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.

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?

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”.

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.

#breakthestigma

Today’s title is courtesy of @shethority

I’m only writing tonight because it’s on my calendar to post on my blog. I’m laying in bed with the windows open smelling my neighbor’s fire. Their music and conversation drifts up in a low buzz when I’m lucky. Other times two of the backyards have dueling music or the conversations get loud. My first year in this place I resented all the noise and didn’t handle it well; I can’t remember (other than the one live backyard band until 02:00) why it was worth so much fuss or frustration—that was just before medication. It’s amazing how much working meds help me mentally. When they stop working, it usually takes time to recognize the rising frustrations and interior inconsistencies as results of med failures.

Taking my meds doesn’t automatically relieve me of depression, anxiety, or migraines. Medication helps.

Writing helps me too.

Since I really accepted that I will deal with these things for the rest of my life (even before I accepted the needs for medication for me), I wanted to normalize taking about depression. My parents would have had no idea what to do if I had approached them in high school to talk about what I termed The Fear. People didn’t talk about such things in the late 80’s. It’s not my parents’ fault I felt broken on multiple levels and they weren’t equipped to really acknowledge those kinds of problems. It is important to me now (has been important for the past decade or so) that people become okay talking about mental health, personal diversity, and what it means to be true to ourselves.

If a man want to feel pretty, why should he be mocked or bullied? If a woman wants to feel tough, why should she be ignored or bullied? if someone swings wide in their personal aesthetic, how is it our place to judge them?

Why is it embarrassing to have a therapist or psychologist? Why is someone weak for being easily stressed out or showing emotion? Why isn’t it okay to take medication for physical or mental health? Why is it okay to mock someone for being overweight? Why is it okay to judge someone for their socio-economic level?

Birth control isn’t a gateway to promiscuity.

When I first entered an online community in 1999, I came across as a “self-righteous, judgmental b*tch” and I was told that more than once—usually at times when judgement was far from my intentions. In high school, I came across as a “stuck up b*tch” according to friends and acquaintances even though I was just horrifically afraid of people. Teaching taught me early on that not everyone is going to like me and that’s okay. Every year I become more comfortable with the ways I’m not “normal”. I long ago accepted that I’m never going to be conventionally attractive. There’s a price to be paid for being true to myself and accepting the changes that come with success and failure.

In these strange time, more and more people are experiencing the waves of strong emotion, the edges of depression, an increase in anxiety, and a thousand other shades of “broken”. It’s okay. It’s okay to be angry about how life has changed. It’s normal to have times where our own minds become echo chambers or spirals of negativity. We are all human. We all have issues. The best we can do varies by person and by day—how we face these times, what we are willing to learn and do is what matters. Accepting that “normal” is a myth might be the first step in letting go of the rightness of judging others and ourselves.

Working on being our better selves is important. Holding ourselves to impossible standards of beauty or normalcy can trap us in The Fear. What we each need from ourselves and others us varied and it’s okay to embrace that as long as it doesn’t include harming others. One of the most important lessons that is left untaught or unlearned is that truth isn’t a weapon. Truth is important, but like most things it is better when paired with compassion.

  • My rules for life…
    • Be smart
    • Be safe
    • Be kind
    • Be true

Prepare for The Random

Days where I don’t have anything to say are why I stop posting 100% of the time. I’ll have a streak going and then find myself without anything worth saying—it doesn’t stop me offline so it shouldn’t stop me here. Power through and all that Jazz. So, here’s what’s on my mind right now:

