Friday, July 31, 2009

Dreams from the Past

The school year starts next week, and I'm caught in a temporal distortion. Years of internalizing the school calendar are urging that it must now be Autumn. Despite the blazing sun and temperatures in the 100s, I'm ready for indoor work, and misty days, and sweaters and jeans, and baking.

Also, to start a new year. As a teacher.

The end of summer automatically starts me into a planning, preparing mode. But without a classroom and an incoming group of new students, I have nothing to prepare for. At least at that level.

I dreamed this morning that I was teaching again. I was placed in a classroom already a few weeks into the year. The students were unruly, unfocused and so loud I could barely make myself heard. I had no classroom set up, no supplies, no curriculum plans - just, GO!

Teaching is exhilarating and exhausting. It is one person trying to corral the energies of a large group. One voice can easily be drowned out by many. It's sort of a crazy set up really, when you consider that most of those "learners" are actually resistant to being there. Only the effective use of authority and a dazzling body of skills ever allow any teaching to take place, anywhere.

In my dream, I faced the terror of leading a group on the edge of going out of control. Even in my dream, I started employing techniques hard won over the years. I had them all get up and go back out of the classroom, line up silently in the hall and file back in sedately to set the mood for learning. The trick is to have them do it several times. To reject their first so-so attempt where there are still multiple quiet conversations and to use the voice of authority to shuffle them back out into the hall. And wait for silence.

The fear is always outright mutiny. That this surly group will simply refuse. But that never happens. Because, inside they're not really all that surly (mostly). Inside, the majority of the students want to learn. And they want to like you. And most of all, they want you to like them. They have to be there anyway.

So the trick is to get their cooperation and respect. And offer them yours. Then make the learning as relevant as you can. Once you get that great feeling going, that feeling that the majority of the people sitting in front of you are actually interested in what you're doing and saying, then you have peer pressure on your side. Then disruptions are simply that, minor disruptions to what everybody else wants to get back to. Once you make it fun and engaging and approachable, then, then, ah, then you have learning.

Even in my dream, they were asking those great irrelevant (but not to them) questions that totally take the point off track. You're working like an artist, shaping an academic focus, whittling away at the disinterest in the room, and suddenly a question comes out of left field.

In an out of control classroom, that derails learning, because everyone is looking for a break. In a focused classroom, you just deal with the question quickly or put it on hold for later, and everyone relaxes when you get back into your point.

Wow, that was just fun. Pulling apart sentences, brainstorming good topic sentences, organizing a paragraph, analyzing characters - all of it was a blast to me, every single day. It was a joy to share something I loved with others, especially with those who had never liked it much before.

I didn't leave teaching because I was done with it. I left because life said it was time to go. Sometimes I remember how absolutely exhausting it all was, and I don't mind not having to deal with that. Mostly, I wish I could go back.

I wonder when and how I'll teach again.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Long Afternoon, a Glass of Sparkling Red, and Singing in the Laundromat

I have to share with you one of this season's greatest enjoyments. I embraced Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which is actually a web-based show. Joss Whedon (of "Buffy" and "Angel" fame) and his brothers Zack and Jed created it back in the slogging writers' strike of 2008, just as a way of having a small-sized project to employ friends.

Being as hip and cool as you are, you're probably rolling your eyes and muttering, "Big deal. That's so eons ago!" You probably gobbled up this tasty tidbit when it first came out. But I take my time getting to things. Even though I knew about the Blog and I knew I'd love it, based on my past Joss-related encounters, I didn't want to rush into anything.

The long summer afternoons finally begged for just this sort of amusement.

And it is FANTASTIC.

Just so funny and creative and touching and off-beat but bitter. I love Neil Patrick Harris anyway, fondly remembering his Dougie Howser days, and he brings an awesome blend of sincerity and depth to the lead character, Dr. Horrible. Plus Captain Hammer is a great hero-villain antagonist. Ah, the complexities of the Whedon universe.

Only 45 minutes long (dangnabbit! I could watch a whole series!), and completely unsatisfying at the end in a perfect Whedon-esque way (you've been warned), I've watched this over and over.

