Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thanks 2015! "Countless Small Acts of Courage"

The most incredible thing happened at my mom's Christmas party last weekend, something that was worth a million rainbows. My fourteen-year-year-old niece, AKA the coolest person in the universe, and her BFF (my also-quite amazing bonus niece) were regaling us at top volume about the byzantine love lives of themselves and their friends, stories that included all kinds of straight, gay, bi, and trans characters. It made my heart just shine with joy. Though there's still such a very long way to go toward gender equality, the world has expanded and gotten so much more glittery since I was these girls' age.

I'm so proud of the nieces for their ingrained inclusiveness, so I wanted to stop and appreciate all of the little things that got us to that conversation and to that rainbowiest of days last June.  Not the political things, though those are surely important, but all of the many little moments of connection, of engagement, of expression that helped us to make more room for love one honest interaction at a time.  And I'm so proud of all of us who went ahead and got married anyway (even if I personally failed at it) and of the families who created and supported those weddings, especially my own.

I want to hold June 26, 2015 in my heart as a reminder that there is hope for all of the projects of progress, that every time we speak up, show our love, or work for change in the tiniest of ways, we're getting ourselves to that place where we can stop for a second and say, holy Christmas, things really did get better. The future belongs to my badass nieces and my sweet, thoughtful nephews, and for that reason, I'm wholly optimistic.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Meditation Monday: "Fuck Yes" Says Amanda Palmer.

I've been a self-improvement project for as long as I can remember, but ironically one of the things I've always wanted to change is the vain idea that I am somehow supposed to be better than I am. Brene Brown, in her new book Rising Strong , suggests that maybe it's better to assume that everyone is doing the best they can, and that idea is such a relief to me. In a great episode of Dear Sugar Radio,
 I heard Amanda Palmer sing this gut-wrenching song of self-acceptance, and sobbed the happy tears of good art:

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thank You Thursday: Yay This Fall!

There's something about this fall. Maybe it's because I live in the prettiest neighborhood in the city or the daily drive to Bryn Mawr, or working on such a pretty campus, but I haven't enjoyed a fall this much in years. Here's a little selection of highlights!




























Monday, October 26, 2015

Meditation Mondays: Plant Flower Beds at the Boundaries



I made this painting for a friend who told me that she wants her life to be more boundaryful, but then I realized that I don’t really know from boundaries either. From etiquette podcasts to Cuddle Parties, I’ve studied the subtleties of yesses and nos for years, but I still have trouble knowing the difference between what I am and what others expect me to be. When I heard this episode of Invisibilia, I wondered if I might just have too many mirror neurons, but I don’t know how one gets tested for that.

Mirror neurons or not, I want to take responsibility for building stronger boundaries. In friendship, I tend to ignore differences or slights or do a lot of one-sided giving until I explode from resentment and become scary to the person—those are my ugliest and most shameful times. In dating, I ignore red flags because every man feels like my last chance to learn to be “more flexible” (Read: more lovable) and then I end up in lots of yucky situations that confirm my darkest fears about the world. This isn’t to say it’s my fault that guys (or friends or churches) are creeps sometimes, only that I want the self-love to walk away more easily when the warning signs come rather than ending up in panic-inducing scenarios over and over.

I’ve always wanted to do whatever someone I liked thought I should do. My sixth grade best friend Jill gave me the nickname “Doormat.” She would ask me to do all kinds of little tasks for her and I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from doing them. Once at a sleepover at her house, I stayed up all night because I didn’t have the courage to ask her to turn off the Enuf Z’ Nuff CD that was on repeat.

I’ve sometimes found positive ways to view and express my tendency toward servitude, most recently by vowing service thorough teaching, but in the end, I always end up in the same place—  feeling spent, worthless, ashamed, invisible, alone.


I think a lot of people, women especially, are raised to feel guilty for taking up space in the world, for having a point of view. So my task now is to notice the little boundaries, to push back in tactful, constructive ways, to say no to the things I don’t like when I can so that my life has room to fill up with what I really want. I have to guard against seeing every friendship, community or date as My Last Chance. I want to teach myself that I don’t have to fight for a space in this world, but I do have to find out what my own space authentically looks like. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Thank You Thursdays: Favorite Podcast


No matter what mood I'm in or what kind of day I'm having, Again With This: Beverly Hills 90210 Edition always brings me to my happy place: the Nineties. Full of sassy descriptions of shoulder-paddy fashion, (there are visual aids too) Twin Peaks references, it gives me (somewhat disturbing) insights about how the show shaped my adolescent brain. 

