a girl and her boy

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One Goal. One Purpose. One Mind.

I spend a lot of time thinking about self-improvement, eco-ethical decisions, and how to best make every day better than the one before for me and those in my life and community. This past month, starting on my birthday, I began meditating and journaling on the year past and the year to come in preparation for my new year resolutions. And this year, I have just one goal. Just one.

Be mindful.

Of my emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical well being. Of my relationships. Of my impact on my community. Of my impact on the planet.

One goal. Multiple beneficiaries.

This one goal breaks down into many little steps. I am taking one small step in January that I hope will be the foundation:  to meditate and stretch every morning before I do anything else. I haven’t thought out the steps for the rest of the year. I figure that will come with the meditation and daily mantras.

The Day Job

Sitting in a meeting with my colleagues after the students left today, I caught myself wondering how in hell I made it. I’m glad I did, no doubt. And I’m doing well. But how did I survive? And what can I bring to the table to help my students?

I work in an alternative education setting now with students who have drug abusing parents, who have been raped or molested (repeatedly in some cases), who shoot up drugs to dull the pain of extreme poverty and neglect. They have anxiety and paranoia and PTSD and psychosis. These kids are just babies at 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 years old. Some have have already sat for hours in front of judges or counselors or CFS agents at their tender ages with stony “yeah, and what the fuck are you going to do about it?” faces.

These youths, both in my classroom and in others all across our nation, are disenfranchised and in awful shape and are looking to us to do something about it. And what are we doing about it? One of my students fell through the systems’ cracks and is now missing on the freezing cold streets of Massachusetts.

It’s a 6 hour a day, 30 hour a week job that is paying the bills so why worry so much, right? But it’s more than that to me. These kids here in Salem and the ones I left behind in Maine are my  kids. They didn’t come out of my body (and I’m glad for that – can you imagine the stretch marks?) but they have my heart and dedication. I know I have to learn a certain amount of emotional separation, but I haven’t yet.

I’ll have something more intelligible to say about this eventually. I just had to get this off my chest.

Please Read.

A long-time reader of mine, and now a dear friend, has the following insight and observations to share on the health care reform bill. She is an American who has been studying contemporary American Literature in Germany and has had the opportunity to be cared for under both types of systems. Please take a moment to read this.

“Wherein I Say Some Things About Health Care”

Dreams

Looking at my desk and walls reminds me of an art piece displayed in Lord Hall at UMaine created by Yvette Tardiff a few years ago:  a round kitchen table full of espresso cups with varying levels of fullness, with a wall full of sticky-notes behind it. I don’t remember the title of the piece, but it was something along the lines of “American Dream”.

I remember standing there staring at the installation and thinking:  Damn. That’s me.

It still is.

My desk is full of tea mugs that need to find their way to the kitchen and my desk, walls, and planner are full of sticky-notes reminding me of things I need to do.

What is the American dream to you? I asked a group of students this once as part of a unit on The Great Gatsby. I got a range of answers, but each one included being happy and healthy as part of it. It never occurred to me, until now, to examine my personal dream and how close I am to achieving it.

When I was in high school, and a half-hearted at best practicing Mormon, my dream was to have a modest home with a door open to the community, a bottom-less cookie jar, a few dogs, a cat, and lots of people to love coming and going throughout the day and year. This vision of life included being married, having a handful of kids, and being completely immersed in family life.

And thinking about it now, my vision hasn’t changed that much. I still want that modest home with a door open to the community, a bottom-less cookie jar, a few dogs, a cat, and lots of people to love. Unfortunately, the kids part won’t happen, at least not out of my body without serious intervention that is not certain to work.

A few months ago, after experiencing serious pain in my pelvic region for several days straight, I called my doctor in Maine. I told him what I was experiencing and asked for a reference closer to me in the North Shore area. I ended up spending a few days in southern Maine being poked and prodded and imaged. As if I wasn’t already sore enough. But it was necessary.

I waited and waited and finally the results came in:  between cyclical ovarian cysts from the time I was 14 and the damage my reproductive organs sustained from repeated sexual assault, I am unable to have kids. The pain was from a cyst that burst through years and years of scar tissue build-up. My organs are too scarred up to become pregnant without medical assistance. And the PTSD would make being pregnant and giving birth likely to change the chemistry of any child born of my body.

Even though I had already come to (mostly) decide I didn’t want children anyway (I’ll get to that later), having the choice taken away from me due to years of assault and a medical condition that often develops in people who have been sexually assaulted hurts.

I am still dealing with it.

And more than that. I have been feeling hurt and angry the last week because I am remembering what happened and realizing just how much it has affected me and how much it continues to affect me. How much someone else’s actions has changed how my brain and body functions, and how much has been taken away.

Looking around at these sticky-notes full of reminders and mugs of tea makes me wonder how close I am to that dream, and how far I have to go to overcome and tame these demons to get there.

What do you want?

image from ^riza^ on flickr

image from ^riza^ on flickr

Ever since the separation took place, I’ve been asking myself, and have been asked, “what do you want?”

I keep answering, “I don’t know.”

That’s always been my answer though. I want everything, but nothing. I want something but am not sure what it is.

I realized today that I do know what I want, I’ve always wanted it, and it’s very simple.

I want to be appreciated, loved, and safe. That’s really it. Those are the mountains.

The hills of what I want are:  to be the best English teacher I can be; find a community to settle down in that supports me as a person and as a professional; live in one place for more than 2 years (it would be a record!), and by in one place, I mean in one home; to travel within and without the U. S.; to develop my spirituality and deepen my practice; to become a healer; to publish one of the many novels I’ve written; to continue to set and obtain new goals; to be married to someone who wants to be married to me.