Fans of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Musical episode will recognize the lyric combinations and catchy rhythms of the songs twined throughout the action. Since I have to admit to not only owning the Buffy Musical CD but to playing it so often in my car that my daughters beg for songs by their lyrics, I'm obviously a fan of Whedon's musical oeuvre.

Writing Tip

A site suggested by my writing teacher:

Good writing tips with a great character template

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I Just Got a Job Offer!!

No, not the prison ministry. I heard back from them and the board will be deciding later this month. I think they're just quite deliberate about their actions (i.e. quite slow.) Ultimately, I will work for them. If they don't hire me, I'll clear space in my schedule and work for them anyway. Then they'll wind up hiring me, and I'll be helping them.

I've used this strategy several times and it's astonishingly rewarding. It's amazing how you can get good results simply by being tenacious. In fact, I got my grantwriting breaks by just continuing to show up at a nonprofit I had worked for in a different capacity and being so helpful and flexible that I was essentially working for free. Then when a job came up, I was the first one they thought of.

Optimism, competence, generosity, friendliness and persistence - those qualities pay off in every way.

Anyway, the offer was from one of the board members at Sunday's meeting. He's a physician who's starting a daycare for developmentally disabled toddlers, and he wanted me to be the Center's Director!!

A proper job with a steady salary, a title, an office and benefits. Helping families and their children. I'm so in with his vision. The way to help people stay out of prison is to invest in children's healthy development.

Based on my resume and that meeting, he thought I would be ideal. And in many ways, I would. He doesn't even know that because I've spent the last 3 and 1/2 years tutoring one of my best friends through her early childhood education classes, I've basically done the whole ECE program myself, as far as knowledge goes.

But I already have a proper job, just of a different sort.

It was with real regret that I turned the offer down. Because I had been completely upfront when we met, he accepted my reasons. But he still retained me to do some grant research for him, finding out how to get some city and county funding. And he left open the possibility of working in an administrative capacity only in the future, which might be workable. It would be rewarding to help put together curricula and interventions for children and families in need.

Hmm... see. A whole new career for the next five decades.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Reflecting (Or: Moving Back Through the Folds of Time)

I must be up against a self-imposed deadline for a proposal. You can tell because I'm spending time poring through my blog. I've scrolled back into 2008 and my cursor is zipping backwards through the days, skimming the surface of my old thoughts like an insect skating above the pond.

I'm impressed. Overall, my writing's not spectacular and it's not horrible. It's a fabulous scrapbook, a collection of thoughts and impressions, hopes and frustrations that takes me right back into those vanished moments. That's one of the beauties of writing, eh, it's magical, connective ability?

My husband wanders into the room, takes one look at my screen, and says, "Oh, God, you ARE stressed out." See, I told him.

Still though, I'm glad for the retrospective. I had forgotten things that were important, things I sort of knew but that aren't at the top of my thoughts. Like, I'm planning to live to be 93. I do think that's been at the back of my mind, serving as an unconscious guide for the last few months. Sometimes when I feel a bit panicked or despairing, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I still have tons of time to achieve what I want.

Also, I apparently plan to have at least two more careers in the next five decades. Right now, I'd say freelance writer and maybe college instructor. But I'm flexible. Could be famous novelist. Could be yoga studio owner. Could be... hmm.

And, I see life as one big fun Hayride. Yeah, I totally forgot that one in the stresses of early 2009. But I like it - it's a good philosophy. I don't do myself any favors when I get so pressured and tense and ego-winny-achievy-attachy about things like work and money and stuff and relationships.

Obviously, you're doing something similar. You're keeping a blog so that you leave behind a trail of yourself on your different days. What do you like best about your blog and the blogs of others?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More Blessings

I am in such a happy mood today. It just feels like everything in my life is moving forward and into balance.

It's only fair to share this with you, since I'm willing to vent out all my negative anxieties when they cloud my mind. So I have to let you in on the amazing stuff too.

