empathy · maturity · middle school

What I remember about 6th grade:

7th-grade-me-1993-94.jpgAt the start of the year, I tried to attach myself in friendship to the new girl in school, since I didn’t feel connected to anybody.  She quickly sensed my desperation and made other friends.

I caught the nickname, “Smolly.”

Two kids started a bet about what I would wear the following day, because my clothing choices were apparently so limited that they could guess what it would be.  (One of them asked me privately to wear what he’d bet on so that he’d win, which is how I found out about the bet.)

After that, I begged my mom to go shopping, which we did at the discount store we always went to, and I bought my first HyperColor shirt — all the rage.  Soon thereafter, a boy in class accidentally got pen ink on it and I got so upset.  He said it was no big deal, I could just wash it, which seemed like a far-fetched idea considering the state of home stuff at the time.

The hypercolor shirt did get washed, but it also got put in the dryer, and the color shift from heat locked the whole thing permanently in hyper-mode, making it unwearable/uncool.

While riding my bike home from Sunday school, I got spooked by a car and stuck out my foot, right into the spokes of my front wheel, breaking 3 bones in the middle of my foot and landing me on crutches for the remainder of the school year.  This meant that at the 6th grade dance, the same boy who bet on my clothes was apparently dared to dance with me…while holding onto the “waist” of my crutches.

All in all, it was a kinda messed up year.  But my teacher, I remember being fine — meaning I don’t remember any trauma, so that’s a bonus!

When I tell people that I’m a middle school teacher, they shudder or wince or otherwise make it clear that my job must be absolutely horrible.

But here’s the thing: I’m not a middle schooler anymore.

I’m not “in” middle school.  I’m not the girl with frizzy hair and crutches in her graduation photo.

I’m a 30something woman with awesome hair and 3 feet of legs!

I get to pull who I am today through the world of these students, and try to let their teacher “not be traumatic”!  I get to acknowledge that there may be a lonely, ill-fit, scared person in each of these students and I get to hold space for that and guide them.

My job doesn’t in the least cause me shudders.  Sure, it might cause me irritation, frustration, mania, or exhaustion(!!!) — but it hasn’t yet once caused me to hate being there.

I think when people wince at hearing my job it’s because they’re recalling themselves at that time, and how difficult it was.  I get to say each time that’s why I wanted to do this!  To get to be a different force for them.

Not every kid will get something out of my class that they “remember,” much like I’m sure my 6th grade teacher was fabulous at his job but I don’t remember anything specific.  Not every kid will even like me!  But I get to see them.  I get to see their hardship, their worry in navigating a burgeoning world of “How am I perceived?”

And sometimes bearing witness is the most supportive action we can take.

I love and hold compassion for the lonely girl I was.  She informed some of the core manners of myself, and I’ve also had to dismantle some of the viewpoints she formed.  To know that who were are and were and will be are all time-limited (to echo yesterday’s blog) reminds me I don’t have to “get it right” for these kids.  I don’t have to rescue them; I don’t have to rescue my 11-year old self.  I don’t need to save anybody.

I just get to acknowledge and smile and breathe.

 

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kindness · progress · stagnation

It’s okay, boo.

8.15.18In finishing Pamela Druckerman’s new book, There Are No Grown-Ups, I’ve been reflecting on her discussion and research of Widsom.  (Yes! There is scientific inquiry into “wisdom” and what makes someone wise.)  Wisdom, as my summer plane-read tells it, is the combination of experience and reflection with an ability to extrapolate that information forward.

As I take in the state of my physical home and body since I arrived back from my 5 weeks away, I notice several things that are not unusual:  a sinkful of dishes, full-to-burst recycling, and an absolute absence of physical exercise.

What is unusual is that I know that this is temporary.  

I have tended in the past to make such “horrors” mean something about me, and to mean something about the condition of my future.  I extrapolate this state of chaos and sedentariness to be a permanent stagnation that will forever impact the rest of my beating life!

Luckily, today I know that this is not the case.  I know that my physical states reach low periods during transitions or hard emotional times, and I have seen them change!

When several months ago, as my relationship was in devolution and my boyfriend was still living here, I drove home from work, sat on the couch, and read Game of Thrones for 4 hours.  Every day.  For weeks.

I didn’t “want” to be spending my time that way.  I kicked myself for “wasting my life.”  I feared this meant I would never have ambition, never make progress in my life.  But in retrospect, I know that it was my way of coping with the circumstances, and I saw it change very quickly once the parting was imminent.

