deprivation · abundance · authenticity

The Junk Man Cometh

6.17.18

When I moved into this apartment, I was a 28-year old, about-to-be-graduate student.  I came with a free-to-me mattress and boxspring that lived on the floor, and “night tables” that were actually cardboard boxes draped in colorful scarves.

The coffee table (dubbed the “Earthquake Table” for its seismic gyrations everytime you knock into it), the pull-out sofa (from craigslist with cat scratches down to the wood), and the kitchen table (with one sloping leaf) came with me.  Each piece was free.  They were “from the Universe,” they were “manifested”!  And they were junk.

Over the 8 years I’ve lived here, I’ve traded up a bit, but on the whole, much of the broken and battered that came with me is still here.

At one point while still in my SF apartment, a man/boy/living-on-the-floor-in-a-basement-literal-dumpster-diver (don’t ask) reflected as we ate dinner off my curb-find, chipped dishes: “I love how everything you own is in a state of decay.”

Good lord.  What am I doing with my life!?

The man/boy and the dishes had to go.

For a very long time, I’d identified with “Second-Hand Rose.”  I thrived on and cherished the idea that I was “getting away” with not spending money on what I could get for free!  (“The Universe is totally listening!”)  Or extremely cheap at a thrift store.  My thrift store plunges were always post-scripted with a breakdown to friends about how many pieces I got for such little cost!  I even made specific trips into San Francisco just to go to my favorite Good Will.

Now, believe me when I say that I still find nothing wrong with thrift, as an adjective or noun.  However, when a few years ago I was at my women’s new year’s retreat sharing about what my just-glued vision board meant to me, I began to well up at describing how I didn’t want to be Second-Hand Rose in Second-Hand Clothes anymore.  That yes, a core value of mine is still not to add more consumption to the machine, but did everything I own have to be in a state of decay??

It didn’t make me feel powerful or high on thrift anymore.  It made me feel less-than.  It made me feel like I didn’t value myself.  I wasn’t taking pride in the 5 dollar shirt anymore (with just one hole that no one could see).  I was feeling shame.  I was feeling like hiding.

While I am absolutely still a reusable item junkie (I just purchased organic cotton coffee filters that I can rinse & reuse when I’m in Amherst … as there will be NO COFFEE MAKER!  Cue song from How to Succeed.), I do not have to make a sacrifice for everything that I own, consume, or purchase.

Self-deprivation isn’t hot.  And I’m allowing the pendulum to swing a little closer to center, a little closer to balanced.  I can buy something that I’ll use for a long time.  I can buy at the trendier consignment (not thrift) shop.  I can sleep on a bed frame.  I can even continue to grab up street finds, though I am much more judicious in what comes into my home.

Every day I choose to make a purchase that aligns with my values — about the earth and about myself — I feel closer to who I truly am:  Not. A. Hider.

 

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insanity · prosperity · trying

An Open Letter

6.14.18.jpgSince my now-ex moved out a bit ago, I’ve been composing letters to him in my head.  Things I would normally text throughout the day, the funny or coincidental, the discoveries or challenges.  But, I know these are not to be shared with him right now.

So, I’m going to share them with you!  Ha!  It’s what my “It’s called a Breakup cuz it’s Broken” book would suggest about calling a friend instead, at least for a little while.

All those things you would share throughout and at the end of the day.  The daily download over dinner, how this or that came out… That’s what feels most difficult: the loss of my closest friend.

It has brought to the fore that my dependence upon that relationship has been a bit lopsided to the neglect of my other relationships.  And so I have reached out to several folks, had a few lady dates, and will need to continue to do so.

But in the meantime, since no particular person I know would want to hear about all of the following, I give them to you, the interweb, a diffuse and “It’s your own choice to click this!” readership.  I here allow all my pent-up updating to be relieved without harm, to him, or to me.

