Extreme Kindness

I was at a faculty meeting where the administrator kept raving about one particular teacher and I felt like pulling my turtleneck over my head. Why did she not praise others? Was that one teacher her favorite? I suddenly realized, This is what a child feels like when a parent overly praises a sibling.

Children see their parents as if they were Olympic judges flashing scorecards. If one gymnast is getting straight 10s, that must mean I am getting 7s or 8s, and, let’s face it, a perfect score is nearly impossible to beat, so why even try?

But, here in the workplace conference room, we are all adults, not children. Shouldn’t we enjoy the success of our colleagues? I am going to try to enjoy other’s success, even if it feels, like, I am being passed over.

Just for today, I am going to make a secret vow to be exceedingly kind to everyone I meet. And in my generosity, I will pick no favorites.

I am hell-bent on fairness. As a teacher, I am exceedingly kind, yet I am firm and set boundaries. I am not a freakin’ doormat. Sometimes students ‘call out’ over me or another student, I will note such interruptions, respectively, asking gently, ‘Please wait your turn,’ or ‘Quick reminder: Raise your hand next time.’ I choose not to correct in a shaming way.

“Quit calling out. You’re being rude.” I have heard teachers (at another school) label students as ‘rude.’ Truly, students are motivated towards comedy, amusing one other and themselves. But I do not believe they are intentionally rude. Or are they? I’m sure behavioral psychologists have figured out at what age a child’s disrespect becomes willful or intentional. What is the age of self-control? It must arrive sometime after First Grade.

Why does kindness seem so hard? Is it that we’re giving away a bit of ourselves? Is it that giving something away goes against our human / animal tendency to hoard — hoard things like compliments? I’m not sure. All I know is that as I’m giving more and more kindness away, I haven’t lost a thing. If anything, the rewards keep rolling in.

It’s not always easy. Still. Keep on keeping on with by showing of extreme acts of daily kindness in words and deeds.

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Yesterday, I walked along the Reservoir from the east to the west side to meet friends.

When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people. – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Incidentally, I realized I wrote about excessive kindness three years ago. October must be my season for reflecting on matters of kindness in the classroom.

Staying On Message

Over the last five years, I have worked as a videographer for filmmaker Jane Praeger of Ovid Inc. and Columbia University. This past summer, just a few days after my shoulder surgery, I assisted her at a pretty tony company, but because I was recovering, my son Hayden helped out — he, too, found Praeger’s coaching helpful and inspiring.

I love Praeger’s style because she asks a lot of questions and she’s not out to ‘catch’ you in your errors. She builds you up on what you already do well. She’s genuinely curious. And she never lectures. She’s good at getting people to simplify their message. When speakers “get in the weeds” with too much insider lingo, she steers them back to a direct and straightforward style of storytelling.

In any case, I’ve been thinking about Praeger and her mentoring style because today, as I’m catching up on my old newspapers, reading some old New York Times, I find that on October 4, Jane Praeger wrote a letter to the opinion page addressing women’s anger and presentation skills. Here is Jane’s wisdom:

To the Editor:

Rebecca Traister makes the point that women’s rage is often “transformed into something more palatable” — like tears.

In my 25 years as a communications coach, I’ve found that “performance anxiety” or “stage fright” — the most common reason women seek coaching — is often rage turned inward.

I made this discovery early in my career, when a very prominent woman and capable public speaker came for coaching because she had suddenly developed a speaking phobia. A few questions revealed that she actually had a lot of anger (rage, really) toward specific men in the audience — anger she felt she couldn’t directly express.

When I asked her if she might be “shaking with rage” instead of “shaking with fear,” she closed her eyes for a few moments, then, clearly trying to hold back tears, nodded her head. We talked about how she might better communicate her anger and her speaking phobia literally disappeared.

Since then, my advice to women (and men) whose fear or anxiety keeps them from making their voices heard is to first ask themselves: “Who in this audience am I angry at?” Then, “what is the alternative to turning that rage in on myself?”

Jane Praeger
New York
The writer teaches in the Women in Leadership program at Columbia Business School.

See what I mean about asking a good question? She is asking, it seems, What is the alternative to inward rage? How can you employ your anger to tell your story more creatively, forcefully, and, yes, professionally?

Working with Praeger is one of my several side hustles. My full-time job as a teacher comes first, but I am fortunate to have crafted a part-time work life that enriches my personal life, and honestly, gives me a bit more status that my teaching gig does. Look, I am fanatical about teaching well. And a big part of teaching is to be a life-long learner about learning. I’m never going to stop asking the big questions.

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Use your rage to ask the big questions; this has got to be the way women advance.

