There’s nothing good on tonight

Looked through the rental apartment ads today, thought I might just want a room of my own for a few months while the student apartments are available, since I can’t find breathing room at home, and it looks like the planned purchase of a larger home is again unlikely. The two places I go to get away are my bathroom, which isn’t much of a retreat, since someone is always wanting to use it, or my greenhouse. I put a patio recliner in there, and it’s nice in the mornings and evenings and on rainy days. No one looks for me there–just enough opacity to obscure the interior view.

I also bought a stand up paddle board, which I hope to take out, once I master the tie down. The two mornings I spent running around the local lake this week fed that desire to launch something I could dip, dip and swing, and maybe try out my new wet suit with a swim. I feel shy about that, like the way I felt when I wanted to start biking around my college town, feeling like maybe I didn’t look like a “real” cyclist. Insecurities never die completely, but I plan to fake it ’till I make it, yaw!

You might think I’m hard hearted, and not a very good mom because of this tendency to creep away. I am hard hearted, at least as much as I have managed to be–one step beyond making an appointment with grief. Now I put it on hold until I forget which line and the light stops flashing. And I have not made myself indispensable; they can all get along without me just fine, and in emergencies it’s better to have just one parent on hand–my husband works from home and can be roused by a serious yell. Plus when I’m not puttering around, there’s more freedom to cook with white flour and snack on graham crackers, leave mugs on the hearth, lights on apple cuttings on the counter. If a kid needs something signed or a drive somewhere, they can holler and I’ll probably come out of hiding. No sense of loneliness or need for a human connection arises where the internet is a swipe away.

A student told me today I sure don’t get my feelings hurt easily. I told them I could be induced to at the end of a long day, once I got home. No, all those comments, criticisms and suggestions for improvement are water off a duck’s back in my professional life. Or, rather, something to consider and learn from, while taking with a grain of salt. I thank them for putting it all out there. I make it my goal to teach in a way that those comments come less and less and are replaced more and more by wonder, interest, engagement, but since it’s only my first year back, and this school is uniquely challenging, I can be patient with myself and try to work on a few things at a time. But I want to be handled with care at home, though everyone else is tired, too, I suppose.

When I was wiping the stove I struck my head on the corner of the metal vent hood, and by the eruption of emotion in response to the pain, realized it’s not so easy to hold it all in. But still feeling that my sadness would be misunderstood, I snuck back out to the greenhouse and let go in my recliner, thinking, maybe I’ll add a box of tissues to the decor, and see if those new hammocks can be strung up in a place this size. At least until the tomatoes and peppers are in.


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Posted by on April 20, 2016 in Places & Experiences


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Shree-sherra, CAW-CAW, fweet-fweet, keeee-kew, beep beep!

Ran like I was in a dream this morning, forgetting about my feet, not noticing the usual transitions between asphalt, concrete and trail. It was all about the birds singing. Names being of limited use to convey experience here, but if it helps you to to imagine the sounds I heard coursing along the treetops and piping out of the thickets, I can say there were sparrows, robins, chickadees, crows, woodpeckers, and seagulls, among others. I try to pay attention to the sights along my route, but the sounds took over this time. As usual, I wondered how I could give my students a taste. Play recordings? Ask them, after some time immersed in sounds–eyes closed–do they recognize them? Have they heard them before? Maybe I could give them three different soundscapes and see if hey could identify the local one. How, if they had to, would they describe each song with words? I could give them a numbered list with how the ornithologists have attempted, and see if they can match these to what they hear. Talk about pitch, tone, rhythm, phrasing, all without language or music as we understand it. I want to get them out there on the trail at 6:30 am to see what I mean.