  • Got a Grove box yesterday with basics like minty soap and mintier toothpaste.
  • The weather went from wet to low 70’s & it’s beautiful.
  • I feel like I’m actually edging my way out of the total darkness—it’s still a little grim, but I’m alive and that’s a blessing.
  • I miss teaching in the classroom.
  • My tennis shoes are looking at me like, go for a walk. This week’s poor excuse is the street work in front of my house and hills.
  • Reading the Newsflesh series and more romance novels. Glancing through the news for good articles to read and discuss.
  • I have too many boxes to break down and stack up. I just let them collect. This may be some weird packrat pathology tied to my wide streaks of laziness and procrastination. I can feel my goddaughter judging me.
  • I got to the point where I made a ridiculous number of playlists that are all eclectic, but I tend to listen to “Utter Silliness” the most. I had my playlist problem under control for months.
  • I think I’ll go to the six-feet away cocktail hour a block down today. I am really missing my friends and this way I can catch up with a few. Texts just aren’t the same as a table full of people I adore down at The Great Pacific.
  • Love the maps by @alfred_twu on twitter. It’s fascinating to watch the states come together or drift apart.
  • Do some people not think about how much worse this pandemic would be without all the social distancing? I keep thinking about my folks, my friends who are immune-compromised, and I also think about how much I want things “back to normal” already. I just fall into the camp that thinks there will another new normal and no return to the old normal.
  • I’m trying not to obsess too much about the things that freak me out.
  • I have got to renew things soon and finish small projects. I also have to finish a couple of big projects.

I hope this finds you well (especially if you took the time to read this). Most of my posts end up with one to three views which makes it harder to stay motivated. This time around, I just keep reminding myself the only way to get better is to practice. At least my head is a little lighter.

Enjoy the boys; two minutes after this picture they were not so friendly. What is it with cats and their need to be on clean clothes?

Been another minute

March 12, 2020 was the start of a weird time in the lives of me and mine. I went to bed with a killer migraine and woke up late Friday morning (a very rare sick day) to the news that Governor Brown was shutting down schools for a few weeks and that’s turned into a strange new life for many of us. I was aware of Covid-19 as it shut down parts of China, South Korea, and Italy. I watched it creep closer as Wildhorse and Nixyaawii Community School shut down for sterilization. We all watched.

April 13, 2020 began a new round of adjustments. Supplemental material shifted to skill-building for grades and chasing down assignments. Many seniors struggled with the abrupt end to their year and the loss of various rites of passage. The rest of the students have been figuring out how to manage home expectations, a range of very real emotions, and juggling all their online classes. It’s no easier for students than for teachers. We are all figuring out how to make things work, how to keep students practicing & learning new skills so they are ready for next year—not that we know what that will look like. I like to think we will be back in the classroom.

Those who know me know I don’t operate well with too much free time (makes it easier to sympathize with some of my students).

I can’t even count the books I’ve read since March 13—I have been a little surprised at my genre choices. Right now, I am impressed by the eerily prescient work of some speculative fiction authors. The apocalypse has been my jam as a Gen-Xer and sci-fi fan—who doesn’t remember those totally useless nuclear bomb drills (head under the desk) in grade school? The end of the known world was around the corner every year, but it never quite happened. The world was a scary place that got scarier every year and we lived through it all, but not all our friends did. We used dark humor, because we would’ve drowned in tears and fear if we didn’t laugh.

Looking at my Gen-Z students as they watch the world change around them in a syrupy slow speed that feels like being pulled into tomorrow by a superhero speedster, they already understand. Millennials spent the last decade being told they are the reason for society’s failures thanks to avocado toast, board games, and not having the money to buy this or that. Now Gen-Z is being told to suck it up or how easy they have it; every “pass” they are getting is going to come with a high price.

I don’t know. It’s been a minute and I’m trying to stop vomiting my thoughts all over twitter. I have not been keeping up on my writing, so hopefully each post gets better with practice and repetition. Practice what I preach, right?

I hope this finds you all well. I hope this helps me find the focus I lost sometime in the last few years.

Forgive my typos.

Trying To Sleep

I’ve been in a funk lately.

I haven’t been making the best smartest decisions. And, I keep thinking about my failures.

As I’ve tried falling asleep the last few nights, my failures (past and present). I know that I wouldn’t be who I am now without my failures. Sometimes they involve overreacting, underreacting, trying too hard at the wrong things, not trying hard enough at the right things. Mostly though, I hate that I have hurt people or made the lives of others more difficult than they needed to be. I can listen, but I can’t always tease the reality from what I’m told—I’m more aware than ever of how much I don’t know.

