I Have Thoughts…

Ruth, Esther, and Job are my Old Testament heroes. They risked life and limb, gave up everything they knew, went bravely forward, asked for help when they needed it, took advice when it was offered, took responsibility for things they didn’t have to—they were early existentialists and they were faithful in their beliefs.

Ecclesiastes is my Book of Wisdom. It is about balance. It is about loyalty, affection, asking for and accepting help, offering help, listening…and did I mention the balance? It gives such solid advice. If we listen at doors and we hear people say things we don’t like—well, haven’t we don’t the same ourselves?

Sometimes we get more than we can handle. Ask for help—accept help. That’s the lesson.

John is my Gospel. It comes from a totally different set of sources than the other gospels. It has so much in common with the other gospels. For me though, “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” The universe was created with God’s will and chaos was tamed with words—it appeals to me on every level.

I don’t really care about people who say I have to take the whole Bible. Why? The Old Testament was put together as the theological history of the Jews. It’s got some great stories. It’s got a lot of darkness. In the end, God can use anyone—absolutely anyone—to further its purposes. God is beyond human understanding and The Bible is just another way humans try to confine God in the hopes of understanding God. There were once many gospel; each one was The Bible for its group of churches based on the disciple that founded them or the disciple’s followers. Those gospels were written to hold the knowledge of what Jesus did, said, taught. The miracle is how much they share in common—they weren’t meant to be side by side by side.

The Letters.

Oh, the letters.

Why are the letters taught as if they apply to every situation?

Why is Paul taught as though he hated women?

Why are the disciples preached about as though women had no place among them?

Jesus talks to and about women. Paul talks to and about women. If the churches that came out of The Reformation wanted to truly diverge from Catholicism, then why do they still teach Original Sin or Paul as misogynist or a thousand other pieces of doctorine straight from the Latin lectures of pre-Reformation Catholic priests?

I have questions. I’ve taken classes. I’ve read books. I’ve read The Bible, more than once and more than one translation. I don’t read Latin or Hebrew or Sanskrit. I don’t think it’s something my brain will be able to master. So, I have to rely on people gifted in languages and trust their translations. I think I’d have the same questions even if I could read The Bible in its original languages.

Not everything happens for a reason. How I choose to handle things is what matters.

My faith is pretty simple.

  • Jesus was the divine son of God who lived and died and lived again.
  • Jesus taught that the first commandment was love God through our actions and interactions
  • Jesus taught that the second commandment was to love others and to love ourselves through our actions and interactions
  • Jesus lived his life by helping the poor, befriending the “sinners”, opening himself up to the unloved, teaching people how to be their best selves
  • Jesus also lost his temper once at a tree, but most of the time at people trying to take advantage of the economically poor or the poor in mind
  • I’m supposed to follow what Jesus taught. Sometimes I fail. I learn and I keep trying.

Then there’s prayer. I pray often. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night thinking of people and I’ll pray for them. Sometimes things will be going terribly and I’ll pray for myself. Sometimes I send up prayers of thanks. Sometimes I pray for family. Sometimes I pray for strangers who are suffering.

Prayer is tough.

I don’t think God cares about my dishwasher or my garbage disposal or the leak in my basement.

I know God cares about me.

I also know that my choices, my decisions, my indecisions have a direct impact on my life—good and bad. Other people’s decisions or choices ripple near and far, impacting my life and the lives of others. Everyone suffers. Everyone gets lucky (or blessed). That’s living. That’s life. I don’t think God exists to make this life easier, but I think God can help me do a better job getting through this life. If I live my beliefs, I will be living as a better person—I will be sharing God’s love.

Grace

My students have come to know my four rules for life and everything else over the last few years. It started with an activity in my 2011-2012 English 4 class (my penultimate run of When The Legends Die by Hal Borland). We came up with some rules for life Tom learned and it got me thinking. A few years later I was using Be Smart, Be Safe, Be Legal…it took me a little while unpacking those with a few new groups of students to settle on The Big Four—exception may have a fifth thanks to The Year of Mess (I’m trying to be appropriate and apolitical).

