This place has gotten really quiet. I’ve continued to share daily on social media…with the exception of Saturday. I take a total social media break on Saturday. Writing now occupies a different space in y life, but I find I’m not ready to let this place go. So….in that spirit, here is something I wrote in my writer’s group and that has been shared via social media, but hasn’t been seen here….
Today’s entry is adapted from what I wrote during Saturday’s writer’s group meeting.
Prompt: “They completed their journey by starlight.” Willa Cather
When my children were younger, I used to call myself the “caretaker of their destinies.” In my mind’s eye, those destinies looked like stars, sparkling in a swirl of midnight blue galaxy. They looked distant and almost tantalizing, but were beyond my reach, because they weren’t mine. Until such time as Ana, David, and Michael were ready to own them, they were mine to guide and guard, but not possess.
When they were younger, guiding and guarding was easy. A hurt acquired on the playground was cured with dab of momma’s spit delivered with a kiss, and sometimes accompanied with band aid. When they were older, the wounds went deep, to hearts and souls. My kisses did not deliver an instant cure. I cannot detail those stories, for they are my children’s to tell…but there were tears, heartbreak, triumph, and resolution. Growth and healing is never a straight line from “point a” to “point b,” especially where growing up is concerned.
My kids made it to adulthood whole, but not unbroken. Now, their destinies are their own. As I enter my later years and they begin to claim their lives more each day, I think about those stars in that galaxy swirl. They will continue their journeys by the light shining from those destinies and I hope fed by the force and fierceness of my love.
I am grateful that I got to be their Momma!
Pictured: Ana, Michael, and David, at one of our favorite “Mexican” restaurants in January, 2020–just before we all hunkered down. I need to get a more recent picture…especially now that we all live in walking distance from each other!
*Brings in broom. Sweeps away the cobwebs and the dust. Sneezes a few times.*
Well, y’all…I know it’s been a while. Any stories of my demise to the maybe 5 regular readers here are vastly over rated. Things got real not long after my birthday.
But first, I want to backtrack a little. At some point in the spring, I had a dream. In it, I was standing in some sort of line at a condo development when I overheard two women ahead of me in having a conversation. One of them said, “I’m selling my condo for $80k.”
I asked if I could see the condo. When we went in, it was murky and dark. The bathroom was grimy. The kitchen had fluorescent lights and one of them flickered. The master bedroom was painted prison gray.
Ladies, theydies, and gentleman…I bought it. In the dream, I bought the awful condo.
And woke up angry at myself.
“Why are you always settling?” I remember saying to myself. “You are worth more.”
Why don’t I think I’m worth more?
I went into this school year ready to be positive, thinking it would be different, hopefully better than last year. Unfortunately, it’s been the hardest year since March 13, 2020, the last day my district held school before shutting down for the pandemic. A year later we returned. That was hard. The next year, my caseload sky rocketed, and I ended up in therapy. It seems almost impossible to say it, but my caseload grew even more this year.
By the end of September, I felt like I had lived through at least a quarter of the school year, maybe even a semester. I reached out to my direct manager early on, and she said they are trying to find some help for me…but there are shortages everywhere. And I’m left wondering what to do.
“I don’t know when I noticed life was life at my expense
The words of my heart lined up like prisoners on a fence
The dreams came in like needy children tugging at my sleeve
I said I have no way of feeding you so leave”
Prince of Darkness, Indigo Girls
I had a ball this summer. I took a weaving class at the Maryland Institute College of Art, did some pottery classes, spent time with friends, and after a trying three months of messing around on dating apps, finally met a wonderful man whom I am now in a relationship with.
This past Friday, I woke up feeling like I was sleeping under a blanket of bricks. I didn’t want to move much less go to work. And, even worse than that, as I told my therapist in a recent session, I’m starting to lose patience with the students. That is just not who I am…I normally have a really long fuse.