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Posted by on April 14, 2016 in Beautiful Earth, Education



Daffodil Cove

Sometimes I feel I never really go anywhere, but here I am, having captured a moment in a day last week to book this cliffside cottage on Salt Spring Island. Spur of the moment, so little planned that I didn’t know my husband had already booked a major meeting and couldn’t come. He had a hard time wishing us a bon voyage. I assured him we were scouting for another future trip. When I’d first broached the subject of a little getaway, he’d suggested making it a major one, which I just couldn’t stomach at least in terms of planning, for which there was no time, anyway. It was the last chance for my kids to all do something together, with two different spring break schedules, and the girls longed to get away somewhere pretty, if not to a beach in California. So the second time I looked online and happened upon Daffodil Cove Cottage, it was free for the two days we wanted it at a reasonable price, I nabbed it. A long ferry ride sounded better than a drive, and a stay sounded better than a tour, so we loaded up the blue van and here we are.

All windows in front facing the Strait, and islands all the way to vast Vancouver Island at the back. My two daughters are napping in the loft after a bit of fresh air and a bout of watching videos on their phones. My youngest son is bored, he says, but as he’s already used up his screen time for the day, I’m letting him figure out what to do with his discontented soul. He’s too tired to take a walk, he says, and didn’t respond to my suggestion that he bundle up and sit out on the deck and just watch the trees and waves, see if it might bring him some peace? I’m talking to myself more than him, and neither of us is listening very well. We’re all needing a detox–maybe a habit-forming three weeks in the woods with nothing but art and writing supplies (not ready to go totally mind-to-nature yet).

I’m missing the way (I think–nostalgia?) I used to be, again, able to be deeply aware in tune with wind and scents and the glory and wonder of the “natural world.” On my morning walk–made myself go out by will and not longing, reasoning that I really should go experience more of this beautiful scene–what moved me most (and that not much) was the ditch flowing with water down the hill beside the road. Why that? Because I used to go play in the ditches by my childhood home in the spring, sending leaf boats down, racing with the ones my brothers had launched. But not with peals of laughter and the joy of childhood, now that I think of it, just a  conviction that mine would never win, and if it did, the race must have been unfair, according to my big brother, who would keep racing until he tipped the balance again. But there was the relief of the long-awaited melting of the frosty ground, the smell of crushed stems and warm sandstone, first sightings of water striders and tadpoles, the trill of the red-winged blackbird. The wind off the bay was no longer too cold to face without a hooded coat, and the cumulus were higher in the sky, in my idyllic childhood.

I suppose the only reason I can take pleasure in those sounds and scents today is because of that early exposure. The meaning in the running of a ditch is relative. Is it too late for my high school students, then, who mostly suffer from nature deficit disorder? When I appeal to them to bring in their permission slips so we can walk a few blocks to the stream a few times this month, assuring them that it will be good, not tedious and uncomfortable and strange, am I mistaken? “I don’t like to go outside,” says one. “I already did that,” says another. Is it any coincidence that this person (gender uncertain) is showing signs of psychosis and suicidal tendencies? Am I being unrealistic to believe that a half hour in the woods by a stream could be balancing for all of us, and that even if we don’t get any official science done, it’s a move in the right direction in terms of their “education”? STill, a good number are willing, so I guess the protocol id to leave the rest at school with another teacher and a paper assignment.

Can’t believe how little I want to do, how unenthusiastic I am myself, about getting out there right now. I make myself do it like exercise, when I’m not planning it for others. Even try to get a bit more energetic first my drinking a cup of coffee. Really, has this too turned into a discipline? Maybe just temporarily. Sure, I’m not sucked into cyberspace to pursue endless curiosities or obsessions, nor do I feel the need to vlog the view, the cabin decor, and my kids eating lunch, but still, I’m not experiencing oneness with nature either. If I do some sketching it will do me good, I know, but it will have to be initiated by will power too. Since I’m not in my own home, there isn’t a garden I can work in, though I did get to chop some wood for the stove this morning. I was surprised how long the sense of satisfaction and pleasure in that work, along with the lighting of the fire, lasted. Better than several hours reading on the couch with a bag of Cheetos.

