will be risks.  I will lose a lot.  I will get burned.  But I can put the fires out.

That was cheesy, but it felt real, so I'm going to embrace the cheese.  I feel good; I can do this.  I will never work harder than I did during Institute... until I start teaching.  (What am I talking about?  I'm always teaching!  It's my life!  How great is that?)

There are more metaphors here: clean the lint steadily, there won't be a crisis, etc; but the one that matters is this:

inaction is not the answer.

Thanks, BCTR.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Symmetry isn’t just aesthetic

This afternoon, I had a class on the Alexander Technique.  It’s all about doing less work, settling into our bodies – being easy.  One of the things the instructor said was, “We can balance an egg on a spoon.  Isn’t it safe to assume, then, that we can trust the pieces of our spine to balance on top of each other?  So why do we work so hard to keep them that way?”

That’s a paraphrase, but the point is, we can be easy in our bodies.  After lying on our back and sinking into the floor for a long time, feeling the length and width of the back, she asked us to release our shoulder blades into the floor.  Then, she told us to drop our lumbar region to the floor, stop controlling our neck, let the weight of our feet hold our legs.  Then we stood.  We walked. We moved, thinking about moving.  She showed us a skeleton, and asked us to think about how marvelous our hips are.

“The waist is a place to hang your pants.  It’s not the middle of anything; it doesn’t break anything up, it's not a physical feature of our bodies.  It’s just a place to hang your pants.”

With soft knees and a whole back, we moved.  We bent by bending at the knees, letting our backs remain engaged and straight.  I relaxed into my bones.  It was almost as if my muscles moved around them.  I am finding the place where my body floats, it seems.  A body can cascade off the midline, and as long as it is floating there, easy, it’s symmetrical.

I had a bit of a revelation at the end of class, as one does when one empties one’s mind of everything except for their physical existence.  In the regular world, I tend to put my weight on one leg or the other, jutting out one hip, accentuating my ass, letting one shoulder rise higher than the other.  This is how I am at rest.  Why? Two reasons:
1. it feels like I'm giving my 'regular muscles' a break, even though I'm not
2. leaning to one side makes me feel like the difference in the height of my shoulders is less obvious

I have scoliosis.  I am pretty sensitive about it, especially as it becomes more visible.  And it’s true, when I’m truly at rest, letting my back be a solid piece, floating away from my spine, I can see the difference in my shoulders much more clearly.  But my self-consciousness was founded on a fallacy – that is, that everybody sees with my same critical eye.  Indeed, what did the rest of the class see?  Apparently, they saw my midline.  They saw grace, if you can believe that.  One of them said she saw beauty when I bent into ‘monkey position.’

(Side note: ‘monkey position’ is when, keeping your knees mostly above your ankles, you bend your knees, letting your butt jut out.  But rather than arch the back to keep your chin parallel to the floor, you let your back lie flat, as if it were against the floor.  Thus, you are leaned over, naturally, like a gorilla.  When you straighten your legs, you will come to standing, straight up.  Try it.)

This led me to a few conclusions.  First, if I am the only one who sees my shoulder-osis, great.  Second, whether it’s visible to others or not, what is also visible to others is comfort in my own skin and centeredness.  Third, I am more comfortable when I stand well; fourth, I’m preventing further curvature.  Thus, by remembering to let my spine stack itself, by letting my joints do the work they were designed for, I can both mask and fix my scoliosis.  

 Except… my back is a part of me.  I don’t feel so compelled, somehow, now that I remember how good and comfortable it is to walk this way, to disguise it.  I was looking in the mirror, after class, standing there; there was beauty in what I saw.  Not because there was perfect aesthetic symmetry, but because I was symmetrically comfortable.  There was no part of me I was trying to hide.

This both raised and answered an interesting question for me: what is comfort?  When you ask someone, “Where should my neck be right now?” And they say, “Where is comfortable?” And you’re confused, that’s not good.  That said, bringing awareness of the question to the process of moving is enough to answer it – over time.  I wasn’t comfortable, using my posture to hide my curviness.  But I couldn’t have told you that until I brought enough attention to the question of comfort to experiment with answering it.

