Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Reserved Presence is Often Linked to a Vehement Mind

Not everyone is emboldened to take a stand. Confident enough to speak their mind. Not everyone feels they have the right to. So many of us, remain reserved and quiet. It is where we feel comfortable and safe. I know it is where I am usually found, in the background listening. But, sometimes we have to speak up- for many of us though, we just haven't found our voice yet. This is a story I know will be familiar to some. I am hoping by sharing it, that I inspire others, who may feel like the can't or shouldn't be able to speak their mind, will find their strength to do so. Everyone has something important to say, their time, feelings, and spirit matters. Be kind, be mindful, be respectful and help everyone find their steady voice, this is how respect overshadow's negativity.

When Reserved Gets Angry

I think maybe why I am so quiet most of the time, is that I hate conflict. I mean I really just want everyone to be happy. At the first sign of contention, I buckle. Often leading, as my husband tells me frequently, other people to take advantage of me. I hate being aggressive or pushy and I think it shows. So when I ask nicely, many adults smile and agree, but then ignore my request. Students, they see me as someone they can trust and they respect my authority, but adults are another matter. 

This week a few things happened to reinforce this in my mind. One, because I felt I couldn't be pushy, lead me to get frustrated and as a result, a bit testy. I verbally had to speak up so that a group of adults would listen. This of course made me feel and look like the bad guy, which I wasn't. All I can say upon reflection is - leave on time please and be respectful. This sounds easy for many people, just tell them to leave, my husband said. But, to me, there were so many adults and my voice just caved. They were aware of my trepidation, its happened before and thus, they overstayed their welcome.

I know I need to take a stand and be more direct and persistent in my interactions, I am working on it. But yesterday, still stings. It is a heavy feeling to know I have to be aggressive to get something to happen. Somewhere along the way, in my life, I convinced myself I am replaceable, I do not deserve the respect others receive. This in turn comes off as, I am a pushover and won't defend myself. I know this is why my reserved presence has taken shape. Why my mind is busy all the time because it overshadows my doubts and insecurities.

I am afraid to make people upset, and as a result they get to take the lead. I need to keep my mindful approach but be more boisterous, make sure that adults see that I have a voice and an opinion. I just haven't found my strength to do it more often yet, in a mindful way that other adults will listen to. Just as I am about to respond in a witty banter, or smile and justify my point-of-view, I am full of fear and the moment passes. Yesterday, I tried very hard, but I had to get angry first. Then I went in to a tail spin and it is still oscillating. 

Earlier this week, another situation happened, but I took my usual course, mindfulness and calm. So, it didn't bother me, it actually made me more sympathetic.

A Reserved Presence

I have to admit, that frequently, I make it through a school day, without speaking in length, to another adult, is that bad?  I teach and interact with my students, I eat lunch in my room, listening to Spotify, I have a club after-school and then I exit the building. Now, this does not mean I don't say "Hello," in the hallway. I just don't have long drawn out conversations with people, on most days. I know this about myself and on a good day, when I am feeling chatty, I force myself to walk down the hall and start talking to a colleague. But, most days, I am quiet and introspective. My mind constantly designing, editing and reformulating my lesson plans. I am literally "in my head," the greater part of the day.

I have always been an introvert, self-reliant and self-contained, even as a child. Being bullied, I just created my own 'imaginary friends.' They were always there, an audience created for one. Audience in Latin, literally means listen, so my perfect companions, made the best cohort for me to talk things through with and my Dyslexia needed an outlet. The world is a very noisy place and in order for my thoughts to make sense I need to isolate myself a bit. So this is what I tend to do, even as an adult.

Of course, now, I no longer have' imaginary friends,' but the same character trait still exists: I like to think things through, embrace the quiet and just let my thoughts guide me. I have never been popular, trendy or famous. No one ever comes to my classroom just to talk, other than my students. I don't feel unaccepted or disliked, but maybe a little misunderstood. This I know, at least a little bit, is my fault, because I choose to stay more on the outskirts, on my own trail, not with a megaphone, but with headphones. It is the only way I know how to be.

An Eye Opener Keeps Me Focused

Earlier this week, I had a few things to deliver to my students in other classrooms. So at the end of my planning period, I ventured out to two classrooms to deliver them. As I approached the first classroom, I peeked in the window to make sure the class wouldn't be disturbed and I knocked on the door. Our classroom doors remain locked during the day and thus travelling from room to room requires a key or a knock. As I entered, the room, the teacher was walking around and helping students, so I quietly walked up to her. The teacher greeted me, and I asked if I could give something to a student. She smiled and said of course. This prompted students to greet me too. They smiled and in unison, began to shout out hellos and salutations. I handed my student the item and then turned to leave, thanking the teacher and apologizing for any disruption. She replied, "Not at all, we love visitors. Have a great day Mrs. CJ." I left with a smile. This by the way, is how I greet visitors to my classroom.

