Monthly Archives: December 2015

Borrowed meaning

Meet me at the bus stop, Jesus.
If you have anything for me to add to my luggage,
make it your own home brew.
I don’t want that ready-made pap any more.
But I’ll keep quiet about that
losing your religion is so awkward among old friends.

I borrowed that December story about you for so many years,
and it wasn’t even yours–second hand from some other emperor,
maybe a tribal chieftain too.
Mistranslated, double switched meanings (literally!).
Not your fault, as usual.

It’s true the more you learn, the less you can admit to knowing.
Then why don’t learned people teach less and less, instead of more and more?
Hoping to tie things up for the next generation, fix a temporary stake, to slow the backsliding they felt in their times of midlife crisis

Dark and light, equinox and blazing glory, peace and good will (now to all genders).
I always knew about the glory.
But no need to light up a tree or ring them bells for that–just look out the window at those chickadees,
And that’s on the darkest day of the year, all in shades of gray,
Tiny beetles under delicately curling bark, pupae asleep in the mud, lilies already pushing up points of green.
All those selfish gene propagation machines can’t hide the glory.

Still, is it to be avians and asteroids only on the tree, felted and embroidered, from now on?
Are we keeping the manger and decorated camels for old time’s sake?
Must have the lights, at the very least–starved for light I am, these days.
And of course, one must have the balls.


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Ocular migraine

I picked up a few books at the second hand store the other day, for my science teacher collection. I was looking for my own copy of The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, which I’m listening to on audio as I run errands, and The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, a few highly recommended works by Mary Roach, and Worms Eat my Garbage by Mary Appelhof. I found Meditations of John Muir, An Anthropologist on Mars by Sacks, and The Parrot’s Lament by Eugene Linden. I started reading the Sacks book this morning, and was on the first story, of an artist whose head injury caused him to lose all ability to see color, when I became aware of a small, flashing arc around the right side of my peripheral vision. I was glad to have had some experience with this before, which told me to was an ocular migraine and nothing to worry about. After trying to get a better look at the thing–always impossible, as it’s peripheral by nature, I looked for images online that matched what  was seeing, and found something similar:My arc is thinner, less regular in shape, and a mirror image of this one. What the picture can’t capture is the way it pulsates and flashes. It slowly expands, and then disappears.

Connected with the ocular migraine is a phenomenon called a complex migraine, which messes with other brain functions such as speech. Both types can precede a painful migraine, though I have never had one, and seldom have headaches at all except when fighting an infection.


Posted by on December 22, 2015 in Places & Experiences



Wondering whether…

I admit I’m avoiding things, trying not to think too much, hoping I’ll magically feel better and get my edge back, such as it was, by a blast of sunlit sky, or the sight of chickadees at the feeder, or the rhythm of my footfalls on gravel when I get out on the trail. Hormone rebalance, caffeine rebalance, and how about a good laugh–haven’t had enough of those lately. Sure, I could put on my gloves and clogs and plant a few winter cover crop seeds–gardening always cheers me up. But I just got my hair dry from the shower, and am finally warm. And there’s so much to do. Presents to figure out, would be good to put together a newsletter, and there are paperwork deadlines looming.

Oldest son home from college for three weeks–that’s a real treat. We’ve missed his calm and balanced presence, haven’t been able to connect in the best way by phone–he comes across as taciturn there, though email is a little better, as he likes to pay with words, especially when he can take his time. During his break he’s been balancing time with friends with seeking out family members for a game, a chat, his attention so appreciated by each of us. I putter about, glad and a little relieved to see those relationships intact and nurtured. No complaints from him about having to sleep in a different bed in a room full of girl stuff. But the political fallout of said girl being asked to stay in her sister’s room for the duration has been heavy. Added to other resentments and inner turmoil she’s feeling, has been feeling for months, and there’s a sense of dread each morning as I hear her stir and emerge to seek her breakfast. Everyone feels her discontent, her disapproval, and at least twice a day, her wrath. What will set her off this time? I know she’s got her own struggles–the self image thing is in her face every day, an she’s using diet tea, trying to cover a little timely acne, feel like a successful, on-point teen with all the appropriate aspects of her online identity, balanced with that ever elusive sense of truth and honesty and courage. She has her good moments, thank heaven, when she comes around, apologizes, explains why she’s been feeling stressed. Still, I’m pretty frayed around the edges by my teaching job, and haven’t the margin of emotional stability or as thick a skin to face up fully to that side of parenting. Finding myself pulling into the driveway after errands wishing I had a plan B, somewhere else I could go to have a little quiet, a place to recover from the fatigue of shopping and the last altercation at home.

