abundance · receiving · TEACHING

Reception.

10.4.18Today, I’ve been asked to be among the teachers presenting a poem during our weekly prayer service at school.  It’s to be about Rain, to invite in the rain now that it’s past Sukkot, the harvest holiday, and officially into the Fall and Winter months.

The idea of being receptive to abundance is what’s rattling around in my head.  The idea that we have built hardscapes that prevent any rain — or abundance — that’s already being offered us from actually reaching the depths where it will do the most good.

The idea of our shunning or turning away from this bounty feels relevant; of our not accepting the blessings being offered or seeing the good that exists, because they don’t look like we want or we don’t look like we want.

When do we get to say, “Yes, I allow myself to receive”?  “Yes, I am enough”?  When do we get to say that, yes, we have earned the right to the gorgeousness of life, simply for the fact of our being born into it?

There is no scorecard for abundance.  There is no number of duties or tasks that I’m to perform in order to be worthy.  I do not need to please a god to be worthy.

Nor a parent, nor friend, nor, frankly, even myself.

The only requirement for receiving abundance is to see it.  To look up, and to notice.  To see the real and metaphorical dew drops on pine needles, to see the real and metaphorical water cycle pumping its heart of new growth and saturating our entire earthen planet.

This noticing is my ticket to receiving.  The abundance is already there, like water puddled atop a slab of concrete — all I need do is break through it.

 

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humility · self-love · TEACHING

“Isn’t it unmodest?”

9-25-18.jpg

One of my 7th graders asked me the above question this week.

Their daily journal prompt was to list 5-10 positive traits about themselves.  This wasn’t necessarily things they were “good at,” I told them, but it could include those.  I continued that the turn of the Jewish New Year necessitates that we look at the places we’ve done harm in the last year and the ways that we want to improve, but sometimes we can get stuck there in “what’s wrong with us,” so the prompt was intended to balance out those scales of self-appraisal.

When my student approached my desk during the 5-minute writing time and asked the above question, firstly I taught him the word ‘immodest,’ and then said, “That is a great question, and let’s talk about it as a class.”  So we did.

We had a great discussion.  The writing on the board, as seen in the above photo, was generated from their own comments and from my own opinions/perspective:

  • Is doing this activity being immodest?
  • Am I being “bad” by considering my positive traits?
  • Do I only improve by marking mistakes?
  • Can I improve by honoring my achievements?

We answered these questions with a few notations:

  • It’s not saying, “I’m better”; it’s saying, “I am.”
  • Humility = Being right-sized; an honest fair look includes the positive!

I am so proud of my students for this discussion and for bringing to light the darkness within which we shroud achievement.

As I wrote about last week, my Goals Group’s question of the week was, “How will I reward achievement?” and, frankly, we group of 4 bad-ass women had a complex time attaining an answer!

What we generally and individually came to was that we would reward our achievements with self-acknowledgement.  None of us truly needed or wanted an extra bauble or scoop; that’s not really what makes us feel acknowledged or seen.  What we really wanted was, simply, to feel acknowledged and seen!

And one way to accomplish this is to feel proud of ourselves.

I wrote previously that I was going to start allowing myself to say, “I’m proud of you,” without dampening it with self-doubt, derision, or some twisted notion of humility that breeds self-flagellation.  And, strangely, I have begun to say it to myself.

I did laundry and put my sheets back on the bed (instead of sleeping on the mattress pad next to the clean sheets, as I have been known to do):  Molly, I’m proud of you.

I ordered a replacement toiletry item (instead of waiting for it to run out and scrambling): Nice, Mol, proud of you.

I sent two blog posts/essays to magazine and newspaper publishers: Jesus bloody Christ, Mol!! I’m proud of you!

Eek.  This feeling of pride in my achievements — of self-love, really — is a newfound one.  As I texted my friend about it yesterday: “Frankly, it makes my heart feel denser—uncomf but also fuller.”

And that is how it’s feeling, this neophytic acknowledgement of myself and my achievements.

I do NOT think that it is immodest to honor our efforts.  I do NOT think that we only grow through suffering.  And while the quip “the beatings will continue until morale improves” is a wry and ironic one, it is NOT supportive of the kind of light I want to have, bring, expand, and grow from.

I’m excited for this new chapter I feel I’m entering.  One where I am more attracted by my assets than hiding and immolating over my perceived failings.  Either direction I go, I will not run out of items to list — so why not go with the side that makes me feel kinda giddy?

 

growth · humility · TEACHING

#learning

9.6.18.jpgWhen my students say sorry, I respond: Don’t be sorry, be learning.

As a phrase, “sorry” is thrown around a lot, but doesn’t seem to do very much to prevent that same behavior from happening in the future.  It’s my intention to show my students that it’s okay to make mistakes — it is okay to “be sorry” — but if that’s where you stop, then that’s not far enough.