The next classroom was two doors down. As I approached it, another teacher was entering the room, they had a key. They let the door close, not noticing me as I walked up to the door. I peered through the window. The class remained focused on their assignment, undisturbed, as the second teacher joined the classroom teacher behind their desk. I paused and after seeing the two strike up a conversation, I knocked on the door. A student opened it saying with excitement "Hey, Mrs. CJ." I greeted them back. Then the classroom erupted with various greetings and high-fives- I slapped a few fist bumps as I made my way to the front of the room.

The two teachers looked at me with disgust. If they had spoken something aloud, at that moment, it would have been "These popular teachers, so rude to come in here and be welcomed by these students." Instead, the classroom teacher said, "How can I help you Mrs. CJ?" In response, a little intimidated, if I say so myself, I said "Can I give this to a student?" She glared at me. "No, I will take it and they can get it at the end of class." I slowly walked over to her desk and set it down. Then I started backing out of the room. ”Thank you," I said as I neared the door. Students got quiet for a moment. Observing, anticipating some kind of response from me, other than thank you. But I smiled. Waved at them and they broke out in good byes and see you later's. Which spurred a comment from the two standing in the front of the room, loud enough for me to hear.

Now, at this point I must explain a few things: one of these teachers is what I call a resting witch face teacher, they are seriously scowling all the time- so I think students do not quite know how to relate to them. The other is the IC of their department and you could tell, did not want to be there. The class was not focused on anything in particular- it was the last five minutes of class and they were beginning to pack up. It felt a lot more awkward than it should have.

Back to the comment. "Well it is clear now what type of teacher these students actually like." one of them said. The other responded, "It must be nice to be a 'popular' teacher."

I was shocked for so many reasons. One, me popular, seriously. I hate the word popular. I have never been popular, trendy or famous, as I mentioned earlier. In this moment, I was deprived of it, even if I had wanted it. Which I didn’t, popularity and trends come and go. They pass with the click of a Tweet. I want no part of that. I would prefer to be endearing and respected. At that moment, students turned boisterous. A friendly reaction transformed into a parsimonious incursion. In hind sight, I should have had a witty banter to toss back at them. I know my students were counting on one. But, instead, my quiet, reclusive demeanor just smiled and repeated, "Thank you, sorry for the disturbance."

Reserved Keeps You Mindful and It Shows

But my students, they took offense and said in my defense "We love you Mrs. CJ," and "We were packing up anyway so you didn't disturb us at all." and as the door was closing I heard the classroom teacher say "It disturbed me." As I walked back to my room, I pondered that comment. I could have gotten angry or defensive but, I didn't. I took it as a compliment. A challenge. A reminder that this is why I do not seek out conversations with other adults in my building. 

This is why my peaceful, positive, reserved classroom is my safe haven. A place without judgment. A venue for free expression and independent thinking. A locale not of envy or antagonism but of pride and acceptance. A classroom has revolving doors, as much as we keep them closed, we need to remember that as adventurers enter and leave our stomping ground, that they take with them a little piece of us. If it is a memory of kindness and optimism. They will see us and have a fondness in their hearts. But, if it is a recollection of parsimony and pettiness, these same students will be reluctant to trust and in turn they will be weary and jaded in our presence. It is so important, that every encounter we have with our students is a positive one. That every exchange is meaningful and mindful. When they are, when we enter a room students are happy to see us, they want to let us know they appreciate us. When they aren't, they become complacent and this complacency is what hinders learning, halts relationships and hampers a positive school culture.

This is one of my favorite sayings- when I get stressed, I repeat it to myself and say Walt Disney had to be boisterous, he had opinions and let them be known. This man, he created the "Happiest Place on Earth."

Around here, we don’t look backwards for very long… We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.-Walt Disney

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Forces Balanced: A Brief Story of Realignment

There was a gnat buzzing, appearing and disappearing, in the glare of the early afternoon sun. Swat…swat… then another one joined in the rebellion. It was a minute event, infinitesimal in the scheme of things, but it was the beginning of the rip, the tear in the fabric. A sound once distant, got louder, more distinctive, as it pushed away the voices nearby. It was a concentrated noise, drawing every inch of her consciousness, to a centered, focal point.

It was a tone, high pitched enough that she felt aligned with the pack of neighborhood dogs, as they wandered down the street. Even they paused and looked around, just as the sound reached her ears. Funny how a simple noise can suddenly unite, even if for a split second. The dogs picked up their pace, the gnats found other organisms to encircle and she, well she remained still, so still in fact that, she forgot she was alive. Every ounce of her being felt connected, blended, whole with the universe. Atoms merged, energy collided, forces balanced.