Be Smart. Live and learn or look for the lessons from success and failure because life and personal choices will litter our history with both. I’m firmly in Aristotle’s camp on this one. The greater reality, the great hereafter, doesn’t matter; how we live our lives and what we learn along the way does. We cannot divorce ourselves from uncomfortable realities. This is the time and place we were born into. Learn how to navigate the world of children. Recalibrate and learn to navigate the world of teens. Recalibrate and learn to navigate the forest of adulthood. Use it all to help others as elders if we survive that long.

Having grown up white, mostly middle class, in the Pacific Northwest granted me certain privileges. Growing up female granted me certain dangers. Growing up with my father in the sights of some unscrupulous folks (look through my older posts *cough*Rajneeshis*cough*) granted us a certain level of implied danger for several years. So, my parents stealth taught us to Be Safe. We learned what to look for, basic ways to defend ourselves, why groups are important, why loyalty among friends is vital. We learned about trust.

Be kind was a natural outgrowth of something my earliest students were already passing onto their siblings and children. Take care of each other. Exercise compassion. Put your religious love into charitable action. See something wrong? Step in to stop it or find someone who can. See someone who needs a friend because they a different? Be that friend. I’m just sorry it took me a minute to believe the sincerity of a couple of my biggest smartasses.

The fourth I talked about all the time. I stole The Scarlet Letter from English 3 so I could teach it to English 4 and moved it back again as my teaching assignment changed, because I’m the only one who loves slogging through the old school fairy tale starring Hester Prynne. I’ll give up Huck Finn and Dead Legends any time to dig my teeth into the bleak, savage beauty of Be True.

I’m helping shape the next generation of critical the miners and communicators. It is brutally hard sometimes. I have to keep learning. I have to listen when a teenager or adult tells me I’ve screwed up & I have to fix the problem. I have to try to get my students to connect with fiction, nonfiction, & poetry the way they connect with video games or their favorite TikTok creator or Instagram influencer or YouTube vlogger.

I’ve learned how to accept help over the years. I’m quick to offer help. We all need help from time to time. We all need forgiveness too. We need a chance to actually grow, to implement change, to become our truer self. This is where Grace comes in.

Grant yourself grace.

Grant others grace.

Don’t be a fool and make yourself a doormat. Don’t walk all over others. When you see someone trying to be better accept that backslides and mistakes are human. That’s where grace comes in. We are living in a time when screaming and extremism makes the news. Maybe the rest of us can tip things a new direction through truly granting a little grace to those on the edges who don’t like what they’ve become. Maybe we can be a moderating influence that makes America more than it has been…maybe we can make the world better one neighborhood, one classroom, one community at a time.

Sleepless

Maybe some writing will clear my mind.

I can’t seem to let go of my worries or fears or failures again tonight.

I’m so tired that my eyes watered all day.

I’m so tired that I couldn’t really nap, but I couldn’t really be awake either.

Everything feels fractured and laced in the wrong kind of darkness.

The night is full of miracles and stars; the moon whispers through the trees until it gets so big and bold it’s shouting stories into the windows. Critters rustle the leaves just enough to keep the cats at the window and it’s just cool enough to keep the windows open so fresh air can flow through the house. Nighttime prayers sometimes drift out more easily—especially the ones for those we love or for those we don’t trust at all.

Unfortunately, as the darkness deepens so do our thoughts. Our fears rise as our need for sleep creeps closer. Our worries find fertile ground in minds preparing for dreams. This means that for some of us elements of depression and anxiety fight to overtake our sleepiness and good sense. Some nights, the battles are won by sleep and peace and love. Some nights…not so much.

I always know I’m not doing enough…

I’m certain I’m not enough…

The taunts of childhood and the failures around me are confirmation enough.

Fortunately, I am not only my failures.

I am my compassion.

I am my hopes.

I am what I pour into my classes.

I am the person who listens (& who sometimes needs a listening ear).

I am my bad jokes and momentary wit.

I am my stories.

I am my ability to learn and to do better.

I am living my faith instead of waiting for death.

I am able to live love.