I have had periods of time where I binge on baking shows, novels, pinterest.  I have also had periods when I walk every afternoon, go to the gym, run regularly…or even do art.  I have even had times when I wash my dishes every evening and arise to a clean kitchen every morning.

So, what I know, and what is bringing me relief at the moment, is that my physical chaos/stagnation is just a blip.  It’s just a manner of self-soothing.  And I get to be kind to it today.  I get to say, “Hey guy, you’re clearly having a lot of feelings right now, but don’t worry, they will pass.”  My home will again be clean, my body will again feel strong.  And my life is and will again feel one of progress, I promise.

I’m so grateful for the chance to use my wisdom—experience, reflection, extrapolation—to offer kindness to myself.  Because I have never once nagged or bad-mouthed myself into or out of a damn thing anyway.

 

 

courage · growth · loss

Open Door Policy.

Autumn colours through the doorwayFor years, I’ve been speaking to close friends about “moving to the next room.”  My trepidation about leaving behind those that won’t come with me, my stagnating and returning to the smaller room, my dickering around in the doorway hoping and cajoling those I want to come with me.  My fear that by moving into a new place I would be abandoning others, that I would be alone.

Strangely, I’m beginning to feel a bit of release from the strangle of those fears.  I acknowledge there are people I’d like to DRAG, bloody and screaming, with me—I want them to come through so badly.  Through the door, “into the next room,” which I have discovered opens into a blooming garden.  I want them to see, to see it’s not so scary.  But these are precisely the words that I myself need to hear, and believe.  That it’s not so scary out there.

And that I’m not going to feel lonely.

Because, I don’t.  I feel enlivened, actually.  Curious and slightly unsure of what will happen (strike that! — entirely unsure what will happen!), but it isn’t enough right now to turn me back to the small place.

I’ve been reflecting, too, on my recent break-up.  How when I think I’ve hit the floor of my grief, a trap door opens to slam me one floor lower.  When I consider returning to it, I slam down again onto the hard reality beneath: that I tried so f*cking hard to make it right, to make it fit.  And each time these hopes, these ruminations arise in me, I am hurled again like clay onto a wheel, slammed, remolded, returned.  “No, Molly,” it echoes.  “No.”

Ouch.

I’ve also noticed that in the last week alone, my door for new potential partners is apparently wide the f* open, because it’s letting in all kinds of wow-totally-and-completely-not-right people.  So, clearly the door is open for someone new but I could use some massive refinement of my “Law of Attraction”!

I know that the ultimate doorway here is the one into the next room, out into that garden, where I will be leaving behind the relationship that hurts so much to make right and the people who are incompatible in so very many ways.

Because what I’m coming to understand is that I must close the door behind me.  And this is something I’ve been avoiding for as many years as I’ve talked about said door.  I’ve left the door wide open so that I could come back in to the small place and see if my loved ones want to come with me.  I’ve left it open so that I could grovel and beg and tear the arm off in my pulling of them to come with me.

I’ve not wanted to leave them.  And, importantly, I’ve been afraid that without them I’ll be alone in the new place, or at least (as is on my mind!) like a new middle-schooler arriving to class and wondering who, who among you will be my friend?  Who among you will be my peer?  Or be my friend-guide just that step ahead of me, pulling me along into the new world?

As I stand on the threshold of this new place all nervous and twisty-handed, just beyond the reach of my smaller self, the bigger part of me knows I must first imperatively reach behind and pull closed the door of underbeing.

The unseen makers of the laughter that I hear and the bathing, liquid scent of magnolias in the new world before me will have to be enough of a sticking place to which I affix my courage until I find another hand to hold.

Damnit.  Deep breath.  Here goes. …

 

growth · strength · vulnerability

Bio-Dome

8-13-18_2.jpgIn an article I read several years ago, it described the results of a real-life biodome experiment.  Scientists had constructed an environment inside a dome with plants and animals and trees, carefully monitored humidity and air composition.

After a year or so, they realized their oversight:  The trees that grew were massive. Unencumbered by the elements, up and up they grew.  Then, these trees began to topple.  Their root systems too shallow to hold their height, the trees began to uproot themselves.  They were too weak.

What the scientists reflected was that in the absence of wind, storms, an opposing force, there was nothing for the trees to press against, no muscles they had to build in order to survive.  They were lily-livered.

The trees needed opposition, they needed challenge, they needed to test their mettle against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune!

In other words, they needed to be exposed.

When considering those things within us that are our most precious secrets, our most protected parts of self, I must consider that there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg dilemma.