Plus, it's a spinoff of my other favorite cavalcade of pop culture goodness, Extra Hot Great.

Thanks shows!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Meditation Mondays: The Rainbow Wheel of Death


Though I'm taking all the the daily steps to move my life forward, I've been experiencing a deep, dark feeling of stuckness in my personal life. I'm doing my best to see what's good and magical within that stuckness, like this:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Happy Friday: John Lydon on Mental Health, Bettie Page, and Other Awesome Things

I can't seem to make a link happen, but if you Google, "John Lydon world Cafe," you'll find a wonderful interview. Who knew Johnny Rotten could be so comforting?


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Thank You Thursdays: Library Job and Children's Books

I'm in a dark time right now so I'm starting a new weekly posting routine to help me focus on the positive.

Besides getting lots of hard work done on my memoir publication dream, my favorite thing in my daily life right now is my library after school program job. I get to spend big swaths of time playing Legos, doing lighthearted science projects, and just enjoying time with the neighborhood kids. Today was computer lab day and I had two little girls making up songs and singing different things at the same time--I told them they're the best people ever--and they are! You can see LOTS of their poetry and artwork here: http://leapkidsmag.blogspot.com/2015/10/fall-acrostic-poems-and-leaf-art.html

The weirdest thing about me is that in all of my years of teaching and teacher-training, I never really connected with children's books. I guess I was just too surrounded in the haze of standards and planning anxiety to spend much time just soaking up the language and art. I've decided to read anything the children's librarians hand me, and it makes the world feel bigger and more magical.

Monday, October 12, 2015

About Leaving Church and What Comes Next



Before I try and do my best with the spiritual/community questions I’ve been wrestling, I want to spend a little time acknowledging the personal heartbreak that happened around the same time. There was, as I’ve written a couple of times, a guy I really liked, and there was a morning he’d planned to come to church with me. I was so excited and I told all my friends, but we reached a dealbreaker in the night and he couldn’t come. I felt sad at the loss of him and hurt by his rejection, but I also felt ashamed for getting my hopes up so much, for getting so excited, for telling my friends he was coming and then having to tell them I was wrong. It was humiliating, and it goes along with the fear that comes from leaving the church, that every time I feel like I really belong somewhere, every time I go all in and let my guard down, the rug will be pulled out from under me.

Also there is the simple shame of this: I’m embarrassed about how long everyone knows I have been looking for my guy, how wholeheartedly I’ve tried and come up empty, how many OKCupid questions I’ve racked up over the years, how easily everyone else seems to pair up and slot into their lives and how I just never seem to fit. That pain is too much right now, just part of heartbreak, I guess. It’s relevant and not relevant but mostly I just have to get it out.

Every Wednesday at the library we have Lego Club. The only rules are that you have to make something awesome, and you have to take it apart at the end—no KraGl for us. It’s a beautiful way to look at creativity, but sometimes I wonder if my life isn’t a little bit too much like Lego Club—leaving the Unitarian Society that had been my spiritual home on and off for eight years feels like taking apart a beautiful, bright thing that it took time to build, and I don’t know when the next Lego Club of the Soul will come along. (And let’s not even think about the Lego Club of the Heart!)

When I signed the membership book at the Unitarian Society of Germantown in 2009, it was a huge deal to me—I had found a lot of spirituality in secular life, but I’d been without a steady and official faith since the age of ten, at the moment that I sat in Catholic Church and realized that it was just stories, and moreover, that it was stories that didn’t make sense to me. (Side note: My dad once told me that he stopped believing in Catholicism when we kids were born—he just couldn’t see how a baby could be born with sin. Aw, that’s nice.) For a long time, I thought not making it as a Catholic meant that I wasn’t entitled to a relationship with God, that I couldn’t really be safe in a religion, and maybe that is still true.