I. Am. Still. Here.

And I am so grateful…

Don’t give up when the world feels like it’s crushing. Don’t let go of yourself when the water is above your head. Don’t be afraid to reach out, to ask for help—yes, it’s easier to give help, but it’s strong to accept help. We all need to be brave and reach out from time to time.

Sometimes, this is what reaching out looks like…throwing words into the night.

Tuesdays

I don’t really know where to start today or what to hit upon. I thought about doing a list, but I’ve been so ADD and migraine-brain today that my thoughts fly as fast as they form. Eh. Let’s do it anyway—

  • The world smells like cut grass and the cats are in the windows looking at my unkempt back yard (it’s a valid choice)
  • It’s easy to forget how blessed I am to be upright and breathing
  • It’s strange to use scifi technology to do my job and have it be The Standard
  • I bought stickers today for that future moment when students are back in the classroom
  • I love running into old students
  • There’s so much I’ve let slide and I’m not sure how to level it all out, because it is OverWhelmIng
  • My head HURTS
  • I wore a pretty dress today and it was nice
  • I just woke up from a much needed nap
  • I’m really grateful not to have cable television
  • Twilight is such a lovely time of day…the world brightens or fades and I can just watch, breathe, be…
  • I have a seriously deep love of drama dots ellipses (especially, misusing them)
  • I don’t think I ever believed I would have an RLP or PLP—I always knew I’d never have a someone
  • I have the cats
  • I have some good friends
  • My family cares as much as they can

Please remember that you aren’t totally alone. In this chaotic and stressful and depression (anxiety) inducing time there are people willing to help. They may take an internet search or a social media plea, but they are out there.

Is it really such a big deal?

The older I get the more I start to think some of the things I grew up learning were sinful and wrong are really a big deal, let alone anyone else’s business. I’ve written before about the relief of learning about gray-sexuality, about how much it meant to know I wasn’t broken. For some reason I’ve been noticing more people speaking about bi-erasure or bi-discrimination in the last month. People who are bisexual aren’t greedy or unable to choose—they are not broken. So why is it okay to treat them badly?

Looking back on things I’ve read or watched or heard I see real parallels to how many in society treat the overweight. As though these groups of people are still safe to pour misplaced anger and angst onto. Fuck that!

I sat in one of my favorite restaurants alone (I usually am) eating and reading and thinking. I realized how much I appreciate bisexual energy. There’s something soothing for me who has only felt sexual attraction once or twice in my life about people who feel it more often and more freely. I appreciate the affection that’s offered by people who are comfortable with men and women. I’ve also noticed that not everyone who gives off this energy would label themselves as bisexual or biromantic (which means they aren’t) but they still have a level of comfort with physical affection and verbal affection that wasn’t common in my community growing up and that I most often see in bi people.

I’m not sure why today or this weekend I feel compelled to put this out into the world. As extremism rises, why are the small things or the old “sins” such a big deal?

People engage in premarital sex often and few really take the time to condemn it unless they are being particularly creepy and patriarchal. People infringe on the ability of others to live in safety all the time and if they are white or wealthy they often get away with it. People practice unbelievable cruelty every day and it’s waved away under many guises—gotta be honest, it’s not what my God or my savior actually taught.

So why do we make such a big deal out of people who are just trying to live their lives in love and make the world a kinder place?

Catching Up

Today’s post is in honor of my mental health.

Getting ready for and starting to teach strictly online has everyone I work with in a state of chaotic confusion, momentary joy, hope, minor breakdowns, and all the emotions of when we were new teachers (I can only hope this means all other challenges will be a little easier for the newer teachers). It has also brought our building staff together in a way nothing else really has in the 20+ years I’ve been here. We check on each other more; we remind each other to be a little easier on ourselves and our students; we offer help whether or not someone appears to need it just in case.

I spent part of every week over the last six months (has it really only been six months since the Oregon got thrown so high into the air?) preparing for what I thought the fall would hold. Once we got back into the building, once we got our directives from the state government and our local districts, once we got our training in using this hodge-podge of technologies—well, it became obvious that my expectations (and probably everyone else’s) had been wrong. Just wrong enough to require a complete overhaul of the overhaul which left me far behind where I normally am and where I thought I was and, definitely, where I wanted to be.