How much can we answer in our lives by bringing calm, quiet, tolerant attention to it?  In a word, by bringing empathy to it?  If intentionally kind intention can release the shoulder blades to run freely across the back, what other miracles can we make?  What can that attention help us feel?

Further, I think that though different halves of my body will require different types of attention – different exercise, different training, possibly – ultimately, the goal is to bring both sides to equity, to give them both freedom.  I think there’s a symmetry in that.

We can savor our movement, as we savor good food.  There is more beauty in the world than we condition ourselves to see.  Let's bring some attention to that, hey?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nope, no novel yet

Sometimes I think that the more interesting work would be writing a memoir about trying to write this damn novel.  I just can't find my voice.  I know why I'm telling the story, but it's too intellectual.  It doesn't appear to matter.  When I am writing about my life, it matters.  Being clear matters.  This thing that I'm trying to do -- it's just a thing that needs energy, and though I'm trying to communicate that love doesn't have to look like it does in Harlequin novels to be bodice-ripping and delicious, in the guise of these characters that message keeps falling flat.  There's no depth because it doesn't matter.  I'm writing a fantasy.

The thing is, fantasy has it's place.  Dreaming our way forward is a legitimate means of locomotion.  If some of our hopes are unrealistic, well, that's life.  Unrealistic goals are destructive when they create the expectation that anything different than them is less than them.  All values other than x are different values, not necessarily lesser ones; unrealistic goals that provide an extra push are helpful.  Fantasy has a place in the mind that is fluid in its dreams.

I am inspired by writers like Liz Gilbert and The Gluten-Free Girl.  They go in search of truth for themselves, they do all this work to figure out how to live a good life -- for them -- and then they share it, without proselytizing.  I want to do that.  That's what this book is about for me: taking the tropes of the romance novel, showing that they all exist in real relationships, but showing that love happens with honest conversation.  It doesn't just fall in your lap, most men don't have ESP, and being catty and coy will not get you the guy, most of the time. 

I think the answer is right in front of my face: I can't write this book because I can't fictionalize my life.  Only, I'm not doing that at all.  I'm writing half-fiction half-memoir and then resisting my impulse to write reflectively.

Maybe I can write a memoir about trying to write a romance novel. And in order to do that... I have to get back to work.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Week For the Books

Since my last post, I have indeed written a bit.  Well, I’ve cut a lot, and written a very little bit of new material.  Editing is writing, too.

This week, I have done a lot of thinking about the purpose and function of my novel, though I have produced little written work.  The tree outside my writing window bloomed without me, as things tend to do.  Though it is good to know how steadily the world moves without us there to see it, it was sad to miss the first leafing of that well-placed tree.  Instead, I spent my early mornings on Watt’s Passage and Proffit Road, on my way to Ruckersville as the sun rose.  All this week, I have been nannying for the most even-tempered, affectionate baby I’ve met in a long time.  In fact, his diaper is pretty smelly right this very moment, so he’s giving me a reproachful look every minute or so and then returning to look at the window or the Baby Einstein toys he likes so much.  In respect of that perfectly sweet trust, I am going to go change a poopy diaper.  Be right back.

Yay!  He didn’t pee on me!  G’s only fault in the whole world is his timing with peeing – he like likes to do so just as I am changing his diaper.

I want to describe this little boy for a minute.  He’s had his bottom two front teeth come in, so he looks a little like an upside down bunny when he smiles.  He talks a lot, though his only grown-up words are ‘De dog’ (which means, I think, ‘there it is’ or ‘here we go’), and ‘Dada.’  He loves to walk around, but he needs my hands to do so.  He does not like his pants to touch his feet.  He hardly ever cries, and when he does, he stops as soon as you’ve fixed the problem.  He’s quite independent in playing, and can sit with his toys for twenty minutes at a time, usually only vaguely interested in you if you come to play with him; but then, he crawls over and reaches up his arms to be held.  Then, he’ll sit in your arms and be cuddled for quite some time.  He listens to commands, like, “Please use your hands to hold the cup” and “No.”  We sit on the couch and look at each other and laugh, just for fun.  Why don't grown ups do that?
He has the most wonderful facial expressions.  His favorite game is Flying.  I put him on my shins, lay on my back, hold his hands, and bring my knees to my chest, keeping my calves parallel with the ground.  He loves it.  (I will miss this boy like there’s a hole in my abdomen when I leave him at the end of the week.  The only reason I’m not cuddling him right now is that he needs to crawl around and try to stay standing for a while so he gets tired enough for his nap.) 

