Sunday, January 24, 2016

Continuing Kondo

By Kondo, I mean of course Marie Kondo's plan for my house to feel magical.

Purging enormous piles of books today.

One of the trickier areas... I have lots of textbooks from teaching. I look at them and see the enormous wealth of knowledge contained, many of which might be very useful. The fact is, though, that I never open them. It's not doing any good on the shelf, and the idea of me re-reading them is unrealistic. Bye books.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Too Scattered

My last post was about my love of writing and how much I am getting into it.

I've kind of fallen off the wagon again. I am just so overwhelmed with so many things I want to do and on top of that am so surrounded by STUFF that I can't clear my head.

So now I have just finished reading that book that everyone is reading too, The Life-Changing Art Of Tidying Up. Ideally I suppose I would have just read it and then waited to get started on her process when I have more time. However, I don't think I'll ever have more time. Further, I can't concentrate right now because of how much there is all around me.

Part of what I mean by this is not just my usual daily clutter. A few weeks ago U. installed lovely new petite corner shelves to take the place of some bulky ones we'd had in the living room. So all the books came out. Those books are now piled on my office floor along with others I've been rounding up for this "pick out only the books that really spark joy" session that will start as soon as I've finished the clothing round that Kondo recommends starting with.

Last week I tackled my closet and dresser for three hours. Those two locations are now the calmest in our private living space. I still have a pile of scarves and shoes to get through... if I can just get the time.


Friday, December 25, 2015

Writing Fire

I did it. I spent almost every day of November writing for at least 15 minutes every day. The one day I missed, I made up the next day with double time.

Most of what I wrote was towards the goal of revising the novel I drafted in 2013 during Camp Nanowrimo. I had taken a year off from that process during 2014-2015 and have been gung-ho to return since my WAC (writersandcritters) writers' retreat in spring of 2015.

So I was feeling great at the end of November, proud of my stick-to-it-ness and thinking if I kept up the pace I could get through the entire draft again by summer.

Then the first Saturday night of December I sat down at my desk and I felt my heart start to race and my stomach to clench. This was ridiculous. To finish a novel with any quality at all at 15 minutes a day? For one thing, I also need to parent, stick to my goals of regular yoga and meditation, other short writing projects that I feel driven to write, another project due in July (to be discussed later - related to my 40th birthday), a healthy amount of exercise and, uh cleaning and, oh wait, yeah, I also teach 30 hours a week not mentioning prep. time, tutoring and my additional role this year as a mentor for new teachers in my grade.

Even 15 minutes every day is too stressful.

To do it with depth is ridiculous.

So I tried a new take. First of all, I took a break from the novel. WAC expects me to submit two writing samples and four critiques of other people's samples every month. However, they take two weeks off at the end of December. So with the freedom of nothing due, I sat down last Friday and wrote... just wrote, by hand, in a notebook that no one will see but me. I write by hand rarely because it's less efficient when I'm ready to submit something, but now I had fallen out of love with writing and I needed to get back in. To love a person it really helps to actually be in the same room with them and not remove yourself with a screen.

(I'm not even going into what I've learned as a special education teacher about the different neurological process of forming letters and words by hand instead of by typing.)

That Shabbat instead of reading a novel I flipped through Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg for the first time in years, and began rereading cover to cover from my favorite writing book, Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott.

I wrote again Saturday night, and then again Sunday morning, finishing one draft that I hope to look at and maybe revise, but maybe I won't as I don't know yet what's there.

A writer friend said we are defined by the things we do every day... so to say you are a writer you must write every day. However, I'm a teacher too, and don't show up to work on weekends. I certainly don't want to be the kind of person who romantically claims to be a... a writer... and never writes anything, but even when I can't write, I know that ultimately I will have to write. I just have to. So even if I quit for days, weeks, even months at a time, I will come back to it.

I will not necessarily come back to other things I've thought I was: bicyclist, basket maker, musician. I like to bike and make baskets and play music, but they are not in my blood. I only dabble. I don't ask or need them to be part of my identity.

So right now I'm trying to compartmentalize my week a bit. Instead of spending a little of every day on all of the things I love, I'm trying to group some things and weekday activities and some as weekend. It's not as easy as it sounds. My physical and mental health depend on daily yoga and meditation, and the weekend gets very full with everything else that can't happen during the work week, like laundry. However, I think I really can spend some more real time on writing on the weekend, at least for now. Some other things will suffer, no doubt, but right now this isn't negotiable. I have to do this. If I can pour my writing more into Friday through Sunday, I think I can do it better. If some of it is for show and some of it is not, I'm entering writing headspace again. If I can maybe jot down something during the week that writer's see, then I'm tapping it too.