The most amazing part of this whole teaching online hasn’t been the amount of work (let’s face it, last spring was pure chaos and stop-gap and “the state said what?”). The most amazing part of this is accepting that I will not be able to get through the amount of material I want to or that I think my students need to progress. Instead I’ve been forced to really re-embrace a philosophy that slipped away over the years—skills over content. That might sound strange, but I’ve always focused on critical thinking skills and communication skills; how I’ve taught those skills—the books or short stories or articles or documentaries or poems can be canon and can change with the times. However, like many teachers who hit their second decade, some of my content hasn’t really changed. Now, I have to accept that two novels, some poetry, and some current articles are probably the extent of the literature I’ll get to if I want to teach research skills and dig into some basic writing skills.

I have to forgive myself ahead of time.

This won’t be like other years.

I have to forgive my students for the things they won’t be able to manage. That’s been both easier and more difficult. It’s easy to forgive the technology issues—kids pop in and out of class every day thank to wonky tech or internet issues (especially with our current stellar air quality). It’s easy to have office hours, but it’s not always easy (yet) to chase down kids who might need extra help, but don’t have the time or energy to ask for it.

It’s harder to get to know the “new” kids.

Some kids have their own kids or siblings. Some kids have parents who are right there, working from home. Some kids don’t. Some kids thrive on the freedom online learning gives them—many don’t. Some kids miss their friends. I miss being able to walk around a room to look at their body language and offer help or exchange a few comments. I’m not complaining about having a job even though it looks different. I just miss some things about how it used to work and I’m still figuring out how it will work, but my students have (overall) been awesome.

I’ve been really impressed by their dedication to showing up, to participating in class, to making an effort. Some of that might be the fact that I’m teaching mostly juniors (and a section of seniors) this year. I imagine it’s harder with the middle grades. I hope my students continue to make the effort, but I worry about them.

Whether they have the support they need or not. Whether they have outside jobs and/or others to care for. Whether they have time for all their obligations.

I worry about their ability to make human connections. I worry about their ability to learn. I worry about their ability to manage their time. I worry about their willingness to read—I know, my English teacher is showing. I worry about their willingness to write just for themselves. I worry about the pressures we don’t know about. I worry about their worries and how that affects their ability and willingness to learn.

These last two weeks have given me more hope.

The world is on fire. This year is a mess. My choices have led to things I’ll be dealing with for awhile, but I have hope for my students. I have hope for my colleagues.

Hope is a lot right now.

Midnight Musings

Routines are important for me. I don’t do well with too much unstructured time. My friends have been a lifeline, but (like everyone) human connection has been less common than I knew I needed. This week we’ve returned to our schools & I’m grateful to be back in my classroom. However, I’m having a lot of thoughts about how my students must be feeling facing months of online learning instead of the more traditional in-class approach.

So many teachers, students, & families are in the same boat—safety versus tradition. Some families are choosing the homeschool route and I hope they are able to build routines that benefit their kids while giving them the skills they need, while helping them be as well-rounded as possible. I hope that families sticking with their public or private schools are also able to embrace routines that benefit their kids & that they get the skills they need from online learning while gaining a well-rounded education. None of it will be easy. We are—teachers, students, & parents—in this together.

Today, in a few of our meetings & later chatting after (an outdoor, socially distanced) dinner with some friends I was reminded if the importance relationships play in our successes. Getting to know my students will be different this year—I’ll need to get to know the students I’m familiar with just as much as the students who are brand new to me. Building a mutual level of politeness, professionalism, sincerity, and trust is going to be important in convincing students who may be frustrated or burned out or struggling with other issues to try or to ask for clarification/help when they need it. Hopefully, it’ll also help build a sense of community so they care about helping each other—sometimes teacher-speak needs to be translated.

The idea of community comes and goes in American society. Keeping the people beyond our friend group or family safe is important. Treating people with basic politeness matters. Standing up for what is right also matters.

Our classes are communities.

Our schools are communities.

Our neighborhoods are communities.

Our towns are communities.

Maybe it’s long past time to let go of “my rights” and embrace “our community”.