When we go out, he sits quietly in my arms in the store and cuddles me.  If he reaches for something on the shelf and I say no, he doesn’t freak.  He takes good naps, and prefers to do so in my arms, though he’ll nap in a crib if I am gentle about putting him there.  More than any of that, though, this little guy is my friend, and he’s the shit.  We are kindred spirits, and we make each other smile all day long. 

I shouldn’t be writing right now.  I have a lot of work to do for my class on special ed and the show I’m teching opens this week so I haven’t done any of the reading… but I miss this.  So, within the week, I will be posting the novel in installments online, rather than blogging – I miss communicating in this fashion when I don’t do it for a week, so I am hoping that I can satiate the urge to tell you all things by publishing online.  If you would like the website, email me.  Maybe I’ll also find the time to post.  In between, I am sound and projections op on a play.  It's nice to facilitate the spotlight for somebody else.  I like being the mechanism of art.

In case my description of G doesn’t illustrate how perfect my week has been, I am going to share a list of all the things I’ve been in the last seven days to illustrate how idyllic it’s been:

Nap nest, chef’s minion, outrageous flirt, sound tech, cue-caller, all-purpose comfort device, diaper changer, chauffeur, mind reader, reader, player of the dressing game, kindred spirit, sunriser, witness to the morning, witness of steps, listener of gurgles, source of laughter, raspberrian, peek-a-boo expert, teething device, daughter, drool mop, burp cloth, dresser, jungle gym, light cue op, happy home, full of joy, mechanism of art.

After writing the first draft of this, G crawled onto my chest, drank his bottle, and then slept on me for two hours.  Baby trust is scary.  I slept a little, too, but it was a lighter sleep; I stayed close to the surface.  When he twitched, I twitched, and vice versa.

Much connection can happen across age, without words.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Home again, bacon's cooking

On the plane coming back from Spain, I made a list on my arm of Things to Blog About, and if I recall correctly, it looked a little like this:

1. Crazy frenchman chase
2. The Day of the Hats
3. French Bacon: croissants aren't all that's for breakfast
4. Farmers markets and gypsy ladies
5. Wine and the Seine
6. An Accordionist, Clarinetist, and Hand drum man sell rugs
7. Free tapas.
8. Outdoor laundry vs. Indoor voices (my thought: everyone in Europe is really quiet when they talk to each other.  You can sit one table over and not hear a word they say all night, but it isn't because they aren't having an animated conversation.  Also, I don't think this was just the language barrier -- people don't want to strike up a conversation with a stranger in the street.  They have huge fences and tree screens around even the tiniest lawns.  A rather private people.  Yet they string their laundry out their windows, including panties, for all the world to see.  What kind of privacy is this?)
9. Diesel jeans?
10. Chicken joints are universally difficult
11. Kids in Europe are just cuter (my thought: they wear grown up clothes, sized small.  No goofy cartoon stuff for them, oh no.)
12. Quietness and the power of words
13. Intention in dressing shows respect; note: buy pantyhose
14. Learning French
15. My aunt's a whippersnapper!

This is my closest approximation of the list.  But, you see, between all the gchatting and studying, test-taking and eating, driving and volunteering I've been doing since I left Spain, none of those posts have gotten written.  And since I'm now a projectionist on a show, I genuinely want to write, and I'm possibly getting a job tomorrow, I don't see them getting written.  But I did want to share the thoughts.

Virginia has changed.  It's not just the superficial bits, like where people live and who is here, it's deeper; people who I remember having a great peace about them can, in fact, be ruffled; my little brother is a Man; there's no bacon in the fridge -- or there wasn't.

