Sunshine Sparkle

Sparkle.
Shine.
Refuse to dull.
Refuse to cower in the shade.
Step into,
ride through,
bask in
the sun.

This morning as I biked through Central Park, hitting the bridal path. (Are those two not the two most beautiful words in the English language, say it with me — bridal path — conjuring up images of weddings and horses and journey), I bathed in the quiet. The loud morning sun shone through the quiet trees. Were they the American Elm trees? Ready to tap out, to hunker down for winter, spread their leaves like a blanket across the path. Like a gentleman in an old movie, laying his coat across the puddle.

See, I have to arrive to school by 7:50 in time to thermal scan (those two words — thermal scan — are not my favorites — conjuring up images of technology and disembodied temperatures). Biking is the fastest route. My heart gets pumping. Earlier, about 6:50 today, the cool in the air, I took a walk with Charlie (Charley? Does it even matter how you spell a dog’s name as they can’t read any way?) And the walk turned into a run, he and I along the Riverside Park sidewalk — this middling age woman and her frisky newfound dog.

What was the point I was trying to make?
Oh, I recall, once I heard at a 12 step meeting, “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in the sun’s rays. And every time I see them, I’m reminded of a Higher Power.”
Yes, this.
You may not believe in God,
but you may believe in the sun’s rays
and the way the leaves drift down the bridal path.
Believe in the shine, the luminescence
the ineffableness of the sun’s sparkle through the bowing of the great Central Park trees.

The sunlight, the trees, they ask for nothing,
Not even you for you to notice.
Run. Ride.
Scan. Shine. Sparkle.

That Vile Wall

“Wall, that vile Wall which did these lovers sunder;
And through Wall’s chink, poor souls, they are content
To whisper. At the which let no man wonder.”

Act 5 Scene 1
Midsummer Night’s Dream

We are so content to whisper our discontent.
Make enemies across the wall
rather than lovers.
Friends,
we create others.

Looped around the wall,
Wholey, holey, holy

“Wall, that vile Wall.”

How walls define this time,
this ridiculous point in time in history where this resident would rather
build a wall
than cure a pandemic.

This Met Museum wall — this red brick, peek-through
by Zamora, called “Lattice Detour,”
Curvy wall,
Porous, poor us, pour us another.
Stuck as we have been in our homes and in our walls.

And another — what, metaphor? — ricocheting pinball in the brain,
“A map is not the territory.”
Magritte explained Korzybski,
“Perception always intercedes between reality and ourselves.”

The map to victory,
to a restoration of civility,
to bridges over walls,
is not the territory of voters — the majority of us yearning to be free of this moment,
behind the walls of this travesty.

No longer gathered in a crowd,
we, still, ARE the majority.
Right beside that wall.
Of which we cannot overleap
But we shall overcome.

We can peek through the latticework
The simple squares made, it seems, of hand and Mexican-American clay.
Red brick sturdy
To keep the house aloft and keep the
big bad wolf at bay.

Wall, that vile Wall.
You do not define the territory.
The territory is where we perceive it to be
Up on a roof of a grand museum
in a city they said was dead.
No fear
No fear
No fear, vile Wall.

For where you stoke enmity, we choose love.

We choose to look through and see another whom we call friend.

The exhibit is up until early December. And then the Wall comes down. #cantorroof The Met.

Mindfulness

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
A cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
This is the best season of your life.

      – Wu-me

The poem cleared – unclouded – my mind. Cleansed me. The way a novel, say, the Overstory by Richard Powers, wipes away worries every night. I read a page, another, I try to block out my worries – for family, country, future – take comfort in the overhang of branches.

A novel, like a tree, offers shade.  Does not throw shade, offers a respite from worries. 

I’ve been telling one daughter to stop saying, “I’m worried about…” and instead try, “I’m wondering about…”

Wondering, worrying, fixing. Healing. Seeking, finding shade.

**

My mindfulness class showed me that I’m fixated on fixing. What is the difference between fixing and healing? I wondered. My mindfulness-based stress reduction teacher, Elaine Retholtz, a wise guru, introduced me to Wu-me’s poem. We shared some reflections: 

  • What do you want to see next? – Lake Bell
  • You will never own the future if you care what other people think. – Cindy Gallop
My dog has nothing to do with this post. But I find him so cute. And I find the Upper West Side so beautiful. The city is still a charming and wonderful place to live and be. Don’t let anyone take away your joy. 

Signposts for Reading

A signpost is usually found at a crossroads. So says the definition. And in the teaching book Notice and Note, you’re given six avenues — ways to go or topics of conversation. What should we notice in a book? How do we note what we read?

When discussing literature with your students or homeschoolers, consider using Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading.

When discussing literature, there’s often no right or wrong answer. You’re using the signposts to get into the characters of ask the book questions. And questioning is what we want young people to do — in literature and in life. After all, we all have essential questions, such as Who am I? Why am I here? What’s the meaning? The word ‘essential’ has taken on such important meaning this year, with the rise in respect for essential workers.