“But I tried to make this place my place
I asked for providence to smile upon me with his sweet face
Yeah but I’ll tell you…”
Prince of Darkness, Indigo Girls
I think about that dream…the one I had where I “settled” for a condo that was dark and dingy, and so definitely “not my place.” I think even further back to another dream I had where I was holding a baby, surrounded by color and light…both of us marveling at how beautiful life can be (I think that I was somehow the baby and the mother in that dream—self discovery and healing). I think about the images that have come to me of the life I’d like to live…I see a room with an open window, an ocean breeze blowing a curtain backward into the room…it feels clean and light filled and there is laughter and love all around.
“My place is of the sun and this place is of the dark
And I do not feel the romance I do not catch the spark.”
Prince of Darkness, Indigo Girls
What’s extra hard about all of this is that I love school and I believe strongly in the idea of public education. Walking into a school and seeing papers and artwork tacked up on the walls and hearing students in classrooms brings me joy. Or it used to. Now, my stomach starts to hurt when I think about walking into school buildings because I can’t do my job well…and I’m starting not to care.
And that’s awful.
“Maybe there’s no haven in this world for tender age
My heart beat like the wings of wild birds in a cage
My greatest hope my greatest cause to grieve
And my heart flew from its cage and it bled upon my sleeve.”
Prince of Darkness, Indigo Girls
I’m not in the position to walk away right now. I’m still recovering financially from divorce, my children are on my health insurance, my dog likes sleeping in a warm bed every night (so do I). My choices for finding another job are limited…so I have to find a way to make it work and maintain my mental health. After so many years of struggle, this is not how I want to live.
“Oh the cries of passion were like a wounds that needed healing
I couldn’t hear them for the thunder
I was half the naked distance between hell and heaven’s ceiling
And he almost pulled me under”
Prince of Darkness, Indigo Girls
I want those colors, that fresh air, that light, that love, that laughter…I’ve lived long enough to know that life is not all sunshine and roses, but this level of exhaustion and strain can poison the other areas of my life. And that I do not want…especially those new and tender seedlings that are just starting to sprout and that hold so much promise.
“(By grace, my sight grows stronger)
And I do not feel the romance I will not be
(And I will not be a pawn for the prince of darkness any longer)”
Prince of Darkness, Indigo Girls
No more settling for the dark and dreary, that old devil the “path of least resistance.” It’s time to find a way out…to stretch for the light.
When I turned 50 last year, I felt something big was coming in my life. I thought it would be a new job, or a new romantic partner, a new career…maybe some combination thereof. Other than moving to this new apartment and losing weight—all of those externals are largely the same.
I recently scrolled through pictures from the last year, starting with my birthday. The only one taken on my birthday was of me with two other women, who may not want their photos shared on social media. I took a screen shot of the original and tried to crop it so that only my face shows. Now, it looks like one of those really bad, totally grainy pictures you sometimes see on dating apps…obviously the person thought it was a good picture, but unfortunately, there is a past significant other in there—gotta crop it!
I wanted to see if the inner change that has occurred over this past year showed in pictures. That journey doesn’t need to be detailed because the parts that can be made public (and maybe one or two I should’ve kept to myself) have been shared here. A commenter on one the stories in my story telling group said that I should write a book. I have no plans to do that since my journey has already been (is being?) chronicled, and Glennon Doyle kind of already wrote that book…so….
As I follow the progress through the year in pictures, one thing I start to see is an unfolding. In the earlier shots I look guarded…but as I unwrapped and unraveled, I begin to look more open and less picture perfect.
All that storytelling, journaling, blogging, and yes the damn therapy (I signed up because of work stress…ha!) have brought forward a more genuine version of me. That woman from a year ago seems, not like a stranger, but an old acquaintance, whom I have come to love because she carried this person, the one that has emerged over the last year, for so long—protected her in a sense.
I’ve come to terms with an empty nest, reckoned with my former marriage, reckoned with the shame around staying in my marriage for so long, reckoned with (still reckoning to some degree) the role religion played in my marriage, discovered a poet (I’m no Emily Dickinson, but a lot of poetry has wormed its way out of my heart), discovered a new purpose and found joy again in work, put myself in new situations/learning environments (weaving! writing groups! dating apps!), written a novel and a novella and several short stories…I could go on, but it’s starting to feel a little self serving.
