Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday's Heart 17, Free Your Heart

I would prefer a thousand mistakes in extravagance of love to any paralysis in wariness of fear.
{Gerald C. May}

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday's Heart 16, Rock and a Heart Place

On the Pulse of Morning

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow,
I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Facedown in ignorance,
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out to us today,
You may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.

{Maya Angelou}

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Recently I had this dream:
I am in a classroom. While the teacher and her young students sit in a circle on chairs, I sit outside the circle, at a student-sized metal desk. The teacher tells a female student to pick a card from a nearby wooden cubby. The card will be the conversation starter for the circle. The little girl chooses a card and reads it aloud. The teacher rolls her eyes as the student speaks; she was supposed to let the teacher read the card. The card is about dreams. I recognize its important message and, inspired, begin jotting notes in the margins of a hand-out that is the teacher's. When she looks at the notes I tell her I will erase them.

This dream reminds me how significant our dreams are, and that it is essential to speak them aloud. Had the little girl in the dream not "accidentally" verbalized the dream message, I might not have felt the passion that fueled me to write my spontaneous insight. And, although the hand-out I write my message on belongs to the teacher, I am compelled to record it, nonetheless. The fact that I must erase my insight from the teacher's hand-out, speaks to me of censorship. But the message, even erased, will no doubt remain indelible in my mind, just as words can never be truly erased from a paper.

This dream does speak an important message to me: I feel pressure to conform to the group, forsaking my own significance.
 It is apropos that the dream is presented in a classroom, indeed I often felt like an outsider in one. I must say, except first grade, when I knew the mission was to learn to read, I never really understood much of why I was ever in a classroom--until my college years. Oh I went through the motions along with the others, pretending to be interested, trying even. Sometimes a story we were reading would grab me, but most of the time, the information we received and the activities we did felt sporadic, unattached to "real" life. I often felt trapped and suppressed in the six hours a day I spent in school, counting the audible minutes of the ticking clock and thinking about the things that mattered outside the walls. It felt like an awfully long time to be at the mercy of oft moody adults, seemingly uninspired themselves.

What grabbed me the most in school were the unspoken things: mannerisms of those around me, the individual styles of my friends' handwriting, the voice and emotion of the teacher as she spoke, the colors on the walls, the artwork, the windows.

Many days the outdoors called to me, the house across the street became my imagined home. Inside was warm and cozy on a gray day, the mother was home with her children and we were baking cookies.

This isn't to put the teachers down, I think they were trying, it's just that I didn't see the world in the terms they instructed us to follow. The terms felt constricting, too black and white, censored if you will. I wanted to touch what we were learning or at least have some practical reason for why I needed to learn what was before me on the page. I needed to relate, I wanted to get to the heart of what was going on, beyond the books.

In fairness, I do recall a few other things that were helpful to learn besides reading, like learning multiplication tables in the third grade. What wasn't helpful was the record thirty-plus kids in the small room that year, we were packed in like sardines and our plump, grumpy teacher, chronic sweat stains under her arms, seemed to have all the less patience for it, as if it was our fault. She used sarcasm a lot.

I think that was the year I officially knew that I probably wasn't going to fit into the typical "tribe."

I had just moved from the city, to a small town school because my parents thought it would provide me with a better education. Sadly, they did not know how far from the truth this would be. Besides the fact that I was displaced, and most likely because of it, I became the target of the class bully, who was untouchable because her father was the principal. It mattered not to those at the school, that I skipped an impressive thirty days of school that year, sneaking back home after my mother left for work. I was simply an inconvenience for the poor sweaty teacher, one more head to fill in her already massive sea of heads, a brand new, unengaged head at that. In fairness, how could I be, when I was in constant survival mode!

Why I would run after, and try to catch, the group of girls the bully had convinced to flee from me daily on recess as she counted, "One, Two THREE!" I will never really understand, but I'll tell you this, it formed my dislike of groupthink.

Now I always feel like that little girl in the dream who speaks out of turn, when I am at a group function. I think that year of falling outside of the tribe solidified my commitment to speak the truth, uncensored. Sometimes that's inconvenient when I am in a group that just wants me to adapt to their way of thinking.
I've made it my mission to especially speak up about classroom practices, first as a teacher, and now as a parent and a concerned citizen. Recently, I sat with a group of distinguished educators who were discussing the current climate of our public school system, in relation to the potential success or failure of the students at hand. A bunch of numbers was being thrown out, but what struck me was the number six thousand. We have six thousand students who go through our twelve year system. I mentioned how if, instead of test scores, we focused on wellness, in the form of building relationships amongst peers, as well as students and teachers, imagine how that could one day impact our city as these children trickled out into our community as well-adjusted citizens. It seemed to make so much sense to me, but the concept, while held in large-eyed gaze by the group leader for a few seconds, was soon buried under another pile of numbers.

There are committees that claim wellness as their focus, but very little of the committees' work truly trickles into the average student's school day causing them to have an overall feeling of wellness. I know; I talk to children constantly about how they feel in school.