I'm the same, though I suppose I am completely different.  This is how I know that change is spiral: when I walked into Live Arts the other day, someone I used to know described me as a person and a half (omg he remembered me at all!) and then a person I'd only tangentially known kind of entrusted me with an exciting, serious task.  A creative linchpin.  I feel like... this is not them being complimentary anymore.  I feel like these things are honest reflections of their honest opinion of my character, which means that I'm not a kid.  This isn't something I get to fail at and then say, "Oh, oops, I'm twelve."  Of course, I never did that when I could, which is, I suppose, why this is happening now.  It's not something I can mess up, this work I'm doing on this show; it's an artistic partnership.  I'm a partner in making art happen.  I never felt that I had that, if I did.  So I'm doing the same things on the same reputation, but I'm different.  I'm committed to the art, not the act of working.  It feels good.

But I must confess: I haven't written since I've been back.  Well, I did last night between performances at the talent show (yeah, I went to a talent show in a bar), but I haven't yet used my big beautiful writing room.  It's got a desk and a yoga mat, boxes upon boxes of books, and a stereo system.  I haven't even completely unpacked my clothes, though I've been here three days.  I'm starting to feel guilty.  I came back to write my book.  I need to write my book!

There has to be a balance between the pressures, though.  I came back, in part to write, because I want to write.   If I have to push myself a little to get it done, that's a good thing -- inertia is a terrifyingly powerful force.  It is part of the artist's job to battle it.  But I have to battle inertia without battling myself.  I have to hear myself that I want to write and defend that time from everything -- from babysitting, from volunteering, from my friends, from my procrastination -- but also, I have to know that there's a reason that I'm three days in and have half my evening scheduled until the end of April.  I love Live Arts.  I love to make art.  I love working with people who are so openly appreciative of me.  I think it's good to do what I love.  I also think it's good to not live in fear of my writing, and, therefore, to do it.

I came back to do the things I want to do.  I just have to learn to get out of the way.  It's like cooking bacon: if you tend it too closely, it won't get crispy, you'll let it alone a moment, and it will burn.  But if you let it do it's thing and turn it when it smells right, it's perfect.  Just watch for the smoke.  I need to spend more time listening to the crackling and watching for the smoke, I think.

So I'm sitting here, the morning sunshine warming my fingers as I type, thinking about talking less about my art and making more of it; I'm thinking about how I can fall back into the trappings of my old life, but I'll never live it again -- I'm quieter; I know what it feels like to fail, so I fear that; I have priorities and a center.

I am here until the end of June.  This is what I want to do:

1. Wake early and write daily
2. Have lots of family dinners
3. Kick some ass as a projectionist and sound person
4. Reconnect with old friends
5. Eat better food: no more non-organic meat, no more fast food of really any kind
6. Talk less, create more

That last thing may mean that I spend less time blogging and more time writing my book, but... when the pen starts going, sometimes you can't stop it, and it turns right back on you.  Autobiographies, I imagine, are called 'auto' for a reason.

Haikus, however, don't count as procrastination from creation, so here are some on my trip, written upon reflection:

The Passport Haikus:

laundry strung over tile
mimics tripas, breezes love
wing'd starlit laughter.

shabby violins
float higher, sing softer, play
stories older'n time.

cozy cave, tests teach
if we hear ourselves singing
of light through the stones.

I'm no better than
normal; cobbled together
quilted hopes, I love.

sweet port of hope melts
all -- harbors peace, stories
the long journey back.

The Fellini's Haiku (yeah, I wrote a poem in a bar, get over it):

On Tuesday, I
opened mail I'd avoided.  I
found myself insured.

This Morning:

Sunshine showers, long
moments before breakfast, like
bacon for the soul.

A List of Things That Are Different In Europe

gluten free bread: it's more stretchy and crusty and not so crumbly
butter comes in different sizes
in Porto, appetizers (like bread and cheese) are NOT free, and come a bit packaged (I assume this facilitates passing them off to the next customer)
the cars are all tiny; the ones that are like American cars are miniature versions
the eggs come in smaller packages
there are gypsies
the internet
the showers are showerheads on long cords
there are models on planes (no, really)
quiet talking
the subways are not radial systems
there are train stations with grass roofs
people dress intentionally
there is very little casual attire
everything comes in smaller portions
if it ain't cobbled, it ain't... something, but there are enough cobbles to be legit snobbish about it.  also, on this one street in Paris, there were cobbles UNDER the pavement, whcih had been ripped up a bit.
everybody wears pantyhose.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Some Haikus on Europe

I sat in a really old restaurant eating a tortilla yesterday, and this is what I wrote:

So, cold tortillas
are better, lighter bar food
than American's.