So, Dear Friend, who cares about my minutiae:

  • Since J took back the Wusthof knife he brought to the relationship—and I learned what a 4real improvement a good knife can make—I went online and they were having a sale.  I now have THREE(!) new knives, and practically fainted from the ease with which I sliced my daily bread.
  • I went to 4th Street in Berkeley after graduation last Wednesday and bought: those knives, Kiehl’s eye cream (the men’s version bc it’s cheaper and the clerk says it’s just as good!), and two awesome dessert plates at Anthropologie (since the plates I had at home were freebies that don’t go at all and I’m using the new absence of J’s stuff to question what kind of a home I want for myself).
  • I’m doing research for the month + week I’ll be gone this summer (a month at my professional development in Amherst, MA, a week with my mom in Amsterdam and Copenhagen) about reusable items I’ll need (launderable cotton rounds, cloth coffee filters, collapsable silicon coffee maker and travel mug) and using the gift cards from school parents to pay for them.
  • I emailed school to ask about their covering the cost of the night I have to spend in Boston before my PD starts.  They said of course, so I booked the awesomest (&not crazy pricey) boutique hotel in Beacon Hill… and THEY APPROVED IT!  Omigod.  I’m such a fanatic for these cool, boutique hotels now.  Absolutely a result of being with J and going to several with him.
  • Speaking of, did you know there’s one place in Boston where in order to just attempt to get a reservation THEY HAVE TO CONFIRM HOW MANY INSTAGRAM FOLLOWERS YOU HAVE?!?!!?  Dude, I love strong design, but … sheesh.  (And no, I did not fill out their “application” form!)
  • OH!  AND, I was at the library reading “O” magazine and there was a photo spread that took place AT PALIHOUSE… IN THE SAME ROOM I stayed with J.  a month ago.  IN THE SAME BED.  So that didn’t make me sad at all…
  • My best friend from NJ and I confirmed we’ll meet in Boston in July for a girl’s weekend, and I’ve been absolutely bananas about searching for a place for us: how much to spend or not spend to spend or not spend to spe– … and then went to a meeting!
  • Speaking of financial insanity:  I spoke about trying to save for a house right now and a woman approached me with a referral for a real estate agent who works particularly with women, which led to:  a flurry of emails… deranged Redfin stalking… talking to a mortgage broker… learning I’d have to pay HALF my income to pay for a mortgage… running my numbers obsessively… not leaving the house so I could run more numbers… composing texts to my mom and brother about going in together… deleting said texts… talking to a trusted friend… and, finally, being reminded that this chaos is not the droid I’m looking for.  This chaos is something called “avoiding feelings.”  Weird.
  • Then I started meditating again.  >.<

So, yeah, that’s how these 10 days have gone for me!  HOW ARE YOU?!?! BWHAHAHA.

Health and illness, courage and fear, community and isolation, abundance and constriction.

Frankly, it all sounds about right.  For now.

Yours in evolution,  M.

 

authenticity · heartbreak · writing

But, it’s scary out there…

6.10.18

When I open a fresh Google tab, it suggests to me my most frequently visited sites.  Nestled between my bank and Netflix is WordPress.  Despite not having written here in nearly a month, the code of my computer remembers—and luckily so do my friends.

Friday on the phone with a friend, she declared that the times when I have been at my best, I have been creating.  Theater, Music, Writing.  Whatever.  It didn’t matter.  When I’ve been my optimal, on fire, most embodied self was when I was creating regularly.

The evening before that, I was standing in the glimmer of San Francisco light with a friend I don’t know all that well, but well enough that she should ask, “How’s your writing?”

I answered, “Actually, I haven’t been doing much lately; I’m sort of stalled out.  But last week at school, I read a graduation poem I’d written [adapted for my 8th grade students from the one I read at my own graduation…for an MFA in poetry], and got incredible feedback.  Several people said they teared up.  My boss even said I did what poetry is supposed to do: say so much in so few words.

I forget sometimes,” I said to my friend, “how much I love it—and that not everyone can do it.”

“Yeah,” she replied, thoughtfully, “I go into anorexia around my writing, too.”

Wait. What?

“I never thought of my not writing as anorexia…”

This idea has been haunting me.  As someone who identifies as an “underbe-er”—not living in my full potential or using my time to support and further my goals—I’ve long been aware of my “anorexia” around self-care.