An orange tabby cat peered out from behind a nearby bush. The fur on his tail was fluffed, something had spooked him. He stepped out into the sunlight, but quickly, second guessed himself and retreated into the shadows. She remained motionless, inanimate, feeling like she too had to take cover at any moment. She chose however, to be stationary, unassuming, so she could determine the cause of her trepidation. The root of disharmony. Nothing happened immediately. It was several minutes before anything of importance occurred at all. Her nerves had settled, and she forgot about the humming, just long enough to let her guard down. The fabric began to separate.

The warmth of the sun felt nice. She rarely sat outside, grass gave her a rash. But today, of all days, she was reading outside. It was a quiet neighborhood and inside seemed so loud and distracting today. The buzz of electricity, the hum of the fans. The walls seemed to have a voice, creaking and stretching from the late summer heat. The windows were shiny, almost blinding, even with the shades pulled. Everything was in sync within the house, every angle nudging her outside, but she didn’t know why. All she knew, looking back on it now, was that something lured her outside and her house knew what she needed most. So, there she sat, itchy legs from the fresh mowed lawn, watching insects fly, cats hide, dogs wander and hearing the most peculiar of notes. The fabric vibrated.

The turbulence was not loud, most people who were out and about, didn’t even appear to hear it. Yet, they seemed to be in a deliberate daze. Like they too were lured outside, and they hadn’t quite figured out why. Some stood in their drive ways debating whether to wash their car. Children were kicking around a ball, not really playing, but more running through the motions of playing. Their smiles were genuine, but their faces almost looked as if they were being pulled upwards, by invisible strings. She continued to remain steadfast, spellbound by the merging of real life and science-fiction. It appeared real enough, to almost anyone else, it would play out like any other day. But to her, something was amiss: Missing cohesion, missing alignment, missing density. She closed her eyes, focusing on one thing, her breath. In, out, in out. Her heart beat slowed its pace. The fabric softened.

She decided to move, at last, slowly, ghost-like. Everything appeared intangible, distant, tenuous. She stood, the ground felt ethereal, like she was floating. Colors seemed brighter, more defined. Edges once unnoticeable, darkened making everything look traced, outlined. She reached out for the leaves of the bush, where the orange tabby was still hidden beneath. The leaves felt solid, but appeared to her mind at least, to be more important somehow than just mere structures for photosynthesis. Their edges, pushing the background and pulling the foreground. Like there was a shift in placement, even though they never moved an inch. There was a transport of energy, a connection to nature she never felt before. Fabric sewn into tapestry.

She crossed the lawn, every blade of grass was telling a story, an infinitesimal story. They seemed to be repairing some rip or tear that formed in the fabric, each a tiny thread, wrapping around one another until there was an appearance of normalcy. She paused, wiggled her toes, allowing the wetness to coat the bottom of her feet. That sensation she remembered. The rash on her legs became less itchy. The sun less blinding. The pause button seemed to be undone and the ripples faded leaving science-fiction behind. Bringing real life back up to full speed.

The tactile vibration of the focusing noise lingered, but the audible vibration disappeared, and giggles sharpened, as the children across the street became noticeable.  The buzzing of the gnat returned. Swat…swat, to no avail and another one joined in the rebellion. The green door, her front door, seemed to lure her back inside. The concrete howled from the heat of the sun. The trees creaked and stretched in the late summer breeze. Even the wind seemed to be nudging her back inside. The door knob glistened, she turned it and the shadow of inside swallowed her whole. But the vibration remains.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Finding Rural: Welcoming Road Changes

Interstate becomes County Road

Hallways, a certain sheen about them, like a freshly paved highway. There is a slight bump as new road merges with old. Students traverse it with a bit of trepidation, the first few weeks. This seam that you rarely notice, as you are driving, until you pass over it, becomes apparent. A quick signal that the road ahead is not, necessarily even. Personal and profession merge, one becoming clearer in the rear view.

This thump, adjustment, is worn down overtime, blending in with the concrete underneath. Speeding vehicles no longer notice the transition and sync with the grooves. These indentations have ingrained themselves in the asphalt. This corrugation becomes familiar, comfortable. A signal that our focus has aligned with our surroundings. We no longer need the GPS, we know our route. Each landmark, guiding us down the bustling highway, we call a school. The academic interstate that is our educational road map.

Interstates, freeways, tollways: whatever pavement you choose to navigate is a busy thoroughfare. Rarely empty, generally hustling with momentum and velocity. Lane changes, acceleration and traffic flow. In a constant flux of commuting and road trips. Some transporting goods, while others are simply trying to get home, after a hard days work. Gridlock may be avoided, but there is always a movement. A haulage of information that keeps the interchanges dynamic and the off-ramps, clear. A continuity like no where else.

Once exit occurs, onto county road, there is a sense of calm. There is a crispness, less exhaust fills the air. Horns are silenced. There is a lull for once. Flashing signs, guiding one to the the 4-way intersection. Street Lights swaying in the summer breeze. Tall city-scapes transition, to fields of possibility: wheat and corn rustling. The slow pace of life, tractors plowing, animals strolling, lines of mailboxes line the artery- the connection between urban and rural. The trail may narrow but the community deepens.