Layered egg, golden
warm, soft, onioned patatas.
Sum of parts?  Lighter.

Brits are not better
At being English Speaking
In Spain.  [Take that, snobs!]*

* alternate ending: [AMERICA!]

Haphazard streets, paved
with care, crevices cobbled
attain intention.

Portugese sunshine
reflected in tile colors
kissed my face tender.

Mallard topped canes, men
made gentler by wives, pipes, time -- smile
from eyes to cuff-links.

A List of Things That Don't Need Words

I'm full
you've got nutella on your face
port? wine?
I'm a tourist, take a picture of me and my friend?
cute car
cute dog
cute baby
I'm having an asthma attack
up the hill
down the hill
flip flops are not appropriate footwear, you stupid american
dammit, we lost the football match
no! my team is better than your team!
I hate Palma Mallorca, dammit, but I hate Barcelona more!
check, please
heeeey, he's cute. [thumbs up]
I need a needle and thread to fix the hole in my jacket.  Help?
I want these shoes
where do I buy stockings?
I am terrified of heights, but the view is amazing
wow, this is old. 1282 for REALZ?
Velasquez, you have a funny look on your face.
my throat hurts.
suck on this lozenge every 3 hours. (amazing what miming can do!)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Europe, here I come!

I'm going to Spain! And Portugal! And France!

What is near Madrid that I should definitely see? Who do you know in Paris that I should hang out with? What's good to eat in Portugal?

Mining Screen Doors For Metaphors

This is a thought I had while on the phone with my mom, and she asked me to write it down. So I'm writing it here, as I haven't blogged in a while.

Long spools of metal in many grades, many types, and many lengths line shelves in some corner of some aisle of most every hardware store. Strings of metal hurt the fingers when we play or work with them for any length of time; but as far as I can tell, spooled steel is the best of all possible materials for making screen doors.

Now, most of us buy screen doors. But in today’s retail environment of shoddy manufacturing practices and standard pre-sizing, it can be extremely difficult to find the right sized door for our hearts and minds; it can be hard to find the right texture, the right weaving, to fit across the many points of entry into the house of our soul. So, I would rather make mine than buy it.

I have found that when I fling open my front door and all my windows, much fresh air and sunlight rushes in. It’s beautiful and warm, even on the coldest days, because there is always much good in the air. My experience has shown that the world is basically good, that people are basically kind, and that most of the time they will treat the world – and you – with love, if given the chance.

But that’s just most of the time. Captain Obvious must have his day: sometimes people are mean. People can, in fact, be scummy as slugs. They can bite, they can nag, they can buzz you until you want to scream and swat them. They can be rather poisonous. Captain Obvious, again: these characteristics are not far removed from the grosser creatures in the insect world. This is not the side of people I like to dwell upon, but one has to think about it enough to defend oneself.

So one must put up screen doors because bug repellent smells awful and repels good things, too.

I think it stands to reason that when doors are open, everything comes in. I think it also stands to reason that good things are often worth the bad things that come with them, but not always; and I think it stands strongest that proper filtration is key to balance, for if we let every bad thing in our lives effect us as profoundly as the good, we're bound to be miserable. Or, possibly more accurately, we're bound to behave like toddlers and small babies: their smiles are the happiest pieces of sunshine, but the smallest of things, like a scoop of ice cream toppling off of a cone, is the Greatest Calamity In the World. I don't want negative things to have that kind of sway with me: I want to be vaguely aware that they are buzzing at the door so I can address them and send them away, but I don't want them to come in all the way with the sunlight.

I suppose that means that around my doors and windows there will be a bit more shade; screens do that. And, along the way, my fingers will ache and bleed with the weaving. From time to time, I imagine someone will kick in my door, and it will be particularly bloody to reconstruct weaving in the hole; but still, it will be worthwhile.

Finding the proper density, the best weave... it's not simple. But it's good work, leading, as all good work does, to a happy settling in of peace.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Poems In the Office

Steam rising from the printer tray
pages stick together, compressed print.

A warm room with a view, perfect
for two sun salutations, a two-faced dog, and funny triangles.