But I’d never before considered writing an integral part of my self-care.  Or of creative expression as self-care.  I more think of it as washing my dishes or going to bed on time!

Yet, here it was, a lighting-bolt moment: I refrain from or deny engaging in something which brings me to life.  If that’s not anorexic, I don’t know what is.

As I’ve written before, I had the extraordinary privilege of growing up in a house that never used food as a weapon, a reward, an analgesic or a shaming vehicle.  Food was food.  It was enjoyed, or just eaten; around a table, or before a t.v.  But it was never much more than a nice thing or an ordinary thing.  And I am so grateful for that, as I know many people suffer(ed) from painful relationships with food.

But, anorexia for me has been about denying myself experiences or expressions of life.  Months without a forest, years without a museum.  Weeks without a song, days without laughter.

My friend on the phone Friday put me to the task of writing for 30 minutes every day for a week.  One week, just to see how it feels.  Whether that’s blog writing or personal writing or book writing–anything, just as long as I’m creating.

The truth is, I know why things have gone into a period of retraction lately.  The last time I wrote in my journal was a month ago, just two days before J. and I broke up for the truly final time, just eight days before he handed me the keys to my apartment where we’ve shared a home for 6 months, and a bed for 2 years.

The sadness, grief, guilt, hope, the cycle of them again and again.  The molasses way I walk to and from my car at work.  I know this is why I’ve distanced myself from creating.

But, here’s the stupid rub of emotional anorexia: I will never feel better by retraction.  I will never get fed by sealing myself off from experiences that feed me.  The healing that I seek from withdrawing is a lie and a delusion.

That doesn’t mean it’s still not my go-to.  But I am only to get a crow-bar’s worth of light in there if I acknowledge its falseness… and put pen to paper again.

 

excellence · expansion · TEACHING

Hungry Hippos.

5.2.18

As the school year draws to a close, I find that I feel a little stale in my teaching practices.  I have a toolbox with many drawers, but I tend to reach for the uppermost because it’s convenient, familiar, and reflexive.  Therefore, I’m not alone in my classroom feeling a little bored!

So, yesterday, I reached into my classroom bookshelf for my thumbed-through copy of Teach Like a Champion to remind myself of other techniques that are available to me.  OH MY GOD, what a relief!  I forget how many tools are literally (yes, literally!) at my fingertips.  I’m so grateful that my boss at my first school handed me a copy from her stores when I began my career and was drowning in novice-hood, sore-throated and haggard.

As I thumb again through the book, I see a handful of pages dogeared, but for the most part not touched.  The few techniques I recall (Vegas Moment, Exit Ticket, No Opt Out)… well, I recall them, but I can’t always say I use them.  Or say I always use them!

Of course, it’s not to use every tool every time, but to refamiliarize myself with all the drawers in my toolbox is like a draught of water on a hot day.  I feel relief.

Therefore, as I sat in meditation this morning, the idea struck me that I wonder if other teachers at my school might be feeling similar stagnation and welcome the chance to get together to read/re-read and discuss one or two tools a week and spitball some ideas for how to literally 😛 implement the techniques in their own classroom (since theoretical professional development is the WORST).

After dismissal, we’re still contracted to be on-site for another 30 minutes.  Well, what if I hosted a “Drop-in PD” in my classroom for 20 of those minutes?  We’d read a tool, refresh and head on our way.

Charged up with this idea and already composing an email to the faculty in my head (yes, during meditation!), I figured I should probably square this with the head honcho, in case there was a conflict or even an existing opportunity that I didn’t know about, and also to gain her ideas on the subject.

Therefore, at 6am today, there I am composing an email to my boss about how to improve my teaching, and perhaps the teaching of my peers.

Hungry.  That’s what I imagine she’ll think when she reads that email!

Because it’s not the first talk we’ve had recently on what I could do to increase my value (and compensation) at the school.  I met with her a few weeks ago to bandy about ideas and, through my supervisor, I heard that there may be one option on the horizon.  One that will be HOLY COW a lot of work, but it’s mostly initial set-up that can then be replicated with somewhat lesser effort in subsequent years.