It’s all going on without me, without us, out there in creation. All those fishes and seaweeds floating and swimming by through the currents, barnacles and mussels filter feeding, deer and rabbits hanging out undercover until evening, when they’ll steal out onto the mossy trail and pull at the new grass coming through the matted straw and leaves. Owls are asleep, and small rodents tunnel under the thatch, and I’m missing it all–can’t see, can’t smell, can’t hear, especially behind my cozy glass where the refrigerator hums along with the wind in the trees outside. Trees falling in the forest in every windstorm. Season after season, as the trees, moss, frost and running water slowly break down the mountain and infuse it with air-sourced organic matter and deer carcasses. I collected a deer skull and vertebrae when I was out, and took a lot of photos to illustrate the process of weathering to my science students. I hope they will notice the little purple and yellow flowers, moss sporophytes, and all the beautiful colors of lichens and fungi, and I’ll try to tell them what else I saw when I looked close.


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Letting it all go by, for now

Used to carry a notebook everywhere, couldn’t help jotting down this or that–what I was learning, questions, things that struck me as incongruous, or profound, or hilarious. Before that it was a bank page sketchbook so I could combine scribblings of the ear shapes of strangers, or the profile of a speaker at the podium or a guitarist on stage. alongside prose or quotes or whatever. Ideas were headed as such, comments in square brackets. Am I becoming numb, that I don’t feel that desire to process much? Used to feel I was invisible to all, free to be the fly on the wall, historian of human nature and collector of insights.That freed me to take notes or sketch in any old bus station or or church sanctuary.

Now, I’m afraid of, what? That someone might know who I am, that I’m breaching confidentiality norms, that it will all come back to bite me. A few comments in letters to the editor would be out there forever tagged with my name, in case it ever became necessary to check up on my views–right or left? pro or con?–and personality–cooperative or critical? conformist or creative?

I just read a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog from a charter school teacher who has felt for years that she has to write anonymously about her problems with the system, because when you tell the truth, some people have the power to ruin your lives, you know? I’m realizing I’m not so brave, or that my flashes of daring later seem like impulsive, ego-driven stupidity. Don’t know if the stuff inside me that I want to express, to push for, is important enough, or that in going for things I might be creating hassles for others who don’t deserve them. That idea that grass is for bare feet to walk on despite the rules comes back as regret at having worn it down so now the groundskeeper is getting heck, and what was I thinking?

I hope it’s just a matter of working smarter. There’s a reason for all those books about how to create change–because it’s worth it, and it’s hazardous. That tension is a sight of opportunity to grow, and as I just wrote in my job application addendum, that’s a good sign.

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Posted by on March 19, 2016 in Uncategorized


Be a teacher and change lives: the only reason worth doing it, including summers off

Mainly I’m a volunteer, supported by tech dollars. So many teachers are, is my guess, especially in science and technology, where getting a better paying job is pretty easy. It would be an interesting study, to see how teachers’ families make it, and how many family members are really supported these days on teachers’ pay. I brought home less than $900 last month–thought there must be some mistake, until I realized I had to take two sick days. Good medical insurance, though, for the whole family, for a few hundred dollars less, too.

Still, I love my job, and am thankful that my husband had parents who both made a huge impact as teachers, and so his heart is in this endeavor too, despite the long hours beyond the four and a half per day in my contract. As if a half an hour before and a half after could be enough for any sort of decent planning, even if I wasn’t in my first year on the job.

My husband’s dad grew up in a logging town, learned everything mechanical, worked as a machinist until he was injured, then got a teaching credential. He had the tough kids in the shop and on the football field, and related to them, being a dyslexic, having moved out of home at sixteen, encouraged to do so by his dad, who had a new, young wife only a few years older than the stepson. Was insecure around the other teachers, got teased even as an adult at not being able to spell words correctly on the blackboard. He had a temper too, but a soft heart for the boys he taught, and he taught them well. Died early, probably from shop fumes plus a botched esophagus operation, and decades later his widow still hears from students whose lives he helped set on a firm foundation, both as a teacher and as a man with an open door policy toward his sons’ friends at home.