One broken industrial stapler, repaired
with a broken screwdriver.

The question is, was it broken
if it functioned, and functioned well?

I think not.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Changes Come With Springtime

 This was an email I sent to the family and other persons.  In case I didn't get you with it, here it is.

Dear Friends and Family,

I am making a change.  I like you, so I want to tell you about it.

For some time, I have been talking about Tumbleweed Tiny Houses.  For some time, I have been wanting to teach, to write, to be at home; to spend some time in the woods, to hang out with my family.

I decided a few months ago to leave my job in June, but after spending time at home over the break I've changed my mind.  So, I'm going to finish the project I'm working on, and my last day at my job will be in the end of February.  While I have found an amazing community of friends and Friends (Quakers) here, I feel a powerful draw to spend some time really being at home, being with my family, before I start teaching in the fall.

Speaking of teaching, I had an interview with the Baltimore City Teaching Residency last weekend -- it went well.  I'll find out in a week and a half if I get it.  I've applied to two other fellows programs and two grad schools; I find out soon.  I have a lead on a job at Michie Tavern in Virginia in the meantime.

Perhaps it's folly to give up a job and friends to go home, to write, to look for teaching jobs, to spend Real Time with my family and friends who remain there -- but I don't think this change is silly at all.  I feel we have a right, an obligation, to do what makes us happy when we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it will.  I have found pieces of joy in this life here; I know, now, so MUCH more about myself than I did a year ago; I know how to build a life out of people, not stuff; I think I've gotten what I needed out of Texas.  It's time to move on.  The act is scary, but the thought is comforting.

So I want to shed the stuff, sell most of my furniture, and go home.  I've got a book in me; I'm going to go get it out before I throw myself into being a teacher.  There are logistics to this; I've got a lead on a waitressing job, I've got a subletter.  If any of you are interested in buying some books or furniture, I've got some pretty great stuff.  I'll give it to you for a few bucks + shipping and handling. 

The timeline: I'm leaving my job on February 18th, moving out of my apartment on February 20th, going to Spain for a few weeks, and then I'm driving to Virginia on March 13th.

I feel an immense amount of relief when I think about packing up my car and being at home.  I'm worried about not being able to sell my couch and stuff, but I feel the way will open.  When we are honest and clear about our lives, it always does, doesn't it?

I'm not feeling particularly eloquent right now; the West Wing is in the background so I'm not focusing, I'm hungry, and I'm tired from thinking about logistics, but this decision feels good.  You should know that after the 15th of March I'll be living with my dad.  I'll be there until a teaching fellows program starts (June), if I get into one, or grad school (August), if I get in there.  Alternately, neither of those options pan out, and I will be doing something completely different.  Whatever that thing is, it'll be within driving distance of the Shenandoah Valley, I can tell you that much!

Anyway, that's what's up in my life.  What's up with yours?  I hope you're as happy as I am... :^).


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Et... c'etait bien

I have made New Years Resolutions.

One was to write thank yous to all the people who sent me Christmas cards, another was to write thank yous for the beautiful presents; a third was to finish mailing the Christmas gifts that didn't make it into my car for the long trek East and North.  I hope you might understand why I have not posted since my stranding off the Turnpike in New Jersey.

The rest of the trip was lovely and peaceful.  I have discovered that really any amount of driving above four hours is slightly addling, but to do it without distraction is to enter a different state.  NPR kept me company sometimes, I listened to some CDs, but by and large, I just... drove.  5,500 miles later, 4,750 of which were alone, I feel no epic new kinships (though I have certainly refreshed some friendships, which feels amazing).  I feel no aversion nor any greater affinity towards my car, though the affection with which I look at it has apparently increased.  Before this trip, I was not unable to spend time alone or with myself.  But, I am aware that I feel more able to think and certainly more able to not think without the distraction of multimedia.  Perhaps it's the Quakers and perhaps not, but I found myself stretching the happy, empty space in my mind over many miles.  Mindful wanderings through thoughts that might have been mine and sometimes weren't have been filtered through many kinds of trees.

It was good.

