Wonder and Awe and Deep Listening

I may look back on my childhood with wonder — idealizing the sunny days spent climbing trees. But let’s face it, childhood years can also be a struggle and a time we may need protection. As children, we do not yet have words or power to express or change our deep and unspoken worries. I know many children have a heart for environmental justice. They care about preserving nature.

I like to think of myself as a good listener. I hear the concerns of children in my job as a teacher. Teaching is my second (or third?) career. I love how uncensored children are – so hilarious, so much nonsense, so many emotions, so playful. I especially love how they can be brave at expressing unpopular opinions, worries, vulnerabilities, and honest emotions.

Sometimes there is cruelty. The Seventh Grade class at school just finished reading Lord of the Flies. Tough stuff.

I cannot stop wondering why and how people can be so cruel – my inclination is first, always, to help, to be kind.

I try not to judge anyone. In my rush to support students, I can be righteous or judgey. I want to remember that I am not always seeing the whole picture — from the leaders at the school or the students — I do not always know what else is going on in a person’s life. As an admitted know-it-all, I have a million good ideas for everyone else’s right actions.

I want to keep the focus on myself. Last weekend, my son and I were talking about how listening makes you feel loved. We wondered whether we truly listen to understand or just to wait for the pause in the conversation to get our words in.

Yesterday, after a long day, I walked home from work. It was about 5:15 pm. It was cold, yes, but the residue of a sunny day hung like a banner across the blue sky.

Whether I know it or realize it — spring is coming — buds on trees and green shoots are going to burst from the frozen ground. I hope that all people with worries, especially children, can hang on to the power of spring.

Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power. – William James

When we know that God loves us deeply and will always go on loving us, whoever we are and whatever we do, it becomes possible to expect no more of our fellow men and women than they are able to give, to forgive them generously when they have offended us, and always to respond to their hostility with love. By doing so we make visible a new way of being human and a new way of responding to our world problems. – Henri Nouwen

Adirondack 2019
Look forward to this new writing workshop. http://www.bootcamp4writers.com/register/adirondack-writer-retreat/

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A View of the Hudson

april, cherry blossoms in central and riverside parks
april, cherry blossoms in central and riverside parks

At the end of the day at my coworking community, New Work City, occasionally, we’d get jello shots delivered to our work stations. Now I get chocolate chicken chip cookies and hot chocolate. My career has shifted from corporate-y to entrepreneurial to teaching.

And the river runs through it.

I started writing this blog post on Pajama Day last week. Yes, I got up and changed out of one pair of PJs and put on another pair. Working in a classroom is so way better than working in a cubicle. If only for pajama day. (At New Work City, I could’ve worn PJs, I’m sure; but not at GBGM.)

I asked my husband last night, “Do you think I’ll ever want to go back to corporate-y or non-profit work?”

“No,” he paused, then added, “But you did love your office.”

Ah, gone are the days of having a beautiful office on the 14th floor overlooking Grant’s Tomb and Riverside Church. With a big desk (containing a drawer full of shoes) and an expansive view of George Washington Bridge spanning the beautiful Hudson River…Those were the days… (Here, I enter a reverie state…..)

february, the view from my old office
february, the view from my old office

Ahem. Back to reality. From my shared Green Room drama classroom space at the school, I have a drawer in a desk. And still, to be sure, a view of the Hudson River — this time from the first floor.

Between the school buildings and the river, the children run, play, scream. I love the outdoor space of the country school. I love that the kids breathe in cold air between classes. Fresh air is enlivening. I love running outside myself between classes. Hugging my heavy sweater tightly around me.

And all along my pathways, the Hudson River is my guardian angel. Watching over. Gliding beside. Big-shouldered and steady. Freezing over and then, thawing.

I do believe the big floats of ice will melt. Our parkas will be replaced by sweaters. And we’ll see the muddy ground.

First crocus. Then daffodil. Raises her hand. And asks, “Is it my turn?”

Spring asks Winter, “Isn’t it my turn soon?”

Winter hesitates.

“Can I go now?” Spring asks. And then, Winter takes a sabbatical.

Yes, yes, and yes. Spring, it’s your turn.

And all along the way, the river glides by.

Reinventing Myself

So a few weeks ago, when I saw the play Tamburlaine, I reconnected with my fellow audience member and friend Amy. She’s been my friend for almost 20 years. We hung out many an afternoon at the Jones Beach on Lake Champlain.

Anyway, at the Brooklyn play, Amy was big and pregnant and beautiful. And I said, “Oh, I’d heard you were working at my kids’ school.” (But teaches on a different campus.)

“Yes, but I’m going on maternity leave and they can’t find anyone to replace me.”

“I can replace you,” I said, chirpily. See, I’ve been substitute teaching at some Upper West Side private schools for the last year or so. Mostly I’ve taught Middle School English. (But I also love teaching History. And I discovered the beauty of teaching Science too. In the lab setting, kids can wander around, talk amongst themselves as they conduct their lab experiments. Yes, I’ve led experiments. (Mostly about chlorophyll)).

