Tag Archives: creativity

It’s all in the air, except for the chocolate

I’ve put my fall color quilt on the bed–the white with yellow and soft cherry and lime given to me by my mother appeared garish in the golden fall afternoons and rainy mornings, instead of light and cheerful.The rust, rose, and blue green one is sedate and classy, if somewhat Victorian. It was made by my mother-in-law. Our home is blessed with many quilts, several for each person to take when they move.

Also paintings. My father just sent two more, one for each daughter, Newfoundland seascapes. I have more artwork than walls, now. But I may change that, as I have designed some a remodel that would add a porch, a dining bump-out, and a two-story flex room/writing loft expansion. Each will have walls.

Perhaps this is a distraction from my grieving process, but the idea is a very old one in some form, at least fifteen years on hold, and revived because it’s about time, and I need not have anyone’s approval any more. I picture a comfortable chair, wood desk, a view of the garden, and prisms cutting the morning light into rainbows all over the walls. It has been a back burner sadness that I have not had the space to be materially creative and have had no upstairs room. I could take out my sewing machines, card designs, art supplies, even use the space as a place to refresh my guitar skills and repertoire.

That last idea has also been smoldering, now a little more warmly; this afternoon I went to the gig of a teacher colleague at a local tap house. He has been trying to get me to play more. My ukulele is under my desk, but my guitar is at home, happily now regularly played by my oldest daughter, who needed only a few basic lessons to get learning. When I hear performances, especially of someone on a small stage, it motivates me to get back singing and playing again, for a goal, say, of doing a small gig with a few friends in the same little local festival next year. Sharing something people enjoy, facing fear, getting attention, making my children proud, improving my skills, all good reasons. The main obstacle, it seems, is my shyness about playing at home–I feel it so deeply, when I sing and don’t want to be that vulnerable around my own family. Strange. I want to stretch out the berry season as long as possible, can hardly bear to have it end, though my freezer is well stocked.

My days are so full, long hours I work. Early every morning I grind and press coffee, dish up granola, my special recipe, and yogurt, with walnuts, dried fruit, and raspberries from the yard. If necessary I go with a flashlight and bucket in the dark to pick enough, even though I am aware that they contain a significant proportion of fruit fly eggs and larvae. If they don’t taste any different or have any negative health effects, I don’t care–they are a cheap protein source, is all.

I fill a canning jar with soy milk and espresso, grab a container of leftovers for lunch, load up my arms and tuck everything out into my Nissan Leaf, unplug and go, heating the steering wheel and my seat against the foggy chill. Exiting off the freeway and making my way across the north edge of town, I roll along the straight road at 53 mph, letting the V8 pickup trucks roar by me on the straightaways and whipping by them at the roundabouts. The pheromones of their young, male drivers bounced uselessly off my side windows as I pass. Mist rises up off the corn stubble, with the look of holy spirits, and the aroma of fermented cow manure.

I finished my second professional learning day training today, having made a good impression, I feel, on my colleagues in the district, in the discussions about improving student learning. I was aware that I was mainly aiming my efforts at the most interesting and intelligent men in the room. I am a little needy, wanting attention, I told my daughter on our night walk down to the grocery store to buy chocolate and wine. I added that it helped that she and her sister had assured me that I looked really good for my age. I know dating is not right for me now, I said, that it would just be a distraction, but it seemed to be enough to imagine that I was turning heads with my cuteness, astuteness, and, possibly, pheromones.

The wine we bought was awful, even mixed with lemon and soda. Good chocolate, though. “Down with Love,” I declared. We had watched the movie together, a favorite of my husband and mine, just the other week–the chocolate reference was not lost on her. She too is between satisfying romantic relationships, although she prefers a different brand of chocolate.



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Labor that may or may not deliver

Meanwhile in attempts to lift poor children from having little or no opportunity to go to that kind of place, or any college, to grow up educated and provide a decent living for their families, Bill Gates and other business entrepreneurs (a.k.a. social entrepreneurs), in partnership with the federal government, have launched their attempt to education everyone with “twentieth century skills,” ready for the work force.

Good, but why does that have to mean, among other things, less reading of fiction in favor of more extraction of meaning from informational text? Why limit the finer opportunities still available to those whose brain functions have not been culled by stress and poverty, who possess the desire and ability to long for deeper connection, more  far-reaching vision, a deeper understanding and expression through the arts and literature. Let’s not dumb down the culture in making it a more egalitarian one, elevate jobs and “productivity” over education in the best sense of the word.