We’re heading into the season of the Jewish calendar that emphasizes a return to self, to “goodness” perhaps, and to the start of a new year.  A fresh slate, a new page, a beginning.  Who do we want to be as we head into that year?  Are we being the person we want to be?

As I asked them recently, where have I allowed fear of not being “good enough” prevent me from accomplishing something I wanted to do?  Where have I not been as courageous, kind, or thoughtful as I wanted to be?  Where I have stood aside because it was the “easier” thing?  …  Where have I thrown something in the black garbage bin because a compost wasn’t easily accessible?;)

I don’t only want to be sorry.  I do need to apologize where it is warranted — and I have this year!  (See recent rant.)  But I also need to be learning.   What is there for me to learn from this?  Am I growing from this mistake / misstep?

If all experiences and people in our lives — from the schmo who cuts me off on the highway without looking to the coworker whose shoulder I sobbed on yesterday when I found out my best friend is cancer-free (thank you, god, universe, everything!) — are here to teach us something, can we pause long enough to discover what it is?  Can I allow it to change me?  To inform my actions, to tell me something about my knee-jerk reactions or long-time habits?

Don’t be sorry; be learning.  (Though I suppose the more clunky, “Don’t just be sorry, be learning” is most accurate!)

Shanah tovah, all.

 

fate · god · TEACHING

“Why do good things happen to bad people?”

https://dug-studios.com/2017/10/26/the-fates/
https://dug-studios.com/2017/10/26/the-fates/

In planning my lesson for our 7th grade novel, I’d toyed with the idea of framing the whole book — and perhaps the year — to center around these questions: Why do good things happen to bad people?  Why do bad things happen to good people?

The protagonists in our novels this year are, by turn, a bully attempting to reform, a distraught girl exacting revenge on her best friend, a social outcast hero, and Anne Frank.

It would be very logical to bring these two questions to bear on these books.  But as I think into it further, I wonder if the answer I want them to arrive at is too prescriptive: “Because they do.”

There was a time after cancer when I felt that, because my understanding was that I had in some ways brought leukemia on myself by denying who and what I am in the world, in remission I must act in ways that wouldn’t bring down that wrath again.  So, I joined a band, began singing, got real headshots, auditioned, flopped auditions, got cast.

The two years after cancer (following a few months of emotional whiplash: “You’re going to die!  …  Wait.  Looks like you’re not going to die.  Good on you.  Bye!”) became a flurry of activity, in part to embrace that I was alive and in part out of desperate fear to be in that circumstance again.

At some point during those two years, I was on the phone with a mentor describing my terror of “not doing enough” (even before cancer, “wasting my life” was my biggest fear…and remains up there today…).  I said to her that if “G-d” was trying to send me a message to engage in my life, will “G-d” do it again if I slow down?  I was perpetually haunted by this question.

So my frientor (friend/mentor?!) told me this:  “Maybe you need to take G-d out of the equation.”  Less G-d, she said.

Less Fate, less scales in the balance, less sword of Damacles.  Less notching up good and bad, useful and harmful, actions toward live Molly and actions toward dead Molly.

This was a huge relief to me.

It was important at the time of diagnosis and treatment to dive into the idea that I could effect some change on my circumstance.  And, it became important after remission and treatment to absorb the idea that maybe it didn’t have anything to do with me.  Maybe it just “was.”

This, is a very tough pill to swallow.

In a world where we (I) do much of what we can to exact control over our circumstances, to accept the belief that we’re not at the mercy, or benevolence, of a force outside ourselves — a force wherein “things happen for a reason” — can be unmooring.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.  Sometimes good things happen to bad people.

Sometimes “it is what it is.”

I don’t yet know if and how I’ll bring in these questions to my students.  Are they useful questions?  Or do I have one aim, which is to bring the idea that sometimes they just do?

The present book they’re reading (The Thing about Jellyfish; great book, go read it [Thanks for the rec, Marie!]) is an entire attempt to grapple with the question of “Why?” and itself comes to the conclusion of “Just because.”  So maybe it’s a question to hold up for them for this novel, to help us all see that, while our actions do have consequences, sometimes things do just happen, too.

 

compassion · resilience · TEACHING

Humanity isn’t a bad word, just a hard one.

8.25.18.jpgBeing the first week of middle school, there are a lot of nervous students and even more nervous parents.  Meeting with a few of these parents this week, I said to a coworker that underneath the specifics of each child, underneath their “learning style” and labels, all any parent wants to hear from us teachers is:  Your child will be loved.  Your child will be held.  Your child will be okay.