The maple tree I bought for my birthday last summer reaches its startlingly red, bare branches up to the gray sky, clouds have thickened again and there should be more rain. The soggy ground still pushing up green blades, some leaves hanging onto the rose and blackberry canes. The husky dog is reading the air currents with her long nose, waiting for the master to show and play, or offer a treat. By my feet the cat sleeps, emitting a rhythmic cooing sound that passes for a snore. I hear myself heave a another sigh. Is it extra oxygen I need–did I forget to breathe, a kind of waking apnea?

At the teacher training on trauma-informed education, we watched the film “Paper Tigers.” About a school like ours, alternative, in Walla Walla, WA. Each troubled student, each one on drugs, the extremely introverted and anxious, the abused and fostered and parenting teens, the ones who flew off the handle at the slightest confrontation, reminded someone of students they’d had at our school. It was about a turnaround from an out-of-control campus to one where students actually learned and felt safe and accepted, as the staff sought training in how trauma had affected these kids and how to really help them. Then they turned around and trained the kids themselves in the science of it and in practical psychology (a term I just read in Huxley’s Island which seems to fit here), as well as curriculum content that could get them into college. Messy, grueling, draining, rewarding, but also heartbreaking. In the discussion afterward, every time one of our staff touched on the need to process the trauma we experience vicariously, everyone nodded. Afterward I went to my empty classroom thinking I could get a bit of work done, but just sat there more tired than I’d been yet after a regular teaching day. Felt the heaviness of it all, and of those feelings of inadequacy.

This is on top of a growing sense that the feeling of support I get from my principal, counselor, and others, is all part of their real attempt to help me survive this, find my footing, and start doing a better job than I’ve been able to so far. Looking back, and digesting feedback from the kids and others, I see I really am not teaching the material well at all. I’m flying by the seat of my pants, trying to pull together labs that are new to me, find ways to address all those different students’ needs without a real understanding of how to do this. Yeah, I go in there with a plan, do my power stance, and act like I have it all together, but it’s mostly an act. I had a few good days, a few good moments, and I have the beginnings of a style that can be molded into something workable. In some ways I’m starting where I left off after my very first and only year of teaching full-time, despite the other life experience I’m had since then.

The temptation is to spend my whole break planning, but I know that will just exhaust me. I’ll go in and work a few days before the new school week starts is all. Make some modest plans for labs that are doable, get some comprehensive review and practice integrated into each unit. Reminding myself that these kids have had very little science at all, and need to know even how to think about this stuff, be helped to catch a bit of the sense of wonder that’s possible. Along with acceptance, care, and support as they deal with all the stuff thats’ more important to them right now than doing the day’s work.


Posted by on December 21, 2015 in Education, Personal Growth


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Stayin’ alive among all those live wires

Friday, in a good space, just me and the girls, listening to Twenty-One Pilots, as my girls paint with acrylics and I sip a glass of my first ever batch of home made hard cider, on ice. I am shopping for a disco ball. I don’t know why I never bought one a long time ago, but since we’ve just decided to have a party in a few weeks, now is the time. My girls are tickled that I’m enjoying the music so much, hearing the story of the lead singer Tyler Joseph. So much soul in his lyrics, voice and riffs–sounds like a really intense, emotional person who needs his music to survive, which my daughter said was the case, as he struggles with depression and all. Home schooled, grew up in a conservative Christian family who embraced his voice as it emerged in a way he thought might not be approved by them. My daughter said so many people have come away alive from suicidal bouts by listening to this music. Lyrics come close to the pain, name it, and then blast off into hope. That she listens to entire thirty-minute interviews just to hear him talk because he’s so smart. Really great vocal skills too, and the drummer ain’t no ordinary drummer. Her recommendation of a song to check out on the theme of hope: “Holding onto You”

Eldest daughter’s artwork this evening features goofy characters with bulging eyeballs and small sets of eyeballs on their own. She says that making things that don’t have to be good is just more enjoyable as she doesn’t feel tempted to criticize her work. Younger daughter is doing this amazing thing with streaks of a subtle bluish purple across the white canvass that from here look like shadows of tree trunks.

And the kitchen is still a mess, oven fireplace, stove fan and still broken, still tools on the kitchen counter, couch strewn with light can fixtures. But here we are, my daughters sensing the enjoyment I have in this kind of time with them. All that can wait.