This bona fide me was always there. I just kept her tucked away out of fear (what if she’s not “perfect” and nobody likes her). Navigating the world without feeling like I need to don a costume (and a cape so I can save everyone from themselves) is scary, but not so heavy. I have felt that weight gliding off my shoulders over the last year.
Part of shedding that weight was learning to be vulnerable. There were plenty of tears, occasionally accompanied by projectile snot, but allowing myself to be open to the world, to other humans, has given me the strength to be open to new ideas, failures, successes, heartaches.
I shared a story about a dear friend and his passing in my weaving class. The intersection of our stories was the impetus for my current project. Sharing stories in the wild…getting vulnerable face to face! I tried to back down because of time constraints, but the instructor encouraged me to go ahead and tell the story. After I shared, she pointed out that the the hatching, a shading technique I am using in my tapestry, illustrates how our lives and stories intersect and interweave. I chose to use hatching because I thought it would be a good background technique, and my skill level is not equal to create blades of grass. Now my piece has even more meaning.
There is strength in vulnerability, and sharing our stories. When our stories collide it’s as if we’re snatching hands and walking each other home. It’s hard to share sometimes and hard to listen sometimes, but we’re so much the better for it.
Now…I still have a long way to go. There is more that I’d like to do while this body that contains this soul still draws breath. Naturally, I continue to harbor fear and worry of failure and that can hold me back. There is still work I need to do, but the awareness that it’s me that holds me back is huge. It means that I am well on the path from victim, to survivor, to victor.
So that new “thing” that I thought was just around the corner a year ago…well, it was me.
Alright then 51…we got stuff to do. Let’s get going!
(The curls are my own…as are all the images…naturally)
My little weaving sampler has grown quite a bit over the last few days, owing largely to the fact that it is about “9th Circle of Hell” hot over here right now. This basement apartment I’m living in was made for this weather. You would be extremely jealous if I shared the amount of my last electricity bill…so I won’t. Staying inside and engaging in a quiet activity, such as weaving, is definitely a weather appropriate activity.
Last week, we finished our second class, and I have tried nearly all of the techniques shared in the instructor’s power point, and it shows on my “sampler.” I tried to make the color scheme look good together, even if the pattern seems rather random and haphazard. Definitely, I need to work on keeping the tension on the yarn constant—you can tell that I started to pull too hard as I wove towards the middle of the tapestry—that’s why it’s bowed inward.
We talked about weaving in my last therapy session—how crazy is that? We particularly talked about my need for it to be “perfect,” and how silly it is. Ok, “silly” is my word. My therapist would probably say something like, “unrealistic.”
So here you go, “It is unrealistic of me to think my first weaving project should be perfect.”
The only person we might expect to produce a perfect sample of weaving would be an experienced fiber artist with a commission. And that is not me.
I posted pictures of the front and the back of my weaving project in one of my daily “joy” posts on social media. It is surprising the number of people that remarked about how beautiful the back of the piece was. I started to think about how people are like that as well. We try to make the side we show to the world pretty while attempting to hide all of our loose ends and sometimes the things that knot up our insides.
The thing is, at least what I’ve found, is that if we try to hide all those loose ends, they trip us up more readily than if we’d just let them fly out in the first place. Funny, that.
The truth is, the struggle is beautiful too—all those ends, frayed, untucked, untied—those are beautiful too. They mean we didn’t give up. A life well lived rarely comes in a neat package. Neither does a well woven tapestry.
So, keep on going you. Let the loose ends fly in the wind like victory ribbons as you race towards better…
(Nothing new to report on the dating front. I did have a nice walk on Sunday morning with one gentleman. I’ve offered to meet him again. We’ll see)
(All images are my own…who else would claim them? Especially, my toes. Eww!)
In an effort to “explore my inner artist” this summer, I looked for a digital photography class, and couldn’t find one. I attempted to sign up for a creative writing class at the local community college, but was told it was meant for seniors only and I was too young to take the class.