It’s this last piece that I think is the hardest for some to grasp, because I think it’s hard to grasp about ourselves.  But a child is a developing being, and often what that means is that there are moments when they will not be “okay.”  They will feel angry, frustrated, lonely, righteous, overwhelmed, and frightened.  In other words, they will feel human.

The faculty read this summer was The Gift of Failure, and while there are efforts in place to disseminate this information to the parents of our students, too, until that happens, it’s a one-on-one meeting at a time to say, Yes, I hear that your child is having a hard time.  However, I also hear that this is a chance for them to learn something new about resilience, flexibility, perseverance, and independence.

The ironic piece is that, in my own way, I’m trying to protect these students, too!  Trying to save them — from “bio-doming” themselves, or their parents doing it for them.  I’m trying to save them from not experiencing the slings and arrows.  To be clear, I’m not injuring these children!!! I’m just holding what I see as the bigger picture… and that picture sometimes clashes mightily with the bigger picture a parent sees.

And, oy, how that “is what it is.”

There is little I can do to change the perspective of parents, except to gently encourage them to take their hands off the back of the bicycle seat and allow their child to falter.

I can also work on my own letting go of their experience and actions.  I want them to see things my way, but that’s a two-way street.

What I want and what is are generally extraordinarily disparate until I can get on board with what is.  And what “is” is that people are nervous, people are frightened, and I don’t have to save them from those feelings.  But I do need to open to the experiences of others and not consider my way the right way, either.

There’s so much “learning” going on, and we haven’t even had a full week of class!;)

G-d save and help us.  We are all only human.

 

beginnings · courage · TEACHING

A Teacher’s Prayer.

Lord, Universe, Please help me to remain sane and grounded, present and open, confident and competent this year.  Dear G-d, please help me to not take any person’s actions personally & allow those to injure or deflate me, and please help me to hold my empathy doors, well, as windows so that I can remain present.

Help my words be kind, honest, and necessary.  Help me to “eat the frog first” & not procrastinate, put off tasks that must be done; no rug sweeping.  But calm, diligent work so I may feel worthy and available to myself & others.

Help me to “step up and step back” with honesty and humility about what is necessary, and help me to connect more with my colleagues in & out of the school.

Please help me to take my breaks outside, away from the 4 walls, to remind me of the bigger world outside my classroom, and to listen when my body or mind says, “Get up!” from my computer or planning work.

Help me to ground at the beginning & end of my day, to slough off the student energy that isn’t mine, so I can be a whole person in the world when I leave.  And please help me to balance what I want to do & what I can do & remember not everything is imperative right now.

Help me to hear & integrate my supervisors’ feedback, and to follow up on parent requests.  Help me to hold that half-assing-it kid with love and to be guided in guiding them toward healthy effort.

Remind me to breathe.

Remind me to eat.  To pee.  To walk.  To pause.

Dear G-d, help me to remember I don’t have to be or to do it perfectly.

Amen and thank you. ❤ Molly

 

career · gratitude · TEACHING

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

8.9.18 2There is a “gathering” feeling as the school year approaches.  The impending anxiety as the work you’d intended to do over the summer looms large.  The gleeful imagining of your reassembled and redecorated classroom.  The curiosity about the makeup of the new faculty and how it will gel.  The cynicism that the challenging dynamics that existed may persist.

The excitement to see your favorite students again, and the realism that 7th graders must needs grow toward independence and individuation, which may mean your favorites won’t be able to be who they were with you anymore.  And that’s okay; it’s just different.  Besides, you’ll have a new crop of 6th graders with whom to guffaw and conspire.

Arriving at my second year as a middle school English teacher, I experience a true love of my work, fully in its assets and detractions.  I worked as a 3rd grade teacher for two years prior to this, and “love” wasn’t what I experienced.  I felt merit in what I did; I appreciated who the students were, my own creative and professional development, and the leap of faith my boss took on a novice teacher.  But two years of chronic insomnia were enough to underscore I needed out.  And so, being here, looking my next year in the eye, I am so grateful.

I am grateful to walk through a university library gallery and snag a pamphlet on Alice in Wonderland sculptural interpretations, and feel excitement to teach my 7th graders this favorite of my books.  I’m grateful to toss my copy of The Outsiders on my bedside table just now, with the reminder to re-read it before the school year starts.  I’m grateful to fall down a Pinterest-like hole into the Facebook English Teacher groups… and feel awe, inspiration, overwhelm, and humility.

Many here know the path to anticipating my work with relish has been so rocky, its quarry-like walls have cut off the light of hope.  I squandered, despaired, agonized, railed, wallowed, isolated, and stymied.  That I can sit here today with excitement—and yes, plenty of realistic trepidation—is unfathomable.

And yet, I have swum up those fathoms.