 

Mindful Teaching

Just home from watching the Martian, a fun 3-D movie, suspenseful and relaxing at the same time. It’s been a long day. I started with my 80-minute 10th grade English class — our current topic is Magical Realism — then I subbed the rest of the day in Kindergarten.

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At the end of the Kindergarten day, the children had choice time. They got out their leggos or coloring supplies. And one boy, high energy, wanted me to read him some Frog and Toad. Always good. Then another girl joined us. We read a few more books and then the boy passed me Mindful Monkey; Happy Panda.

“Oh, I like that one,” the girl said.

I liked it too. The message was keep your mind at the same place as your activity. Monkey is not happy because his mind is always on something beyond his activity. But happiness comes from thinking about what you’re doing. When you walk, think about walking. Eat? Think about eating. Play? You get the idea. It was such a happy reminder to keep your head where your feet are. Tomorrow and yesterday are not here. Do not think about them. Think about now, this moment. It was an excellent way to end a busy and satisfying teaching day and work week.

I have been blogging every day of October. I am trying to see this ritual of writing as a mindfulness practice. I realize I have to write what interests, helps, inspires me. And not find this blog burdensome. My husband Chris is in Florida, I am working teaching, editing and writing. I have turned down a couple of substitute teaching jobs. And I am trying to be present and organized for my daughters.

Even my self-imposed challenges, like this blogging every day of October, can be a chance to practice panda mind, not monkey mind. I can keep my mind on my activity. And be alive to the present.

Last week, when I substitute taught French, I told the kids my last name was similar to the French word for present, cadeau, and today when they saw me again, one boy said, “Hi Ms. Cadeau.” And he told another teacher, “You can just call her Ms. Present.” Not a bad name. Because sometimes Ms. Present is actually in the present. There she might get lucky and find Magical Realism.

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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Try Enthusiasm

When I am enthusiastic about a subject I’m teaching, my students are too. If I tell the little ones, “You’re going to like this drama game!” They do. It may be a drama game they’ve played before, like the mirror game. (The mirror game is when you stand across from a partner and mirror their movements. And then your partner mirrors yours.)

When my kids get fresh, I tell them, “Hey, your attitude is contagious. Try enthusiasm.”

We live in a snarky culture. For sure, I can be sarcastic. Because I’m witty. But sarcasm seems the opposite of enthusiasm. Sarcasm stands back in judgment. Enthusiasm jumps all-in, without a care for consequence.

Well, there is the consequence that you may be made fun of. As I am by my children. Regularly. (For my bike, zipcar, business, enthusiasm, whatever.) But then, they’re teens. I think sarcasm’s wired in teens.

I tell my kids, Most people are naturally shy. When you meet someone new, if you’re just a little bit out-going, you put people at ease. Enthusiasm is charismatic, fun and entertaining.

Me at the Climate March. (photo credz Pamela Cooper)
Me at the Climate March. (photo credz Pamela Cooper)

Here’s an enthusiastic picture of me. As you can see, I’m enthusiastic about the whole world.

On a side note, I like to think I came up with the hashtag #yellowpants Whenever I see someone wearing yellow pants, I think to myself “hashtag yellow pants.” I’m enthusiastic about my yellow pants. Because they were one of my last purchases at Loehmann’s. But that’s another story.

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” — Allen Ginsberg via the daily post  

Do you follow Ginsberg’s advice — in your writing and/or in your everyday life?

Freelance work

I am working on a very short novel. I am working on my business. I am working on myself. I wonder if any of these things will work out.

I believe that I already have everything I need. I try to know, deep down, that all I want will come to pass. Yesterday I announced that I’m going to lead workshops for the International Women’s Writing Guild summer conference and in May I’ll be performing on Mother’s Day with the Listen To Your Mother Show. These are dreams that have come true for me.

Still, sometimes I think it’d be a heckova lot easier to just get a job and show up every day. And do what’s asked of you and then go home.

Sometimes believing in myself is a lot of work.

Speaking of work, I have a freelance assignment due tomorrow. A small part of me does not want to do it. Okay, a big part.

I like doing what I like doing, promoting my own workshops. (Come to the Adirondacks for a writing and collage art getaway! May 16-19) and my new biz (Am getting my new website up and running.)

I like my own stuff. But once I throw myself into something, even someone else’s something, I get into it. The problem is the throwing myself in. It’s like when you’re standing on the edge of the pool, hesitant to swim. You just have to jump.

About freelancing, here’s my truth — I love accepting a job; I love interviewing people; I like collecting the check. All the middle part, after the interview and before the job’s complete, all the writing and rewriting and fact checking, that’s a pain.

Imagine
Remembering to take time to imagine. (I was in Central Park on Sunday. So restorative!)