I guess I should be thankful for still being “too young” to do anything.
I landed on a weaving class through MICA that fit perfectly in my summer schedule and cost less than $200. I’ve been crocheting for so long that I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know how and thought another “fiber art” would be easy for me to learn. Weaving is “over-under-over-under.” How hard could it be? Oh…how the overconfident do fall.
In class, my weaving professor said that we should not worry about “perfection,” when warping our looms to get started. I am a recovering perfectionist, so what she meant to be comforting kinda made my stomach hurt…
I screwed up “warping” my loom (stringing the vertical threads)…which wonkified the process of putting the cardboard piece in at the bottom that serves as a base. I managed to wonkify placing that cardboard-twice-and had to re-weave my first few rows of tension weft (horizontal threads) several times. I made it through that first class, accepting that I wasn’t going to pick up weaving as if it was second nature, and learning that I was going to need to let go of doing it perfectly, especially while I’m learning.
That same week, my Friday night plans fell through.
(I was supposed to have a date. We never firmed up plans and I had a feeling he was going to flake…in fact after our first date, I thought to myself, this guy is going to flake on me, but I really like him so lets see what happens. My gut was right. Someday, I’ll learn.)
Rather than sitting around and feeling sorry for myself, I picked up my weaving like a Jane Austen heroine, and got to work. We were given “optional” homework. Of course, I was always planning to do the “optional” homework. For a non-credit class.
Anyway…I wove, and caught up on, “Only Murders in the Building,” and watched the latest Jane Austen adaptation of “Persuasion.” It was a good evening for a possibly jilted single, middle aged woman.
Unfortunately, at the end of of the inch of header row, I realized when checking the class notes, that I may not have executed it quite right. The urge to rip it all out and start completely over was strong…but remember…I am learning, it doesn’t have to be perfect. So, I didn’t—rip it all out…but…
(The excuse the date gave for cancelling on our never quite planned date was that he was mentally exhausted. On Sunday, I texted to say, “I hope you’re feeling better.” He texted back, “Happy Sunday.”)
…Sunday afternoon found me at Michael’s craft store, looking for more canvas stretcher bars to create another frame loom…Michael’s doesn’t carry them. They do carry canvases that have been pre-stretched, in two packs. So, I bought a two pack of 16”x12” canvases, reasoning that I could pull off the canvas and hopefully find stretcher bars underneath. With any luck I could pull apart the bars and reassemble them into the 16” x 16” frame loom I needed.
I went home and gleefully ripped off the canvas—this part feels more Brontë than Austen. I found stretcher bars, held in place by staples. The best tool for pulling out the staples would’ve been needle nosed pliers. Alas, I have none—but undaunted, I found a pair of wire cutters I thought might do the trick…they did. I think I cackled like the Wicked Witch of the West when I pulled the bars apart cleanly, “I’ll get you, my pretties!”
(A dear friend sent me a set of needle nosed pliers after reading a version of this story in one of my daily “joy and other stuff” posts on facebook. My friends don’t flake and know how to cherish me…for that I am thankful.)
Once I got those bars apart, I made another 16” x 16” loom frame, re-strung the warp threads, and got back to work, paying more attention to the actual instructions on the class power point instead of trying to remember what my professor said 5 days ago. From what I could see, it looked like I had gotten a little closer to the way things were supposed to be.
(I had a date with a different fella Monday morning. Nice guy—but I could tell he wasn’t “my” nice guy. Crickets from Friday night guy so on Tuesday, I texted to tell him it didn’t take an Egyptologist to read the writing on this wall, thanked him for the pleasure of his company, and wished him well. Just in case you were wondering.)
I took both looms to class Wednesday evening. It was generally agreed by all that the second loom was more closely aligned with “correct,” however, my professor said that I could’ve turned those mistakes on the first loom into “something beautiful.” I accepted this as another step on the road to learning how to embrace the gifts of imperfection.