My husband’s mother went back to school and then work at Head Start, on her husband’s insistence, in case anything happened to him and he couldn’t work. Proved to be a good move, as a few years later he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and it was a long haul through which his wife cared for him, and had that other space in which to succeed and have a change of scene, as well as be in community. She came to be an administrator, not the usual kind, but a person known for always believing that the caregivers in the child development centers did their best work when believed in and supported rather than checked up on and scolded.

I’m putting away that thought that it takes more now than caring for kids and an interest in helping them learn, more than a desire to make a living sharing what you know while learning more than you could possibly guess about yourself, the subject, the clients, the community, the meaning of existence, more than all that to choose teaching as a profession. Now it’s also about finding something that will pay the bills, keeping up with the rate of inflation, procreation, and non working vacation. And the strain of being so many new things to those kids, doing the impossible or letting it go a little every day.

There seems to be a growing correlation between the growth of a populace poorly educated, easily swayed voters and that failure to fund and design education, and otherwise inspire and support new generations of teachers. Serves us right, I guess, though I don’t know if I’m ready to turn the show over to either the mob, the moneyed, or the intellectual elite just yet.

I’m reading Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed–a nice, slick library copy, and got so fired up I ordered my own copy, all the way from Georgia to my local independednt bookstore, who hadn’t had a copy in the store in the thirty years it has existed.

I feel it–tha tacit go ahead from my fellow workers at the school to make a difference in any way I can, and there’s this articulation in Friere of what I’m hoping to do in some or other semblance. Yes, even as a science teacher. I’ve only read the preface and a few paragraphs of the introduction, and already I have enough burning inside to start working on communicating that choice all these young people have to be a Subject working to transform this world, rather than a victim. First awareness, then criticism, then action. I guess there will have to be a continual influx of hope and idealism, too, cause when life gets ’em down, there’s the why not just smoke some weed and make out some more in the car with the dark windows method, feelin’ good for this moment seems like a good compromise to stressing out or acting out. Been shut down a few times already for getting on my high horse about the evils of weed. My humbler approach will me a mere appeal to come to class mentally alert at least, for the advantage conferred on efforts to learn enough to graduate.

Yesterday we were chatting in my last period class–a remarkable atmosphere there, with some truly cool and very positive people whose attitudes spread to almost everybody when there’s a group project or discussion or tough assignment to do, even though it’s my largest class at eighteen when full. Anyway, the point was to fill in the newer students on the story of how there had been a new science teacher before me who had had to leave…

“Not ‘had‘ to leave, chose to leave,” said one, that hurt still showing.

“It was hard on everyone,” I said, “and I came in new, and the students were like, ‘Oh you, you’re just the new teacher–whatever..’ with this sour attitude.”

“They were sulking, and wouldn’t give you a chance,” said the same student who had spoken before. She hasn’t any patience for anyone’s bad attitude, doesn’t yet see that a lack of empathy can be a problem, too. Though she’s always had my back, for some reason of her own. “Did you know when we found out your name, we FaceBooked you?”

“Yeah, the principal mentioned it. You didn’t Google me, too, did you? What comes up there might have been keeping me from getting a job at all.” Collective gab for the smart phones, eyes lit up in anticipation. “It’s not what you think…” Not a conviction or former career as a stripper or anything,really. But they were hooked.

“There’s a whole article here!” said Mister positive, and he quoted the title.

“Yeah, that’s me.” He starts reading.

“This is awesome!” They perceived the ant-establishment stance, were feeling the support I was trying to give in that letter to the editor, that opposition to the way “socioeconomically disadvantaged” students are forced through loopholes that only cut them down and make them less likely to succeed. And I was starting to think, what was I thinking, mentioning that? Asked them to keep it quiet, at least until I get a permanent job, and the word was, “Sure thing,” so I’m hoping. Still, that search result hasn’t barred me any way from this position sticking up for kids who got diverted here from the mainstream, so be it as it may, whether forgotten or not.