My work life keeps improving. I've just come from a job interview with the Board of Directors of an organization that does prison ministry work. Seven black men, one Filipino and one black woman meeting in the classroom of a tan stucco church a few miles from where I used to teach. Looking at the beautiful faces around the room, I almost cried. I felt like I had come home, back to my calling.

I'm pretty sure they'll hire me to write grants. They asked me about lots of possibilities, if I would be willing to do fundraising for them, marketing, maybe teaching or reentry work. I'm open to it all. I have such a heart for their mission and the community they work in.

I didn't tell them this, but if I can make it fit with my schedule and financial needs, I'd do the work for free. That's how much I want to help them help others. It's God's work and I would be honored to touch people's lives through their mission.

That brings me up to five ongoing writing clients - a full time work load for fall. Plus I have my beautiful new "office" to work in! I'm so excited about routinizing my days that I'm going to simplify my schedule. I was going to juggle this complex mix of yoga classes and errands and writing and work. But now I'm leaning towards the simple.

When everyone's at school, I work. First thing in the morning and last thing at night, I clean (a full time, never-ending job right there!!). I'm going to go to yoga classes in the evening (or do them as home practice), and I'm going to drag the family along with me. It's good for me, good for their health, and it gives us more time together. Sprinkle dinner, enforced chores and nonstop homework into that and the evenings will be deliciously full.

My husband and I are getting along great. Better than we have for years. Although we have tough moments, we keep getting through them. I think we are finally putting a rough patch into our past and moving forward together. I love my husband so deeply and I am so grateful for everything that we have done together, especially for the kindness and compassion we show each other. So much of a successful marriage is having a willingness to see the good parts of the other person, and to stick it out through the unpleasant aspects. We are in our third decade together and I marvel at how we got here when so many others don't.

Love, I suppose, and compassion, teamwork, and sheer stubbornness on both our parts.

So much of being happy lies simply in making the determined decision to BE happy.

I'm feeling grateful today for my ability to balance. I may swirl around in a haze of powerful emotions - you'll see those in my writing - and they're all perfectly valid. But I think I thrive because I don't get stuck in the negative. I arrive at a center point where I can see different points of view. That's one of the most helpful things in dealing with other people - seeing things as they may.

In December, I wrote a post about unconditional love. When I look deep into my heart, that is as true today as it was when I wrote it. I love people and especially those I count as friends. Being human and making mistakes doesn't mean I don't still care about you.

I'm excited because I can tell that my writing is about to take off. In a big way. My first story will be in print in August. I'm starting a new fiction class on Monday. Over the course of the six weeks, I will write six stories. With the guidance of my writing mentor, they are going to kick ass. At least one of them is going to get published and pay me back for the investment in the class. Three of the others are going to be the seed stories for a series of children's books that I believe will sell to a main stream publisher. Just like Cynthia Rylant's Henry and Mudge series.

In any case, my daughters will always have the stories I created just for them. And so will my niece.

Oh, did I mention my niece? Another monumental reason to be happy. Lillian Dae - two weeks old and thriving. My brother's child who makes me an aunt. Finally, our family grows. I could not be more thrilled!! We're flying to Frisco in October to visit and spend quality cuddle time. We also might spend Christmas with them.

Assuming of course that my kidney donation surgery goes well. I have a few more hesitations to get past, but my gut feeling is that I'll still go through with it. The ability to improve K's life outweighs any insurance concerns. God has provided for me in abundance every single day of my life so far. I think I can trust that to continue in the future, especially in light of this good work. So I think I'll be having surgery in early November, celebrating my health, my prosperity and my freedom!

To sum up - family vacation days in sunny California places, great work for great causes, improved writing, fabulous relationships with people I will always love, a blossoming marriage, ridiculously abundant finances, an increased spiritual and physical yoga practice, and radiant, beautiful health.

See why I'm happy? I hope it spreads to you - a little thanks for your support in reading and caring.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pros and Cons

Things I Feel Depressed About Today (That are Fluttering About Inside My Head and Distracting Me from Anything Approaching Concentration on Writing Grant Copy):

1. I'm brilliant at procrastinating my writing, particularly if I would have been paid to do it.

2. I feel guilty for not making more money for the orgs that are hiring me.

3. I read the newspaper - which I do every morning - and which is generally more depressing than rewarding. (Although like a good model of behavioral reinforcement there are just enough engaging and useful tidbits available to make me search through it hopefully. Like yesterday I read an article about how to deduct business expenses from my taxes as a consultant.)