I haven’t heard from the big boss on that yet, so I’m waiting for our monthly meeting next week.

But, in the meantime, can’t hurt to say I wanna host a klatch of teachers to improve our professional excellence, now can it?;)

 

habits · imperfection · success

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

4.30.18

“I make a lot of proclamations, don’t I?” I asked J yesterday morning.

We were at brunch at a cafe we like after having run “Cardiac Hill” in Berkeley, CA and I proclaimed that I would spend 3 hours at the Mills Library that day to do work.  The day before, I’d proclaimed that I was going to follow a new exercise schedule for myself.  The day before that, I turned down sweets because I’d previously proclaimed that I would only eat sweets on Fridays, but had already eaten them twice that week!

Recently, I have variously proclaimed that I would:

Shower daily, clear old boxes twice a month, only eat sweets on Fridays, go to bed at 8:30pm, not read Game of Thrones except whilst in bed.  That I would put 40% of my income into savings, that I would take daily breaks at work, that I would grade papers daily, that I would be outside for 45 minutes each afternoon…

Some of these proclamations have held fast, some have been loosely worn, and some haven’t taken hold at all (mainly the ones related to work).

After returning from brunch yesterday, I crawled back into bed and nap/rested for another hour (Come on! — we were up at 7am and it’s not called “Cardiac” for nothing!), and was then so sleepy/sloggy that going all the way out to the college library seemed silly.  …

did spend about 1.5 hours on workywork (though not in a row!), but didn’t get to any of my Goals Group writing that I intended, and needed, to do.

(Would it be ironic to mention that much of my Goals Group work this round will be about time-management!?)

It’s important for me to recognize that my life is a process and an unfolding.  It’s not a “one and done,” it’s not a “get it perfect every day.”  Perhaps like you, I hold myself to incredibly high standards, but take it viciously hard when I don’t meet those standards.  Or, if not vicious toward myself, certainly mildly aggrieved that I haven’t accomplished what I intended.

There is absolutely a balance that is needed between setting goals, reaching them, and the esteem that comes from such effort, and allowing for the humanity, imperfection, and dynamism of everyday life.

I have not yet found this balance!

And so, I make proclamations.  Some of them have improved the quality of my life by taking the questioning out (e.g. all the esteemable habit calendar work I’d done… until I got through one month and have yet to print out a new calendar sheet).  With others of my proclamations, I’m trying to hone in on the right apportioning of effort and devotion of time.  (Indeed, today, I’m up about 20 minutes early because I have some grading to do at work that needled at my sleep.)

I don’t necessarily desire to see my proclamations subside, but I do wonder if turning them into habits, natural parts of my life and day, would enable me to remove the judgment from achieving them or not.  Because, as Oprah intoned this morning, “Judgment, simply put, is fear.”

 

charity · philanthropy · wealth

Circular Reasoning.

4.27.18

I’m listening to the final chapter of Tony Robbin’s Money: Master the Game and, as isn’t surprising because it’s him, the chapter’s all about philanthropy.  Both he and Gretchen Rubin, in her Happiness Project books, cite studies that report a more-than-coincidental correlation between giving money and earning a higher income.

Bizarre, huh?

While, of course, that’s not all studies and certainly correlation is not causation, it’s still a psychological pattern that finds roots for me.

I’m part of a triad that meets to look at the finances and pressures of one the group members on an every 6-week basis.  The guy in the group is your typical starving artist:  a slam poet working for a dysfunctional non-profit, wanting to accomplish more in life but fearing that by “working in the system,” he’s selling out, he’s “one of them.”

The rub for him is that by not allowing for any success or abundance in his own life, he’s able to do much less for the organization he and a prison inmate founded for educating young adults.  While I’m not preaching that everyone who wants to do more in the world needs more funds to do it, for this particular guy, he’s frustrated, stuck, and even a little hopeless as he witnesses his non-profit boss drowning in her own do-good-er-ness and righteous poverty.

So, is wealth the answer for him?  No, of course not.  Would having a firmer financial cushion enable him to devote more time to his own cause and not depend so much on the dysfunction of others?  Well, that’s the hope!