Every so often, when I felt like I wanted to make more of a commitment to Unitarianism, I even made a monetary pledge, just a token amount, but similar to the way that my wedding ring kept getting not-worn, my pledge checks went unpaid more often than not. Similarly, although we were supposed to wear nametags to be more approachable to the other attendees, I never could bring myself to wear one. You can either see that as keeping things at arms’ length or liking to be free, maybe both are true.

The first time I left the Unitarian Society of Germantown, about three years ago, it was because of something that happened in Small Group Ministry. One of the women in the group had struck up a friendship with a married guy from the congregation, I guess what might be called an emotional affair, and he got a crush on her. The lady felt upset and constrained by this, said it made her not want to come to church anymore. Without the man’s side of the story, the group instantly united against him. They closed ranks in a way that terrified me, the leader even offering to tell the minister on the man.

I got angry all the way down to my guts that they would gang up on him so quickly, that they wouldn’t show him compassion—I mean, who hasn’t had a crush before, for god’s sake? As a poly person, I became deeply aware that though they claimed to welcome all expressions of sexuality, the church still existed for the old reasons: To jealously guard the boundaries of heteronormative marriage, even uniting against errant feelings. My voice came all the way up from my belly and I said “It’s LOVE, the most powerful thing in the universe, and who do you think you are to control it?”

I took that as my cue to leave the group and the church and delve deeply into love research, which was scary and fruitful and well-documented.

I found my way back to USG, though, and though I could never really settle into a Small Group again, I did have long conversations with the minister about love and poly—I felt like I could be a voice for the organic side spirituality and the unpredictable nature of love. Without really noticing, I built an entire circle of friends from the USG community, whom I loved very dearly.

Then the pope came. I’ve already said that the way the pope’s visit impeded traffic felt like a citywide metaphor for the way they’d colonized and oppressed so many bodies, including my own. It felt like there was no place safe from the grip of paternalism, that there wasn’t room to be ourselves and grow. I am so grateful to that feeling for helping me realize how much the Catholic Church still lived in me, and how much I wanted it out.

When USG announced that they would be televising the papal mass, I was at first shocked, but I realized it could be comforting—who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by thoughtful, liberal friends who, like me, believed in fighting for equality and justice?

But then, the Monday morning of Pope Week, I passed my church on the way to work like I always do and saw the sign: “Welcome, Pope Francis.” I sobbed all the way to work. I tried to share my dismay with the pastors and via the church facebook groups, but people’s responses let me know that as a congregation, we were not doing what I thought we were doing. In their rush to embrace this “more liberal” pope, they forgot women. They forgot GLBT equality. They forgot thousands of raped children. They forgot to stand up for those who need it. Just as in that small group meeting, they closed ranks, and the only way for me to stay sane was to walk away.

I was angry, scared, and lonely, but also curious. I got in the car and drove over to the other Unitarian Society in my neighborhood to see what was on their sign. It said “Building Beloved Community.” I took note of the other denominations’ signs around town that week, and no other church said “Welcome Pope Francis”—They had their own sermon topics and their own lives. They had backbone, and I decided that I would too. In that moment, I felt kinship with my Catholic aunts, who were angry at the pope for being too liberal—from waaaaaaay over here other end of the political spectrum, I could see their point—let’s believe in what we believe in.

Just like with the guy, there’s sadness and shame and loss in letting USG go. Just like him, it wasn’t a mistake to try, but it ended up a bad match, and I can only keep trying and keep hoping for something more fitting to come along.


Right at this moment, I can’t really believe there is such a thing as liberal religion, or maybe liberal isn’t good enough. I want radical, wild religion, the Earth’s religion, something deeper that can’t be contained in the same rituals, the same creepy group dynamics that have oppressed us for all of our thinking lives. Maybe that isn’t religion at all, maybe it’s just connection to the deep, sometimes dark, wild spirituality within. I’m going to look for chances to touch that divinity any way I can, mostly by just being here, loving nature, loving love, and making stuff.