Trying not to always talk about my day when I get home, but I’m all filled up with stories. A few days ago I met a friend for coffee (naturally, she had soup and I didn’t order anything). Friends through our boys’ swim teams since they were twelve. She’s been a teacher, many years in kindergarten, and librarian for years, gives it her all, keeps on learning and adding to her wisdom. I let her do all the talking. The Brave Stance, she called what I taught them–see the TED talk, she said, and I did (Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are by Amy Cuddy). She’d teach her students that if they were feeling put down or having a conflict, to do the Brave Stance (standing power pose, also called Wonder Woman stance) and say “”Please be kind; I want us to be friends.” “But I don’t want to be friends with those kinds of people,” one of my students said, when I shared it. I suggested that for them it might be “I want to get along with you.” The “I am ready to handle this” stance along with the strongly conciliatory statement is powerful–they sensed that. Good for kindergartners, and good for all of us, ’cause all of us still have that kindergartner within, I told another student.

Within minutes of sharing this, I got into a conflict with a student who was distracting others with his phone. Fresh from a conversation that strengthened my confidence about cracking down on phone abusers, I told him to PUT IT AWAY or take it to the office. He tensed–I should have known better than to use my “I’m in charge” voice with him, who tends to be oppositional and, I hear, sometimes verbally abusive. I took a breath, stood in the stance, and said, C—-, please be kind, I want us to get along.” He looked at me a moment, then said, “How about I put my phone in my backpack and zip it up.” “That would be fine, thank you,” I replied, and we moved on.

Showed the other classes the next day, hoping that those high cortisol, anxious students really would do the brave stance in their private moments as needed at least, because the science shows that it actually lowers cortisol 15% and increases testosterone significantly. Works for me, at least on the level of confidence and communication, though the kids are onto me, now that I’ve gone over it in all classes, and it makes them smile. In my last class of the day yesterday, the one with no clinically anxious students, zero special ed, but a really strange variety of characters, I just could not get class started, so many of the students were talking and sharing funny (probably inappropriate) online video clips and so on, that I strode out into the middle of the room and used my brave stance and my loud voice an reamed them out. Totally got their attention, said I WAS DOING MY PART TO CREATE A LEARNING SPACE, AND THEY NEEDED TO DO THEIRS, THAT IF THEY WANTED TO SIT THERE AND PAY NO ATTENTION, THAT WAS THEIR CHOICE, BUT IF THEY WERE GOING TO INTERFERE WITH OTHERS’ OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN, THAT WAS NOT OKAY, AND IF I HAD TO I’D KICK OUT HALF A DOZEN PEOPLE IF I HAD TO. I LIKED THEM ALL, I REALLY DID, BUT THINGS HAD TO CHANGE!

Half way through the first sentence, all were paying attention, soon several were smiling, and at the end they actually applauded. The next day, of course, I had the same problem. This time I invited those who were trying to learn to gather closer to where I was facilitating discussion, and told the rest to go back in the corner and have the conversation that was obviously so important to them to have RIGHT NOW, only quieter.

Which worked okay–the five on my left side of the room really were making thoughtful and intelligent contributions, and I guess appreciated being made the priority for once instead of having to wait for the others to get with the program. The key was, is, I think, that now I’m teaching what I want, what I think is important, crucial, actually, rather than trying to follow the other teachers’ past plans or basing things on the availability of cool materials. And they are picking up on my sense of urgency and that i know something about this. They learned about energy flow in natural ecosystems, which is sustainable, at least in the context of somewhat gradual evolution, and now we’re looking at the history of human energy use, which has become unsustainable. I found an online video from the Crash Course series, this one based on the book Children of the Sun by Alfred Crosby, and we captured essential stages and identified the most impactful developments. If we accept Crosby’s skepticism that human societies can’t be convinced to actually decrease their energy use, as David Suzuki urges we do, then we are left with the great challenge of our time: how to develop sustainable energy use patterns, based on that age old principle on which all the other species that have present representatives live: survival. Something relevant to talk about and work on.

It seemed pretty chaotic, that class, especially after the Crash Course video and note taking that had gone so well the previous day. But several students from the left side of the class said they felt they’d accomplished more than usual and that people were more engaged. It’s true that when I invited the loud crew to push their table up closer so I wouldn’t have to shout, if they wanted to take part in the discussion, two of them jumped up and started shoving, startling the other four. Processing now, I feel I have discovered another key: work with the volunteers first, do something cool and let the rest come along if they will. If anyone seriously interferes with what the A-Team is trying to achieve, they will be asked to leave until they can be a better team member. I feel we are at the stage in our relationship that I can ask for that kindness.