“You can,” she agreed.

I found out whom to contact. And then, I emailed and waited. Then I emailed a reminder. Thanksgiving came and went. Then the phone rang and I had a couple of phone interviews. And then I was invited in to see the school and be interviewed by some leaders of the schools. And teach a class. Which felt like a lot of pressure. How can I teach with so many people watching me? There were seven adults in the room. But I did a pretty good job. I played improv games with the kids and we had some laughs.

Of course, while this whole process was going on, I had several other pots I was stirring – teaching an afterschool class for first graders, editing a wonderful book, writing for Interpreter magazine and, my favorite job, blogging for SPSARV.

My friend Alicia said I reminded her of this skit from In Living Color where every member of the West Indian family works eight jobs. While asleep, they stir the pot. That’s my style. I stir the pot.

In any case, I was offered the job pending the approval of my background check. Which — even though I’ve done nothing (seriously) wrong — still rattled me. I hoped to pass. They checked my education, work and several of my references. And, surprise! Surprise! I passed. Then, I had to wait for the pay offer. Which I hoped would be as good as my last full time job, but it wasn’t.

It was better. Why did no one tell me that teaching paid better than corporate writing? And you don’t have to sit in a cubicle all day. You get to hang out at recess with kids. Outdoors!

So I temporarily took over Amy’s position teaching drama for first through fifth graders last week. And I love it. I’m so glad that I saw that bloody play Tamburlaine. Not because of the play. Because I saw Amy there.

Incidentally, when I first got my job as a consultant at the Women’s Division, maybe 25 years ago, it was because I bumped into a friend at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a special exhibit on the art of Mexico. So it pays to be cultural!

I love the school – the kids, the teachers, the staff. I even love the school bus. That’s right. I get back and forth to the campus on the yellow school bus. Like all of the other children on the bus, I just tuck my head into my technology and play on my device for the 20 minutes of travel time.

And that’s how I’m reinventing myself from communicator to teacher. (Thanks, Amy!)

Happy Everything!

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Make your day count

let it go.
be silly. have fun. get out of bed in the morning. make your bed.

get out of your own way.

too much to do. every day is a new beginning. this is the season of the new. leading to Christmas. to new life. to a new year.

disappointments are natural. my son’s college application process was too easy. last night he hit a glitch. don’t want to go into the details. (the kids tell me, “you post too many facebook pics!” “you’re too obsessed with social media.” “you tell everyone everything.” yes. yes. yes.)

tell a story. make it good.
make it meaningful.
it’s enough.

it’s today. today is all.
i have it all. i have today.

i have been subbing. and i heard that one of my students, one who causes me no trouble, a nice kid, has something seriously wrong. (like, really serious!) why does this happen? not that i would want it to happen to one of my mischief-makers but maybe that would explain why she doesn’t listen or why he shouts out. but why the quiet, kind one? it so sucks. makes me not believe in God. makes me hurt for all the stupid injustice. life’s unfair.

why the shooting of unarmed teens? of one mother’s son? why, God?

when I get to heaven, i need a lot of answers.

until then, i will make today count. tell a story. make it meaningful.

then, let it go. have fun.

i’m choosing a word for 2015. it is happiness. what’s your word? what’s your story?

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We took the ferry from Essex to Charlotte. From New York to Vermont on Thanksgiving weekend. So beautiful.

 

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Coco can’t believe the sunset. It happens every single night. The sun sets. I want to notice the sunrises and sunsets.

 

What do you call yourself?

I need a new business card.

So I went to LinkedIn to see what to put on my card. Also, I wanted to update my publications with that recent newspaper commentary.

I noticed I called myself a Communications Consultant and I thought Multimedia Journalist sounded better. And Blogger sounded better than Writer. Consultant was better than Freelancer.

Also, I was Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Boot Camp for Writers, but, in a way, that sounded like I owned a health club so I changed it to Creative Director.

And then, I saw that I hadn’t really done justice to my teaching. Yes, I’m an Afterschool and Substitute teacher. (Today I had so much fun teaching science and digital music!). Should I name the fabulous schools where I work? And what about my recent work art handling at the art gallery? Do I mention that? How about my videography work at Columbia University? Too part time? Is it all just too confusing?

I confused myself. I don’t know if we find out who we are by looking at what we do.

So I decided to resolve this by staring at Facebook and taking an online quiz, over at 16Personalities. I did the Myers Briggs test years ago, when I was splitting up from my exhusband, in 1991? And I was an ENFP then, and I’m still an ENFP.

They tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle where everything is connected – but unlike Analysts, who tend to see that puzzle as a series of systemic machinations, ENFPs see it through a prism of emotion, compassion and mysticism, and are always looking for a deeper meaning.

ENFPs are fiercely independent, and much more than stability and security, they crave creativity and freedom.