4. In the newspaper I read a series of short reports ("postcards") from people who have lost their homes or almost lost them in this crisis. It's particularly heart-rending to read about families, like the one with two daughters, as I don't want any children forced out of their secure homes. And especially not my own.

5. Which leads me back to thoughts of "Fuck. I am lucky to have a job. Shut the hell up and just write something so my kids will be okay."

6. If I get at all anxious or depressed, my husband starts watching me like I'm about to set the house on fire. So when I'm depressed, it's generally easier to pretend to be cheerful or at least neutral. It actually avoids fights.

7. I can't afford to see my therapist any more. I don't know if I have the energy to find a new one through my health insurance and start the whole process over.

8. A man I trusted almost raped me in February (in my own home, just like the statistics say) and now sometimes I have nightmares or can't sleep.

9. Particularly when I try to write grants for the local rape crisis center, which ironically hired me one week before the assault.

10. I really, really, really miss being a teacher.

11. I'm not losing weight as fast as I would like, even though I am trying hard.

13. I read a totally depressing business article that points out that kidney donors might lose their health insurance or be denied coverage in the future based on this "pre-existing condition." Despite clear evidence that they are actually healthier after the surgery. None of the major insurers would admit that they deny policies to the reporter. But none categorically said that they didn't. Hemming and hawing means, We sure do, but we don't want to admit it in print because we'll look like a bunch of mercenary jerks.

14. Now I don't know if I should donate my kidney or not. And it's not even the surgery/pain/medical part holding me back. It's the stupid uncertainty of it being a bad financial move that might bankrupt me in the future. How is that right???

15. People I trust keep breaking promises to me.

16. People are only as good as they can be, and often that falls short of what I wish they would be. Then I just feel stupid for having overly high expectations.

17. Sometimes I suffer from envy, jealousy, and insecurity so strong I actually want to break things. Or preferably hurt someone. (And I consider myself to be loving and compassionate.)

18. That jealousy must come from feelings of low self-esteem. I am tired of trying to ferret out new little bits about myself and "fix" them so I can be happy.

19. Steve Lopez wrote a great book about mental illness which became the movie The Soloist. Which completely bombed. Now no one will care about mental illness except for those few who are struggling with its explosive effects in their own families. What is even the point of trying to write a book? (But at least Steve Lopez still has a job, and seems to be writing away at his columns.)

20. I read an article about a six year old named Jani (Los Angeles Times) who is unbelievably ill with schizophrenia. How is it that we cannot help people more with their various illnesses? And their families.

21. A financial advice expert suggested that you not spend more than 50% of your income on necessary expenses (housing, utilities, insurance, transportation, food, debts). 20% should go to savings, and 30% can be for "fun." We spend 80% of our income on necessities. I feel like I am failing by not making my share of the income.

22. Even though I actually love doing it, and all evidence points to the contrary, I am always afraid that everything I write is miserably, pathetically generic, unclear, trite and useless. Making myself sit down and write requires an amazing amount of self-discipline. It is like jumping off the emotional cliff into the abyss of fearful, bad feelings. Without a parachute. On a cold foggy day. Blindfolded.

Things I Feel Happy about Today (That Remind Me that My Life is Really Pretty Wonderful and that I Am Hopeful, Resilient, and Perplexingly Blessed):

1. I'm sitting here writing. Right now. And it feels great.

2. I actually have quite a lot of friends. When I feel lonely, it is mainly illusion.

3. My daughters are the most gorgeous, wonderful, amazing beings in the world. I love being near them even when they are driving me crazy. Two nights ago, I laid down with my older daughter to put her to sleep (it was a sleepover and some enforcement was called for at 1:30 am!!!) and I was stroking her head and holding her lovely gold hair in my hand and thinking, I am so incredibly lucky. They are the prize. I would not give all of this up for anything.