If I don’t expose my secret dreams and talents and self to external slings and arrows, they won’t become stronger because of it.  And therefore I get to fear that my dreams and talents cannot hold up—and I’d be right!  Because in truth they can’t survive if they’re lilies, so I protect them further.  They stay weak, and I fear they’re weak.  Rinse, Repeat.

As I regard my moving out into the world in a more full way, I have to know that my dreams will suffer.  They will hit bumps, they will be jostled.  They — I — may feel threatened.  I may feel inadequate.

But this is in service of my strength.

It’s so vulnerable!

Yet, the alternative of hiding and waiting for storms to pass eternally is impossible.  To live an undiscovered life is to live in certain death.

There’s no real bravery in my opening up the bio-dome, exposing my tender green shoots to the terrors of “out there” — there’s only sheer and pure necessity.

Besides, I know I’ll get stronger, and strong girls are hot.

 

creativity · singing · wholeness

Dominoes.

8.12.18.jpgMore moons ago than I can count, I wrote down this quote a friend had posted as her Facebook status update.  I wrote it down with the desperation of flailing for a life preserver, not believing it ever to be or come true for me, but with the understanding that someone, somewhere in the world found this preserver and found it to be stable and life-giving:

“That feeling when things fall perfectly into place, and any anxiety you had suddenly vanishes.”

What horseshit.  What hope.

So, I wrote it down on a post-it and affixed it to the inside of my medicine cabinet.  It’s been likely 8 years since it was written, and I read it still with that desperation and that hope that anything like that could ever feel true within me.

Spoiler:  It’s kind of how I’m feeling today.

Bananas as it may seem to me, I’m having a feeling of serendipitous coalescing.  Yesterday, I attended a school event that was entirely optional but I wanted to go.  I wanted to see my people, my friends, my coworkers.  I wanted to walk out onto the ballfield/gathering place and hug the tech director.  I wanted to sit with my boss/fellow English teacher and—even though I tried not to(!)—immediately fall into the loveliest, liveliest shop-talk, about a new book I’m excited teach, Sherman Alexie’s troublesome revelations, and executive functioning training!  I wanted to hug my head of school and admissions director and facilities manager.  I wanted to be there.  (“There’s no place like home.”)

And I wanted to leave.  To head into the city to meet up with likeminded folks for an evening of play and discovery and excitement.  And wouldn’t you know, today’s Oprah/Deepak meditation is about Divine Playfulness.

Yes.  Yes, and more yes.

I received an excited phone call yesterday morning from my girlfriend who came by on Friday to “look at” my art studio with me and consider the possibilities.  On the phone (just the next day) she breathes, “It’s set.  It’s done.”  The art show that had its conception seeds planted as we tacked up 12 years of my collages is now happening.

When?  “Sunday, October 7.”  Oh, you mean my 37th birthday?  Well, I’ll be damned.

We’re having a salon, all types of artists.  The space is set, would you believe, in the home of a friend whose birthday also happens to be October 7th.  What the hell?!  … or Heaven.

They’d constructed a theme—Birth—and I wasn’t feeling entirely stoked on the idea.  My visual work wasn’t really heading in that direction (unless you want a show the first, ahem, seeds of birth!), so I questioned perhaps some poetry, spoken word, or painted broadsides, but my oral/written work isn’t really doing that either right now.

And in meditation this morning it came:  I will sing.

(I’m embarrassed to write that here you know, staking my claim… owning my voice, as it were!)

But, one of my visions for quite some time has been to “be a lounge singer.”  To be that woman in a sleek, sequined dress behind a stand-microphone who allows her voice and words to float over others as they half-pay attention and half-not.  I don’t need or want a concert, I want to be a part of the ambiance.  I want to be the art.

A pianist friend/former band-mate and I had a brief-lived duet a bit ago.  So, today, I’ll reach out to him and see if it’s in for it.  And if he’s not, there are more options.

But the idea of being an artist, in a salon, doing something I’ve only dreamt of, with friends, on my birthday?

Well, I suppose that is the feeling of everything falling perfectly into place and any anxiety I had…suddenly vanishing.

beauty · habits · maturity

The Usual.

8.11.18Anyone who witnessed my reading of Gretchen Rubin’s habit book, Better Than Before: What I Learned about Making and Breaking Habits, knows that I have some trouble making, and keeping, habits I’d like to reinforce.

But that’s not what today’s blog is about.  Instead, today is about relishing and delighting in some of my habits (which is precisely the point of that book, btw).

Yesterday, I went to the nail salon to get my toes did, as I do a few times a year.  As the woman was finishing up, she asked what I thought of the color.