Farm to Market

When I moved to Texas six years ago, there were two main differences when it came to the roadways and traffic. The first was many roads are called FM with a number. FM 246 or FM 425 etc. I had lived here for a few months, before I was told that FM means farm to market. A road that linked rural farmers to the town market places. This instantly made my local area seem much more community oriented. It felt like a connection, a deep seeded history that even now, reverberates in the many small towns across the state.

The second was access roads. The long business clad avenues that parallel the major interstates like I-10. These are basically speedways. They took me awhile to get used to. If you are in the left lane, cars are exiting the interstate and if you are in the right lane they are merging into traffic, from the parking lots that contour the other side. The speed limit is 45 miles an hour and let me tell you, it looks very much like a game of 'Frogger' -cars weaving back and forth in rapid succession. It was amazing to see at first, even with my clenched fists grasping the steering wheel.

Access roads make any of the large Texas cities, feel very crowded and chaotic.This hustle and bustle feels like a bell has rung and a class change is underway. The noise is fluid, ebbing and flowing with the different small groups as they laugh and play. But as the classroom doors are closed, as commuters reach their destinations, there is an energy that remains. The intensity of concentration, the vitality of action, the endurance of city sprawl. It is entrance onto the FM roads where true learning takes place. Where growth leads to wisdom. Where the town square is the center of it all. Gazebo filled parks and mom and pop shops. This is where crowd becomes individual and student body becomes community.

Slowing Down to a Rural Pace

Hallways become highways, classrooms town squares. Lifestyles amplify and intensify. Time seems to dwindle at an astonishing rate.We all need to exit the thoroughfare, travel the FM road and enter our own township. The quiet, idyllic locale where we call home. Where the rustic, simple, gait slows us down so we can enjoy the landscape and venues we seem to miss at our usual speed.

Where we stroll alongside a quiet, country road. Where foot traffic is the pace. Where nothing is expected and the din of city life eases and the stable, wholesome cadence of diversion filters in. Voices are lulling and tranquil. Family is around the dinner table. Electronics are off and conversations are the entree. This neighborhood is small and its residents are related. A Main Street, where the entire town loves to congregate. This is home.

If we remain in the commotion for too long, our senses are dulled. If we keep the acceleration constant, when we brake, it will feel sudden. Our tires will skid. But, if we practice our deceleration, learn to turn in to the skid, we will safely make it to the shoulder. If we keep our eye on the oil gauge and fuel level, we will be prepared for the road trip. These road trips, long weekend drives, these are what keep us healthy, energized and excited to be an educator.

We are educators because we love the journey- the different scenery we view from our vehicles. We are educators because we appreciate the panorama that a school provides: bustling hallways of vibrant faces, the community driven classrooms we inhabit, the programs we can mentor, the relationships we build. Ultimately though, we are all vehicles, travelling at different speeds, intersecting, passing and following one another in an endless labyrinth of roads, avenues and thoroughfares- and this is life. Just make sure you find those dirt roads that lead to nowhere, this is where we relax and refuel. This is where we rediscover why we are educators.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Transactions, Bargains and Negotiations

Abigail Adams:  learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.

Life is full of transactions, bargains and negotiations. Every day as we navigate through life, we make choices based on our understanding of the world. We meet people who inspire us and motivate us to grow and adapt, while we also come across individuals who somehow make us disengage and detour. But, ultimately it is our fixation and interest that keep us moving forward. We learn best when we have options how to demonstrate and build our framework. Sometimes we sit down and listen, other times we actively seek knowledge. Either way our brains are designed to absorb new information. To analyze, interpret and update. This is why even when we are day dreaming and quietly relaxing, we are still processing data and adding it, to the plethora of concepts and comprehensions that make us unique.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr: Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.

Once we acquire new information, we may not understand it at first. It may take us some time to solidify it into our schema. But, the way we see the world is forever changed. Every new idea, new image, new trending topic, gets layered into our fabric. The tapestry of senses that wraps our universe. This bubble is forever expanding and shifting in order to accommodate our ever changing perceptions, interpretations and convictions. Once we learn something, internalize it, find its relevance and purpose- it becomes a stitch in our texture, each binding together, the pieces of the quilt, to form our point of view- each original and personal.

We form our mold, stretch our imaginations, and weave in our relationships, as we experience new things. The words spoken to us, even if insignificant, resonate into a memory. They clarify, amplify and quantify our reality. We all take meaning from language in our own way. That is why what offends some, does not phase others. Why humor is subjective and art is interpreted differently by all. Beauty is relative, based on our individual likes and interpretations. The knowledge we fold into our sense of our surroundings, this is what allows us to form our own opinions. This is why we learn, why we are wired to make sense of things. We are on an inevitable path with learning- all we need to do is embrace it.