Meditation Mondays: Charlie the Unicorn

So I've decided to go back to the blog's roots, but instead of doing weekly motivation, I'm going to share things that make me totally geek out about the power and weirdness of creativity. When my niece and nephews showed me this, aside from laughing my ass off, I thought jeez this is bonkers, and somebody worked real hard just so it could exist. How do people come UP with things? It makes me feel like there's a candy mountain worth of goodness in the world, for everyone's taking.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Trying Some New Dreams: Tutoring and Creative Coaching

I already know I want 2016 to be my year of creative entrepreneurship, but I hope these lil' posters are a good start. If you don't mind, please pass them along to anyone who might be interested.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Song of the Week: Where Soul Meets Body


I was rifling around in the (inaccurately named) glove compartment and I found this old friend. I turned it all the way up and liked thinking about this particular intersection, where traffic will someday be less blocked.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pope Week is All of the Panics, the Parkway Is all of the Violated Places


 
***Please note: I would like to acknowledge a bout of empty-womb sorrow that informs the general frustration of this post.***

Geez, this is a lot of dark topics lately for a happiness blog, you might be thinking, but sometimes, there’s anger, sometimes you have to dig through three thousand porta potties of shit to unearth joy, or in this case, get to God.

Here’s what I see when I see the “Welcome, Pope Francis” signs everywhere, including at my own usually-liberal Unitarian Society:

Welcome, institutionalized rape.

Welcome, marriage and childbirth as coercion.

Welcome, only being worthwhile as a woman if you serve a husband and have lots of children.

Welcome, only being worthwhile as a man if you own a woman and have lots of children.

Welcome, birth control as sin and overpopulation murdering the planet.

Welcome, narrow definition of love that doesn’t apply to me.

Welcome, my ex-wife and I being told we’re sinners at most family weddings.

Welcome, even babies have inherent sin.

Welcome, the thought is as bad as the deed.

But the thing that makes me angriest is how Catholicism taught me that some of the best things about myself are what keeps me separated from God. My questioning, my strength, my sexuality—not even queer sexuality but the very fact of out-of-marriage desire; that these things kept me from feeling entitled to a relationship with God make me feel enraged. God made me this way, and the Church separated me from God.

I happen to be in a phase right now where I’d like a more openhearted relationship with the divine, where I want to come out and come to terms with my not-atheism. I’m not a cool agnostic, and I’d like to find some ways of expressing it. I do believe in a benevolent force that loves me. I do want to be grace-filled and joyful and accept that love. But right now all I can feel is anger for how long I was told I didn’t deserve that connection, that god belonged to more straight and well-behaved girls. I know it’s my fault for not realizing it sooner.

Mostly, like all things are to me, it’s personal. I am angry on behalf of child me, as is way-too-often the case. An example is this: When I was fourteen, I had sex for the first time. I did it right then because I was feeling sad and ugly and I thought I might never have the chance again. I thought it would make some sort of connection with the guy but he treated me like a stranger afterwards. It was so sad as to seem like a cliché.

I told my aunt, my favorite confidante. That evening, we were in church and I mentioned that someone had on my (recently deceased) Great Grandmom’s perfume. “Maybe she’s telling you she forgives you.” said my beloved aunt.

Here is what she should have said, and I’ll say it to myself now—

You are worthy and good and there is so much happiness and love in your future. Sex is yours and you will have it in the happiest, most playful, most exuberant, most loving ways. You can and should expect more from partners, and you have so much in body, soul, and heart to offer them in return.

Being shamed about sex, believing somewhere inside that it’s something for which I need forgiveness, has caused me so much pain and loss that at 41, I’m still working to heal the consequences.

Welcome Pope Francis, chip in on my therapy bills.


So, during Pope Weekend, I will do every kind thing for myself. I’ll pray for everyone who was hurt in large and small ways by the Church. I will take the opportunity to stay home and work on my sex memoir, so that this woman, at least, will continue to have a voice, so I can honor the hot-pants spark inside me that IS God, and it will be, loved, celebrated, and will know it never needs to be forgiven, that it was born forgiven. My family’s faith may have hampered their ability to raise me (and themselves) with love, but I can still raise myself, and still find my own path to God.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Songs of the Week: Two for Profile-Updating

It's the part of the getting-over-it wherein I belt out lots of songs and write a more honest OKCupid profile. There's a fair amount of moping, but I feel my inner Minaj taking care of it.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Thoughts After a Romance (Heart Inventory Continued)



When I wrote my birthday heart inventory, I happened to be in the early part of a relationship, the part where one is expected to be reticent, lighthearted, tentative, (none of those my strong suit even a little) as though one were trying to convince a woodland creature to eat from one’s hand. (Some comedian said that, it isn’t mine but it’s apt.)
So I left some things out.