So what did I do with that first loom? It is hanging up in my room, along with a collage I made for an exercise in, The Artist’s Way, and a quote from the same book, “Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong.” That wall is becoming a display area for souvenirs of this journey in embracing myself, all of myself, even the parts that aren’t perfect…and I’m learning that most of me isn’t perfect—but that doesn’t mean I’m not beautiful in my own way.
(I told yet another dude on a dating app that I’ve been chatting with for a while that I was learning a lot about myself in learning how to weave. We are meeting for a walk on Sunday morning…I suppose stay tuned for more adventures in weaving and maybe adventures in dating….)
Yesterday morning, I squatted down on the side of the road in my suburban neighborhood to get a picture of a mushroom. I didn’t want just any picture. Of late, I’ve been fascinated with the idea perspective and how it can almost change the story of what we’re looking at, or a situation in which we find ourselves.
In order to get this picture, I had to take a chance. I wanted the perspective to be from the bottom up, so that the light from the morning sun would shine through and illuminate the gills. I laid my phone nearly flush with the ground, aimed the camera lens upwards toward the sun, and clicked away. There was no way to know what I would get. It was taking a chance, sort of leaving it up to the universe.
In my first few attempts, I somehow managed to switch the phone’s camera function from “photo” to “video,” so I got some really janky footage with a soundtrack of my colorful language. The next few pictures were blurry and not quite what I wanted. Eventually, I pulled the phone up, and found I liked what I had captured, and gotten a pretty cool dew drop on the edge of a blade of grass to boot. The willingness to make somewhat of a fool of myself (I’m sure the neighbors all think I’m nuts), and keep trying despite multiple failures, led to a really cool change in perspective.
Which leads me to what happened yesterday evening. I’ve been on a few dates with the same gentleman. I like him. I think he might (have) like(d) me. Without going into the whole story, I found myself in the midst of a trauma response with this gentleman. Essentially, I tried to “fix” something that really, probably didn’t need fixing. It wasn’t until afterwards, that I realized my heart was racing and I was on the verge of panic, trying desperately to make it all right.
All because I thought I had really messed something up—a skewed perspective. And in trying to “fix” it, probably left the poor guy bewildered. I was ashamed of myself and immediately started self flagellating. Yet another trauma response—another skewed perspective. Finally, I realized what I was doing and just stopped. Perspective.
Yes…I’d fallen into that vortex, but this time, I didn’t stay there. As luck would have it…I was also scheduled for a writing workshop that targeted vulnerability yesterday evening. Funny how the universe arranges these things. I ended up writing a poem and processing some of the experience.
I have had some contact with the gentleman…I don’t know where things stand, and I still have a tendency to catastrophize—as my therapist puts it, but I’m just letting it all go for now and allowing it tp play out, rather than trying to “fix” it. Some things just “are” and don’t need fixing. Whatever happens, I’ll be OK.
Here’s the poem…titled “30 things” because that’s what we started out with in the workshop—writing about 30 things we are grateful for. And I am grateful that I can change my perspective, better late than never, and that there is room for growth and change and moving forward.
How far do we take this unveiling and vulnerability
At the beginning of a relationship?
Am I really ready for this?
Will I be ready for this?
Is he ready for this?
What does “ready” mean anyway?
If I wait till I’m ready
I’ll be waiting forever
I say all the time, “you are more than the sum of your broken parts”
And I believe it
But sometimes those broken parts get a little fall apart-y
The nurse gestured me into the vestibule of the “procedure room,” to give me some last minute directives. As I stood and limped my way over to the indicated chair, she said, “You look like you really need this!” Ever the rule follower, I had refrained from taking anti-inflammatories as directed by the receptionist when I made the appointment. I was in pain with every step.
The nurse, whose name I don’t remember, looked at my chart. Her forehead crinkled and she looked up at me, brown hair swinging, eyes widening in surprise. She looked down again, and back up at me.
“No way!” she said, “absolutely no way. I looked at your birthday. You’re almost exactly 10 years older than me. No way!”
I smiled, and said, “thank you.” I get this a lot…that I don’t look “50,” but I ask you…what exactly is 50 supposed to look like? It has most definitely evolved over the ears. Let’s face it…I’m entering, if not firmly entrenched within, “Golden Girl” territory.