In order to get there, though, this guy is deep in the “having to dismantle old ideas” phase from his youth.  If Money is evil, Rich people are corrupt, Success is for pansies, well, then he’s not going to break out of this pattern that is causing him to suffer.  If he learns another way of viewing success, such as a vehicle for freeing up time and resources for his own organization, his own artistic endeavors, and allowing him to give back more… maybe this habit can change.

He is not alone in believing in the evils of money while at the same time wishing he had more.  In fact, the biblical verse is not “money is the root of all evil,” but rather the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil — perhaps interpreted as the love of money above all things.

The pursuit of wealth in and of itself may not be the most fulfilling path.  In fact, many of the studies cited by Rubin and Robbins (and even Arianna Huffington) state that when people were told to give a portion of money to charity, they reported a higher state of happiness and well-being over the long term than those who received a pay raise.  Ver veys, who knows.

But clearly, there is something to be said for giving.  And in order to give, one must earn.  And… in order to earn, one must give!  It’s a crazy, lovely cycle.  At the present I donate 2% of my income to charity (Charity Water, Planned Parenthood of Northern Texas, EarthJustice, Athletes for Cancer, and my spiritual group), but… really, it’s 1.97%…

What would happen for me, for others, for the world if I increased that amount to a true 2%?  What would happen at 3%?  There’s only one way to find out.

generosity · gratitude · TEACHING

What act of generosity can I carry out today?

4.25.18.jpg

This is the central question I now have Post-Ited to my fridge.  Beneath it is one that reads, “What act of generosity did I carry out today?”

As things progress, stagnate, circumnavigate and develop, I can get a little lost in my brain, thinking about things to the detriment of actually doing them, particularly thinking about my relationship instead of myself.  Thinking is not always my highest mode of operation.

Therefore, it’s important for me to have a touchstone to come back to, coming back to myself and what’s happening before me and the people around me.

While contemplating this, today’s title question came to me: “What act of generosity can I carry out today?”  This helps me to reframe my day and my life to see how I can be of service in the world, and to employ the gifts I’ve been given to brighten said world.

I like the bookend nature of these questions so that, when last night I came home late from our school’s Open House, I got to reflect on what I had done for my students, rather than on the parent questioning me about why their 8th grader’s vocabulary scores weren’t higher on standardized tests.

Particularly, last night, I got to reflect on one piece of joy and light I brought to a family.

First off, my 6th graders are my saving grace.  While I enjoy and love (some of!) my 8th graders, depending on the moment, the 11-year olds are my delight.  Sure, teaching them during the last period of the day can challenge one’s patience, but that’s my own learning to ensure that there’s something active and capturing for that last 45 minutes of their schoolday.

One of my young students is one of those sports players I mentioned a while ago whom I’ve tagged as a strong writer, and his father stopped me in the hallway a few weeks ago to sincerely thank me for encouraging his son’s writing.  I replied that I was only acknowledging the talent that he clearly has.

And last night, that same dad and son came to Open House and, while the son interrupted with apologizing for grammar errors or “it’s not edited yet” interjections, I read them both the latest short story from the boy.  The father was staggered.  (If I’m not mistaken, his eyes were misty by the end of the reading.)  He was so clearly impressed and delighted at his son’s writing, plus it was my pleasure to read this story aloud and reflect to the son that his words (even without editing!) are of value.

This, my friends, is my act of generosity from yesterday.  I continue to feel that encouraging the talent of this student and others is my greatest act of generosity—and privilege.  While there are good writers in my classes and even poor writers, and I get to find the diamond in the rough of each of them, clearly the ones with writing talent are among my favorites.  I can’t help it, I’m an English teacher after all!

I am so honored and thrilled to have done something for this student (and the 3 other parents who stopped me last night to say that their child was absolutely loving my class, some even saying that their child didn’t even particularly care for English before).  This is my honor and privilege, and as much as I know there are still hills for me to climb professionally to feel more capable and confident and engaging in my teaching, I feel nearly dumbstruck with gratitude that I get to shine a spotlight into the talent-corners of these children’s lives.  Amen.