And what about the obvious conflict of interest in having the owners of the tech corporations provide the software and classroom supplies and pedagogical philosophy for these children’s education experiences? We need workers, they say—this is the twentieth century as we envisioned it, so let us help you fit into the future we are creating, and all of us will be better off. If something has to go, let it be anything that makes workers question how we already know we should be doing things. You know, growing the economy, competing with other market powers, preserving the American way of life. Which is democracy in the sense that those with the power to sway the majority (those with  twenty-first century skills–not cumulative up to the twenty-first, but the latest set and open to re-training) can do so efficiently by means of a database so comprehensive and powerful that it allows media and “educational” products to be created that cater to each and every individual learning style.  And the part of democracy that allows us all to choose from fifty kinds of breakfast cereal in the aisles of the local supermarket and either traditional or “Simply” ripple chips, all produced by a few central manufacturing facilities staffed by twenty-first century workers. We can help students learn so effectively the practical skills they need to be “productinve members of a global democratic society” that the neural pathways needed to understand 1984, Brave New World, the MaddAdam trilogy, Animal Farm, The Hunger Games, and That Hideous Strength will be unnecessary and therefore atrophy.

An apology for the convoluted nature of my sentences, and how they go on and on, and have too many clauses. I’ve been told the “Ten Ways You Can …”, say, “Fight the Machine” format is so much more effective, but I haven’t mastered that twenty-first century communication style yet.

This existence of seems so contrived—since when in these thousands of years does one wake and not have to go about making a living? Making in the sense of obtaining food, shelter, and cultural context and materials from teh ecosystem. All aI have to do is create—to write, sew, paint, create and maintain human bonds, and that mainly based on the compulsion of angst about this modern life: what is it? What does it mean? Why are things not fair and I have this free time while others are laboring to the point of exhaustion for bread for their children and something to hide from the drunken consort? Why is it considered more valuable to go into database architecture, or game design, which pay a lot of trade tokens, than being a parent, home maker, friend of neighbors in the community, or teacher? In the division of labor, some make money doing work that is of dubious historic or spiritual value, so that others can do the important, though unpaid, work.


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Don’t fence me in

Do you know why I love this job? Because I’m stretched every day, yet I don’t seem to break or snap as often. I guess I’m made of tougher sinew now, comparing myself to the twenty-eight-year old who carried so much strain and stress and insecurity that first year of teaching, took everything personally, always felt inadequate. The other part is the creativity that I have to draw on, and how essential it is to connect with each student and do some pretty serious (long term) mentoring in life skills. Sort of why I was drawn to working in a middle school rather than a regular high school. This is a good combination of the two, in a way.

Though I was concerned about my energy level, working every day, I’m so mentally and emotionally charged up in class and have so much to think about outside of work that my body seems to be learning to draw on new channels of ATP. A brisk half hour swim before work, when I can fit it in, does wonders for slow release energy.

Right after the last student leaves, I sure need a bit of quiet, and my mind sort of lets go of any threads of organized plans I’d had for getting things done. If anyone breezed in and said “What did you do today,” (or “What do you have planned for tomorrow?”) I wouldn’t be able to say. But the drive home wakes me up again, and I just want to get back at the papers and plans and books I’m trying to get ahead in so I can extract readings for the next units. I’m tickled that, for now, this is my reality, feeling glad I am where I am. Fully expect it won’t always feel that way. Only cloud on the horizon is the fact that I can’t seem to connect in the way I want with the para educator who works in one of my classes. I think it’s just personality differences–something girlish, in a grown up form, she has, that I never did have. Most other girls mystified me, I never felt like one of them, though I adopted some of the accouterments up to my freshman year of college. Most of my buddies, the ones I could really talk to then, being male (including my dad), and the rest, women with no frills and a strong intellect, even an edge of some kind. The para is not girly in a fluffy way–runs every marathon she can, has a straightforward, no-nonsense manner, is very organized and confident, but I feel that same sense of not being of quite the same variety. And the sense of fun and lightheartedness I saw in her during my interview hasn’t shown up since. Oh well. She sure is a big help in my class with eight or more kids who have IEPs.

It was an extra short day today, each period only a half hour long, and about a third of the students didn’t show. After the quiz I’d promised, I shared my idea of doing the big class project, the one with some kind of physical interpretation of biology/environmental science principles, on the chain link fence outside the classroom. We did some low key brainstorming about what techniques could work–weaving, attaching painted work, pages in plastic protectors, stained glass, ribbons. One boy suggested we dig a pond, another plant flowers. Then time was up and there were wishes of Happy Thanksgiving as they went out into the sun and wind.

I shared the concept with the principal, asked about the fence possibility, which he said could work as long as it looked nice, that being the side where people walk and bike by to other destinations. Another reason for choosing it in my mind, besides being able to admire the work from inside the classroom. Fence at the back also a possibility, facing a warehouse, or the one around the picnic tables.

I perceived that I had partially been trying to impress, with my eagerness to apply what I’d been learning about Project Based Learning (PBL). I was glad to have the response, though. On the way out i ran the idea by the art teacher–a kindred spirit, though she is only around on a very part time basis. She said she looked forward to hearing more. I think I need to get at this while the “Most Likely to Succeed” film is fresh in my mind, but I sense that there are a lot of ways this idea could fizzle, or just get choked out by the traditional resources I’m drawing on as I sink or swim in this first year with the courses. Still, I now know that there are as many ideas as would fill the entire fence around the whole school. As for looking nice, my daughter commented that it looks like a prison camp now, so anything would be an improvement. And since the whole place will be torn down next summer to make way for the new campus, permanence need not be a goal.

