Friday, July 18, 2014

Pay Attention

I sailed right through a stop sign yesterday morning.  Didn't even see it.  A polite young police officer pulled me over.  After endless minutes checking up on me, he encouraged me to pay attention.   A kind warning.  And a wake up call.

Pay attention.

In these days of my life where I've been trying to live with INTENTION, perhaps what comes first is living with ATTENTION.
When did I stop paying attention? 

It's not just the stop sign, of course, although that's a pretty jarring and dangerous example.  It's also conversations I don't remember the details of.  It's entering a room, only to exit it a minute later, baffled by my purpose in entering in the first place.  It's forgotten appointments, grocery store needs, and phone calls I promised to make.  It's mindless head-nodding when others speak to me.  It's onto the next thing.  Check it off the list. Go. Go. Go.

When did my mind become so preoccupied with the swirling pinwheel of my own thoughts? 

I live a half-life.  Fragmentally conscious.  Aware in bits and pieces.  Only a dull focus splintered and random.

Consider the hyphenated ... absent-minded.


I feel like slapping my own face awake.  Look up!  Look out!  Look around! 

More grounded and attentive ... I will know the life I'm living and the detailed circumstances of the world around me. 

Tune in.  Vigilant.  Step up.  Call to mind. 

TUNE IN.  Paying attention to the needs of others, I will text less and talk more.  I will be pleasant company, an engaged and active communication partner.  I will ask questions.  I will smile and listen to the point of UNDERSTANDING.

VIGILANT. Paying attention to my needs, I will sit when I need rest, go to bed when I am tired, and eat when I am hungry. 

STEP UP.  Paying attention to my responsibilities, I will multi-task no more, able to evaluate clearly the next right thing to do.  I will transform Nike's Just Do It ... into Do It Now.

CALL TO MIND.  Paying attention to the world around me, I will notice.  I will experience.  Using my senses, I will remember.  The smooth gray worn rock on the beach.  The breeze through the window.  The slant of sun rays across the backyard in early morning and the bard owl's call just after midnight.

“Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration's shove or society's kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It's all about paying attention. attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. stay eager.”  
Susan Sontag

Friday, July 4, 2014

An Independence Day - Of Sorts

When will I be the person I've decided I should be?  That woman I see and hear in my mind?

She's organized and exercises.  She drinks plenty of water and always knows what to say.  The woman I most want to be thinks positively - all the time.  She eats only what's good for her and stops worrying (about everything) once and for all. 

This woman in my head can drive on the highway and attend family functions without anxiety.  She knows how to sew, knit, write, and wallpaper.  This dream girl ages gracefully and carries the wisdom of her years with an ever-present smile on her lips and in her eyes, serenity tucked neatly away in her pocket.

She knows how to parent, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and teach.  She's rooted in tradition but always willing and able to learn something new.  She lives a life both extraordinary and simple; equally down to dirt basic and roller coaster rush.

This woman I want to be has time, finds time, makes time, and uses her time well.  She keeps up with the laundry, the dishes, the bills, and all those papers that need review.  She's witty.  Intelligent.  Thoughtful.  Creative.  And always kind.  She's seldom superficial and always weighs just what she's supposed to.

She's confident.  Sweet.  Lives without guilt.  Happy at home, but ready for adventure.  She's always on time but still stops to smell the roses.  Compassionate.  Courageous.  Light in spirit and full of heart.

I am this woman I'm supposed to be.  And so are you.  We are every woman.  Sometimes half-full.  Sometimes half-empty.  Equal parts on a tear and can't get out of our own way.  Simultaneously full of life and drop-dead tired, we are the sum of our parts.  We can't be all - all the time - try as we might and wish that we could. 

But we are most of these things some of the time, and in any combination - these toppings make for one really good pizza.

I'm not writing about perfection.  I'm writing about potential.  The woman who lives inside my head doesn't want to be perfect.  If you were to ask her, she'd say she wants to live fully to the best of her ability.  Potential energy is stored energy.  We have potential energy on any given day in any particular mood to interact on our lives in any possible combination of the women we already are.

It's not an all or nothing life I'm living.  It's this, that, and the other.  A little more patient one day, a little more frantically get-it-done the next.  Here a little centered and sane, there a little energized and strong-willed.

I'm every woman.
It's all in me.
Written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson
Performed by Chaka Kahn and Whitney Houston
I can't please all the people, all the time - least of all, apparently, myself.  And I can't promise to permanently banish that woman who lives and talks inside my head, continually lamenting all I could be, but am not.  But I can understand her better and that understanding might just set her free from that rut of thinking she's got herself stuck in.  It just might free her from self-doubt, and self-criticism, and self-destructive cycles of thought.
An Independence Day - of sorts.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Summer Dreaming and Passion

Passion.  Such a strong word.  A gusty word.  No mild-mannered emotion, passion bursts all out enthusiasm, untethered live out love, and vibrant multi-colored energy.  Passion is not a word to be tossed about lightly.