I’m so glad I decided to let him in, to let myself hope. It was wonderful to think that we might actually be going someplace together. He was supposed to stay over on Saturday and then go to church with me on Sunday. I haven’t attended church with a boyfriend since the summer before eleventh grade, when I knelt beside my unbelievably sweet first boyfriend in the front pew of my Aunt Connie’s church. The idea of sharing a faith with a partner, of harboring a spiritual connection, made me so joyful that I thought I might explode. Sunday was the Water Ceremony at my church, where we were supposed to bring water from our summer and join it with everyone else’s water. I’d asked him if he would want to contribute some water from his pool, where we’d shared some perfect moments, and to my great delight, he said yes.

I keep a one-sentence journal, and Saturday’s entry reads: “I think he really likes me—our date is at 3pm and at 10 am, he’s already put the water in his car to remember to bring it for church.” This news was accompanied by a photo of his morning glories, which are purple like most of mine. Maybe he did really like me.

That morning, I felt so open and festive, like the best possible version of myself. It was, he was, a special occasion. I walked over to the co-op to get flowers to put by the door, and of course they were a rainbow. I felt playful, and loving, and generous, and there were definitely special underpants.

And it was a magical afternoon and evening, full of laughter and what I would’ve called closeness. It doesn’t matter what went wrong in the night, but I will say this: Usually I can sift though any bad match and find what I did wrong, but in this case I am wholeheartedly sure that that guy had won the person lottery, and he severely mishandled his luck.

I still went to church, cried the whole way there and was glad I remembered where they keep the stash of wedding/funeral tissues. One of my favorite friends joined me in the pew and we laughed about the patheticness of my I-had-to-spill-the-special-pool-water-down-the-sink story. She’d forgotten her water so I lent her my drinking bottle while I spilled in some ocean water from the family beach. It was an absolutely meant-to-be breakthrough morning with my friend, who also happens to be a creative coachee.

But home alone, sobbing in front of “Up in the Air,” I had to admit to such loss, such longing. Before I met him, it was mostly possible to ignore a big part of what’s missing in my life, or I’d just been enjoying a nice break from worrying about it: Though my day- to-day life is pleasant and good, I want to fall in love and have a family more deeply than it feels safe to say.

A few months ago, one of my favorite friends in the world had a baby after a long, hard struggle. I was so relieved and happy for her and saw it as proof that even the most enormous and terrifying-to-want dreams can come true. But also I was inconsolable. I cried so hard that I thought my heart would fall out. I felt so much envy and pain and grief and loneliness with each successively more adorable picture: I eventually had to just unsubscribe.

Normally one would just take that to mean, duh, I want a baby, but that honestly seems supercrazy for me to want—I’m sensitive, anxious, single, and (though I know I have  fertile genes) likely too old to try.

And yet.

The wide, vast, chasm of pain that opened up from my friends facebook and from the loss of a guy who just wasn’t right means that I do very dearly, in the most raggedly vulnerable way, want to have my own family.

The guy, while he has qualities of his own, also has two adorable sons. He once texted me a picture of them on a picnic by a pond. And I let myself imagine it—how I might someday meet them, how I might someday heap them all in love. Even without having (thank goodness) met the kids, I knew that the three of them needed me, needed the ocean of love that’s in me, and I let myself hope I could someday give it to them.

So now I’m in a position of being no longer able to ignore a thing I can’t really do anything about. I’m afraid I’ve lost my chance, not with him (he was not the chance) but with my someday family, like we’ve all missed our connection somehow. The idea that it might be to late is a heavy thing to carry around, knowing I may eventually have to just grieve the lost chance.


But the thing is, I let myself believe in the possibility of love, of letting someone in. I let myself go as far as the current of romance could take me, and that was a good and brave choice. And although it is famously lightning-strike foolish, I have to believe that my guy and my family are still out there waiting for me, or maybe the impossible will happen before it’s too late. I have so much love, so much everything to give a family. However they come, whoever they are, let them get here. I miss them so much.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Love Poem: Daniel McGinn!