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Preserving and nurturing the idealism of youth, and not just for the future

What would you say if your daughter told you about a conversation with three friends about where they would eat out, where she was explaining why she wasn’t getting a burger because of how much water got wasted in the production of beef, and they all turned to her and took turns saying that she was taking things too seriously because no one person could have any effect on big problems like that?

Would you just shake your head and be sympathetic, be a listening ear, make some sort of cooing sound, or extremely thoughtful spiritual direction type questions designed to facilitate your daughter’s values clarification process?

Maybe you would act appalled and reactive, tell your daughter how wrong, how destructive, how ideals-crushing her friends were, encourage her to say such and such next time, although you would not have been able to do so at the tender age of seventeen, but now, by golly!

Would you be ashamed of your daughter’s friends, nice Christian girls who ought to know better, who must have heard the starfish story, more than once, probably—the one that ends with the boy throwing one more starfish back into the ocean with, “It may not make much a difference, but to this starfish, it makes all the difference”?

Maybe you would say they’re probably right. Maybe you’d share how frustrated you were by how long it takes to change anyone’s views enough so they change their habits accordingly, how long it took your dad to get you into the habit of turning off the lights behind you, closing the doors when the furnace was running, putting on a coat instead of turning up the heat, and now how hard it was to get your own kids to make similar efforts, to recycle, to stop buying useless things loaded with packaging? How frustrating to have to deal with the wasteful average American habits the spouse inherited from the in-laws, so that you felt like your efforts were cancelled out? How you sometimes despaired of being able to see the tide turn in time to save lives, prevent droughts and wars and catastrophe?

But I know you. You are an idealist, deep down. Never violate your conscience, you’d say, if you can see a clear path. Right actions have a power that surpasses statistics, odds, and the group think of prevailing stupidity and denial. That stance has only the appearance of benign neutrality, and history always bears that out. Not that you like to use the expression, but it’s a binary decision, and a no brainer on which side of the fence to come down. I’m proud of you, you’d say–you will make the difference.



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Tikkun olam

Here I am, still losing my religion. I had a flicker of hope, though, that it might be in order to find to again, and a feeling that a this point at least it’s not about any leap of faith or girding up of loins, but a kind of waiting, watching, and calling up of the bare bones essential truth of what I still believe.

I’m among believers at my work place–maybe about half, I’m guessing, though there’s not much mention of that, as per the Separation. Anyway, their best way of bearing witness is in the love they bear toward the least of these. I’ve come around to that after all, Dad.

A few days ago I had the privilege of witnessing something beautiful–a brief interaction between one of my students from last quarter, one of a set of twins that are carrying the weight of virtual homelessness, and the counselor. The girl finishes school each day wondering how she’ll get a drive to the place where her nearest relative is crashing, how may people she’ll have to call, whether she has a friend in the world. Also wondering how her court case will shake out, whether there will be jail time for her soon.

She was heading out of the office, and the counselor reached out with her name and a few words–I could tell it was just another part of a long effort in the same direction, to once again offer good wishes and a tone of real compassion, in case she could believe it this time. Her usually frowning countenance heard it, and also from the principal, who was there too seeing her off, and she kind of softened, took it in, as she turned to head out the door.

I notice a lot of that sort of thing around here, and it’s softening me, too. Staff catching up on news of this or that former student, whether happy in a good job or showing up on the jail report again. Talk of former students who can hardly wait until they’re twenty-one, or five years out of school, to be Facebook friends with the teachers who had their back when times were rough.

Now that I feel accepted by the students and no longer viewed with suspicion, as possibly one who might not “get” them, or might abandon them as some felt the previous teacher did, there’s more of an opening for me to give off that kind of warmth too. I don’t want to take that for granted, or offer anything that isn’t genuine. I’ve made lots of mistakes already from ignorance and lack of experience, or from wearing a mask to hide my own insecurity. Here’s to being a channel of the divine peace.


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