B.B.KingThe beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.

Growing up with Dyslexia, put me on an educational path different from most children. I may have learned differently, but I most definitely learned. In fact I have an incredibly great memory because of how I learn. I have to replay things in my head, at least three times and in three unique ways. For instance- I have to visualize it, even if it is a nonsense image- I have to create one, then I have to see the words, literally see the letters and remember where on the page I wrote them or where in the chapter, even the exact paragraph, they are located. Then I have to make an analogy or acronym. If I do not do all three- I will lose the information. But, once its there- I own it and I keep it forever.

Steve JobsThe people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Mavericks, Maestros, Virtuoso's and Paragons these individuals have a voice and they use it. They are not afraid of dissension or negativity. They believe in themselves and the cause. They are movers and shakers and they steer our view point and mindset. They may see the world based on the big picture or they may have a more narrowed, specific approach, yet they persevere. They think outside the box. They are those trend setters that we are impacted by.

The most important thing to realize though is that they are not smarter than everyone else. They put one leg at a time in their pants just like everyone else. Their brains are designed and operate like every other human brain. The difference is that they can see inspiration in the simple things, the quiet unassuming things. They get discouraged, but their vision is so clear, that they are undeterred. We are all Steve Jobs or Isaac Newton in our resolve and determination. We all have the same potential, especially when we have mentors and educators who spark our creativity and when we have opportunities to shine.

Transactions, Bargains and Negotiations:

Every time we speak to a student, interact with them, we are leaving an impression. When they walk away, they know us, understand us a little better. We have made a transaction of sorts, an exchange of information, emotion and trust. It is these transactions throughout the day that create a safe haven for students- a place where they feel comfortable to learn. Learning takes a back seat when we feel distracted and disconnected. These transactions positive and negative alike, are the foundation of any school, when positive, they create an open, fun atmosphere where children are collaborating, laughing and above all acquiring new information to add to their framework.

We bargain every day, with ourselves, to just stay focused a bit longer, stay optimistic when we feel stressed and smile when we feel upset or frustrated. Students bargain as well, I will do my homework first before I play a video game or the reverse in some instances. We bargain to help us decide which route to take and we negotiate with those around us to help us get there. Students negotiate silently with other students to walk down the hall, or verbally to complete group work. They have friends who they share time with and peers that they collaborate with. But, as with all human beings we continually bargain and negotiate to make it through the day. 

Every transaction influences the learning process. Learning is inherent, instinctual. The learning process, however, needs some fine tuning. This is where education comes to the negotiating table. If we have the strategies, the power, the upper hand on learning, then when we enter into a contract with knowledge, we sign the dotted line with confidence and motivation. As teachers, as administrators, as educators, we need to make sure that as we enter transactions with students that they are meaningful and supportive. That when students begin the bargaining process, that we listen and nudge them to make the right choices and finally, that we teach them negotiation strategies that they can use in every aspect of their lives. The more students hone these skills, the more they will be self-reliant and self-aware and this is our ultimate transaction- providing the gift of independence.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Yes And, No But: An Educators Seafaring Approach

Yes and….

It’s bigger in your mind, once you say it aloud, it gets smaller. Like the crash and crumble of the waves as they hit the shore. The doubt, heavy, sinking you, releases. The waves sound much harsher, louder, the closer you get. But when you can step back, out on a balcony, observe the tides from above the shore, their rhythm becomes apparent. The undertow is forgotten. They become more beautiful. Their sense of danger dissipates. Insecurity calms. This is an educators approach.

Clear blue, translucent, the cleansing aura of replenishing water, illuminates your frame of mind. It marinates in your brain. Percolates ideas. This is when the creativity floats in. This is the moment the murky water, meets the shiny sand and forms a cohesion of ripples and granules. Things settle as the current escapes. This blending of thought becomes action. Mind over matter. The force of sheer will, water crushing anxiety, swirling sand, gently falling back into layers. This is an educator’s routine.

The crash and crumble, vibrations and reverberations, normalize into a sync of in, out, in, out. The consistency is reassuring. The preciseness makes everything normal, safe. The foaming agitation of seawater, both frothy and sudsy, maintains our attention, focuses it. Salt stings our nose, but the mist rejuvenates. Alerts us to new stimuli. The vastness of information, yields itself to a single splash, a momentary shuffle of sand and water, tug and give. This is learning.

 No, but…

The shuffle of knowing and understanding, accepting and doubting, discovery and complacency never ceases. Like the tides throughout the day, we are constantly in a flux between order and disorder, listening and doing. We have choices, opinions, and fears. We lean on the boardwalk, overlooking the turbulent waters or we jump into the whirlpool, knowing we can swim above the cyclone. Either way we choose it. Confusion can set in, we might lose our sense of direction, but our internal compass will eventually guide us home. We have been there before, we know our way. This is an educator’s mindset.