Daniel, fourth from left with his deardear wife Lori, back when I lived blessedly near them.
This week's poet is a favorite influence, a wonderful friend, and one of the best all around humans there is. He and Lori just celebrated their 39th anniversary, so it seems a little odd to mark the occasion with a poem about me--but who could resist?

Explaining Jane

“Jane Cassady has been informed that you cannot be a post-modernist and call
yourself a post-modernist at the same time, so she now refers to herself
as post- structuralist.”

-Ben Trig, Poetry Host

1.

Open to her eyes peering out the mail slot—
the sound of one pink polished nail
tap tap tapping in the brass lip.
Let us assume she is on her knees,
Holy Mother of God, she wonders aloud
When will the postman arrive?

Jane knows what she means to say
but today
she is closed like a door
with a mouthful of letters.

2.

What shall I say?
My lips are just meat.
My heart but a subject
open for interpretation.

The state of my soul?
This is California, you say
but it is never the same to you.
We communicate alone, don’t we?

One does not even understand odd.
Knowing people is a matter of time
and space. Consider space.
Who among us is able to do the math?

3.

Lesson One, says the teacher,
is that there is no Lesson One.

Maybe it’s raining out.
Maybe the teacher is crying.
But hey, who are we to judge the teacher?

Jane raises her hand,
waving it like a flag on a minivan,
a silent hand but important,
like a white flag
snapping smartly over a massacre.

Jane says to the teacher,
What about the post??
The teacher sees lumber
And tries to build his argument.

No, Jane says,
it’s not about the male men anymore,
it’s about the postal persons.

The teacher sees machine guns.
Jane sees love letters.


Daniel McGinn's work has appeared numerous anthologies and publications. His full length collection of poems, 1000 Black Umbrellas was released by Write Bloody Press. He had five chapbooks published as part of the Laguna Poets chapbook series. Daniel has an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He and his wife, poet Lori McGinn, are natives of Southern California. They have 3 children, 6 grandchildren and a very good dog.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Birthday Heart Inventory: More for Age 41


Probably “more” has been my keyword for all of the years, but now in particular I want to expand, to think a little bigger, to feel like I deserve the hopes and dreams hanging around the notebooks of my extraordinarily blessed everyday life.

Yesterday as I was getting in the car to drive to work, I had the music turned up and this song shuffled on. A grumpy man across the street glowered at me and I gave him the biggest grin and decided it would be my song of the year. I would like to say goodbye permanently to guilt and shame, to my tendency to apologize for my existence, to false good-girl compliance, and embrace being maladjusted, both in the Dr. King sense and in the regular way. So:


Forty was the year of friends. I realized my dream of being best friends with Amy, and while that may not be the move-oniest thing, it is certainly a source of joy and my favorite pleasant work boredom. I’ve gotten closer to my church friends, made poetry part of my life again in a small but significant way, and had the best friend-life since probably middle school. There was a spate where all of my friends lived in other cities and though I still love my far-flung family of pals, I’m glad to have expanded to those who can just barge in or, as my next-door neighbor did this morning, surprise me with spontaneous festiveness.


This was also the year that I truly loved being single, where getting in my own little world has been the best and happiest treat, whether I’m writing, painting, organizing the shelves, or just snoozing on the couch rewatching Gilmore Girls again.

And for making my own little world so pretty, the MVP award definitely goes to my apartment. The story of how I got it is how I want to let life be more often: One Sunday morning I was all grumpy because my divorce apartment was filled with cigarette smoke from the creepy downstairs neighbor. I was so crabby I couldn’t even deal with finding a parking spot at church, so I came up to the prettiest street around to take a walk. I overheard my now-landlord talking about showing the place and I stopped, butted into her conversation, and came up the driveway to see. The walls were painted a hideous pumpkin orange, but she said I could have any color, and she got my robin’s egg blue exactly right.

This is the first place that ever really felt mine, the place I most truly belong. In the mornings, I open the door and let the cool air in, stand there with Frannie and see how many morning glories bloomed. It’s a still and safe place that reminds me of the countryside I grew up in, but with an independent bookstore three doors down.

