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.

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.

#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

I Hate Money

I actually make a decent amount of money. I should be able to pay all my bills (even my outrageous mortgage which is only outrageous compared to what my rent was) and manage to build a savings account. The truth is that I am bad with money. I could blame the examples of my childhood, but it wouldn’t be fair to them. My money issues are my money issues and cannot be blamed on other people. I like to buy things—presents for myself, presents for my friends, things that I think I need (and sometimes actually do), tattoos (that’s a new expense though), clothes…

You get the idea, I’m sure, that I like to spend money. I have been making reasonable and awesome budgets for fifteen years; I have also been ignoring those budgets for fifteen years. The only smart choice I’ve ever made regarding money was starting two retirement accounts that weren’t Social Security or PERS in my mid-twenties. I’m going to have to put in a full forty years teaching before I can even think about retirement and even with my extra accounts, I still worry about whether or not I’ll have enough money to enjoy retirement or to just exist in retirement.

I also spend money when I’m sad or when I’m anxious or when I’m depressed or when I want to celebrate.

This means I have debt—so much debt. I’m well on my way to catching everything up within the next five years if I can stick to my totally reasonable budget. Again, I can’t help but look at my friends and family who have made smarter financial choices. I also can’t help but think about my students (those who have graduated and those who will) and how difficult earning enough money to make ends meet while paying off student loans is going to be.

To be fair many of my former students make more money per year than I do by working at skilled labor jobs and I am a huge supporter of their choices and their successes. These were often kids who just needed to get through high school so they could go on to apprentice in a specific field or take a technical program. These are kids who spend their first ten years going to where the jobs are which means they learn a lot about what makes someone a good manager or a poor manager of others. They get ten years of good experience, so they can land a job close to where they would like to settle down.

I think the only people that think money doesn’t matter are people who genuinely don’t have to worry about money. If I’m being real, a windfall would solve many of my current problems. Instead, I get to hold to my budget and admonish myself for my mistakes and remember that I alone make the choices that mean eating peanut butter sandwiches for a week or eating like a “normal” adult.

Keep Crawling

Every year I pick a motto or two to keep close to my heart when things get dicey in the classroom or in the school in general. A few of them stick around, because they fit all my situations. One of my favorites was from Firefly and inspired by Martin Luther King Jr’s “If you can’t fly then run if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” Some days all we can do is focus on that next step; looking down the path we see too many reasons to give up. I definitely believe that we sometimes have more going on than we can handle, so I’d add “ask for help.” Most of the people I know want to help others–we want to take care of our friends, our family, and those who are less fortunate that aren’t necessarily connected to us. Unfortunately, we all have to prioritize and sometimes money (or time) get spent frivolously.

We want to help others, but we can’t always. However, most people find it very difficult to ask for help. In a time period where we have online fundraisers for basic expenses and various websites that will happily move money from those who want to help to those who are brave (or desperate) enough to ask for help, it can still be difficult.

The help we need isn’t always monetary though. And those kinds of things are almost harder to ask for. My washing machine has been broken for months (it won’t spin when it’s turned on even though I can spin it manually) and I can’t afford to buy a brand new washer. I have handy friends, friends who are able and willing to help me out with minimal to no judgement, but I am still going to the laundromat. Why is it so difficult for me to accept help on such a small issue?

As I’ve gotten older, as I’ve lived alone for longer and longer (I gave up roommates when I started teaching), it has become harder for me to actually ask for the help I need. It’s weird to acknowledge that when I have become more willing to accept all the things I don’t know which forces me to occasionally ask a stupid question (yes, there are stupid question and stupid questioners). I don’t mind looking stupid or failing at something if I get knowledge out of it. But I still have a hard time asking for help. When I do, my friends and my family are more than willing to help in whatever way they are able–just like I would help them as much as I able to.

I accept that sometimes life is too big, things are too full, and I need help. I just have a hard time asking for it.

I think I admire the people I know who are able to put themselves out into the world and say, “Help me please. I can’t do this on my own.” It’s humbling to admit that as adults we can’t always take care of all of our needs. I see people who expect things to be handed to them because they exist every day; I also see people who are struggling, because they can’t bring themselves to ask for help. Why is this something some people are easily able to do? Why is this something that is so difficult for others?

If you can’t walk, ask a friend to help you keep moving forward.

Always with the apologies

I spend more time feeling guilty for things I should have done than I do enjoying the things I want to do: that’s not totally true, but some days it feels true.

The truth is that I’m overweight and a little too brash and a little too likely to hermit up.

I gained weight when I started teaching and twenty years later it is hard to figure out how to get healthy. I don’t mind weighing a little (a lot) more than average, but I hate feeling so out of shape. So, I’m working on exercising more (I’m up to sixteen brutal minutes on the rowing machine); I’m working on eating more fruits and veg. I love walking. I like rowing. I’m not a runner or a biker or someone who likes to walk when its too hot, too cold, too windy, too wet. I like food; eating for enjoyment seems to be vastly underrated in our current world.

I grew up with The Fear. Basically, I spend a little bit of time wishing I’d known how to talk to my parents about how I was feeling when I was 15 or 16 (not that they would have known what to do to help me in the late 1980’s). I wish I’d found someone to talk to in my twenties or early thirties. I feel no shame in admitting that I take anti-depressants or that I take anti-anxiety pills when I need to. It’s no different than when I take pills for my migraines. I’m glad for people growing up today that there is less stigma around needing pills to help balance whatever is out of whack in our bodies and brains. Less isn’t the same as none though.

In college I learned to be louder, to fake being a people person in order to be normal. It wasn’t much different than faking crushes in high school (and college) in order to be like everyone around me.

The first time someone referred to me as asexual I was totally offended, because I didn’t understand most aspects of sexuality or that not really doing “the sex thing” was alright whether my reasons were religious or personal inclination. Well into my late-thirties I had people telling me that I would feel different when I met the right person, or I just needed to get laid, or…This is why I spend time explaining these things to my students when they come up subtly in books or poems. It’s amazing how much classic authors (even all those dead white dudes) got right when they wrote about depression, PTSD, or alternative sexuality. However we describe them, they are still part of the human experience.

I am insanely lucky to have had wonderful friends who invite me along on trips, over for holidays, over for dinner. I’m lucky that I get to listen to and laugh with these people. I’m lucky to have seen their kids grow up. I’m grateful that I still have these friends despite the ebb and flow of time spent together due to life’s vagaries. I’m also pretty lucky to have parents that are still alive, a brother I still talk to, and all the extended family.

And I’m lucky to have a job that’s worth the bad days.

This is my year to swear less in favor of being more subversive, exercise on the daily, and stop apologizing for the little things.

I’ll still apologize for being thoughtless or malicious, but I’m going to try to stop apologizing for being myself.