I love to ask my middle school students how old they think I am, because they think “35” is ancient…so when I tell them I’m 50, there is always an intake of breath…because now I’m beyond ancient and flirting with dust.
Yet, here I sit, at the orthopedist “procedure room,” because the yoga, turmeric, and glucosamine have not had a positive impact on my now arthritic hip. A few months ago, it started whispering, and now, it’s shouting. I had hoped that getting away from work and the stress of the last year would bring an improvement…unfortunately, it did not. In desperation, I asked for a cortisone shot in hopes of relieving at least some of the pain and feeling as though I could enjoy the summer.
The last year has been one of growing into myself, and I was ready to take on the world…and keep growing! What’s really hard is that I tried to ready myself for getting older with exercise and choking down all those supplements. I can say, I look better naked than I have in quite some time, so there’s that little bit of too much information.
I don’t “feel” 50. At some point, do we mentally just sort of “stop” aging? I mean, to some degree, I feel a little wiser, a little less willing to give a few f*cks about this and that, but otherwise, I just feel like me. How is it fair that in so many ways, I feel healthier and happier than I ever have…but walking hurts? And stairs are excruciating.
I was in no way prepared for what feels like a rapid descent into chronic pain. Likely, it wasn’t a rapid descent. I’m sure I ignored all sorts of warning signs in my usual, just grit your teeth and bear it attitude. Now, in a year of reinventing myself, thinking I was finally getting somewhere, I get to add a new “how I live with this badge” to my armor.
For me…50, in truth I’ll be 51 in a few weeks, means fighting my way forward despite the physical pain and what feels like a setback and continuing to explore new avenues for growth and “what’s next” in this liminal sea.
And if you want to act surprised about my age (in a good way), I’m OK with that too.
After two years of abstinence, I decided to dip my toes back into the turbulent waters of dating apps. Barely 5 minutes passed before I remembered all the reasons I hate it. After one month, I’ve messaged 4 people, been on three dates (went out with one dude twice), and, well…little to no results…except for endless messaging and texting that seems to go nowhere.
I went away for the weekend with two girlfriends and shared my experiences. Both of these ladies are married to good men…fortunate souls! They wonder why anyone would be on a dating website if they’re not sure what they want as I was told by one dude. Also, they think I am a “catch.”
Seriously, I am all that and a moon pie.
I do have a little bit of a theory. Perhaps the hesitancy to move forward is the idea that there might be something else “better” just around the corner. You could hedge your bets forever with this kind of thinking and never get anywhere. At some point, you have to decide, “this is the one I’m going to try and stick it out with.”
Certainly, the thought crossed my mind as I prepared to go on those initial dates, “If I don’t like this guy, there will be other choices.” Paradoxically, this is one reason that I hate dating apps…I don’t like scrolling through profiles like it’s a catalog of human options. It’s weird.
Last week, I broke all the supposed “rules” and simply asked someone if I should continue to leave space for him on my dance card. I mean, at some point, you need to put up or shut up, right? He said, “I was hoping so, but wasn’t sure if you still wanted to dance.”
Have we had a third date?
Do we appear to be growing any closer to actually having a third date?
I don’t think so.
Yesterday, for some reason…my own weakness I suppose, because this guy and I actually had good conversations and I thought maybe there was a possibility of something developing, I texted him a picture of me, the dog, and the cat on the couch. It was my first day of summer vacation and I was very unproductive and said so to him.
Hours later, he texted back making a remark about the “pride-esque” afghan.
I replied, explaining that my Mema had crocheted the afghan with scrap yarn. Seventeen hours later and I still hear crickets chirping in the “reply” section of that message thread. They’ll probably continue to chirp because at this point, I’ve expressed my interest, and if you really want to dance, you have to at least meet me on the dance floor. I can’t waltz by myself. That’s what throwing all these pings out into the void amounts to…a middle aged lady waltzing all alone…and it looks pretty silly.