Have your heard of ‘essential questions?’ When I first started teaching high school five years ago, the department chair told me, “Be sure that you have your Essential Questions posted for all to see somewhere in the classroom.”

I was like, ‘Whaaat?’ I had no idea. I wanted to do a good job. I wanted to have the right — the most essential — questions on my bulletin board. So I did what all teachers do when they don’t know and they don’t want to ask. I googled, “What is an essential question?” And of course, I fell into the rabbit hole of what makes a good question. The more questions I had, the more confused I became. But my mentor at my new school four years ago turned me on to this Notice and Note process. Look for the signposts. Discuss these topics. Yes, one category is called Tough Questions, which to me is the same as Essential Questions.

Ultimately, I decided that an essential question is a deep question — one that that leads to more questions and cannot be answered simply with a yes or no response.

Signposts for understanding

Hey, I love learning about learning. Yes, I’m meta like that!

Family Dinners

I have writing to do and teaching — and thinking to do.
And don’t forget the gratitude list.
There’s a new/old dog to walk and friends to phone. There’s much to do.
And then, again, there’s nothing to do.
A helplessness — a desire to read — to stay in, stay safe, stay put.
And curl into a ball to let this big wave pass.
So we hunker down in this farmhouse in this town that I love with family and friends.
With children and trees. Set to bloom. Set to bud. Set to flower.
Game, set, match.
My mind keeps turning to this twist — my love gov says tennis courts can open.
Where is my nearest tennis court? And does it matter that I have no racket, balls, nor opponents? Or tennis whites? I keep thinking about tennis.
As if I was Billie Jean King. Fierce like that. All women are – for simply surviving this potus abuse.
I cannot get over this administration – the way that man speaks to journalists, to women, to poc.
I must to stop watching his cruelty. It breaks my heart.
I aim to maintain my soft-hearted nature and happy-go-lucky disposition.
I will not let this wave of fear and despair submerge me.
Better days, ahead. Chin up and all that.

Think about tennis and flowers and Billie Jean King.
Family dinners in the farmhouse.

Our New Spiritual Earth

I’m thinking this pandemic has unleashed ‘our new spiritual earth,’ a theme found in this morning’s #spiritchat, a wonderful Sunday morning twitter chat. To me, a spiritual earth means we have to give our home and human family a break — for spring to blossom forth and new growth to emerge. We wait and welcome quiet before jets return to their booms across the sky and trucks rumble across the highways.

Let’s remember that every day belongs to the earth. Every day is Earth Day. Children seem to know this instinctively and are way smarter than adults; they are more enthusiastic about recycling and protecting the environment than we, older folks.

Among my favorite of the elements of earth, water, wind, fire, space, I am an Aries, a fire sign. I tingle with sparks of fire. I love a good campfire.

But also I love the water that puts out the fire. Gentle in its quiet or violent in its rush, tug, waves in the ocean.

Dogsitting this last month (or more? how long has it been? where has the time gone?) has forced me to walk on the earth every morning. So I feel the solid ground beneath me. I look and listen for nature as we walk. The calling, quacking, and homing of birds. The healing in the beauty of blossoms tightly furled.

I surrender to the forces of nature, powers far greater than myself.

Returning to the image of water: when we hiked yesterday, we got a little lost, we thought about following the water – because a stream or river always leads to civilization.

Water helps us find our way home. It is the primary element in Baptism. And blessings. And holy water.

I intend to create a positivity ripple to make impact of health, healing, hope. Love overcomes hatred.

My goals?

  1. Care
  2. Create
  3. Collaborate

I also am:

  1. walking 10K steps a day.
  2. thanking mother earth.
  3. celebrating every blossom and bud.
  4. pushing back against injustice and hatred and intolerance.
  5. choosing love and unconditional positive regard for everyone whom I meet.

The world doesn’t want to be saved. It wants to be loved. That is what will save it! – April Peerless

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. – Shakespeare, The Tempest

At any moment, you have a choice / that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it. – Thich Nhat Hanh

We are Earth people on a spiritual journey to the stars. Our quest, our Earth walk, is to look within, to know who we are,
to see that we are connected to all things,
that there is no separation, only in the mind. – Lakota Seer

Mindfulness

I’ve been attending meditation at least once a week with the JCC community in Manhattan. This is such a lovely respite. The other day, I had a small victory when, during my meditation, I heard the kids talking loudly in the kitchen. I wanted to find out what was going on: were they fighting? Laughing? I stayed in my meditative state.

When I am on one of these JCC zoom sessions, I can see that everyone else is sitting comfortably, yet I am enjoying meditation in a sivasana pose. So be it.

When this whole covid thing started, one of my first inclinations was: “Great, I’ll use my free time to become a certified life coach.” I’ve always wanted to do this. After all, I love encouraging people and helping them find their authentic purpose in life. But as the days, weeks, and now months, have worn on, I’ve begun to lose my life-long learning mojo.