The apartment became the home of Fun and Games Poetry Class, which was definitely the biggest and happiest accomplishment of the year. That I made money for praising wonderful writers and helping them bring out their best work feels like such an incredible gift. I’ve written them so many thank you notes already, but the curiosity, generosity, and imagination at the heart of my poet pals is a force of nature and I’m honored whenever I’m in their presence.

The same goes for my made-up creative coaching careers. That my friends have trusted me with something as personal and delicate as their creativity, that I get to foster breakthroughs and encourage indulgence and celebrate expression at my own kitchen table is a dream come true, and I would love to see it expand in the coming year.

I’ve already said a lot about the year’s losses, but they need a little paragraph. It still hurts that classroom teaching didn’t work, that I’m not able to work for justice in the way that I wanted to. The harsh, tenacious, beautiful lives of my students still haunts me, will never leave me, and I hope that I can honor them in this new life. As soon as one more clearance comes in the mail, I’ll be back writing poetry with the library kids, so that’s a start. Though the panics of school haven’t left me yet, I know I’m getting stronger.


And okay, I’ve put off writing about him long enough, there’s a guy. It’s too soon to tell what we’ll be to each other but he is a man. He makes plans, he takes me out on real dates, he remains unfazed when the darkest parts of me come out. He lights me up. I don’t want to say more or I’ll jinx it, but it’s nice to be hanging around with someone who makes sense for me—it was a long way to get here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Talking With My Childhood Self About Bill Cosby

Photo by my Uncle Steve


Before I get to the soul searching, I want to say that I think Hannibal Buress is a hero for bringing the reality Bill Cosby’s victims into the public consciousness, but I really wish that women were taken as seriously on the same set of topics—Jen Kirkman has been censored and Julie Klausner vilified for pointing out similar allegations  and hypocrisies, (about Louis C. K. and R. Kelly respectively) and I would very much like to live in a world that isn’t trained to dismiss women’s point of view, especially on this particular matter.

For a lot of my adult life, I’ve been a trusting, open, jump-in-with-both-feet kind of person. I made friends and became devoted to them instantly (okay, I still do that) got crushes on poets and wrote reams about them, greeted nearly every person and new situation wholeheartedly.  I’ve never been afraid to walk alone at night and I’m still not, but in the past few years, I’ve ended up seeing the world through rape-colored glasses, seeing facets of coercion and exploitation everywhere. The problem with this lens is not that it isn’t true, but that it isn’t helpful; it’s not taking me where I want to go.

I want to slay those dragons and really start to live knowing I have agency and hope. The personal reasons that I tend to see the world this way are well-documented; they’re private and complex, but the psychological impact, the pulling-the-rug out-from-under-me that Cosby-as-rapist has wrought matters.

Like probably so many little girls, I LOVED Bill Cosby. This is not an overstatement like “Oh, I love Netflix,” but real, abject human love of a child for an adult man who seemed more than deserving of that love. My dad had all of his records and my brother and sister and I listened to them so much that it was almost like we were the siblings in those stories.

But The Cosby Show. It was one of the few shows we were allowed to watch—somehow that Thursday night block was highbrow enough for my dad (who before long would give into the slippery slope of Growing Pains and Perfect Strangers) (Mike Seaver didn’t do much in the not-letting-me-down department either, did he?) so we watched it as a family every Thursday night, like everyone.

Was there ever a more appealing paragon of manhood than Cliff Huxtable? He danced with his wife. He goofed around with the kids. He lovingly and hilariously laid down the law when necessary. And sometimes, as I think was pointed out once on Community, an entire episode could be about making a sandwich with his daughter. He was a perfect picture of what it means to be a man in a family, exactly the beautiful grownup my ten-year-old self needed.

There are a lot of factors that combine to make me generally skittish, but the shift from what I felt about Cosby then to what I know now exacerbates the feeling I have sometimes that if I relax for one second, if I trust for one second, the world will turn upside down and I will be completely fucked. But I certainly don’t want to approach the world that way.

So.

Dear Little Self,

What you loved was a story, and that story is still true. Everywhere there are families with singing and laughing—you’ve lived in one for a long time. Everywhere there are men, dads and brothers and friends and strangers who wish you and everyone nothing but love, safety and happiness.