I made some other resolutions: listen to the things I am dimly aware of; be kind; be kind to myself, but keep personal standards high; go to the gym a few times a week; get serious with a doctor about what's going on with my back; get on the bone marrow donor list; go to Spain; be quieter; bring my peace out into the world, but be careful of it, too; donate blood more consistently; call my brothers more often; be more intentional about who I spend my time with and what we do; focus on tasks to completion; learn to clear my mind in Meeting; don't waste heat; lock my windows; either get a dog or volunteer at the shelter near my house; write more; apply to grad school; let myself let go of things that aren't good for me; see the poison when I see wheat; don't combine spontaneous affection and alcohol; practice more yoga; learn French.

So far, so good.  I'm writing, I've pulled my hip flexor out of whack from a super intense gym class, I'm finishing projects mostly on time, I've applied to grad school, I have a pile of stuff to put in the mail -- look out; my windows are locked; I bought my ticket to Spain; I've seen a doctor about my back; I'm watching the West Wing with French subtitles.

It's been good.  The thing is, these resolutions and these behavior changes don't feel that much different from my life before the New Year.  I was making these kinds of resolutions all the time, working on them daily, taking up new ones and putting down old ones as I checked in with myself at the end of the week.  I wasn't always rigorous about looking into every aspect of myself -- as one is at the turning of the year -- but I feel like I was keeping up a decent habit of exploring a vein of self-work for a while before 2011 came upon me.

I understand why people want to go to the gym after the holidays -- there's a lot of food still clinging to the hips and grease in the pores, it's true.  I remember a time when I had a lot of pent up energy after coming home from the holiday vacation; that's not true this time.  I remember, too, wanting to go to the gym for aesthetic reasons, and I remember wanting to go for the sake of the habit.  Not one of those apply right now.

I feel this nebulous rock of positivity sitting in the middle of my chest.  It gets heavier -- in a good way -- when I express my enthusiasm by waving my arms and legs about in a cardio class.  I like the feeling I get after a workout; I'm not all that interested in any of the other immediate effects.  My affection for my body and self grows every day; I feel like sending myself a really nice thank you card, and to me, that feels like going to the gym.  I like it.

As fr the rest of my resolutions, I've made a few mistakes.  That's okay.  I have tomorrow to fix them; they'll still be there.

I was talking to a friend about New Years and mentioned that I don't find a lot of meaning to it; I do this every week, and I think it's silly that we, as a culture, get really drunk and then in the morning we resolve (as one does after a binge) to NEVER EVER do that again, none of those things [insert resolution here].  This really sets one up for failure.  I mean, you're starting the year with a terrible hangover and a set of habits to break or learn.  Not a good place to start from.  I mean, you've been eating for like two weeks straight, probably you've been on vacation, you're hanging out with people you don't usually see and doing things you don't normally do and then you wake up one morning maybe still tipsy from the night before and you're supposed to be in a good place to fundamentally change your life?

Habits take time.  The work is slow.  We have to do it collectively, regularly.  Well, I have to do it collectively and regularly.  Checking in and resolving should be a weekly event.  Why do we think it happens once a year?

This friend I was talking to smiled.  He said that he took my point, and that my feelings about New Years were pretty analogous to how he feels about Christmas and Thanksgiving -- why wait til twice a year to gather the clan, eat, and give thanks for all that is good in our lives?  Why not do that every week?

It was a good point.

Dear friends who made resolutions which have been broken already: try again, one day at a time.  Habits are slow in coming and slower in leaving.  Dear friends who are lucky enough to have not yet broken the resolutions you made in your drunken revels/hung over stupor: wow.  I'm really impressed.  How did you do it?

I think massive, cathartic episodes of reflection -- supersized versions of weekly traditions -- are joyous and useful.  I want to have dinner with my family every week; it would make Christmas and Thanksgiving that much better.  Reflecting on how I'm different in light of the things I want to change in 2011 was useful to me.  But my favorite thing about the last few weeks is this: good things happen slow as breathing.  Miles slide steadily behind you; rest stops are profitable things; eat and drink and be merry, regularly; and, if you're anything like me, a big rock of happy is sitting somewhere in your stomach.  Do the things that make it heavier.  It'll lighten the load.

Happy New Year, dear friends.  I hope to see you again soon.  Pardon the proselytizing.