This morning I perked up again, as I read about workshops in MBSR, mindfulness-based stress reduction, founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn, offered at medical centers and hospitals everywhere. The eight-week course begins with mindfulness — sitting, breathing, becoming aware, letting go of judgment. The outcome is that as you develop skills consciously, so these coping strategies seep into your unconscious life and improve your knee jerk response to life’s daily challenges.

I like this because I am constantly choosing to be less defensive and reactive. I allow myself to have human feelings without judging myself harshly. It’s so simple and yet, it can be so hard. In getting myself help in my daily mindfulness practice, I can then help others. And they can help others. And so on.

A writing exercise

I remember…

You start your hand moving. And then you just keep it moving. You write, I remember… and you keep writing memories… popping like popcorn. One memory after another. Don’t worry about which era from your life wherein the memory emeges or how you feel or what it all means.

I learned this from Dani Shapiro who learned it from a book I Remember by Joe Brainard.

I remember. And the important thing with this writing exercise is to keep going. Keep your mind moving from memory to memory. I found it very relaxing and centering. It’s also a great way to mine some gems which may become sparkling jewels in your larger memoir story.

Weave the memory jewels into the tapestry of your life.

morning walk with Charlie
I think he likes the new dog bed.

BetterHelp

At about 10:30 pm, I went to sleep with three young adults laughing together in kitchen. It warmed my heart. At about 1:30 am, I woke to doors slamming and young people yelling. It froze my heart. I cop to joining in the fray. I am a beast when I’m awoken from a deep sleep. Or maybe a beast within me awakens. Even the dog started whimpering.

When the ruckus settled, I could not fall back asleep. Adrenaline. Guilt. Fear. Worry. Sadness. Failure. I don’t know. I’m reading Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion so I tried to comfort myself and recognize that we are in difficult times and there will be interpersonal conflict during our days and nights.

I am only human. And, as Neff suggests, how would I console a friend who was in a similar situation? Am I a not a friend to myself?

The upshot — hey, you know me, there has to be an upside — is that first thing this morning, I reached out to T.C. at BetterHelp, an online counselor. See, last fall, my primary care doc, Dr. E., had suggested, given the circumstances of my life, a regular mental health appointment could not hurt, might even help. I’m no longer on Zoloft. When I had protested, saying, “I’m too busy,” she, my wonderful Dr. E, said, “Try a virtual therapist. They can be just as good. Convenient.” Which I did. (I chose BetterHelp as it was offering free trials, which I discovered on one of my social media sites. But I’m sure TalkSpace or any other virtual therapy is also decent.) I was assigned T.C. who was smart and pragmatic. I think that she lives in the Albany area and has a bit of a Brooklyn accent.

We had several useful phone conversations and some texting check-ins. It definitely helped. But, hey, you know me, I was super busy. I did not want to be confined to any regular appointments, even phone calls.

Fast forward these several months to today: I am, like the whole world, circumstantially challenged by this time of necessary confinement. The circumference of my life has been compressed. While I’d rather not have woken and become a part of the middle-of-the-night mudslinging fest, I’m glad, in a way, that I did, because it prompted me to seek help. Over the course of my life, I have found therapy — talk therapy, especially — extremely beneficial. It helps me see the forest for the trees. I am grateful for any strategies for hope and healing. I look forward to better communications within the family about our emotions during these difficult days.

Earth Day

There’s a noise in my chimney.
that only the dog and I hear.
Of course, I wear hearing aids and the dog is finely tuned for sound
so it could be that we’re special?
I worry that some poor thing’s stuck in there–
not a vicious wolf in the wall (a la Neil Gaiman).
And it’s not that I’m scared. No, not me.
I’m not scared,
not at all
You’re scared, not me.
There’s nothing in the chimney.
but this morning when I walked away from the house, with Charlie on the leash,
he and I looked back at the house,
at the tin man’s hat at the top of the house.
at the top of the chimney.
A black bird was looking down the chimney. It called
for a lost chick
down my chimney.
Why a lost child? and not a lost spouse?
I’m surely projecting.
There’s no wolf or black bird in my farmhouse chimney.
Chimney’s are jolly places, just ask Santa.
Still.
I thought I just heard a slight thump
or a scampering.
It was the wind.
There’s nothing in the chimney.
Yet I hesitate to start a fire.
We need a fire in the fireplace for it snowed last night,
a little drafty at the beginning of spring, at the tail end of winter in the Adirondacks.
I’m happy to do nothing.
It’s only me Pandora who hears strange noises.
Well, me and Charlie.

Yesterday we bought Charlie a dog bed. And yes, he loved it.
But the dog flipped it over and lay on it, upside down.
“Oh God, you really are becoming my dog,”
I thought with a little dread and a little relief.
Who else turns things upside down?
Who else hears wolves and birds in the chimney?

I’ve been writing my posts first thing in the morning. I wanted to write about Earth Day today. Earth Day for 50 years! The commemoration lands on April 22, because it is the fullest, richest day of buds and blossoms of the whole year. Well, this morning I did not notice the beauty of springtime, because, again, WE HAD SNOW TODAY!! But here are a few pictures of flowers in the past. And they will be in our future too. Have hope.