I woke up this morning, thinking not about that exchange, but about the afghan in the picture. My MeMa was from a generation that experienced the great depression, so nothing was thrown away or wasted, ever. She used her heart, imagination, and skill to create something beautiful, serviceable, and frankly, very warm when warmth is needed…and she did it with leftover pieces…stuff others might have taken for something that needed to be thrown away.
Dating in mid-life can feel a little like that. Frankly, most of us have been thrown away, or have thrown away parts of ourselves in search of love. I for sure am dinged up a bit, but I’m learning to keep moving past my trauma triggers, past the fear, and to keep all of myself available to share. All of it…even the sad and scary parts. With heart, and determination, I think it’s possible to create something beautiful, serviceable, and warm…frankly spectacular, with those leftover pieces—I think it could be possible to find love again. It’s risky and scary and I confess I don’t know the dance steps…
…but this is a dance that could be created by two people willing to make up the steps together.
Because here’s the thing…I’ve got a lot of living left to do and certainly I’m not alone in that yearning to keep growing myself. I’d love to be someone’s secret weapon, someone that can encourage another to keep going when things get hard, to help them discover the undiscovered about themselves. When discouraged, I want to be the warm blanket to retreat under, and provide respite and encouragement to emerge and keep going. And I want the same for myself. I want my secret weapon.
Looking back on the last decade of my life, I know I can do all of that for myself…have done all that for myself…but the idea of sharing the load still appeals, so help me universe and/or your deity of choice, it does. Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, or a dreamer of impossible dreams and I should just accept reality…but who among us ever got anywhere doing that?
I think there might be an RC Cola out there for my moonpie self… somewhere…so, I’m giving it one more month…just one more, because I canceled the subscription and it will expire at the end of July…
I think I’m supposed to say, “the images are my own.” Everyone’s doing it.
At work recently, I had an unexpected free hour and decided to prepare for one of my upcoming groups—it was definitely more fun than the quarterly progress notes I should’ve been attacking. I’ll be reading, In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak to a group of kids in the “life skills class.” Then, I will guide the students to act out the story, as in “Speech Room Little Theater.” This helps the kids work on their story-retelling skills…expand their sentence length, make predictions and inferences…there is really no end to what you can do with a book in terms of teaching language skills.
At one point, Mickey, the main character, takes a ride in an airplane. I had been really thinking hard about how exactly to pull off an airplane that the kids could pretend to “ride.” These props help the kids to sequence the story, learn vocabulary, basic concepts (“in,” “out,” “around,” etc.) Also, it’s fun…so I like to try and make them as realistic as I can on my shoestring budget.
The easiest solution seemed to be to make a couple of cardboard “wings” that the kids could wear. Back at my office, I pulled a copy paper box apart and went into my “zone.” Eventually, I had two boxes, both pulled apart. One of them I turned inside out and re-glued, so the brown side faced out. I cut a hole in the top so it could fit over the head and shoulders of a student pretending to be Mickey. Finally, I constructed wings and a propeller, and whatever you call the stuff at the end of an airplane—wings…stabilizers?
None of it was planned, or thought out. I didn’t search up a pattern on the internet…I just saw it in my head, grabbed a sharpie marker and my crappy school scissors to saw through the cardboard, fired up the glue gun and got to work. Losing all track of time, I was completely absorbed and delighted.
Now, the kids can “ride” in an airplane to better portray that portion of the story. This is not traditional language therapy. I am way, way, way outside of the box and I’m wondering how long I can get away with it. My job allows me to fly under the radar…but maybe I’m having too much joy for “work.”
A heartbreaking part of my job is the number of students that walk into my office and say, “I’m stupid.” I have to gently tell them that they are not stupid, that they learn differently, and need different support than some of their classmates in order to access their education. I reassure them by saying that I can’t do long division (seriously) but I have a master’s degree. Some of these kids continue to call themselves stupid.
The damn bell curve. We test kids, and come up with normative data and start placing students in boxes the moment they walk through the double doors. The ones that don’t find success within the “traditional” school methodology, are given extra support…but somehow also develop an “I’m less than” self image.