Morning

Around my 46th birthday I deleted Facebook. I hate Facebook. I didn’t use it—people use it to spew so much venom or, conversely, to curate their lives to such a degree that what they live and what they post seem like different realities. Other posts made me so angry that my honest responses would’ve torn relationships and biting my tongue kept me pulling away from others. Deleting it was freeing.

This year, I deleted Snapchat, Instagram, and tumblr—I don’t dislike any of them, but I wasn’t really using them. I spend too much time perusing twitter and I can’t figure out why the completely massive amounts of garbage spewed there don’t hit me the same way they did on Facebook. Perhaps it’s age and distance—I stopped using Facebook long before I deleted it. Perhaps it’s easier to dismiss the ridiculous in the 140 to 280 character limits.

Lately, I’ve found myself missing the pretty pictures though. Not all of the celebrity accounts I followed. The pictures of gardens and other countries and the ocean and genuine enjoyment. I miss those pictures. So, I started a new Instagram today “for my blog”. We shall see how I do.

I suppose the fact that I’m back in my classroom tomorrow even without students helps. I sorely miss my students, but I’m grabbing this with both hands and embracing changes to how I teach. For a decade (at least) I read out loud and explain things; I rarely give homework. With this new model, homework is inevitable and I’m planning on using the “live” time to first show my students how to do certain things (like type on my PDFs), then discuss their homework—what did they pick up? What did they miss? How do they get better at analysis and communication?

I’ve been awake for almost four hours…it’s not even seven in the morning my time.

Once upon a time…

I skipped my last posting day. No real reason other than the migraine I battled last week—a few days had me in tears. I get migraines a lot and most people don’t believe that they are actual migraines, but I’ve been getting them since I was twelve. They leveled up when I started teaching…teaching is simultaneously my favorite thing to do and a minefield I’m not always the best at wandering through. Every time I get burned out, I decide to stay in the profession because I really can’t think about what else I would do. In six years I’ll hit thirty years of teaching total, in eight I’ll have thirty years in at my current job—but in neither instance will I be ready to retire financially or emotionally.

For so many reason this year, most of them small, I have been toying with the idea of not putting in 40 years of classroom time (which is the first time I’ve had those thoughts in my 20+ years). I haven’t done well with all of this time away from my actual classroom. It has been good for forcing me to realize just how much my students mean to me—even the ones who shudder at my memory or loathe me daily. I can be grating on some nerves because I live happily in a world of metaphor, a higher level of chaos than most teachers, and I bring philosophy & history to the table as much as I can. My approach to literature has become one of alternative interpretations based on years of reading, discussing, rereading, teaching, and formatively assessing students’ understanding of various books. My understanding of books has changed over all these years.

Beowulf is a brilliant man who plays the personal myth, champion, and left hand games to a degree that wins his frienemy, Unferth, from jealous annoyance to solid ally.

Hester Prynne is a rockstar feminist who teaches her daughter strength and compassion. Roger Chillingworth has a true redemptive arc and is more a father to Pearl at the beginning of his life and through his death than her sperm donor ever was. Arthur Dimmesdale is the true villain of the book who spends years setting up his community so they will never believe his ultimate confession and he when does confess it’s without ever truly taking responsibility for his part in Hester’s struggles or taking responsibility for his biological daughter.

Brave New World and 1984 are brilliant yin and yang looks at control through pleasure and deprivation with a heavy emphasis on technology. Both writers are brilliant in seeing where technology is leading us even if the mechanics of their worlds aren’t really comparable to how our tech actually works. And, Ray Bradbury continues to be the voice in the wilderness even if the way technology has dumbed us down isn’t quite how he envisioned it.

Fairy tales still teach us the most important life lessons outside the faith or philosophy our parent lay down as our foundations. Fairy tale imagery has seeped into every corner of our popular culture, looking back and going forward. The journey into adulthood, meeting our special monsters, facing our shadows, embracing new ways of looking at the world & living in it…we owe a great debt to the grandfathers of The Fairy Tale—Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen. We owe a great debt to the keepers of folklore—The Grimms, Schönwerth, d’Aulnoy, Lang, and countless others—for bridging the gap between the illiterate and the literate.