We can hear something that upsets us, offends us, and puts us on edge. These things we generally try to escape, rather than dive into. This is when dark skies approach. Storm clouds block the sunlight. When we let them push us under the surface, we let the words take over, the sentiment coat us in seaweed and algae. However we have a No, but moment, that should be our mantra. I disagree but, I am willing to listen because my mindset grows from dissidence and discordance. This is an educator’s outlook.

No thank you bites. That is what I say to my son. Never no, if you have never tasted it. Once you try it, you can say, “no more thank you.” As educators we are in a constant state of exploration and reimagining. We see things and they trigger an idea, “I can use that in my classroom.” We seek out other educators, we join chats, we Tweet, Face Book and communicate on-line and in our buildings. We put ourselves out there, accept critique and welcome feedback- if we don’t we will stay swirling in the current. This is an educator’s lifeline. Our Vinyl record, well played and loved.

Most educators are positive, at least at the beginning of the school year. Yet, every year I watch as those around me, become more and more disgruntled and frustrated. This year, I am sending the positivity out in every way I can. Let’s do this together. Tweet awesome strategies, mindful thoughts and quotes. Support our tireless, dedicated educators, who need to be reminded, of the beauty of education. Those who need a pick me up after a long stressful day. Those who need to see a smile, receive a hug after a tough class period.

Above all, let’s let go of the “No, but” and integrate the “Yes and.” Stay open minded even in the stormiest and turbulent of seas. Not every day will be calm waters, in fact, most will be bumpy and blistery. All we can do is put on a life vest and row. Some of us have rafts, others boats, but we all have a flotation device- one another. We will all reach our island, where we feel safe. But, we will also meet fellow travelers on our journey and if we listen, they will tell us stories of adventure and swashbuckler fun- and that is exciting, because that is what we signed up for.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Percussion of Personalities: The First Day of School

It’s quiet, calm. There is a crispness to the air. It begins to vibrate, causing the particles to stir and shimmer in the light. The energy arrives before the sound of giggles and feet. There is an electricity, a resonance that is palatable. It tastes sweet, sugary like salt water taffy. Stretchy and shiny, full of summer goodness, even though summer has ended. Every strand of glucose intertwined, every glimmer of flavor illuminated. Every voice succinct, yet the din is like a melody: harmonic and mellifluous. The drums providing the beat, the brass, the increasing volume of greetings and salutations. The orchestra syncs and the house lights blink, announcing the overture. 

There is no reluctance. The audience of learners takes their seats. An eagerness and excitement reverberate. The floors are sparkly, eager, for the first scuffs of the year. The walls are bare, awaiting the posters of clubs, competitions and motivation to be hung. The solemn silence has been replaced by dynamic deliberation. The building’s spirit has been lifted. For the first time in months, the hallways feel content. The programs are in hand and the ticket holders are at the ready. This is when the curtain pulls back, and all is revealed. 

It is this split second, this moment of contact that everything becomes clear. This is the collision. The percussion of personalities. First contact. Genesis. This is when dull becomes lustrous. Doubt turns to certainty. Wonder becomes action. The memory of all past first days, come in to view, but then just as quickly fade. This day, this first day, comes into focus. It is the first line of a fabulous story. All school days are stories, we need to make sure they are adventure stories. Thrilling tales of discovery and conquest. The crashing of cymbals, the roar of the snare. This semblance of anticipation and comfortability- this is the theme of the day. A non-fiction novella of community, collaboration and creativity. 

The confluence eases into separate congregations. Rooms vibrant with a blending of cultures, ideas and charisma. A bustling of individuality and idealism. It is a beautiful thing to see. They settle in to a rhythm. Craving new opportunities. Exciting experiences. There is a thirst, a hunger for knowledge. They are seated, they are hankering for activity. The bell rings and the energies converge into a stream of consciousness.A tight roll of brilliant thought and enhanced flavor. A vision is put in to place. Foundations laid. Optimism and organization solidified. This is the first stretch of the taffy. The white, waxy paper is removed, and the first pungent smell of sugary goodness permeates the air. 

It is the flexibility, the texture, brightness of flavor- these are the qualities of a great taffy. These are the ingredients of a delicious treat. The honeyed, luscious memory of the boardwalk, sand between our toes. It is also the enthusiasm, hopefulness and acceptive nature, that guides a classroom forward. Every student is a beautiful, colorful, surprise, these first few days of school. Slowly but surely their vibrancy and charm come to the surface. It takes time to get to know them. But these first encounters, these first collisions, these set the tone. These either dull the flavor or enhance it. It all depends on if you are willing to unravel the waxed paper, with no expectation or anticipation.  