One final note, halfway through my writing this blog post I had to take a break to go to a friends' birthday party. Someone at the party remarked that she used to have hobbies but just haven't time in this stage in her life.

I started to feel a little guilty, that I can do this and she "can't." And I'm not judging anyone else's choices, but I just need to be clear. Writers have to write, however they do it, even if it means having a messier house or leaving parties earlier or getting up extra early or even only devoting certain weeks of the year to their craft. We just have to. How other desperate writers make this happen is their business.

This is how I'm handling it right now.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Autumn Mindfulness


I wrote in Summer Mindfulness about a class I took this summer on mindfulness for educators. I also wrote about my struggles incorporating mindfulness into the classroom. Here's an update as the year progresses.


As someone with my own life-saving, pain-easing, anxiety-reducing, compassion-and-calm-producing yoga and meditation practice, I have always wanted to bring my practice to others, especially children, but often get waylaid. When I taught in a large elementary school classroom I used to try a little yoga or breathing with my students now and then, but when the schedule was frantic and I didn't see others reinforcing this work, I usually gave up pretty quickly. My best, most committed year, was the one in which I created Moment That Matters. It was a moment set aside in the day that could be used for any number of things. Sometimes I taught a yoga pose or led a short self-talk moment -- "I can do this!" -- or even just a class phone call home to a child who was sick. That year I had an assistant who loved I was doing this. That was a great reinforcement, even still I eventually started glossing through the time quickly or skipped the Moment altogether.

This year, partly inspired by the mindfulness class and partly by new circumstances, I'm determined to try yet again. As I have for the past three years, I am teaching in a resource room setting rather than a large classroom. My office/classroom used to be joined with someone else's. It was a very comfortable room and I loved the time I spent collaborating with the teacher who shared the room. However, there was a lot of movement in and out of the room either by her students or other teachers coming to get books that were stored there. So I suppose I must have lost confidence in the importance of that little bit of peace I was trying to bring into my students' academic day.

This year my office/classroom was moved. My old space was needed for first grade and my new one is actually joined to one of the Second Grade classes I serve. However,  it's a space I never initially would have chosen. Some years ago it was the back of the gym. Later a wall was built to incorporate it as a storage area into a classroom. Now the storage has been removed from the area and it is my office. There is no window or regular air circulation, so I've brought into the space everything I can to make it comfortable. (Mind you, interior decorating has never been a strength of mine.)

As you enter, you pass through a magical curtain instead of a door. It feels as though you are entering a sacred or secret space. My principal choose a calming blue paint that now covers two of the four walls. I have an air purifier which both clears the air and provides white noise to block out the sound from the adjoining classroom. Finally I have put to use an aromatherapy diffuser that I've had for years but never really did much good in larger spaces. I have a collection of oils that my students help me choose from for the room. Every now and then students in the adjoining classroom say, "I'm getting hungry for cookies. Where is that peppermint smell coming from?!"

For each of my daily 6 classes, the first thing I list on the board's agenda is "chime." The children are reminded by a poster I have on the wall, "When you hear the chime, show you are ready by sitting tall and breathing slow, quiet and relaxing breaths." Even the students who giggle over his follow the directions and will remind me if somehow I skip that step.

Partly inspired by a meeting I had with a psychologist of one of my more anxious students, I also add in some self-talk. So I might say, "Today while I ring the chime, think to yourself, 'I've got this!'" Other phrases I might use are, "My brain is so good at learning," and for one of my more distracted groups, "I am ready to learn something new."

Last week we had a lockdown drill. The 20 kids who use the room that adjoins mine came into the space with me and my two more anxious students. Since we knew to expect this drill, we worked together first to move the tables and chairs out of the way. (This gave ownership of the room and the situation to those students.) Then when the class came in I asked the class teachers if I might use the time to read quietly to the students. Right away out came Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda. The children were silent and absorbed it all.
Image result for mindful monkey happy panda

Even when the drill was over they were happy to sit to the end of the book and followed my lead when I closed my eyes at the end and said, "Right now I'm kneeling on this hard floor, I'm sweating because it's so crowded in here and it's pretty uncomfortable, but I'm also breathing gently and telling myself that in this moment, I'm really OK."