That ridiculous green light that Nick puts so much meaning into in his attempts to understand Gatsby is as imaginary as Jay, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan. They were all curating their lives in a way any Facebook or instagram aficionado should aspire to today. And, those parties are genius for Jay’s true work moving guns & alcohol from Canada to New York—everyone’s is focused on spectacle and no one is looking at the docks or empty party supply trucks.

I love teaching these stories and I’m ready for The House of Cadmus via Antigone rather than Oedipus next year. The final chapter in a legacy cursed by the gods via a poisoned wedding gift that start with the founding of Thebes. It’s taken me years to appreciate Ismene’s quiet, desperate strength in the face of Antigone’s determination to not relive the mistakes of her father no matter the cost.

Our current situation is a global reminder for those of us who live small, safe lives that there is always a cost, even if it’s not one we are personally faced with every day. My cost is nearly daily spikes of pain in my brain; others deal with the long term payments of surviving cancer or the ups & downs of marriage or crippling debts. Teaching is a great, daily reminder to me of how much goes on in the lives of my students and colleagues no matter the face they put on when at the high school. The balance is seeing former students who have grown up and become so much more than I could imagine for them. I don’t know most of their struggles when they are in my classes or long after when I run onto them. I just get to be proud of them for persevering and finding some sort of happiness and success.

My students are also a reminder of what I learned from my own parents, my childhood, my years as an adult. I’m not who I once was as a teacher and I hope to continue to become better. I’m not who I once was as a person—success, failure, hope, pain, friends, and family have helped with that. Both of my parents taught me how to deal with the pain of different types of migraines; my life didn’t used to allow me to deal with that pain in any other way than to suck it up and get through it the best I can. I know I’m blessed or lucky most of the time. My teacup tempests are small; my life is small which brings its own pain and grace.

At least I have stories. My maternal grandfather was the first storyteller to open my mind, but there have been so many more storytellers over the years. I hope I open some of the minds in my care to the beauty of stories, the strangeness of truth, and the skills to look beyond the words. Gramps laid that part of my foundation even though I didn’t have too many years under his tutelage. Papa, his long-term replacement, taught me how important personal anecdotes are to understanding individuals. I am so lucky to have had multi-generational teachers and the time to look back at what my grandfathers, grandmothers, and parents taught me about people and the world.

Once upon a time Gramps would open his tobacco pouch, tamp down the tobacco in his pipe, light a match, and settle in to tell his stories.

Once upon a time Grandma would open up her door, accept a hug, and show us her fierce determination to live her life on her own terms.

Once upon a time Grams showed us the value of risk by opening up her heart and landing two great loves in one lifetime.

Once upon a time my parents battled the ups and down of marriage, poverty, chronic illness, and faith to show their children loyalty, shades of generosity, and the fruits of determination.

Once upon a time I entered my first classroom and found out how different reality is. My next trick will be surfing the changes Covid-19 has brought to my students, my colleagues, and teaching high school…

Sisterhood is vast

I use this as a hashtag sometimes as a reminder that my faith is based on love in action.

Whether or not I like someone, common courtesy tells me to be polite; treating someone with basic courtesy does not mean I respect them or trust them—it means I see them as human, as worthy of attention as I would like to be. Somewhere along the way, I’ve watched people forget this when they interact. Most of the time there is nothing lost by listening to someone, by shaking their hand (or whatever post-physical distancing equivalents become the norm), by using their chosen pronouns or title. I’ve experienced people who use their faith and/or truth as a weapon. I’ve use truth as a weapon and, thankfully, I learned to change; moments of regret should help us change.

I’m trying to articulate how important it is to embrace a more egalitarian approach to everyday interactions. We will never be equal in a society that values money or education or conventional standards of beauty or…or…or as much as ours does.

Sisterhood is vast.

We have to watch out for each other. We have hold ourselves accountable for what we do, what we leave undone, what we say, and what we leave unsaid. We have to listen to each other. We have to learn from each other.

We have to forgive ourselves.

We have to let go and hold on and accept the innate dissonance of reality.

The sisterhood is always expanding.