Taffy, as sticky and stretchy as it gets, always holds promise. It has been a staple on every beach boardwalk for hundreds of years. Why? It is durable, it is sugary sweet, it smells of the ocean and most importantly it comes in a variety of flavors. Each with its own pungency, aroma, essence and tartness. Within every bag or box there are choices, a kaleidoscope of candied opportunity. 

Sometimes we feel like the sharpness of citrus, others the bitterness of chocolate. No matter our choice, its color and aroma lure us in. Like a classroom luminous and ardent, adjustable and diverse, we begin to unwrap until every dynamic, lively, vivacious piece is accessible and this moment, this percussion of personalities, is where it all falls into place. This is the first day of school, the first line of our story, so start writing educators, I can’t wait to read your first chapter.  

Friday, August 10, 2018

P.S. No One is Happy All The Time: A Journey on the Creativity and Depression Roller-Coaster

This post has been written over the last few months. It was written for everyone out there who struggles with anxiety and depression. Depression is not a choice and we can not snap out of it. It is something everyone feels at one point or another, while most bounce back quickly, some never seem to escape its haze. I am lucky, I have bouts, but I practice mindfulness strategies and meditation and this, for me works very well. I am balanced most of the time, but I have known people who suffer deeply from depression and many who also ride the roller-coaster of unhappiness. This post, I hope helps those who struggle with depression, see that there is hope and for those who know people who struggle, I hope this helps you understand what goes on in the mind of someone who is on the creativity and depression roller-coaster.

The Feeling Begins

Parched Earth. Barren, bleak, formidable. Yet, from underneath the scorched, sandy, terrain materializes a hope. A signal of unstitching. A state of Ikigai- a reason for living, ingrained in the Japanese culture. A purposeful exchange. A subtleness that would be missed by most, if they weren’t looking for it. It speaks in your mother tongue. Something from nothing. Everything from this isolation, this landscape is ultimately an idea. Swirling around you like sand, kicked up, from your tread. The sand stings, as the silicon and calcium, files down the rough edges, smoothing the thought, cohesive. The vista, the machinery our brain uses to sense our experiences. It is more than that though, it is not just a figurative place, it is not merely a spiritual journey, it is an encapsulation of our natural inheritance. Our birth right. The place where our curiosity sparks to life.

This place is toxicity free, yet there is a burden we feel of being happy. We let our agency of joy, slip at times. The guilt is visceral. It taps us on the shoulder, forcing us to see the utter mayhem, horrendous happenings and sheer devastation that occurs on Earth. We must see this devastation, internalize it, own it. For human nature is universal. It is simply the fact that most of us, at the intersection of immorality and civility, steer the course of decency, integrity and justice. Our sense of morality stays intact. This principle, this righteousness, is not a uniform we proudly wear, but a skin, both thick and impenetrable, protecting us from any oncoming sandstorm.

The Journey Begins

Shame has many costumes. Depression, stigma, remorse, liability, condemnation, to just name a few. It has mirrors in which it forces our gaze. Reinforcing our culpability. This hardened stance is difficult to maneuver away from. Its grasp is tight. For some it is a comfortable place, a cozy contrition. For others, it is mere scenery, they must traverse, to realize their gravitas, their authenticity. How can we be creative, if we do not allow ourselves to get lost every now and then in penitence? How can we be happy and content in our neck of the woods, if we do not acknowledge the blaze upon the hilltop? To, feel safe, we must admit, that we are not always protected.

Order and structure allows us to find continuity and consistency in our lives. These are facets of life, both necessary and welcomed. Miraculous moments happen every day. We awake with optimism, even if it is fleeting. We rest with positivity, that we survived another day. That hopefully our presence made a difference in some way. These revelations are empowering, liberating- they lead to creativity and creativity is fluid, it is mobile, it is transferrable. We can’t understand its motives or beckon it. We can only open ourselves up to it and hope it finds its way to us. If we are creative beings, if our imaginations are full and we are neglected by inspirations charms for too long, we can feel slighted, feel disappointed which may lead to unhappiness and strife.

And Here we Diverge

And here we diverge- unfettered joy goes one way and expectations the other. We are caught at a crossroads. We must mature, yes. We must age, this we have absolutely no choice in. But, must we surrender? The bridge between creativity, inspiration and passion does not need to be mired with self-doubt. But many times, it is.

I know while I am crossing it, each stone seems to grow larger and more difficult to step over. The grout between oozes in and sticks to my bare feet. Yes, I venture into the realm of creativity, comfortable and free of encumbrances like shoes. But, with gear full of nourishment and shelter. However, often while I am on this journey, I feel uneven, I do not feel like a whole number, but a fraction of one. A granule, rather than solidity. A speck, a grain, picked up with the breeze and redeposited somewhere abandoned. Somewhere desolate. That parched Earth, where my feeling began.