The stones of what I want are:  to work through my list of books to read; to knit and knit some more; to increase my running ability; to get into better shape; to find a place to live this summer after I obtain a new teaching position; to settle in and make my new place my home; to have a gun dog named Adelaide, Ade for short; to have a cat named Niea.

I’m taking it one day at a time and one step at a time. I’m making sure to show the loved ones in my life how much they mean to me by word and deed. And I’m trying to make sure I don’t slide backwards like I keep wanting to do.

“Go back?” [s]he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible. Go forward? The only thing to do. On we go!” So up [s]he got.

– Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, ch. 5.

(The image in today’s post is from ^riza^’s photostream on Flickr.)

Making Connections and Break-Throughs

One of the hardest things about teaching is knowing how to let go.

As an educator I really want to “save” all of my students:  help them see the importance of school, improve their grades and classroom performance, and become a better citizen. However, this is not possible. As hard as I try, I can’t reach them all and I can’t make a difference for them all. And learning when to let go and not feel responsible for their failures is difficult.

The last few weeks were hard as far as my schedule goes, but it was also hard in that I was going through a lot of mental and emotional struggle over one class in particular. This one class is of low-achieving seniors who just want to slide by and graduate. Unfortunately, they got me for senior English and I actually expect something of them (how dare I make them *earn* their grade!).

I’ve been unnecessarily beating myself up for their failures and for the obstacles that I have to overcome to educate them and discipline them. My poor friends had to listen to me berate myself for an hour after a lovely dinner over this class. (I’m better, honest!)

And it wasn’t just this class either. I was concerned that my best wasn’t good enough, that I need to be the educator I’ll be in 10 years *now*. I am very hard on myself and impatient. I want the best for my students and I want to be the best teacher I can be, but I haven’t been very good at allowing myself the process of becoming a good teacher. Every mishap, I brood over how the mistake came about and how to fix it. And instead of moving on, I glumly go about my business upset that I made the mistake in the first place.

So all of this mental angst was going on during two of the busiest weeks I’ve had this year.

And I finally made some progress. I woke up this morning thinking, “I’m going to have a good day no matter what. All I need to do is get through the day!” And it helped. And then later on in the day I decided that my best right now is going to be good enough for me. So, after a year in the classroom, I’ve finally given myself the room to breathe and grow without feeling the intense pressure I put on myself.

It feels great. I feel freer and more in control, which ultimately means I’ll be a better educator, friend, and wife.

In closing, I was flipping through my teaching journal (I’m a very reflective educator, I journal every day many times a day about what’s going on) and I came across a quote I copied down:

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” (Lao-Tzu)

That’s my new life motto. Do the best I can whenever I can whereever I can and call it good enough.

No School… again.

This time for an ice storm. Didn’t we have this story last week, too? Yep, sure did, last week it was a 2 hour delay for nearly a foot of snow. I’m ready for spring, real honest to goodness spring, how about you?

On this dismal snow day, I have my trusty pot of tea steeping next to my desk, a few knitting projects on the brain, and the whole day ahead of me. I’m hoping to get through the majority of the papers and projects I brought home to grade, get some planning done, and have some time to make some progress on the fancy sock number two.

Speaking of the fancy socks, I’m a little worried. I can’t find fancy sock number one! I’ve pulled everything out of my knitting basket, I’ve checked through my knitting bag, as well as the duffle bag I use when I go away for the weekend. I can’t find it anywhere. I’m hoping that it is hiding on me in Veazie, one hundred miles up the highway, in the couch were I knit when I’m away for the weekend. I’m hoping so much that I haven’t invested all this time and energy into these socks to come away with just one. Have any of you knitters ever lost the mate to a sock before? How did you cope with the loss?

After the fancy socks get finished, and after I find the other one (thinking positive!), I plan to invest my energy in finishing the baby blanket I started for my colleague from the MA Teaching program due this summer. It’s nothing fancy, but it’ll be beautiful. I keep taking it out, though, because I’m not satisfied with how I’m making it. Anyone have tried and true patterns for baby blankets they’d like to share? This is my first one and I’m not satisfied with my off-the-cuff box stitch I created.

In more personal/academic news, I’ve been rereading The American Scholar by R. W. Emerson for my junior Am. Literature class and am realizing that I’m finally in the right place to be reading this speech. I’ve read it several times before in my survey courses in college, but it’s just now sinking in. I’m just now understanding the full weight of his sculpted sentences. I understood this speech intellectually, meaning, I knew what the sentences said and what his main arguments were, but it’s now sinking in and taking root in my … soul. Yes, I’m beginning to change my philosophical view point of the world, or realizing that it wasn’t very well constructed in the first place.

Specifically, I love what Emerson has to say about humanity — that we are all part of the One (Wo)Man and that we should be Man in the field, or Man studying, or Man creating technology, not a computer technician, or a farmer, or a scholar. In essence, he saw that humanity was being compartmentalized in such a way that it stripped the human elements right out of people. We’ve become cogs and it’s just gotten worse since he gave this speech in 1837, nearly 60 years after our country gained independence.

Allan and I hope to someday be in a community that values each member, including the elderly. He and I lament the loss of multi-generational households, the Native American model of living, where the elderly and the children took care of each other in the village proper and the men and women, the parents, would perform the labor to keep the community going. There’s very little room for such a model in our current social structure because we’ve become so fractured, so individualized. I think I’ll stop here for now so I can gather my thoughts for a real post on this topic in the future.

Anyhow, good morning, my dear readers, I hope you have a great day!