I do know that I have learned from my mistakes and failures. I know I’ve learned from my successes. Too often it doesn’t feel like enough. Many of us constantly reach toward our better selves even as we stop ourselves from making the smart choices. Sometimes we stop ourselves from making the right choices too.

I hope I make more right choices. I hope that I am a positive memory more often than a damaging one.

On these days or nights I remind myself that it’s okay for people not to like me. I can be a bit much or not enough. What my head knows isn’t always easy for my heart to feel.

This post feels like an expanding spiral that doesn’t really say anything…

Running In Place

I am stuck.

I’m surrounded by meetings that I have to attend, by deadline extension requests, by piles of paragraphs and quizzes that need to be graded, by a house that needs to be cleaned, by dishes that need to be washed, by books that want to be read, by a bed that is perfect for napping, by a windowless classroom, by bills, by shiny things I’d like to own, by my own fears…

I long for platonic physical affection. I want to spend less time on my own even though I need a certain amount of time each day for myself. I need a hug (or fifty), but I won’t ask anyone for a hug–that’s weird or invasive or inappropriate.

I want my students to really learn something new every day or to practice their thinking and communication skills every day and I really worry about the kids who aggressively try not to learn or improve. I have ten kids who are actually researching or writing; I have five people chit-chatting; I have five people on their phones in front of the computers they are supposed to be writing or researching on. This is a work day…so I’m giving them time to work. One of the kids I thought was researching was apparently looking up thinks to cut out and paste into his notebook. It’s disheartening to know I could be harsh and yell, but it would end in a series of power plays which I’ve been working on avoiding for fifteen years.

I keep reminding myself it’s a work day.

I keep reminding myself that nine kids are really working, that they deserve the time. The truth is that half of my students don’t have easy access to research or writing technology outside of school. I am helping one writer who bounces his sentences and words before committing to them—I understand and respect Bouncers. I too work best when I can voice my ideas and receive actual responses. Just the act of saying things out loud is a huge help when it comes to creating sentences and paragraphs that make more sense, that pack more punch.

I spent most of my preparation periods this week writing exhaustive notes for Beowulf and working my theory of intelligent Original Beowulf versus “never going to live up to his father’s name or legacy” Beowulf Junior. I keep telling my seniors that they should disagree with my interpretations—I’m trying to trick them into explaining themselves and supporting their arguments.

I’m stuck in a world where people make their own choices to learn or to not learn while I am trying to teach them. This is the life of a public school teacher; we have to capture their interest enough to sneak in actually skills and learning.

Kind vs. Nice

For over a year I’ve been trying to articulate the inherent difference between someone who is kind and someone who is nice. They are, at best, imperfect synonyms and this has been hammered into me over the thirty-some years people have been complaining to me (or around me) about the perils of niceness while dating. I think the divide carries over into most of our interactions. It’s a bit like the idea that someone can be an asshole and still be good.

Good isn’t a synonym for kind or nice either. I think there’s an inherent element of good in sincerity and compassion, but I don’t think it’s an either or thing. Goodness is tied up in how we view the world, whether or not we try to help others, how we try to help others, why we try to help others—good is tied into how we try to make a difference in the world great or small.

We all have seeds in our personalities that our families feed or let wither. We all throw seeds into the wind as we grow up, interact with others, figure out who we are, and move in the world. Some people will trend toward the lowest element in their make-up no matter how awesome their childhood and family is. Some people will transcend the worst circumstances no matter how difficult their early years.

My job is to seed the wind, to hopefully make people think, and to be okay with the fact that I will rarely see what seeds sprout or what comes of them. Someone else will reap those whirlwinds.

The upshot is:

  • Kindness: sincere concern for the well-being of others applied through action
  • Niceness: actions that appear kind, but are done with the intention of garnering favors