Since writing this story, many, many more remembrances of being outside the circle have returned to me. And yet, though it is a solitary position at times, I still feel determined to circumvent the groupthink and walk (or run) to my genuine place.

Oh yes, just like the little girl, I am eager to read the card, regardless of proper protocol, and though it earns me no place in the circle. I just have to speak up sometimes.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Monday's Heart 14, Aspire

To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.
{Khalil Gibran}

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Inviting Unworthiness to Tea

Anyone who has been reading my stories knows that many of them contain questions about where I am headed in the second half of my life. (Up until recently, I hadn't even realized it, but - yes - I am entering the second half of my life.)

If I am honest, my stories do not simply ask potent questions, in the hope that answers will be revealed, but they also reflect fear about my direction. I try to keep it pretty contained. My stories offer a brave front, and often conclude with what appear to be the answers I was looking for. To be fair I do find answers when I write, but there is an underlying fear that I am reluctant to write about and put out there.

What is the fear? Well, the beauty of it is I think I have captured it in a nutshell: Unworthiness. This is a tricky theme because it permeates every aspect of life. (But that is only true, I think, when it remains buried. I think when we look Unworthiness right in the eye, it is impossible for it to act as a saboteur. This may be true of all fears, once visited they cease to become omnipotent, don't they?)

This morning I was talking to one of my closest friends and furiously jotting notes because so often she inspires my stories, and the title, Inviting Unworthiness to Tea popped right into my head. At once I knew that it wasn't enough to just admit to myself my big block to the answers I have been seeking is Unworthiness, but I had to actually meet her and have a conversation with her  as well. So I decided to invite Unworthiness to tea.

The gist of what Unworthiness shared with me is, I need to stop being afraid of what others think. When asked about how to go about this, she told me it was simple, that I just need to be myself at all times. Indeed this sounded enticing but what immediately came to mind were those awkward and incoherent moments, where, when I am talking to someone, and trying to explain my vivid experience, it feels as if I am sharing my views through the lens of a dragonfly's eye.


You see for as long as I can remember I have experienced what is going on around me, in a number of ways, all at once. What it boils down to is being part of a conversation, (say around a table at a gathering, for instance) and seeing the conversation in the form of body language, facial expressions, movements etc., while hearing undertones, and actually feeling the conversation, as if it is physically registering inside my skin, all at once. Nothing ever goes by me at face value. I am rarely shut down, only when I collapse of exhaustion after a particularly long day of analyzing.

Because I experience everything on a multifaceted level, and find it hard to articulate the layers of information I receive in one conglomeration to others, I feel unworthy - an outlier - unable to express myself adequately to be part of the group. I've learned it's best to filter. Best, because otherwise I might be labeled too intense, or irrational, or portray one of the less acceptable emotions: anger, sadness, fear... 

But see, there it is, I worry about others' reactions to the point of limiting myself. Though filtering can be a positive tool, always filtering is not. It's like portraying yourself in black and white when you were born to live in Technicolor.

To my credit, I have tried to be honest with those closest to me. And luckily, I've located some amazing people along the way who seem to understand, relate even. And yet, some of the people I have been close to have been harsh with my authenticity. It may be my feeling of unworthiness stems from sharing my most weighty truths with someone I trusted, and valued deeply, only to have them use this against me in some way later.

It's not that I want to blame others, maybe my perceptions are off, but I have learned I have to trust  myself first; without self trust, we can trust no one, really.

So where did I leave things with Unworthiness before our tea ended? I think we learned we have a mutual respect for one another. She's definitely a straight-shooter and taught me some things, like Unworthiness visits everyone even though they don't talk about it. I would like to think I taught her something too, if just that it is courageous to be vulnerable, and meet Unworthiness face to face. 

Maybe then, I will incorporate into my life both what she has taught me, and what I know in my heart to be true: sometimes life is discordant, sometimes when we try to tidy it up it only gets more unruly, but if we have a friend in our self, we will always have a partner to muddle through with---and this makes it all worth it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Table of Eight

back porch dining...:

I received a chain email from a friend who never sends them, so I opened it. It was entitled, "Table of Eight." The premise was, the friend sending the email did so because she would include me at her table of eight women, whom she would call together for the purpose of soulful exchanges and sustenance.
It got me thinking, and I thoroughly enjoyed selecting each of my eight women to send emails off to. I would know if each held mutual feelings for me because the email instructs, "send this back if you would include me as one of your eight."

So, it also became an exercise to see if my feelings toward another would be returned. Besides the original friend, I got responses from two friends. I was happy to receive the validation. For a while, I kept their emails to remind me of my connection to these terrific, and inspiring, women.

Today I realized I have exactly eight followers on my blog.
I am intrigued that a table of eight showed up randomly.

Sometimes I guess our table is revealed to us. Try as we may, we do not control the conditions which will allow others to show up.

Sometimes people appear when we don’t expect it; sometimes we forget to even notice.

I  think it matters who we are. Are we showing up for others? Are we showing up for ourselves? 

It is nice to know that who I am matters to some.

Who would you invite to your table of eight?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday's Heart 13, Hooky

A good mother is worth hundreds of schoolmasters.
{George Herbert}