I hate the bell curve because of this. How can I not if I can look at two cardboard paper boxes and see an airplane? My heart and my creativity seek possibility and pathways forward, not deficits and dead ends. I’m tired of students thinking that they have no way forward.
I want the kids I work with to see that they do have value and a reason for being—the same way my kids did in the aftermath of the car crash several years ago. Just as I am beginning to get glimpses of my reason for being in this space in my life. I want to turn the traditional school boxes inside out, and give the students wings to fly.
I’ve been dreaming about a new kind of school…one that is art infused, that pulls certain subject areas together, that doesn’t strictly align kids with ability level. A school that marries cooperation and appreciation for each other’s gifts and talents—and learning to see the beauty in how we’re all connected.
I love school. I always have. Nothing makes me happier than a low rumble of voices, excited about learning…papers on display in hallways…artwork all over the walls…music emanating from the band room…the smell of lunch floating through the hallways and making tummies rumble in anticipation.
It’s not like that any more. There has to be a way to bring joy back into school. Kids should be able to see that their own potential will allow them to fly over any obstacle. They need the chance to chase their stories, their joy, find the art that lives inside them, their part in the universal symphony, their reason for being.
Back in the 6th grade, when my family lived in Scarborough, Maine, I entered a storytelling contest at school. I can be shy and reserved in face to face meetings and have had to learn how to put myself forward. Paradoxically, put me in front of an audience, and I am a shameless ham.
Fort this contest, I retold an old “Jack Tale,” about a lazy old dude, obviously named “Jack.” Jack manages to catch the attention of and marry a princess by carrying a donkey over his shoulders. In order to illustrate this marvelous feat, I loudly flapped my arms and screamed, “Hee haw, hee haw!” Like I said…shameless ham.
I won the contest for my grade level and went on to compete against two other kids in a final round of sorts, and lost. I think that was when I first learned the power of my voice. That I forgot about that power along the way in life is tragic, but, I have found and am finding it again.
Most things do come around again, if given time.
One of the most interesting developments in my life of late is fully realizing and embracing the power of story…not just any story—my own story and the ability to tell it. There is also great power in fully listening to and holding sacred the stories that others tell. Dr. Bertice Berry says that when you tell your story, it can set two people free—always the teller, and sometimes the listener.
Recently, I attended the inaugural conference put on by the Savannah Institute for Story with whom Dr. Berry is affiliated. One of the speaker’s was Rita Coburn who said that “if you do not conquer your story, your story will kill you…you have to find your voice over the scars.” My story was slowly killing me and as it started bubbling out this year under so much pressure, I began to let it go and be freed.
There is a quote that is often attributed to Ram Dass, “We’re all just walking each other home.” We are, after all, connected to each other and what connects us is so much bigger and deeper than what divides us—despite what all the politicians want to tell us.
We share the struggle of our humanity—learning how to be human—learning how to love:
-to love ourselves in our deepest, inner most and scariest parts;
-to love each other, even those innermost and scariest parts.
And how do we learn to love ourselves, and each other…to walk each other home.
We do it by telling our own, and listening to, and holding sacred, each other’s stories. Our stories. Humanity is one great big interconnected story, whether we choose to admit it or not. It’s full of tragedy and triumph, ever unfolding.
Our stories are a sacrament that we trade as humans. When we take the time to be vulnerable and give others space to be vulnerable in telling those stories, we are engaging in holy work…the holy work of becoming human…the holy work of walking each other home…to each other and to ourselves.
These were the thoughts that came to me after that storytelling conference. They led me to another revelation about the work I do as a speech-language pathologist. In helping kids learn to communicate effectively, I am helping them to tell their stories. It is sacred-soul deep work. It carries with it the possibility of marrying my core values of love and creativity.
So, why do I continue to feel so much resistance to going into work in the mornings now that I am learning to let go of perfectionism and have found a “higher” calling within the work I do?
At the Institute for Story Conference, Rita Coburn also said, “Your story is your superpower,” and, “If you chase your story, people will come because of the art.”