… Few personality types are as creative and charismatic as ENFPs. Known for their idealism and enthusiasm, ENFPs are good at dealing with unexpected challenges and brightening the lives of those around them.

Awww, that was really fun. It did explain me — even my weaknesses — too many jobs and talents! (I was a little worried when I noticed that Robin Williams was an ENFP too.)

I wonder if I can put ENFP on my business card. Nah, that’s just silly.

I may not know who I am by what I do. But I do know how to have fun.

Here’s a fountain near my house. It has nothing to do with this post.
 

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Geoffrey Canada at NYU

Reducing poverty? “It’s Not Rocket Science. It’s Harder than Rocket Science.”

Geoffrey Canada, very charismatic, threw away his notes at the beginning of the talk. Notes may comfort the audience, but this speaker didn’t need them.

His topic? “Changing Lives, Changing Communities.” It was my NYU college reunion on Saturday (25 years since undergrad, and 20 years since grad).

I’m interested in what makes for community and how to uplift people caught in the multi-tentacled beast of poverty.

Canada is the genius behind the Harlem Children’s Zone. Their slogan? “Whatever It Takes.” The zone is a 100 block radius to lift about 15,000 Harlem kids socially, educationally, medically. The zone promises to stick with a child through college.

Goals for Children

“We have to have the same goals for poor children, as for our own children. We aspire for college, not technical schools or the military, for our children. Because, at different times, people have break-throughs,” Canada said. The one kid that no one thought would amount to anything continues through college and earned their Master’s degree in education. “So, we don’t know.”

Do Lots of Things

“The U.S. is a rogue nation. We lock up more people than any other country. There’s a school to prison pipeline… You believe that children are our future and you love America.” So do something. But, Canada said, we have to do lots of things.

“Growing up in the ’60s, we always thought there was a conspiracy. The government had a plan. I’ve talked to presidents. There is no plan. There is no answer…. We keep thinking we can do one thing. We have to do everything,” Canada said.

The cure for poverty is like the current treatment for AIDS, he said. You can’t give one pill – like better schools – you have to provide many antidotes – “hold people’s egos in tact while getting them to work harder.” What you need is an AIDS cocktail of pills, not just one anti-viral.

How We Talk to Children

“Poor parents use far more negatives when talking to kids. ‘Stop. Don’t. How dare you!'” Canada acted out an example of this. When a child with educated parents, dumps his juice on the floor, the parent gently corrects, coddles, maybe even uses the spillage as a teaching moment about gravity. When a poor child does the same thing, the family yells, “Stop that!”

The guy is engaging. The speech was a part of NYU Silver School of Social Work as it kicks off the new McSilver Institute of Poverty Policy, Practice and Research in a week or two.

At NYU, I attended the English department for grad and undergrad. I believe writing is a form of advocacy and social work. In college, I loved abnormal psych, anthropology, drama, literature, and writing.

Having written about reducing poverty through my work for Global Ministries, I like to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what the average person can do to help dig another person out of poverty. The Harlem Children’s Zone is digging deep to reduce entrenched poverty.

This post is a slight rewrite from a post from October, ’09. I am posting every day of October 2014, but am going to recycle my early blog posts a little bit. Today’s the day I have:

  • a college planning meeting at my kids’ school,
  • flowers for the wedding,
  • a deadline for a writing project.

    A photograph of educator Geoffrey Canada.
    A photograph of educator Geoffrey Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Girl Power

It was 9 am and I was a little behind schedule. I had gotten up early to finish and submit two freelance stories, one a day late. Got them in. Then I hopped on my bike to rush to my art handling job. Wait. First. I had to stop at the private school where I’ve been substitute teaching to get my paycheck on track.

Having to talk about money and getting paid makes me uncomfortable.

Like with my freelance jobs — I worry that I accept too little. And then I worry that I charge too much. Whaaaa! Whatever I do, I want them to like me. I live to be liked!

When I got to the school, I dashed up the stairs, two at a time. Then, I slowed down. Wait. What’s this? Yup. A ton of cool signage in the stairwell about the Day of the Girl. (This is a United Nations movement on October 11, which aims to educate and end child marriage, stop sexualized media images of girls, and celebrate girls as athletes, students, artists! Check their link to find out about more.)

Seeing these signs made me drop my insecurity. I felt empowered. it’s important I’m paid well and fairly. I want to be a good model for the girls.

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Girl power!IMG_7004.JPGI started a Pinterest Board, Girls Can Be Anything, with images of girls doing fun girl stuff — climbing trees, playing superheroes, making art. I hate when the only option for a girl is princess. I prefer president. Girls can aspire to that. They can be anything.

In fact one of my daughters ran for student council today. I don’t even care if she wins. I’m just proud of her for writing a speech, delivering it, and throwing her hat in the ring.

On my bike ride from the school to the art job, the chain came off my bike. But I put it back on and kept riding. Got my hands dirty. But yup, girls can fix their bikes too. Girls can do anything. IMG_7003.JPG