Hung with the family for a few hours, discussed with my husband again whether we are serious about the house with 4.5 acres, a pretty heavy conversation for some reason that sort of thing always turns out to be—I’d want the garden here; no, he wants that to be a lawn. We’d need a rec/overflow room, but where? Would we actually get around to building it anyway? What about finishing this one off–what did that seem to drag on so long? A reminder not to get stuck in the “this is my dream” mentality and stay flexible about how our place would be set up, to be thankful to have the option and opportunity. Saw the girls off to their walk down to the historic district, did some chores with my son, then I headed off to buy sweet potatoes and afterwards to do some writing at the coffee shop by the sea–violet water, sky greenish and melting into blue space and the beginnings of stars. Waves lapping, and a bright, friendly space inside where I could be alone.

The WiFi being too loaded to use, I opened my project ideas notebook and started sketching fence panels. The ideas just kept pouring out—energy flow, patterns and order, change, adaptation, cycling of materials, diversity, feedback, interrelationships, communities, biomes, epigenetics. Panels with images, scan codes leading to a student blog, interviews, the story of the project. A panel with a giant feed/energy flow web, another mounted and hung with things that showed wind patterns or captured weather data. A solar panel. All slowly decaying, being bleached by the power of the sun, and in some places, growing up, out, and around. Places for the contributions of passersby. How could they not get excited about the possibilities? I know the idea of doing something different appeals to many, and though it’s meant to be a group project, no one will be obliged to work in a groupish way, just to make their own contribution, whatever that would be. This was an assurance I gave to my “I only work alone” student, who wants to do the writing part.

Also in my notebook I made a list of roles that different students could play–director, scheduler/manager, writer/editor, photographer, craftspeople, community/school liaison. Wondering what roles will be picked up by whom.

I’m getting really curious whether this process is similar to that of others who do these things, and I’m wanting more training. Including training in how to drive this to happen within our constraints and with our potential resources, but keep out of exactly how. Also, how much time will this take, and will it have to expand into after school?



Posted by on November 26, 2015 in Education, Places & Experiences


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My tolerance for ink-related disasters is very low right now

There’s a foreign devil in my psyche, a kill-joy, a control freak, a neatnik. Turns up my blood pressure, wrinkles my forehead, changes my epidermal electrical differential, when my kid wants to make another mess. I mean…do another hands-on, open-ended creative project. In the old days I was always delighted to pull out the art supplies, offer ingredients for the meal or chemical assay, and let the fun begin, forgetting to have the kids clean up as they went, and it would be me cleaning up in the end. Now I’m more organized, keep on top of things, but the flip side is this–in trying to prevent messes, I am tempted to squelch creativity and learning. He announces, “Mom, I’m going to make some soup!” or asks if he can paint with the acrylics, or do an experiment with sugar crystals. I think, the cut vegetables always end up in the drawers and mashed against the toe kick. Acrylics won’t wash off clothes. Spilled sugar is so sticky and has to be wiped with three or four wet cloths–is it really worth it?

Now, he wants to draw with ink and a feather pen, and I blanch. We have a real wood table now, a newly refinished wood floor, and then there are the clothes that will stain. Still, I talk myself into it, stand on principle, Please Touch, Hands on, Experiential Education, and the way, deep down, how children really need to learn and develop their creativity. I’m just tired of messes. I want to make my own messes and have someone else clean them up. I suppose that time is over, since I moved out of my parents’ house almost thirty years ago. I owe them, so I guess I can pay some of it forward. Yes, I owe them. Frogs (and genuine pond rocks and plants) in the bathtub, aluminum foil and pretty chocolate wrappers stapled over the wallpaper,nails hammered into the lath and plaster walls (I could hear the plaster crumble and fall into the inner wall cavity) sewing scraps and thread on the kitchen floor, fishing worms left in the sun porch to rot. Mom’s burden, really. Yet I don’t remember a frown, a scolding, a lecture from her lips over any of these messes. Her rule being if things were left out, they would get dealt with any way she saw fit. Eventually, when several of us were off to college and still leaving messes and belongings behind, she posted a warning:

Not Responsible for Goods Left Longer Than 30 Years

This was shortened at intervals:

Not Responsible for Goods Left Longer

Not Responsible for Goods Left

Not Responsible for Goods

Now the sign reads simply:

Not Responsible

In a different sense, the opposite is true: She is responsible. My mother had such a free hand with her home spaces and belongings, and both she and Dad set an example of creativity and productivity–Dad with his art, garden, and writing, Mom with her cooking, baking, rug and quilt making, and garden, that we couldn’t help but pick up a good number of skills.

Now I see the point of this, which is what I wanted–a way to turn my will priorities back in the right direction. I will continue to keep the paper and art supplies handy the kitchen, relax when my son wants to use up more nails and wood scraps, relinquish my possessive hold in my unused skeins of yarn, leave the sewing machine up and point out the fabric scrap bin. Even if it means a lap supper tonight and refinishing the table in a few years.


Posted by on January 19, 2014 in Education, Parenting & Family


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