You can grieve for Cliff Huxtable and be mad that Kurt Cobain was such a creep to that girl in high school and still be pretty peeved about that one episode of Buffy. I will always be mad with you and on your behalf. I will always be on your side.

But let’s look for other, better examples, and allow them to be true. I’ll do my best to keep you safe, if you’ll do your best to let it go. Take all the time you need.

Love,

Grownup You



Sunday, August 23, 2015

Spending Some Time With Teacher Grief

Last Year's Class


Lately I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well my work life seems to be falling into place: I’m working at a steady clip on what I think is a sellable memoir, teaching gratifying poetry playshops for grownups, and I even have two honest-to-goodness creative coaching clients. For friendship, pleasant exercise, and routine, I have my job at Rosemont College Bookstore, and for teaching, I start back soon at the library afterschool program I always loved—which means weekly Apples to Apples Junior and probably starting up the kids’ blog again!

And yet, when my Perfect Life Friend (Do you have one of these? I think Instagram invented them.) posted a picture of her new classroom with exuberant thoughts about fresh pencils and (*shudder*) “Common Core Icebreakers,” the feeling of having failed as a teacher asked me for some attention.

In my relief and joy of coming back to the creative life, I often forget how happy I was this time last year. My classroom was so pretty, all sky-blue fadeless paper and flower border. The flowers were not just to remind me of the creativity and generosity of god, but to reassure me of the beauty, order, and patterns of math as I settled in to be the math, science, and (until test prep time started to eat the enrichment schedule and our souls) poetry teacher.





 I was absolutely in LOVE with my coworkers—with the intern principal who had a cat named after Rory Gilmore and praised my decision to teach “Such Great Heights” as one of our class songs, with my sweet but tough-as-nails 28-years-teaching and SO over it grade partner, with the cute-guy fourth grade teacher down the hall who’d end up hugging me so sweetly when I was crying at the copier by January.


My favorite teacher friend was a red-haired sasspot who would call out the bosses in front of everybody for time-wasting “organization strategies” meant only to impress the constantly visiting superintendant. She rode home with me almost every day, knew the best and worst of both my work and school life, but the trauma of last school year has meant I can’t stand the thought of talking to even the favorites who were part of it. Losing that friendship is one of the saddest, most unfair parts.

But back to last August—our school had extra grants for professional development so we started early and spent two weeks together. The cute intern principal had us write down our thoughts on David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” speech and show-called me, so that I was the one who said “Yeah, but David Foster Wallace killed himself, so I don’t think mindfulness is enough. We have to prioritize self-care.” (Really, “This Is Water” is a way to try and push ourselves through a system that doesn’t support our embodiedness or make sense—actually the opposite of water, I’d say.)

We learned lots of Teach Like a Champion strategies, many of which seem totalitarian to me now, especially “100%” (compliance). The intern principal once compared a child reading with her head down instead of sitting straight up and down to Malcolm Gladwell’s Broken Windows—that was the feeling: let one little thing slip, and it will all come crashing down. As optimistic and aesthetically pleasing as the beginning of the school year was, there was a desperation at its center: If I had the right classroom setup, the right folders, the right pencil strategy (If I could spend no more time EVER thinking about pencil strategies or the word “strategy” at all…) the right data-collection binders, the right rituals and routines, I could keep the chaos of the children’s lives at bay and make an island of safety and happiness where kids with even the most horrific circumstances could learn and succeed, where I could learn and succeed.

That was what I was tasked with doing, and I did do it for a lot of each day. I learned, would you believe, to get children who were overflowing with life and passion and creativity to walk silently in a straight line. I filled the classroom with plants and student work and inspirational sayings and more flowers. We had gorgeous room-to-room transitions where the only sound to be heard was my grade partner and I harmonizing to “Lean on Me.”



It was beautiful, and I felt so much love and accomplishment and heavy meaning in every day, so much connection to my fellow humans, connection to my soul. I have so much to say about what prevented order and beauty and love from winning, including (often starring) my own limits, but for now, I just want to acknowledge how much I loved my classroom, and honor the pain of letting it go.