“I’ve gotten this color almost every time for the last year—I love it,” I laughed.  “It’s just so nice to find something that works and stick with it.”

The 20something in the next chair side-eyed me with alarm and disgust.

I hear her.  I understand that one of the treats of getting your nails done is the thrill of trying something new: feeling into yourself what mood you’re in, what aura you want to project, what mood you’d like to be in.

But, lady, I’m about to be 37.  I’ve done my nails.  I’ve “felt into myself” (don’t be creepy) for years, and I’m kinda done.

When I was in college, I brought with me a giant Sketchers shoebox brimful of nail polish bottles.  Teal, Topaz, Magenta, Glitter.  Girl, I’ve tasted the rainbow.  Tried it on, taken it off, pasted it on again.

And now I’m old.  Now I have other brain cells I’d like to use.

We each get decision exhaustion by the end of a day.  A time when we’ve used up our store of “This or that?” and frankly, nail polish is not one of the things I’d like to use it up on anymore!

I want habit!  I want usual!  I want easy breezy beautiful, baby!

So, yes, I do love the sparkly, sexy red, like I dipped my toes in pulverized ruby slippers.  I love the peek of red out of my sandals, sophistication with a dash of coy playfulness.

I love that I drink 2 cups of coffee each morning.  That I eat 3 eggs, no matter what.  I love that I wash my hair on prescribed days of the week and make my bed without thinking about it.  My mornings are nearly perfect in their efficiency of decision-making, or absence of decision-making.

This frees up my brain to decide other things, to focus on the margins that aren’t habitual.  These are the places of excitement now:  Go to the theater.  Dress up.  Try a new book.  Read a new piece of research.

What will I do in the places I’ve opened up for myself by not constantly making choices?

Further, I love the habits I’ve formed—the healthy ones, at least!—as they give me their own kind of thrill.  You could say that it’s like a machine, how boring.  Or like a well-oiled machine, how sleek and confident.

Acting out these non-decisions make me feel like I have a center of person, places I know I want to reinforce over and again.  Places that form the ground of who I am.

“I am a person who X.”  And as Pamela Druckerman writes about in her newest book, There Are No Grown-Ups, confidence in our person is what our 40s are all about.

 

art · creativity · level up

Gallery of Indeterminate Art.

still life feb 2011In an effort to “not go back in the cave,” I’ve been (egregiously slowly) asking for and (less slowly) accepting help.  I’ve been tending to the idea of getting an “accountability buddy” for many months now, someone with whom to mutually check in about progress on our goals, but I haven’t gotten far in that realm.  There’s something so daunting about accountability—even when it’s in service of my own health!

So I’ve been skirting up to the line by asking for help around smaller, task-specific items, which seems like a nice middle-ground and huge progress nonetheless.  Yesterday, I texted an artist friend of mine to come by and help me “look at” my art studio space.  To help me talk out what it is I want to do with it or in there.  Because most of what is up there is of the “Someone could use this for something” variety, but that someone hasn’t been me.

Magazines for collages; baskets of fabric samples; all sizes of canvases, plywood, and thick paper.  I have finger paint, oil paint, acrylic paint, watercolor.  I have charcoal pencils, colored pencils, water-color pencils, and pencil pencils.  In my art studio, there are scissors, brushes, glitter, embossing tools, stamps, ink, turpentine, and gesso.  Rulers, compasses, sharpeners, and cleaners.

And what is a girl to do?

I have no idea.  I’m no painter (“yet,” she adds hopefully).  I took an oil class in grad school that produced all the paintings that are up there, 6 years ago.  I loved it—more specifically, I loved the accountability and deadlines.  I loved having to work toward a goal, with an assignment (interior, live painting, still life [seen above]), an end date, feedback, and completion.  I also loved being around other people creating, too.  Yet, in the absence of an end date and the presence of self-judgment, all my ideas spool out to the egg yolk on the horizon.

(Speaking of spools, I also have a sewing machine, bobbins, embroidery thread, and knitting!)

So, I’m hoping that my friend standing next to me today, looking into this candyland of undiscovered art, will help me discover:  What is next for my art studio?  What is clamoring in there to come to life but I can’t hear over the shaming voice that tells me I’m wasting it?

Perhaps it’s something I make, perhaps it’s a group I host with access to it all, or perhaps I tell her about the few pieces I’ve done that I know would make a series, but that I’m unsure I feel enthusiastic about anymore.

In order to create anything, I need people.  And in order to have people, I have to ask.