I've been spending some meditative moments gazing at my dream board.  Propped there behind my computer, its geography invites reflection.  Making it, I thumbed through pages of magazines to find each of those seven letters - P A S S I O N - all roughly the same size, all blue but for one orange.  I cut and glued each, stretched the full width of my board and swept across the swirled glitter paint sky.

P  A  S  S  I  O  N
So why?  A dream board reinforces your dreams, hopes, desires - daring them all to come true by virtue of your attention and daily notice of their very existence.  So why?  Why did I meticulously place those letters there?  How does passion fill my dreams and fly my skies?  Do I want to find it or feel it?  For what or for whom?  Did I glue those letters there because P A S S I O N is lacking in my life?  Did I have it once only to later lose it?
Intentional and attentional living requires sustained effort.  All hands on deck, oars in the water, rowing in the same direction effort.  We are what we think.  We are what we do.  What we dream. 
P A S S I O N is technicolor, we're-not-in-Kansas-anymore dreaming.  I live with passion when I live intentionally and attentionally. To whom and to what will I give my time, my energy, my attention?  What thoughts, what actions will earn my devotion?  Does one first begin a passion-filled relationship with and for others before fully understanding and actualizing the self?
Maybe passion is fleeting - a momentary gust of wind across our sky - flying our kites on a sunny summer afternoon.  Here today.  Gone tomorrow.  Yet may return the next day in a new form - an angry storm of passion perhaps - dark and deep and thunderous.
Maybe daring to dream out loud leads to our life's passions.  Plural.  What I feel passionate about on Monday may ebb  by Tuesday and Wednesday's passion stirs a whole new pot.
Sure.  I feel long-term passionate about my marriage, my children, my family, my teaching.  But maybe passion is also a flash of emotion, a lightning-bolted moment of fervor - unsustainable in day to day to day living.
Maybe passion is something to be on the look out for.  Keep watch.  Be at the ready.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Every New Beginning

"Every new beginning is some other beginning's end."  ~ Dan Wilson

Ending a school year is like finishing a marathon.  Having run a marathon, I can say running the last .2 of the 26.2 was the easiest.  The miles at the beginning of the end - miles 20 through 26 - were the hardest.  The same was true for me as I raced to the school year finish line.  As in my marathon,  the days and months at the beginning of the end of school - after spring vacation going forward - were my most challenging.   I was quite sure, at times, that I couldn't run one more mile.  But I did.  I finished.  And so did my students.  Together, we crossed that finish line -  a little tired and out of breath - but feeling accomplished.  Happy.  And already planning for the next marathon.

Just as it was an end for all of us, the next year's beginning appeared on the road just up ahead. Rising like a new hill to climb, we could see it, my students and I, so we paused a moment - neither here, nor there - looking back and looking forward.  Looking back, I wanted us to reflect on the year's learning as writers.  Looking forward, I wanted us to dream. 

Borrowing a thought from William Zinsser, I asked my students to write a reflective letter about writing well.  Some 5th grade thoughts on writing well:

I now know that grammar is important, but writing is from the heart.  ~MI

I learned that writing can be sloppy, that stories can be messy in your writer's notebook, that a writer's notebook is a place to feel free. ~DN

This year what helped me write well was when I got home I would think about what I wrote that day and what I would do the next day.  ~CJ

This year I learned that if the writer has feelings, the reader has feelings. ~ SJ

What helped me write well this year was bouncing ideas off somebody.  It helped me get some of the bad ideas out and then the good ideas started coming. ~LK

The thing that helped me as a writer this year is to take a break from a piece and then an idea will come. ~CB

What helped me write well this year?  The confidence and courage writers gave me. ~AB


I believe in the power of positive thought.  We are what we think.  We become what we think.  I believe in self-actualization. Having been trained in Responsive Classroom, we begin every school year reflecting on our hopes and dreams.  This was the first year I ended the school year dreaming and hoping.

 "What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization...It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming." ~Abraham Maslow

I credit my colleague, Becky, with the idea for creating dream boards.  She came to me in late February with a flyer for a dream board workshop.  I contacted the presenter.  Didn't hear back until months later and by that time, the end of the year was on the horizon and I knew I could do this with my students on our own.

My Own Dream Board

We spent three gloriously messy days surrounded by paint, glue, and magazine clippings.  Pom poms, ric rac, ribbon, glitter, stickers, burlap, and buttons gave texture and depth to our dreams. Teachers dream boarded alongside students.  Academic goal words like: ASK, CONFIDENCE, MAKE MISTAKES, ORGANIZE and STRESS LESS appeared on the boards around me.  Stuck in  puddles of glue right alongside were interest words like SPORTS, ROCKS, NATURE, and HORSES.  My students continued to write using an almost Found Poetry technique and remembered to feel with words like LOVE, PASSION, HEART, FAMILY, and DREAM peppering the paint.

We ended our year by dreaming about future beginnings.

Maybe endings aren't like periods at the end of a sentence.  Maybe they're like commas.  A pause, not a stop.  Maybe an ending is more like moment of reflective thought as we stand there on our life's path - looking back, looking forward - and walking ahead into another dream's beginning.