4. My husband loves me very much, and I love him. When I remember to be patient, we get along very well.

5. We are so lucky and blessed to have our cozy, lovely home and somehow still have enough money to meet all of our needs and pamper our daughters and have fun.

6. I get paid to sit at home and write. It is a dream job. How did this happen??

7. I love our family walks in the neighborhood in our small town. We know an incredibly high percentage of our neighbors - for blocks around.

8. My daughters' school and educations could not be better. They are excelling in every area. My older daughter just qualified for GATE. I know I shouldn't care but I am SO thrilled. It's external validation.

9. We are having the best summer we have had in years. We had a stunning vacation in San Diego and we're going to a resort in Palm Springs this week. A resort!! (It's cheap because it's like 120 degrees there now.)

10. My younger daughter's eighth birthday lasted for a week. We had a great birthday party, all little girls and giggles and fairies and butterflies. I love throwing parties for my daughters and spoiling them. I feel so lucky to be able to give them so much of my time, plus security, plus education, plus material goods as the icing on the cake.

11. My life could have been totally screwed up by now, but somehow it isn't. I don't understand how I have been so lucky when the path has been so treacherous.

12. I am strong and smart and brave. And clear thinking in a crisis. When my friend tried to rape me, he didn't succeed. I fought him off. I absolutely refused to let it happen and I was the victor.

13. Considering how much trauma I've been through, I am remarkably whole. Damaged, yes, a bit anxious and PTSD. But overall, optimistic and resilient and hopeful and moving forward. Healing myself with time and care and support. And I still love people. It's incredible.

14. I love yoga. It is so special to me. I finished a teaching program that was as hard as graduate school despite all the challenges. As soon as I send in my paperwork, I'm an RYT!!! (registered yoga teacher)

15. Now that my program is done, my weekends are free again. Autumn is going to rock!!

16. Autumn is my very favorite time of year and it is coming soon! (It feels even sooner with school starting on Aug. 4!)

17. If I give my friend a kidney, I can save her life. That simple. Such a wondrous gift - for both of us.

18. I am actually very pretty and healthy despite not liking my weight. There are people in the world with horrible physical problems and I don't have to deal with that.

19. This list could go on and on and on.


I have a new office.

Well, sort of.

I've decided that the green library room in the local coffee place is my office. It's charming actually. I have a large wooden table, next to a window, with a quaint lamp on it. Looks like a law library study area. From home, the drive is only about ten minutes - close enough to get back to the girls' school quickly if need be.

Wireless is free, and there are people here just waiting to make me delicious beverages and exchange a few minutes of warm chitchat.

At home, I have a terribly hard time concentrating. I feel the weight of all the undone housework pressing around me. Laundry, dusting, vacuuming, tidying are all vying for my attention. Plus if I sit around silently in the kitchen all day, writing, I get sort of grumpy about spending the whole evening there cooking dinner, helping with homework, and watching TV. So I thought a good plan for the coming autumn would be to find a dedicated work space.

It's particularly challenging to concentrate at home with my family all there on vacation. We are eight weeks into someone being at home with me at all times, and two weeks remain before they all go back to school. I'm sure that right now my family room is filled with Disney channel's overly happy chatter and laughter. Not optimal for writing!

Part of me of course wishes I could just be on vacation with my family. But that's not how it is. I still have a workload, and I've done precious little of it over the last two months. I really need to do at least several hours a day even during vacation.

Sounds so easy, huh, but it's so tough not to get sucked into other things.

When school starts, I'm sure I'll be very, very lonely and miss them all. But at least I can try to make that isolated time work for me.

You know, by working.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

one moment last night

I picked up the cast aside plastic cup, spattered with dirt from the neighbor's gutter because it seemed like the right thing to do.

Karma is a big responsibility.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Reflective Pause

Sorry for my lengthy break and if any of you were concerned about me. I find myself pulling back lately, needing to evaluate. I've been embracing vacation - from the routine, from stresses, from the patterns I've created over the last few years.