I got a note from the parent of one of those anxious children noted above. The child came home and quoted to the mother from the book about how to stay in the present moment. Her mother has been trying to teach her this skill and was grateful I reinforced it.

I've got this.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Remission Anniversary #12

This is me during the Providence Bridge Pedal of 2003. I cried when I discovered I wasn't strong enough do the longer route that I wanted to take towards the Sellwood Bridge and had to remind myself how wonderful it was that I could do it at all. Both truths were real. I wasn't strong enough to make it to Sellwood AND I did the Providence Bridge Pedal even while undergoing chemo.


This first paragraph is what I will post on Facebook today:

Today marks my 12th year free from cancer. I celebrate today not only to be cancer-free, but also to have experienced cancer. I'm grateful that the lymphoma was eradicated from my body, but am also grateful for the deep teachings it brought me about my own strength and about surrender. While I no longer think daily of my status as a survivor, I do daily face the question of what I'm able to do and what my limitations are. Every day we are all given an infinite number of opportunities to be thankful and the choice to be compassionate towards ourselves. I think the gift of cancer has somehow helped me look at this a little more seriously than if I hadn't had it.

This second paragraph is just for the blog:

I write this now knowing that yesterday a colleague's mother died from the same disease. I was uncertain at first how to handle that. Should I celebrate in the way that I'd planned, bringing a platter of food to school to celebrate? Would doing so be callous, I celebrate life while someone else mourns? It reminds me of when I first learned that I would survive my cancer, but felt so sorry, and some guilt, that my sister-in-law, Denise, did not.

As I turn off the deliberate thinking and go deep with this, I realize that the deep spiritual work is just in holding all of this truths together. I lived.  Another died. There is suffering. There is beauty. There is.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Hoshanot 2015

I guess writing about Hoshanot is becoming a tradition for me as I did it in 2013 as well as in 2012 in a post that led to my article on JOFA's site and all the way back in 2005 in this article to name a few. You can search the blog if you really want, but by now you will have gotten the point.

Well, this year I had two similar but distinctly different Hoshanot experiences. The first was in our regular shul. Remembering anxiety in past years about how this might go, I emailed the rabbi ahead of time and asked that it be made very clear exactly where women would be and how to participate during the Hoshanot service. I also asked what I could do to help make sure this happened. Our rabbi assured me all would go well, that he would make sure there was a circle for men as well as one for woman, and said what I could do was recruit (which I did a little).

I was grateful to see that an email appeared in the bulletin inviting both women and men to participate in Hoshanot and encouraged both to bring lulav and etrog.

Welcome To Our Sukkah!

These first two days of Sukkot were packed and I want to write about two things that happened. In this post I'll tell about the sukkah hop. I'll use another post for the other thing.

So in our shul there is an annual sukkah hop. It used to consist of hoards of children bombarding one sukkah after another, swooping up candy, and leaders pleading with them to say thank you and try not to break anything. At least, that's what I hear.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Routines

There are a lot of landmarks looming for me right now. Next June I turn 40. I'm just about to start teaching for my 11th year at the same school which means I've lived here for 10 years, taught here for 10 years and now gone camping for the 10th year in a row.

I remember how I felt at the end of my annual camping trip after the very first year. Pure terror filled me as I'd had a rough beginning at the new job and have always tended to be anxious. I felt nauseous and doomed. Teaching has always been anxiety-producing. At other times in my career it has manifested as keeping candles oriented in a particular way during yoga to help me see how close to Shabbat I was. At other times I remember being afraid to get out of bed until I could just remember the face of a child from my class instead of feeling I was drowning in the sea of things I needed to do and could not seem to do well enough.

It has been a habit for me to cling desperately to things that make me feel safe... visits home to Portland, hoarding of special items I'd buy there, weekends, precious moments in nature.

I've been through the cycle so many times now, it's no longer a big deal. When I went on my souvenir hunts this summer, I still loaded up, but not as much, and wondered what things at home I could get rid of at the same time.

How is this possible?

For one, I've become a better teacher.

For another, I have an easier position now than I used to.

Refuge seems to always be accessible now even if it takes a deliberate breath or step away from a difficult situation, but I've so many times gone through days that just weren't as bad as I thought, that I feel fine more often now.

As I began to reflect on this I wondered if age has brought a dulling of my feelings. I'm feeling less anxious. Does that mean less happy too? Now... it just means feeling a little lighter. Happiness is less desperate, but it's certainly there.

Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't mind if I were still camping right now. However, when I show up on Tuesday next week, it will feel familiar and I don't have to think a lot about it right now.