From afar I may look like I belong, like I am comfortable in my predicament. I might seem to fit on the pile of sand. The crevice where I land, appears to be made just for me. But, then again it is a fissure not an embankment. I am alone in consistency, alone in lack of vibrancy. I see the shininess and beauty of the smooth, sedimentary promontories around me. Each gathering layers as they gather acceptance, while I am getting thinner and more fragile as I wedge tighter, in the crevasse. This is depression. Unannounced it trickles in like a gentle rainfall, washing away my foundation, slipping me farther into the gap.

And Here we Converge

This is the place where creativity, inspiration and depression meet. We try to stay hopeful that a gust of wind will bring us closer to our habitat. Back to where we belong. But we forget where home is. The breeze ceases and we are left, a tiny insignificant molecule. A dot. That feels so miniscule, we can’t see beyond our limitations. We will lie there whittling away until we fade to nothing. This is depression. Only with the warmth of words, patience and rebirth, can we see ourselves again, as both sedimentary and igneous. Where our fragments become hardened with heat and pressure. Where all the little pieces come together, forging a great landscape, a scenery magnified.

That sound- thunder, it quiets us for an instance as we wait for the flash. Fear, shame, creativity, inspiration- they are comrades in arms. They know which buttons to push. They know where our arsenal is kept hidden. Yet, when we are pinned under the heaviest of boulders, together they pry us loose. When we choose not to be conventional, we struggle with this dynamic. Conventional is the enemy of interesting. Our life blood comes from our shade of unorthodoxies. Those traits of inheritance that are our birth right. We have a right to be happy, angry, solemn or proud. We deserve to be joyful, interesting and innovative. We hold the merit of self-preservation and self-advocacy. We must be eager to do so. But with depression buffing our protrusions down, our eagerness to advocate becomes a fretful action for survival.

Reconstitution has Side Effects

Our creative mind needs to be set free. If it brings apprehension and misgiving, we must accept that as part of the process. If melancholy and malaise, find us upon our travel’s, we must seek their wisdom, because they are apart of us as well. Each line of truth, a note, forming the base, the treble, the percussion of our lives. We wake up to an upbeat jam, setting us forth on an odyssey of discovery and exploration. We wake up to a pensive instrumental and we venture on a quest of retrospection and thoughtfulness. We have days dominated by joy and mindfulness and others made jagged with uncertainty and poignancy. But, we can tell the difference. This is what inspires us to seek the quiet moments of reflection, to listen for the grains of sand, as they wisp into the air, seeking shelter.

Depression is not a single stroke of misfortune. Nor is it a permanent structure, holding back the rivers of creativity and inspiration. It is within each of us. For some it is a result of not feeling justified or accepted. Others a consequence of fear. Ultimately though, it is not the same for everyone. It can be bottled and corked by some, while it buries others underneath that sand. Crushing their spirit, their outlook, their will-power. This is the moment of despair you can never understand, unless you find yourself under the weight of it. The only way to dig yourself out is, to reach out from underneath it because, there will be many with outreached shovels. You alone must dig yourself out, but without the tools to make it possible, you are stuck in the quicksand, the quagmire. The inspiration of others gives us a foothold- but our creative minds, openness to growth, this is what elevates us above the cave in.

There are paths we choose, and quests thrust upon us. There are times when being alone is needed. There are also times when connection and being among friends and family, is what grounds us. I am lucky enough to have strategies I use, because I am a victim of depression. My main weapon, I am a fighter. I do not get buried for long. I keep shovels close and ropes to grasp, at the ready, to keep me clear of the major pitfalls that plague my outlook. Writing for me is an outlet for my bouts with depression. Painting, singing, taking long walks, exercising, even just listening to awesome music, might be yours.

Whatever warning signs you have in place, it is listening for the sandstorm that is important. Following your creative heart, listening to your inspiration guide.  Your insight will provide you the framework to take risks and try new things. To take the leap. To find what makes you happy. Shame should never be allowed to stifle, bury, burden or isolate you. We all deserve to have joy- it is our birth right. We must never forget to help others, do what we can to try and guarantee that unfettered smiles, that childish giggles, that meaningful exchanges of mindfulness, that acceptance and encouragement spreads just as fast as the sandstorms. Then both whirlwinds will have equal chance to be encountered.

We love and hate. We smile and frown. We seek enlightenment yet get comfortable with stagnancy. There is no definitive answer to solve depression. There are also no guarantees that inspiration and creativity will find you. All you can do, is quiet your mind. Calm your spirit. Engage with the rumble, the quivering that lies beneath. Recognize the mist, breathe in and accept what is given to you. It may be an inspiration, it may be a creative embrace, it might merely, be an idea. It is what you do with it, how you make it something wonderful that will fulfil you and this contentedness might just stave off your next moment of sand blindness.

A Reserved Presence is Often Linked to a Vehement Mind

Not everyone is emboldened to take a stand. Confident enough to speak their mind. Not everyone feels they have the right to. So many of us,...